How Winston Churchill Changed the World [8400]

Few individuals personify the tumultuous story of the 20th century more than Winston Churchill. Great Britain’s most cel

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How Winston Churchill Changed the World [8400]

Table of contents :
Professor's Biography......Page 3
Table of Contents......Page 5
Course Scope......Page 7
Churchill’s Love for History......Page 8
Looking Back......Page 10
Churchill’s Parents......Page 14
After Sandhurst......Page 16
The Boer War......Page 17
Return to England......Page 18
Churchill’s Political Feuds......Page 21
Breaking with the Conservatives......Page 22
Problems......Page 24
Violet Asquith......Page 26
4 — Churchill’s Rise to the Admiralty......Page 28
Raising Churchill......Page 29
Churchill in the Admiralty......Page 30
Churchill’s Leadership Style......Page 31
Churchill in the Air......Page 32
The Spread of World War I......Page 34
Debates......Page 36
Mid-War Actions......Page 37
Naval Movements......Page 38
Churchill Takes the Blame......Page 39
Churchill After the Fall......Page 41
The Battle of the Somme......Page 42
The Tank......Page 43
After the War......Page 45
The Colonial Office......Page 46
Personal Setbacks......Page 48
Churchill’s Writing......Page 49
Quiz for Lectures 1-6......Page 51
Becoming Chancellor......Page 52
Churchill’s Lifestyle......Page 54
Churchill as Chancellor......Page 55
New Wealth......Page 56
The General Strike......Page 57
My Early Life......Page 58
Churchill’s Warnings......Page 60
Oswald Mosley......Page 62
Mussolini and Stalin......Page 63
Churchill’s Image......Page 64
Churchill in the 1930s......Page 66
Great Contemporaries......Page 67
Churchill on Mein Kampf......Page 69
Air Superiority......Page 71
The Seaplane......Page 72
Churchill Challenges Hitler......Page 73
Royal Intrigue......Page 74
The Spanish Civil War......Page 75
Hitler in the Late 1930s......Page 77
Hitler and Chamberlain......Page 78
Dissidents......Page 81
Movement toward War......Page 83
Blitzkrieg in Poland......Page 84
Churchill and Chamberlain’s Early Maneuvers......Page 85
Hitler and France......Page 86
Churchill’s Changing Fortunes......Page 87
Quiz for Lectures 7-12......Page 90
Dunkirk......Page 91
Adolph Hitler’s Reach......Page 92
The War Cabinet......Page 93
Lord Halifax Argues for Peace......Page 94
After May 27......Page 95
Standing against Hitler......Page 96
The Blitz......Page 98
The Tide Turns......Page 100
Changing Tactics......Page 101
Churchill’s Weapon......Page 102
A Deadly Game......Page 103
The Mediterranean and Egypt......Page 104
The Atlantic......Page 105
A Speech by Churchill......Page 106
The Tide Shifts......Page 107
The Eastern Turning Point......Page 108
The Western Turning Point......Page 109
Preparation......Page 111
Meeting Churchill......Page 113
Meeting in America......Page 114
Later Events......Page 115
Turning to the Soviets......Page 117
Earlier Communication......Page 118
Two Tense Meetings......Page 119
The Final Meetings......Page 120
Churchill’s Goals......Page 121
18 — Debating Churchill’s Wartime Leadership......Page 123
Criticism of Churchill: The D-Day Invasion......Page 124
Criticism of Churchill: The Mediterranean......Page 125
Criticism of Churchill: Acting on Intelligence......Page 126
The Holocaust......Page 127
Quiz for Lectures 13-18......Page 129
Churchill’s Strategy......Page 130
Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin......Page 132
Operation Overlord......Page 133
Flying Bombs......Page 134
Casualties Abroad......Page 135
Yalta......Page 136
Outcome of the War......Page 138
The Election of 1945......Page 140
Churchill in Retirement......Page 141
Churchill in Defeat......Page 144
Churchill’s Problem......Page 145
Churchill’s Disappointment......Page 146
Stalin and Churchill......Page 147
Tests......Page 148
The Postwar Picture......Page 150
Powering Down......Page 151
The Fallout......Page 152
Churchill and the House of Commons......Page 153
1947 to 1951......Page 154
Churchill’s Victory......Page 156
Churchill Back in Power......Page 157
The Death of King George VI......Page 158
Economic Trouble......Page 160
Churchill’s Declining Health......Page 161
Churchill, Hitler, and Cards......Page 163
Churchill’s Death......Page 165
Churchill’s Noblest Ambition......Page 166
Quiz for Lectures 19-24......Page 168
Bibliography......Page 169
Lectures 1-6......Page 173
Lectures 13-18......Page 174
Lectures 19-24......Page 175
Image Credits......Page 176

Citation preview

Topic History

Discover how Winston Churchill forever altered the course of the 20th century—and Western civilization.

How Winston Churchill Changed the World

“Pure intellectual stimulation that can be popped into the [audio or video player] anytime.” —Harvard Magazine “Passionate, erudite, living legend lecturers. Academia’s best lecturers are being captured on tape.” —The Los Angeles Times “A serious force in American education.” —The Wall Street Journal

Michael Shelden is a Professor of English at Indiana State University, where he has won the top award for excellence in scholarship, the Theodore Dreiser Distinguished Research/ Creativity Award, three times. He earned his PhD in English from Indiana University. Professor Shelden is a Pulitzer Prize finalist and the author of six biographies, including Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill. He has also given lectures on Winston Churchill for The National WWII Museum and the International Churchill Society.

Professor Photo: © Jeff Mauritzen - Cover Image: © Lebrecht Music & Arts/Alamy. Course No. 8400 © 2018 The Teaching Company.



THE GREAT COURSES ® Corporate Headquarters 4840 Westfields Boulevard, Suite 500 Chantilly, VA 20151-2299 USA Phone: 1-800-832-2412

Subtopic Modern History

How Winston Churchill Changed the World Course Guidebook Professor Michael Shelden Indiana State University

PUBLISHED BY: THE GREAT COURSES Corporate Headquarters 4840 Westfields Boulevard, Suite 500 Chantilly, Virginia 20151-2299 Phone: 1-800-832-2412 Fax: 703-378-3819

Copyright © The Teaching Company, 2018

Printed in the United States of America This book is in copyright. All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of The Teaching Company.

Michael Shelden, PhD Professor of English Indiana State University


ichael Shelden is a Professor of English at Indiana State University, where he has won the top award for excellence in scholarship, the Theodore Dreiser Distinguished Research/Creativity Award, three times. He earned his PhD in English from Indiana University. Professor Shelden is the author of six biographies, including Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill, which has been translated into Russian, Chinese, and Portuguese. The Wall Street Journal said of Young Titan, “Shelden is full of sharp literary insights about Churchill, as one would expect from a literary biographer of his rank.” He has also given lectures on Winston Churchill for The National WWII Museum and the International Churchill Society. Professor Shelden’s book Orwell: The Authorized Biography was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His book Mark Twain: Man in White was a New York Times Best Seller, was chosen as one of the best books of 2010 by the Library Journal, and was named one of the best

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  i

nonfiction books of 2010 by the Christian Science Monitor. In a special issue on the 240th anniversary of American independence, Time magazine praised Professor Shelden’s biography of Herman Melville, Melville in Love, as one of “240 Reasons to Celebrate America.” American Literary Scholarship, the annual journal published by Duke University Press, has said, “Shelden possesses that rare gift of the truly talented biographer: He can sketch scenes so vividly that a reader seems to mingle with the subjects in their long-ago conversations.” For 12 years, Professor Shelden was a features writer for The Daily Telegraph in London. His many scholarly articles and reviews have included publications in the Folger Shakespeare Library’s Shakespeare Quarterly, the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Victorian Studies, and the Journal of British Studies. l

ii  |  Professor Biography

Table of Contents Introduction Professor Biography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . i Course Scope . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Lectures 1

Churchill and the Muse of History������������������������������������������2


Young Churchill ��������������������������������������������������������������������8


Churchill, the Edwardian Titan��������������������������������������������15


Churchill’s Rise to the Admiralty������������������������������������������22


Churchill and Failure in World War I������������������������������������28


Churchill in War and Peace ������������������������������������������������36


Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer ��������������������������46


The Rise of Tyranny in the 1930s����������������������������������������54


Churchill as Author and Historian����������������������������������������60

10 The Gathering Storm in Nazi Germany ������������������������������65 11 Churchill in the Age of Appeasement����������������������������������71 12 The Road to Dunkirk������������������������������������������������������������77 13 Churchill in Power����������������������������������������������������������������85 14 Surviving the Nazi Blitz��������������������������������������������������������92

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  iii

15 Turning the Tide Against Hitler��������������������������������������������98 16 Churchill and Roosevelt����������������������������������������������������105 17 Churchill and Stalin������������������������������������������������������������ 111 18 Debating Churchill’s Wartime Leadership�������������������������� 117 19 Churchill from Tehran to Yalta��������������������������������������������124 20 Peace, Churchill, and the British Voter������������������������������132 21 Churchill on the Iron Curtain����������������������������������������������138 22 Churchill and Britain’s Postwar Crisis��������������������������������144 23 Churchill’s Return to Power ����������������������������������������������150 24 Churchill and the Legacy of Freedom��������������������������������157

Supplementary Material Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163 Answer Key . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167 Image Credits . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 170

iv  |  Table of Contents

How Winston Churchill Changed the World


his course follows Winston Churchill’s career from its beginnings in the early 1900s to its peak in the 1940s and to his last time as prime minister in the 1950s. He was always an agent of change, starting with the Edwardian period, when he was a young Liberal statesman helping to break the landed aristocracy’s ancient dominance and then working to establish a social safety net for the working class. As first lord of the Admiralty in 1914, he was the civilian head of the largest naval fleet in the world, and the chief architect of the Royal Navy’s early success in the World War I. This course also takes a new look at Churchill’s interwar years. He began the 1920s overseeing the establishment of a new world order in the British reorganization of the Middle East and in the creation of the Irish Free State. As chancellor of the Exchequer in the 1920s, he occupied a key position as a champion of capitalism in the raging debates of that period over centralized planning and economic freedom. Churchill was among the earliest statesmen in the West to warn of the growing military threat from Stalin’s Russia. Much of this course focuses on the crucial part that Churchill played in World War II. An early opponent of Nazi Germany, he did more than any other British politician to denounce Hitler’s rise and to encourage military preparations to meet the growing German threat. When war broke out in 1939, his stand against appeasement was vindicated. He soon took charge of the war effort as prime minister, leading the fight when Britain was alone. Churchill then helped to forge a partnership with America that not only made victory possible, but also helped to change the power dynamics of the modern world for the rest of the century. l

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  1


Churchill and the Muse of History


o set the stage for this course’s study of Winston Churchill, this lecture establishes a sense of how he looked at the world. This lecture also examines what he brought to politics that made him stand out almost from the start of his career.

Churchill’s Love for History At an early age, Churchill fell in love with history and made it his constant study. In fact, he saw the great classics of English literature as more of a subspecies of history than of literary art. He loved history that could be read like literature, devouring the masterpieces of prose in the historical works of Edward Gibbon and Thomas Macaulay. The lessons of history spoke to him not as dry facts, but in the fine cadences of the best English authors, from Shakespeare to Lord Byron and beyond. As

he demonstrated in every major speech he gave, he relished the sound of words. The greatest voices of the past were alive to him, and he could recite poetry by the page. Churchill had a phenomenal memory. The actor Richard Burton was fond of recalling how his performance of Hamlet one night in London was disrupted by Churchill sitting in the front row, where the famous politician couldn’t resist repeating every word of Hamlet’s speeches in a low rumbling voice. In a similar way, consider his devotion to the poetry of Lord Byron, a man of action and of eloquence sure to fascinate a character like Churchill. As his daughter Sarah once discovered to her astonishment, Churchill could recite for a solid hour from Byron’s poetry. The words seemed forever etched in his mind. No wonder, then, that there is an echo of Byron in one of Churchill’s most famous wartime pronouncements: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” It has its parallel in Byron’s bitter attack on the rich in the Napoleonic wars who profited from, as he put it, “blood, sweat, and tearwrung millions.”

Crossing Paths Even as a young man, there was an almost constant pageant of the great faces of the day coming and going through Winston Churchill’s life. He became an icon himself, but it is amazing how often he crossed paths with other people of note, including Mark Twain, Theodore Roosevelt, Lawrence of Arabia, and Charlie Chaplin. Later in life, he encountered Joseph Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, and Dwight David Eisenhower. Even Virginia Woolf made a cameo appearance when their paths converged at a party.

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  3

For Churchill, the past was not academic. It was his guide for action in the present. When Hitler’s armies gathered in 1940 on the shores of France, only hours away from Britain, Churchill was thinking about, among other things, 1588 and 1805. Those two years were previous points in time when England seemed on the verge of being invaded by fierce enemies who threatened to overrun the kingdom and drive its defenders into the sea—in the first instance, the Spanish Armada, and in the second, the armies of Napoleon.

Churchill and Radio On the radio, words alone have to convey what images can easily show in films and magazines, and Edward R. Murrow was a master at describing what he witnessed in powerfully direct prose. This is all the more reason why he, especially, understood the steadying effect of Churchill’s wartime speeches to a nation under siege. Churchill couldn’t stop the bombs with words, but he could inspire resistance to them. In his wartime speeches, Churchill evoked the great sounds of the past precisely because that was such a vital reason for keeping Britain in the fight. The purpose of surviving Hitler’s assault was not just to hold territory, maintain a currency, or to continue an administration, but as Churchill said, to save “our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions.”

Looking Back In some ways, Churchill’s preference for the backward glance of history distorted his view of the future and misled him, such as his failure to understand the rise of independence movements in the British Empire and the growing strength of Asia, where he underestimated Japan almost from the start of its rise to power in the Pacific. Yet even though his foresight was

4  |  1 ● Churchill and the Muse of History

Winston Churchill

sometimes inadequate—which was only human—rarely did he fail to explain himself in words that were all the more effective because they seemed drawn from the eloquence of the past. The most famous three words he ever spoke—“their finest hour”—illustrate that point. The way he delivered that phrase and the way he arranged it to land with a mighty rhetorical uplift at the end of his speech are unforgettable: “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties,” he said, “and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’” Originally given in the House of Commons on June 18, 1940, the speech was later broadcast that evening, when the BBC estimated that more than half the population heard it. The speech was a direct challenge to everyone in the British Isles, from soldiers and sailors to nurses and night watchmen, to “bear ourselves” with such dignity and purpose that history would never forget the moment. Churchill was making the fight personal. The image he evoked could easily have fallen flat in another leader’s voice, as though surviving the war was somehow a question of etiquette—that is, of standing up straight and staring upward during some solemn ceremony. A clue of how Churchill pulled it off comes from his deep and abiding love of British history. Two weeks before he gave this speech, Churchill went around repeating two short lines of poetry from the 17th century, reciting them to friends and associates. The general response seems to have been bewilderment and annoyance. They were two lines from Andrew Marvell’s poem “An Horatian Ode upon Oliver Cromwell’s Return from Ireland.” They describe the “hour” in 1649 when King Charles I, having lost the English Civil War to Cromwell’s Roundheads, approaches the executioner’s block for beheading. “He nothing common did or mean / Upon that memorable scene,” wrote Marvell of a monarch who stood in the cold London air with his head held high and faced death, doing nothing petty or disgraceful that would betray his

6  |  1 ● Churchill and the Muse of History

fear. These lines were obviously of vital significance to Churchill because he repeated them, without explanation, in his June 18, 1940 speech. The lines were meaningful because they concerned the very moment when King Charles bravely placed his head on a chopping block, awaiting the axe, which ended his life with one blow. In that image of a sovereign—the nation embodied in one person—bearing himself with dignity and bravery at a crucial moment, Churchill recognized what was perhaps King Charles’s finest hour. It inspired him to think that how we “bear ourselves” in such dire moments is the only thing that really matters.

Questions to Consider 1. Why did Churchill’s wartime speeches have such a steadying effect on a nation under siege? 2. How did Churchill’s intimate knowledge of history inspire him to issue a “personal summons to greatness” in one of his best wartime speeches?

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  7


Young Churchill


inston Churchill didn’t stumble into greatness. “I like things to happen,” he said, “and if they don’t happen. I like to make them happen.” Believing himself a hero, Churchill worked the magic of making others believe it, too. This lecture looks at how he did so in his early life.

Churchill’s Parents Winston was the older son of Lord Randolph Churchill, for a brief time a famous Victorian politician. At his best, Lord Randolph was witty, urbane, eloquent, and passionate. At his worst, he was impulsive and reckless, and often harsh in his judgment of his son. When the boy struggled with his studies at Harrow, the elite boarding school in suburban London, Lord Randolph didn’t try to soften his displeasure, rashly concluding that Winston would never be suited for a university education.

The problem wasn’t so much with the boy’s intellect as it was with the ancient curriculum of the British educational system, which placed emphasis on Latin and Greek, subjects that would never hold much interest for Churchill. In his teens at Harrow, he did well in English and history. Everything else paled in comparison for him, and so it wasn’t surprising that he twice failed the entrance examinations to Sandhurst, the Royal Military Academy. His father was livid, and even when the young man was admitted to Sandhurst on the third try, Lord Randolph took no consolation from the result. Lord Randolph died when Churchill was 20 years old, so he never knew the greatness that would be achieved by his son. With his mother—the beautiful and spirited Jennie—Churchill had more success. She was an American with all the warmth and generosity of spirit that her husband lacked. In her early years of marriage, her social life kept her too busy to be an attentive mother to Winston and her second son, Jack.

Churchill’s Birth: November 30, 1874 That he was the grandson of a duke—and was born in a palace—certainly didn’t hurt Winston Churchill’s self-esteem. On a dreary day at the very end of November 1874, Churchill was born in one of the 200 rooms at Blenheim Palace, home of the dukes of Marlborough and the seat of the family’s large estate in Oxfordshire.

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  9

However, when Winston came of age, he suddenly found in Jennie an ardent ally on whom he could depend. With her charm and intimate knowledge of society, she would ease his adventures abroad and his political ambitions at home by putting in the right word at the right time to the most useful newspaper editor, general, or statesman.

After Sandhurst

The Marlborough Wealth Winston Churchill’s family’s wealth never made its way into his hands. Generation after generation, most of the money stayed at the top, tightly held by one duke after the other, each in his turn allowing lesser relations to feast on crumbs. Churchill— though he was the grandson of a duke—would have to make his way in the world largely on his own talents.

As soon as he left Sandhurst as a young cavalry officer, Churchill was eager to find military glory, seeking every chance to put himself in the way of danger. In those days, at the end of the 19th century, someone was usually taking shots somewhere at soldiers of the British Empire, which stretched around the world from Hong Kong to Bermuda. Posted to India, Churchill soon found himself on its northwest frontier, facing fire from Afghan tribesmen in 1897. His observations of men in combat led him to make one of his most memorable remarks, “Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.” Not content to survive this close encounter with danger in 1897, he managed to race to another imperial hotspot just a year later, traveling to the African desert. There, he joined the fight against a large Dervish army near Khartoum. With the 21st Lancers, he rode into battle firing a new Mauser pistol and killed several attackers. He emerged unharmed from the fighting, but at a dusty field hospital after the battle, he endured an unusual injury. It came as he tried to help a fellow officer who had suffered a sword cut on his right arm. The man needed a skin graft, and Churchill volunteered a piece of his own flesh. It was done with a razor and without anesthesia.

10  |  2 ● Young Churchill

Though not a bullet wound, the procedure left a scar that would stay with him for life, a vivid reminder of combat in a bloody conflict that forced him to see the dark underside of military adventures. Some of his youthful enthusiasm for battle was lost the next day when he helped bury young British soldiers who had died of their wounds overnight.

The Boer War Even the sobering carnage in Sudan would soon be overshadowed by the much greater losses suffered by imperial forces at the other end of Africa. This was the Boer War at the end of the 19th century—that is, Britain’s fight with the fiercely independent Dutch settlers over gold, diamonds, and empire.

Winston Churchill

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  11

The Boers gave Churchill his first taste of warfare against the full force of modern weapons. Unlike the Dervishes, the Dutch farmers in South Africa were well armed. By the time a peace agreement was reached in May 1902, the war had cost the lives of 22,000 British soldiers. Military and political misjudgments at every level caused the war to drag on much too long. The problems undermined Churchill’s confidence in the imperial army, prompting him to complain privately that the war was “inglorious in its course, cruel and hideous in its conclusion.” Churchill could afford to criticize because, despite its failures, the war made him a hero. At countless lectures afterward, he would enthrall audiences by telling the extraordinary story of how he had sailed to South Africa as a war correspondent and had come under attack from Boer fighters while accompanying British troops on an armored train. Churchill was taken prisoner and then escaped on his own after only three weeks in captivity. He described his efforts to find his way to freedom, using the stars to guide his escape while the Boers searched for him in vain. He found a temporary safe haven among civilian workers secretly supporting the British and hid out for a few days in a coal mine. Keeping his audience in suspense, he would describe being smuggled aboard a train headed to Portuguese East Africa, where he showed up a free man— though weary and unkempt—at the British consulate. From the moment his successful escape was revealed to the world, the name of Winston Churchill became famous throughout the British Empire and in most of America.

Return to England After five years of chasing adventure in various parts of the globe, Churchill returned home to England in early 1901 to begin his political career with the ruling Conservative Party in the House of Commons. He was only 26.

12  |  2 ● Young Churchill

Queen Victoria had recently died, having ruled for more than 60 years. It was her son, King Edward, who opened the new Parliament. Winston was there, looking appropriately solemn and dignified in mourning clothes for the late queen. He took the oath as a new Parliament member that afternoon, and then waited less than a week to deliver his maiden speech. He had been looking forward to this moment for years, and had spent the days leading up to it polishing his remarks and committing them to memory, making sure that nothing would go wrong. At his rooms in London, he stood before a mirror pretending he was addressing the House of Commons. This became a common method of preparation for him, to the annoyance of others nearby. On February 18, 1901, the moment of Churchill’s maiden speech arrived. When word circulated that Lord Randolph’s son was going to speak, the five rows of benches on either side of the floor filled quickly, as did the surrounding galleries for journalists and guests. Entering the chamber, Churchill found that everyone was watching him closely, curious stares following him as he walked toward his seat, clutching a single page of handwritten notes. In his maiden speech, Churchill wisely chose to play it safe, avoiding any appearance of a forced effort at eloquence. As friends and family had advised him, it was best to stick to a single subject he knew well and to seem modest in manner and tone if not in fact. The Boer War was continuing to drag on, so he addressed the problem of bringing the struggle to a swift conclusion and creating a just peace. He made it clear, however, that he had no interest in humiliating or wiping out the enemy. For the close of his speech, he put aside politics to pay tribute to his father’s memory, and his words were widely praised afterward as a touching expression of a son’s devotion. He didn’t mention Lord Randolph by name, but his reference was all the more effective because it assumed a shared awareness of the Churchill legacy.

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  13

Questions to Consider 1. In Winston Churchill’s youth, why was Jennie Churchill’s influence more positive than Lord Randolph’s? 2. Why was Churchill better prepared than most new members of Parliament to succeed with an early maiden speech in the House of Commons?

14  |  2 ● Young Churchill


Churchill, the Edwardian Titan


n just two years, from 1901 to 1903, Churchill went from being a young hero of the Boer War to a political figure of such notoriety that thousands were willing to stand out in the cold night air to demand that he be silenced. Such a scene occurred in November of 1903 at Birmingham’s town hall, where Churchill dared the mob to stop him speaking, seemingly unaffected by death threats or smashed windows. In a matter of months as a young member of Parliament, he had managed to stir up a political firestorm and to turn powerful friends into bitter enemies. This lecture looks at the story of Churchill’s early political rise.

Churchill’s Political Feuds Churchill came to be at war with his own party. He was a frustrated backbencher in the Conservative Party. The party was full of old Victorian

politicians, many of them blue-blooded Tories who seemed incapable of dealing effectively with the new challenges of the 20th century. The two most powerful leaders were Arthur Balfour and Joseph Chamberlain, both seasoned veterans of the House of Commons. They regarded Winston as an abrasive upstart too inexperienced and too impetuous to be given any position of importance. They thought he should wait patiently for his turn at power, sitting quietly in Parliament for a decade or so before expecting a minor office. Churchill wouldn’t wait. He openly attacked Balfour, who had become the Tory prime minister in 1902, questioning his leadership in brutal parliamentary debates. His relationship with Joseph Chamberlain was even worse. Whereas Balfour found Churchill annoying, Chamberlain thought he was treacherous, and he retaliated with all the might of his considerable political influence. Chamberlain set in motion the mob protests against Churchill when the young man spoke in Birmingham. The main dispute was over free trade. Chamberlain wanted less of it, demanding tariffs to protect his industrial base in the Midlands, while Churchill insisted that such protectionism was unnecessary and outdated. In this case, the personality clash was more important than the policy differences. Chamberlain is largely forgotten today, but he is a major figure in this story because his feud with Churchill lingered long into the 20th century, influencing his younger son’s attitude toward Churchill. That son was Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of the 1930s who refused to trust his father’s old antagonist in part because the family never quite forgave Churchill for the stinging words he often had for Joseph.

Breaking with the Conservatives More than anything else, it was this war with Joe Chamberlain that made Churchill reconsider his future as a Conservative. Little more than six months

16  |  3 ● Churchill, the Edwardian Titan

after his Birmingham speech, he abruptly changed parties, crossing the aisle to join the Liberal opposition. He would pay for this decision the rest of his life, with his enemies only too happy to cast him in the part of an unreliable ally ready to abandon party and principle whenever convenient. The Tories were delighted to be rid of a man whose ideas and ambitions were too large and disruptive for a party content to think small and to govern cautiously. The Liberals, on the other hand, were eager for change and innovation, and were happy to welcome Churchill. How strongly he felt about liberalism at the outset is questionable, but he stayed on the most exciting and rewarding political path. Weakened by his divided party, Balfour handed over the government to the Liberals at the end of 1905. At the general election the next year, the Conservatives suffered a crushing defeat, losing scores of seats. Churchill had sensed that this might be the result, thinking correctly that Chamberlain’s illconsidered lurch into protectionism would divide and ruin the Conservatives.

Lloyd George Aside from the prime minister, Winston Churchill’s only real rival among the Liberals was Lloyd George. They were friends, then friendly antagonists, and occasionally they fell out and regarded each other warily as foes. Lloyd George was about 12 years older, and he was witty, intelligent, sly, calculating, and ambitious. He was not to be trusted, however, and Churchill liked him too much to be sufficiently cautious in that regard. Moreover, neither could reach the top without the other suffering a fall on the way up.

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  17

Churchill as a Liberal Because of the Liberal government of Asquith, Lloyd George, and Churchill, Britain was transformed at home into a more progressive society. Churchill was at the heart of this social revolution. In 1908, as the young president of the Board of Trade in his first major appointment as a Liberal, Churchill went to work as though he had been studying progressive reforms his whole life. In 1909, Churchill spoke of the state’s duty to help when “the frail boat in which the fortunes of the family are embarked founders, and the women and children are left to struggle helplessly on the dark waters of a friendless world.” Churchill’s early efforts in Asquith’s government were so impressive that he soon won a position in the first rank of the Cabinet as home secretary. However, despite his early expressions of support for women’s suffrage, he was targeted for protests by a determined group of suffragettes. The suffragettes went overboard in their attacks on Churchill, endangering his life on one frightening day in 1909. A woman named Theresa Garnett approached him on a railway platform in Bristol with a dog whip in her hand. She struck him over the head and slashed his face. For a moment Churchill struggled with Garnett, who pushed him backward toward a train about to depart. At the last minute, a policeman came to the rescue. Churchill’s life was spared, and the woman was arrested. Nine years later, with no hard feelings about this harrowing experience, Churchill was among the members of Parliament who helped to pass the first major legislation extending voting rights to women, the Representation of the People Act. It should have come much earlier.

Problems At the Home Office, Churchill found himself surrounded by a series of intractable problems involving crime, justice, and social unrest. Industrial disputes in the Welsh mining districts and the docks and factories of Liverpool

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placed him in the difficult position of trying to keep order while also trying to address the legitimate concerns of workers. He did not shine in these moments, showing more eagerness to assert authority and not enough sympathy for the plight of the workers. After little more than a year as home secretary, Churchill was fed up with the job. He was especially unhappy with the popular perception of his response to what would today be considered a terrorist incident. Known as the Siege of Sidney Street, the incident happened in January 1911 when a gun battle broke out in the East End of London between police and a heavily armed gang of Russian anarchists. So heavy was the gunfire from the gang’s hideout that 20 riflemen from the Scots Guards raced to the scene from the Tower of London to help the mostly unarmed police. Hearing of the news, Churchill hurried to the scene and couldn’t resist inserting himself into the affair. As it happened, the Russian anarchists were firing the relatively new semiautomatic Mauser pistol, a deadly weapon whose effectiveness wasn’t appreciated by either the London police or the soldiers. When several armed constables wanted to rush the hideout, Churchill wisely advised against it. He knew what he was talking about because he was the only official there who had experience firing the pistol, having used it in the Sudan as a young man fighting with the British army. He was widely criticized for trying to direct the operation against the anarchists. However, given his experience, he was right to do so. His one big mistake was to arrive at the scene wearing his usual business dress of a top hat and expensive overcoat. In newspaper photographs, he looked ridiculous, directing a firefight in fancy clothes. His old antagonist Arthur Balfour delighted in the chance to make fun of Churchill on the floor of the House of Commons. Here was an interesting preview of a line of criticism often directed at Churchill in later years—the idea that he was reckless to the point of endangering others, and so eager to win glory for himself that he would do anything to attract attention.

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Violet Asquith Life in the Liberal Party was made easier for Churchill because of Violet Asquith, the prime minister’s daughter. She was only 20 when they became friends in 1907. That friendship soon grew so close that Violet formed a romantic attachment to Churchill, who was reluctant to reciprocate because of the complications that would arise from loving the boss’s daughter. Churchill was a dozen years older, and in recent years had already proposed to three Edwardian beauties in quick succession, all of whom had rejected him. Undeterred, he was looking for another big romance, but he saw young Violet as more of a close companion and political ally than a lover. It is no coincidence that Churchill rose so quickly Violet Asquith in Asquith’s administration after winning Violet’s devotion. She was heartbroken when he married another woman in 1908—Clementine Hozier—but Violet remained a loyal friend who was always quick to sing his praises in her father’s company. Nothing he did seemed to diminish her admiration for him. The secret of their long friendship was that Winston liked to talk, and Violet liked to listen. More importantly, she perfectly understood the nature of his talk: It was essentially Winston thinking aloud, but in a form that seemed perfectly shaped into polished sentences. It was a performance, but full of unexpected twists and turns, and making no concessions to the ordinary conventions of polite conversation. The trick for his sympathetic listener was to leap nimbly in and out of the flow of his talk without impeding it. Violet seems to have mastered that trick early on.

20  |  3 ● Churchill, the Edwardian Titan

Questions to Consider 1. How did Churchill’s relationship with Joseph Chamberlain illustrate his early concept of politics as a relatively bloodless form of warfare? 2. In the Edwardian era, how did Churchill earn a reputation as one of the most progressive political leaders in Britain?

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Churchill’s Rise to the Admiralty


n the summer of 1911, Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany seemed itching for a fight. He had entered the scramble for a colonial empire of his own and found that the French and British were often in his way. In years past, he was inclined to behave himself where the British were concerned. After all, Queen Victoria was his grandmother and King Edward was his uncle. However, by 1911, both British monarchs were dead, and the new sovereign—George V—wasn’t bright enough or imposing enough to make cousin Wilhelm think that the English could stop the growing might of imperial Germany. The kaiser was building battleships, enough to make wise naval

Kaiser Wilhelm

strategists in London worry that one day soon the waves might be ruled by Germany instead of Britannia.

Challengers to the Dreadnought The best and most revolutionary warship in the British fleet at the time was HMS Dreadnought, a monster vessel with impressive firepower. However, in 1908 the Germans launched four battleships with capabilities similar to those of the Dreadnought, and intelligence reports in London estimated that the German navy was on course to create a fleet of 21 battleships by 1912. Fears grew in Britain that the nation’s long reign of naval supremacy might be endangered, and this alarm helped to create an arms race. It was obvious by 1911 that someone needed to shake up the Royal Navy and prepare it for battle. One of its urgent needs was a modern naval war staff, well organized to meet the operational challenges ahead. Most people thought the best choice to handle the overhaul was Richard Haldane, who had done excellent work for the past six years at the War Office. It’s doubtful that Lord Haldane considered Winston Churchill a serious rival for the job. For several years now, Churchill had been in the thick of political battles, and his skills as a warrior had been those of a junior officer in the army, not the navy. However, as Prime Minister H. H. Asquith mulled over his options, there were at least two important people who thought Winston Churchill should become the new civilian head of the Royal Navy, and hold the title of first lord of the Admiralty. One of those people was Churchill himself, and the other was his devoted champion, the prime minister’s daughter Violet Asquith.

Raising Churchill Working behind the scenes, Violet encouraged her father to make the change. The problem was how to explain it to Lord Haldane. The solution that

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  23

Asquith devised was clever. He decided to let Churchill and Haldane discuss their merits for the job in a meeting that would involve just the two of them. He was confident that Winston would make the stronger case for himself and soften up his colleague for the rejection to follow. The meeting occurred at the prime minister’s summer home in Scotland at the end of September 1911. At the door he was greeted not by Asquith, but by Churchill, who was staying there and appearing very much as if he belonged in the family. The older man did his best to argue his case, pointing out his wealth of experience at the War Office and bluntly casting doubt on Winston’s skills. However, Churchill had a good response to every point. As the meeting dragged on, Haldane could tell his cause was lost, and he beat a graceful retreat. The next day, the prime minister offered Churchill the Admiralty.

Churchill in the Admiralty Churchill arrived at Whitehall to assume his new position on October 25, 1911. At age 36, Churchill proudly took his place as the minister leading the most imposing naval force in the world. From the very beginning of his appointment as first lord of the Admiralty, Churchill was relentless in his determination to thwart the rapid expansion of German naval power by building a fleet of battleships whose superiority would be unchallenged. With more than 500 ships and 130,000 men, the Royal Navy was still the pride of the British Empire, and the chief instrument of its authority. In addition to the Home Fleet, there were the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and eastern fleets, and great dockyards scattered across the globe, from Portsmouth at home to Malta, Bombay, Singapore, Sydney, and Hong Kong. The navy could, theoretically, go to war anywhere, but Churchill knew that his job was to make sure that it could fight and win a battle in one particular body of water: the North Sea. This inhospitable stretch of water between Germany and Britain was the area he had to defend at all costs. One of his first actions

24  |  4 ● Churchill’s Rise to the Admiralty

was to have a chart of the North Sea mounted behind his desk, where a staff officer could mark the positions of the German fleet with flags. Every morning Churchill studied it, not so much to keep track of the movements, but to learn each inch of the chart by heart. Though he was no expert on naval tactics, Churchill understood a basic truth that others often overlooked: The only result that really mattered was the fleet’s ability to confront an enemy with what Churchill called “a few minutes of shattering, blasting, overpowering force.” That is to say, when great battleships met, the only punch worth throwing was a knockout punch.

Churchill’s Naval Moves The kaiser and his admirals were given ample opportunity to renounce the arms race. Churchill even offered the Germans a so-called naval holiday. It was a chance for both sides to suspend their shipbuilding programs as a way of slowing the arms race, if not to end it completely. The kaiser rejected the offer. Though Churchill felt he needed to keep building ships, he was looking for something beyond a numerical advantage. Wanting also to maintain superiority in speed and firepower, he made two of the boldest moves of his career. To give his ships greater speed, he wanted them to burn oil instead of coal. To make sure they could outshoot the Germans, he wanted them armed with a weapon of unsurpassed power. Instead of sticking with the dreadnought class’s most advanced 13.5-inch guns, he backed the development of a massive new 15-inch gun that could hit targets up to 20 miles away.

Churchill’s Leadership Style Lord Haldane, or any other responsible leader, would have made sure the Royal Navy was prepared to fight the growing German navy. The difference with Churchill was that he meant to make sure the fleet won. Nothing

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  25

else mattered. To that end, he got rid of incompetent officers, set out the rationale for a naval war staff, and began putting together an efficient group of leaders. Churchill also proved to be shrewd in the connections he forged and in the counsel he sought. For example, it was retired admiral Jacky Fisher who had impressed on him the importance of going to war with overwhelming superiority in speed and firepower, concentrating the fleet in the North Sea, and keeping the enemy off balance by quick, decisive thrusts. Jacky Fisher

It was widely known that the volatile Fisher had a habit of falling out with friends and colleagues and then blaming them for the falling out. To keep Fisher happy, Churchill had to resort to shameless flattery on occasion, and he phrased every communication in the most careful fashion to avoid offending him.

Churchill in the Air For all his expertise on battleships, Admiral Fisher could not match Churchill’s knowledge of the newest twist in naval warfare—aviation. Fearless as usual, and fascinated by the possibilities of a naval air arm, Churchill thought he should learn to fly and know firsthand the risks and advantages of the new machines. Although he never flew solo or qualified as a pilot, Churchill was an avid learner. Some of his adventures in the air were indeed perilous, and every time he went up in one of the navy’s primitive flying machines, his wife, Clemmie, feared he wouldn’t return alive.

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Yet Churchill kept going back up in various models—some of them very new and untried—and in all kinds of weather. Among other things, he wanted a better idea of what the planes could do when conditions were less than ideal, as was bound to be the case in war. Though he didn’t start the process of developing the navy air wing, Churchill did throw so much support behind it that he was able to make it independent from the army’s unit. The Royal Naval Air Service was his creation, and he turned it into a first-class force with some of the best airmen in the world.

Questions to Consider 1. In the years leading up to the World War I, how did Churchill help the Royal Navy to meet the threat from the growing power of the German navy? 2. Why was Admiral Fisher both a good influence and a dubious one for Churchill as first lord of the Admiralty?

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Churchill and Failure in World War I


n Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination by Serbian nationalists on June 28, 1914, the German kaiser found the call to arms he wanted. Great armies and navies would mobilize, ultimatums would be sent, and then slaughter occurred on a scale never seen before. This lecture looks at the early parts of the war through the lens of Winston Churchill’s struggles therein.

The Spread of World War I It didn’t take long for World War I to spread. Austria threatened the Serbs, Russia prepared to fight the Austrians, and Germany seemed hostile to almost everyone except the Austrians. Meanwhile, in Britain, the elder statesmen huddled and spoke in hushed tones, the battleships of the Royal Navy steamed out to sea, and anxious vigils were held as deadlines loomed.

Germany’s kaiser and his generals were betting on a quick victory in a ground war on the Continent, but they were hedging their bet with a naval force large enough to deter Britain from interfering. Germany’s old enemy, France, was the main target, and there was some reason for the kaiser to think that a Liberal government in London, with unrest at home, would want to avoid war at almost any cost Churchill, who had been serving as the first lord of the Admiralty since 1911, saw things differently. He wasn’t sure how the war would start, but believed that Britain was certain to get involved because “we could never see France crushed by Germany.” That’s exactly the way events unfolded. In London, on the warm evening of August 4, 1914, Churchill waited in his office at the Admiralty, his eye fixed on the clock. Germany had been given until 11:00 that night to answer a British demand that Belgium’s neutrality be respected— that is, that Germany would not violate the little nation’s sovereignty in an effort to storm through it on the way to waging war with France.

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  29

The minutes ticked away, no answer came, and Churchill heard through an open window the chimes of Big Ben striking. “As the first stroke of the hour boomed out,” he recalled, “a rustle of movement swept across the room. The war telegram, which meant ‘Commence hostilities against Germany,’ was flashed to the ships.” Still only 39, Winston was at the center of a world war, with a heavy responsibility for the largest navy in the world and a duty to protect the shores of an island nation. It had taken him only 13 years to rise from a parliamentary backbencher to one of the top posts in an empire at war. He now had the chance to change the course of world history and to prove the worth of his heroic view of life.

Debates Earlier, a telling moment took place during the Cabinet’s debates over whether to go to war. On August 1, the colonial secretary Lewis Harcourt— who had been arguing in earlier months that Britain was unlikely to fight on the Continent—noted with amazement and disgust in his journal, “Churchill wants to mobilize the whole navy: very violent.” Faced with German armies preparing to invade neutral Belgium, Churchill was indeed in a “violent” mood, and Harcourt was so removed from the realities of the crisis that he couldn’t understand why. For the British, what would help to turn World War I into such a long and bitter slog was the half-hearted way in which Harcourt, David Lloyd George, Prime Minister Asquith, and others threw the nation into the fight and then failed for so long to pursue it vigorously. Once the war started, Asquith began to grow increasingly disengaged from it, and would spend hours each day writing to his young girlfriend Venetia Stanley for comfort and diversion. He knew little of war, and what he knew came mostly from books.

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With the prime minister unable to lead, it didn’t take Churchill long to decide that he would have to step in and fill the void. He had everything that his Cabinet colleagues lacked for war—youthful energy, battlefield experience, and the will to win.

Churchill at Battle Churchill shocked the military, and most of the nation, when he abruptly decided to throw himself into combat as a field commander in all but name. On October 3, 1914, when he went to the Belgian port of Antwerp to observe the fierce fighting there, he ended up staying for three days and led the beleaguered forces as if he had suddenly been transformed into a general. He was lucky to get out alive when a relief force arrived, enabling him to make his way back to London. The reaction to this adventure among his colleagues in the Cabinet ranged from explosive laughter to soaring admiration. The fact that Antwerp later fell to the Germans—though the delay did buy time for British troops elsewhere to regroup—soon detracted from Winston’s heroics, leaving him a figure of fun in some eyes. It was his youthful exuberance that led him to take such dangerous risks at Antwerp, as well as his love of the limelight. For its part, the Royal Navy that Churchill helped to build in his 30s suffered its share of setbacks in the war. However, it would hold its own against the German battleships and emerge triumphant after four years at war.

Mid-War Actions In many ways, the first few months of the war posed the greatest danger. A weak navy might have been caught off guard and marginalized early on. The landings of the British Expeditionary Force in France might have come under attack, and the troops might have been pushed back into the sea. By the

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  31

end of 1914, though, the risk of sudden and catastrophic setbacks had been eased by the barbed-wire standoff on the Western Front. Afraid of risks, many of the generals and politicians running the war were content to let the stalemate play out. Churchill hated this kind of grinding warfare and wanted to do something more imaginative and daring in its place. He was looking for a dramatic way to shift the battle lines and deliver major blows instead of pinpricks. He decided to seek help from someone whose unconventional views he admired: Admiral Jacky Fisher. King George objected to this move. He thought Fisher was too old and too erratic. Churchill was determined, though, and at his invitation, the admiral returned to active service in late October 1914. It would turn out to be Winston’s worst decision in the war. The king’s fears were justified. Age was starting to catch up with Fisher, who was nearly 74, and he was as difficult as ever. Churchill thought that he had stumbled on a great plan for changing Britain’s fortunes in the war, and he wanted Fisher’s help in carrying it out. As was so often the case, Asquith felt it necessary to share the latest top-secret developments with Venetia. He revealed Churchill was set on Turkey and Bulgaria and wanted to move against “Gallipoli and the Dardanelles.”

Naval Movements Churchill himself soon had second thoughts. At the end of December, he suggested a much closer target: the little German island of Borkum, just off the north coast of the mainland. A surprise invasion of it was sure to force the German fleet to come out and fight and suffer—Churchill hoped—a devastating defeat. For the next couple of weeks Churchill promoted the Borkum attack, while Jacky Fisher and Lord Kitchener took up the Dardanelles idea. Churchill suggested that Fisher give up the Dardanelles.

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Over the next few days, Fisher won him over to the Dardanelles plan when he suggested that the brand-new battleship Queen Elizabeth take part in the assault. Eventually, Asquith gave his approval, and soon a fleet of more than a dozen battleships—most of them older vessels—was being readied for the assault. The operation was a disaster from start to finish. The Queen Elizabeth’s guns performed well in February, but when older battleships moved into the strait on March 18 to attack additional forts they ran into mines, and three were lost in a matter of a few hours. As the situation went from bad to worse in the next few months, mistake after mistake was made, both by the navy and especially by the army as it tried to clear Gallipoli of a Turkish force that proved far more disciplined and effective than the British had been willing to believe.

Churchill Takes the Blame The blame for this tragic miscalculation was widely shared, and in the normal chain of command, the prime minister’s approval should have left no doubt that Asquith was ultimately responsible. However, it was Churchill who was made to pay the price of failure. Jacky Fisher was the first to turn on him. The admiral lost his nerve and wanted to cut his losses. On May 15, 1915, he sent Churchill and Asquith his letter of resignation. Churchill begged him to return, but he refused, and then attacked Churchill in a letter to the Tory leader Andrew Bonar Law. With astounding suddenness, Churchill’s meteoric rise flamed out. Under pressure for the government’s failures, Asquith entered into a wartime coalition with the Tories, who had no use for Churchill. Part of the humiliation imposed on Churchill at the end of May 1915 was not just the loss of his position in the Admiralty, but the fact that his replacement as first lord was none other than his old Tory nemesis Arthur Balfour, who nevertheless had been an early and ardent supporter of the Dardanelles campaign.

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  33

Winston Churchill

Churchill After the Fall Churchill felt betrayed not only by Admiral Fisher, but also by his Cabinet colleagues who had supported the Dardanelles mission and then pretended that it wasn’t their problem. For a long time, Churchill was in a state of shock. It was not simply his misfortune that weighed on him. It was the abrupt loss of purpose. He was like a complex piece of machinery that had been roaring away for ages and was suddenly cut back to a slow spin. Churchill made up his mind to start his career all over again at 40. He held a commission in the reserves as a major, so he decided to go out to the front and join the fighting. On November 11, 1915, he resigned from his do-nothing job in the government, explaining in a letter to Asquith, that he did not “feel able in times like these to remain in well-paid inactivity.” By January 1916, he was placed in charge of a Scottish battalion, which he trained and commanded at the front. He demonstrated once again that he was not only willing to send other men into war, but to face the same dangers himself.

Questions to Consider 1. Why was Asquith’s Liberal government so ill prepared to fight World War I? 2. Why wasn’t blame for the failure in the Dardanelles shared equally by members of the British War Cabinet, including Prime Minister Asquith?

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  35


Churchill in War and Peace


fter his fall from political grace, Winston Churchill chose to join the fighting on the Western Front in 1915. By the spring of 1916, however, he was back in England, where he resumed his parliamentary career and endeavored fruitlessly to persuade his old colleagues to give him some useful part in the war.

The Battle of the Somme On July 1, 1916, the Battle of the Somme began in what had once been a beautiful stretch of green fields in northern France. It was a grand effort by the British and French to storm the German lines and break the stalemate on the Western Front. It was a spectacular failure, partly because the Allies had no idea just how deeply entrenched the German forces were in their elaborate fortifications.

Prime Minister Asquith’s clueless government backed the continued onslaught of the Somme offensive, but considered Churchill irredeemable for his past mistakes, and ignored him. Helplessly, he watched the unfolding disaster of the Somme from the relative comfort of the home front. British generals sent wave after wave of men against the German lines, where the hapless soldiers were slaughtered by the thousands. In a single day, Britain lost 20,000 men, with many thousands more wounded. Douglas Haig, the British commander, thought that the cavalry would win the day by exploiting the openings created by the infantry, racing ahead to clear a path for Allied Douglas Haig troops to follow into victory. He was wrong. Under General Haig, the campaign followed the first horrible day of losses with several more months of fruitless attacks that gained little ground, but left nearly half a million casualties on the British side alone. Though there was little he could do to save the British army from this folly, Churchill saw only too clearly that this was no way to win a war. Men on horses were no match for German machine guns. Asquith himself would pay dearly for the mistakes of 1916, both politically and personally. His eldest son, Raymond, was one of the many officers killed in the Somme offensive. A German bullet struck him in the chest. Three-fourths of the officers in his battalion also went to their deaths in the battle, exposed to a terrifying hail of bullets and shrapnel.

The Tank Churchill ardently supported something new that promised to protect the infantry and ease their advance: the tank. He didn’t invent the tank, and he

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  37

The Arrival of Tanks When British tanks first arrived in battle in World War I, German officers never knew quite how to respond. They weren’t even sure how to surrender to them. As the London Times reported, surrendering German officers had been seen stumbling after the tanks, pursuing them as if the machines were buses, “hailing them to stop and take them on board.”

wasn’t the only supporter of the new machine, but during his tenure as first lord of the Admiralty, he had been one of the earliest and most enthusiastic supporters of tanks. At the War Office, Lord Kitchener had been dismissive of their potential. Churchill persevered, secretly authorizing in his final months at the Admiralty the manufacture of 16 “landships,” as they were also known at the time. After

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Churchill left the government, these early models later became the basis for the army tanks that made it onto the battlefield in 1916.

Turning Tides Though new machines and new troop arrivals from America turned the tide in 1918, all that was far too late for Prime Minister Asquith. His coalition government got rid of him at the end of 1916, when the war looked all but lost, and the way forward seemed to promise only an endless waste of men and arms. Seeing that his chance for the top job had finally come, David Lloyd George outmaneuvered all his rivals and took charge of the government in December of 1916. For a few days, Churchill thought that his old colleague would take another chance on him and give him a place in the Cabinet. Though Lloyd George was tempted to do something for Churchill, the Conservatives in the coalition warned him against it. Churchill waited patiently. Finally, in July 1917—with little more than a year left in the war—he regained office under Prime Minister Lloyd George in a position with a title as unglamorous as any he was to hold: minister of munitions. Though not flashy, this was a vital job in a conflict where artillery was king. Churchill quickly streamlined the Ministry of Munitions so that it operated more effectively with far fewer departments. Under his direction, British factories served the Allied war effort—that is, French and American troops as well as British.

After the War When World War I finally came to an end in November 1918, Churchill was working at such full speed that he had already set in motion plans for a massive increase in weapons production for 1919, including thousands of tanks. Suddenly, this vast manufacturing system had to be shifted to peacetime pursuits.

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  39

Churchill’s reward for doing so much heavy lifting as minister of munitions was an appointment to a job he wanted, though he didn’t want it so much in 1919, after the Armistice, when Lloyd George offered him the War Office. His main responsibility was to manage the demobilization of troops, who couldn’t wait to return to civilian life. The soldiers were so anxious to go home that some revolted, demanding quick discharges. In Calais, 5,000 soldiers were so unhappy and restless that they mutinied, and General Haig came storming in to surround them with machine guns, demanding the surrender of the ringleaders for execution. Churchill stopped him from going ahead with any plans to execute the soldiers. Though he resented this interference from his civilian leader, Haig backed down, and no one was shot. Churchill was in a less conciliatory mood in the matter of Russia. He hated the Bolsheviks with a passion, not only because he had no use for Communism, but also because he regarded the leaders of the Russian Revolution as barbaric. Churchill was in favor of using British arms and British soldiers to help the opponents of the Red Army. Yet few in Britain wanted to get involved in another war whose battlefields were even more distant than those in the long fight just concluded. No matter how much Churchill demanded that something be done to undermine the Bolsheviks, he could never rouse much support for intervention, and the Red Army went on to crush their opponents.

The Colonial Office Perhaps fearing that Churchill as war secretary was still a risky appointment in the chaotic aftermath of 1918, Lloyd George moved him to another job after only two years, putting him in charge of the Colonial Office. It was 1921, and Lloyd George was struggling to keep Britain happy. He couldn’t afford to allow a nation looking for peace and prosperity to get bogged down in either a new war or an old colonial dispute. He wanted Churchill to help him settle dissension within the empire with words instead of bombs.

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Lloyd George played an interesting game with Churchill, giving him difficult jobs that needed to be done well, but denying him positions of such power and prestige that he could overshadow his boss. Churchill had joined the Liberal Party thinking that it offered him a quick path to the top, yet now Lloyd George blocked his way forward, content to exploit his talents without giving up too much in return. Additionally, the Liberal Party was no longer powerful enough to govern without the help of the Conservatives. This sobering reality left Churchill little choice but to be a good servant to Lloyd George. At the Colonial Office, he tried hard to impress, overseeing the establishment of a new postwar order in the British reorganization of Middle East territories, redrawing the map, and creating new rulers for Jordan and Iraq. Palestine was split at the Jordan River, with modern Jordan to the east. To the west was a colony under the League of Nations mandate to serve as a home, ideally, to Jews and Arabs alike, each living in peace. That was the theory, at least. In the case of the unrest that broke out in Ireland after World War I, Churchill also thought initially that he had brought some stability to the conflict. His first instinct was to handle the question of independence through negotiation. “Quit murdering and start arguing,” was his advice to the Irish Republican Army. However, for months the cycle of violence had been spinning out of control. Michael Collins, who waged a fierce battle against British rule, agreed to

Michael Collins

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  41

negotiate in 1921 for the establishment of the Irish Free State, and Churchill welcomed the opportunity to meet with him. Collins and Churchill negotiated a treaty with others in their respective camps, and both men came away impressed with the good will of the other. Good intentions weren’t enough, though: The murdering began again, and Michael Collins himself was a victim, ambushed by Irish rivals who thought his treaty was a betrayal of full freedom for an Irish republic.

Personal Setbacks At home, matters also went badly for Churchill in a depressing series of personal tragedies. First, his wife Clementine’s brother, with whom she was close, killed himself in a Paris hotel in 1921, apparently depressed over his gambling habit. Two months later, Churchill’s mother died at 67 after suffering a fall and breaking her ankle. The leg became infected and was amputated, and Jennie Churchill died of complications. The third and last blow of this year came in August 1921, when the Churchills suffered the loss of a child. She was the fourth, and youngest, of their children at the time, a daughter named Marigold. She was not yet three years old when she came down with meningitis and died quickly that summer. Her death left her parents inconsolable. The next year held a professional setback that seemed to destroy what was left of Churchill’s career. The Conservatives, far more in number than the Liberals in Lloyd George’s coalition, finally decided they didn’t need a Liberal at the head of the government. With the war over, there was no need for the appearance of unity. The Conservatives withdrew from the coalition, toppling Lloyd George, and a general election was called for November 1922. One of Churchill’s oldest foes, Andrew Bonar Law, led the Tories as the new prime minister. They won 354 seats, with Lloyd George’s Liberal faction winning only 62 seats.

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Andrew Bonar Law

No longer a major party, the Liberals ran behind not only the Conservatives, but also behind the emerging new party of the working classes, the Labour Party. Churchill also lost the election badly, coming in fourth. In a flash, he was out of Parliament, out of the Cabinet, and unemployed. It appeared Churchill was finished, but he had a secret weapon: his writing.

Churchill’s Writing In 1923, Churchill published the first volume of what is still an indispensable work of reference for this period: his four-volume history of World War I, which he called The World Crisis. He crafted the work as a grand narrative, giving the reader a front-row seat at major historical moments. He used inside information and personal impressions, leading one critic to call the book “Winston’s brilliant autobiography, disguised as world history.” The book did so well that when a second volume appeared six months later, it caught the attention of a major Conservative who was inclined to think well of Churchill. It was the amiable, pipe-smoking Stanley Baldwin. In October 1923, Andrew Bonar Law had died of throat cancer after an illness of several months, and the Tory leader who replaced him as prime minister was Baldwin. After reading a copy of The World Crisis, Baldwin had written an encouraging note to Churchill: “If I could write as you do,” he confided, “I should never bother about making speeches!”

How Winston Churchill Changed the World   |  43

Questions to Consider 1. In 1917–1918, how did Churchill begin to rebuild his reputation as a war leader? 2. Why did Churchill complain of his relationship with David Lloyd George that it was “one of master and servant?

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Lectures 1-6

1. Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, principal residence of the dukes of __________________. (L2) 2. Churchill made an early reputation for himself by mounting a daring escape from captivity during the __________________ War. (L2) 3. In 1904, Churchill crossed the floor of Parliament to join the __________________ Party. (L3) 4. Daughter of a prime minister, __________________ helped promote Churchill’s career under her father and remained close to Churchill for decades. (L3) 5. As home secretary, Churchill drew on his practical experience with firearms to advise the London police who were confronting Russian anarchists armed with Mausers during the Siege of __________________. (L3) 6.

As first lord of the __________________, Churchill originated the idea for the disastrous 1915 campaign against Turkish forces in ­­­­­__________________. (L5)

7. After World War I, Churchill served as war secretary under Prime Minister __________________. (L6) 8. Churchill’s six-volume account of World War I is entitled __________________. (L6)

See page 167 for answers


Churchill as Chancellor of the Exchequer


or much of Winston Churchill’s life, the example of his father Lord Randolph’s abortive pursuit of political power had been one of the many spurs to his own ambition. He didn’t want to end up like his father, washed up in his 40s. It was a sobering moment for Churchill as he approached the age of 50 in November 1924. When the month began, he was still without a place in government. When it ended, he had taken up the same high position Lord Randolph had briefly occupied almost 40 years earlier: chancellor of the Exchequer.

Becoming Chancellor The chancellor of the Exchequer is often the second most important person in any British administration, a key figure in deciding a government’s priorities and in managing the pursuit of prosperity and financial stability. It was a natural last stop before the job of prime minister.

Left to right: Austen Chamberlain, Stanley Baldwin, and Winston Churchill

The prime minister who offered Churchill the job was Stanley Baldwin, leader of the new Conservative government that came to power in 1924. Seemingly a plain, ordinary fellow, Baldwin was Churchill’s opposite in style and manner, but that was part of the reason he wanted him in the government. Most of the Conservative figures in power were rather dull and bland, including not one but two of Joe Chamberlain’s sons—Austen at the Foreign Office and Neville at the Ministry of Health. Baldwin thought he needed at least one major figure in his administration who could shake things up when necessary. For all practical purposes, there was no Liberal Party left in 1924. Rather than follow Lloyd George to the murky bottom where Edwardian liberalism died

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The Robe Before he held the office himself, somewhere among Winston Churchill’s possessions was the robe of office for a British chancellor of the Exchequer. It had been sitting in that trunk since 1886, when his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, placed it there after he stepped down from the office. His short time as chancellor ended badly after only five months, and his abrupt resignation left a cloud over his political career. In 1924, Winston Churchill retrieved the robe and put it on himself when he assumed the office.

slowly in obscurity, Churchill eased back into the Conservative fold, sending various signals that he was ready to side with the Tories. Baldwin thought it was merely prudent not to let this genuine political star get away, and so he snatched him up.

Stanley Baldwin

After 50, many people tend to change their political views, usually growing more conservative with age. It was partly this natural progression that brought Churchill back to the Tories. However, he also felt cheated by the Liberals, who cast him off when it was convenient and used him to their advantage when necessary.

Churchill’s Lifestyle Thanks to the financial success of his four-volume history of World War I, The World Crisis, and an inheritance from his grandmother’s side of the Churchill family, he was able to live more grandly and more comfortably than he ever

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had before. He began surrendering himself more often to the pleasures of expensive champagne, good food, fine cigars, and foreign travel. By 1924, he was able to move into the renovated and expanded house he bought in the county of Kent, just 24 miles from the heart of London. For the rest of his life, Chartwell was his pride and joy, a place where he could escape or entertain according to his mood.

Churchill as Chancellor As chancellor of the Exchequer, Churchill knew that his primary job was to keep the nation from reverting to bad policies that might drive prosperity away. Criticized for so much of his life as reckless and irresponsible, the chancellor began sounding like the steadiest banker in the kingdom, urging a return to the supposedly stable foundation of the Gold Standard, cutting wasteful spending, and implementing modest tax cuts. After a year on the job, he impressed even Neville Chamberlain, who nevertheless qualified his praise by referring to the suspect reputation Churchill brought to the job. The longer he remained a colleague, however, the more Chamberlain found Churchill’s exuberance, drive, and quick wit hard to take. Chamberlain simply couldn’t keep up with him when they worked closely on various policies together. Even as a tamer version of his younger self, Churchill was too pushy and excitable for a stodgy character like Chamberlain. For the most part, though, Prime Minister Baldwin was amused by the unsettling effect that Churchill had on his colleagues. Winston was the flash of color that broke out unexpectedly and relieved the tedium of otherwise colorless discussions.

Neville Chamberlain

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Most surprising were the sort of expenditures Churchill targeted for cuts. After all the sweat and tears he had given to the navy in the years leading up to World War I, he was nevertheless the Admiralty’s constant critic in the 1920s where budgets were concerned. Alarmed at the growth of the Japanese military in the Pacific, the Admiralty wanted more money to meet any threat in the future. Churchill was now so devoted to peace and prosperity that he couldn’t bear the idea of spending money on a threat that he considered insignificant. Even Churchill’s inner radar could fail to see some dangers lurking just over the horizon. Compared to what he had seen in the massive arms race leading up to World War I, he saw nothing in Japan’s emerging war machine to frighten him. When Singapore fell to the Japanese in 1942, he would very much regret his failure to appreciate the dangers in the Pacific before it was too late.

New Wealth In the 1920s, Churchill was inspired by the idea of using advances in science and industry to create new sources of wealth instead of weapons. Old money like his family’s fortune at Blenheim now seemed to him a drag on the modern economy because of its stagnant growth. Sounding now like a middle-class entrepreneur, he declared, “The process of the creation of new wealth is beneficial to the whole community. The process of squatting on old wealth though valuable is a far less lively agent.” To counter his fears of communism spreading beyond the Soviet Union, he wanted the British economy to reward wealth creation. The problem with British industry, however, was that so much of it was based on old methods and traditional goods. Modernization and diversification were desperately needed. Instead of thinking of modern solutions, Churchill reverted to the safety of his orthodox Victorian model, and decided that for the sake of stability the economy

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needed first of all to have its currency tied to gold. Returning Britain to the gold standard would be one of the biggest mistakes of Churchill’s career. The influential economist John Maynard Keynes was outraged by Churchill’s return to the gold standard. Keynes worried it would cause the currency to be overvalued, raise the price of British exports, diminish trade, and lower wages. He was right, even though British industry already had other competitive disadvantages in the world market.

The General Strike Now recovering from the damages of war, the German economy was strong again, as was the American. Competition was everywhere. It didn’t take long for trouble to hit the inefficient, underproductive coal industry, and the cuts in wages there soon led to an overall labor crisis. The result was the emergence of the most famous labor dispute of the 1920s in Britain, the General Strike of 1926. The strikers and their sympathizers fought a war of words in specially prepared daily newspapers. The usual dailies couldn’t publish because their presses were shut down by striking workers, so the government took over the Morning Post, commandeered newsprint from the supplies of other press barons, and put out its own four-page daily, the British Gazette. On the other side, the strikers published the British Worker. Churchill’s transformation from a progressive Liberal to a stalwart Conservative was made complete when he sided with the established order against the workers in the General Strike. He used the British Gazette to make the government’s case. The strikers ended their protests after nine days, but the resentments and recriminations lingered for a long while on both sides. Baldwin and his colleagues thought they had won, and for a time, it looked that way. Yet it also exposed the flaws in the social fabric and the failure of the government to bring down the stubbornly high rate of unemployment and to stimulate wage

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growth. This set the stage for a difficult election campaign for the Tories at the end of the 1920s.

The Election of 1929 As the Conservatives went into the General Election of 1929, Churchill faced the voters with the knowledge that he had more maturity and grace as chancellor than in any of his other offices, and had done much to redeem himself. Even so, some of his enemies would never forgive him for being Winston Churchill. The old accusations were always ready to be used against him. For example, the novelist H. G. Wells delighted in resurrecting the image of Churchill in a top hat fighting Russian anarchists in London 16 years earlier. The Tories fought hard to stay in office, but by the end of the decade, the economic conditions in Britain were still weak—even before the world was hit by the Wall Street crash in October 1929. The British election was in May that year, and it was a disaster for the Conservatives. The people brought the Labour faction to power and cost the Tories 150 seats. Now, Churchill was unemployed and once more on the sidelines. The new Labour chancellor had worse luck than Churchill. As the effects of the Wall Street collapse hit Britain, unemployment doubled. As it turned out, Churchill was spared the ordeal of trying to manage an economy in crisis.

My Early Life Churchill could have been forgiven for thinking that this time his days in the political spotlight really were coming to an end. Some of his old friends and foes were starting to retire or die. Asquith died in 1928, Arthur Balfour in 1930, Lord Curzon in 1925, and Lloyd George—though still very much alive—was clinging to power as the leader of a party with only a few dozen seats in Parliament. It was only natural that Churchill, like others of his generation, would begin to think of retirement. However, as an accomplished and talented author, he

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always had another job to fall back on besides politics. Just as he had used his volumes of The World Crisis in the early 1920s to raise his political profile and burnish his image as a serious author, so now he turned to another book that would do much to keep the Churchill legacy alive in the coming lean times of his so-called wilderness years. It was the story only he could tell at that point: the epic adventures of his early life. Though My Early Life was published in 1930, Churchill began work on the book toward the end of his time as chancellor, perhaps anticipating that he would not remain much longer in government. Yet returning in his imagination to that earlier age was also a welcome escape from the pressures of office, and the demands of a new world much darker and more fast-paced than the one of his youth.

Questions to Consider 1. Why was Stanley Baldwin such an appealing figure for the British in the chaotic aftermath of World War I? 2. How was Churchill’s transformation from a progressive Liberal to a stalwart Conservative made complete by the General Strike of 1926?

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The Rise of Tyranny in the 1930s


or much of the 1930s, no one in the British government cared much about Winston Churchill’s views. Even in 1932, Adolph Hitler knew that Churchill was one of his strongest critics in Britain, and he knew it didn’t matter very much. He could ignore him because he was on the verge of securing great power, and Churchill had lost it. This lecture looks at Hitler’s activities in the 1930s and Churchill’s efforts to warn Britain about them.

Churchill’s Warnings As early as 1930—three years before Hitler came to power—Churchill was expressing grave concerns about the rising influence of the Nazis, warning 10 years ahead of the German invasion of France that Hitler was a menace not only to peace within Germany but also the safety of France. As he watched Hitler’s rise in 1932, Churchill was alarmed by British calls for European disarmament, and was unequivocal in warning the many complacent

politicians of the time that they had seriously “underrate[d] the gravity of the European situation.” As a fervent foe of Communism since World War I, Churchill was also among the earliest statesmen in the West to warn of the growing military threat from Joseph Stalin’s Russia. Churchill would have an uphill fight to persuade Britain of the dangers ahead not just because he was the old-fashioned, discarded leader saying it, but because the new art of propaganda was muddying the issues on all sides, and the past war was looking even more pointless in retrospect. The British government’s view was that they should stick with diplomacy, reduce military spending, and enjoy the fruits of peace. At the top of the government, an uneasy coalition of moderate Labour leaders and Conservatives tried to cope with the financial hardships of the Depression. They weren’t doing well, and the head of the government—Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald—was prime minister in name only. The Conservatives were really in charge, with Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain pulling all the strings and both of them happy not to have Churchill interfering. The threat from Hitler was lost on this aimless administration. Baldwin, for his part, didn’t know what to do about Hitler. Baldwin was fatalistic about stopping a country determined to go to war with a modern air force. The bomber, he reasoned,

Sir Horace Rumbold In 1933, Sir Horace Rumbold, the British ambassador in Berlin, challenged Hitler face-toface over examples of Nazi persecution of the Jews. Instead of being commended by the British government, Rumbold learned that his appointment would not be renewed. Right up to the day he left Berlin, the ambassador kept trying to explain to the Foreign Office what was happening in Germany. It was all lost on those in London, who should have spoken out.

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would always find a way to its target, and there was no proven method to resist except to push for universal disarmament. Churchill, of course, was outraged by such nonsense. “Why should we fear the air?” Churchill asked. “We have as good technical knowledge as any country.” He was even more outraged by the government’s silence on some of the evil deeds being done by Hitler and his henchmen. As Churchill dared to tell the House of Commons, the British people were being misled about Hitler. The Nazis were not asking the rest of Europe to let Germany rearm for self-defense and a status of equality among nations. Hate was on the march and violence would soon spread. Yet the complacency and evasion and half-truths from the government were as bad as Churchill could remember.

Oswald Mosley In the economic uncertainty of the early 1930s, a man named Oswald Mosley decided that a fascist dictatorship was the only thing that could save England. His British Union of Fascists agitated at various rallies, trying to whip up hate against Jews and others. They marched in futuristic black uniforms that caused many people to laugh or cringe. The more the British people learned in the coming years of the real terrors of Nazi Germany, the less they were willing to tolerate Oswald Mosley. It’s true that his form of fascism owed more to the stagecraft of Benito Mussolini than to the street brawls and cutthroat reprisals of Hitler’s storm troopers, but Mosley admired both the Italian and the German dictators. After the sudden death of his first wife in 1933, he married the English beauty and Nazi sympathizer Diana Mitford in Joseph Goebbels’s home, with Hitler as the honored guest. When Churchill became prime minister in 1940, he didn’t hesitate to throw both Mosley and his second wife in jail. He did this despite the fact that he knew Diana Mitford’s family well.

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Mussolini and Stalin The idea of one leader changing everything for a nation by the wave of his hand was appealing to a world plagued by chaos and indecision. The carnage of World War I, followed by the financial boom and bust of the 1920s, had created a sense of helplessness. Out of fear, people wanted to be led by someone who seemed filled with purpose and confidence. At its mildest level, this was simply what Franklin Roosevelt was offering Americans in his presidency. In its most dangerous forms, it gave the world Hitler, Mussolini, and Stalin.

Joseph Stalin

Of those three, the one that least alarmed Churchill was Mussolini. Churchill was slow to realize the threat posed by Mussolini’s erratic despotism and spoke less forcefully about Italian fascism because he wanted to avoid pushing Mussolini into greater cooperation with Hitler. On the other hand, almost everyone underestimated just how bad the authoritarian regime was in the Soviet Union. The idea of workers taking control of their destiny and pulling together to make a better life was so appealing in the 1930s that many people were willing to ignore inconvenient facts about mass arrests, show trials, and brutal purges. While Hitler scowled and shouted, Stalin smiled and kept relatively quiet. In the 1930s, Stalin decided that murder was his best social policy, and he went at it with cold-blooded ferocity. To advance his cause, he simply eliminated every hint of opposition, killing millions through starvation and execution. Visitors from the West were carefully shown what Stalin wanted

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them to see, and even when sympathizers were forced to acknowledge problems, they went into elaborate verbal contortions to explain them away for the benefit of gullible outsiders. Walter Duranty of The New York Times was so good at this trick that he found a way to make mass starvation sound relatively innocent: “There is no actual starvation,” reported Duranty, “but there is widespread mortality from diseases due to malnutrition.” Stalin was curious in the 1930s about Churchill, wondering whether there was any need to worry about him. Churchill had been famous for so long, and had been such a vociferous critic of the Russian Revolution, that Stalin thought he was worth keeping an eye on from time to time.

Churchill’s Image Churchill loved his country with the kind of passion that other men of his generation wasted on their mistresses. The tragedy of the 1930s is that his country turned against him, abusing him with slurs on his character, shouting him down at public meetings, laughing at him, and isolating him as a lonely voice in his professional home of more than 30 years—the House of Commons. For the most part, he took all this with good grace and humor. It hurt, and he minded it, but he kept standing up and arguing his case. The stakes were nothing less than the very survival of Great Britain, and everything he had spent his life trying to serve because of his deep and abiding love of his country. There were many who would scoff at his unapologetic patriotism, then and now, but the war with Hitler would put every opinion to the test. More than words were at stake. Hitler was playing for keeps with actions meant to blast through every obstacle. So was Churchill.

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Questions to Consider 1. Why did Oswald Mosley attract so little enthusiasm for his British style of fascism? 2. How did the universities of Germany and Britain differ in their responses to the rise of fascism in the 1930s?

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Churchill as Author and Historian


inston Churchill’s talents as a narrative historian were prodigious, earning him not only a large public audience for his books, but also critical acclaim from academics and journalists alike. So great was his reputation, in fact, that in 1953 he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. This lecture looks at some of his achievements with the written word and how his reading and writing prepared him for challenges to come.

Churchill in the 1930s When he was out of office in the 1930s, Churchill kept his name and his fame alive through books and essays, reminding the public of how much he had done, how much he had seen, and how much he knew. The newspapers and magazines of the day regularly featured his byline, and no one could ever be quite sure what he would say.

One day he might write about his love of painting—one of his favorite pastimes. Another day he might write about his early adventures in the air, when aviation was in its infancy and he was determined to get a better look at potential battlefields. On yet another day, he might speculate on the potential use of something he had just learned about—nuclear energy. This was in 1931, when few people outside of the world of science were even aware of such a thing. He predicted that it might save humanity or destroy it.

Churchill’s Writing Style Churchill’s writing was influenced not just by ideas and events, but also by the common fabric of daily life itself. The man who enjoyed painting landscapes on canvas helped to inform the writing of the man of politics. To make a point about the need for a statesman to be flexible, to expect the unexpected, he was able to seize on an image that few politicians would ever utter. “Nature,” he said, “never draws a line without smudging it.” Writing a travel book early in his career—the story of an African tour—Churchill had the chance to unleash his powers of description, painting landscapes in words as vivid as any he ever wrote. The latent poet in him almost ran away with the book, filling it with such memorable images as the “long red furrow of the Suez Canal,” or Malta “glistening on a steel-blue Mediterranean.” The least imaginative thing about the book is its ordinary title, My African Journey. To some extent, almost everything he wrote was autobiographical. Whatever the subject in his writings, he is always present somewhere in it, not only in the dominant tone of his literary voice, but often in references to his own experiences and background.

Great Contemporaries One of Churchill’s best works contains his recollections of the unforgettable characters he had known up to the time of its publication in 1937. The date is significant, as is the title: Great Contemporaries. By 1937, the anxiety over

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Hitler’s aggressive moves was building in Britain and elsewhere, and it was clear that events were rapidly moving toward some sort of crisis. The hour was late in Churchill’s career, but he was still hopeful that his country would turn to him if things got bad enough. If anyone needed reminding that his wealth of experience set him miles apart from the other major national leaders of the day, Great Contemporaries offered a dazzling portrait of Churchill as a man whose knowledge of people and events in the 20th century was second to no one’s. Simply in recalling the greats of his time, he was helping to promote the growing legend of his life as an epic progress still in search of a suitably grand ending on the world stage. His essay on Joseph Chamberlain stands out. By the time the book was published, Joseph’s son Neville was prime minister. More than 30 years after Joseph’s mob tried to silence Churchill at the Birmingham Town Hall, the acrimony of that time is downplayed in Great Contemporaries. Instead, Churchill tells the story of his younger self bravely challenging a father figure he admired more than he could admit at the time. Bear in mind that in 1937, Churchill was still in many eyes the great failure of his generation. Yet there is no sense in Great Contemporaries that Churchill sees himself as an outcast. Rather, there is the impression that he sees his moment of greatness still to come and is merely trying to rationalize why it has taken so long. Marlborough: His Life and Times Winston Churchill’s most important literary work of the 1930s was his multivolume biography Marlborough: His Life and Times. In the work, Churchill traces the career of his famous ancestor, John Churchill, the first duke of Marlborough, who lived from 1650 to 1722. It was a work that allowed him the scope not only to write stirring accounts of great events in the early 18th century, but also to show how political cunning and military prowess can shape events for decades to come. It became essentially his own personal textbook for understanding what was happening around him in the 1930s and what might lie ahead for him in the next decade.

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Churchill on Mein Kampf Not enough politicians are discerning readers or talented writers. Churchill was both, and he didn’t neglect on his end to make a careful study of Hitler’s book Mein Kampf. He warned his English readers in the 1930s, “We have only to read Hitler’s book, Mein Kampf, to see that the French are not the only foreign nation against whom the anger of rearmed Germany may be turned.” So many people were wrong about Hitler because they relied too much on their impressions of him and their hopes for peace. By contrast, Churchill looked at words, facts, and actions, and saw Hitler for what he was: an international fraud filled with hate. Because he took words seriously, Churchill took Hitler Adolf Hitler seriously. A decade of intense reading and writing did more to prepare Churchill for war than any number of meetings, conferences, speeches, or junkets. International conferences were popular in the 1930s. They were all talk, with little action, and even less reflection. Not a single major leader anywhere in the world at that time was making the effort to absorb the necessary information about the past and present of the European situation, and to articulate responses to it in the way that Churchill did. He was his own professor in his own university preparing for an advanced degree like no other. It paid off.

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Questions to Consider 1. Why does Churchill stand out as the real star of Great Contemporaries, his collection of essays about famous people he had known? 2. In writing about the first duke of Marlborough, how was Churchill able to immerse himself in a sort of parallel world to the Europe facing him in the 1930s?

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The Gathering Storm in Nazi Germany


n the mid-1930s, Adolph Hitler was gathering power through murder, imprisonment, and propaganda. However, in Britain, there was a prevalent desire to see only a harmless patriotic fervor in Hitler’s rise. Winston Churchill was an exception, and this lecture looks at his efforts to warn Britain and prepare the country against the dangers of Nazi Germany.

Air Superiority Churchill wanted to make sure that when England shook off its dangerous delusions about Hitler, the nation had enough air power to confront Germany’s powerful bombers. Again and again in the 1930s, Churchill tried to impress on the nation the peril that would engulf it from an attacking enemy blessed with air superiority.

The modern bomber had the ability to race across great distances and attack with little or no warning. Britain needed fast fighter planes in sufficient numbers to stop such an attack and enough bombers for responding in kind. Yet Churchill’s critics argued that building more planes would only antagonize Hitler, as if war was not really on the Nazi leader’s mind in the first place. The British Labour leader Clement Attlee said, “We deny the proposition that an increased British air force will make for the peace of the world.” Churchill’s worries about Britain’s military power could easily have led him to place equal importance on the army and navy as well as the air force, but for the most part the real wisdom of his prewar view was that the Royal Air Force (RAF) would hold the key to survival.

The Seaplane While Churchill was first lord of the Admiralty, before 1914, he was instrumental in developing a naval air service, and that he coined the term “seaplane.” In the years after 1918, British manufacturers became world leaders in creating bigger and faster seaplanes. It was a wise move in an era when modern airports were not common. By the early 1930s, the fastest seaplane was manufactured by a relatively small firm on the south coast of England. The company was called Supermarine, and in 1931, one of racing models had astounded the world by setting records for speed by a plane of any type, going as fast as 404 miles per hour.

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The racing seaplane was radical in both its aerodynamic design and its powerful Rolls-Royce engine. Over the next few years, it became the basis for the fighter plane that the firm would develop for the RAF, the legendary Spitfire, which first flew in March 1936. It went into service in 1938. Without the Spitfire, and without its seaplane predecessor, the story of the Battle of Britain in 1940 would have been much different.

Churchill Challenges Hitler Near the end of 1934, Churchill directly challenged the notion that Hitler was just a benign idol looking for peace with honor. In the House of Commons, Churchill gave various figures to show that the RAF could not keep up with the German air force unless the government gave it more support. Stanley Baldwin answered with his figures to say that Churchill was wrong and that there was little need to worry. Slowly but surely, the RAF would manage to stay ahead of the Germans, he promised. Six months later, Baldwin was forced to admit in the House of Commons that some of his figures were wrong, but that Churchill was still overplaying the threat. Baldwin’s admirers hailed him for his honesty, and once again castigated Churchill for making Baldwin look bad. At the time, Baldwin had almost everyone’s trust except Churchill’s. People wanted to believe Baldwin because he was so effortlessly genial, and straightforward. He gave the impression that muddling through was the noblest thing to do until something better came along. The RAF would get its fancy new fighters in time, but not too many to alarm Hitler. The policy of going slow and playing it safe prevailed. In 1935, Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald stepped down to let Baldwin become prime minister. Baldwin continued his cautious approach. Accordingly, when Hitler’s troops marched into the Rhineland to occupy it in March 1936, making another effort to overturn the restrictions of the hated Treaty of Versailles, Baldwin dealt with the crisis by holding meetings, dispatching diplomats, and then changing nothing.

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Royal Intrigue On the big subjects, Baldwin could be counted on to steer clear of action. However, on matters that, in hindsight, seem far less momentous, he could dig in his heels and resist. He did exactly that when a wayward prince didn’t want to be king unless allowed to marry the twice-divorced American woman he loved. King George V died at the beginning of 1936, making way for the unexceptional playboy Prince Edward to wear the crown uneasily on his head. Baldwin told young King Edward VIII that the country wouldn’t put up with any dodgy behavior as far as the choice of a queen was concerned.

Queen Mary

For decades, Queen Mary—Edward’s mother—had been the very image of regal dignity and duty, and the British people expected the new king to wed someone with at least a surface appearance of royal bearing. Instead, Edward was obsessed his American mistress: Wallis Simpson.

When Edward kept insisting that he had to marry her, Baldwin felt that there was no choice but to instruct the king that such a marriage could not be tolerated. To resolve the constitutional crisis, Edward abdicated at the end of 1936, and the country moved on to cheer the coronation of Edward’s shy brother, George VI. Baldwin was so pleased that he had managed the crisis that he said with relief to a colleague, “I had a success … at the moment I most needed it. Now is the time to go.” By the spring of 1937, he was gone, leaving Neville Chamberlain to serve as prime minister.

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Churchill, the King, and India For his part, Churchill had not wanted to see Edward compromise the legitimacy of his power by stepping away from it. It made Britain and the empire look weak, and it made the vaunted institution of the monarchy look insubstantial, especially when measured against other rulers. All the same, Churchill’s support for the doomed king helped to undercut his own reputation, making him seem to the general public out of step with the rest of the country. He wanted to seem relevant, but his loyalty to a feckless king just made him look old-fashioned, sentimental, and reactionary, as did his intemperate stand on the question of gradually loosening Britain’s hold on India. He couldn’t bear parting with this jewel in the imperial crown, and he did himself no favors by resisting independence for India as an arrangement that would come sooner rather than later.

The Spanish Civil War For many in Britain, and also in America, there was an international crisis in the year of Edward’s abdication that should have demanded far more attention than any royal scandal. It was the Spanish Civil War, which seemed from the start an important conflict because it gave such a terrifying glimpse into a nasty, authoritarian future—a prelude to world war. The fighting started in the summer of 1936, when Spanish workers took up arms to oppose General Franco’s revolt against the nation’s elected government. Up to that time, the fascist powers in Europe had been enjoying a string of fairly easy successes, including Mussolini’s conquest of Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and Hitler’s occupation of the Rhineland. One supplier of weapons for the Spanish militias defending the leftist government was the Soviet Union. Hitler and Mussolini, who sent arms and so-called volunteers to fight on the front lines, backed Franco’s troops. Real volunteers from around the world, but especially Britain and America, came to Spain to fight for the government.

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George Orwell on the Spanish Civil War A notable combatant in the Spanish Civil War was the English writer George Orwell. Of the conflict, he wrote, “When the fighting broke out on 18 July [1936] it is probable that every anti-Fascist in Europe felt a thrill of hope.” Orwell fought against Franco’s forces, but would soon learn to his bitter disappointment that Stalinist factions on his own side were trying to kill him and his friends.

Some people quickly concluded that the conflict in Spain would become bogged down in factional disputes that would blur the lines of opposition to Franco. Additionally, anti-fascists like Churchill were reluctant to fight on the same side as Stalin. The United States quickly declared its neutrality in the conflict, and the British government was happy to continue its usual policy of inaction. The aerial bombings and trench warfare in the Spanish Civil War were not merely a dress rehearsal for the coming world war, but also a confused, chaotic melting pot of political and social discontent that gave one clear message to leaders like Churchill: To destroy tyrants like Hitler and Mussolini, the opposition needed to be united, organized, and as ruthless as the enemy.

Questions to Consider 1. Why was the film Triumph of the Will so important in fostering the myth of Hitler as an overpowering representative of German nationalism? 2. What were the good and bad elements in Churchill’s support for King Edward VIII?

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Churchill in the Age of Appeasement


n September 1938, Adolph Hitler was restless for war. He had already annexed Austria in March and now had his eye on Czechoslovakia. Piece by piece, he intended to carve up the small countries of Europe, hoping that no one strong enough would emerge to stop him. Unlike Hitler, the leaders of the major powers seemed to have little appetite for a fight.

Hitler in the Late 1930s In World War I, the one military force that Germany had never managed to push into retreat or damage with severe blows was Britain’s Royal Navy. In 1938, it was still a potent adversary, and could cut supply lines by sea and slowly strangle a German economy desperately in need of resources abroad. Hitler had ideas for counteracting Britain’s naval superiority with German air superiority. However, in the short term, he was mostly counting on his ability

to fool and manipulate the timid and gullible leaders at the head of the British government. None was more gullible in 1938 than the prime minister himself, Neville Chamberlain. When Chamberlain sent a message to Hitler in 1938, requesting that they meet to discuss the European situation, the dictator promptly agreed. He had been wary of meeting Winston Churchill, but he seemed to welcome the chance to meet Chamberlain. In the month of September 1938, they spent several days in each other’s company on three separate trips that the prime minister made. Chamberlain saw Hitler first at Hitler’s special fortress retreat in the Bavarian Alps at Berchtesgaden. Then, they had a second conference on the Rhine and a third at Munich. The issue that precipitated these meetings was Hitler’s plan to seize the Sudetenland, a narrow stretch of Czechoslovak territory bordering Germany. Hitler wanted that land because, he said, he wanted to bring the Germanspeaking population who lived there under the wing of his protection. If Hitler insisted on invading the brave little country of Czechoslovakia, France was bound by treaty to intervene, and Chamberlain had to acknowledge that England would feel obliged to support France. Chamberlain became determined to give Hitler whatever was necessary to prevent war. However, Hitler didn’t care what Chamberlain offered him on scraps of paper. Agreements, however intelligently reasoned and constructed, meant nothing to Hitler. His own leadership was built entirely on the cult of personality. However sincere Chamberlain may have been, he was never anything more in Hitler’s eyes than a ridiculous figure.

Hitler and Chamberlain Chamberlain’s fatal flaw of personality was his conviction that he and Hitler shared the same concept of contentment. Give Chamberlain pieces of happiness, and he would be content. Hitler wasn’t content and never could be. He was so full of furious grievances, dark resentments, and poisonous fantasies that nothing was ever going to appease him.

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Neville Chamberlain’s Hobbies Chamberlain’s hobbies included fishing, watching birds, and—like his father before him—orchid growing. His contentment with such pursuits contrasted sharply with Hitler’s all-consuming discontent.

Hitler toyed with Chamberlain. The game that Hitler played with Chamberlain at their three conferences was to make the Englishman think that he would gain something substantial from their discussions. First, they agreed to let the people of the Sudetenland decide their own destiny through some referendum of self-determination; then, just as soon as that issue seemed settled, Hitler changed his mind. He insisted that he would invade instead and perhaps hold a vote later. This was when the war panic began to build in Britain. Conflict seemed inevitable. By the third visit, Chamberlain’s head was spinning. War was the last thing he wanted. Appeasement was the only card he wanted to play, and so he agreed to a phased occupation over several days, with Czechoslovakia granting outright control of the disputed territory to Germany. Hitler got what he wanted without firing a shot, and Chamberlain’s only gain was to make the whole process of stripping a nation of territory and giving it to an aggressor seem rational, orderly, and peaceful. Of course, Hitler promised not to take any more Czech territory. Such was the power of a document in Chamberlain’s mind that he pinned all his hopes on Hitler signing one more piece of paper. Chamberlain knew he couldn’t return from Munich with just an agreement for a bloodless occupation of Sudetenland, so he drew up a short statement affirming that Britain and Germany would continue working out their differences peacefully. On September 30, when Chamberlain—as he was about to leave—asked Hitler to sign this statement, the dictator shrugged and did so, knowing that it was meaningless. As he said later to his officials, “That piece of paper is of no further significance whatsoever.” The subsequent Nazi occupation of Sudetenland resulted immediately in most of the 20,000 Jews there fleeing for their safety to other areas. The price for those who couldn’t flee in time was imprisonment in concentration camps, and for many, death. By the end of the war, after the Nazis had taken all of Czechoslovakia, more than quarter of a million Jews from the country had perished.

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After the Agreement When Chamberlain arrived back in England and waved the piece of paper triumphantly to the cheering crowds, few questioned that he had won a great diplomatic victory. He was the conquering hero who had, in fact, conquered nothing, but in the national mood of celebration few were brave enough to cast doubt on his achievement. For a few days, the House of Commons debated the prime minister’s Munich deal with the dictator. In the euphoria of the moment, the House of Commons gave its approval by an overwhelming majority. Dissenters were scorned as diehard militarists who had wanted war so badly that they couldn’t bear to give peace a chance. When one of the diehard dissenters rose in the House of Commons to declare that this so-called peace was, in fact, “a total and unmitigated defeat,” the chronically misguided Nancy Astor shouted “nonsense” and “rude.” She was shouting at Winston Churchill, ever defiant in his conviction that Hitler would not be appeased. Churchill went on, undeterred, to lament the breaking up of Czechoslovakia and to offer an ominous warning: “This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.”

Dissidents A small but growing number of dissidents felt the hour was right to join Churchill, including Duff Cooper, who resigned as first lord of the Admiralty as a protest against Chamberlain’s deal. His action seems only proper now, but at the time it was regarded as a betrayal of peace and the leader who had worked so hard to achieve it.

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Churchill saw this moment of courage exactly for what it was. He called it “a shining example of firmness of character … which is utterly unmoved by currents of opinion, however swift and violent they may be.” The current would soon shift again, and this time it would favor the tough positions staked out by Churchill and the few who stood beside him when Chamberlain’s art of appeasement seemed unassailable. Chamberlain’s supposedly impregnable case soon collapsed. Hitler didn’t waste much time destroying British illusions. Five months after the fanfare and cheers of October 1938, the Nazis marched into Prague unopposed and dissolved what was left of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain refused at first to believe that Hitler had broken his word, asking plaintively how the German army could occupy the country after the solemn guarantees Hitler had made at Munich. It was too late for such questions. Hitler had used speed to his advantage, and the conquest was completed while Chamberlain blinked helplessly in disbelief. As Churchill had predicted, the moment of reckoning for a nation in denial was at hand, and there was no going back.

Questions to Consider 1. Why did Neville Chamberlain’s personality put him at such a disadvantage in his face-to-face negotiations with Hitler? 2. Why did Churchill have so much admiration for Duff Cooper’s decision to resign from the Admiralty in the wake of the Munich agreement?

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The Road to Dunkirk


ugust of 1939 seemed to Neville Chamberlain like a good month for taking a long, lazy holiday. On August 2, he won a vote in the House of Commons to adjourn for two months. Winston Churchill couldn’t believe it: Hitler now had his eye on Poland, and war could break out at any minute. Churchill warned against the adjournment, but Chamberlain—having learned almost nothing from his mistakes at Munich in 1938—insisted on an adjournment and got it. This lecture looks at Churchill’s efforts to save a country at the brink of war and facing a leadership vacuum.

Movement toward War While Chamberlain wasted the crucial last days of peace, Churchill raced about the country inspecting the readiness of the Royal Air Force. He even checked on the readiness of the French military, touring the heavy fortifications of the Maginot Line. The many miles of defenses impressed Churchill.

He was much less impressed by the gaps in the Maginot defenses near the Ardennes forest. The French were quick to assure him that the Germans could not hope to break through its rugged terrain. He tried to make them reconsider their view and to take greater precautions in the area. Like Chamberlain, the French generals were set in their views and thought Churchill was being unnecessarily alarmist. They would regret not taking his advice. Meanwhile, reports farther east in Poland continued to indicate that Hitler was about to make his biggest move yet. Like the Czechs, the Poles stood in Hitler’s path of conquest. Again, the dictator’s problem was how to crush a small country while keeping the larger powers at bay through intimidation and negotiation—or actual force. Both Britain and France had declared that they would stand by Poland in the event that its independence was threatened. Hitler felt that he could deal with them in due time, but he also had his archenemy, the Soviets, on his mind. Hitler persuaded Stalin to join him in attacking Poland and dividing the spoils of Polish territory between them. The Soviet leader made the cool calculation that if the British and French could carve up territory to appease Hitler, then he could do it too, but take a piece for himself in the process. As for Hitler, he thought he was baiting a trap, and then would snatch everything away for himself. This particular trap was called a nonaggression pact. In practical terms, it meant that Germany could grab half of Poland now and seize the rest when it was convenient to betray the Soviets.

Blitzkrieg in Poland In August 1939, the British were better prepared to fight than they would have been a year earlier, but the air force was still struggling to reach its necessary strength, the Royal Navy was facing new threats from Germany’s improved submarines, and until very recently, the British army at home had been a relatively small force of only several divisions. This was the legacy not only of Prime Minister Chamberlain, but also of his predecessor, Stanley Baldwin.

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On the Continent, the British could do little but reinforce the French, and few dared to imagine what might happen if the Germans overran the French. In quieter days, the universities and various political adversaries could mock Churchill, but now—sensing real danger—the whole country began turning to him, hoping that he had the answers to questions that they had waited too long to ask. On August 18, The Times of London came out with an extraordinary call for Chamberlain to include Churchill in the government. Before the prime minister could act on this advice, the Nazis made their nonaggression pact with Stalin and swept into Poland, launching the blitzkrieg assault that would work so well on unsuspecting or ill-prepared defenders. Chamberlain learned of the Polish invasion on September 1, but waited until September 3 to declare war, hoping somehow that Hitler could be persuaded to recall the troops. On September 1, Chamberlain asked Churchill to join the Cabinet without giving him a specific office. He waited an agonizing 24 hours before telling Churchill that he would be, once again, first lord of the Admiralty.

Churchill and Chamberlain’s Early Maneuvers In Hitler, Churchill saw a maniac with whom not even friends could reason. He was a danger to everyone. In the Soviets, he saw a tyrannical state that nevertheless kept its national interests in mind and might yield to pressures that recognized the importance of that self-interest. He was already looking for an ally against Hitler on an Eastern Front that did not yet exist, just as he was already looking—two years before Pearl Harbor—for an ally in America to help him on the Western Front. Though Chamberlain announced that Britain was at war in September, he organized no major offensive against Germany, partly because he wanted to respect the neutrality of Belgium and hold British troops back in France to await the expected Nazi invasion. Only then would the Allies move forward to engage with the enemy. The problem was that the British forces on the

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ground were never larger than 10 percent of the French army. If the French didn’t take the lead, the British were in no position to move on their own. As the months dragged into 1940, the British public grew increasingly frustrated with Chamberlain’s caution. What they did not know is that, since September, Churchill had been urging the War Cabinet to undertake a risky assault on the port of Narvik in northern Norway, where vital iron ore for the German steel industry was being shipped out along the coast in the safety of neutral waters. It’s debatable whether stopping this shipping would deal Germany the severe blow that Churchill imagined, but he was determined to make Chamberlain take some decisive action before, as he expected, the Germans themselves occupied Norway to safeguard their supplies of iron ore. Again, the question of the laws of neutrality gave Chamberlain pause: If the British were not willing to enter Belgium, why should they go into Norway? A major assault was put off for so long that when it did come in April, it was far too late, and too disorganized. The Germans staged their own invasion of Norway at about the same time, and they easily prevailed, leading to a disastrous defeat for the British, who were forced to retreat.

Hitler and France Chamberlain’s indecisiveness caused Churchill to take his eye off the only thing that really mattered in 1939–1940: stopping Hitler from overrunning France. Not only did Belgium—neutral or not—need to be fortified against the expected attack, but the vulnerable spot at the Ardennes forest where the Maginot defenses ran out needed major reinforcement. The French were so sure of its insignificance that they left it defended by some of their oldest and least capable troops. That was exactly where one German army burst through in May 1940, while another moved into Belgium. French and British troops raced north to save Belgium, and found that the German forces coming through the Ardennes were sweeping through France right behind them, trapping them and leaving

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only one little enclave for escape: the Channel port in France near the Belgian border, Dunkirk. By the spring of 1940, there were more than 300,000 British troops in France, whose own army numbered in the millions. Correctly deployed, these forces should have been able to fight the Germans for a lot longer than six weeks, but the enemy won in a rout in that time. Years of neglect had given Britain a land force ill-equipped to stop the Germans, and the panic among French leaders soon made it clear that they lacked the will to save their own country.

Churchill’s Changing Fortunes In 1915, Churchill had been the target of unhappy politicians who yearned for his downfall. In 1940, it was Chamberlain who found himself in this position. However much he misjudged the situation in Norway, Churchill was at least trying to find a way to engage the Germans in war and to win. Despite its failings, the Norway campaign resulted in the sinking of several German ships, causing serious damage to Hitler’s navy and hampering its ability to launch an invasion of David Lloyd George the English coast later that year. After so many fruitless years of talk about peace agreements and arms reductions, the sheer brutality of the Nazi war machine made the British people want to see a bit of fighting spirit in their leaders. Churchill had that. Chamberlain did not, and the public turned on him, holding him—as head of the government—to be the one most responsible for the government’s failures. On May 8, 1940, just two days before the Germans invaded Holland and Belgium, David Lloyd George stood up in the House of Commons and made an extraordinary speech, confessing that he felt he had

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Winston Churchill

been misled by Stanley Baldwin in the big questions of war and peace, that Churchill had been right on those matters all along, and that Chamberlain had failed to lead the country now that it was at war. This speech was a political deathblow for the prime minister. Chamberlain not only had to suffer through this humiliating speech, but also to exit the House that day with members shouting at his back. Churchill graciously attempted in the debates to take some of the blame on himself, but

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Lloyd George said to the House that the first lord of the Admiralty didn’t need to take the flak intended for others. Chamberlain resigned, and on the evening of May 10, 1940, King George VI asked Winston Churchill to form a new government. Churchill was 65, Europe was in flames, and he was about to lead Britain in the greatest fight of its life. Even as the misadventure in Norway was still being played out, Churchill— within only a month of taking office—would find himself facing one of the most serious challenges any prime minister had ever seen. So rapidly would the French fall before the German advance that over a quarter of a million men—mostly British—would find themselves trapped between the sea and the Nazis on the beaches of Dunkirk.

Questions to Consider 1. Why were the elements of speed and surprise so essential to Hitler’s plans for conquest? 2. Why did Britain’s early military setbacks in Norway do more damage to Neville Chamberlain’s reputation than to Churchill’s?

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Lectures 7-12

1. Churchill once said wryly: “Everybody said that I was the worst __________________ that ever was. And now I’m inclined to agree with them. So now the world’s unanimous.” (L7) 2. Arguing that “the bomber will always get through,” this “safety-first” politician pressed for disarmament in the 1930s: __________________. (L8) 3. In his book Great Contemporaries, Churchill includes an essay on __________________, whose son became prime minister the year the book was published. (L9) 4. The company __________________ ­­­­­ developed the legendary Spitfire, based on the aerodynamic designs of its racing seaplanes. (L10) 5. In a 1938 speech, __________________ proclaimed: “Under the new system of guarantees, the new Czechoslovakia will find a greater security than she has ever enjoyed in the past.” (L11) 6. Visiting France in August of 1939, Churchill expressed concern about gaps in the __________________near the Ardennes forest. (L12) 7. In a radio broadcast early in World War II, Churchill referred to __________________ as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” (L12)

See page 168 for answers


Churchill in Power


n the late spring of 1940, the British Expeditionary Force was evacuated from Dunkirk, along with more than 100,000 French soldiers. This massive retreat across the English Channel showed that an equally massive invasion was possible across the same water. This lecture looks at Dunkirk and other events Winston Churchill was contending with in 1940.

Dunkirk The retreat from Dunkirk over several days in late May and early June was staged at the last minute in conditions of utter chaos, with men often stranded in the open under enemy fire. Nothing could have been more haphazard, with weapons abandoned and small boats enlisted for the crossing with no training, little notice, and very little protection. Six British destroyers were sunk in the rescue effort.

Students of the war discuss the possibility of a German invasion of England after Dunkirk as a hypothetical idea that never had much chance of success. Two of the biggest reasons for doubting the feasibility of an invasion are that the Germans waited too long to formulate their plan and that they had no proper landing craft. However, the same argument against success could have been used at Dunkirk, yet succeed it did in spectacular fashion. With much more discipline and organization, the Germans could have landed in force at any one of the long stretches of lightly defended beaches in Sussex or Kent. As Winston Churchill learned to his dismay shortly after becoming prime minister, England had little on the ground to stop an invading army. At Dover, with the enemy little more than 20 miles away in France, Churchill was told that only three anti-tank guns were available to defend five miles of coast, and that each gun had only six rounds. Rifles were in short supply, as were tanks.

Adolph Hitler’s Reach By the end of June 1940, the list of major cities under Adolph Hitler’s thumb had expanded from Vienna, Prague, and Warsaw to include Oslo, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Brussels, and Paris. With German forces massed along the shores of three conquered countries directly facing England— Holland, Belgium, and France—Hitler still didn’t jump at the chance to eliminate his last major adversary. There were many reasons, but two stand out: the Royal Air Force (RAF) and Winston Churchill. Hitler launched his invasion of Holland and Belgium when Neville Chamberlain was still prime minister. One day later, things looked more problematic for the Germans when they woke to find that Churchill had suddenly replaced Chamberlain. Everyone on both sides knew that Churchill was unlikely to give up without an epic fight. With each passing week in the summer of 1940 the Germans learned that Britain, under Churchill, was no pushover. The Spitfires and the amazing pilots

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of the RAF were a fearsome force like none the Germans had encountered before. Increasingly, the question for Hitler and his planners became one of weighing an imminently feasible German landing on English beaches with the risk that they would lose air superiority to the RAF and become bogged down in an overseas war on English soil that Churchill would never break off.

The War Cabinet On May 27, 1940, Britain’s War Cabinet was in the middle of a heated debate. When Churchill took power over the government a little more than two weeks earlier, he knew that he would not only have to fight the Germans but also manage the simmering resentments inside the Conservative party. Some Tories had been reluctant to part with Neville Chamberlain, and some had preferred that the foreign secretary—Lord Halifax—should become prime minister. Though many knew that Churchill was the man of the hour, they weren’t happy about it. Emotions came to a head in the War Cabinet. Keep in mind that no general election had been held to ratify the change of prime minister with the voters. In fact, the last general election had been held in 1935, with Stanley Baldwin then at the head of the government. The Tories in 1940 were still in command because of that earlier victory. The war disrupted the normal routine of electioneering, and so the British people as a whole wouldn’t get another national vote until 1945.

Arthur Greenwood

In this complicated parliamentary situation, Churchill’s government was meant to keep many factions happy by giving both Labour Party and Liberal Party leaders the

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chance to join the Conservatives in government. Ironically, given their earlier stand for disarmament, the two men Churchill chose from Labour to join him in the War Cabinet—Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood—were now generally supportive of his war aims. However, at the contentious meeting of the War Cabinet on May 27, the careful balance of power was almost blown apart by Lord Halifax, who thought he saw a new chance to negotiate Britain’s exit from the war. Germany seemed unstoppable, with France in retreat, and the British Expeditionary Force facing what seemed at the time annihilation. It was thought in London that the country would be lucky to evacuate even 50,000 troops from Dunkirk. The rest of the British Expeditionary Force would be taken prisoner or killed.

Lord Halifax Argues for Peace In this bleak moment of the war, Lord Halifax not only argued forcefully for negotiating a deal with Hitler, but he was outraged by Churchill’s refusal to see the wisdom of a peace offer to the Germans. Halifax thought he saw a great opportunity in the possibility of the Italians helping to negotiate a war settlement. They had yet to join the war against Britain and France, and Halifax thought they might be a reasonable mediator. However, the Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was simply biding his time before joining Hitler’s war, when it was clear that there would be glory and gain for Italy without much cost. Only two weeks after Halifax angrily criticized Churchill for failing to use the good offices of the Italians for peace, Mussolini declared war on Britain and France. Before the war, Chamberlain and Halifax had thought, like many Tories, that Churchill was too unstable for leadership, a volatile character who would ignore sound advice and dash straight into the abyss. Now, in his stubborn defiance of Hitler, the new prime minister seemed to Halifax a disaster in the making. As he saw it, Churchill was merely reverting to his old emotional volatility, insisting against all reason that Britain could prevail.

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In the heated debate of the War Cabinet in late May, Halifax made it clear to Churchill that he was on the verge of resigning if the prime minister didn’t come to his senses and seize the moment to make a peace favorable to Britain. The greatest danger from Halifax was his threat to resign because, in the current atmosphere of near panic, his departure from the War Cabinet could well have caused other Tories to lose confidence in Churchill and to bring down his government at the worst possible moment. Halifax—an experienced political veteran—knew this. Of the many influences that Churchill had on the world, none was greater than the way he changed it forever in the week of May 27, 1940. He stood up to Halifax, persuaded him to hold off on his resignation threat, and pacified him in various ways. Churchill swiftly marshaled more support for his case in order to undermine Halifax’s confidence.

Benito Mussolini

After May 27 Churchill bought just enough time for the cloud of disaster hanging over Dunkirk to lift. It happened only one week later, when the evacuation succeeded beyond all expectations. Through the power of his oratory, Churchill turned the disaster into a triumphant rallying cause for British courage and resolve.

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Meanwhile, Churchill effectively crushed defeatists in Britain with the speech he gave to the House of Commons on June 4. It was one of his greatest, and now one of his most famous, speeches, the one in which he closed so powerfully by vowing, “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.” Faced with this sort of oratory, Chamberlain and Halifax began to fade, and by the end of the year, they were gone. Chamberlain died from cancer only five months after Churchill gave that famous speech of June 4. In a moving and gracious tribute to Chamberlain on the floor of the Commons, Churchill raised the question of how history would judge not only Chamberlain’s premiership, but Churchill’s own. He was looking ahead to the difficult wartime judgments he would have to make, and wondering whether his reputation would survive the ordeal, as Chamberlain’s had not. Churchill was not as charitable to Lord Halifax. Several weeks after Chamberlain’s death, Churchill shipped Halifax off to America as ambassador to Washington, hoping that his aristocratic demeanor and faith in diplomacy would help smooth over any problems there. It was a vital post, but a major step down from foreign secretary. Halifax didn’t want to go, but accepted the job in the end, no doubt understanding that it was one way of removing him with a cover of dignity from the center of power in London.

Standing against Hitler Over time, Churchill consolidated his authority. He overcame decades of suspicion and mistrust within his own party to win its support and the nation’s in a war that Churchill declared from the start would be a long grind. Only days after he became prime minister, he had told those serving with him, “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” He repeated that sentence in the House of Commons, and it has become a good example of how—even in his 60s—he didn’t shirk from making the biggest commitment of his life to a cause he was indeed willing to die for.

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At that point, the whole war effort seemed an almost impossible task to undertake for one leader, especially when the Germans were taking the initiative in many directions and winning. Yet even given the political intrigue at home, his island nation’s poor defenses on the coasts, the very real threat of invasion, the quick surrender of France, the isolation after Dunkirk, and the general lack of military readiness, Churchill was the one British politician who could survey all these negatives and still not blink when Hitler’s forces were massed just over the sea. Instead, knowing that the British lacked the ground forces to prevail in an invasion of the Continent, Churchill devised a war strategy that depended on the British navy to keep Hitler’s forces contained. Meanwhile, a Royal Air Force bomber force launched an increasingly lethal air assault on German targets in the hope of crippling the Nazi industrial state and demoralizing Hitler’s fervent followers.

Questions to Consider 1. Why was the successful British evacuation from Dunkirk a good reason for the Germans to believe that they could establish a beachhead in Britain? 2. In the last week of May 1940, why was Lord Halifax so convinced that Britain might be able to negotiate a peace settlement?

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Surviving the Nazi Blitz


n a single month of 1940—September—the number of British men, women, and children who died in German bombing raids was 6,954. The next week of October, another 2,000 joined this list of fatalities. This was only the beginning of the Blitz, a period of intense air attacks on British cities that seemed to drag on forever in fire and smoke in 1940 and 1941. The worst didn’t come until May 1941, when German bombers over London caused more than 3,000 casualties. This lecture looks at Winston Churchill’s activities through the assault.

The Blitz The Nazi Blitz was meant to provoke panic and despair, with death randomly arriving from the night sky. In September and October 1940, an average of 150 German bombers attacked London each night for more than 50 nights in

a row. Some people fled to the countryside for safety, but a surprisingly high number stayed in the capital and tried to keep up a normal existence. Only two years earlier, the full horror of this awful vision had been almost impossible for the average person in Britain to comprehend. Germany seemed relatively far away, and the French and their mighty Maginot Line seemed a great barrier against Hitler’s threats of lightning-fast invasions and conquests. However, now France had surrendered, and from its shores the German planes had a short flight to London. Germany had a problem, though: In 1940, Hitler misjudged the British people, their new prime minister, and their new air force. In addition to the furious combat in the sky, there was a furious fight on the ground by determined civilian workers to make up for lost time in past years of neglect by producing hundreds of new fighter planes as fast as humanly possible. More than 1,500 fighter planes—Spitfires and the less advanced but reliable and cheaper Hurricanes—were produced in just the three months following Dunkirk, an astounding rate that allowed the Royal Air Force (RAF) to keep up with losses in the sky. It was a duel between not only German and British pilots, but also

Lord Beaverbrook During the fight for London, a most unlikely figure emerged to energize the process of manufacturing planes for the RAF: the newspaper baron Lord Beaverbrook. Previously one of Neville Chamberlain’s staunch defenders, Beaverbrook threw himself into the war effort with a roundthe-clock devotion to winning the battle in the skies. It was as if he wanted to atone for his earlier preference for appeasement by overcompensating in the new job Winston Churchill gave him as aircraft-production minister. Beaverbrook sought out every possible means of speeding up the delivery of new fighters to the RAF.

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between their respective aircraft factories. It was a close contest, with the RAF losing 526 pilots in June and July of 1940. Amazingly, new pilots and new planes kept replacing those lost at a rate that prevented the German Luftwaffe from gaining superiority. These summer clashes in the air became known as the Battle of Britain, which extended into September, when the Germans shifted their strategy from attacking primarily military targets to bombing civilians at night in the Blitz.

The Tide Turns After August, with each passing week, the German losses mounted, their aircraft production lagged, and some of their very best pilots were among the 3,000 Luftwaffe airmen who went down over England between the summers of 1940 and 1941. Though the damage they caused was considerable, the Germans suffered in the air something they had not yet experienced on the ground: defeat. Hitler and his circle had always assumed that the combination of their modern fighters and dive-bombers, which had worked so well elsewhere, would carry the day against the supposedly weak and unprepared British military forces. However, the RAF took advantage of every vulnerability in the Stuka divebomber, which was no match for British fighter planes. The longer the British persevered, the more they reduced the timeframe available for a German invasion. September proved crucial, not only because the RAF began to gain the upper hand in the air, but also because once the warm days were gone, an invasion in colder and stormier months grew less feasible. When the Battle of Britain began in earnest in July and August, the number of fighter planes available to the RAF was about the same as the number for the Luftwaffe. The enemy’s objective at that point was nothing less than the destruction of the RAF’s ability to get and keep fighters in the air, so they attacked airfields, factories, and the relatively new chain of radar stations giving the RAF an early warning system. Thanks to the head of

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fighter command, Hugh Dowding, there was extraordinary coordination of all elements in the system to intercept German attacks and to keep the RAF at peak readiness. Confident in July that the Luftwaffe would prevail, Hitler gave orders to prepare an invasion—codenamed Sea Lion—that would reduce Britain to a vassal state incapable of waging war. Initially, he hoped to complete preparations by mid-August and invade shortly thereafter when weather allowed. There was reason in June and July to think this plan might work, but delay was fatal to the German war machine. The invasion ended up being postponed indefinitely, and the only British islands occupied by the Germans were Jersey and the other Channel Islands.

Changing Tactics After a daylight bombing raid on London in late August, RAF bombers attacked industrial targets in Berlin. “Now that they have begun to molest the capital,” Churchill instructed the air force, “I want you to hit them hard, and Berlin is the place to hit them.” In frustration at their lack of success, the Nazis changed tactics from trying to destroy the RAF by day to terrorizing the civilian population by night. It was small comfort to the innocent people on the ground, but this launch of the nighttime Blitz was a sign of desperation at the highest levels of the German war machine. Besides London, other British cities felt the full force of the German bombers over the next few months, especially Coventry and Birmingham, where the Chamberlain family’s hometown was hit so hard that 228 people died. Losing patience, the British retaliated with attacks on other German cities besides Berlin, and now bombers from England began exacting an awful cost from ordinary civilians, killing over 200 in a November raid on Hamburg. Before the war would end, these British raids would become much worse, and Hamburg would suffer even greater damage.

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Churchill’s Weapon When the German people put their faith in Hitler’s leadership, celebrating the triumph of his will, they became hostages to that will. By the late hour of 1940, the only thing that would free them, and the world, was Hitler’s utter and complete defeat. Hitler’s plan was world domination, and air power was supposed to be his decisive weapon. Churchill, of course, also had a plan, which was to stop Hitler. Air power was also his decisive weapon. It could hardly be otherwise if he wanted to succeed before Hitler could buy more time to regroup and launch new waves of terror with even better arms. Churchill’s analysis of Hitler’s position included a correct assumption that Hitler would respond to failure in the west by turning to the east. Invading Russia and deliberately creating a second front was the height of insanity, but Churchill knew his enemy and could anticipate his next move. Hitler fed on conquests with the appetite of a wild beast consuming a fresh carcass. If Britain denied him victory, then he would slink off in search of another victim. Churchill saw that it could only be to look eastward, beginning with perhaps an appetizer of a small country in the Balkans before getting to the main course with Russia. In July of 1940, Churchill could not even be sure that England would prevail another month, yet here he was looking a year or two ahead and wondering how to bring Hitler back to face defeat on a Western Front filled not with soldiers in trenches, but with more pilots in the cockpits of heavy four-engine bombers loaded with bombs. Unlike Germany, Britain already had such a plane in the Halifax bomber and would build an even better one in the Lancaster bomber.

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A Deadly Game Hitler had no idea what a trap he had set for himself by launching his Blitz on a Britain led by Winston Churchill. The question remains, however: Why was Churchill already thinking of bringing Hitler back to face more trouble when the tyrant would surely have all the trouble he could handle if he were foolish enough to invade Russia? The answer is that Stalin and the Soviets were not reliable. Until the United States could be persuaded to join the fight, Britain could rely on no other power but its own. Churchill could not afford to make Stalin an enemy, but as an ally the Russians would, as Churchill said, always do exactly what served their own interests. That might include more non-aggression pacts with Hitler after abortive battles. In this deadly game, patience and a sound strategy were essential. Churchill— to the surprise of some—showed that he had both in 1940. Though he took power in the middle of an unfolding disaster, he quickly set things right, and held the nation together when the enemy bombers kept coming.

Questions to Consider

1. Why was Lord Beaverbrook so effective as minister of aircraft production? 2. What made Churchill believe that Hitler would respond to failure in the west by turning to the east?

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Turning the Tide Against Hitler


ay of 1941 was filled with discouraging news for Britain. The pace of the war was picking up, and its scope was widening. This lecture takes a wide view over the various battlefields Winston Churchill was facing in the late spring of 1941.

The Mediterranean and Egypt At the end of the Mediterranean, there was a military catastrophe unfolding. Adolph Hitler, having lost patience with the British for not surrendering to his bombing campaign against their cities, had already moved east—as Churchill had predicted months earlier—to make some easy conquests in the Balkans, sending his armies storming into Yugoslavia and Greece.

Yugoslavia fell on April 17, 1941. By the end of the month, the German forces in Greece had taken Athens. A Greek last stand of sorts was fought out in Crete in May with the help of British forces. It was a disaster. As Churchill was painfully aware, this was no way to win a war. The British army seemed to be in perpetual retreat from a stronger and more disciplined German army—first in Norway, then in Belgium and France. Even before the fiasco in Greece, they had taken a pummeling in North Africa from General Erwin Rommel. Egypt and the all-important lifeline of the Suez Canal was the gateway to India and other major areas important to Britain. Naturally, Churchill was determined to keep it out of Hitler’s reach. However, in May 1941, the important British garrison at Tobruk—just 500 miles west of the Suez Canal— was under siege, incapable of pushing back the German advance, largely because so many troops on the British side were unavailable, fighting for their lives in Crete.

The Atlantic Far out in the cold Atlantic, the so-called submarine wolf packs of German U-boats were endangering supplies to the British homeland, sinking hundreds of merchant ships sailing across the ocean. It would take a long period of trial and error to establish the best methods of countering the U-boat threat, but essentially, Britain was surrounded, vulnerable to attacking planes overhead, submarines under the ocean, and scattered armies keeping the nation at bay no matter where it turned. The pride of the German navy—the recently launched mega-battleship, the Bismarck—was also prowling. The vessel had been built to destroy shipping in the Atlantic, and in mid-May—accompanied by only a single heavy cruiser—it sailed into the North Atlantic on what would seem, in retrospect, a suicide mission.

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The Bismarck sailed straight into harm’s way and scored an initial hit that gave the impression, for a moment, that The Bismarck, launched in 1939, Germany’s hopes for the ship were not was a terrifying naval weapon. unfounded. Two vessels of the Royal Capable of reaching a speed of 30 knots, it featured eight 15-inch Navy—the battleship Prince of Wales guns. However, its career was cut and the cruiser Hood—engaged the short by the Royal Navy. German warships on May 24, and in the intense exchange of fire that followed, the Hood was blown to pieces. Though the Bismarck was hit in three places, it was still able to fight. The Prince of Wales—also damaged—managed to get away under a heavy smokescreen. The Bismarck

Needing repairs, the Bismarck sailed for France, hotly pursued by every craft the Royal Navy could bring to bear. Attacked by a British torpedo plane, the Bismarck’s rudder was damaged, and the Royal Navy moved in to destroy the vulnerable vessel.

A Speech by Churchill The fate of the Bismarck was still unknown when Winston Churchill went to face the House of Commons on May 27 at its new, improvised home in a hall next to Westminster Abbey. After the losses of the Blitz—including the ruined House of Commons chamber itself—and after the setbacks in North Africa, the loss of the Hood, and the approaching evacuation from Crete, many of the House members were restless, and some had grave doubts about Churchill’s leadership in the war. As Churchill addressed the House that morning of May 27, his customary eloquence was in short supply. He ended his speech with a weak assurance that while the House awaited more news of the Bismarck’s fate, they had “every reason to be satisfied with the outcome.” Then, Churchill’s assistant and devoted disciple—Brendan Bracken—rose and, according to the press reports, “brushed his way along the private

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secretary’s bench and handed Mr. Churchill a slip of paper.” The prime minister glanced at it and hastened to interrupt the ongoing business of the Commons. He announced that the Bismarck was destroyed. It was an electric moment for a country that had just survived nine months of aerial bombing and a series of defeats on the battlefield.

Churchill’s Mistakes Churchill was in a narrow corner in 1941, his options so limited that he made mistakes in some instances by leaping at chances to take the offensive when he should have held back. With his forces stretched so thin, he had no business sending troops to the Greek mainland, no matter how noble the cause, or allowing those same forces to become trapped on Crete in a misguided attempt to hold territory that wasn’t absolutely vital. To protect Malaya and Singapore—almost 7,000 miles away from London— Churchill sent a modern battleship and an older battle cruiser into the Pacific in October 1941. Just weeks later, on December 7, the Japanese sank four American battleships at Pearl Harbor. Three days later more Japanese planes sank two major British warships elsewhere in the Pacific. They were the same two that Churchill had recently dispatched, and one of them was the lone survivor of that earlier Atlantic battle with the Bismarck—the Prince of Wales. Singapore itself surrendered to the Japanese three months after the mighty Prince of Wales and its companion vessel, HMS Repulse, were lost. A smaller invading army whose will to win was greater overwhelmed the British forces stationed there. Churchill was hit hard by this defeat.

The Tide Shifts The overall picture of the war throughout much of 1941 looked bleak in London. Churchill didn’t have the men or machines to launch a major attack on occupied Europe, and Hitler himself was so little concerned with any

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threats from the British army that he turned his back on them in June and sent 3 million men to invade Russia. Hitler misjudged Stalin and the Red Army, but he didn’t misjudge the state of the British army in 1941 or 1942. They weren’t capable of hitting him while his back was turned, and he was content to use General Erwin Rommel to torment them in what, for the Germans, was essentially a North African sideshow. Churchill’s long-term strategy for winning the war is revealed by a scene that is said to have taken place in 1941. According to the story, Churchill held up his hand in a small gathering and said, spreading out his fingers, “Here is the hand that is going to win the war: a royal flush—Great Britain, the sea, the air, the Middle East, American aid.” At that point, the only part of the war that had tilted in Britain’s favor was the air war. Everything else would take time to make its full impact felt. However, Churchill did know the right cards to play, especially the one involving America. At the very end of 1941, the whole course of the war took the decisive turn for England that Churchill had been hoping to see. It came in two directions: west and east. Both came in the first week of December.

The Eastern Turning Point Up until the first week in December, one could have been tempted to think that Hitler’s extraordinary gamble of invading the Soviet Union might just work. German troops were on the outskirts of Moscow and seemed to have the upper hand. Hitler’s troops had surrounded Leningrad and pushed deep inside Russia along a broad front, daring to stretch supply lines almost a thousand miles. As the freezing temperatures and snow began to hit Moscow, the Soviets launched a major counteroffensive on December 5, 1941. Stalin had millions of troops that he was content to use up in counterattacks, grinding down the Germans while the cold and the isolation of Russia also took their toll on the

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invader. It was only a matter of time before Germany retreated, especially with help coming from the second decisive event of early December 1941.

The Western Turning Point When imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, they made a mistake every bit as fatal as Hitler’s invasion of Russia, but their mistake also helped to hasten the fall of Germany. It pushed a crucial ally—the United States—into the arms of both Russia and Britain. Hitler and Mussolini foolishly declared war on the United States after Pearl Harbor. Germany had also been fighting an undeclared war on America ever since at least the end of October, when U-boats sank an American warship— the Reuben James—while it was escorting supply ships across the Atlantic. This sinking is largely forgotten now, but it almost drove America to declare war against Germany in November. However, an isolationist contingent in American politics seemed determined to avoid a European war at any cost. Overnight, the attack on Pearl Harbor in December silenced the isolationists. Churchill had no doubts of America’s capabilities. He had studied the American Civil War and was impressed by the willingness of both sides to fight for victory on the battlefield. He also thought that some of his own fighting spirit came from his American mother’s side of the family. In many ways, during Britain’s long isolation at war, Churchill had put his faith in history, knowing that if he did his best to follow its lessons, to heed its warnings—however imperfectly—it would reward him. In the nights that followed Pearl Harbor, he came to see that Britain’s ultimate victory would be something of deliverance within the context of large historical forces, forces that he had helped to shape. After the war, he gave thanks for this deliverance by seeing it as one more miracle in the long story of an island nation whose history he cherished so much. Almost in wonder he celebrated this deliverance with these words of

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relief: “Once again in our long island history we should emerge, however mauled or mutilated, safe and victorious. We should not be wiped out. Our history would not come to an end.”

Questions to Consider 1. Why did the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck cause so much rejoicing in the House of Commons? 2. In 1941, what vivid image did Churchill use to describe his strategy for winning the war?

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Churchill and Roosevelt


he respective strengths of Winston Churchill and American president Franklin Roosevelt helped make them such effective partners in World War II. Another factor in their favor was their mutual understanding of the debilitating effects of weakness—that is, of wasting away on the margins instead of being able to fight at the very heart of a struggle. Churchill loathed the sidelines, and so did Roosevelt. This lecture looks at their combined efforts during World War II.

Preparation History knows how the partnership between Roosevelt and Churchill worked out, but a few careful, preparatory steps were necessary first. In the early months of the war, Churchill organized a massive public relations campaign to win American support for the British war effort and to lessen the influence

Franklin Roosevelt

of American isolationists. However, Churchill always knew that Roosevelt was the key audience—that is, the one vital person he needed firmly at his side. Before Pearl Harbor, Churchill thought that the best he could hope for from the United States was a steady stream of war supplies, and he urged Roosevelt to help him defeat Germany indirectly through a sort of proxy war. Additionally, by holding out against Hitler when some were urging compromise in 1940, Churchill not only kept Britons free, but also kept the nation itself available

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as a massive staging ground for an eventual Allied invasion of the Continent, with American might the essential element for success. A direct attack on Germany by land was the endgame, and though the timing would be hotly debated between the Americans and British, the first stage for cooperation on such a large-scale began in 1940–1941 with Churchill’s careful cultivation of his relationship with Roosevelt. Some have suggested it was more like a courtship, with Churchill resorting to flattery and promises to win over Roosevelt, who was sometimes content to play the coy, demure object of attention. At the beginning of 1941, Roosevelt used his closest adviser, Harry Hopkins, to check out Churchill in his native habitat of England and to return with reports on the prime minister’s suitability for an effective partnership. Churchill had realized that he was under scrutiny, and he made every effort to win the approval of Hopkins as the first step to winning Roosevelt’s confidence. Churchill’s close associate, Brendan Bracken, was waiting when Hopkins arrived in England by airplane. On the train to London, Hopkins was already pondering the big question that Roosevelt wanted him to answer: Could America put its faith in Churchill and the British as partners who would stay the course and fight for victory no matter what? Staring at the passing scenery of the English countryside, Hopkins turned and asked bluntly, “Are you going to let Hitler take these fields away from you?” Brendan Bracken didn’t hesitate. “No,” he said. Hopkins liked the blunt response, and he would soon like what he saw of Churchill when they were introduced, though he’d worried initially that he might have been sent on an impossible mission.

Meeting Churchill Bracken took Hopkins to the government headquarters at 10 Downing Street, gave him a glass of sherry, and left him to wait for Churchill to come in. As

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Hopkins would recall, “A rotund—smiling—red faced, gentleman appeared— extended a fat but none the less convincing hand and wished me welcome to England.” It didn’t take long for Hopkins, an astute judge of the contemporary scene, to determine whether Churchill was worthy of Roosevelt’s complete support. After Churchill wined and dined him, and gave him special tours all over the country, Hopkins wrote to Roosevelt about Churchill and recommended a “full meeting of the minds.” Hopkins ended this letter with a straightforward, heartfelt plea: “This island,” wrote Hopkins, “needs our help now, Mr. President, with everything we can give them.” It was not until August 1941, when America was still at peace, that Churchill and Roosevelt were finally able to meet. They settled on a secret rendezvous along a rugged coast of Newfoundland, where they each arrived in impressive warships. The most important result of this rendezvous was that Churchill knew that he and Roosevelt had formed the beginning of a partnership, even before America’s declaration of war later that December.

The Prince of Wales

The warship that carried Winston Churchill to his Newfoundland meeting with Franklin Roosevelt was the Prince of Wales. It had been in the thick of fighting in the North Atlantic in May 1941. The ship would later sail on to Singapore and go down in the Pacific, sunk by Japanese planes only days after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December.

Meeting in America Churchill’s second wartime meeting with Roosevelt took place in Washington DC, after Pearl Harbor and only 12 days after the Prince of Wales was sunk. This was no secret meeting, but the very opposite: Both nations were now at

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war, and there was a message of unity that needed to be sent in a public way to both Berlin and Tokyo. Winston Churchill arrived to great fanfare in Washington on December 22, 1941, and ended up staying in the White House for nearly a month. America took consolation from his visit as someone who had already shown that he could withstand the terrible shocks of war and persevere. On the morning after Christmas, Churchill went before both houses of Congress to give what amounted to a victory speech for the lonely struggles already endured and a pep talk on behalf of the new partnership about to launch its combined war effort. Keep in mind that Churchill had been forced to prove to America as well as to Britain that Hitler was an urgent threat deserving of an all-out war to destroy him. Yet in the isolationist mania of the previous few years, Churchill had sometimes been cast as the real threat to America’s peaceful life. Now, however, the shock of Pearl Harbor had shaken Americans out of their sleepy complacency. Summoning the eloquence that had rallied his own people, Churchill gave Congress the hope that the results of the war would prove the justice of the cause. Said Churchill, “I avow my faith and hope, sure and inviolate, that in the days to come, the British and American peoples will, for their own safety and for the good of all, walk together in majesty, in justice and in peace.” When Churchill at last finished his visit to Washington on January 14, 1942, Roosevelt offered his whole-hearted commitment. “Trust me to the bitter end,” he said.

Later Events Over the course of the war, the two leaders would meet again on several occasions. They would go to Casablanca, Quebec, Cairo, and even Tehran, and then all the way to Russian soil for their meeting with Stalin at Yalta. Interestingly, they never met in England, Scotland, or Wales.

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There were many reasons for this, but one factor was that the war quickly became a world struggle, and the spotlight was no longer so much on Britain as the last citadel of democracy in Europe. After Pearl Harbor, Churchill slowly began to realize that the cost of victory with America as a partner in the war on Germany was a different kind of surrender, a loss of independence to American decision makers who expected Britain to play a more subservient part under the far larger and more powerful military of the New World. Because of Hitler’s stupendous mistake of invading Russia, Germany would soon be under grave threat from the Red Army on the Eastern Front, and when Britain and America were able to launch the D-Day invasion to create a viable second front, Germany was doomed. In the Allies’ success, however, Churchill found that he was increasingly struggling to stay on something close to an equal footing with Roosevelt. The occupation of a defeated Germany, the approaching use of the atomic bomb against Japan, and the overwhelming might of the American military in all parts of the globe meant that the days of the British Empire were numbered. The future of the free world would be determined in Washington rather than in London.

Questions to Consider 1. In the 1920s, how did Franklin Roosevelt suffer political neglect? 2. How did Harry Hopkins help to create the right conditions for Churchill and Roosevelt to work together?

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Churchill and Stalin


he war between Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin that began in 1941 was a contest of wills between two of the worst mass murderers in history. After the Nazi invasion of Russia stalled at the end of 1941, Winston Churchill knew that the tyrannical state of the Soviet Union had now become a war machine capable of doing far more damage to Hitler’s forces than any number of British bombers. Every German soldier killed on the Eastern Front was one less soldier that the British and Americans would have to face elsewhere. The murderous, despotic Stalin became the most potent weapon available in the arsenal of democracy.

Turning to the Soviets Churchill used patriotism to rouse his troops. Stalin did as well, but he also had the option of putting guns to heads in order to compel his men to advance. As the Soviet leaders liked to point out, “It takes a brave man to be a coward

in the Red Army.” To defeat a tyrant, it was useful to the West to have an allied leader who would fight like a tyrant. Hitler didn’t understand this until it was too late, but Churchill saw the advantage immediately, and he didn’t hesitate to say so. Without apology, Churchill put aside his old antagonisms toward the Soviets, and proclaimed their struggle was now his. Unwisely, Churchill thought that for the time being, he could ignore the dangers associated with Russia, and even try to mitigate them by forging an alliance that over time would temper Stalin’s ruthlessness. There was never any chance of that. Ruthlessness was the basis of Stalin’s power, the reason he had survived the revolutionary storms and emerged at the top of the heap. Giving Stalin weapons and other supplies made sense, talking to him and giving him encouragement was worthwhile, but there was no point in working to establish a kind of fellowship with him. Stalin didn’t like to leave Moscow. It took great effort get him to meet any Allied officials who didn’t want to come to him. Finally, in 1943, he agreed to travel to Tehran for a conference with Churchill and Roosevelt. It was reportedly the one and only time he flew in an airplane, and he hated every minute of it.

Earlier Communication In September 1941, Stalin had sent a message to Churchill asking him to launch what was clearly an impossible operation on land in Russia. He needed help wherever he could find it at the time, and would have been pleasantly surprised if any British forces had managed to come his way. It’s doubtful that he wanted the request to be taken seriously. It was more useful as a reminder that combat in the east was on a scale far greater than in the west, and that Churchill should be doing more there to divert the attention of German troops. Stalin seemed more serious, though, in his expectation that Britain would act more vigorously on the Western Front—and Churchill went to great lengths to explain to the dictator why patience was required. Strategically, Churchill

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was right about the patience part, but tactically, the effort he took to explain himself to Stalin was almost certainly unnecessary—and in the long-term probably even harmful. When Churchill and Stalin met for the first time in August 1942, at the Kremlin, Churchill was put in the uncomfortable position of explaining that the necessary men and resources would not soon be available for an invasion of Germany’s occupied territory in the west, even with American help. Stalin didn’t hide his displeasure at this news. However, even if Churchill had never spoken a word to Stalin, the Russians would have done on their own what the Allies wanted them to do—that is, deploy all their forces to tie down the Germans on the Eastern Front. To keep the Allies guessing, Stalin liked to threaten on occasion to make a separate peace with Hitler, but there was little chance of that happening. Yet Churchill traveled all the way to Moscow on that trip of August 1942 because he believed that Stalin needed to hear directly from the Allies what their plans were.

Two Tense Meetings Stalin already seemed to know that Churchill was bearing the unwelcome news that the Allies would not soon be launching a second front in the west. More preparation was needed, Stalin was told. The dictator was livid, telling Churchill that the Nazis had sent all their best troops to the east and were unprepared for a major attack in the west. Back and forth, through an interpreter, the two leaders argued their positions. Eventually, Stalin began questioning the courage and will of the British military in general and of Churchill in particular. As diplomatically as he could, Churchill made it clear that it was not courage that the British lacked. He left out the point that Stalin wanted a bloodbath in the west, and that as a leader of a democratic nation, Churchill wasn’t prepared to slaughter his troops in the way that dictators could slaughter theirs. He made his point nonetheless, and Stalin began to soften his criticism just a bit.

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They parted on a civil note, but there was still tension in the air. Churchill was ready to return home; however, Stalin insisted on renewing his criticisms in a long meeting the next day, thinking that another try at intimidating Churchill might meet with more success than the first. The two argued as forcefully as they had the first day. Churchill returned fire as politely as possible, while Stalin did his best to ridicule the British as fundamentally too nice and too cowardly to fight properly. Watching this epic standoff was Averell Harriman, Roosevelt’s special envoy. Suddenly, Churchill launched into an impassioned speech in defense of the British war effort, spelling out the sacrifices and the triumphs in such detail, and in such rapid speech, that the interpreter couldn’t keep up. In fact, Harriman noticed that the full flow of Churchill’s rhetoric so captivated the interpreter that the man had given up interpreting entirely and was just staring at Churchill in amazement. The tension of the day abruptly ended as Stalin burst into laughter and waved off the interpreter’s belated effort to convey Churchill’s words. “Your words are not important,” said Stalin, “what is vital is the spirit.”

The Final Meetings Intimidation wouldn’t work on Churchill. Acknowledging the reality of the situation, the wily Stalin changed gears and moved into a charm offensive, surprising Churchill with an invitation to return to the Kremlin for a dinner the next day. Churchill didn’t know what to expect, but when he arrived for this third encounter, Stalin surprised him by staging a grand celebration with over 100 guests in attendance. Eating and drinking went on for four hours. At the end, Stalin invited Churchill to talk in a side room, and the interaction was cordial and sunny. Churchill felt that he had finally won Stalin’s respect, and in the day that remained of his Moscow visit, the two men began to grow closer. There was

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another big meeting, and then afterward, Stalin entertained Churchill in his private apartment in the Kremlin. They talked and drank until 2:30 in the morning. As the drink flowed and the hour grew late, each began to talk about their personal lives and the experiences of the past. Stalin appeared to let down his guard a small amount. Naturally, Churchill began to think that in future meetings later in the war, he could begin to establish a real relationship with Stalin. It was a tempting possibility, but there was really no need to cultivate a deeper relationship with Stalin. At home, the Soviet dictator wasn’t known for his warm relationships. Like Hitler, he was a killer, and his relationships often ended with the other person in a grave.

Churchill’s Goals Churchill wanted more than a stalemate on the Eastern Front. He wanted Stalin to drive the Germans out of Russia, and then to take part in a just and peaceful reorganization of postwar Europe. Otherwise, Churchill feared that a triumphant Red Army would march into Berlin first and leave Europe divided. Despite Churchill’s efforts to prevent such an outcome, that’s exactly what did happen. Churchill’s mistake was not to seek an alliance and to guide it as much as possible, but to think that men like Stalin could ever be friends. This blind spot would ultimately embolden Stalin to seize and control territory liberated from the Nazis. Churchill’s ideal of ending the war with a just settlement of old grievances and hostilities was noble, but the geography of this turf battle was against him from the start. In many ways, World War II in Europe was always about that notable bulge of disputed territory separating Berlin from Moscow—in other words, Poland and some of the surrounding land. The war began with the Germans and Russians maneuvering for control of Poland in 1939, and it ended when Russia finally settled the question of who would control Poland, pushing the Germans out and driving them all the way back to Berlin.

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In the end, Churchill would allow himself to be charmed by Stalin, giving him more trust than he deserved. He would fool himself into thinking that the Russian dictator was different from the Nazi one, writing at one point in the war, “Poor Neville [Chamberlain] believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong. But I don’t think I’m wrong about Stalin.” As Churchill would eventually learn, at great cost, one could never trust Stalin.

Questions to Consider 1. In 1941, how did Churchill reconcile his old antagonism to the Soviet Union with the new reality of relying on Stalin as an ally? 2. Why were the four days that Churchill spent in Moscow in August 1942 some of the most difficult he would know in the war?

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Debating Churchill’s Wartime Leadership


he worst criticisms of Winston Churchill’s actions during World War II often fall into a pattern: He failed in Norway at the beginning of the war; he had many half-baked ideas about hastening the end of the war; he was too obsessed with the Mediterranean and caused the D-Day invasion to be delayed for too long; he neglected the Far East, misjudged Joseph Stalin, and killed thousands of German civilians in a questionable effort to bomb the Nazi state into submission. On each of these matters, there are valid criticisms to be made. However, these failings are often magnified to the point that the actual outcome of the war fades into the background. Perspective is everything. Individual failings matter, and often cost lives, but in a conflict as big as the Second World War, no leader could cover all the hot spots and do justice to each. Churchill tried, and the real wonder is not that he tripped up on some occasions, but that time and time again, he made such a great difference in the war for the better.

Criticism of Churchill: The D-Day Invasion This lecture first tackles the question of whether Churchill caused the D-Day invasion to be delayed for too long. Regarding this topic, an important question is: What constitutes too long? The invasion couldn’t have taken place without the Americans, and they didn’t declare war until the last month of 1941. They couldn’t be expected to invade a few months later, in the summer of 1942, so the earliest date for the assault would have been in the summer of 1943. That would still have meant moving at a very rapid pace, and at great risk to troops invading German-occupied France with so little time for preparation. The 31 months that elapsed between Pearl Harbor and D-Day only seem long when compared to the frantic, wild pace of Hitler’s invasions of other places. He was setting the pace of the war at the outset, and it was all designed to make such quick gains on the ground that no single invasion would take up too much time. Until he ran up against the resistance of the British and the Russians, Hitler was able to count on winning quickly and moving to the next target. It was a major achievement by the Russians on one side and the British on the other to slow the war to a more manageable pace. When Hitler controlled the clock, as he did in France, his opponent folded in no time. When Hitler lost control of the clock, as was his fate with Britain and Russia, his advance stalled, and he wasn’t able to regain momentum. There was every reason to keep the Germans guessing for months and months about an invasion of France, and no compelling reason to waste lives in a rush to hit the beaches. Though the British had suffered severe losses in Crete, the ferocious battles there had shown Churchill and his commanders just how difficult the fighting could be against a strong German force on the ground. In North Africa, they had also learned a great deal about enemy tactics by fighting one of Germany’s best generals. Valuable lessons were learned in all the various parts of the war, and the army that came ashore on D-Day in June 1944 was a much more potent force because of its careful training and the overall preparation for the assault.

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Churchill tried to explain the upside of caution to Stalin first and then to American commanders like General George Marshall later. The Americans were in a hurry to finish the war in Europe so that they could also finish the one in the Pacific. Churchill’s caution, born of experience, didn’t always sit well with his allies. Asked by American reporters in December 1941 how long it would take “to lick these boys,” Churchill replied brilliantly, “If we manage it well, it will only take half as long as if we manage it badly.”

Criticism of Churchill: The Mediterranean

Attack on the French Fleet One of Churchill’s most controversial decisions was to attack the French fleet in Algeria in order to prevent it from falling into German hands. That was a difficult decision to make, but the British view was that, after Dunkirk, the British couldn’t take the chance of any warships falling into German hands and showing up later in an invasion fleet. The British bombardment left more than 1,200 French sailors dead.

Churchill’s determination to lead the Allies in a long campaign to liberate southern Europe, attacking the Axis forces in the Mediterranean rather than concentrating on breaking through German defenses in northern Europe, remains one of the hotly debated strategic issues of the war. Strong arguments can still be found on both sides: Was it necessary to follow the North African campaign with attacks on Sicily, and then to continue a long, terrible march up the boot of Italy, where the terrain made progress slow and costly in casualties? At first, Churchill seemed content with taking Rome, as though the fall of that fascist capital would have a great psychological effect on the Nazis. Of course, it made a difference, as did the capture of the port at Naples. Every mile that the Allies moved north brought their bombers closer to Germany. Every German soldier sent to defend Italy was one less soldier available to fight in the west or the east. Yet it is also sadly true that Italy was enormously difficult to liberate, and that effort might at some point have been directed elsewhere to greater effect.

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Criticism of Churchill: Bombing German Cities Nothing in Churchill’s war record is more controversial than the bombing campaign against German cities. When Churchill came to power and announced that British forces would wage war “with all our might,” he meant it, and when he said that “bombers alone provide the means to victory,” he set the stage for an air campaign that would do enormous damage to Germany, causing tens of thousands of Germans to die in the raging infernos that broke out after air attacks on such places as Hamburg and Dresden. Dresden’s destruction by firebombing from American and British planes in February 1945 was especially dreadful, as Kurt Vonnegut vividly demonstrated in his novel Slaughterhouse-Five. It is sometimes said that Dresden was a civilian town without any military significance, but this is misleading. All of Germany was a militarized camp, with Hitler forcing as many of his people as possible into serving the war machine, and as long as this was the case, every part of the Third Reich became a potential target. The question is whether destroying a beautiful city like Dresden was necessary to shorten the war. It is easy to argue that there were better targets, and it is impossible to defend the annihilation of thousands of people in Dresden at a time in 1945 when the war was all but won.

Criticism of Churchill: Acting on Intelligence It was impossible to understand a madman like Hitler, but to understand a bit better what Germany would do next in the war, Churchill had an invaluable resource at Bletchley Park, home of the code-breaking teams that had been set up just weeks before the war began as the Government Code and Cypher School. This was always one of the brighter spots in Churchill’s view of the war. The Bletchley code breakers would establish the foundations of modern intelligence gathering and computer analysis of signals traffic. They would learn to decipher secret messages sent within the German military and spy services through the Enigma machine—essentially a typewriter with rotating disks and wiring to encrypt the message.

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For Churchill and other top Allied leaders who were privy to the decrypted intelligence, the big problem was to find ways of acting on the information without revealing its source. That leads to a sticking point in Churchill’s legacy: Contrary to rumors started later, Churchill didn’t deliberately allow the great cathedral city of Coventry to be a defenseless target of German bombers simply to avoid revealing to the enemy that he knew their plans. As Churchill scholar Martin Gilbert showed long ago, Coventry was only one of several possible targets identified in the early warnings on the night it was bombed. When more information came to light, the Royal Air Force took measures to defend the city. Moreover, Coventry’s existing anti-aircraft batteries were warned in advance by the Air Ministry and had recently been strengthened on direct orders from Churchill. However, it turned out to be an especially heavy raid, with 300 bombers getting through and then dropping incendiary bombs that started a firestorm. Coventry, along with its magnificent cathedral, suffered terribly.

The Holocaust One didn’t need advanced military intelligence to understand the Nazis were bent on persecuting Jews and other groups. The whole world failed the 6 million who perished in the Holocaust. Especially lamentable was the failure at nearly level in the West to do more to evacuate Jewish refugees from Europe before they fell into Hitler’s clutches. In the end, the most realistic Allied solution to the Nazis was to wipe out every last vestige of the Third Reich as soon as possible. Given that the Nazis continued rounding up their victims and killing them until the bitter end, the Allies could not have allowed even the slightest concessions to be made to the German state until the Nazis surrendered unconditionally. Churchill was mindful of the threat to Jews under Nazi rule and spoke out against it as forcefully as possible, making it clear to everyone—including the

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Nazis, who monitored all his public pronouncements—that what was being done to the Jews was a crime of epic importance. No major Allied leader took a stronger public stand on this matter.

Questions to Consider 1. Why have some critics complained that Churchill caused the Normandy invasion to be delayed for too long? 2. How did Churchill establish himself early in the war as a forceful voice against the Holocaust?

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Lectures 13-18

1. In May of 1940, Lord _______________________ argued forcefully for using the assistance of Mussolini to negotiate peace terms with Hitler. (L13) 2. In his famous statement, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” Churchill was paying tribute to the _____________________. (L14) 3. The sinking of the German ship _____________________ in May of 1941 proved to be a major boost in morale for Great Britain. (L15) 4. Churchill once remarked: “No lover ever studied every whim of his mistress as I did those of __________________.” (L16) 5. Churchill referred to the ________________________ at Bletchley Park as “the geese that laid the golden eggs.” (L18)

See page 168 for answers


Churchill from Tehran to Yalta


inston Churchill’s instinct was usually to strike out boldly and get something done while others were still pondering action or were content to delay. All in all, however, it’s surprising to see how cautious Churchill was in World War II, which is reflected in the overall casualty figures. This lecture looks at some of Churchill’s moves during the war and his interactions with other leaders.

Churchill’s Strategy Churchill had learned the lessons of World War I, and he avoided throwing masses of British soldiers—unprotected by armor, artillery, and air cover— against heavily defended enemy positions. His reluctance to do that was the main reason he had doubts about invading occupied France and why he waited until America was able to lead that invasion with overwhelming force.

Britain’s Death Toll One death in war is too many, but in the case of World War II, it is surprising how relatively small Britain’s share of casualties was. Germany’s military deaths were more than 10 times greater than Britain’s, and the Soviet Union suffered at least 25 times the number of British dead. Numbering around 400,000, the combat fatalities that Britain experienced in World War II were about half the number that the country endured in World War I. Of the five major powers fighting in the World War II—Britain, the United States, Germany, Russia, and Japan—Britain had the lowest figure for military casualties.

As a result of the change in strategy, and the newer advances in war, some of the losses that might have happened on the ground happened instead in the air. Because Churchill came to rely heavily on air power, the number of dead in the Royal Air Force (RAF) was high. In early 1944, Churchill felt compelled to acknowledge publically the latest figures for the RAF’s losses, reporting to the House of Commons that, “The British Islanders have lost 38,300 pilots and air crews killed and 10,400 missing, and over 10,000 aircraft since the beginning of the war—and they

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have made nearly 900,000 sorties into the north European theatre.” Despite the losses, Churchill was certain not only that the effort was necessary, but also that there was a measure of justice in the way that Britain was using air power so effectively against a German state that thought its planes would help to guarantee their victory. Churchill had more doubts about the ground war, agonizing over the risks that would come from British troops once again clashing with the Germans on the battlefields of France. Just weeks before the D-Day invasion, he was talking in London to Franklin Roosevelt’s assistant secretary of war and became very passionate on the subject of the war dead in 1916, saying that “an entire British generation of potential leaders had been cut off and Britain could not afford the loss of another generation.”

Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin Regarding his partners at the top of the war’s chain of command—Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin—Churchill’s views went back and forth between gratitude and resentment, especially as the war dragged on and they took less notice of him. The three leaders met at a 1943 conference held in Tehran, the farthest point from Russia that Stalin would go to meet the other two. In Tehran, the Russians and the Americans started to tease Churchill in a way that he deeply resented because it showed a lack of respect. At a dinner hosted by Stalin, the Russian dictator began to discuss the fate of the Nazi hierarchy after the war. He had a simple solution: shoot everyone. A fair number seemed to be 50,000. Churchill was appalled, denouncing the idea as “butchery.” When Stalin continued to press the idea, the prime minister blew up and said he would never have anything to do with such a notion. Instead of backing up Churchill, Roosevelt tried to turn the whole thing into a joke, saying that he had a compromise. Instead of shooting 50,000, they could satisfy themselves with only 49,000. Churchill grew angrier, and he stormed out when another person in the American delegation appeared to defend Stalin’s plan, suggesting the US Army would help carry it out.

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Standing in an adjoining room with his back to the others, Churchill suddenly felt two hands grab his shoulders, and when he turned around, there was Stalin—all smiles and laughter—claiming his plan to shoot all those Germans was just a joke all along. In time, Churchill cooled off and returned to the dinner, but he wasn’t fooled. He knew that Stalin was fully capable of doing exactly what had been suggested. Churchill was upset by the willingness of both the Americans and the Russians to be amused by his own heated reaction to the idea. Churchill was acting like Churchill—sincere and high minded—and they were having a laugh over dinner at his expense.

Operation Overlord In the larger picture of the war, the primary purpose of the Tehran Conference was to reach agreement on details of the top-secret operation called Overlord—the invasion of occupied France. Even the question of Stalin’s butchery had to be put aside for the more pressing issue of sending 400,000 Allied troops across the English Channel to land on the beaches of Normandy. Roosevelt and Churchill wanted to assure the Russians that the invasion would take place in May or June, depending on the weather and the deployment of German forces in the area. Ever the cunning despot, Stalin wasn’t content with promises and felt the need to make one of his occasional threats to suspend fighting on the Eastern Front. However, when D-Day was delayed until early June, the Red Army was still fighting as furiously as ever, pushing German troops out of Crimea. They turned west to attack Romania and prepared for a fresh assault on the main battlefields farther north. Churchill nevertheless kept worrying about the Normandy landings for weeks after they were launched. It was only in early July that he began to heave a great sigh of relief as the number of Allied invasion troops in France grew to almost 750,000 and the

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number of captured German soldiers passed 50,000. He cabled Stalin, “The enemy is bleeding on every front at once.”

Flying Bombs Sadly, any temptation to celebrate the victory of D-Day was undermined by something that Churchill had dreaded would happen after the invasion was launched. One of the reasons for caution about D-Day had nothing to do with the fate of the invasion force, but with the fate of innocent men and women on the ground in England. Intelligence reports had taken note of German plans to hit England with one of Hitler’s secret weapons: the V-1 flying bomb. It was the price that London especially would have to pay for the invasion, and the bombs began hitting the capital only one week after D-Day. By the end of the first week of attacks, the bombs—which were launched from occupied France—had killed 526 civilians. After less than a month, these attacks claimed the lives of 2,752

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civilians, which was close to the number of British soldiers killed at that point in the actual combat of the Normandy invasion. Churchill led the effort to stop the bombs by attacking the launch sites. However, as soon as one site was bombed, another would appear. In July, Churchill was told that a more fearsome weapon would soon be deployed: the unstoppable V-2 rocket, capable of traveling at supersonic speed and giving almost no warning to people on the ground. Churchill was so enraged at the damage these weapons caused to innocent civilians that he raised the possibility of using mustard gas on the Germans. He was talked out of it, and the bombs continued to fall, with the last of 1,400 V-2 rockets hitting England in March of 1945, only weeks before the end of the war.

Casualties Abroad British troops abroad struggled to fight the Germans as well as the Japanese far away in Burma. There was a serious setback in Holland when British and American paratroopers failed in a daring effort to secure a bridgehead across the Rhine. Operation Market Garden, as it was called, was an ill-conceived campaign based on faulty intelligence and the overly ambitious plans of General Bernard Montgomery to achieve a quick breakthrough into Germany. The British 1st Airborne went into battle in mid-September 1944 with 9,000 men. It came back in defeat eight days later with little more than 2,000 men. Fighting alongside the 1st Airborne in Holland was a Polish parachute brigade that had been preparing for months to help liberate Poland as part of the Warsaw government in exile. Poles were also fighting for their lives that very month in the Warsaw Uprising against the Germans. The Royal Air Force and elements of the Polish Air Force in exile had been flying desperate long-range missions from bases in liberated Italy to airdrop supplies to the resistance fighters in Warsaw. Stalin was opposed to any

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major assistance, not wanting the Red Army to deal with an independent, well-armed capital when the fighting was over. Pausing at the outskirts of Warsaw, the Red Army watched at a distance while the Germans ruthlessly put down the uprising. The last thing Stalin wanted to see was a Polish parachute brigade flying into Warsaw, so the Allied command sent them to Holland instead, to prevent any trouble from Stalin. Regarding Warsaw, Churchill wanted to do everything in his power to help, but he had to contend with the opposition of both Stalin and Roosevelt. The world war that began with the Nazis and the Soviets carving up Poland would end with the brave resistance fighters of Warsaw dying in the thousands in a last-ditch effort to liberate their nation’s capital from the Germans. The city would be left in ruins, and the Red Army would occupy Poland and make sure a friendly puppet government ruled there.

Yalta Churchill understood the strategic thinking of his allies, but he knew the bravery of the Poles and understood the depth of their sacrifice. He felt deeply the betrayal of Polish hopes for freedom and kept trying to win concessions from Stalin for the rest of the war, and beyond. That was one reason why he flew on another long journey to Russia in February 1945, as the war was reaching its final stages, with Germans in retreat everywhere. Stalin was even then threatening to make sure that a democratic Poland never emerged from the ashes of the war, and Churchill wanted to persuade him otherwise. He asked for another conference between himself, Stalin, and Roosevelt, and it was agreed that the meeting would take place at Yalta, a resort town in Crimea. Roosevelt looked unwell by the time of the conference. He had lost weight and his blood pressure was dangerously high. He was in no shape to endure several days of heated discussion thousands of miles from home, and so he did his best to keep the conference unified on a few key topics.

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It was agreed that Germany’s unconditional surrender would leave the country divided into four zones of occupation for Russia, Britain, America, and France to oversee. Secretly, Russia agreed to join the war against Japan. Publically, at least, America, Britain, and Russia agreed that Poland would be allowed to choose its own government through “free and unfettered elections.” There was a certain amount of wiggle room built into every statement, without a firm, unified view of a postwar future. Stalin wanted it that way because he didn’t intend to honor anything if he could find a way around it. Roosevelt was so ill that he didn’t seem able to press a coherent agenda. The prime minister had yearned for the war to end on a triumphant note with a vision of a better world in sight. Instead, he lamented privately, he learned at Yalta that “The only bond of the victors is their common hate.”

Questions to Consider 1. How successfully did Churchill adapt his military strategy in World War II to avoid the battlefield failures of World War I? 2. How did Churchill’s meetings with Stalin and Roosevelt in Tehran and Yalta reveal that Britain was becoming less important on the world stage?

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Peace, Churchill, and the British Voter


ictory in Europe Day took place on May 8, 1945, marking surrender by the Nazis. Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin were the only two major leaders of the war to survive it. On April 30, Adolph Hitler shot himself. Two days earlier, Italian partisans executed Benito Mussolini, and on April 12, Franklin Roosevelt died of a stroke. Churchill outlived them all—even Stalin, who died in 1953. This lecture looks at Churchill’s activities following the Nazi surrender.

Outcome of the War The Soviets were the clear winners of the Second World War. From Berlin to Bucharest, they soon spread their influence over Eastern Europe, and they even gained territory from the Japanese thousands of miles away in the Pacific. Churchill had tried to push Roosevelt and General Eisenhower to

advance farther into Europe to keep the Russians out, but the Americans only wanted to finish off the Nazis and get back to fighting the war in the Pacific.

A High-Profile Rescue In the very last days of the Second World War, a determined group of killers in the German SS approached an Austrian castle holding a number of highprofile prisoners. Their purpose was to execute all of them, including two of the last wartime prime ministers of France, Édouard Daladier and Paul Reynaud. However, a small group of American soldiers—accompanied by some captured regular soldiers of the German army—had seized the castle before the SS arrived. The Americans armed some of the prisoners, including Reynaud, and also gave arms to the regular German soldiers. Together, they put up a fierce fight to hold off the SS troops until reinforcements arrived. The battle was thought to be the only time American and German soldiers fought side by side in the war.

Churchill swallowed a bitter pill of defeat as he watched Stalin break promises and tighten his grip on Poland without bothering to hold any democratic elections. Though Churchill helped to save Western Europe from despotism, the struggle left his country a minor power instead of a major one, and the empire he loved so much began quickly to unravel. After the Second World War, even maintaining its naval fleet would be difficult for the British, who were fed up with sacrificing men and money to save the empire and the free world. Many in Britain just wanted to go back to living peacefully. There wasn’t much enthusiasm for following the Americans into the Pacific to slog it out with the Japanese, though officially both the Labour and Conservative parties pledged to do whatever was necessary to defeat Japan. In Churchill’s radio broadcast on May 8, 1945, his voice broke with emotion as he tried to rally his nation for a new fight in Asia. However, Britain was, like Germany, a war-ravaged nation, with cities that had suffered serious damage and needed rebuilding. Just as many people in Britain had been reluctant in the 1930s to fight Hitler, in 1945, they did not want to see the war drag on in

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Japan or Russia, and there was widespread concern—justified or not—that Churchill would somehow keep the country at war for many months to come.

The Election of 1945 In July of 1945, at the height of his triumph over Hitler, the British electorate threw Churchill out of office. It was the last, and the worst, of the many disappointments that the end of the war would bring to Churchill. Churchill felt the sting of this rejection with all his heart. Even some of his enemies were shocked by this outcome because it seemed so ungrateful. After all the powerful speeches and dramatic moments of the Churchill years, many voters were ready for the peaceful, dull mediocrity of the most invisible man in Churchill’s wartime government. That man was the deputy prime minister and the Labour Party’s leader, Clement Attlee. Like Stanley Baldwin, Attlee was an amiable, gently smiling, pipe-smoking politician in a rumpled suit. His lack of personality annoyed even some of Labour’s strongest supporters. In sum, the British traded the colorful, restless, imaginative, passionate Winston Churchill for a decent man of such blandness that he could be counted on to let Britain turn away from the larger world and concentrate its remaining energy on refurbishing the nation. Attlee said all the right things about keeping Britain true to its overseas obligations, but he looked like the perfect man to organize a quiet and orderly retreat from a battlefield. The results showed how overwhelmingly strong were such sentiments among the voters. When the figures were announced on July 26, 1945—with the end of the war in the Pacific still in doubt, and the fall of Germany barely three months in the past—Labour won a landslide victory, winning almost twice as many seats as the Tories. The question of British soldiers making further sacrifices in an invasion of Japan was settled less than a month after the election. In August, the atom bombs fell on Japan, and that nation’s surrender followed quickly. Churchill had known of the existence of the bomb, but there was no way to be sure

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whether the new American president—Harry Truman—would use it, or whether its use would have the desired military effect. By August, Churchill was out of power, and had only the power of his voice to influence events.

Churchill in Retirement Churchill soon returned to his old literary habits. Not having inherited a fortune, he needed to make one on his own in order to live in the style to which he had become accustomed after five years as a globetrotting leader. He had put much of his life on hold for all those years, neglecting his health and doing little to provide for what suddenly loomed as his retirement years. He was 70 when the British voters retired him, leaving him to start a new life at that age in the only real trade he knew other than politics—writing, or more accurately, dictating. In that subspecies of the literary art, he had improved because of all the dictation he had given to an endless series of secretaries taking down the letters, minutes, telegrams, notes, and other business of state that had consumed him during the war. Never had he been in better training for the job ahead: writing his own history of the Second World War. The publication of what became several volumes in this work would make him a large amount of money and allow him to explain what had happened from an insider’s point of view. In the earlier war, he had been in a position of great power for a relatively short time and was never in full command of the war effort. His history of the Second World War told the story from the point of view of the highest level of the war. Of course, it would be his version of events. That’s a natural consequence of overseeing a major war and having a sharp memory, assistants to help sort out documents, and the power to shape the English language to one’s will.

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Questions to Consider 1. Why did Harold Macmillan say that Churchill lost the election of 1945 because of “the ghost of Neville Chamberlain?” 2. At the height of his wartime success, how did Churchill’s great stature as a statesman become a liability in the election battle against Clement Attlee?

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Churchill on the Iron Curtain


ollowing the Conservative loss in the 1945 general election, it was difficult for Winston Churchill to return to a regular routine as a private citizen after sitting at the center of world events for half a decade. This lecture looks at his life over several years following that pivotal election.

Churchill in Defeat Though he tried to hide it in public, Churchill did come to feel a sense of betrayal following his ouster from office. Take, for example, the difference between the national response to Churchill’s war efforts and the national gift of land for a palace to his ancestor John Churchill, the first duke of Marlborough. In gratitude for Marlborough’s 1704 victory over the French, Parliament had voted to pay for Blenheim Palace, though no one said how much it would cost, and funding it soon became a matter of hot debate. For Winston Churchill, there was no similar gesture of gratitude in 1945.

Privately, however, a small circle of Churchill’s admirers showed their gratitude by purchasing his country home, Chartwell, and allowing him to continue living there at no cost. Previously, he had been struggling with the expense of running it and had considered selling it. Churchill had a big heart and a big imagination. He liked to live large, and his character and outlook helped to shape much of what had happened in two world wars, the effects of which still reverberate. Yet the postwar response to Churchill’s leadership in his own country was often petty and mean spirited. The Labour Party in Britain demonized the man who had stood up to Hitler as a warmonger. In fairness, it’s important to acknowledge that Churchill wasn’t above using a slur against Labour. In the 1945 election, Churchill started off on the wrong foot by trying to cast the opposition party as Stalinists in training, a socialist party intent on transforming Britain from a land of peace and plenty into a despotic state with an enforcement arm like Hitler’s Gestapo.

Churchill’s Problem The real problem facing Churchill was not political tactics. It was his position on the wrong side of a growing divide between the classes in British society. Though his fame and position were both hard-won and mostly self-made, he would always be associated with the upper class into which he was born. Labour’s victory in 1945 was a triumph for the working classes, a chance to have a say in affairs of state instead of always deferring to their socalled betters. Additionally, Churchill’s brand of paternalistic Toryism was far removed in spirit from Labour’s pseudoscientific approach to the welfare state as a well-oiled bureaucratic machine. Churchill, however, was not an enemy of the working classes. The problems he had with socialism were the regimentation inherent in some of its schemes, the lack of choice on an individual level, the willingness to treat large and

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diverse groups as one, and the acceptance of one outcome—good or bad— as the best outcome for everyone. British socialism was not even close to the Soviet social model, but many Labour Party members had a soft spot in their hearts for the Soviet Union, admiring the stated ideals rather than the actual practice of that regime. In some Labour circles, lofty statements of social ideals from the Kremlin were often given a credence they didn’t deserve, whereas reports of killings, imprisonment, and exile in Russia were often dismissed as Western propaganda. This willingness to go easy on the Soviets was the behavior that angered Churchill the most. There was a definite faction within Labour that was so sympathetic to Russia that they were willing to ease the path for Soviet expansion, encouraging the West to meet a supposedly moderate and reasonable Joseph Stalin halfway. In other words, it was a return to the rationale of appeasement, with the Russian dictator now holding far more power than Hitler had ever enjoyed in the 1930s.

Churchill’s Disappointment Churchill grew increasingly disappointed in his country’s reduced power, influence, and economic prospects, especially as he came to understand that the defeat of Hitler replaced the Nazi threat with one from Soviet dominance of Eastern Europe. The longest undeclared war of the 20th century—the Cold War—was the last thing that Churchill expected to arise from Hitler’s defeat, for when the Second World War had begun to heat up with the invasion of France in 1940, the Soviets had been seen as a more passive foe in what was then an uneasy alliance with the Nazis. Once again in his career, Churchill was able to see the emerging world order long before many other leaders grasped the change. He used his considerable rhetorical powers to sum up the new order in a vivid image, announcing in 1946 on his visit to American president Harry Truman’s native Missouri that “an Iron Curtain has descended across the Continent.”

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This rhetorical shot reverberated around the world and caused many in the West to wonder what the war had accomplished if one form of tyranny had merely replaced another to threaten the world. President Truman seemed to Churchill much less complacent about the new threat than Franklin Roosevelt in his last days had seemed to be, and it was no coincidence that the president and the former prime minister were together to launch this broadside against the Soviet Union. Harry Truman

However, Truman suddenly backed away. It created such a stir that Truman feigned ignorance back in Washington and pretended that he’d not read Churchill’s speech beforehand. Barely a year into his presidency, Truman didn’t anticipate the uproar around the world that the speech would create, and so he suddenly had second thoughts about it. None of what Churchill said should have been seen as controversial, but in the afterglow of victory in Europe, the accepted storyline favoring the valiant Red Army didn’t fit Churchill’s discordant note of truth.

Stalin and Churchill When Churchill arrived in New York City a few days after his Missouri speech, his hotel was surrounded by angry crowds with signs that said, “Churchill’s Warmongering Means American Blood.” In Washington, three United States senators accused Churchill of wanting to start an “anti-Soviet crusade.” Even Stalin decided to join the chorus of criticism. He personally denounced Churchill. Against Hitler, Churchill had been uncompromising. That wasn’t the case with Stalin. He always believed that he and Stalin could talk, but he no longer believed that simply talking could solve anything. He knew from experience

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that Stalin respected power and force, and that weakness of any kind only encouraged him. In 1948, Stalin proved that by trying to push the British, French, and Americans out of their Berlin enclaves in East Germany. Like the whole of occupied Germany, Berlin was divided into four zones, with the Russians controlling East Berlin. The other three powers controlled West Berlin. It was assumed at the end of the war that the Western powers would have access to Berlin through East Germany, which surrounded the city. In a daring move to assert their authority over the whole of the sector, the Soviets blockaded the roads and railroads, cutting off West Berlin and making life impossible there for the other occupying powers.

Tests Stalin was testing the West to see how much he could get away with. When the British and Americans responded with the Berlin airlift to bring supplies by air to West Berlin, the West decided finally to put Stalin to the test, daring him to interfere with any of the planes. Churchill had been willing to do something similar when he had wanted to relieve Warsaw during the uprising in 1944, but Roosevelt had failed to support the idea. Now, four years later, the wisdom of standing up to Stalin and calling his bluff was demonstrated in a way that everyone could see each time a plane flew into Berlin without incident. This game of chicken lasted about a year until Stalin got tired of it and turned his scheming mind to other tricks and deceptions. By the end of the 1940s, the truth that Churchill had dared to speak was plain for all to see. While the world had dithered and pleaded, Stalin had built an empire so vast and strong that the Soviets could go on playing games with the West. The metaphorical Iron Curtain would turn into a real Berlin Wall. That wall would stand for decades while the West struggled to find the best response to the Soviet Union after Stalin’s death in 1953.

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Questions to Consider 1. How did Harry Truman respond to the public outcry against Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” speech in Missouri? 2. In 1948, how did Stalin use the isolation of the allied powers in West Berlin to test their resolve?

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Churchill and Britain’s Postwar Crisis


inston Churchill could not go quietly into retirement, even after reaching his 70s. In many ways, he was almost as active in the late 1940s as he had been during the war, traveling far and wide, and giving important speeches as his international reputation soared. This lecture looks at his activities in the postwar years through 1951.

The Postwar Picture Postwar Britain descended into an economic nightmare in 1947. Through incompetence and arrogance, Clement Attlee and his Labour ministers brought the country to the verge of a fiscal meltdown. Without a robust economy to support the Labour Party’s grand plans for a welfare state, the rationing system established during the war went into overdrive in peacetime to cope with massive shortages of the most basic

foods. In 1947, almost all important food products were being rationed, including bread, tea, eggs, and meat.

Powering Down In the midst of Britain’s postwar economic crisis, Labour adjusted the nation’s fuel supply so drastically that electric light in daytime became a rarity. In the worst month of the 1947 crisis, the government announced that electricity would be shut off for most consumers between 9:00 am and noon, and between 2:00 pm and 4:00 pm. The cuts did not always result in the power actually coming on again, and soon even candles were in short supply. Disaster erupted in the first few weeks of 1947, when heavy snow blanketed much of Britain, creating blizzard conditions in some parts of the country. Great drifts piled up, and by the end of January, the nation was almost at a standstill. High winds, sub-freezing temperatures, and a severe fuel shortage made life miserable. It was the worst winter in more than 50 years, and the government was completely unprepared, having made no provision for emergency supplies. Suddenly, drastic restrictions were imposed on the use of coal and natural gas, and on transport and electricity. Pressure in the gas mains was so weak that many people didn’t bother to light a fire. The elderly suffered in unheated rooms, and many deaths that winter were blamed on the lack of heat. Nothing could have prevented the brutal winter weather, but many people were convinced that the nation’s fuel problems were the fault of poor planning by the government. Throughout Britain, everything suddenly seemed

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unavailable to the average person. Housing was in short supply, furniture was rationed, and even clothing was rationed.

The Fallout The rich or successful in society were not hurt most by Labour’s selfdestruction. Instead, fairing the worst was the working class—the very people who had looked to Labour to give them a fair share of the country’s wealth. Instead, Labour couldn’t even feed, house, or clothe them properly. To their credit, they did give them better health care, but other parts of the economy suffered. Most people were much worse off in 1947 than they had been only two years earlier. Labour didn’t want to admit it, but the biggest problem for them was that the government had been living off money negotiated in a huge multi-billion-dollar loan from the United States, and they were spending it too fast. Labour’s chancellor of the Exchequer, Hugh Dalton, tried to downplay the disaster by explaining the shortfall in polite terms. The American loan, he said, “is being drawn upon much more rapidly than we expected.” A bureaucracy tied in knots exacerbated the problem. Labour’s friends in the press lectured the masses on sacrifice by telling them to go back to the spirit of 1940. For example, the Daily Mirror encouraged the British people to conquer this crisis as they had persevered through Dunkirk. Additionally, Hartley Shawcross, Britain’s postwar attorney general, unhelpfully suggested that people go to work in their overcoats. Rather than solve the fundamental problem of supplying a nation in a cold climate with heat, Shawcross wanted people to sacrifice in order to spare the government the humiliation of failure. The failure was obvious unless it was explained away as the weather’s fault or balanced against the rest of the Labour agenda in matters of health or education. Those who wanted to defend the Labour government talked of these things rather than of hunger or the lack of heat. However, the voters

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themselves would remember being cold and hungry, and the pendulum of power would soon swing back in Churchill’s direction.

Churchill on the Attack Labour’s struggle to implement its socialist agenda inspired repeated digs from Churchill, who criticized the government for squandering peacetime opportunities with high taxes, excessive spending, and bureaucratic ineptitude. Said Churchill of Labour in the postwar era: “Never before in the history of human government has such great havoc been wrought by such small men.” Churchill pursued his conflict with Labour for six years. When Churchill was through exposing the failings of Labour, Attlee and his followers would be vanquished for a long time. After losing the general election of 1951, Labour would be out of power for 13 years. The key complaint Churchill lodged against Labour still rings true. They had emerged from one of the grandest victories in human history in the defeat of the Nazis, yet their focus soon turned to small matters and small views. They fretted over the proper size of the bacon ration or the exact hours when electricity should be cut, yet they ignored the declining fall of coal production until elderly people were freezing. Then, they compounded their mistakes by making useless suggestions to wear overcoats.

Churchill and the House of Commons Friends and associates would sometimes complain that Churchill didn’t spend enough time in the postwar House of Commons as leader of the opposition to Labour. The solemn matters of war and peace often brought out the best in members of the House, and certainly Churchill was at his best speaking on these matters at that time.

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The fuel crisis of 1947 was a major issue. On the night of February 10, a 72-year-old Churchill stood up and began to do battle with Labour over their handling of the crisis, exchanging barbs in one case with a man nearly half his age. He held the floor for almost an hour and pounded relentlessly at his opponents for blaming the crisis on everything but their own ineptitude. He was especially incensed by Labour’s willingness to place their current battles against those of the war. On this particular night, no one had the courage to mention Dunkirk in Churchill’s presence, but young Dick Crossman, a rising Labour star, did mention the ordeal of the shipping crisis in the Atlantic, saying, “We should regard coal production in the same spirit as we regarded the U-boat campaign in the war.” Crossman was making the excellent point that Labour should approach national problems with all the concentrated effort that had been given to grave threats in war, but the established Churchill was the wrong audience for the upstart Crossman. Churchill sparred with Crossman and then proceeded to explain the best way to have avoided the current emergency. For one measure, he said, they could have had a backup plan. Churchill left them with some bad news: If they kept doing what they were doing, the country would go from bad to worse. The politicians would pay a price for their ineptitude, but the tragedy was that ordinary people would also pay a great price.

1947 to 1951 Between 1947 and 1951, Labour did make some adjustments. Ministers came and went, and some policies were modified, but the general direction stayed the same, and not much changed for the better. Labour had hard times at home and hard strife abroad, with a chaotic imperial retreat from India and Palestine, where local movements were left to sort out their own differences amid terrible bloodshed.

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Independence for India in 1947, with the jewel in the crown portioned into Pakistan and India, caused so much upheaval that as many 2 million people may have died on the subcontinent just in the first year following the end of British rule. In 1948, the British left Palestine, and fighting broke out there as well, with enormous loss of life over the years. These were tragedies in the making for a long time, but the haste and chaos of these events added to the sense that Labour was in over its head, bungling much of what it was tasked to do in the postwar world. The voters who had wanted peace and plenty from their choice of Labour in 1945 got neither. When the government finally ran out of excuses and was defeated in the general election of 1951, the economy had yet to recover, rationing was still in place, and British troops were at war in Asia. These were outcomes that voters in 1945 feared Churchill would create. Instead, they all flowed from Labour. In 1951, the people voted the Conservative Party back into power. However, it remained to be seen if Winston Churchill could turn the country around.

Questions to Consider 1. Why could it be argued that in the postwar period Churchill was caught up in two cold wars? 2. How did the Labour government use examples of wartime sacrifice to rally support for its austerity agenda in peacetime?

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Churchill’s Return to Power


hen Winston Churchill led his party into the general election of October 1951, he knew that it was probably his last chance to take back his old job of prime minister in a national campaign. Though he was approaching the age of 77—and was one of the last surviving members of his generation still active politically—he fought the campaign with the vigor of a much younger candidate. This lecture looks at his efforts to win and his subsequent time back in power.

Churchill’s Victory When the Daily Mirror launched an infamous front-page attack on Churchill as a trigger-happy warmonger, he hit back hard, bringing legal action against the paper and winning a full apology. It should have been more difficult to portray a man at this late stage in his career as someone eager to start a war, but Churchill also pointed out that to make such a charge against any

potential British prime minister didn’t make sense in the new geopolitical situation of 1951. Churchill remarked that Britain was in no place to start another world war. For him to admit that Britain couldn’t start a world war even if it wanted to was quite an admission of just how much the country’s standing had fallen since his early days in politics. The world wars had been started in Berlin— not London—but in having twice to defend itself, its empire, and its allies, the British had lost too much. There was only one way forward, said Churchill: to preserve what standing the country still had and remake the nation in a new and better fashion. Britain had to stop fighting with itself, splitting into resentful factions along class lines. Ruin will await, said Churchill, “if we go on consuming our strength in bitter party or class conflicts.” The answer, he said, was to replace the ideologically driven Labour leaders with a “solid, stable administration by a government not seeking to rub party dogmas into everybody else.” That was a winning message. Just as people had grown tired of war in 1945, they were now weary of Labour’s so-called age of austerity and the false campaign to make less look like more. On October 25, 1951, the Conservatives under Churchill won back control of the government with a solid victory that gave them a majority of about 25 seats. It wasn’t a landslide, but the mood of the country had clearly soured on Labour, and the nation was ready to go back to a more traditional style of government.

Churchill Back in Power Churchill devoted as much energy as possible in his second period as prime minister to the important work of cementing ties between America and Britain in response to the Soviet Union’s rise as a superpower. He became a powerful and persuasive advocate for peaceful coexistence in the face of new threats from weapons of mass destruction, which allowed him to undermine Labour’s favorite charge that he was always eager to fight instead of negotiate.

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Sincere in his efforts, Churchill sent his greetings to Stalin. It was as though he was willing to pick up where the two leaders had left off six years before, in an effort to find some way to bridge the gap between the Soviet Union and the West. He set the same tone before the House of Commons in November of 1951. Stalin, whose health was also in decline and who still didn’t like to leave Moscow, didn’t encourage any dialogue. Having put together his postwar Soviet empire, he had his hands full managing the Kremlin and its constant swirl of intrigue. There was little incentive to thaw out the Cold War.

The Death of King George VI While Stalin kept to himself in the vast halls of his Kremlin palace, there was a change at Buckingham Palace in London. A few months after Churchill returned to power, his old assistant Jock Colville came to his bedroom to find the prime minister sitting in a daze with tears in his eyes. News had just come that King George VI had died. Colville wrote in his diary, “I had not realized how much the King meant to him. I tried to cheer him up by saying how well he would get on with the new Queen, but all he could say was that he did not know her and that she was only a child.” In fact, as fond as he was of the king and of their shared experiences in the worst years of the war, Churchill would grow even closer to the young Elizabeth, romanticizing her more than he had any previous monarch of his acquaintance. Having reluctantly accepted the loss of imperial India in 1947, Churchill looked to the new queen to restore some of Britain’s old grandeur. In 1953, the young queen offered to make Churchill a knight. He liked the old-fashioned idea of serving as one of her knights, and from 1953 until his death he would be known as Sir Winston Churchill. When he finally left office in 1955, the queen would offer him a dukedom, which would have made him only the second Churchill in history to receive such an honor. He turned it down, preferring to end his days of service to crown and country with only a knighthood and his old seat in the House of Commons.

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Churchill’s Remembrance of King George VI Winston Churchill’s radio broadcast on King George VI’s death in February 1952 was one of his most moving speeches, and proved once again how effective his rhetoric could be in achieving something that the last Labour government had not been able to do: bring the country together. With the news of the king’s death, said Churchill: [T]here struck a deep and solemn note in our lives which, as it resounded far and wide, stilled the clatter and traffic of 20th-century life in many lands, and made countless millions of human beings pause and look around them. A new sense of values for the time being, took possession of human minds, and mortal existence presented itself to so many at the same moment in its serenity and in its sorrow, in its splendor and in its pain, in its fortitude and in its suffering. Churchill especially admired the king’s quiet dignity and courage in World War II, when he had refused to be evacuated from the capital. In recognition of this, Churchill wrote only two words on the card of the government’s wreath at the king’s funeral. They were the same two words on the Victoria Cross, the nation’s highest military honor: “For Valor.”

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Economic Trouble The problem facing Britain in the 1950s was money. Britain didn’t have enough of it, and was in no position—with its imperial might draining away— to acquire the necessary resources to change its political and social fortunes. It would take decades for such changes to occur, and Churchill had only another decade left. He did what he could in his few years of office, reviving the economy and setting it on a more sustainable path, with slightly less taxation and much less regulation. He hated the regime of food rationing and moved as quickly as possible to eliminate it. The Ministry of Food had been set up to oversee the complicated system that devised not only which foods would be rationed, but what portions would be allowed. From the start of his government, Churchill prodded the ministry to provide explanations for their rationing decisions and to strike items from the list as the need for controls lessened. Knowing that the ministry itself would go away as soon as rationing disappeared, the bureaucrats dragged their feet, but Churchill kept up the pressure. In 1954, he took great pride in the fact that his government was able to end rationing. The Ministry of Food was then merged with another department, and life became just a bit easier for the average person, who could now eat a slice of bread or meat in peace without worrying about portions. By 1953, the economy was looking up, and Churchill seemed on his way to a successful period as prime minister. He kept in place the National Health Service, Labour’s most important institution, despite its great cost, because it was so widely accepted and appreciated. Rather than overturning a lot of legislation, Churchill used moderation to soften the effects of regulations in ways that were slow and subtle but meaningful. His government steered a middle course, trying to maintain social peace and to get the country back to work without interruptions from strikes or shortages.

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Churchill’s Late Actions At his age, Churchill wanted to go out peacefully in all respects, without social unrest at home or major conflict abroad. He succeeded. The one danger point looming ahead was a crisis over the fate of the Suez Canal, but Churchill was able to leave that thorny problem to his successor, Anthony Eden, who bungled it and was forced into resigning as prime minster after little more than a year in office. In 1953, Churchill’s rival on the world stage, Joseph Stalin, died. For a time, the dictator’s passing seemed to offer a great opportunity for easing tensions, but the Soviets were suspicious of any overtures, and the new American president at that time, General Eisenhower, was equally cautious. For his part, Churchill was eager to start some sort of dialogue, but no one would join him. Two months after Stalin’s death, the prime minister told Eisenhower that he would be willing to undertake a diplomatic mission to Moscow on his own if possible. Dwight Eisenhower

Churchill’s Declining Health Sadly, Churchill was struck down by illness in this crucial period. He had pushed himself too hard, and his health collapsed. In late June 1953, he suffered a serious stroke that caused his left side to be paralyzed. His speech was slurred, and he seemed on the verge of dying. His doctor seriously doubted whether he would survive. Then, just as those around him were preparing for the worst, he revived, and was soon doing his best to get around in a wheelchair.

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Such was his toughness that he swore he would be back in business in a matter of weeks, and indeed, within two months, there were few signs that he had suffered a stroke. He was moving around and talking with some of his old energy, though he did find that he grew tired much faster. By autumn, he was speaking in the House of Commons again. Over the next year, he made a grand effort to continue as prime minister. However, when he turned 80 in November 1954, it was obvious that he couldn’t lead the party into another grueling election campaign. Friends and family eased him toward retirement, and in early 1955 he bowed to the inevitable, announcing his resignation on April 5. His last piece of advice to his Cabinet was, “Never be separated from the Americans.” Churchill was going deaf, and his memory was beginning to fail him. He had seen nearly all the world had to offer, mastered knowledge of all kinds, and had met nearly everyone worth knowing on the world stage. Just when he was most qualified to help guide history, he had to accept that history was now passing him by. However, he would not be forgotten.

Questions to Consider 1. At George VI’s funeral, how did Churchill’s simple message of “For Valor” represent such a powerful tribute from him to the dead king? 2. Why did Churchill dislike the portrait of him painted by Graham Sutherland?

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Churchill and the Legacy of Freedom


any academic historians won’t go near the idea that great individuals can change the world. That kind of thinking is suspect because it’s seen as too simplistic, leaving out all the complex factors that affect any grand sequence of events in history. This lecture seeks to challenge that perspective by looking at the impact Winston Churchill had on the world.

Churchill, Hitler, and Cards After the fall of France in World War II, Adolph Hitler posed a unique threat in human history. He was a true madman with most of Europe at his command and the latest science and technology in his employ for murder on an unimaginable scale. As Churchill once said of him, rightly, “Negotiation with Hitler was impossible. He was a maniac with supreme power to play his hand out to the end, which he did; and so did we.”

That image of Hitler with cards to play is conventional, yet still revealing. Think of the situation in the summer of 1940 as one in which the stakes of this card game are piled high in the middle of the table: Hitler was playing for nothing less than the fate of the world. At that time, he seemed to have a winning hand. He had troops massed on the French shores facing England, Russia on the sidelines with its nonaggression pact, Italy in league with the Third Reich, Spain neutral, and Norway, Holland, and Belgium invaded and conquered. Faced with that hand, the ordinary poker player would have folded, as indeed Neville Chamberlain and Lord Halifax were inclined to do. Churchill knew better. His historical insight told him that Hitler’s aim was to remove England as a threat by occupying it or establishing a compliant government. Either

Wernher von Braun An extra decade for Hitler in power would have resulted in bigger and deadlier versions of Germany’s devastating V-2 rocket. The man behind the V-2—Wernher von Braun—was capable of building rockets powerful enough to go to the Moon. After von Braun surrendered to American soldiers at the end of the war, this German rocket scientist settled in the United States and oversaw the team that created the Redstone rocket—the first missile to carry a live nuclear warhead—and the Saturn V rocket that powered the Apollo moon flight. Von Braun was a major in Hitler’s SS. He helped to set up the launch sites in France from which the V-2 rockets began their deadly flights to England. Given more time to spend on rocket science, had England been taken out of the war in 1940, this devilishly talented SS officer would have had the chance to develop the most advanced missile program in the world. If deployed in 1950 or so by an undefeated Third Reich, the new Nazi rockets would have posed a grave threat to the rest of the world, as well as providing a potent shield to guard the German empire.

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way, Hitler could then control all western approaches to Europe. Such a move would also prevent Churchill from helping Franklin Roosevelt persuade a reluctant American people to fight in Europe. In the end, it was Hitler who folded. He paid the price because Churchill was just as determined to play a winning hand until there was nothing left of the Nazi state. Hitler and Churchill at the metaphorical card table may not fit the academic model for change in history, but that’s how the war came to veer off in a direction that saved the world instead of destroying it.

Churchill’s Death Despite his successes, Churchill went to his grave disappointed by the fact that Britain had lost much of its political standing in the world. He died at 90 in January 1965. Over his long life, he saw Britain move from the center of the world order, with London as the world’s greatest capital, to a diminished place in a small corner of Europe, with Beatlemania as its most influential export. Churchill’s grand state funeral in London was not only an official recognition of his high place in British history, but also an occasion that can now be seen as marking the end of a long era of British dominance in world affairs. In many ways, the last years of Churchill’s life were disappointing. He was never happy when he was not in the thick of political affairs, but after 1955, he was increasingly distant from the great debates of state because of his age and fading mental powers. His marriage stayed strong to the end, and his family admired him, though two of his children were troubled. Churchill used to predict that he would die on the anniversary of his father’s death, January 24, and that was indeed the date in 1965 when he passed away in London. He was always haunted by his father’s failed life: Lord Randolph was a man of great promise who had died riddled with disease at the young age of 45. Winston regretted that Lord Randolph didn’t live to see how much his son would accomplish. Even in old age, Winston Churchill couldn’t get over his father’s refusal to think that he would amount to much.

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Churchill’s Noblest Ambition In everything he did, Churchill’s noblest ambition was to make the world a place where freedom was the essential quality in life. He hated Hitler because, first and foremost, the Nazis were a direct threat to freedom everywhere they went. Since Churchill’s death in 1965, his reputation has waxed and waned in Britain, but it has soared in the United States. The main society promoting Churchill’s legacy—the International Churchill Society—is now located in the heart of the nation’s capital. Many decades after his death, Churchill remains a recognizable figure even for millions who know little of his accomplishments, in part because his bulldog image of defiance is so memorable, but also because his actions and words convey a theatrical quality that still entertains and intrigues. More than anything else, the legacy of Churchill’s language has kept him alive in the minds of millions around the world who continue to find his wartime speeches inspiring, his political wisdom convincing, and his personal wit endearing.

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A Suicide Note For much of his political career, Winston Churchill kept with him the suicide note of prisoner Edward Woodcock. Early in his career, Churchill reprieved Woodcock—a condemned murderer—from execution. Woodcock, however, committed suicide and wrote that he preferred death to life in prison. Churchill read from Woodcock’s suicide note in the House of Commons on July 15, 1948. He was sharing an image that filled him with a particularly intense dread: the hopeless man with nowhere to run. It spoke to the value Churchill placed on freedom.

The change that Churchill started in the world was one that created both a better order and also one that was less stable. The change allowed Western freedoms to survive, yet it left other parts of the globe to struggle with the rise and fall of Soviet power, and then with a long series of conflicts that have descended into war, chaos, and tyranny as various ideologies clash with individual liberty. Despite the debates that still cast parts of his career into doubt, Churchill’s most enduring legacy is not tied even to his crucial part in crushing Nazism. It is anchored instead in something deeply personal and timeless: his individual stance as a champion of freedom when the world was at a tipping point between darkness and light.

Questions to Consider 1. Why would the work of Wernher von Braun have posed such a threat to the world if the Third Reich had survived into the 1950s? 2. What can we learn about Churchill from the fact that he placed so much importance on a suicide note from an obscure Edwardian murderer whom he never met?

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Lectures 19-24

1. In 1944, Churchill tried but failed to gain Allied support for supplying resistance fighters in the city of _____________________. (L19) 2. In July of 1945, Churchill’s government was voted out of power. He was replaced as prime minister by _______________________, head of the _________________ Party. (L20) 3. Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain speech was delivered at Westminster College in the state of _______________________. (L21) 4. After returning to power in 1951, Churchill was gradually able to end _______________, which under the previous government had included even soap. (L23) 5. In a 1947 story, Churchill relates a dream in which ______________________ says to him: “You might have done a lot to help. You might even have made a name for yourself.” (L24)

See page 169 for answers

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———. The War Years: 1939–1945. Ed. Nigel Nicolson. New York: Athenaeum, 1967. Reynolds, David. In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing the Second World War. New York: Basic Books, 2007. Seaman, L. C. B. Post-Victorian Britain: 1902–1951. London: Routledge, 2006 (1966). Sebba, Anne. American Jennie: The Remarkable Life of Lady Randolph Churchill. New York: W. W. Norton, 2007. Shelden, Michael. Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2013. Sherwood, Robert E. Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1950. Smith, Christopher. Supermarine: An Illustrated History. Stroud (UK): Amberley, 2016. Snyder, Timothy. Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin. New York: Basic Books, 2010. Tuchman, Barbara W. The Guns of August. New York: Ballantine, 1994 [1962]. Weinberg, Gerhard L. A World at Arms: A Global History of World War II. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994. Winston Churchill in the Twenty-First Century. Eds. David Cannadine and Roland Quinault. Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press and the Royal Historical Society, 2004. Wright, Patrick. Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine. New York: Penguin, 2003.

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Answer Key Lectures 1-6 1. Churchill was born at Blenheim Palace, principal residence of the dukes of Marlborough. (L2) 2. Churchill made an early reputation for himself by mounting a daring escape from captivity during the Boer War. (L2) 3. In 1904, Churchill crossed the floor of Parliament to join the Liberal Party. (L3) 4. Daughter of a prime minister, Violet Asquith helped promote Churchill’s career under her father and remained close to Churchill for decades. (L3) 5. As home secretary, Churchill drew on his practical experience with firearms to advise the London police who were confronting Russian anarchists armed with Mausers during the Siege of Sidney Street. (L3) 6. As first lord of the Admiralty, Churchill originated the idea for the disastrous 1915 campaign against Turkish forces in the Dardanelles (or Gallipoli). (L5) 7. After World War I, Churchill served as war secretary under Prime Minister David Lloyd George. (L6)

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Lectures 7-12 1. Churchill’s six-volume account of World War I is entitled The World Crisis. (L6) 2. Churchill once said wryly: “Everybody said that I was the worst chancellor of the Exchequer that ever was. And now I’m inclined to agree with them. So now the world’s unanimous.” (L7) 3. Arguing that “the bomber will always get through,” this “safety-first” politician pressed for disarmament in the 1930s: Stanley Baldwin. (L8) 4. In his book Great Contemporaries, Churchill includes an essay on Joseph Chamberlain, whose son became prime minister the year the book was published. (L9) 5. The company Supermarine developed the legendary Spitfire, based on the aerodynamic designs of its racing seaplanes. (L10) 6. In a 1938 speech, Neville Chamberlain proclaimed: “Under the new system of guarantees, the new Czechoslovakia will find a greater security than she has ever enjoyed in the past.” (L11) 7. Visiting France in August of 1939, Churchill expressed concern about gaps in the Maginot Line near the Ardennes forest. (L12) 8. In a radio broadcast early in World War II, Churchill referred to Russia as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” (L12)

 Lectures 13-18 1. In May of 1940, Lord Halifax argued forcefully for using the assistance of Mussolini to negotiate peace terms with Hitler. (L13)

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2. In his famous statement, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few,” Churchill was paying tribute to the Royal Air Force. (L14) 3. The sinking of the German ship Bismarck in May of 1941 proved to be a major boost in morale for Great Britain. (L15) 4. Churchill once remarked: “No lover ever studied every whim of his mistress as I did those of President Roosevelt (FDR).” (L16) 5. Churchill referred to the code breakers at Bletchley Park as “the geese that laid the golden eggs.” (L18)

Lectures 19-24 1. In 1944, Churchill tried but failed to gain Allied support for supplying resistance fighters in the city of Warsaw. (L19) 2. In July of 1945, Churchill’s government was voted out of power. He was replaced as prime minister by Clement Attlee, head of the Labour Party. (L20) 3. Churchill’s famous Iron Curtain speech was delivered at Westminster College in the state of Missouri. (L21) 4. After returning to power in 1951, Churchill was gradually able to end rationing, which under the previous government had included even soap. (L23) 5. In a 1947 story, Churchill relates a dream in which his father (Lord Randolph)  says to him: “You might have done a lot to help. You might even have made a name for yourself.” (L24)

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