A Review Of Winston Churchill’s Book Gathering Storm

The first volume in Winston Churchill’s account of the Second World War, The Gathering Storm, begins immediately following World War One. Many countries on both sides had sustained heavy losses from the Great War. Germany was forced to pay for a significant amount of the war by the Treaty of Versailles. This led to extreme German inflation as well as the formation of the National Socialist Party, who blamed Germany’s failing economy on the French, the Communists, and the Jews. These ideals appealed to a man named Adolf Hitler, who joined the party in 1919 and became its leader by 1920. The Allied Powers of World War One sought to slow Germany’s regrowth by making them pay heavily and agree to regulations about their military. Churchill, however, thought that Germany was punished too lightly and the regulations not enforced strictly enough. In 1926, Germany joined the League of Nations, hoping to regain other countries’ trust. Germany had begun to regrow its military in 1921, ignoring regulations. Churchill thought that many global powers were not deliberate enough in monitoring Germany’s military. Because of his involvement in a 1923 National Socialist attempt at rebellion, Hitler was sentenced to thirteen months in jail, where he wrote Mein Kampf, which detailed his fascist beliefs as well as his hate for Jews and Communists. When Hitler was released, the German economy was failing, and after several Chancellors failed to correct it, Hitler was appointed Chancellor on January 30, 1933. Hitler soon withdrew Germany from the League of Nations, disliking its regulations. Then as a show of his power, on June 30, 1934, Hitler had Secret Police track down and kill those considered disloyal to Germany. Five thousand were killed in what would become known as the Night of the Long Knives. Later that summer, on August 2, the President of Germany (a position with very little real power) Marshal Paul von Hindenburg died, making Hitler officially Head of State.

In the mid to late-1930s, Hitler and Nazi Germany violated many agreements and invaded many territories. Nazi Germany was becoming larger and its military more powerful, but time and again, no action was taken, which Churchill thought foolish. The last straw for Britain however, was when Germany attacked Poland on 1 September 1939, marking the beginning of the Second World War, with the main conflict being Germany and Italy against France and England, or the allied powers. Poland was defeated by Germany within a month. Churchill noted that by abiding by no rules, the Germans could attack at will. The Nazis conquered using blitzkrieg, or flash warfare, a method of attacking swiftly and catching countries off guard. In early 1940, Hitler concocted a plan to invade Norway and Denmark known as Operation Weserübung, which was executed on April 9. Germany attacked and captured Trondheim and Narvik in Norway, coastal cities important to trade that would provide an ideal military position. At this point, Britain and France became involved, determined to take back Trondheim and Narvik. The Allies attempted to take back Trondheim, on May 1 and 2, but the attacks ultimately failed and the Allies gave up on Trondheim. At Narvik, however, the Allies attacked on May 27, and were dramatically successful in taking it back. A few weeks prior, though, the Nazis had invaded the Netherlands and Belgium. The British government decided to form a coalition of the major political parties. The Prime Minister selected to lead this coalition was Winston Churchill.

The Gathering Storm, while a rather dense read, provided the building blocks to a better understanding of the events leading up to World War Two. Prior to reading Winston Churchill’s memoir, I believed my knowledge of this time period to be relatively adequate. After reading just a few pages, however, it became clear that I had been sorely mistaken. I had only a vague understanding of the countries that Hitler invaded and a familiarity with the atrocities of the Holocaust. Evidently, however, there is much more to World War Two than I was aware of. Churchill describes German invasions of territories I had not heard of, battles that I was unaware of, and a failure of the major global powers to limit Germany, which I was uninformed about. In the book, Churchill often goes on lengthy tangents, describing seemingly inconsequential occurrences, which could seem monotonous, but would often later tie into a larger more significant event. However, Churchill writes exactly as one would suspect a politician to: the volume gives an impression of self-centeredness and at times even arrogance. Churchill will state his opinion on the matter at hand, citing some past speech, be ignored by his colleagues and the Prime Minister, and then later be proven right and tell anyone listening that he told them so. Despite this obnoxious confidence, Churchill’s writing has about it a certain charm in his eagerness to serve his country and better the world. The Prime Minister’s intentions were always the best, and, to his credit he was usually right. Churchill gave, from what I can tell, the most accurate depiction of the events that transpired between the First and Second World Wars from his perspective that he was capable of giving. The book, while oftentimes dense and difficult to read, was a comprehensive account of what happened on a global scale between the two world wars. Due to the book ending on a suspenseful tone, I would definitely consider reading the other five volumes in Churchill’s account of World War Two.

16 August 2021
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