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

Source 2

Telegram from President Roosevelt to Winston Churchill [extract]


CHAR 20/83/127-128

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

Simplified Transcript

We have no intention of giving up on the idea of invading Europe in 1943. We may or may not have the chance to invade France in 1943. If the chance comes, we’ll take it. However, we need to agree on what size of force we would need for this task. I think we should continue to build up forces in the United Kingdom so that we are ready to invade if Germany collapses or retreats.

We’re very involved in very heavy fighting in the Pacific at the moment but we’ll continue our build-up in Britain as soon as we have the resources.

Original Transcript

26th November 1942
Prime Minister’s Personal Telegram
Serial no T. 1600/2
Personal and Secret.
No 222.

To the Prime Minister

In reply to your 211. We of course have no intention of abandoning ROUNDUP. No one can possibly know now whether or not we may have the opportunity to strike across the Channel in 1943 and if the opportunity comes we must obviously grasp it. However the determination as to the size of the force which we should have in BOLERO in 1943 is a matter which should require our joint strategic considerations. It is my present thought that we should build up as rapidly as present active operations permit a growing striking force in the United Kingdom to be used quickly in event of German collapse or a very large force later if Germany remains intact and assumes a defensive position.

... We are far more heavily engaged in the Southwest Pacific than I anticipated a few months ago. Nevertheless we shall continue with BOLERO as rapidly as our shipping and other resources permit ...

What is this source?

This is part of a personal and secret telegram from President Roosevelt to Winston Churchill discussing the military situation and the continuing commitment to ‘Bolero’ and the invasion of Europe. The telegram was also sent to the key figures in the British government at the time, including the King, which suggests how important the issue of the Second Front was.

Background to this source

The Battles of El Alamein, Guadalcanal and Stalingrad all took place in October and November 1942 – the so-called ‘turning points’ of the war. Axis advances seem to have been stopped but there was still no end in sight. The Allies were grappling with strategic decisions on how to win the war, and resources seem stretched. The invasion of North Africa (Operation Torch) drew American resources away from Operation Bolero – the build-up of troops in Britain for the invasion of Europe. Roosevelt is facing conflicting demands from his Generals about where to commit American resources.

‘Bolero’ is the build-up of American forces in Britain in preparation for the invasion of Europe.
‘Roundup’ is the name for various Allied plans for an invasion of Europe in 1943, superceded by ‘Overlord’.
‘Overlord’ is the name for the Allied plan for an invasion of Europe in 1944 (more commonly known as D-Day).

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 Second Front. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. Does Roosevelt sound totally committed to ‘Roundup’?
  2. What is limiting the build-up of US forces in Britain?
  3. What is happening in the war with Japan?
  4. What does Roosevelt expect to happen in 1943?

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?
Roosevelt is totally committed to ‘Roundup’.

Churchill is worried America is no longer committed to ‘Roundup’.

Politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are unsure what is to be a priority in 1943.

Churchill is working hard to make sure America remains committed to ‘Roundup’.

Churchill is not committed to ‘Roundup’.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Remember the context; what else was happening in October and November 1942?
  • Churchill was trying hard to build up a ‘Special Relationship’ between UK and US.
  • Churchill knew Britain could not beat Germany on its own.
  • Churchill was worried that Britain was becoming a junior partner in the coalition against Germany and Japan.
  • US forces were stretched by the Japanese in the Pacific.
  • The Battle of the Atlantic – American troops and supplies had to cross the Atlantic – was going very badly at this time.

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 3

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