Post-blogging the Sudeten crisis


AGREEMENT SIGNED AT MUNICH / Full Text of Terms / GERMAN OCCUPATION TO BEGIN TO-MORROW / New Czech State 'Guaranteed' / Manchester Guardian,  30 September 1938, p. 11

The hopes which were raised yesterday by the announcement of a four-power conference at Munich appear to have been justified (Manchester Guardian, p. 11). An agreement has been reached between Britain, Germany, France and Italy that the Sudetenland will be transferred in stages to Germany between tomorrow and 10 October. The installations in these areas are to remain intact. An international commission will decide if any other areas should hold plebisicites to decide whether they should also be transferred to Germany, to be held by the end of November. France and Britain guarantee the new Czech borders; Germany and Italy will do so once the Polish and Hungarian claims on Czech territory have been resolved. War has been averted!

Maybe. The Manchester Guardian's diplomatic correspondent thinks (p. 11) that the agreement is only provisional, and whereas Germany was about to take all of Czechoslovakia, 'it will now take her the whole winter and perhaps the spring to get all she wants'. Moreover, 'many hold that a "next time" is now inevitable'. The leading article in The Times (p. 13), while generally positive, further notes that Czechoslovakia has not yet given its consent. And the outcome is hardly a discouraging precedent for the use of force in international affairs, since the threat of it has been present all along. Still, crowds at public gatherings across London cheered and clapped (Manchester Guardian, p. 11) and it's not hard to understand why. What is hard to understand, at least for the leader-writer for the Daily Mail (p. 10), is how anyone could be less than pleased with the Munich agreement:

The Council of Munich has aroused angry protests from that professedly peace-loving body, the League of Nations Union. They cry shrilly of "menace" and "betrayal" in a resolution filled with malice against the Four-Power meeting. Cannot these fire-eaters give the statesmen a chance? Or are they determined on war at any price?

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Well, just look at this! This is my 28th post on the Sudeten crisis, and a new word has entered the headlines: 'Munich' (The Times, p. 12). See what I mean? 'Munich' and 'crisis' shouldn't go together.

This is a very dramatic, and very hopeful development. Yesterday afternoon, Chamberlain was nearing the end of a long and important speech to the House of Commons, giving an account of his actions and the Government's policy during the crisis. Germany was due to mobilise its forces today at 2pm, but he had asked Mussolini to use his influence with Hitler to gain a delay of at least 24 hours so that another round of diplomacy could take place. But in the course of his speech, Chamberlain was informed, firstly that the request for a delay had been granted. Then he was handed a note which bore a message from Hitler inviting Chamberlain to meet with him, Mussolini and Daladier in Munich tomorrow morning:

This is not all. I have something further to say to the House yet. I have now been informed by Herr Hitler that he invites me to meet him at Munich to-morrow morning. He has also invited Signor Mussolini and M. Daladier. Signor Mussolini has accepted, and I have no doubt that M. Daladier will also accept. I need not say what my answer will be. We are all patriots, and there can be no hon. member of this House who did not feel his heart leap that the crisis has been once more postponed to give us once more an opportunity to try what reason and goodwill and discussion will do to settle a problem which is already in sight of settlement. I go now to see what I can make of this last effort.

It's clear that the sense of relief, of deliverance, in the House (which was packed to the rafters) at hearing this news was enormous. The Manchester Guardian's parliamentary correspondent waxed biblical (p. 9):

Members of the House of Commons got as near to-day to a sense of the peace of God which passeth all understanding as human beings are ever likely to do. It was a brief vision, but it was clear and will not be forgotten.

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BRITISH FLEET TO BE MOBILISED / Efforts for Peace to the Last - Premier's Broadcast / REPORTED GERMAN THREAT OF FULL MOBILISATION / 'Prague Must Accept by 2 p.m. To-day' / Manchester Guardian, 28 September 1938, p. 9

The German ultimatum for the Czech withdrawal from the Sudetenland by 1 October remains. But there is a report of a new deadline: the ultimatum must be accepted by 2pm today, or else Germany will mobilise its armed forces (Manchester Guardian, p. 9). Hungary has already begun mobilising, and the Royal Navy has been given its orders this morning. It seems probable that war will start any day now -- maybe tomorrow, if no way to peace can be found.

A speech by Chamberlain was broadcast by the BBC last night. He repeated his pledge to Hitler to make sure the Czechs keep their promise to hand over the Sudetenland (i.e. at a time to be decided, not by Saturday). He can't take the Empire into war just to save one nation, there would have to be more important issues at stake.

How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing.

(You can hear the whole speech here, found here.) The leader-writer for the Manchester Guardian (p. 8) sees this as 'an ungenerous reference to a gallant State that has made enormous sacrifices for peace'. In fact, the whole speech is deemed to be directed more at Hitler than at the British people, who won't find it much in sympathy with their views. For example, Hitler is merely described as 'unreasonable', 'a phrase that may become classical for its understatement'.
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HITLER SAYS OCTOBER 1 / Patience is at an End: Czechs must give us Territory Immediately or we will Fetch it Ourselves / I WANT PEACE WITH ENGLAND / Last Demand in Europe: I Will Not Renounce It / BRITAIN & RUSSIA WILL BACK FRANCE / Daily Mail, 27 September 1938, p. 11

Hitler made a speech in Berlin last night in which he repeated the demands he made at Godesberg. Again, Czechoslovakia has until 1 October to cede the Sudetenland to Germany: otherwise he threatens to take it forcibly. But at least he promises that this is his last territorial claim in Europe. My copy of the Daily Mail headlines, p. 11, chops a bit off, so here's the text:

Patience is at an End: Czechs must give us Territory Immediately or we will Fetch it Ourselves
Last Demand in Europe: I Will Not Renounce It

Today's leading article in The Times (p. 13) calls this 'tempestuous and rather offensive', but thinks the most important point is that Hitler 'did not seem absolutely to close the door to negotiation'.
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HITLER'S NEW DEMANDS / Prague Decides That They Are Unacceptable / FRANCE AND BRITAIN CONFER / Midnight Cabinet: French Army Chief In London To-day / Manchester Guardian, 26 September 1938, p. 9

Unfortunately, the situation has deteriorated since Saturday (above, Manchester Guardian, p. 9). Hitler has made new demands which are described by the Manchester Guardian's diplomatic correspondent (p. 9) as 'fantastic'. At Berchtesgaden, a week and a half ago, Hitler said he wanted only those districts where Sudetens were a majority of the population. This was the basis of the Anglo-French plan, to which Czechoslovakia eventually agreed. And now he wants:

The immediate cession of all the territories (with scarcely any considerable exception) where there are Sudeten Germans. There is no longer any question of only such districts where they make up more than 50 per cent. Districts where they are in conspicuous minorities or even where there are no Sudeten Germans at all are included.

These areas are to be handed over to Germany on 1 October, meaning that there would be no time for the Czechs to remove any factories or fortifications. This, the correspondent speculates, is part of the point of the rush. Germany will secure its rear and gain valuable natural resources, factories and military stores. And then Germany will turn west:

She would be able to present another ultimatum, demanding, perhaps, colonies, or the surrender of the Maginot Line, or a "plebiscite" in the Flemish regions of Belgium, and so on. She would be able to back this ultimatum with a vastly superior Air Force, a vastly augmented armament, and almost complete invulnerability. In other words, she would have achieved her maximum of offensive and defensive power in relation to France and Britain.

The Czechs have, of course, rejected this ultimatum. Which, it would seem, means war. Daladier and Bonnet have again flown to London to consult with their British colleagues. Yugoslavia and Romania have promised to support Czechoslovakia if Hungary attacks, under the terms of the Little Entente; but it appears that Poland is to get its territorial demands (Teschen) without a fight (Daily Mail, p. 11). Czechoslovakia has mobilised all men under 40; a million are expected to be under arms by tomorrow (Daily Mail, p. 12).
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CHAMBERLAIN-HITLER TALKS BREAK DOWN, PREMIER BACK TO-DAY / Czechs and Hungarians Mobilise: Order by Radio / Final 1 A.M. visit to Fuhrer / Germany Refuses Pledge On Troop Moves / Daily Mail, 24 September 1938, p. 9

It's hard to believe, but it's only a week since Chamberlain returned from his first flight to Germany. Everyone was then full of hope. He is returning from his second trip today, and hope has been replaced by despair. The above headlines from the Daily Mail (p. 9) tell us that the talks between Chamberlain and Hitler have broken down, that the Czech and Hungarian armed forces have been mobilised. On the other side of the page, Germany and France are said to be massing troops. Hitler has refused to give a pledge that German troops won't unilaterally move into the Sudetenland in response to the Czech reoccupation of Eger. And he has set a firm time limit of one week for the conclusion of negotiations -- i.e., by Saturday 1 October. After that, the implication is, he will take what he wants by force.
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TALKS TO GO ON TO-DAY / Premier and Hitler Alone for Over Two Hours / ARMY CHIEF AS CZECH PREMIER / Mr. Chamberlain's Advice: The Danger of Incidents / Manchester Guardian, 23 September 1938, p. 9

So Chamberlain, having flown to Germany yesterday, is still there, talking to Hitler. There's no official word on what they talked about, but afterward Chamberlain appealed (via communique) for calm in the Sudetenland and other afflicted areas, or to be precise, he 'appeals most earnestly, therefore, to everybody to assist in maintaining from action of any kind that would be likely to lead to incidents' (this and the above headlines are from Manchester Guardian, p. 9). The situation in Czechoslovakia is indeed looking pretty bleak. The German press is reporting more of these 'incidents' (the Manchester Guardian uses scare quotes, too, p. 9), including a Czech official throwing a grenade into a crowd. They also report that the Czech army is withdrawing from the Sudetenland, blowing up bridges as it goes -- the Manchester Guardian doubts that any such thing has happened (p. 9) but the Daily Mail's own correspondent, Paul Bretherton, has apparently seen this with his own eyes (p. 11. I say apparently because my printout is very poor quality at this point!) But it does seem true that two Sudeten towns have been evacuated by Czech authorities, and taken over by Sudetens (Manchester Guardian, p. 13). The Polish minority in the border town of Teschen has taken control of the Czech police stations there (Daily Mail, p. 11), or maybe they only attacked them (Manchester Guardian, p. 9). It's very confusing, but in no sense reassuring. The British legation in Prague has instructed all British subjects to leave immediately, and an Imperial Airways H.P. 42 (Heracles, for the planespotters among you) has made a mercy dash to evacuate some of them (Daily Mail, p. 11). The other big news (Manchester Guardian, p. 9) is that the government of the Czech Prime Minister, Hodza, has resigned, to be replaced by a 'national reconstruction' cabinet under the Inspector General of the Army, General Jan Syrový, the popular one-eyed former commander of the legendary Czech Legion. It's not a military government but it's not a good look for democracy either.
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THE CZECHS GIVE WAY / 'Sacrifice for Peace Under Unprecedented Pressure' / MR. CHAMBERLAIN'S TASK TO-DAY / Poland and Hungary in Hitler's New 'United Front' / Manchester Guardian, 22 September 1938, p. 11

Chamberlain is meeting Hitler at Godesberg today (the headlines are from the Manchester Guardian, p. 11). The good news (for Chamberlain, anyway) is that the Czechoslovakian government has finally, and very reluctantly, accepted the Anglo-French plan for the transfer of German-majority areas to Germany. (Which, it seems, still hasn't been officially published.) That would mean that Hitler would get what he wants without war, which is what Chamberlain is trying to avoid. The bad news is that it's now clear that Poland and Hungary are lining up for their own pieces of Czechoslovakia: the German press is referring to a 'united front' of Germans, Poles and Hungarians. And the Anglo-French plan doesn't provide for this at all. As The Times notes (p. 10):

Czechoslovakia is faced with the loss in the near future of Western Bohemia, Northern Bohemia, German Silesia, Polish Silesia, and the Hungarian Parts in the south.

Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Foreign Minister, has announced at the League of Nations Assembly that the Soviet Union will give Czechoslovakia 'immediate and effective assistance' under the terms of the Soviet-Czech pact, providing France (Czechoslovkia's other ally) does the same. But he criticised the Anglo-French plan as 'a capitulation which was bound sooner or later to have quite catastrophic and disastrous consequences' (The Times, p. 10).
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As indicated when he returned from Munich last week, Chamberlain is to fly back to Germany to meet with Hitler a second time. (Above headlines are from The Times, p. 10.) This time, they are meeting at Godesberg, a spa town in the Rhineland. Chamberlain will take the Anglo-French plan to Hitler, which may be a problem, because the Czech attitude to it is now characterised as 'Neither acceptance nor rejection'. It seems that the Manchester Guardian's scoop of yesterday was somewhat premature, for a later message from the Czech government was much more equivocal, asking for revisions to be made to the plan. France and Britain are pressuring Czechoslovakia to prove 'a more definite reply to the Anglo-French proposals', so that the Prime Minister and the Führer will have something to talk about.
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CZECHS TO ACCEPT / Decision Early To-day After Five Hours' Council / TO AVOID WAR AND BLOODSHED / The Next Step: Mr. Chamberlain's Second Visit To Hitler / Manchester Guardian, 20 September 1938, p. 11

This time it's the Manchester Guardian which has the scoop (p. 11): in late night meetings last night, the Czechs decided to accept the 'recommendations' of the French and British governments, albeit 'possibly with reservations'. There's still no official confirmation of what those recommendations are, but the London correspondent has some information from 'responsible quarters in London', which generally confirm the speculations of yesterday :

1. Areas in Czecho-Slovakia with a predominant German population to be ceded without a plebiscite.
2. Other areas to remain in the Czecho-Slovakian State under the federal system proposed in Dr. Benes's Fourth Plan.
3. An international commission to "rectify" the new boundaries.
4. The independence of Czecho-Slovakia within these boundaries to be guaranteed by Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Rumania, and Yugo-Slavia.
5. The neutralisation of Czecho-Slovakia and cancellation of her treaties of alliance.
6. The interchange of populations to be arranged by which German sympathisers within Czecho-Slovakia can go to the new German provinces and the population in these provinces that does not wish to remain there can go within the new boundaries of Czecho-Slovakia.

There doesn't seem to have been any reaction from the German side, yet. It appears that Chamberlain's planned second visit to Germany is going ahead, though the date is not yet set. But Henlein's 'Free Corps' of Sudeten Germans is going to continue raiding Czech border posts from German territory (last night they attacked a customs post near Grumbach). The international news section (p. 15) reports that Poland and Hungary are lining up to press their own claims on Czechoslovakian territory. The American press is disgusted by the British and French plan: the New York Post says that it seems 'like the world's greatest betrayal' and says that if this is collective security then the United States is lucky to be well out of it: 'Thank God for the Atlantic Ocean!'
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