I understand that politicians are generally not expected to do what they say they will do. But Hitler was a rare exception and I think that is what alarmed Churchill. Hitler had so far done exactly what he had said he was going to do, the militarisation, the abolition of democracy, the Nuremberg laws and the rounding up of Jews and “undesirables: He had also promised first to take back all of the territories lost to the Treaty of Versailles, annex Austria and then take the entirety of Eastern Europe by force, and finally wipe Russia off the map incorporating all of the lands west of the Urals into the new “Germania.”
Franco saw it too. When Ribbentrop went to Madrid to pressure Franco into joining the “pact of steel,” he was quite confident that Franco would feel obligated to Hitler and Mussolini for their support. After all Franco would not have been in power without them. But Franco’s reply was blunt —
“Hitler will bring a catastrophe to Europe and I will not be standing by his side when it arrives.”
My own theory is that Britain and France knew that Germany was getting stronger and amassing allies as it went. They knew what Hitler’s goals were and Hitler’s goals were to create one massive superpower on the continent of Europe which would eventually control the Black Sea, the Baltic, the North Sea and the Mediterranean too. That was the scenario Europe’s two old Sea Powers were facing if Hitler succeeded in Russia or even if Hitler had somehow been persuaded to honour the Ribbentrop / Molotov deal.
Britain would fight for the Suez, but not for Poland. France would fight for Alsace but not for Danzig. It is easy to understand why.
But if Britain was comfortable that Germany had a right to take back previously German lands; then Hitler could have justified the invasion of Poland. Much of what the Germans took was formerly East Prussia anyway. He certainly had a more credible claim on Danzig than he ever had on Prague and the rest of Czechoslovakia, which he had already taken with a barely audible murmur of protest from Britain and France.
Poland used the opportunity to take a bite out of Czechoslovakia itself, so Poland was hardly a completely innocent party either. After the war; the Soviet Union once again re-drew the borders of Poland to suit itself and kept Poland as a vassal state for more than forty years. The USSR didn't seem to be remotely concerned about and British of French commitment to Poland.
Polish soldiers had fought for both Britain and Russia in WWII. In fact one of the most successful RAF squadrons during the Battle of Britain was a Polish one. They had done all this under the firm conviction that Britain Russia and France would all insist on full Polish independence after the war. In the end nobody obliged. Britain and France could make all the radio broadcasts they wanted, but they were not going to fight for Poland.
I can’t say I blame them.
But the British did fight for Egypt. They were willing and capable of fighting when their interests were threatened. Britain and France could have made things very difficult for Germany in Poland in 1939 if they had wanted too. They both had much larger Navies than Germany for a start, and they had enough troops in France to invade Germany directly and do some serious damage. France did actually send troops into Germany but their incursions were half baked and achieved nothing. The Germans refused to take the bait. But the reality for poor Poland was the France and Britain would not fight a war for Poland. They would only fight when their own interests were threatened. Poland had nothing to offer them other than a credible excuse to declare a war that they now knew was inevitably going to threaten them directly.
I think much is made of the Treaty of Versailles and how it was the primary cause of the war. But again I think people are often confusing reasons and aims, with publicly stated justifications. Hitler’s plans had very little to do with the Treaty of Versailles. It gave him some credible justifications for some of his early moves, but his ambitions were far wider. Russia after all was his principle goal, and he had no credible territorial claims of any kind on Russia.