Essay, Research Paper
Winston Churchill and His Leadership During World War II
Winston Churchill symbolized Britain during World War II. His image, and that of the British people as a whole, was one of defiance in the face of overwhelming adversity. His galvanizing and courageous leadership as Prime Minister of Britain during World War II was the catalyst for the stubborn resistance of the British and the ultimate victory of the Allied forces over Hitler. His speeches stirred the masses and mobilized the British. When everything continued to go wrong, when things could seemingly get no worse, he was there to encourage and give support to the Allied armies. With his inspiring speeches, he motivated the nation of Great Britain to do what they believed to be impossible.
Sir Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born on November 30, 1874, at Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire. His parents were Lord Randolph Henry Spencer Churchill and his American wife, Jeanette Jerome Churchill.
Churchill attended St. George’s and Misses Thomson’s for grade school. He did not do particularly well at either school. For high school, he went to the Harrow School, on the outskirts of London. He was accepted into Harrow only because of his father’s reputation. While at Harrow he did poorly. He rarely studied and the only subject in which he did well was English. He had few friends at school. (Webb 6-14) According to Robert Webb, “Winston was a loner. He had no friends and apparently wanted none. What he did, he did by himself.” (14)
After struggling through four years at Harrow, Churchill decided to attend the Royal Military College at Sandhurst. He failed the entrance exam twice, but was finally accepted after narrowly passing on his third attempt. His low grades forced him to enter the cavalry rather than a regiment. Churchill spent two years at Sandhurst. He loved the school and his classes, so he studied hard. He graduated in 1885, with honors, 20th in his class of 130. (Webb 15-19)
Churchill’s active war experiences are limited to being in the midst of a rebellion in Cuba, serving with the Malakand Field Force in India from 1896-97, and serving in the cavalry during the reconquest of Sudan, Egypt. (Gilbert 17)
After Churchill’s tenure in India, he ran for a seat in Parliament. He spoke well, but the opposition he faced was just too strong. He lost his first try at an electoral office. Churchill ran for political office many times after this initial failure. In 1901, he won a seat in the House of Commons. From 1908-1939, he held many political offices. Some include: First Lord of the Admiralty, Minister of Munitions, Secretary for War and Air, and Chancellor of the Exchequer. All of these positions pale when held in comparison to his service as Prime Minister. He held this position twice during his life: once during World War II from 1940-1945, and again from 1951-1955. (Bra*censored*, Internet)
In 1938, Adolf Hitler of Germany annexed Austria to the “Greater German Reich Groszdentschland.” His forces were continuing to move, and before long, they would begin pushing westward. (Braakhius, Internet) The Prime Minister of Britain at this time was Neville Chamberlain. He met with Hitler, and Hitler promised him that he had would not further extend Germany’s holdings. Chamberlain foolishly accepted this empty promise at face value, and announced to the British public “peace in our time.” (Webb 87)
By March of 1939, Hitler had conquered all of Czechoslovakia. Chamberlain realized too late, that Hitler’s promise was meaningless. (Braakhius, Internet)
In September of 1939, Germany attacked Poland. Two days after the attack, Chamberlain declared war on Germany. He was joined by France, India, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. Thus began World War II. (Braakhius, Internet)
On the same day Great Britain declared war on Germany, Chamberlain asked Churchill to assume the duties of First Lord of the Admiralty. This was the second time for Churchill in this post, and he held the position for only a brief time. After Chamberlain’s resignation in May of 1940, Churchill was called upon to be Prime Minister. In assuming this title, Churchill became the voice of Britain during the war. His emotional speeches would inspire the nation to endure much hardship and sacrifice.
As Prime Minster, he immediately brought hope to all of Britain. In his first address to the people of Britain as Prime Minister, he exhorted them to stand up in support of their country. (Webb 88-91) In the speech he said:
We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, What is our policy? I will say; “It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us.” You ask, What is our aim? I can answer with one word: Victory – victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival. (Geib, Internet)
Subsequent to Churchill becoming Prime Minister, Holland, Belgium and France all fell to Hitler’s forces. The English were soon left to stand alone. This was to be a true test for the army and people of Britain. (Gilbert 60-61)
Churchill drove himself, his Cabinet, and the war production chiefs to ends that seemed impossible to achieve. He rallied the British people, instilling in them the same confidence that he felt. Guns, ammunition, and planes were produced at a feverish pace. Defenses were increased and a home guard was established.” (Webb 93)
Churchill knew that the British Isles were threatened as they never had been before. He made a stirring address to the British people, rallying them to the defense of the islands. Britain was determined, he said, to fight to the last man. (Geib, Internet)
Hitler “screamed to the world” that England would be wiped out as quickly and with the same ease that had forced France out of the war. Hitler bombed Britain relentlessly. However, he had underestimated the determination of the British people and their leader. Churchill’s mere presence among the British people helped them to endure months of German bombing. (Gilbert 62-67)
Churchill had been meeting with Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States, since the outbreak of war. During these talks, Churchill convinced Roosevelt to push the Lend-Lease Bill through Congress. While not actually selling arms to Britain, the bill allowed the United States to supply Britain with equipment for warfare through subterfuge of a lease. Together, the two men later drew up the Atlantic Charter. (Webb 97)
The British had been taking heavy losses from Germany for almost two years, but finally, after the bombing of Pearl Harbor by the Japanese, much needed aid became more available. The United States had entered World War II. This was a huge boost to British morale, for now they were no longer alone in their fight against Hitler. (Webb 98-102)
Churchill was worried that the United States would focus on the Pacific front. He felt that in order to win the war, the Allied forces must first defeat their European threat. Two weeks after America’s entrance into World War II, Churchill visited America. He went in hopes of promoting his agenda for the war’s strategy. He felt that his presence in the United States would emphasize the necessity of keeping America’s attention faced towards Europe. (Braakhius, Internet)
His mission was extremely successful. He captured the hearts of the Americans, just as he had done with his own countrymen. (Braakhius, Internet)
Everywhere he went, Churchill brought with him a sense of confidence. Churchill was the inspiration of not only the British people, but of the entire world. (Webb 101-102)
Churchill’s war strategy paid off, for in late 1942, at El Alamein in North Africa, the tide began to turn in favor of the Allies. Churchill would later say of it: “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.” (Webb 103)
By May of 1943, the Allied forces had driven Germany from the continent of Africa. (Braakhius, Internet) In July of 1943, Allied forces invaded Sicily, Italy. By September of the same year, Italy had surrendered to the Allies. (Britannia, Internet) All over Europe, Hitler was being pushed back into Germany, little by little. (Braakhius, Internet)
In August of 1943, Churchill met with Roosevelt to discuss plans for the invasion of Normandy. The time frame was eventually set for June of 1944. On June 6, 1944, the Allied forces launched the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France. Hundreds of thousands of troops poured onto the shores of Normandy. (Braakhius, Internet)
The invasion of France marked the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. After less than another year of fighting, Germany finally signed an unconditional surrender document at Rheims, France, on May 7, 1945. The war in the Pacific ended on August 14, 1945, when Japan accepted unconditional surrender. (Braakhius, Internet)
After the war was over, Churchill was voted out of the office of Prime Minister. The British people were tired, sick of the war or anything related to it. Churchill was re-elected Prime Minister in 1951, and he served for four more years. In 1953, Queen Elizabeth II dubbed him Sir Winston Churchill. In 1955, at the age of 81, he resigned as Prime Minister. This marked the end of Sir Winston Churchill’s long, up and down political career. (Webb 107-111)
Churchill’s words during the war years have pertained equally well to himself as to the British people as a whole. “Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, “This was their finest hour.” (Geib, Internet)
Braakhius, Wilfried. “The World At War.” 1997. (May 2000).
Bradick, Lynn and Norbert Schrepf. “Sir Winston Churchill.” Verlag Norbert Schrepf, 1997. (April 2000).
Geib, Richard. “Sir Winston Churchill and Great Britain’s Finest Hour.” 1996. (May 2000)
Gilbert, Martin. Churchill. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1967.
“Sir Winston Churchill.” Britannia.com, 2000. (May 2000).
Webb, Robert N. Winston Churchill, Man of the Century. New York: Franklin Watts, Inc., 1969.