Germany vs Great Britain: Appeasement & the Battle Over Britain

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  • 0:02 Britain & Germany in WWII
  • 0:43 Appeasement
  • 3:18 Battle Over Britain
  • 5:34 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we examine Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement in regards to Hitler's Germany prior to World War II and the ensuing Battle of Britain in 1940.

Britain and Germany in WWII

Are you a parent, or are you frequently around small children? If you are, chances are you've seen one or two epic meltdowns, where a child wanting a candy bar or a toy will stomp their feet, scream, cry, and generally raise hell until they get what they want. Though most psychologists and parenting experts advise not to give in, sometimes it just makes things easier.

Unfortunately, Great Britain's giving in to Europe's hell-raising country, Germany, in the 1930s did not make things better. In fact, it only encouraged Germany to create further problems and eventually start World War II (WWII) - a battle that Britain had to fight in Europe and over her own skies as well.


This pre-WWII British policy is often referred to as appeasement. Essentially, in the late 1930s, the British government rubber stamped several annexations and territorial conquests in central Europe by the German government under Adolf Hitler. There were two main motivating factors behind this policy: the idea that what Hitler was asking for was reasonable and the British government and society wanting terribly to avoid another war.

The first of these policies stemmed from Hitler's fascist regime's stated goal of unifying all German speakers in central Europe under the German flag. In addition, Hitler also attacked the Treaty of Versailles, which had ended World War I (WWI), as being unfair to Germany - an argument most in Western Europe and the United States accepted. It seemed reasonable to British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and others that Germany should recover some of the territory it had lost after WWI, especially if that territory was occupied by a sizable German-speaking population.

Secondly, the British people desperately wanted to avoid war in the 1930s. Both Chamberlain and the British people remembered the horrors of WWI, where hundreds of thousands died in a matter of hours, many of whom were young British soldiers. All of Britain wanted to avoid this at all costs. So opposed to war were the British people, that Chamberlain feared a declaration of war against Germany could cause his minority government to face a landslide defeat in a possible general election.

Finally, Neville Chamberlain received personal assurances from Adolf Hitler that the unification of German-speaking people was the only territory Adolf Hitler was after - further conquest was not on the table. As a result, in a secret meeting at Berchtesgaden in September 1938, Chamberlain agreed to grant Hitler and Germany the rights to the Sudetenland, a border territory in Czechoslovakia with a large German-speaking minority. Chamberlain did this without consulting the Czechoslovakian government, and he persuaded France to agree to the annexation.

At the time, Chamberlain appeared to have won a diplomatic victory, famously claiming to have secured 'peace in our time.' Hindsight, however, has made that statement look foolhardy. In early 1939, Hitler's German troops invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. Britain then guaranteed Poland support against German aggression - an act which forced Britain to war later in 1939 after the German invasion of Poland started WWII. Chamberlain's error in judgment cost him his premiership in early 1940, and he died later that year.

Battle Over Britain

With the war started, Great Britain was determined to help her allies on the continent. However, British hesitation and the speed of the German blitzkrieg had made Poland a lost cause. Britain then set her sights on aiding France in repelling the German onslaught. What few forces Britain sent to France helped little, and the Germans occupied all of France by the fall of 1940.

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