Churchill Key Idea 3


3.1: Why Churchill became Prime Minister

  • Criticised appeasement as "peace with dishonour".
  • He had wartime leadership experience, for example he was First Lord of the Admiralty in WW1.
  • He had knowledge of fighting - he had served in India in 1896, and was captured and escaped in the Boer War in 1899.
  • HOWEVER he had made serious military misjudgements, had uneasy relations with his own party and the opposition, and the alternative choices (e.g. Halifax) had respect.
  • Norway Campaign 1940: Churchill's plans to divert German ships out of neutral waters failed when Germany invaded, provoking Britain and the Allies to do the same, but the British troops were evacuated. Churchill then managed to pass the blame on to Chamberlain by claiming he had not had enough of a free reign.
  • Churchill took the credit for rescuing 300 Allied prisoners from the Altmark in February 1940 and sinking the German battleship Admiral Graf Spee.
  • Impressive oratorical skills.
  • Only colourful character in the government.
  • Halifax was the first choice as he was popular with King George VI, Labour and the Liberals, however he refused to stand due to his position in the House of Lords.
  • He had the support of Halifax and Chamberlain when he was called for by the King in 1940.
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3.2: 1940 Stance and style of leadership

  • France was invaded and overrun in the summer of 1940.
  • Evacuation of Dunkirk May 1940.
  • Possible invasion by Germany, also threats from Italy and Japan.
  • Churchill was often rude, demanding and impatient, but also hard-working.
  • His oratory skills united the nation and government - "blood, toil, tears and sweat", "never surrender".
  • His blind faith ensured that he would never reach a deal with Hitler.
  • HOWEVER his speeches were often made to the Commons only and then repeated, and he made no speeches between the 14th July and 11th September 1940.
  • He later became a symbol of victory - his walkabouts, the Home Guard, V for Victory, etc.
  • HOWEVER he did consider negotiations with Mussolini but Roosevelt was uninterested.
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3.3: His Generals/Mediterranean Strategy

  • Was Minister of Defence and also a member of the Defence Committee.
  • Feared an invasion of France would lead to bloodshed (like Somme) and trench warfare, and so persuaded Roosevelt of invading via Europe's "soft underbelly" (Italy) until failure in 1943.
  • Wanted to avoid handing over the responsibility for war to military experts.
  • Churchill blamed his Generals when German reinforcements under Rommel's brilliant leadership reversed the British victories in North Africa.
  • Churchill took a leading role in making strategic decisions and appointments, and could have been viewed as interfering.
  • Churchill replaced Auchinleck with Montgomery in Africa, who then defeated the Germans at El Alamein in October 1942.
  • Churchill was against Dunkirk evacuation but Gort went ahead regardless, when Churchill tried to send a second British Expeditionary Force to France, Brooke had to argue against it.
  • When the French fleet was sunk in July 1940, many naval officers opposed it as they thought negotiation would work, but it arguably sent a powerful message to the US.
  • Wavell and his replacement Auchinleck were found to be too cautious, resulting in Montgomery replacing him.
  • Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff - Dilly Dally, replaced by Brooke despite often disagreeing with Churchill. Kept extensive, emotive, authentic diaries. Churchill "admired and despised".
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3.4: Bombing of Germany/war in Europe

  • Mainland Europe attacked via Sicily in 1943 (Mediterranean Strategy).
  • Bombing campaigns against Germany resulted in near destruction of Dresden (Feb 1945), Berlin and Hamburg.
  • No western front until June 1944 despite persistent requests from Stalin.
  • Churchill wanted Brooke to be Supreme Allied Commander of Operation Overlord (the invasion of France) but it was decided to be the American General Eisenhower.
  • Churchill's delay in invading France arguably allowed the Germans to build up their defences.
  • Bomber Command was led by Sir Arthur Harris who believed in "Total War", the policy of targeting both civilian and military targets in order to affect morale.
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3.5: Churchill's plans for reconstruction

  • Despite opposition, Churchill did not adopt the 1942 Beveridge Report which claimed that poverty could be ended with social insurance, calling Beveridge a wind-bag.
  • Showed little interest in post war domestic planning and delegated reconstruction plans to a committee.
  • Implemented the conservative Butler Education Act 1944 which gave unequal pay to men and women.
  • The 1944 Town and Country Planning Act allowed compulsory purchase and rebuild of bomb sites.
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3.6: Reasons for loss of 1945 election

  • Labour's popular campaign "Let us face the future".
  • Attlee had been deputy PM and other leading Labour figures were in the Cabinet.
  • The Conservatives' pre-war domestic record.
  • The war had changed the people who now demanded more, whereas Churchill was the same.
  • Conservatives had been losing by-elections since 1942.
  • Churchill expected to be re-elected as a thanks for winning the war, similarly to 1918, however after 1918 "Homes fit for Heroes" promise was not fulfilled.
  • 1945 campaign focus was his war record and he did not commit to an employment policy.
  • Churchill compared Labour to the Gestapo and focused on the Red Menace.
  • He was more focused on winning the war than being a good Prime Minister, travelling 110,000 miles during the war. 
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