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

Source 3

Telegram from Winston Churchill to Anthony Eden, in Moscow, dated 29th October 1943 (extract)


CHAR 20/122/78

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

Simplified Transcript

From the Prime Minister to the Foreign Secretary
There’s no question of us abandoning Operation Overlord (the invasion of France). This is our main operation in 1944. However, at the moment we’re attacking the German-controlled half of Italy. To capture Rome we’ll need to keep hold of our landing craft. This will delay the invasion of France but it will mean that we’ll have more troops and landing craft when we do invade France. And we’ll keep bombing Germany between now and then which should weaken Germany.

Original Transcript

[This telegram is of particular secrecy and should be retained by the authorised recipient and not passed on.]



No. 174 Extra
29th October, 1943 D: 2.20pm 29th October 1943
SERIAL no. T1764/3
Most Secret and Personal

Following from Prime Minister for Secretary of State

1. There is of course no question of abandoning Overlord which will remain our principal operation for 1944. The retention of landing-craft in the Mediterranean in order not to lose the Battle of Rome may cause a slight delay, perhaps till July, as the smaller class of landing-craft cannot cross the Bay of Biscay in the winter months and would have to make the passage in the Spring. The delay would however mean that the blow when struck would be with somewhat heavier forces, and also that the full bombing effort on Germany would not be damped down so soon. We are also ready at any time to push across and profit by a German collapse. These arguments may be of use to you in discussion ...

What is this source?

A telegram from the Prime Minister to Anthony Eden, Britain’s Foreign Secretary (the minister in charge of Britain’s relations with other countries). Eden was in Moscow for the Moscow Conference. The Foreign Ministers of Britain, US and Russia (the ‘Big Three’ countries) met for the first time, over thirteen days, to work out a strategy for fighting the rest of the war. The conference showed Soviet mistrust of the US and Britain – because of their failure to open a Second Front against Germany.

Background to this source

At the Moscow conference the war against Germany was the main topic. Stalin had been pressing the US and British leaders for a Second Front against Germany (the USSR had been fighting the Germans since they invaded the USSR in 1941). This Second Front basically meant a landing in France by British Empire, US and Allied forces and was promised by the Allies at the Conference. However, the US and British Empire forces had already landed in Italy in 1943 and Churchill was concerned that there was not enough men and equipment to fight in France and Italy. At the start of the war Italy under Benito Mussolini had been allied with Germany. In 1943 the US and British Empire forces and their allies invaded Sicily and southern Italy. Groups inside Italy then overthrew Mussolini. The southern half of Italy joined the Allies against Germany but the Germans took control of the northern half of Italy.

Immediately following the Moscow Conference which ended in early November, the three leaders – Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill – met in Teheran and agreed a Second Front in Spring 1944.

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. According to Churchill, how certain is it that the invasion of Europe will happen in 1944?
  2. Why might it be delayed?
  3. Why does he think a delay might be an advantage?

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?
Churchill is firmly committed to ‘Overlord’.

Churchill would not be unhappy if ‘Overlord’ was delayed.

Churchill is concerned that Russia and the US doubt his commitment to ‘Overlord’.

Churchill sees Italy as a higher priority than ‘Overlord’.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Why might this telegram be ‘most secret and personal?’
  • Who is Anthony Eden? Why is he in Moscow?
  • Which leader was pushing the hardest for the Second Front?
  • Why is the availability of landing craft a key question?
  • Can we work out Churchill’s attitude to Operation Overlord from this telegram?
  • What is happening elsewhere in the summer and autumn of 1943? [In other words what is the context for this source?

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 4

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