Tuesday, September 11, 2007

The Churchill Series – Sept. 11, 2007

(One of a series of weekday posts on the life of Winston S. Churchill.)

Readers Note: The series posts often go up late. Therefore, yesterday’s post contained passages from Churchill’s speeches appropriate to a remembrance of September 11, 2001.


In 1940 President Roosevelt sent Churchill a message telling him England was about to be invaded. Roosevelt not only named the day, he told Churchill the exact time the invasion would occur. No kidding.

In Finest Hour (Houghton Mifflin, 1983) historian Martin Gilbert explains what happened:

On the morning of Sunday September 22 Churchill received a message from Roosevelt, stating that the German invasion of Britain would take place that very day, at 3 p.m.

But Churchill was “thoroughly skeptical,” [his Private Secretary John] Colville noted, while Clementine Churchill and their daughter Mary “treated the whole matter as a most entertaining joke.” …

On receiving the news, Churchill telephoned [Secretary of State for War Anthony ] Eden, who was spending the weekend on the south coast. Eden’s comment was that “it was wet and blowing” and that he “felt quite safe.”

Then, after going to the top of a nearby hill and looking towards France, Eden sent Churchill a further message: “it was so rough,” he said, “that any German who attempted to cross the Channel would be very sea-sick.”

It emerged that the message from Roosevelt had been garbled. Not Britian, but French Indo-China, was the country about to be invaded. That afternoon Japanese forces occupied Saigon. The German troops remained at Calais, across the stormy Channel from Dover. (p. 802)
The garbling must have led to a lot of finger-pointing and the chewing out of code clerks and signal officers on both sides of the Atlantic.

I’ll comment further on the incident tomorrow.