Most people know Sir Winston Churchill as an exceptionally charismatic and effective wartime leader whose presence was vital to ensuring the success of Britain, the U.S., and the other Allies during World War II. Although we look back on the war as though the Allies’ eventual victory was a foregone conclusion, it by no means seemed this way for the people who actually lived through the conflict.At the Stevens Institute of Technology, a recent lecture by author Madhursee Mukerjee suggests a darker side to the wartime leader. According to Mukerjee, Churchill’s relation with the scientific branch of his government was a strange one. The author claims that Sir Winston frequently used the advice of the Statistics Branch or “S-Branch,” which he created, to justify his policy positions from a “scientific” standpoint.
Delving deeper into the character of the S-Branch and its leader, Frederick Alexander Lindemann, Mukerjee claims to discover that Lindemann was behind a proposal to target working class areas of German cities as a major part of the RAF bombing campaign against Berlin and other major industrial areas. Mukerjee claims that this single action resulted in the loss of many British pilots and had no palpable effect on Germany.
Of course, it is important to take the claims of a single author in context -- any time anyone refers to a “mad scientist,” it is helpful to look at their background, their motives, and the quality of their research. However, we know that Sir Winston was a complex man and that some of the decisions taken in the War, even by the Allies, are not those we might choose today. Mukerjee’s book is Churchill’s Secret War.