The Munich Conference, held September 29, 1938, was a meeting of the heads of government of Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, represented by Führer and Reichs Chancellor Adolf Hitler, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, Prime Minister Édouard Daladier, and Duche and Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, respectively, for the purpose of discussing the future of the Sudetenland in the face of territorial demands made by Adolf Hitler. The conference convened in the Führerbau in Munich.
The meeting was intended mainly to discuss Germany's demands for the Sudetenland, where the Sudeten Germans formed the majority of the population. The Sudetenland was of immense strategic importance to Czechoslovakia, as most of its border defenses were situated there, and many of its banks and factories were located there as well.
While the aim of the conference was to solve the Sudetenland crisis in a peaceful manner, it eventually failed in preventing the outbreak of the Second World War. During the conference, news of the Krásná Lípa incident reached Hitler, prompting him to vent his rage against Czechoslovakia and order war to begin right in front of his horrified audience. Both Chamberlain and Daladier expressed their confusion of Hitler's rhetoric and sudden lack of interest to solve the issue peacefully.
Daladier, who had no illusions about Hitler's ultimate goals, even noted the incident was too convenient for Hitler's goal, which enraged Hitler even further. As a result, Daladier announced that France would abide by their alliance with Czechoslovakia in the case of a German attack, and subsequently walked out of the conference, quickly followed afterwards by a disappointed and a hesitant Chamberlain.
Germany invaded Czechoslovakia on October 1, 1938, as they had previously threatened. As a result, France, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union declared war on Germany on October 3.
Participants in the meeting in Hitler's office
Also attending the conference
Invited but not participating in the conference
The delegations arrive
The British delegation landed at the Oberwiesenfeld Aerodrome shortly before noon on September 29, where they were greeted by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, a military band, a SS guard of honor and crowds shouting "Heil Hitler!". They were taken directly to the Führerbau, where the conference were to be held, with Chamberlain passing the cheering crowds in an open-top car. Being the first leader to arrive at the Führerbau, he was greeted at the entrance by Keitel and, to an accompanying drum roll, they mounted the steps while the guard of honor saluted.
The French delegation, headed by Daladier, and Léger, and accompanied by Göring, arrived at the Führerbau shortly afterwards. Although having landed in Munich before Chamberlain, they had first been taken to their hotel, the Vier Jahreszeiten, by Ribbentrop, where they were later picked up by Göring.
Next to arrive was Mussolini, followed by a small army of Italian officers and diplomats, all wearing uniforms of varying degrees of gaudiness. Finally, Hitler himself, strode into the room, where everybody was waiting for the conference to begin, accompanied by his adjutants. He would give Mussolini a warm greeting and a exchange cold handshakes with Chamberlain and Daladier.
The conference begins
Hitler then invited the principal participants into his private study – the Arbeitszimmer – and the meeting thus began at 12:45 P.M. after the participants had taken their places besides a large fireplace, sitting in a circle around a low coffee table. Hitler sat with his back to the window, with Scmidt on his left sitting between him and Chamberlain, and Wilson to the left of the Prime Minister next to the fireplace. Weizsäcker and Ribbentrop sat opposite, alongside Daladier and Léger, while Mussolini and Ciano sat in a sofa facing the fireplace. The ambassadors, other diplomats and soldiers were all left outside.
Speaking camly, but from time to time raising his voice and beating his fist against the palm, Hitler thanked those present for accepting his invitation and pointed out the need for speedy decisions. Or, as noted by Paul Otto Schmidt:
|“||The existence of Czechoslovakia in her present form threatened the peace of Europe. [...] Germany could no longer contemplate the distress of the misery of the Sudeten German population. Reports of the destruction of the property were coming in in increasing numbers. The population was exposed to a barbaring persecution. Since he, the Führer, had last spoken to Mr. Chamberlain, the numbers of refugees has risen to 240,000 and there seemed to be no end to the flood. [...] This tension made it necessary to settle the problem in a few days as it was no longer possible to wait weeks. At the wish of Mussolini he, the Führer, had declared himself ready to postpone mobilization in Germany for 24 hours. Further delay would be a crime. [...] However, in order to ascertain exactly what territory was involved, it could not be left to a commission to decide. It was much rather a plebiscite hat was necessary, especially as for 20 years no free election had taken place in Czechoslovakia. He had declared in his speech, in the Sportspalast that he would in any case march in on October 1. He had received the answer that this action would have the character of an act of violence. Hence the task arose to absolve this action from such a character. Action must, however, be taken at once. [...] From the military aspect the occupation represented no problem, for the debts on all fronts were comparatively small. With a little good will it must consequently be possible to evacuate the territory in ten days; indeed, he was convinced, from 6 to 7 days. [...] The conditions governing the transfer could be discussed, but action must soon be taken.||”|
The three guests thanked the Führer for his hospitality, and it was then left to Mussolini to produce the written plan of action, the Weizsäcker-Neurath-Göring memorandum, which had been put into Italian since its transmittal to Rome the previous afternoon. Both Chamberlain and Daladier agreed to adopt the document as the basis for discussion.
The first clause, specifying October 1 for commencement of the evacuation, was accepted outright by Chamberlain, but a sign of trouble arose over the second clause, which stated that "the Guarantor Powers, England, France and Italy, will guarantee to Germany that the evacuation of the territory shall be completed by the 10th October, without any existing installations being destroyed." Raising the issue of the exclusion of Czechoslovakia, in a halfhearted effort to honor his promise to Czechoslovak President Edvard Beneš, Chamberlain asked how he could give such a guarantee when "there had been no opportunity to ascertain how far, if at all, the Czech government were or would be disposed to consent". For this purpose, he would need a formal assurance from an official Czech representative, who, he suggested, should be invited to join the conference forthwith.
This led to angry outburst, in which Hitler delivered a furious tirade against the Czechs in general and Beneš in particular, accusing them of a frightful tyranny over the Sudeten Germans. Daladier, who supported Chamberlain's insistence on the presence of a Czech representative and considered Hitler's demands "unacceptable", asked whether the conference wished Czechoslovakia to continue to exist or not. If Hitler's intention was to dismember Czechoslovakia and annex it to Germany. If so, there was nothing for him to do but return to France, as he refused to be associated with such a crime. Greatly agitated, Mussolini said it was all a misunderstanding, and Hitler then, in calmer tones, assured Daladier that he had no wish to annex any Czechs, and only wanted to bring all the Germans into a common national community.
The conference goes sour
As Hitler was giving his guarantee to Chamberlain and Daladier that he wished not dismember and annex Czechoslovakia, he was interrupted by a loud knocking on the door at around 3:05 P.M. Visibly irritated by the interruption, he ran towards the door and flung it open. There stood Major Rudolf Schmundt, his adjutant, who informed him that 10 German soldiers and civilians had been killed in a border incident between Czechoslovak soldiers and members of the Sudetendeutsches Freikorps at the Czechoslovak border region of Šluknov (Schluckenau).
Hitler, in total astonishment, took the telegram that Schmundt had brought with him and closed the door. He read the telegram carefully as he walked towards his guests, who looked at him confused and worried. This turned to gaping when Hitler, in a calm tone, informed them of the border incident. Hitler then exploded, shouting that this was a blunt act of aggression not only against the Sudeten Germans, but to Germany itself, and said that while he had done everything to be reasonable and generous, he had now no other choice but to punish Czechoslovakia.
Chamberlain, worried by Hitler's outburst, tried convincing Hitler that the incident likely was of an accidental nature, and that Czechoslovakia would gain nothing from this incident. In fact, Chamberlain noted, it was likely that the Foreign Ministry Counselor and the Czechoslovak Minister to Germany, Hubert Masařík and Vojtěch Mastný, would likely to agree to more concessions as a token og good will in response to the incident, and that the Czech government would withdraw their forces from the border to avoid further incidents. Masařík and Mastný had taken off from Frague at three in the afternoon and was to arrive sometime after four.
Hitler dismissed this, stating that he had only convened the summit because Chamberlain had persuaded him that the Czechs could be trusted, but that his initial thought that Czechoslovakia should be punished for her arrogance and brutality proved to be right. Daladier, who have had no illusions about Hitler's ultimate goals, responded bluntly that the incident seemed to be too convenient for Hitler, and asked why Hitler now was so keen on invading Czechoslovakia, in response to a incident which was accidental in nature and most likely would prompt the Czechs to respond with moderation.
Hitler exploded in rage, shouting that "Mr. Beneš must not only pay for his lies and atrocities against the Sudeten German people, but also the German people. As soon as I leave this office, Germany will declare war on Czechoslovakia." After a prolonged argument between Hitler, Chamberlain and Daladier, with Mussolini desperately trying to calm the others down, Chamberlain and Daladier excused themselves to discuss the situation.
Twenty minutes later Chamberlain and Daladier, along with their aides, returned to the study. With a grim look on their faces, Daladier declared that the incident, no matter how unfortunate, was not a reason to start a war over, and that in case Germany attacked Czechoslovakia, France and the United Kingdom would be forced to honor their treaty commitments with Czechoslovakia by declaring war on Germany. Hitler then screamed in anger, ordering Chamberlain and Daladier to leave.
As soon as the British and French delegations had left the Führerbau, Mussolini noted that while they stood with Germany, Italy was not ready for war. After short discussion, Hitler ordered General Wilhelm Keitel, the head of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, to initiate Case Green (Fall Grün), the plan for the invasion of Czechoslovakia.
Meanwhile, The French hastily returned to Hotel Vier Jahreszeiten to pack, while the British delegation returned to Hotel Regina. Shortly afterwards, Masařík and Mastný arrived at the Regina, still under the impression that the conference was still taking place, and with a note from President Beneš urging all sides to show restraint in the aftermath of the incident. They were shocked to learn, however, that the conference was over, since Hitler was refusing all other options than a military solution to the Sudetenland issue, and that the British delegation now were on their way home. As such, the British, French, Italian and Czech delegations returned home to prepare for the inevitable war.
At 06:00 A.M. on October 1, 1938, Germany invaded Czechoslovakia. Half an hour later, Hitler's proclamation to the Wehrmacht is read out over the radio:
|“|| The Czechoslovak State has refused the peaceful settlement of relations which I desired, and has appealed to arms. The Sudeten Germans are persecuted with bloody terror and driven from their houses. A series of violations of the frontier, intolerable to a great Power, prove that Czechoslovakia is no longer willing to respect the frontier of the Reich.
In order to put an end to this lunacy, I have no other choice than to meet force with force from now on. The German Army will fight the battle for the honour and the vital rights of reborn Germany with hard determination. I expect that every soldier, mindful of the great traditions of eternal German soldiery, will ever remain conscious that he is a representative of the National-Socialist Greater Germany. Long live our people and our Reich!
In Paris, the French Council of Ministers meet at the Elysée Palace, where they agreed to ask the National Assembly for a declaration of war and for a vote of funds to fight it. Foreign minister Georges Bonnet then met with Czechoslovak minister to Paris, Štefan Osuský, and told him that "France will fulfill all her obligations."
When the deadline for the French ultimatum to Germany expired at 11:00 A.M. on October 2, France declared war on Germany. This was followed by a British declaration of war against Germany two hours later. At 01:15 P.M., the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, announced the British deadline for the withdrawal of German troops from Czechoslovakia had expired.
He said the British ambassador to Berlin had handed a final note to the German government this morning saying unless it announced plans to withdraw from Czechoslovakia by 1300, a state of war would exist between the two countries.
Mr Chamberlain continued: "I have to tell you now that no such undertaking has been received and consequently this country is at war with Germany."