“Leadership This Day“ illustrates how Winston Churchill’s example guides and motivates today’s leaders. Contributors come from many fields including business, politics, the military and more.
Many today confuse leadership with management. Managers plan and coordinate, but leaders must inspire and motivate. Like Churchill they must point the way with clarity and guide their team through inevitable ups and downs.
In business there is no longer a simple pyramid structure of authority. The new paradigm of success involves exercising influence. The best leaders influence people to create, capture and distribute value through a network of organizations whose employees do not report to a single leader. To secure that influence, leaders have to earn the trust and respect of all of the organizations that make up the enterprise and collaborate towards a collective goal.
Leaders must excel at identifying potential partners and then initiate, maintain and continually enhance, evolve or change these relationships. This places a premium on integrity. The best leaders know that their job is one of continual negotiation and persuasion based on mutual trust and respect. As Prime Minister, Churchill assembled a coalition of political parties under his leadership and nurtured an alliance of nations in the successful effort to defeat the Nazis. Read More >
Like many homeowners, Churchill enjoyed the satisfaction of enhancing his property with his own two hands, whether it was tiling the roof or, as seen below with daughter Sarah during 1928, building a substantial wall around the vegetable garden of Chartwell. “To be really happy and really safe, one must have two or three hobbies, and they must all be real.” — Thoughts and Adventures
Polo was more than sport for cavalry officers serving in India: “Rarely have I seen such strained faces on both sides. You would not have thought it was a game at all, but a matter of life and death. Far graver crises cause less keen emotion.” Writing in My Early Life on winning the Inter-Regimental Tournament of 1899. Pictured above in the 1920s playing with the Prince of Wales.
As the man who organized Britain’s successful resistance to Nazi aggression during the Second World War, Winston Churchill proved himself to be one of the greatest leaders in history. Naturally, many look to his example for inspiration and guidance. While political leadership is somewhat different in character from business leadership, just as both differ in degrees from military leadership, there are common characteristics that can be successfully applied by leaders in all areas. Here are ten examples from Churchill’s career that deserve attention.
1. Build a Team
Churchill never tried to do everything himself. He recognized that others had talents that he did not possess, and he sought to utilize those talents to achieve his goals. Although Churchill himself never had the opportunity to attend a university, he did not hesitate to employ top university graduates on his personal staff. When he became Prime Minister during his nation’s darkest hour in 1940, he immediately formed a coalition government made up of leaders from all the major parties, whom he thought best suited to the task.
2. Communicate with Your Entire Team
Churchill is rightly remembered as a great speaker and writer. His speeches during the Second World War are credited with maintaining the national morale. He did not just communicate with his immediate staff and colleagues but with the entire nation. By treating everyone as an important part of the team and keeping them regularly informed about developments, he inspired people to give of their best.
3. Treat Everyone with Respect
In a long political career, Churchill had many bruising battles, but he did not take things personally. He always showed great courtesy to those with whom he had strong disagreements. Perhaps the most extreme example of this is found in the letter Churchill sent to the Japanese ambassador following the attacks on Hong Kong and Singapore, which caused Britain to declare war on Japan. Churchill signed off with the words, “I have the honour to be, with high consideration, Sir, Your obedient servant.” “Some people did not like this ceremonial style,” Churchill later recalled, “but after all when you have to kill a man it costs nothing to be polite.”
4. Accentuate the Positive, but Don’t Eliminate the Negative
When communicating with your team, don’t attempt to hide the bad. People will see through that and think you are a phony. Conversely, they respect you when you level with them completely. At the same time, you must also emphasize positive points on which everyone can build. Churchill’s first broadcast to the nation during the Second World War came after just one month of conflict. He began by noting the bad things that had happened and noting that the worst was yet to come. But he then went on to point out the bad things that had not happened and what steps the nation had already achieved and was then taking to prepare for the future.
5. Don’t Expect More of Others Than You Do of Yourself
Churchill drove his team very hard but no more than he drove himself. Working under great stress, he often snapped at those around him, but he always found some way to make it up to them by delivering a kind word here or a compliment there. Sometimes it took his wife Clementine to nudge him in that direction, but listening to your wife is also good advice for leaders!
6. Do Not Attempt to Do Too Much From a Subordinate Position
When you are a leader under a higher authority, you need to know and respect your operating limits. One of the great disasters of Churchill’s career was the Dardanelles campaign during the First World War. British forces attempted to capture the approaches to the Turkish capital. At the time the British army and navy were completely separate administrative units. There was no Minister of Defense or Combined Operations Commander to coordinate the fighting forces. As the minister responsible for the navy, Churchill attempted to fill the vacuum only to receive all the blame when the operation failed.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Take Chances
“No really worth-while achievement would be possible,” Churchill observed, “if everyone adhered to ‘Safety First’ all the time.” Long before he became a famous war leader, he was proud to declare, “I always took chances!” Indeed, as an army officer, Churchill risked his life in four different wars. In politics he was not afraid to champion unpopular causes or to be fiercely criticized when standing for principles in which he firmly believed, such as warning against the Nazi danger in the years before the Second World War.
8. Make Suggestions and Accept Suggestions
During the War, Churchill sometimes drove his generals and admirals to distraction with new ideas he kept coming up with or learned about. Most of these did not prove practical, and he knew that would be the case. Yet he kept coming up with them because he also knew that a few at least might prove to be successful. At the same time, he listened to his professional advisers and accepted their advice when he was convinced that it was sound and well thought out.
9. Share the Credit
Churchill never failed to give others their due whether they were allies or adversaries. His memoirs are filled with tributes to those with whom he worked. Upon his eightieth birthday he was given a tribute of his own worthy of a great national leader, but he refused even then to take all the credit. “It was the nation and race dwelling all round the globe that had the lion heart,” Churchill insisted. “I had the luck to be called upon to give the roar.”
10. Take Time to Relax
“A man can wear out a particular part of his mind by continually using it and tiring it,” Churchill believed. “The cultivation of a hobby and new forms of interest is, therefore, of the first importance.” Churchill’s favorite pastime was painting, but he also enjoyed bricklaying. In his youth he played polo, in his later life, cards. Regular breaks from toil are necessary to refresh the mind and relax the spirit. Thus you will be prepared to face the new and continuing challenges.
This article is adapted from a presentation at the 30th International Churchill Conference in Washington, D.C., in November 2013.
I first visited the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge as a new Ph.D. student, in 1996. Although they have since been remodelled and expanded, the reading rooms did not look strikingly different then from the way they appear today. That is deceptive, because over the last nineteen years historical research has undergone a technological revolution.
The recent digitization of the Churchill Papers, which puts the Archives Centre at the leading edge of this transformation of scholarship, is merely the latest in a series of inter-connected changes in academic practice. These have made research considerably easier, but they also raise interesting questions about how the new ways historians work might have an impact on their actual findings.
In the days before the ubiquity of the World-Wide Web—during which I did my undergraduate and Master’s degrees—the process of archival research seemed straightforward enough. You looked up the address and phone number of the archive in question in a book; you called them on the phone or wrote a letter to make an appointment; and the first thing you did when you got there was to take down a catalogue from the shelf and to pore over it looking for relevant items. You had with you a pencil and a notebook; eventually I moved on to an extremely primitive portable computer with rubber keys. An archive was not just a place to gather information, it was a place of hard choices: Should I copy down the exact quotation, or just paraphrase? Should I go crazy and just have the whole damn document photocopied? As a relatively impecunious student, the copying question was often a very tough call. Read More >
31st International Churchill Conference, New Orleans, LA, 4 April 2014
Churchill at his writing desk at Chartwell.In exploring the many fascinating and diverse facets of Churchill’s life, let us not ignore the obvious. This man’s vocation was politics. In the end everything else was subservient to that commitment. But let us add some other ingredients.
First, Winston Churchill was an aristocrat: the grandson of the seventh Duke of Marlborough whose vast and impressive country house is aptly called a palace. It was Winston’s birthplace; he pined for a country house of his own; eventually he found one in Chartwell, in its wonderful setting in the Kent countryside with its spectacular views over the ancient forest of the Weald. With about sixteen staff on the payroll, it was an enormous expense (though admittedly a bit smaller than Blenheim Palace).
His great ancestor, John Churchill, created first Duke of Marlborough, is described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, with some understatement, as “politician and army officer.” Likewise the young Winston. Yet, when only twenty-four years old, he took a big career decision: to leave the army. Clearly politics supplied the motive, but it certainly couldn’t supply the means. In those days British MPs were not paid; the salary first implemented in 1911 by the Liberal Government was £400 a year—say £30,000 today or $50,000—a respectable income for a trade-union official elected as Labour MP but not one that could sustain Churchill’s lifestyle. For most of his career in the House of Commons, the annual salary he drew as an MP was less than his annual wine bills. Read More >
“There can be no doubt that there was a certain grandeur about the old man”—Auberon Waugh, 1976
Churchill prepares to speak at Westminster College, 1946Toronto, 1932: Words Lost in a Cavern Foster Hewitt, hockey broadcaster
Most of the celebrities with whom I came in contact were friendly and cooperative. The individual who gave me the most trouble was not a star of stage and screen, he was a statesman and warrior—Winston Churchill. Churchill had been touring North America on a speaking tour and the itinerary included Toronto. At that time the Gardens’ acoustics were a problem but we had arranged for the speaker to use the regular stand-up type of microphone; however, when he saw it he raged in language that was later to make him famous. He emphatically protested that a microphone of that nature would just not do, and demanded a lapel mike. He had used such a type in Washington and had liked it because it gave him freedom of movement and did not tie him to one spot. However, Churchill did not appreciate that while a lapel microphone might be suitable when addressing a small auditorium audience, its effect would be lost in the cavernous Maple Leaf Gardens.
Eventually we gave in to the distinguished lecturer and arranged to get him a lapel microphone; still, for our own protection we also installed stand-up equipment so that the speaker could either wander or remain fixed. That arrangement seemed a reasonable compromise but Churchill unwisely prefaced his address by enquiring from the audience, “Can you hear me distinctly out there?” “No!” came the shouted response; whereupon the irate speaker pulled off his lapel mike, remained away from our substitute and addressed the audience in his natural voice. Unfortunately, he never reached them. —His Own Story (Ryerson Press, 1967) Read More >
Christopher Baker, Michael L. Dockrill, and Keith Hamilton (eds.), Britain in Global Politics, vol. 1, From Gladstone to Churchill. Palgrave MacMillan, 312 pp., $92 (Kindle $73.60).
John W. Young, Effie G. H. Pedaliu, and Michael D. Kandiah (eds.), Britain in Global Politics, vol. 2, From Churchill to Blair.Palgrave MacMillan, 280 pp., $85 (Kindle $68).
Twenty-seven scholars contribute to this two-volume, posthumous tribute to the late Cold War historian Saki Ruth Dockrill (1952 —2009) of King’s College, London. Between them, the two volumes cover events from the 19th through the early 21st century.
Martin Thomas’s essay in the first volume is one of the best, examining post—World War I western military coercion of colonial populations (Morocco, Syria, Iraq) via air power, which demonstrated Western technical superiority as well as revealing financial weaknesses. Air power’s ability to control Third World spaces was temporary at best—a timely reminder to western politicians who intervene with air power in places like Libya, Syria and Iraq. Read More >
This review originally appeared in The Northern Mariner and is re-printed with kind permission.
Martin Thornton, Churchill, Borden and Anglo-Canadian Naval Relations, 1911-14, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. £50.00
Canadian naval policy has seldom generated much interest in Great Britain, with the notable exception of the Naval Aid Bill introduced to the Canadian House of Commons by Robert Borden’s Conservative government in the autumn of 1912. This legislation was intended to provide for the construction, in British shipyards, of three new “dreadnought” battleships for Britain’s Royal Navy. The naval race with Germany was placing considerable strain on British finances at this time, and the possibility that Canada might alleviate some of the burden was warmly welcomed by the British Admiralty, and especially the young First Lord, Winston S. Churchill. Behind the scenes, the up-and-coming British cabinet minister worked closely with the more senior Dominion prime minister, supplying him with information and documents to persuade Canadians that Britain urgently needed their aid. Borden’s Naval Aid Bill was highly controversial, however, and was ultimately rejected by the Canadian senate, where the Liberal Party commanded a solid majority.
These events have typically been treated either as a colourful episode in Canadian political history or as a minor distraction in the development of prewar British naval policy. This volume is the first attempt to give equal weight to events on both sides of the Atlantic, an approach that allows the author to explore the close collaboration that developed between Borden and Churchill. The two politicians corresponded regularly during this period and a strong degree of mutual trust appears to have developed. Borden was clearly impressed by Churchill’s arguments for a Canadian contribution to bolster the Royal Navy, a policy that had the added benefit, from Borden’s perspective, of upsetting the plans of his predecessor, Sir Wilfrid Laurier, to develop an autonomous Canadian navy. Churchill, on the other hand, was grateful for Borden’s efforts and was willing to take political risks on his behalf. The most obvious challenge faced by the First Lord was to make the case that Britain faced a genuine naval emergency without creating a panic in Britain or suggesting that his own preparations had been inadequate. Read More >
Thomas Maier, When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys, New York: Random House, $30.
The presidential campaign of 1960 between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon was, I believe, the last great one. After all, it was the height of the Cold War, which featured heavily in their four eventful TV debates. Millions watched as the candidates paraded through big-city rallies in Chicago, Philadelphia and New York. People wore not just large campaign buttons but also jaunty “boater” hats. For those like me who have loved politics in all its spectacle, it was a time to savor—even now.
One of my personal memories of the Kennedy-Nixon race was my father’s off-hand remark that the young Democratic candidate possessed “a touch of Churchill.” What made it stand out then and long after was that ours was a Republican family, Dad very much a Nixon man. I knew of his admiration for the World War II leader. He was, after all, himself the son of an Englishman. But what explained this multi-gun salute to Jack Kennedy, this recognition that the youthful American carried even in small supply something of the great man who had saved Britain and so honored the twentieth century?
When Lions Roar: The Churchills and the Kennedys by Thomas Maier traces the influence of the great British statesman on the American president. More grandly, it explores the way in which two families of different countries managed, for better or worse, to get so often in each other’s way. Read More >
Rodney Croft, Churchill’s Final Farewell: The State and Private Funeral of Sir Winston ChurchillAvailable from Amazon as print-on- demand paperback, 168 pp. $15.75 or Kindle $9.99
This is the first book written solely about Churchill’s state funeral in January 1965. Croft is a semi-retired vascular surgeon based in London. His own memories of the events surrounding Churchill’s funeral fifty years ago inspired him to begin meticulous archival research in order to catalog the details and planning that went into the operation given the code name Hope Not. Though not without errors, the result is a step-by-step account of events from the lying-in-state in Westminster Hall to the final committal at St. Martin’s churchyard in Bladon.
Croft begins by describing Churchill’s decision to be buried not at Chartwell, as he originally intended, but at Bladon where his parents were laid to rest near the ancestral home of Blenheim Palace. This necessitated planning complex railway travel from London following the funeral service. But Croft covers everything: the lying-in-state, the procession of the funeral carriage to St. Paul’s, the order of service, the transport of the coffin up the Thames from Tower Pier, the railway journey from Waterloo Station and the final committal. The intricate logistics involving seven thousand military personnel and thousands more members of the Metropolitan Police are also documented.
“Is Boris seeking to compare himself to Winston?” ask the politicos. Anyone who has read Boris’s The Dream of Rome will be familiar with his talent for taking a subject he is familiar with and using it to illustrate a contemporary political point. But this is overlooking the merits of the book in search of an obvious and clumsy parallel.
Certainly, the willing can draw similarities between Boris and Winston. No-one called Winston “Churchill,” and everyone, friend and foe, calls Boris by his Christian name. Both reach parts of the electorate other politicians cannot. Both held political office at the same time as writing books and articles for the media. Both are idiosyncratically dressed. Both are half-American. Above all, both are possessed of a titanic work ethic. Boris knows that when he expresses admiration of Winston’s qualities, his readers will pause to consider that the same may be true of their erstwhile author.
Boris does not claim to be a Churchill scholar; throughout he gives praise and thanks to our own Allen Packwood and Warren Dockter for giving him the facts. What Boris does do is tell a cracking story. Read More >
Like other Churchill scholars, I am frequently asked what one book I would recommend for someone who wants to learn more about Churchill. My answer long has been Martin Gilbert’s In Search of Churchill. I will still recommend it, but I will also add a second choice because London Mayor Boris Johnson’s new book The Churchill Factor is as good an introduction to Churchill as there is. Unlike with Gilbert, though, my recommendation of Boris will come with a few caveats.
Ignore Boris, I will tell them, when he writes that Churchill was not “a man of principle; he was a glory-chasing, goal mouth-hanging opportunist” when he left the Tories and joined the Liberals in 1904 over the Tories’ abandonment of free trade (35). Ignore him when he writes “In the course of his forty-year parliamentary career Churchill had shown a complete contempt for any notion of political fidelity, let alone loyalty to the Tory Party” (34). Ignore him as well when he writes that Churchill “was fundamentally a Tory” (125). Ignore him on these points because he is simply wrong.
Overweening ambition (which Churchill had in spades) and devotion to political principles are not mutually exclusive. Churchill certainly was not loyal to the Tories, but he was loyal to his political principles that were rooted in nineteenth century classical liberalism. Martin Gilbert in Churchill’s Political Philosophy (1981) and Paul Addison in Churchill on the Home Front (1992) reach a similar conclusion. Boris cites both in his bibliography, so he should know better. Read More >
The most widely noted new book about Churchill published in 2014 was that written by the ebullient Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. A robust and unapologetically pro-Churchill study by a major politician with an eye to the future calls for our full attention. So we have departed with tradition and commissioned three different reviews: one each from a Canadian, American and British perspective. While our reviewers do not hesitate to hold Mayor Johnson to account on matters of fact and interpretation, they all admire his gusto. We are pleased that the mayor will be our keynote speaker at the 32nd International Churchill Conference, to be held 26—29 May 2015.
Boris Johnson, The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History, London: Hodder & Sroughton, 2014, 408 pages. £25, member price $22.35
Enjoyed the Read
A book by Boris Johnson, like almost any book about Winston Churchill, is bound to be interesting. The combination of this author with this subject cannot fail to be a good read—nor does it. While usually unwise and presumptuous to impute motives to an author, it seems a reasonable surmise that Johnson, currently the Mayor of London, wishes also to occupy some of the great offices held by Churchill and hopes this book will help propel him along that path. There is nothing wrong with that, and, as Johnson explains, that was sometimes Churchill’s motive in writing. Read More >
Within view of Churchill’s birthplace, Blenheim Palace, the churchyard of St. Martin’s, in the village of Bladon, is the final resting place of Sir Winston Churchill and the members of his immediate family—parents, brother, wife, children and grandson. A service of commemoration will take place at the family gravesite on the final day of this year’s 32nd International Churchill Conference.
The site of a church since at least the twelfth century, the present structure was completed in 1804 with materials paid for by the 4th Duke of Marlborough. A new stained glass window commemorating Churchill’s life will soon be added: see back cover for details.
Above: Jennie JeromeAbove: Randolph S. Churchill “In the stillness of a winter evening, in the presence of family and a few friends, Winston Churchill was committed to English earth, which in his finest hour he held inviolate.” —Churchill Taken From the Diaries of Lord Moran
The graves of Churchill’s mother Jennie and his son Randolph flank that of Lord Randolph. The ashes of daughters Diana, Sarah and Mary are also at Bladon, along with those of son-in-law Christopher Soames.
In 1935 Churchill wrote a series of articles for the News of the World describing major episodes in his life. Much of the material was lifted directly from his books My Early Life, Thoughts and Adventures and The World Crisis. In the lead article, entitled “Looking Back on Sixty Years,” however, Churchill offered some original observations that are excerpted here.
Sixty years! Not so very long ago I thought this a very advanced age.
Lately I have not felt the same impression. Sixty now seems to me to be a very reasonable age, when a man may still have vigour of mind and body with knowledge and experience besides. Politics, moreover, is a profession without any superannuation scheme. Till you are fifty you are a “young man of promise.”
I must admit that my son does not take this view. He thinks twenty-five is the age when wisdom and courage are united in their highest perfection. Anyone over thirty belongs to the “old gang.” My son must have inherited these ideas from me, because curiously enough I thought just the same at his age. Read More >
Winston came down with measles during the Christmas holidays and passed the illness on to his mother’s lover, Count Charles Kinsky. Winston wrote a letter of apology to Kinsky who wrote back on 25 January from Paris, clearly touched that his lover’s son had written to him. In his reply, Kinsky wrote, “How nice of you to think of writing to me!” and concluded, “Write to me sometimes. I shall always answer.”
A month later, Winston received an uncharacteristically pleasant letter from his father. “Very many thanks for your two letters. I am delighted to hear that you are getting on so well and hope you will be able to keep the steam up until the end of the term… the weather is vy cold and disagreeable but I have lots of work to get through at home and in the House.”
Winston apparently did not write frequently to his grandmother, the Duchess of Marlborough, but he did so in February and received a 27 February letter from her in return. “I was very happy to get your letter, and to find that you sometimes recollect your Grand Mother! I take the greatest interest in your welfare and progress. Am pleased to see you are beginning to be ambitious! You have a great example of industry in your dear Father & of thoroughness in work.”
While Churchill did not take up painting until mid-life, he began to take drawing lessons at Harrow after the winter break. He wrote to his mother that he was “very anxious to learn drawing,” explaining that he had dropped a singing class and taken up drawing instead because “Papa said he thought singing was a waste of time.” On 12 March he wrote to his mother “I am getting on in drawing and I like it very much. I am going to begin shading in Sepia tomorrow. I have been drawing little Landscapes and Bridges and those sort of things.”
100 Years Ago
Winter 1914—15 • Age 40
“Tell Them to Go & Milk Their Cows”
On 21 November, British naval aviators made a daring air raid on the hydrogen factory and Zeppelin base at Friedrichshafen, Germany, on the north shore of Lake Constance whose south shore is in Switzerland. The raid had originated from Belfort, a base in southeast France. The hydrogen factory was destroyed along with one Zeppelin. Prime Minister Asquith wrote to Venetia Stanley that “Winston is quite pleased with his raid”.
Unfortunately, the Swiss were not and formally complained to Foreign Secretary Grey that the British aircraft had flown over Swiss territory and that a Swiss citizen had been killed in the raid. Grey passed the complaint on to Churchill who curtly replied on 23 November that the “strictest instructions” were given not to fly over Swiss territory and they had not. Besides, he added, “No bomb was dropped on Swiss territory; & if a Swiss was killed in the Zeppelin factory, it serves him right.” When Grey told him on 27 November that the British government would have to apologize, Churchill replied, “Switzerland is lucky to have Englishmen fighting the battle of small states. The least she can do is not be querulous.”
Churchill’s patience with the Swiss was exhausted when Grey passed on to him a 30 November telegram from the British Minister in Berne suggesting “a few words [of apology] in the House of Commons would have a good effect.” Churchill replied to Grey in a “Secret” memorandum:
1) The International Conference of 1910 reached no agreement on the subject of aeroplanes flying over neutral territory. There is therefore no international law on the subject, & no question can arise of breach of neutrality…. 2) Nevertheless the Br aviators honestly tried to avoid Swiss territory… they believe they succeeded. 3) We must not pay too much attention to pro-German Swiss. 4) Tell them to go & milk their cows.
By December, with trenches extending from the Swiss border to the Atlantic, many high officials were seeking an alternative policy to supplement, if not replace, the current policy that Churchill described in a 29 December letter to the Prime Minister as “sending our armies to chew barbed wire in Flanders.” Lloyd George was of a similar mind. So was Maurice Hankey, the Secretary to the Cabinet, the Committee of Imperial Defence and the War Council. All three men sent long memoranda at the end of December to Asquith with their respective suggestions for a new policy.
Churchill was to become the scapegoat for the failure of the Gallipoli operation in the spring of 1915. Ironically, however, Churchill’s proposal was the only one of the three that did not involve Turkey and the only one of the three that proposed hitting at Germany directly. Lloyd George proposed two attacks, one against Austria from the south by an allied army of Serbs, Rumanians, Greeks and Montenegrins. The second attack would be against Turkey with 100,000 troops landing in Syria. Churchill’s plan—one the Admiralty had drawn up years earlier—was to invade Germany from the North Sea, the first step being the invasion of the German barrier island of Borkum in the East Frisians. The island would then be used for a subsequent invasion of Schleswig-Holstein and seizure of the Kiel Canal followed by a landing on the Pomerianian coast 100 miles from Berlin. Hankey’s plan was an invasion of Turkey on the Gallipoli peninsula preceded by a forcing of the Dardanelles by the British Navy.
The War Council actually approved in principle the attack on Borkum island on 7 January. As Churchill wrote to Admiral Jellicoe on 11 January, the capture of Borkum is “the first step in an aggressive warfare wh wd…cow the enemy, beat him into his ports, & mine and wire him in there.” Moreover, he wrote it “is the only aggressive policy wh gives the Navy its chance to apply its energy & daring, & in 6 weeks of fierce flotilla warfare we cd beat the enemy out of the North Sea altogether.”
The next day Admiral Carden, the British fleet commander in the Mediterranean, sent a telegram offering his opinion that the Dardanelles could be forced by ships alone. This was sufficient for both Kitchener and the First Sea Lord Fisher to back Hankey’s plan: Churchill’s plan to invade Germany’s coast was abandoned.
In the midst of all this, Fisher on 4 January announced his intent to resign as First Sea Lord because Churchill had not implemented Fisher’s proposed policy of shooting German prisoners of war if Zeppelins dropped any more bombs on England. Churchill immediately replied that “The question of aerial defence is not one upon wh you have any professional experience. The question of killing prisoners in reprisal for an aerial attack is not one for the Admiralty and certainly not you to decide.” Churchill promised to bring Fisher’s views to the Cabinet, which, of course, did not adopt them. Churchill was able to coax the increasingly unstable Fisher out of his tree, however, as he agreed to withdraw his resignation.
75 Years Ago
Winter 1939—40 • Age 65
“Courage Would Have Failed Them”
Churchill was feeling the same kind of frustration in the Winter of 1939-40 as he had in 1914-15—dealing with a Prime Minister and Cabinet reluctant to take any affirmative action in prosecuting a war against Germany. He had proposed mining Norwegian waters to force into the open sea ore ships carrying Swedish iron ore from the Norwegian port of Narvik to Germany. He also proposed a military landing at Narvik and an overland invasion of Sweden to seize the ore fields, arguing “it may be the shortest and surest road to the end.” Similiarly, he had proposed mining the Rhine river. These proposals were all rejected by the Cabinet, prompting Churchill in a 15 January letter to Foreign Secretary Halifax to complain that “I see such immense walls of prevention built and building that I wonder whether any plan will have a chance of climbing over them…victory will never be found in taking the line of least resistance.”
Meanwhile, after the Battle of the River Plate Argentina and Uruguay were acting in a manner reminiscent of the Swiss complaining in 1914 of the British overflying Swiss territory. They complained that during the battle British warships entered the new 300mile non-combatant zone recently established by the Panama Conference of American States.
Churchill responded: “Laws of war gave raider right [to] capture, or sink after providing for crews, all trade with us in South Atlantic. No protest was made about this although it injured Argentine commercial interests. Why then should complaints be made of our action in ridding seas of this raider in strict accordance with same international laws from which we had been suffering[?]”
On 16 February, Churchill had an opportunity to act against Germany without first seeking the Cabinet’s approval. He learned that the German warship Altmark, with 299 British prisoners, was steaming toward Germany in Norwegian territorial waters. Churchill believed the Altmark was violating Norwegian neutrality by transporting British prisoners-of-war to Germany. He ordered the Navy to enter Norwegian waters, seize the Altmark and liberate the British seamen. Initially, the Norwegian Navy refused to allow the British to board the German ship and had orders to resist the British by force. Upon learning of this, Churchill consulted with Halifax and then personally ordered the British captain to board the Altmark. If the Norwegian Navy fired upon the British ships, Churchill directed that “you should defend yourself using no more force than is necessary, and ceasing fire when [the Norwegians] desist.”
The Norwegians did not resist, but the Germans did when boarded by the British Navy. All 299 British seamen were liberated and returned to England. Lord Lloyd wrote that had it been any other minister in charge “Courage would have failed them.”
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The International Churchill Society (ICS), founded in 1968 shortly after Churchill death, is the world’s preeminent member organisation dedicated to preserving the historic legacy of Sir Winston Churchill.
At a time when leadership is challenged at every turn, that legacy looms larger and remains more relevant than ever.