Copy of a telegram from Winston Churchill to President Roosevelt 26 November 1942
➜ CHAR 20/84/2-3
PRIME MINISTER’S PERSONAL TELEGRAM
Former Naval Person to President
Personal and Secret.
- Thank you so much about my telegram, number 211. As I said in my telegram to you last night, we are in full agreement.
- I entirely agree in principle that there should be a conference with the Russians, but I doubt very much whether it would be of much value unless on a specific point. If Russian officers went to Cairo (in Egypt), they would spend lots of time checking every move with Stalin in Moscow. If the conference were held in Moscow there would be less delay, but I trust the British and American officers would agree what to say before meeting the Russians. I hope also that if General Marshall were sent by you he would visit England.
- I think I can tell you in advance what the Russian view will be. They will say to us both (quote) How much of the German army will you be actually fighting against in the summer of 1943? How much have you fought against in 1942? (unquote). They will certainly demand a strong second front from the west or the south or from both. This conference would need all of our important military chiefs, who we could not spare for long.
- Stalin said to me in Moscow that he was willing to come and meet us this winter, and he mentioned Iceland. I pointed out that England was no farther and more convenient. He neither accepted nor rejected the idea. At the same time, apart from the climate, there is a lot to be said for a new triple Atlantic Conference in Iceland. Our ships could meet at Halfjord and we would lend a ship to Stalin and let it fly the Soviet flag temporarily. Stalin said he was very keen to fly. Only at a meeting between the three of us will real results be achieved. What about proposing it for January? By that time the Germans should be defeated in Africa and the great battle in South Russia (Stalingrad) finished.
- I may add that if ever I can persuade you to come as far as Iceland I shall never be satisfied unless you visit England on your way home.
War Cabinet and Service Ministers (for information)
SERIAL NO T.1601/2
Former Naval Person to President.
Personal and Secret.
- Thank you so much about my 211. As I cabled you last night, we are in full agreement.
- I entirely agree in principle that there should be a conference with the Russians, but I doubt very much whether a conference on general war policy, apart from some special point, between officers would be of much value. Certainly if a Russian delegation went to Cairo, which I deem unlikely, they would be so tied up that they would have to refer every point of substance back to Stalin at Moscow. If the conference were held in Moscow there would be less delay, but I trust that before British and United States Missions went to Moscow they would have a joint and agreed view, to serve at least as a basis for discussion. I hope also that if General Marshall were sent by you he would not by-pass this country.
- I think I can tell you in advance what the Soviet view will be. They will say to us both (quote) How many German divisions will you be engaging in the summer of 1943? How many have you engaged in 1942? (unquote). They will certainly demand a strong second front in 1943 by the heavy invasion of the Continent either from the west or from the south or from both. This sort of argument, of which I had plenty in Moscow, requires to be met either by principals or by naval and shipping authorities who would certainly have to be present. It would be very difficult to spare all our Chiefs for so long at this time.
- Stalin talked to me in Moscow in the sense of being willing to come to meet you and me somewhere this winter,
and he mentioned Iceland. I pointed out that England was no farther and more convenient. He neither accepted nor rejected the idea. At the same time, apart from the climate, there is a lot to be said for a new triple Atlantic Conference in Iceland. Our ships might lie together in Halfjord and we would place a suitable ship at Stalin’s disposal wearing the Soviet flag pro tem. He talked with some zest of his desire to fly and of his confidence in the Russian machines. Only at a meeting between principals will real results be achieved. What about proposing it for January? By that time Africa should be cleared and the great battle in South Russia decided.
- I may add that if ever I can persuade you to come to Iceland I shall never be satisfied unless you look in on this small place before returning.
War Cabinet and
Service Ministers [Defence Committee - deleted] (for information)
What is this source?
This is a copy of a telegram from Winston Churchill to President Roosevelt in November 1942. It offers Churchill’s views on meeting with Stalin and makes the suggestion that Britain and the United States should agree a joint position before any conferences with the Russians.
Background to this source
Here Churchill refers to himself as ‘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 Soviet Union had been invaded by Germany in June 1941 and a decisive battle was being fought in Southern Russia in the city of Stalingrad. At the same time the British and Americans were successfully defeating German and Italian forces in North Africa. Stalin wanted the British and Americans to open up a new front by attacking German forces either in Italy and Greece, or by invading across the English Channel into France. This would force Germany to remove troops from the war in Russia to defend their conquests in the West. Churchill had already met with Stalin in Moscow in August 1942 and was now proposing a meeting with Roosevelt as well to discuss how to fight the war.
Churchill had successfully convinced Roosevelt that defeating Germany in Europe should be America’s priority instead of fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. However, Churchill also had to accept that America was now the leader of the Allied coalition, and he was determined that Roosevelt should continue to regard Britain, rather than the Soviet Union, as America’s most important ally. Churchill wanted to ensure that Britain remained a leading power in planning how the war would be fought, and hoped to use his good relationships with both Roosevelt and Stalin to achieve this.
How can we use this source in the investigation?
Remember we are hoping that this source can be useful to us in investigating what was special about the relationship between Britain and America in the latter years of the Second World War. Sources usually help historians in two ways:
Surface level: details, facts and figures
- Why is Churchill writing to Roosevelt?
- What arguments does Churchill make for why he and Roosevelt should personally meet with Stalin?
- Does Churchill give any indication where he would really like the meeting to be held?
- Why does Churchill think Iceland would be a good location for this meeting?
- What do you think Churchill is hoping Roosevelt’s response will be?
- Look at the words Churchill uses to try and persuade Roosevelt to visit England and the way he refers to himself as “Former Naval Person”. Can you infer anything about which of them is in the stronger position from Churchill’s choice of words?
Deeper level: inferences and using the source as evidence
Which of the inferences below can be made from this source?
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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 Soviet Union was becoming more important to America in winning the war
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Churchill wanted to show that he knew Stalin well and could influence him
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Churchill is worried that the relationship between Britain and America might become less important in the future
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There was a special relationship between Britain and America during WW2
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Need help interpreting the source?
- At first glance, this source seems to just be considering the details of organizing a meeting between the USA, USSR and UK. However, there are some important underlying issues which we can also infer from it.
- The telegram provides us with a glimpse of the state of relations between the three allies and the main points of agreement and tension between them.
- Churchill is keen that Stalin should personally attend the proposed meeting, rather than being represented by his officers. Churchill himself was very reluctant to trust his subordinates (especially the military) with major strategic decisions.
- The telegram was written by Churchill, and as such it reveals much about his main concerns. For example, he seems anxious that the UK might be side-lined.
- The source also provides us with a sense of the relationship between the USA and the UK specifically. Some might suggest that there is a somewhat desperate tone to this telegram.
- Churchill repeatedly pressed Roosevelt to visit the UK but something always prevented a visit actually taking place. Roosevelt had frequent health difficulties but he was also keen to avoid provoking Soviet suspicions about being excluded from discussions and concerned about the possible negative political impact of a visit in the United States.
Explore the guide to interpreting telegrams
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