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

Source 4

Telegram from President Roosevelt to Winston Churchill


CHAR 20/120/44

Simplified Transcript

I don’t want my Commander General Eisenhower to be distracted by other operations while he’s trying to fight his way through Italy. He’s making slow progress because the Germans have large and powerful forces lined up against him.
We’ll carry on our build-up of forces and equipment in the UK to invade France (Operation Overlord) but it’ll take more time before we’re ready and Eisenhower must secure Italy first.
The American senior commanders all agree.

Original Transcript

SERIAL No….T.1534/3…

P R I O R I T Y.

Personal and Most Secret. 8.10.43

Reference your 438.

I do not want to force on Eisenhower diversions which limit the prospects for the early successful development of the Italian operations to a secure line North of Rome.

I am opposed to any diversion which will in Eisenhower’s opinion jeopardize the security of his current situation in Italy, the build-up of which is exceedingly slow considering the well-known characteristics of his opponent who enjoys a marked superiority in ground troops and Panzer divisions.

It is my opinion that no diversion of forces or equipment should prejudice “OVERLORD” as planned.

The American Chiefs of Staff agree.

I am transmitting a copy of this message to Eisenhower.

What is this source?

This is a ‘personal and most secret’ telegram from Roosevelt to Winston Churchill dated 8 October 1943.

Background to this source

At the time of this source Allied troops were forcing their way north through Italy. The Germans had recently occupied Rome. Italy was supposed to be the ‘soft underbelly’ of Europe but it was proving to be a tough nut to crack.

The third Moscow Conference of Foreign Ministers was scheduled to begin in a few days, where the strategy to defeat Germany was the main item for discussion. Stalin was desperate for the Second Front to take pressure off the Russian troops on the Eastern Front. US troops continued to arrive in Europe under the ‘Bolero’ plan to prepare for the invasion of Europe but ‘Overlord’ (the invasion of France) was still some way off.

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 Roosevelt, how strong are the Germans facing Eisenhower in Italy?
  2. Which does Roosevelt see as a short term priority – Italy or ‘Overlord’?
  3. What do you think Churchill said to Roosevelt in his telegram 438? Where can you find out?

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 worried about the situation in Italy.

Roosevelt is totally committed to ‘Overlord’.

There is disagreement between Britain and the US regarding priorities.

The American Chiefs of Staff are in total agreement with Roosevelt.

Churchill would rather win in Italy than support ‘Overlord’.

Roosevelt is pushing Churchill to support ‘Overlord’.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Eisenhower, an American, was in command of Allied (British and American) forces in North Africa and the invasion of Italy. There were inevitable tensions in the system of coalition (shared) warfare because British and American commanders had to work together on shared allied goals, rather than pursuing their own national interests. Eisenhower insisted that they worked closely together to make the system work.
  • Eisenhower was put in charge of planning for ‘Overlord’ in December 1943 (and went on to be President of the US after the war).
  • Roosevelt was never fully committed to the invasion of Italy because his priority was always the invasion of Western Europe and so he wanted to shift resources to the UK in preparation for the invasion of France.
  • Churchill thought there should have been a British general in charge of ‘Overlord’: the British wanted to prioritise major offensives in the Mediterranean instead of building up resources in preparation for an invasion.
  • In some ways, operations in Italy were a compromise between the UK and US priorities.
  • There were plans for an invasion in 1942 (‘Sledgehammer’).
  • There were plans for an invasion in 1943 (‘Roundup’).
  • Note the shift in tone of this telegram from the others you’ve seen in this investigation; Roosevelt isn’t so chummy in this very clear and direct communication and he’s chosen not to use the mutual ‘former naval person’ nicknames.

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 5

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