(One of a series of weekday posts about the life of Winston S. Churchill.)
On May 19, 1935, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin admitted in the House of Commons that previous government estimates of German air strength seriously underestimated its strength.
In his WWII memoirs, Churchill recalled Baldwin’s announcement. He quoted Baldwin telling the House:
“First of all, with regard to the figure I gave in November of German aeroplanes, nothing has come to my knowledge since that makes me think that figure was wrong. I believed at that time it was right. Where I was wrong was in my estimate of the future. There I was completely wrong. We were completely misled on that subject. [Italics Churchill’s.] …Churchill went on to share with readers his thoughts as he listened to Baldwin:
I think it is only due to say that there has been a great deal of criticism, both in the Press and verbally, about the Air Ministry, as though they were responsible for possibly an inadequate programme, for not having gone ahead faster, and for many other things. I only want to repeat that whatever responsibility there may be—and we are perfectly ready to meet criticism—that responsibility is not that of any single Minister; it is the responsibility of the Government as a whole, and we are all responsible, and we are all to blame.”[Italics Churchill’s.]
I hoped that this shocking confession would be a decisive event, and that at the least a Parliamentary Committee of all parties would be set up to report upon the facts and upon our safety.Five years to the day of Baldwin's speech, the German air force was dominating the skies over the Low Countries and France, while Hitler's Army drove toward Paris and the Channel Coast.
The House of Commons had a different reaction. The Labour and Liberal Oppositions, having nine months earlier moved or supported a Vote of Censure even upon the modest steps the Government had taken, were ineffectual and undecided. They were looking forward to an election against “Tory armaments.”
A month later, Britain stood alone.
In his May 1935 speech, Baldwin had assured the Commons :
“I would repeat here that there is no occasion, in my view, in what we are doing, for panic._________________________________________
Winston S. Churchill, The Gathering Storm. (p.97)