May 10, 1942
British Library of Information.
I have now served for two years, exactly to a day, as the King's First Minister. Therefore, I thought it would be a good thing if I had a talk to you on the broadcast, to look back a little on what we have come through, to consider how we stand now and to peer cautiously, but at the same time resolutely, into the future.
The tremendous period through which we have passed has certainly been full of anxieties and exertions. It has been marked by many misfortunes and disappointments.
This time two years ago the Germans were beating down Holland and Belgium by unprovoked, brutal, merciless invasion. And very soon there came upon us the total defeat of France and the fatal surrender at Bordeaux.
Mussolini, the Italian miscalculator, thought he saw his chance of a cheap and easy triumph and rich plunder for no fighting. He struck at the back of a dying France and at what he believed was a doomed Britain.
We were left alone; our quarter of a million Dunkerque troops saved, wholly disarmed, ourselves as yet unarmed to face the might of victorious Germany, to face also the carefully saved up strength of an Italy which then still ranked as a first-class power.
Here, at home in this island, invasion was near. The Mediterranean was closed to us. The long route round the Cape, where General Smuts stands on guard, alone was open. Our small, ill-equipped forces in Egypt and the Sudan seemed to await destruction. All the world, even our best friends, thought that our end had come.
Accordingly, we prepared ourselves to conquer or to perish. We were united in that solemn majestic hour. We were all equally resolved at least to go down fighting. We cast calculation to the winds. No wavering voice was heard. We hurled defiance at our foes. We faced our duty and, by the mercy of God, we were preserved.
It fell to me in those days to express the sentiments and resolves of the British nation in that supreme crisis of its life. That was for me an honor far beyond any dreams or ambitions I had ever nursed, and it is one that cannot be taken away.
For a whole year after the fall of France we stood alone, keeping the flag of freedom flying and the hopes of the world alive. We conquered the Italian Empire. We destroyed or captured almost all Mussolini's African Army. We liberated Abyssinia. We have so far successfully protected Palestine, Syria, Persia and Iraq from German designs.
We have suffered grievous reverses in going to the aid of the heroic Greeks. We bore unflinching many a heavy blow abroad and still more in our cities here at home. And all this time, cheered and helped by President Roosevelt and the United States, we stood alone, neither faltering nor flagging.
Where are we now? Can anyone doubt that if we are worthy of it, as we shall be, we have in our hands our own future? As in the last war, so in this, we are moving through many reverses and defeats to complete and final victory. We have only to endure and to persevere to conquer.
Now we are no longer unarmed. We are well armed. Now we are not alone. We have mighty Allies, bound irrevocably by solemn faith and common interests to stand with us in the ranks of the United Nations.
There can only be one end. When it will come or how it will come I cannot tell, But, when we survey the overwhelming resources which are at our disposal, once they are fully marshaled and developed, as they can be, as they will be, we may stride forward into the unknown with growing confidence.
During the time that we were all alone we were steadily growing stronger. He would have been a bold man, however, who in those days would have put down in black and white exactly how we were going to win. But, as has happened before in our island history, by remaining steadfast and unyielding, stubborn, if you will, against a Continental tyrant, we reached the moment when that tyrant made a fatal blunder.
Dictators, as well as democracies and parliamentary governments, make mistakes sometimes. Indeed, when the whole story is told I believe it will be found that the dictators, for all their preparations and prolonged scheming, have made greater mistakes than the democracies they have assailed.
Even a Hitler makes mistakes sometimes. In June last, without the slightest provocation and in breach of a pact of non-aggression, he invaded the lands of the Russian peoples.
At that time he had the strongest army in the world, trained in war, flushed with incredible, unbroken success, and equipped with limitless munitions and the most modern weapons. He had also secured for himself the advantages of surprise and treachery.
Thus he drove the youth and manhood of the German nation forward into Russia. The Russians, under their warrior chief, Stalin, sustained losses which no other country or government has ever borne in so short a time and lived. But they, like us, were resolved never to give in.
They poured out their blood upon their native soil, they kept their faces to the foe from the very first day to the end of the year and on through the night they fought with unflinching valor. And, from the very first day when they were attacked, when no one could tell how things would go, we made a brotherhood with them and a solemn compact to destroy Nazidom and all its works.
Then Hitler made his second grand blunder. He forgot about the Winter. There is a Winter, you know, in Russia. For a good many months the temperature is apt to fall very low. There is snow; there is frost and all that.
Hitler forgot about this Russian Winter. He must have been very loosely educated. We all heard about it at school, but he forgot it. I have never made such a bad mistake as that.
So Winter came and fell upon his ill-clad armies, and with the Winter came the valiant Russian counter-attacks. No one can say with certainty how many millions of Germans have already perished in Russia and its snows.
Certainly more have perished than were killed in the whole four-and-a-quarter years of the last war. That is probably an understatement.
So besotted is this man in his lust for blood and conquest, so blasting is the power he wields over the lives of Germans, that he even blurted out the other day that his armies would be better clothed and his locomotives better prepared for their second Winter in Russia than they were for their first.
There was an admission about the length of the war that struck a chill into German hearts as cold as the icy winds of Russia.
What will be the sufferings of the German manhood in this new blood bath? What is there in front of Hitler now? Certain it is that the Russian armies are stronger than they were last year, that they have learned by hard experience to fight the Germans in the field, that they are well equipped and that their constancy and courage are unquenched. That is what is in front of Hitler.
What is he leaving behind him? He leaves behind him a Europe starving and in chains, a Europe in which his execution squads are busy in a dozen countries every day, a Europe which has learned to hate the Nazi name as no name has ever been hated in the recorded history of mankind, a Europe burning for revolt whenever the opportunity comes.
But this is not all he has left behind. We are on his tracks and so is the great Republic of the United States. Already the Royal Air Force has set about him. The British and presently the American bombing offensive against Germany will be one of the principal features in this year's World War.
Now is the time to use our increasingly superior air strength to strike hard and continually at the home front in Germany, from which so much evil has leaked out upon the world and which is the foundation of the whole enormous German invasion of Russia.
Now, while the German armies will be bleeding and burning up their strength against a 2,000-mile Russian line and when the news of casualties by hundreds of thousands is streaming back to the German Reich, now is the time to bring home to the German people the wickedness of their rulers by destroying under their very eyes the factories and seaports on which their war effort depends.
German propaganda has been constantly appealing of late to British public opinion to put a stop to these severe forms of warfare, which, according to the German view, should be the strict monopoly of the Herrenvolk. Herr Hitler himself has not taken at all kindly to this treatment and he has been good enough to mingle terrible threats with his whinings.
He warns us solemnly that if we go on smashing up the German cities, his war factories and his bases, he will retaliate against our cathedrals and historic monuments, if they are not too far inland.
We have heard his threats before. Eighteen months ago, in September, 1940, when he thought he had an overwhelming air force at his command, he declared that he would rub out-that was the actual expression, "rub out"-our towns and cities, and he certainly had a good try.
Now the boot is on the other leg. Herr Hitler has even called in question the humanity of these grim developments of war. What a pity this conversion did not take place in his heart before he bombed Warsaw, or massacred 20,000 Dutch folk in defenseless Rotterdam, or reaped his cruel vengeance upon the open city of Belgrade.
In those days he used to boast that for every ton of bombs we dropped on Germany he would drop ten times, or even a hundred times, as many on Britain. Those were his words and that was his belief. Indeed, for a time we had to suffer very severely from his vastly superior strength and utter ruthlessness.
But now it is the other way round. We are in a position to carry into Germany many times the tonnage of high explosives which he can send here. And this proportion will increase all the Summer, all the Autumn, all the Winter, all the Spring, and all the Summer, and so on till the end.
The accuracy of our bombing has nearly doubled, and with continued practice I expect it will improve still more. Moreover, at the same time, our methods of dealing with his raiders over here have more than repaid the immense care and science bestowed upon them and the very large scale upon which they are applied.
During the month of April we have destroyed one-tenth of all the raiding aircraft which have assailed our island. Whereas, acting on a scale several times as big, the losses which we have suffered have been proportionately far smaller. We have waited long for this turning of the tables and have taken whatever came to us meanwhile.
You will remember how the German propaganda films, seeking to terrorize neutral countries and glorying in devastating violence, were wont to show rows of great German bombers being loaded up with bombs, then flying in the air in battle array, then casting down showers of bombs upon the defenseless towns and villages below, choking them in smoke and flame.
All this was represented from the beginning of the war to neutral countries as the German way of making war. All this was intended to make the world believe that resistance to the German will was impossible and that subjugation and slavery was the safest and the easiest road.
Those days are gone. Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small. And for my part I hail it as an example of sublime and poetic justice that those who have loosed these horrors upon mankind shall now in their own homes and persons feel the shattering strokes of retributive justice.
We have a long list of German cities in which the vital industries of the German war machine are established. All these it will be our stern duty to deal with as we have already dealt with Luebeck, with Rostock and half a dozen important bases.
The civil population of Germany have, however, an easy way to escape from these severities. All they have to do is to leave the cites where munition work is being carried on, abandon their work and go out into the fields and watch the home fires burning from a distance.
In this way they may find time for meditation and repentance. There they may remember the millions of Russian women and children they have driven out to perish in the snows and the mass executions of peasantry and prisoners of war which in varying scale they are inflicting upon so many of the ancient and famous peoples of Europe.
There they may remember that it is the villainous Hitlerite regime which is responsible for dragging Germany through misery and slaughter to ultimate ruin and that the tyrant's overthrow is the first step to world liberation.
We now wait in what is a stormy lull, but still a lull before the hurricane bursts again in full fury on the Russian front. We cannot tell when it will begin. We have not so far seen any evidences of those great concentrations of German masses which usually precede their large-scale offensives. They may have been successfully concealed or may not yet have been launched eastward. But it is now the tenth of May and the days are passing.
We send our salutations to the Russian armies and we hope that the thousands of tanks and aeroplanes which have been carried to their aid from Britain and America will be a useful contribution to their own magnificently developed and reorganized munitions resources.
There is, however, one serious matter which I must mention to you. The Soviet Government have expressed to us the view that the Germans in the desperation of their assault may make use of poison gas against the armies and people of Russia. We are, ourselves, firmly resolved not to use this odious weapon unless it is used first by the Germans. Knowing our Hun, however, we have not neglected to make preparations on a formidable scale.
I wish now to make it plain that we shall treat the unprovoked use of poison gas against our Russian ally exactly as if it were used against ourselves and if we are satisfied that this new outrage has been committed by Hitler we will use our great and growing air superiority in the West to carry gas warfare on the largest possible scale far and wide against military objectives in Germany.
It is thus for Hitler to choose whether he wishes to add this additional horror to aerial warfare.
We have for some time past been bringing our defensive and precautionary arrangements up to date and I now give public warning so that there may be no carelessness or neglect. Of one thing I am sure: that the British people who have entered into the full comradeship of war with our Russian ally will not shrink from any sacrifice or trial which that comradeship may require.
Meanwhile, our deliveries of tanks, aircraft and munitions to Russia from Britain and from the United States continue upon the full scale. We have the duty of escorting the northern convoys to their destination.
Our sailors and merchant seamen face the fearful storms of the Arctic Circle, the lurking U-boats and shore-based aircraft, as well as attacks by German destroyers and surface craft, with their customary steadfastness and faithful courage.
So far, though not without some loss both to the supply ships and their escorts, every convoy has successfully fought its way through and we intend to persevere and fight it out on this northern route to the utmost of our strength.
Is there anything else we can do to take the weight off Russia? We are urged from many quarters to invade the Continent of Europe and so form a second front. Naturally I shall not disclose what our intentions are. But there is one thing I will say. I welcome the militant, aggressive spirit of the British nation, so strongly shared across the Atlantic Ocean.
Is it not far better that in the thirty-second month of this hard war we should find this general desire to come to the closest grips with the enemy than that there should be any signs of war weariness?
Is it not far better that demonstrations of thousands of people should gather in Trafalgar Square demanding the most vehement and audacious attacks than that there should be the weepings and wailings and peace agitations which in other lands and other wars have often hampered the action and vigour of governments?
It is encouraging and inspiring to feel the strong heartbeats of a free nation surging forward, stern and undaunted in a righteous cause. We must not fail them either in daring or in wisdom.
This week, two islands have been in our minds. One is very large; the other, very small-Madagascar and Malta. We have found it necessary to take precautions to prevent Madagascar falling into enemy hands by some dishonourable and feeble drifting or connivance by Vichy, like that which injured us so much in Indo-China.
It is three months since the decision was taken and more than two months since the expedition left these shores. Its first task was to secure the splendid harbour of Diego Suarez, in the northern part of Madagascar, which if it had fallen into Japanese hands might have paralyzed all our communications with India and the Middle East.
While the troops were on the sea I must tell you I felt a shiver every time I saw the word Madagascar in the newspapers. All these articles, with diagrams and measured maps, showing how very important it was for us to take Madagascar and forestall the Japanese and be there-"first for once," as they said-filled me with apprehension.
There was no question of leakage or breach of confidence-as they say, "Great minds think alike." But shrewd surmise may be as dangerous as leakage and it was with considerable relief that I learned that the difficulties of our soldiers and their losses had not been aggravated and that the operation had been swiftly and effectually carried out.
We hold this island in trust. We hold it in trust for that gallant France which we have known and marched with and whose restoration to her place among the great powers of the world is indispensable to the future of Europe. Madagascar rests under the safeguard of the United Nations.
Vichy, in the grip of the Germans, has been made to bluster and protest. The France that rose at St. Nazaire, and will one day rise in indescribable fury against the Nazis, understands what we have done and gives us its trust. The smaller island is Malta, a tiny rock of history and romance. Today we welcome back to our shores General Dobbie, for nearly two years the heroic defender of Malta. The burden which he has borne so honorably for so long entitles him to release and repose.
In Lord Gort we have a new impulse. His work at Gibraltar has been of the highest order. It was not his fault that our armies did not have their chance in France. He is a grand fighter.
For the moment the terrific air attack on Malta has slackened. It looks as if a lot of enemy aircraft had moved eastward. I wonder why. If so, another intense air battle for Malta, upon which the enemy have concentrated such an immense preponderance of strength and for which they have sacrificed so many of those aircraft which they now have to count more carefully every day another intense air battle will have been definitely won.
But other perils remain and I know of no man in the British Empire to whom I would sooner entrust the combating and beating down of those perils than Lord Gort.
If we look back today over the course of the war as it has so far unfolded we can see that it seems to divide itself into four very clearly defined chapters. The first ended with the overrunning by the Nazis of Western Europe and with the fall of France.
The second chapter-Britain alone-ended with Hitler's attack upon Russia. I would call the third chapter, which then began, the Russian glory. May it long continue!
The fourth chapter opened at Pearl Harbour when the military party in Japan treacherously attacked the United States and Great Britain in the Far East. That is where we are now.
The aggression of Italy in 1940 had carried the war from Europe to Africa. The aggression of Japan has involved all Asia, including unconquerable China, and in one way or another has drawn in or will draw in the whole of the American Continent.
Thus the struggle has become world-wide and the fate of all States and nations and their future is at stake.
This latest chapter, universal war, confronts us with many difficulties and immense complications. But is there any thoughtful, sensible person who cannot see how vastly and decisively the awful balances have turned to the advantage of the cause of freedom?
It is true that the Japanese, taking advantage of our preoccupations elsewhere, and of the fact that the United States had striven for so long to keep the peace, have seized more easily and more quickly than they expected their lands of booty and desire in the East Indian Archipelago.
Henceforward they will find resistance stiffening on all their widely spread fronts. They can ill afford losses such as those they have sustained in the naval action of the Coral Sea.
So far we have no detailed accounts, but it is obvious, if only from the lies the Japanese have felt compelled to tell about sinking a battleship of the Warspite class, that a most vigorous and successful battle has been fought by the United States and Australian naval forces.
The Japanese war lords cannot be indifferent to the losses of aircraft inflicted upon them at so many points and particularly off the northern coasts of Australia and in their repulse at Colombo and Trincomalee. At the start the pent-up, saved-up resources of Japan were bound to prevail in the Far Eastern I theatre, but the strength of the United States, expressed in units I of modern war power, actual and potential, is alone many times I greater than the power of Japan, and we also will make our I contribution to the final defeat and punishment of this ambitious and greedy nation.
Time will, however, be needed before the true strengths on either side of the Eastern war become manifest. I am not prone to make predictions, but I have no doubt tonight that British and American sea power will grip and hold the Japanese and that overwhelming air power, covering vigorous military operations, will lay them low. This would come to pass, of course, very much sooner should anything happen to Hitler in Europe.
Therefore, tonight I give you a message of good cheer. You deserve it and the facts endorse it. But be it good cheer or be it bad cheer will make no difference to us. We shall drive on to the end and do our duty, win or die; God helping us, we can do no other.