02. Winston Churchill’s Maps
One of Winston Churchill’s maps in the Cabinet War Rooms, where the British Prime Minister and his team used to track the progress of the war. More on the Churchill War Rooms. Different colored pins show different occupation zones, most likely. Red = British Zone, Blue = American Zone, White = French Zone, Black = Soviet Zone.
In 1936 the Air Ministry, the British government department responsible for the Royal Air Force, believed that in the event of a war enemy aerial bombing of London would cause up to 200,000 casualties per week. British government commissions under Warren Fisher and Sir James Rae in 1937 and 1938 considered that key government offices should be dispersed from central London to the suburbs, and non-essential offices to the Midlands or North West.
Pending this dispersal, in May 1938 Sir Hastings Ismay, then Deputy Secretary of the Committee of Imperial Defence ordered an Office of Works survey of Whitehall to identify a suitable site for a temporary emergency government center. The Office concluded the most suitable site was the basement of the New Public Offices, a government building located on the corner of Horse Guards Road and Great George Street, near Parliament Square. The building now accommodates HM Treasury.
Work to convert the basement of the New Public Offices began, under the supervision of Ismay and Sir Leslie Hollis, in June 1938. The work included installing communications and broadcasting equipment, soundproofing, ventilation, and reinforcement. Meanwhile, by the summer of 1938 the War Office, Admiralty and Air Ministry had developed the concept of a Central War Room that would facilitate discussion and decision-making between the Chiefs of Staff of the armed forces. As ultimate authority lay with the civilian government the Cabinet, or a smaller War Cabinet, would require close access to senior military figures. This implied accommodation close to the armed forces’ Central War Room.
In May 1939 it was decided that the Cabinet would be housed within the Central War Room. In August 1939, with war imminent and protected government facilities in the suburbs not yet ready, the War Rooms became operational on 27 August 1939, only days before the invasion of Poland on 1 September, and Britain’s declaration of war on Germany on 3 September.
During its operational life, two of the Cabinet War Rooms were of particular importance. Once operational, the facility’s Map Room was in constant use and manned around the clock by officers of the Royal Navy, British army, and Royal Air Force. These officers were responsible for producing a daily intelligence summary for the King, Prime Minister and the military Chiefs of Staff.
The other key room was the Cabinet Room. Until the opening of the Battle of France, which began on 10 May 1940, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s war cabinet met at the War Rooms only once, in October 1939. Following Winston Churchill’s appointment as Prime Minister, Churchill visited the Cabinet Room in May 1940 and declared: ‘This is the room from which I will direct the war’.
In total 115 Cabinet meetings were held at the Cabinet War Rooms, the last on 28 March 1945, when the German V-weapon bombing campaign came to an end.