Churchill’s tensions were often manifested in his treatment of his staff. A secretary, Elizabeth Layton (now Nel), wrote her parents that “sometimes he is just as merry and on edge as he could be and barks at you for nothing at all.” On another occasion she told her parents that they had a grand time at Chequers because “the boss was in a grand temper and … he treated us like human beings for once!” Churchill had earlier told another secretary, Marian Holmes, that “you must never be frightened of me when I snap. I’m not snapping at you but thinking of my work.”
“Are we beasts? Are we taking this too far?”
He had much both to snap about and to be in a grand tem-per over. Relations with Russia were strained by the news of the discovery of the remains of 8,000 Polish officers executed in the Katyn forest near Smolensk. Polish General Sikorski accused the Russians of the atrocity. An angry Stalin retaliated by breaking relations with the Polish Government-in-Exile. Churchill was caught in the middle between his two allies. Acknowledging that the Russians could be very cruel, he argued that the Poles must “shift the argument from the dead to the living and from the past to the future.’ There was no use, Churchill wrote Eden, prowling morbidly around the three-year-old graves of Smolensk.” He successfully softened the public wrath of the Polish communique.
At the same time Churchill learned that ‘the Germans had developed rockets capable of hit- ting London and it appeared that Operation Sledgehammer, the invasion of Europe in 1943, was not going to happen. The good news was that the Allies were advancing in North Africa. Churchill wrote his son: “What a change this is from the days when Hitler danced his jig of joy at Compiegne.’ [Actually there was no jig, as has since been noted. -Ed.]
His attention was drawn to the Pacific Theatre by a fear that the Americans were going to give it more attention, despite their professed “Germany first” policy. He felt that a meeting of Pacific commanders in Washington required his presence. On 5 May Churchill, accompanied by Brooke, Beaverbrook, Harriman and the Chiefs of Staff, boarded the Queen Mary for America. En route, Churchill and the Chiefs discussed future strategy now that victory in Africa was imminent. He had no illusions about the challenges in the Pacific: “Going into swampy jungles to fight the Japanese is like going into the water to fight a shark.’
On 12 May the Trident Conference began at the White House. Churchill suggested sending the victorious armies from Africa against Sicily and then Italy and the armies in India against the Japanese forces in Malaya and Sumatra.
While in Washington Churchill received a message from General Alexander: “Sir, it is my duty to report that the Tunisian campaign is over. All enemy resistance has ceased. We are masters of the North African shores.
One of the great deceptions of the war involved putting a body ashore with false documents indicating Greece as the probable next target. This deception was later made famous in the film “The Man Who Never Was.’
On 19 May Churchill spoke for the second time to the U.S. Congress. He warned that only a lack of will or a dispute among the Allies would provide hope to the Axis and that much blood must still be shed before victory.
Two momentous decisions came from Trident: the date of the cross-Channel invasion was set for1 May 1944 and the US agreed to share more information on the development of an atomic bomb.
Churchill flew to Algiers via Newfoundland and Gibraltar for a meeting with Eisenhower, Marshall, Montgomery, Brooke and Alexander which reached final agreement on an invasion of Sicily. He also mediated a reconciliation between the French Generals Giraud and de Gaulle.
Before leaving Africa Churchill spoke to troops in a Roman amphitheatre in Carthage. Later he said: “I was speaking from where the cries of Christian virgins rent the air whilst roaring lions devoured them – and yet I am no lion and certainly not a virgin.”
After being unable to decide whether to back Tito’s partisans or the rival Chetnik army of General Mihailovich, Churchill chose Tito and parachuted emissaries into Yugoslavia, including his pre-war research assistant, Bill Deakin.
On a June evening at Chequers, Churchill viewed films of the bombing of German towns. “Are we beasts?,” he asked. “Are we taking this too far?’ In his heart he knew how far they must go. On receiving the Freedom of the City of London at the Guildhall he said: “We, the United Nations, demand from the Nazi, Fascist and Japanese tyrannies, unconditional surrender.” But, he insisted, this demand must not come from a “mere lust for vengeance.”
Get the Churchill Bulletin, delivered to your inbox, once a month.