The Anglo-German Naval Accord of 1935 is, in the overall history of pre-World War II events, from a traditional perspective is probably one of the less important bits of diplomatic maneuvering in 1930s Europe. During the same period when it was signed, the mid to late 1930s, Germany began to aggressively and openly rearm, seized and re-militarized the Rhineland, aided the Spanish Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, and eventually annexed Austria and Czechoslovakia. Germany also successfully concluded alliances with most of its neighbors but the two that really mattered were a treaty signed with Italy and, much later, with the Soviet Union. (Germany also signed a treaty with Japan that was diplomatically vital but in affecting the balance of power it has less impact than the other two treaties, besides making the British Empire even more prone to panic and defensive alliances.)
At its heart the Anglo-German Naval Accord of 1935 was a basic naval arms limitation treaty signed directly between Great Britain and Germany in which Germany pledged to keep its total naval strength at no more than 35% of that of the British fleet, based on tonnage, and also agreed to pursue a balanced program of naval development rather than building a “specialized fleet” – such as one oriented towards commerce raiding. The treaty allowed Germany to build submarines again for the first time since World War I, within more generous tonnage ratio limitations. The treaty was considered a major diplomatic success for the British government, led by Stanley Baldwin (pictured above), and for Adolf Hitler kindled hopes that this initial diplomatic success would pave the way towards a broader defensive treaty with Great Britain or, dream of dreams, an alliance that would allow Germany a free hand in continental Europe.
The core impact of this treaty though was greater than it might first appear when considered in context and factoring in national pride and human emotion, because the Anglo-German Naval Accord of 1935 was negotiated without consulting the French or Italian governments, as Great Britain had promised to do in the mid-1920s. From the mid-1920s through the early-1930s Great Britain, France, and Italy were part of what was known as the Stresa front, an earlier alliance aimed at containing any possible German aggression by all three signatory nations – Italy, France, and Great Britain. As a further blow for France by allowing Germany to have a larger navy, and submarines at all, this treaty refuted the Versailles Treaty, upon whose enforcement French security hopes rested in the 1920s and early 1930s. With Great Britain renouncing that and pursuing its own private peace France was forced to consider its reliance on Great Britain to be less of a factor and reacted with its own efforts to increase its military size and preparations for war.
I would argue though for France, in particular for its leadership (symbolized by the Prime Minister at the time, Pierre Laval pictured above), this treaty underscored a more critical humiliation, France was no longer in command of its own foreign policy. The British government could sign this major treaty that redefined French and German naval balance, ignore the French government, and then inform them of its actions. But as France needed British support to have any chance of successfully defending itself against German aggression this treaty probably helped re-enforce feelings in France’s public and leadership of inferiority and an inability to effectively resist. I would contend that those feelings, that emotional burden, was part of what weighted down France’s military planning and civil leadership and remained a problem for its effective ability to defend itself up till the actual outbreak of the war. Only the actual defeat of France, and seeing the impact it really had, versus it’s imagined impact, helped galvanize France to emerge from the war with fire in the mid to late 1940s.