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With regard to the Munich Agreement of 1938, there are some voices that defend Chamberlain's appeasement policy, arguing that the year before the war actually began benefited Britain because it was able to rearm.

As for Hitler, he later said that September 1938 would have been the best time for Germany to go to war. To that extent Munich was a defeat for him; he felt cheated of the war he had wanted at the time of his choosing.

the British Chiefs of Staff reckoned they wouldn’t be ready for war until 1940. In 1938 the RAF had only one squadron of Spitfires—twenty planes. Over the next year 50 percent of U.K. government spending went to rearmament. 1940 was the earliest Britain could win the war in the air and prevent a German invasion.

On the other hand, I understand that Germany also made progress in its war preparations between 1938 and 1939.

Compared to Germany, were great Britain and France better prepared for war in 1939 than in 1938?

I would appreciate a response that included military, economic and social aspects.

  • Radar and the Supermarine SPitfire! Key factors in British victory in the air during Summer 1940. – Pieter Geerkens Sep 30 '17 at 16:35
  • This might be too broad as written. Comparing the war preparedness of two different countries is tricky. What are the criteria? A straight numbers game, X of fighters, X of tanks... doesn't take into account the radical changes in technology and tactics which would smack the Allies in 1940. I think the simplest answer can be found on the battlefield. – Schwern Sep 30 '17 at 16:51
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Compared to Germany, were great Britain and France better prepared for war in 1939 than in 1938?

The Battle Of France says "Non!"

Simply defining an objective measure of "war preparation" which can work between two countries using different equipment and tactics is quite difficult and would be its own question. Using quantitative means, like supply levels, or numbers of aircraft and tanks, ignores the qualitative differences between the equipment. It also ignores the radical change in tactics and pace of warfare which the Allies were about to be smacked in the face with.

And that's the ultimate analysis of a military, how did it do on the battlefield? How did Britain and France do on the ground against the Germans in 1940? Pretty damn poorly. Looking at why the Allies did so poorly highlights the problems of determining military readiness for armies which haven't been in a major battle for a generation.

Sometimes a battlefield loss can be up to tactical circumstances, but the Battle Of France is an entire campaign for the existence of a country. And it was a pretty clear German victory strategically and tactically. You have to make radical changes to the Allied concept of war to let the Allies win.

On paper, the Allies should have done all right. They were fighting a defensive battle from entrenched positions meaning they could expect to win with less. They had parity in troops, twice the number of artillery pieces, and over 1000 more tanks (and arguably better). The only quantitative material advantage the Germans had was in aircraft, nearly double the number. Aircraft provide flexibility of recon and firepower, more important to an attacker than a defender.

Prepared For The Last War

The Allies were well prepared for World War I, slow moving, grinding trench warfare. Their equipment, tactics, logistics, and generalship were all geared around establishing and holding a solid line and keeping it supplied with men and material. So in that sense they were very prepared for war... the last one.

Meanwhile, the Germans were busy changing the pace of warfare and making the Allied preparations moot. Many potential breakthroughs of WWI fizzled not because of enemy response, but because the troops breaking through didn't know what to do next; they sort of milled around waiting for orders. The Germans busied themselves reorganizing their entire chain of command to be flexible to changing circumstances expanding on the Stormtrooper tactics introduced in WWI.

They installed radios and other mobile communication equipment in their vehicles. They used light machine guns at the small unit level for offense, not just defense. Their air force coordinated with the ground force to provide close tactical air support and act as flying artillery to support offensive operations. They trained their commanders to bypass strong points rather than slowly bludgeon them.

In short, the German army was focused on probing the enemy for weaknesses, making a breakthrough, and then rapidly exploiting it before the enemy can respond to plug the gap.

The Allies were not prepared for this war, and found themselves always outflanked. Their communications and intelligence could not deliver a clear picture of the battlefield to their commanders fast enough, so orders were based on outdated or fragmentary information. Orders could not be issued to units fast enough, so units acted on old information. When they could stand and fight the Allies did quite well as at Arras and holding the line at Dunkirk, but those were the exception.

That is not to say the Germans were prepared. They took a huge gamble on new tactics and equipment, and hoped the Allies would not realize their gaping deficiencies. But they had a dress rehearsal, the Battle of Poland. Here they got to test out their new tactics and equipment, and as Military History Visualized shows in Panzers In Poland: Success, Failures & Losses, they found many problems.

Fortunately for Germany, the Allies gave them half a year to rectify them and recover their losses. The Allied hesitancy to take advantage of the bulk of the German army fighting in Poland speaks volumes to their lack of being prepared to fight this war. Had the Allies been more aggressive, they'd have found a very lightly defended German border, and history might have been very different. Instead, they stayed in their defenses and waited.

Had the Battle of France turned into a drawn out slugging match, German logistical and equipment inferiorities would have become a problem. This is illustrated starkly by the war on the East against the Soviets; it began as a wildly successful lightning war, but their failure to achieve decisive victory meant it turned into a slugging match the Germans could not win. Who was better prepared for that war? Hard to say.

  • Thank you very much for your detailed reply. The "prepared for the last war" is a great point, and you are very complete in tactical aspects. I only miss a little attention to the political, diplomatic, economic and social aspects of the 1938-1939 change, but yours is an excellent answer. – Ginasius Oct 1 '17 at 20:26
  • @Ginasius Thank you, and you're welcome. I can't speak to the other parts for Britain and France. Maybe the US. – Schwern Oct 1 '17 at 20:37
  • I had a conversation with a German army WW2 vet who fought in Poland, he spoke of the Polish army as being 'a tough nut'. – Matt Balent Sep 20 at 14:56

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