|A painting of Winston Churchill in his
famous boiler suit
|A library edition of his six-volume history
of World War II
The Man Who Saved Europe
Der Spiegel, August 20, 2010
Edited by Andy Ross
Some 70 years ago, Hitler's Wehrmacht was chalking up one victory after the
next, but then Winston Churchill stood up to the dictator. Their duel
decided World War II.
Churchill declared that he had only one goal:
"Victory — victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory
however long and hard the road may be." Hitler berated his rival as a
"lunatic," "paralytic" and "world arsonist." Churchill called Hitler a
"wicked man," the "monstrous product of former wrongs and shame," and said
"Europe will not yield itself to Hitler's gospel of hatred."
perseverance of the British was probably decisive in shaping the course of
World War II. How else could the United States have launched an invasion of
the European continent if the British Isles hadn't been available to it as a
giant aircraft carrier? And what would have happened if Hitler could have
shifted the divisions and bombers to the Eastern front that were tied up in
the war against England? It wouldn't have taken Hitler much more to defeat
Churchill has long been one of the icons of the 20th century.
But as with all great historic figures who embark on the path to
immortality, there is also a mythical component to wartime prime minister's
achievements. His six-volume work "The Second World War" became a bestseller
and was part of the reason he was awarded the 1953 Nobel Prize in
Literature. Churchill was more interested in seeing his painting appear
alongside those of his ancestors in the family gallery and in the British
Hitler admired the victorious British. His early writings
suggest that the Nazi would have preferred to become Fuehrer in the British
Isles than in Germany. Hitler saw the Empire as a model for his racist
empire. He dreamed of an "Aryan world order," in which the Germans would
control Eurasia and the British, as their junior partner, would dominate the
world's oceans. He envisioned death or slavery for a large share of mankind.
Hitler had hardly risen to power before Churchill began advocating a
massive military buildup in Great Britain. At this point, he even believed
that an alliance with the hated Soviet Union was the right thing for
Britain. He had read parts of Hitler's "Mein Kampf," and he despised the
dictator's methods, but this wasn't his greatest concern. Churchill was
motivated by the traditional British balance-of-power approach. It was pure
realpolitik, the same logic that prompted Churchill to turn against Stalin
once again after World War II.
Churchill called upon his government
to obstruct the Third Reich. But his warnings went unheard. Churchill
received envoys from Berlin and met with Nazi Ambassador Joachim von
Ribbentrop, who sought to convince Churchill of the benefits of appeasement.
Ribbentrop explained that the Germans needed Lebensraum in the Ukraine and
Belarus. He assured Churchill that the Empire would be left untouched, but
that the British would have to accept Germany's eastward expansion in
Hitler publicly berated Churchill as a "warmonger," while
Churchill increasingly ignored diplomatic etiquette. By now he was sharply
criticizing the persecution of the Jews. When World War II began a few weeks
later, Hitler paved the way for Churchill's political comeback. Churchill
had been right, after all. Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain appointed him
to his cabinet, and in May 1940, Churchill finally succeeded him as prime
Hitler became Churchill's unwitting ally by enabling the
British to stage the biggest evacuation in their military history at
Dunkirk. Most military historians believe that if the evacuation had failed,
London would probably have had to sue for peace. Churchill assembled the
expanded cabinet and explained that whether the British sued for peace or
"fought it out," it would make no difference in the end, because Hitler
would only seek to turn Great Britain into "a slave state." He argued that
the British should continue the fight. Churchill gave magnificent speeches,
and even the Nazis were impressed by his eloquence.
Hitler decided to
bomb the British to the negotiating table. At first, he focused his attacks
on ports, airports and armament factories. Day after day, German fighter
planes and bombers appeared in the skies over southeastern England. But the
Royal Air Force was technically superior to the Germans. Its radar, guidance
and warning systems were among the most advanced in the world. In addition,
British aircraft factories were producing more planes than their German
counterparts. Hitler lost the Battle of Britain.
On August 24, 1940,
the Germans bombed residential neighborhoods in London for the first time,
probably by mistake. After that, Churchill gave the order to attack Berlin.
Although Berlin suffered little damage, the attacks prompted Hitler to vow:
"If they declare that they will attack our cities on a large scale, we will
eradicate their cities." The Blitz had begun. By the end of 1940, about
14,000 people had been killed in London. The first big RAF attack on a
German city struck Mannheim in December 1940.
Churchill planned to
drag the United States into the war. But although Churchill was eloquent in
his warnings and appeals to Washington, historians believe that the
situation first changed when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
Churchill danced for joy when he heard the news. In June 1941, the Wehrmacht
invaded the Soviet Union. Hitler believed that it was easier to conquer
Moscow than London. The British political system had been saved. The Soviet
Union and the United States would bear the main burden of the war from then
The British began systematically bombing German cities in the
spring of 1942. Despite his occasional doubts, Churchill was relentless.
About 600,000 Germans died in the bombings, most of them women, old men and
children. A number of cities were all but destroyed. When Dresden was
destroyed near the end of the war, in February 1945, even Churchill admitted
that the bombings were "mere acts of terror and wanton destruction."
Churchill contributed to the expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe by
supporting the demands of the Polish and Czechoslovak exile governments in
London. At the Summit of the Big Three in Tehran in 1943, he took three
matchsticks to represent Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union, and placed
them together. By pushing the Soviet match toward the West, he also shifted
the other two matches. Stalin found this amusing.
In 1942, Churchill
said he would have Hitler put to death if he were captured. Hitler committed
suicide a few days before Germany capitulated in 1945. Churchill had won the
AR I recommend reading the
original for this piece. It offers a good modern perspective on that summer
70 years ago when the political foundation was laid
for the world we all grew up in.