Why did the Allies find it hard to agree about a Second Front in the Second World War?

We’ve carefully chosen sources from the Churchill Archive to explore the arguments over when and where the Second Front should take place. The sources reflect Churchill’s attitude to the endeavour and are a range of source types.

One way into the sources might be to ask students to classify them – letters, official papers, telegrams and so on – and then rank them for utility. You might also consider ‘fact’ and ‘opinion’ as a way of establishing utility. You could also rearrange the sources into chronological order, the better to follow the twists and turns of the arguments.

It’s much better to use the whole collection of sources rather than split them; it’s essential that students get the ‘big picture’ if they’re to be able to answer the question of whether Max Hastings was correct in his assertion that Churchill had to be railroaded by the Americans into supporting ‘Overlord’ (more commonly known as D-Day).

Activity 1

You might ask students if the sources provide an answer to the question posed by this enquiry.

Source Support the view that Churchill opposed the Second Front Do not support the view that Churchill opposed the Second Front + and -
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Activity 2

Do the sources chosen show a clear commitment by Churchill to particular operations and does this change at different times? Does that commitment increase between 1942 and 1944, or decrease? You might try making a ‘living graph’ (see below) to help your students answer this question.

When, according to these sources, does Churchill firmly commit to the Second Front? What does this changing commitment tell us about Churchill’s views on the Second Front? Or about the relationship between Britain and the US? Or about the need to help Stalin? Do any other sources in the Archive contradict your conclusion? In what way?

Activity 3

Using these seven sources from the Churchill Archive (not all written by Churchill himself) in this activity, do you agree with British historian Max Hastings that Churchill had to be railroaded by the Americans into supporting ‘Overlord’? Is it a valid conclusion to draw from these sources? What other interpretations could be made using these seven sources? Is there enough evidence to reach a solid conclusion? What else might you need to know? Is it appropriate to use extracts from some of the sources, rather than the whole source? Does that alter the utility of a source? Can you find other sources in the Archive that point to a different conclusion? Is Max Hastings developing a valid conclusion based on the evidence we have, or is he, in your opinion, pursuing his own agenda?

As ever, in history, there’s no one ‘correct’ answer – it all depends on which sources you use and your particular reading of that source.

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