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War in a Far Away Country
An alternate history of how the Sudeten Crisis escalated and triggered World War II in 1938.
The 27 September 1938 was the culmination of several months of escalating tension between Nazi Germany and Czechoslovakia, known as the Sudeten Crisis. Germany demanded in the Godesberg Memorandum that Czechoslovakia should cede the Sudetenland no later than 28 September 28, 1938. The memorandum stated an ultimatum for Czech acceptance of it, expiring at 2 PM on 28 September; if the Czech government would not agree to Hitler's demands by then, Germany would take the Sudetenland by force. Czechoslovakia, which initially had accepted a British-French proposal to resolve the dispute, issued a decree of full mobilization on 23 September and rejected the Germans' demands. Czechoslovakia's allies - France and the Soviet Union - had also initiated partial mobilization of their armed forces, while the United Kingdom mobilized the Royal Navy. Europe was now on the brink of a new war.
The war, however, was averted in the last minute. At 10:00 AM on 28 September, four hours before the deadline, the British ambassador to Italy, Lord Perth, called Italy's Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano, informing him that Chamberlain requested that Mussolini enter the negotiations and urge Hitler to delay the ultimatum. Ciano met Mussolini and informed him of Chamberlain's proposition; Mussolini agreed with it and responded by telephoning Italy's ambassador to Germany. Hitler received Mussolini's message and agreed to a 24-hour postponement. The following day the four great powers - Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy, met in Munich. A deal was reached, and at about 1:30 AM on 30 September 1938, Hitler, Chamberlain, Mussolini and Daladier signed the Munich Agreement. The agrement was nearly identical to the Godesberg proposal: the German army was to complete the occupation of the Sudetenland by 10 October, and an international commission would decide the future of other disputed areas. Czechoslovakia was informed by Britain and France that it could either resist Nazi Germany alone or submit to the prescribed annexations. The Czechoslovak government, realizing the hopelessness of fighting the Nazis alone, reluctantly capitulated and agreed to abide by the agreement.
But what if the last minute negotiations on 28 September had never occurred, thus resulting in a German invasion of Czechoslovakia on 30 September 1938? This timeline explores the global history after an agreement between the Czechoslovak Government and representatives of the Slovak and German minorities, forcing the French and the British to support Czechoslovakia.
The name of the timeline is a reference to a radio address to the nation by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on 27 September 1938, in which he stated:
How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing. It seems still more impossible that a quarrel that has already been settled in principle should be the subject of war.
Point of Divergence
On 26 September, Hitler gave Czechoslovakia a deadline of 28 September at 2:00 PM to cede the Sudetenland to Germany or face war.
The main point of divergence in the timeline occurs in the evening of 27 September 1938. The British ambassador to Italy, Earl of Perth, wished to suggest Italian leader Benito Mussolini be asked to act as peacemaker. Thus he attempted to contact the Foreign Office to request permission for asking Italy's Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano to convince Hitler to accept Chamberlain's timetable proposal. The following morning, the British chargé d'afaires, Pierson Dixon, arrived at work early, only to discover that no telegram from the Foreign Office had been received. While the British Foreign Secretary, Viscount Halifax had sent a telegram in response approving the approach, the telegram was lost before Dixon arrived at work. The telegram was likely accidentally destroyed by an embassy staffer, as the embassy was destroying archives and packing up to go home, trying hard not to give the impression of panic.