THE INTER-WAR PERIOD 1936
The announcement of the death of King George V was broadcast by the British Pathe News on the 20th January 1936. George V was King of the United Kingdom, the British Dominions, and Emperor of India. He ascended the throne on the 6th May 1910. Born during the reign of his grandmother Queen Victoria, he served in the Royal Navy from 1887 to 1891. Following the death of his elder brother in 1892 George became the Prince of Wales. George V’s reign saw the rise of socialism, communism, fascism, Irish republicanism and the Indian independence movement. The political landscape was radically changed and the Parliament Act 1911 established the supremacy of the elected British House of Commons over the unelected House of Lords. In 1917 King George renamed the Monarchy from the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor as a result of anti-German public sentiment. He had smoking-related health problems throughout much of his later reign and at his death was succeeded by his eldest son, Edward VIII.
The 1936 Winter Olympics was hosted by Germany and began on the 6th February 1936 and ended on the 26th February 1936. The Olympics were a winter multi-sport event and held in the market town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen in Bavaria, and officially opened by Adolf Hitler. Organised on behalf of the German League of the Reich for Physical Exercise (DRL) the Olympics consisted of 17 events in 8 disciplines over 4 sports. Of the twenty-eight nations participating, ten received medals. A total of fifty-one medals were available of which Norway was the highest with fifteen medals. Both France and Hungary received one medal each.
In Britain on the 5th March 1936, the Supermarine Spitfire flew for the first time from Eastleigh in Hampshire. Reginald J (RJ) Mitchell had developed the fighter from the racing seaplanes built by Supermarine to compete in the Schneider Trophy competitions. In 1931 Mitchell achieved his quest to “perfect the design of the racing seaplane” which culminated in the aircraft breaking the world speed record. But he was concerned about developments in German aviation and feared that British defences needed to be strengthened especially in the air. During this time the Air Ministry issued a specification for another fighter aircraft to replace the Gloster Gauntlet. Mitchell brought together many technical advances made by other manufacturers to produce the prototype. It was his experience of high speed flight and the combination of the various designs that allowed Mitchell to produce the Spitfire. He is reputed to say that the “Spitfire was just the sort of bloody silly name they would choose”. Sadly, Mitchell did not see just how significant his Spitfire would become because he died of cancer in January 1937. The Spitfire alongside the Hurricane were the two fighters to take on the might of the German Luftwaffe during the Battle of Britain in 1940.
The Remilitarization of the Rhineland by the German army took place on the 7th March 1936 when the German Army entered the Rhineland. This was significant because it violated the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties, marking the first time since the end of the Great War that German troops had been in this region. The remilitarization changed the balance of power in Europe from France towards Germany, and made it possible for Germany to pursue a policy of aggression in Western Europe.
In Germany Adolf Hitler appointed Hermann Göring Commissar for Raw Materials and Foreign Currency on the 4th April 1936.
Italian troops entered Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on the 5th May 1936 following the invasion and occupation in October 1935. The war was a cruel affair. The Ethiopians used Dum-dum bullets, which had been banned by the Hague Convention of 1899. The Italians used poison gas which had been prohibited under the Geneva Protocol of 1922. When Addis Ababa had been occupied Emperor Haile Selassie pleaded with the League of Nations for aid in resisting the Italians but it was not forthcoming. The country was formally annexed on the 9th May 1936 and the Emperor went into exile. He remained Emperor of Ethiopia whilst in exile and reclaimed his throne in 1941 following the surrender of Italian East Africa. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini proclaimed the abolition of slavery for the 9 million slaves in all Ethiopia. The Italians invested substantially in Ethiopian development. They created many “imperial roads” and constructed 900 km of railways as well as new dams, hydroelectric plants and airports.
In Germany the Messerschmitt Bf 110 aircraft flew for the first time on the 12th May 1936 as part of the Luftwaffe air development. Göring was in favour of the twin-engine heavy fighter although it had weaknesses. The biggest weakness was the lack of agility in which was exploited to full advantage by the RAF during the Battle of Britain in 1940. During this period the role of the ‘110’ was to escort German bombers on their raids on London. Later they were designated as night fighters during the subsequent British bombing raids on Germany.
On the 3rd June 1936, Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe Walther Wever was killed when the Heinkel HE Blitz he was flying crashed. The aircraft had not been properly examined during pre-flight checks, and the aileron gust pins had not been removed. The gust pin on an aircraft is a mechanism that locks the control surfaces whilst the aircraft is parked on the ground. The aircraft was airborne when the wing dipped and the Heinkel stalled and went in a low level horizontal cartwheel. Wever was on a return flight from Dresden to Berlin. He had seen action in the Great War serving as a staff officer in the German Army High Command. He became the Chief of Staff of the Luftwaffe shortly after its creation on the 26th February 1935. He was a supporter of strategic bombing but following his death smaller high speed medium bombers were developed. Some strategic bomber programmes were initiated but the development was too late in the war to have any meaningful effect.
The Vickers Wellington was a British twin-engined long range medium bomber which had its first flight on the 15th June 1936. It was designed during the 1930s at Vickers-Armstrong‘s Weybridge plant and led by chief designer Rex Pierson. The airframe fuselage structure was designed by Barnes Wallis which was built in a honeycomb like arrangement to allow the stresses of the airframe to equalise. The Air Ministry Specification called for a twin-engined day bomber capable of delivering a higher performance than any previous design. The Wellington was used as a night bomber in the early years of the Second World War and performed as one of the principal bombers used by Bomber Command. Later in the war larger four-engined “heavies” such as the Avro Lancaster began to replace the Wellington.
On the 17th July 1936 the Spanish Civil War began with a military uprising in Morocco triggered by events in Madrid. Within days Spain was divided. On the one side were the “Republican” or “Loyalist” faction who were revolutionary anarchist with Trotsky pockets of supporters. Opposing them were the “Nationalists” under the insurgent generals and eventually, under the leadership of Francisco Franco. By the summer there were atrocities on both sides. Through the diplomatic efforts of Britain and France, all European governments signed a non-intervention agreement not to supply arms to Spain. It did not deter Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany from openly supplying arms and men and committing support to the “Nationalists.” German dictator Adolf Hitler sought to establish a relationship with the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini as he had been impressed with Italy’s early military successes. Flattered by Hitler’s overtures, Mussolini interpreted the recent diplomatic and military victories as proof of his genius. The Soviet Union offered only intermittent help by sending war material and ’advisers’ to the “Republican” government.
The international multi-sport events in the 1936 Summer Olympics was held in Berlin, Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler saw the games as an opportunity to promote his government. The games were officially declared open by Hitler on the 1st August 1936 and ended on the 16th August 1936. Adolf Hitler had a huge sports complex constructed including a new 100,000 seat track and field stadium. He also had built a state-of-the-art Olympic village for housing the athletes. Olympic flags and swastikas bedecked the monuments and houses of crowded Berlin. The spectators were in a festive mood. Forty nine athletic teams from around the world competed in the Berlin Olympics, more than in any other Olympics. Germany fielded the largest team with 348 athletes, and as a gesture to placate international opinion the German authorities allowed the Jewish star fencer Helene Mayer to represent Germany. She won a silver medal in the women’s individual fencing. Helene had been stripped of her German citizenship in 1935 under the anti-Jewish laws. After the games she settled in America and returned to Germany in 1952, where she married. The couple settled in Heidelberg where she died of breast cancer in October 1953 aged 42. No other Jewish athlete competed for Germany in the Summer Games. The US team was the second largest with 312 members including 18 African Americans. Coloured American Jessie Owens won four gold medals in the sprint and long jump events and became the most successful athlete to compete in Berlin. The US came in second with 56 medals while Germany secured 89 medals to have the highest tally. Great Britain total number of medals won was 14. The Soviet Union was not invited to participate in the Olympics as they had not been involved in international sporting events since the 1920 Olympics. However, there were controversies. Many tourists were unaware that the Nazi regime had temporarily removed anti-Jewish signs. Hitler’s official Nazi party newspaper wrote that Jews and Black people should not be allowed to compete in the Games. When threatened with a boycott of the Games, Hitler relented and allowed Black people and one Jew to participate.
Hermann Göring became Commissioner for the Four Year Plan on the 18th October 1936. This appointment, as well as being Commissar for Raw Materials and Foreign Currency, gave him a great deal of influence over the German economy. He was entrusted with the task of mobilizing all sections of the economy for war. This assignment brought numerous government agencies under his control and helped to make him one of the wealthiest men in the country.
The Great Purge in Russia began during 1936. The Soviet government put Leon Trotsky on trial in his absence in October 1936 accusing him of conspiring against Josef Stalin. Along with sixteen of his supporters, who were called the ”Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre” they were all found guilty and sentenced to death. This show trial was the first of the Moscow Trials.
The Suiyuan Campaign was an attempt by the Inner Mongolian Army and Grand Han Righteous Army to take control of the Republic of China by launching the invasion of Suiyuan on the 14th November 1936. These two forces were founded and supported by Imperial Japan and occurred shortly before the Second Sino-Japanese War. Mongolia is on the northern borders of China. Inner Mongolia wished to use Mongolia as a buffer state between China and Russia. The Japanese government denied taking part in the operation, but the Inner Mongolian and the Grand Hans Righteous Army received air support from Japanese planes and were assisted by the Imperial Japanese Army and overseen by Japanese staff officers. The Japanese backed forces launched an attack against the Chinese defenders of Suiyuan but they were repulsed. Over the next few days they continued to launch assaults against the city’s walls but were beaten back sustaining considerable losses. On the 17th November 1936 the Chinese counter-attack surprised the invaders which led to a disorganised retreat to their headquarters in Bailingmiao. Due to the lack of training and the low morale among the Mongolians the campaign was unsuccessful. The defence of Suiyuan by China’s National Revolutionary Army was one of the first major successes over Japanese supported Inner Mongolian forces which greatly improved the Chinese morale.
German involvement in the Fighting during the Spanish Civil War, began on the 15th November 1936. They allied themselves to Francisco Franco’s “Nationalist” regime against “Republican” forces. Heavy air and artillery bombardment began and the German Condor Legion went into action together with Moors from Morocco. The Legionaries broke through to the University City of Madrid where they were confronted by stalemate. By the 23rd November 1936 frontal attacks on Madrid had ceased and individual lines had been stabilized. On the 17th November 1936 both Germany and Italy recognised Franco’s “Nationalist” regime. More importantly for Germany, their military forces gained valuable battle experience which was used to advantage in 1939.
The Anti-Comintern Pact was an anti-Communist pact concluded between Germany and Japan on the 25th November 1936. In case of an attack by the Soviet Union against Germany or Japan, the two countries agreed to consult on what measures to take to safeguard their common interests. They also agreed neither of them would make any political treaties with Soviet Union, and Germany also agreed to recognise Manchukuo. In 1932 the Imperial Japanese Army had established the Empire of Manchukuo as a puppet state in Manchuria, a region of north-eastern China.
By 1st December 1936 the Hitler Youth movement membership had reached over five million. From July 1933 until 1945 the Hitler Youth was the sole official Nazi Party youth organisation which was partly paramilitary and comprised of male youths aged 14 to 18. The League of German Girls was the female equivalent. One reason the Hitler Youth so easily came into existence stems from the fact that numerous youth movements existed across Germany after the Great War. Once Hitler came to power the transition from seemingly innocuous youth movements to political entities focussing on Hitler was swift.
A constitutional crisis in the British Empire arose when King Edward VIII proposed to marry Mrs. Wallis Simpson. She was an American citizen who had divorced her first husband and was in process of divorcing her second. The governments of the United Kingdom and the British Commonwealth opposed the marriage on religious, legal, political and moral grounds. As British monarch, Edward was the nominal head of the Church of England, which did not then allow divorced people to remarry in church if their ex-spouses were still alive. For this reason, it was believed that Edward could not marry Wallis Simpson and remain on the throne. She was perceived to be politically and socially unsuitable as a prospective queen consort because of her two failed marriages. Edward declared that he loved Wallis Simpson and intended to marry her whether his government approved or not. Edward’s refusal to give her up, and the widespread unwillingness to accept her as the King’s consort led to his abdication on 12th December 1936. He was succeeded by his brother George VI. Edward was given the title His Royal Highness the Duke of Windsor following his abdication and he married Wallis Simpson the following year and remained married until his death 35 years later. Wallis Simpson never received the title of Her Royal Highness.
In Spain on the 23th December 1936 Italian Corpo Truppe Volontarie (Blackshirt ‘volunteer’ units) landed in Cadiz to fight alongside the Nationalist regime of Francisco Franco.