Eighty years ago, the last significant moderate eliminated from Germany's leadership, Francoist shells fall on Barcelona and Chamberlain's call to arms sounds more like a call to gasmasks



The last significant moderate was removed from power in Germany. Hjalmar Schacht, the President of the Reichsbank, and two of his senior officials were dismissed from their posts. Schacht had been losing ground in the face of the drive to a wholly autarkic economic model, which practically imposed total war conditions, and his opposition to yet more borrowings to fund this policy had been the final straw. Schacht was replaced by Walter Funk, the Economics Minister, who had taken over from Schacht in that job six years before. Funk remained as Economics Minister, signalling that any pretence at organized state finance was at an end. This came as something of a blow to British appeasers who had hoped to use the close friendship between Schacht and Montagu Norman, Governor of the Bank of England, as an avenue to appease Germany economically. To the outside world it looked as though the Prime Minister wanted to consult Norman on Schacht’s ouster when Norman was invited to Downing Street. In reality this had more to do with signalling the government’s confidence in him and economic appeasement after the Foreign Office had warned him off engaging in political discussions on a visit to Berlin earlier in the month. Downing Street was becoming ever more estranged from the Foreign Office and Norman was manifestly in the Downing Street camp.

The disappearance of Republican Spain in Catalonia was only a matter of time. General Yaguë’s troops had broken through in the south and were now at the foot of Montjuich, the hill that dominates Barcelona. They had begun shelling the city but it was regarded as only a matter of time for the Nationalists to take it. There were no serious preparations for military defence, only a stream of refugees. Contrary to modern legend (in part fostered by the BBC), George Orwell had long left the city and thus did not try to defend it against Franco. The fighting in which he had taken part in Barcelona was between the Trotskyist POUM militia and the Stalinists, who wished to exterminate such deviationists. Orwell was severely wounded by a Nationalist sniper near Huesca over 200km away but then  had to flee Spain to escape the Stalinists for whom his afffiliation with the Trotskists made him a marked man..

Neville Chamberlain delivered a BBC broadcast with a rather less than ringing appeal for people to volunteer for the non-mandatory programme of national service that had been devised as an uneasy compromise between unacceptable conscription and the need to prepare for war. Chamberlain was more preoccupied to insist that he did not expect war and that he would never actively take the country into war. It would have been hard to make out whether he wanted to people for air raid precautions or available to fight in armed conflict. This reflected his fearful expectation that a war with Germany would involve massive and hugely destructive air attacks on London.

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