Winston Churchill - Their
June 18, 1940
"I spoke the other day of the colossal military disaster which occurred when the French High Command failed to
withdraw the northern Armies from Belgium at the moment when they knew that the French front was decisively broken
at Sedan and on the Meuse. This delay entailed the loss of fifteen or sixteen French divisions and threw out of
action for the critical period the whole of the British Expeditionary Force. Our Army and 120,000 French troops
were indeed rescued by the British Navy from Dunkirk but only with the loss of their cannon, vehicles and modern
This loss inevitably took some weeks to repair, and in the first two of those weeks the battle in France has
been lost. When we consider the heroic resistance made by the French Army against heavy odds in this battle, the
enormous losses inflicted upon the enemy and the evident exhaustion of the enemy, it may well be the thought that
these 25 divisions of the best-trained and best-equipped troops might have turned the scale. However, General
Weygand had to fight without them. Only three British divisions or their equivalent were able to stand in the line
with their French comrades. They have suffered severely, but they have fought well. We sent every man we could to
France as fast as we could re-equip and transport their formations.
I am not reciting these facts for the purpose of recrimination. That I judge to be utterly futile and even harmful.
We cannot afford it. I recite them in order to explain why it was we did not have, as we could have had, between
twelve and fourteen British divisions fighting in the line in this great battle instead of only three. Now I put
all this aside. I put it on the shelf, from which the historians, when they have time, will select their documents
to tell their stories. We have to think of the future and not of the past. This also applies in a small way to our
own affairs at home. There are many who would hold an inquest in the House of Commons on the conduct of the
Governments - and of Parliaments, for they are in it, too - during the years which led up to this catastrophe. They
seek to indict those who were responsible for the guidance of our affairs. This also would be a foolish and
pernicious process. There are too many in it. Let each man search his conscience and search his speeches. I
frequently search mine.
Of this I am quite sure, that if we open a quarrel between the past and the present, we shall find that we have
lost the future. Therefore, I cannot accept the drawing of any distinctions between Members of the present
Government. It was formed at a moment of crisis in order to unite all the Parties and all sections of opinion. It
has received the almost unanimous support of both Houses of Parliament. Its Members are going to stand together,
and, subject to the authority of the House of Commons, we are going to govern the country and fight the war. It is
absolutely necessary at a time like this that every Minister who tries each day to do his duty shall be respected;
and their subordinates must know that their chiefs are not threatened men, men who are here today and gone
tomorrow, but that their directions must be punctually and faithfully obeyed. Without this concentrated power we
cannot face what lies before us. I should not think it would be very advantageous for the House to prolong this
Debate this afternoon under conditions of public stress. Many facts are not clear that will be clear in a short
time. We are to have a secret Session on Thursday, and I should think that would be a better opportunity for the
many earnest expressions of opinion which Members will desire to make and for the House to discuss vital matters
without having everything read the next morning by our dangerous foes.
The disastrous military events which have happened during the past fortnight have not come to me with any sense of
surprise. Indeed, I indicated a fortnight ago as clearly as I could to the House that the worst possibilities were
open; and I made it perfectly clear then that whatever happened in France would make no difference to the resolve
of Britain and the British Empire to fight on, 'if necessary for years, if necessary alone." During the last few
days we have successfully brought off the great majority of the troops we had on the line of communication in
France; and seven-eighths of the troops we have sent to France since the beginning of the war-that is to say, about
350,000 out of 400,000 men-are safely back in this country. Others are still fighting with the French, and fighting
with considerable success in their local encounters against the enemy. We have also brought back a great mass of
stores, rifles and munitions of all kinds which had been accumulated in France during the last nine months.
We have, therefore, in this Island today a very large and powerful military force. This force comprises all our
best-trained and our finest troops, including scores of thousands of those who have already measured their quality
against the Germans and found themselves at no disadvantage. We have under arms at the present time in this Island
over a million and a quarter men. Behind these we have the Local Defense Volunteers, numbering half a million, only
a portion of whom, however, are yet armed with rifles or other firearms. We have incorporated into our Defense
Forces every man for whom we have a weapon.
We expect very large additions to our weapons in the near future, and in preparation for this we intend
forthwith to call up, drill and train further large numbers. Those who are not called up, or else are employed
during the vast business of munitions production in all its branches-and their ramifications are innumerable-will
serve their country best by remaining at their ordinary work until they receive their summons. We have also over
here Dominions armies. The Canadians had actually landed in France, but have now been safely withdrawn, much
disappointed, but in perfect order, with all their artillery and equipment. And these very high-class forces from
the Dominions will now take part in the defense of the Mother Country.
Lest the account which I have given of these large forces should raise the question: Why did they not take part in
the great battle in France? I must make it clear that, apart from the divisions training and organizing at home,
only 12 divisions were equipped to fight upon a scale which justified their being sent abroad. And this was fully
up to the number which the French had been led to expect would be available in France at the ninth month of the
war. The rest of our forces at home have a fighting value for home defense which will, of course, steadily increase
every week that passes. Thus, the invasion of Great Britain would at this time require the transportation across
the sea of hostile armies on a very large scale, and after they had been so transported they would have to be
continually maintained with all the masses of munitions and supplies which are required for continuous battle - as
continuous battle it will surely be.
Here is where we come to the Navy - and after all, we have a Navy. Some people seem to forget that we have a Navy.
We must remind them. For the last thirty years I have been concerned in discussions about the possibilities of
oversea invasion, and I took the responsibility on behalf of the Admiralty, at the beginning of the last war, of
allowing all regular troops to be sent out of the country. That was a very serious step to take, because our
Territorials had only just been called up and were quite untrained. Therefore, this Island was for several months
particularly denuded of fighting troops. The Admiralty had confidence at that time in their ability to prevent a
mass invasion even though at that time the Germans had a magnificent battle fleet in the proportion of 10 to 16,
even though they were capable of fighting a general engagement every day and any day, whereas now they have only a
couple of heavy ships worth speaking of-the Scharnhorst and the Gneisenau. We are also told that the Italian Navy
is to come out and gain sea superiority in these waters. If they seriously intend it, I shall only say that we
shall be delighted to offer Signor Mussolini a free and safeguarded passage through the Strait of Gibraltar in
order that he may play the part to which he aspires. There is a general curiosity in the British Fleet to find out
whether the Italians are up to the level they were at in the last war or whether they have fallen off at all.
Therefore, it seems to me that as far as sea-borne invasion on a great scale is concerned, we are far more capable
of meeting it today than we were at many periods in the last war and during the early months of this war, before
our other troops were trained, and while the B.E.F. had proceeded abroad. Now, the Navy have never pretended to be
able to prevent raids by bodies of 5,000 or 10,000 men flung suddenly across and thrown ashore at several points on
the coast some dark night or foggy morning. The efficacy of sea power, especially under modern conditions, depends
upon the invading force being of large size; It has to be of large size, in view of our military strength, to be of
any use. If it is of large size, then the Navy have something they can find and meet and, as it were, bite
Now, we must remember that even five divisions, however lightly equipped, would require 200 to 250 ships, and
with modern air reconnaissance and photography it would not be easy to collect such an armada, marshal it, and
conduct it across the sea without any powerful naval forces to escort it; and there would be very great
possibilities, to put it mildly, that this armada would be intercepted long before it reached the coast, and all
the men drowned in the sea or, at the worst blown to pieces with their equipment while they were trying to land. We
also have a great system of minefields, recently strongly reinforced, through which we alone know the channels. If
the enemy tries to sweep passages through these minefields, it will be the task of the Navy to destroy the
mine-sweepers and any other forces employed to protect them. There should be no difficulty in this, owing to our
great superiority at sea.
Those are the regular, well-tested, well-proved arguments on which we have relied during many years in peace and
war. But the question is whether there are any new methods by which those solid assurances can be circumvented. Odd
as it may seem, some attention has been given to this by the Admiralty, whose prime duty and responsibility is to
destroy any large sea-borne expedition before it reaches, or at the moment when it reaches, these shores. It would
not be a good thing for me to go into details of this. It might suggest ideas to other people which they have not
thought of, and they would not be likely to give us any of their ideas in exchange. All I will say is that untiring
vigilance and mind-searching must be devoted to the subject, because the enemy is crafty and cunning and full of
novel treacheries and stratagems. The House may be assured that the utmost ingenuity is being displayed and
imagination is being evoked from large numbers of competent officers, well-trained in tactics and thoroughly up to
date, to measure and counterwork novel possibilities. Untiring vigilance and untiring searching of the mind is
being, and must be, devoted to the subject, because, remember, the enemy is crafty and there is no dirty trick he
will not do.
Some people will ask why, then, was it that the British Navy was not able to prevent the movement of a large army
from Germany into Norway across the Skagerrak? But the conditions in the Channel and in the North Sea are in no way
like those which prevail in the Skagerrak. In the Skagerrak, because of the distance, we could give no air support
to our surface ships, and consequently, lying as we did close to the enemy's main air power, we were compelled to
use only our submarines. We could not enforce the decisive blockade or interruption which is possible from surface
vessels. Our submarines took a heavy toll but could not, by themselves, prevent the invasion of Norway. In the
Channel and in the North Sea, on the other hand, our superior naval surface forces, aided by our submarines, will
operate with close and effective air assistance.
This brings me, naturally, to the great question of invasion from the air, and of the impending struggle between
the British and German Air Forces. It seems quite clear that no invasion on a scale beyond the capacity of our land
forces to crush speedily is likely to take place from the air until our Air Force has been definitely overpowered.
In the meantime, there may be raids by parachute troops and attempted descents of airborne soldiers. We should be
able to give those gentry a warm reception both in the air and on the ground, if they reach it in any condition to
continue the dispute. But the great question is: Can we break Hitler's air weapon? Now, of course, it is a very
great pity that we have not got an Air Force at least equal to that of the most powerful enemy within striking
distance of these shores. But we have a very powerful Air Force which has proved itself far superior in quality,
both in men and in many types of machine, to what we have met so far in the numerous and fierce air battles which
have been fought with the Germans.
In France, where we were at a considerable disadvantage and lost many machines on the ground when they were
standing round the aerodromes, we were accustomed to inflict in the air losses of as much as two and two-and-a-half
to one. In the fighting over Dunkirk, which was a sort of no-man's-land, we undoubtedly beat the German Air Force,
and gained the mastery of the local air, inflicting here a loss of three or four to one day after day. Anyone who
looks at the photographs which were published a week or so ago of the re-embarkation, showing the masses of troops
assembled on the beach and forming an ideal target for hours at a time, must realize that this re-embarkation would
not have been possible unless the enemy had resigned all hope of recovering air superiority at that time and at
In the defense of this Island the advantages to the defenders will be much greater than they were in the fighting
around Dunkirk. We hope to improve on the rate of three or four to one which was realized at Dunkirk; and in
addition all our injured machines and their crews which get down safely-and, surprisingly, a very great many
injured machines and men do get down safely in modern air fighting - all of these will fall, in an attack upon
these Islands, on friendly. soil and live to fight another day; whereas all the injured enemy machines and their
complements will be total losses as far as the war is concerned.
During the great battle in France, we gave very powerful and continuous aid to. the French Army, both by fighters
and bombers; but in spite of every kind of pressure we never would allow the entire metropolitan fighter strength
of the Air Force to be consumed. This decision was painful, but it was also right, because the fortunes of the
battle in France could not have been decisively affected even if we had thrown in our entire fighter force. That
battle was lost by the unfortunate strategical opening, by the extraordinary and unforseen power of the armored
columns, and by the great preponderance of the German Army in numbers. Our fighter Air Force might easily have been
exhausted as a mere accident in that great struggle, and then we should have found ourselves at the present time in
a very serious plight. But as it is, I am happy to inform the House that our fighter strength is stronger at the
present time relatively to the Germans, who have suffered terrible losses, than it has ever been; and consequently
we believe ourselves possessed of the capacity to continue the war in the air under better conditions than we have
ever experienced before. I look forward confidently to the exploits of our fighter pilots - these splendid men,
this brilliant youth-who will have the glory of saving their native land, their island home, and all they love,
from the most deadly of all attacks.
There remains, of course, the danger of bombing attacks, which will certainly be made very soon upon us by the
bomber forces of the enemy. It is true that the German bomber force is superior in numbers to ours; but we have a
very large bomber force also, which we shall use to strike at military targets in Germany without intermission. I
do not at all underrate the severity of the ordeal which lies before us; but I believe our countrymen will show
themselves capable of standing up to it, like the brave men of Barcelona, and will be able to stand up to it, and
carry on in spite of it, at least as well as any other people in the world. Much will depend upon this; every man
and every woman will have the chance to show the finest qualities of their race, and render the highest service to
their cause. For all of us, at this time, whatever our sphere, our station, our occupation or our duties, it will
be a help to remember the famous lines: He nothing common did or mean, Upon that memorable scene.
I have thought it right upon this occasion to give the House and the country some indication of the solid,
practical grounds upon which we base our inflexible resolve to continue the war. There are a good many people who
say, "Never mind. Win or lose, sink or swim, better die than submit to tyranny-and such a tyranny." And I do not
dissociate myself from them. But I can assure them that our professional advisers of the three Services unitedly
advise that we should carry on the war, and that there are good and reasonable hopes of final victory. We have
fully informed and consulted all the self-governing Dominions, these great communities far beyond the oceans who
have been built up on our laws and on our civilization, and who are absolutely free to choose their course, but are
absolutely devoted to the ancient Motherland, and who feel themselves inspired by the same emotions which lead me
to stake our all upon duty and honor.
We have fully consulted them, and I have received from their Prime Ministers, Mr. Mackenzie King of Canada, Mr.
Menzies of Australia, Mr. Fraser of New Zealand, and General Smuts of South Africa-that wonderful man, with his
immense profound mind, and his eye watching from a distance the whole panorama of European affairs-I have received
from all these eminent men, who all have Governments behind them elected on wide franchises, who are all there
because they represent the will of their people, messages couched in the most moving terms in which they endorse
our decision to fight on, and declare themselves ready to share our fortunes and to persevere to the end. That is
what we are going to do.
We may now ask ourselves: In what way has our position worsened since the beginning of the war? It has worsened by
the fact that the Germans have conquered a large part of the coast line of Western Europe, and many small countries
have been overrun by them. This aggravates the possibilities of air attack and adds to our naval preoccupations. It
in no way diminishes, but on the contrary definitely increases, the power of our long-distance blockade. Similarly,
the entrance of Italy into the war increases the power of our long-distance blockade. We have stopped the worst
leak by that. We do not know whether military resistance will come to an end in France or not, but should it do so,
then of course the Germans will be able to concentrate their forces, both military and industrial, upon us. But for
the reasons I have given to the House these will not be found so easy to apply. If invasion has become more
imminent, as no doubt it has, we, being relieved from the task of maintaining a large army in France, have far
larger and more efficient forces to meet it.
If Hitler can bring under his despotic control the industries of the countries he has conquered, this will add
greatly to his already vast armament output. On the other hand, this will not happen immediately, and we are now
assured of immense, continuous and increasing support in supplies and munitions of all kinds from the United
States; and especially of aeroplanes and pilots from the Dominions and across the oceans coming from regions which
are beyond the reach of enemy bombers.
I do not see how any of these factors can operate to our detriment on balance before the winter comes; and the
winter will impose a strain upon the Nazi regime, with almost all Europe writhing and starving under its cruel
heel, which, for all their ruthlessness, will run them very hard. We must not forget that from the moment when we
declared war on the 3rd September it was always possible for Germany to turn all her Air Force upon this country,
together with any other devices of invasion she might conceive, and that France could have done little or nothing
to prevent her doing so. We have, therefore, lived under this danger, in principle and in a slightly modified form,
during all these months. In the meanwhile, however, we have enormously improved our methods of defense, and we have
learned what we had no right to assume at the beginning, namely, that the individual aircraft and the individual
British pilot have a sure and definite superiority. Therefore, in casting up this dread balancesheet and
contemplating our dangers with a disillusioned eye, I see great reason for intense vigilance and exertion, but none
whatever for panic or despair.
During the first four years of the last war the Allies experienced nothing but disaster and disappointment. That
was our constant fear: one blow after another, terrible losses, frightful dangers. Everything miscarried. And yet
at the end of those four years the morale of the Allies was higher than that of the Germans, who had moved from one
aggressive triumph to another, and who stood everywhere triumphant invaders of the lands into which they had
broken. During that war we repeatedly asked ourselves the question: How are we going to win? and no one was able
ever to answer it with much precision, until at the end, quite suddenly, quite unexpectedly, our terrible foe
collapsed before us, and we were so glutted with victory that in our folly we threw it away.
We do not yet know what will happen in France or whether the French resistance will be prolonged, both in France
and in the French Empire overseas. The French Government will be throwing away great opportunities and casting
adrift their future if they do not continue the war in accordance with their Treaty obligations, from which we have
not felt able to release them. The House will have read the historic declaration in which, at the desire of many
Frenchmen-and of our own hearts-we have proclaimed our willingness at the darkest hour in French history to
conclude a union of common citizenship in this struggle.
However matters may go in France or with the French Government, or other French Governments, we in this Island
and in the British Empire will never lose our sense of comradeship with the French people. If we are now called
upon to endure what they have been suffering, we shall emulate their courage, and if final victory rewards our
toils they shall share the gains, aye, and freedom shall be restored to all. We abate nothing of our just demands;
not one jot or tittle do we recede. Czechs, Poles, Norwegians, Dutch, Belgians have joined their causes to our own.
All these shall be restored.
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin.
Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long
continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on
us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all
Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the
whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss
of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. 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 still say, "This was their finest hour."