The Darkest Hour

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"The Darkest Hour" was a phrase coined by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to describe the period of World War II between the Fall of France in June 1940 and the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 (totaling 363 days, or 11 months and 28 days), when the British Empire and Commonwealth stood alone (or almost alone after the Italian invasion of Greece) against the Axis Powers in Europe.

In his 'finest hour' speech, Churchill used the expression 'the darkest hour in French history' to describe the invasion of France by Germany that was then proceeding.


The phrase "The Darkest Hour" is used particularly for the time in which the United Kingdom appeared to be under direct threat of invasion: following the evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk and prior to victory in the Battle of Britain. The darkest moment is usually considered to have been 10 May 1941, when over 1,500 civilians died in Luftwaffe bombing raids on London alone.

Although the British Empire was the only major power fighting the Germans and Italians during the period, it was not the only major power fighting the Axis as a whole. China had been engaging the Imperial Japan since 1937, when the Japanese launched an all-out invasion. Some minor powers were also fighting the Germans and Italians: Greece fought the Axis powers from October 1940, when it defeated the Italian troops, to June 1941, when Crete surrendered to the Germans. Both Winston Churchill[1] and Charles de Gaulle[2] praised Greece's exceptional heroism at a point that many peoples were subjugated and the Axis seemed unbeatable.

The United States did not formally become involved in the war on the Allied side until after the attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese on 7 December 1941. However, President Franklin D. Roosevelt clearly sympathized with Britain and other opponents of Germany, and he did what he could to quietly assist them within the confines of existing U.S. law, which mandated strict official neutrality, and in the face of strong isolationist sentiment, both among the public and Congress, which wanted the U.S. to stay out of the European and Asian conflicts. At Roosevelt's urging, a "cash-and-carry" provision allowed presidential approval of weapons sales to the belligerent nations, on the condition that the recipients both arranged for the transport and paid immediately with cash. The argument was that would not draw the U.S. into the conflict and so the provision was inserted into the Neutrality Act of 1937, which had been passed when war clouds were looming over Europe, and the Sino-Japanese conflict was already underway,[3] and after the provision officially lapsed in 1939, it was re-inserted into the follow-up Neutrality Act of 1939.[4]

Roosevelt believed that "cash-and-carry" would aid France and Great Britain in the event of a war with Germany since they were the only countries that controlled the seas and could take advantage of the provision.[5] The U.S. officially dropped its pretense of neutrality with the passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941 and openly allowed arms sales to Britain, Free France, China and later, the Soviet Union and other Allied states.[6]

The phrase "The Darkest Hour" was used for the title of the 2017 film Darkest Hour, which starred Gary Oldman as Churchill and was set in May 1940.


  • "This was their finest hour" - Speech by Winston Churchill; 18 June 1940; House of Commons[7]
  • "War of the Unknown Warriors" - Speech by Winston Churchill; 14 July 1940; BBC Broadcast, London[7]


  1. ^ Wikiquote:Winston Churchill
  2. ^ "Symi News" (PDF). 1 October 2009. Retrieved 26 May 2018.
  3. ^ The Neutrality Acts, 1930s, US: State Department, retrieved 5 June 2008.
  4. ^ Public Resolution 54, 76th Congress, 54 Stat. 4 4 November 1939
  5. ^ The Neutrality Acts, 1930s, US: State Department, retrieved 5 June 2008.
  6. ^ Ebbert, Jean, Marie-Beth Hall & Beach, Edward Latimer. Crossed Currents. p. 28.
  7. ^ a b Their Finest Hour at The Churchill Centre website