Joseph Kennedy: The British are a lost cause

Joseph Kennedy

Joseph Kennedy, the United States Ambassador to London in 1940, and father of future
President J. F. Kennedy, was notoriously gloomy about British prospects in the war. However Roosevelt was taking soundings from many quarters and a U.S. military mission to Britain took an entirely different view.

Britain, and her Empire, now stood alone in her defiance of Hitler. Germany was completely dominant in Europe and to many people around the world it seemed futile for Britain to carry on. The Blitz seemed to be the final straw, there could be no doubt that the bombers were inflicting serious damage on Britain. The propaganda message ‘Britain can take it’ seemed to be belied by the dreadful destruction that lay all around. Furthermore there seemed no reason why Hitler should give up. All he had to do was keep battering Britain until she came to terms – and that would be the end of the war, with a new settlement in Europe.

There were plenty in America who agreed with this perspective. There were many in Roosevelt’s government who were heartened by the decision of Churchill to fight on, and saw in the action to neutralise the French fleet at Mers el Kebir, a ruthless determination to see it through. But there were also those who doubted the capacity of the British to carry on. One of the most respected voices was that of the US Ambassador to Britain, Joseph Kennedy, the man on the spot reporting back to the President:

Secretary of State, Washington DC

From United States Ambassador, Joseph Kennedy

Dateline: London, 27 September

For the President and the Secretary

The night raids are continuing to do, I think, substantial damage, and the day raids of the last three days have dealt most serious blows to Bristol, Southampton, and Liverpool. Production is definitely falling, regardless of what reports you may be getting, and with transportation smashed up the way it is, the present production output will continue to fall.

My own feeling is that… [the British] are in a bad way. Bombers have got through in the daytime on the last three days, and on four occasions today substantial numbers of German planes have flown over London and have done some daylight bombing.

I cannot impress upon you strongly enough my complete lack of confidence in the entire [British] conduct of this war. I was delighted to see that the President said he was not going to enter the war, because to enter this war, imagining for a minute that the English have anything to offer in the line of leadership or productive capacity in industry that could be of the slightest value to us, would be a complete misapprehension.

This extract from a speech Churchill had made before he became Prime Minister was typical of the official British attitude - and surveys showed that he had widespread popular support.

This poster with an extract from a speech Churchill had made before he became Prime Minister was typical of the official British attitude – and surveys showed that he had widespread popular support.

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: