Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Churchill Series - Jan. 8, 2008

(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Until a few years ago, whenever I thought of Churchill's magnificent leadership during 1940, it was always in terms Britain surviving Dunkirk, standing alone, facing the threat of invasion, fighting the Battles of the Atlantic and Britain, and carrying on during the Blitz.

I'd never thought much about, or understood, the courage, genius, and consequences of Churchill's decision after Dunkirk to dispatch most of Britain's army to North Africa and the Middle East.

But historian John Keegan has. Here's what he said about that decision, part of a Churchill profile Keegan wrote in April, 1998:

Following the total defeat of France, Britain truly, in his words, "stood alone." It had no substantial allies and, for much of 1940, lay under threat of German invasion and under constant German air attack.

He nevertheless refused Hitler's offers of peace, organized a successful air defense that led to the victory of the Battle of Britain and meanwhile sent most of what remained of the British army, after its escape from the humiliation of Dunkirk, to the Middle East to oppose Hitler's Italian ally, Mussolini.

This was one of the boldest strategic decisions in history. Convinced that Hitler could not invade Britain while the Royal Navy and its protecting Royal Air Force remained intact, he dispatched the army to a remote theater of war to open a second front against the Nazi alliance. Its victories against Mussolini during 1940-41 both humiliated and infuriated Hitler, while its intervention in Greece, to oppose Hitler's invasion of the Balkans, disrupted the Nazi dictator's plans to conclude German conquests in Europe by defeating Russia.
John Keegan, Winston Churchill: A Profile. (Time.com - April, 1998)