U.S. and British Military Chiefs meet

Winston Churchill walking the deck of the battleship HMS Prince of Wales during the Atlantic Conference.

As well as the discussions between Churchill and Roosevelt that would lead to the declaration known as the Atlantic Charter, the military Chiefs of Staffs also started a discussion about war strategies. The United States was not at war at this stage but the record of the meeting suggests that some present thought it only a matter of time:

The discussions were conducted in a frank and friendly atmosphere. The Americans, while ready to listen to our point of view, took every opportunity of impressing upon us the many problems and difficulties which confronted them.

These may be summarised as follows :-—

(i) America is as yet far from being prepared for active operations on a war footing. While the American Navy is in a more advanced state of readiness, the building up, training and equipping of the American army and air corps is still in embryo and the shortage of equipment is acute.

(li) American public opinion, as well as their Chiefs of Staff, will insist upon a considerable measure of new equipment being allotted to their new army and air forces.

(iii) Subject to (i) and (ii) above, the Americans will in time give us much material.

(iv) We are not, however, the only claimants. The Russian demands and, to a lesser degree, the demands of other friends, e.g., China, cannot be set aside.

Strategical Discussions.

In their present non-belligerent state the American Chiefs of Staff are primarily concerned with questions of supply and organisation. They have, however, taken away with them, and will shortly comment on, a Review of general strategy which we had prepared for them.

We think that their main comment will be that we attach too much importance to the bombing offensive and that we have given the production of heavy bombers an unduly high priority. We found that they had only vague ideas as to the employment of their forces if they came into the war.

From the British War Cabinet Minutes and Discussion Papers see TNA CAB 66/18/25

This was just the first of many military conferences between Britain and America throughout the war, during which tensions much more significant than this would arise. Such tensions would be overcome and this was a significant step in the forging of the ‘Special Relationship’ as a practical reality.

There were also tensions at a political level. Arguably the most important outcome of the conference was the formal declaration that became known as the Atlantic Charter. It was not a statement of war aims – the U.S. was not at war and it was by no means inevitable that it would join the war – even though it was making a clear statement about which side it was on. The important principles

First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;

Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;

Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;

were clearly aimed at the occupied nations of Europe. Churchill had some difficulty with some of the propositions put forward by Roosevelt. Britain still had a worldwide Empire so the notion of national self determination for all countries was not entirely in accord with his world view.

Churchill put forward a series of amendments to the original proposal drawn up by Roosevelt.

The full text of the Charter can be read at the Avalon Project.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Ann October 22, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Wonderful site – congratulations.

I’d like to see more on the Battle of France, Churchill’s famous speech after the French request for an armistice ending with the words “…their finest hour, ” ( audio anyone ?! ) and, last but not least, Force “H” and the face-off with the French at Mers el Kebir.

Best regards,

Ann

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