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Was Churchill really worried about the Battle of the Atlantic? And if so, why?

Source 7

Telegram from President Roosevelt to Winston Churchill 11 April 1941.

Reference

 CHAR 20/37/113-115

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.


Simplified Transcript

MESSAGE TO PRIME MINISTER CHURCHILL
FROM THE PRESIDENT

I plan to take a number of steps to guard the security of the western democratic region of the world. These steps will help you with your shipping problem. But it’s important for US public opinion that it should look as though I’m taking these steps myself and not in discussion with you.

The US government plans to extend the security zone so that US ships and aircraft will patrol most of the western side of the Atlantic. We’ll want you to tell us in secret about your convoys so that we can patrol the right areas.

We hope that soon we can use Danish and Italian ships to transport goods to you and this will free your own ships to carry more materials.

I suggest that you make no comment on this policy when it’s announced.

Original Transcript

[STAMP] PRIME MINISTER’S
PERSONAL TELEGRAM
SERIAL No. T.86

MESSAGE TO THE FORMER NAVAL PERSON
FROM THE PRESIDENT

We propose immediately to take the following steps in relation to the security of the western hemisphere, which steps will favourable affect your shipping problem. It is important for domestic political reasons which you will readily understand that this action be taken by us unilaterally and not after diplomatic conversations between you and us. Therefore before taking this unilateral action I want to tell you about the proposal.

This government proposes to extend the present so-called security zone and patrol areas which have been in effect since very early in the war to a line covering all North Atlantic waters west of about West Longitude 250. We propose to utilize aircraft and naval vessels working from Greenland, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, the United States, Bermuda and West Indies, with possibly later extension to Brazil if this can be arranged. We will want in great secrecy notification of movement of convoy so our patrol units can seek out any ships or planes of

[2]
aggressor nations operating west of the new line of the security zone. We will immediately make public to you possible aggressor ships or planes when located on our patrol area west of West Longitude 250.

We hope to make available for direct haul to England a large amount of your present shipping which is now utilized for other purposes. We expect to make use of Danish ships very soon and Italian ships in about two months.

I believe advisable that when this new policy
is….

[3]
is adopted here no statement be issued on your end. It is not certain I would make specific announcement. I may decide to issue necessary naval operative orders and let time bring out the existence of the new patrol area.

April 11, 1941

What is this source?

This is a telegram from President Roosevelt to Prime Minister Churchill announcing a change in policy by the US regarding protection of shipping in the Atlantic. Churchill called himself ‘Former Naval Person’ because he’d been in charge of the Admiralty (the government department which ran the Royal Navy) in the First World War and it was a link he had with Roosevelt who had served in the US Navy.

Background to this source

Roosevelt only publicly announced that US warships would protect US merchant ships in the Atlantic on 7 July 1941. The US isn’t at war at this stage, but German U-boats were attacking US ships if they were supplying Britain.

These discussions between Churchill and Roosevelt weren’t for publication. Roosevelt was up for re-election soon and faced a powerful ‘keep out of the war’ lobby at home. Nevertheless, the US was playing a major role in the Battle of the Atlantic.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating why Winston Churchill was so worried about the Battle of the Atlantic. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. What is a ‘security zone?’
  2. What is Roosevelt going to do immediately?
  3. Where is he going to base American aircraft and ships?
  4. How does he suggest this will help Britain?
  5. Does Roosevelt ask for a response from Churchill?

Deeper level

Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?

On a scale of 1-5 how far do you agree that this source supports this inference? Which extract(s) from the source support your argument?
It is important that Churchill isn’t seen as pressurising Roosevelt.

The American public is keen to be involved in the war.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • When Roosevelt refers to the western hemisphere he really means the US and her allies.
  • German U-boats had been sinking US ships which were transporting goods to Britain.
  • The anti-war lobby in the US was very strong.
  • When war broke out, the US impounded ships from Italy and Denmark. Roosevelt is now planning to use these ships in Atlantic convoys.

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

 Source 8

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