Recap: Winston Churchill Symposium

On Saturday March 18, I attended the Winston S. Churchill Symposium at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. The program was put together by the Museum as well as The Churchill Society of New Orleans. The symposium consisted of four authors which was followed by a panel discussion.

The first author to speak was Nigel Hamilton. He is the author of Tehran, the Big Three and D-Day. Hamilton’s talk focused on the Tehran Conference. At the Quebec Conference in the fall of 1943, Churchill and Roosevelt agreed that in May of 1944 a cross channel invasion would occur as well as a Soviet led attack on the Eastern front.

At the end of November 1943, Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met in Tehran, Iran. Roosevelt and Churchill met in Cairo, Egypt before flying together to Tehran. At Tehran, the Big 3 were to discuss plans for Operation Overlord. Roosevelt also wanted Stalin to agree to declare war on Japan as soon as Hitler was defeated.

At the Cairo meeting Churchill told Roosevelt that the Allies should go through the Underbelly of Europe instead of crossing the English Channel. This greatly upset Roosevelt. He felt that Churchill was going against his word. Roosevelt told Churchill if he wanted to go through the Underbelly of Europe, he would have to go it alone. He made it clear that he would move US troops and materials from the European Theater and move them to the Pacific Theater.

Historians are still debating why Churchill wanted to go through the Underbelly of Europe despite agreeing to the cross channel invasion.

The next author was Dr. Jonathan Schneer. He wrote Ministers at War: Winston Churchill and His War Cabinet.  Churchill’s War Cabinet was formed in May 1940. It consisted of five members but grew to eight as time went on. The Cabinet helped steer Britain through the war as well as deal with any war related issues. The members disagreed and fought with one another. Churchill was able to keep the Cabinet together until Labor pulled out in 1945, which forced Churchill to call an election.

The Cabinet met at 5:30 on Monday and at noon on Tuesday and Thursday. At first they met in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, but moved during the Blitz to an underground Cabinet Room. The official meeting minutes were kept and can be researched. Each member had a secretary that kept notes, but the secretaries were to destroyed the notes after the creation of the official minutes. One secretary did not destroy his notes.

The next author was Lynn Olson. She wrote Last Hope Island Britain Occupied Europe and the Brotherhood That Helped Turn the Tide of War. In her book she discusses that how Britain gave refuge to the governments of the occupied countries and how these occupied countries helped the war effort. Olson wrote her book to give credit to the efforts of the occupied countries.

London was home to the governments of six occupied countries.  In 1940, Britain was left standing alone when France fell to the Nazis. Some British were glad that they were now standing alone and had no Allies to worry about. Despite the British dislike of foreigners, they had to rely on them. Olson gave several examples:

  1. Belgium provided gold to keep Britain financially afloat.
  2. Polish pilots flew in the RAF and were more daring than the British.
  3. British code breaking was successful because of the French and Polish people.
  4. Intelligence on the Germans came from the occupied countries.
  5. Norway’s navy helped the British Navy survive.

Queen Wilhelmina reluctantly went to Britain. She wanted to stay with her people and fight. She gave antifascist radio address that rallied the spirits of her defeated people. King Haokon of Norway’s “H7” monogram become the symbol of his country’s resistance to Nazi rule.

In the occupied countries, the Germans banned the radio. Each night, people would pull out their radio, that they hid, and tuned in to hear the BBC. They waited to hear “Europe this is London calling.” This gave the people hope that not all was lost and that London was still standing.

The fourth speaker was Sir John Dermot Turing. He wrote Prof: Alan Turing Decoded. Turing’s talk focused on the intelligence gathering efforts of the British and Americans. In February of 1941, the US and Britain signed an intelligence treaty. They agreed to share intelligence and the know how.

The English code breakers needed supplies, but could not put a reason on the acquisition form. So the request kept getting denied. So they came up with a plan. They wrote a letter to Churchill and hand delivered it to him. They were able to get the supplies they needed.

The Nazis wiretapped theconversations between Churchill and Roosevelt. So the Americans created a forty ton machine that could not be wiretapped. The British went to New York to look at the machine and sign off on the use of it. The Americans would not let the British look at it. Churchill had to call General Marshall and say if you do not let us look at the machine, we will not give you any intelligence. The British was able to look at the machine.

Turing also mentioned that the Nazis wanted Mexico to declare war on the US on grounds if the Nazis won the war Mexico would receive Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico.

Overall, I enjoyed the symposium very much. I cannot wait to read the books. I look forward to the next symposium as well as the World War II Conference in November.

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