The Progress of the War


By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain

In the House of Commons, November 5, 1940

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol VII, pp. 108-111

HERR HITLER declared on September 4 that, as we would not bend to his will, he would wipe out our cities. I have no doubt that when he gave the order he sincerely believed it within his power to carry his will into effect. However, the cities of Great Britain are still standing. They are quite distinctive objects on the landscape and our people are going about their tasks with the utmost activity.

Fourteen thousand civilians have been killed and 20,000 wounded, nearly four-fifths of them in London. That has been the loss of life and limb. As against those, 300 soldiers have been killed and 500 wounded.

So much for the attack on military objectives. A great deal of house property has been destroyed or damaged, but nothing that cannot be covered by our insurance scheme.

Very little damage has been done to our munitions and aircraft production, though a certain amount of time was lost through air-raid warnings. This lost time will have to be made up as we get settled down to the new conditions. None of the services upon which the life of our great cities depend—water, fuel, electricity, gas, sewerage—not one has been broken down.

On the contrary, although there must inevitably be local shortages, all the authorities concerned with these vital functions of the modern community feel they are on top of their jobs, feel it increasingly as each week passes.

Solving Transport Problems

Transport has been a greater difficulty, as may well be imagined when we think of the vast numbers who go into our great cities every day.

However, we are getting a good grip on that and I say with some confidence that by one method or another, probably by many methods at the same time, the problems connected with transport will be solved in a manner tolerable to the great number of people who are affected.

Shelters are being multiplied. Improvements and preparations on an intensive scale are in progress for mitigating the inevitable severities of Winter on those who are using the shelters. All this is going forward.

In these vicissitudes the bearing of our people not only in London but in Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester and other places has gained the unstinted admiration of all classes throughout the British Empire and the United States and, so far as they have been allowed to hear of it, the peoples of captive countries.

As I was going home the other night I asked a group of steel-helmeted men who stood around a doorway what was going on, and a deep voice from the background said: "Its a grand life if we won't weaken."

There is the British watchword for the Winter of 1940. We'll think of something else for the Winter of 1941.

There is no doubt the full malice and power of the enemy and his bombing force have been employed against us. They tried their best to obey Hitler's orders, but the scale of their attack has dwindled. The weekly average of casualties killed or seriously wounded for September was 4,500, for October 2,500. In the first week of intensive bombardment in September there were 6,000 casualties, in the last week of October only 2,000 casualties.

Not All Due to Weather

This diminution in the scale of the attack is not entirely due to the weather. The weather undoubtedly has had a lot to do with it, but there are other things going on which play their part besides the weather and which I believe will play a greater part as the months pass by. The House will not wish me to go into technical details on these points.

Meanwhile, how have the attackers fared? Two months ago I hazarded—I admit it was rather a shot—the statement that we hoped to destroy three enemy machines to one of our own lost, and six pilots to one. So far it seems I have been almost exactly right about machines, taking the whole period, and I was very nearly right about pilots.

But if you count the whole crew of large enemy bombers which have been brought down with their highly trained personnel, then it would be more like ten to one. So I somewhat understand from that point of view the results which have been achieved.

Obviously this process has combined with our own rapidly increasing production, and the production in the empire and the United States, of aircraft and airmen to advance us on the road to our reaching that parity in the air which always has been considered the minimum for our safety and thereafter reaching superiority in the air which is indispensable before we can gain victory.

U-Boat Activities Revived

Surveying the whole scene alike, in its splendor and its devastation, I see no reason to regret that Herr Hitler tried to break the British spirit by the blind bombing of our cities and countryside.

More serious than the air-raiding has been the recent recrudescence of U-boat sinkings in the Atlantic approaches to our island.

The fact that we cannot use the South and West Coast of Ireland to refuel our flotillas and aircraft and thus protect trade by which Ireland, as well as Great Britain lives, that fact is a most heavy and grievous burden and one which should never have been placed upon our shoulders, broad though they may be.

Moreover, we have been during the last month at the lowest point of our flotilla strength. The threat of invasion had always to be met and the great forces we are maintaining in the Mediterranean, in addition to escorts necessary to the protection of our innumerable convoys, have imposed upon the Royal Navy a gigantic task.

However, this period of stringency is perhaps passing. The fifty American destroyers are rapidly coming into service just when they are most needed and the main flow of new construction started at the outbreak of the war is now coming along.

In spite of serious losses, we have still very nearly as much shipping tonnage as we had at the outbreak of the war, and a great deal of neutral shipping which used to trade freely with us is now under our control.

Moreover, our U-boat hunting is still having its success. Two more German U-boats have been sunk in the last two or three days on the western approaches. One of them was the U-boat which sank the Empress of Britain. We have a number of their crews, who have been saved, as prisoners of war.

Long Ship Runs Costly

On the other hand, when I speak of our shipping tonnage not being appreciably diminished from the beginning or thewar, it must be remembered that our shipping is not so fruitful in war as in peacetime because the ships have to go a long way round and often to zigzag, and there are delays in the marshaling of convoys and congestions at ports.

It would not be wise to suppose that greater stringency has not been brought about, although the actual volume of shipping remains practically undiminished. I need scarcely say that intense efforts are being made by the Admiralty. My friend, the First Lord, gives the whole of his life and strength and high abilities to the task and I am confident that he is aided by the ablest officers in the service.

Intense efforts are being made by the Admiralty, and also by the Ministry of Shipping, to cope with these difficulties and, having lived through a lot and had in this war and the last great experience, I personally cannot doubt that they will be able to cope with them and be able to bring in all vital supplies of food and ammunition which we shall require.

The dangers in the air are sudden and might have become catastrophic, but dangers to our sea-borne traffic mature much more slowly, but they are none the less formidable, and if in any way neglected they would touch the life of State. We must expect that next year still heavier U-boat attacks will be made upon us and we are making immense preparations of all kinds to meet them.

We have had to look a long way ahead in this sphere of war. We have had to think of the years 1943 and 1944 and of the tonnage we shall be able to move and have to move across the seas then.

Urges Growing More Food

Every endeavor must be made to use the time available to produce the greatest volume of food of which this fertile island is capable, and so liberate our navy and merchant marine shipping for the movement of considerable armies which would certainly be required in those years if the enemy did not surrender or collapse meantime.

Having dwelt upon this sea communications aspect rather openly and bluntly, I should not like to leave it without assuring the House and the country that I personally have no doubt whatever that we shall make our way through all right.

I turn to another of our dangers. Some of those very clever people who sometimes are wise after the event, now are talking about the invasion scare. I do not mind that because it is true the danger of invasion, particularly invasion by barges, has diminished with the coming of the Winter months, unpredictable and uncertain weather.

It has also been diminished by the activities of the R. A. F. and the ever-growing strength of the British Army. When I spoke at the end of June 1 set forth in detail the well-known difficulties which would attend an invasion of this island which had been forgotten in the years when we did not have to consider the matter at all. At that time we had only a few brigades of well-armed, well-trained troops on these islands. We had no Home Guard to deal with the invader or airborne attacks behind our lines. The R. A. F. had not then proved itself master of our own air by daylight.

1,700,000 In Home Guard

Very different is the scene today. We have a very large army here, improved in equipment and training continually. The main part of that army now is highly mobile and is being imbued constantly with the spirit of counter-attack. We have 1,700,000 men of the Home Guard, all of whom will be in uniform before the year's end. Nearly 1,000,000 of the Home Guard have rifles or machine guns, nearly half of the Home Guard are veteran soldiers of the last war.

Such a force is of the highest value and importance. A country where every street, every village bristles with resolute armed men is a country against which the tactics which destroyed Dutch resistance, the tactics of parachutists and airborne troops in carriers or gliders and fifth column activities, if there are any ever here, of which I am increasingly skeptical, a country so defended would not be liable to be overrun by such tactics.

Therefore, I agree with those who think the invasion danger has for the time been diminished. But do not let us make the mistake of assuming it has passed away, or it may not recur in acuter form.

What is it that turned invasion into an invasion scare? It is maintenance in Britain of strong forces, unremitting vigilance by sea, air and land. A mighty army crouches across the Channel and the North Sea. Substantial masses of shipping are gathered in all harbors of the western seaboard of Europe from North Cape to the Gironde River. We must not allow our "shallow clevers" to lead us into thinking this is all a mere pretense at manoeuvre to tie us down here to prevent our redisposing of our forces.

Warns Against Relaxation

The vital realities of their duties must be borne in upon our whole troops and Home Guard during the Winter months. There must be no relaxation except when on necessary leave.

The plain fact that an invasion plan on so large a scale has not been attempted in spite of the very great need of the enemy to destroy us in our citadel, and all these anxious months when we stood alone while all the world wondered, have passed safely away—that fact alone constitutes in itself one of the historic victories of the British Isles and is a monumental milestone in our forward march.

We are engaged in forming and training a very strong army and the like is being done in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and India. We are now in the fifteenth month of the war and the British Army, of which I am now speaking in particular, has been able to shape itself with precision.

Although the sea and air will be the main elements of the war effort of the British Empire, we must have a fine strong army, well-equipped, well-trained and well-organized and capable of intervening for the liberation of one or other of the many countries who are yearning to throw off the odious Nazi yoke. Without such an army, forged and tempered and sharpened, and the sea power which gives it so wide a choice of action, the war might needlessly be prolonged and even drift to a disastrous stalemate.

Nothing must be done which retards or impairs the development of our army. What it lacks in numbers compared with the Nazi or Fascist hosts it must make up in quality and equipment. This is a lengthy process but we must persevere and not allow ourselves to be drawn from the task by passing distractions or temptations.

Army Ready for Civil Aid

The British Army is quite ready in any emergency to give all possible help to civil defense forces in meeting local conditions which arise from exceptional air attack upon districts which are overweighted by burdens cast upon them.

They have given very great assistance and will, if necessary, give more, but to hear some talk we should begin almost immediately to draft a large proportion of our army into the Civil Air Raids Precautions services. One would take all the lorries, another would take all the engineers, another the telegraphers, while another would take its manpower to clear away the ruins. As before the war it was a temptation not to make proper arrangements for defense, so now there is an inclination to trench unduly on the efficiencies of our military machine in order to meet the day-to-day requirements.

Let us be on our guard against this. All through this Winter the army has to train to perfect its fighting men in all the arts and manoeuvres of war. The House of Commons, the press and public opinion must be active to ward off from our army demands and influences which would hamper or delay the preparations of weapons of the highest quality.

Only in this way will we reach a position where instead of being forced to suffer the measureless taxations of a widespread defensive attitude with a hit now here, now there, then and inevitably we shall regain the initiative and make the enemy wonder where and how and when we will strike him. I beg the House—it is the foundation of our war-making effort—to keep a very careful eye on this aspect of our affairs.

Egypt Being Strengthened

During all these months of threatened invasion, so near, so deadly, we have never failed to reinforce our armies in Egypt to the limits of our shipping capacity, not only with men but with precious weapons which it is a wrench to take from our forces here.

Scores of thousands of troops have left these islands, month after month, more have been withdrawn from other parts of the empire for the Middle East during months when some of those who now talk so glibly of the invasion scare were scared stiff themselves.

Several times I have told the House I could not guarantee favorable results in the Middle East. After all, our position was calculated on the basis that France, our ally, and the all-powerful French army which General Weygand organized would stand by our side in the discharge of our joint obligations.

The submission of the French Government to German conquest and Italian exploitation not only has deprived us of these armies in Syria, Tunis, Algiers and Morocco but has denied us the assistance of the fine French Navy and the use of French naval and air bases in the Mediterranean.

Such a frightful desertion of our allies might well have confronted us with unsoluble problems. The Italian army in Libya, which some months ago far outnumbered the British and Imperial forces in and around Egypt, seemed likely to march forward irresistibly upon the Nile Valley and Suez.

I am thankful to be able to assure the House the balance of forces on the frontiers of Egypt and the Sudan is far less unfavorable than at the time of the French collapse.

Refuses Any Prophecies

I shall naturally not prophesy about the battles which are yet to be fought, but I think that at the beginning of July the House would have been glad to be assured that on November 5 we should still be holding in largely increased forces every position of any importance.

We have not had any serious collision with the Italian forces, but we have every reason to be content with the results of the skirmishes and forays which have taken place on the ground and in the air. Up to the end of September the Italians' officially published casualties for the fighting in Libya amounted to 800 killed, 1,700 wounded, 860 missing. Our own casualties for the same period in the same theatre were 66 killed, 68 wounded, 36 missing. The scale approaches 20 to 1.

These facts speak for themselves and should be a good augury for the greater battles and engagements which certainly will develop, if not in the Winter, certainly in the Spring.

At the same time the navy is keeping open the sea routes to the oceans. Under this very dangerous U-boat attack we have ceaselessly strengthened the fleet in the eastern Mediterannean and we are ready at any time to engage the Italian Navy in general action. This, after the time our fleet coursed into close approximation to the main Italian concentration, and we know their presence has been detected from the air, but so far this has not led to any decisive encounter.

Still, the power of the British fleet in the Mediterranean goes a long way to restore the situation created by the collapse of France, as does the great guarantee of our friend and ally, Turkey, of not weakening the power of Great Britain on the seas.

Therefore, whether you look at the home front or in the Mediterranean theatre I do not think it can be denied we are far better off than any one would have ventured to predict four or five months ago.

Assures Aid to Greece

A new call has suddenly been made upon us.

The Italian dictator, perhaps embarrassed by the somewhat florid flirtations of Monsieur Laval with the German conqueror, or it may be part of some new predatory design, has, in his customary cold-blooded fashion, fallen upon the small but famous and immortal Greek nation.

Without the slightest provocation, Signor Mussolini has invaded Greece, or tried to do so, and his aircraft have murdered an increasing number of Greek civilians—women and children—in Salonika and many other open Greek towns.

The Greek King, his government and the Greek people have resolved to fight for their life and honor lest the world should, too easily, be led in chains.

France and Britain had agreed to go to the aid of Greece if she became the victim of unprovoked aggression.

It was a joint agreement, but unhappily the Vichy Government is engaged at this moment in sincere and loyal collaboration with Herr Hitler in his scheme for establishing a so-called new order in Europe.

At any rate, the Vichy Government is no longer in a position to play any effective part in the task they had accepted.

We are therefore left alone. We have most carefully abstained from any action likely to draw upon the Greeks the enmity of the criminal dictators. For their part the Greeks have maintained so strict a neutrality that we were unacquainted with their intentions and dispositions.

Says Britain Faces Two Armies

I already have been at some pains to set forth to the House the very serious preoccupations that dominate us both at home and in the Middle East. We face one gigantic army across the waters of the Channel. We face another very powerful army much more numerous on the frontier of the Libyan Desert.

I must, as I say, approach the new task with a strong sense of the immense responsibility which rests upon us both at home and in Egypt and of very great continual dangers by which we are confronted.

In the circumstances there is only one thing we can do. We will do our best. We have already established a naval and air base in Crete, which will enable us sensibly to extend the activities and radius of the navy and of the air force.

We have begun bombing attacks upon military objectives in cities and bases in the south of Italy. That will continue on an ever-growing scale. I would also say that other forces are in movement with the desire and design to help the Greeks to the utmost of our capacity, having regard to our other obligations.

I hope I shall not be asked to give any definite account of such measures as we are able to take. If I were to set them too high I should raise false hopes. If I set them too low I might cause undue despondency and alarm, and if I said exactly what they were, that would be exactly what the enemy would like to know. We will do our best. That is all I can say.

To that decision and declaration generously interpreted I invoke with confidence the approval of the House.