Public wants a Second Front to help Russia

A Churchill tank leaves a tank landing craft (TLC 121) during a combined operations exercise at Thorness Bay on the Isle of Wight, 27 May 1942.

The King inspects an airborne jeep fitted with a Vickers machine-gun during a visit to airborne forces in Southern Command, 21 May 1942. With him is Major-General Frederick 'Boy' Browning, GOC 1st Airborne Division.

It wasn’t just the Russian delegation to Britain that was urging the opening of a ‘Second Front’ in Europe. Initial U.S. military opinion was that it might be possible to launch an operation to establish a bridgehead in northern France. Yet the more the issue was examined it became apparent how impossible the task was with the resources currently available. However, the stark facts and assessments of British military capability available to those directing the war were not known to the man in the street.

Molly Panter-Downes summed up the public mood in her New Yorker column for 24th May 1942:

While Parliament was gravely debating war strategy last week, most Britons, whether inside Westminster or out, were preoccupied with what was happening on the Russian battle fronts. All other news seemed pale before the crucial importance of this. The mood of the moment here is something like the impatience of a pugnacious fellow who feels that he’s destined to hang around holding coats while the greatest fight in history is going on under his nose.

The way the ordinary man is talking seems to indicate that politicians and editorial writers might as well save their breath to cool their porridge for all the good it’s doing in cooling public opinion. It’s apparently useless for them to point out that the R.A.F. is regularly battering Germany’s production bases, that the steady stream of British war material to Russia continues at considerable sacrifice to this country, and that Britain is already fighting on three fronts – the Pacific, the Middle East, and the Atlantic.

From the tone of private conversations and public utterances at mass meetings, it appears that the British people can’t or won’t recognize the existence of any substitute for a genuine, slap-up opening of a land offensive on the Continent. Although stern things have been said in the House of Commons about uninformed, emotional vox populi clamor, the same kind of clamor has demonstrated its power before now in this war by throwing Chamberlain out and bringing Churchill and Cripps in.

See Mollie Panter-Downes: London War Notes 1939-1945

Troops from 7th Battalion, Royal Northumberland Fusiliers charge ashore during invasion exercises at Greencastle in Northern Ireland, 8 May 1942.

Tracer ammunition being fired from Bren guns over the heads of troops crossing a lake in collapsible boats, during a night exercise at Llanberis in Wales, 7 May 1942.

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