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What was the significance of Pearl Harbor?

Source 6

Telegram from Winston Churchill to US President Roosevelt, 6 December 1942


➜ CHAR 20/84/77

Simplified Transcript

NO. 221. 6 December, 1942.

Referring to our earlier discussions I accept your request although I would have preferred our plan. I will send Victorious because she can reach Pearl Harbor sooner and she can be more easily adapted to American aircraft and equipment.

Telegram sent to:
The King
Foreign Secretary
Sir E. Bridges
General Ismay
War Cabinet and Service Ministers (for information)

Original Transcript

SERIAL No…T.1664/2

NO. 221. 6 December, 1942.

Reference your No. 226. I bow to your wishes, though I should have preferred on general grounds the arrangement we proposed. Not only on account of her earlier arrival at Pearl Harbor but also for various reasons connected with equipment of aircraft and better fighter directions, it is preferred to send VICTORIOUS. Pound will communicate with King regarding transfer.

The King
Foreign Secretary
Sir E. Bridges
General Ismay
War Cabinet and Service Ministers (for information).

What is this source?

This is a telegram from Winston Churchill to US President Franklin D. Roosevelt on 6 December 1942. Churchill often used the name ‘Former Naval Person’ when communicating with Roosevelt because he’d been in charge of the Admiralty (the government department which ran the Royal Navy) in the First World War. This was a link that he believed strengthened his bond with the President who, at the same time, had served in the US Navy as Assistant Secretary.

Background to this source

The British aircraft carrier, HMS Victorious, had been visited by Churchill in October 1942 and engaged in the Mediterranean in Operation Torch in November 1942, the allied campaign in North Africa to drive German and Italian forces out. As this telegram indicates, the following month the ship was transferred to America on loan since the American fleet was down to a single aircraft carrier at the time.

Additional information

This telegram was sent almost a year on from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. US industries, including shipyards, had been converting to war production but the process took time. US forces had won important victories since Pearl Harbor, particularly the Battle of Midway in June 1942. However, they had suffered losses as well. In October 1942, the aircraft carrier USS Hornet was sunk and USS Enterprise was badly damaged. As a temporary measure Churchill sent the British carrier HMS Victorious to help.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating the significance of Pearl Harbor

Surface level: details, facts and figures

  1. What reasons did Churchill give for wanting to send the HMS Victorious instead of another carrier?
  2. What arrangement do you think might have been previously proposed?
  3. What does the loan of the HMS Victorious tell us about British-American cooperation one year after Pearl Harbor?

Deeper level: inferences and using the source as evidence

  1. What does the use of Pearl Harbor as a launch point of the HMS Victorious and the USS Saratoga tell us about the strategic importance of that location?
  2. Do you think the two men involved in this exchange were thinking about the events of a year ago when discussing the transfer of a British carrier to Pearl Harbor in December 1942?

Need some help interpreting the source?

  • The HMS Victorious was refitted in Norfolk, VA and then sent on to Pearl Harbor where it arrived in March 1943. From there, the ship joined the US fleet under the code name USS Robin and sailed with the USS Saratoga and USS North Carolina.

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