The Fall of Britain, 1940
by Raymond Speer
says: what if Panzer Commander Hans Guderian received an advance order
from Hitler at Dunkirk? Please note that the opinions expressed in this post
do not necessarily reflect the views of the author(s).
On Saturday, May 25, the
commander of the British Expedition Force, Gort, decided that his Army
woulld evacuate from Dunkirk and he requested full assistance in that task
from his country. The previous day, French General Weygand had noted that
the British were fleeing lines they had promised to hold, fallng back twenty
five miles in order to reach the ports.
Also that Friday, Adolf Hitler had radioed from von
Rundstedt's headquarters a question to Hans Gunderian, chief of the Panzers
which spearheaded the German offensive. Did Gunderian feel confident in his
forces' present order, or would he want to delay his advance and
re-organize? Gunderian wanted to go ahead at full speed and Hitler instantly
ordered that. In the coming week, the Nazi armor and infantry arrived at the
shoore, usually in place before the British came upon them. Brave British
units lost heavily trying to brush the enemy away from their only hope of
On May 24,
and the five members of his War Cabinet listened in the basement of the
House of Commons for news of the BEF's extrication from Dunkirk.
Foreign Minister Halifax suggested that Britain should
accept an offer from Mussolini that Italy would broker a peace between
Britain and Germany. "Maybe we will get decent terms," Halifax said, and
Churchill had a temper tantrum, predicting that Germany would insist on
Referring to Hitler as "That Man," Churchill said that
Hitler would insist on the surrender of the Fleet and would elevate Mosley
to be his lieutenant in London. Churchill stated that "I am convinced that
every man of you would rise up and tear me down from my place if I was for
one mment to contemplate parley or surrender. If our long island story of
ours is to end at last, let it end only when each one of us lies choking in
his own blood upon the ground."
On May 25, heavy
bombardment by the Luftwaffe joined German cannon in saturating would-be
evacuation beaches. By midnight May 25, the Navy reported that the Germans
were on all the beaches and were preventing the BEF from leaving them.
Churchill suggested that a major raid be made for the
purpose of clearing at least one Dunkirk port. "It will be a complete
surprise for the foe." The general's comment to the Prime Minister was that
his project would be a slaughter.
On May 30,
informed Churchill that the Expeditionary Force was out of supplies and was
sorely pressed by German forces that were concentrating on their perimeter.
On May 30's afternoon, Churchill authorized Gort to capitulate formally and
to avoid needless slaughter.
But by dinnertime that early evening, Churchill was
speaking of contaminating the beaches with poison gas "if that should be to
our advantage". Churchill chose to fly to Paris the late evening of May 30
in order to encourage resistance by the ally. Prime Minister Churchill left
behind a Cabinet worried about the soundness of his judgment, knowing that
Churchill would risk poisoning his own soldiers in hopes of killing some
number of Germans.
In Paris, Churchill and his companion, Clement Attlee,
looked to Premier Reynaud and General Petain like civilians dumbfounded by
their loss of their land Army. A call up of civilians for national defense
would raise three divisions. Also Canada could be expected to raise an
infantry force that could be shipped to France to carry on opposition to
Germany from western France. "All we have to do is fight on," said
Churchill, "and we will conquer." The translator for Churchill broke down
and openly cried. "If either of us collapse, we shall be vassals and slaves
On the morning of May 31,
Prime Minister and Attlee strolled around the nine Hurricanes of their air
escort. Attlee already knew that the news from Washington was that nothing
was going to arrive from the Americans. The Labour leader was not happy that
Churchill lived in a fantasy so he expected large US reinforcements of
Later that Friday, arriving back in London as German
radio celebrated the surrender of Lord Gort and his British Army, Churchill
conferred with his military leaders. Two thousand men had squeezed through
the German barricades, many of them trying to swim to ships. A third of a
million soldiers and airmen, a third of them French, went into German
Churchill's last orders as Prime Minister were made
on June 1, when the Director of the
National Gallery memoed him for permission to send its most valuable
paintings to Canada.
"No," responded Churchill. "Bury them in caves and
cellars. None must go. We are going to beat them." Soon after breakfast, an
unannounced gathering of the whole Cabinet requested the Prime Minister to
attend them in the Cabinet Room. "Christ," commented Churchill. "I assumed
we would hold out longer than the frogs." Halifax spoke for the Cabinet,
announcing that they had decided to ask Mussolini to sound out Hitler for
peace terms. "You don't make peace with That Man," complained Churchill.
"You are all committing suicide by signature."
Within five days, the National Gallery was sending
selected paintings over to Canada for the duration.
says to view guest historian's comments on this post please visit the
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