Churchill and Roosevelt pray together

This service was felt by us all to be a deeply moving expression of the unity of faith of our two peoples, and none who took part in it will forget the spectacle presented that sunlit morning on the crowded quarterdeck – the symbolism of the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes draped side by side on the pulpit

Conference leaders during Church services on the after deck of HMS Prince of Wales, in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, during the Atlantic Charter Conference. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (left) and Prime Minister Winston Churchill are seated in the foreground. Standing directly behind them are Admiral Ernest J. King, USN; General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army; General Sir John Dill, British Army; Admiral Harold R. Stark, USN; and Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, RN. At far left is Harry Hopkins, talking with W. Averell Harriman.

Winston Churchill attached great symbolic significance to his first wartime meeting with the United States President. From the very beginning of the war he had been in correspondence with Roosevelt, keeping him abreast of developments and seeking his support. After the war he was to describe the historic meeting with characteristic emotion:

On Sunday morning, August 10, Mr. Roosevelt came aboard H.M.S. Prince of Wales and, with his Staff officers and several hundred representatives of all ranks of the United States Navy and Marines, attended Divine Service on the quarterdeck.

This service was felt by us all to be a deeply moving expression of the unity of faith of our two peoples, and none who took part in it will forget the spectacle presented that sunlit morning on the crowded quarterdeck – the symbolism of the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes draped side by side on the pulpit; the American and British chaplains sharing in the reading of the prayers; the highest naval, military, and air officers of Britain and the United States grouped in one body behind the President and me; the close-packed ranks of British and American sailors, completely intermingled, sharing the same books and joining fervently together in the prayers and hymns familiar to both.

I chose the hymns myself – “For Those in Peril on the Sea” and “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” We ended with “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” which Macaulay reminds us the Ironsides had chanted as they bore John Hampden’s body to the grave.

Every word seemed to stir the heart. It was a great hour to live. Nearly half those who sang were soon to die.

See Winston Churchill – The Second World War, Volume 3: The Grand Alliance

Joseph Kennedy: The British are a lost cause

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

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

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

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

Secretary of State, Washington DC

From United States Ambassador, Joseph Kennedy

Dateline: London, 27 September

For the President and the Secretary

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

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

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

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

Churchill meets Truman as Trinity is tested

The ‘Big Three’, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin had been the face of the Allies for the greater part of the war, meeting in several high profile conferences to decide the course of the war. Now President Truman replaced the recently deceased Roosevelt in the line up for the last conference.

German women doing their washing at a water hydrant in a Berlin street, near the wreck of a German light armoured car, 3 July 1945.
German women doing their washing at a water hydrant in a Berlin street, near the wreck of a German light armoured car, 3 July 1945.
British and Russian soldiers on the balcony of the Chancellery, the spot from which Hitler made many of his speeches. Label British and Russian soldiers on the balcony of the ruined Chancellery in Berlin, 5 July 1945.
British and Russian soldiers on the balcony of the Chancellery, the spot from which Hitler made many of his speeches, 5 July 1945.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspecting a guard of honour of the Scots Guards at British Headquarters, Berlin, soon after his arrival for the 'Big Three' conference at Potsdam.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill inspecting a guard of honour of the Scots Guards at British Headquarters, Berlin, soon after his arrival for the ‘Big Three’ conference at Potsdam.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Harry Truman shake hands on the steps of Truman's residence, "The White House", at Kaiser Strasse, Babelsberg, Germany, on 16 July 1945.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill and US President Harry Truman shake hands on the steps of Truman’s residence, “The White House”, at Kaiser Strasse, Babelsberg, Germany, on 16 July 1945.

The ‘Big Three’, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin had been the face of the Allies for the greater part of the war, meeting in several high profile conferences to decide the course of the war. Now President Truman replaced the recently deceased Roosevelt in the line up for the last conference.

The tensions between the Soviet side and the western democracies were now becoming ever more evident. On the face of it the conference would decide the fate of Germany and the where the new boundaries of eastern Europe would lie. In reality much would be determined by the de facto occupation of territory by Soviet troops.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill leaves the ruins of Adolf Hitler's Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on 16 July 1945.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill leaves the ruins of Adolf Hitler’s Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on 16 July 1945.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill sits in a jeep outside the Reichstag during a tour of the ruined city of Berlin, Germany on 16 July 1945.
Prime Minister Winston Churchill sits in a jeep outside the Reichstag during a tour of the ruined city of Berlin, Germany on 16 July 1945.
Scene of destruction on part of the Potsdamer Platz, Berlin.
Scene of destruction on part of the Potsdamer Platz, Berlin.

Whatever hopes those attending the conference might have that they could shape the post war world and prevent further wars, new realities were rapidly outstripping their expectations. Thousands of miles away, on the same day, scientists were conducting an experiment, codename Trinity, that would change the course of world history:

Brigadier General Thomas Farrell described the reaction of Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific director of the atomic research programme:

Dr. Oppenheimer, on whom had rested a very heavy burden, grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off. He scarcely breathed. He held on to a post to steady himself. For the last few seconds, he stared directly ahead and then when the announcer shouted “Now!” and there came this tremendous burst of light followed shortly thereafter by the deep growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed into an expression of tremendous relief.

Oppenheimer himself later recalled:

We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and, to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.

Winston Churchill pays tribute to Franklin D. Roosevelt

He had brought his country through the worst of its perils and the heaviest of its toils. Victory had cast its sure and steady beam upon him. In the days of peace he had broadened and stabilised the foundations of American life and union. In war he had raised the strength, might and glory of the great Republic to a height never attained by any nation in history.

With her left hand she was leading the advance of the conquering Allied Armies into the heart of Germany, and with her right, on the other side of the globe, she was irresistibly and swiftly breaking up the power of Japan. And all the time ships, munitions, supplies and food of every kind were aiding on a gigantic scale her Allies, great and small, in the course of the long struggle.

President Franklin D Roosevelt signing the Declaration of War against Japan. He signed a similar declaration of war against Germany and Italy on 11 December 1941.
President Franklin D Roosevelt signing the Declaration of War against Japan. He signed a similar declaration of war against Germany and Italy on 11 December 1941.
Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt relax in the grounds of the White House in Washington DC prior to a daily meeting of the joint Chiefs of Staff from the United Kingdom and United States to discuss Allied war strategy.
Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt relax in the grounds of the White House in Washington DC prior to a daily meeting of the joint Chiefs of Staff from the United Kingdom and United States to discuss Allied war strategy.

On April 12th Eisenhower and the senior US Army commanders in Europe had been shocked by the horrors of Buchenwald. Late that night there was even more momentous news, their Commander in Chief, the United States President, Franklin D. Roosevelt had died. His long struggle with the disabling consequences of polio, which he had triumphed over for so many years, had finally come to an end.

At the beginning of the war, when Churchill had been appointed First Lord of the Admiralty, the US President had personally asked to be kept appraised of British Naval developments by him. So began the long and close liaison between the two men. When war broke out in 1939 few would have anticipated that less than a year later Churchill would be Prime Minister and leading the only free country in the whole of Europe.

The two men would communicate on more than 1700 occasions and spend 120 days together in conference as the great drama of the war unfolded. With Roosevelt at the helm America had been transformed: from under half a million men in uniform in 1940, by 1945 she had more than 12 million serving all around the globe, supported by an equally transformed military-industrial powerhouse that armed the free world,

In the House of Commons on 17th April Winston Churchill paid tribute to his fellow statesman and friend:

…I conceived an admiration for him as a statesman, a man of affairs, and a war leader. I felt the utmost confidence in his upright, inspiring character and outlook, and a personal regard and affection for him beyond my power to express today.

His love of his own country, his respect for its constitution, his power of gauging the tides and currents of its mobile public opinion, were always evident, but added to these were the beatings of that generous heart which was always stirred to anger and to action by spectacles of aggression and oppression by the strong against the weak. It is, indeed, a loss – a bitter loss to humanity – that those heart-beats are stilled for ever.

President Roosevelt’s physical affliction lay heavily upon him. It was a marvel that he bore up against it through all the many years of tumult and storm. Not one man in ten millions, stricken and crippled as he was, would have attempted to plunge into a life of physical and mental exertion and of hard, ceaseless political controversy. Not one in ten millions would have tried, not one in a generation would have succeeded, not only in entering this sphere, not only in acting vehemently in it, but in becoming indisputable master of the scene.

In this extraordinary effort of the spirit over the flesh, of will-power over physical infirmity, he was inspired and sustained by that noble woman his devoted wife, whose high ideals marched with his own, and to whom the deep and respectful sympathy of the House of Commons flows out today in all fullness.

There is no doubt that the President foresaw the great dangers closing in upon the prewar world with far more prescience than most well-informed people on either side of the Atlantic, and that he urged forward with all his power such precautionary military preparations as peace-time opinion in the United States could be brought to accept. There never was a moment’s doubt, as the quarrel opened, upon which side his sympathies lay.

The fall of France, and what seemed to most people outside this Island the impending destruction of Great Britain, were to him an agony although he never lost faith in us. They were an agony to him not only on account of Europe, but because of the serious perils to which the United States herself would have been exposed had we been overwhelmed or the survivors cast down under the German yoke.

As the saying goes, he died in harness, and we may well say in battle harness, like his soldiers, sailors, and airmen, who side by side with ours are carrying on their task to the end all over the world. What an enviable death was his!

He had brought his country through the worst of its perils and the heaviest of its toils. Victory had cast its sure and steady beam upon him. In the days of peace he had broadened and stabilised the foundations of American life and union. In war he had raised the strength, might and glory of the great Republic to a height never attained by any nation in history.

With her left hand she was leading the advance of the conquering Allied Armies into the heart of Germany, and with her right, on the other side of the globe, she was irresistibly and swiftly breaking up the power of Japan. And all the time ships, munitions, supplies and food of every kind were aiding on a gigantic scale her Allies, great and small, in the course of the long struggle.

For us, it remains only to say that in Franklin Roosevelt there died the greatest American friend we have ever known, and the greatest champion of freedom who has ever brought help and comfort from the new world to the old.

Read the whole speech at The Churchill Society.

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.
'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.

Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin meet at Yalta

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 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.