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Thursday, September 23, 2004
The Independent on Sunday

Sunday, October 24, 2004


Revealed: why Churchill considered negotiating with Germany in 1940

By Jonathan Thompson

BRITAIN'S disastrous performance in the early years of the Second World War left Winston Churchill considering peace negotiations with the Nazis, documents unearthed by a Cambridge historian reveal.

Correspondence contained in a major new book on the war-time Prime Minister shows he believed Britain faced no alternative by the summer of 1940 -- and contradicts his public declaration that he would never negotiate with the Germans.

It is not the only example of him glossing over potentially damaging details, according to Professor David Reynolds, who has examined thousands of documents in his new analysis of Churchill's wartime record and of his subsequent memoir, The Second World War. These include the true extent of his relationship with Stalin and his doubts about the D-Day strategy.

Published next month, the book argues that after Dunkirk, and before the Russians and Americans entered the war, "a negotiated peace with an alternative German government" seemed "the best possible outcome" to Churchill.

"Churchill was at pains to say in his memoirs that he was never going to negotiate with Germany, but it is clear that in 1940 he had not ruled out talking to a non-Hitler German government," said Professor Reynolds. "Here was a man who was looking into the abyss."

click for origin

David Irving comments:

CHURCHILL'S original agreement to consider Adolf Hitler's peace offer in May and then again in June 1940 will not be news to readers of my first Churchill volume, "Churchill's War", vol. i: "Struggle for Power", published eighteen years ago in 1986.

"Churchill's War", vol. i: "Struggle for Power"

   Of course, my version of events was derided at the time.
   Although the relevant paragraphs of the Cabinet minutes had still been discreetly blanked out when I last looked at the volumes in the archives, there is sufficient supporting material in the private papers of Lord Halifax and other Cabinet members to fill in the blanks.
   On one occasion, Churchill said that if the future of the British Empire was thereby guaranteed, such an offer should not be dismissed out of hand.
   On the final occasion, he returned to the Cabinet after a night pondering the very generous German offer, and told Lord Halifax there could be no question of surrender.
   The foreign secretary responded that "surrender" was not what Hitler was suggesting, merely peace.
   Churchill soon after sent him to Washington, as Britain's ambassador.
   As for how Churchill came to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the least said about that ignoble episode here the better. Wait for my third volume, "Churchill’s War", vol. iii: "The Sundered Dream" .

The desperation felt by Churchill is starkly illustrated by one of the quotes unearthed by Professor Reynolds. It records a conversation between Churchill and General Hastings Ismay. The latter tells the PM in the summer of 1940: "We will win the Battle of Britain", to which Churchill replies: "You and I will be dead in three months' time."


PROFESSOR Reynolds goes on to describe Churchill's long-term patronage for an alternative D-Day plan, involving "at least six heavy disembarkations" in locations including Denmark, Holland and Bordeaux. This too was played down when Churchill came to writing The Second World War.

Churchill at desk

"Churchill rewrote his strategy in the light of D-Day and post-war American criticism," said Professor Reynolds whose book, In Command of History: Churchill Fighting and Writing in the Second World War, is published by Penguin on 4 November [2004]. "In doing so, he tried to deceive his readers -- and perhaps himself -- on an issue of central importance."

Churchill began publishing his epic six-volume history of the war in 1948. With access to hundreds of top-secret documents, his account quickly become the definitive history of the war and helped him to win the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1953. But, it now appears, he also used it as a tool to hide his own, admittedly few, mistakes and weaknesses from future generations of historians.

Professor Reynolds also questions Churchill's insistence in his memoirs that he spotted the post-war Soviet threat early on -- arguing that he put more trust in Stalin than he would ever publicly admit.

"Through his memoir, Churchill succeeded in stamping his image of the war on all of us," said Professor Reynolds. "He was very keen to ensure that his view of himself was the one that posterity had as well. It was a very determined, pre-emptive strike on the verdict of history."

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