Churchill's letter to French PM as Nazis neared is set to fetch £4,000

Churchill's letter to French PM as Nazis neared is set to fetch £4,000

November 2, 2021

‘It would be short-sighted to squander our fighter squadrons… on FRANCE’: Churchill’s pointed letter dismissing French PM’s pleas for more planes as the Nazis neared Paris is set to fetch £4,000 at auction

  • Paul Reynaud pleaded with his British counterpart to provide more air support
  • Churchill said he couldn’t give more aircraft because were needed for UK 
  • The RAF had already provided more than 20 squadrons of planes to France 
  • Letter is being sold by a private collector at Chiswick Auctions in West London
  • Separate tribute letter written by Churchill to Neville Chamberlain is also in sale 

A hard-hitting letter by Sir Winston Churchill explaining why France had to fend for itself in World War Two has emerged for sale for £4,000.

French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud pleaded with his British counterpart to provide more air support as the German Blitzkrieg rolled on during the Battle of France in early June 1940.

But Churchill, who had only just taken over as Prime Minister after the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, felt he could not spare any more aircraft because they would be needed to fight the mighty Luftwaffe in the impending Battle of Britain.

The RAF had already provided more than 20 squadrons of planes to help defend France.  

In the correspondence, which is being sold by a private collector with Chiswick Auctions, in West London, he tells Mr Reynaud that further depleting Britain’s Fighter squadrons would be ‘short-sighted’ and leave Britain ‘inadequately defended’.

He adds that the enemy could attack Britain at ‘a few hours notice’ and ‘strike a blow which might irretrievably damage the Allied cause’.

Paris then fell to Adolf Hitler’s forces on June 14. The German victory led to Britain’s rescue of more than 300,000 Allied troops from the beaches of Dunkirk.

Whilst the retreat, which was codenamed Operation Dynamo, was an embarrassing defeat that could have ended the war, it remains the largest military evacuation in history and was hailed by Churchill as a ‘miracle of deliverance’.

The same seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, is also selling a hand-edited draft of the PM’s heartfelt letter to his predecessor Neville Chamberlain after he was forced to leave the Government following a cancer diagnosis.

Chamberlain had resigned as PM in May 1940 but then served as Lord President of the Council in Churchill’s war cabinet before his illness became apparent and he stepped down in October. 

A hard-hitting letter by Sir Winston Churchill explaining why France had to fend for itself in World War Two has emerged for sale for £4,000

French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud (pictured above with Churchill in 1950) pleaded with his British counterpart to provide more air support as the German Blitzkrieg rolled on during the Battle of France in early June 1940

Squadrons of British planes and pilots had been based in France to assist the French air force since January 1940. 

An initial request from the French government for more planes – ten squadrons in total – came on May 10 1940 and was agreed to by Churchill and the War Cabinet.

However, whilst more planes were sent after that, Churchill then refused a final request for further aircraft in early June.    

In the letter to Reynaud, Churchill writes: ‘I have examined today with the War Cabinet and all the experts the request which you made to me last night and this morning for further fighter squadrons.

‘We are all agreed that it is better to draw the enemy on to this island by striking at his vitals, and thus to aid the common cause.

Churchill, who had only just taken over as Prime Minister after the resignation of Neville Chamberlain, felt he could not spare any more aircraft because they would be needed to fight the mighty Luftwaffe in the impending Battle of Britain. Above: The second page of the letter 

The RAF had already provided more than 20 squadrons of planes to help defend France 

A separate piece of paper has a handwritten note by Churchill which reads ‘a state of supreme emergency’ 

‘I have seen several of the great offensives in the last war from high positions and I cannot feel that the German difficulties will be ended by their making a breach or a bulge in the Front.

‘All experience shows that these difficulties increase with every kilometre of advance.

‘It would be a short-sighted policy to squander bit by bit and day by day, the fighter squadrons.’

He adds: ‘The enemy can switch his bomber force on to these Islands as a few hours’ notice; and if he should find them inadequately defended, he would be able to strike a blow at our war industry which might irretrievably damage the Allied cause.

‘We have recently sent additional fighter squadrons to France over and above the numbers agreed before the war, and our fighter strength in this country has now been reduced to a minimum.

‘So long as it is not further reduced we do not shrink – indeed we welcome as a diversion – the attack which we expect.’

The three-page typed draft letter has been amended in pen by Churchill who has crossed out and re-written sections of it.

A final approved version was then typed out by his secretary and sent to Mr Reynaud.

Valentina Borghi, specialist at Chiswick Auctions, said: ‘Churchill would have his drafts typed out and then go through them in pen making corrections.

‘He would then ask his secretary to type up an amended version following his instructions.

‘Churchill had to make very tough decisions during World War Two and this was one of them, telling the French Prime Minister they could not spare more aircraft as they were needed to defend Britain.

‘Churchill is a hugely popular figure among collectors and we expect a lot of interest in this letter, which could go for a lot more than its estimate.’

Paris fell to Nazi Germany on June 14, 1940 and France was occupied until the Allies landed in Normandy on D-Day, June 6, 1944.

A total of 1,542 Allied aircrew were killed during the Battle of Britain which spanned from July to October 1940.

Churchill said of their wartime contribution: ‘Never was so much owed by so many to so few.’

As a result, Adolf Hitler had to shelve plans for Operation Sea Lion, the invasion of Britain. 

The same seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, is also selling a hand-edited draft of the PM’s heartfelt letter to his predecessor Neville Chamberlain after he was forced to leave the Government following a cancer diagnosis. Above: The pair pictured together in 1939

Another Churchill letter being sold for up to £3,000 by the same seller, who wishes to remain anonymous, reveals the PM’s heartfelt letter to Neville Chamberlain after he was forced to leave the Government following a cancer diagnosis

A second page in the sale shows a note written in pencil by General Archibald Percival Wavell to his military colleague General Henry Maitland Wilson

Churchill’s letter to Chamberlain was written shortly after his resignation from the Government on October 9, 1940.

Exactly a month after he stepped down, the politician died from cancer aged 71.

Addressing him as ‘My dear Neville’, Churchill writes: ‘I have for some time past feared that would you would be forced to relinquish the struggle you have made to carry on in spite of physical stresses under the hard conditions of the times.

‘I and all your colleagues have admired your unshaken nerve and persevering will.

‘The help you have given me since you ceased to be my chief tided us through what may well prove to be the turning point of the war, You did all you could for peace; you did all you could for victory.

‘If you now tell me you must fall out of the line, I cannot resist your claim.

‘The loss of your services makes it necessary for us to reform our ranks, and fill the gap as best as we can.’

The next edited paragraph reads: ‘We have been associated, as our fathers were before us, in the ups and downs of politics, now together, now apart, but I look back upon this stern year of comradeship with feelings of the deepest respect and regard for you.’

The word ‘deepest’ is Churchill’s handwritten change from the original typed ‘highest’, whilst ‘regard’ had said ‘personal gratitude’.

The passage also references how both Churchill and Chamberlain had followed their fathers into politics. 

Specialist Ms Borghi added: ‘It is a nice lot because even though they had their differences and couldn’t agree on war strategy, from a human point of view they respected each other.

‘The letter reflects that. It also shows how he used to work. Normally a secretary would type the letter and then at the last minute he would have included some amendments. It shows his methods when he was at work.

‘I think it is a very touching and moving letter, it shows respect for his predecessor.’

Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, saw his promising political career cut short by his early death aged 45. He had risen to become Chancellor of the Exchequer. 

Chamberlain’s father, Joseph, who was a Liberal, served as Secretary of State for the Colonies when the British Empire was at its height.  

A second page in the sale shows a note written in pencil by General Archibald Percival Wavell to his military colleague General Henry Maitland Wilson. 

The sale of both the Churchill letters takes place on November 9.  

Evacuation of Dunkirk: How 338,000 Allied troops were saved in ‘miracle of deliverance’ after the German Blitzkreig saw Nazi forces sweep into France

The evacuation from Dunkirk was one of the biggest operations of the Second World War and was one of the major factors in enabling the Allies to continue fighting.

It was the largest military evacuation in history, taking place between May 27 and June 4, 1940 after Nazi Blitzkreig – ‘Lightning War’ – saw German forces sweep through Europe. 

 The evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, saw an estimated 338,000 Allied troops rescued from northern France. But 11,000 Britons were killed during the operation – and another 40,000 were captured and imprisoned.

Described as a ‘miracle of deliverance’ by wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, it is seen as one of several events in 1940 that determined the eventual outcome of the war.  

The Second World War began after Germany invaded Poland in 1939, but for a number of months there was little further action on land. 

But in early 1940, Germany invaded Denmark and Norway and then launched an offensive against Belgium and France in western Europe.

Hitler’s troops advanced rapidly, taking Paris – which they never achieved in the First World War – and moved towards the Channel.

It was the largest military evacuation in history, taking place between May 27 and June 4, 1940. The evacuation, known as Operation Dynamo, saw an estimated 338,000 Allied troops rescued from northern France. But 11,000 Britons were killed during the operation – and another 40,000 were captured and imprisoned 

They reached the coast towards the end of May 1940, pinning back the Allied forces, including several hundred thousand troops of the British Expeditionary Force. Military leaders quickly realised there was no way they would be able to stay on mainland Europe.

Operational command fell to Bertram Ramsay, a retired vice-admiral who was recalled to service in 1939. From a room deep in the cliffs at Dover, Ramsay and his staff pieced together Operation Dynamo, a daring rescue mission by the Royal Navy to get troops off the beaches around Dunkirk and back to Britain. 

On May 14, 1940 the call went out. The BBC made the announcement: ‘The Admiralty have made an order requesting all owners of self-propelled pleasure craft between 30ft and 100ft in length to send all particulars to the Admiralty within 14 days from today if they have not already been offered or requisitioned.’

Boats of all sorts were requisitioned – from those for hire on the Thames to pleasure yachts – and manned by naval personnel, though in some cases boats were taken over to Dunkirk by the owners themselves. 

They sailed from Dover, the closest point, to allow them the shortest crossing. On May 29, Operation Dynamo was put into action. 

When they got to Dunkirk they faced chaos. Soldiers were hiding in sand dunes from aerial attack, much of the town of Dunkirk had been reduced to ruins by the bombardment and the German forces were closing in.

Above them, RAF Spitfire and Hurricane fighters were headed inland to attack the German fighter planes to head them off and protect the men on the beaches.

As the little ships arrived they were directed to different sectors. Many did not have radios, so the only methods of communication were by shouting to those on the beaches or by semaphore. 

Space was so tight, with decks crammed full, that soldiers could only carry their rifles. A huge amount of equipment, including aircraft, tanks and heavy guns, had to be left behind.

The little ships were meant to bring soldiers to the larger ships, but some ended up ferrying people all the way back to England. The evacuation lasted for several days.

Prime Minister Churchill and his advisers had expected that it would be possible to rescue only 20,000 to 30,000 men, but by June 4 more than 300,000 had been saved.

The exact number was impossible to gauge – though 338,000 is an accepted estimate – but it is thought that over the week up to 400,000 British, French and Belgian troops were rescued – men who would return to fight in Europe and eventually help win the war.

But there were also heavy losses, with around 90,000 dead, wounded or taken prisoner. A number of ships were also lost, through enemy action, running aground and breaking down. Despite this, the evacuation itself was regarded as a success and a great boost for morale.

In a famous speech to the House of Commons, Churchill praised the ‘miracle of Dunkirk’ and resolved that Britain would fight on: ‘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!’ 

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