Rare Signed Photograph of Churchill on his Way to the US in December 1941

When He Obtained FDR’s Affirmation of the Atlantic Alliance and the Crucial “Defeat Germany First” Policy; a poignant photograph, the only of Churchill making that momentous voyage we have seen

The Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 brought the might, manpower, energy and resources of the United States into the war against Germany and Japan. This was a great relief to Britain and its Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, as it made less likely the possibility of outright defeat and Nazi subjegation. The U.S. entry into the war also represented a profound victory for Churchill’s policy of befriending President Roosevelt and trying to draw the U.S. into support of the British Commonwealth’s war effort. But with his delight mingled a worry - that the treacherous nature of the Japanese attack, the massive damage to the American Pacific Fleet, and the heavy loss of American lives, would produce a public demand for vengeance in the U.S. that would compel President Roosevelt to divert American focus and resources to fighting the Japanese instead of giving priority to the defeat of Nazi Germany. Such a course could jeopardize the war effort in Europe and fail to alleviate the serious risk Britain faced. In Volume 3 of his history of the Second World War entitled “The Grand Alliance”, Churchill recalls his deep concern over this possibility: “We knew...that the outrage at Pearl Harbor had stirred the people of the United States to their depths. The official reports and the Press summaries we had received gave the impression that the whole fury of the nation would be turned upon Japan. We feared lest the true proportion of the war as a whole might not be understood. We were conscious of a serious danger that the United States might pursue the war against Japan in the Pacific and leave us to fight Germany and Italy in Europe, Africa, and in the Middle East.”

Churchill very quickly arranged a face to face meeting with President Roosevelt in Washington to persuade FDR to adhere to the Atlantic Conference’s secret agreement between the American and British governments to give top priority to defeating Nazi Germany, and not to divert America’s vast resources to halting Japanese aggression in the Pacific. On December 14, 1941, Churchill, accompanied by his top military chiefs and civilian advisers, set off for Washington on board the battleship HMS Duke of York. Sailing with him in uniform was his daughter, Mary. The British Prime Minister and his entourage arrived in Washington on December 22, 1941, and an intensive series of secret discussions followed that later became known as the Arcadia Conference. Although conscious of the political risks for his Democratic Party in adhering to the “Germany First” war strategy so soon after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt was persuaded by Churchill to adhere to this plan and it was confirmed in writing. This Churchill saw as a great success, as he believed it meant sure deliverance for Britain.

Also during this trip, Churchill addressed the American Congress on December 26, 1941, making a powerful speech condemning the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that was warmly received. Four days later he spoke to the Canadian Parliament, and prior to that speech sat for photographer Yousuf Karsh, the result being the famous bulldog picture, which is perhaps the best known portrait photograph ever taken.

A 5 by 7 inch photograph of Churchill on board the Duke of York headed for Washington to meet with President Roosevelt, December 7-14, 1941, flanked at left by his daughter Mary and at right by Admiral Sir John Tovey, the ship’s captain, signed by the Prime Minister at lower right “W.C. Churchill.” On the verso, someone has inscribed “HMS?Duke of York, First stop Boston. Very memorable voyage 1941. (And Lucky).”