IN THE EYES of the world, by the autumn of 1943 Churchill’s prestige was impregnable. He stood beside Roosevelt and Stalin, the “Big Three,” plainly destined to become victors of the greatest conflict in the history of mankind. “Croakers” at home had been put to flight by the battlefield successes denied to Britain between 1939 and 1942. Yet those who worked most closely with the prime minister, functionaries and service chiefs alike, were troubled by manifestations of weariness and erratic judgement. His government never lacked domestic critics. His refusal to seriously address issues of postwar reconstruction caused dismay. “His ear is so sensitively tuned808 to the bugle note of history,” wrote Aneurin Bevan—for once justly—“that he is often deaf to the more raucous clamour of contemporary life.” Eden agreed: “Mr. Churchill did not like to give his time to anything809 not exclusively concerned with the conduct of the war. This seemed to be a deep instinct in him and, even though it was part of his strength as a war leader, it could also be an embarrassment.”
It was irksome for ministers responsible for addressing vital issues concerned with Britain’s future to find their leader unwilling to discuss them, or to make necessary decisions. On November 29, 1943, Minister of Labour Ernest Bevin gained admission to the prime minister’s bedroom, where so many remarkable scenes were played out in a setting sketched by Brooke: “The red and gold dressing gown810 in itself was worth going miles to see, and only Winston could have thought of wearing it! He looked rather like some Chinese mandarin! The few hairs were usually ruffled on his bald head. A large cigar stuck sideways out of his face. The bed was littered with papers and dispatches. Sometimes the tray with his finished breakfast was still on the bed table. The bell was continually being rung for secretaries, typists, stenographer, or his faithful valet Sawyers.”
On this occasion, Bevin raised some issue of postwar planning. Churchill said crossly that he was just leaving to see Stalin, was preoccupied with other things, “and that it was really too much to go into detailed questions at the moment.”811 Bevin was as angry as the prime minister. There was never a right time to catch Churchill to discuss matters which did not command his interest. Yet he was so often criticised for declining to seriously address postwar issues that it is salutary to compare his attitude with that of Hitler. The Nazis inflicted crippling economic, social and military damage upon their own empire by setting about forging a new “Greater Germany” while the war’s outcome was still unresolved. Churchill’s single-minded preoccupation with achieving victory may have dismayed his colleagues, but it seems a fault on the right side.
The British people acknowledged him as the personification of their war effort. As the dominance of the United States and the Soviet Union grew, his rhetoric and statesmanship were the most formidable weapons which his flagging nation could wield to sustain its place at the summit of the Grand Alliance. But in the last eighteen months of the war, while he received his share of the applause for Allied victories, he also suffered increasing frustrations and disappointments. At every turn, cherished projects were stillborn, favoured policies atrophied, because they could not be executed without American resources or goodwill, which were unforthcoming. This was by no means always to Britain’s disadvantage. Some schemes, such as the Aegean campaign, did not deserve to prosper. But no man less liked to be thwarted than Churchill. Much happened, or did not happen, in the years of American ascendancy which caused the prime minister to fume at his own impotence.
His words remained as magnificent in the years of victories as they had been in those of defeats. He enjoyed moments of exhilaration, because he had a large capacity for joy. But the sorrows were frequent and various. He refused to abandon his obsession with getting the Turks into the war, cabling Eden, en route back from Moscow, that it was necessary to “remind the Turkey that Christmas was coming.”812 He dismissed proposals summarily to depose the king of Italy, saying, “Why break off the handle of the jug813before we get to Rome and have a chance of securing a new handle for it!” He told the Cabinet one day, amid a discussion about Soviet perfidy in publishing claims in Pravda that Britain had opened unilateral peace negotiations with the Nazis: “Trying to maintain good relations814 with a communist is like wooing a crocodile, you do not know whether to tickle it under the chin or beat it on the head. When it opens its mouth you cannot tell whether it is trying to smile, or preparing to eat you up.”
In those months, Churchill’s mind was overwhelmingly fixed upon the Mediterranean campaign. But it would have well served the interests of the British war effort had he also addressed another important issue which he neglected. Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, C-in-C of Bomber Command, chose this moment to divert the bulk of his increasingly formidable force away from the Ruhr, where Lancasters and Halifaxes had been pounding factories for years, to attack Germany’s capital. This was one of the major strategic errors of the RAF’s war. The Berlin region was certainly industrially important, but was also far from Britain, heavily defended and often shrouded in winter overcast. This assault continued until April 1944, at a cost in RAF losses that became prohibitive, without dealing the decisive blow Harris sought—and which he had promised the prime minister. Bomber Command lost the “Battle of Berlin.”
Much more significant, however, was the respite granted to the Ruhr. Adam Tooze’s important recent research815 on the Nazi economy has shown that, in the autumn of 1943, the Ruhr’s industries lay on the brink of collapse. If Bomber Command had continued its assault, instead of switching targets eastwards, the consequences for Hitler’s war machine might have been dramatic. Allied intelligence about German production was poor. One of Harris’s major mistakes as director of the bomber offensive was failure to grasp the importance of repeating blows against damaged targets. He allowed himself to be misled about his force’s achievements by air photographs of devastated cities.
So, too, did the prime minister. To explain why he left the RAF to its own devices for much of the war, it is necessary to acknowledge how little reliable information was available about what bombing was, or was not, doing to Germany. The progress of Britain’s armies was readily measured by following their advances or retreats on the map; that of the Royal Navy, by examining statistics of sinkings. But, once the Battle of Britain was won, the RAF’s performance was chiefly judged by assessments, often spurious, produced by its own staff officers. Nobody, including Portal, Harris and Churchill, really knew what bombing was achieving, though soldiers and sailors believed it was much less than airmen claimed. The prime minister had a strong vested interest in thinking the best of British bombing. He trumpeted its achievements to the Americans, and even more to Stalin, to mollify their frustration about the meagre scale of Western ground operations. It would have been a major political embarrassment had evidence emerged that the strategic air offensive was doing less than Harris claimed.
Thus, between 1942 and the 1944 controversy about bombing the French rail network ahead of Overlord, Churchill never sought an independent assessment of what Bomber Command was contributing, though it consumed around one-third of Britain’s entire war effort. Harris persuaded the prime minister that his aircraft wreaked havoc, as they did. But dramatic images of flame and destruction in the Reich were unaccompanied by rigorous analysis of German industry, about which intelligence was anyway sketchy and most of the RAF’s data plain wrong. Harris, like his American counterparts, was left free to fight his battle as he himself saw fit, to pursue an obsessive attempt to prove that bombing could win the war without much input of accurate evidence or imagination. This was a serious omission on the part of the prime minister, and a missed opportunity for the Royal Air Force.
In this later period of the war, the fatigue of Churchill’s people grew alongside American and Russian might. The Aegean campaign represented a minor demonstration of British vulnerability, but larger ones lay ahead. In the late autumn of 1943, four issues dominated Britain’s military agenda: the campaign in Italy; the commitment to Overlord; residual possibilities of ambitious adventures in the Balkans; and Operation Buccaneer, a putative amphibious landing in Burma. On November 6, Sir Archibald Clark Kerr warned from Moscow of Russian fears that the British were still hostile to Overlord. Churchill responded: “I will do everything in human power to animate the forward movement on which my heart is set at this moment.” But the words “forward movement” embraced a range of possible operations, some in the Mediterranean, of which Overlord was only one. Dalton wrote after a Cabinet meeting: “In an expansive moment Winston told us816 his apprehensions about the ‘Overlord’ policy which the Americans have forced upon us, involving a dangerous and time-wasting straddle of our transport and landing craft between two objectives when we might have gone on more effectively in Italy and the Balkans.”
For some weeks, Churchill had been pressing for a meeting with Roosevelt and Stalin, which he would dearly have liked to hold in London. It was surprising that the Russian leader rejected this notion out of hand, but the British felt snubbed when they learned that the president was likewise unwilling to visit their country. Such a rendezvous would play badly with the U.S. electorate in the forthcoming election year, claimed Roosevelt. After some dalliance, Tehran was found a mutually acceptable venue. Churchill sought an advance bilateral summit in Cairo, to which the Americans agreed. He sailed for the Mediterranean on the battle cruiser Renown, accompanied by his usual entourage and service chiefs, daughter Sarah and son, Randolph. Harold Macmillan boarded the great warship at Gibraltar: “We were greeted by her owner817—or so he seemed—who was finding this an agreeable method of cruising.” But Churchill was in poor health. Disembarking at Malta, he spent two days in bed at the residence of Lord Gort, the governor.
Gort was no slave to creature comforts. When Ismay visited the ailing prime minister, he was greeted by pathetic solicitations for enhanced rations and a bath: “Do you think you could bring me a little bit of butter from that nice ship? … I only want a cupful of hot water, but I can’t get it.” Churchill’s bedroom overlooked a thoroughfare crowded with chattering Maltese. Moran recorded a touching moment: “From the street below came a great hubbub of voices818. His brow darkened. He threw his legs out of bed, and striding across the room thrust his head through the open window, bawling: ‘Go away, will you? Please go away and do not make so much noise.’”
The Chiefs of Staff held an unsatisfactory meeting, crowded into the prime minister’s bedroom. A few days earlier, John Kennedy expounded in his diary on British policy for the encounter with the Americans: “We have now crystallised our ideas819 as to the strategy to be advocated.” The Italian campaign should be continued; renewed efforts made to bring Turkey into the war through allied activism in the Balkans; and the United States urged “to accept a postponement of Overlord.” The Adjutant General, Sir Ronald Adam, told a fellow officer: “The PM’s stock is not high820 with the President at the moment, and the latter is being dragged rather unwillingly to Cairo … The PM has now gone very Mediterranean-minded, and the future of Overlord is again in the melting-pot.”
Churchill chafed constantly about the slow progress of Allied operations in Italy. Winter weather had reduced campaigning to a crawl, and the Germans were resisting with their usual determination. “The pattern of battle821 seldom varied,” wrote one veteran of the campaign, Fred Majdalany. “The Germans would hold a position for a time until it was seriously contested: then pull back a mile or two to the next defendable place, leaving behind a trail of blown bridges, minefields and road demolitions … The Allied armies would begin with a night attack—ford a stream or river after dark, storm the heights on the far side, dig themselves in by dawn, and hope that by that time the Sappers, following on their heels, would have sufficiently repaired the demolitions and removed the obstacles to permit tanks to follow up … The Germans, watching these proceedings, would attempt to frustrate them by raining down artillery and mortar fire.”
The prime minister was infuriated that two British divisions had already been withdrawn from the line, in advance of their return home to prepare for D-Day. In a minute to the Chiefs on November 20, he complained of Italian operations being compromised by “the shadow of Overlord.” He said that Yugoslavia’s partisans, whom he was eager to support more vigorously, were containing more Axis divisions than the British and American armies. He deplored American insistence on May 1 as the date for D-Day, “with inflexible rigidity and without regard to the loss and injury to the allied cause created thereby.” The consequence of this “fixed target date,” he said, was that “our affairs will deteriorate in the Balkans and that the Aegean will remain firmly in German hands … for the sake of an operation fixed for May upon hypotheses that in all probability will not be realized by that date.” Churchill wanted all available resources directed, first, towards capturing Rome by January 1944 and, second, upon taking Rhodes later that month. None of this was likely to find favour with the Americans, nor deserved to.
The British delegation sailed on from Malta to Alexandria, and thence flew to Cairo, arriving on November 21. Macmillan, seeing Churchill for the first time in some months, perceived his powers diminished, yet still remarkable: “Winston is getting822 more and more dogmatic (at least outwardly) and rather repetitive. One forgets, of course, that he is really an old man—but a wonderful old man he is too … It is amusing to watch how he will take a point and reproduce it as his own a day or two later. He misses very little, although he does not always appear to listen.”
The first meeting of the Sextant conference took place on November 23, and addressed the Far East. The U.S. contingent arrived in an irritable mood, because prior word of the gathering had leaked to correspondents, increasing the security risk. The British were galled by the attendance of Chiang Kai-shek and his wife, at American insistence. Much attention was given to Chinese issues. The British shared U.S. faith neither in China’s value as an ally, nor in the massive commitment to provide aid “over the Hump” of the Himalayas. They had not forgotten that, a few months earlier, Roosevelt had urged them to cede possession of Hong Kong to Chiang Kai-shek as a “gesture of goodwill.” This caused Eden to observe823 to Harry Hopkins that he had not heard the president suggest any similar act of largesse at American expense. Smuts said emolliently: “We are inclined to forget the President’s difficulties824. There is a very strong undercurrent against him. The things the Americans do are based partly on ignorance, partly on their determination to get power. We have learned hard lessons in the four years of the war. They have had no hard lessons. Yet we do not want to wait another four years while they learn them.”
The British were right about the intractability of U.S. leaders on China, but their dismissive attitude increased Anglo-American tensions. Churchill made much of plans to launch Orde Wingate and his Chindits on ambitious deep penetration missions in northern Burma. The Americans, however, regarded these as reflecting the characteristic British enthusiasm for sideshows, at the expense of major operations. They favoured Buccaneer, a big coastal landing in Burma. The British, however, now argued that Mediterranean action, not to mention Overlord, would be fatally compromised by diverting landing craft to the Bay of Bengal.
At the second plenary session on November 24, Churchill complained vigorously about the loss of Kos and Leros. He also said it was untrue that he favoured unlimited operations in Italy: he was committed to Overlord “up to the hilt.” But he sought agreement that Allied armies should aim to reach a line between Pisa and Rimini. Eisenhower addressed the conference on the twenty-sixth. He was still only Mediterranean supreme commander, unaware that Overlord would soon become his personal responsibility. He said that he supported British aspirations both in the valley of the Po and the Aegean. “He [Eisenhower] stressed the vital importance of continuing the maximum possible operations in an established theatre since much time was invariably lost when the scene of action was changed.” This was welcome to Churchill, if not to Marshall.
The conference’s British administrators were at pains to offer hospitality matching that which the Americans had provided at Casablanca in January. But given Britain’s impoverished state, they were embarrassed by their guests’ locustlike response. The assembled throng of officials and service officers accounted for 20,000 cigarettes and 75 cigars. Each day, 500 beers, 80 bottles of whiskey, 12 of brandy, and 34 of gin were consumed. It was decided that at future summits, out of respect for the rationed people of Britain, those attending should at least be asked to pay for their own drinks.
Between sessions, Churchill took Roosevelt to see the Pyramids, and talked enthusiastically to his staff about the warmth of their relationship. Yet Eden described the Cairo conference as “among the most difficult I ever attended.” British fortunes in the Far East were at their lowest ebb. Imperial forces were apparently incapable of breaking through into Burma in the face of a numerically inferior Japanese army. Given Roosevelt’s rambling conversation, “W. had to play the role of courtier825 and seize opportunities as and when they arose. I am amazed at the patience with which he does this … Though the role of attendant listener was uncongenial to him, the Prime Minister played it faultlessly all these days, so that we came through without the loss of any feathers, if not with our tails up.” But presidential needling of the prime minister was more pronounced than usual. Roosevelt reproached Churchill for allowing Eden to tell the king of Greece not to attempt to return home, once his country was liberated, until it was plain that his subjects wanted him. This was an odd intervention, given the Americans’ subsequent hostility to the monarch. The British were furious with the president for encouraging Greek recalcitrance.
Churchill lamented to the British delegation Roosevelt’s casual approach to business, observing that while he was “a charming country gentleman,” his dilatory habits wasted time. The prime minister and his colleagues were surprised and irked by the Americans’ failure to hold bilateral discussions with them before meeting Stalin. “PM and President ought826 to have got together, with their staffs, before meeting the Russians but that through a series of mischances has not happened,” mused Cadogan. The British were slow to perceive that such evasion reflected policy rather than “mischances.” This would be the president’s first meeting with Stalin. Earlier in the year, Roosevelt had sought a meeting with the Soviet leader without Churchill present. When his initiative came to nothing, he coolly lied to the prime minister, asserting that the proposal had originated with Moscow, not himself. Roosevelt believed that he could forge a working relationship with Stalin, which must not be compromised by any appearance of excessive Anglo-American amity or collusion. It did not trouble him that to such an end Churchill must be discomfited.
Hopkins bemoaned the prime minister’s “bloody Italian war”827 and warned Moran: “We are preparing for a battle at Tehran828. You will find us lining up with the Russians.” The doctor wrote wonderingly of the American attitude to Churchill: “They are far more sceptical of him than they are of Stalin.”829 Hopkins’s enthusiasm for the prime minister had diminished, and so too had his influence in his own country. Roosevelt’s secretary wrote pityingly: “Poor Harry, the public is done with him830. He is a heavy liability to the President.” The U.S. delegation in Cairo leaked freely to correspondents. The Washington Post was among many newspapers which afterwards disclosed to the American public “the reported recalcitrance of Churchill”831 towards U.S. strategic wishes. No military agreements between the British and Americans had been reached by November 27, when Sextant adjourned for the principals to fly on to Tehran.
Churchill seldom showed much concern for his own security, but raised an eyebrow when his car was almost engulfed by crowds as the convoy approached the British legation in the Persian capital. Roosevelt had accepted lodgings in the Russian compound next door, and chose to meet Stalin for the first time alone. The opening session of the summit took place on the afternoon of November 28, in the Soviet embassy under Roosevelt’s chairmanship. It bears emphasis that, for every participant with a scintilla of imagination, these gatherings were awesome occasions. Even Brooke, tired and cynical, found it “quite enthralling832” to behold the “Big Three” for the first time assembled together around a table. Those present knew that they were sharing in the making of history. Most strove to speak and act in a fashion worthy of the moment.
Churchill began by asserting his firm commitment to an advance to the Pisa-Rimini line in Italy; to a landing in southern France; and to Overlord, provided his preconditions about maximum German strength in the invasion area were met. “It will be our stern duty,” he said, in a trumpet blast notably discordant with his haverings about the operation, “to hurl across the Channel against the Germans every sinew of our strength.” Stalin enquired smoothly: “Who will command Overlord?” This was a brilliant shaft. He said that he could not regard any operation entirely seriously until a leader had been named to direct it. Though Eden found Stalin’s personality “creepy” and chilling, like all the Western delegates the foreign secretary recognised a master of diplomacy: “Of course the man was ruthless833 and of course knew his purpose. He never wasted a word. He never stormed, he was seldom even irritated. Hooded, calm, never raising his voice, he avoided the repeated negatives of Molotov which were so exasperating to listen to. By more subtle methods he got what he wanted without having seemed so obdurate.”
Roosevelt assured the Russian leader that a commander for Overlord would be appointed within days. Stalin—“Ursus Major,” as Churchill christened “the Great Bear”—was satisfied. He even professed enthusiasm for the Italian campaign, despite his dismay that German divisions were still being transferred from the west to fight in Russia. Churchill praised the efforts of Tito’s Communist partisans in Yugoslavia, which he assumed would please Stalin, and declared his eagerness to provide them with greater assistance. The Russian leader said that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan as soon as Germany was defeated, which gratified the Americans.
Early each morning of the summit, NKVD officers—who included Beria’s son Sergo—presented Stalin with transcripts of conversations intercepted by microphones planted in the American residence. The Soviet leader expressed amazement at the freedom with which the Westerners talked among themselves, even though they must have realised that they were being overheard. Latterly, indeed, he began to wonder whether they were indeed so naïve that they did not guess: “Do you think they know that we are listening?”834He was gratified to find Roosevelt speaking well of him. Once, noting the president’s assertion that there was “no way to fool Uncle Joe,” he grinned into his moustache and muttered: “The old rascal is lying.” He was less amused by transcribed exchanges in which Churchill repeated to the president his reservations about Overlord. Young Beria was rewarded with a Swiss watch for the efficiency of his eavesdropping.
The most notorious episode at the conference arose from Stalin’s brutal jest about shooting fifty thousand German officers once the war was won, followed by Roosevelt’s rejoinder that forty-nine thousand would suffice. Elliott Roosevelt, one of the president’s sons, rose to say that he cordially agreed with Stalin’s proposal, and was sure that the United States would endorse it likewise. This caused Churchill to storm from the room in disgust. The Russians soothed the prime minister, but it was a grisly moment. When Stalin made his sally, Churchill knew him to be responsible for the cold-blooded massacre of at least ten thousand Polish officers—the true figure was almost thirty thousand—as well as countless of his own people. Moreover, the U.S. president’s willingness to join the joke suggested a heartlessness which was real enough, and which shocked the British leader. Finally, Elliott Roosevelt’s intervention was intolerable. It was a curiosity of the war that great men saw fit to take their children on missions of state. Randolph Churchill’s presence in North Africa, and everywhere else, was an embarrassment. Jan Smuts and Harry Hopkins both brought their sons to Cairo for Sextant. But none matched the crassness of the president’s offspring. Churchill knew that, to sustain the Anglo-American relationship, he must endure almost anything which Roosevelt chose to say or do. But that moment in Tehran was hard for him. Marshall said of Stalin at the conference: “He was turning his hose on Churchill835 all the time, and Mr. Roosevelt, in a sense, was helping him. He [FDR] used to take a little delight in embarrassing Churchill.”
Cadogan recorded the distress836 of the British delegation when Roosevelt seemed willing to endorse almost everything Stalin proposed. When the future boundaries of Poland were discussed, Averell Harriman was dismayed by his president’s visible indifference. Roosevelt wanted only enough to satisfy Polish-American voters, which was not much. Soviet eavesdroppers reported to Stalin837 Churchill’s private warnings to Roosevelt about Moscow’s preparations to instal a Communist government in Poland. According to Sergo Beria, Roosevelt replied that since Churchill was attempting to do the same thing by installing an anti-Communist regime, he had no cause for complaint.
The U.S. leader was much more interested in promoting Soviet support for the future United Nations organisation, an easy ball for the Russians to play. They indulged Roosevelt by ready acquiescence, though even Stalin expressed scepticism about the president’s vision of China joining Russia, Britain and the United States to police the postwar world. Harriman perceived the danger of flaunting before the Russians Roosevelt’s carelessness about eastern European borders. The relentless advance of Stalin’s armies would have rendered it difficult for the West to stem Soviet imperialism. Churchill was by now reconciled to shifting Poland’s frontiers westwards, compensating the Poles with German territory for their eastern lands to be ceded to Russia. That proposal represented ruthlessness enough. But the president’s behaviour went further, making plain that Stalin could expect little opposition to his designs in Poland or elsewhere.
Roosevelt, bent upon creating a future in which the Great Powers acted in concert, seemed heedless of reality: that Stalin cared nothing for consensus, and was interested only in licence for pursuing his own unilateral purposes. Among the American team, Charles Bohlen and George Kennan of the State Department shared Harriman’s misgivings about Roosevelt’s belief that he shared a world vision with Stalin. The prime minister’s fears for the future began to coalesce. “That the President should deal with Churchill838 and Stalin as if they were people of equal standing in American eyes shocked Churchill profoundly,” wrote Ian Jacob.
Yet most of Roosevelt’s delegation left the summit basking in a glow of satisfaction created by the formal commitment to Overlord, so long desired by both the United States and Soviet Union. The persistent evasiveness of the British on this issue irked even the most Anglophile Americans. The Tehran experience afterwards yielded one of Churchill’s great sallies, no less pleasing for its misplaced self-belief. The meeting, he said, caused him to realise how small Britain was: “There I sat with the great Russian bear on one side of me, with paws outstretched, and on the other side the great American buffalo, and between the two sat the poor little English donkey who was the only one … who knew the right way home.”
Stalin was highly satisfied with the Tehran talks. He perceived himself as getting all that he wanted. He thought the president a truth-teller, as Churchill was not, and told the Soviet high command on his return to Moscow: “Roosevelt has given a firm commitment839 to launch large-scale operations in France in 1944. I think he will keep his word. But if he does not, we shall be strong enough to finish off Hitler’s Germany on our own.” After Kursk, his confidence was justified.
Eden thought the 1943 meetings with the Russians the most satisfactory, or least unsatisfactory, of the war, before the steep deterioration of relations during 1944, when Soviet expansionism became explicit. But the British delegation at Tehran deplored the manner in which the Big Three’s discussions roamed erratically across a wilderness of issues, bringing none to a decisive conclusion save that Churchill would thereafter have found it difficult to escape the Overlord commitment. Cunningham and Portal declared the conference840 a waste of time. The British were especially dismayed that no attempt was made to oblige the Russians to recognise the legitimacy of the Polish exile government in London in return for Anglo-American acceptance of Poland’s altered borders.
After Tehran, Churchill cannot have failed to understand how little Roosevelt cared for Britain, its interests or stature. Not for a moment did the prime minister relax his efforts to flatter and cajole the president. But it became progressively harder for him to address the United States than Russia. With Stalin, Churchill continued to seek bargains, but his expectations were pitched low. The American relationship, however, was fundamental to every operation of war; to feeding the British people; to all prospect of sustaining the empire in the postwar world. It seems extraordinary that some historians have characterised the relationship between Roosevelt and Churchill as a friendship. To be sure, the prime minister embraced the president in speech and correspondence as “my friend.” “Every morning when I wake,”841 he once said, “my first thought is how I can please President Roosevelt.” But much of what FDR served up to Churchill between 1943 and 1945 was gall and wormwood.
From Tehran, while Roosevelt went home to Washington Churchill flew to Cairo. He was tired and indeed ill, yet meetings and dinners crowded in upon one another. He rebuked Mountbatten by signal for demanding the services of 33,700 fighting soldiers to address 5,000 Japanese in the Arakan region of Burma—“the Americans have been taking their islands842 on the basis of two-and-a-half to one. That your Generals should ask for six-and-a-half to one has produced a very bad impression.” He dined at the embassy on December 10 with a party which included Smuts, Eden, Cadogan and Randolph Churchill, then took off at one a.m. for Tunisia. His York landed at the wrong airfield, where Brooke saw him “sitting on his suitcase in a very cold morning wind843, looking like nothing on earth. We were there about an hour before we moved on and he was chilled through by then.”
After another brief flight, they landed again, this time in the right place, and he was driven to Maison Blanche, Eisenhower’s villa near Carthage. On December 11, he slept all day, then dined with Ike, Brooke, Tedder and others. He went to bed in pain from his throat. At four a.m., Brooke was awakened by a plaintive voice crying out “Hulloo, Hulloo, Hulloo.” The CIGS switched on a torch and demanded crossly: “Who the hell is that?” His beam fell upon the prime minister in his dragon dressing gown, a brown bandage around his head, complaining of a headache and searching for his doctor. Next day Churchill had a temperature, and Moran telegraphed for nurses and a pathologist. He was diagnosed with pneumonia.
Through the days which followed, though he continued to see visitors and dispatch a stream of signals, he lay in bed, knowing that he was very ill. “If I die,” he told his daughter Sarah844, “don’t worry—the war is won.” On December 15, he suffered a heart attack. Sarah read Pride and Prejudice aloud to him. News of Churchill’s illness unleashed a surge of sentiment and sympathy among his people. A British soldier in North Africa wrote in his diary: “We all hope and pray845 that he will recover. It would be a great thing if Mr. Churchill will live to see the victorious end to his great fight against the Nazis.” On the afternoon of the seventeenth, Clementine Churchill arrived, escorted by Jock Colville, who had been recalled from the RAF to the Downing Street secretariat. The new antibiotics were doing their work. While the prime minister remained weak, and suffered a further slight heart attack, he no longer seemed in peril of death. On the nineteenth Clementine wrote to her daughter Mary: “Papa much better today846. Has consented not to smoke and to drink only weak whisky and soda.”
He was now fuming about the “scandalous … stagnation” of the Italian campaign, and especially about the failure to use available landing craft to launch an amphibious assault behind the German front. He urged Roosevelt to give swift consideration to British proposals for new command arrangements in the Mediterranean, now that Dwight Eisenhower had been named to direct Overlord. Roosevelt would almost certainly have given this role to Marshall, had the British been willing to agree that the chief of staff of the army should become super commander-in-chief of all operations against the Germans, in the Mediterranean as well as in northwest Europe. But Churchill and Brooke were determined to preserve at least one key C-in-C’s appointment for a British officer. The president was unwilling to spare Marshall from Washington merely to lead Overlord. On those terms, he preferred to keep Marshall at home, as overall director of the U.S. war effort.
The British Chiefs of Staff wanted Maitland Wilson to succeed Eisenhower as Mediterranean supremo, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder to become Ike’s deputy for Overlord. Churchill favoured Alexander for British commander on D-Day—as also did Eisenhower. The War Cabinet demurred, urging Montgomery in deference to public opinion as well as military desirability. Surprisingly, Churchill acceded to their view. This was certainly the right appointment, for Montgomery was a much superior general. But it was unusual for Churchill to allow himself to be baulked by ministers on a matter of such importance. Most likely, willingness to allow Alexander to remain in Italy reflected the importance which he attached to operations there. He believed, mistakenly, that “Alex” could provide the impetus he perceived as lacking. Macmillan strongly urged847 Alexander’s appointment, noting that Maitland Wilson had been Middle East C-in-C for a year, yet had done nothing to galvanise the slothful British war machine in Egypt. The Americans finally acceded to British wishes for Alexander to take over in the Mediterranean, precisely because they attached much less importance to Italy than to Overlord.
On December 22, the British Chiefs of Staff signalled from London that they supported Churchill’s proposal for a new amphibious assault in Italy. Initial planning assumed that there was only enough shipping to move a single division, while both Churchill and the Chiefs wanted to land two. On Christmas Day, Eisenhower, Maitland Wilson, Alexander, Tedder and Cunningham converged by air upon Carthage from all over the Mediterranean to discuss plans for Operation Shingle, a descent on the coast at Anzio, just south of Rome, provisionally scheduled for January 20. The meeting endorsed a two-division initial assault, subject to the proviso that it should not threaten the May date for Overlord.
On December 27, Churchill flew to Marrakesh for a prolonged spell of recuperation. “I propose to stay here in the sunshine,” he wrote to Roosevelt, “till I am quite strong again.” On his second day at the Villa Taylor, to his surprise and delight, he learned that the president had approved Shingle, subject only to renewed emphasis upon the sanctity of the French invasion date. This, however, was now to be put back a month, until June, at the insistence of Eisenhower and Montgomery. Having studied the D-Day plan for the first time, they were convinced that additional preparation, as well as a reinforced initial landing, were essential. The new date would fall in the first week of June. Churchill was hostile to the use of the word invasion in the context of D-Day: “Our object is the liberation of Europe848 from German tyranny … we ‘enter’ the oppressed countries rather than ‘invade’ them and … the word ‘invasion’ must be reserved for the time when we cross the German frontier. There is no need for us to make a present to Hitler of the idea that he is the defender of a Europe we are seeking to invade.” This was, of course, one semantic dispute which he lost.
On January 4, 1944, he wrote to Eden: “I am getting stronger ever day … All my thoughts are on ‘Shingle,’ which as you may well imagine I am watching intensely.” His convalescence in Marrakesh ended on January 14. He flew to Gibraltar, where Maitland Wilson and Cunningham gave him a final briefing on the Anzio plan. Then he boarded the battleship King George V to sail home. On the night of January 17 he landed at Plymouth, where he boarded the royal train, which had been sent to fetch him. Next morning, after an absence from England of nine weeks, he reached Downing Street. He cabled Roosevelt: “Am all right except for being rather shaky on my pins.” Arriving at Buckingham Palace for lunch with the king, a private secretary asked if he would like the lift. “Lift?” demanded the indignant prime minister. He ran up the stairs two at a time, then turned and thumbed his nose at the courtier.
The House of Commons knew nothing of his return until MPs looked up in astonishment in the middle of Questions, then leapt to their feet and began shouting, applauding and waving order papers. Harold Nicolson described how cheer after cheer greeted him
while Winston, very pink849, rather shy, beaming with mischief, crept along the front bench and flung himself into his accustomed seat. He was flushed with pleasure and emotion, and hardly had he sat down when two large tears began to trickle down his cheeks. He mopped clumsily at himself with a huge white handkerchief. A few minutes later he got up to answer questions. Most men would have been unable, on such an occasion, not to throw a flash of drama into their replies. But Winston answered them as if he were the young Under-Secretary, putting on his glasses, turning over his papers, responding tactfully to supplementaries, and taking the whole thing as conscientiously as could be. I should like to say that he seemed completely restored to health. But he looked pale when the first flush of pleasure had subsided, and his voice was not quite as vigorous as it had been.
Churchill retained his extraordinary ability to hold the attention of the House through long, discursive assessments of the war. After one such, he suddenly leaned across to the Opposition and demanded casually: “That all right?”850 MPs grinned back affectionately. His mastery of the Commons, wrote Nicolson, derived from “the combination of great flights of oratory with sudden swoops into the intimate and conversational.”
On the afternoon of January 19, Churchill presided at a Chiefs of Staff meeting, during which he urged commando landings on the Dalmatian coast, to progressively clear of Germans the islands off Yugoslavia. His hopes for Anzio were soaring. He spoke of forcing the Germans to withdraw into northern Italy, or even behind the Alps. Then Alexander’s armies would be free to pursue towards Vienna, strike into the Balkans, or swing left into France. Two days later, as the American Maj. Gen. John Lucas’s corps prepared to hit the beaches in Italy, the U.S. Fifth Army staged crossings of the Rapido River south of Rome. Churchill cabled to Stalin: “We have launched the big attack against the German armies defending Rome which I told you about at Tehran.” By midnight on January 22, thirty-six thousand British and American troops and three thousand vehicles were ashore at Anzio, having achieved complete surprise.
Yet through the days that followed, news from Italy turned sour. The Rapido crossings proved a disaster. The Germans snuffed out each precarious American bridgehead in turn. Kesselring acted with extraordinary energy, recovering from his astonishment about Anzio to concentrate troops and isolate the invaders. Four Allied divisions were soon ashore, yet going nowhere. As the Germans poured fire into the shallow beachhead, British and American soldiers manning their foxholes and gun positions found themselves trapped in one of the most painful predicaments of the war. “We did become like animals in the end,”851 said a soldier of the Sherwood Foresters. “You were stuck in the same place. You had nowhere to go. You didn’t get no rest … No sleep … You never expected to see the end of it. You just forgot why you were there.”
Casualties mounted rapidly, and so too did desertions. Nowhere from the beach to the front line offered safety from bombardment. The Luftwaffe attacked offshore shipping with new and deadly glider bombs. “It will be unpleasant if you get sealed off there and cannot advance from the south,” Churchill wrote to Alexander on January 27. On February 8, he signalled to Dill in Washington, “All this has been a disappointment to me.” It was true that German forces were tied down in Italy which would otherwise be fighting elsewhere. “Even a battle of attrition is better than standing by and watching the Russians fight. We should also learn a good many lessons about how not to do it which will be valuable in ‘Overlord.’” But these were poor consolations for what was, indubitably, one of the big Allied failures of the war.
Anzio was the last important operation which sprang from the personal inspiration of the prime minister. Without his support, neither Eisenhower nor Alexander could have persuaded the American Chiefs of Staff to provide means for such a venture. It reflected his passion for what Liddell Hart called “the strategy of indirect approach,” the exploitation of Allied command of the sea to sidestep the difficulties of frontal assault amid some of the most difficult terrain in the world. In principle Shingle was valid. But, to an extraordinary degree, commanders failed to think through a plan for what was to happen once the troops got ashore. In this, the weakness of the Anzio operation closely resembled that of Churchill’s other notorious amphibious failure, at the Dardanelles in 1915—as American corps commander Maj. Gen. John Lucas852 suggested before it began. Alexander, as commander-in-chief, must bear responsibility for the inadequacy of strategic planning for Shingle. He and his staff grossly underestimated the speed and strength of the German response, believing that the mere threat to Kesselring’s rear would cause him to abandon the defence of his line at Monte Cassino. They never identified the importance of quick seizure of the hills beyond the Anzio beaches, a far more plausible objective than a dash for Rome. The Americans, always sceptical, displayed better judgement about the landing’s prospects than the British.
Moreover, all operations of war must be judged in the context of the forces available to carry them out. The Allies had insufficient shipping in the Mediterranean to put ashore an army large enough to risk a decisive thrust inland. Lucas has often been criticized for failure to strike swiftly towards Rome in the wake of his corps’ successful landing. He was certainly a poor general. But had he done as the fire-eaters wished and dashed for the capital, he would have exposed a long, thin salient to counterattack. The Germans always punished excessive boldness, as they did nine months later at Arnhem. The likeliest outcome of a dash for Rome from Anzio would have been the destruction of Lucas’s corps. As it was, despite four months of misery which the defenders of the Anzio perimeter now resigned themselves to endure, they were rewarded with belated success.
So bitter was the struggle on the coast, matched by the battle farther south for the heights of Monte Cassino, that the Allies experienced little joy in the capture of Rome when it came in June 1944. But what took place was preferable to what might have been had a more daring commander led the Anzio assault. Shingle confirmed the U.S. Chiefs of Staff in their conviction that Italy offered only poisoned fruits. “The more one sees of this peninsula853, the less suited it seems for modern military operations,” agreed Harold Macmillan. The campaign could not be abandoned, but henceforward the Americans viewed it as a liability. They would support no more of Churchill’s adventures, in the Mediterranean or anywhere else.
Events in Italy in the winter of 1943–44 once more highlighted the gulf between the prime minister’s heroic aspirations and the limitations of Allied armies fighting the Germans. “I gather we are still stronger than the enemy,” he signalled to Alexander on February 10, “and naturally one wonders why over 70,000 British and Americans should be hemmed in on the defensive by what are thought to be at most 60,000 Germans”—in reality there were 90,000. He wrote to Smuts on February 27 that his confidence in Alexander was “undiminished,” adding sadly: “Though if I had been well enough to be at his side as I had hoped at the critical moment, I believe I could have given the necessary stimulus. Alas for time, distance, illness and advancing years.” If the generals of Britain and America had been Marlboroughs or Lees, if their citizen soldiers had displayed the mettle of Spartans, they might have accomplished in the Mediterranean such great deeds as Churchill’s imagination conceived for them. But they were not and did not. They were mortal clay, doing their best against an outstanding commander, Kesselring, and one of the greatest armies the world has ever seen.
Churchill had been right, in 1942 and 1943, to force upon the Americans campaigns in the Mediterranean, when there was nowhere else they could credibly fight. He told the House of Commons on February 22: “On broad grounds of strategy, Hitler’s decision to send into the south of Italy as many as eighteen divisions, involving, with their maintenance troops, probably something like half a million Germans, and to make a large secondary front in Italy, is not unwelcome to the Allies … We must fight the Germans somewhere, unless we are to stand still and watch the Russians.” But by now there was a lameness about such an explanation. In 1944, Churchill’s Italian vision was overtaken by that of Overlord, a huge and indispensable American conception. After Anzio, even the prime minister himself implicitly acknowledged this, and embraced the prospect of D-Day with increasing excitement. Though his enthusiasm for Mediterranean operations never subsided, he was obliged to recognise that the major battles in the west would be fought in France, not Italy.
In the spring of 1944, Churchill was full of apprehension not only about Overlord, but also about the mood of the British people. Several lost by-elections exposed voters’ lack of enthusiasm for the government, and weariness with the war. After an Independent Labour candidate in West Derbyshire on February 18 defeated the Tory Lord Hartington, who campaigned with the prime minister’s conspicuous endorsement, Jock Colville wrote: “Sitting in a chair in his study854 at the Annexe, the PM looked old, tired and very depressed and was even muttering about a General Election. Now, he said, with great events pending, was the time when national unity was essential, the question of annihilating great states had to be faced; it began to look as if democracy had not the persistence necessary to go through with it, however well it might have shewn its capacity of defence.” In Churchill’s Commons speech of February 22, he delivered a contemptuous jab at his critics, “little folk who frolic alongside the juggernaut of war to see what fun or notoriety they can extract from the proceedings.” Five days later, writing to Smuts, he alluded to such people again: “Their chirpings will presently be stilled855 by the thunder of the cannonade.” On March 25, to Roosevelt, he wrote ruefully, “We certainly do have plenty to worry us, now that our respective democracies feel so sure that the whole war is as good as won.” Tory MP Cuthbert Headlam wrote in April 1944: “In the H of C smoking room856 a new leader is decided upon almost every other day.”
There was much to vex Churchill, the burden made heavier because so few of the difficulties and hazards could be publicly avowed. Countless hours were devoted to Poland. The Polish exile government in London was obdurately opposed to changes in its frontiers—the shift of the entire country a step westward—which Churchill had reluctantly accepted. Its representatives persisted in proclaiming their anger towards Moscow about the Katyn massacres. What adherent of freedom and democracy could blame them? Yet so astonishing was the popularity of Russia in Britain that opinion surveys showed a decline in public enthusiasm for the Poles, because of their declared hostility to Moscow. Again and again, the prime minister urged the exiles to mute their protests. Since Russia would soon possess physical mastery of their country, Soviet goodwill was indispensable to any possibility that they might share in its postwar governance. Stalin lied flatly to Churchill, asserting that he had no intention of influencing Poland’s internal politics, and that the Poles would be free to choose their own postwar rulers. But in a stream of cables and letters, the Soviet warlord vented his own anger, as real as it was base and monstrously hypocritical, about the London Poles’ declarations of hostility to the Soviet Union.
It was plain to Churchill that the prospects of a free Poland were slender, and shrinking. Amid the exiles’ rejections of his pleas for realism, his lonely battle to restore the nation to freedom was being lost. In all probability, nothing within the power of the Western Allies would have saved Poland from Stalin’s maw. There was one dominant, intractable reality: the Soviet Union’s insistence upon exacting its price for the twenty-eight million Russians who died in the struggle to destroy Nazism. On March 3, Eden asked Churchill to cable Moscow personally about the case of two Royal Navy seamen seized in Murmansk after a drunken brawl and sentenced to penal servitude in Siberia. The prime minister wrote to the foreign secretary: “I cannot send such a telegram which would embroil me with Bruin on a small point when so many large ones are looming up.” Instead, he suggested to Eden that questions in Parliament might generate useful publicity about the case: “A little anti-Russian feeling in the House of Commons would be salutary at the present time.” When Sir John Anderson wrote to Churchill urging that the Russians should be told of the Allies’ “Tube Alloys” project—creation of the atomic bomb—Churchill scrawled in the margin of Anderson’s minute: “On no account.”857
Eden wrote in his diary about Poland: “Soviet attitude on this business858 raises most disquieting thoughts. Is Soviet regime one which will ever cooperate with the West?” A few days later he added: “I confess to growing apprehension that Russia859 has vast aims and that these may include the domination of Eastern Europe and even the Mediterranean and the ‘communising’ of much that remains.” In Italy, the Soviets refused to deal with the Allied Control Commission, and instead appointed their own ambassador with a mandate to embarrass the Anglo-Americans. It was painful for Churchill, who knew the truth about Stalin’s tyranny and the perils posed by his ambitions, to be obliged to indulge the British people’s romantic delusions, and to echo their gratitude for Russian sacrifices. Even as he was participating in an exceptionally harsh exchange of cables with Moscow on a range of issues, in a BBC broadcast on March 26 he nonetheless made a generous tribute to the Red Army. Its 1943 offensive, he said, “constitutes the greatest cause of Hitler’s undoing.” The Russian people had been extraordinarily fortunate to find, “in their supreme ordeal and agony a warrior leader, Marshal Stalin, whose authority enables him to combine and control the movements of armies numbered by many millions upon a front of nearly 2,000 miles, and to impart a unity and a concert to the war direction in the East which has been very good for Russia and for all her Allies.” All this was true, but represented only a portion of reality.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, difficulties persisted with the French. Harold Macmillan wrote from Algiers: “I would much rather get what we want860—if we can—through the French rather than by imposing it on the French. But it is a difficult hand for me to play … the trouble is that neither the President nor the PM has any confidence in de Gaulle.” Churchill had adopted a jaundiced view ever since, at Brazzaville in the Congo in July 1941, the intransigent general gave an interview to the Chicago Daily News in which he suggested that Britain was “doing a wartime deal with Hitler.” Churchill and Eden several times discussed the possibility that de Gaulle was mentally unhinged. The prime minister had become sick to death of his petulance and studied discourtesy. It seemed intolerable that Britain should struggle with Washington on behalf of Free France, which the Americans despised, and be rewarded only with ingratitude from its leader.
During Churchill’s time in North Africa, he spent many hours with Macmillan and de Gaulle and other prominent Frenchmen, seeking to sustain a veneer of unity. His efforts were sabotaged by de Gaulle’s unilateralism. At one moment, the general ordered the arrest of three prominent Vichyites in Algiers, which provoked an explosion of Churchillian exasperation. British politicians and diplomats exhausted themselves pleading before the prime minister the case for de Gaulle, a habitual offender facing a judge minded to don the black cap. After one exchange, Macmillan wrote: “Much as I love Winston861, I cannot stand much more.” Yet two days later, like almost every other close associate of the prime minister’s, he relented: “He is really a remarkable man. Although he can be so tiresome and pig-headed, there is no one like him. His devotion to work and duty is quite extraordinary.”
Churchill’s commitment to restoring France to its rightful position as a great nation never wavered. For this, and for fighting the Americans so staunchly in support of its interests, the British government merited, though never received, its Gallic neighbour’s enduring gratitude. In Quebec the previous year, Eden argued fiercely with Cordell Hull about the virtues of French resurrection: “We both got quite heated at one time862 when I told him we had to live twenty miles from France and I wanted to rebuild her as far as I could.” Macmillan observed that while Roosevelt hated de Gaulle, Churchill’s sentiments were more complex: “He feels about De Gaulle863 like a man who has quarrelled with his son. He will cut him off with a shilling. But (in his heart) he would kill the fatted calf if only the prodigal would confess his faults and take his orders obediently in future.” Since this would never happen, however, there were many moments in 1943–44 when, but for Eden’s loyalty to de Gaulle, Churchill would have cut the Frenchman adrift.
Even now, with two million men training and arming in Britain for the invasion, Churchill chose to sustain the dangerous fiction—dangerous because of the mistrust of himself which it fed among Americans—that Overlord still represented an option rather than an absolute commitment. In February he invited the Chiefs of Staff to review plans for Jupiter—an assault on northern Norway—if the French landings failed. He convened a committee to report to him weekly on the progress of D-Day preparations, and wrote to Marshall on February 15: “I am hardening very much on this operation as the time approaches in the sense of wishing to strike if humanly possible, even if the limiting conditions we laid down at Tehran are not exactly fulfilled.” The conditional was still there, as it was in a message to Roosevelt which he drafted on March 25: “What is the latest date on which a decision can be taken as to whether ‘Overlord’ is or is not to be launched on the prescribed date? … If…20 or 25 mobile German divisions are already in France on the date in question, what are we going to do?” This cable, which would have roused the most acute American dismay, was withheld after prudent second thoughts. But it reflected Churchill’s continuing uncertainty, ten weeks before D-Day.
In the Mediterranean, Harold Macmillan wrote: “I am much distressed to see864 a worsening of Anglo-American relations generally since Eisenhower left and I am also not very hopeful of getting any new idea into the PM’s mind at present.” There was much debate and many changes of heart about Anvil, a prospective landing in the south of France originally scheduled to coincide with the descent on Normandy. The British, having favoured the scheme, now turned sour because of its inevitable impact on Allied strength in Italy. On March 21 Maitland Wilson signalled, recommending Anvil’s cancellation. After protracted exchanges with Washington, most about landing craft, it was agreed to postpone the operation. Churchill became increasingly sceptical, and finally absolutely hostile. He favoured diversionary landings by commandos on the Atlantic coast of France. He also remained resolute in his enthusiasm for an invasion of Sumatra, exasperating his own Chiefs of Staff and especially Brooke. They opposed the scheme on its merits, and also knew that the Americans would never provide the necessary shipping. Washington was interested only in an offensive into upper Burma, to open a China passage. This, with deep reluctance, the British finally agreed to undertake.
Churchill’s closest wartime colleagues, above all the Chiefs of Staff, emerged from the Second World War asserting the prime minister’s greatness as a statesman, while deploring his shortcomings as a strategist. Yet no Allied leader displayed unbroken wisdom. Churchill’s grand vision of the war was superb. Even acknowledging his anachronistic delusions about the future of the British Empire, he articulated the hopes and ambitions of the Grand Alliance as no other man, including Roosevelt, was capable of doing. His record as a warlord should be judged by what was done rather than by what was said. He indulged many flights of fancy, but insisted upon realisation of very few. The 1943 Aegean adventure was an exception rather than a commonplace.
If, as those who worked with him believed, in 1944–45 he was no longer what he had been in 1940–41, this is not to be wondered at. Smuts told Eden after a lunch of the prime minister’s: “He may be mentally the man he was865, he may be, but he certainly is not physically. I fear he overestimates his strength and he will wear himself out if he is not careful.” The wise old South African, of whom Churchill mused that he was what he thought Socrates must have been like, took care to say this within earshot of the prime minister. Ismay was wryly amused by the sternness with which Smuts often urged on Churchill the care of his health, admonishing him for overstaying his bedtime. The prime minister responded “rather like a small boy866 being sent off by his mother.”
For all Churchill’s exhaustion and ill health, his personal fearlessness persisted. He loved to watch the Luftwaffe’s occasional night attacks from a Whitehall roof. “The raids are very fine867 to look at now,” he wrote to Randolph, who was in Yugoslavia, on April 4, “because of the brilliant red flares which hang seemingly motionless in the air, and the bright showers of incendiaries … sometimes I go to Maria’s battery [Mary Churchill’s antiaircraft position] and hear the child ordering the guns to fire.” This was a lovely line. On March 4, Jock Colville described the prime minister on a Saturday at Chequers:
Late at night868, after the inevitable film, the PM took his station in the Great Hall and began to smoke Turkish cigarettes—the first time I have ever seen him smoke one—saying that they were the only thing he got out of the Turks. He keeps on referring to the point that he has not long to live and tonight, while the gramophone played the Marseillaise and Sambre et Meuse, he told Coningham, Harold Macmillan, Pug, Tommy and me that this was his political testament for after the war: “Far more important than India or the Colonies or solvency is the Air. We live in a world of wolves—and bears.” Then we had to listen to most of Gilbert and Sullivan on the gramophone, before retiring at [three a.m.].
A mooted Easter meeting with Roosevelt on Bermuda was aborted because the president was ill—indeed, his health never recovered from the strains of the Tehran conference. Brooke, Moran and others anyway opposed any further long flights by the prime minister. His desire to see Roosevelt was driven more by restlessness and exaggerated faith in his own persuasive powers than by any real need for a summit. On April 4, 1944, Churchill told the House of Commons that 197,005 of the United Kingdom’s people had perished since the war began in September 1939. This figure omitted many others who were posted merely as missing, but would never come home. The public, and even some of those closest to power, perceived the war as entering its final phase. Churchill himself never succumbed to such a delusion, above all in the shadow of Overlord. Another hundred thousand Britons had yet to die before victory would be won. He had to rouse himself, and his people, for new exertions.