America Enters the War
The Japanese surprise attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, brought America into the war. Churchill was with the President's special envoy, Averell Harriman, and the U.S. Ambassador to Britain, John Gilbert Winant, when he received the news over the telephone from President Roosevelt.
Four days later, Germany declared war on the United States, making U.S. involvement in Europe inevitable. Churchill was eager to have the U.S. fight alongside the British forces in Europe and wasted no time. He undertook a dangerous transatlantic journey on the HMS Duke of York, arriving in America on December 22, in time to spend Christmas at the White House.
On December 26, Churchill made his first historic address to a joint session of Congress to win support for his concept of the war. In public, he seemed to epitomize the “bulldog” fighting spirit. In private, the strain was taking its toll, and that very evening Churchill suffered a mild heart attack.
This telegram, sent to Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary, who was in Moscow, captures the ambiguous nature of Churchill's reaction to Pearl Harbor. He saw the military disaster for America and the threat to British colonies throughout the Far East. Yet he also correctly anticipated that the ensuing German declaration of war against the United States would bring America into the conflict in Europe. At this critical juncture, Churchill planned to visit Washington, D.C.
Winston Churchill to Anthony Eden, December 10, 1941. Telegram. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (142). © Crown copyright 1941, Archival Reference # CHAR 20/46/62
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In Churchill's history of The Second World War he wrote of his emotions upon hearing that Japan had attacked United States forces at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Only “silly people, and there were many,” underestimated American strength. For him, the entry of the United States into the war meant that the ultimate outcome—favorable for his country—was now assured. Feeling “the greatest joy” that the attack had arrayed his mother's country on the side of Britain, he “went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”
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This anti-Allied cartoon wishfully envisions the forcible destruction of the American-British alliance. Bombs fall from a cloud labeled with the symbols of the three major Axis powers—the rising sun of imperial Japan, the fasces (sticks bundled around an axe for strength) of Mussolini's Italy, and the swastika of Nazi Germany.
“Seppla” [Josef Plank]. Axis bombs severing F.D.R. & Churchill's “hands across the sea,” between 1935 and 1943. Drawing. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (156)
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The Chicago Daily Tribune published this wartime map, which derided the efforts and importance of Churchill's Britain and placed the United States in a new and supposedly more fitting location—at the center of the world. Accompanying text explained: “In the military sense, North America is the strong bastion around which are grouped friendly powers in more or less exposed situations.” Such powers included Britain and Australia, which the Tribune felt needed American power to stave off the Japanese and Germans.
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Soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Churchill left Britain for additional face-to-face talks with President Roosevelt. Churchill's daughter, Mary, received his farewell salute on board the HMS Duke of York, a new British battleship. On the dangerous, stormy journey to America he wrote a series of memoranda setting forth his views on the best way to defeat the Axis. He also told a fellow passenger that the United States could shorten the war by not trying to defend each town on the Pacific from the Japanese: “Let the raider come—what does it matter.”
Mr. Churchill's Visit to America: On Board H.M.S. “Duke of York,” 1941. Photograph. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (144)
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The first of the great wartime conferences, code-named ARCADIA, was held in Washington, D.C., in December 1941-January 1942. Churchill, Roosevelt, and their military chiefs discussed grand strategy and worked out agreements on command structure and armaments production. This cartoon takes note of the fact that Churchill was Roosevelt's guest in the White House over the Christmas holiday, and that neither Soviet dictator Josef Stalin nor China's President Chiang Kai-shek attended the conference.
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Churchill addressed the United States Congress for the first time on December 26, 1941. These are two key pages from his notes for that address annotated by Churchill. He began by joking about his own Anglo-American parentage but built up to a dramatic condemnation of the Japanese attack, linking the British cause with that of the United States and asking, “What kind of people do they think we are?”
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Addressing Congress on December 26, 1941, Churchill won over his audience by telling them, “I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way round, I might have got here on my own.” He added that the distressing pattern of recent events might persist for an extended period: “Many disappointments and unpleasant surprises await us.” Shortly after the speech he suffered a mild heart attack, a diagnosis that his personal doctor concealed from everyone, including Churchill himself.
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Most of Churchill's December 26, 1941, speech to Congress was an attempt to summarize the course of the war thus far—from a British viewpoint. His aim was to convince the American public that the wisest plan was to create an effective alliance that could win the war and preserve the peace afterwards. He added that the best war news of all was that “the United States, united as never before, have drawn the sword for freedom and cast away the scabbard.”
Winston Churchill. Address before U.S. Congress, 1941. Sound disc. Original recording courtesy of Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University. Used with permission. Brander Matthews Dramatic Museum Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (151)
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In this photograph, taken early in 1942 during the ARCADIA Conference, Churchill is standing outside the White House with Roosevelt emissary Harry Hopkins and his daughter, Diana, and Fala, the President's Scotch terrier. Diana appears more interested in Fala than in Churchill.
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Axis propaganda efforts were often aimed at splitting the Anglo-American alliance. In this cartoon, Churchill's stay in the White House involved begging for scraps from American bounty. As Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt gorge themselves at the table, the British Prime Minister humbly accepts a bone.
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On the first day of 1942, Churchill and Roosevelt, along with representatives of China and the Soviet Union, signed a declaration creating the United Nations. This wartime alliance eventually grew to include twenty-six countries and to form the nucleus for a lasting international organization. For the next year Churchill tried to forge good working relationships with his most important ally, the United States, as well as with the Soviet Union and the Free French led by General Charles de Gaulle. Churchill often differed with the Americans over questions of grand strategy and the future of the British Empire, but he was able to resolve many issues in the course of face-to-face meetings with Roosevelt in Washington and, later, in Casablanca, Morocco.
By the end of 1942, British forces had been victorious in Egypt at the Battle of El Alamein and, along with the Americans, had successfully landed in northwest Africa. To the disappointment of the Americans and the Soviets, however, Churchill used his considerable influence to postpone launching a Second Front against the Germans in northwest Europe in 1943. He wanted to exploit successes in the Mediterranean, and he was concerned that a premature assault on the northern French coast might end in failure.
Leaders of the United Nations, the anti-Axis alliance formed by Churchill, Roosevelt, and Chinese and Soviet representatives on January 1, 1942, are caricatured in this drawing by the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias. Chiang Kai-shek, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin are in the center of the front row. Free French leader Charles de Gaulle is on the far right of the last row.
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Charles de Gaulle, the Free French leader with whom Churchill often found it difficult to work, was nonetheless an admirer of the British Prime Minister. With this cover letter to Churchill's daughter-in-law, Pamela, de Gaulle gave a book of drawings to her one-year-old son, Winston S. Churchill. De Gaulle expressed the wish that in the future the young Churchill would think of the gift's donor as a “sincere admirer of his grandfather” and Britain's faithful ally in the greatest war in history.
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Unable to bomb Churchill's Britain into submission or to invade and conquer the island, Adolf Hitler attempted to cut the British merchant-shipping lifeline with submarines. His efforts were nearly successful, but a combination of convoys, airplanes, and intelligence gathered from communications intercepts helped the Allied cause. This 1941 Herblock cartoon shows Roosevelt and Churchill reviving a battered fighter labeled “shipping” while a glowering Nazi U-boat waits for the next round.
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The question of how best to open up a “Second Front” in Europe and strike against Germany was one of the most complex and divisive issues for the British and American allies. As this letter from Roosevelt shows, both he and Churchill were aware of the need to support the role being played by the Russians in the East, but, while the British favored an attack through Italy, the Americans preferred an assault on France.
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The British Empire was another source of division between Churchill and Roosevelt, with the British Prime Minister famously announcing that he had “not become the King's First Minister to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire.” Nonetheless, in an effort to keep India loyal to the British during the war, Churchill sent British statesman Sir Stafford Cripps there with a plan for self-government in 1942. The mission failed when an agreement with Gandhi's Congress Party was not obtained. In this telegram Roosevelt urges that a further attempt be made.
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The degree to which Churchill resented American interference in India is indicated by this internal British government telegram, sent by the Prime Minister to Sir Stafford Cripps and to the Viceroy and the commander-in-chief in India. In the telegram, Churchill criticizes remarks made by a senior United States representative, Colonel Louis A. Johnson—a future Secretary of Defense under President Truman.
Winston Churchill to Sir Stafford Cripps, April 9, 1942. Telegram. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (164.1). © Crown copyright 1942. Archival Reference # CHAR 20/73/72
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American industry produced a vast amount of war supplies, but Allied demands were even greater. This cartoon depicts Uncle Sam as a waiter bearing war materiel to waiting diners, including Churchill, Stalin, and General Douglas MacArthur, the American commander in the southwest Pacific.
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Many children were sent away from British cities and other target areas to escape German bombing raids. This photograph of the Prime Minister's twenty-month-old grandson and namesake, Winston S. Churchill, who spent his time in the country, while he was in London visiting his mother, Pamela Digby Churchill.
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Not everyone in the United States saw eye-to-eye with Churchill. This anonymous letter was sent to him at the White House during his visit in June 1942. The postmark is Denver, Colorado. It was saved by John Martin, Churchill's Principal Private Secretary, and survives in his papers.
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Wartime shortages and commodities rationing in Great Britain were occasionally alleviated by friendly Americans. In this note from Clementine Churchill to Averell Harriman, she thanks him for handkerchiefs and other gifts: “I was 'running short' & one hates to spare precious coupons on handkerchiefs… And the Ham! The glorious ham! Words fail me.”
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This message from Churchill to U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall illustrates his innovative leadership style and his tendency to tell others how to do their jobs. In Churchill's third paragraph he advises the Americans to deal with shipping shortages by first limiting the number of vehicles to be sent from the United States, and then adjusting other variables to that figure. The goal would be to create “the best army that can be built up on them” in the limited time available.
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In August 1942, as the Soviets were fighting for their lives before Stalingrad, Churchill flew to Moscow to tell Stalin that there would be no Second Front in Western Europe that year to draw off German forces. Flying en route with Averell Harriman, President Roosevelt's representative, Churchill outlined a plan to send British and American forces to southern Russia—Operation VELVET—that Stalin might accept as a substitute. The deafening noise of the bomber in which they were riding forced Churchill and Harriman to communicate by passing pencilled notes to each other.
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This caricature depicts Stalin and Churchill meeting for the first time in the Kremlin on August 12, 1942, an encounter that Clementine Churchill characterized as visiting “the Ogre in his Den.” Stalin condemned the Anglo-American decision to abandon the Second Front in 1942. Churchill argued: “War was war but not folly, and it would be folly to invite a disaster which would help nobody.” Stalin replied, “A man who was not prepared to take risks could not win a war.”
Pastel painting by Edward Sorel for series “First Encounters,” written by his wife Nancy Caldwell Sorel. Originally appeared in Atlantic Monthly. Edward Sorel. First Encounters: Josef Stalin and Winston Churchill, 1991. Pastel drawing. Cartoon Drawings Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (178). LC-USZC4-6819. [Digital ID# cph 3g06819]
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The August 1942 meetings between Stalin and Churchill did not always go smoothly. Berating the British for their failure to come to grips with the Germans, Stalin said that British soldiers would lose their fear as soon as they started to fight. Furious, Churchill replied that he would pardon Stalin's remarks only on account of the bravery of the Russian army. Impressed with Churchill's spirit, Stalin mellowed, and the conference ended on a cordial note.
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Shown here is the noisy B-24 Liberator medium bomber in which Churchill and Averell Harriman traveled to and from Moscow to meet Stalin. It was on this plane that two men passed the scribbled notes as a means of communication.
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Scribbling notes to Churchill on the plane ride from Moscow, Averell Harriman asked whether Stalin had accepted TORCH—the code name for the planned North African landings—as a true Second Front. Churchill, who had met with Stalin privately just before they left, replied, “No but he thinks it absolutely right, & of great indirect advantage to Russia.” Stalin's attitude seemed to signify a willingness to continue the struggle against Nazi Germany in concert with his Anglo-American allies.
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Late in November 1942, Churchill addressed a worldwide radio audience. He noted the recent British victory in Egypt, and he praised the “perfect comradeship and understanding” responsible for the successful Anglo-American landings in western North Africa. Responding indirectly to those critical of the British preference for Mediterranean operations—as opposed to a more direct assault into northwest Europe—he termed North Africa “not a seat but a springboard” and observed that it faced “the underside of subjugated Europe.”
Winston Churchill. “The Bright Gleam of Victory,” 1942. Sound reel. OWI Radio Collection, Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (184)
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This caricature by the Mexican artist Miguel Covarrubias features Churchill's characteristic “V-for-Victory” gesture, together with his ever-present cigar. The drawing appeared in the January 10, 1942, issue of the New Yorker.
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In a broadcast heard worldwide on November 29, 1942, Churchill described the Allied victories in North Africa including the defeat of Field Marshal Rommel by General Montgomery at the second Battle of El Alamein and the successful American-led landings in Algeria and Morocco. Churchill referred to the “bright gleam of victory,” prompting this positive reply from Harry Hopkins who had clearly listened to the speech with the President and First Lady.
Harry Hopkins to Winston Churchill, November 29, 1942. Typescript of telegram. Churchill Papers, Churchill Archives Centre, Cambridge, U.K. (184.1)
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In December 1942 U.S. Army Chief of Staff George Marshall, acting on a suggestion from General Dwight Eisenhower, sent identical fifty-inch, 750-pound globes to Churchill and Roosevelt as Christmas presents. During the war it was especially useful to Roosevelt, Churchill, and others for gauging relative distances over water, a crucial factor in allocating scarce shipping resources while planning grand strategy. The copy, displayed here was originally placed in the Speaker's Lobby of the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol Building.
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United States Office of Strategic Services. Fifty-inch military globe. Chicago Heights, Illinois: Weber Costello, 1942. Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress (1)
President Roosevelt and his globe, 1942. From “The President's Globe” by Arthur H. Robinson in Imago Mundi: The International Journal for The History of Cartography, vol. 49. London: Imago Mundi, Ltd., 1997. Copyprint. General Collections, Library of Congress (1.3)
Prime Minister Churchill with the globe presented to him by the United States War Department, Christmas 1942. From “The President's Globe” by Arthur H. Robinson in Imago Mundi: The International Journal for The History of Cartography, vol. 49. London: Imago Mundi, Ltd., 1997. Copyprint. General Collections, Library of Congress(1.4)
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During World War II, membership in the informal “Short-Snorter” club was earned by the completion of a transatlantic flight—in those days a relatively rare distinction. Members would autograph currency notes for the new members, who were then obliged to carry these keepsakes with them at all times. Averell Harriman's ten-shilling note bears signatures obtained at the January 1943 meeting in Casablanca. Among the signers were President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and generals George Marshall, Henry (“Hap”) Arnold, and George Patton.
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Roosevelt and Churchill are shown here, at the end of the Casablanca Conference, as they announce to the press that the Allies would accept only the unconditional surrender of their enemies as the war's outcome. Churchill was never entirely comfortable with this decision, which some would blame for prolonging the war. He asked the assembled journalists, however, to present a “picture of unity, thoroughness, and integrity of the political chiefs” to their readers.
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At the Casablanca Conference (January 14-24, 1943) Churchill and Roosevelt decided to continue with operations in the Mediterranean once they had driven the Germans and Italians out of North Africa. This decision was in accord with Churchill's preference for an attack through the “under belly of the Axis” instead of a more direct approach through northwest Europe into Germany in 1943. This map, drawn by Richard Edes Harrison and published in Fortune magazine, depicts the physical obstacles inherent in such an approach.
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