When did Churchill read Mein Kampf? The question came up in a Finest Hour quiz and the answer was: “In translated excerpts, and then in its entirety when E.J. Dugdale’s translation into English was published in 1933.”
Gordon Craig’s “Churchill and Germany” in Robert Blake and Wm. Roger Louis, eds., Churchill: A Major New Assessment of His Life in Peace and War, states: “Churchill seems at one time to have read an early translation of Mein Kampf; but he certainly did not have more than a newspaper reader’s knowledge of the nature of Hitler’s party or its current views on foreign policy.
This is accurate but not dispositive. Perhaps that was true up to the mid-1930s, but Churchill began referencing Mein Kampf closely in his article “The Truth About Hitler” (Strand Magazine, November 1935, reprinted in Great Contemporaries (1937).
The Collected Essays of Sir Winston Churchill (4 vols., London: 1975) are invaluable but unfortunately rare and expensive. Checking them I found two more Churchill quotations from Mein Kampf:
In “The Colony Racket” (1938) Churchill wrote:
Bismarck spoke his true mind when he said roundly: ‘I want no colonies.’ In his view, they led to ‘manifold and undesirable disputes’ and were ‘only good for providing jobs.’ There was a time when Herr Hitler was of the same opinion. ‘The sole hope of success for a territorial policy nowadays is to confine it to Europe, and not to confine it to places such as the Cameroons,’ he wrote in Mein Kampf.
In “Will Hitler Make Napoleon’s Mistakes?” (1939) Churchill wrote:
His philosophy is set forth in Mein Kampf which is, at the best, a good war-cry by which a beaten nation could recover its strength from somnolent victors. No liberal-minded man disputes about another’s religion. We have all adopted nowadays the maxim of Frederick the Great: ‘Everyone must get to Heaven in his own way.’ But speaking with proper reverence, one hazards the opinion that the Gospel of Christ will still be preached among men, and especially in Germany, long after the resuscitated worship of Thor and Odin, of Paganism and race ascendancy has died out. Napoleon did not seek to start a new religion, whether founded on race or revelation.
Clearly, Churchill had read Mein Kampf very thoroughly by then. The key reference is in Martin Gilbert’s Official Biography, Winston S. Churchill, Companion Volume 5, Part 3The Coming of War 1936-1939 (London: Heinemann, 1982), 122: a 29 April 1936 letter to WSC from his friend and supporter, the Duchess of Atholl:
I forgot, when I wrote the other day, to thank you for returning my copy of the English translation of Mein Kampf. I wonder if I now might have the 2 volumes of the German original, and the black book ‘Nazism: an assault on civilization’ which I lent you along with the English translation?
Nazism: an Assault on Civilization, by Pierre van Paassen and James Waterman Wise, was published in New York in 1934. The Duchess wrote Churchill seven weeks after Hitler annexed the Rhineland, though she does not state when she loaned him the books.
We may conclude that Churchill read an early translation of Mein Kampf circa 1933. But his essays reveal that he had reviewed the book in detail in 1935 or 1936 (though he did not read German he might have had translations)—around the time of the Rhineland, Hitler’s first territorial foray outside Germany.