Churchill hoped Hitler could be a useful ally –
as a ‘bulwark against Bolshevism.’
It was at this moment that Winston Churchill wrote an article suggesting that Nazi Germany was a useful bulwark against communism. It was published in the Yorkshire Evening Post, on 1st October 1937, under the headline “The Dictators have Smiled.” Academics have rarely, if ever, referred to it and yet it is a fascinating insight into his thinking, an expression of barely disguised admiration and enthusiasm for Hitler’s determination to fight communism.
Although Churchill was relatively progressive in some of his views, such as his support for reducing the pension age and nationalising the railways, he held some ugly reactionary attitudes and was also, like most of the British elite, bitterly opposed to any form of socialism or communism. After all this is the man who once said that “one might as well legalise sodomy as recognise the Bolsheviks.” It is no surprise that Churchill’s only stated reservation in the article for his support for Nazi Germany’s anti-Bolshevik regime was that neither Hitler nor Mussolini had sided with Britain in its opposition to Japanese military actions in China, which he considered a grave strategic threat to the interests of the British Empire. It is worth quoting his commentary at some length.
“In spite of all the horrors that are happening in China,” he observed, “the world has got better in the last month. The meeting of two great dictators has passed off very pleasantly….. They have vowed themselves to the sacred cause of anti-Bolshevism and we all hope they have both enjoyed themselves thoroughly. Upon the whole they have smiled rather than scowled upon mankind……….The Western democracies, now armed and arming heavily, have much to give to these harassed dictators, if they would only prove that they mean to be friends……(and) if the true concert of Europe were reestablished, our collective remonstrances would not go unheeded in the Far East.”
These words of Churchill’s have subsequently been conveniently forgotten, along with other seemingly pro-Nazi gestures and remarks he made that autumn. These included a note he sent to the Duke of Windsor on his unsanctioned and infamous meeting with Hitler at Berchtesgaden in October. The New York Times observed that the visit had clearly demonstrated that the recently abdicated king was “a devoted admirer” of the Nazi regime who has “lent himself, unconsciously, but easily, to National Socialist propaganda”, but Churchill appeared to view the episode far more positively and congratulated the Duke on managing the one on one with “distinction and success.”
He was doubtless aware that the Duke shared his own abhorrence for communism and was consequently willing to overlook both the ethical and long term strategic consequences of lending the regime his support. Some years later the Duke of Windsor claimed he had been ignorant of at least the strategic repercussions for Britain, insisting in an interview with the New York Daily News that he had believed Hitler “when he implied he sought no war with England. I thought the rest of us could be fence sitters while the Nazis and the Reds slogged it out.” As long as German military aggression was to be directed towards the East, both the Duke of Windsor and Churchill, had felt just as comfortable as the rest of the British elite in continuing to extend the dictator their support.
Churchill’s admirers might attempt to excuse his congratulatory note to the Duke as mere deferential politeness, but they would find it more difficult to explain away an article he authored a few weeks earlier on 17 September 1937, which was published both in the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Evening Standard. It was remarkable for the strong sympathy it showed towards Hitler. “One may dislike Hitler’s system,” he reasoned “and yet admire his patriotic achievement. If our country were defeated, I hope we should find a champion as admirable to restore our courage and lead us back to our place among the nations.” He repeated this opinion again on 6 November 1938, remarking in a statement to the Press Association, that while he continued to advocate British rearmament, he had never even “dreamed of an act of aggression against Germany” and that “I have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war I hope we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.”
Earlier in 1935, he had expressed a similarly open minded view of Hitler in his book, Great Contemporaries, in which he reminds the reader that “history is replete with examples of men who have risen to power by employing stern, grim and even frightful methods, but who nevertheless, when their life is revealed as a whole, have been regarded as great figures whose lives have enriched the story of mankind. So it may be with Hitler.” The following year, in March 1936, Churchill was still clearly ardently pro-appeasement, speaking out at a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee against any British military intervention following Hitler’s decision to send German troops into the Rhineland.
He shared, with many others, the fear that any such action would topple Hitler’s regime and make a socialist or communist German government more likely. In April 1937, during a debate on the civil war in Spain, he again spoke against British intervention on behalf of the Spanish government against Franco’s rebel forces which were receiving military support from Nazi Germany. “I refuse to become the partisan of either side,” he explained to the House of Commons, adding that “I will not pretend that, if I had to choose between Communism and Nazi-ism, I would choose Communism.”
Three months later, during a speech to his constituents at Wanstead on 3 July, Churchill reminded the crowd of his then well known admiration for fascism. “If I had been an Italian,” he confessed, “I should have been on Mussolini’s side fifteen years ago when he rescued his country from the horrible fate of sinking into violent communism.” These fascist sympathies were deep rooted, an aspect of Churchill’s outlook which has been subsequently erased or overlooked by most historians. As early as 1927 the Western Daily Press could comment that “Mr. Churchill makes no secret of the fact that he has fallen under the thrall of Mussolini and would not be averse to follow in his footsteps.” The newspaper then referenced a quote which was almost identical to the words he chose when speaking to his constituents ten years later. “If I had been an Italian”, he declared, “I should have been wholeheartedly with you from start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism.”
Yet academics continue to assert that Churchill was the prime example of the uncompromising opponent of fascism and Hitler. Martin Gilbert, the author of one of the most lauded biographies of Churchill entitled the volume dealing with the thirties as “Churchill – the Wilderness Years. Speaking Out Against Hitler in the Prelude to War“. Gilbert reflects the almost universal view of Churchill the implacable anti-fascist, writing that “Churchill consistently warned of the Nazi danger, even before the rise of Hitler. His message was belittled by the government, which fought him at every turn. But Churchill never gave up.”
Many other historians have also lined up to sing hosannas to the great man. with biographer John Kelly maintaining that “no British politician had been more insightful about the German threat” and the historian John Keegan describing him as motivated “by a passion for liberty and moral grandeur, above all the moral grandeur which his own country, first, and then the alliance of the English-speaking democracies, epitomized”. 
If it is the case that Churchill was motivated primarily by a moral repugnance to Nazism then it’s difficult to understand his decision in 1944 to release around 12,000 Nazi collaborators from the prisons in Athens and have them uniformed and armed so that they could eliminate the threat of left wing partisans in the city’s streets. One appalling consequence was that, on 3 December 1944, 28 demonstrators in Athens, including women and children, were shot dead. Even reading the account of the massacre in the pro-Empire Daily Express, it appears clear who was responsible.
“They (the crowd of several thousand) were entirely unarmed. Outside the US embassy they paused and shouted “Long Live Roosevelt.” But later “the police armed with Bren rifles and tommy guns opened fire at some instances at 50 yards range and without warning……..There was no provocation. The crowd was peaceful which was demonstrated by the presence of many women and children, even babies……(but as) a second body of E.A.M. (National Liberation Front) demonstrators came down the street policemen increased the intensity and range of their fire, using heavier weapons, probably mortars and light anti-tank guns.”
The only possible mitigation suggested by the Express reporter was that “the police had served both (the dictator) Metaxas and the German invaders and are probably somewhat frightened.” Churchill was so keen to protect the former quisling agents of the Nazi regime that he insisted on “reserving judgement” on the incident.
Even if one ignores Churchill’s shameful role in 1944 in Greece in using Nazi collaborators to exterminate left wing nationalists, who he feared might harbour communist sympathies, the 1937 Yorkshire Evening Post article, in which Churchill clearly approves of Hitler’s and Mussolini’s anti-Bolshevist stance, together with the earlier evidence of his enthusiasm for Mussolini’s fascism, shows that even even as late as October 1937 Churchill still considered both Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany as potential allies in any future war with Soviet Russia. This is not surprising since such anti-communist sentiments at that time were reflected right across the establishment and Britain’s middle class.
1. Boris Johnson (2015), “The Churchill Factor,” Hodder and Stoughton Limited, London p149
2. Rt. Hon Winston Churchill, “The Dictators Have Smiled”, the Yorkshire Evening Post, 1 October 1937 p12.
3. Andrew Morton (2015), “17 Carnations: The Windsors, the Nazis and the Cover-Up,” Michael O’Mara Books Limited, pp135-136
4. Winston Churchill, “Friendship with Germany”, the Yorkshire Evening Post, 17 September 1937 p10
5. Winston Churchill quoted in “Not Warmongers: Mr. Churchill replies to Fuhrer,” the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 7 November 1938, p7
6. Winston S. Churchill (1937), “Great Contemporaries“, Butterworth, London p261.
7. R.A.C. Parker (2000),”Churchill and Appeasement,” Macmillan, London p86
8. Hansard 14 April 1937 Vol 322 cc1029-145 accessed online at http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1937/apr/14/situation-at-bilbao
9. Winston Churchill quoted in “Spanish Conflict,” the Scotsman, 5 July 1937, p12
10. “Mr. Churchill and Fascism” in the Western Daily Press, 27 January 1927, p6.
11. Martin Gilbert writing a summary of his book at http://www.martingilbert.com/book/winston-churchill-the-wilderness-years-a-lone-voice-against-hitler-in-the-prelude-to-war/
12. John Kelly (2015) “Never Surrender: Winston Churchill and Britain’s decision to fight Nazi Germany in the fateful summer of 1940,” Simon and Schuster, London p35 and John Keegan (1995) “The Battle for History: Re-fighting World War Two“, Hutchinson, London p53.
13. “Royalists Battle with Reds”, The Daily Express, 4 December 1944 p1 and p4. For Churchill’s role in masterminding the crackdown and sending Sir Charles Wickham to Athens oversee the recruitment of collaborators see Ed Vulliamy and Helena Smith “Athens 1944. Britain’s Dirty Secret”, The Guardian, 30 November 2014.
14. “Royalists Battle with Reds”, The Daily Express, 4 December 1944 p4.