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Roosevelt and Churchill: Men of Secrets.
David Stafford
Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 2000.
(First U.S. Edition. Previously published in the UK. London: Little, Brown, 1999).
$19.95, xxiv-359 pages, ISBN 1585670685 (paperback).

De Gaulle et Roosevelt : Le duel au sommet.
François Kersaudy
Paris : Librairie Académique Perrin, 2004.
24,00€, 523 pages, ISBN 2-262-02028-0 (broché)

Antoine Capet
Université de Rouen


One of the major arteries of Paris is called Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt, with a busy Métro station bearing the same name marking the crossroads with the world-famous Champs-Élysées. London only has a small Roosevelt Way in Dagenham, in the (far) East End—a working-class area long associated with the Ford Motor Works. And there is no certainty that this Roosevelt Way has to do with FDR. But then, of course, unlike their French counterparts, British cities very seldom give the names of politicians—let alone foreign ones—to their streets.

Yet, London is one up on Paris in that it has a famous bronze sculpture in Bond Street (very much the equivalent for luxury shopping and expensive Haute Couture of Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt, though much narrower) of Churchill and Roosevelt sitting on a bench chatting like the old friends they were—or were supposed to be.

Stafford begins his volume with a discussion of this sculpture as a symbol of the “Special Relationship” which was “forged in war,” to take up Kimball’s apt title.1 Of course, it is unthinkable that the Champs-Élysées or any other street of Paris should boast a similar bench with de Gaulle and Roosevelt, and Kersaudy’s book explains why. The two authors face a radically different task: while Stafford has to demythify the supposed perfect harmony between the two men, as symbolised for thousands of laymen by that famous scene on the bench, Kersaudy has to convince his readers, who have a prejudiced, highly negative mental image of relations between de Gaulle and Roosevelt, that after all their mutual detestation has been grossly exaggerated. Their situation in the literature on their chosen subjects is also radically different, since Kersaudy is continuing pioneering work—with only one forty-year-old American study and one twenty-year-old French book of memoirs on his theme2—whereas Stafford has to justify the publication of one more monograph on Churchill-Roosevelt relations, when so many excellent studies are already available, as books3 or articles,4 not counting their published correspondence.5

Stafford has no difficulty finding a rationale for his undertaking. The mainspring of his book is its reliance on a central idea expounded in the Prologue:

The most sensitive touchstone of trust between individuals, as well as nations, is how far they are prepared to share their secrets. Roosevelt and Churchill were no exception, and how much they revealed to each other, and how, when and why they co-operated in the secret war of intelligence provides a significant barometer of the changing climate between them. [xviii]

Stafford, a member of the well-known Centre for Second World War Studies at the University of Edinburgh, headed by Paul Addison, of course has impeccable credentials in the field of “the secret war of intelligence” thanks to his numerous publications on the wartime services, especially the British Special Operations Executive6—and in this particular instance his Churchill and Secret Service.7 It is well known that Churchill had a lifelong interest in international affairs, and the intrigue, duplicity and secrecy that necessarily goes with them, but perhaps it is less well known that “by nature, Roosevelt liked secrets,” as Stafford tells us [3], also reminding us that this taste found a natural outlet in the First World War, when he was appointed Assistant Secretary for the Navy by President Wilson, with full responsibility for Naval Intelligence. This made it possible for Roosevelt to refer to their former naval experience when he sent his first message to Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty, 1911-1915 and September 1939-May 1940) in the early days of the new war—and this led to the “former naval person” signature which Churchill subsequently used on all his telegrams to the President. Stafford ends his first chapter, devoted to the two men’s passion for secrecy before 1939, with a comparison which excellently sums up his description: “If Roosevelt was a ‘sponge’ who soaked up information, Churchill was a vacuum-cleaner who sucked the last particle of intelligence from every corner and crevice he could.” [16]

The background being now well established, Stafford can start on the real meat: the men who surrounded and advised Churchill and Roosevelt, and the gradual progress of their cooperation, with the main incidents which furthered or impeded it. No portrait of the men would be complete without “C,” Major General Sir Stewart Menzies, who headed SIS, the British Secret Intelligence Service (“Churchill called Menzies ‘C,’ although when particularly pleased he lapsed into the more familiar ‘Stewart;’ but if he was aggrieved over some point or other he adopted the more formal ‘General’” [36]) or “Intrepid,” “the deceptively mild-mannered Canadian William Stephenson,” head of British Secret Intelligence in the United States (“Although in later life his self-promoted myth as ‘Intrepid’ did his serious reputation few favours, his personal charm and skill, backed by Churchill’s support, opened important doors in Washington and New York” [39]). On the American side, their equally colourful opposite number was William “Wild Bill” Donovan, Congressional Medal of Honor, DSC and Croix de Guerre (from the First World War), “the sort of guy who thought nothing of parachuting into France, blowing up a bridge, pissing into Luftwaffe gas tanks, then dancing of the roof of the St Regis hotel with a German spy,” according to John Ford (the film director) who served under him [10]. Donovan created the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), later to become the CIA, in 1941—and here we come to the complexity of Anglo-American Intelligence relations, since, as Ian Fleming (the Ian Fleming, of course, then personal assistant to Admiral John Godfrey, Director of Naval Intelligence [19]) pointed out, “rumour that he was a British nominee and ‘a hireling of British SIS’ was spreading and should be watched” [64].

The first preoccupation was with a notion which seemed to lose relevance later in the war (at least the expression was less frequently used), namely the Fifth Column, with the old story of “female saboteurs disguised as nuns flashing lights for [German] parachute drops” [40]. Roosevelt devoted one his “fireside chats” to the question after the invasion of the Low Countries in May 1940: “They must not be allowed to spread in the New World as they have in the Old […] We know of new methods of attack, the Trojan horse,8 the Fifth Column that betrays a nation unprepared for treachery. Spies, saboteurs and traitors are all the actors in the new strategy” [41]. Churchill could not agree more, especially concerning Ireland, and Stafford has a very convincing explanation of Churchill’s distrust and dislike of the Irish, partly inspired by “distant but potent historical memories of French and Spanish armies using it as a base to attack England” [23]. The affair of the bomb scares on American ships leaving Ireland—apparently a manipulation by the Germans to drive a wedge between Churchill and Roosevelt—had the opposite effect, Stafford tells us.

In fact fear of the Fifth Column in Ireland and the threat to Britain’s Western Approaches, as they are called by the Royal Navy, came to be connected with an Anglo-American problem which was to acquire capital importance as the early submarine warfare developed into the Battle of the Atlantic: how best to intercept and decrypt communications between the Kriegsmarine HQ and their U-boats.

The difficulty was that before December 1941, the United States was not at war—and as Churchill bluntly put it, “anything given to the United States Services, in which there are necessarily so many Germans, goes pretty quickly to Germany in time of peace” [45]. So, when the Royal Navy captured a U-boat, complete with its Enigma machine and the current keys in May 1941—thus enabling the British code-breakers at Bletchley Park to locate German submarines—Churchill did not tell the good news to Roosevelt. Another piece of good news for Churchill could have come from the decrypt of a Japanese message alluding to the attack on Pearl Harbor—a decrypt which he would have kept to himself, knowing that at last the United States would be forced to join in the war. Of course, some will never be convinced—but at least Stafford convincingly explains that Churchill never received such advanced warning, contrary to all the “conspiracy theories” which have been published ever since.

The Battle of the Atlantic and the fight against the U-boats provided the initial incentive for what proved to be one of the best-kept Anglo-American secrets of the Second World War, the subversion of Francoist generals in favour of continued Spanish neutrality. In two magnificently complicated chapters, Stafford explains how the initial plan to discourage the Spanish from providing re-fuelling facilities to the Kriegsmarine and its U-boats gradually extended to a full-blown plan to bribe leading Spaniards with the “Cavalry of St George”—“a coded reference to British gold sovereigns, which carry on one side a depiction of St George slaying the dragon” [93].

The superb narrative—far better and of course even more improbable than any fictional spy story—introduces more characters besides Ian Fleming and Donovan, characters at the two extremes of ethical respectability, notably Juan March and Henry Morgenthau. The Majorcan Juan March, described as “the last pirate of the Mediterranean” (this is the title of Chapter 6), was considered by British Intelligence as “a scoundrel of the deepest dye” [89]. A cynical Churchill felt that “the fact that during the last war […] he made money by devious means in no way affects his value to us” [ibid.], and March was duly enlisted as the intermediary in the transaction with the Spanish generals and put on the (fat) payroll of British agents. The connection with Morgenthau is that the money was made available in New York, through the Swiss Bank Corporation—but European neutral assets were now frozen. As Treasury Secretary, Morgenthau was of course in a position to lift the ban in exceptional circumstances—and Churchill easily convinced him of the importance of the release of ten million dollars for the Spanish subversion scheme. The President saw Morgenthau as one of his most trusted advisers, and apparently nothing was officially discussed with him: all was probably fixed with a nod and a wink because, as Stafford courteously puts it, “the President discouraged any records being kept of sensitive matters” [100]. More money was transferred to March and his subverted generals in preparation for the Allied North Africa landings of November 1942—to make sure that the Franco regime would never allow the Germans to cross Spain to Gibraltar. By that time “the Americans had already agreed that Spain should be left to the British” in the conduct of clandestine operations [103].

Of course, the Allied North Africa landings of November 1942 were the first large-scale American campaign outside the Pacific theatre. Though theoretically an Anglo-American operation, most of the ground troops were from the United States Army, and the commander-in-chief, logically, was General Eisenhower—his deputy being General Mark Clark. “If the landings were a success, however, the political fallout was disastrous,” Stafford writes [193]. Why? Largely because Eisenhower and Clark were novices in finding their way in the hotbeds of intrigue in Casablanca or Algiers excellently described by Kersaudy.

The intersection between the two books under review is to be found in their treatment of “the deal with Darlan,” followed by the complicated interplay between the military and/or political forces of the unsophisticated American commanders, their sophisticated British allies and the wily French, broadly falling into three irreconcilable camps: the Vichyssois, the Gaullists and General Giraud’s faction, openly supported by the American authorities after the assassination of Admiral Darlan.

Why did Roosevelt, the great “progressive,” finally decide to deal with Darlan, whose support for Pétain and Vichy was enthusiastic, instead of Giraud, who thought the President had made him a firm offer to take charge of operations after the landing? This remains a vexed question, all the more so as Churchill immediately saw the implications for the Allies’ propaganda effort: what use is it to “liberate” territories if they continue to be governed by objectively pro-German personnel? Stafford has a theory which has the merit of simplicity: Churchill “could either support Roosevelt and Darlan, or opt for a France that included de Gaulle. It was a crisis that cried out for special action. The assassination solved his problem” [194].

For Stafford, there is no doubt that Darlan’s assassination (on Christmas Eve, 1942), though actually effected by a young Frenchman who was hurriedly condemned and executed before he had time to talk, was engineered by British secret services on Churchill’s order, thus eliminating Roosevelt’s cumbersome protégé—not of course the best example of Anglo-American cooperation in undercover operations. But in this world of “dirty tricks,” it seemed that Roosevelt rejoiced in the elimination of Darlan—and that the ubiquitous Donovan collaborated with SOE behind Eisenhower’s back.

Kersaudy confirms that Roosevelt was not displeased, and that Churchill shed no private tears, though he publicly deplored the murder—deviously trying to blame German agents. He has an interesting footnote on the various hypotheses and, absolving both Churchill and de Gaulle, he concludes on the undoubted implication of the Comte de Paris [Kersaudy 191]. This largely reflects the different approach in the two books. It is obvious that Stafford relishes the “cloak-and-dagger” aspect—he uses the expression several times—of the secret war, while Kersaudy is more interested in disinformation and political struggles behind the scenes. His central theme, one feels, is Why did Roosevelt back doubtful figures like Giraud—or even worse Darlan? Why his “anyone-but-de Gaulle” attitude? And, as a subsidiary question which provides much of the material for his book, What were the tricks used by Roosevelt, and at times by Eisenhower, Clark and Robert Murphy (the American chargé d’affaires in Algiers) to try to destabilise de Gaulle—or even if possible to eliminate him completely from the political scene? Like the rest of us poor mortals, Kersaudy cannot of course answer the first two questions—only his Creator knew what went on in Roosevelt’s “juggler’s” mind. But he does his best, relying on aides’ memoirs and diaries, and on records which are now declassified. This is also largely the method used by Stafford—and no wonder, since these are the common tools of the historian.

Understandingly, Kersaudy is on far firmer ground when documenting the dirty tricks and the constant intrigue which characterised not only relations between Roosevelt and de Gaulle, but also Anglo-French relations. What Kersaudy shows very well is that de Gaulle often saw perverse intentions where there were none—and vice-versa. And what he also shows with great clarity is the importance of the third party in the Roosevelt-de Gaulle confrontation, namely Churchill. Popular opinion, especially in France, tends to have it that Churchill always sided with Roosevelt on important matters—but there is a capital point on which Churchill and de Gaulle were objective allies against Roosevelt: his obsession with decolonisation, which Stafford excellently documents, in fact from the very beginning of his book, when he reminds the reader that Roosevelt always obdurately refused to visit Churchill in London, where he would no doubt have been enthusiastically acclaimed, because London was the capital of the hated British Empire [xiv]. Still, Stafford tells us, Churchill had to yield to the President’s will to perpetuate the elimination of the French by the Japanese in Indo-China—he was only too glad to have defused Roosevelt’s initial calls for immediate Indian Independence [256] and the return of Hong Kong to China [284]. Needless to say, de Gaulle saw in all that a deliberate will to weaken or dismantle the French Empire on the part of the “Anglo-Saxons”—what he did not know is that the American OSS took no notice of the President’s anti-colonialist plans and ardently encouraged Free French participation in the reconquest of Indo-China, and so did the Foreign Office and its agents in South East Asia [Kersaudy 455].

For Stafford, in fact South East Asia provides the antithetis of the “rosy-coloured image of affairs” projected by the British post-war will to promote the idea of the “Special Relationship” as the basis of Anglo-American relations. As he puts it, “neither Washington nor London have been anxious to expose the depths to which rivalry often sank” in that area [249]. Stafford excellently documents the complicated Anglo-American “cooperation,” which resulted in Churchill speaking of “that dirty Donovan” [263] though Mountbatten and the “dirty” head of the OSS had initially been the best of friends. And of course Roosevelt lost the game: the British and French Empires were restored in South East Asia after the war, though not always for long, and with American secret services playing a role which remains largely unknown.

What strikes the reader of these two books, beyond their sometimes remarkably parallel approach, is the permanency of historical forces and probably the limited power of men who appear to be in control of every cogwheel in the Government or Administration machinery. Roosevelt sometimes thought he was cleverly double-crossing Churchill—who himself occasionally thought the same. But of course these men—and we can add de Gaulle to the duet to form an explosive trio—had to rely on the executants who did or did not carry out their magnificently devious plans. First, their immediate lieutenants: both books excellently describe their role, very often as intermediaries softening the confrontational aspect of many of the decisions taken by their political masters—Eden, Morgenthau, Jean Monnet spring to mind. But above all, at the coal face, it is obvious that people like Donovan or “Intrepid” took personal initiatives which did not even respect these decisions. What makes both books fascinating to read, even if one is not particularly interested in “spy stories,” is the interplay between three levels. First there is the “summitry” implied in their titles, with man-to-man mostly amiable discussions (always with concealed ultimate motives, though) generally followed by “dirty tricks.” Then there are the ministers and diplomats, whose job it is to conceal their ultimate motives in international negotiations while keeping channels of communication open at all times and in all circumstances, mending fences broken by the “dirty tricks” of their political masters. And finally, there are the largely uncontrolled and uncontrollable “secret” agents, generally impeccable patriots, who have their own agendas—often remote from those of Heads of State or Heads of Governement. Stafford’s thesis is that they thereby acted as a sort of safety valve between Roosevelt and Churchill: “Yet, by confining such differences to their secret services, the two men skilfully avoided open personal confrontation” [302]. On the Franco-American side, things were more complicated, with French secret services split between the supporters of Vichy, Giraud and de Gaulle and the anti-de Gaulle American Administration taking full advantage of these divisions. Still, Kersaudy shows that American Intelligence greatly under-estimated the strength of Gaullist sentiment in occupied France on the eve of the Normandy landings, as was demonstrated by de Gaulle’s enthusiastic reception at Bayeux on 14 June 1944. De Gaulle of course never had any doubt that Roosevelt’s secret services constantly plotted against him—which makes Kersaudy’s conclusion that de Gaulle bore him no grudge in his later years even more remarkable. But then of course de Gaulle believed that great statesmen could have no real friends among their foreign opposite numbers—and on that account Roosevelt was among the greatest, no doubt filling de Gaulle with admiration.

Both volumes have benefited from very careful proof-reading—not a single typo was found in either. The only (minor) reservation is that instead of convenient footnotes, we have clumsy end notes—though the Kersaudy book occasionally has explanatory footnotes, the end notes only providing the references. One can only suppose that this is meant as a concession to the “general public”—though the academic ambition and scholarly value of the two books are indisputable, one “technical” element being the wealth of notes and another their comprehensive Bibliographies. Uncommonly for a French book, Kersaudy’s volume has an index.

All University Libraries should have these two books on their shelves, and it is to be hoped that Kersaudy’s study will soon have an English edition,9 though his jargon-free French is probably accessible to those who only have a basic reading knowledge of the language.

After reading these two books, one will no doubt look differently at these two men on their bench in Bond Street, or have different thoughts when walking along Avenue Franklin D. Roosevelt.


1. Kimball, Warren F. Forged in War: Churchill, Roosevelt and the Second World War. London: HarperCollins, 1997. back
2. Viorst, Milton. Hostile Allies: F.D.R. and Charles de Gaulle. New York: Macmillan, 1965 (Les Alliés ennemis : De Gaulle-Roosevelt. Paris, Denoël, 1967). Aglion, Raoul. De Gaulle et Roosevelt : La France Libre aux États-Unis. Collection Espoir. Paris : Plon, 1984. (Roosevelt and de Gaulle: Allies in ConflictA Personal Memoir. New York: Free Press, 1988). back
3. Outside Kimball’s volume, the first title that springs to mind is Sainsbury, Keith. Churchill and Roosevelt at War: The War they fought and the Peace they hoped to make. London: Macmillan, 1994 (Revised, 1996). back
4. With Kimball once again occupying a prominent place, starting with his 1974 article, ‘Churchill and Roosevelt: The personal equation’. Prologue–The Journal of the National Archives 6-3 (Fall 1974): 169-82. back
5. In three volumes, edited by Kimball. Princeton University Press, 1984. back
6. Too extensive to be listed here. The interested reader can consult his entry in the Royal Historical Society on-line Bibliography. back
7. Churchill and Secret Service. London: Murray, 1997 (Reprinted with a new Preface. London : Abacus, 2000). back
8. It is curious that the President should have presented this as a “new method of attack”! back
9. Some of his previous works have had an English translation. His Churchill and de Gaulle (London: Collins, 1981. Revised. London: Fontana, 1990) was in fact published before the French version (De Gaulle et Churchill. Paris : Plon, 1982). His book on the Norway Campaign, 1940 : La guerre du fer (Paris : Tallandier, 1987) was published in English as Norway 1940 (London: Collins, 1990). Revised Second Edition in French: Churchill contre Hitler : Norvège 1940, la victoire fatale. Paris : Tallandier, 2002.


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