On This Day

churchill victory salute, churchill v sign, winston churchill victory
Associated Press
Winston Churchill

On This Day: Churchill Galvanizes Congress in Fight Against Nazism

December 26, 2010 06:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On Dec. 26, 1941, less than three weeks after the United States entered World War II, Winston Churchill became the first British prime minister to address a joint meeting of Congress. 

“We Can Beat the Life out of the Savage Nazi”

Winston Churchill became Britain’s prime minister in May 1940, just a month before France capitulated to Nazi Germany and left Britain virtually alone to oppose Hitler’s advances. His stirring words came to buoy Britain through the dark months of 1940-1.

“When the German armies conquered France and Britain faced the Blitz, Churchill embodied his country's will to resist,” writes biographer Piers Brandon. “His oratory proved an inspiration.”

His radio broadcasts transmitted a message of resolute—indeed, romantic—defiance. He called on his countrymen to fight with an eye to history, so that “if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say: ‘This was their finest hour.’”

“To inspire in troubled times is an attribute possessed by very few,” writes biographer Carlo D’Este. “Churchill succeeded in rallying a nation largely by equal measures of iron determination and splendid oratory. He was an authentic and charismatic model of modern leadership who convinced his people to believe in him.”

Britain withstood German attacks until the Soviet Union and United States were drawn into the fight against the Nazis in 1941, turning the tide of the war.  No surprise then that it was an upbeat Churchill who spoke before the joint meeting of Congress in a Dec. 26 address, less than three weeks after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

In his half-hour speech, described by on journalist as “full of bubbling humor, biting denunciation of totalitarian enemies, stern courage—and hard fact,” Churchill declared that the Allies could overcome the daunting challenges of war. “With proper weapons and proper organization,” he said, “we can beat the life out of the savage Nazi.”

“In a dozen famous ancient States now prostrate under the Nazi yoke, the masses of the people of all classes and creeds await the hour of liberation, when they too will be able once again to play their part and strike their blows like men,” he continued. “That hour will strike, and its solemn peal will proclaim that the night is past and that the dawn has come.”

Churchill ended the speech with his famous “‘V’ for victory” sign, as the audience applauded.

Background: Churchill as Prime Minister

World War II began with Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939. Churchill became Britain’s prime minister on May 10, 1940, the day that Hitler launched his blitzkrieg attack on France, Holland and Belgium.

France surrendered on June 22, leaving Britain alone to face Nazi Germany. That August, the German Luftwaffe began a sustained aerial campaign on Britain's south coast, hoping to disable the Royal Air Force and allow for an amphibious invasion.

In September, the Luftwaffe began bombings attacks on London and other industrial centers, hoping to devastate the morale of the British people. During this dark time in British history, as the outmanned RAF held off the Luftwaffe and civilians saw their homes bombed nightly, Churchill preached unwavering defiance.

At the same time, he desperately tried to convince President Roosevelt to join the war. In March 1941, after Britain had prevailed in the Battle of Britain and survived the worst of the Blitz, Roosevelt agreed to the Lend-Lease Act providing arms and supplies to Britain. But it was not until after the Dec. 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that the U.S. entered the war.

Reference: The Words of Winston Churchill

The Churchill Society hosts the full texts of many of Churchill’s speeches, including his Dec. 26 address.

The Library of Congress provides Churchill's annotated notes and an audio excerpt from his address to Congress.

NPR features an audio excerpt of Churchill’s Dec. 26 address, as well as his June 18, 1940 “Finest Hour” speech.

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines