With World War II Just Months Away, Winston Churchill Begins to Prepare the British People for the Coming Storm of “Air Raids and the Population”

He calls his upcoming article “important” and “useful”, a very rare self-assessment of his work

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In the article, he predicts that Britain could not be beaten by a bombing campaign, a prediction that he helped prove true


Soon, as Prime Minister, he would have to lead the nation through the Blitz of German air raids and on to victory

In 1914, the Germans launched bombing raids...

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With World War II Just Months Away, Winston Churchill Begins to Prepare the British People for the Coming Storm of “Air Raids and the Population”

He calls his upcoming article “important” and “useful”, a very rare self-assessment of his work

In the article, he predicts that Britain could not be beaten by a bombing campaign, a prediction that he helped prove true


Soon, as Prime Minister, he would have to lead the nation through the Blitz of German air raids and on to victory

In 1914, the Germans launched bombing raids on Britain from the sea and sky. Suddenly civilians on the Home Front, as well as soldiers on the Front Line, were at risk. The German military believed that they could use Zeppelin airships to help win the war, but though they caused civilian casualties, the raids contributed little to the war effort. These bombings did set a precedent, however.

Among the public men of influence, only Churchill recognized the profound peril to the world that the Nazis represented. He spoke out in Parliament, on the radio, in his newspaper columns, anywhere and everywhere, demanding the government wake up and prepare. As early as 1933, Churchill warned in the House of Commons, “Those Germans are not looking for equal status. They are looking for weapons.” But the prime ministers and party leaders not only disagreed with Churchill but considered him a loose cannon and an annoyance. Neville Chamberlain showed the attitude when he later wrote, “The real danger to this country is Winston. He is the warmonger, not Hitler.”

In 1934, Churchill held clandestine meetings at Chartwell, where he was briefed on the actual situation in Germany by the government and military men in his network, men in positions low enough to be without policy-making influence but high enough to know the true facts and statistics being developed. With this information, Churchill shocked Parliament by revealing the true figures of German military production, figures many colleagues refused to believe. In November of 1934, he made a stirring speech in the Commons demanding an increase in military expenditures: “To urge preparation of defense is not to assert the imminence of war…” These words marked a turning point in his career; he would now primarily devote himself to warning of the threat of Germany. And he would often focus his remarks in Parliament on preparedness in the air as well as on sea.

The Nazi regime came into power committed to gain strategic advantage by building up Germany’s air power. Hitler’s wars of conquest would succeed or fail depending upon whether or not Germany possessed air superiority over the battlefield. The German buildup in air strength represented a revolution in the European balance of power that would pave the way for Nazi conquests. In advocating British rearmament, in these Wilderness years Churchill gave close attention to the threats posed on the sea and in the air to British security. He argued that Britain needed superiority over great power challengers in these strategic domains. He grasped that protection of the British homeland from air assault provided the foundation for Britain’s security and international standing in an increasingly hostile world. He urged in Parliament: “We ought to have a large vote of credit to double our Air Force; we ought to have it now, and a larger vote of credit as soon as possible to redouble the Air Force.”

The march of the dictators now proceeded in earnest. In October 1935, Italy took Ethiopia. Then, on March 7, 1936, Hitler invaded the demilitarized Rhineland, which action conflicted with the Versailles Treaty that ended World War I. Churchill understood the meaning of this invasion, saying “An enormous triumph has been gained by the Nazi regime”. In 1937 Chamberlain became Prime Minister, and he held firm to his policy of appeasing the dictators, denying the necessity of rearming, and refusing to allocate significant funds to build planes and ships. Then came the pivotal year of 1938, when Hitler began to implement his grander plans. In the early hours of March 12, German troops marched into Austria. Hitler himself crossed the border shortly after, welcomed by thunderous crowds. Meanwhile, Britain and France registered protests but failed to act. In fact, on April 16, 1938, Chamberlain signed the Anglo-Italian Agreement, which acknowledged Italy’s seizure of Ethiopia.

The successful annexation of Austria fueled Adolf Hitler’s ambition, and he next looked to the German-populated regions of western Czechoslovakia, a region which the Germans called Sudetenland. “It is my unalterable decision to smash Czechoslovakia by military action in the near future”, Hitler said to his military advisors, many of whom were worried that the move was too ambitious. What fueled Hitler in moving forth with the gamble was the appeasement sentiment from the British and French political leadership. To resolve the crisis over the threat of an invasion of Czechoslovakia, in September Chamberlain flew to Munich to meet with Hitler and Mussolini. At this, the famed Munich Conference, Britain and France agreed that Hitler could take the Sudetenland in return for his promise that this was his final territorial demand. Chamberlain returned home waving the agreement and announcing he had secured “Peace in our time.”

Churchill was the lone voice against the Munich agreement, as he told the Commons, “All is over. Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness…We are in the presence of a disaster of the first magnitude which has befallen Great Britain and France. Do not let us blind ourselves to that…I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost…the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defenses; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war…And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigor, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.” Churchill further remarked, “Chamberlain had the choice between war and shame. Now he has chosen shame – he’ll get war later.” In March 1939 Hitler took the rest of Czechoslovakia, and Poland loomed as next. A Nazi invasion of Poland would spark a new world war.

Churchill’s main source of income was not his salary as a Member of Parliament, but as an author. He wrote 43 book length works in 72 volumes, and also wrote some 10,000 articles for newspapers and magazines over a period of decades on a broad variety of subjects. In many cases, these newspaper articles were for The News of the World, which was so fond of his work that from 1936 and 1939, they paid him £400 for article, which would be £12,000 (or over $15,000) in today’s money. Quite a sum to pay a columnist during the Depression, and enough to keep Churchill enjoying his Pol Roger champagne and Romeo y Julieta brand cigars. Major Percy Davies was director of the News of the World, and Sir Emsley Carr was the editor in the 1930s. When Carr died in August 1941 Davies ascended to the editorial position. It was with these men that Churchill dealt.

In the years from 1936-1938, Churchill had written a series of articles on such topics as “Great Men I Have Known” and “Great Men of All Time.” But in 1939, with war clouds gathering, he began to write articles on topics like “How Wars of the Future Will Be Waged”, the importance of machine-guns and tanks in World War I, the need for foresight and initiative amongst generals, the importance of the Navy and air power in a future conflict, and “Future Safeguards of National Defense”. In April 1939, Churchill wrote Davies with a new article, one he deemed “important” and had entitled “Air Raids and the Population.” In it, he brought up the real possibility of indiscriminate bombing of big-city populations if war should come. He stated flatly that Great Britain would never be beaten by that means, a statement he helped make true just a year later.

The article was already accepted for publication by Collier’s Magazine in the United States, but Churchill sent it to the News of the World also because he felt it would generate more interest in Britain than in the U.S., and that it would be “important” and “useful” for Britons to read it.

Typed letter signed, on his Chartwell letterhead, April 22, 1939, to Davies, informing him that he had written an article on air defense in a potential coming war, and offering it publication. “I have written an article on Air Defense for Collier’s Magazine. It is a very important article, and of course of greater interest here than in America. I enclose a copy so that you can read it for yourself. A very few minor alterations would adapt it entirely to this country. Moreover I think it would be useful.

“I wonder, therefore, whether after reading it you would care to have this article as one of the three remaining articles to be done by me this year.  It could not of course be published until after Collier’s. They publish on Saturdays, and if you used it the following Sunday, there could be no possible clash. Perhaps you will let me know.

“I am feeling rather worried about these additional articles as the year is getting on, and in three or four months I shall need to be working on the new series for 1940. Pray return the article after you have read it as I am short of copies.” He adds in his hand, “P.S. I hope Emsley is progressing steadily.”

Colliers ran the article on Saturday June 17, 1939, under the title “Bombs Don’t Scare Us Now”. The News of the World ran the article the next day, Sunday June 18, 1939, under the title “Air Bombing Is No Road to World Domination. Just 75 days later, the Second World War began.

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