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Remilitarization of the Rhineland

Updated on March 22, 2013
German soldiers enter Aachen, Germany on the border with Belgium during the remilitarization of the Rhineland.
German soldiers enter Aachen, Germany on the border with Belgium during the remilitarization of the Rhineland. | Source
The Wehrmacht moves into the Rhineland during the remilitariztion of the area as German civilians look on.
The Wehrmacht moves into the Rhineland during the remilitariztion of the area as German civilians look on. | Source
A map of Europe with the Rhineland highlighted in yellow.
A map of Europe with the Rhineland highlighted in yellow. | Source

Remilitarization of the Rhineland

A key component of the Treaty of Versailles and later the Treaty of Locarno had to do with the Rhineland, an area of southwest Germany on the frontier with France and Belgium. The Rhineland of southern Germany is the industrial hub of all of Germany, a significant portion of their industrial infrastructure is found there. As part of the treaty, Germany was not to have a military presence in an area from the left side of the Rhine to 30 miles from the east bank. This statute was put in place to provide a buffer for France and Belgium from future German aggression.

In May 1935, Adolf Hitler reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to this portion of the treaty as long as the French and British complied as well. The treaty of Locarno stipulated that the Rhineland remain permanently demilitarized and as long as France and Britain complied, the Germans would too.

In 1935, the French and the Soviet Union signed a mutual assistance treaty in a preemptive move to contain aggression coming from Nazi Germany. In Hitler’s opinion, this was all the reason he needed to remilitarize the Rhineland, to him it was a clear violation of the Treaty of Locarno. Something tells me Hitler would have used just about any excuse to move the Wehrmacht back into the Rhineland.

On 7 March 1936, German military forces crossed the frontier into the Rhineland, in clear violation of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaty. After discussion with his top generals, Hitler vowed that if there were any push back from France, then German forces would withdraw back into Germany immediately. The reason was obvious, the Wehrmacht wasn’t fully ready for a military conflict, and Hitler and his generals knew it.

The French of course didn’t act, the reasoning can be debated in perpetuity but it seems to have come down to money. The Great Depression still had the world economy in ruins and France was no exception, at an estimated cost of between 30 and 50 million Francs per month, it was determined that this seemingly ancillary move was not worth the perceived financial burden.

The British response was even more muted, after just 16 years since the last war on the continent the British had no desire for another conflict. Based on the response of both of the interested parties it’s safe to say that Hitler’s gamble in the Rhineland paid off in spades.

Hitler’s motive for this move do not seem to be as clear cut, there is one school of thought that believes that the move was his first step in global domination, the first domino to fall. There is another school of thought that believes the action in the Rhineland was designed to distract the people of Germany from the economic hardships of the Great Depression. In fact it appears to have been a little bit of both, there’s no doubt that Hitler always intended to reoccupy the Rhineland and the timing, as far as the economy was concerned, was perfect.

The people of Germany had always felt betrayed by their leaders when they capitulated in World War One, and the situation in the Rhineland only compounded the issue. Hitler knew that the move back into the Rhineland would enhance his image with the people of Germany by righting a wrong that was perpetrated against them by the Allies of World War One, a catharsis if you will.

Copyright© 2013 R. Bertz

Murray, W., Millett, A.R. (2000). A war to be won: Fighting the second world war. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Keegan, J. (1989). The second world war. London, UK: Penguin Books.

Wall, D.D. (1997). Nazi Germany & world war two. Minneapolis, MN: West Publishing Company

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    • rlbert00 profile image
      Author

      rlbert00 5 years ago from USA

      Right. Hindsight is 20/20 and I have no doubt that if the French and the British had known what would transpire following their inaction in the Rhineland, they would have found a way to find the resources to stop the Germans there. I don't believe it would have taken much, Hitler's orders were very clear, if they met resistance they were to retreat out of the area. Thank you again for your continued support and kind words.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      Another interesting hub, rlbert00. This was the first (and least costly) chance the French and British had to topple Hitler. As you point out, it was, ironically, the financial cost of mobilizing the French troops that kept them idle. Hindsite is SO 20/20. Voted up and interesting.

    • mandymoreno81 profile image

      mandymoreno81 5 years ago

      Excellent hub, nice little piece about an event that played a part in the rise of Nazi Germany's militarism.

    • profile image

      Ronin2012 5 years ago

      great writing !