Nazi Germany was Turkey’s major trading partner in the 1930s. More than 50% of Turkey’s exports were to and imports were from Nazi Germany in the years before World War II.
Turkey signed the Turco-German Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany on June 18, 1941.
Turkey sold Chromite ore, a strategic metal, to Nazi Germany during World War II.
Turkey didn’t declare war on Nazi Germany until February 23, 1945.
- Turkish-German Trade:
In the late 1920s trade between Germany and Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia grew. These countries sold their agricultural products and raw materials to Germany and bought manufactured products from Germany.
Britain and France acquired most of the agricultural products and raw materials they needed from their multiple colonies and sold most of their manufactured products to their colonies.
After the Great Depression began, the prices of agricultural products and raw materials dropped by more than 50% worldwide. This left Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia with a greatly reduced export income which in turn made it difficult for them to pay for imports. Turkey was also still repaying Ottoman Empire debts.
Germany took advantage of this and implemented a series of bi-lateral agreements with these countries where Germany would buy their products, but only with credits which these countries then had to and could only use to buy German manufactured products.
During the 1930s Germany manipulated the system and sometimes even resold these countries products cheaply on the world market, both to earn foreign exchange and to drive down the prices of the products on the world market. This then often made it unprofitable for Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia to sell their products on the world market because the market price was often lower than their cost of production.
This system was beneficial to Turkey and the other countries during the depths of the Great Depression but it had a growing negative effect on their ability to import and export on the world market in the late 1930s. Nazi Germany was in a position where it essentially controlled more than 50% of the imports and exports of Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Yugoslavia.
- Pre-War Diplomacy:
On July 18, 1932 Turkey became a member of the League of Nations.
In 1934 Mussolini stated that the future of Italy was in Africa and Asia and began building up its naval strength, especially in the eastern Mediterranean. In 1935 Italy invaded and occupied most of Ethiopia (Abyssinia) from its bordering colonies Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. Britain, France and the League of Nations were unable, or unwilling, to prevent this from happening or to impose sanctions on Italy.
The strategically important Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles were demilitarized and put under the control of the League of Nations in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.
However, the League of Nations was growing more and more ineffective, and Europe was growing more and more unstable, so in April, 1935 Turkey asked for a meeting of the signatories to the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne to reevaluate the status of the Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles.
Australia, Britain, Bulgaria, France, Germany, Greece, Japan, the Soviet Union, Turkey, and Yugoslavia then met, Italy and the U.S. did not attend the meetings, and following negotiations the 1936 Montreux Convention Regarding the Regime of the Straits was agreed to. It was signed on July 20, 1936 and came into effect on November 9, 1936.
The Bosporus Straits and the Dardanelles were placed back under the control of Turkey, and Turkey was able to remilitarize the straits. All merchant shipping was given freedom of transit in the straits during peacetime but some restrictions could be placed on merchant shipping during wartime if Turkey was a belligerent. Several major restrictions on the passage of military vessels through the straits were also agreed to in the Montreux Convention.
- World War II Begins:
Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk died on November 10, 1938. Ismet Inonu was elected president by the Turkish Parliament the following day.
The population of Turkey was about 17.5 million in 1939; half of the population was under the age of 19.
As World War II approached, Turkey, Britain and France, alarmed at the developments in Europe, signed a series of agreements:
- the May 17, 1938 Anglo-Turkish Agreement - to promote stability in the eastern Mediterranean,
- the May 12, 1939 Anglo-Turkish Mutual Aid Agreement - a mutual aid agreement in the event of aggression or war,
- the June 23, 1939 Franco-Turkish Mutual Aid Agreement - a mutual assistance treaty based on the Anglo-Turkish Treaty. The French gave up all claims to Hatay and the Turkish government promised to extend mutual aid to France in the case of aggression.
World War II began in September, 1939 after Germany, and a short time later the USSR, invaded Poland.
On October 19, 1939 the Turkish, British and French governments signed the 1939 Anglo-French-Turkish Pact of Mutual Assistance and Friendship.
Turkey did not join World War II in support of Britain and France after the pact was signed and there are three relevant articles in the pact which shed light on the reasons why.
One states that Turkey, which was very unprepared militarily and economically for war, would be supplied with war materials ‘without delay’ which would put Turkey in the position of being able to ‘offer effective resistance to an attack which might be directed at short notice against her European frontiers’. Only a small amount of this promised material was delivered in the two years after the pact was signed and Turkey was not equipped to declare war on Germany.
Another states that Turkey was not obliged to enter the war if it would bring Turkey into conflict with the USSR. During the first 18 months of World War II Germany and the USSR were essentially allies. They divided up Eastern European countries between themselves and the USSR provided raw materials to Germany in exchange for German manufactured products.
Britain, France and Turkey were not in a position to prevent Germany and the USSR from dividing up Turkey, as they had Poland and Eastern Europe, if Turkey joined the war as an ally of Britain and France.
The third states ‘It is nevertheless agreed that in such an eventuality Turkey will observe at least a benevolent neutrality towards France and the United Kingdom’.
- The 1941 Turco-German Non-Aggression Pact:
In November, 1940 Hungary and Romania joined the Axis, and in April, 1941 Bulgaria also joined the Axis.
In April and May, 1941 the Axis completed their takeover of southeastern Europe by invading and occupying both Greece and Yugoslavia.
In May, 1941 the Axis occupied most of Europe, including all of the countries west and northwest of Turkey. France was defeated and occupied. Britain was still in danger. Russia was essentially Nazi Germany’s ally. Syria and Lebanon were under Vichy French control. The Mediterranean was mostly controlled by the Axis. Most of North Africa was under Vichy control or Axis occupation, and the U.S. was neutral.
Turkey did not join the Axis as had Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. Turkey signed the Turco-German Non-Aggression Pact with Nazi Germany on June 18, 1941 and stayed out of the war.
- Chromite Ore:
In 1939 Turkey not only signed Mutual Aid Agreements and Mutual Assistance Pacts with Britain and France, it also did not renew its trade agreement with Germany which expired on August 31, 1939 and stopped selling Chromite ore to Germany.
Turkey was hoping to increase its trade with Britain, France and the U.S. and decrease its trade with Germany.
Chromite ore is a strategic metal, mined in only a few countries in the world, necessary for the production of steel, and it was Turkey’s most important export on the world market. Britain and France wanted to prevent Germany from acquiring Turkey’s Chromite ore and also to build up their supplies of this strategic metal. Turkey offered to sell all of its Chromite ore production to Britain and France for 20 years if they also agreed to buy the agricultural products which Germany was buying but threatened to stop buying if Turkey sold its Chromite ore to other countries.
After negotiations, Britain and France agreed to only a two year, plus one year option, agreement and on January 8, 1940 the Chrome Trade Agreement was signed between Turkey, France and Britain. From January, 1940 to January, 1943 Turkey sold its Chromite ore to Britain, France and the U.S. - the U.S. bought France’s share after the French surrendered to Germany.
After the 1941 Turco-German Non-Aggression Pact was signed Germany wanted to buy Chromite ore from Turkey again as part of this agreement. Turkey asked Britain if they wanted to extend the three year agreement and Britain declined, so Turkey signed an agreement in September, 1941 to sell its Chromite ore to Germany. In the agreement deliveries were to begin in January, 1943 and Germany was to pay in advance for the ore with its manufactured products, mostly trains and railroad tracks, and some aircraft. From January, 1943 to April 21, 1944 Turkey sold its Chromite ore to Germany in exchange for German manufactured products.
- During World War II
After France had been invaded and Britain was in danger of being invaded in 1940-1941, France and Britain put intense pressure on Turkey to attack Nazi Germany. This, they believed, would have taken some of the pressure off of them.
After Nazi Germany invaded the USSR and it was in danger of being overrun in late 1941, 1942, and the first half of 1943, the USSR also put intense pressure on Turkey to attack Nazi Germany. This, they also believed, would have taken some of the pressure off of them.
Nazi Germany also tried to entice Turkey into attacking the USSR, especially when the USSR was at its weakest.
Turkey was not only unprepared, financially and militarily, to attack Germany or any other country, Turkey was also not interested in attacking anyone; Turkey’s primary objectives were defending the country and building relations with the west.
Turkey’s neutrality, or non-belligerency, also served two other purposes. It was a barrier between Nazi Germany and the Middle East, and Turkey was able to act as a conduit for many who were escaping from Europe and Asia.
- World War II Ends
On April 21, 1944 Turkey severed ties with the Axis powers and on February 23, 1945 declared war on the Axis.
In February and March, 1945 Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela, Turkey, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Argentina declared war on the Axis. Chile declared war only on Japan on April 11, 1945.
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Other Diaries related to the history of the Republic of Turkey:
Delivering Humanitarian Aid
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