the war leader
During the first nine months of the conflict, Churchill demonstrated that he was, as Admiral Fisher once said, “a man of war.” the chamberlain was not. Consequently, the failures of the Norwegian campaign were blamed on the Pacific Prime Minister rather than the belligerent First Lord, and when the Chamberlain resigned after criticism in the House of Commons, Churchill became leader of a coalition government. The date was May 10, 1940: it was the best time for both Churchill and Great Britain.
when german armies conquered france and britain faced bombing, churchill embodied his country’s will to resist. his oratory turned out to be an inspiration. When asked what exactly Churchill did to win the war, Clement Attlee, the union leader who served in the coalition government, replied: “talk about it.” Churchill talked incessantly, both in private and in public; To the astonishment of his private secretary, Jock Colville, he once spent an entire lunch addressing the jam cat exclusively.
Churchill spent much of his energy trying to persuade President Roosevelt to support him in the war. he wrote copious letters to the president and established a strong personal relationship with him. And he did manage to get American help in the Atlantic, where until 1943 Britain’s lifeline to the New World was always under grave threat from German U-boats.
Despite Churchill’s championship of Edward Viii, and despite his habit of being late for meetings with the neurotically punctual King at Buckingham Palace, he managed to establish good relations with George VI and his family. Clementine once said that Winston was the last survivor that she believed in the divine right of kings.
While Churchill was trying to forge an alliance with the United States, Hitler gifted him another powerful ally: the Soviet Union. Despite his intense hatred of communists, Churchill did not hesitate to send aid to Russia and defend Stalin in public. “If Hitler invaded Hell,” he once remarked, “at least he’d make a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”
in december 1941, six months after hitler invaded russia, japan attacked pearl harbor. the war had now gone global. but with the might of america on the side of the allies there could be no doubt about its outcome. Churchill was jubilant, commenting when he heard the news of Pearl Harbor: “So we’ve won after all!”
However, the United States’ entry into the war also caused problems in Churchill; as he said, the only thing worse than fighting a war with allies is fighting a war without them. Early on, despite disasters like the Japanese capture of Singapore in early 1942, Churchill was able to influence the Americans. he persuaded roosevelt to fight germany before japan, and to follow the british strategy of trying to rip the “soft underbelly” of europe in two. This involved the invasions of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, the latter of which proved to have a heavily armored underbelly.
It soon became apparent that Churchill was the smallest of the “big three.” At the Tehran conference in November 1943, he said, the “poor English donkey” was squeezed between the great Russian bear and the mighty American buffalo, but only he knew the way home.
in June 1944 the allies invaded normandy and the americans were clearly in command. general eisenhower swept across northern europe on a broad front. Germany was crushed between this advance and the Russian steamroller. On May 8, 1945, Great Britain accepted the surrender of Germany and celebrated victory on Europe Day. Churchill told a large crowd in Whitehall: “This is your victory.” people were shouting, “no, it’s yours”, and churchill led them in the song of land of hope and glory. That night he broadcast to the nation urging Japan’s defeat and paying homage to the crown.
Churchill received congratulatory telegrams from around the world, and he himself was generous with the applause, writing warmly to General de Gaulle, whom he considered an uncomfortable ally but a bulwark against French communism. but though the victory was widely celebrated throughout great britain, the war in the far east had three more months to go on. the atomic bombing of hiroshima and nagasaki finally ended the global conflict. But at the pinnacle of military victory, Churchill tasted the bitterness of political defeat.