Another day, another exhibition … 2015 is turning into a very good year for Churchill fans, and today we are highlighting the exhibition on Churchill’s Scientists, which is on at the Science Museum until next March. We have contributed 30 or so scans from our wartime scientific collections and from Churchill’s own papers, including his far-sighted articles on the advances of science, and are continuing to supply a selection of the original proofs from his history of the Second World War, which we change every few months, to avoid damage from light exposure. These proofs reveal Churchill’s fascination with the rapid advances in radar and weapons technology which helped to win the war, and also his deep fear of the German U-boats which aimed to starve Britain into submission by attacking merchant shipping. As he said, “The only thing that ever really frightened me as Prime Minister in the war was the U-boat peril”, likening it to a diver with sharks biting at his air pipe, and the image which we’re showing here tells you exactly why Churchill was so worried.

Chart of shipping losses, 1939-41

Chart of merchant shipping losses, 1939-41. Reference: MacDougall Papers, MACD 28/4.

This deceptively cheerful looking piece of paper is one of a series of Statistical Branch charts from the papers of the economist Sir Donald MacDougall, showing the thousands of tons of merchant shipping lost up to April 1941. The blue sections show the appalling numbers of ships sunk by U-boats, and other charts in this collection show the mercifully short period when Britain’s food reserves dipped below danger level. The charts also show the importance of different food stuffs, as meat, bacon and ham (considered separate from meat), cheese, butter, margarine and lard and also sugar all have separate sets of statistics, although rather surprisingly, wheat is not included.

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