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Five Days in London, May 1940

Five Days in London, May 1940

John Lukacs
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Five Days in London, May 1940
    Book Description:

    The days from May 24 to May 28, 1940 altered the course of the history of this century, as the members of the British War Cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler or to continue the war. The decisive importance of these five days is the focus of John Lukacs's magisterial new book.Lukacs takes us hour by hour into the critical unfolding of events at 10 Downing Street, where Churchill and the members of his cabinet were painfully considering their war responsibilities. We see how the military disasters taking place on the Continent-particularly the plight of the nearly 400,000 British soldiers bottled up in Dunkirk-affected Churchill's fragile political situation, for he had been prime minister only a fortnight and was regarded as impetuous and hotheaded even by many of his own party. Lukacs also investigates the mood of the British people, drawing on newspaper and Mass-Observation reports that show how the citizenry, though only partly informed about the dangers that faced them, nevertheless began to support Churchill's determination to stand fast.Other historians have dealt with Churchill's difficulties during this period, using the partial revelations of certain memoirs and private and public papers. But Lukacs is the first to convey the drama and importance of these days, and he does so in a compelling narrative that combines deep knowledge with high literary style.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18091-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xviii)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The Hinge of Fate
    (pp. 1-38)

    This book attempts to reconstruct the history of five days that could have changed the world. The setting is London, and the five days are Friday through Tuesday, 24 to 28 May 1940. Then and there Adolf Hitler came closest to winning the Second World War, his war.

    One man who knew how close Hitler had come to his ultimate victory was Winston Churchill. In the years after the war he gave the titleThe Hinge of Fateto the fourth volume of hisWar Memoirs. That volume dealt with the year 1942, near the end of which the Germans...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Friday, 24 May
    (pp. 39-81)

    Early on the morning of 24 May Hitler left his headquarters on the edge of Germany and flew to see General Karl Rundstedt at Charleville on the western bank of the Meuse. This was unusual, since it was Hitler’s custom to retire late and to rise late (it seems that the last time he had got up early was on 3 September 1939, the day of the British and French declarations of war on Germany). What he wanted to discuss with Rundstedt was obviously important. It involved the rapid progress of the German armies encircling the Allied army in Flanders...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Saturday, 25 May
    (pp. 82-103)

    Over most of Europe and England the weather was beautiful in May 1940—relentless sunshine pouring over the land, the calmest of seas (which was to be a blessing for the British once the sea haul from Dunkirk back to Dover began). None of the great capital cities of the warring nations had, as yet, the experience of bombs raining down upon them. Everyday life went on in London, as it went on in Berlin and Paris, although in London, unlike in Paris or Berlin, sandbagged small barricades with armed sentries went up before some of the principal government buildings....

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Sunday, 26 May
    (pp. 104-135)

    A gloomy day, in more than one way: for the first time in many a day it rained.

    In early April there had been some talk of a National Day of Prayer. The archbishop of Canterbury had thought it inadvisable because it could be misinterpreted. Now, along with all the churches, he endorsed it. The king had spoken of it in his broadcast of 23 May¹ So had the newspapers. “Let Us Pray” was an article on the front page of theDaily Expresson Saturday: “It must mean something tomorrow.” At ten o’clock on Sunday morning the king, the...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Monday, 27 May
    (pp. 136-161)

    In the last days of May 1940 the fate of Britain—indeed, the outcome of the Second World War—depended on two things. One was the division between Churchill and Halifax. The other was the destiny of the British army crowding back into Dunkirk. These two matters were of course connected. But this appears only in retrospect. Churchill said that he would fight even if the bef were lost (“our greatest military defeat for many centuries”). The final order to begin evacuation, Operation Dynamo, was issued a few minutes before seven o’clock on Sunday, 26 May, and Gort had been...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Tuesday, 28 May
    (pp. 162-186)

    Let us now reverse the usual sequence of these chapters, beginning rather than ending with a survey of British morale and opinion. Throughout this period information, opinion, and even sentiment customarily lagged behind what was happening, but now there were were some indications of public opinion catching up with the military situation. Still, except for literally a few men, most people knew nothing about the conflict between Halifax and Churchill in the War Cabinet—that is, about a challenge to Churchill’s leadership and to the course that he was setting. This condition worked in Churchill’s favor. Of course, public knowledge...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Survival
    (pp. 187-220)

    Historians are tempted to overstate the importance of their topics, or their themes. This is why I am now compelled to argue my case. Had Hitler won the Second World War we would be living in a different world. That is not arguable. What is arguable is the crucial importance of 24–28 May 1940, those five days in London. Wasthatthe hinge of fate? What if the Germans had won the air Battle of Britain? What if Hitler had captured Moscow? What if he had won at Stalingrad? What if D Day had failed? Any of these events...

  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 221-228)
  13. Illustration Credits
    (pp. 229-230)
  14. Index
    (pp. 231-236)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 237-237)