Researching the Atlantic Conference, Argentia, Newfoundland, August 1941
A Question about Argentia
I am researching events and individuals at the first “summit” between U.S. and British leaders. This was the “Atlantic Conference” at Argentia, Newfoundland on 9-12 August 1941. Most histories focus on the summit meeting, consequently excluding critical meetings between other high ranking individuals. Argentia was certainly also a military meeting. Strategy, tactics and materiel were likewise discussed. Can you help me develop a list of the individuals who involved? Sir John Dill, Admiral Ernest J. King, Lord Beaverbrook and Sir Alexander Cadogan were not there to simply to attend dinners. Have memorandums been released from the of either country? How I can obtain copies? —F.B., Alaska
Where to Begin…
Google some of the names first of all, if you haven’t already. References, particularly Wikipedia, will lead to sources and archival resources. I link four involved names above. Among books, probably the most scholarly is the second revised edition of Ted Wilson’s The First Summit: Roosevelt & Churchill at Placentia Bay, 1941. It will answer many of the questions you ask.
The relevant volume of Foreign Relations of the United States likewise lists all the participants and includes minutes of many military meetings, not just Churchill-Roosevelt meetings. Useful too is the Churchill official biography by Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 6 Finest Hour 1939-1941 .
Also consult H.V. Morton, Atlantic Meeting. Morton, known mainly as a travel writer, joined the British delegation as a “representative journalist.” He was not a scholar, like Wilson. But as a result of his opportunity he was a singular witness. He had quite an interesting story to tell which touches on many British participants.
For Americans, similarly, check standard works about Roosevelt and his colleagues during the war, such as Robert Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins (New York: Harper & Row, 1948). The Library of Congress and Churchill Archives Centre websites may also offer some documents relating to participants and any documents pertaining to the meeting. The appropriate volume of The Churchill Documents (Hillsdale College Press), is Vol. 16, The Ever-Widening War 1941.
Technically the United States remained at peace (to Churchill’s frustration) until December 1941. This did not preclude important military discussions. In describing Argentia, even Churchill was circumspect about America’s intentions. The first true war council was the one in Washington after Pearl Harbor. Your idea to compile the reactions of the advisers and military chiefs at Argentia is most interesting. I hope you are able to produce a paper or a book.
Churchill certainly memorialized those Sunday services on 10 August 1941 when he wrote The Grand Alliance (1950):
…none who took part in it will forget the spectacle presented that sunlit morning on the crowded quarterdeck the symbolism of the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes draped side by side on the pulpit; the American and British chaplains sharing in the reading of the prayers; the highest naval, military, and air officers of Britain and the United States grouped in one body behind the President and me; the close-packed ranks of British and American sailors, completely intermingled, sharing the same books and joining fervently together in the prayers and hymns familiar to both.
I chose the hymns myself “For Those in Peril on the Sea” and “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” We ended with “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” which Macaulay reminds us the Ironsides had chanted as they bore John Hampden‘s body to the grave. Every word seemed to stir the heart. It was a great hour to live. Nearly half those who sang were soon to die.
HMS Prince of Wales
Churchill was referring to the sinking of HMS Prince of Wales by Japanese aircraft off Malaya, exactly four months later. Consequently, the Royal Navy replaces a White Ensign attached to a line on a buoy tied to a propeller shaft. Divers finally raised the ship’s bell in 2002. It is a most noteworthy exhibit at the National Museum of the Royal Navy in Portsmouth.
At the Washington Churchill Conference in 1993, we brought a surviving veteran of Prince of Wales and a veteran of USS Augusta to the Navy Chapel. There we reenacted the 1941 Prince of Wales services. Each veteran read a lesson. The same hymns were sung and Sir Winston’s grandson read the same prayers. That too was a great hour to live.