(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
Last week I posted a brief series on the challenges Germany’s use of delayed-fuse bombs posed for Britain, Churchill’s response, and the incredibly brave volunteers who, literally at risk of life and limb, worked to defuse the bombs.
Another tactic the German’s began using in 1940 was the dropping by parachute of large mines with delayed-action fuses. These were even more deadly and disabling than the bombs in that the parachutes, as intended, would often get tangled on a buildings cornice or a telephone pole.
You can imagine how much more dangerous large mines in such positions were then a delayed-fuse bomb partially buried in the ground.
By mid-October 1940 Churchill had been demanding for weeks that the Royal Air Force retaliate in kind. But the Air Ministry resisted for a variety of reasons, including fear of provoking the Germans into adopting even more brutal tactics.
But Churchill would have none of it as the following minute reveals:
16 October 1940Churchill was an advocate of magnaminity in victory but resolution in war.
Prime Minister to Secretary of State for Air and C. A. S. [Chief of Air Staff].
I see it reported that last night a large number of land mines were dropped here, many of which have not yet gone off, and that great harm was done.
Let me have your proposals forthwith for effective retaliation upon Germany.
I am informed that it is quite possible to carry similar mines or large bombs to Germany, and that the squadrons wish to use them, but that the Air Ministry are refusing permission, I trust that due consideration will be given to my views and wishes.
It is now about three weeks since I began pressing for similar treatment of German military objectives to that which they are meeting out to us. Who is responsible for paralyzing action?
We see that resolution here: he would give the Germans measure for measure and more if he could.
We see something else in the minute: that last sentence - “Who is responsible for paralyzing action?”
He’s telling the two Air Ministry leaders he doesn’t want from them a position paper laying out one more time the reasons for not retaliating in kind.
They are to do as he wishes or give him the names of those blocking the retaliation.
In war: resolution.
Churchill's minute is found on pg. 365 of his Their Finest Hour (Houghton Mifflin, 1949)