Eighty years ago, Hitler repeats his discredited demand for colonies in Africa as Lloyd George puts down his marker as the man of a negotiated settlement

Even before Hitler launched his much-heralded “peace offensive”, former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George rushed to stake his claim as the voice of potential compromise with a call to the House of Commons that any proposals coming from the German side should not be rejected out of hand. Few would have forgotten that he had visited Hitler at the Berghof in 1936. In the event there was little substance to what Hitler eventually proposed in his speech: some form of conference and a colonial settlement. It was little more than a manoeuvre to portray Britain and France as the war-mongers, but it did garner some favourable comment in the USA. The latter was an old chestnut that would have alerted any informed insider that he was hardly being serious; when Neville Chamberlain had tried to buy Hitler’s friendship in early 1938 with the suggestion of returning formerly German-held territories in African seized in the First World War with millions of inhabitants, Hitler had turned down the idea flat. Chamberlain's offer had been sincere but Hitler's demands was not. To no-one’s surprise Chamberlain rebuffed Hitler’s approach.

Chamberlain’s government underwent its most bruising open Parliamentary drubbing until its fall the following spring. The Ministry of Information was proving to be an utter shambles and the Labour opposition took great delight in using a debate on its performance to rub the government’s nose in it. Pre-war preparations for propaganda and censorship had been so inept that it is hard to escape the conclusion that Chamberlain and Sir Horace Wilson, his chief civil service adviser and eminence grise, who had been entrusted with this work, ever expected them to be necessary. Certainly Wilson’s priorities had been of avoid any potential offence to the Germans and any attempt at empire-building by ministers. One of the senior politicians who had suffered from this, Sir Sam Hoare, took positive relish in the most perfunctory defence of the government imaginable, reminding Parliament gratuitously of the farcical episode of the ex-post facto censorship of the arrival of the British Army in France. Government critics took especially delight in the fact that the Ministry had exactly 999 staff on its books; the figure was mentioned twelve times in the debate. It was hard to claim that the war effort was being in any way assisted by their efforts. A memoir by one the Ministry’s employees was to be entitled 999 And All That.

The partition of Poland proved to be only the start of the Soviet Union's projects to expand its sphere of power as it took full advantage of Germany’s de facto acceptance that it had an unchallenged sphere of influence in the Baltic. Stalin secured the right to install military bases in Lithuania in exchange for the city of Vilna, seized as part of Poland. Finland gave every sign of not planning to be as cooperative in allowing the Soviet Union to extend its reach to the north of the Baltic. The capital Helsinki had been partially evacuated in anticipation of a military attack as its leader were “invited” to Moscow for talks.


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