Winston Churchill became Prime Minister on May 10th 1940.
His many previous experiences within the political aspect of society, contributed to his great success as Prime Minister, however there are many people that would criticise Churchill and condemn him. Throughout his career, there were many quotes made by people to describe him. These include;”The largest human being of our time” and “Britain’s greatest wartime leader”. However the most controversial is said to be, “The Man who saved western civilisation”Churchill began his political career by becoming a Member of Parliament for the Conservative Party and after three years changed his side to the Liberal Party. He asserted himself as President of the Board of trade from 1908 to 1910. He was immediately successful within this position, setting up labour exchanges that helped people who were out of work to find jobs.
This reduced the number of unemployed and led him to his next position as Home Secretary, 1910-1911. Within this post he gained the reputation of being an enemy of the working people due to him sending 300 policeman to South Wales when minors rioted during a strike at Tonypandy. Furthermore, he went on to become First Lord of the Admiralty, 1911-1915. This was seen to be both a successful and unsuccessful move.
Although he modernised the Royal navy with new battleships and a naval air service to ensure they were ready when the First World War began, he planned an attack on Gallipoli, using the navy, which failed. This was seen to be his biggest failure as 200,000 soldiers were killed or wounded. Churchill was blamed for this disaster and consequently moved to a less important position in the government, Minister for Munitions and then onto Secretary for War and Air from 1918-1920. This post awarded him favorable publicity by bringing millions of soldiers home at the end of the war, and returning them to civilian life. However this was soon to be lost by an unsuccessful war plan in which he sent British troops to Russia to help enemies of the communists (Churchill was anti-Communist) during the Russian revolution. They took over a few towns but never fought the communists in battle.
The troops were brought back to Britain a year later after achieving nothing.In 1922 Churchill was beaten in an election and subsequently forced to leave Parliament and his government job. He was soon back standing as an independent candidate, and then won the by-election, rejoining the Conservative Party. He became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1924 which requiring him to look after the nation’s finances. Yet again he failed in this position by putting the British pound back on the ‘gold standard’. He gave the pound a fixed value against other currencies, however it was too high. This weakened an already weak economy and millions of workers came out on a General Strike in 1926. This strike reminded people of his previous actions in South Wales and added to his reputation as an enemy of ordinary working people.
In the general election of 1929, the Conservative Party lost and Labour took power, compelling Churchill out of government. He spent the next ten years as an ordinary MP, making speeches and writing for the newspapers. These were known as his Wilderness Years and he built his character up this way by proving to be a solicited orator.
By March 1940, Churchill had regained a higher status within the government by becoming a member of Chamberlains War Cabinet. Churchill came up with the Norway Plan, which was drawn up to help Finland fight the Soviet Army and simultaneously stop Germany building up their armaments by preventing them from getting iron ore. Although the plan failed, Churchill wasn’t the one blamed but Chamberlain was condemned. This was down to previous mistakes, starting with his policy of appeasement towards Hitler. He gave in to Hitler’s demands in return of the assurance that Hitler would not take any more land from other countries, this was soon broken when the German Army invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia. These failures caused a loss of support from many of his fellow MP’s causing him to resign from his post and allowing an open space, which Churchill soon filled.Churchill instantaneously faced a challenging crisis. 2.
5 million German soldiers had attacked Holland and Belgium, and three days later invaded France, Britain’s main ally. On the 13th may he made a speech to parliament, telling MP’s what he planned to do as Prime Minister.”I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat..
.”The British public was thrilled and inspired by his speech. He was offering the exact opposite of Chamberlain’s policy. Instead of blockading Germany in a ‘phoney war’, Britain would now fight Germany head on-and win. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) was sent out to help France and join up with their army however Churchill soon realised that this would be impossible due to their limited armaments. He ordered the army to return to Britain but it meant bringing half a million men across the Channel, being chased by Germans. Churchill was not expecting the order to succeed. When the BEF reached the Channel coast at Dunkirk, the Royal Navy organised a huge rescue operation.
Between 26th may and 4th June, 865 boats rescued 215,587 British soldiers and 127,031 French soldiers from the beaches at Dunkirk. Although it wasn’t a victory due to the loss of warships, planes, guns and tanks, it was a wonderful achievement as 330,000 men had been saved. The British people recognised this accomplishment and undoubtedly saw him as an inspirational wartime leader.
His pugnacity and rousing speeches rallied the nation to continue the fight after the fall of France and the Evacuation of Dunkirk. As a result, millions of ordinary men and women soon came to feel they were involved in a ‘people’s war’ to save their country from invasion. Churchill strengthened this feeling of unity with posters and speeches.”Come then, let us go forward together with our united strength.”The first stage of their invasion began in mid-July 1940. The German Air Force had been ordered to destroy Britain’s Royal Air Force so that the ships bringing German forces across the Channel would be safe from air attack.
Throughout the summer of 1940 German and British fighter pilots fought each other in the skies above southern England. It was known as ‘The battle of Britain’. The end of the summer caused great concern as the RAF airfields were badly damaged and several pilots had been killed. Then, on the 7th September came an unexpected turnaround. The Germans had stopped attacking the airfields and started “The Blitz”; this meant dropping bombs on London and other major cities in revenge of the British bombing raids on Berlin. The RAF had the chance to recover its strength and keep control of air space over Britain, therefore Hitler had to abort his invasion plan.Despite the fact that Britain was close to defeat, public opinion polls showed that Churchill was more popular than any Prime Minister before him was. The people believed that Churchill was well suited to lead the country in wartime because of his past record in the First World War.
They preached him to be “one for war and not peace” and subsequently “…a match for Hitler.” Churchill also gained popularity from images created by the newspapers and radio. There was a distinctive representation of him smoking a fat cigar and two fingers in the air, giving his sign of Victory. Likewise, Churchill often stepped out in public to visit factory workers and show sympathy for people whose homes had been damaged by bombs. He was graciously welcomed by all and gained a lot of support from his public outings.
Furthermore, Churchill’s voice created an image that people acknowledged and admired. His many speeches on the radio enabled 70% of the population to listen, his most famous being made on 4th June 1940 after the Evacuation of Dunkirk.”We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shallfight on the beaches…
we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender”Britain was by now the only country still fighting Germany. Its only ally, France, had previously surrendered so Churchill looked for new allies. The country he most wanted as an ally was the United States of America. Churchill tried to persuade its President, Franklin Roosevelt, to join the war. Although many Americans respected the way Britain was standing up to Germany and wanted to help, they preferred to keep out of the war.
All Roosevelt could do was give Britain aid in the form of weapons and naval assistance. Churchill saw the great need for American support so he traveled there to deliver his renowned speeches to the public and the congress. This led to the ‘lend-lease’ plan being drawn up and the ‘Atlantic Charter’ being signed.Churchill was classed as a ‘workaholic’ and soon suffered a heart attack.
Instead of resting like we would usually expect, he was back working after 3 days. His ‘workaholic’ nature was expected to be followed by his employees.By the end of 1941 the USA had finally joined the war because of an attack made by Japan on Pearl harbor, a US naval base in the Pacific Ocean. Roosevelt declared war on Japan and as they were an ally of Germany, the USA subsequently went to war with Germany. Britain now had its other ally.
Churchill also gained another valuable ally in mid 1941 when German forces invaded the Soviet Union. We knew that Churchill disliked the communist society, however he had to forget this and concentrate on defeating the German army. Therefore, he promised the Soviet leader, Stalin, that Britain would help them fight the German invaders.
By 1942, Churchill’s leadership was being questioned as Britain was losing half its convoy to German U-boats. Japanese forces had also attacked the British military base in Singapore and 150,000 British Empire troops were taken prisoner. It was seen as Britain’s worst military disaster. His position was also being challenged because of the war in Africa.The German Afrika Korps in North Africa had previously attacked the British army that was based in Egypt. General Rommel led them and in 1942, the new leader of the British forces forced Rommel to retreat. Hitler, determined not to be beaten, sent in more men and equipment and by May 1942, Rommel broke the British defenses and took 30,000 prisoners.
The majority of the country was dis-satisfied, public opinion was turning against Churchill and MP’s criticised him. Churchill knew he must produce a victory to silence his critics.In 1942 Churchill visited Russia for his first ever meeting with Stalin.
Although the relationship was “rusty”, Churchill recognised the need to keep the Russians on their side and keep support. They had established an equal amount of importance within their allied partnership and now desired some quick victories. With the German defeat in hand, Stalin wanted the British and American troops to invade Western Europe, as it was still unoccupied, however the countries weren’t ready. Instead Churchill persuaded them that they should invade northwest Africa, with General Eisenhower in command.With the morale of soldiers low in Africa, Churchill decided to fly to Egypt where the British army was in retreat from the German’s. His aim was to make his famous speeches and thus boost morale.
On his arrival he sacked the army commander, General Eisenhower, and put General Sir Bernard Montgomery in command of the eighth army. Montgomery steadily built up his forces until the 8th army had 230,000 soldiers against Rommel’s 80,000; 1,000 tanks to Rommel’s 500; 1,500 aircraft’s to Rommel’s 350. Then on the 23rd of October 1942, Montgomery launched his attack on El Alamein.It was not until 4th November that British tanks broke through Rommel’s lines, captured 20,000 prisoners and started to chase the rest of his forces into Libya. Churchill’s visit and change in tactics had resulted in a well-earned victory.
Triumph was celebrated throughout the country and it brought higher morale to the British public. Faith in Churchill was restored as psychologically, Rommel and his troops were seen to be invincible. This victory proved the British could beat them.”Is this the beginning of the end?”This quote supports the above point as Churchill saw the victory as something that can be repeated by the British Army. The public also had the opinion that if they can do it once, they can do it again. Proving that this conquest will be something to begin and end all others.
The achievements of the War Cabinet were also still to be recognised. Clement Atlee was Churchill’s ‘right hand man’ and their mutual partnership helped to make Churchill successful. Atlee was said to be the ‘behind the scenes manager’ whereas Churchill was the front man.
“On the home front, Churchill’s presence was vital to encouragethe public to keep going and fight on”So in the May of 1943, Churchill visited America and made plans for D-day and The Atomic Bomb (done in secret) His public support was high again, faith was quickly being restored.With the allied forces in control of North Africa, Churchill saw the opportunity to invade Italy. Half million-allied soldiers landed on Sicily in July 1943 yet the Italians proved hard to defeat. Huge numbers of German soldiers were sent to fight the allies but Sicily, Sardinia, Corsica and 1/3 Italy were captured and taken over by the British/American troops. Italy then surrendered on September 8th causing Germany to lose an ally.
Germany also suffered their biggest defeat since El Alemein at Stalingrad in Russia 160,000 German soldiers were killed and 90,000 were captured as prisoners of war. Although Russia was defeating Germany, Churchill still feared Stalin would make peace with Hitler. Churchill intended to ‘butter up’ Stalin as he recognised the necessity for Russia to stay in the war. Keeping Stalin ‘sweet’ led to his position within the Big three increasing. By the end of 1943, the shift in position was clearly noticeable. Churchill was merely a junior partner now.
If Russia was to continue in the war, it was established that they would want something in return such as Poland and other countries in Central/eastern Europe. Tension within the Big three began as Churchill was aware of the potential dangers he would face if Russia were to move into Europe.By the beginning of 1944, Churchill had contracted pneumonia but because of his will power and determination he insisted on working. He was making plans for D-Day.Churchill was a great strategist because of his previous experiences as a soldier. He would question his chiefs on their opinions about D-Day, however he would never overrule them. Nonetheless, D-Day was a success.
It began on June 6th 1944, when 156,000 British Canadian and US troops, supported by 8,000 ships and 13,00 aircraft’s, landed in Normandy in Northern France. After heavy fighting in which 10,000 allied forces died, the Germans were forced to retreat and the British/American troops slowly wore down the German defenses with massive air and land attacks. The German lines were finally broken by the end of July 1944.In October 1944 Churchill made his second visit to Moscow. He talked to Stalin about control of central Europe after the war.
Churchill wrote down all his ideas on a single sheet of paper, known as the “Naughty Document” It stated his fears over central Europe as he knew Britain was powerless in stopping Stalin from taking over. His interest now was maintaining control over Greece because of the Mediterranean access. Churchill went to Greece in December 1944 to make sure there was no communist government and make a speech against them.
There was an attempted assassination however it didn’t hold Churchill back and he sent supplies to help the democrats in the Greek civil war. The Russians didn’t interfere and the communists were defeated, proving another success for Churchill.Winston Churchill became so important as Prime Minister for Britain between 1940 and 1945 because he maintained morale during the war, providing confidence, optimism and enthusiasm for the whole five years. He was closely involved in several of his own commands, standing at the forefront during D-Day and maintaining his public image of a calm and confident leader who put the needs of the nation first. He frequently journeyed oversea, meeting with allied leaders and British troops to make remarkable speeches that would astound his listeners.
His speeches on the radio were of great importance, often passionate and it was agreed that they were just what was needed to boost morale at the time.His defiance and inspiration provided hope and comfort for both the British public and the soldiers out at war, always mindful and grateful for the sacrifices made by the British civilians and military. Although Churchill was a strong and energetic leader, critics argue that his repugnance for social and economic reforms during the war alienated him from his British public. However, it is agreed that his death in 1965 marked the end of an era in British history where he will be particularly remembered for his courageous stand as Prime Minister between the years of 1940 and 1945. He was most definitely the right sort of leader to guide Britain to victory.