Churchill … Polish – German border to be redrawn

Polish farmers killed by German forces in German-occupied Poland, 1943.
Poland had suffered terribly during the war, apart from the Holocaust in which around three million Polish Jews were murdered, nearly the same number of non Jewish Poles are believed to have been killed during the German occupation. Polish farmers killed by German forces in German-occupied Poland, 1943.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. The original German caption reads: "These bandits resisted by force of arms". Picture taken at Nowolipie street looking East, near intersection with Smocza street. In the back one can see ghetto wall with a gate.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943. The original German caption reads: “These bandits resisted by force of arms”.

In 1939 Britain had gone to war over the independence of Poland. She had then been unable to materially assist the Poles as first the Germans and then the Russians dismembered the country. Now the Soviet army occupied Poland and it began to look like Stalin was intent upon imposing his own, communist, regime.

On 27th February Churchill reported to Parliament about the results of the recent Yalta conference, when the division of Germany had been discussed amongst the ‘Big Three’. The division of Europe was a more contentious issue. In Parliament Churchill was putting a brave face on it.

In private he was having serious doubts about Stalins’s intentions. He conceded to his Private Secretary that Roumania and Bulgaria would be under communist domination, although he thought he had secured Greece’s independence in exchange. He told John Colville ” I have not the slightest intention of being cheated over Poland, not even if we go to the verge of war with Russia.”

The Crimea Conference finds the Allies more closely united than ever before, both in the military and in the political sphere.

Let Germany recognise that it is futile to hope for division among the Allies and that nothing can avert her utter defeat. Further resistance will only be the cause of needless suffering. The Allies are resolved that Germany shall be totally disarmed, that Nazism and militarism in Germany shall be destroyed, that war criminals shall be justly and swiftly punished, that all German industry capable of military production shall be eliminated or controlled, and that Germany shall make compensation in kind to the utmost of her ability for damage done to Allied Nations.

On the other hand, it is not the purpose of the Allies to destroy the people of Germany, or leave them without the necessary means of subsistence. Our policy is not revenge; it is to take such measures as may be necessary to secure the future peace and safety of the world. There will be a place one day for Germans in the comity of nations, but only when all traces of Nazism and militarism have been effectively and finally extirpated.

One must regard these 30 years or more of strife, turmoil and suffering in Europe as part of one story. I have lived through the whole story since 1911 when I was sent to the Admiralty to prepare the Fleet for an impending German war. In its main essentials it seems to me to be one story of a 30 years’ war, or more than a 30 years’ war, in which British, Russians, Americans and French have struggled to their utmost to resist German aggression at a cost most grievous to all of them, but to none more frightful than to the Russian people, whose country has twice been ravaged over vast areas and whose blood has been poured out in tens of millions of lives in a common cause now reaching final accomplishment.

There is a second reason which appeals to me apart from this sense of continuity which I personally feel. But for the prodigious exertions and sacrifices of Russia, Poland was doomed to utter destruction at the hands of the Germans. Not only Poland as a State and as a nation, but the Poles as a race were doomed by Hitler to be destroyed or reduced to a servile station.

Three and a half million Polish Jews are said to have been actually slaughtered. It is certain that enormous numbers have perished in one of the most horrifying acts of cruelty, probably the most horrifying act of cruelty, which has ever darkened the passage of man on the earth.

When the Germans had clearly avowed their intention of making the Poles a subject and lower grade race under the Herrenvolk, suddenly, by a superb effort of military force and skill, the Russian Armies, in little more than three weeks, since in fact we spoke on these matters here, have advanced from the Vistula to the Oder, driving the Germans in ruin before them and freeing the whole of Poland from the awful cruelty and oppression under which the Poles were writhing.

[He then described how the border lines for Poland would be drawn, with Soviet Russia moving to the ‘Curzon line’ in the east and Poland acquiring German territory in the west in compensation]

But even more important than the frontiers of Poland, within the limits now disclosed, is the freedom of Poland. The home of the Poles is settled. Are they to be masters in their own house? Are they to be free, as we in Britain and the United States or France are free? Are their sovereignty and their independence to be untrammelled, or are they to become a mere projection of the Soviet State, forced against their will by an armed minority, to adopt a Communist or totalitarian system?

Well, I am putting the case in all its bluntness. It is a touchstone far more sensitive and vital than the drawing of frontier lines. Where does Poland stand? Where do we all stand on this?

Most solemn declarations have been made by Marshal Stalin and the Soviet Union that the sovereign independence of Poland is to be maintained, and this decision is now joined in both by Great Britain and the United States.

Here also, the world organisation will in due course assume a measure of responsibility. The Poles will have their future in their own hands, with the single limitation that they must honestly follow, in harmony with their Allies, a policy friendly to Russia. That is surely reasonable …

Statement by Winston Churchill to the House of Commons, 27 February 1945

See also John Colville: The Fringes of Power: 10 Downing Street Diaries, 1939-1955.

Exhausted soldier of the Polish Home Army emerging from a sewer after escaping from German encirclement. One of his fellow soldiers pulls out his submachine gun of the sewer hatch.
A year after the Jewish ghetto uprising the rest of Warsaw had launched their own insurrection. An exhausted soldier of the Polish Home Army emerging from a sewer after escaping from German encirclement. One of his fellow soldiers pulls out his submachine gun from the sewer hatch. Stalin had ordered the nearby Red Army not to go to the aid of the Poles.
The destroyed city of Warsaw, January 1945.
The destroyed city of Warsaw, January 1945.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin meet at Yalta

'The Big Three': Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin sit for photographs during the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
‘The Big Three’: Winston Churchill, Franklin D Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin sit for photographs during the Yalta Conference in February 1945.
President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill confer during a lunch break at the Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference.
President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill confer during a lunch break at the Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference.

On the 5th February the ‘Big Three’ met once more, this time in the Crimean resort of Yalta. There were momentous decisions to be reached about how Germany was to be divided up after the war, whether they should seek reparations from Germany, how the new United Nations ‘World Organisation’ was going to operate, and much more.

The Soviet Union’s entire economy had been thrown over to war production and, with most of western Russia laid waste, there were few resources spare even for this international event. The plumbing for the partially rebuilt buildings that would accommodate the dignitaries had had to come from various Moscow hotels, where it would be returned after the conference – never to work satisfactorily ever again.

Maureen Stuart-Clark was a Women’s Royal Naval Service aide to Admiral James Somerville, who she referred to as ‘Uncle Jim’, one of the British delegates. She was very impressed with the female Soviet Army guards, armed with Tommy guns, who were ‘immense, tough and had the largest legs I had ever seen’. She was not quite so impressed with some of the other arrangements:

Eventually we arrived at the Voronthov [sic] Palace where the British Chiefs of Staff were going to be accommodated. It was quite the ugliest place I have ever seen — built in a mixture of Moorish and Gothic styles. The entrance at either end was Gothic with castle like turrets and gate, while the centre was Moorish with minarettes [sic] and domes. It had been built for Prince Yusof who killed Rasputin and had not been destroyed because it had been promised to the German General who captured the Crimea, and had left it till too late to destroy it.

We found the rest of us were housed in two sanatoriums between five and ten minutes drive down the road. They had been old Palaces, partially destroyed by the Germans and rebuilt especially for this occasion. We spent the first event desperately trying to organise luggage, office papers etc. and tempers were fairly short.

Most of the Kremlin guard had come down to act as guards and sentries, and they looked very smart in their khaki uniforms with their high boots, red and blue caps, gold braid etc. They had sent down hordes of interpreters from Moscow — mainly women — who spoke excellent English although they had never left the country. Actually the whole thing was rather superficial and unreal.

Russia is definitely a hard, ruthless country and yet they had laid on the most terrific show for the British, which includes maids in caps, aprons and high heeled shoes which they had never worn before and consequently presented a ludicrous spectacle wobbling unsteadily around; interpreters in new suits and stockings so they would not be inferior to us; vodka, champagne, smoked salmon etc. when the only ration they themselves are certain of getting is black bread; it rather disappointed me as one thought they could have afforded to say ‘We’ve done jolly well on this so you ought to try it and jolly well like it’.

The water was unsafe to drink and the only liquid there was to swallow was the vodka, champagne etc. so we spent the whole time either very definitely muzzy or else parched with thirst! They even brought a lemon tree all the way from Batoum so that there would be lemon for the drinks, but they never thought to provide a simple plug for the basins!

The sanitary arrangements were the most peculiar thing. In our place there was a bath and three showers all in a little hut together down the garden. There was a sweet peasant girl in attendance who scrubbed your back vigorously, irrespective of your sex, in fact there was considerable trouble at first as they all bath and swim in the nude together and couldn’t understand our reluctance to bath with Major Generals or Naval officers at the same time. You ploughed down the garden in your great coat and hoped you wouldn’t get pneumonia returning.

But — the lavatory situation was the grimmest. In the Palace there was a total of 3, one of which was kept for the private use of the P.M. The other two had to provide for the use of the 3 Chiefs of Staff, General Ismay, F.M.s [Field Marshals] Alexander and Wilson, U.J.[Uncle Jim], Anthony Eden, Lord Leathers, Sir Ralph Metcalf, lots of foreign office boys, typists, clerks, sentries, maids, interpreters, Marine orderlies and all the visitors. The result was that we lost all shame and openly discussed the best bushes in the garden which was the only solution.

This account appears in Richard J. Aldrich (ed): Witness To War: Diaries Of The Second World War In Europe And The Middle East

Winston Churchill shares a joke with Marshal Stalin (with the help of Pavlov, Stalin's interpreter, left) in the conference room at Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference.
Winston Churchill shares a joke with Marshal Stalin (with the help of Pavlov, Stalin’s interpreter, left) in the conference room at Livadia Palace during the Yalta Conference.

Churchill arrives in Athens to broker peace

A paratrooper from 5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion, 2nd Parachute Brigade, takes cover on a street corner in Athens during operations against members of ELAS, 18 December 1944.
A paratrooper from 5th (Scots) Parachute Battalion, 2nd Parachute Brigade, takes cover on a street corner in Athens during operations against members of ELAS, 18 December 1944.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill leaving HMS AJAX to attend a conference ashore. Athens can be seen in the background.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill leaving HMS AJAX to attend a conference ashore. Athens can be seen in the background.

The refusal of the communist ELAS resistance fighters to lay down their arms in Greece was now turning into a civil war. The British troops brought in to assist the new Greek government maintain order were now fully engaged in street fighting in Athens.

It was this war zone that Prime Minister Winston Churchill had chosen to fly to on Christmas Day. He now tried to broker a peace with the assistance of the Greek Archbishop. He was accompanied by his private secretary, John Colville, whose diary provides many insights into the life of Churchill during the war. On the 26th December they were on board HMS Ajax in Athens’ harbour:

This morning the sun is shining brightly and I have just persuaded the P.M. to get up and go out on the quarter-deck. From the bridge one can see the smoke of battle in the street fighting west of the Piraeus, and there is a constant noise of shell-fire and machine-guns.

We had a splendid view of Beaufrghters strafing an E.L.A.S. stronghold on the side of one of the hills surrounding Athens. Four of them went round and round, diving with all their cannons blazing and then joining in behind the tail of the preceding aircraft to continue the process. As E.L.A.S. seem to be deficient of flak, however well provided they may be with other weapons, the Beaufighters seem to be having a very pleasant time.

There is no nonsense about fraternising among the troops here, who, to a man, consider E.L.A.S. and all their works utterly loathsome. I have spoken to several and I gather that there is a general sense of anger at the attitude of the British press and certain elements of the Labour Party.

Nobody here has any illusions about the real character of the rebels. On the other hand E.L.A.S., in spite of their diabolical activities, have a strangely obliging side to them. For instance, the telephone exchange is in the hands of E.L.A.S. but they have never yet made any difficulties about our telephoning messages from the aerodrome to G.H.Q., even though these, in the form sent, provide them with no useful information. Macmillan says that they possess many of the qualities and defects of the Irish.

The above was written after lunch and it is now 11.45 p.m. with the bag almost closing.

This afternoon’s events were the purest melodrama. Just before we left the ship we were straddled by shells and another fell quite close as we landed. The meeting with the Greeks was preceded by long sessions at the Embassy, in which the Archbishop figured prominently.

There were photographs in the garden and the Prime Minister made a stirring speech to the staff of the Embassy thanking them for their excellent work in arduous conditions. This gave enormous pleasure both to Leeper [the Ambassador] and to the staff. It looked as if E.L.A.S. would not turn up for the meeting and the Archbishop had made his opening speech and the P.M. was halfway through his, when there were noises off and three shabby desperadoes, who had been searched and almost stripped before being allowed to enter, came into the dimly-lit conference room.

All the British delegation, the American, the Russian and the Frenchman, rose to their feet, but the Greek Govern- ment remained firmly seated. The P.M. was only prevented from rushing to shake the E.L.A.S. people by the hand by Field Marshal Alexander’s bodily intervention.

The proceedings then began all over again and, with the sound of rocket- firing Beaufighters, and bursting mortar shells without, the light of a few Hurricane lamps within and the spectacle of what was surely the oddest galaxy of stars ever assembled in one place, one had continually to rub one’s eyes to be sure one was not dreaming.

See John Colville: The Fringes of Power: Downing Street Diaries, 1939-55

A rifleman acts as 'tail-end Charlie', guarding the commander of a Sherman tank from snipers during operations against ELAS in Athens, 18 December 1944.
A rifleman acts as ‘tail-end Charlie’, guarding the commander of a Sherman tank from snipers during operations against ELAS in Athens, 18 December 1944.

Churchill and Stalin meet at the Kremlin

The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin share a joke in the Krelim, Moscow, in 1942.
The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin share a joke in the Kremlin, Moscow, in 1942.

The Allies now believed that the end of the war was in sight. Attention turned to the post war settlement. Churchill had just been in the United States to confer with Roosevelt. The international negotiations at Dunbarton Oaks, Washington had also been largely completed, where the future structure of the United Nations had been decided. He now travelled to Moscow to meet Stalin.

Aside from the mechanisms of the United Nations the real politik was about the relative sphere of influence amongst the Allies in Europe, particularly in those countries which were emerging from German occupation. Churchill was trying to get the Polish Government in Exile to enter talks with Stalin, but also to sort out which of the Allies were to take primary role in the other countries of eastern Europe. It proved to be relatively easy to deal with Stalin, at least it appeared so at the time.

At ten o’clock that night we held our first important meeting in the Kremlin. …

The moment was apt for business, so I said, “Let us settle about our affairs in the Balkans. Your armies are in Roumania and Bulgaria. We have interests, missions, and agents there. Don’t let us get at cross—purposes in small ways. So far as Britain and Russia are concerned, how would it do for you to have ninety per cent. predominance in Roumania, for us to have ninety per cent. of the say in Greece, and go fifty—fifty about Yugoslavia?”

Churchill's copy of secret agreement (Percentages agreement) with Stalin made in Moscow, October, 1944.
Churchill’s copy of secret agreement (Percentages agreement) with Stalin made in Moscow, October, 1944.

While this was being translated I wrote out on a half—sheet of paper:

Roumania
Russia …90%
The others …10%

Greece
Great Britain …90% (in accord with U.S.A.)
Russia …10%

Yugoslavia …50—50%

Hungary …50-50%

Bulgaria
Russia …75%
The others …25%

I pushed this across to Stalin, who had by then heard the translation. There was a slight pause. Then he took his blue pencil and made a large tick upon it, and passed it back to us. It was all settled in no more time than it takes to set down.

Of course we had long and anxiously considered our point, and were only dealing with immediate war-time arrangements. All larger questions were reserved on both sides for what we then hoped would be a peace table when the war was won.

After this there was a long silence. The pencilled paper lay in the centre of the table. At length I said, “Might it not be thought rather cynical if it seemed we had disposed of these issues, so fateful to millions of people, in such an offhand manner? Let us burn the paper.” “No, you keep it,” said Stalin.

Churchill was certainly acutely aware that such an arrangement was open to misinterpretation. A day later he cabled the British cabinet to explain his thinking:

These percentages which I have put down are no more than a method by which in our thoughts we can see how near we are together, and then decide upon the necessary steps to bring us into full agreement.

As I said, they would be considered crude, and even callous, if they were exposed to the scrutiny of the Foreign Offices and diplomats all over the world. Therefore they could not be the basis of any public document, certainly not at the present time.

They might however be a good guide for the conduct of our affairs. If we manage these affairs well we shall perhaps prevent several civil wars and much bloodshed and strife in the small countries concerned. Our broad principle should be to let every country have the form of government which its people desire.

We certainly do not wish to force on any Balkan State monarchic or republican institutions. We have however established certain relations of faithfulness with the Kings of Greece and Yugoslavia. They have sought our shelter from the Nazi foe, and we think that when normal tranquillity is re-established and the enemy has been driven out the peoples of these countries should have a free and fair chance of choosing.

It might even be that Commissioners of the three Great Powers should be stationed there at the time of the elections so as to see that the people have a genuine free choice. There are good precedents for this.

In the light of subsequent events, when the Soviet Bloc took over eastern Europe the meeting was sometimes interpreted as the carving up of Europe on the back of an envelope. Hopes in the west that “countries should have a free and fair chance of choosing” their governments were very misplaced. The de facto occupation of countries in eastern Europe by Soviet troops meant that Stalin was the one who decided.

Contemporary newsreel footage of the Eastern Front in late 1944:

Churchill makes a day trip to Normandy

Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, chats with Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, on the bridge of a warship (HMS KELVIN) during their voyage across the English Channel en route to General Bernard Montgomery's Headquarters in Normandy, France, 12 June 1944.
Prime Minister, Mr Winston Churchill, chats with Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, on the bridge of a warship (HMS KELVIN) during their voyage across the English Channel en route to General Bernard Montgomery’s Headquarters in Normandy, France, 12 June 1944.
Winston Churchill with Field Marshal Jan Smuts, of the Imperial War Cabinet, (right) and Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, CIGS (Chief of the Imperial General Staff), on board the destroyer conveying his party to Normandy, 12 June 1944.
Winston Churchill with Field Marshal Jan Smuts, of the Imperial War Cabinet, (right) and Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, CIGS (Chief of the Imperial General Staff), on board the destroyer conveying his party to Normandy, 12 June 1944.

Winston Churchill had wanted to accompany the invasion forces on D-Day itself, and had to be dissuaded by the King. He would not allow the visit to be delayed much longer.

On the 12th june the bridgehead in Normandy was still only a matter of a few miles deep and still under intermittent shellfire, and occasional air attack. Inland the clashes with the Panzer units were becoming more serious. Less than a week after the invasion the commanders in the field might be presumed to be fairly busy.

None of this deterred Churchill. He was accompanied by Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff who recorded the day in his diary:

[The Prime Minister’s party left the train at] 7.30 am to catch the destroyer Kelvin and leave Portsmouth at 8 am. The Americans had already started in a separate party. We had a very comfortable journey over and most interesting. We continually passed convoys of landing craft, minesweepers, bits of floating breakwater (Phoenix) being towed out, parts of the floating piers (Whales) etc. And overhead, a continuous flow of planes going to and coming from France.

A concrete caisson
Mulberry Harbour, Arromanches: A concrete caisson weighing 7,000 tons being towed into position in the main breakwater off the coast at Arromanches. These formed part of the Mulberry harbour.

About 11 am we approached the French coast and the scene was beyond description. Everywhere the sea was covered with ships of all sizes and shapes, and a scene of continuous activity. We passed through rows of anchored LSTs and finally came to a ‘Gooseberry’, namely a row of ships sunk in a half crescent to form a sort of harbour and to provide protection from the sea.

A Gooseberry, a line of block ships
A Gooseberry, a line of block ships laid off the beaches at Ouistreham to form a reef before the rest of the Mulberry Port was assembled. The Gooseberry includes the old HMS DURBAN and the Netherlands ship SUMATRA. Two DUKWs can be seen moving amongst the block ships.

Here we were met by Admiral Vian (of Mediterranean fame) who took us in his Admiral’s barge from which we changed into a DUKW (amphibious lorry). This ran us straight onto the beach and up onto the road.

It was a wonderful moment to find myself re-entering France almost exactly 4 years after being thrown out for the second time, at St Nazaire. Floods of mem- ories came back of my last trip of despair, and those long four years of work and anxiety at last crowned by the success of a reentry into France.

General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding 21st Army Group, guides Winston Churchill to his jeep after the Prime Minister had come ashore to begin his tour, 12 June 1944.
General Sir Bernard Montgomery, commanding 21st Army Group, guides Winston Churchill to his jeep after the Prime Minister had come ashore to begin his tour, 12 June 1944.
Winston Churchill lights a cigar in the back of a jeep as he and General Montgomery, commanding 21st Army Group, set out on a tour inland, 12 June 1944.
Winston Churchill lights a cigar in the back of a jeep as he and General Montgomery, commanding 21st Army Group, set out on a tour inland, 12 June 1944.

Monty met us on the beach with a team of jeeps which we got into and drove off on the Courseulles-Bayeux road, to about 1/2 way to the latter place. There we found Monty’s HQ and he gave us an explanation on the map of his dispositions and plans. All as usual wonderfully clear and concise.

Left to right: The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke; Mr Winston Churchill; and the Commander of the 21st Army Group, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, at Montgomery's mobile headquarters in Normandy.
Left to right: The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke; Mr Winston Churchill; and the Commander of the 21st Army Group, General Sir Bernard Montgomery, at Montgomery’s mobile headquarters in Normandy.

We then had lunch with him and my thoughts wandered off to 4 years ago when I was at Le Mans and Laval waiting for Monty and his 3rd Division to join me. I knew then that it would not be long before I was kicked out of France if I was not killed or taken prisoner, but if anybody had told me then that in 4 years time I should return with Winston and Smuts to lunch with Monty commanding a new invasion force I should have found it hard to believe it.

Winston Churchill watching air activity with other senior officers above General Sir Bernard Montgomery's headquarters, 12 June 1944. Left to right: Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O'Connor, commanding VIII Corps; Churchill; Field Marshal Jan Smuts; Montgomery; Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff.
Winston Churchill watching air activity with other senior officers above General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s headquarters, 12 June 1944. Left to right: Lieutenant-General Sir Richard O’Connor, commanding VIII Corps; Churchill; Field Marshal Jan Smuts; Montgomery; Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff.

After lunch we drove round to Bimbo Dempsey’s HQ. I was astonished at how little affected the country had been by the German occupation and 5 years of war. All the crops were good, the country fairly clear of weeds, and plenty of fat cattle, horses, chickens etc. (As usual Winston described the situation in his inimitable way when driving with me. He said, ‘We are surrounded by fat cattle lying in luscious pastures with their paws crossed!’ This is just the impression they gave one.)

Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey, commanding British Second Army, pointing out a section of the front to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Also in the picture are the Lieutenant General G G Simonds (left), commanding II Canadian Corps and the 21st Army Group commander General Sir Bernard Montgomery (right), Normandy, 22 July 1944.
Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey, commanding British Second Army, pointing out a section of the front to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. Also in the picture are the Lieutenant General G G Simonds (left), commanding II Canadian Corps and the 21st Army Group commander General Sir Bernard Montgomery (right), Normandy, 22 July 1944.

And the French population did not seem in any way pleased to see us arrive as a victorious country to liberate France. They had been quite content as they were, and we were bringing war and desolation to the country. We then returned to Courseulles, having watched a raid by Hun bombers on the harbour which did no harm.

We re-embarked on Vian’s Admiral’s Barge and did a trip right along the sea front watching the various activities. We saw ‘Landing Crafts Tank’ unloading lorries, tanks, guns etc onto the beaches in a remarkably short time.

German POWs help unload a jeep from a tank landing craft near Ouistreham, Courseulles, 11 June 1944.
German POWs help unload a jeep from a tank landing craft near Ouistreham, Courseulles, 11 June 1944.
A DUKW bringing ammunition ashore at Arromanches, 22 June 1944.
A DUKW bringing ammunition ashore at Arromanches, 22 June 1944.

We then went to the new harbour being prepared west of Hamel.

There we saw some of the large Phoenixes being sunk into place and working admirably. Also ‘bombadores’ to damp down waves, ‘Whales’ representing wonderful floating piers, all growing up fast.

Mulberry Harbour, Arromanches: The floating breakwater [bombardons] consisting of hollow steel structures, each weighing 1000 tons, with the waves breaking over them as Britain's Mulberry Port at Arromanches begins to operate as a harbour.
Mulberry Harbour, Arromanches: The floating breakwater consisting of hollow steel structures, each weighing 1000 tons, with the waves breaking over them as Britain’s Mulberry Port at Arromanches begins to operate as a harbour.

Close by was a monitor with a 14″ gun firing away into France. Winston said he had never been on one of His Majesty’s ships engaging the enemy and insisted on going aboard. Luckily we could not climb up as it would have been a very risky entertainment had we succeeded.

HMS Roberts had 15 inch guns and was primarily designed for naval gunfire support.
HMS Roberts had 15 inch guns and was primarily designed for naval gunfire support.

Then we returned to our destroyer and went right back to the east end of the beach where several ships were bombarding the Germans. Winston wanted to take part in the war, and was longing to draw some retaliation. However the Boche refused to take any notice of any of the rounds we fired. We therefore started back about 6.15 and by 9.15 were back at Portsmouth after having spent a wonderfully interesting day.

HMS KELVIN off the Normandy beaches.Winston Churchill is boarding the ship from the Admiral's barge of HMS BELFAST (?) after visiting troops on shore.
HMS KELVIN off the Normandy beaches.Winston Churchill is boarding the ship from the Admiral’s barge of HMS BELFAST (?) after visiting troops on shore.

We got on board the PM’s train where we found Marshall and King. We dined on the way back to London where we arrived shortly after 1 am dog tired and very sleepy!

See War Diaries, 1939-1945 : Field Marshall Lord Alanbrooke

Heavy civilian casualties as the Allies bomb Paris

From a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 December when they attacked the vital CAM ball- bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Paris, France, 1943.
From a B-17 Flying Fortress of the 8th AAF Bomber Command on 31 December when they attacked the vital CAM ball- bearing plant and the nearby Hispano Suiza aircraft engine repair depot in Paris, France, 1943.
Damage to La Chapelle area, Paris, April 1944.
Damage to La Chapelle area, Paris, April 1944.

As Operation Overlord approached there was intense debate within the senior Allied commanders about one aspect of the plan. Churchill’s scientific adviser Solly Zuckerman had devised the ‘Transportation Plan’ – the planned disruption of all rail traffic leading into northern France. The planned called for the diversion of the heavy bomber fleets of the RAF and the USAAF away from targets in Germany to hit railway targets in France.

The head of RAF Bomber Command Arthur Harris, and the head of the new US Strategic Air Forces in Europe, Carl Spaatz opposed the plan. They did not want to be diverted from their bombing of Germany, nor did they think the heavy bombers were suitable for hitting railway targets and would cause too many civilian casualties. The argument went round Eisenhower’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force and went up to Churchill. Eventually the plan went ahead with careful monitoring of French casualties. Some of the earlier raids in March had been very accurate. Arguably, it was only a matter of time before a raid on a railway centre in a densely populated area would cause heavy ‘collateral damage’.

On the 21st April the La Chapelle marshalling yards in Paris were hit. 641 people were killed and 377 wounded, as bad a casualty rate as any during they London Blitz and worse than the number killed during the 1940 Coventry bombing.

Here are some details about the catastrophy. First, a night of utmost uproar. During 2 hours and 15 minutes, a mind-boggling racket. Everything was shaking in the apartment [located in the 7th arrondissement in the very heart of Paris]. At last I went down the stairs and tried to cheer up this excellent Mrs Dantin [the famously bad-tempered doorkeeper, an awful drunkard old lady] who was stricken with panic. The night sky was lighted with flares and fires, and you could see as in broad daylight. I called our warehouse right away, but there was no dial tone. I immediately thought of the worst.

Thus, I woke up at 5am and boarded the first Métro carriage which stopped at Jules Joffrin station. From there I reached, running more or less, the warehouse. Everything was burning. The Porte de La Chapelle was particularly knocked down. All the houses have collapsed on the ground. A bomb exploded over the Métro which is in shambles. From the Porte de La Chapelle to our warehouse [ca. 1 km], everything was flames and devastation. The bombing was very dense. Our warehouse offered a pitiful outlook. I immediately went to the basement where I knew several of our workers had sought refuge. It was intact, which immediately reassured me (…)

And voila. Here, air raid sirens after sirens, bombings after bombings. It’s non-stop! Again this morning, you could see the flying fortresses quite distinctly in the sky. I’m glad that you are over there in the peace and quiet of the province. Life here is becoming really difficult. Lots of people are leaving Paris. Several districts (the 14th arrondissement, the 18th arrondissement, the Plaine St Denis, etc.) were evacuated. In the Plaine St Denis, there were this morning 416 coffins. Several corpses still remain under the rubbles. An entire family, not far from our warehouse, met their end: father, mother, 6 children! Time bombs are still exploding. Fires are thanks God over. (…)

This account was quoted on this forum. There is an analysis of the raid at FranceCrashes.

Contemporary French film of damage caused by the raid.

Through various channels the French protested to London. The argument about the use of heavy bombers, and whether it was necessary to support Overlord continued. In May Roosevelt intervened to support the necessity of SHAEF’s objectives and the planned bombing programme went ahead under Eisenhower’s authority. Eventually the Allies dropped more bombs on France than the Luftwaffe dropped on Britain. See Richard Overy: The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945. Some argued that the French resistance was better placed to attack railway targets accurately – yet that route did not avoid terrible retribution against the local population.

The Métro repair shops in St Ouen were also destroyed during the same Allied bombing raid:
The Métro repair shops in St Ouen were also destroyed during the same Allied bombing raid:

A war barely interrupted by Christmas

Polish boys who are at school in Nazareth
Polish boys who are at school in Nazareth, attended a special Christmas service for Roman Catholics at Bethlehem, Palestine. They are orphans deported by the Soviets to Siberia in 1939 and evacuated from the Soviet Union to Persia and Palestine with the main body of the future 2nd Polish Corps. Now they are undergoing regular army training as their adult counterparts. They met Assistant Chaplain General of the 8th Army, Colonel the Reverend Frederick Llewelyn Hughes MC and Assistant Chaplain General to Palestine, Colonel the Reverend D A Duncan MC. After the service the boys listened to Reverend Hughes and were shown some of the sights in Bethlehem.

All around the world the war continued, with few interruptions in the fighting. Nevertheless, wherever it was possible, there were many who did their best to mark the day with some form of celebration.

The Reverent E. N. Downing was with the 4th Parachute Brigade who, only a few days before, had gone forward to the trenches of the front line in Italy:

Christmas came a few days after we had moved up. Troops noticed with some wonder that the Germans celebrated ‘Heiligenacht’ by ringing the Church bells on their side of the valley. For myself I had felt at something of a loss, for we clearly could not assemble any large number of men for a Service when we were under fire.

My final decision, after consultation, was to have one Service, Holy Communion, at Battalion HQ, and then to go round with the Reserved Sacrament to every position. The only suitable time for the Service was midnight, and I celebrated a real Midnight Mass in a real Stable, with a real Manger for Altar. The whole situation, with the Manger and the danger, stranger than I had ever known, made it the most real and poignant Christmas I ever experienced.

This account appears in Michael Carver (ed) Imperial War Museum Book of the War in Italy: A Vital Contribution to Victory in Europe 1943-1945.

Men of the 2/6th Queen's Regiment celebrate Christmas, 25 December 1943.
Men of the 2/6th Queen’s Regiment celebrate Christmas, Italy, 25 December 1943.

Incredibly in the middle of the bloody struggle for Ortona, which continued to the 28th, Canadians from the Seaforth Highlanders were pulled out of the battle to enjoy a short respite from war:

The setting for the dinner was complete, long rows of tables with white tablecloths, and a bottle of beer per man, candies, cigarettes, nuts, oranges and apples and chocolate bars providing the extras. The C.O., Lt.-Col. S. W. Thomson, laid on that the Companies would eat in relays… as each company finished their dinner, they would go forward and relieve the next company…

The menu… soup, pork with apple sauce, cauliflower, mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, Christmas pudding and mince pie… From 1100 hours to 1900 hours, when the last man of the battalion reluctantly left the table to return to the grim realities of the day, there was an atmosphere of cheer and good fellowship in the church. A true Christmas spirit. The impossible had happened.

No one had looked for a celebration this day. December 25th was to be another day of hardship, discomfort, fear and danger, another day of war. The expression on the faces of the dirty bearded men as they entered the building was a reward that those responsible are never likely to forget … During the dinner the Signal Officer… played the church organ and with the aid of the improvised choir, organized by the padre, carols rang out throughout the church.

Seaforth Highlanders Regiment, War Diary, December 25th, 1943, for more on the battle see Juno Beach.

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill, dressed in his siren suit and dressing gown, stands beside General Dwight D Eisenhower, with General Harold Alexander behind them, at his headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, on Christmas Day, 25 December 1943.
The Prime Minister Winston Churchill, dressed in his siren suit and dressing gown, stands beside General Dwight D Eisenhower, with General Harold Alexander behind them, at his headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, on Christmas Day, 25 December 1943.

In North Africa Winston Churchill was still recovering from pneumonia, which had made him dangerously ill. His family had been summoned and at one point he had told his daughter that, if he died, he would do so knowing that the war would won by the Allies. Now he was bouncing back and in the early hours of Christmas Day was organising a new offensive in Italy. They would sidestep the German defensive line with a new amphibious landing closer to Rome.

Even if it seemed inevitable to many that the war would eventually be won by the Allies, it wasn’t going to happen until many more had died in many different parts of the world.

Berlin, December 1943: victims of a bombing raid are laid out for identification and burial in a gymnasium decorated with Christmas trees
Berlin, December 1943: victims of a bombing raid are laid out for identification and burial in a gymnasium decorated with Christmas trees

This was the British Air Ministry’s take on Christmas celebrations in northern Burma:

Christmas at the Arakan airfields was not the less gay because ofthe hazards of coming encounters. One Spitfire squadron staged a pantomime to which the others came. It was given in a jungle glade on Christmas night, with a clear sky. Between the audience and the airfield men could see in the dusk the paddy ripening into golden shades; behind them lay the forest, in which elephants were trumpeting.

The show was ‘Aladdin’ and the humour ofcourse was local, with Aladdin’s mother a ‘dhobi-wallah’ or washerwoman who made her profits by tearing off shirt buttons and selling them back to the owners. Two navigation lights, red and green, flickered as jewels in the djinn’s turban, while Aladdin’s cave was strewn carelessly with what then were the rarest things in India – Spitfire tyres. Great applause was that night given to the stars in the show, almost every one of whom was destined to be killed in the coming weeks.

For many others there really wasn’t any hint any concession to Christmas:

Ted Johnson was an officer with the Royal Ulster Rifles who had been taken prisoner on the island of Leros during the ill fated British Dodecanese campaign. Late on Christmas Day he finally arrived at a prison camp in Germany where he began a period of solitary confinement:

After the usual “Raus, raus, schnell, schnell” we marched through the snow towards the lights of a camp on the horizon. The welcome we got was no different from any other prison we had so far encountered: wire, grim-looking Wehrmacht soldiers and the predictable rough-looking German Shepherd dog with handler.

The inevitable body search took place again. This time all personal possessions were taken and with Teutonic efficiency were listed in detail. Toilet articles were given back and we were permitted to keep the clothes we wore. We were all issued with a palliasse cover, two wood pulp blankets, one bowl, one knife and one spoon. By now the outlook was worrying!

Next, we were moved into a long low building which contained individual cells. I now saw the truth behind the news about each officer having his own room! No explanation was given as to why or for how long one was being given such personal attention, but by now, since capture, we were becoming used to the devious methods of the “detaining power”. It dawned on me that I was in solitary confinement and that this was a novel way to celebrate Christmas.

There was no meal that evening but a redeeming feature was that my cell was warm. This personal hovel in which I spent the next 10 days measured 15ft x 7ft 6 inches (5 paces by 21⁄2 paces) and contained a bed with straw palliasse, a table and a stool. The metal door had the traditional peep hole, the small window was barred and high out of reach. Twice daily, what passed for food and drink was brought into my cell by a Russian slave labourer under armed escort. It was from one of these unfortunate walking skeletons that I learned why I was incarcerated – interrogation.

For more on the men taken prisoner at Leros see Deddington

Meanwhile on the Eastern Front the fighting went on as usual. What that actually meant for 19th Panzer Division can only be guessed at:

… I shall never forget that extraordinary Christmas Day. A signal came through from 19 Panzer: ‘Am attacked by thirty enemy tanks. No petrol. Help, help, help’— then silence. General Balck absolutely refused to send ‘Leibstandarte’ into action in dribs and drabs, even if this meant the total loss of 19 Panzer Division. Eventually, after nearly six hours of anxious waiting, a signaller handed me a most welcome message from 19 Panzer: ‘We are withdrawing to the west in tolerable order.’

See Major General F.W.Von Mellenthin: Panzer Battles 1939-45.

Christmas at Kavieng--” 25 December 1943
Christmas at Kavieng—-Death and destruction were the gifts bestowed by the U. S. Navy in this scene of resounding havoc at Kavieng, New Ireland on Christmas Day, 1943. Striking heavily at the New Ireland base, Navy planes strafed and bombed Jap [Japanese] cargo and warships with awesome force and accuracy. In the foreground two Japanese escort vessels, roughly the equivalent of our destroyer escorts in size and weight, are smoking from the attack. The foremost of the two was believed sunk. In the background a Grumman Hellcat (F6F) swoops in low near a big cargo ship to continue the deadly strafing.” 25 December 1943

Stalin to Churchill – ‘Let’s shoot top 50,000 Germans’

The 'Big Three' - Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill mat at Tehran at the end of November 1943.
The ‘Big Three’ – Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met at Tehran at the end of November 1943.

In Tehran the ‘big three’, Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill were meeting for their first conference together. Stalin was to press Churchill on whether he was truly committed to the opening of a ‘Second Front’. The decision to invade France had been made by the U.S. and Britain at the Quebec Conference in August. The planning and preparation for Operation Overlord was now proceeding apace. However Stalin was not satisfied until he saw Churchill personally.

In the evening of 29th November there was a dinner hosted by Stalin. The Allies were already beginning to formally address how they were to deal with Germany after the war. During the evening Stalin and Churchill were to argue over the issue – after they had drunk ‘many toasts’.

How serious Stalin was about shooting the ‘top 50,000 German officers’ can only be guessed. Probably Churchill would not have referred to the matter again publicly. However, when the President’s son Elliot Roosevelt later published an account of the exchange, Churchill felt the need to set the record straight in his post war memoirs. It was not the first time, and it would not be the last, that Elliot Roosevelt was accused of embellishing the facts:

Stalin was our host at dinner. The company was strictly limited – Stalin and Molotov, the President, Hopkins, Harriman, Clark Kerr, myself and Eden, and our interpreters. After the labours of the Conference, there was a good deal of gaiety, and many toasts were proposed.

Presently Elliott Roosevelt, who had flown out to join his father, appeared at the door, and somebody beckoned him to come in. He therefore took his seat at the table. He even intervened in the conversation, and has since given a highly coloured and extremely misleading account of what he heard.

Stalin, as Hopkins recounts, indulged in a great deal of “teasing” of me, which I did not at all resent until the Marshal entered in a genial manner upon a serious and even deadly aspect of the punishment to be inflicted upon the Germans.

The German General Staff, he said, must be liquidated. The whole force of Hitler’s mighty armies depended upon about fifty thousand officers and technicians. If these were rounded up and shot at the end of the war, German military strength would be extirpated.

On this I thought it right to say: “The British Parliament and public will never tolerate mass executions. Even if in war passion they allowed them to begin, they would turn violently against those responsible after the first butchery had taken place. The Soviets must be under no delusion on this point.”

Stalin however, perhaps only in mischief, pursued the subject. “Fifty thousand,” he said, “must be shot.” I was deeply angered. “I would rather,” I said, “be taken out into the garden here and now and be shot myself than sully my own and my country’s honour by such infamy.”

At this point the President intervened. He had a compromise to propose. Not fifty thousand should be shot, but only forty-nine thousand. By this he hoped, no doubt, to reduce the whole matter to ridicule. Eden also made signs and gestures intended to reassure me that it was all a joke.

But now Elliott Roosevelt rose in his place at the end of the table and made a speech, saying how cordially he agreed with Marshal Stalin’s plan and how sure he was that the United States Army would support it.

At this intrusion I got up and left the table, walking off into the next room, which was in semi-darkness. I had not been there a minute before hands were clapped upon my shoulders from behind, and there was Stalin, with Molotov at his side, both grinning broadly, and eagerly declaring that they were only playing, and that nothing of a serious character had entered their heads.

Stalin has a very captivating manner when he chooses to use it, and I never saw him do so to such an extent as at this moment. Although I was not then, and am not now, fully convinced that all was chaff and there was no serious intent lurking behind, I consented to return, and the rest of the evening passed pleasantly.

See Winston Churchill: The Hinge Of Fate (The Second World War Vol 4).

In this context it must be remembered that Stalin had ordered the killing of 15,000 Polish officers in 1940, whose bodies were found by the Nazis in the forest of Katyn. It seems doubtful that Stalin would have had any qualms about dealing with the leadership of the German army in the same way. The informal context of putting the proposal to Churchill and Roosevelt suggests he did not really expect them to agree.

Brig. Gen. Elliott Roosevelt, Commander, 325th Photographic WIng (Reconnaissance) 1944-45.
Brig. Gen. Elliott Roosevelt, Commander, 325th Photographic WIng (Reconnaissance) 1944-45.
The following evening. Winston Churchill with President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin at a dinner party at the British Legation in Tehran on the occasion of Churchill's 69th birthday, 30 November 1943.
The following evening. Winston Churchill with President Roosevelt and Marshal Stalin at a dinner party at the British Legation in Tehran on the occasion of Churchill’s 69th birthday, 30 November 1943.

Churchill on the unity of the ‘English speaking peoples’

Winston Churchill addresses American Naval and Army Cadets at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 6 September 1943 on the same day as he was presented with an honourary degree by the university.
Winston Churchill addresses American Naval and Army Cadets at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on 6 September 1943 on the same day as he was presented with an honourary degree by the university.
Winston Churchill receives an honorary degree from Harvard University in Massachusetts, USA, 6 Setember 1943.
Winston Churchill receives an honorary degree from Harvard University in Massachusetts, USA, 6 Setember 1943.

In September 1943 Churchill was still in the USA following his arrival on the continent for the Quebec conference.

On 6th Septemebr he was invited to Harvard University to receive an Honorary Degree. He decided it was “an occasion for a public declaration to the world of Anglo-American unity and amity”. The ‘Special Relationship’ between Britain and the United States was probably at its height, only too soon would its preponderance of power bring the USA to the fore in international relations.

Suddenly the war was going well for the Allies. Both Churchill and Roosevelt felt they had to guard against complacency, knowing how much more had yet to be achieved. Churchill addressed the young men at Harvard:

To the youth of America, as to the youth of Britain, I say, “You cannot stop.” There is no halting-place at this point. We have now reached a stage in the journey where there can be no pause. We must go on. It must be world anarchy or world order.

Throughout all this ordeal and struggle which is characteristic of our age you will find in the British Commonwealth and Empire good comrades to whom you are united by other ties besides those of state policy and public need. To a large extent they are the ties of blood and history. Naturally I, a child of both worlds, am conscious of these.

Law, language, literature – these are considerable factors common conceptions of what is right and decent, a marked regard for fair play, especially to the weak and poor, a stern sentiment of impartial justice, and above all the love of personal freedom, or, as Kipling put it, “Leave to live by no man’s leave underneath the law” – these are common conceptions on both sides of the Atlantic among the English-speaking peoples. We hold to these conceptions as strongly as you do.

We do not war primarily with races as such. Tyranny is our foe. Whatever trapping or disguise it wears, whatever language it speaks, be it external or internal, we must for ever be on our guard, ever mobilised, ever vigilant, always ready to spring at its throat.

In all this we march together. Not only do we march and strive shoulder to shoulder at this moment, under the fire of the enemy on the fields of war or in the air, but also in those realms of thought which are consecrated to the rights and the dignity of man.

Meanwhile the unrelenting business of war continued…

Wellington Mark IIIs (BK347 ‘BT-Z’ and DF640 ‘BT-T’ in the foreground) of No. 30 Operational Training Unit, lined up at Hixon, Staffordshire, for a leaflet dropping ("Nickelling") sortie over France.
Wellington Mark IIIs (BK347 ‘BT-Z’ and DF640 ‘BT-T’ in the foreground) of No. 30 Operational Training Unit, lined up at Hixon, Staffordshire, for a leaflet dropping (“Nickelling”) sortie over France.
Churchill AVRE of 79th Armoured Division with fascine in position, Suffolk, 6 September 1943.
Churchill AVRE of 79th Armoured Division with fascine in position, Suffolk, 6 September 1943.
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing heavy damage to the Heinrich Lanz AG works in Mannheim, Germany following the raid by aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of 5/6 September 1943. Many buildings in the adjoining Lindenhof district have been gutted by incendiary fires (bottom).
Vertical photographic-reconnaissance aerial showing heavy damage to the Heinrich Lanz AG works in Mannheim, Germany following the raid by aircraft of Bomber Command on the night of 5/6 September 1943. Many buildings in the adjoining Lindenhof district have been gutted by incendiary fires (bottom).

Lord Mountbatten demonstrates bullet proof ice

Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, President of the United States of America Franklin D Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in conversation during the Quebec conference on 18 August 1943.
Canadian Prime Minister Mackenzie King, President of the United States of America Franklin D Roosevelt, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in conversation during the Quebec conference on 18 August 1943.

The 19th August 1943 was a momentous day for the Allies as, meeting in Quebec, they finally agreed on the timetable for the invasion of Europe and the establishment of the long awaited Second Front. The Americans had argued for an invasion of France almost since they first joined the war. The British were much less enthusiastic. Largely based on their experiences in France in 1940 and at Dieppe in 1942, they were reluctant to move until they could be confident, not only of landing an invasion force on a hostile shore, but of keeping it properly supplied for an advance into Germany itself.

The secret development of the Mulberry Harbours was to be the war winning innovation that enabled the British to finally accede to American demands to fix a date for ‘Overlord’. The planning for the invasion of France could proceed without the capture of an existing port being an early priority.

But the Chief of Combined Operations was an enthusiastic supporter of another secret project – Habakkuk – the building of massive unsinkable aircraft carriers made from ice. Or rather specially re-enforced bullet proof ice.

Whilst the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Alan Brooke was preoccupied with his discussion with George Marshall, US Chief of Staff, he also had to contend with Lord Louis ‘Dickie’ Mountbatten:

Dickie had come up to me just before our Combined COS [the Chiefs of Staff of the UK and the USA] meeting, at which I knew I was going to have difficulties with Marshall, and asked me if he might explain to the Americans the progress that had been made with ’Habbakuk’. I am afraid that I replied ’To hell with Habbakuk, we are about to have the most difficult time with our American friends and shall not have time for your ice carriers.’ However, he went on asking that I should remember if there was time.

The meeting was, as I expected, a heated one, and halfway through I suggested to Marshall that we should clear the room of the sixty odd officers that had attended these meetings, and that we should have an ’off the record’ meeting to try and solve our differences. He agreed, and after further heated arguments in our closed session we ultimately arrived at an agreement and were just breaking up the meeting when Dickie rushed up to remind me of ‘Habbakuk’!

I therefore asked Marshall if he and the American Chiefs would allow Dickie to give an account of recent developments in Habbakuk. He kindly agreed and we all sat down again.

Dickie now having been let loose gave a signal, whereupon a string of attendants brought in large cubes of ice which were established at the end of the room.

Dickie then proceeded to explain that the cube on the left was ordinary pure ice, whereas that an the right contained many ingredients which made it far more resilient, less liable to splinter, and consequently a far more suitable material for the construction of aircraft carriers. He then informed us that in order to prove his statements he had brought a revolver with him and intended to fire shots at the cubes to prove their properties.

As he now pulled a revolver out of his pocket we all rose and discreetly moved behind him. He then wamed us that he would fire at the ordinary block of ice to show how it splintered and warned us to watch the splinters. He proceeded to fire and we were subjected to a hail of ice splinters!

‘There,’ said Dickie, ’that is just what I told you; now I shall fire at the block on the right to show you the difference.’ He fired, and there certainly was a difference; the bullet rebounded out of the block and buzzed round our legs like an angry bee!

That was the end of the display of shooting in the Frontenac Hotel drawing rooms, but it was not the end of the story.

It will be remembered that when our original meeting had become too heated, we had cleared the room of all the attending staff. They were waiting in an adjoining room, and when the revolver shots were heard, the wag of the party shouted: ’Good heavens, they’ve started shooting now!!’

For more on Habakkuk see an account by Sir Charles Goodeve at UCL University of London.

Chief of Combined Operations: Mountbatten with Combined Chiefs of Staff at the Quebec Conference of 1943. Left to right (at Chateau Frontenac): Lord Louis Mountbatten, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, General Sir Alan Brooke, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, Air Marshal L S Breadner, Field Marshal Sir John Dill, Lieutenant General Sir Hastings Ismay, Admiral E J King, General H H Arnold, Admiral W D Leahy, Lieutenant General K Stuart, Vice Admiral P W Nelles and General G C Marshal.
Chief of Combined Operations: Mountbatten with Combined Chiefs of Staff at the Quebec Conference of 1943. Left to right (at Chateau Frontenac): Lord Louis Mountbatten, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, General Sir Alan Brooke, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, Air Marshal L S Breadner, Field Marshal Sir John Dill, Lieutenant General Sir Hastings Ismay, Admiral E J King, General H H Arnold, Admiral W D Leahy, Lieutenant General K Stuart, Vice Admiral P W Nelles and General G C Marshal.

Contemporary US newsreel covering bombing of Hamburg and quebec conference: