Tag Archives: League of Nations

The League of Nations in the 1930s

This GCSE and IGCSE revision podcast focuses on the period following the Wall Street crash in 1929, when the world was plunged into a huge economic depression which ultimately led to strained relations between countries as they tried to survive at all costs.  While the 1920s saw presented a mix of both success and failure for the League of Nations, the 1930s arguably saw its complete collapse.

The first section of the podcast looks at the Manchurian Crisis.  Beginning with an explanation of its causes, the episode goes on to describe the League’s response and the effect that this had on the long-term reputation of the League.  This is followed by a brief description of the World Disarmament Conference of 1932-33.

The second part of the podcast focuses on the Abyssinia Crisis.  Again beginning with the causes of the crisis, the podcast then describes the League’s response.  Reference is made to the immensely damaging Hoare-Laval Pact, followed by an explanation of how the League’s failure to deal decisively with Mussolini’s aggression against Abyssinia rendered the League of Nations powerless to deal with Hitler’s subsequent aggression.

The major events of the 1930s for the League of Nations including the Manchuria Crisis, the World Disarmament Conference and the Abyssinia Crisis.

          

Manchuria Crisis

Japan and the Manchuria Crisis

An overview of the Manchurian Crisis. Presents an explanation of the background to Japan’s economic situation and the reasons for the militarisation of Manchuria.  Goes on to describe the response from the League of Nations and how Japan reacted to the Lytton Report.

The League of Nations in the 1930s – Disarmament and Abyssinia

This video presents an overview of the key issues surrounding the League of Nations’ attempts to achieve disarmament in the 1930s, and goes on the examine Italy’s invasion of Abyssinia.

Wal-Wal Incident

The Wal-Wal incident between Italy and Abyssinia

On the 5th December 1934, the Wal-Wal Incident took place which laid the foundations for the Abyssinia Crisis. A skirmish between a Somali garrison in the service of Italy, and Ethiopian troops who sought the withdrawal of Italian forces from the area, resulted in over 150 deaths and a diplomatic crisis that ended in the Italian invasion of Abyssinia the following year.

A 1928 treaty had agreed the boundary between Italian Somaliland and Ethiopia. However, in 1930 Italy built a fort at the Wal-Wal oasis that was approximately 50 miles inside the Abyssinian side of the border and so contravened the agreement.

At first the Italian presence was tolerated by the Abyssinians with their only response being an increase in their military personnel in the area. However, in November 1934 a force of approximately 1000 Abyssinian soldiers arrived at the fort and demanded it be handed over: this demand was refused by the garrison’s commander.

The following day, a group of British and Abyssinian surveyors arrived at the fort and found themselves caught up in the dispute. The British withdrew in order to avoid any bloodshed, but the Abyssinians stayed and joined their countrymen in a face-off with the garrison. Although the exact cause of the skirmish that began on the 5th December is unclear, it’s generally accepted that neither side tried particularly hard to avoid it.

Despite this, both sides protested the actions of the other. While Abyssinia went to the League of Nations, Italy outright demanded compensation. The diplomatic crisis that ensued eventually led to the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in October 1935.

League of Nations sanctions on Italy

League of Nations sanctions on Italy after the invasion of Abyssinia

On the 19th October 1935, the League of Nations voted to impose sanctions on Italy after it invaded Abyssinia. The sanctions were limited, however, and failed to restrict oil sales to Italy or access to the Suez Canal which was used to transport troops, equipment and supplies.

The Italian invasion began without a declaration of war on the 3rd October 1935, although the two nations had previously been embroiled in a territorial dispute over the Walwal Oasis throughout which both countries had flexed their military muscles. However, the decisive invasion of Ethiopia by Italian troops stationed in nearby Eritrea saw the League of Nations declare Mussolini’s country the aggressor four days later.

Although the speed at which the League acted was considerably quicker than during the Manchuria Crisis in which the League took a year to respond, the sanctions themselves were virtually worthless. Concerned about the rise of Hitler and the danger of a European conflict, Britain and France were reluctant to punish Italy in case they were driven to ally with the Nazi dictator. They even began to formulate the secret Hoare-Laval Plan that would have granted large parts of Abyssinia to Italy, but were forced to cancel this when details became public and were met with popular opposition.

Even after it became evident that Mussolini was using chemical weapons, the League continued in its failure to impose stringent sanctions. With Hitler’s remilitarisation of the Rhineland in March 1936, France was desperate to keep Mussolini as an ally. When Abyssinia was finally captured on May 5th, all the sanctions were dropped.

Abyssinia Crisis 1935-6

Saar Plebiscite

The Saar plebiscite and reunion with Germany, 1935

On the 13th January 1935, the Territory of the Saar Basin voted to reunite with Germany. Having been administered by the League of Nations for 15 years following the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the overwhelming plebiscite result of over 90% in favour of reunification surprised many observers.

In 1918 the Saar Basin was a heavily industrialised area, boasting a large number of coal mines. Following the Treaty of Versailles the area was occupied and governed by France and Britain under the auspices of the League of Nations. France was also given exclusive control of the coal mines. However the Treaty called for a plebiscite to decide the long-term future of the Saar region after a period of fifteen years.

By the time of the plebiscite Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany, which had led a number of Nazi opponents to move to the area since it was the only part of Germany free from their rule. They were keen for the area to remain under the League’s administration, but maintaining the status quo was unpopular with ordinary Germans.

Meanwhile the Nazis began an intensive pro-Germany campaign led by propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels. As early as 1933, complaints that the Nazi campaign amounted to a “reign of terror” had been noted by American political scientists Sarah Wambaugh, one of the members of the commission overseeing the plebiscite. Although the Nazis did tone down their tactics by the end of 1934, the League of Nations provided a peacekeeping force to monitor the plebiscite.

Voter turnout plebiscite was 98%, with 90.8% voting to re-join the German Reich.

Why did Britain and France appease Hitler?

“This documentary called ‘Did we have to Fight?’ (first broadcast 1999) explores Britain’s options in the run-up to the Second World War. It will be particularly useful for students of appeasement, Neville Chamberlain, and of the wider conflict.”