Churchill wanted to electrocute Hitler

The Scotsman
Jan. 01, 2006

WINSTON Churchill was determined to send Adolf Hitler to the electric chair if he was ever captured and believed that senior Nazis should be summarily executed without the benefit of a trial, according to papers released today.

The British Prime Minister's brutal attitude towards his enemies is revealed in newly published records from meetings of the War Cabinet.

The notes, taken by Deputy Cabinet Secretary Sir Norman Brook in his own style of shorthand, provide the first detailed insight into what was said during debates on crucial issues.

Previously released minutes have only recorded the general tenor of discussions, without naming names.

But the new documents show senior colleagues such as future Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee cajoling and badgering Britain's most famous wartime leader to moderate his combative views.

The Cabinet held a series of discussions about how to deal with war criminals between 1942 and 1945 - the years covered by the notes.

At one meeting in December 1942 Churchill commented: "Contemplate that if Hitler falls into our hands we shall certainly put him to death.

"Not a Sovereign who could be said to be in the hands of Ministers, like Kaiser. This man is the mainspring of evil."

According to the records, the Prime Minister even indicated his favoured mode of execution. Capital punishment in Britain at the time involved hanging, but - perhaps with a degree of tongue in cheek - Churchill suggested electrocution equipment could be obtained through the US's Lend-Lease scheme for providing goods to its Allies.

"Instrument - electric chair, for gangsters no doubt available on Lease Lend."

Two-and-a-half years later, the question of whether Nazis deserved their day in court was vexing ministers.

In April 1945, Home Secretary Herbert Morrison expressed the opinion - seemingly popular with his colleagues - that a "mock trial" for Nazi leaders would be "objectionable": "Better to declare that we shall put them to death."

Churchill agreed that a trial for Hitler would be "a farce": "All sorts of complications ensue as soon as you admit a fair trial."

However, within weeks it had become clear that both the US and Russia backed court proceedings.

On May 3, the Minister for Civil Aviation, Viscount Swinton, reported that "the situation has changed: if we can't agree on procedure for leaders, let us get agreed procedure on the others. The leaders are being liquidated anyhow".

Churchill proposed that they "negotiate" with figures such as Gestapo head Heinrich Himmler - who had already sought secret peace talks with the British government - and then "bump him off later".

When Secretary of State for War Sir Peter Grigg objected that activities at concentration camps such as Buchenwald - which Himmler helped to operate - did not qualify as "war crimes", the Prime Minister responded sharply: "Don't quibble: he could be summarily shot, in respect of some of those in the camp."

The documents also reveal intense discussions in 1942 over possible British reprisals for Nazi atrocities in Czechoslovakia. On June 15 Churchill raised the prospect of bombers wiping out three German villages for every one Czech settlement destroyed. His view was initially backed by Foreign Secretary and fellow Tory Anthony Eden, but Labour ministers Atlee and Morrison eventually won him over by arguing that the attacks were an unnecessary diversion.

Churchill finally abandoned the plan with the parting shot: "I submit (unwillingly) to the view of Cabinet against."

That disagreement was mirrored later in the year when a dispute erupted between the warring nations over the manacling of prisoners. Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin said at an October meeting that he feared an escalation in the row might lead the Nazis to start shooting British prisoners - "an example... we could not follow".

Churchill insisted: "I would shoot in those circumstances."

The revelations of Churchill's outspoken attitude towards Hitler will be no surprise to historians who have pored over his wartime record.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. In this job he proved to be one of the highest-profile ministers during the so-called 'Phoney War', when the only noticeable action was at sea.

From the outset, he took an aggressive stance, advocating the pre-emptive occupation of the neutral Norwegian iron-ore port of Narvik and the iron mines in Kiruna, Sweden.

In 1940 Neville Chamberlain resigned and Churchill became leader. His subsequent speeches in the early months proved a great inspiration to the nation. His first speech included the famous line: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat."

He followed that with two other equally renowned speeches, given just before the Battle of Britain, which featured the immortal words: "We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, 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."

His lack of fear and ruthlessness in facing down the enemy earned him the nickname from the Russians of "British Bulldog". His bulldog spirit survived to the end of the war when he supported the bombing of Dresden, regarded by many as primarily a civilian target with little military value to the Allies, but also crucial in helping the Russians advance through eastern Europe.

The full documents can be viewed at the National Archives in Kew, west London.

Troops told to 'respect' racist US regulations

BRITISH troops were told to show respect for the US army's racial segregation practices by being "particularly reserved" with blacks stationed here during the Second World War.

The guidance was issued following agonised debate within Winston Churchill's Cabinet over how to deal with discriminatory American rules.

At the time, hundreds of thousands of black troops - most from colonial outposts - were treated equally in the British army, but white US soldiers ate and slept separately from their comrades.

Detailed notes of meetings, taken by deputy Cabinet secretary Sir Norman Brook during the Second World War, reveal that ministers were eager to avoid clashes in protocol between the Allied forces.

However, they were also unwilling to cause friction among British troops by adopting such practices in their own barracks and canteens.

In October 1942, Churchill told the Cabinet that the views of the US "must be considered".

"Nothing to stand between US offr [officer] and his troops: we mustn't interfere," said a note of the meeting.

Home Secretary Herbert Morrison agreed, but added as a caveat: "What I won't have is [British] police enforcing their rules for them."

The Lord Chancellor, Viscount Simon, proposed a scenario that would test the government's ability to adapt to US attitudes.

"Victoria Statn canteen. If we conform to US attitude then at this canteen coloured troops can't be served."

But secretary of state for war Sir James Grigg insisted that "we won't discriminate in our canteens", and said guidance on how to deal with the issue should be circulated to all officers.

"We agree: a) if any segregation US must do it not us. Their responsibility.

"b) Explain US attitude and ask our people to pay attention to it.

"c) there shd be a good deal of reserve in attitude of our troops, particularly to Negroes."

Minister for labour Ernest Bevin said the idea was to alert officers to the potential problems: "Educate them yes: but don't try to educate them into US prejudices."

Further caution was urged by secretary of state for the colonies Viscount Cranborne, who pointed out that the number of "coloured" British troops enlisted from Canada and other countries presented a difficulty for "the 'not too matey' principle".

"If it can be said we have advocated 'colour bar' all the coloured people here fr our Empire will go back discontented and preach disaffection there."

Contempt for de Gaulle's 'insensate ambition' laid bare

THE animosity between Winston Churchill and General Charles de Gaulle is laid bare in the government papers released today.

The Prime Minister condemns the Frenchman's "insensate ambition" and describes de Gaulle - who would later become president of France and repeatedly block UK entry to the European Economic Community - as a barrier to "trustworthy" relations between the two nations.

Previously released War Cabinet minutes have only shown the general tenor of meetings without naming names.

De Gaulle fled to Britain after France fell to the Nazis in 1940, but remained a popular figure among resistance fighters.

In March 1943, Cabinet was told he had asked permission to visit Free French troops. When the request was refused on grounds that the timing was "unsuitable" - delicate negotiations were ongoing between the US and one of his main rivals, Henri Giraud, over operations in North Africa - de Gaulle inquired whether he was a prisoner of war.

Churchill's response was that the general should be told "bluntly" to do as he was instructed: "And arrest him if he tries to leave, eg by Fr[ench] destroyer. Security measures should be laid on to prevent that."

Cabinet again considered the problem of de Gaulle's poor relations with Giraud, who was favoured by the US, in June 1943.

Churchill expressed fears that de Gaulle could "prance" out of the newly formed French Committee of National Liberation after the Americans insisted Giraud must have effective control of the French military.

The records quote the Prime Minister as saying: "If he resigns & makes a fuss I'll have to make a statement in Parlt if pressed: but that will mean making the case v de G[aulle]. Greatest living barrier to re-union & restoration of France: insensate ambition." Churchill criticised the "delusion" that de Gaulle represented the Left wing in France, saying "his followers increasingly copy Totalitarian Fascists methods & views".

In 1945 de Gaulle was given a hero's welcome on his return to Paris and installed as President of the Provisional Government.

According to the records, however, Churchill's opinion of Stalin was rather higher. Following a meeting with the Russian premier in Moscow, he reports to Cabinet in August 1942 that he is a "large man: great sagacity".

Leader called for Gandhi's jailers to let activist die on hunger strike

WINSTON Churchill was in favour of letting Gandhi die if he went on hunger strike while interned during the Second World War.

The prime minister believed the Indian spiritual leader should be treated like any other prisoner if he stopped eating.

Churchill's combative views are revealed in the newly declassified records from meetings of the War Cabinet, which also demonstrate Britain's confusion about how to deal with the icon's style of peaceful opposition.

The notes show ministers grappling with whether martyring Gandhi would lead to a mass uprising and international embarrassment.

On the other hand, they were unwilling to give him freedom to campaign against the war and British regime while the key colony was under threat of invasion by the Japanese.

Gandhi - who would eventually be assassinated on January 30, 1948, aged 78, by a fellow Hindu - was detained in the Aga Khan's palace in August 1942 after condemning India's involvement in the fight against Nazi Germany and calling for civil disobedience.

Many British officials initially took a hard-line stance to the prospect of a hunger strike, with the colony's Viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, sending ministers a telegram stating he was "strongly in favour of letting [Gandhi] starve to death".

However, senior figures in London feared that the repercussions would be too great.

Lord Halifax, the former Foreign Secretary and ambassador to the US, told the Cabinet the day after Gandhi was arrested: "Whatever the disadvantages of letting him out, his death in detention would be worse."

Eventually, ministers decided in January 1943 that although they could not publicly give in to a hunger strike, they would be willing to release him on compassionate grounds if he was likely to die.

Sir Stafford Cripps, Minister for Aircraft Production - who the previous year failed to negotiate a settlement with Gandhi so he would support the war - said: "He is such a semi-religious figure that his death in our hands would be a great blow and embarrassment to us."

But Churchill was clearly incensed by the prospect of granting Gandhi a moral victory: "I wd keep him there and let him do as he likes," the document reads.

"But if you are going to let him out because he strikes, then let him out now," it continues.

Gandhi was finally freed in 1944, owing to fears that his generally failing health would result in death.

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