The importance of Churchill as war leader

On 13 May 1940, Winston Churchill gave his first speech as Prime Minister.

I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering. You ask, what is our policy? I will say: It is to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us; to wage war against a monstrous tyranny, never surpassed in the dark and lamentable catalogue of human crime. That is our policy. You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs—Victory in spite of all terror—Victory, however long and hard the road may be, for without victory there is no survival.An extract of Winston Churchill’s maiden speech as Prime Minister

What role did Winston Churchill play?

Churchill embodied the bulldog spirit which was perhaps needed if Britain was going to win a long total war. He had military experience in India and Africa (he was a war correspondent in the Second Boer War), and as the Minister of Munitions in the First World War. Churchill had criticised appeasement during the late 1930s and was determined to stop Hitler. There was no talk of surrender.

He delivered strong speeches and visited areas that had been bombed by the Germans in the hope of raising morale. People could listen to his speeches on the radio.

Churchill worked closely with F D Roosevelt, President of the USA, to bring American money and support at first, especially through the lend lease arrangements, and then as Allies from December 1941. He also put aside personal distrust to work with Stalin during the war as defeating Nazism was the most important thing.

Listen to 'Churchill’s Roar' to hear Melvyn Bragg analyse and celebrate Winston Churchill’s remarkable language, voice and vocal acrobatics.

To many British people, the Allied victory in 1945 was due largely to Churchill’s inspired leadership. He symbolised defiance, a fighting spirit and a stubborn refusal to surrender. Many people believed that Churchill was a key factor in the British victory.

Winston Churchill standing on a balcony in front of a massive crowd giving the 'V for victory' hand gesture.
Winston Churchill giving his famous V for Victory sign, 1941