The Churchill Documents, Volume 14: At the Admiralty, September 1939-May 1940
The new volume, the product of considerable research in the Churchill papers, the records of the British Government, and many private archives, takes Churchill’s story from the outbreak of the Second World War on 3 September 1939 to his emergence as Prime Minister on 10 May 1940.
During those eight and a half months, when he was a member of the War Cabinet as First Lord of the Admiralty, Churchill was responsible for protecting Britain’s Expeditionary Force as it crossed the English Channel to France, and supervising the daily war effort of the Royal Navy, faced with an active German naval assault on British warships and merchant shipping. As a member of the War Cabinet he was concerned with every aspect of war policy at home and abroad, including rationing, censorship, morale, relations with the United States, the fate of Poland, the future of France, and the urgent acceleration of Britain’s war effort. He was also called upon to make his first wartime broadcast to the British people.
In April 1940, with the surprise German attack on neutral Norway, Churchill was at the center of the British effort to halt the steady flow of German iron ore from the mines in northern Sweden to Germany along the long and sheltered Norwegian coast. To halt this traffic, vital for the German war effort, he urged a British military landing at the Norwegian port of Narvik, through which the iron ore passed on its way to Germany. Churchill put forward his plan in the late autumn of 1939, but it was not adopted by his Cabinet colleagues until the spring of 1940. By ill-chance, this belated date coincided with Hitler’s decision to occupy Norway. A harsh battle ensued between the British forces, supported by French and Polish forces, and the German invaders. At the height of the battle, a Parliamentary crisis threatened both Churchill and the Chamberlain government of which he was a senior member. On 10 May 1940, Hitler’s invasion of France, Holland, and Belgium swept the political crisis away, and brought Churchill to power.