Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin
The war in the Mediterranean theater continued to dominate Churchill's thoughts after he met with Roosevelt at the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. After many frustrating delays, Allied forces (principally British, American, and French) wiped out the last remaining Axis (German and Italian) troops in North Africa. They exploited this success by undertaking operations in Sicily and from there moved onto the Italian peninsula.
Churchill's American allies, however, made known their desire to come to grips with Hitler's armies in northwest Europe in a series of additional wartime conferences. These began with the TRIDENT meeting in Washington in May 1943 and culminated in the first meeting of Churchill, Roosevelt, and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin in Teheran, Iran, at year's end. At the conclusion of the Teheran meeting the Americans and Soviets had overridden Churchill's lingering doubts and had secured a firm commitment to launch a cross-Channel attack in northwest France by the late spring of 1944, together with a supporting amphibious operation in southern France.
In May 1943 Churchill boarded the S.S. Queen Mary for a trip to the United States and another meeting with Roosevelt. At sea, Churchill told Averell Harriman of reported submarines along their course. He explained that he had arranged for a machine gun to be mounted on his life boat: “I won't be captured. The finest way to die is in the excitement of fighting the enemy… You must come with me in the boat and see the fun.”
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In May, 1943, Churchill was in Washington for the TRIDENT Conference, during which the Americans and British agreed to launch the cross-Channel attack in a year's time. He also made a second speech to Congress. Churchill reminded them that “the main burden of the war on land” was still being borne by the Soviet Army on the Eastern Front. He added that the final triumph, in spite of the recent victory in Tunisia, would come only after battles as difficult and costly as those that had followed the pivotal Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War.
Winston Churchill addressing joint session of Congress, 1943. Copyprint. Connally Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (196). LC-USZ62-90452. [Digital ID# cph 3b36803]
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Churchill's son Randolph, a soldier serving with a British Special Raiding Squadron during the invasion of Sicily, wrote his father two letters during the landings. He described the weather conditions, troop morale, and enemy resistance: “So far it has been like clockwork. I trust that by breakfast time good news will be flooding in on you.” The next day, with the operation a success, he wrote, “The whole enterprise in our sector was too good to be true… I do hope it has gone as well with the Americans.”
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Amid the burdens of the war Churchill occasionally found time for diversions and outings. In July 1943, he and Clementine visited the London Zoo, where with one finger he tentatively petted a lion cub.
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In September 1943, with British forces once more on the European continent and the Soviet Red Army moving westward, the war's outcome seemed inevitable. After Italy's surrender to the Allies was announced on September 8, Adolf Hitler declared that he would continue to fight. This Clifford Berryman cartoon portrays the goose-stepping German dictator's attitude as whistling through his own graveyard, while the spirits of Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill look on.
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On his trip to North America for the first Quebec Conference (QUADRANT), Churchill was accompanied by his wife Clementine and his daughter Mary, who served as his aide-de-camp. In Quebec, the conferees discussed plans for the cross-Channel attack—the Second Front—and the development of the atomic bomb. After the conference (August 17-24, 1943), the Churchills went to Washington. Here Mary and Clementine speak with three Women's Army Corps officers while visiting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
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Churchill's military strategy relied heavily on taking the war to the German enemy by means of strategic bombing. This letter to General Ira Eaker, commander of the American Eighth Air Force, was sent through Eaker's superior, General Jacob Devers. Churchill praised Eaker's recent daylight attacks on German industrial targets, which complemented the nighttime strikes made by British Bomber Command. Eaker's campaign would culminate in the costly October 14 raid on Schweinfurt's ball-bearing factories.
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Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met for the first time at Teheran, Iran, from November 28 to December 1, 1943. At the conference, Stalin finally forced the issue of the Second Front. Accusing Churchill of not backing the cross-Channel attack, now code-named OVERLORD, he prodded the Anglo-Americans to take a firm and final stand by naming a supreme commander for the operation. Roosevelt selected U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower, allowing overall command in the Mediterranean to pass into British hands.
U.S. Army Signal Corps. Conference of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Marshal Josef Stalin and Prime Minister Winston Churchill…, 1943. Photographic print. Office of War Information Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (206)
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These color postcards were painted to commemorate the Teheran Conference by placing contemporary characters in a Persian legend. According to the tale, an evil despot (Hitler) once ruled by terror, decapitating men to feed their brains to the snakes (shown as Italian and Japanese) that grew from his shoulders. Three knights (Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill) appeared, first in a dream and later in reality, to destroy the tyrant and restore justice.
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As this summary of a Teheran Conference meeting indicates, Churchill realized that the scale of the proposed cross-Channel attack into Normandy meant that the enemy would know that an invasion was coming. He therefore called for “some form of cover plan” in order to trick the German defenders into thinking the blow would fall elsewhere, causing them to disperse their defenses. “Truth,” he said, “deserves a bodyguard of lies.” The code name BODYGUARD was later given to the Allies' massive deception effort.
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This place card bears the signatures of Winston S. Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Josef Stalin. Averell Harriman kept it as a souvenir of the Teheran Conference.
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After the Teheran Conference, Churchill contracted pneumonia, followed by a heart attack. He was well enough by Christmas Day, however, to discuss military plans with General Eisenhower (left) and Field Marshal Harold Alexander (second from left) in Carthage. Churchill is shown wearing his famous dragon-emblazoned dressing gown over his even more famous “siren suit”—a one-piece zip-front jumpsuit named for its simplicity in putting on quickly at the sound of an air raid siren.
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As the Allies were learning details of the Nazis' ongoing mass-murder program taking place at the Auschwitz death camp, the greatest Anglo-American action of World War II began: the cross-Channel airborne and amphibious attack known as “D-Day.” Churchill enthusiastically supported this operation, long-advocated by the Americans, after some initial hesitation and despite his hopes for an Italian campaign.
On June 6, 1944, the Allied Expeditionary Forces landed more than 150,000 British, Canadian, and American troops on the Normandy coast. The invasion, which was code-named “OVERLORD,” marked the opening of the final drive to defeat German forces in northwestern Europe. A number of deception measures, outlined by Churchill at the Teheran Conference, helped make D-Day a success. The most important of these was “FORTITUDE SOUTH,” the creation of a phantom group of armies that supposedly were to invade the European mainland after the actual Normandy landings. These measures were greatly assisted by the use of highly secret ULTRA intelligence, generated by the British from deciphered radio communications.
Both the war against Nazi Germany and efforts to stop the Holocaust were hampered by anti-Semitism. Axis propaganda sought to portray Churchill, who was sympathetic to Zionist aims and had many Jewish friends, as part of a supposed Jewish conspiracy. Here, he is shown as an octopus fastening his tentacles on the globe. At the same time, Churchill was aware of the persecution of the Jewish people, and in this telegram to Roosevelt he signaled his clear support for their right to fight back through the creation of the Jewish Brigade Group.
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Winston Churchill to Franklin Roosevelt, August 23, 1944. Telegram. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K (213.1). © Crown copyright 1944. Archival Reference # CHAR 20/170/59
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Debate still rages among historians as to whether the Allies could have done more to stop or reduce the atrocities of the Holocaust. By July 1944, it is clear that the Allied leaders knew of the existence of the Auschwitz death-camp complex. In this note to Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden, Churchill supports a request made by the Jewish Agency for Palestine that the Royal Air Force should destroy the railway lines leading to the camp. The operation was never undertaken by British or American forces.
Winston Churchill to Anthony Eden, July 7, 1944. Facsimile. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (213.2)
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Churchill expressed his outrage as the scale of the Nazi atrocities against the Jews became apparent. It was, he said, “probably the greatest and most horrible crime ever committed in the whole history of the world.” Further, “Declarations should be made in public, so that everyone connected with it will be hunted down and put to death.”
Winston Churchill to Anthony Eden, July 11, 1944. Facsimile. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (213.3)
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Six weeks before D-Day, the irrepressible American General George Patton had been quoted in Knutsford, England, as having said that the British and American peoples were destined to rule the world together. Since the Soviets had apparently been left out of this equation, the remark made newspaper headlines. Patton's handwritten diary entry noted that General Eisenhower had “talked to the P.M. about the incident and Churchill told him that he could see nothing to it as Patton had simply told the truth.”
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Churchill worked energetically for the success of OVERLORD—the cross-Channel airborne and amphibious attack known as “D-Day”—albeit with some misgivings. Casualties from such a direct assault might be catastrophically high. Men and equipment would have to be withdrawn from Italy and the Mediterranean, where things looked promising, and they would be sitting idle for several months. Pre-invasion bombing might kill many French civilians. This March 1944 photograph may reflect both Churchill's doubts and OVERLORD commander Eisenhower's suspicion that Churchill's heart was not really in it.
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The Second Front was finally launched on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The invasion's success was due in part to the deception plan that Churchill had outlined at Teheran. The Germans were convinced that the Normandy landings were only a feint and that the main assault was to come later from a phantom First United States Army Group (FUSAG) at the Pas des Calais. As this “HQ. FUSAG” map shows, documents with misleading headings were created. However, it shows the situation at D-Day's end fairly accurately, except that some Allied units are missing so that the Germans would think the assault was on a smaller scale.
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General Eisenhower's “Order of the Day” for the D-Day landings expressed his confidence in all those taking part in the “Great Crusade” to destroy Nazi tyranny: “The free men of the world are marching together to Victory!”
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This photograph shows troops from the First Infantry Division wading ashore under heavy fire at the Normandy beach, code-named OMAHA. Here the first landings resembled Churchill's worst nightmares, as unexpectedly fierce German resistance resulted in the deaths of many American soldiers. The troops finally accomplished their mission, however, and casualties elsewhere on D-Day were not as high as had been feared.
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Although this photograph shows only a small portion of the Normandy landing beaches, it clearly indicates the massive scale of the operation. Churchill was often frustrated by the scarcity of landing craft, such as those shown here. The overriding priority given to OVERLORD, together with the limited number of landing craft available, curtailed his options in planning for new amphibious operations in the eastern Mediterranean and the Balkans.
U.S. Maritime Commission. Bird's-eye view of landing craft, barrage balloons, and allied troops landing in Normandy, France on D-Day, 1944. Photograph. New York World-Telegram & Sun Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (219.3). [Digital ID# cph 3c11201]
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Churchill found it hard to stay away from important military operations and asked Admiral Bertram Ramsay to draw up plans that would allow him to accompany the D-Day invasion force. The Admiral found himself in the difficult position of having to report this request to Eisenhower, who opposed it. In the end, it took the intervention of the King to stop Churchill from going, although he did visit the Normandy beachhead six days after the invasion.
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The Normandy landings and many other British and Allied operations were greatly facilitated by successful code-breaking efforts. For security reasons, information from decrypted German communications intercepts, which was given the code name ultra, was given only to a few high-ranking military leaders. This review of German Air Force (G.A.F) activity, made shortly after D-Day, contains such super-secret information. All persons to whom the review was sent were warned that they should burn their copies after reading them. Clearly not everyone obeyed the requirement.
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The famous Bayeux Tapestry, created in the eleventh century, recounted the successful Norman invasion of England in 1066. This parody appeared on the cover of The New Yorker in July 1944. It portrayed scenes from both the Normandy landings on D-Day and the capture of Bayeux, the first French city to be liberated, on the following day. Featured in the sketch are Churchill, Roosevelt, King George VI, Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery, and a cowering Adolf Hitler.
Cartoon showing D-Day invasion of France by British troops in a parody of the Bayeux Tapestry, 1944. Ink and watercolor drawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (220). LC-USZ62-98021. Rea Irvin, © 1944, Shown Online Courtesy Virginia Irvin Trust.
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Victory and Defeat
For Churchill, the last year of the war was a time of great triumph and bitter disappointment. Allied ground forces began to break through enemy defenses late in July 1944 and were soon threatening Germany itself. A Nazi counteroffensive—the Battle of the Bulge— proved to be only a temporary setback, and the war's outcome seemed certain.
Looming postwar problems, however, cast a shadow over the impending triumph as Soviet armies advanced through Eastern Europe and the Balkans, imposing communism in their wake. Churchill's great wartime partner, Franklin Roosevelt, and his great wartime enemy, Adolf Hitler, both died in April 1945. The European war ended the following month.
Back in London, Churchill's governing coalition dissolved, and he was forced to undertake a political campaign while the sole remaining Axis enemy, Japan, was yet to be defeated. In the middle of the final wartime conference, held in Potsdam, Germany, he learned that the British electorate had turned him and his Conservative Party out of office.
In the fall of 1944, Churchill met Stalin for the so-called TOLSTOY Conference in Moscow. There the two leaders worked out formulas by which the Soviet Union and the Western powers established relative percentages of influence that the three powers would exercise in Eastern Europe after the Germans had been driven out. Also present at the meeting was Averell Harriman, who reported to President Roosevelt that Churchill felt he had “obtained Stalin's approval to keep hands off” Greece.
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At the Yalta Conference (February 4-11, 1945) Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin tried to work out arrangements for the postwar world, especially in regard to Eastern Europe, Central Europe, and the future of the United Nations. This hand-drawn map was intended for use in establishing occupation zones in Germany. Reluctant to make a hasty and final decision on this matter, Churchill said that the Big Three were “dealing with the fate of eighty million people and that required more than eighty minutes to consider.”
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During a dinner held at the Yalta Conference, the topic of a casual discussion turned to leadership in democratic societies. Churchill told Roosevelt and Stalin that “although he was constantly being 'beaten up' as a reactionary, he was the only representative present who could be thrown out at any time by the universal suffrage of his own people and that personally he gloried in that danger.”
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This photograph of the three Allied leaders, meeting for the last time at the Yalta Conference, clearly shows that President Roosevelt's health was declining.
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In March 1945 Churchill visited the American Ninth Army, which formed a part of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's Twenty-first Army Group. Shown here are Churchill, Montgomery, Chief of the Imperial General Staff Alan Brooke, and the Ninth Army's commander, General William H. Simpson. These men are inspecting “dragon's teeth” anti-tank defenses of the Siegfried Line (West Wall) inside the borders of Germany.
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President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945. Churchill's reaction was one of deep sadness: “I was overpowered by a sense of deep and irreparable loss.” He told the House of Commons that Roosevelt had died in “battle harness” with victory in sight: “What an enviable death was his.” From Russia, Clementine Churchill wrote Averell Harriman this condolence note, saying, “No one fought more valiantly than he to save the World. It is cruel that he will not see the Victory which he did so much to achieve.”
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This telegram from Churchill to President Truman, sent on the day after Victory in Europe Day, eloquently captures the spirit of Anglo-American political and military cooperation that marked the Grand Alliance of 1941-1945.
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On May 13, 1945, Winston and Clementine Churchill attended a thanksgiving service at St. Paul's Cathedral in London. The war in Europe had just ended, but the conflict with a fiercely resisting Japan seemed likely to continue for some time to come.
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The new U.S. President, Harry S Truman, is shown here with Churchill at the Potsdam Conference (July-August 1945) in Germany. At Potsdam the assembled world leaders agreed on certain measures to be imposed upon the defeated Germans. They also formulated an ultimatum to the Japanese, vowing to destroy their nation unless they surrendered. Other issues, involving the political fate of Eastern Europe, were not resolved. In the middle of the conference, however, the British electorate turned Churchill out of power.
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Given the extent of Churchill's prestige in Britain and abroad, the defeat of the Conservative Party in the 1945 elections, a defeat that turned him out of office, was somewhat unexpected. One cartoonist compared his dismissal to that of the legendary German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, whom Kaiser Wilhelm II had dismissed in 1890. Imitating a famous drawing of Bismark by Sir John Tenniel entitled Dropping the Pilot, this cartoon of the same title depicts Churchill as a dismissed pilot. After Churchill's defeat in the 1945 British general elections, his wife Clementine told him, “It may well be a blessing in disguise.” Churchill replied, “At the moment it seems quite effectively disguised.” This photograph shows Clementine and her daughter Mary leaving the Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street on July 27, the day after Churchill tendered his resignation from office to the King.
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