March 20, 2015

Preparing for “Overlord”, the invasion of Europe

Churchill entered his wife’s room on New Year’s morning and exclaimed: ‘I am so happy. I feel so much better.” They lunched in bright warm sunshine in an olive grove. Montgomery was visiting before he left to assume command of the Allied land forces preparing for Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. Montgomery was overheard commenting that his chaplains were more important to him than his artillery and that he thought the 8th Army would follow his instructions in voting in an election.

“… you will bear witness that I do not repeat my stories so often as my dear friend, the President of the United States.”

Lord Beaverbrook also visited and after an evening of reminiscences about their experiences in two world wars, Churchill turned to Commander Thompson and said, “But, Tommy, you will bear witness that I do not repeat my stories so often as my dear friend, the President of the United States.”

Exiled Czech President Benes came to lunch and expressed his belief that Russia would have come to the aid of Czechoslovakia at the time of Munich and that he could reach an accommodation with Stalin on the border between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia after the war, which he thought would end this year.

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Fitzroy Maclean and Randolph Churchill visited while they awaited their drop into Yugoslavia to meet Tito’s forces. Colville noted that the Yugoslavian situation was next to Anzio in Churchill’s attention while in Marrakesh.

Commenting on the Polish situation, Churchill made it quite clear that the Allies were not prepared “to begin a new war with Russia for the sake of the Polish Eastern frontier.”

After General de Gaulle’s visit Churchill commented: “Now that the General speaks English so well he understands my French perfectly.”

After a review of French troops with de Gaulle the British party flew to Gibraltar where they boarded the battleship King George V for Plymouth.

Shortly after their return an amusing incident occurred. Churchill had enquired who wrote political summaries which arrived from the Washington Embassy. He was informed that it was Mr. Isaiah Berlin, Fellow of All Souls and Tutor of New College (who subsequently wrote Mr. Churchill in 1940). When the famous song writer Irving Berlin arrived to entertain the troops, the Prime Minister confused him with Isaiah and invited him to lunch – and conversed with him as if he had been the academic, asking such questions as “When do you think the war will end, Mr. Berlin?” Irving Berlin enjoyed the occasion and confidently forecast the reelection of President Roosevelt.

Churchill was not so pleased particularly when Berlin told him that his most important piece of work was ‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’. The Prime Minister was quite amused later when he learned of the mistaken identi-ty. On meeting Isaiah Berlin, Churchill said: “I fear that you have learned of the grave solecism I was so unfortunate to have perpetrated.”

“Now that the General speaks English so well he understands my French perfectly.”

On other occasions Churchill’s fatigue and stress were evident. John Colville found him reflecting that ‘with the great events pending, [it] 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 shown its capacity.’ On another occasion he said that “this world (this dusty and lamentable ball) is now too beastly to live in.”

Attention focused on Anzio in February and Churchill’s feelings were summed up in his remark that ‘we hurled a wildcat an the shores of Anzio – all we have is a stranded whale.’

On February 15 the Allies unsuccessfully attacked German forces at Monte Cassio and on February 16 the Germans counter-attacked at Anzio. The war was bogged down by Napoleon’s fifth ele- ment – mud. The hope of capturing Roxne in January was now distant.

‘The lessons of Italy would be applied in Normandy. Bordeaux was rejected as a suitable port for landing. Churchill directed that planning keep casualties to a minimum. Meanwhile, Rommel was busy strengthening the Atlantic wall.

On February 21 bombs hit Horse Guards Parade, damaged Kitchener’s statue and shattered windows of 10 Downing St. The March 14 dinner with King George ended in an air raid shelter.

Also in March Churchill was deeply upset by the death of Wingate whom he called a man of genius “who might well have been a man of destiny.”

On February 26 he broadcast to the world with extensive references to the Government’s social services and post- war plans. But there was much to be done before victory was achieved. “The hour of our greatest effort and action is approaching. It will require from our own people here, from parliament, from the Press, from all classes, the same cool, strong nerves, the same toughness of fibre, which stood us in good stead in those days when we were all alone under the blitz.’ His message was not well received.

No one had given more to the cause than Churchill but the cost to his health was great. Brooke noted in his diary: “We found him in a desperately tired mood. I am afraid that he is losing ground rapidly. He seems quite incapable of concentrating for a few minutes on end, and keeps wandering continuously. He kept yawning and said he was feeling desperately tired.’ His box was accumulating a ‘monstrous pile of urgent and unsettled matter.’

At times of stress Churchill often reverted to his encyclopedic knowledge of history and literature, sometimes to the chagrin of his associates. John Colville: “At dinner he spent most of the time repeating the Lays of Ancient Rome and Marmoin, which was a remarkable feat of memory but rather boring.”

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