Their Finest Hour: Projecting the Battle of Britain, May to September 1940
We shall defend our island whatever the cost may be . . . until, in God's good time the New World, with all its power and might steps forth to the rescue and liberation of the Old.
Winston Churchill, June 4, 19401
On the morning of May 15, 1940, the German army broke through French lines at Sedan. Now no Allied forces stood between the Germans and the English Channel. In mounting anxiety, Churchill and the French Prime Minister, Paul Reynaud, begged Roosevelt to make more supplies available for purchase. They also requested the loan of fifty or so destroyers to cover mounting naval losses. FDR agreed to try to provide more material for sale, but he insisted that Congress would block any more substantial aid. In place of destroyers, Churchill was offered "the best of luck." He needed it. 2
As the British government prepared further pleas for Washington, Britain's propagandists struggled to maintain the flow of news necessary to rally American opinion behind an active aid policy. Following the advice of Raymond Gram Swing, the MoI resisted the temptation to beg. It briefed the British press to be tactful when discussing America's stand, and it waited for the expected change in U.S. opinion. 3 Meanwhile, in Flanders, the BEF publicity officers worked to support American coverage of the war. The German advance soon complicated their efforts. Panic swept across the region, and roads were soon choked with refugees. On May 17, the BEF press liaison unit and their charges joined the flood, withdrawing from Arras to Amiens and then falling back on Boulogne. The conducting officers strained to support news operations throughout the withdrawal. By day, they gathered stories of the gallant but futile Allied resistance. By night, they sought refuge in wayside restaurants. Life teetered on the brink of the surreal. One party came upon a duke in a local hostelry, wounded, drunk, and gig-