National Geographic : 1965 Aug
ideas on tank warfare. Churchill raised him from a corporal in the Home Guard to major general in the British Army. To officers who objected, he growled, "The Army is not a club." Later, Hobart's brilliant handling of a specialized tank division in the Normandy invasion won him a knighthood. Meanwhile, crisis succeeded crisis. First came Dunkirk. German armor, slashing through the Low Countries, isolated 250,000 of Britain's finest troops, together with several French Army corps. In desperation they fought their way to the coast at Dunkirk. The Royal Navy prepared evacuation plans. "How would you feel if you were told that we could save as many as 50,000?" Churchill asked Ismay. "I'd close with it, sir," the general respond ed unhesitatingly. "I think I would too," said Churchill. Ransacking shipyards, the navy managed to send 1,000 motley vessels, ranging from a cruiser to lifeboats and small private yachts, on the cross-Channel shuttle. In the end, they saved 338,000 men-and England. Then came the agonizing collapse of France. Reeling before the Nazi onslaught, the de moralized French called upon their aged World War I hero, Marshal Philippe Petain, to sue for a separate peace. Five times Church ill flew to France to embolden Britain's failing ally. He promised every soldier and aircraft that England could spare; he even proposed a union of the two nations. Nothing availed. France surrendered. One defiant general, Charles de Gaulle, chose to continue the struggle. In Churchill's words, the airplane that brought him to Eng land carried "the honour of France." Faced with the prospect of the French Navy-fourth most powerful in the world falling into Nazi hands, the Prime Minister made "a hateful decision, the most unnatural and painful in which I have ever been con cerned." In a series of attacks, the Royal Navy disabled or neutralized the major warships of Britain's erstwhile ally. Although more than a thousand French sailors died under British gunfire, the French people-already enveloped in the lowering night of Nazism-understood. And when Churchill told them on the radio in his execrable French, "dormez bien ... l'aube viendra" (sleep well... the dawn will come), they believed him. Menaced by invasion, Britons prepared to defend their coasts. In speech after speech the Prime Minister drew upon the lofty cadences 171 ((G ERMANY CLANKED OBSTINATELY... Towards the crater," Churchill said of the decade before World War I. In British Army uniform, with Gen. Bruce Hamilton and Mrs. Churchill, he watches maneuvers at Aldershot in 1910. During the war Churchill, below, walks in Whitehall with Prime Minister David Lloyd George.