When Winston Churchill became the First Lord of the Admiralty for the second time in 1939, he ended his decade exile from government. Then Neville Chamberlain resigned as Prime Minister on May 10, 1940 and Winston Churchill assumed that office. Soon afterwards he addressed the British people and later the House of Commons. He told both groups he could only offer, “blood, toil, tears, and sweat.” As Prime Minister he announced to the Commons he had formed a government made up representatives of Tories and Labour to meet the crisis situation on the continent caused by the German blitzkrieg. The French forces and BEF (British Expeditionary Force) were retreating, with the latter in the danger of being surrounded with their backs to the English Channel at Dunkirk. Eventually, the French government surrendered and BEF was rescued by an armada of boats of all sizes and shapes. Later, in September 1940, the blitz, the bombing of English cities, began; the aerial Battle of Britain was underway. The Royal Air Force (RAF) kept the Germans from gaining air superiority over England and forced Hitler to postpone Operation Sea Lion, the cross-channel invasion.
Earlier, when Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty, he opened correspondence with Franklin D. Roosevelt, the President of the United States. The two men kept the communication open throughout the blitz and into 1941. In June that year, Hitler attacked the Soviet Union, turning his military might eastward, away from Britain. Two months later, Churchill boarded a battleship, sailing to Newfoundland to meet with FDR. That was the first of eleven times during the war that the two men met, including lengthy stays at the White House and the president’s estate in the Hudson Valley in New York and twice in North Africa, once in Iran, and once in Crimea, in the southern part of the Soviet Union. Stalin joined Roosevelt and Churchill in the last two conferences. Churchill as met with Stalin without Roosevelt.
After the United States joined the war in December 1941, Churchill tried to convince Roosevelt to commit American troops and resources to defeating Hitler’s Germany instead of going after the Japanese, whose attack on Pearl Harbor brought America into the conflict. Roosevelt was convinced that crossing the English Channel to attack German forces in Europe was the best way to introduce American troops into the European theater. Churchill and his military staff convinced the Americans to land in North Africa, to help the British fight Gen. Rommel’s German army in the desert. With Stalin trying to the Allies to commit to a second front in Western Europe, it was decided the invasion would take place in the spring of 1944 with Gen. Dwight Eisenhower as the commander.
As the war processed, Churchill felt his relationship with Roosevelt was getting strained. There were a number of reasons for this: first, after Stalin joined the summits, Churchill found himself playing a less significant role in the meetings; Roosevelt was playing more attention to the Russian leader and less to the British Prime Minister. Another factor was Churchill’s determination to keep the British empire together in a post-war world, which countered Roosevelt’s policy to free nations from the British yoke after the defeat of Germany and Japan. A final reason was the British military was having less of say in the strategic decisions how the war was being fought. At any rate, when Roosevelt died in April 1945, Churchill felt he had lost a dear friend.
As the the Allies were getting closer to defeating Germany, the British Labour Party decided to end its participation in the War Cabinet and got Churchill to call a General Election, that was to take place in the summer of 1945. The election was held on 5 July, but the votes were not counted until 26 July to allow for the votes of service men and women who were abroad to be counted. In the meantime Churchill went to Germany to meet with Stalin and Harry Truman, who succeeded Roosevelt, taking Clement Attlee, the leader of the Labour Party with him. The two returned to London for the vote count, which gave the Labour Party a solid majority in Commons. The British people had rejected Churchill, who now was the leader of the Opposition. However, six years later, Churchill was back in power.
In his second term as Prime Minister, Churchill lost an other close supporter, George VI. The monarch died of lung cancer in February 1952, while his eldest daughter was on tour in South Africa. Churchill became the first of twelve Prime Ministers who have served under Elizabeth II. Churchill remained her as Prime Minister until 1954, when his health became an issue.
In the post-war years, Churchill continued to write, finishing his History of the English Speaking People and publishing his memoirs of World War II. He also traveled abroad, notably giving his famous “Iron Curtain” speech in the United States. In 1952, he had a re-recurrence of the heart problems that had bothered him during the war. In 1953, at the age of 78, he had a stroke. In the spring of the following year, he resigned. Following four additional strokes, Churchill died at 90 years of age in January 1965.
Max Hastings. Winston’s War.
John Keegan. Winston Churchill.
John Lukas. Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat.
William Manchester and John Reid. The Last Lion, Vol. 3.
Secrets of Leadership: Churchill (Video)