Cover image for Five days in London, May 1940
Five days in London, May 1940
Lukacs, John, 1924-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New Haven : Yale University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xvi, 236 pages : illustrations ; 22 cm
Format :


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D750 .L85 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks
D750 .L85 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf
D750 .L85 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

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The period May 24-28 1940 altered the course of history as members of the British War Cabinet debated whether to negotiate with Hitler or to continue the war. These five days are the focus of Lukacs' book. Conveying their drama and importance he takes us into the unfolding events at 10 Downing Street while investigating the mood of the people.

Author Notes

John Lukacs is the author of more than twenty books on history.

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Lukacs, who recently retired as a history professor at Chestnut Hill College, is a leading chronicler of modern U.S. and European history. Author of several broader studies of World War II and its major protagonists, he focuses here on a brief period in 1940 when Great Britain had to decide whether to fight on alone or negotiate with Hitler. Churchill had been prime minister for only a few weeks; his support, even within his own party, was wobbly at best. But the meetings of the British War Cabinet from May 24 to 28, 1940, with British troops surrounded at Dunkirk, produced a political and ultimately national commitment to resist the German juggernaut. Lukacs draws on government materials documenting the debates at these meetings, press reports, and the work of Britain's leading polling organization, Mass-Observation. He argues that, although the war could not have been won without the U.S. and Russia, Churchill's efforts in these key Cabinet meetings ensured that the war would not be lost before they joined the fight. --Mary Carroll

Publisher's Weekly Review

Eminent historian Lukacs (Thread of Years, etc.) delivers the crown jewel to his long and distinguished career with this account of five daysÄMay 24-28, 1940Ä"that could have changed the world." Lukacs posits that it was during those five days in London "that Western civilization, not to mention the Allied cause in WWII, was saved from Hitler's tyranny." A grand view, to be sure, but the consequences are not in dispute: "Had Britain stopped fighting in May 1940, Hitler would have won his war," writes Lukacs. "Thus he was never closer to victory than during those five days in May 1940." A quarter-million British troops were trapped by the Germans at Dunkirk. The British public, ill-informed about this reality, remained apathetic, and the War Cabinet was divided over what action to take. Neither the United States nor the Soviet Union had yet entered the war, but Churchill resolved to fight "till Hitler is beat or we cease to be a state." Lukacs draws heavily on newspapers and public opinion research of the time to re-create the rapid series of events that turned the tide, swaying both the citizenry and the War Cabinet to rally behind Churchill. Though Churchill did not win the war in May 1940, as Lukacs puts it, he "did not lose it" then. Lukacs covered some of the same turf in The Duel, yet this new work focuses on these five days with a microscopic view. It is the work of a man who lives and breathes history, whose knowledge is limitless and tuned to a pitch that rings true. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

By May 1940, just one year into World War II, Great Britain stood virtually alone against Hitler and the unstoppable German Army. Belgium and France were only days away from capitulation, and the British Expeditionary Force was being squeezed into the beachhead at Dunkirk. Things were not going at all well for Britain, and Churchill and his War Cabinet had some tough decisions to make. Lukacs, a history professor and prolific author (The Hitler of History) examines the dynamics of the five days, May 24-28, 1940, when Churchill and his War Cabinet actually debated whether to negotiate peace with Hitler. This scholarly study reveals the drama, uncertainty, suspense, and courage of the men who would ultimately decide the fate of Britain. This is a marvelous example of the complex, behind-the-scenes diplomatic wrangling involved in seeking a national advantage in the deadly game of strategic move and countermove. Recommended for public and academic libraries.ÄWilliam D. Bushnell, USMC (ret.), Brunswick, ME (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Winston Churchill was not typical of the Conservative Party hierarchy of the interwar years--hence his constant quarrels with the Party and his "Wilderness Years" during the 1930s. This gap in outlook and style did not, of course, cease when WW II brought him back, first to the Cabinet Room, and then, in May 1940, to Number Ten Downing Street as leader of a coalition government. This is the background to the dramatic events of May 24-28 that are the focus of Lukacs's book. In the face of the stunning German operational success in France, the clearly imminent French withdrawal from (and Italian entry into) the war, and the probable loss of the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force, there was a prolonged struggle in the War Cabinet over the wisdom of continuing the war. The protagonists were Churchill and Lord Halifax. Chamberlain generally supported Halifax (who had been his heir apparent), while the two Labour Party members aligned themselves with Churchill. In the end Churchill won and led Britain through its "finest hour." He chose not to discuss the episode in his postwar memoirs, and the story emerged only after the archives were opened in the 1970s. Lukacs's spirited account will appeal to undergraduates and general readers. R. A. Callahan; University of Delaware

Table of Contents

Prefacep. xi
Acknowledgmentsp. xv
1 The Hinge of Fate
The turning point. Two accounts
The awesomeness of the German tide
Black Fortnight
Problems of British morale
Distrust of Churchill
Opinions and sentiments
"Outwardly calm, inwardly anxious."
2 Friday, 24 May
Hitler's halt order
The Germans before Dunkirk
Hitler and the Conservatives
The two Rights
The War Cabinet
Churchill and Roosevelt
The British press
"A slight increase in anxiety and a slight decrease in optimism."
3 Saturday, 25 May
An English weekend
The French: Weygand and Petain
Halifax and the Italian ambassador
Churchill and the Defence Committee
"Depression is quite definitely up."
4 Sunday, 26 May
An agitated day
Three meetings of the War Cabinet
Chamberlain, Halifax, Churchill
Disagreements between Halifax and Churchill
Scarcity of news: "A mandate to delay judgment and not to worry."
"In Westminster Abbey."
5 Monday, 27 May
What was happening at Dunkirk
The Belgians surrender
American considerations
Three War Cabinets and a walk in the garden
"You'd have been better off playing cricket."
6 Tuesday, 28 May
Morale, opinion, and the press
"We cannot possibly starve the public in this way."
Foreigners and refugees
Churchill's instructions and the first War Cabinet
His statement in the Commons
The second War Cabinet
Churchill's coup
He comes through
7 Survival
A long-range view of the war
The meaning of Dunkirk
"It is time to face up to facts."
Halifax redux
An antiquated Britain
Churchill and Europe
Bibliographyp. 221
Illustration Creditsp. 229
Indexp. 231