The question isn't about what would have happened in that event. It is: Have one or more recognized historians delved into this question (of what would have happened if Britain had surrendered to or collaborated with Germany under another leader than Churchill)? What were the findings of their inquiries?

(In "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," William L. Shirer hypothesizes that the relationship between occupier and occupied would have been a hostile one, but doesn't go into what the implications would have been for war itself.)

  • 5
    On the one hand, I share the FAQ's distaste for counterfactuals. On the other hand, you've phrased this very well. On the gripping hand, I believe that Harry Turtledove has written a series of books that touch on this. (He has written several alternate histories of WWII). I also believe Jo Walton has written a novel "Farthing".
    – MCW
    Apr 12, 2013 at 17:07
  • @MarkC.Wallace: "This would have happened" is an opinion. But "John Doe, recognized historian, had this opinion" is a fact.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 12, 2013 at 17:11
  • 2
    Point taken - and as I said, I think you shaped the question well.
    – MCW
    Apr 12, 2013 at 17:13
  • 1
    Probably there were historians working for, say, U.S. intelligence services at the time, and maybe they wrote assessment papers addressing such questions, which could be (1) considered somewhat scholarly and (3) available by now.
    – Drux
    Apr 15, 2013 at 3:43
  • 1
    @Drux: Very good point. Basically the kind of comment, or answer I hoped to draw. Or else, those "assessment papers" were recently "declassified" and are now the subject of historical research.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 15, 2013 at 14:00

2 Answers 2


This isn't something historians typically do; there's far too much speculation involved.

The people who address questions like this are Alternate History writers. There are far too many titles in this genre to list here (try Uchronia), but I've noticed that WWII and the American Civil War seem to be favorite subjects to alternate. In my experience the writers are typically history fans (like us) and sometimes even have degrees in related fields, but aren't usually what would could consider professional historians.

There's no peer-reviewed journals for alternate history. Interestingly though, at least one historian,Gavriel Rosenfield, does study this genre of literature. That may be one step too meta for you though.

  • Not a bad point on "alternate history." But I managed to find an "informed opinion" by a REAL historian. See my answer below.
    – Tom Au
    Apr 14, 2013 at 14:01

I was reminded what a "recognized historian" named Winston Churchill had to say about this matter, by this post (my own, on another site): http://seekingalpha.com/instablog/399221-tom-au/79016-of-winston-churchill-s-contribution-to-the-modern-postwar-world

Key quote: "If we fail, the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will fall into the abyss of a New Dark Age, made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the light of perverted science."

Like the proverbial "Dutch boy with his finger in the dike," Churchill made sure that Britain did not "fail." It's possible that someone else would have done almost as well, but there was a real possibility of Britain's "failure" (and the above, attendant consequences), under another leader. Unlike Churchill's work, my own piece outlines two "failure" scenarios, one of which was much more likely to lead to a "New Dark Age" than the other.

Besides being Prime Minister of Britain, Churchill also published "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples," and a four volume series on "The Second World War." Given who else he was, the latter was practically "auto biographical."

  • Hmm, comparing "if we fail" with the context of the question ("without Churchill as Prime Minister"), I find here only a suggestion that Britain would lose the war without him. It would be all OK if it was stated by Churchill himself, but it wasn't, it's basically your opinion. This leads to a question if we should count it as being made by a recognized historian. :) Apr 15, 2013 at 1:22
  • 4
    That quote is from his "Finest Hour" speech. It is an opinion, and a good one. However, while delivering it, he was speaking as a politician, not a historian. In particular, he was purposely painting a dire picture as part of an ongoing propaganda campaign to get the USA to help. So naturally he's going to portray the UK as the one thing standing between the USA and "the abyss".
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 15, 2013 at 1:59
  • 1
    If not Churchill, someone else may well have stepped up to the task. That's the problem with alternate history ideas, it's impossible to predict, it's fiction. Your assumption is a potentially likely outcome had Chamberlain or someone else weak like him been PM, but that's far from a given.
    – jwenting
    Apr 15, 2013 at 13:21
  • 1
    @TomAu you're still trying to get fiction accepted as science here, something no historian worth the name is going to subscribe to. Ergo, no historian is going to speculate on this except maybe as a hobby in his spare time if he likes reading or writing speculative fiction set in alternate universes or timelines.
    – jwenting
    Apr 16, 2013 at 6:14
  • 1
    -1, this does not answer your own question. Churchill is basically saying "If Britain fails, the world is doomed." He is saying nothing whatsoever about what could happen if another PM was there. And for what it's worth, T.E.D. is right. Politicians are known to exaggerate and lie very often, to try to get people on their side. And critically, the quote is from a public speech, not a diary or memoir. Thus, from sheer historicity, it is not a reliable source of Churchill's true opinions, even if it was saying something about the outcome with a different PM.
    – DrZ214
    Mar 2, 2018 at 9:09

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.