Germany and France had been struggling for dominance in Continental Europe for 80 years and had fought two previous wars, the Franco-Prussian War and World War I. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, Communist revolutionary movements began spreading across Europe, briefly taking power in both Budapest and Bavaria; in response, fascist and nationalist groups were born. IN 1922, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and his fascist party took control of the Kingdom of Italy and set the model for German dictator Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party, which, aided by the civil unrest caused by the Great Depression, took power in Germany and eliminated its democratic government, the WeimarRepublic. These two leaders began to re-militarize their countries and become increasingly hostile. Mussolini first conquered the African nation of Abyssinia and then seized Albania with both Italy and Germany actively supporting Francisco Franco’s fascist Falange partying the Spanish Civil War against the SecondSpanishRepublic (which was supported by the Soviet Union). Hitler then broke the Treaty of Versailles by increasing the size of the Germany’s military, and re-militarized the Rhineland. He started this own expansion by annexing Austria and sought the same against the German-speaking regions (Sudetenland) of Czechoslovakia. The British and French governments followed a policy of appeasement in order to avoid military confrontation after the high cost of the First World War. This policy culminated in the Munich Agreement in 1938, which would give the Sudetenland to Germany in exchange for Germany making no further territorial claims in Europe. In March 1939, Germany annexed the remainder of Czechoslovakia. Mussolini, following suit, annexed Albania in April. The failure of the Munich Agreement pushed the United Kingdom and France to prepare for war with Germany. France and Poland pledged on May 19, 1939 to provide each other with military assistance in the event either was attacked. The following August, the British guaranteed the same.
On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which provided for sales of oil and food from the Soviets to Germany, thus reducing the danger of a British blockade such as the one that had nearly starved Germany in World War I. Also included was a secret agreement that would divide Central Europe into German and Soviet areas of interest, including a provision to partition Poland. Each country agreed to allow the other a free hand in its area of influence, including military occupation.