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Five Days in London: May 1940 (1999)

de John Lukacs

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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.
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3.5***

Historian John Lukacs has written over twenty books, several dealing with World War II. In this book he focuses specifically on Winston Churchill and the five days from May 24 to May 28, 1940. Churchill did not win the war in those five days, but his actions and leadership ensured that England would NOT lose the war.

Lukacs did extensive research, pouring over diaries, letters, journals, official memoranda and newspaper reports of the time, to illuminate and reconstruct the thought-processes and leadership that ultimately ensured the Allies’ success. We obviously know the outcome already, but Lukacs manages to convey the sense of urgency and tension and uncertainty of this moment in history.

This is a slim volume, but very dense and I had to remind myself a few times that the timespan was a mere five days. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 21, 2022 |
Detailed behind-the-scenes look at London's reaction to this critical period early during WW II. Germany had already taken Poland in a matter of days, and effectively eliminated Belgium and France from the war. With a treaty in force with Russia, England was the sole force facing Germany, and it's forces were trapped and under seige in France, and had not yet been evacuated from Dunkirk. England could have and might have sought terms with Germany, or fought on alone against the mighty German army. This book shows Churchill's determination, leadership, and strength of his convictions as he led the fight to continue the struggle during this critical time. ( )
  rsutto22 | Jul 15, 2021 |
I wanted to liket this a lot more than I actually did. For some reason I've got in my head that Lukacs is an author I should really enjoy, but this is the fourth book of his that I've tried and I remain somewhat underwhelmed. You never really get the sense of urgency that he clearly wants to convey in this story - I very much found myself wondering what all the fuss was about. The writing is sometimes oddly infelicitous, too, though perhaps that's an English-as-a-second-language thing?

Anyway, I'll probably try one more by him. Maybe. ( )
1 vota dmmjlllt | Mar 19, 2019 |
The title of this book refers to the period from May 24 through May 28, 1940 and concerns itself primarily with the deliberations of the British War Cabinet during the darkest days of World War II as the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) retreated to the Channel ports and ultimately the evacuation of over 300,000 troops from Dunkirk. The history textbook accounts of World War II tell us that Churchill's assumption of the prime minister's role two weeks earlier was evidence that support for his hardline opposition to Hitler and the Nazis was now settled British policy and that it was a given that the British would "fight them on the beaches", etc.

Lukacs' narrative makes it clear that it was not a foregone conclusion that Britain would fight on to the bitter end come what may. The War Cabinet consisted of Churchill, Neville Chamberlain, Foreign Secretary Lord Halifax and Labor representatives Clement Attlee and Arthur Greenwood. The discussions among this group included nine formal meetings during the five days with the collapse of Belgium and the rout of the French forces as a backdrop. In the middle of this week the decision was made to evacuate the BEF from Dunkirk. Churchill was essentially unchanged in his policy though acknowledging the desperation of their situation. Halifax favored an approach to Mussolini prior to Italy's entry into the war to facilitate an armistice and negotiations based on Britain's willingness to cede some undefined portion of its overseas territories to Germany and potentially Gibraltar and Malta to Mussolini as payment for services rendered. In return Britain's independence and autonomy would be recognized and observed. At the same time Paul Reynaud, the French premier encouraged the contacts with Mussolini and also urged the British to contact Roosevelt as the leader of a still neutral United Stated to broker a negotiated settlement that would recognize Hitler's conquests but give the French and the British a way out of the war if they were offered reasonable terms.

Churchill generally received the lukewarm support of Attlee and Greenwood. Chamberlain was supportive and played a critical role in mediating between the positions of Churchill and Halifax. As Lukacs makes clear it was not generally believed at this point that Churchill's leadership was for the duration. He was not favored by the king and was not the clear cut favorite at any time of his own Conservative Party many of whom expected a "restoration" of Chamberlain or perhaps Halifax's accession to the prime minister position. By the end of the week it was clear that the Mussolini gambit in particular and generally speaking the likelihood of an armistice leading to Britain's withdrawal from the war were put to rest. Regardless of whether or not the French signed a separate peace the British would carry on alone.

In parallel with the political narrative Lukacs reviews the state of British public opinion and public awareness in the latter part of each chapter, day by day. The newspapers were never really on top of the real state of affairs in France which may have been a positive thing for Britain's morale. A public opinion operation known as M.O. for Mass Observation was comprised of non-scientific day to day accounts comparing opinion by region, class and sex. Generally the greater the status the more pessimistic the outlook. Also, opinion in London was far more worried than in the rural areas. And women in general were more depressed about events than their men.

One more item worth highlighting is the role or lack thereof played by David Lloyd George, Liberal Party leader and Prime Minister during the victory over Germany in 1918. Churchill approached Lloyd George on a couple of occasions about joining the Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture. He was turned down twice ostensibly due to Lloyd George's hatred of Chamberlain. Lukacs believes that in the worst case scenario if Britain was defeated Lloyd George might have been the leader best placed to obtain terms from Hiller. He doesn't explicitly compare Lloyd George to Marshall Petain but the reader is invited to make the comparison for himself.

Five Days in London is an exceptionally fine deep dive into a brief time slice that in the author's opinion was the real "Hinge of Fate" of the war in that it was the closest Hitler would ever come to winning "his war". ( )
1 vota citizencane | Aug 27, 2018 |
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.
1 vota MasseyLibrary | Mar 21, 2018 |
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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.

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