Roosevelt and Churchill appeal to the Italians

A captured Italian 305mm gun being fired at night by the British during the Battle for Catania. This was the biggest gun used during the campaign.
A captured Italian 305mm gun being fired at night by the British during the Battle for Catania. This was the biggest gun used during the campaign.
A soldier guards a group of German and Italian prisoners taken at Noto, 12 July 1943.
A soldier guards a group of German and Italian prisoners taken at Noto, 12 July 1943.

The Italians had not had a good war. Even though Mussolini was in alliance with Germany in the ‘Pact of Steel’ he had still not entered the war until he thought both France and Britain were beaten and he could grab a little of the spoils of victory. All his other military adventures had ended in disaster.

He had been thrown out of East Africa. In the Balkans his attempt to invade tiny, poor Albania had seen a reverse campaign which put him on the defensive. Humiliatingly Germany had had to come to his rescue both there and in North Africa, where the British had achieved stunning victories until the Afrika Korps arrived. On the Eastern Front Italian troops had suffered grievously in the retreat following Stalingrad.

Now it did not need much Intelligence from captured Italian prisoners for the Allies to judge the state of morale amongst Italians and Italian troops. The Sicilian troops on Sicily were not making making valiant attempts to defend their homeland, as had been hoped. Instead in many places they were putting up a merely nominal fight before surrendering. Others were ‘self- demobilising’ as they returned to their homes around the island and found civilian clothes.

Now Roosevelt and Churchill appealed directly to Italians to try to edge them out of the war. It was a message re-inforced with threat – Rome would be bombed for the first time on 19th July. This was the carefully worded text that was dropped, in hundreds of thousands of leaflets, on Rome and other Italian cities on the 17th July:

This is a message to the Italian people from the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. At this moment the combined armed forces of the United States and Great Britain, under the command of General Eisenhower and his Deputy, General Alexander, are carrying the war deep into the territory of your country.

This is the direct consequence of the shameful leadership to which you have been subjected by Mussolini and his Fascist regime. Mussolini carried you into this war as the satellite of a brutal destroyer of peoples and liberties.

Mussolini plunged you into a war which he thought Hitler had already won. In spite of Italy’s great vulnerability to attack by air and sea, your Fascist leaders sent your sons, your ships, your air forces, to distant battlefields to aid Germany in her attempt to conquer England, Russia, and the world. This association with the designs of Nazi-controlled Germany was unworthy of Italy’s ancient traditions of freedom and culture – traditions to which the people of America and Great Britain owe so much.

Your soldiers have fought, not in the interests of Italy, but for Nazi Germany. They have fought courageously, but they have been betrayed and abandoned by the Germans on the Russian Front and on every battlefield in Africa from El Alamein to Cape Bon.

Today Germany’s hopes for world conquest have been blasted on all fronts. The skies over Italy are dominated by the vast air armadas of the United States and Great Britain. Italy’s seacoasts are threatened by the greatest accumulation of British and Allied sea-power ever concentrated in the Mediterranean.

The forces now opposed to you are pledged to destroy the power of Nazi Germany, which has ruthlessly been used to inict slavery, destruction, and death on all those who refuse to recognise the Germans as the master race.

The sole hope for Italy’s survival lies in honourable capitulation to the overwhelming power of the military forces of the United Nations. If you continue to tolerate the Fascist régime, which serves the evil power of the Nazis, you must suffer the consequences of your own choice.

We take no satisfaction in invading Italian soil and bringing the tragic devastation of war home to the Italian people; but we are determined to destroy the false leaders and their doctrines which have brought Italy to her present position. Every moment that you resist the combined forces of the United Nations – every drop of blood that you sacrice-can serve only one purpose: to give the Fascist and Nazi leaders a little more time to escape from the inevitable consequences of their own crimes.

All your interests and all your traditions have been betrayed by Germany and your own false and corrupt leaders; it is only by disavowing both that a reconstituted Italy can hope to occupy a respected place in the family of European nations.

The time has now come for you, the Italian people, to consult your own self-respect and your own interests and your own desire for a restoration of national dignity, security, and peace.

The time has come for you to decide whether Italians shall die for Mussolini and Hitler – or live for Italy, and for civilisation.

ROOSEVELT
CHURCHILL

A civilian resident of Misterbianco, near Catania, paints the slogan 'Viva England' on a wall after the village had been occupied by the Eighth Army.
A civilian resident of Misterbianco, near Catania, paints the slogan ‘Viva England’ on a wall after the village had been occupied by the Eighth Army.
Troops play with small children near Solarino, 13 July 1943.
Troops play with small children near Solarino, 13 July 1943.

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 reflect 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.

The Germans surrender in North Africa

A captured German Tiger I tank, 6 May 1943.
A captured German Tiger I tank, 6 May 1943.
Troops with captured German Nebelwerfer rocket launchers, 7 May 1943.
Troops with captured German Nebelwerfer rocket launchers, 7 May 1943.
Troops from 6th Armoured Division gather round a road sign during the advance on Tunis, 6 May 1943.
Troops from 6th Armoured Division gather round a road sign during the advance on Tunis, 6 May 1943.
British troops advance warily through Bizerta, 8 May 1943.
British troops advance warily through Bizerta, 8 May 1943.

As Churchill arrived in the USA he received a telegram from North Africa:

12th May 1943

General Alexander to Prime Minister

The end is very near. Von Arnim has been captured, and prisoners will most likely be over 150,000. All organised resistance has collapsed, and only pockets of enemy are still holding out. It appears that we have taken over 1,000 guns, of which 180 are 88-mm, 250 tanks, and many thousands of motor vehicles, many of which are serviceable. German prisoners driving their own vehicles formed a dense column on the road from Grombalia to Medjez el Bab all day to-day.

My next telegram, denoting the formal end of the campaign, will follow, I hope, in a few hours.

Total prisoners, once they were counted, came closer to 250,000, bringing the Italian and German losses for the North African campaign to nearly one million. They had won nothing from it.

Alan Moorehead, who had chronicled the campaign all the way through, was still there at the end. He summed up the mood

The fact that von Arnim himself had not been able to get away was proof of the speed and completeness of our victory. No Axis aircraft had been able to take off into a sky filled with British and American aircraft, no Axis ship of any size had been able to put to sea.

All the Axis generals, with only one notable exception, had now been taken. One after another the famous units, like the 10th Panzer Division, gave up en masse. It is doubtful if more than one thousand enemy troops got away to Italy at the last. In the end a quarter of a million prisoners were taken.

In the southem sector the New Zealanders and the German 90th Light Division broke off their fighting at last. These two divisions were the élite of the British and German armies. For two years they had mauled one another across the desert. We had killed two of the 90th Light’s commanders. The 90th Light had almost killed Freyberg. They had charged up to the gates of Egypt in the previous summer, and it was the New Zealanders who broke the German division’s heart outside Mersa Matruh.

There is hardly a major battlefield in the desert where you will not find the intermingled graves of the New Zealanders and the men of the 90th Light.

And now at last it was all over. Eight minutes to eight o’clock on May 12th is the official time given for the cessation of all organised enemy resistance in Africa.

No special incident marked that moment. This tragedy of three years and three acts simply ended with all the actors crowding on to the stage too exhausted to be exultant or defiant or humiliated or resentful.

At the end the battlefield fell to pieces and lost all pattern and design, and those who had fought hardest on both sides found they had nothing to say, nothing to feel beyond an enveloping sense of gratitude and rest. The anger subsided at the surrender, and for the first time the German and Allied soldiers stood together looking at one another with listless and passionless curiosity.

The struggle had gone on so long. It had been so bitter. There were so many dead. There was nothing more to say.

The last of the German generals came down to the landing field and was flown off to captivity. The last of many thousand enemy soldiers trudged into the internment camps. And in our ranks the soldiers stripped off their uniforms, washed, and fell asleep in the sunshine.

All Africa was ours.

See Alan Moorehead: The African Trilogy

German troops surrender to the crew of a Stuart tank near Frendj, 6 May 1943.
German troops surrender to the crew of a Stuart tank near Frendj, 6 May 1943.
A German hospital in North Africa just before the capitulation.
A German hospital in North Africa just before the capitulation.
A flotilla of Germans fleeing from the 1st and 8th Armies, found nearly twenty miles out to sea off Cape Bon, Tunisia, were rounded up by the Royal Navy. After weeks of iron rations these German prisoners were glad of good food given to them in the destroyer HMS JERVIS. All the prisoners are German and all except two are anti-aircraft gunners who were bombed out of their gun sites.
A flotilla of Germans fleeing from the 1st and 8th Armies, found nearly twenty miles out to sea off Cape Bon, Tunisia, were rounded up by the Royal Navy. After weeks of iron rations these German prisoners were glad of good food given to them in the destroyer HMS JERVIS. All the prisoners are German and all except two are anti-aircraft gunners who were bombed out of their gun sites.
In bright sunshine a fishing smack can be seen off Cape Bon, Tunisia, crowded with Italian Staff Officers and ten soldiers intercepted by HMS LEMERTON while attempting to reach Italy by sea. This is part of a blockade off Cape Bon by Royal Navy ships, preventing all Axis chances of achieving a "Dunkirk" from Africa.
In bright sunshine a fishing smack can be seen off Cape Bon, Tunisia, crowded with Italian Staff Officers and ten soldiers intercepted by HMS LEMERTON while attempting to reach Italy by sea. This is part of a blockade off Cape Bon by Royal Navy ships, preventing all Axis chances of achieving a “Dunkirk” from Africa.

British prepare to discuss the War with the Americans

Aboard the SS QUEEN MARY, around a conference table sit the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Sir Archibald P Wavell, GCB, CMG, MC, ADC, and Admiral Sir James Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO.
Aboard the SS QUEEN MARY, around a conference table sit the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, Field Marshal Sir Archibald P Wavell, GCB, CMG, MC, ADC, and Admiral Sir James Somerville, KCB, KBE, DSO.
Seated around a conference table aboard the SS QUEEN MARY are, left to right: Air Marshal Sir Charles Portal, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, General Sir Alan Brooke, Mr Winston Churchill. Prime Minister Churchill is presiding over the meeting at the end of the table.
Seated around a conference table aboard the SS QUEEN MARY are, left to right: Air Marshal Sir Charles Portal, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, General Sir Alan Brooke, Mr Winston Churchill. Prime Minister Churchill is presiding over the meeting at the end of the table.

At the Casablanca Conference the Allies had decided that the next objective, after North Africa, should be the invasion of Sicily. What their following move should be remained undecided, and now Churchill and his war staff we on their way to Washington for a further conference to decide the future of the war. They were travelling on the liner, Queen Mary along with 5,000 German prisoners of war under armed guard. It was thought that the Queen Mary was, in most circumstances, too fast a target for U-boats, and she stopped for nothing whilst on Atlantic crossings.

The Chief of the Imperial Defence Staff, Sir Alan Brooke, was prone to using his diary as an outlet for his frustrations. He was subsequently to note that he was in a particularly jaundiced mood when he made this entry.

It was by no means certain that the Allies should invade Italy after Sicily. The British would be pressing for it, arguing that they could not let many Divisions sit idle while they prepared for the invasion of France. The Americans were pressing for the invasion of France as early as possible and wanted no diversions. The matter would be decided in the next few days:

10 May 1943

This should be our last day at sea as we are due to arrive tomorrow morning if we go on defeating submarines as we have done up to the present. There are about 100 of them operating in the North Atlantic at present, but most of them are concentrated further north. There are only two reported in front of us on the approaches to New York. But as we have now also picked up a Catalina flying boat in addition to our two cruisers and four destroyers we should be well protected.

News from Tunisia continues to be excellent. This morning from 10.30 to 11.30 we had our final COS [Chiefs of Staff] meeting on our pro- posed Mediterranean strategy. We then went on to the PM at 11.30 and discussed the Far East strategy till 1.30 pm.

A thoroughly unsatisfactory meeting at which he again showed that he cannot grasp the relation of various theatres of war to each other. He always gets carried away by the one he is examining and in prosecuting it is prepared to sacrice most of the others.

I have never in the 1 1/2 years that I have worked with him succeeded in making him review the war as a whole and to relate the importance of the various fronts to each other.

At 5.30 pm we had another meeting with the PM that lasted till close on 7 pm. We were intended to discuss the Mediterranean strategy, but it was not long before we were drawn off again to his pet of the moment in the shape of an attack on Northern Sumatra or Penang!! A different theatre, but not only that – a theatre entirely secondary to the European one which must remain our primary one!

After the meeting Pound ran a small sherry party for the naval officers in charge of the ship which we were invited to attend. Now I am off to bed, and if we do not meet a submarine we should be in New York fairly early tomorrow morning.

It has been a very comfortable trip, with plenty of work to fill in the time, and we should by now be ready for our conferences with the American Chiefs of Staff. I do NOT look forward to these meetings in fact I hate the thought of them. They will entail hours of argument and hard work trying to convince them that Germany must be defeated first.

After much argument, they will pretend to understand, will sign many agreements and…will continue as at present to devote the bulk of their strength to try and defeat Japan!! In fact Casablanca will be repeated.

It is all so maddening as it is not difficult in this case to see that unless our united effort is directed to defeat Germany and hold Japan the war may go on indenitely. However it is not sufficient to see something clearly. You have got to try and convince countless people as to where the truth lies when they don’t want to be acquainted with that fact. It is an exhausting process and I am very very tired, and shudder at the useless struggles that lie ahead.

See Sir Alan Brooke: War Diaries

Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound and the Prime Minister on the deck of the SS QUEEN MARY.
Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound and the Prime Minister on the deck of the SS QUEEN MARY. Pound was not a well man, with a tendency to fall asleep in meetings. He was discovered to have a brain tumour later in the year and died in October 1943.

Nazis announce Katyn massacre of Polish officers

A German poster purporting to show the murder of the Polish officers in 1940 by the Soviet NKVD. The Soviet Union had invaded half of Poland in 1939 with the agreement of the Germans. Now the Germans tried to distract attention from their own crimes by publicising the massacre.
A German poster purporting to show the murder of the Polish officers in 1940 by the Soviet NKVD. The Soviet union had invaded half of Poland in 1939 with the agreement of the Germans. Now the Germans tried to distract attention from their own crimes by publicising the massacre.
It is unlikely that the murders were committed at the site of the burials, but the German claim was essentially true.
One of the witnesses of the massacre, Parfemon Kiselev, a local resident of Katyn area, listening to Dr Ferenc Orsós, Professor of Forensic Medicine and Criminology at the University of Budapest. Dr Marko Markov, a reader of Forensic Medicine and Criminology at the University of Sofia can be seen on Dr. Orsos' right.
One of the witnesses of the massacre, Parfemon Kiselev, a local resident of Katyn area, listening to Dr Ferenc Orsós, Professor of Forensic Medicine and Criminology at the University of Budapest. Dr Marko Markov, a reader of Forensic Medicine and Criminology at the University of Sofia can be seen on Dr. Orsos’ right. After the Soviet Union reoccupied the area the witnesses ‘refreshed their memories’ when talking to the Soviet authorities and altered their version of events.
German pictures of the site in the Katyn wood were released to the world's press.
German pictures of the site in the Katyn wood were released to the world’s press.
German picture of the excavation of the site.
German picture of the excavation of the site.

On the 13th March 1943 Berlin Radio announced that:

A report has reached us from Smolensk to the effect that the local inhabitants have mentioned to the German authorities the existence of a place where mass executions have been carried out by the Bolsheviks and where 10,000 Polish officers have been murdered by the Soviet Secret State Police. The German authorities went to a place called the Hill of Goats, a Russian health resort situated twelve kilometers west of Smolensk, where a gruesome discovery was made.

It was the start of controversy that would remain unresolved until the end of the Cold War.

The western Allies, principally Britain and America, found themselves caught up in a web of lies and deceit. The evidence pointed very strongly in support of the German claims. The British and Americans knew they were in an alliance with a despotic regime – and that the USSR, communist Russia, was perfectly capable of such crimes. Yet they were also fighting a war in which they depended on Stalin and had to do everything to support his regime.

Churchill’s attitude was expressed succinctly in his memoirs, recalling a meeting with the head of the Polish Government in Exile :

Early in April 1943 Sikorski came to luncheon at No. 10. He told me that he had proofs that the Soviet Government had murdered the 15,000 Polish officers and other prisoners in their hands, and that they had been buried in vast graves in the forests, mainly around Katyn. He had a wealth of evidence. I said, “If they are dead nothing you can do will bring them back.”

This was the harsh reality of war.

Individual corpses were exhumes and examined.
Individual corpses were exhumes and examined.
There was ample identifying  material on the bodies.
There was ample identifying material on the bodies.
The identity disks of two Polish officers.
The identity disks of two Polish officers.

The Soviet state continued to claim that the Germans had been responsible for the crime right up until the Soviet regime collapsed in 1989. They alleged that the Poles were not killed in 1940 by the NKVD, but a year later when the Germans invaded Russia and overran the camps containing the Polish officers held by Russians. Only then were they murdered by the Germans. It was “an act of faith” to believe this said Churchill, in his memoirs, The Hinge of Fate. However many people preferred this version.

Final conclusive proof came with the release of damning evidence by the Russian State prosecutor in 1990:

The secret memorandum signed by Stalin in 1940 authorising the execution of the Polish Officers.
The secret memorandum signed by Stalin in 1940 authorising the execution of the Polish Officers.

TOP SECRET

From the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to comrade STALIN

In the NKVD POW camps and in the prisons of the western oblasts of Ukraine and Belorussia there is currently a large number of former officers of the Polish army, former Polish police officers and employees of intelligence agencies, members of Polish nationalist c-r (counterrevolutionary) parties, participants in underground c-r rebel organizations, defectors and so on. All of them are implacable enemies of Soviet power and full of hatred for the Soviet system.

POW officers and policemen located in the camps are attempting to continue c-r work and are leading anti-Soviet agitation. Each of them is simply waiting to be freed so they can have the opportunity to actively join the fight against Soviet power.

NKVD agents in the western oblasts of Ukraine and Belorussia have uncovered a number of c-r rebel organizations. In each of these c-r organizations the former officers of the former Polish army and former Polish police officers played an active leadership role.

Among the detained defectors and violators of the state-

(Signatures: In favor – Stalin, Voroshilov, Molotov, Mikoyan)

(In margin: Comrade Kalinin – In favor. Comrade Kaganovich – In favor.)

Stalin agitates for a Second Front in Europe

“A rifle regiment marching”. A caravan of the artillery going to the frontline to the north-west of Vyazma
“A rifle regiment marching”. A caravan of the artillery going to the frontline to the north-west of Vyazma

On the 11th March 1943 Churchill had written to Stalin with a long report on the situation of the British and American forces in the west. They were making progress in Tunisia where they were drawing more and more German troops away from Europe. They intended to move against Sicily next. The bombing war against Germany was being intensified. But there was no prospect of a ‘Second Front’, an invasion of occupied Europe in 1943.

The British fear, expressed by Churchill, was that any “premature attack with inferior and insufficient forces” would lead to a “bloody repulse”. The US had at first been enthusiastic for an attack on Europe in 1942. But the more the situation was studied the more it was realised that there were nowhere near enough men in Britain to make such an assault. Nor were any of the other pre-requisites for such an operation – such as air superiority, command of the seas and practical matters such as enough landing craft.

Stalin, of course, was not impressed and he wrote to Churchill on 15th March 1943:

Now as before I see the main task in hastening ofthe Second Front in France. As you remember, you admitted the possibility of such a front already in 1942, and in any case not later than the spring of 1943 There were serious reasons for such an admission.

Naturally enough I underlined in my previous message the necessity of the blow from the West not later than the spring or the early summer of this year.

The Soviet troops spent the whole winter in the tense fighting, which continues even now. Hitler is carrying out important measures with a view to replenish and increase his army for the spring and summer operations against the U.S.S.R. In these circumstances it is for us extremely important that the blow from the West should not be put off, that it should be struck in the spring or in the early summer.

I studied your observations, contained in the paragraphs 8, 9, and 10, on the difficulties of the Anglo-American operations in Europe. I recognise these difficulties.

Notwithstanding all that, I deem it my duty to warn you in the strongest possible manner how dangerous would be from the view-point of our common cause further delay in the opening of the Second Front in France.

This is the reason why the uncertainty ofyour statements concerning the contemplated Anglo- American offensive across the Channel arouses grave anxiety in me, about which I feel I cannot be silent.

See Winston Churchill: The Hinge of Fate

The Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. Western Front. Soldiers of mopping up anti-tank battalion moving toward Vyazma after battles for Rzhev.
The Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. Western Front. Soldiers of mopping up anti-tank battalion moving toward Vyazma after battles for Rzhev.

Churchill declares that the U-Boat war is top priority

A merchant ship sinks stern first after being torpedoed by a U-boat.
A merchant ship sinks stern first after being torpedoed by a U-boat.
A tanker explodes after being torpedoed by a U-boat in the Caribbean.
A tanker explodes after being torpedoed by a U-boat in the Caribbean.

Churchill was back in Britain after his tour of the Middle East and the Casablanca Conference. Throughout the war he remained accountable to the House of Commons and only a year before had had to face two votes of ‘No Confidence’. Now he faced the tricky position of providing Parliament and the British people with a proper picture of the progress of the war whilst at the same time not giving away information that would be of value to the enemy.

On the 9th February he was to give a long speech in Parliament on the ‘War Situation’. For Churchill it was not just about reporting on the situation but building a morale boosting picture that gave the public confidence. In a wide ranging speech one issue dominated:

The dominating aim which we set before ourselves at the Conference at Casablanca was to engage the enemy’s forces on land, sea, and in the air on the largest possible scale and at the earliest possible moment.

The United States has vast oceans to cross in order to close with her enemies. We also have seas or oceans to cross in the first instance, and then for both of us there is the daring and complicated enterprise of landing on defended coasts and also the building-up of all the supplies and communications necessary for vigorous campaigning when once a landing has been made.

It is because of this that the U-boat warfare takes the first place in our thoughts.

An aerial view of a convoy in the Atlantic. During the course of the war 366,852 tons of Allied Merchant shipping were sunk in the Atlantic.
Original caption: ‘An aerial view of a convoy in the Atlantic. During the course of the war 366,852 tons of Allied Merchant shipping were sunk in the Atlantic.’ See comments below for accuracy of this figure.

The waste of precious cargoes, the destruction of so many noble ships, the loss of heroic crews, all combine to constitute a repulsive and sombre panorama. We cannot possibly rest content with losses on this scale, even though they are outweighed by new building, even if they are not for that reason mortal in their character. Nothing is more clearly proved than that well-escorted convoys, especially when protected by long-distance aircraft, beat the U-boats.

I do not say that they are a complete protection, but they are an enormous mitigation of losses. We have had hardly any losses at sea in our heavily escorted troop convoys. Out of about 3,000,000 soldiers who have been moved under the protection of the British Navy about the world, to and fro across the seas and oceans, about 1,348 have been killed or drowned, including missing. It is about 2,200 to one against your being drowned if you travel in British troop convoys in this present war.

Even if the U-boats increase in number, there is no doubt that a superior proportionate increase in the naval and air escort will be a remedy. A ship not sunk is better than a new ship built. Therefore, in order to reduce the waste in the merchant shipping convoys, we have decided, by successive steps during the last six months, to throw the emphasis rather more on the production of escort vessels, even though it means some impingement on new building.

Very great numbers of escort vessels are being constructed in Great Britain and the United States, equipped with every new device of anti-U-boat warfare in all its latest refinements. We pool our resources with the United States, and we have been promised, and the promise is being executed in due course, our fair allocation of American-built escort vessels.

A photograph taken from the bridge of HMS VISCOUNT which gives a good idea of the difficult weather conditions while escorting a convoy during the Battle of the Atlantic. During this operation HMS VISCOUNT and HMS FAME rammed and sank. two German U-boats.
A photograph taken from the bridge of HMS VISCOUNT which gives a good idea of the difficult weather conditions while escorting a convoy during the Battle of the Atlantic. During this operation HMS VISCOUNT and HMS FAME rammed and sank two German U-boats.

On the offensive side the rate of killing U-boats has steadily improved. From January to October, 1942, inclusive, a period of 10 months, the rate of sinkings, certain and probable, was the best we have seen so far in this war, but from November to the present day, a period of three months, that rate has improved more than half as much again.

At the same time, the destructive power of the U-boat has undergone a steady diminution since the beginning of the war. In the first year, each operational U-boat that was at work accounted for an average of 19 ships; in the second year, for an average of 12, and in the third year for an average of 7½. These figures, I think, are, in themselves, a tribute to the Admiralty and to all others concerned.

One relatively small point in the speech was that he had to inform the British that their armies in Africa were now falling under American Command:

As the Desert Army passes into the American sphere it will naturally come under the orders of General Eisenhower. I have great confidence in General Eisenhower. I regard him as one of the finest men I have ever met.

Read the whole speech at Hansard

Officers on the bridge of a destroyer, escorting a large convoy of ships keep a sharp look out for attacking enemy submarines during the Battle of the Atlantic.
Officers on the bridge of a destroyer, escorting a large convoy of ships keep a sharp look out for attacking enemy submarines during the Battle of the Atlantic.
A surfaced U-boat is straddled by depth charges from a Coastal Command Liberator.
A surfaced U-boat is straddled by depth charges from a Coastal Command Liberator.

Churchill reviews victorious Eighth Army parade

A Humber Mk II armoured car and crew of ‘B’ Squadron, 11th Hussars – the first vehicle to enter Tripoli, photographed on 2 February 1943.
General Sir Alan Brooke (Chief of the Imperial General Staff) and General Sir Harold Alexander (C-in-C Middle East) in the back of a staff car during Winston Churchill’s visit to Tripoli to thank the 8th Army for its success in the North African campaign, 4 February 1943.

The British Army, which had finally been able to confront Rommel and turn him, had been on the move since October. Now having driven the German forces out of Libya there was a pause for many of the units as they re-equipped. There was time for a formal celebration for the men who had taken part in what was now recognised as a major victory from which the Axis forces in Africa could not recover. At home Britain had celebrated the victory at El Alamein with the ringing of church bells in November – church bells that had not rung since the threat of invasion had begun in 1940. Now there was time for a Victory parade in Tripoli.

The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Sir Alan Brooke, accompanying Churchill was amongst those who recorded the event in his diary.

At 9.30 am we all assembled and started off by car for Tripoli. It was most interesting seeing the place for the tirst time. The streets and housetops were lined with sentries, who held back the local inhabitants. When we arrived on the main square and sea front we found there the bulk of the 51″ Division formed up on the sea front and main square.

The last time we had seen them was near Ismailia just after their arrival in the Middle East. Then they were still pink and white, now they were bronzed warriors of many battles and of a victorious advance. I have seldom seen a finer body of men or one that looked prouder of being soldiers.

We drove slowly round the line and then came back with the men cheering him all the way. We then took up our position on a prepared stand and the whole Division marched past with a bagpipe band playing. It was quite one of the most impressive sights I have ever seen.

Winston Churchill greets an officer of 51st Highland Division during his visit to Tripoli to thank the 8th Army for its success in the North African campaign, 4 February 1943.

The whole Division was most beautifully tumed out, and might have been in barracks for the last 3 months instead of having marched some 1200 miles and fought many battles during the same period.

After the review we drove out into the country to see some of the Corps troops, Medium Artillery, Field Artillery, Anti Tank, Engineers, etc. In many places the native population cheered and clapped their hands as we went by.

25-pdr field guns and ‘Quad’ artillery tractors parade past Winston Churchill during his visit to Tripoli to thank the 8th Army for its success in the North African campaign, 4 February 1943.

Oliver Leese, the Corps Commander, gave us a most excellent open air lunch after which we examined the various types of mines used by the enemy and the ways of defeating them.

From there we went to the New Zealand Div which was formed up complete on parade, with Bernard Freyberg at its head! He gave a General Salute by microphone and loud speaker which was admirably carried out.

We then drove round the parade and finally the whole Division marched past. We then had some tea and drove to Castel Benito aerodrome for the PM to visit the Air Force.

From there down to the harbour where we did a complete tour of the harbour in a launch and visited the blockships which they are busy clearing. They had just succeeded in bringing in a 2,900 ton ship, the first to get through.

We finished up the harbour by seeing the destruction of the wharfs and quays carried out by Germans and the work we are doing to put it right. The Germans did a very thorough job of it and a great deal of work is required

Alan Brooke: War Diaries

Charles Richardson was one of the soldiers present who heard Winston Churchill address them at the conclusion of the parade:

Mr Churchill addressed us. It was a wonderful impromptu speech :

‘In days to come, when asked by those at home what part you played in this war, it will be with pride in your hearts that you can reply : I marched with the Eighth Arrny.’ He finished: ‘And, remember, you nightly pitch your moving tents a day’s march nearer home.’

There was hardly a dry eye : mine was not one of them.

See General Sir Charles Richardson: Flashback, a soldiers story

The Prime Minister Winston Churchill gives a speech to men of the 8th Army at Tripoli, Libya, on 7 February 1943.

Contemporary footage of RAF planes strafing the retreating enemy:

Roosevelt calls for ‘Unconditional Surrender’

President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill at the Villa in Casablanca where the conference were held.
President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill at the Villa in Casablanca where the conference were held.

On the 24th January 1943 Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin D. Roosevelt held a secret Press conference at the conclusion of their meeting in Casablanca. The notion of such an arrangement is unthinkable today but the Press agreed not to release their material until both Churchill and Roosevelt were both safely away from Casablanca.

Some of the key decisions for the future conduct of the war had been thrashed out between the Allies. One matter was the demand for ‘unconditional surrender’ – a proposition which some have later argued made any possible early negotiated end to the war out of the question.

There was some surprise that President Roosevelt announced that the Allies would be seeking unconditional surrender from the Axis forces. There was subsequently some suggestion that he made the proposal ‘off the top of his head’ during the Press conference but this is clearly not the case.

Winston Churchill had already been in communication with the War Cabinet in London about the issue:

We propose to draw up a statement of the work of the conference for communication to the Press at the proper time. I should be glad to know what the War Cabinet would think of our including in this statement a declaration of the firm intention of the United States and the British Empire to continue the war relentlessly until we have brought about the “unconditional surrender” of Germany and Japan. The omission of Italy would be to encourage a break-up there. The President liked this idea, and it would stimulate our friends in every country.

The War Cabinet had responded to him on the 20th January, stating that they did not think Italy should not be excluded. Churchill seems to have believed that the matter would be further discussed but both he and Roosevelt were became very occupied whilst dealing with General de Gaulle.

It seems probable that as I did not like applying unconditional surrender to Italy I did not raise the point again with the President, and we had certainly both agreed to the communiqué we had settled with our advisers. There is no mention in it of “unconditional surrender”.

So the matter had been under discussion but it had not been part of the joint communique that Britain and America had agreed in advance.

President Franklin D Roosevelt of the United States confers with the Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill during a press conference at the villa of Dar-es-Saada during the Casablanca Conference in Morocco, 24 January 1943.
President Franklin D Roosevelt of the United States confers with the Prime Minister of Britain, Winston Churchill during a press conference at the villa of Dar-es-Saada during the Casablanca Conference in Morocco, 24 January 1943.

It was with some feeling of surprise that I heard the President say at the Press Conference on January 24 that we would enforce “unconditional surrender” upon all our enemies. It was natural to suppose that the agreed communiqué had superseded anything said in conversation. General Ismay, who knew exactly how my mind was working from day to day, and was also present at all the discussions of the Chiefs of Staff when the Communiqué was prepared, was also surprised.

In my speech which followed the President’s I of course supported him and concurred in what he had said. Any divergence between us, even by omission, would on such an occasion and at such a time have been damaging or even dangerous to our war effort. I certainly take my share of the responsibility, together with the British War Cabinet.

General Henri Giraud, President Franklin D Roosevelt, General Charles de Gaulle and Prime Minister Winston Churchill sit together during the Casablanca Conference in Morocco in January 1943.
General Henri Giraud, President Franklin D Roosevelt, General Charles de Gaulle and Prime Minister Winston Churchill sit together during the Casablanca Conference in Morocco in January 1943.

The President’s account to Hopkins seems however conclusive.

“We had so much trouble getting those two French generals together that I thought to myself that this was as difficult as arranging the meeting of Grant and Lee – and then suddenly the Press Conference was on, and Winston and I had had no time to prepare for it, and the thought popped into my mind that they had called Grant “Old Unconditional Surrender”, and the next thing I knew I had said it.”

I do not feel that this frank statement is in any way weakened by the fact that the phrase occurs in the notes from which he spoke.

See Winston Churchill: The Hinge of Fate.

Churchill and Roosevelt meet at Casablanca

The Casablanca Conference 14-24 January 1943. The President of the United States Franklin D Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill seated in the garden of the villa where the conference was held. Grouped behind them are British and American chiefs of staff.
The Casablanca Conference 14-24 January 1943. The President of the United States Franklin D Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill seated in the garden of the villa where the conference was held. Grouped behind them are British and American chiefs of staff.

On the 14th January the British and Americans met for a conference on war strategy in Casablanca, North Africa. There was much to discuss. In principal there was agreement on the policy of ‘Germany first’, although there were those in the American party who were not wholly signed up to this. There was also a divergence of views about where next to attack Germany after North Africa, with the Americans still favouring an invasion of France later in 1943.

The Combined Chiefs of Staff meant the heads of the military professions from Britain and the U.S.A.. So this was a meeting of some very strong minded individuals. Their job was to thrash out the future progress of the war. There were some fairly stormy meetings ahead.

Amongst those present keeping a diary was Sir Alan Brooke, the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff. His candid account of events was not published until long after the war:

14 January (2 am)

A very long and laborious day. Breakfast at 8.30 am followed by one and a half hour’s hard work preparing my opening statement for our first meeting with the American Chiefs of Staff.

At 10.30 we met. I started off with a statement of about one hour giving our outlook on the present war situation and our opinion as to the future policy we should adopt. Marshall then followed on with a statement showing where they disagreed with our policy.

We stopped for lunch and met again at 2.30 pm. I then asked them to explain their views as to the running of the Pacific War. Admiral King then did so, and it became clear at once that his idea was an ‘all-out’ war against Japan instead of holding operations.

He then proposed that 30 per cent of the war effort should be directed to the Pacific and 70 per cent to the rest. We pointed out that this was hardly a scientific way of approaching war strategy!

After considerable argument we got them to agree to our detailing the Combined Planners to examine and report on the minimum holding operations required in the Pacific and forces necessary for that action.

We broke up the meeting at about 5 pm, had tea, and then had a meeting with our joint Planners to instruct them on the line of action to take.

I then went for a walk with John Kennedy to the beach to look for birds. Returned to find invitation to dine with the President who had arrived that afternoon.

Party consisted of PM, President, Harry Hopkins, Harriman, Elliot Roosevelt, Marshall, King, Arnold, Dudley Pound, Portal, Mountbatten and self.

King became nicely lit up towards the end of the evening. As a result he got more and more pompous, and with a thick voice and many gesticulations explained to the President the best way to organize the Political French organization for control of North Africa!

This led to many arguments with PM who failed to appreciate fully the condition King was in! Most amusing to watch.

At about 1.30 am an alarm was received, lights were put out, and we sat around the table with faces lit by 6 candles. The PM and President in that light and surroundings would have made a wonderful picture.

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