Competition for resources within the armed services and confusion about Germany’s foreign policy objectives prompted Hitler to call a meeting at the Reich Chancellery on November 5, 1937. It was attended by Blomberg, Foreign Minister Konstantin Freiherr von Neurath, the commanders-in-chief of the three armed services (General Werner von Fritsch, Admiral Erich Raeder, and Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring), and Hitler’s military adjutant, Colonel Friedrich Hossbach, who took the protocol. Hitler refrained from describing the full scope of his goals at the meeting; rather, he tried to prepare the military and the Foreign Office for diplomatic and military steps that would be taken against Austria and Czechoslovakia, regardless of the possible actions of Britain or France. (Nonetheless, some of Hitler’s remarks still betray his interest in a much broader war of expansion.) Given the status of German rearmament, Blomberg and Fritsch reacted with hesitation, warning against the dangers of a war with Britain and France.
Fritsch, at least according to his own account, had a history of difficulties with Hitler dating back to his initial appointment in 1934. Blomberg, on the other hand, had enjoyed good relations with him up to this point. After the November 5th meeting, however, high Nazi officials saw the need to eliminate both men from the top of the military hierarchy. They quickly resorted to underhanded measures. After Blomberg remarried on January 12, 1938, a police file surfaced on his new bride – it indicated a prior arrest for prostitution. Shortly thereafter, a false accusation of homosexuality was raised against Fritsch. Hitler handily used these so-called scandals to force both men from office. (Fritsch insisted on a military court martial and was eventually acquitted but not restored to office.) Hitler himself replaced Blomberg as Minister of War; his new commander-in-chief of the army was Walter von Brauchitsch (1881-1948). (Ironically, Hitler had given Brauchitsch money to quickly resolve his own marital problems in time for his appointment.) Neurath, who had also expressed concerns at the November 5th meeting, was replaced by the Hitler devotee Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893-1946) (28).
After the German invasion on March 12, 1938, the annexation (Anschluss) of Austria proceeded without serious foreign repercussions. But German demands on Czech sovereignty and claims to Czech territory – the ethnically mixed German-Czech border region known as the Sudetenland – brought the two countries to the brink of war. Hitler’s real objective, voiced at the November 5th meeting, was not to annex the Sudetenland but to destroy the entire country. France had already signed a formal treaty to protect Czechoslovakia but wanted to ensure British backing. The British, however, supported the rectification of imbalances in the Treaty of Versailles and thus had no intention of helping the Czechs. At the suggestion of Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and French Premier Édouard Daladier traveled to Munich for a last-minute summit conference on September 29, 1938. Unprepared for war both politically and militarily, Chamberlain and Daladier gave in to Hitler’s demands for an immediate German annexation of the Sudetenland. The last step in Britain’s policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany, the Munich Agreement has come to symbolize the dangers of making diplomatic concessions to an aggressor.
(28) Harold C. Deutsch, Hitler and his Generals: The Hidden Crisis, January-June 1938 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1974).