September 1939: Hitler pulls back. WW2 averted

On 3 September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. The two countries had issued an ultimatum to Nazi Germany to stop the invasion of Poland, which had begun two days earlier. Hitler's decision to ignore the ultimatum created the Second World War.

It seems to me this is a pretty good turning point for an alternative scenario, in which Hitler backs down at the last minute. In real life, he was convinced that the ultimatum was an empty threat and that Britain and France were not going to actually declare war. He never for a minute thought that they would actually go through with it.

When the news was brought to him that Britain and France had declared war against Germany, Hitler and Germany's leadership were stunned. I remember reading an account of it somewhere online. The atmosphere was very subdued as the news sunk in. Many of those present had grave misgivings about what had happened. A mood of pervading gloom seems to have settled over those present.

So, what if Hitler believed the threat and backed down? What if he complied with the ultimatum, and halted the invasion? The casus belli (cause for war) would no longer exist, and France and Britain would not declare war on Germany. Of course, it would be a humiliating clime-down. But the war would be averted.

Under this scenario, Germany accepts the ultimatum and makes it known that military action has ceased. The League of Nations convenes to establish a peace settlement. The war against Poland will have lasted just 24 hours.

Thoughts?



This is the ultimatum letter sent by Britain to Germany on 2 September 1939. Failure to respond to the letter resulted in Britain declaring war on Germany just 24 hours later.

http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/external/wwiiultimatumletter-tl.jpg
 

jahenders

Banned
By the time things got to that point, I don't think Hitler could have backed down without risking losing his office and his party losing face. He/they had taken power by talking up the need to deal with these foreign threats and to get land for expansion.

However, I think there could be two other potential related PODs:

1) O/A 15 Sep 39, before Russia invades. Germany could reach out to England and France and say, "We're dealing with a threat, but have largely negated that. However, we firmly believe that a greater threat will be unleashed on the Poles -- this may be the last chance to stop it."

If UK and France accept peace at that point, Hitler has achieved lots of his aims in Poland and then you have a tenuous peace for a time. Russia would be royally pissed and might act alone, but it'd change the East-West balance.

2) In Oct-Nov 39, after Germany and Russia are done with Poland, Hitler reached out to UK/France for peace, but they declined. Perhaps he could have sweetened the deal a bit and have peace restored.

Either is unlikely because in 1939 he really wanted war and Germany really wanted another crack at France.

On 3 September 1939, Britain and France declared war on Germany. The two countries had issued an ultimatum to Nazi Germany to stop the invasion of Poland, which had begun two days earlier. Hitler's decision to ignore the ultimatum created the Second World War.

It seems to me this is a pretty good turning point for an alternative scenario, in which Hitler backs down at the last minute. In real life, he was convinced that the ultimatum was an empty threat and that Britain and France were not going to actually declare war. He never for a minute thought that they would actually go through with it.

When the news was brought to him that Britain and France had declared war against Germany, Hitler and Germany's leadership were stunned. I remember reading an account of it somewhere online. The atmosphere was very subdued as the news sunk in. Many of those present had grave misgivings about what had happened. A mood of pervading gloom seems to have settled over those present.

So, what if Hitler believed the threat and backed down? What if he complied with the ultimatum, and halted the invasion? The casus belli (cause for war) would no longer exist, and France and Britain would not declare war on Germany. Of course, it would be a humiliating clime-down. But the war would be averted.

Under this scenario, Germany accepts the ultimatum and makes it known that military action has ceased. The League of Nations convenes to establish a peace settlement. The war against Poland will have lasted just 24 hours.

Thoughts?



This is the ultimatum letter sent by Britain to Germany on 2 September 1939. Failure to respond to the letter resulted in Britain declaring war on Germany just 24 hours later.

http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/external/wwiiultimatumletter-tl.jpg
 
It seems to me this is a pretty good turning point for an alternative scenario, in which Hitler backs down at the last minute. In real life, he was convinced that the ultimatum was an empty threat and that Britain and France were not going to actually declare war. He never for a minute thought that they would actually go through with it.

He also didn't care if they did. Hitler wanted a war in order to bring Germany the greatness he believed it deserved and he knew the Germans best time to strike was in the 1939-1940 period. He was annoyed that he hadn't gotten a war over Czechoslovakia, in fact, and went about going after Poland in a manner that would preclude any Munich repeat. So no ultimatum was going to deter him.

When the news was brought to him that Britain and France had declared war against Germany, Hitler and Germany's leadership were stunned. I remember reading an account of it somewhere online. The atmosphere was very subdued as the news sunk in. Many of those present had grave misgivings about what had happened. A mood of pervading gloom seems to have settled over those present.
We have multiple, contradictory, accounts of how Hitler reacted to the Anglo-French declaration of war. Some say he was depressed, some say he was enraged, and some say he didn't show any reaction at all. Tellingly, his supposed reaction is usually a reflection of the person giving the account own feelings on the WAllied DOW.

1) O/A 15 Sep 39, before Russia invades. Germany could reach out to England and France and say, "We're dealing with a threat, but have largely negated that. However, we firmly believe that a greater threat will be unleashed on the Poles -- this may be the last chance to stop it."

The Anglo-French would laugh in his face. You don't protect Poland by invading it.

2) In Oct-Nov 39, after Germany and Russia are done with Poland, Hitler reached out to UK/France for peace, but they declined. Perhaps he could have sweetened the deal a bit and have peace restored.
The Anglo-French would reject such a deal out of hand and make a counter-demand that Germany demilitarize and give up all of it's territorial gains since 1937. Obviously, this would be politically impossible for the Germans.
 
Last edited:
Hitler wanted a war at this stage, I believe. All indications are that he had planned for (and anticipated?) a war over the Czech question in 1938. It didn't happen and he felt rather cheated at that point.

Chamberlain was finished with trusting Hitler so there was no way that another Munich could have been possible.

The DoW came 'too fast' for any military settlement. If we had seen a situation where (somehow) Germany had managed to drag any DoW for another one week (preferable two), Poland as a state would have ceased to exist.

Poland would then have been reduced to the same situation as Czech before the invasion in March 1939. It could be taken at any point in time without any consequence.

That could have done the trick, but I doubt it myself.

It is also worth noting that Hitler had wanted an invasion of France in November 1939. The generals were not overly fond of that idea.

Whichever way we twist it, I doubt if WWII could have been averted at this stage.

Ivan
 
Top