March 12, 2015

Concerns about the French Allies

The year ended with what Churchill later called “the war still in its sinister trance” In a Christmas card he told Admiral Dudley Pound that “I have the feeling (which may be corrected at any moment) that the Kaiser’s Germany was a much tougher customer than Nazi Germany.”

“Now the ice will melt; and the Germans are the masters of the North.”

Clementine helped on the home front. Lady Diana Duff Cooper commented that “she makes us all knit jerseys as thick as sheep’s fleeces, for which the minesweepers must bless her.” 

In January Churchill visited the continent where he became concerned about the inferior equipment and lackadaisical attitude of his French allies. He wanted to send troops into Norway but it was pointed out that the Canadians who would be used were not yet trained to fight on skis.

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Lauding the fight of Finland, Churchill criticized the neutral countries. “Each one hopes that if he feeds the crocodile enough, that the crocodile will eat him last.”  The reaction in Norway, Holland, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland and Belgium was often hostile. Criticism, however, did not dissuade him. “Criticism in a body politic is like pain in a human body. It is not pleasant, but where would the body be without it.”

At a luncheon in his honour in late February he pledged himself loyally to serve the “Captain” for the duration of the voyage and Prime Minister Chamberlain indicated his gratitude. In early March his friend Maxine Elliot died in France. Meanwhile, overwhelmed Finns acquiesced in an imposed treaty with Russia. In the War Cabinet only Hankey shared Churchill’s views for a landing in Norway. An angry Churchill wrote Halifax: “Now the ice will melt; and the Germans are the masters of the North.”

He also had to fight attempts at peace. He told the “peace movement” at home that “the only course was to fight to the finish” and he rejected the efforts of United States Under-Secretary of State, Sumner Welles, to find a peace solution which would not require “the elimination of Herr Hitler.”

In mid-March Hitler met Mussolini at the Brenner Pass and Paul Reynaud succeeded Edouard Daladier as Prime Minister of France. Reynaud and George Mandel were the French politicians closest to Churchill and his fighting spirit.

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