British and Soviets argue over ‘Second Front’

Winston Churchill and the Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov signed an alliance on the 22nd May 1942. A general scene showing delegates enjoying a walk in the gardens of 10 Downing Street, following the signing of the Anglo-Soviet Alliance.

The war’s new alliance between Britain and Soviet Russia found formal expression with the signing of a treaty when a Soviet delegation met Churchill in London, before travelling on to see Roosevelt. Behind the scenes the Soviets were arguing for much more Allied action, preferably the opening up of a ‘Second Front’ in Europe, to divert German resources away from the Eastern Front.

Churchill was convinced that the British, even with American help, were far from being capable of launching an offensive across the Channel. The situation was summed up in a memorandum for the British War Cabinet on 22nd May:

First, with the best will and endeavour, it was unlikely that any move we could make in 1942, even if it were successful, would draw off large numbers of enemy land forces from the Eastern Front. In the air, however, the position was different; in the various theatres of war we were already containing about one-half of the Fighter and one-third of the German Bomber strength. If our plan for forcing air battles over the Continent proved successful, the Germans might be faced with the choice either of seeing the whole of their fighter air force in the West destroyed, or of making withdrawals from their air strength in the East.

The second point related to M. Molotov’s proposition that our aim should be to draw off (including those now in the West) not less than 40 German divisions from Russia. It should be noted that, at the present time, we had confronting us in Libya 11 Axis divisions, of which 3 were German, the equivalent of 8 German divisions in Norway, and 25 German divisions in France and the Low Countries. These totalled 44 divisions.

But we were not satisfied with that, and if any further effort could be made or plan devised, provided it was sound and sensible, for drawing the weight off Russia this year, we should not hesitate to put it into effect. Clearly, it would not further either the Russian cause or that of the Allies as a whole if, for the sake of action at any price, we embarked on some operation which ended in disaster and gave the enemy an opportunity for glorification at our discomfiture.

Thus, to sum up, we and the United States would do everything that was physically possible to meet the wishes of the Russian Government and Nation in this matter.

From the British War Cabinet Minutes and Discussion Papers see TNA CAB 66/24/49

'North-Western Front. From left: Senior Sergeant Fominykh and Sergeant Khizmatulin shooting at the enemy.'Despite the propaganda images the Soviet Army was once again suffering serious reverses against the German Army. An overconfident offensive launched at Stalin's insistence was now being pushed back.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Bill May 28, 2017 at 5:31 pm

I disagree. The Second Front began in July, 1943 with the invasion of Sicily. The Sicilian campaign consumed over 170,000 Axis forces and forced the cancellation of a German offensive against Kursk, thus providing some relief on the Eastern Front.

The overall Italian campaign destroyed the German 10th Army and removed Italy from the war. I would argue that it was at least as effective, and in many ways more so, than Overlord in relieving pressure off of the Soviets, since by June, 1944 the Germans were already in retreat in the East.

Editor April 3, 2013 at 12:51 pm

I think it is a mistake to equate the Dieppe raid with the ‘Second Front’, which did not materialise until D-Day. These are the original papers from the British War Cabinet, copies of which were sent to the Commonwealth Governments, including Canada.

John Michaels April 3, 2013 at 1:43 am

The Canadians had the biggest part in this matter. It was 5,000 Canadians and only 50 American Rangers at the Dieppe Raid. What the hell is wrong with your sources???

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