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Throughout the 1930s Britain was more prosperous than Germany in terms of income per head and it was less severely affected by the Great Depression than either Germany or the U.S.

As for military strength, the issue is difficult. When Hitler came to power Britain was not expecting to be involved in a major war and had been spending as little as possible on defence. (However, there were contingency plans to build up the armed forces if the need arose. These plans were based on certain assumptions about the likely speed with which a potential enemy could build up its forces, so these plans weren't simple).

Although Britain was a great power the British Empire was geographically far flung, whereas Germany was a single compact country with easy internal communications.

In the 1920s and early 1930s Britain had invested very heavily in the Southern Hemisphere - South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. One important side-effect of this was that Britain was least powerful where it need a really firm 'clenched fist' when confronting Germany - namely, in Europe.

Starting in 1934 Britain did in fact start to build up its defenses, starting with the RAF. From 1935 onwards vast sums were spent on defense. A lot of this expenditure was based on the assumption that Germany would not be ready to fight a major war till 1941 or 1942.

In Britain there was a widespread feeling that the Treaty of Versailles had been too harsh and there was a willingness in principle to alter some of its provisions.

Unlike Germany, Britain was a democracy and politicians had to gain public support for their policies. There was no desire in Britain for a 're-run' of WW1.

  • There were very few people in high office in Britain who had much understanding of Germany or any idea of what Nazism was. Even those who did know underestimated the momentum of developments. (This contrasts with the situation before WW1 when there were people in public office who knew Germany well. Haldane (Minister of War from 1906-1910), for example, had studied there).
  • It would helplful if those who say that Britain 'should have done something' and 'should have stood up to Hitler' would say specifically what Britain should have done. A thundrous denunciation by the British parliament wouldn't have achieved much. Part of the difficulty was that Britain would have been dependent on France, and since early in 1934 France was the most deeply divided country in Western Europe. In 1934 the French Fascists tried to storm the National Assmebly; in 1936 the Popular Front (an electoral alliance of Socialists, Communists and Radicals) came to power, which resulted in the complete alienation of many French conservatives. Agreed, Britain should have 'done something', but it would have amounted to little more than posturing.
  • In the event, Britain did in fact rearm - not fast enough, and some of the rearmament was based on inaccurate assumptions about the speed and dynamism of Nazism. Nevertheless, British rearmament was on the whole carried out intelligently, and very large sums went into capital-intensive projects, especially aircraft, air defences, aircraft carriers, battleships and the high level of mechanization of the army. (For example, by 1939 it had the only army in Europe that used horses solely for ceremonial purposes and not even for transport).

Remember that hindsight is man's greatest gift: ask any stockbroker. :)

Joncey

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Yes Britain was a democracy and the British people didn't particularly want to fight another war so soon after "The war to end all wars"

France was more concerned with its own defence than becoming involved in policing other territories and the USA was suspicious of becoming drawn into any conflict where it would only directly benefit its allies, as had happened in WWI.

Hitler actually produced better political arguments than military campaigns.

During the inter war years there was a great emphasis on Self determination for all nations, as laid down by Woodrow Wilson when he drew up his 14 points for peace.

Hitler used this argument for all his intial expansion. All he apealed for was German rule for Germanic people. In the Rhineland, in Austria, in the Sudetenland and even in Poland, which before 1914 had been ruled by Germany for centuries.

If Britain alone had tried to resist what seemed to be reasonable demands, then had war broken out, they would not have received the same support from the USA than they did after they gave into Hitler's demands time and time again only for him to push for more and more. For example, if Britain had sent troops into the Rhineland then the Nazis would have campaigned for support in the USA rather than the British.

Britain was always primarily a sea power. In both World Wars in the beginning, they only sent a token force to support France, so for Britain to take on Germany alone would be unthinkable. Only when they were forced into that position after Dunkirk, did they even consider it.

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Q: What was Britain like economically and military before World War 2 and why if it was more powerful than Germany didn't it stand up to Germany?
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