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Summer 1942 (Age 67)

Churchill’s Government defeats a No Confidence motion in the House

As Churchill’s Government defeated a No Confidence motion in the House of Commons, the Eighth Army finally stopped Rommel’s advance in Egypt. Churchill’s fear that the fate of Singapore would befall Cairo was not to be realized.

On 19 July a high level American delegation including General Marshall, Admiral King and Harry Hopkins arrived at Chequers to discuss “Operation Sledgehammer,” the invasion of the Cherbourg Peninsula. Although Churchill also favoured “Operation Jupiter,” the invasion of Norway, the British proposed “Operation Gymnast,” the invasion of French North Africa.

“The past week represented a turning point in the whole war and that now we are on our way shoulder to shoulder.”

The British view prevailed and the Americans agreed to an attack against North Africa, renamed “Operation Torch.” Roosevelt expressed the view that “the past week represented a turning point in the whole war and that now we are on our way shoulder to shoulder.”

They would also require the shoulder of the Russian bear and Churchill determined to visit Stalin in his own den to gain support fox his invasion sequence of Africa, then Italy, then France. On the way to Moscow, he visited Egypt to investigate personally the need for a command change in the Middle East. Because Churchill would have to fly in an unpressurized airplane he practised using an oxygen mask, which he asked to be adapted to allow him to smoke while wearing it.

In Egypt Churchill met with all the commanders including Wavell, who came in from India. Smuts also joined them from South Africa. Determined to make changes after visiting the Eighth Army at El Alamein, Churchill telegraphed Attlee that he proposed the following appointments: Alexander as C-in-C, Near East Command with Gott to command the Eighth Army. The next day Gott was killed and Churchill wanted to replace him with Maitland Wilson, but under pressure from Smuts and Brooke, he appointed the little-known Bernard Montgomery. Auchinleck was offered the Middle East Command, Iraq and Persia. Churchill also visited the Fourth Hussars, in which he had served in 1895.

Arriving in Moscow by way of Teheran, the Churchill entourage included Averell Harriman, the personal representative of President Roosevelt. After a “bleak and sombre” beginning, Churchill and Stalin had a frank and productive few days. While Stalin still argued for an attack on France, Churchill explained why North Africa was the appropriate target. “If we could end the year in possession of North Africa, we could threaten the belly of Hitler’s Europe” Stalin replied: “May God help this enterprise to succeed.” Churchill also assured the Russian leader that “Operation Bolero,” the assemblage of American and Commonwealth forces in Britain for an eventual invasion across the Channel, would proceed.

Although German troops were at the time only fifty miles from Stalingrad, Churchill sent the following message to Attlee: “Stalin gave me a full account of the Russian position which seemed very encouraging. He certainly speaks with great confidence of being able to hold out to the winter.”

When Churchill was back in Egypt on his return home, the raid an Dieppe, predominantly by Canadian forces, occurred. Churchill conducted his own investigation of the fiasco, particularly on the roles of General Montgomery and of Combined Operations under Admiral Louis Mountbatten. Many years later Churchill commented that the Dieppe raid “served to make the Germans more conscious of danger along the whole of Occupied France. This helped to hold troops and resources in the west, which did something to take the weight off Russia.”

While it appeared that Stalingrad would be lost, convoys were getting through and Russia would survive. Berlin was being bombed and the Germans were having difficulty supplying Rommel. Churchill was meeting every Tuesday with Eisenhower to discuss “Torch.” By the end of September Churchill said: “The tide of destiny is moving steadily in our favour, though our voyage will be long and hard.”

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