Churchill argues for the invasion of Italy

Inspecting North African bases, Winston Churchill attends a USAAF 414th Bombardment Squadron briefing at Chateau-dun-du-Rhumel Airfield, Tunsia, 31 May 1943. Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial Staff, is seated to Churchill’s right.

Inspecting North African bases, Winston Churchill attends a USAAF 414th Bombardment Squadron briefing at Chateau-dun-du-Rhumel Airfield, Tunisia, 31 May 1943.

After his trip to America for the Trident Conference, Churchill had made his way to Algeria to meet General Eisenhower. He was there to make his case for the invasion of Italy after the occupation of Sicily. As this was going to put Eisenhower in a difficult position Roosevelt had sent along General George Marshall, Chief of Staff, to keep an eye on things.

Churchill was to spend much of his time relentlessly pressing his case. On the 31 May he circulated a paper for discussion.

His Majesty’s Government feel most strongly that this great force, which comprises their best and most experienced divisions and the main part of their army, should not in any circumstances remain idle. Such an attitude could not be justified to the British nation or to our Russian allies.

We hold it our duty to engage the enemy as continuously and intensely as possible, and to draw off as many hostile divisions as possible from the front of our Russian allies. In this way, among others, the most favourable conditions will be established for the launching of our cross-Channel expedition in 1944.

Compelling or inducing Italy to quit the war is the only objective in the Mediterranean worthy of the famous campaign already begun and adequate to the Allied forces available and already in the Mediterranean basin.

For this purpose the taking of Sicily is an indispensable preliminary, and the invasion of the mainland of Italy and the capture of Rome are the evident steps. In this way the greatest service can be rendered to the Allied cause and the general progress of the war, both here and in the Channel theatre.

See Churchill: The Hinge of Fate

Also present when they met later that day was Harry C. Butcher, Eisenhower’s Naval Aide, who was to remember a telling episode in his diary:

Algiers, Monday, May 31st 1943

The Prime Minister came to our house for dinner tonight. The guests numbered thirteen, so I became fourteen in deference to the British superstition.

Ike and General Marshall were cohosts. Present were none less than the British Foreign Minister, Mr. Anthony Eden, General Brooke, and General Ismay.

Sometime during the dinner-table conversation, the question of diaries came up. The Prime Minister said that it was foolish to keep a day-by- day diary because it would simply reect the change of opinion or decision of the writer, which, when and if published, makes one appear indecisive and foolish.

He cited the diary of a British general who had written in his diary one day, “There will be no war.” On the next day war was declared. The diary was published posthumously and, consequently, the general was made to appear foolish.

For his part, the Prime Minister Said, he would much prefer to wait until the war is over and then write impressions, so that, if necessary, he could correct or bury his mistakes.

See Three Years with Eisenhower. The personal diary of Captain H. C. Butcher … Naval Aide to General Eisenhower, 1942 to 1945..

Churchill was to go on to win the Nobel Prize for his account of the war.

Group photograph of participants in the Allied Planning Conference which took place at the Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ) in Algiers on 4 June 1943. From left to right: Mr Anthony Eden, General Sir Alan Brooke, Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, General Alexander, General Marshall (USA), General Eisenhower and General Montgomery. The Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, who presided over the conference, is seen at the centre of the group.

Group photograph of participants in the Allied Planning Conference which took place at the Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ) in Algiers on 4 June 1943. From left to right: Mr Anthony Eden, General Sir Alan Brooke, Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, General Alexander, General Marshall (USA), General Eisenhower and General Montgomery. The Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, who presided over the conference, is seen at the centre of the group.

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