London, England May 13, 1940

As Adolf Hitler’s armies raced across Europe, seemingly un­stop­pable, gobbling up coun­try after coun­try for Nazi Ger­many, and (God forbid) perhaps Britain her­self, Winston Churchill succeeded a war-weary Neville Cham­ber­lain as British prime minis­ter on May 10, 1940. Cham­ber­lain had appointed Chur­chill to be First Lord of the Admiralty, a polit­i­cal posi­tion with respon­si­bility for directing and con­trolling the Royal Navy and Marines, on the same day Britain had declared war on Germany, Septem­ber 3, 1939. This was the second time Churchill had headed the Admi­ralty Depart­ment—the first had been during the First World War—and the appoint­ment was well-received by Britons, even bumping up the popu­larity of Cham­ber­lain for several months until the prime minis­ter lost favor nationally and even among some mem­bers of his own Con­ser­va­tive Party at the end of the eight-month so-called “Phony War,” when Germany over­ran tiny Den­mark and assaulted Norway in April 1941. The Anglo-French debacle in stiffening Norwegian resis­tance to the Nazi inva­sion prompted Cham­ber­lain to con­sent to seeing the driven Chur­chill rewarded with his party’s most impor­tant prize, the prime minis­ter­ship. Chur­chill assembled a new coa­li­tion govern­ment of Con­ser­va­tives, Laborites, and Liberals, plus a smattering of ministers with no party affiliation.

Churchill and former Prime Minister Chamberlain entered a packed House of Com­mons on this date, May 13, 1941, three days after news had reached a still-shocked London of Germany’s inva­sion of the Low Coun­tries and France. After a luke­warm recep­tion from fellow Members of Parlia­ment—Chur­chill was unpop­u­lar in many circles, espe­cially among Cham­ber­lain loyalists still smarting over the change in top leader­ship—Britain’s new prime minis­ter uttered one of the greatest calls-to-arms ever: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” he told his listeners. The policy of his new govern­ment was “to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a mon­strous tyran­ny, never sur­passed in the dark, lament­able cata­log of human crime.” His govern­ment’s aim was “victory at all costs. Victory in spite of all terrors. Victory, how­ever long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.”

Churchill’s inaugural address as prime minister—his power­ful call-to-arms—was followed the next month by two more elo­quent ora­to­rical instances preceding the June 22, 1940, French surrender: the June 4 “We shall fight on the beaches” speech and the June 18 “This was their finest hour” speech one day after the pro­posed Franco-German armi­stice was announced. In his June 4 speech, Chur­chill con­tem­plated the im­pending mili­tary defeat of his con­ti­nen­tal ally France and the real pos­si­bil­ity of having to defend the besieged British Isles on English inva­sion beaches, in English fields and hills, and in streets—all this with­out under­mining his May 13 dec­la­ra­tion of “victory, how­ever long and hard the road may be.” In the last of the three speeches Chur­chill recog­nized the looming battle facing all Britain. “The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. . . . If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be freed. . . . But if we fail, then the world . . . will sink into the abyss of a new dark age. . . . Let us there­fore brace our­selves to our duties, and so bear our­selves, that if the British Empire and its Common­wealth last for a thou­sand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour’.” Churchill’s three master­ful (and match­less) speeches, like others that followed during the dark years of 1940–1941, inspired and unified his country­men to soldier on alone, still unbowed, until help came in the form of America’s dramatic entrance into the European conflict on December 11, 1941.

Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill: Divergent War Aims

British Wartime Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, 1939–1940  British Wartime Prime Minister Winson Churchill, 1940–1945

Left: Neville Chamberlain (1869–1940), British prime minister from May 28, 1937, to May 10, 1940. In his last month in office, the May 1940 Gallup poll showed Cham­ber­lain’s unfavor­ability rating at 67 per­cent, which stood in stark contrast to his huge pop­u­lar­ity as an inter­national “peace­maker” in the wake of the Septem­ber 1938 Munich Con­fer­ence. The four-power sum­mit of Euro­pean polit­i­cal leaders in Bavaria’s capital appeased Hitler by rewarding Nazi Germany with Czecho­slo­va­kia’s ethnic-German Sudeten­land. Chur­chill turned his back on Cham­ber­lain’s hither­to futile war aim; namely, trying to induce in Hitler a change of heart and mind by teaching Nazi Germany that aggres­sion in Czecho­slo­vakia and Poland (1939) and Den­mark and Norway (1940) could not and must not pay div­i­dends of any kind. Britain’s war aim under Chur­chill was not the collapse of the German econ­omy or a revolt of the German masses and a com­pro­mise peace as Cham­ber­lain had hoped for; rather, it was a complete and clear-cut mili­tary victory over the pred­a­tory nation—a return to total war of the kind that even­tu­ally brought down Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany during the First World War. Cham­ber­lain, after stepping down as prime minister in May 1940, remained in Chur­chill’s coa­li­tion cabi­net as Lord Presi­dent of the Coun­cil, presiding over meetings of the Privy Council, until October 3, 1940, succumbing to bowel cancer the next month at age 71.

Right: Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Winston Churchill (1874–1965) flashing his famous “V” for victory sign following his return from Washing­ton, D.C., to No. 10 Downing St., London, June 5, 1943. Named the Greatest Briton of all time in a 1999 BBC poll, Chur­chill is widely regarded as being among the most influ­en­tial people in British history, con­sis­tently ranking well in opinion polls of 20th-cen­tury British prime minis­ters. Inter­estingly, Clement Attlee, Chur­chill’s Labor Party suc­ces­sor in 1945, ranked first in three out of four recent polls (2004–2016). In the 2004 online poll of 258 aca­demics who spe­cialized in 20th-century British history and/or politics, Attlee ranked number 1, Churchill 2, and Chamberlain 17 out of 20.

Except from Winston Churchill’s First Speech to the House of Commons: “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat”

WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on The ebook contains a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site. Featuring inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to different dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.
WWII Chronicles book coverHistory buffs, there is good news! The Daily Chronicles of World War II is now avail­able as an ebook for $4.99 on Con­taining a year’s worth of dated entries from this web­site, the ebook brings the story of this tumul­tu­ous era to life in a com­pelling, author­i­ta­tive, and suc­cinct man­ner. Fea­turing inven­tive naviga­tion aids, the ebook enables readers to instantly move for­ward or back­ward by month and date to dif­fer­ent dated entries. Simple and elegant! Click here to purchase the ebook.