Who was to blame for the Second World War?

A reminder of the final build-up to the Second World War

Czechoslovakia - March 1939

  1. After the successful conquest of the Sudetenland, Hitler then took the whole of Czechoslovakia. He hated the country as it had been established through the Treaty of Versailles
  2. In March __1939 __the German troops invaded. The Czechs made no resistance, without the essential forts, industries and railways of the Sudetenland they were defenceless. This was clearly an invasion and not simply the unification of German peoples.
  3. Britain and France realised that Poland was likely to be Hitler’s next target and told him that if he attacked they would declare war. After so many years of appeasement, however, Hitler did not believe them. Britain and France renewed their alliance with Poland.

Who was to blame for the Second World War?, figure 1

This map reminds you of how Hitler overtook most of Czechoslovakia over time - starting with the Sudetenland (the 1s) and eventually conquering the entire country, which violated the Munich Conference Agreement.

Pact of Steel - May 1939

  1. In May __1939 __Hitler and Mussolini signed a pact which promised they would support each other in the future.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact - August 1939

  1. Europe clearly divided into two sides and Britain and France began (finally) to look to the USSR for support.
  2. In August 1939, Hitler made a secret treaty with the USSR (Russia). He thought this would stop Britain and France helping Poland.
  3. In August 1939, Hitler sent Ribbentrop, a senior Nazi, to Russia. He offered a Nazi-Soviet alliance –USSR and Germany would not go to war, but would divide Poland between them and Hitler would allow Stalin to occupy the Baltic States
  4. Stalin, the leader of the USSR, knew Hitler was lying, but he did not trust the British either – the Munich Agreement had convinced him that Britain and France would never dare to go to war with Hitler.
  5. Stalin had two choices:
  6. If he made an alliance with Britain, he would end up fighting a war with Hitler over Poland.
  7. If he made an alliance with Germany, he would get half of Poland, and time to prepare for the coming war with Germany.
  8. He chose the latter. On 23 August 1939, he signed the Pact with

Who was to blame for the Second World War?, figure 2

This map reminds you how Germany and the U.S.S.R. split Poland between themselves.

Invasion of Poland - 1939

  1. Hitler demanded that Poland hand over the city of Danzig where many Germans lived.
  2. The Poles refused because UK and France had promised to defend them
  3. On 1 September 1939, Hitler invaded Poland
  4. On 3 September 1939, Chamberlain declared war on Germany. __WW2 __had started.

What about the broader causes of the War?

There are many suggested causes of the Second World War.

These causes include:

  1. Hitler himself, and his aggressive foreign policy
  2. The failure of the League of Nations
  3. The impact of the Great Depression
  4. The policy of Appeasement
  5. The Nazi-Soviet Pact
  6. The Treaty of Versailles

It is highly likely that the 16 mark question will be about the causes of the Second World War. For each cause you would need to provide supporting evidence and a clear explanation of how each contributed to the war. You should also try to prioritise the causes and link them.

Who was to blame for the Second World War?, figure 1

By September 1939, thanks to a combination of outrage at German actions and a strong publicity campaign from the British Government, the British Public were finally willing to go to war.

So Who Was to Blame?


  1. Hitler made impossible demands on Poland and invaded on 1 September 1939.
  2. It was Hitler and Germany who were consistently going against the Treaty of Versailles. Even after some of the harshest terms were dropped, reparations were forgotten, and Hitler was given *new* land which he had never had before the Treaty, Hitler still demanded more.
  3. Many argue that Hitler would never have been satisfied – his aims of Lebensraum and Volksdeutsche set him up to try and conquer most of Europe, and he was after all a power-crazy dictator.
  4. His pursuit of the Holocaust would have likely brought him into conflict with most of Europe, and then America, eventually.


  1. Stalin made a deal with Hitler that cleared the way for German invasion.
  2. The U.S.S.R. had the only real chance of protecting Poland. By abandoning them and then invading, through the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Stalin shifted the balance of power within Europe to single-handedly allow Hitler to declare war in 1939.


  1. Signed an alliance with Britain and France that encouraged it to resist German demands
  2. Whilst Poland certainly can’t be blamed for the overall, or wider, War – it is possible to suggest that Polish reisistance and alliance with Britain and France meant that War broke out in September of 1939, rather than any other time.

Britain and France

  1. The policy of Appeasement made Hitler think they would not resist him and their guarantees to Poland encouraged them to resist him.
  2. Britain and France didn’t step in to stop Hitler at any of the times they would have been able – the mid __1930s __were full of opportunities to stop Hitler much more quickly and easily.
  3. Britain and France were also originally responsible for how the Treaty of Versailles had been so harsh on Germany.
  4. Particularly, if Britain and France had shared some of the blame for the First World War (which they certainly should have) then it is likely the Treaty would have been fairer, and Germany would have felt less outraged.

Nobody was to blame

  1. Some also argue that it was external factors which largely brought about the Second World War.
  2. Without the Great Depression, it is likely that Weimar Germany would have fully recovered, and the Nazis / a warmongering party would never have gained power.
  3. If the League had been stronger, they may have stopped Hitler in the 1930s.
  4. Some also argue that the First World War did not sufficiently address issues in the balance of power in Europe – Europe needed either to be massively restructured, or another war would be needed.

Define the following terms:

Pact of Steel
Your answer should include: Hitler / Mussolini / support
Your answer should include: Germany / USSR / diplomat / senior / Nazi / alliance
Nazi-Soviet Pact
Your answer should include: August / 1939 / USSR / Germany / alliance / invade / Poland