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

Source 5

Telegram from Harry Hopkins to Winston Churchill


CHAR 20/125/105

Simplified Transcript

The American commanders have made a response to comments made by a US senator about the proportion of British to American troops taking part in next year’s invasion of France. They’ll make no information available because this might help the Germans. Any American who thinks there are too many American and too few British troops should remember that Britain has a much smaller population than the US. Also British troops are scattered across North Africa, the Mediterranean. Both the British and the Americans are putting in all the resources they have.

Original Transcript


TOO 311315Z
TOD 311522Z
From:- Air Ministry. PERSONAL TELEGRAM
To:- SEXTANT. SERIAL No….T.2008/3…

GRAND 930 31st December 1943.
:Personal and Secret.
Private Office to Martin.
The following reply to FROZEN 975 has been received from [all crossed out] Mr. Harry Hopkins to Prime Minister [Prime Minister is hand written]

The American Chiefs of Staff have issued the following statement relative to Senator Johnson’s remarks about the proportion of British American Troops to be used in the invasion: “The exact proportion of American to British Troops, in joint operations to be conducted in North Western Europe, is a military secret which the Germans would like to know, but will not learn from any official source in this country. There has been no disagreement between American and British Chiefs of Staff on that proportion, for the reason that both countries are going to hit the common enemy with everything available. The British with one-third as large a population as this country, already have a considerably larger number of troops in the Mediterranean than we. For other European operations they are going to put in everything they have got and we are going to put in everything we can get there.”

We will look for any appropriate opportunity to add to this. Everyone here thinks Johnson’s statement extremely bad.
T.O.O 311315Z
Circulation. For Information
The King
Deputy Prime Minister
Foreign Secretary
Sir E. Bridges
General Ismay
Mr. Rowan

What is this source?

A ‘personal and secret’ telegram from Harry Hopkins, Special Advisor and Assitant to President Roosevelt, to Winston Churchill, sent 31 December 1943.

Background to this source

This telegram closely follows the Teheran Conference (28 November–1 December 1943) – the first time the three wartime leaders met – where the Allies made a firm commitment to opening the Second Front in 1944. Stalin was extremely anxious to see a Second Front opened up against the Germans. Although the tide was arguably turning in favour of the Allies the USSR was still facing massive German forces and was suffering enormous losses of troops, civilians and resources. His allies were probably more open to his pressure for a Second Front because the Allies were clearly winning the Battle of the Atlantic, making ‘Bolero’ (the codename for the build-up of forces in the UK ready for invasion) easier to achieve.

The telegram is a response to comments by one US senator which reflected some areas of public opinion in the US – that the US was taking too much of the strain and the British weren’t doing as much.

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. What had Senator Johnson said?
  2. How had this made trouble?
  3. What were the US Chiefs of Staff proposing to do about it?
  4. Where did British troops outnumber US troops?
  5. Who was going to hit whom with ‘everything they’ve got?’
  6. Who was ‘going to put in everything they could get there?’ And what does this mean?

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?
The British were more interested in the Mediterranean sphere of operations than in North Western Europe.

Not all Americans agreed with the ‘Overlord’ strategy.

There were disagreements between Britain and US over operational priorities.

Churchill opposed putting British troops into ‘Overlord’.

Some Americans thought Churchill was not putting his weight behind the preparations for ‘Overlord’.

The Americans were putting pressure on Churchill to support ‘Overlord’.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Harry Hopkins was Roosevelt’s ‘Mr Fixit’. Hopkins was Roosevelt’s closest friend and most trusted adviser during the war. Churchill also had a very high opinion of Hopkins and called him ‘Lord Root of the Matter’ because of his ability to get right to the heart of issues
  • ‘Overlord’ (invading France in the Spring of 1944) was definitely agreed at Teheran.
  • Right up to October 1943 Eisenhower seemed in favour of the Italian campaign ahead of OVERLORD. Eisenhower was one of the top US generals and had been in command of US forces in Operation Torch – the allied operation to drive the Germans out of North Africa.
  • Britain had been fighting the Germans since 1939.
  • The US was an economic superpower and now had a much bigger army than Britain.
  • Britain was dependent on the US for food and supplies.

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 6

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