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Faculty Corner

The Courier, December 12, 1952


   For the Faculty Corner this week, the Courier has been fortunate in obtaining permission to print an exchange of correspondence between Mr. Jay Burke, a student in the Georgetown College of Arts and Sciences, and Dr. Carroll Quigley of the School of Foreign Service. We are indebted to both parties for this permission.


Dr. Carroll Quigley
Department of History, School of Foreign Service

My dear Dr. Quigley:

   My name is Jay Burke and I am a student at Georgetown University. I am writing in regard to a discussion I have had with a student of yours, James Dowling. It is his assertion that prior to the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, at the time Germany took over Czechoslovakia, Germany had only 36 incomplete divisions while Czechoslovakia had 35 complete and well trained divisions. In Dowling's own words, "The Czech troops were ordered out of the trenches," shortly before the treacherous invasion of the Germans.

   Obviously the Czech army was more potent than the German army. If this is so, why was Germany able to conquer Czechoslovakia so easily, and why didn't the Czechs resist?

   It is my contention that Germany had more than 36 incomplete divisions to conquer a country of 35 complete divisions. Mr. Dowling contends that Germany had but 36 divisions plus their reserves.

   Would you please give us the truth of the matter?

Respectfully yours,

Jay Burke

Mr. Jay Burke
Box 113, Georgetown University
Washington 7, D.C.

My dear Mr. Burke,

   Mr. Dowling's statement, regarding the size of the German Army at the time of the Munich crisis of September 1938, is quite accurate. In the third week of September Czechoslovakia had a million men and thirty-four first-rate divisions under arms. The Germans, in the course of September, increased their mobilization to thirty-one and ultimately to thirty-six divisions; but this probably represented a smaller force than the Czechs, as many of the nineteen first-line divisions were at two-thirds strength, the other third having been withdrawn to form the nucleus for the reserve divisions. Of the nineteen first-line divisions, three were armored and four were motorized. Only five divisions were left on the French frontier, in order to defeat Czechoslovakia as quickly as possible. France, which did not mobilize completely, had the Maginot Line completely manned on a war basis plus more than twenty infantry divisions. Moreover, France had available ten motorized divisions. Finally, Russia had ninety-seven divisions and, according to a letter from President Benes to Professor L. B. Namier on 20 April, 1944, Russia insisted on a policy of resistance to Germany's demands in September, 1938. (See L.B. Namier, Europe in Decay, London, 1950. p. 284.)

   In air power, the Germans had a slight edge in average quality, but in number of planes it was far inferior. Moreover, Britain was just beginning to obtain delivery planes of quality far superior to those of Germany. In September, 1938, Germany had about 1,500 planes, while Czechoslovakia had less than 1,000; France and England together had over 1,000; Russia was reported to have 5,000, mostly of poor quality, but some of high quality. During the crisis, Russia gave thirty-six of its best planes to Czechoslovakia, flying them across Rumania.

   In tanks, Germany was far inferior in quality in September, 1938. At that time, Germany's tanks were all below ten tons (Mark II) and were armed with machine guns, except for a handful of eighteen ton tanks (Mark III) armed with a 37 mm. gun. The Czechs had hundreds of thirty- eight ton tanks armed with 75 mm. cannon. When Germany overran Czechoslovakia in March, 1939, it captured 469 of these superior tanks along with 1,500 planes, 43,500 machine guns, over one million rifles, and a magnificent system of fortifications. From every point of view, this was little less than Germany had at Munich, and, at Munich, if the British government had desired it, Germany (with the possible assistance of Poland and Hungary) would have been opposed by Czechoslovakia supported by France, Britain, and Russia.

   Before leaving this subject, it might be mentioned that Germany, in 1939, brought into production a Mark IV tank of twenty-three tons armed with a 75 mm. cannon but obtained only a handful of these by the outbreak of war. Up to that date (September, 1939), Germany had obtained delivery of only 300 Mark III and Mark IV tanks together. In addition, it had obtained, by the same date, 2,700 of the inferior Mark I and Mark II tanks which suffered break-downs of as much as twenty-five per cent a week. Even in 1939 Germany's production of tanks was less than Britain's. In the first nine months of 1939, Germany produced only fifty tanks a month; in the last four months of 1939, in wartime, Germany produced 247 "tanks and self-propelled guns" compared to British production of 314 tanks in the same period. From 1936 to the outbreak of war in 1939, German aircraft production was not raised but averaged 425 planes a month of all types (including commercial planes). This gave Germany an air force of 1,000 bombers and 1,050 fighters of varying quality in September, 1939. In contrast with this, the British air program of March, 1934 provided for a first-line R.A.F. of 900 planes. This was later increased, at Chamberlain's urging, and the program at May, 1938 planned for a first line force of 2,370 planes. This was increased again in 1939. Under it, Britain produced almost 3,000 "military" planes in 1938 and about 8,000 in 1939. Because of differences in categories between "planes," "military planes," and "combat planes," it is not possible to make any exact comparison of air strength between Britain and Germany, but it is clear that Britain's planes in 1939 and 1940 were more recent and of superior quality than Germany's. It was this superiority which made it possible for Britain to defeat Germany in the "Battle of Britain" in September, 1940.

   The above figures are derived from various sources, mostly official documents. Obviously, the best source for figures on the German Army are in the papers of the German Ministry of War which were captured by the American Army in 1945. At the order of the Secretary of War (Stimson) these archives were studied from this point of view by Major General C.F. Robinson. General Robinson's report, dated 15 October, 1947, is available under the title Foreign Logistical Organizations and Methods (210 pages). At the time I saw this, it was a classified document, and, even now, you may have difficulty obtaining a copy. If so, you will find its contents on this topic summarized in B. Kain's "Germany's Preparation for War," American Economic Review XXXVIII (March 1948), pp. 56-77. These figures on the relative strengths of the German and French armies have recently been supported completely by the French parliamentary investigation into the causes of the 1940 defeat. That the British government was familiar with the situation clear from the recently published papers of the Foreign Office of Great Britain, E.L. Woodward, ed., Documents on British Foreign Policy, 1919-1939, third series, 5 volumes so far published covering 1937-1939. Nevertheless, at that time and since, prominent British political personages such as Lord Halifax, Churchill, and J. Wheeler-Bennett have tried to convey the impression that Germany had overwhelming military force in 1937-1940. This impression has, unfortunately, been generally accepted in America. From the published British documents we can see that the British military attachés in Paris and in Prague protested at the time against this misrepresentation. The most influential element in this campaign of misrepresentation was a statement from Charles A. Lindbergh, issued in Paris at the height of the Czechoslovak crisis, that Germany had 8,000 military planes and could build 1,500 a month. We now know that Germany at that time had 1,500 planes, had built 280 a month in 1938, and had abandoned all plans to bomb London even in a full-scale war because of lack of planes and distance from the target. Lindbergh repeated his talk of woe in London, and the British Government drove its own people to the verge of hysteria by frantically distributing gas-masks, digging worthless slit-trenches in London parks, and releasing rumors of a grave lack of aircraft defenses. Although Lord Halifax, Churchill, and others were informed, about 5 September, 1938, by representatives of the German General Staff and of the German Foreign Office that Hitler would be assassinated by them as soon as he gave the order to attack Czechoslovakia, the British yielded to Hitler and sent ultimatums to Czechoslovakia, to do the the same (See Documents, II, Appendix, and H. Rothfels, The German Opposition to Hitler, Hinsdale, Illinois, 1948, pp. 58-63 and elsewhere). The assassination plot, accordingly, was cancelled at noon on 28 September, 1938. Winston Churchill has continually misrepresented the degree of German armaments and was challenged on this issue by Hanson Baldwin, military critic of The New York Times in that paper on 9 May, 1938. J.W. Wheeler-Bennett in his book, Munich (New York, 1948), says, "By the close of 1937 Germany's preparedness for war was complete... Her rearmament had reached its apogée and could hold that peak level for a certain time..." etc., etc. Mr. Wheeler-Bennett, Britain's outstanding authority on international documentation, was a high official in the Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office during the War, and was, when he wrote his book, the British editor of the captured archives of the German Foreign Ministry. His statements, so far as I know, have never been publicly challenged, and his book is widely accepted as a standard work today. Its interpretation is not supported by the documents which have been published since he wrote, including those published by his organization under the title Documents on German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945, from the Archives of the German Foreign Ministry. Volume II, Germany and Czechoslovakia, 1937-1938, (Washington, 1950).

   The Czechs did not resist in September 1938, as a consequence of a series of ultimatums from London and Paris which stated that if they did not yield they would fight alone. Benes was apparently afraid that if he resisted, he would be supported by Russia; would be attacked simultaneously by Germany, Hungary, and Poland; would be denounced as "a spear-head of Bolshevism in Central Europe" (as he was even after he yielded); and that Britain and France would send aid to Germany to order to drive Germany into a war with the Soviet Union. Since Britain and France did try to attack Russia in January-February, 1940 (at a time when they were technically at war with Germany) and were prevented only by Swedish resistance, there may have been some validity in Benes' fears. On this last point see the documents published by the Swedish Foreign Ministry Forspelet till det tyska angreppet pa Danmark ich Norge den 9 April 1940 (Stockholm, 1947) pp. 153 and 235-236. My own opinion is that if Benes had resisted Germany in 1938 and Germany had attacked, either Hitler would have been removed by his generals or public opinion in France and England would have forced these governments to declare war on Germany. However, none of us knows what might have happened. I assure you it is difficult enough, in the face of propaganda from all sides, to determine what did happen.


Carroll Quigley



Scans of original

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