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1931: One Year, Two Auto Accidents that Could Have Changed the World

Winston Churchill and Adolf Hitler were each in auto accidents in 1931. Either one of which could have changed the fate of the world.

A preview from Finest Hour 155

Winston_Churchill_steps_off_his_airplane_at_Gatow_Airport_in_Berlin_Germany_15July1945Churchill steps on his plane in Berlin, 15 July 1945 for the Potsdam Conference.NEW YORK, 2 April 2012—Churchill’s near-death accident when he was hit by a car in New York City in 1931 is well known, not least through his own writing about it. (“My New York Misadventure,” Finest Hour 136, Autumn 2007). Far less known is that Hitler was also nearly killed by a car the very same year, in Munich. On what slender threads the fate of nations turns!

Ed Smith, in his book Luck, quotes the late baron and racehorse owner John Scott-Ellis, whose red Fiat almost mowed down the future Führer in the Bavarian capital: “For a few seconds, perhaps, I held the history of Europe in my rather clumsy hands….[Hitler] was only shaken up, but had I killed him, it would have changed the history of the world.”

—Simon Kennedy in the San Francisco Chronicle


After the accident, Churchill asks his science advisor Prof Lindemann, “to calculate the precise force of the impact.” Follow this link to read Lindemann’s reply via telegram on 30 December 1931, which includes teasing about Churchill’s weight “cushioning the impact.”

From Finest Hour 154, Spring 2012

“Would the next two decades have been the same had the automobile that hit him killed Winston Churchill in 1931, and the bullet that missed him killed Franklin Roosevelt in 1933? Would Neville Chamberlain or Lord Halifax have rallied Britain in 1940? Would John Garner have produced the New Deal and the Four Freedoms? Suppose in addition that Lenin had died of typhus in Siberia in 1895, and Hitler had been killed on the western front in 1916? Would the 20th century have looked the same? Individuals do make a difference in history.”

—Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., 1995 International Churchill Conference, Boston

For more information: Follow this link to view an original copy of the news article in The Canberra Times (Australia) from 24 December 1931 and this link will take you to a 2010 auction of a collection of documents relating to the accident. 

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