British Foreign Affairs after World War I
The structure of the British Empire changed after the beginning of the war. In Ireland, which was a part of the Empire, the Republican Party appeared in 1918. This party, demanding a full independence from Britain won the elections to the British Parliament the same year. But instead of joining the British Parliament, they started their own Parliament in Dublin and announced Ireland the republic. They also created republican army, which began guerrilla fighting against the British.
In 1921, the British government agreed to give independence to southern Ireland, though Ulster — northern Irish territory remained united with Britain. The Anglo-Irish Treaty was concluded in 1921 and in 1922 the Irish Free State was established. In 1937, Southern Ireland was declared a republic.
In 1926, the Imperial Conference recognised the autonomy of the British dominions, later this agreement was formalised in the Statute of Westminster. By this statute each dominion was given equal rights in the Commonwealth of Nations, though each dominion still recognised the British monarch.
The best spoils of victory in World War I were secured by the USA, which after the war became the world's creditor. This fact strengthened the antagonism between two nations — the position of the world leader was now almost taken by the USA.
In foreign affairs Britain took part in the creation of League of Nations — a new institution aimed at fostering co-operation among the nations and checking the competition that might lead to war. Later this institution proved to be not sufficient, as a severe damage of German economy created favourable conditions for the rise of Nazism, which was overlooked by governments of other countries, who provided the inter-war policy of appeasement.
The policy of appeasement meant that Britain remained neutral to German's claims for power, but this policy fouled when Hitler started to make approaches to Poland. It was clear that a new war would soon begin. Though Winston Churchill tried to plan the rearmament, the progress was very slow — Britain had great deficiencies of tanks, air crafts and ships.
When the war broke out in September, Britain was still seriously unprepared. In May 1940, the British government was headed by Winston Churchill, who led the country through the war.
Britain in World War II: 1939-1943
World War II reversed Germany's attempt to establish a German Empire over the world. Adolph Hitler, the dictator of Germany revived German spirit by proclaiming these people a super nation. Other nations were oppressed by the Nazis, some nationalities and religious groups as Jews, Catholics and Poles were put into the concentration camps.
In the 1930s, Germany was not an only country ruled by a dictator. In Italy Benito Mussolini made plays to revive the glory of the Roman Empire. In Japan a military group wanted to take control of other countries in Asia and Islands in the Pacific Ocean. These countries — Germany, Italy and Japan formed the alliance called the Axis. The Axis was opposed by the alliance of European countries — the Allies.
In 1931, Japan invaded Manchuria — a part of China, in 1935, Italy invaded Austria and part of Czechoslovakia. On September 1, 1939, Germans crossed the Polish border. Two days later Britain and France declared war on Germany. This date — September 3, 1939, marked the beginning of World War II.
The Allies took no military action to defend Poland — French strategy was based on the defense of its common border with Germany, the British supported the French.
The German army conquered Poland in less than three weeks using a tactics of blitzkrieg — a lightning war. In 1940, Germany invaded Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg; France had to sign an armistice. In September the German planes began night bombing of British cities railways and factories.
Churchill's hopes that America would enter the war helped Britain to survive — in March 1941, the USA instituted Lend-Lease allowing Britain almost unlimited access to American war materials. In August 1941, the leaders of both countries — Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met to state their common aims for future world peace.
In 1941, Germany attacked the Soviet Union and Japan attacked the USA. Now Germany had to fight on two fronts — in the east and in the west. The Eastern front in the USSR saw the heaviest battles. After severe fighting the Soviet army was pushing the Germans out of the USSR and Britain had driven German and Italian troops out of North Africa.
In 1944, the Allies opened their long-awaited Second Front in Normandy, from where the liberation of France began. The day of invasion, June 6, went down into the history as D-Day. A large fleet of 600 warships and 400 smaller boats carried 176,00 allied soldiers towards France. 11,000 Allied planes bombed the German positions in France.
The Second Front marked the beginning of the end for Germany. In February 1945, the leaders of the "Big Three" Countries — Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin met in Yalta to decide about the shape of post-war Europe. The Soviet Union agreed to join the United Nations and to enter the war against Japan in return for territorial gains in Manchuria. Four months later France and Belgium were free. In spring 1945, the Allies advanced on the Western Front and the Soviet troops advanced on the east.
In May 1945, Germany surrendered — to the Allies in Italy on May 2 and in Germany itself on May 7. The last "Big Three" Conference was held nearly three months later — from July 17 to August 2. The major issue was the future of Germany and post-war Europe. That Summit marked the division of post-war influence between Britain and the USA on one side and the USSR on the other — Soviet influence spread over much of Eastern Europe. Later these divisions developed into the Cold War.
After the end of war in Europe Britain and America still remained at war with Japan. America's dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki on 6 and 9 August 1945 together with a Soviet declaration of war and invasion of Manchuria on August 8, forced Japan to surrender on August 14.
Britain lost in World War II more than half a million soldiers, bombing took lives of over 60,000 civilians. Britain was the only country who fought against Germany from the war's start to its end without being attacked first, and the war produced a devastating effect on Britain — Britain's homes and factories were severely damaged especially in London, southeastern towns and ports. British economy got a hard blow from which it did not fully recover any more, British debts and loans increased greatly while exports decreased.
But the most severe was a political blow — Britain was no longer a world leader, after World War II the balance of power was split between the two world's greatest states — the USA and the USSR. Britain was a junior partner of the USA in this world.