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History Corner






A. J. P. Taylor On French Strategy In The 1930s


A. J. P. Taylor, The Origins of the Second World War

(Greenwich, Conn.: Fawcett; 1961), pp. 42, 43.


‘Unlike Russia, [the French] could never be on close terms with Germany.

Democratic and national on the French model, they would be more stable in peacetime and steadier in war.

They would never question their historic role: to distract and divide German forces for France’s benefit. . . .
‘France, with a population of 40 million, was obviously inferior to Germany, with 65 millions.

But add the 30 millions in Poland, and France became equal or, with the 12 million Czechoslovaks, superior. Moreover, men see the past when they peer into the future; and the French found it impossible to imagine a future war which did not begin with a German attack on themselves.

Therefore they always asked how can our Eastern allies help us; and never how can we help them? Their own military preparations after 1919 were increasingly defensive.

The army was equipped for trench warfare; the frontier was lined with fortifications. French diplomacy and French strategy ran in clear contradiction.

There was contradiction even within the diplomatic system itself.

The Anglo-French entente and the Eastern alliances did not supplement each other; they cancelled out. France could act offensively, to aid Poland or Czechoslovakia, only with British support; but this support would be given only if she acted defensively, to protect herself, not distant countries in Eastern Europe.

This deadlock was not created by changed conditions in the nineteen-thirties. It existed implicitly from the first moment, and no one, either British or French, ever found a way round it.’