Winston Churchill's War

The moment Britain almost made peace with Hitler

In early 1940, a peace settlement with Germany still seemed a valid option with Churchill's war cabinet. Churchill, however, disagreed.

At the beginning of 1940, the Germans invaded the low countries which meant bypassing the Maginot Line along the french and german border by going through Belgium and the Netherlands. The French had assumed the dense forests of the Ardennes would protect their right flank from the German Army but, as the German attacked through the Netherlands and Belgium drew allied troops to the North, a southern attack by German forces broke through the Ardennes and shattered the french defences. The Germans were moving fast having evolved a new form of warfare known as Blitzkrieg.

Even small German units were equipped with radios, making german communication far stronger than the confused Allied efforts. The German Blitzkrieg against western Europe began on the 10th of May 1940. Then, within a fortnight, the British and French and Belgian armies were defeated. They withdrew to the channel coast. It looked as if the second world war in the West will be over literally within weeks.

As German forces tore through France, Churchill was fighting his own battle with members of his war cabinet. The British foreign secretary, Lord Halifax, believed the best path for Britain lay in a peace settlement negotiated through Hitler's ally, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini - who at this point had not joined Germany in the war. In early 1940, a peace settlement with Germany still seemed a valid option to Halifax and the other members of the war cabinet. They hoped that Britain would gain better terms if a peace was negotiated before losses mounted and before a French defeat. Britain might retain its freedom for the cost of a few former German colonies and Nazi dominance over central Europe. Lives would be spared in Britain at least, but Churchill held firm he argued surrender before battle would offer no better terms than fighting on. It would damage morale and dissuade the United States from entering the fight. Plus, Churchill believed there were no guarantees with the Nazi regime. A peace guaranteed by Hitler was no true peace. (S1,E2)