Sea History 101 - Summer 2002

Page 10

el-Kebir on the Mediterranean coas t of Africa in 1940, to prevenr the ships fallin g inro rhe hands of Nazi Ge rmany after the German conquest of F rance. F rench naval authorities had pledged to keep the fleet our of G erman hands, and th ree years later, when German tanks ro lled into unoccupied France, they kept their wo rd, sinking their ships as promised . What C hurchill and his cabinet saw at the rime, however, was th at th e Italian fl eet alone o utnumbered the British ships available to hold the Mediterranean . With French ships added, the com est would be impossible, and who knew what pressure the N azis wo uld bring to bear to get those ships? In o ther pons, French ships were seized by British crews o r effectively neutralized, with so me French crews electing to sail with the Bri tish to conrinue the fight. But at M ers-el-Kebir, Admiral Genso ul refus ed to com e to any terms with British demands to remove or neutralize the fle er, even the offered alternative to escort the ships to o ne of the French islands in the Caribbean, o ur of the wa r zo ne. The British ships o pened fire, much against the will of rhe co mmand ing admiral, and ended up mangling th e French fl eet, with heavy loss of life.2 Ir was, C hurchill said, the most painful decisio n of a war full of suffering, and wh en he had fini shed his report to Parliament he sat down in tears. The H ouse go t to its feet as one perso n to salute C hurchill in his travail. For the first time thi s included the back co untry T ories wh o des pi sed C hurchill for his liberali sm and his fl amboyanr ways. The terrible deed had united Parliam ent behind him , in a deeply painful decisio n. So mething similar happened in rh e United Stares, where President Roosevelt's military chi efs, who had tended to view Britain as a ro tte n apple ready to fall, now began to believe that England under C h urchill wo uld figh t, however painful the road . And when the yo ung men of the Royal Air Fo rce bega n to repel the Nazi Luftwaffe in the skies over England in the fall of 1940, Roosevelt's policy of defendin g America in a dan gero us wo rld by supporting England 's fi ght became the more compelling.

The Atlantic Charter of Freedom O n aJ ul yafternoon a year later, Roosevelt's emissary H arry Hopkins visited 10 D ownmg Street to sit with C hurchill in the


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Eig hth, thoy b e li eve the.t n l l of the no t ions oi" th o world r.1ust b e gu ided i n s;.->i r i t t o t ho e b nndo::inen t of tho use of i" or e e . ~ n o :fut ur e :1e n c c c nn b e mn i n t ni ned i f l e :·-', s oo. o r a i r r. rmnr,1cnt a c on tinua t o be CJn!l loy c c!. b~,.r nc.t1 ons whi c h t h re ~ ten , o r uny t hro<t on , ::-.gcrr e3 a 1 on out s i clc of the ir :fron t.iers, ~ hoy b e li e v e t hn t t h e dia e ri.inmen t of suc h not ions is e :Js cnt i :::l 1>cnd i n G' the es t ablislu.1on t of a wider <Jn d ;.;ore ~ierr:i..-\ncnt s ys t c:r. of g en orol s e c ur i t y. They vrill i"ur t he r the o d o:• ti on of e ll o t he r p r a ctie o.b le mcns ures 1·m i ch wJ. 11 li ghten .fo r ~'> c o c a -l o ving ~10 0, los t ho gti.~e burdon o!' o.rmrunon ts .

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A bove, the A tlantic Charter, Magna Carta of the Free World, as drafted by Winston Churchill and, after fa rther changes, adopted by the US and Britain before America was at war. Every promise made in this statement was kept by the US and Britain after the war. At right, Roosevelt and Churchill sing "For Those in Peril on the Sea " aboard HMS Prince of Wales in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland. Behind them stand a British Air Marshal US Admiral Ernest ]. King, and Army Chief ofStaff George C. Marshall. Harry Hopkins, who brought about this meeting, peers over their shoulders. Prince of W ales was sunk just four months later by Japanese bombers. By then the US was in the war. SEA HISTORY 101 , SUMMER 2002

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