A more unexpected ally had already been found in the form of the Soviet Union: an uncomfortable ally, certainly, but Churchill couldn’t afford to be choosy and realized the necessity of the relationship. When Hitler invaded Russia on 22 June 1941, Germany had unwittingly played into the hands of the Allies. Churchill seized on the advantage. And so the ‘grand alliance’ – of ‘The Big Three’ – was established.
Churchill felt strongly that Britain had a key role to play in world politics; it was ‘the only country in the world which had an important interest in all ‘three great circles among the free nations and democracies’ (the Commonwealth, the English-speaking world and Europe). He believed he could help Britain play its role in all three and this was one of the main reasons why he refused to retire. He continued to exert his influence and express his views about the need for a new approach to diplomacy in the face of post-war reality.
I am now going to say something that will astonish you. The first step in the recreation of the European family must be the partnership between France and Germany.
Churchill, 19 September 1946, ‘The Tragedy of Europe’
Churchill’s speech at Fulton in 1946 was followed by a similarly important speech on the state of Europe later that year. Churchill’s power, influence and prestige internationally meant that his speeches were taken seriously and widely reported, and he became regarded as a leading figure in the European movement. But he wasn’t, as some have said, a committed ‘European’; he always felt that Britain should not be subsumed within a federal Europe. He always remained a British nationalist. His speeches must also be seen in the context of the time.
In November 1945, Churchill was invited to give one of a series of annual lectures at Westminster College, Fulton, Missouri. The letter of invitation was annotated by President Truman who offered to introduce Churchill, and therefore guaranteed a high profile event.
From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.
Churchill, 5 March 1946
Churchill’s speech, given on 5 March 1946, was to prove enormously influential. Originally entitled ‘The Sinews of Peace’, it became better known as the ‘Iron Curtain’ speech because of his use of a phrase now in common use. This was Churchill’s first public declaration of the Cold War, in which he warned the western world about the ‘iron curtain’ that was descending over Europe, drawn down by the Russians, and called for greater Anglo-US cooperation, in what he called a ‘special relationship’, in the battle against Soviet expansionism. Click here to see Churchill give this speech in the presence of US President Harry S. Truman.
The summer of 1940 was, as Churchill called it, Britain’s ‘finest hour’. It was also his. When the German armies conquered France, Britain found itself in the line of attack. With German U-boats patrolling the seas and soon to have bases on the Atlantic, and German bombers marshalling on the coast of France, Britain faced its first serious threat of invasion since 1805.
The months of June, July, August and September were to prove Churchill’s moment of ‘Destiny’. For more background information, see the Imperial War Museum’s material on 1940.
I felt as if I were walking with Destiny, and that all my past life had been but a preparation for this hour and for this trial.
Churchill, The Second World War
Many found it difficult to see how Britain could avoid being defeated. Victory seemed impossible. But Churchill was passionately opposed to negotiating with Hitler. The War Cabinet did consider a compromise peace – or at least the offer of mediation, by Italy, between Germany and the allies – but Churchill argued strongly against this. He was convinced that Hitler would renege on any promises or agreement, just as he had done back in 1938.
After failing to defeat the RAF in the Battle of Britain, the Luftwaffe turned to night bombing raids against London and other British cities. The ‘Blitz’, as it became known, aimed to disrupt production and break morale. London was the main target and suffered the heaviest bombing but, by the end of the war, there was hardly a large city or town in Britain that had not come under attack.
As the winter wore on, the air raids became heavier. But the repeated heavy raids would not crush the morale of the British people. The ‘Blitz’ spirit kept them going. And Churchill played his part in keeping up morale. He made sure he was frequently in the public eye, constantly travelling around the country, visiting ammunition factories, shipyards, the troops.
Despite Churchill’s visits to Paris to stiffen French resolve, his attempts proved futile as the German blitzkrieg shattered the French resistance and drove the British Expeditionary Force back to the Channel ports. A pause in the German attacks between 27 May and 4 June allowed the evacuation of over three hundred thousand British and French troops from the beaches at Dunkirk – turning what was in reality a colossal military disaster into what came to be seen as a success; the saving of lives by the ‘little ships’ (fishing boats, pleasure craft, lifeboats) that ferried men to the destroyers waiting offshore.
For more on Dunkirk, and a collection of personal accounts from some of those who took part in the mass evacuation, see the BBC’s Archives.
We must be careful not to assign to this deliverance the attributes of a victory. Wars are not won by evacuations.
Churchill, speech of 4 June 1940
In 1951, Churchill finally avenged that devastating defeat of 1945 and was back in Downing Street. He was nearly seventy-seven. During this second period as Prime Minister, what he later referred to as ‘several years of quiet steady administration’, Churchill devoted much of his energy to foreign affairs; to Cold War issues, strengthening Anglo-American relations (that ‘special relationship’) and to retaining Britain’s position as a global power.
I want so much to lead the Conservatives back to victory. I know I am worth a million votes to them.
Quoted in Churchill, Michael Wardell, ‘Churchill’s Dagger: A Memoir of La Capponcina’, Finest Hour 87, Summer 1995
He didn’t do much in the way of domestic policy-making – stating once that the government’s priorities were ‘houses and meat and not being scuppered’ (John Colville, 22–23 March 1952).
Churchill didn’t enjoy being in opposition after 1945 and he didn’t attend the House of Commons very often, leaving the day-to-day party management to others. He didn’t seem particularly interested in economic issues, and the Conservatives came to seem increasingly out of step with the drive towards welfare and reconstruction.
In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, then, he ‘looked like a dinosaur at a light engineering exhibition’ (Aneurin Bevan, ‘History’s Impresario’). Vulnerable at home, unable to influence policy (and generally unwilling to), Churchill played to his strengths. He knew that he had the most to offer in his role as the great elder statesman who had ‘won the War’, and for the second time in his career, he turned his attentions abroad – and to the US.
The best that can be said for Churchill as leader of the Conservative Party is that he exercised a vague but olympian authority and kept the show on the road.
Paul Addison, review of Gilbert, Never Despair
Phase One of the Global Leadership Programme culminated with the publication of sixteen panel reports by international experts. The reports span geopolitics, business and finance, the sciences, society and faith, and explore the challenges facing leaders today and the skills needed for effective leadership in the modern world.
The reports were launched and debated in front of an audience at the iconic Churchill War Rooms in London. Watch videos of the panel debates below and read coverage across the British media.
On 2 June 1953, following the death of her father, George VI, the young Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England, the occasion filmed by television cameras – against Churchill’s wishes. He felt the Queen would find it a strain and that ‘[i]t would be unfitting that the whole ceremony … should be presented as if it were a theatrical performance’ (speech to House of Commons).
The future queen insisted and the filming went ahead. Churchill became a Knight of the Garter, becoming Sir Winston Churchill in April 1953 in time for the Coronation. He’d refused the honour when offered it by George VI after his election defeat in 1945, famously saying (but not to the king): ‘How can I accept the Order of the Garter, when the people of England have just given me the Order of the Boot?’.
On 18 June, Churchill warned the British people that the ‘battle of France’ was over and the ‘battle of Britain’ was about to begin. His words were proved right. As early summer gave way to July and August, the threat of invasion loomed over Britain.
If this long island story of ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies, choking in his own blood upon the ground.
Churchill, as quoted in Hugh Dalton’s Second World War Diary, entry for 28 May 1940
Churchill, seeing that control of the skies was vital, put businessman Lord Beaverbrook in charge of Aircraft Production (as Minister) and encouraged British scientists to improve radar defences and counter German technology. In August, the Royal Air Force managed to inflict heavy casualties on the German Luftwaffe and, in September, the German pilots transferred their attention from the coastal airfields and those in south-west England to London, allowing the fighter bases respite from attack but putting British people in the city at much greater risk. In early September a massive series of raids involving nearly four hundred German bombers and more than six hundred fighters targeted docks in London’s East End almost continuously, day and night.
On 24 August, German night bombers aiming for the airfields accidentally destroyed several London homes due to a navigation error, killing civilians. Churchill retaliated immediately by bombing Berlin the following night.
Starting on 7 September 1940, London was bombed by the Luftwaffe for 57 consecutive nights, and other British cities were targeted. But a real turning point in Britain’s fortunes in the war occurred on 15 September.
In an attempt to shatter British morale, now that an invasion began to seem increasingly unrealistic, Hitler sent two enormous waves of German bombers. But their attacks were scattered by the RAF; the German defeat caused Hitler to order, two days later, the postponement of preparations for the invasion. In the face of mounting losses of men and aircraft, the Luftwaffe switched from daylight to night-time bombing and although fighting continued in the air for several more weeks, and British cities continued to be bombed, German tactics to achieve air superiority ahead of an invasion had failed.
After Germany’s surrender in May 1945, Churchill wanted his wartime coalition government to continue until the defeat of Japan which wasn’t anticipated for another year at least. But Labour and the majority of the Liberals refused and pulled out of the coalition. Churchill headed a Conservative ‘caretaker’ government for a brief period until Parliament was dissolved and the first general election for ten years was held.
I must tell you that in spite of all our victories a rough road lies ahead. What a shame it would be, and what a folly, to add to our load the bitter quarrels with which the extreme socialists are eager to convulse and exploit these critical years. For the sake of the country and of your own happiness I call upon you to march with me under the banner of freedom towards the beacon lights of national prosperity and honour which must ever be our guide.
Churchill, 21 June 1945
For much of the war, Churchill lived not at 10 Downing Street, the residence of the Prime Minister, but in ‘the Annexe’, a building nearby in Whitehall. Underneath this, were the Cabinet War Rooms (now a museum called the Churchill War Rooms) – a ‘bunker’ – where he and his government were protected from the worst the German bombers could rain down on London.
He spent a lot of his time here in meetings (although he only ever slept in the bedroom on three occasions), and ran it on ‘Winston time’; colleagues were expected to adapt to his way of working, staying up late at night to respond to his demands for updates on the war situation, analyzing reports and taking instructions (often with ‘Action this Day’ labels attached).
The Møller Centre’s building upgrade and expansion project was officially opened last week by Ms. Ane Mærsk Mc-Kinney Uggla, Chair of The A.P.Møller and Chastine Mc-Kinney Møller Foundation Board, vice-chair of global conglomerate Mærsk and daughter of The Møller Centre’s founder, Mr Mærsk Mc-Kinney Møller.
To mark the occasion, senior business leaders from Cambridge and across the UK contributed to a Practical Leadership Symposium in The Møller Centre’s new collaborative learning space. Twenty-six CEOs and senior leaders from UK companies including Adnams, Babraham Bioscience Technologies, Bidwells, Dixons Carphone, Daily Mail and General Trust Plc, EY, Lloyds Bank, Marshall of Cambridge, Mills & Reeve, Red Gate Software, St John’s Innovation Centre, TWI and Xaar took part. The event began with Ane Mærsk Mc-Kinney Uggla delivering an inspirational keynote explaining the importance of core values in supporting leaders and global organisations to adapt and thrive in the 21st Century.