The British Empire & the Alternate Life of Winston Churchill in The Man in the High Castle Universe
Only on select instances in the first three seasons of The Man in the High Castle has there been any sight – let alone mention – of Sir Winston Churchill.
Dubbed history’s “Last Lion,” outside of the world of High Castle, Churchill served as Britain’s legendary wartime Prime Minister and, prior to that, stood as the highly unpopular, staunch anti-Nazism advocate during the 1930’s.
For many historians and those who were members of the British government in 1940, the overwhelming consensus in hindsight is that Winston Churchill was the only leader present that could have rallied the British Empire in their desperate fight against Hitler.
So, what could have happened to Churchill in the High Castle universe?
Winston Churchill & His Many Death Defying Exploits
Churchill is a man that escaped imminent death many times in his life, living to age 90, passing in 1965.
He served in the British Army as a young man on the British Raj’s northwest frontier and in Sudan.
While still a young man Churchill also worked as a war correspondent in Cuba, assigned to cover the Spanish-American War.
Churchill was even famously kept as a POW during the Boer War as a non-combatant reporter – famously engineering a daring escape that launched his political career in the House of Commons soon thereafter.
For his final personal combat adventure, Churchill fought in the trenches during the First World War on the infamous Western Front. He deployed after resigning as First Lord of the Admiralty subsequent to his hand in the disaster at Gallipoli.
According to British historian and Winston Churchill biographer Andrew Roberts, the man had no less than 20 documented near death experiences.
Winston Churchill could have perished at any of the aforementioned points, however in the world of High Castle it seems most plausible that his fate was sealed crossing a New York City midtown street.
Sir Winston was hit by a taxi on 5th Avenue in Manhattan on December 13th, 1931. The accident – which cracked two ribs and lacerated his scalp – was another brush with death he amazingly survived, and one that very nearly realized his mortal demise.
Had he passed, the future Prime Minister would never have lived to undertake his “wilderness years” out of government, advocating his incredibly unpopular stance about the dangers of Nazism and the desperate need for British and French rearmament in the late 1930’s.
With the national trauma afflicting the UK and France following their horrific First World War experience, there is a strong possibility Britain and France may have been even less prepared for the coming war than they were historically, if there was no Churchill hectoring from the wings.
More disturbing yet, the Western Allies may have decided to negotiate a Carthaginian peace agreement with Adolf Hitler – similar in spirit to the shambolic Munich Pact. Historically, there was a so-called “peace party” in government following Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minster. Theirs was a small group that may have had greater influence in Churchill’s absence.
As portrayed for dramatic effect – if not for complete historical accuracy – in the 2017 blockbuster Their Darkest Hour, there was briefly a debate early in Churchill’s War Cabinet that considered approaching Germany via Italy for peace terms that would have ended the conflict in June 1940.
Lord Halifax, then British Foreign Minister and well known arch appeaser in the Neville Chamberlain government, proposed probing the Italian ambassador in London exploring the possibility of then neutral Mussolini to mediate said peace agreement to achieve a general European end of hostilities.
Despite Hitler’s claim in June 1940, according to German general Franz Halder’s personal diary, that Hitler desired a peace that “She [Great Britain] felt honorable;” in which Britain would recognize German conquest on the continent and keep British colonial holdings – it was a chimera. As is well documented, Hitler venerated the British. Yet he was clearly revealed to be a man one could never negotiate with in good faith.
“You take Hitler for another Wilhelm I, the old gentleman who took Alsace-Lorraine from us and that was all there was to it. But Hitler is Genghis Khan.” – French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud, June 1940
In the words of then French Prime Minister Paul Reynaud in 1940, “You take Hitler for another Wilhelm I, the old gentleman who took Alsace-Lorraine from us and that was all there was to it. But Hitler is Genghis Khan.”
Churchill’s conclusion was that any peace agreement with Nazi Germany would have likely included the surrender of the Royal Navy – a devastating possibility for a marine superpower such as the British. Had such an arrangement come to pass, it would have bolstered the paltry Kriegsmarine – the German navy – of 1940, making Nazi Germany significantly stronger strategically.
The Swastika at Sea – Deutschland Rules the Waves?
In preparation for a general European war, the Kriegsmarine undertook Plan Z – a massive construction project for both the surface fleet and U-Boat arm, aiming to create fighting parity with the British Royal Navy which traditionally it did not have.
Plan Z however was not scheduled for completion until 1943, four years after Nazi Germany invaded Poland and launched Europe into war.
At that juncture in 1940, Germany’s naval presence – with the exception of the devastating U-Boat campaign in the Battle of the Atlantic – was deeply mismatched against Britain, the greatest marine superpower in 1940. It was a serious strategic deficiency for Nazi Germany at war.
With the absence of Winston Churchill, Germany could complete a peace in the West, one that would likely include the surrender of the Royal Navy. With the Royal Navy absorbed into the Kriegsmarine, the remaining Allies faced a grand strategic nightmare of Germany’s challenging control for the worlds oceans.
The fear of Germany gaining a significant blue water naval presence was so visceral by June 1940, Churchill ordered the attack and seizure of French Naval warships, most infamously at the Port of Oran in Mers El-Kabir.
While the French did not have the presence on the high seas as did the British, it was enough that the British did everything possible to see that Hitler did not gain its powers after the armistice with France.
Should the Germans have seized it in fact, it may have given Hitler his bridge across the English Channel, presenting a genuine opportunity to invade the British Isles he never realistically had.
As for the grand strategic situation of the US, the Royal Navy in German hands could have made the invasion of North America possible, albeit at a later time. According to eminent Second World War historian Gerhard Weinberg, it was a war that Hitler believed was the final step to world domination – likely following his death.
Achieving such a Carthaginian peace with the Western Allies would furthermore negate the use of Wehrmacht divisions to defend occupied France from a cross-channel invasion. Germany would also be spared from the British Royal Airforce’s (RAF) Bomber Command, and its nighttime strategic area bombing campaign targeting German cities.
Such a scenario would have generated many new opportunities never available to Nazi Germany during the Second World War. Namely, a full-scale attempt at Hitler’s great personal crusade: the destruction of the Communist USSR.