In May 1940 Britain faced her darkest hour. The armies of Nazi Germany were sweeping through Europe and the Allies seemed powerless to stop them. The irresistible blitzkrieg had overrun Poland, Denmark, and Norway, and was now crashing into France and the Low Countries. In this hour of greatest need, 65-year-old Winston Churchill became Britain’s Prime Minister. He confessed to his bodyguard “I hope it is not too late. I am very much afraid it is.”
Churchill faced a crisis of an almost unimaginable scale. In Europe, French forces had been broken and the British Army was fighting for its life as it retreated to the evacuation port of Dunkirk. At home, Churchill faced powerful political opponents who argued that to continue the war was futile and pressed him to make peace with Adolf Hitler.
This lecture tells the story of these momentous weeks when the fate of Europe – and by extension, the world – hung in the balance. You will learn more about how Churchill came to be appointed as Prime Minister, how he battled his political foes who urged surrender, and how his inspirational leadership ultimately ensured Britain would fight Nazi Germany to the bitter end.
The Second World War, by Winston S. Churchill (Six Volumes: Vol I: The Gathering Storm and Vol II: Their Finest Hour are particularly relevant to this lecture)
Churchill: Walking with Destiny, by Andrew Roberts
The Duel: Hitler vs. Churchill, 10 May – 31 July 1940, by John Lukacs
Blitzkrieg: Myth, Reality and Hitler’s Lightning War, France 1940, by Lloyd Clark
1. What made Churchill so certain that the British people would fight on–even after the Fall of France?
2. Why was Churchill such a politically divisive figure in 1940?
3. What were Lord Halifax’s motivations for seeking peace in 1940?
4. The 2017 film Darkest Hour portrays this period. How accurate is its depiction of events?