Freedom's Greatest Hero
Winston Spencer Churchill's refusal to cower to Adolf Hitler's overwhelming power raises him to among the greatest defenders of freedom in all history. The Normandy invasion and the subsequent liberation of millions of people in Western Europe occurred primarily because he took such a bold stand in the critical years before the invasion. More than 70 years later, his story is still an inspiration for freedom-loving people everywhere.
Throughout the 1930s, Churchill warned that Hitler's rise had to be confronted before it was too late. His warnings went unheeded, leaving him a political outcast. By 1939, however, Hitler's war machine was rolling and Churchill'spredictions about him were becoming apparent.
Churchill succeeded Neville Chamberlain as prime minister on May 10, 1940, the same day Hitler launched his offensive into Western Europe. Churchill commented that day, “I only hope that it is not too late.”
In the dark days that followed, an Allied victory seemed unimaginable. Holland fell in hours. Belgium fell in days. In two weeks, the Germans had broken through to the English Channel, splitting the French and British armies. The fall of France followed in mid-June. Britain then stood alone against the German onslaught.
While some of his compatriots began wondering whether Britain should sue for peace, Churchill stood firm through this bleak time. He convinced the British that their only choice was to fight on alone, even if that meant they were to go down fighting.
In a series of rousing speeches, Churchill rallied his people's courage and sense of historic greatness. “We shall not flag or fail,” he said before Parliament on June 4. “We shall go on till the end... We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills. We shall never surrender.”
The effect was electrifying. Pensive members of Parliament rose in thundering applause. Their astonishment that the British Empire was facing such imminent danger was transformed into a dogged defiance. In the days and weeks that followed, Churchill persuaded his countrymen to shrug off danger, take heart in “standing alone”, and hold on until the tide of war changed.
Flush with victory in France, Hitler waited for a British peace offer. The British meanwhile prepared their defenses, and what may have been militarily possible for Hitler in early June was becoming increasingly improbable with each passing day.
For an invasion to succeed, the Luftwaffe would first have to dominate the air.The Royal Air Force and its airfields were thus the focus of the initial air raids.
When the Battle of Britain began in August, the Germans held almost a 3-to-1advantage in aircraft. As the air battle raged, the RAF was downing German aircraft at a rate of nearly 2 to 1. Yet after weeks of relentless attacks,the Luftwaffe was wearing the RAF down. Then the Luftwaffe changed its objective and began bombing London and other cities, trying to cause a civilian panic. While many people were killed in the raids, the change in German plans allowed the RAF to regain its advantage in the skies above southern England.
Churchill urged his fellow citizens to conduct themselves so that, “if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will say, ‘This was their finest hour.’” He spent much time among ordinary people who had lost homes and loved ones in the bombings. Their stories of courage and adversity often moved him to tears.
Winter was coming and the RAF was still a threat, so Hitler called off the invasion. Churchill knew that alone Britain could not defeat Germany. Yet Britain defended itself and dealt Hitler his first setback.
Churchill knew he had to keep his island nation in the fight until the United States came into the war. With Hitler unrestrained on the continent, that proved to be just a matter of time.
The German army was invading the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. Had Britain fallen the year before, the Germans likely would have been successful against the Soviets as well. We could have seen a Nazi empire stretching from central Russia to the Atlantic.
Or, had the Soviets prevailed, we may have seen their ‘Iron Curtain’ span from the Pacific to the Atlantic.
Yet Britain did survive, D-Day occurred, and the continent has seen -- at least in Western Europe -- freedom ever since. This legacy is largely due to Winston Churchill. From him we learn the crucial lessons to have courage to confront a threat before it becomes a catastrophe, and not to make a false peace with oppressors.
With daring and sheer will, he rallied Britain to its finest hour and turned back tyranny for the free world. While we remember the brave men who went ashore that fateful morning, at D-Day plus 70 years, we should also remember the man who made it possible. No one more deserves to be honored as the world’s greatest defender of freedom than does Wiston Spencer Churchill.