Europe 1938: Anschluss
1937 saw further global disruption with the Japanese invasion of China. In March 1938, German troops entered Hitler's homeland of Austria, where they were greeted by the local population. The next day, Hitler announced the German annexation of Austria. Again this was in breach of the Treaty of Versailles and again Britain and France did nothing.
27 Jul 1936 Foreign support of Spanish Nationalists▲
In July 1936 Italy sent its first squadron of airplanes to Spain in order to support General Franco’s Nationalists in the civil war raging there. More Italian forces soon arrived, peaking at 50,000 personnel in 1937 and eventually including 763 aircraft, along with naval vessels, artillery pieces, and tanks. Germany began supporting the Nationalists at about the same time and, despite signing a non-intervention agreement in August 1936, continued to provide support throughout the war, especially aircraft. Exploiting the war to test weapons and tactics, the two fascist powers mounted a number of significant aerial bombings, most notably devastating the town of Guernica in April 1937.
6 Oct 1936 Soviet support of Spanish Republicans▲
Due to a Franco-British ‘non-interventionist’ arms embargo against combatants in the Spanish Civil War, the Soviet Union was one of the few countries able to supply armaments to the Spanish Republicans. In return for US$500 million from Spanish gold reserves, the Soviets provided 242 aircraft, 732 tanks, and much additional aid. Some 2,000 Soviet personnel also served in Spain.
25 Nov 1936 Anti-Comintern Pact▲
In November 1936 the Japanese ambassador to Germany, Kintomo Mushakoji, signed the Agreement against the Communist International, or Anti-Comintern Pact, with Foreign Minister of Germany Joachim von Ribbentrop in Berlin. The treaty coordinated German and Japanese policy to counteract Communist activities, most notably those conducted by the Soviet Union, and was later joined by Italy, Spain, and other authoritarian states. It was ultimately undermined by the German–Soviet non-aggression pact of 1939 and supplanted by the Tripartite Pact of 1940.
7 Jul 1937 Marco Polo Bridge Incident▲
On the night of 7 July 1937 Japanese forces based at Fengtai crossed into Chinese territory to conduct military exercises, but ended up exchanging fire with Chinese troops at Wanping. Further clashes occurred later that night and over the next day, most notably at Marco Polo Bridge on the outskirts of Beiping (Beijing). By the 11th these confused skirmishes had escalated into a full-scale battle in which Beiping and Tianjin fell to Japanese forces, making them the first shots of the Second Sino-Japanese War.
6 Nov 1937 Italy in Anti-Comintern Pact▲
Following the League of Nations’ sanctions in the wake of Italy’s 1935 invasion of Ethiopia, Italian relations with Britain and France broke down. In October 1936 the Italian Duce, Benito Mussolini, and the German Führer, Adolf Hitler, moved to enact a rapprochement between their two countries, eventually leading to Italy’s joining the German–Japanese Anti-Comintern Pact in November 1937. With Italy’s entrance to the pact, Mussolini gave Hitler the go-ahead to annex Austria (Anschluss), an action he had previously opposed.
13 Mar 1938 Anschluss▲
In early 1938, under increasing pressure from Hitler and domestic activists pushing for the unification of Austria and Germany (Anschluss), Austrian chancellor Kurt Schuschnigg announced that a referendum on a possible union would be held on 13 March. On the 12th the German Wehrmacht crossed the border into Austria, seizing control of the country without military opposition and with the enthusiasm of much of the populace. The next day Germany annexed Austria, in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. The plebiscite would eventually be held on 10 April, officially ratifying the move.