Neville Chamberlain: Four ways appeasement Prime Minister helped win World War 2

Munich – The Edge Of War: Official Netflix trailer

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“You would never notice him in a crowd and would take him for the house painter he once was.” These were Neville Chamberlain’s words after he first met Adolf Hitler in September 1938, desperately attempting to avoid war. The pair were locked in tense negotiations during that fateful month. The Führer was desperate to get his hands on a part of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland, which he argued really belonged to Germany, so it would not be an “invasion” in the true meaning of the word.

France, however, was duty bound to protect Czechoslovakia, so the situation posed a very serious threat of war.

Amid mounting concerns, Chamberlain flew out for face-to-face talks with Hitler, in what became the Munich Agreement.

The story is portrayed in a new film, with Chamberlain portrayed by Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons.

‘Munich: The Edge of War’ tells the story of Chamberlain’s attempts to avoid a war.

Chamberlain was photographed waving an agreement with Hitler after the conference in Munich, declaring “peace for our time”.

World War 2 began less than a year later, with Chamberlain’s words judged naïve, something he has been vilified for ever since.

The film is an adaptation of Robert Harris’ bestselling book ‘Munich’.

Mr Harris told the BBC earlier this week that Chamberlain’s “diplomacy” proved crucial in Britain’s war effort, since it gave the country time to re-arm.

That, he argued, was Chamberlain’s everlasting legacy.

This has been echoed by historian Leo McKinstry, who cited four ways Chamberlain helped lay the foundations for Allied victory.

Writing in The Telegraph in 2018, he said: “Neville Chamberlain was no traitor. He was a hero who laid the foundations for victory.”

The first, and perhaps most obvious, was that the deal brought Britain time to prepare for war.

Mr McKinstry added: “In 1938 there was neither the public mood nor the military capacity to take on the Reich.”

According to stats published in The Guardian in 2011, the UK had approximately 385,000 full-time military personnel in 1938.

The following year, this number had surpassed one million. By 1945, this was just shy of five million.

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The second, Mr McKinstry argued, was Britain’s air defence.

Chamberlain, unlike many of Britain’s military strategists, wanted to prioritise rearmament programmes on fighter planes.

He believed they could provide an “effective aerial shield”, and were significantly cheaper than bombers.

Mr McKinstry wrote: “Without Chamberlain’s cold pragmatism, it is conceivable that the RAF in 1940 would have had far too many obsolete bombers and far too few Spitfires and Hurricanes.”

Allowing Winston Churchill to succeed him as Prime Minister in May 1940 was his third contribution, Mr McKinstry argued.

King George VI, much of the Cabinet and most Tory MPs wanted Lord Halifax, then Foreign Secretary, as his successor.

Chamberlain felt otherwise. Mr McKinstry wrote: “But Chamberlain, despite his personal antipathy to Churchill, put the cause of the nation above his own feelings and party politics.

“After a series of meetings on May 10 and 11, he decided to tell the King that Churchill was the only possible choice.”

Chamberlain’s final pivotal act was his support of Churchill rejecting a peace deal with Germany.

With France on the brink of collapse at the end of May 1940, Halifax called on the Cabinet to begin negotiating with Axis powers to achieve some form of settlement.

Mr McKinstry said: “His demand represented a return to the worst kind of appeasement, and Churchill recognised that such a move would shatter all hope of British defiance.”

In the film ‘Darkest Hour’, Chamberlain is shown to back Halifax’s ideas, however Mr McKinstry said this is “completely untrue”.

He wrote: “During the lengthy Cabinet discussions, Chamberlain came to reject his former stance on appeasement and instead sided with Churchill and Labour.

“At one meeting, he declared ‘an approach to Italy would not serve any useful purpose’.

“At another, he described the diplomatic manoeuvre as a ‘considerable gamble’.”

Ultimately, the Allies fought on. Within weeks, the Dunkirk evacuations took place, sparking a revival of British morale.

Months later, the RAF inflicted the first defeat on the Third Reich since its invasion of Poland in the Battle of Britain.

Mr McKinstry said: “Chamberlain deserved a large amount of credit for that victory, which ultimately turned the tide of the war.”

Chamberlain died from cancer just over a month after the Battle of Britain.

‘Munich: The Edge of War’ is in select cinemas now and will be available on Netflix from January 21.

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