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Churchill Was A Great War Leader Essay

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In the fateful spring and early summer of 1940 the people of Britain clustered around their wireless sets to hear a defiant and uplifting speech from their new Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. On May 13th, having just assumed the burden of power from a, “weak and cowardly” Neville Chamberlain, Churchill promised a regime of “blood, toil, tears and sweat.” On June 4th

After the evacuation of the defeated British Army from Dunkirk, he pledged, “We shall fight on the beaches.” On June 18th he proclaimed that even if the British Empire were to last for a thousand years, this would be remembered as its “finest hour.” Over the course of the ensuing months Britain alone defied the vast conquering appetites of Hitlerism and, though greatly outclassed in the air, repelled the Luftwaffe’s assault with a handful of gallant fighter pilots. This chilling engagement-“The Battle of Britain”-thwarted Nazi schemes for an invasion of the island fortress and was thus a hinge event in the great global conflict we now call World War II.

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Before the start of World War II Winston Churchill had already completed many great achievements, which some people could not complete if they were allowed to live twice. When Winston Churchill was born in 1874 his parents did not have any time for him and he spent most of his time with his nanny. In school he rebelled and had no time for Maths, Latin or Greek, the school he attended was Harrow on the outskirts of London. He did not get on well with the other students and he recalls how he once had to hide behind a tree while fellow students threw cricket balls at him. After this he vowed to be strong, as strong as anyone could be. He later entered the Royal Military School at Sandhurst and passed with honours.

When he was eighteen Churchill jumped off a bridge and fell 29 feet whilst being chased by his brother and cousin, thus showing his strength and determination. While doing this he ruptured a kidney and was unconscious for three days and could not work for two months.

Then when Churchill turned twenty, his father died and shortly after Churchill was appointed as second lieutenant in the 4th Queens Own Hussars, a regiment of the British Army.

As he turned twenty-one Churchill reported on military happenings throughout the world in countries such as Cuba where he travelled with the Spanish Army. In 1896 when his regiment was sent to India, he secured a temporary transfer to the turbulent North West Frontier where a tribal insurrection was under way.

When the Boer War (1899-1902) broke out in South Africa he went as a journalist, was captured by the Boers while defending an ambushed train and imprisoned in a military prison. His subsequent escape made him a national hero. In 1900 he was elected to Parliament as a member of the Conservative Party. Churchill’s support of free trade against Joseph Chamberlain’s tariff proposals led to his defection in 1904 to the Liberal Party.

Through out these years he wrote and published five books, which were all based on his accounts and newspaper articles, they were very successful and echoed his oratorical skills, which later proved a great success.

When war broke out in 1914 Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty and already a major national figurehead. As Europe was thrown into stalemate Churchill strongly suggested a huge flanking attack of Turkey through the Dardanelle’s. But his attempt to force the straits using only ships floundered, leading to the awful Gallipolli landings and costing Churchill his job. Instead of laying low Churchill pulled himself together and joined the Western Front. In January 1916 he was appointed Lieutenant Colonel commanding the 6th Battalion Royal Scots Fusiliers. Between 1922 and 1924 Churchill left the Liberal Party and rejoined the Conservative Party. To his surprise he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer in Stanley Baldwin’s government, a position he held until the Tory defeat in 1929.

During the 1930’s Churchill fell out with Baldwin over India’s greater self-government and was yet again more isolated in politics. His dire warnings about Hitler and the dangers of the appeasement policy fell on deaf ears. Churchill had been out of the government for nearly ten years by the time war broke out in September 1939. Chamberlain was furious at the fact that Churchill’s theory had been proved correct. The mood of the people and Parliament changed so Chamberlain reluctantly made Churchill First Lord of the Admiralty.

Winston Churchill possessed such impressive oratorical skills that historian Arnold Toynbee believed his wartime speeches were absolutely essential to the Allied victory in WWII. During the darkest days of the war, Churchill’s words, so expertly crafted, so superbly delivered, buoyed the spirits, and restored the resilience of the beleaguered English people. When the U.S. Congress voted to confer honorary American citizenship on Churchill in 1963, President Kennedy said, “He mobilized the English language and sent it into battle.”

There is no doubt that some of Winston Churchill’s ideas were impractical and extremist, but on the other hand some of them were very well thought out and took a lot of planning and preparation. He was surely right; that the generals were slow and tried to plan their attacks to solidly. Without Churchill’s eagerness Britain would have fallen back into an even more defensive state.

Had the war ended in 1940 (as some people hoped it would, even though this would of meant sacrificing Poland in the light of Czechoslovakia) we would have never known Churchill as he is known today, he would have been an average First Lord with part responsibility for the embarrassing failures of the Norwegian campaign. By a strange turn of events, this increased failure made Neville Chamberlain extremely unpopular and gave Winston Churchill the perfect opportunity to stake his claim. On the 8th of May 1940 the Commons met for a meeting over the poor performance of the Government’s campaign. After a powerful speech from Lloyd George, Chamberlain resigned. On May the 10th the phoney war ended when Germany invaded France and the lower countries, Churchill was announced as the new Prime Minister.

Churchill’s reign begins.

Churchill was chosen for the job of Prime Minister not for his appeasement, but for his all round knowledge and past experience making him perfect for the job. An example of this is his days in Cuba where he miraculously escaped from the group holding him and was pronounced a national hero. His survival and leadership in WW I made him an asset to the British Government. He was brave, had no fear of Hitler, and was determined from the start to bring him down. His training at the Military School and his past education gave him more than enough qualifications for this situation. He was the man they had been waiting for.

C.V. for Winston Churchill’s War Experience:

1874 – Born

1888-92 – Harrow School (a public school)

1893-95 – Sandhurst Military Academy

1895-99 – Soldier

1899 – Journalist in South Africa

1900 – Elected Conservative MP

1904 – Joined the Liberal Party

1905-08 – Junior Minister

1908-15 – Cabinet Minister (held 4 different posts)

1917-22 – Cabinet Minister (held 3 different posts)

1922-24 – Fails to be elected MP

1924 – Returns to the Conservative Party and elected MP

1924-29-Cabinet Minister (Chancellor of the Exchequer)

1929-39 – MP on backbenches

1939-40 – Cabinet Minister

1940-45 – Prime Minister

1945-51 – Leader of the Opposition

1955-65 – Prime Minister

1955-65 – Retirement until death

The people needed a leader and if they were going to be put through the britches of war then they needed someone powerful and determined, that person was Churchill. The people trusted Churchill due to his past experience and history of wartime situations. His repertoire of good deeds included the Battle Of Dunkirk, where he also visited bombed areas and offered people his sympathy. He also had strong relationships with other countries, which later came to his advantage. Strong alliance with Russia made him a partner in war duties.

All of this would be enough, but Churchill also gave the public faith with his magnificent oratorical skills, which boosted British hopes and led them more determined into the bloody war. The Newspapers were also very unbiased towards Churchill and supported him as their leader; a good example of this is Source 7 where the title is ‘This Is The Man’ with a picture of Churchill by its side. Posters were also used to give Churchill a strong image, they used pictures of him as a bulldog and as a cowboy (Sources 9 & 11) to present Churchill with the image of a strong and fearless man, and this again was used to boost their faith in him. These all helped boost his image and made people respect and trust in him.

Three men in this booklet have put down Churchill and they are Charmley, David Irving, and Clive Ponting. These men are mere historians working off the basis of facts and articles from the time; this means that what they say, their opinions are not totally accurate making them unreliable sources. I will start off with the information presented by Charmley, he has mixed views on Churchill, although he recognises Churchill’s achievements, he always finds away to put him down, here he says,

“Lord Selbourne . . . had been impressed with his vision and power of drive and thought courage was his great asset but the motive power is always self and I don’t think he has any principles. He was clever but quite devoid of judgement.”


“For Churchill to castigate the Admirals for their lethagy and complete absence of positive effort in failing to come up with a workable plan is a fatal inability to distinguish what was practical and what was not . . .”

The first quote shows how Churchill had impressed Lord Selbourne, but Charmley doubts his decision and questions Churchill’s principals and says he is void of judgement. This is not true as in World War II Churchill must have had to make many a judgement to stay on top of the enemy; judgment is an act which requires great skill and the art of knowing what your opponent may be thinking. One example of Churchill’s judgement skills is a time before the war when he told Neville Chamberlain that Hitler was not to be trusted, but Chamberlain ignored him thinking peace could be achieved, later Churchill’s judgement was proved correct.

Quote two tells us how Churchill criticises the Admirals for their complete lack of effort and ideas being produced, and that the ones being produced are not good enough. He then goes on to say that it is Churchill’s fault for not being able to distinguish the difference between a practical, well thought out idea, to an idea that was completely imperceptive. This is suggesting he cannot distinguish the difference between a good or bad idea, which once again is incorrect and is used to make him appear a man who leaves everything to his Generals.

Charmley always tried to create an image of Churchill as a man who had no idea of what he was doing, which is untrue as he alone inspired and led millions of men not only to death, but also to victory, something Chamberlain or other political leaders could not have done. Chamberlain had the ideal idea of peace and love where Churchill knew war was the only way forward, showing his vast experience over Chamberlain and Charmley’s ridiculous comments.

Charmley although criticizing makes a few good points against Churchill’s ideas and plans,

“At this stage of the war Churchill grossly overestimated what could be achieved by sea power. It was Churchill who fixed upon the Narvik as the object of the Allied campaign.

The Norwegian campaign was flawed in concept and muddled in execution. The command structures might have been designed to result in chaos.”

Charmley here outlines the flaws in Churchill’s plan, he tells us that the plan was overestimated and badly structured and that Churchill’s campaign had flaws in it from the beginning, showing that Churchill’s ideas were not all good ones and he was not always the great leader people said he was.

Charmley then describes the ‘End Of Glory’ celebrations,

“Pursuing the slogan ‘Victory at all costs’, Churchill was casually indifferent to what the costs might be.”

“Churchill stood for the British empire, for British independence and for an anti-socialist vision of Britain. By July 1945 the first of these was on the skids, the second was dependent solely on America and the third had just vanished in a Labour victory.”

Charmley at this point tells us that Churchill was celebrating his victory but the costs could have been very different. What Churchill stood for in 1945 was then either on a down, relying on America or vanished in the Labour victory. So everything Churchill once stood for was now gone.

For Charmley this is was a good point about Churchill as it reflected the victory and joy that was in the country.

Charmley then obtains a source from another interpreter such as himself and analyses it into what he thinks the truth is,

“Whatever Churchill may or may not have done wrong, he had won the war, obtained the American alliance and helped save us all from the Soviets.”

Charmley interprets it as,

“Churchill did not win the war; the Russians did with help from the Americans. Churchill did not bring the Americans into the war, the Japanese and Germans did. Indeed, Churchill’s first ally was the Soviet Union, an unlooked-for-one who provided the western allies with a real problem when it came to claiming their war was a sort of crusade against totalitarianism.”

This sums up Charmley’s image of Churchill, he always found faults in his plans and ideas. He outlines how the war formed itself around Churchill and that he did not win it single-handed as people seemed to think, Charmley shows that it had little to do with him. It all happened by the incidents around him, he just amplified them as his own achievements so he could mould the perfect image for later generations to come to know him by, as proved by Clive Ponting who is my next historian.

Clive Ponting shows Churchill’s good and bad side, but he tends to favour against leaders and has an anti-establishment view. His two bad sources come of the Naval war ships,

“In dealing with the U-boat threat Churchill continued with the sanguine opinion formed before the war that there was no longer a menace, he therefore opposed the convey system, wanting instead to reduce the number of escorts, and concentrate on what he optimistically described as “hunting packs” of destroyers to attack the U-boats while in transit. The results were almost a complete failure, although the merchant ships sinkings were, at about 10,000 tons a month.”

“The Royal Navy tactics which rarely detected a U-boat and their attacks when they happened were largely ineffective, about a 5% success rate.”

“The Americans gave 50 not 96 ships and they were explicitly given in return for bases. The bases were in seven colonies not three and were not commercial facilities but military bases on very long leases (99 years). And they had obtained an explicit assurance that, in the worst circumstances, the fleet would sail to North America, the one commitment Churchill had rejected ever since he became Prime Minister.”

” In practice the US destroyers turned out to be of little immediate value. Only 9 out of the 50 were in service by the end of 1940 and only 30 by May 1941.”

These sources are very lengthy but go into great depth on the situation of the warships and trading. It shows how Churchill’s plans were a complete failure and how the success rate was minimal for the Naval fleet. He wasted bases and money on warships, none very effective, when overall the British Navy was meant to be one of the strongest in the world. Churchill also shows disregard towards other people’s opinions. He shows this when he says,

” Stop grinning at me you bloody ape!”

To Captain Talbot when he dares to contradict him, Talbot was dismissed at 10 minutes notice, although this cannot be verified, as Ponting was not there at the time.

Ponting then describes Churchill’s story of leadership in a good and bad way showing his mixed views of Churchill.

“After May 1940 he had come to symbolise the nation’s resistance and had been readily endorsed as a wartime leader. In 1945 Churchill remained true to his limited view of politics.”

The change in years still showed how Churchill’s ways of tackling the problem at hand and his views of people’s ideas had not changed and that he had stuck to the same attitude throughout the war. Ponting thought this showed Churchill as a powerful leader who would not yield on the work he was doing, but saw it through until it was finished. Ponting then says,

“His inability to provide an inspiring message to the nation in the last years of the war demonstrated by his lack of broadcasts only increased popular perceptions that he was not the man to win the peace.”

When I first started to read this it appeared to me it was criticizing Churchill as it starts off negatively, but as you read towards the end you see how this was to Churchill’s advantage as it won him respect and people thought of him as the man that was tough and not afraid to fight.

This was well written by Ponting as it reflected Churchill’s image.

This next section could be called Churchill’s image,

“Churchill certainly saw his biographers coming and was determined to mould the view that later generations would have of his life.”

This and various other quotes from the paragraph, show that Churchill would not let his hard work and devotion to the war go unnoticed and wanted to make sure people heard about his accomplishments for many years to come. Churchill with his oratorical skills virtually wrote the biographies for the publisher.

Clive Ponting is a good historian as he uses the facts and evidence of the events; he discusses and does not have a one-sided view, he uses multiple views, good and bad, giving reason and evidence. Unlike Charmley who has a very anti-establishment view of Churchill and leaders in general.

We now come to our last historian David Irving. There is only one source in this book from David Irving but I felt it relevant to include him as it contained pertinent arguments and claims,

“Churchill thought he was somehow above international law. The situation he argued gave Britain the right and duty to abrogate the very laws she sought to reaffirm by attacking German ships in Norwegian waters; forcing the French to transfer German POWs to Britain; attacking the French fleet and recommending the use of dum dum bullets and poison gas.

Irving points out Churchill’s defiance in obeying the rules they were trying to re-establish. Fair play was not an option to Churchill; it shows how he went into international waters without permission and threatened his allies into giving him what he wanted, he liked to be in control of what was happening. Having the prisoners of war also gave Britain a cautious edge in case France was taken over; Britain still had a bargaining option. This gave Churchill the image of being a bully and ruthless leader, one who took tremendous risks.

Irving through only one source manages to show the ruthless and deceitful side of Churchill, showing it was not all just fighting that helped Britain to victory but also his cunning plans. Irving is quite reliable as a source as he uses actual events and does not back these up by people’s comments, meaning it is purely his feelings on the matter.

The other sources in the booklet are just different views of many people who all have their own interpretations, I chose these three as I found them to be the most intriguing and interesting to explain. There are some actual comments from Churchill himself and his colleagues but there are not many of them. Newspapers and posters just convey a tough image of Churchill, e.g. Churchill as a British Bulldog and a Sheriff.

In conclusion I think no matter how you look at Churchill, he will always be considered a great man due to his commitment and encouragement to the armies which gave them hope and determination. He also drove the country through the war, something Chamberlain could not have done.

Many of Churchill’s contemporaries and advisors tried to tell him what to do. He pushed all of these people aside and they did not respect him for it, they felt he was over ambitious. The people thought this was the image of a good leader, a strong man who made his own decisions. After the war was over everyone including world leaders, respected him and his decisions however far fetched they seemed at the time. He had got them through this most dangerous and trying time, he was a hero.

The Historians I reviewed were correct in some of the things they said, for instance, when they give the good and bad points of Churchill and not just a one-sided view. Some of the quotes Charmley’s used were very biased against Churchill and seemed only to focus on the bad points of his career to make him seem a lesser individual. Irvine and Ponting both displayed good reliable points, showing his weaknesses and strengths. I can not call the contemporaries wrong because they do give crucial points, but also none of them actually say whether he was a good or bad leader, leaving the answer open for you to decide, but they do try and influence the way in which you answer. I would say the contemporaries were right in their opinions but everybody including the Historians had different views.

Historians are more likely to be critical of Churchill than the people at that time as they were just happy to have won the war and read of his exploits in the newspapers. He to them saved their lives and they considered they owed him a great debt. Historians were not there and did not know the pressures he was under. They criticize him because people say he was a great leader and they try to put him down and show his flaws not just the good points. They show the public the truth about what happened, and what people of the time blanked out, due to victory and patriotism. Here are advantages and disadvantages of Churchill’s contemporaries and Historians:

Advantages – Censorship, morale, newspapers, and victories. The need to believe in their leader.

Disadvantages- Narvik campaign, ignored advisors, unworkable ideas, knew about bombings of places such as Coventry, USA took advantage of GB in lend lease agreement.

If you notice the advantages are from or to people at the time. Disadvantages are from the historians.

I think if you look closely enough into Churchill’s campaign you will find flaws, but nobody is perfect both the Contemporaries and the Historians have every right to question this but never should they say he was a bad leader, as he got them through and helped win the war, something no one else dared do.

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