On this day 72 years ago, the British prime minister Winston Churchill gave one of his most memorable speeches. Just two weeks previously the British had completed evacuation of troops from Dunkirk after the collapse of the Belgian resistance, leaving France vulnerable to the German invasion. During those two weeks the situation had continued to decline, with Paris being abandoned to the Germans on 14 June 1940 and a new German-controlled French regime being set up on 17 June.
The situation was looking very grim for Britain at the time. Hitler’s Germany now had control of essentially all of mainland Europe, with Britain alone standing against it. The US, still counting the cost of involvement in the First World War, was not willing to get involved. Objectively speaking, it seemed unlikely that Britain would be able to continue to resist the might of Germany for much longer. Churchill was in his finest form in the darkest hour:
[T]he Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us… Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, “This was their finest hour”.