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

Source 7

Telegram from Winston Churchill to President Roosevelt, 12 April 1944 (extract)


CHAR 20/161/113-114

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

Simplified Transcript

I’m now sure that ‘Overlord’ is a good idea. On Good Friday I spoke to the British and American generals and told them I was confident it would be a success. I don’t agree with the talk here and in America that casualties will be very heavy. I believe it’ll be the Germans who will suffer.

Original Transcript

SERIAL NO…T.795/4….



Your NO.518.

3. I am becoming very hard set upon OVERLORD. On Good Friday I gave a talk to all the Generals, British and American, who were gathered at General Montgomery’s Headquarters, expressing my strong confidence in the result of this extraordinary but magnificent operation. I understand that you will have received some account of this from General Eisenhower, Mr. McCloy and General McNarney who were present. I do not agree with the loose talk which has been going on on both sides of the Atlantic about the unduly heavy casualties which we shall sustain. In my view it is the Germans who will suffer very heavy casualties when our band of brothers gets among them ...

What is this source?

This source is a private, personal and secret telegram from Winston Churchill to President Roosevelt discussing the arrangements for D-Day.

Background to this source

Detailed final planning for D-Day was taking place, with both US and British staff. As ever, in this kind of multinational operation, there were tensions between individual leaders, as well as the need to coordinate all the different forces involved.

There were also concerns expressed in some newspapers and by some politicians that casualties would be very high. A seaborne landing on this scale had never been attempted before.

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. Is Churchill clearly in favour of ‘Overlord’?
  2. What does he expect to happen when the invasion takes place?
  3. Why does he call it an ‘extraordinary but magnificent operation?

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 now fully committed to ‘Overlord’.

Churchill has no reservations whatsoever about the success of ‘Overlord’.

Everyone else expects the success of ‘Overlord’.

Churchill now only has a peripheral role in ‘Overlord’.

The US is the driving force behind ‘Overlord’.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • This is only part of the telegram sent to Roosevelt. Do you need to read the whole telegram to be able to answer these questions?
  • Why might it have taken Churchill until April 1944 to ‘become very hard set upon Overlord?’
  • Why might people be worrying about heavy casualties? Which people?
  • How much of the content is fact and how much opinion?
  • Do you think Churchill seems convinced of the success of ‘Overlord’?
  • Churchill had reservations about D-Day for much of the war and then seems to have changed his mind. Why?

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

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