My research shows that trade between the U.S., France, and Britain with Germany during the mid 1930's was lower than it had been and was on a decline. This has lead me to ponder the following question: how notable would have France/British/U.S. sanctions been against Germany? Would have severe sanctions against Germany during this period resulted in drastic economic consequences for the German people, or would they have been of little note? Can anyone recommend any research articles or books discussing these issues?

  • 4
    Welcome to the site! I must warn you that we don't typically consider "what if" questions within our scope. It might be possible to tweak this into a question about the historical effectiveness of economic sanctions in this kind of situation, and Germany's vulnerability to them though. – T.E.D. Mar 5 '20 at 16:49
  • You might find answers here useful. – sds Mar 5 '20 at 19:24
  • Sanctions ? Wasn't it enough with the existing tariffs and quotas from 1931 (after the general election in 1931 in UK) and the Smoot-Hawley act 1930 in the US ? What i'm saying is that the tariffs in Britain and the Smoot-Hawley act triggered an even worser depression in Germany in 1932-33. Sanctions would have been ineffective (the a..es sent us into unemployment in 1932 and now they are trying sanctions ?) – Stefan Skoglund Mar 6 '20 at 8:47
  • An issue to consider would be how sanctions would be enforced, and if a united front was even possible. Would e.g. Austria have agreed? What about Baltic nations? An embargo worked in World War One because it was enforced by the Royal Navy, but you can't sink ships in peacetime. – Stuart F Mar 6 '20 at 9:47

I am about halfway through reading Case Red: the Collapse of France, by Robert Forczyk.

Despite the title (Case Red is the 2nd phase, post-Dunkirk), Forczyk spends a lot of time analyzing the build up to war, whether the French were just plain incompetent or not, what German capabilities were and some unexpected criticism of British will during that period, not particularly aimed at Chamberlain. His position is that, from 36 on, it was obvious trouble was coming and France, and to a lesser extent, Britain were buying time to rearm.

Anyway, one of the points he makes, repeatedly, is that Germany's bottleneck during that time was the lack of raw materials which severely limited the volumes of weapons it could build. He expresses wonder at the capacity of the French to sell raw materials to Germany, even as he ascribes it partially to an unwillingness to give reasons for extra short term aggressiveness to Hitler. I'd be shocked, shocked, if greed, and lobbying by industrialists selling to Germany, didn't play a part as well.

In fact, the Achilles heel of German military modernization was the lack of sufficient raw materials to build all the equipment and ammunition required to meet the ambitious goals established in 1936. Hitler could throw money at German firms to jump-start programmes, but without adequate raw materials and skilled labour, production could not meet demand. In particular, Germany imported a large amount of its copper, iron ore, chromite, tungsten and manganese from France or Commonwealth countries, which had to be paid for in foreign currencies. However, Germany was very short on foreign currency reserves in the mid-1930s and was not able to import the amounts of critical raw materials required. By defaulting on Germany’s foreign debt, Hitler could not borrow from foreign lenders. As it was, Britain purchased shipments of iron ore from Sweden in order to deny it to Germany and a co-ordinated effort by Britain and France to embargo critical resources could have seriously endangered Hitler’s rearmament programme. Indeed, it is difficult to understand how France could continue to sell iron ore and copper ore to Germany after the Rhineland Crisis, but it did. The reason for the failure to employ sanctions is fairly simple – both Britain and France were worried that sanctions would force Hitler to become more aggressive and they were unprepared for military action.

Elsewhere he cites numerical shortages in how much steel or copper Germany did get, compared to its rearmament program planning, and yes, it did seem a big deal.

Note that, while I while I find Forczyk informative and intriguing, I have noticed he often tends to unconventional opinions. And he has a lot of these in this book.

On balance I got the impression that, with our knowledge of what was to come, what we know now, yes, better, more aggressive, steps could have been taken to nip Hitler in the bud.

And an embargo from 36 on would have been a very good way to do this, though the League of Nations might not have been the vehicle for it - they were somewhat past their prime by then (Manchuria was in 31). But since France and Britain were direct suppliers to Germany, they could have done it, at least partially, on their own. Note from the above that Germany was also short on foreign exchange - while embargoes are seldom watertight, they nearly always drive up prices for targeted nations.

France and Britain however seemed to be both operating under the assumption of a limited war they could either avert or handily win so this wasn't done. Hindsight is definitely 20/20.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.