A J P Taylor in his book "The Origins of the Second World War" writes,

"Hitler never intended a major war and at most was prepared for only a limited war against Poland."

"In 1938-39, the last peacetime years, Germany spendt on armaments about 15 percent of her gross national product. The British proportion was almost exactly the same. German expenditure on armaments was actually cut down after Munich and remained on this lower level, so that british production of aeroplanes, for example, was way ahead of Germany by 1940. When the war broke out in 1939, Germany had 1,450 modern fighter planes and 800 bombers; Great Britain and France had 950 fighters and 1,300 bombers. The German had 3,500 tanks; Great Britain and France had 3,850. These numbers do not suggest that Germany had planned and prepared a great war that they started in 1939."

"One of Hitler's Generals, Keitel, wrote in his diary about the German-Italian military talks in April 1939, which were initiated after Italian pressure. It turned out that the Italians insisted on to tell that they could only be ready for war earlist in 1942. The German representatives agreed with them."

Hitler attacked Poland in September 1939.

Did Hitler really intend a limited war against Poland?
What made Hitler invade Poland without expecting a war like Great War(ww1)?

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    Experience? Most of his invasions up to that point were met with nothing more than hot air form the rest of the world powers. Apr 26, 2013 at 12:22
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    @Sardathrion. But, until that point(Sept, 1939) there was only one invasion, Italy's invasion of Ethiopia (1935) and she failed. Hitler annexed, not invaded, Austria(1938). Please enlighten me on the invasions of Hitler before 1939, my search on internet is not fruitful.
    – fortytwo
    Apr 27, 2013 at 13:53
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    I was being a little flippant in my comment. Hitler's actions, whatever they were, never prompted more than a stern word from the rest of the international community. It seems logical that Hitler would assume that invading Poland would not raise any much more objection especially since he was allied with the Soviets. But this is just speculation on my part thus the "joke" and comment instead of an answer ^_~ Apr 27, 2013 at 17:52
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    @bhau: While technically not an invasion, the en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remilitarization_of_the_Rhineland in 1936 was a flagrant violation of the Versailles treaty and Hitler pulled it off with no consequences. Apr 28, 2013 at 12:23
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    I would have to look a reference (hence a comment), but Hitler was often deluded about military matters in major ways: e.g. when he ordered the invasion of the Soviet Union, he expected the troops to reach Moscow in a few (4 or 5?) weeks ...
    – Drux
    Dec 30, 2013 at 8:23

5 Answers 5


Did Hitler really intend a limited war against Poland?

The invasion of Poland was likely not intended to start a major war. Of course we can never be sure of what anybody thinks, but not only did Hitler claim not to want a major war, wanting a major war is in itself a quite strange thing to do.

Most likely Hitler wanted to just annex half of Poland undisturbed.

What made Hitler invade Poland without expecting a war like Great War?

He had already annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia, and met only feeble protests. He probably thought he had a good chance for that happening with Poland as well. He also saw Britain and France as weak and unprepared and therefore probably thought they would not declare war.

The worst case scenario for him was that France and Britain would declare war, but he thought he could win such a war fairly easily. And up until his attempt to get air superiority over Britain failed, it looked like he was right.

So he probably thought, or at least hoped, that Britain and France would not declare war. And he thought that even if they did, he could beat them. That was the extent to which he expected a war when he invaded Poland in 1939. I don't think anyone expected that invasion to snowball into the huge war that it did.

Now, what his intention with attacking the Soviet Union was is another matter.

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    Actually he was right abotu the UK and France unprepared for war. All they could do was to the declare war - then do nothing.
    – Greg
    May 15, 2015 at 10:42
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    Sure, but he was wrong when he thought that meant they would not declare war. And he was wrong when he thought he could beat them. He nearly did, but only nearly. May 15, 2015 at 11:06

Did Hitler really intend a limited war against Poland?

What made Hitler invade Poland without expecting a war like Great War(ww1)?

Hitler would have preferred another Munich Conference rather than an outright invasion of Poland. Hitler did not expect France and Great Britain to declare war since they never declared war over the remilitarization of the Rhineland, the Anschluss of Austria, or the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. The previous alliances created to help isolate Germany in Eastern Europe were now more or less gone or in tatters, the allies were in a worse position in 1939 than 1938. There was little reason to think that the allies would finally take a stand, especially since the Soviet Union had just signed a non-aggression pact with Germany, and the allies did not share a border with Poland. After Great Britain and France declared war, the Germans tried their best to finish off Poland as soon as possible, going as far as asking the Soviets on numerous occasions why they had yet to invade Poland and claim their sphere of influence.

  • 1
    Sources would be great.
    – o0'.
    Dec 30, 2013 at 8:47
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    A.J.P. Taylor's book is a good start. Also see "The Soviet Union and the Origins of the Second World War: Russo-German Relations and the Road to War 1933-1941" by Geoffrey Roberts.
    – Kunikov
    Apr 12, 2014 at 11:21
  • "Another Munich conference"... And then another one, and another, and another....
    – Alex
    Dec 30, 2015 at 20:10
  • @Kunikov Hitler did not expect France and Great Britain to declare war can you prove that claim?
    – uuu
    Apr 27, 2016 at 11:11

Hitler did not want a Munich Conference in 1938 or 1939. He wanted to attack Czechoslovakia and Poland on his own terms, and retain the ability to attack France at his leisure. His cold feet were about starting a major war, and mainly related to whether the German people were behind him on it.

For example, he was resolved to attack Prague in 1938. Goebbels had been given the summer to prep the people for war, but by the end of September he could report no progress, only great forboding. An SS division paraded through Berlin on the 30th that was supposed to rekindle the spirit of 1914; instead there was glum silence. Hitler got cold feet, and got Mussolini to arrange the conference in Munich. Afterwards Hitler felt much regret that he had "given in" to Chamberlain and been such a coward at the last minute, and resolved not to treat with "that man with the umbrella" ever again. He invaded Prague on March 15, 1939 to complete what he intended to do in September 1938, and rip up the paper he had signed with Chamberlain.

The goal in 1939 was to isolate Britain and France into a sense of futility that they could get someone else to fight their war against Germany for them, and to start the war in such a way that he could convince the Germans that it was a "preventive war" to liberate an oppressed ethnic German minority in Poland.

Another way to ask the question would be, what kind of major war did Hitler intend when he invaded Poland?

Certainly one that gained Germany its required Lebensraum without devolving into a Western Front style stalemate, one which required as little sacrifice as possible from a German people that he believed had risen in November 1918 to "stab Germany in the back" just as it was on the cusp of victory. Hence the Blitzkrieg, surprise attacks, and the brutal exploitation of occupied territories in order to prop up Germans at home.

Sources: Gerhard Weinberg, The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany, 1937-1939 re: diplomacy. Goetz Aly, Hitler's Beneficiaries re: exploitation of occupied territories.

Also recommend reading AJP Taylor only as example of historiography, not for the history written therein. Same with Shirer and Churchill.


Hitler at the time was demanding a corridor of territory linking Pomerania with the Germanic peoples of East Prussia known as the Danzig corridor.

During 1938 Britain and France had acquiesced and actually agreed with Hitler's Carlsbad program demanding that the Czechs should surrender territory which had majority German populations. Anglo French support for these demands undoubtedly persuaded Hitler that Britain and France would come to agree with his point of view over the Danzig corridor.

The other side of the coin is that during 1939 Poland was threatening to seize Silesia from Germany for Germany suspending war reparations payments in 1935. Poland was banging the drum and demanding that Britain and France support her in making such a seizure so there was heightened tension before the German invasion.

Poland was trying to invoke the treaty of Brest-Litvosk to induce Britain and France to join Poland in its invasion of Silesia.

It may be that Hitler interpreted Anglo French unwillingness to participate in the proposed Polish annexation of Silesia as an unwillingness to defend Poland.

The short answer therefore is that I do not think Hitler anticipated the British response.

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    Can you elaborate on this "silesia anexion"? If you mean silesian uprising then it was not much of anexion it was "return to motherland" made by polish people of polish land. Jun 25, 2014 at 6:51

There is no question that Hitler wanted a major war--a war of LEBENSRAUM (living space) against the Slavic east. He talked about it many times.

There is also no doubt about the fact that the Luftwaffe conducted systematic terror bombing and strafing against civilians and civilian targets. This is corroborated by numerous Polish, Jewish, and even British and American eyewitnesses.

For details on all this, please click on this list of works that I have reviewed, in detail, on this subject:


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