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SECRETS OF THE DEAD: Churchill's Deadly Decision

A photograph of Winston Churchill when he was First Lord of the Admirality, 1939.
A photograph of Winston Churchill when he was First Lord of the Admirality, 1939.

Airs Tuesday, November 15, 2011 at 11 p.m. on KPBS TV

In the summer of 1940, Winston Churchill faced a terrible dilemma. France had just surrendered, and only the English Channel stood between the Nazis and Britain. Germany was poised to seize the entire French fleet, one of the biggest in the world. With these ships, Hitler’s threat to invade Britain could become a reality.

Archival Image Gallery

View archival photos of Sir Winston Churchill of England and Vice Admiral Francois Darlan, two of the major historical figures in "Churchill’s Deadly Decision."

Churchill had to make a choice. He could either trust the promises of the new French government that they would never hand over their ships to Hitler or he could make sure that the ships never joined the German navy by destroying them himself.

“Churchill’s Deadliest Decision” reveals the darkest side of Britain’s Finest Hour. Some call his decision a turning point in the war; others call it a terrible betrayal and a war crime. This is the story of what Churchill did next — and why — and how 1,300 French sailors died in what the French still call “our Pearl Harbour.”


In the words of French survivors, some of whom still regard Churchill as a war criminal, and one of the British sailors who opened fire on his former allies, this is the forgotten story of Churchill’s deadliest decision - to sink the French Fleet.

SECRETS OF THE DEAD is on Facebook.

Explore the dark side of Britain's fight against the Nazis in "Churchill's Deadly Decision."