This day 80 years ago – A peculiar morning in London on 01/09/1939

September 1 1939, the day when Hitler’s generals begun the execution of Fall Weiss, Case White, the invasion of Poland, has been a messy and confused day in London. Hours into the invasion, the top British government officials hadn’t even known that the war was on. It is therefore peculiar – and in accord with the events of the 1930s – that the better informed man and the person who brought the news to the government was a person outside the government, a lone parliamentarian who has been beating the drums for the past six years. Winston Churchill.

Following is an excerpt from an excellent biography of Winston Churchill, written by William Manchester. It is from the second volume (Alone, 1932-1940) of a three-volume series called The Last Lion. I fully, truly recommend it; all three books are an outstanding piece of literature.

“At 8:30 Friday morning Churchill was awakened by a telephone call from Raczyński [Polish Ambassador to London], who told him that at 4:00 A.M. fifty-six German divisions, nine of them panzers, had crossed the Polish frontier in darkness from Silesia, Cracow, and the Carpathian flank. After he had bathed and breakfasted Winston received another call from Raczyński. Two Luftwaffe air fleets – sixteen hundred aircraft – had begun bombing Polish cities; civilian casualties were heavy. It was ten o’clock, and it occured to Winston that the War Office might have fresh details. The War Office didn’t even know Poland had been invaded. As Ironside noted in his diary, he reached “the Horse Guards as 10 A.M. was striking and was immediately rung up by Winston from Westerham who said “They’ve started. Warsaw and Kracow are being bombed now.'” Ironside phoned Lord Gort, chief of the Imperial General Staff, “who didn’t believe it.” Ironside urged him to tell Hore-Belisha; Gort called back to report that “Belisha was seen rushing off to Downing Street.” Ironside “rang Winston and he said he had the news definitely from the Polish Ambassador 1,5 hours ago… How could the War Office possibly be ignorant of this?”

Manchester argues that Raczyński, an educated man and a 20 year veteran of diplomacy, has turned to Winston who was at that time outside the government because he trusted him, which could not be said about the others. Events confirmed him: despite the British-Polish mutual treaty, the only response to the German aggression was… silence.


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About Petr Klíma