The December 1944 issue of Doc Savage featured a story titled The Lost Giant. This is a treasure hunt but it is a different sort of treasure from the usual story. Rather than some inanimate object of intrinsic wealth being the goal, it is the person of one of the allied leaders. During World War II, there were four major allied powers which included the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. Our mystery leader is described as someone whose voice is recognizable over the radio and who has the “determination of a bulldog.” That last hint gives the identity of the leader away in the person of Winston Churchill who was Prime Minister of England. Churchill was often described as a bulldog in the papers due to his tenacity and determination to win the war.
On the surface, the choice of Winston Churchill as the “lost giant” seems very reasonable. Churchill was often mentioned in the news particularly in the context of meetings with foreign leaders in strange lands. In the story, it is explained that enemy planes chanced upon Churchill’s plane and escorts by accident.
It is a nice piece of fiction if only it were such. In reality, the German Air Force was actively striving to shoot down Churchill’s plane. On June 5, 1943, news agencies reported that Winston Churchill had been in North Africa the prior week. This information was revealed in the context of an article describing the shooting down of a Douglas DC-3 passenger aircraft leaving Lisbon, Portugal for London England on June 1. The downing of this flight, BOAC Flight 777, had been in the news several days earlier due to the distinguished nature of one of the passengers on board that plane.
This particular passenger was one that most Americans of that time would easily recognize. British actor Leslie Howard was that person. He was perhaps best known to American audiences for his performance as Ashley Wilkes in the 1939 movie version of Gone with the Wind.”
At the time, it was strongly believed the Germans had mistaken the passenger plane for Churchill’s own and shot it down as such. Newspaper headlines went wild with speculative headlines:
- AXIS THOUGHT CHURCHILL WAS ON AIR LINER
- Nazis Gunning for Churchill, London Thinks – Foe May Have Downed Leslie Howard Plane by Mistake
- Churchill Home After Hunted by Nazi Air Wolves
- London Believes Germans Gunning for Churchill Downed Howard Airliner
There seems little doubt the German Air Force was gunning for Churchill. Newspaper articles revealed that the Germans had launched many aircraft in an attempt to bag the British Prime Minister. The Germans had sent eight Junkers Ju 88 fighter-bombers to intercept the unarmed airliner.
Current speculation is not as precise as there seems to be indications that Leslie Howard was working with British Intelligence and thus a target. Others theorize that Howard’s work on war-time films and propaganda also made him a target. The actual facts are still not clear some seventy-plus years later.
Doc Savage evokes some thoughts about the presence of an important leader lost in the wilds instead of ruling safely from his island fortress. Doc infers that it is a little irresponsible for such an important person to be out and about in a war-torn world. He was not alone in his sentiment. A newspaper article dated June 3, 1943 echoes similar feelings. It references Leslie Howard’s death and offers some criticism of leaders who travel rather than staying safely at home. The article asks the question what would be the consequences if such a man was killed.
Winston Churchill was the lost giant but the inspiration was Leslie Howard.