15 March 1906

Rolls-Royce Limited is incorporated.

In 1884, Henry Royce entered a partnership with a friend of his and began a business manufacturing electric fittings. After several iterations, the company became Royce Ltd. in 1899. Ever the entrepreneur, however, Royce realized that the business in electric manufacturing had become too competitive and that a different product was needed to keep his company viable. Royce had always been fascinated by mechanical things, so he settled on the motor car as a potential new avenue for his business.

By 1902, Royce had bought two different cars and found them wanting. After deciding to build his own car, Royce spent the next two years experimenting and building. By 1904 he had built three cars. One of those was sold to a director of the company, a man named Henry Edmunds. Edmunds was friends with Charles Rolls, a businessman who ran a car showroom in London selling imports. Edmunds showed the Royce-built car to Rolls and subsequently arranged for the two to meet, a meeting that occurred in May 1904.

Impressed by the 2-cylinder Royce car, Rolls agreed to take all the cars that Royce could produce. The first Rolls-Royce car, a 10-hp, was shown at the Paris Salon in December 1904. The quality of the early Rolls-Royce automobiles led to a rapid increase in popularity, and on 15 March 1906 the two men formed Rolls-Royce Limited. The company charter contained a presciently forward-looking statement that the company should produce engines for use “on land or water or in the air.”

After raising £100,000 of capital by selling public shares in the new company, Royce began development of an all-new model. After the company moved to a new factory in Derby, all focus was placed on producing and marketing the six-cylinder Rolls-Royce 40/50 Silver Ghost. Thanks to Royce’s exacting standards, the Silver Ghost quickly established the reputation of Rolls-Royce Limited as a top-class automobile manufacturer.

14 March 1931

India’s first talking film, Alam Ara, is released.

When the first talkie – Ardeshir Irani’s ‘Alam Ara’ came out on March 14 1931, India was already familiar with the concept of feature films. In fact a flourishing film industry already existed post the success of ‘Raja Harishchandra’. Filmmakers were making silent films in many states, each experimenting with filmmaking, and the idea of narrating a story through ‘moving pictures’.

Yet, when ‘Alam Ara’ was released in Mumbai’s Majestic Cinema, police had to be called for crowd control. The film, not only broke the dominance of silent films, which were being made till then, but it also introduced the concept of music and playback in Indian cinema- something that continues to be the highlight of Indian films till date.

The film had lot of firsts in it. It was the first talkie to be made and release in India. It introduced the concept of music, it also gave India its first playback singer in the form of Wazir Mohammed Khan, who also acted in the film along with actors Master Vithal, Zubeida, J.Sushila and Prithviraj Kapoor.

But while ‘Alam Ara’ was the first talkie to be released, there were several other filmmakers who were at the same time making talkies in regional languages. While ‘Alam Ara’ released in March 1931, Madan Theatre’s ‘Jamai Shashti’ released in April the same year and became the first Bengali talkie.
Multilingual ‘Kalidas’ released in October in Tamil Nadu and thus paved way for many more of such films. The advent of talkies also completely put a full stop on the silent films- something that many of the pioneering filmmakers like Dadasaheb Phalke couldn’t cope with as they felt that silent films was a form of art and introduction of sound corrupted the art form.

The innitial talkies could easily be called elaborate dance dramas. The stories were narrated not merely through dialogues but elaborate songs. While ‘Alam Ara’ had seven songs, subsequent films, which released in the same year, increased the songs in the films. Madan Theatres’ film ‘Shirin Farhad’ which released in May 1931 had 18 songs. A year later when Indra Sabha released, it had 69 songs in it- which was also a Madan Theatre production. Music became an integral part of movies in India ever since and eventually the song-dance routine gave Indian cinema its unique identity.

Talkies also heralded an era of new kind of stories. The silent era mostly fell back upon mythology for scripts, but talkies experimented with new ideas, some folklore, some fairytales, love stories and social themes.

Indian cinema changed and evolved immensely post the talkies. Films had an unique blend of tradition and modernity and tried to experiment with new technical aspects. The films were recorded live, and west influenced heavily in the films that were made. The society was also slowly opening up to the idea of this new kind of entertainment. While cinema viewing was earlier restricted to a certain section of the society-namely the elite, the talkies brought the middle class as well to the theatres.

By the 1940s, the formula for a box office hit was discovered- almost all films had an elaborate routine of song and dance- something that was introduced in the last decade and something that continues to be an integral part of our cinema till date.

13 March 1781

William Herschel discovers Uranus.

March 13, 1781. The seventh planet – Uranus – was discovered on this date, completely by accident. British astronomer William Herschel was performing a survey of all stars of at least magnitude 8 – stars slightly too faint to be seen with the eye alone, in other words. That’s when he noticed a very faint object – only barely above the limit for viewing with the eye – that that moved in front of the fixed stars. This movement clearly demonstrated the object was closer to us than the stars. At first he thought he had found a comet. Later, he and others realized it was a new planet in orbit around our sun, the first new planet discovered since ancient times.

Astronomers later learned they had observed Uranus as far back as 1690. They’d just never really noticed it before. It was Herschel who first realized the true nature of this distant light in our sky.

Herschel proposed to name the object Georgium Sidus, after King George III, but those outside of Britain weren’t pleased with the idea. Instead, on the suggestion of astronomer Johann Elert Bode, astronomers decided to follow the convention of naming planets for the ancient gods.

Uranus – an ancient sky god, and one of the earliest gods in Greek mythology – was sometimes called Father Sky and was considered to be the son and husband of Gaia, or Mother Earth.

King George III was pleased, whatever the name. As a result of Herschel’s discovery, the king knighted him and appointed him to the position of court astronomer. The pension attached let Herschel quit his day job as a musician and focus his full attention on observing the heavens. He went on to discover several moons around other gas giant planets. He also compiled a catalog of 2,500 celestial objects that’s still in use today.

12 March 1928

The St Francis Dam fails in California, resulting in floods that kill 431 people.

Ask most Angelenos what they think of when they hear the name William Mulholland, and they’ll probably mention the curvy road in the Hollywood Hills that bears his name.

Mulholland Drive has one of the best 360-degree vistas of the tentacled metropolis: To the southwest, Hollywood, West L.A., and downtown. To the northeast, the San Fernando Valley, and further on, the Santa Clarita Valley—close to the terminus of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, the 233-mile pipeline that first brought water from the Owens Valley to the thirsty city back in 1913. The Aqueduct was Mulholland’s construction, and its payoff—the explosive growth and viability of Los Angeles—has grafted his name onto the prime arteries of the city.

Mulholland’s career as czar of the L.A. Department of Water and Power may have peaked with the opening of the aqueduct, but it fell with a tragedy. Mulholland was also the engineer of the St. Francis Dam, a 120-foot high concrete wall that held a reservoir of some 38,000 acre-feet of water. Built snugly into the San Francisquito Canyon, above a scattering of homes and businesses in the Santa Clarita Valley, the dam was completed in 1926 as a safeguard for aqueduct water.

On March 12, 1928, just before midnight and mere hours after Mulholland had done a routine walk-through, the dam burst, sending 12 billion gallons of water down the canyon in a 140-foot wave. Within five hours, the flood had traveled 54 miles to the sea, blotting out lives of at least 425 people: farmers, ranchers, water department workers, and their families.

It was the second-greatest natural catastrophe in the history of California, and one of the country’s biggest civil engineering disasters. The disaster was national news, with some papers printing partial lists of the names of the dead. At the coroner’s inquest, Mulholland stated that he wished he were among them. And though he was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing—there was no way he could have known the dam was on an ancient landslide, the jury determined—Mulholland retired into seclusion until his death in 1935.

But you’d never know all of this. 87 years later, on the anniversary of the tragedy, most Angelenos have never heard of the St. Francis Dam disaster. Until a couple of years ago, I hadn’t. My native Californian father hadn’t until he was an adult. We both grew up less than 20 miles from the site.

Over the years, there’s been curiously little done on the part of Los Angeles County, or the city, or the LADWP, to memorialize the victims. Except for some blocks of concrete and rebar and the scars of waterlines etched into the canyonside, there is no indication that the dam once massively stood there. There is a small, weathered plaque at a LADWP power station a little ways down the road, which designates the dam site as a California Historical Landmark, but you have to know where to look for it. There is no official memorial park. No major museum exhibits. No field trips for elementary schoolers. There have been songs about the disaster, but you’ve never heard them the way you’ve heard “Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow.” In one day, hundreds of people died for the water that gave the rest of the city life, yet they have no place in the collective memory of Los Angeles.

Looking north on the remains of the dam’s abutment, to where the reservoir used to be.
Why forget about the St. Francis Dam disaster? It could be a matter of convenience for the city, whose dealings with water acquisitions are already infamously controversial. Or, sort of like New York City’s 1904 General Slocum disaster, perhaps there was just too much else going on in the years immediately following the St. Francis Dam break for officials to put much energy behind it once the coroner’s inquest had wrapped up. And then, of course, there was the mythos of Mulholland to protect.

11 March 1864

The Great Sheffield Flood kills 238 people in Sheffield, England.

Between 1859 and 1864, work continued on the dam, and by late February 1864, only a few finishing touches were required to complete the embankment. The reservoir was now almost full – the water level being just a few feet below the overflow weir. On Friday the 11th. March 1864, at around 5.30 p.m., a local workman, William Horsefield, whose place of employment was close to the dam, was crossing the embankment on his way home after finishing work. The weather was quite stormy, as it had been for most of the day, so he crossed a little way down the embankment slope to avoid the heavy winds, and the spray that was being whipped over the top of the dam. A little way along, he noticed a crack running across the embankment. The ‘crack’ was only wide enough to enter one’s fingers, but it was of such a length to cause him some alarm. He immediately scurried off to inform some of his work colleagues – who were not yet quite out of sight; and ultimately, the Waterworks’ chief engineer, John Gunson, was sent for. Gunson, who lived next door to the Waterworks’ offices in Division Street, near Sheffield centre, some eight miles away, collected one of his contractors, John Craven, who lived nearby, and the two mounted the gig that was to carry them through the abysmal weather to the Dale Dyke reservoir.

It was around 10 p.m. when they eventually arrived at the dam. After an initial inspection, Gunson concluded that the crevice was merely a surface crack – probably brought about by frost damage, or slight settlement of the new embankment; but to be on the safe side he decided to lower the water in the reservoir until such time as a more extensive investigation could be carried out. He discovered that the navvies had already opened the drain valves in an attempt to achieve this, but it was evident that this method would take several days to lower the water to a ‘safe’ level, so he instructed them to place some gunpowder, and blow a hole in the side of the by-wash, thus quickly draining off a large amount of water. Several attempts with the gunpowder were made, but the rain and persistent spray thrown up by the increasing winds prevented its ignition. The time reached 11.30 p.m. and water was being liberally blown over the top of the dam. Gunson made his way back across the embankment to inspect the crack once more – it did not appear to have worsened, but as he glanced up to the top of the dam he was shocked to see ‘water running over like a white sheet in the darkness’. He later declared that it went ‘right under my feet and dropped down the crack’. He edged his way down to the valve house, located near the bottom of the embankment, to see if he could get some idea of the quantity of water passing over, which initially was ‘no great current’. As he arrived, one of his colleagues, suspecting something was seriously wrong, called down to him to ‘get out of the way’. Gunson looked up to see a breach appearing in the top of the dam. Feeling a sudden, violent, vibrating of the ground beneath his feet, he quickly scampered up the side of the embankment, luckily just in time, as a few seconds later there was a total collapse of a large section of the dam, unleashing a colossal mountain of water which thundered down the valley and on to the unsuspecting population below. For two hundred and fifty people who lived in Sheffield and the hamlets in the valley below the dam, this was to be their last night on Earth. Six hundred and fifty million gallons of water roared down the Loxley valley and into Sheffield, wreaking death and destruction on a horrific scale.

‘Individual experiences were infinitely tragic, pathetic, and sometimes bizarre. The first to drown was a two-day-old baby boy, the oldest a woman of eighty-seven. Whole families were wiped out; one desperate man, trapped upstairs in a terrace house, battered his way through five party walls to safety collecting thirty-four other people as he went; a would be suicide, locked in a cell, decided, as the flood poured in, that he no longer wished to die; one poor old man drowned alongside his sleeping companion – a donkey; a husband put his wife and five children on a bed on which they floated until the water went down.’

10 March 1848

The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo is ratified by the United States Senate which ends the Mexican–American War.

California and New Mexico were quickly occupied by American forces in the summer of 1846, and fighting there ended on 13 January 1847 with the signing of the “Capitulation Agreement” at “Campo de Cahuenga” and end of the Taos Revolt. By the middle of September 1847, U.S. forces had successfully invaded central Mexico and occupied Mexico City.

Peace negotiations
Some Eastern Democrats called for complete annexation of Mexico and claimed that some Mexican liberals would welcome this, but President Polk’s State of the Union address in December 1847 upheld Mexican independence and argued at length that occupation and any further military operations in Mexico were aimed at securing a treaty ceding California and New Mexico up to approximately the 32nd parallel north and possibly Baja California and transit rights across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

Despite its lengthy string of military defeats, the Mexican government was reluctant to agree to the loss of California and New Mexico. Even with its capital under enemy occupation, the Mexican government was inclined to consider factors such as the unwillingness of the U.S. administration to annex Mexico outright and what appeared to be deep divisions in domestic U.S. opinion regarding the war and its aims, which gave it reason to conclude that it was actually in a far better negotiating position than the military situation might have suggested. A further consideration was the Mexican government’s opposition to slavery and its awareness of the well-known and growing sectional divide in the U.S. over the issue of slavery. It therefore made sense for Mexico to negotiate with a goal of pandering to Northern U.S. interests at the expense of Southern U.S. interests.

The Mexicans proposed peace terms that offered only sale of Alta California north of the 37th parallel north — north of Santa Cruz, California and Madera, California and the southern boundaries of today’s Utah and Colorado. This territory was already dominated by Anglo-American settlers, but perhaps more importantly from the Mexican point of view, it represented the bulk of pre-war Mexican territory north of the Missouri Compromise line of parallel 36°30? north — lands that, if annexed by the U.S., would have been presumed by Northerners to be forever free of slavery. The Mexicans also offered to recognize the U.S. annexation of Texas, but held to its demand of the Nueces River as a boundary.

While the Mexican government could not reasonably have expected the Polk Administration to accept such terms, it would have had reason to hope that a rejection of peace terms so favorable to Northern interests might have the potential to provoke sectional conflict in the United States, or perhaps even a civil war that would fatally undermine the U.S. military position in Mexico. Instead, these terms combined with other Mexican demands only provoked widespread indignation throughout the U.S. without causing the sectional conflict the Mexicans were hoping for.

Jefferson Davis advised Polk that if Mexico appointed commissioners to come to the U.S., the government that appointed them would probably be overthrown before they completed their mission, and they would likely be shot as traitors on their return; so that the only hope of peace was to have a U.S. representative in Mexico. Nicholas Trist, chief clerk of the State Department under President Polk, finally negotiated a treaty with the Mexican delegation after ignoring his recall by President Polk in frustration with failure to secure a treaty. Notwithstanding that the treaty had been negotiated against his instructions, given its achievement of the major American aim, President Polk passed it on to the Senate.

A section of the original treaty
The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed by Nicholas Trist and Luis G. Cuevas, Bernardo Couto and Miguel Atristain as plenipotentiary representatives of Mexico on 2 February 1848, at the main altar of the old Basilica of Guadalupe at Villa Hidalgo as U.S. troops under the command of Gen. Winfield Scott were occupying Mexico City.

Changes to the treaty and ratification
The version of the treaty ratified by the United States Senate eliminated Article X, which stated that the U.S. government would honor and guarantee all land grants awarded in lands ceded to the U.S. to citizens of Spain and Mexico by those respective governments. Article VIII guaranteed that Mexicans who remained more than one year in the ceded lands would automatically become full-fledged United States citizens; however, the Senate modified Article IX, changing the first paragraph and excluding the last two. Among the changes was that Mexican citizens would “be admitted at the proper time” instead of “admitted as soon as possible”, as negotiated between Trist and the Mexican delegation.

An amendment by Jefferson Davis giving the U.S. most of Tamaulipas and Nuevo León, all of Coahuila and a large part of Chihuahua was supported by both senators from Texas, Daniel S. Dickinson of New York, Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois, Edward A. Hannegan of Indiana, and one each from Alabama, Florida, Mississippi, Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee. Most of the leaders of the Democratic party, Thomas Hart Benton, John C. Calhoun, Herschel V. Johnson, Lewis Cass, James Murray Mason of Virginia and Ambrose Hundley Sevier were opposed and the amendment was defeated 44–11.

An amendment by Whig Sen. George Edmund Badger of North Carolina to exclude New Mexico and California lost 35–15, with three Southern Whigs voting with the Democrats. Daniel Webster was bitter that four New England senators made deciding votes for acquiring the new territories.

A motion to insert into the treaty the Wilmot Proviso failed 15–38 on sectional lines.

The treaty was subsequently ratified by the U.S. Senate by a vote of 38 to 14 on 10 March 1848 and by Mexico through a legislative vote of 51 to 34 and a Senate vote of 33 to 4, on 19 May 1848. News that New Mexico’s legislative assembly had just passed an act for organization of a U.S. territorial government helped ease Mexican concern about abandoning the people of New Mexico. The treaty was formally proclaimed on 4 July 1848.

9 March 1796

Napoléon Bonaparte marries Joséphine de Beauharnais, his first wife.

On March 9, 1796, French statesman and military leader Napoleon Bonaparte married his first wife, Josephine de Beauharnais. He was only 26 years old at the time and she was much older than him—a widow at 32 years old. But the two would start one of the most notorious marriages of all time.

The great French emperor
Napoleon Bonaparte is a recognizable name in history, but how much do you really know about the French leader? Shortly after marrying Josephine, he was elected First Consul of France in 1802. He eventually crowned himself emperor of the French in 1804. This coronation brought the first Republic to an end.

During the 10 years of his reign, Bonaparte conquered Spain, Germany, Poland, Austria, and Italy. He instructed the French to follow his new civil code, known as the Code Napoleon. Citizens were required to follow a new set of laws concerning property, colonial affairs, family life, and individual rights.

Meeting Josephine de Beauharnais
Josephine de Beauharnais was known as the “rose” before meeting Bonaparte. But once the pair met, Bonaparte disliked her name and insisted on formally changing it to “Josephine.” Her first marriage, to Alexandre de Beauharnais, ended abruptly when her husband was guillotined during the Reign of Terror.

Josephine had many lovers before meeting Bonaparte. She was in high demand as a suitable wife, but once Bonaparte set his eyes on the 32-year-old widow, the rest was history.

Their iconic marriage
Most people know about Bonaparte and de Beauharnais’s marriage, referring to them as Antony and Cleopatra. While Bonaparte was serving in the French Revolutionary War, he would often send her love letters while they were apart. But eventually, their marriage came to an unfortunate end.

Josephine failed to produce an heir. While Bonaparte adopted her children from her previous marriage, they weren’t heirs to his throne. With this in mind, Bonaparte divorced de Beauharnais in 1809 to remarry and produce an heir.

Despite the divorce, Bonaparte remained devoted to his first wife for the rest of his life. When he heard the news of her death in 1814, Bonaparte locked himself inside his bedroom for two days. On his deathbed in 1821, her name would be his final word—never forgetting his first love.

8 March 1936

Daytona Beach race track holds its first oval stock car race.

Even though the new crop of NASCAR race cars mimics the look of models on the road, they’re still anything but stock — at least until Toyota sells a Camry with rear-wheel-drive and a V-8.

But when the first stock car race was held at Daytona Beach on March 8, 1936, drivers brought their own street-legal open tops, coupes and saloons to the race. The grueling 3.2-mile course didn’t discriminate against aerodynamic tricks or windshield angle; it simply demanded that a car survive its grueling, pit-filled sandy turns.

Marred with scoring controversy, stalled cars and mid-corner mash-ups, the race was stopped after 72 of the 78 laps, and the $1,700 prize went to driver Milt Marion. As the vintage video below shows, more regulation couldn’t have hurt for the chaotic event.

7 March 1936

In violation of the Locarno Pact and the Treaty of Versailles, Germany reoccupies the Rhineland.

The remilitarization of the Rhineland by the German Army began on 7 March 1936 when German military forces entered the Rhineland. This was significant because it violated the terms of the Treaty of Versailles and the Locarno Treaties, marking the first time since the end of World War I that German troops had been in this region. The remilitarization changed the balance of power in Europe from France and its allies towards Germany, making it possible for Germany to pursue a policy of aggression in Western Europe that the demilitarized status of the Rhineland had blocked until then.

Under Articles 42, 43 and 44 of the 1919 Treaty of Versailles—imposed on Germany by the Allies after the Great War—Germany was “forbidden to maintain or construct any fortification either on the Left bank of the Rhine or on the Right bank to the west of a line drawn fifty kilometers to the East of the Rhine”. If a violation “in any manner whatsoever” of this Article took place, this “shall be regarded as committing a hostile act…and as calculated to disturb the peace of the world”. The Locarno Treaties, signed in October 1925 by Germany, France, Italy and Britain, stated that the Rhineland should continue its demilitarized status permanently. Locarno was regarded as important as it was a voluntary German acceptance of the Rhineland’s demilitarized status as opposed to the diktat of Versailles. Under the terms of Locarno, Britain and Italy guaranteed the Franco-German border and the continued demilitarized status of the Rhineland against a “flagrant violation” without however defining what constituted a “flagrant violation”. Under the terms of Locarno, if Germany should attempt to attack France, then Britain and Italy were obliged to go to France’s aid and likewise, if France should attack Germany, then Britain and Italy would be obliged to Germany’s aid. The American historian Gerhard Weinberg called the demilitarized status of the Rhineland the “single most important guarantee of peace in Europe” as it made it impossible for Germany to attack its neighbors in the West and as the demilitarized zone rendered Germany defenseless in the West, impossible to attack its neighbors in the East as it left Germany open to a devastating French offensive if the Reich tried to invade any of the states guaranteed by the French alliance system in Eastern Europe, the so-called Cordon sanitaire.

The Versailles Treaty also stipulated that Allied military forces would withdraw from the Rhineland by 1935. However, the German Foreign Minister Gustav Stresemann announced in 1929 that Germany would not ratify the 1928 Young Plan for continuing to pay reparations unless the Allies agreed to leave the Rhineland in 1930. The British delegation at the Hague Conference on German reparations in 1929 proposed that reparations paid by Germany be reduced and that British and French forces should evacuate the Rhineland. The last British soldiers left in late 1929 and the last French soldiers left in June 1930. As long as the French continued to occupy the Rhineland, the Rhineland functioned as a form of “collateral” under which the French could respond to any German attempt at overt rearmament by annexing the Rhineland. Once the last French soldiers left the Rhineland in June 1930, it could no longer play its “collateral” role, thus opening the door for German rearmament. The French decision to build the Maginot Line in 1929 was a tacit French admission that it was only a matter of time before German rearmament on a massive scale would begin sometime in the 1930s and that the Rhineland was going to be remilitarized sooner or later. Intelligence from the Deuxième Bureau indicated that Germany had been violating Versailles continuously all through the 1920s with the considerable help of the Soviet Union, and with the French troops out of the Rhineland, it could only be expected that Germany would become more open about violating Versailles. The Maginot Line in its turn lessened the importance of the Rhineland’s demilitarized status from a French security viewpoint.

The foreign policy of Fascist Italy was to maintain an “equidistant” stance from all the major powers in order to exercise “determinant weight”, which by whatever power Italy chose to align with would decisively change the balance of power in Europe, and the price of such an alignment would be support for Italian ambitions in Europe and/or Africa.

The foreign policy goal of the Soviet Union was set forth by Joseph Stalin in a speech on 19 January 1925 that if another world war broke out between the capitalist states that: “We will enter the fray at the end, throwing our critical weight onto the scale, a weight that should prove to be decisive”. To promote this goal which would lead to the global triumph of Communism, the Soviet Union tended to support German efforts to challenge the Versailles system by assisting German secret rearmament, a policy that caused much tension with France. An additional problem in Franco-Soviet relations was the Russian debt issue. Before 1917, the French had been by far the largest investors in Imperial Russia, and the largest buyers of Russian debt, so the decision by Lenin in 1918 to repudiate all debts and to confiscate all private property, whether it be owned by Russians or by foreigners, had hurt the world of French business and finance quite badly. The question of the Russian debt repudiation and compensation for French businesses affected by Soviet nationalisation policies poisoned Franco-Soviet relations until the early 1930s.

The centerpiece of interwar French diplomacy had been the cordon sanitaire in Eastern Europe, which was intended to keep both the Soviet Union and Germany out of Eastern Europe. To this end, France had signed treaties of alliance with Poland in 1921, Czechoslovakia in 1924, Romania in 1926 and Yugoslavia in 1927. The cordon sanitaire states were intended as a collective replacement for Imperial Russia as France’s chief eastern ally. The states of the cordon sanitaire emerged as an area of French political, military, economic and cultural influence.

As regards Germany, it had always been assumed by the states of the cordon sanitaire that if Germany should attack any of them, France would respond by beginning an offensive into western Germany. Long before 1933, German military and diplomatic elites had regarded the Rhineland’s demilitarized status as only temporary, and planned to remilitarize the Rhineland at the first favorable diplomatic opportunity. In December 1918, at a meeting of Germany’s leading generals, it had decided that the chief aim would be to rebuild German military power to launch a new world war to win the “world power status” that the Reich had sought, but failed to win in the last war. All through the 1920s and the early 1930s, the Reichswehr had been developing plans for a war to destroy France and its ally Poland, which necessarily presumed remilitarization of the Rhineland. Steps were taken by the German government to prepare for the remilitarization, such as keeping former barracks in a good state of repair, hiding military materials in secret depots, and building customs and fire watch towers that could be easily converted into observation and machine gun posts along the frontier.

From 1919 to 1932, British defense spending was based upon the Ten Year Rule, which assumed that there was to be no major war for the next ten years, a policy that led to the British military being cut to the bone. Amongst British decision-makers, the idea of the “continental commitment” of sending a large army to fight on the European mainland against Germany was never explicitly rejected, but was not favored. The memory of the heavy losses taken in the Great War had led many to see the “continental commitment” of 1914 as a serious mistake. For most of the inter-war period, the British were extremely reluctant to make security commitments in Eastern Europe, regarding the region as too unstable and likely to embroil Britain in unwanted wars. At most, Britain was willing to make only limited security commitments in Western Europe, and even then tried to avoid the “continental commitment” as much as possible. In 1925, the British Foreign Secretary, Sir Austen Chamberlain had famously stated in public at the Locarno conference that the Polish Corridor was “not worth the bones of a single British grenadier”. As such, Chamberlain declared that Britain would not guarantee the German-Polish border on the grounds that the Polish Corridor should be returned to Germany. That the British did not take even their Locarno commitments seriously could be seen in Whitehall’s prohibition of the British military chiefs’ holding staff talks with German, French and Italian militaries about what to do if a “flagrant violation” of Locarno occurred. In general, for most of the 1920s–30s, British foreign policy was based upon appeasement, under which the international system established by Versailles would be revised in Germany’s favor, within limits in order to win German acceptance of that international order, and thereby ensure the peace. One of the main British aims at Locarno was to create a situation where Germany could pursue territorial revisionism in Eastern Europe peacefully. The British viewpoint was that if Franco-German relations improved, France would gradually abandon the cordon sanitaire.

Once France had abandoned its allies in Eastern Europe as the price of better relations with the Reich, the Poles and Czechoslovaks would be forced to adjust to German demands, and would peacefully hand over the territories claimed by Germany such as the Sudetenland, the Polish Corridor and the Free City of Danzig. British policy-makers tended to exaggerate French power with the normally Francophile Sir Robert “Van” Vansittart, the Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office writing in 1931 that Britain was faced with an “unbearable” French domination of Europe, and what was needed was a revival of German power to counterbalance French power. French economic and demographic weaknesses in the face of Germany’s strengths such as the Reich’s far larger population and economy together with the fact that much of France had been devastated by World War I while Germany had escaped mostly undamaged were little appreciated in Whitehall.