On the evening of Saturday, February 27, 1932, Winston Churchill delivered a lecture at the Murat Theater in Indianapolis. The talk was part of his speaking series of the United States and Canada. Arriving at the Indianapolis train station, Churchill and his daughter, Diana, were met by a delegation of local officials, including the mayor, and received a police escort to the Marott Hotel where they would stay in the city. To a crowd of 1,200 at the Murat Theater that night, Churchill spoke with “assurance and deliberation” as he commented on the theme of Anglo-American cooperation as well as themes of the day, including Prohibition and the London naval treaty.
The February issue (#128) of the Churchill Bulletin: The Newsletter of Winston Churchill has been released. It includes an article announcing the 2019 Churchill Conference to be held in Washington, D.C. as well as pieces on C.S. Lewis and Churchill, Churchill and cigars, and Churchill collectables. The bulletin is available here.
Allen Packwood, the director of the Churchill Archives Centre, recently published How Churchill Waged War: The Most Challenging Decisions of the Second World War. With his unrivaled knowledge of the Churchill papers, he has written a perceptive and penetrating study of Churchill’s decision-making during the war. Allen was interviewed about his new book by this blog.
1) How Churchill Waged War reflects extensive use of primary document collections. Please describe the papers and documents you used in the research for the book.
Naturally, I made extensive use of the Churchill Papers collection: the personal archive of Sir Winston Churchill, comprised in some one million items contained in over two thousand boxes. But I also used many of the Churchill Archives Centre’s related collections: the archives of those who worked with, for and sometimes against Sir Winston. This was also an opportunity for me to explore the contents of other repositories, and in particular to come to grips with the wealth of Churchill material at the UK National Archives.
2) Under Churchill’s leadership, British political, military, and diplomatic decision-making during the Second World War was far more professional than in the Great War. How did Churchill approach his role at the top of the British government?
He approached it with a determination to play a hands- on Chief Executive role. By making himself Minister of Defence, as well as Prime Minister, he ensured that the military Chiefs of Staff were reporting directly to him, and, by combining the political support apparatus of No.10 Downing Street with the War Cabinet secretariat and his own special advisers, he created a powerful central apparatus for delivering his policy of ‘Action This Day’. However, he was also astute enough to realize that he was running a coalition government and needed to take his political colleagues with him in the big decisions, especially as he initially lacked his own powerbase in Westminster.
3) What were Churchill’s most important qualities and shortcomings as a war leader?
He was a combustible mix of energy, determination and eloquence that did not always make him a congenial colleague. He also had a tendency to try and micro manage his military commanders, but he refused to countenance defeat and worked tirelessly to build and maintain the Allied coalition against fascism.
4) Chapter six of the book, “Leadership or Interference,” discusses Churchill’s dismissal of General Auchinleck in 1942. Why did Churchill remove Auchinleck from command?
Churchill believed in taking the fight to the enemy and had come to believe that Auchinleck was too cautious and poor in choosing his subordinates. With the British having been defeated in Norway, France, Greece, Singapore and Hong Kong, he badly needed a victory and doubted Auchinleck’s ability to deliver it. At that moment, in the summer of 1942, he was also desperate to show the Americans and the Russians that Britain could and would fight in the Mediterranean, and to resist what he saw as their premature calls for a Second Front in NW Europe.
5) Over the period of late 1941 and early 1942, the British suffered a series of military disasters and embarrassments (Singapore, Channel Dash). How did Churchill survive the defeats and retain office as prime minister?
He faced two votes of no confidence in the House of Commons in 1942, and though these were easily defeated, they were a sign of growing discontent, which also began to manifest itself in the British press. Churchill showed himself adept at managing parliament, and ultimately restructured his government to head off some of the criticism, bowing to pressure to create a Minister of Production and bringing one of his main rivals, Stafford Cripps, into the War Cabinet. Of course, he famously quipped that there was only one thing worse than having allies!
6) The 1945 election was a severe defeat for Churchill and the Conservatives. Why did Churchill fight the election so aggressively?
Clementine felt that he should have retired while at the height of his fame, but Winston said he was not ready to be put on a pedestal. Once in the campaign, he chose not to sit above the fray but instead to attack his former Labour Party colleagues. He may have been exhausted and preoccupied with the forthcoming Potsdam conference, but this was also a manifestation of his nature – he was a fighter and could not resist going on the offensive.
7) Two of Churchill’s lesser cabinet colleagues during the Second World War were Leo Amery and Duff Cooper. What was Churchill’s relationship with Amery and Cooper?
Churchill had known Amery since Harrow School, where he had famously pushed him into the swimming lake. They had served together as journalists in the Boer War. Similarly, Duff Cooper was someone Churchill had known for much of his political career, and whose resignation over Chamberlain’s Munich policy he had admired. These were friends but often critical ones and also political rivals.
8) How ultimately did Churchill wage the Second World War?
He waged it constantly, tirelessly and often from a position of weakness. He did so by focusing on a policy of victory: by fighting one battle at a time and by doing what seemed best in the moment, regardless of potential future consequences.
9) Are you currently working on another Churchill project?
I would love to write something on how Churchill and Attlee made peace, which has a nice double meaning! But, for the moment at least, my responsibilities as Director of the Churchill Archives Centre must come first.
In their article, “Sir Winston Churchill: Acute Ataxic Stroke in June 1955 with Excellent Recovery,” John W. Scadding and J. Allister Vale (published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine; epub, 2018) conclude that their subject “clearly suffered a further stroke on June 1, 1955.” Churchill suffered from light-headedness and his right hand was “clumsy” and unable to grip items or write very well. His condition quickly improved as he returned to work within a few days on revising the proofs of A History of the English-Speaking Peoples and delivered a speech at the Guildhall three weeks after the stroke. The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine is available here.
John W. Scadding and J. Allister Vale continue their series on Winston Churchill’s illnesses with the article “Sir Winston Churchill: Recovery from an Acute Stroke in June 1953 and Triumph at the Conservative Party Conference in October 1953,” published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine (epub, 2018). A previous article by Scadding and Vale detailed Churchill’s stroke on June 23, 1953 and his recovery until the end of August 1953. The present article considers his continued recovery through to his successful speech at Conservative Party Conference in Margate on October 10, 1953 as well as his resumption of work as prime minister. The authors conclude that “Churchill’s recovery from the stroke, at the age of 78, was indeed remarkable.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine is available here.
Animals played a large role in Winston Churchill’s life, from having dogs as a youth to establishing a racing stable in his later years. He was charmed and fascinated by some of them (most especially butterflies) and repelled by others (notably vultures). The statesman’s animal universe is chronicled in Churchill’s Bestiary: His Life Through Animals by Piers Brendon, author of Winston Churchill: A Brief Life among many other works. Churchill kept animals as pets, hunted them, used them for political and diplomatic ends, and referenced them as metaphors in conversation, speeches, and writings. Among the pets Churchill had in his life were poodles (Rufus, Rufus II), cats (Nelson, Tango), and a parrot (Polly), while Chartwell was a veritable menagerie with cattle, pigs, sheep, fish, and the beloved swans. Despite being a “humane sentimentalist” who was often upset on the death of his pets, Churchill was also a sportsman who regularly hunted. He pursued birds, rabbits, stags, boars, and foxes as well as shot lions and rhinoceroses and always regretted not bagging a tiger while in India. Animal references populated Churchill’s rhetoric, for example Philip Snowden was compared with a lizard, Attlee with a mouse, the Bolsheviks with baboons, Mussolini with a jackal, and RAB Butler was referred to as “Rabbit” Butler and James Wolfe Murray was rendered “Sheep” Murray. Churchill, for his part, was compared to an animal by his admirers and critics alike over the years, including to a duck, rogue elephant, bulldog, snake, Blenheim Rat, and lion. Also detailed in the book are Churchill’s “photo ops” at zoos and the use of animals in attempts to improve Anglo-Australian relations (including the sad saga of the ill-fated platypus). Churchill’s Bestiary is a delightful and enjoyable volume that describes Churchill’s relations with the animal kingdom in 90 short chapters arranged alphabetically from Albatross to Zoo.
Employing new sources, such as King George VI’s diaries, Andrew Roberts discusses the “ire that Churchill sometimes directed towards Britain’s greatest ally” in “Churchill Disses America” published in the Smithsonian (November 2018, 49:7). While Churchill in his long career never criticized the United States in public, Roberts (author of Churchill: Walking with Destiny) found that in private he was more severe with the United States and the Roosevelt administration during World War Two, most especially expressing frustration with America’s not coming into the war until Pearl Harbor. The Smithsonian web site is here.
The commonly accepted thesis of the founding of the U.S.-led international order, is that at the end of the Second World War a prosperous and confident United States immediately stepped forward to replace a weak and exhausted British Empire. The British handed on the “baton of democracy” to America as it hurriedly liquidated its empire and retreated from a global presence in a mere thousand days after the end of the war. With an adroit command of the subject, Derek Leebaert in Grand Improvisation: America Confronts the British Superpower, 1946-1957 challenges the accepted story. He argues that the United States, while “the world’s strongest nation, with an atomic monopoly and unprecedented industrial weight,” was nonetheless “hesitant to take up a commanding political and military position,” while Britain’s “war-hardened leaders had no intention of stepping aside or of serving as junior partners to anyone.” Despite India’s independence in 1947, the scuttle from Palestine in 1948, repeated financial crisis (1947, 1949, and 1951), and the devaluation of the Sterling, Britain continued to see itself and be viewed from abroad as a member of the Big Three along with the United States and Soviet Union. It maintained a global empire, played the leading role in the Middle East, and seemingly dominated “futurist industries” such as jet aviation, atomic energy, and the Life Sciences. It was not until the end of 1956, in the wake of the Suez debacle, that President Eisenhower asserted a “declaration of independence” from British influence and the U.S. explicitly assumed “the foreign policy leadership of the free world.”
Leebaert convincingly makes his case in Grand Improvisation, which includes excellent pencil sketches of the main British and American figures. While George Kennan receives heavy criticism, Ernest Bevin, Dean Acheson, James Forrestal, and Malcolm Macdonald are commended for their foresight and decision-making. Leebaert describes Bevin as “a bruiser with a bull neck and loud voice” with “a goggling stare that gave him an aura of menace,” who bluffed the Americans into action over Greece in 1947 and rallied the Allies over Berlin in 1948. An aspect of the depiction of Acheson in Grand Improvisation, however, has been challenged by Mary A. Bundy (Acheson’s daughter) who wrote to the Wall Street Journal that her father was indeed an Anglophile and added, on a minor point, that he did not wax his mustache.
Leebaert writes that the years of Winston Churchill’s second premiership, 1951-55, are as “an intensely dramatic part of his life […]. Nothing is more riveting than to see how people, as well as nations, react when there is no way out.” Weeks after becoming prime minister again and with a financial disaster approaching, Churchill stoutly declared no one was “going to keep the British lion as a pet” and as Leebaert asserts would “show himself all too effective in confronting the Americans.”
Leebaeart is the author of The Fifty-Year Wound: How America’s Cold War Victory Shapes Our World and Magic and Mayhem: The Delusions of American Foreign Policy from Korea to Afghanistan.