By January 1936 Hitler had decided exactly what he wanted to do. As ever, he needed a realistic excuse for action, but there was none available. Then the French played into his hands. The Versailles Treaty of 1919, which had ended World War I, had imposed many onerous restraints on Germany. The resentment many Germans had felt towards the Versailles Treaty had been behind much of the support given to the Nazi Party, the only party in Germany openly stating it would repudiate the hated Treaty.
One of the most resented clauses in Versailles was the stipulation that a large swathe of Germany near the border with France was to be closed to Germany’s armed forces. No German troops were allowed on the west bank of the Rhine or within 30 miles of the east bank, an area known as the Rhineland. France had insisted on the clause for the purely defensive military reason that it would take the Germans so long to get an invasion army over the Rhine and into position that should they do so the French would have plenty of time to call up their reserves and form a strong defence. The Germans, however, resented the fact that their entire western border was wide open to attack.
In January 1936 Hitler heard that the French were preparing to sign a treaty with Russia. Hitler believed that this move put France in breach of the mutual non-aggression treaty signed by France, Germany and Belgium in 1925 and known as the Locarno Pact. He decided to use this alleged breach of the Locarno Pact as justification for marching troops into the Rhineland and over the Rhine.
On 12 February 1936, Hitler told his War Minister, Werner von Blomberg of his plans, then summoned General Walther von Fritsch, head of the Army, to his office. He asked the general how long it would take to move a few battalions of infantry and a battery of artillery into the Rhineland. Fritsch told him it could be organised in three days, but warned Hitler that the army was in no condition for a war with France. If the French sent their forces into the Rhineland to drive out the German troops, Fritsch warned, there would be a catastrophe. He advised it would be better to negotiate.
Hitler refused to consider a debate with France, both because it would take too long and because it would be a sign of weakness.
from Hitler, Military Commander by Rupert Matthews
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