Winston Churchill’s radio broadcast of the 9th February 1941 was a particularly rousing affair. It was partly designed for his domestic audience, including British forces stationed around the world. Privately he considered the threat of invasion to Britain to be much diminished but he could not allow this perspective any publicity.
The speech was also an international appeal. He made clear the Nazi threat to the Balkans and to Russia itself, even while plans for these actual operations were closely guarded German secrets. By June Churchill would be passing definite intelligence on the German intention to invade Russia to Stalin.
It is not an easy military operation to invade an island like Great Britain without the command of the sea and without the command of the air, and then to face what will be waiting for the invader here.
But I must drop one word of caution, for next to cowardice and to treachery, overconfidence leading to neglect or slothfulness is the worst of martial crimes. Therefore, I drop one word of caution: A Nazi invasion of Great Britain last Autumn would have been a more or less improvised affair. Hitler took it for granted that when France gave in we should give in. But we did not give in. And he had to think again. An invasion now will be supported by a much more carefully prepared tackle and equipment for landing craft and other apparatus, all of which will have been planned and manufactured during the Winter months. We must all be prepared to meet gas attacks, parachute attacks and glider attacks, with constancy, forethought and practiced skill.
I must again emphasize what General Dill has said and what I pointed out myself last year: In order to win the war, Hitler must destroy Great Britain. He may carry havoc into the Balkan States; he may tear great provinces out of Russia; he may march to the Caspian; he may march to the gates of India. All this will avail him nothing. He may spread his curse more widely throughout Europe and Asia, but it will not avert his doom.
With every month that passes the many proud and once happy countries he is now holding down by brute force and vile intrigue are learning to hate the Prussian yoke and the Nazi name, as nothing has ever been hated so fiercely and so widely among men before. And all the time, masters of the sea and air, the British Empire – nay, in a certain sense, the whole English-speaking world will be on his track bearing with them the swords of Justice.
The United States administration was in the process of approving the Lend Lease Act, which would provide military assistance to Britain and China. Churchill was not going to miss an opportunity to aid that process of approval. He concluded by making a direct appeal to the United States.
Put your confidence in us. Give us your faith and your blessing, and under Providence all will be well. We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools and we will finish the job.
Read the whole speech at iBiblio.
There are numerous accounts of how well the speech was received by those who heard it. Surgeon-Commander E.R.Sorley, RN, heard it on HMS Barham and recounted his reaction in a letter written to his wife the next day:
I thought of you very frequently when I was listening to Winston Churchill’s broadcast last night. It came through to us exceedingly well and as it co-incided with our weekly cinema show special arrangements were made to have the address relayed through the cinema amplifier between parts of the film.
Believe me, a very novel and interesting entr’acte; all of us, including Admiral and Captain, listened with craning ears, and laughed with the Prime Minister as he scourged the Dictators with his tongue. Thank God for Winston Churchill at this time. I think that was the predominant feeling amongst us at the end of his most moving speech.
There is no other man on earth, I believe, who can inspire us with the spirit of dogged resolution and fierce desire to strike our enemies; who can so combine the art of moving oratory with the bite of ferocious justified invective. There is something of the boy in Winston Churchill; he loves to tease and anger his opponents; one can almost see him chuckling and licking his lips as he rolls out his blistering phrases about the Nazis and the “black-hearted” Mussolini. Yet none of his opponents can compete with him in reply; even if they could, he would be quite unmoved.
How Hitler and Mussolini must hate him. Last night’s oration was a masterpiece and to my mind should take a place in history alongside his inspired words after France had fallen. You remember “Let us brace ourselves to our duty …. if the British Commonwealth shall last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour.”
The continuance of the cinema film after the broadcast came as a bit of an anti-climax. To be translated from the atmosphere of an inspired Churchill to that of Mickey Rooney portraying the adventures of the boy Edison detracted from the entertainment value of the latter.
This and other letters from Surgeon-Commander Sorley can be read at BBC People’s War.