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 6

Copy of a telegram from Winston Churchill to Harry Hopkins (President Roosevelt’s personal representative), 28 August 1941


CHAR 20/42A/35

Simplified Transcript




The Cabinet and other important groups are very unhappy about President Roosevelt’s many comments about not joining the war. Parliament will be unhappy too. It’ll be very dangerous if Russia is defeated and Britain is left to fight alone again next year. Hitler will be a great threat. Tonight he’s got 30 U-boats (submarines) blocking the whole of the Atlantic. We’ve lost 25,000 tons of ships yesterday (27th) and today (28th) but he’s keeping clear of the Arctic Sea. You’re the best person to know if you can do anything more to help us. I’d be grateful if you could give me any sort of hope. Persia (Iran) was ok. Kindest regards.

(Initialled) W.S.C.
28 August 1941

Original Transcript




I ought to tell you that there has been a wave of depression through Cabinet and other informed circles here about President’s many assurances about no commitments and no closer[ ]to war etc. I fear this will be reflected in Parliament. If 1942 opens with Russia knocked out and Britain left again alone, all kinds of dangers may arise. I do not think Hitler will help in any way. Tonight he has 30 U-boats in line from the eastern part of Iceland to northern tip of Ireland. We have lost 25,000 tons yesterday (27th) and today (28th) but he keeps clear of 26th meridian. You will know best whether anything more can be done. Should be grateful if you could give me any sort of hope. Persia was ok. Kindest regards.

(Initialled) W.S.C.

What is this source?

This is a copy of a telegram Churchill sent to President Roosevelt’s personal representative, Harry Hopkins, in August 1941.

Background to this source

Churchill and Roosevelt had agreed a joint statement called ‘The Atlantic Charter’ (Source 5) three weeks earlier and Churchill hoped that this would lead to America ending its policy of neutrality and joining in the war to fight with Britain. He was increasingly worried when no change in policy was announced and expressed his despair very openly to Hopkins. Harry Hopkins, Special Advisor and Assistant to President Roosevelt, was Roosevelt’s ‘right-hand man’ – his ‘Mr Fixit’.

The situation in Europe in 1941 saw Germany in control of much of the continent and it was now advancing rapidly into Russia, having declared war on the Soviet Union on 22 June. Both Britain and the US were concerned that the USSR would be defeated quickly and leave Britain to fight alone again. Britain was also concerned about the growing threat from Japan in the Far East and hoped that the US would soon end its policy of remaining neutral in the war. However Roosevelt still faced opposition in Congress and amongst the American public to declaring war.

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. Why is Churchill upset?
  2. What does he see as the greatest threats to Britain?
  3. What is he asking for from Roosevelt?

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 believes Russia would soon be defeated.

Churchill is very worried that German U-boats would make Britain lose the war.

Churchill felt that Roosevelt wasn’t doing enough to help Britain.

The links between Britain and the US depended on the relationship between individuals rather than the countries.

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Need help interpreting the source?

  • The key to this document is its purpose. As historians we need to consider whether the situation is really as bad as Churchill indicates or whether Churchill is trying to put some pressure on Roosevelt to work harder to convince the American people they may need to go to war.
  • Publicly, Churchill conveyed a positive public message in his many wartime speeches and broadcasts. His speeches had a massive impact during the war. They were designed not only to restore British morale, but also to send a message of hope to occupied Europe, a signal of defiance to Nazi Germany and an appeal for support to the US. But what we’re looking at here is a communication of a different nature – a ‘personal, secret and private’ telegram Churchill sent to Harry Hopkins. Yet is Churchill still ‘on message’ here? What emotions does Churchill display in this telegram?

Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams

Source 7

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