Anglo-German Naval Agreement
Contributor: C. Peter Chen
In mid-1935, amidst the protest of a small group of "alarm-mongers and scare-mongers" such as Sir John Simon and Winston Churchill, Germany and Britain engaged in the Anglo-German Naval Agreement. Throwing aside all naval limitations placed by the Versailles Treaty, and without consulting with France, through this agreement Britain allowed Germany to build a naval force that was not to exceed 35% of her own, while agreeing to withdraw the British Royal Navy from the Baltic Sea. This was one of the prime examples of British appeasement policy of the time. To the members of the British Parliament, this appeared to continue to maintain Britain's status of the world's dominant naval power, but many of them failed to recognize Britain had a world empire to defend, while Germany's fleet would be concentrated entirely near her home ports. The agreement allowed Germany to build up to 21 cruisers, 64 destroyers (though she would not build so many surface ships before she invaded Poland in 1939), and through a mis-phrasing or mistranslation of the treaty, as many submarines as she wanted. Churchill noted this treaty as the "acme of gullibility" and pointed out that Britain had "condoned this unilateral violation of the Treaty [of Versailles]".
Indirectly, this also aided the future Axis power Japan; with a potential powerful German navy, the British now must maintain a strong presence in North Atlantic, therefore unable to satisfy the demand for a strong naval presence at her great Pacific colonies of Australia, New Zealand, and Singapore.
Germany had much to gain from the purposefully-rushed negotiations conducted by Joachim von Ribbentrop in London. Much of Germany's iron imports were from Scandinavia, and needed the Baltic Sea to safely transport the ore into Germany for war production. Then, Germany also gained from this treaty the freedom to construct submarines, something the Treaty of Versailles had explicitly prohibited; with that weapon, Germany would nearly strangle Britain in the blockade. Lastly, with Berlin's instructions to hurriedly complete the negotiations of the treaty without input from Britain's WW1 allies, Ribbentrop had further alienated Britain and France. "French loyalty to the triumphant entente of 1914-1918 was vital to England's safety", said William Manchester; in 1935, France wondered why Britain would free Germany of her Versailles restrictions and place a sizeable German fleet practically on the French coast. If Britain indeed had France's welfare in mind, then perhaps this treaty spoke for one of the biggest myths at the time that the French army, with its "impenetrable" Maginot Line, was the "finest in the world".
Sources: the Last Lion, Wikipedia.
Anglo-German Naval Agreement Timeline
|18 Jun 1935||The Anglo-German Naval Agreement was signed, limiting the German Navy to 35% of the British Navy.|
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George Patton, 31 May 1944