Churchill Archive for Schools - Themes_Key questions_special relations

Just how special was the ‘special relationship’ in the Second World War? (Part 1, 1939–41)

Source 4

Copy of a telegram from President Roosevelt to Churchill, 28 May 1941


CHAR 20/39/37-38

Simplified Transcript



We’re sending 44 American ships to Middle East and with 75,000 tons of equipment.
We’re immediately sending you:
490,000 shells for large guns
200 new light tanks with shells,
24 anti-aircraft guns with
12,000 shells
4 large guns with
2,000 shells for large guns
20 air compressor trucks
30 sets of small box girder bridges with transporters
5 sets heavy floating bridges with transporters
50 mobile lighting sets
100 sets water supply equipment
700 ten-ton trucks
25 portable welding sets
A very large amount of machinery and tools, road and digging equipment, machine tools, engineer stores, survey equipment, and other equipment.
This is extra equipment on top of other material sent to the Middle East and will be rushed at earliest possible moment.

Original Transcript



We now have forty-four American flagships assigned to Middle East and we are planning to move 75,000 tons of freight to that region.
We are transferring to you at once from shipment to the Middle East
490,000 rounds 155mm. howitzer ammunition,
200 light tanks from our June and July production complete with armament, spares and accessories,
24 three-inch anti-aircraft guns with fire control,
12,000 rounds three-inch A.A. shrapnel,
4-155 mm. guns with on-carriage fire control,
2,000 rounds 155 mm. gun ammunition as specified by you,
20 air compressor trucks,
30 sets of small box girder bridges with transporters,
5 sets heavy pontoons with transporters,

(Page 2)

50 mobile lighting sets,
100 sets water supply equipment,
700 ten-ton trucks,
25 portable welding sets,
very substantial amount of machinery and tools, road and excavating equipment, machine tools, engineer stores, survey equipment, quarter-master stores and signal equipment.
All of the above is in addition to any previous commitments we have made for the Middle East and will be rushed at earliest possible moment.

May 28, 1941.

What is this source?

This is a copy of a telegram from Roosevelt to Churchill in May 1941.

Background to this source

This telegram lists all of the new equipment that the US was sending to the Middle East region where Britain was fighting against Italian forces in 1941. The US hadn’t yet entered the war. On 11 March 1941 the US Congress had passed ‘An Act to Promote the Defense of the United States’ which set up the Lend-Lease agreement so that Britain and other countries could borrow equipment from the US without having to pay for it. The US quickly expanded its military industries to supply more equipment to help Britain and her allies.

Here Roosevelt is calling Churchill ‘Former Naval Person’. Churchill had been in charge of the Admiralty (the government department which ran the Royal Navy) in the First World War and it was a link he had with Roosevelt who, at the same time, had served in the US Navy as Assistant Secretary.

The Middle East was important because of the large amount of oil that it supplied to Britain, and the fear that the German and Italian armies would capture this. Britain also wanted to protect the Suez Canal in Egypt which linked the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea and provided an important route to its Empire in Asia and the Far East.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember, we’re hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating what was special about the relationship between Britain and the US in the early years of the Second World War. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. What kind of equipment was being supplied by the US to Britain?
  2. How many ships is the US using to transport this equipment?
  3. Why might it be helpful from Britain if the US used its own ships for this?

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 US supplied all of the equipment that Britain was asking for.

The US strongly supported Britain without actually fighting in the war before 1942.

Britain couldn’t have continued fighting without US support.

The relationship between Britain and the US was more like allies in war than friendship between two countries.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • This source leaves little doubt about the type and amount of help which the US was providing to Britain at this time. It also helps us to see which areas of the war were important at particular times.
  • There is a stamp at the top of the document which shows us that this copy of a telegram from Roosevelt is from a sequence of files of wartime documents which Churchill classified as his ‘personal’ telegrams. But despite the ‘personal’ label, these telegrams and documents are Churchill’s official letters and communications. So it’s interesting to consider what motivated Churchill literally to stamp his ownership on this material. One of the reasons might have been that Churchill, who’d always earned his living through his writing, was aware of the possibility that he might later write about the war and realised that he’d need these documents to do so.

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 5

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