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The Splendid and the Vile

Quick Recap & Summary By Chapter

The Key Ideas and Section-by-Section Summary for The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson are below.

Key Ideas & Takeaways

This book is almost exclusively centered around British involvement in WWII in a one-year period from May 10, 1940 (when Chruchill becomes Prime Minister) to May 11, 1941 (when the German Air Raids cease). It covers a period of nightly German air raids known as the Blitz ("Blitzkrieg" is German for "lightning war").

Lead-up to the Blitz

Churchhill becomes Prime Minister. Churchill becomes Prime Minister during WII on May 10, 1940, as their French allies are nearly defeated. His predecessor, Chamberlain, resigns because people believe he is too slow moving and they've lost faith in his ability to fight the Germans.

Churchill re-energizes the British government. Upon taking office, Churchill jumps into action. Churchill maintains a stance that he wants the British to take the offensive against the Germans instead of constantly being on the defensive. France Surrenders. France signs an armistice agreement with Germany on June 23. Churchill makes the difficult decision to capture or destroy any accessible French ships. It results in one minor gunfight and one large bombardment, killing roughly 1,300 French sailors.

German Perspective

German Air Raids. Germany executes air raids on a near nightly basis in hopes that Britain will give in and sign an agreement with them.

Germany's Poor Airforce Intelligence. Hitler makes a critical mistake when it comes to air force intelligence. Goring's friend is tasked with the job and is terrible at it. It leads to severe overconfidence in the Luftwaffe's ability to overpower and destroy the RAF.

Breach of the Treaty of Versailles. Hitler has been preparing for this war for a long time, including breaching the Treaty of Versailles by secretly re-militarizing and rebuilding its air force many years in advance.

Airforce Technology and Flying by Moonlight

Aircraft Technology. When reports arise of German transmission of signals at long range that will allow them to direct planes in the dark, Churchill makes developing countermeasures a top priority, such as using jammers and ways to redirect these signals. Unfortunately, the Germans are able to keep modifying their signals to prevent the British from stopping these night raids.

Moonlight. By using their signals to direct them, using the cover of darkness to prevent being taken down by British planes and guns and relying on moonlight for better visibility, the Germans are able to effective conduct raids by moonlight, so much so that the British come to fear full moon nights.

Other Major Players

Lord Beaverton. When Churchill takes office, British air force planes are outnumbered by the German Luftwaffe 4-to-1. Churchill names his friend Lord Beaverton as head of the new ministry solely dedicated to building new aircraft. Beaverton imposes upon other governmental ministries and often demands their resources, but is effective at his job.

Professor Lindmann. Lindmann is Churchill's personal scientific advisor. He has some lapses in judgment, but Churchill trusts him and his ability to explain complex science in simple ways.

American Involvement

Entreaties to America. Churchill is well aware of the need for America to abandon its isolationist ideas and join the fight. He makes continuous entreaties to Roosevelt to assist them. Roosevelt is reluctant initially because he's up for re-election, but after he's reelected, he's more encouraging of American support in the war.

Lend-Lease Act. Even before America joins WWII, Roosevelt manages to get the Lend-Lease Act passed which allows America to provide supplies to the British.

Harry Hopkins and Averell Harriman. Hopkins and Harriman are sent by Roosevelt as American in order to assess the situation in Britain. They both end up advocating for American support of the British.

Propaganda and Misinformation

German Propaganda. The Germans rely on misinformation and outright lies as propaganda to the world at large about their activities. It includes things like lying about where "secret storage facilities" to justify bombing Buckingham palace or showing a photo claiming the British have caused the death of women and children when it really due to a German bomber's error.

British Propaganda. The British also rely on propaganda to keep morale up. It includes keeping up hope that Americans are close to joining the war.

Mis-information. To counter misinformation in Britain, spreading of false stories carried a penalty of fees or even imprisonment. Anti-Lies Bureau focuses on countering German propaganda, the Anti-Rumors Bureau deals with local rumors, and the Postal Censorship bureau monitors mail and telephone calls.

The Ending of the Blitz, American Involvement and The End of the War

Operation Barbarossa. Germany plans to invade Russia in the summer of 1941, code-named Operation Barbarossa which is why the British air raids ultimately cease when they turn their attentions and resources to the Russians.

Pearl Harbor. The Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor in December of 1941, resulting in the Americans declaring war on Japan and therefore joining the war efforts. (Germany declares war on America soon after and America returns the favor. )

May 8, 1945. The war in Europe ends officially on May 9, 1945 with the German surrender. Two months later, the conservative party, Churchill's party, is voted out of power.

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Section-by-Section Summary

Prologue / Bleak Expectations

The book opens by discussing the fear in Britain after they declared war against Germany, on September 3, 1939. They knew they would be attacked, retained the memories if the bombings from WWI, and there was the knowledge that bombs had only grown strong since that time.

The alert system, a ringing of bells in case parachute troops were sighted nearby, was to let people know when to start destroying things like maps or bicycles to prevent them from getting into the hands of invaders. Gas masks were issued to civilians, and mailboxes were painted to turn yellow in the presence of poison gas.

Part One: The Rising Threat (1940, May – June)

Chapters 1 – 2 (Churchill becomes Prime Minister.)

Friday, May 10 is the day before the first German attack on Britain. It’s a beautiful spring day, but news streams in about German raids into nearby countries. Chamberlain is resigning as Prime Minister because many believe he has acted too slowly and they have lost confidence in his ability to fight the war. The most likely replacements are Halifax and Churchill, but Halifax doesn’t think he’s up to the task and doesn’t want the job.

Winston Churchill is 65 and the first Lord of the Admiralty, the top naval office in Britain. He goes to see King George who offers him the position of Prime Minister. Churchill is eager for the opportunity and the challenges before him. (Lord Halifax is appointed foreign secretary.)

Churchill is popular with the public and the news is largely greeted warmly. However, detractors certainly were present as well. John “Jock” Colville is 25 and worked under Chamberlain. Now, he’s is assigned to be private secretary for Churchill. Colville is wary of him and, like some other skeptics, considers Churchill too rash and risky. Colville will keep a detailed diary of these days (which is quoted from extensively throughout this book), including an entry where he says Churchill’s public popularity is just a response to Hitler’s intense dislike of Churchill.

Chapters 3 – 4 (Churchill’s first days in office.)

Churchill is aware that bringing America into the war is of great strategic importance. The U.S. is reluctant to join fray (favoring isolationism), but Hitler’s invasion of the Low Countries propels a change in public sentiment. Still, they are unsure of Britain’s change in leadership and worry about reports of Churchill’s excessive drinking.

True to his reputation, Churchill is bold and unpredictable in office. He gets to work quickly, bringing a surge of energy into “Whitehall” (a metonym that’s used to reference the British government). His first day, he names himself Minister of Defense, a new role that oversees the chiefs of all three branches of the military, the army, navy, and air force.

Churchill felt there was a need to take offensive action, and quickly, in the war. He orders a bombing, with more to follow, of a German city within a mere two days in office. It’s meant to signal to the U.S. and others Britain’s intention to fight. On May 13, he gives a speech reiterating this message with the (now famous) line “I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.” Major General Hastings “Pug” Ismay, military chief of staff, becomes a frequent and trusted advisor.

With France as a barrier between the British and the Germans, a forceful attack on France on May 14 spooks England. Churchill asks Roosevelt directly for U.S. assistance, but Roosevelt declines. By May 16, the expectation in France is that the Germans will be in Paris within days. Soon, the British forces in France are planning a withdrawal near the port city of Dunkirk, knowing that they will need these soldiers when the Germans turn their attention to Britain.

Chapters 5 – 6 (British and Germain Air Force Abilities)

If French forces collapsed, Hitler would be able to launch air strikes from France, which would undoubtedly result in the strikes being more numerous and more powerful. Hilter’s air force was estimated to outnumber the British Royal Air Force (“RAF”) four-to-one. Therefore, on his first day as Prime Minister, Churchhill creates a ministry solely dedicated to producing military aircraft that was separate from the Air Ministry, run by Lord Beaverbrook. Its introduction immediately prompted inter-governmental bickering and Lord Beaverbrook could be difficult person, but, critically, the new ministry also dramatically ramped up Britain’s production of aircraft.

There was a fear all around. Strict blackout rules were imposed to keep streets dark to prevent aiding enemy aircraft, so people were especially fearful when there was a full moon and the streets were lit in moonlight. Meanwhile, Churchill feared Hitler prioritized killing him specifically.

On the German side, the Luftwaffe was headed by Hermann Göring, Hitler’s favorite. Hilter likes Göring for buoyant and ebullient (and corrupt and cruel) personality. Two critical mistakes are made. Due to Göring’s assurances of the Luftwaffe’s ability to singlehandedly destroy the RAF, Hilter pauses the advance of the armored troops to allow them to regroup. This gives the British some extra time. Secondly, Göring entrusts the role of Luftwaffe intelligence chief to a friend, Beppo Schmid. Beppo is good at providing happy news, which Göring likes, but is bad at his job (which includes providing updates on British air force capabilities).

Chapters 7 – 10 (Operation Dynamo and Ominous Tidings)

On May 26, the British withdrawal from Dunkirk begins, nicknamed Operation Dynamo. Churchill also makes a speech making clear that he has no intention of making peace with Germany. Due to a combination of bad weather and Hitler’s misguided pause order, the evacuation at Dunkirk is wildly successful. Aided by civilian boats, a total of 338,226 men are evacuated.

However, soon, on June 5, the Germans begin bombing the English mainland for the first time. While largely ineffective, it indicates that Hitler is ready to begin his attack on Britain. On June 10, Italy declares war on France and Britain.

Part Two: A Certain Eventuality (1940, June – August)

Chapters 11 – 14 (Scientific Concerns and French Surrender)

Churchill is an advocate for using technology to help war efforts. Radar technology had been the byproduct of attempts to build a “death ray”. Meanwhile, British codebreakers located at Bletchly Park had made great strides in cracking the German “Enigma” encryption machine, providing an important advantage. Professor Frederick Lindemann (the “Prof”) is Churchill’s personal scientific adviser.

Dr. Reginald V. Jones, 28, is a young intelligence director. On June 12, Jones tells the Prof that he thinks the Germans have developed technology to enable limited visibility landings of aircraft, but from a long distance. This method of landing (Lorenz blind-landing) requires shining a beam of light. Jones believes they have found a way to project this beam all the way across the channel. Prof initially dismisses him, but the inspection of a shot-down German bomber with a very sensitive landing receiver provides some confirmation Jones’s theory.

By mid-June, the U.S. still refuses to help. On June 17, France surrenders and the Germans sink a large British ocean liner. A German invasion is imminent. Churchill chief concern at this point is the acquisition the French fleet (they need the French to demand as part of their surrender to give it to the British in order to honor the Anglo-French pact). British aircraft production is way up, though this has relied on Lord Beaverton demanding resources and commandeering buildings from other exasperated governmental ministries. Beaverton wants control over everything and seethes when obstructions arise.

There are also criticisms of Lindemann, as some people doubt his judgement, but Churchill backs him unreservedly. They proceed with the development of some questionable technologies like “aerial landmines” under Lindemann’s guidance. Churchill realizes Lindemann is not the greatest scientist, but trusts him and appreciates his ability to distill arcane concepts into simple explanations.

On June 21, there’s meeting at the famed long table in the Cabinet Room of 10 Downing Street. Jones explains his discovery. It’s terrifying, because if German air raids can be conducted in darkness, there’s little the air force can do to prevent them. Jones also talks about what can be done to potentially disrupt these long-distance signals that this method of landing requires, such as jamming or transmitting fake signals. Developing these countermeasures are given top priority by Churchill.

Meanwhile, Churchill’s financial problems have plagued him throughout his life. In a stroke of good news, Churchill has a £5,000 (approx. $300,000 modern-day values) debt paid off by Sir Henry Strakosch, co-owner of The Economist, which temporarily abates his financial problems.

Chapters 15 – 18 (Imminent Invasion)

On June 23, France signs an armistice with Germany. England is now fighting Germany alone. The armistice agreement does not provide for the British to acquire the French fleet. On June 28, the codebreakers at Bletchley Park intercept a message about a large order of maps of England.

Churchill is in a dour mood due to the stress of imminent invasion, but spending time at Chequers, an official prime ministerial countryside estate outside London, proves to be a refuge. His family stays or visits there as well. Churchill and his wife Clementine have four children, Mary, Diana, Randolph and Sarah (a fifth, Marigold, died as a toddler). He has a tense relationship with his only son Randolph, who is a gambler, kind of useless and cheats on his wife, Pamela.

On June 30, the Germans seize Guernsey, a small British dependency in the Channel Islands. Lord Beaverbrook also (tries to) resign due to his mounting frustration over squabbles with the Air Ministry, but Churchill frostily rejects it given situation at hand.

Chapters 19 – 21 (Operation Catapult)

Late on June 30, Churchill calls a meeting to enact a plan to either seize or disable any of the accessible French fleet. There is a possibility of having to use force against their allies, the French, if the ship captains are not cooperative.

One element of the plan, Operation Catapult, is being led by Lord Somerville and focuses on Mers el-Kébir, a base where many of the French navy’s most powerful ships are docked. After making contact, Somerville demands that they submit or the ship will be destroyed. The Admiral promises not to let the Germans take the ship, but also refuses to submit. After a protracted negotiation on the Dunkerque, the French flagship, no progress is made. A hard deadline is set and passes. (Meanwhile, in most other Ports, they face little resistance, which reinforced their notion that the Germans would have easily ended up commandeering the ships.)

Finally, Somerville reluctantly gives the order to fire. The French respond in kind. It lasts for ten minutes until the French stop firing. Afterwards, 1,297 French officers are dead and the battleship Bretagne has been sunk. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, the news is greeted with applause (Larson notes Churchill’s ability to deliver “dire news” and still leave people feeling hopeful.), though the Admiralty is unhappy with the resolution.

After Mers el-Kébir, Hitler understands that reaching an agreement with Britain will not be possible while Churchill is in power, and he seeks to remove him. He tasks his deputy, Rudolf Hess, with this. Hess knows the importance of his task, given that Hitler believes a crucial mistake in WWI was provoking Britain to fight.

Chapters 22 – 28 (British Preparations, Britain at Large and Hitler’s Preparations)

In England, preparations include sandbags and machine guns strategically set up. Anti-tank trenches are dug out and obstacles placed in the streets. Even the Queen learns how to use a revolver. Civilians are instructed to stay in their homes in the case of an invasion, to avoid being machine-gunned from the air.

Even as reports stream in of bombings, the populace is enthralled by accounts of the air battles. The public begins to send in gifts of cash to Beaverton to build more airplanes. Beyond building planes, it helps to build morale among the workers to know the public is rooting for them. To encourage donations, Beaverton allows contributors to help name the specific planes. This influx of small sums becomes called the Spitfire Fund. (By May 1941, the total collected was £13 million, equivalent to $832 million.) Beaverton also encourages public morale by quickly recovering any downed RAF planes, but allowing destroyed German planes to sit for a while.

Churchill continues his efforts to make Roosevelt understand the need for American aid. Churchill also understands that American sentiments are split between isolationism and those who believe war is inevitable. America’s military is also weak at this point, too small and equipped with obsolete weaponry. Still, Churchill makes repeated demands for American destroyers, emphasizing the urgency of the situation. For Roosevelt, the difficulty is trying to supply the destroyers while technically remaining neutral. He’s aware that any plan would be unlikely to get Congressional approval. Roosevelt is also up for re-election soon.

On the home front, Randolph Churchill stumbles home drunk one night and leaves stash of secret military maps in his car, accessible to passersby. His mother, Clementine, bans him from 10 Dowling in response.

In Germany, Hilter’s preparations started early. For example, Adolf Galland is a German pilot who, in 1932, had been secretly sent to learn to fly military planes in violation of the German demilitarization required by Treaty of Versailles. So, while the British and German planes were roughly fairly matched, the Luftwaffe fighter pilots were much more experienced.

The Germans also begin deploying propaganda in England, setting up radio stations that seem critical of the Nazis, but contain grisly accounts of destruction and death to demoralize and scare the citizenry. Meanwhile, nearly all German aircrafts have now been assembled on French airfields along the channel coast.

On Tuesday July 16, Hilter announces a directive (code named Sea Lion) to launch a full-scale sea attack by mid-August. It’s followed by directive 17 to launch an assault on the RAF. Led by Göring, the date is set for August 10 and then postponed due to weather to August 13. Given Beppo Schmid (faulty) reports, they are expecting to annihilate the RAF with little resistance. Schmid has reported that the RAF’s strength and resolve has been diminished each day by their small-scale raids.

Part Three: Dread (1940, August – September)

Chapters 29 – 33 (Beginning of the Battle of Britain)

On August 13, German bombers make their way toward England, totaling 500 bombers and 1,000 fighters by the end of the day. This day would only be the beginning of what would later be known as the Battle of Britain. These initial days are meant to have larger attacks, but thwarted by weather. The British are mystified by the focus-less attacks. It comes in waves, and the British respond with their own planes.

The distance still presents a challenge for Germany since the planes are still limited by their fuel reserves. Their Stuka dive bombers had been effective against more outdated air forces, but they travel at half the speed of British Spitfires, making them easy targets. Göring is also seen by his fighters as being out of touch with modern aerial combat. He instructs fighter planes to fly at the slower speed of the bombers (they travel in pairs), which made them easier targets and made it harder for them to take down their British counterparts. He wants them to travel closely together, which leads to more accidents and collisions. Göring also doesn’t come up with a solution for taking down British radars, making German formations easier to detect.

The first day ends with 45 downed Luftwaffe planes to 13 RAF planes. The second day ends with, 19 lost Luftwaffe planes to 8 RAF planes. On August 15, however, the weather finally clears. Göring orders 2,100 planes into England. Due to bad intelligence about the state of the RAF airforce, the Luftwaffe is under-defended. In the end, 75 Luftwaffe are shot down and 34 RAF planes.

These numbers cheer the public, but actually didn’t include tallies of planes destroyed on the ground or planes lost from raids on Germany. Compared to the memories of “grotesque” land battles, the air battles seem almost picturesque to those watching below. Meanwhile, Roosevelt agrees to proceed with a deal regarding the American destroyers without Congressional approval.

Chapters 34 – 43 (Escalation in London and Berlin)

The deal for the American Destroyers is very lopsided against the British, but Roosevelt maintains that it’s necessary for it to be a good trade for them or else it violates neutrality laws. As Churchill prepares to present the deal the House of Commons, Colville notes how he has been testing out phrases and ideas from his upcoming speech in other conversations and contexts to test them out on audiences.

On August 24, a navigation error leads a group of German bombers to London which has purposefully not been attacked yet (Hitler still hopes for an agreement.) The stray bombing itself did minimal damage, but gave Churchill moral justification to begin raids on Berlin, which predictably enraged Hitler.

A large attack on London is scheduled for September 7. Berlin has now realized their signaling system has been figured out. However, they have an alternate, more complex signaling method, though it requires highly trained and skilled crews. Special unit KGr 100 is created for this purpose and is unleashed for the London attack.

Part Four: Blood and Dust (1940, September – December)

Chapters 44 – 45 (Beginning of the London Air Raids)

On September 7, the attacks start at teatime. A gray pallor of dust covers everything as buildings are demolished, and the splashes of blood provide a striking contrast. Two more waves follow. In the end of the first day, many building and houses and destroyed and 400 people are dead. Germany loses 40 aircraft, and considers it a huge success. The next day, the attacks start at night, since the fires from the first attacks provide light for the new attacks. The nightly attacks continue. Despite the radars, they are still difficult to take down because the radars are insufficiently precise.

The Germans still want a treaty, but it’s acknowledged that it’s unlikely any Englishman would trust Hitler’s word on anything. A cryptic offer to meet with the Duke of Hamilton (in order to discuss a possible agreement) is made, but they never receive a response (it gets stopped by British counterintelligence censors).

In London, Londoners have been disheartened by the lack of anti-aircraft action during the many raids. The guns had previously been instructed to conserve ammunition and only fire when planes are sighted. Now, on September 11, Churchill gives new orders to allow for more indiscriminate shooting. While not very effective for bringing down more planes, it boosts the public morale.

Chapters 46 – 52 (London Air Raids Continue)

As the raids continue, there are regular utility outages and disruption of sleep. Many utilize public bomb shelters during the raids, but they aren’t designed for sleeping, since at the time (prewar) they didn’t think the raids would happen at night. For the King and Queen, there is a near miss by a bomb at Buckingham Palace. Some London parents decide to send their children away to Canada for safety in a ship named the City of Benares. It gets torpedoed by a U-boat four days after it departs. On September 11, Churchill goes to live at Chequers.

On September 15, from an underground command center, Churchill watches over the flashing lights that represent the squadrons of RAF planes departing to fend off a particularly fierce German attack. The next day they find out a notable number of German planes (60 downed and 20 more severely damaged) had been shot down in last night’s raid, later being known as Battle of Britain Day. In Germany, it’s clear that Göring’s Luftwaffe had failed. For propaganda, to explain the bombings at Buckingham Palace, they claim that secret stores of resources are kept near the Palace.

Mary, Churchill’s daughter, joins the Women’s Voluntary Service. The work contrasts harshly with the summer she has spent bicycling and flirting and partying. Pamela, Randolph’s wife, is soon to give birth. Her doctor insists on staying with her, which she suspects is more for his safety (at Chequers, far away from London) than hers.

The nightly raids continue, but life continues in London as well though there is a continual stress at night. Rationing rules continue. In shelters, people worry about potential poison gas attacks. There are also odd results from the bombing. After a fire at London’s Natural History Museum, the water from the firemen’s hoses caused 147-year-old seeds to germinate, including one for an ancient Persian Silk Tree. Elsewhere, a bombing of the zoo causes a zebra to run freely around London’s streets.

Göring insists that it is the incompetence of the pilots that are causes these losses, but pilots like Adolf Galland with his impressive record prove that is incorrect. Galland knows that the real issue is a gross misjudgment regarding the strength of the RAF, which he has been trying to convince his superiors of. A week before Galland receives another commendation, Göring (inaccurately) announces that only 177 RAF planes remain. In Germany, discontent is growing since the populace is realizing the war will not soon be over. Instead, a second wave is coming.

The Tripartite Pact act is signed, bringing Japan into the war with Germany in Italy.

Chapter 52 – 60 (Churchill, America and New Developments)

Churchill has a disregard for his own safety that others find disconcerting. For example, Prof worries that someone could lace his cigars with poison, since Churchill often receives them as gifts. Ismay worries that 10 Dowling is not safe enough so it gets reinforced. On October 8, a bomb drops near Chequers. On October 10, Pamela’s son is born, Winston Churchill Junior. (Randolph is busy cheating on Pamela and isn’t there for the birth. He’s also causing continuous problems at home. His profligate spending and drinking stresses his mother and wife out.) They celebrate at Chequers. Seeing the ditch left by the bomb, Churchill finally agrees to find a safer locale to spend weekends with full moons, which ends up being the Ditchley Estate in Oxfordshire.

All the while, Beaverton is frustrated by the interruptions in work due to the bombings. In addition to actual dangers, a lone bomber that doesn’t drop a bomb still triggers a siren that results in the 6-hour production delay. Beaverbrook tries to resign, again, and is refused, again. Meanwhile, an operation to seize Dakar (Operation Menace) results in a failure and criticism of Churchill. On October 14, a bomb hits 10 Downing St, followed by more bombing that seem targeted toward Whitehall.

As the U.S. presidential election nears, Roosevelt’s opponent, Willie, warns Americans that Roosevelt will drag them into the war. It’s a close and tense election, but Roosevelt wins.

Hilter has now postponed the Sea Lion directive because the RAF’s presence makes it a questionable assault. Hitler is also well aware that Britain’s refusal to yield increases the chances that America will enter the war. Furthermore, if America enters, it’s likely Stalin will as well (despite a non-aggression pact signed between Germany and Russia). Hitler knows they need to plan to attack Russia before it has time to strengthen its forces.

The British are now aware of the existence of the mysterious KGr 100 squad. Lindemann and Jones have also developed a method to redirect their more advanced signaling systems as well, resulting in the capture of one of their pilots, Hans Lehmann. No. 80 Wing is a British squadron that is dedicated to redirecting these complex navigational beams.

Due to the Bletchley codebreakers, the British find out that the Germans plan to conduct full-on air assaults on two other cities. They begin counter-operation planning, code-named “Cold Water”. They intend to launch a large scale strike on Germany in response. On November 14, the Germans launch their attack. The first one is directed at Coventry, and the damage, death and destruction is devastating. The bombing lasts for 11 hours. 568 civilians are killed and another 865 are seriously wounded. 2,294 buildings are razed and 45,704 more are damaged.

Chapter 61 – 64 (Another Entreaty to America)

English cities continue to be attacked and ships with supplies are continuously being sunk. (Operation Abigail is conducted, a large raid on Germany, in retaliation for Coventry.) The British also don’t have a clear picture of how strong the Luftwaffe still is, and furthermore they are having a tough time determining how many RAF planes are even currently in commission. The Germans also keep changing their signaling methods (for their raids) to prevent the British from combating them. Churchill makes another entreaty to America about the need for supplies. On December 16, 1940, Roosevelt finally proposes the Lend-Lease Act, which would allow America to provide the British with aid.

The winter brings dour moods as the cold and wind is compounded by the blackout rules. People are required to darken their windows to prevent light from getting out (which could aid possible attacks), but the lack of light makes things bleak inside and makes it hard to see outside. Tens of thousands of people who were bombed out of their houses are also living in shelters with bad conditions, uncomfortable beds and insufficient latrines. There are ministries responsible for them, but because of the overlapping duties across ministries, little gets done.

Lord Lothian, British ambassador to America, passes away. Churchill wants to use the opportunity to ship off one of his detractors to America, Lord Halifax. The position would be a demotion for Lord Halifax and he doesn’t want to go, but the appointment of Lord Halifax as the new ambassador is made all the same.

Chapter 65 – 69 (Christmas and New Years)

Germany plans its invasion of Russia, Case Barbarossa, for May 15, 1941.

In England, misinformation is problem, both internally and from Russian propaganda. Spreading of false stories carried a penalty of fees or even imprisonment. Anti-Lies Bureau focuses on countering German propaganda, the Anti-Rumors Bureau deals with local rumors, and the Postal Censorship bureau reads people’s mail and listens in on telephone conversations for false statements.

Christmas is coming up, but Churchill wants his people to keep working. Instead, they can take staggered one week vacations some time between then and March. Beaverton, too, finds his most loyal man working on Christmas and leaves a gift for the man’s wife on his desk (realizing that she must be unhappy about it). On Christmas day, no bombs fall in either Germany or England. However, that week Germany launches an attack that causes a fire that destroys 90% of London’s financial district. Roosevelt also has a “fireside chat”, advocating support for the British.

By midnight before the new year, in total, 13,596 people had been killed in 1940 by the German attacks.

Part Five: The Americans (1941, January – March)

Chapters 70 – 76 (Harry Hopkins)

Churchill wants to additionally put Beaverbrook in charge of increasing imports of supplies, but Beaverbrook wants to resign altogether. Larson describes how Beaverbrook and Churchill both seemed to enjoy the process where Beaverbrook would parade about his grievances and Churchill would demand that he stay. In the end, nothing changes. Beaverbrook remains only in charge of aircraft production. Meanwhile, good news comes in about their skirmishes with Italy in Libya, and Churchill is heartened by Roosevelt’s advocacy regarding American aid.

Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt’s personal advisor, goes to visit Churchill to gather information about the situation there. Churchill takes him everywhere with him, and the visit goes smoothly. Hopkins writes to Roosevelt recommending they providing aid to the British. He writes “This island needs our help now, Mr. President, with everything we can give them.” He also adds that the British seem to think an all-out invasion will come before May 1.

To see Hopkins off after nearly four weeks, there is a visit to the Scapa Flow naval base. Near the end of the trip, Hopkins confirms that he plans to advocate for America to join with the British, saying/quoting ““Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God…Even to the end.” On the day he departs, February 8, the Lend-Lease bill passes in the House of Representatives. On February 9, Churchill gives a rousing speech, largely intended to garner American support for the Lend-Lease bill by implying that all the British want is materials so they can fight on behalf of both America and the British.

With the Russian invasion being mobilized, plans to invade Britain are put on hold, but Hitler continues to intensify the raids so they will believe it is coming soon and dedicate resources to defense planning. The Luftwaffe notes that the British have still not come up with an effective way of intercepting aircraft at night. Hilter also pushes for Japan to engage in actions in the Far East, to tie up British resources and divert American attention. Hitler still hopes to get the British to surrender so that America will stay out of the war. He knows the longer they hold out, the greater the chance that America engages.

John Colville is interested in quitting his position and enlisting instead. He plans to join the RAF, even though at the time the life expectancy for a new bomber crew member is two weeks.

Chapters 77 – 83 (William Harriman)

In America, Roosevelt’s former opponent, Willkie, lends his support to the Lend-Lease bill, and the bill soon passes. On March 10, Roosevelt signs it into law. Meanwhile, Germany ratchets up their attacks on British cities.

Roosevelt sends a second emissary to England, William Averell Harriman. Harriman is Chairman of the Board and heir to the Union Pacific rail empire. His purpose is the coordinate American aid to Britain and to provide information about the situation in Britain. After discussion with American military leaders, Harriman determines that the American military doesn’t understand what the British strategy is, and therefore is reluctant to give up their resources. (Hopkins was apparently vague on that point.) They are also unconvinced of Churchill’s military competence. In visiting England, Harriman plans on getting a clearer answer on those points.

Harriman arrives in England in mid-March. He contends with having to find suitably safe accommodations, debating whether potentially having a building collapse on a shelter would be more dangerous than having a bomb explode on the roof of a hotel. On Wednesday March 19, Harriman experiences a major raid firsthand while Churchill views the activity (courageously, according to Larson) from the roof. (On the March 28th, a depressed Virginia Woolf whose depression has been worsened by war and the destruction of her home, kills herself.)

Randolph accumulates a large amount of gambling debt and Pamela has to figure out a way to pay it off. She decides to move to London so she can work. She gets a job at the governmental ministry. Pamela also meets Harriman, who she finds quite handsome and is quite taken with.

Part Six: Love amid the Flames (1941, April – May)

Chapters 84 – 90 (German Victories)

On early April, the German have a number of small victories. The British are forced to evacuate from Benghazi, invade Yugoslavia and attack Greece as well. The situation in Libya is deteriorating for the British as well. Bristol also suffers its most severe raid thus far.

After Churchill tours Bristol, he gets the good news that Roosevelt has decided to extend the area in which the U.S. patrols the Atlantic, which should help ameliorate Britain’s problem with supply ships being sunk. Churchill gets word of Operation Barbossa (invasion of Russia) due to the Bletchley codebreakers and warns Stalin. However, he gets no response.

On April 16, a new series of attacks on London begins. Incidentially, Pamela and Harriman (who is married) are at the same dinner party that night and end up being intimate with each other. On April 24 and 25, Britain faces another setback as British troops flee Greece. As the Middle East threatens to bow down to Hitler’s rule, Roosevelt doesn’t seem particularly concerned. However, there are strategic resources there like Iraqi oil and Ukrainian wheat that could significantly lengthen the war if Hitler has access to them. Churchill sees doom in the idea of a world where Hilter reigns over all of Europe, Asia and Africa, leaving the U.S. and Britain to surrender to him.

In Britain, discontent is simmering. Lloyd George, a prominent member of the House of Commons, demands a debate on the war situation. Meanwhile, Beaverbrook tries to resign again. This time Churchill accepts, but he wants him to head up the ministry in charge of their production of supplies, which Beaverbrook reluctantly accepts.

Chapters 91 – 95 (Parliamentary Debate)

On May 6, there’s a great Parliamentary debate over Churchill’s handling of the war. While praise of Churchill is offered as well, there’s an overriding concern over whether war is being waged effectively. Churchill unhappily listens to all the criticisms. When the vote of confidence it taken the tally is in his favor, 447 to 3.

By now, it’s clear Britain has no hope of winning without the U.S. joining the fight. Churchill continues to keep Harriman close to him, and he in turn reports to Roosevelt. Harriman is also aware that it helps the public morale to have an American official nearby, since it implies that more American support may be coming.

On May 9, the clear weather and full moon cheers Goebbels since it means ideal conditions for raids.

Part Seven: One Year to the Day

Chapters 96 – 100 (The End of the Blitz)

On May 9, the British prepare for the raid that they know is coming due to their countermeasures that have detected German signaling activity. On May 10, Hess heads to Britain in hopes of finally brokering an agreement. Göring finds out and orders Galland to stop him, but Galland thinks it’s no use and that Hess will likely be shot down by the British.

Hess takes a fast plane with very limited fuel capacity on a one-way flight (no fuel for the return flight). Hess manages to make it to Scotland safely, but can’t find a landing strip and has to escape the plane. The plane explodes, which attracts the attention of authorities and Hess is imprisoned. Hess claims to be “Alfred Horn”, and he says he has a “vital secret message for the Duke of Hamilton” (who he believes can help him negotiate with the British). However, the General questioning him recognizes him as Rudolph Hess, but can’t believe that the No. 3 ranking member of the Nazi party is sitting there.

Meanwhile, a large raid is just getting started, beginning with an elite KGr 100 fire-starter group and hundred of bombers. It’s a particularly gruesome raid. It lasts from 11 PM to nearly 6 AM on May 11. After the raid, London is alight with flames. It ends up being the worst raid (in terms of damage, death and destruction) of the war.

The next morning, Hitler gets word of Hess’s attempt at a peace mission. In the note, Hess states that he knows the chances are small. He suggests that if it fails, Hitler should just tell people that Hess is crazy. Still, Hitler is furious. They realize that it was well-intentioned, but Hess’s actions weaken their position all the same.

After May 11, the raids mysteriously stop as Hitler’s attention moves to Russia.

Chapter 101 (Pearl Harbor)

By December 1941, Russia and Germany are still fighting. Germany ended up launching its invasion in June. Russia has held out and now the sheer size of the country coupled with the cold weather is making things hard for the invaders.

On the news, the bombing of American’s Pearl Harbor naval base has just been reported. Roosevelt soon informs Churchill that he plans on declaring war on Japan the next day, and Churchill promises to do the same. Then, on December 11, Hitler declares war America and America declares war on Germany. Of course, four more years of war would follow until Germany’s eventual defeat in 1945.


Mary ends up becoming an anti-aircraft gunner, which causes her mother a mix of anxiety and pride. Pamela and Harriman have an affair for some time. Everyone knows about it, including Churchill, but Randolph doesn’t. He eventually finds out and leaves her in November 1942. It peters out when Harriman is assigned ambassador to Moscow. Harriman stays married to his wife and is devastated when she finally passes away. Must later in life, Pamela and Harriman reconnect and get married.

Churchill eventually agrees to let Colville leave, and Colville happily joins the RAF. However, after six flights, Churchill recalls him back to work as his private secretary. But Colville is given two months leave to fight when D-Day nears. Colville ends up publishing his diaries in a well-known book about his experiences later. He dedicates it to Mary Churchill because he feels bad for writing dismissively about her in the earlier sections of his diary.

After a total of 14 attempts to resign, Beaverbrook is finally allowed to leave by Churchill in 1942. He acknowledges that a lot of the constant resignations were about trying to overcome delays.

The Nazis are sentenced at the Nuremberg trials. Göring is sentenced to die by hanging, but kills himself with cyanide. Hitler kills himself. Goebbels and his wife poison themselves and their children. Hess is sentenced to life imprisonment in Spandau Prison. He finally kills himself by hanging at the age of 93. Galland, the ace German pilot, survives the war.

In Europe, the war ends on May 8, 1945. Two months later, the conservative party, Churchill’s party, is voted out of power and with it Churchill as well.

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Bookshelf -- A literary set collection game