“There Is No Doubt”
“There is no doubt”
Churchill uses this phrase in The Gathering Storm1 nine times. Consider each instance and whether in fact there was doubt, as some of his critics have alleged.
- Page 101 (re German and British air strength by 1935):
Henceforward all the unknown, immeasurable threats which overhung London from air attack would be a definite and compelling factor in all our decisions. Moreover, we could never catch up; or at any rate the Government never did catch up. Credit is due to them and to the Air Ministry for the high efficiency of the Royal Air Force. But the pledge that air parity would be maintained was irretrievably broken. It is true that the immediate further expansion of the German Air Force did not proceed at the same rate as in the period when they gained parity. No doubt a supreme effort had been made by them to achieve at a bound this commanding position and to assist and exploit it in their diplomacy. It gave Hitler the foundation for the successive acts of aggression which he had planned and which were now soon to take place. Very considerable efforts were made by the British Government in the next four years, and there is no doubt that we excelled in air quality, but quantity was henceforth beyond us. The outbreak of the war found us with barely half the German numbers.
- Page 123-24 (re British defenses in the Battle of Britain, 1940):
I shall in a later volume explain the way in which, by these and other processes known only to a very small circle, the German attack on Great Britain was to a large extent parried in the autumn and winter of 1940. There is no doubtthat the work of the Air Ministry and the Air Defence Research Committee, both under Lord Swinton and his successor, played the decisive part in procuring this precious reinforcement to our fighter aircraft. When in 1940 the chief responsibility fell upon me and our national survival depended upon victory in the air, I had the advantage of a layman’s insight into the problems of air warfare resulting from four long years of study and thought based upon the fullest official and technical information. Although I have never tried to be learned in technical matters, this mental field was well lit for me. I knew the various pieces and the moves on the board, and could understand anything I was told about the game.
- Page 131 (over British-Italian relations, 1935):
Mussolini, like Hitler, regarded Britannia as a frightened, flabby old woman, who at the worst would only bluster, and was anyhow incapable of making war. Lord Lloyd, who was on friendly terms with him, noted how he had been struck by the Joad resolution of the Oxford undergraduates in 1933 refusing to “fight for King and Country.”In Parliament I expressed my misgivings on July 11:We seem to have allowed the impression to be created that we were ourselves coming forward as a sort of bell-wether or fugleman to lead opinion in Europe against Italy’s Abyssinian designs. It was even suggested that we would act individually and independently. I am glad to hear from the Foreign Secretary that there is no foundation for that. We must do our duty, but we must do it with other nations only in accordance with the obligations which others recognise as well. We are not strong enough to be the law-giver and the spokesman of the world. We will do our part, but we cannot be asked to do more than our part in these matters.As we stand to-day there is no doubt that a cloud has come over the old friendship between Great Britain and Italy, a cloud which, it seems to me, may very easily not pass away, although undoubtedly it is everyone’s desire that it should. It is an old friendship, and we must not forget, what is a little-known fact, that at the time Italy entered into the Triple Alliance in the last century she stipulated particularly that in no circumstances would the obligations under the Alliance bring her into armed conflict with Great Britain.
- Page 138-39 (re Italian invasion of Ethiopia, 1935)
There is no doubt, on our present knowledge, that a bold decision would have cut the Italian communications with Ethiopia, and that we should have been successful in any naval battle which might have followed. I was never in favour of isolated action by Great Britain, but having gone so far it was a grievous deed to recoil. Moreover, Mussolini would never have dared to come to grips with a resolute British Government. Nearly the whole of the world was against him, and he would have had to risk his regime upon a single-handed war with Britain, in which a fleet action in the Mediterranean would be the early and decisive test. How could Italy have fought this war? Apart from a limited advantage in modern light cruisers, her Navy was but a fourth the size of the British. Her numerous conscript Army, which was vaunted in millions, could not come into action. Her air-power was in quantity and quality far below even our modest establishments. She would instantly have been blockaded. The Italian armies in Abyssinia would have famished for supplies and ammunition. Germany could as yet give no effective help. If ever there was an opportunity of striking a decisive blow in a generous cause with the minimum of risk, it was here and now.
- Page 152 (re Hitler’s occupation of the Rhineland, 1936):
There was also great division in France. On the whole it was the politicians who wished to mobilise the Army and send an ultimatum to Hitler, and the generals who, like their German counterparts, pleaded for calm, patience, and delay. We now know of the conflicts of opinion which arose at this time between Hitler and the German High Command. If the French Government had mobilised the French Army, with nearly a hundred divisions, and its Air Force (then still falsely believed to be the strongest in Europe), there is no doubt that Hitler would have been compelled by his own General Staff to withdraw, and a check would have been given to his pretensions which might well have proved fatal to his rule.
- Page 158 (still on the Rhineland):
There is no doubt that had His Majesty’s Government chosen to act with firmness and resolve through the League of Nations they could have led a united Britain forward on a final quest to avert war.
- Page 195 (re invitations to visit Hitler):
I may mention here that Ribbentrop twice tendered me an invitation to visit Herr Hitler. Long before, as Colonial Under-Secretary and a major in the Oxfordshire Yeomanry, I had been the guest of the Kaiser at the German Manoeuvres in 1907 and in 1909. But now there was a different tune. Mortal quarrels were afoot, and I had my station in them. I would gladly have met Hitler with the authority of Britain behind me. But as a private individual I should have placed myself and my country at a disadvantage. If I had agreed with the Dictator-host I should have misled him. If I had disagreed he would have been offended, and I should have been accused of spoiling Anglo-German relations. Therefore I declined, or rather let lapse, both invitations. All those Englishmen who visited the German Führer in these years were embarrassed or compromised. No one was more completely misled than Mr. Lloyd George, whose rapturous accounts of his conversations make odd reading to-day. There is no doubt that Hitler had a power of fascinating men, and the sense of force and authority is apt to assert itself unduly upon the tourist. Unless the terms are equal it is better to keep away.
- Page 254 (re Britain’s intentions over Czechoslovakia, 1938):
I besought my colleagues not to see this problem always in terms of Czechoslovakia, not to review it always from the difficult strategic position of that small country, but rather to say to themselves, “A moment may come when, owing to the invasion of Czechoslovakia, a European war will begin, and when that moment comes we must take part in that war, we cannot keep out of it, and there is no doubt upon which side we shall fight.” Let the world know that, and it will give those who are prepared to disturb the peace reason to hold their hand….
- Page 300-1 (re Chamberlain’s toughening stance over Poland, 1939):
What was remarkable about all I learned on my visit was the complete acceptance of the defensive which dominated my most responsible French hosts, and imposed itself irresistibly upon me. In talking to all these highly competent French officers one had the sense that the Germans were the stronger, and that France had no longer the life-thrust to mount a great offensive. She would fight for her existence – Voilà tout! There was the fortified Siegfried Line, with all the increased fire-power of modern weapons. In my own bones, too, was the horror of the Somme and Passchendaele offensives. The Germans were of course far stronger than in the days of Munich. We did not know the deep anxieties which rent their High Command. We had allowed ourselves to get into such a condition, physically and psychologically, that no responsible person – and up to this point I had no responsibilities – could act on the assumption – which was true – that only forty-two half-equipped and half-trained German divisions guarded their long front from the North Sea to Switzerland. This compared with thirteen at the time of Munich.In these final weeks my fear was that His Majesty’s Government, in spite of our guarantee, would recoil from waging war upon Germany if she attacked Poland. There is no doubt that at this time Mr. Chamberlain had resolved to take the plunge, bitter though it was to him. But I did not know him so well as I did a year later. I feared that Hitler might try a bluff about some novel agency or secret weapon which would baffle or puzzle the overburdened Cabinet.
1 Winston S. Churchill The Second World War Vol. 1: The Gathering Storm (London: Cassell, 1948).