Researching the Atlantic Conference, Argentia, Newfoundland, August 1941

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…

ArgentiaGoogle 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 .

ArgentiaAlso 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.

Argentia Remembered

Churchill cer­tain­ly memo­ri­al­ized those Sun­day ser­vices on 10 August 1941 when he wrote The Grand Alliance (1950):

“O God Our Help in Ages Past”: Argen­tia, 12 August 1941. Stand­ing behind Roo­sevelt and Churchill: Admi­ral Ernest J. King (USN); Gen­er­al George C. Mar­shall (U.S. Army); Field Mar­shal Sir John Dill (British Army); Admi­ral Harold R. Stark (USN); Admi­ral of the Fleet Sir Dud­ley Pound (RN). At far left is Har­ry Hop­kins, talk­ing with W. Averell Har­ri­man. (Pub­lic domain, Wiki­me­dia Commons)

…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.


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