Eighty years ago. Hitler fuels the appeasers' hopes, Chamberlain deflates the rearmers and France's emergency aircraft purchases hit an obstacle



Hitler delivered a speech to the Reichstag on the sixth anniversary of his accession to power. It was widely awaited in London but it was a mirror image of the build-up to his speech to the Nuremberg rally the previous year. Before it was delivered there were widespread fears that the Nuremberg speech would announce some violent resolution to the Sudeten crisis which had kept Europe in fear of war for months. This time Hitler’s speech was closely analysed for signs of pacific intentions. He provided  ample fodder for the optimists, Neville Chamberlain well to the fore.  Hitler foresaw a long period of peace and stated at least twice that there was no fundamental quarrel between Britain and Germany although he did repeat his tradition complaint that Germany’s colonies had been stolen. He further obliged Chamberlain with his similarly ritual denunciation of the British “agitators” Churchill, Eden and Duff Cooper.

Chamberlain took advantage of a small ministerial reshuffle to sack Thomas Inskip, the Minister for Defence Coordination. His appointment  by Stanley Baldwin had attracted widespread derision when the title was created in 1935 and he was viewed as a token nonentity chosen to create as little disturbance as possible with the express intention of preventing the job being used as a platform to drive rearmament forward. Inskip confounded the sceptics; he had laboured unspectacularly and solidly in a delicate and complex task, He had made no serious no errors and caused no controversy but in recent months he had showed signs of disbelief that Munich had brought lasting peace to Europe by appearing to call for more rearmament than less. This was a career-limiting strategy in Chamberlain’s government. His replacement, the former First Sea Lord Chatfield, was widely admired for his competence but he was a thorough appeaser. Moreover, the Royal Navy was the only one of the services in a condition to fight a major war which skewed his ability to understand the needs of the army and RAF.

An apparently simple, small air accident in California became an international incident when it became known that one of the people killed aboard the sole prototype Douglas DB7 attack bomber (later known as the A20, Havoc or, in British service, Boston) when it crashed was Paul Chemidlin, a representative of the French government. He was in the US as part of a mission to investigate the possibility of buying warplanes for France. Partly because of the disruption caused by the Front Populaire’s nationalisation of the French aircraft industry, the reequipment of the French air arms was very badly behind schedule and imports offered practically the only solution. France had the colossal sum of $565m available to spend. This was controversial both in France where protectionist sentiment was outraged and in the US where the diversion of manufacturing capacity on the scale implied would choke off deliveries to the USAAC itself in the throes of a major expansion programme. French warplane purchases were no more palatable to isolationists in Congress.

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