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.

END OF THE REICH

HEINRICH HIMMLER (1900-1945)

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

JOSEPH GOEBBELS (1897-1945)

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

HERMANN GOERING (1893-1946)

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

JOACHIM VON RIBBENTROP (1893-1946)

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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Your picture is everything in the shallow world of online dating
i100
News
The Swiss Re tower or 'Gherkin' was at one time the UK’s most expensive office when German bank IVG and private equity firm Evans Randall bought it
news
Life and Style
Attractive women on the Internet: not a myth
techOkCupid boasts about Facebook-style experiments on users
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on