Blogs > HNN > Part Three: What Churchill Didn't say

Oct 5, 2010 2:26 pm

Part Three: What Churchill Didn't say

Churchill was driven by desperation. As he writes in The Hinge Of Fate:"The fact that the War Cabinet decided that I should leave the country and London, with the C.I.G.S. and General Ismay, at the height of the Desert battle, measures the importance which we attached to a settlement of the grave strategic issues which were upon us."

In other words, at that moment in history, June 1942, Churchill took a very different view of the Second Washington Conference than latter-day historians. As he saw it, the significance of his trip hinged on nothing less than the fate of the British Empire. The drama, timing and circumstances of his initiative could not have been more crucial. Or inopportune.

On the third day of meetings with Roosevelt, Churchill received word that the strategic British fortress at Tobruk had fallen. Without American support, England now risked being driven off yet another continent."On account of the urgency and crisis of our affairs in these very difficult days, I decided to go by air rather than by sea." Transoceanic flights, particularly along the northern route Churchill planned, were hardly common and carried a real degree of danger, with long spans of ocean between vast isolated shores of wilderness. Thus he concludes with some drama,"It is not customary for a Prime Minister to advise the Sovereign officially upon his successor…" But he did, telling the King that the formation of the new government should fall to the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Anthony Eden.

Stalin was more desperate than Churchill, and as threatened. In the days leading up to the Prime Minister's dramatic decision to fly to Washington, a man described only as Mr. Brown made several visits to the White House. The arrival of the Soviet Union's People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, was kept secret for reasons of security. He was conducting his own continent-to-continent shuttle diplomacy. Between May 20, 1942 and June 11, 1942, Molotov had flown to London, then on to Washington, before returning to London and flying back to Moscow. The Soviets were days away from sustaining a German attack aimed at their oil-rich Caucasus. Two-hundred heavily rearmed German divisions lay poised for combat in the summer grasslands of Mother Russia.

Churchill recognized that Roosevelt was predisposed to Russia's plight. As the President had said, “It must be constantly re-iterated that Russian armies are killing more Germans and destroying more axis materiel than all 25 United Nations put together. To help Russia, therefore, is the primary consideration.” In fact, Churchill gave every indication of being in full agreement with the President, when Molotov finished shuttling between capital and returned to Moscow boasting this press release, on June 11, 1942,"In the course of the conversations full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent tasks of creating a second front in Europe in 1942." The key here is that the very next day, plans got underway for The Second Washington Conference, with Cynthia's break-in still scheduled for the very day of the Prime Minister's arrival, June 19, 1942.

Part Four: The Making of a Spy

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