Churchill wanted a captured Hitler to die 'like a gangster' in the electric chair

Newly released documents from National Archive also show PM was prepared to see Ghandi starve to death

A side of Winston Churchill's character rarely glimpsed - that of the vengeful, rather than magnanimous, war leader - has emerged in hitherto secret government documents. They reveal that he wanted to take the unprecedented step of sending Adolf Hitler to the electric chair, had he been captured, and was also content to see Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi starve to death during a hunger strike in 1943.

The Prime Minister, talking in a War Cabinet meeting in July 1942, described Hitler as "the mainspring of evil" and, in his flamboyant fashion, jokingly suggested leasing an electric chair - known as "Old Sparky"- from the Americans to execute him like "a gangster" if and when he was caught.

The new insight into Churchill's deep anger and bitter hatred for the Nazi Führer - whom he held responsible for more than half a million British casualties - comes in a set of classified Cabinet Office notebooks released by the National Archives this week. The notes, taken by the Deputy Cabinet Secretary Sir Norman Brook during some of the most critical top-level meetings of the war, shed fresh light on the thoughts and fears of Britain's leaders during the period.

The argument over how to deal with the Nazi leadership, if and when they were captured, resurfaces a number of times in the hand-written diaries.

At one key meeting, on 6 July 1942, Churchill says: "If Hitler falls into our hands we shall certainly put him to death. [He is] not a sovereign who could be said to be in [the] hands of ministers, like [the] Kaiser."

The Prime Minister then goes on to outline his preferred method for Hitler's execution: the most torturous means available - the electric chair. He even jokes to cabinet colleagues that one might be available on "lease-lend" from the US.

Gill Bennett, chief historian of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said the idea of using the electric chair to execute Hitler was "typical Churchill". "This is very much Churchill's style. He was always a man of grand gestures, and he expressed what he believed was the will of the British people," said Ms Bennett. "The whole Cabinet felt very strongly about the evils of Nazism."

By 12 April 1945, just over two weeks before Hitler's suicide at his bunker in Berlin, Sir Norman's notes show just how far the argument had heated up. The Americans and Russians were pushing hard for a series of show trials, but Churchill still favoured summary execution as soon as possible. The Prime Minister tells his War Cabinet: "The trial will be a farce ... they should be treated as outlaws."

A spokesman for the Home Office warns against making Hitler a martyr in Germany, but Churchill, aware of the dictator's talent for powerful rhetoric, is determined that he should not be given a public stage on which to plead his case. "I would take no responsibility for a trial - even though [the] US want to do it," he tells those assembled, ironically on the very day that President Franklin D Roosevelt dies.

Further evidence of Churchill's bullishness emerges in the diaries during 1943, when it becomes clear that he is happy to let the Indian spiritual leader Gandhi die during a hunger strike in British custody. At another meeting of the War Cabinet in May 1945, Churchill addresses the fate of Hitler's right-hand man, Heinrich Himmler, in similarly pugnacious fashion. He is recorded as asking whether it would be possible to "negotiate" with the head of the SS, "and bump him off later". Disappointingly for Churchill and his vivid imagination, Himmler, like Hitler, committed suicide before he could be brought to trial.

Had Hitler been condemned to the electric chair, the sentence could have been carried out in the US, where it had been a means of execution since 1890.



Head of the SS and commander-in-chief of German home forces. He committed suicide by swallowing potassium cyanide.


Head of propaganda. A day after Hitler died, he committed suicide with his wife in the Berlin bunker, after killing their six children.


Gestapo founder, Luftwaffe chief and Reichmarshal. Killed himself in prison before he could be hanged.


Foreign minister of the Reich. Hanged at Nuremberg on 16 October 1946.

MARTIN BORMANN (1900- 1945)

Hitler's private secretary. Left Hitler's bunker in May 1945. His remains were found in Berlin in 1972.

RUDOLF HESS (1894-1987)

Deputy Nazi leader. Was captured and spent the rest of his life in prison. Died at Spandau in 1987, aged 93.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power