Mr Churchill on his eastern journey



Mr Churchill on his eastern journey


Article: Mr Churchill on his eastern journey. Account of review of war situation given in parliament by Churchill of events mentioned covering visit to Moscow, talks with M Stalin, growing strength of British forces in Egypt. Malta convoy success, the attack on Dieppe, events in the Pacific, the Russian front, the strategic bombing offensive, U.S mission to Britain, middle east and Moscow, the desert army.

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In the House of Commons to-day Mr. Churchill gave a review of the war situation since the House rose a month ago. He referred particularly to his visit to Moscow and the Middle East.

He said:-

Nine weeks have passed since I spoke here on the Vote of Censure. I am most grateful to the House for the substantial majority which they then gave to me and to the Government, for proof that is given to the world of the inflexible steadfastness of Parliament and of its sense of proportion strengthens the British war effort in a definite and recognizable manner. Most particularly are such manifestations of our national will power a help to the head of the British Government in times of war. The Prime Minister of the day, as head of the Executives of the great allied States. President Roosevelt and Premier Stalin are not only the heads of the Executive, but are Commanders-in-Chief of the armed forces. We work our affairs in a different way.

The Prime Minister is the servant of the House and is liable to dismissal at a moment’s notice by a simple vote, and it is only possible for him to do what is necessary, and what has got to be done on occasion by somebody or other, if he enjoys, as I do, the support of an absolutely loyal and united Cabinet, and if he is refreshed and fortified from time to time, and especially in bad times, as I have been, by massive and overwhelming Parliamentary majorities. (Laughter and cheers.) Then your servant is able to transact the important business which has to be done with confidence and freedom. He is able to meet people at the heads of the allied countries on more or less equal terms, and on occasion to say “Yes” and “No” without delay upon some difficult question, and thus we arrive by our ancient constitutional methods – (laughter) – at practical working arrangements which show that Parliamentary democracy can adapt itself to all situations – (renewed laughter) – and can go out in all weathers. That is why I am especially grateful to the House for their unswerving support and for the large majority with which they rejected a hostile vote on the last occasion we were together.


Since that day, and since the House separated, there have been several important operations of war. The first of these has been the carrying into Malta of a convoy of supplies – (cheers) – sufficient to ensure the life and resistance of that heroic island fortress for a good many months to come. (Cheers.) this operation was looked forward to with a certain amount of anxiety on account of the great dangers to which many of his Majesty’s most valuable ships must be exposed. For this purpose a powerful battle squadron, supported by three aircraft-carriers trained to work in combination, and by powerful cruiser squadrons and flotillas, were set in motion through the Straits of Gibraltar. At the same time the Malta air force was raised to a very high level of strength by the flying there of Spitfires from other carriers, so that an effective protective umbrella was spread around the island for a considerable distance and the local command of the air was definitely assured.

The convoy was thus able to force its way through the extraordinary dangers which beset its passage from Sardinia onwards. Three or four hundred German and Italian shore-based bombers, torpedo planes, and long-range fighters were launched against our armada – an enormous concourse of ships – and in the narrows, which were mined, it was attacked by E-boats and U-boats. Severe losses were suffered, both by the convoy and the escorting fleet. One aircraft-carrier, the Eagle, two cruisers, and one destroyer were sunk, and others damaged. But this price, although heavy, was not excessive for the result obtained, for Malta is not only as bright a gem as shines in the King’s Crown – (cheers) – but its effective action against enemy communications with Libya and Egypt is essential to the whole strategic position in the Middle East.

In the same operation one eight-inch Italian cruiser and one six-inch Italian cruiser were torpedoed and badly damaged, and two U-boats were sunk. A most remarkable feature of this fighting was undoubtedly the defeat by gunfire and by aircraft of the carriers of the enemy’s shore-based aircraft. Fifty-six Axis aircraft were shot down for certain and 15 others were probably damaged. Of these, 39 were shot down by carrier-borne aircraft of the Fleet and 17 by the “ack-ack” guns of the ships of the convoy and of the escort. In addition, at least 16 were destroyed by Spitfires from Malta, and all this loss was sustained by these very powerful shore-based squadrons operating from bases in comparatively close proximity without them being able to inflict by air action any appreciable damage upon the ships of war or the supply ships of the convoy – a remarkable fact. (Cheers.)


The second important operation was the attack upon Dieppe. It is a mistake to speak or write of this as a Commando raid, although some Commando troops distinguished themselves remarkably in it. The military credit for this most gallant affair goes to the Canadian troops – (cheers) –who formed five-sixths of the assaulting forces, and to the Royal Navy, which carried them all there and which carried most of them back. (Cheers.) The raid must be considered a reconnaissance in force. it was a hard, savage clash, such as are likely to become increasingly numerous as the war deepens. Wa had to get all the information necessary before launching operations on a much larger scale. This raid, apart from the information and reconnaissance value, brought about an extremely satisfactory air battle in the west, which the Fighter Command wishes they could repeat every week, it inflicted perhaps as much loss upon the enemy in killed and wounded as we suffered ourselves. (Cheers.)

I personally regarded the Dieppe assault, to which I gave my sanction, as an indispensable preliminary to full-scale operations. (Cheers.) I do not intend to give any information about these operations, and I have only said as much as I have because the enemy can see by his daily reconnaissances of our ports many signs of movements that we are unable toconceal from his photographers. He is also aware of the steady and rapid influx into this island of United States divisions and other troops, but what he does not know is how, when, where, and with what forces and in what fashion he will be smitten, and on this point it is desirable that he should be left to his own ruminations, unassisted by British or American advice or comment. (Laughter and cheers.)

Since the successful action off Midway Island our American allies, with the very active support of Australian forces, have been engaged with the Japanese in the south-west Pacific, and, in the course of these operations they have taken the offensive and occupied the Islands of Guadalcanal, Tulagi, and other islands in the Solomons, and they have, moreover, according to the reports which have already been seen in the Press, frustrated Japanese activities in Milne Bay. Fighting ashore, in which United States Marines were prominent, and the fighting at sea have both been exceptionally bitter. In the fighting at sea his Majesty’s Australian ship Canberra has been sunk. This has already been announced. His Majesty’s Government considered that the Commonwealth Government should not bear this grievous loss following the sinking of other gallant Australian ships. We have therefore decided to offer, freely, and unconditionally, to transfer his Majesty’s 8in.-gun cruiser Shropshire to the Commonwealth Government. The offer has been most warmly received. (Cheers.)


Since we were last together the tendencies of war have continued to move in our favour. Of the Russian front I will only at this moment say that it is September 8. In other quarters the growing predominance of the allied air power is continuous. From June onwards to the first week in September, just closed, we have discharged nearly double the bomb load upon Germany as was discharged in the corresponding period of last year - )cheers) – and that with much greater precision. A far larger proportion fell in built-up areas or hit the actual target. The United States daylight bombing is a new and increasingly important factor and there is no doubt that both in the accuracy of high-level aiming and in the mutual defensive power, new possibilities of air warfare are being opened by our American comrades and their Flying Fortresses.

The losses at sea are still very heavy, but I am glad to say that the months of July, August and September, as far as it has run, are a definite improvement on those which preceded them. This is due largely to the continued development and completion of the convoy system off the American coast, and this improvement has been effected in spite of heavy losses in warlike operations, such as the Russian and the Malta convoys. During these same months the line of new building of merchant ships of the United Nations has definitely crossed and maintained itself on the graph above the line of sinkings. (Cheers.)

Warfare on the U-boats – and this is even more important, because offence is more important than defence, however successful – has been more successful than at any former period of the war. (Cheers.) In fact very few days have passed without one or more being sunk or damaged by us or our allies. One would, of course, expect the U-boats to suffer heavier losses, as there are more of them about, and I cannot say that the sinkings of U-boats have nearly kept pace with the believed and planned new construction. On the other hand, our heavy and successful bombing of the German shipbuilding yards will have an increasing effect upon future output and assembly of U-boats, and the part which the air is taken in the U-boat warfare grows more important with every week that passes.

We must regard the struggle at sea as the foundation of all the efforts of the United Nations. (Hear, hear.) If they lost that, all else would be denied to them. But there is no reason to suppose that we have not the means of victory in our hands provided that the utmost in human power is done here and in the United States. Lastly, we may note that the ruthless unlimited German U-boat warfare, and the outrages to which this gave vent, have brought us a new ally, and in the dawn of the fourth year of the ranks of the United Nations. (Cheers.) We are entitled to regard this as a most helpful and encouraging event.


Continued efforts are made by us and our allies to unify and concert the command and action of the United Nations, and particularly of their leading members. These efforts ar made in spite of all the difficulties which geography can interpose. During the month of July President Roosevelt sent a most important mission to this country. No announcement of this was made at the time. The mission comprised General Marshall, the head of the United States Army, Admiral King, the head of the Navy, and Mr. Hopkins, the President’s personal representative. These gentlemen met at numerous conferences not only the British chiefs of staff but the members of the War Cabinet, and of the Defence Committee, which is a somewhat smaller grouping of it.

During a period of 10 days or more the whole field of the war was explored, and every problem of importance in it was scrutinized and weighed. Decisions of importance were taken affecting the whole future general conduct of our operations, not only in Europe but throughout the world. These decisions were in accordance with the wishes of President Roosevelt, and they received his final approval. Thus, by the end of July, complete agreement on war policy and war plans had been reached between Great Britain and the United States. This agreement covers the whole field of the war in every part of the world, and also deals with the necessary productive and administrative measures which are required to enforce the combined policy and strategy which have been agreed upon.



Armed with this body of agreement between Great Britain and the United States, and invigorated by the good will of the House, manifested at what was a particularly dark and unhappy and anxious moment, I took advantage of the recess to visit the army in the Middle East and to visit Premier Stalin in Moscow. (Cheers.) Both these journeys seemed necessary in the public interest, and I believe that the results achieved, although now secret, will, as they become apparent, justify any trouble or expense incurred. (Laughter.) Travelling always in a Liberator bomber it was possible to reach Cairo in an uncommonly short time.

I had some reason to believe that the condition of the Desert Army and the troops in Eygpt was not entirely satisfactory. Before I left I had reason to believe that. The Eighth Army, or the Army of the Western Desert, or the Desert Army as I like to call it, had lost over 80,000 men. It had been driven back 400 miles since May, with immense losses in munitions, supplies, and transport. General Rommel’s surprisingly rapid advance was only rendered possible because he used our captured stores and vehicles. In the battles around Gazala, in the stresses of the retreat and the fighting at El Alamein, where General Auchinleck succeeded in stabilizing the front, the structure of the army had become much deranged. The divisional formations had been largely broken up, and a number of battle groups or other improvised formations had sprung into being piecemeal in the course of the hard fighting.

Nevertheless, as I can myself testify, there was a universal conviction among officers and men of every rank that they could beat the Germans, man to man and face to face. – (hear, hear) – but this was coupled with a sense of being baffled and of not understanding why so many misfortunes had fallen upon the Army. The spirit of the troops was admirable, but it was clear to me that drastic changes were required in the High Command, and that the Army must have a new start under new leaders. I was fortified in these conclusions by the advice of the chief of the Imperial General Staff who accompanied me, and also by the massive judgement of Field-Marshall Smuts who flew from Capetown to Cairo to meet me, and

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“Mr Churchill on his eastern journey,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed May 24, 2024,

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