Churchill entered politics in 1900 as a Unionist member of Parliament. In 1904 his party's partial conversion to protectionism caused him to join the Liberals, who made him president of the Board of Trade (1908–1910) and home secretary (1910–1911) after they returned to power. As first lord of the Admiralty (1911–1915), Churchill sought to modernize the Royal Navy, convert it to oil, and improve its administration. He championed the 1915 Dardanelles expedition against Turkey, the failure of which prompted his resignation. He spent the next six months to May 1916 on active service on the Western Front but regained high office in July 1917, when Prime Minister David Lloyd George made him minister of munitions. In December 1918 Churchill moved to the War Office, where he unsuccessfully advocated forceful Allied action against Russia to eliminate that country's new communist government. In late 1920 he became colonial secretary. In 1924 he returned to the Conservatives, who in November 1924 made him chancellor of the exchequer, a post he held for five years.
By 1928 Churchill believed that the postwar peace settlement represented only a truce between wars, a view set forth in his book The Aftermath (1928). When Labour won the 1929 election Churchill lost office but soon began campaigning vigorously for major British rearmament, especially of the Royal Air Force (RAF). From 1932 onward he sounded this theme eloquently in Parliament, but Conservative leaders remained unsympathetic, and throughout the 1930s Churchill held no cabinet position. Churchill also became the most visible and vocal critic of the appeasement policies of the successive governments of Prime Ministers Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, who effectively acquiesced in German rearmament and Chancellor Adolf Hitler's deliberate contravention of the provisions of the Treaty of Versailles.
When Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939, Churchill resumed his old position as first lord of the Admiralty. On 10 May 1940, the day Germany launched an invasion of France and the Low Countries, Churchill succeeded Chamberlain as prime minister. After the fall of France, and with Britain remaining as Germany's sole major military opponent, Churchill responded vigorously. An outstanding war leader, he delivered a series of rousing and eloquent speeches, affirming Britain's determination to continue the fight and his conviction of ultimate triumph. He also established a close relationship with U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and persuaded U.S. policymakers to furnish substantial assistance. Churchill welcomed Japan's December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent German declaration of war on the United States, believing that U.S. participation in the war guaranteed an Allied victory. Britain and the United States now worked closely together, establishing a Joint Chiefs of Staff and agreeing to pool technology.
After Germany invaded Soviet Russia in June 1941, Churchill also welcomed the Soviet Union as an ally, although his relations with Soviet Premier Josef Stalin were never as close as with Roosevelt. Churchill made repeated visits to the United States and met Roosevelt at other venues; all three leaders met at major international summit conferences in 1943 and 1945, and Churchill also met Stalin separately on several occasions. Stalin resented the Anglo-American failure to open a second front in Europe until June 1944, a decision due in considerable part to Churchill's fear that if Britain and the United States launched an invasion of Western Europe too soon, the campaign would degenerate into bloody trench warfare resembling that of World War I. Churchill bristled at growing American pressure to phase out British colonial rule.
As the war proceeded and Soviet forces began to push back German troops in the eastern region, Churchill feared that the Soviet Union would dominate postwar Eastern Europe. Soviet support for communist guerrillas in occupied countries and for Soviet-backed governments-in-exile as well as Moscow's failure to aid the uprising of Polish forces in Warsaw in August 1944, reinforced his apprehensions.
In October 1944 Churchill negotiated the informal Percentages Agreement with Stalin whereby the two leaders delineated their countries' respective spheres of influence. At the February 1945 Yalta Conference, Churchill and Roosevelt both acquiesced in Soviet domination of most of Eastern Europe, Churchill most reluctantly. In April 1945 Churchill unavailingly urged American military commanders to disregard their existing understandings with Soviet forces and take Berlin.
From early in the war the Allies had committed themselves to the creation of a postwar international organization to maintain peace, which led to the United Nations (UN) in May 1945. Churchill, however, hoped that close Anglo-American understanding would be the bedrock of the international world order, a perspective intensified by his continuing fears of Germany.
In August 1945 the British electorate voted Churchill out of office, replacing his administration with a reformist Labour government. He was still, however, honored as "the greatest living Englishman" and the war's most towering figure. Churchill's six best-selling volumes of The Second World War depicted a rosy view of unclouded and harmonious Anglo-American wartime cooperation, carefully designed to promote the continuing alliance between the two countries that had become his most cherished objective.
Churchill deliberately used his prestige to rally American elite and public opinion in favor of taking a stronger line against Soviet expansionism in Europe and elsewhere, a position he advanced to enormous publicity in his famous March 1946 "Sinews of Peace" speech (also known as the "Iron Curtain" speech) at Fulton, Missouri. Although the speech was cleared in advance with both British Prime Minister Clement Attlee and U.S. President Harry S. Truman, at the time many Americans criticized the address as unduly bellicose. One year later, however, the president's Truman Doctrine endorsed this position, and by the end of the 1940s the United States had launched the Marshall Plan to facilitate West European recovery and had joined the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
From 1951 to 1955 Churchill served again as Conservative prime minister. Growing Soviet-American tensions and the awesome destructive power of nuclear weapons led him to urge U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower to negotiate an understanding with the Soviet Union to limit and perhaps reduce stocks of such bombs. Churchill also gave early support and encouragement to the movement for European integration, regarding this as the only means whereby the continent would be able to defend itself against the Soviet Union, become a credible international military and economic force, and avoid future destructive internecine conflicts.
Declining health eventually forced Churchill to resign from office. In retirement, he urged Prime Minister Harold Macmillan to repair Anglo-American relations after the damaging 1956 Suez Crisis, on the grounds that Britain could not afford lasting estrangement from its most vital ally, and offered his assistance in this endeavor. A House of Commons man to the core, Churchill consistently refused the peerage to which his services entitled him. He died at his London home on 24 January 1965, an occasion that for many marked the symbolic final passing of Great Britain's imperial age. An idiosyncratic political maverick whose pre-1939 record was at best mixed, Churchill rose to the occasion to become the greatest British war leader since the eighteenth-century Earl of Chatham. The prestige that Churchill won in this capacity enabled him to have a major impact on the development of the Cold War.
Gilbert, Martin S. Winston S. Churchill. 8 vols. New York: Random House, 1966–1988.; Jenkins, Roy. Churchill. London: Macmillan, 2001.; Kimball, Warren F., ed. Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1984.; Larres, Klaus. Churchill's Cold War: The Politics of Personal Diplomacy. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.; Lukacs, John. Churchill: Visionary, Statesman, Historian. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2002.; Ramsden, John. Man of the Century: Churchill and His Legend since 1945. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.; Seldon, Anthony. Churchill's Indian Summer: The Conservative Government, 1951–55. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981.