December 2019 – Michael Simpson – Roosevelt and Churchill

This month’s lecture was given by Michael Simpson, retired Reader in American History at Swansea University.

The relationship between Churchill and Roosevelt began on 11 September 1939 when Roosevelt realised that Churchill might become Prime Minister. They exchanged 25 messages over a six month period, mainly about the war at sea .Following the Blitzkreig on Western Europe, Britain desperately needed supplies. Although America wanted Britain to win the war, they did not want to get directly involved. However they supplied 500 old World War One destroyers in exchange for 99 year leases of Bermuda and islands off Nova Scotia which enabled them to establish an outer ring of defence against Germany. In 1941 the Lend Lease Act allowed Britain toobtain supplies without paying immediately. The US also repaired British warships and escorted convoys to Iceland. They extended neutrality to half the Atlantic as well.

In August 1941 Churchill and Roosevelt met for the first time. The meeting was held in Nova Scotia, where they discussed increasing supplies and drew up a Blue Print for promoting free trade, peace and security after the war and founding the United Nations. Churchill was an imperialist and reluctantly signed the Atlantic Charter, hoping to modify it later.

The Americans entered the war in December 1941 after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour. The Allies progressed taking North Africa, Sicily and Italy, culminating in the invasion of France in June
1944. By July 1943 the Americans were the dominant partner and pressed for the independence of India during the war itself and the invasion of Europe. Roosevelt wanted to befriend Stalin and at the Tehran Conference in November 1943, he courted Stalin at Churchill’s expense. Whilst Roosevelt took a global view, Churchill was more interested in trade and spheres of influence. Britain assumed a secondary role in the field with larger American and Russian forces present.

Roosevelt died on 12 April 1945, just before the end of the war in Europe on 8 May1945 and the surrender of Japan of 14 August 1945. It was left to Harry S. Truman to deal with the post war situation.

Churchill and Roosevelt had a good working relationship. Their wives, however, did not approve of their husbands’ opposite number. Although the media stresses the ‘special relationship’ it was invented by Winston Churchill and the US pays lip service to it. In reality, America sees Britain as just another European nation, Germany being the most important. In 1940 Britain did not stand alone. We were supported by the Commonwealth countries and Yugoslavia was still fighting until 1941. Roosevelt became President in 1933 and brought America through the Great Depression. Churchill was re-elected in 1955 despite a series of minor strokes.

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