On 10 May 1940, hours before the German invasion of France by a lightning advance through the Low Countries, it became clear that, following failure in Norway, the country had no confidence in Chamberlain's prosecution of the war and so Chamberlain resigned. The commonly accepted version of events states that Lord Halifax turned down the post of prime minister because he believed he could not govern effectively as a member of the House of Lords instead of the House of Commons. Although the prime minister does not traditionally advise the King on the former's successor, Chamberlain wanted someone who would command the support of all three major parties in the House of Commons. A meeting between Chamberlain, Halifax, Churchill and David Margesson, the government Chief Whip, led to the recommendation of Churchill, and, as constitutional monarch, George VI asked Churchill to be prime minister. Churchill's first act was to write to Chamberlain to thank him for his support.
Churchill was still unpopular among many Conservatives and the Establishment, who opposed his replacing Chamberlain; the former prime minister remained party leader until dying in November. Churchill probably could not have won a majority in any of the political parties in the House of Commons, and the House of Lords was completely silent when it learned of his appointment. Ralph reported in late 1940 that, "Everywhere I went in London people admired [Churchill's] energy, his courage, his singleness of purpose. People said they didn't know what Britain would do without him. He was obviously respected. But no one felt he would be Prime Minister after the war. He was simply the right man in the right job at the right time. The time being the time of a desperate war with Britain's enemies".
An element of British public and political sentiment favored a negotiated peace with Germany, among them Halifax as Foreign Secretary. Over three days in May (26–28 May 1940), there were repeated discussions within the War Cabinet of whether the UK should associate itself with French approaches to Mussolini to use his good offices with Hitler to seek a negotiated peace: they terminated in refusal to do so. Various interpretations are possible of this episode and of Churchill's argument that "it was idle to think that, if we tried to make peace now, we should get better terms than if we fought it out", but throughout Churchill seems to have opposed any immediate peace negotiations. Although at times personally pessimistic about Britain's chances for victory—Churchill told Hastings on 12 June 1940 that "you and I will be murdered in three months' time"—his use of rhetoric hardened public opinion against a peaceful resolution and prepared the British for a long war.
Coining the general term for the upcoming battle, Churchill stated in his "finest hour" speech to the House of Commons on 18 June, "I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin." By refusing an armistice with Germany, Churchill kept resistance alive in the British Empire and created the basis for the later Allied counterattacks of 1943-44, with Britain serving as a platform for the supply of the Soviet Union and the liberation of Western Europe.
In response to previous criticisms that there had been no clear single minister in charge of the prosecution of the war, Churchill created and took the additional position of Minister, making him the strongest wartime prime minister in British history. He immediately put his friend and confidant, industrialist and newspaper lord in charge of jet production and made his friend Frederick the government's scientific adviser. Churchill's speeches were a big inspiration to the embattled British. His first as prime minister was the famous "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat" speech. One historian has called its effect on Parliament "electrocuting". The House of Commons that had ignored him during 1930 "was now listening, and cheering". Churchill followed that closely with two other equally famous ones, given just before the Battle of Britain. One included the words:
At the height of the Battle of Britain, his bracing survey of the situation included the memorable line "Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few", which engendered the enduring nickname The Few for the RAF fighter pilots who won it. He first spoke these famous words upon his exit from No. 11 Group's underground bunker at RAF, now known as the Battle of Britain Bunker on 16 August 1940. One of his most memorable war speeches came on 10 November 1942 at the Lord Mayor's Luncheon at Mansion House in London, in response to the Allied victory at the Second Battle. Churchill stated:
Without having much in the way of sustenance or good news to offer the British people, he took a risk in deliberately choosing to emphasize the dangers instead. "Rhetorical power", wrote Churchill, "is neither wholly bestowed, nor wholly acquired, but cultivated." Not all were impressed by his oratory. Robert Menzies, Australian Prime Minister, said of Churchill during the Second World War: "His real tyrant is the glittering phrase so attractive to his mind that awkward facts have to give way." Another associate wrote: "He is ... the slave of the words which his mind forms about ideas ... And he can convince himself of almost every truth if it is once allowed thus to start on its wild career through his rhetorical machinery."
- Boomerang (Cane)
- Staff Sockets (Cane)
- Target (Tommy Gun)
- Laser (Torch)
- Melt Ice
- Wall Cut