Winston Churchill – July 1940 – © IWM (H 2646A)

[ 20 November 1939 ]

During a meeting of the War Cabinet on 20 November 1939, the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, informed ministers that he had considered making a statement warning German crews that if they scuttled their ships ‘we should not save them.’  He was writing up a memorandum for further discussion, but in the meantime ministers agreed with his suggestion that the threat might be used in particular cases whenever it was thought likely that a German crew might sink their own ship, although such action, which might mean the loss of many lives, could only be implemented with approval from London.1 Three days later the Cabinet agreed on a compromise, by which surrendering German ship crews would be forced to lower and cast adrift their life boats and then threatened. They would be warned that neither they nor any passengers would be saved if they scuttled their ship, although the Royal Navy was instructed not to deliberately abandon any survivors. However, without lifeboats, it was questionable how many might anyway be rescued, especially in winter in the North Sea or North Atlantic.2


[ 20 November 1974 ]

On 20 November 1974, during a Cabinet discussion on nuclear weapons, Prime Minister Harold Wilson presented his reasons why he thought Britain should retain them, with the inevitable consequence that the country would be a prime target in the event of any future nuclear war.


  1. War Cabinet Meeting, 20 November 1939, National Archives Reference 62/2/23.
  2. War Cabinet Meeting, 23 November 1939, National Archives Reference 65/2/26.

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