FDR and Churchill meet on ship, map out Atlantic Charter

FDR and Churchill meet on ship, map out Atlantic Charter

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On August 12, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill meet on board a ship at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, to confer on issues ranging from support for Russia to threatening Japan to postwar peace.

When Roosevelt and Churchill met for the first time as leaders of their respective nations, chief among the items on their agenda was aid to the USSR “on a gigantic scale,” as it was desperate in its war against its German invaders. A statement was also drafted, which Roosevelt chose to issue under his name, that made it plain to Japan that any further aggression would “produce a situation in which the United States government would be compelled to take counter-measures,” even if it meant “war between the United States and Japan.”

The president and the prime minister also agreed to compose and make public a document in which the United States and Britain declared their intention “to ensure life, liberty, independence, and religious freedom, and to preserve the rights of man and justice.” They also promised to strive for a postwar world free of “aggrandizement, territorial or other,” addressing those nations currently under German, Italian, or Japanese rule, offering hope that the integrity of their sovereign borders would be restored to them. This document would be called the Atlantic Charter and, when finally ratified by 26 nations in January 1942, would comprise the founding principles of the United Nations.

READ MORE: FDR, Churchill and Stalin: Inside Their Uneasy WWII Alliance

Roosevelt and Churchill: A Friendship That Saved The World

FDR and Churchill at the Casablanca Conference

June 1940. Britain and its new prime minister, Winston Churchill, stood alone as the last bastion against the Nazis and their domination of Europe. World War II had begun on September 1, 1939. In less than one year, the German war machine had engulfed Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and France and was poised on the shores of the English Channel to invade Great Britain.

May 1940 witnessed the defeat of British and French forces by the Nazis at the Battle of Dunkirk. Despair and resignation about becoming yet another conquered nation began to spread among the people of Britain. Winston Churchill would have none of it. He raised the battle cry, giving one of the greatest speeches in history on June 4 in an effort to rally British spirits. He said, “Even though large tracts of Europe…have fallen or may fall into…all the odious apparatus of Nazi rule, we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be…” At the conclusion of the speech, he reportedly said to a colleague, “And we’ll fight them with the butt ends of broken beer bottles because that’s bloody well all we’ve got.” The German Luftwaffe air force began to rain bombs on London and nearby areas, hoping to force a quick surrender. British ships were being sunk regularly on the Atlantic Ocean.

As Britain stood alone, Churchill knew that the only hope for the nation’s survival and the rest of Europe lay in the hands of the president of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR).

By 1940, FDR had been president for two terms. Historically, no other person who held that office had served for more than eight years. FDR was giving serious thought to running for an unprecedented third term mainly because of the events unfolding in Europe as well as in the Pacific, since the Japanese government had signed a pact with Germany and Italy. The relationship between the United States and Japan had grown tense after the Japanese began military aggression against China in 1938. The Japanese government had their eye on dominating the Chinese mainland and the Pacific Islands.

Living through World War I and the events leading up to it, FDR felt that US involvement in the current conflict was inevitable. It was just a matter of time. He wanted to be the commander-in-chief of the country when that occurred. While the British and Churchill were battling the Nazis over 3,000 miles away, across the Atlantic Ocean, FDR was fighting against the forces of isolationism that were gripping the American people. When FDR made the decision to run for the presidency in 1940, he promised the American people that the country would be kept out of war. He made no promises to Winston Churchill. Churchill wrote to FDR, after the November election, “…I prayed for your success…We are entering a somber phase of what must inevitably be a protracted and broadening war…” FDR gave no response. But he subtly engaged in preparing the American people for the possibility of future entrance into the conflict.

Less than two months after the presidential election, FDR addressed the American people through one of his radio fireside chats. It became known as his "Arsenal of Democracy" speech. He began by saying, “This is not a fireside chat on war. It is a talk about national security. If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere.” Knowing that Americans were opposed to getting involved in the war, he focused on the importance of assisting the British, who were doing the fighting and keeping the Nazi threat away from our shores. FDR said, “We are the Arsenal of Democracy. Our national policy is to keep war away from this country.” The implication was that the best way to accomplish this was to send military aid to the country that was keeping the enemy at bay.

Beginning in March 1941, massive amounts of military supplies, including ships and planes, were given to Great Britain under FDR’s Lend-Lease program. Nine months later, on December 7, 1941, Japanese war planes attacked the American fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The United States immediately declared war at that point, Winston Churchill and the British people were convinced the world would now be saved.

During the course of the war, FDR and Churchill met on several occasions to plan war strategy. The British prime minister visited the United States four times between 1941 and 1944. Some of these meetings were at FDR’s home in Hyde Park. Arguably, the most historically significant of these was held in the study at President Roosevelt’s home on September 14, 1944. In that small room, FDR and Churchill initialed a document called the Hyde Park Aide Memoire that outlined the collaboration between the United States and Great Britain in the development of an atomic bomb, then called Tube Alloys and later known as the Manhattan Project. In the document, it was stated that this project would be kept secret, especially from the Russians, and included the possibility of using the bomb against the Japanese.

When FDR died in office on April 12, 1945, Winston Churchill wrote, “It is cruel that he will not see the Victory which he did so much to achieve.” The war in Europe ended in May of that year. The war with Japan concluded in August after FDR’s successor, President Harry Truman, decided to use the atomic bomb against the Japanese to help shorten the war.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Winston Churchill forged a bond that surmounted what seemed an unsurmountable enemy and saved the world. In his eulogy to the president, the British prime minister said, "In FDR there died the greatest American friend we have ever known.”

Churchill & Roosevelt Met in Tehran, Cairo, Moscow, Close to or Over Enemy Territory. Why Did Countries Take Such Risks With Leaders?

During World War 2, Churchill and Roosevelt met in locations such as Tehran, Cairo, and Moscow, locations that would have them traveling very close to, or over, enemy territory.

Why did the countries take such risks with their leaders?

Unlike modern-day politicians, Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his British counterpart, Winston Churchill, did not have the luxury of traveling in state-of-the-art jets to wherever they needed to go. There were no anti-missile defense systems or the like to keep the Nazis away.

For these two gentlemen, a transatlantic flight was risky and rare. Furthermore, the Germans did their utmost to get their hands on enemy leaders, especially their arch-nemesis Churchill.

The “Big Three” at the Yalta Conference, Winston Churchill, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin.

And still, Winston Churchill traveled over 100,000 miles in 25 trips, sometimes spanning entire continents during the Second World War. This was a feat far greater than any other wartime leader. That said, Churchill did get an earlier start with the Americans only joining the war at the end of 1941.

The British Prime Minister was always fearless, at times getting perilously close to dangerous war zones. In spite of this, he assiduously believed in face-to-face negotiations no matter the risk to his life.

With a dry sense of humor, Winston Churchill often traveled using the alias “Colonel Warden” for security reasons.

Aged 65 at the onset of the war, Winston Churchill was not a young man. Furthermore, he was not somebody one would describe as physically fit – the Prime Minister loathed any sports.

Winston Churchill giving his famous ‘V’ sign

His attitude was beautifully summed up when somebody asked him how he had reached the impressive age of 92. Churchill responded, “Absolutely no sports, just whiskey, and cigars.”

Despite his somewhat controversial view on Imperialism and his endorsement of human rights abuses in the colonies, we all know Winston Churchill as the man who stood up to Adolf Hitler.

During Britain’s “Darkest Hour” he never surrendered – he gave hope to a nation that stood on the edge of a precipice. His first speech as Prime Minister on May 13, 1940, exemplified the man’s spirit and drive.

Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

“We are in the preliminary stage of one of the greatest battles in history … I would say to the House as I said to those who have joined this government: I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat. We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind. We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.”

With those words, the United Kingdom’s leader dove into action. Less than a week after having been offered the King’s commission to his office, Churchill departed for France.

These were perilous times. The Nazi juggernaut had already advanced on Paris. It would be the first of several trips undertaken by the British leader to France before the French capitulation.

But would the danger stop him? Not a chance!

Churchill walks through the ruins of Coventry Cathedral with Alfred Robert Grindlay, 1941

Instead, a squadron of RAF fighters escorted Churchill’s de Havilland D.H. 95 Flamingo plane to wherever he needed to be in France. On one such occasion, Major-General Edward Spears, the Prime Minister’s attaché to the French Prime Minister, wrote about Churchill’s review of the Hurricane pilots:

“Churchill walked towards the machines, grinning, waving his stick, saying a word or two to each pilot as he went from one to the other, and as I watched their faces light up and smile in answer to his, I thought they looked like the angels of my childhood. … These young men may have been naturally handsome, but that morning they were far more than that, creatures of an essence that was not of our world: their expressions of happy confidence as they got ready to ascend into their element, the sky, left me inspired, awed and earthbound.”

Flying Officer Gordon Cleaver, one of the Hurricane pilots, remembers events somewhat differently, describing his comrades as “just about as hungover a crew of dirty, smelly, unshaven, unwashed fighter pilots as I doubt have ever been seen. Willie, if I remember right, was being sick behind his aeroplane when the Great Man arrived and expressed a desire to meet the escort. We must have appeared vaguely human at least, as he seemed to accept our appearance without comment, and we took off for England.”

The de Havilland Flamingo transport aircraft. Churchill’s personal Flamingo, in which he flew to and from France during the crisis of May and June 1940.

Churchill continued flying to France until the very end, despite the risk to his person. Miraculously avoiding the then dominant Luftwaffe, he pursued the fleeing French leadership all the way to Tours prior to French capitulation – the UK was alone against the Nazis.

After the Nazi occupation of France, Winston Churchill’s full focus turned to the Home Front. The Battle of Britain had begun. Herman Goering hurled the full force of the Luftwaffe at Britain’s cities and production facilities in the hope of shattering British morale. He failed.

Between July and October 1940, the Third Reich and the United Kingdom pitted the full might of their air forces against each other until, ultimately, the British prevailed.

German Do 17 bomber and British Spitfire fighter in the sky over Britain. December 1940.
[Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1969-094-18 / Speer / CC-BY-SA 3.0] However, the threat of invasion still loomed. Winston Churchill had to remain on English shores to avert a possible implementation of Operation Sea Lion, the Nazi invasion plan for the UK.

When Adolf Hitler finally directed his full attention to the East and the Soviet Union in June 1941, Churchill could finally do what he had always planned.

Since it had been over a year since his last trip abroad, it was time for Winston Churchill to expand his horizons from short Channel hops to places further afield.

Operation Sea Lion

However, in a way, Churchill had already started his next voyage in his mind. He and his American equivalent, FDR, had already exchanged letters that would put any ardent modern-day “WhatsApper” to shame. In total, the two leaders exchanged an estimated 1,700 letters and telegrams during the war.

The close friendship of the two men is wonderfully described in Winston Churchill’s quote: “Meeting Franklin Roosevelt was like opening your first bottle of champagne knowing him was like drinking it.” It’s safe to say the two men got along.

FDR and Churchill had already been holding secret talks about US military intervention since early 1941. It was the time for the two men to talk face to face and so RIVIERA was born – a top-secret mission for an Atlantic Conference in Newfoundland was in the offing.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt aboard the U.S. S. Augusta, off the coast of Newfoundland.

However, the Atlantic Ocean was the domain of the Nazi U-boat, which had already done an extremely efficient job of sinking thousands of tons of British shipping.

Furthermore, Churchill and his entourage had to get around German naval surface ships and the dreaded long-range Focke-Wulf planes, also called the “Scourge of the Atlantic” for the havoc they wreaked on British shipping. Luckily, the British were having considerable luck with Nazi codes, invariably getting a heads up concerning German activity.

Ever the optimist, Churchill decided to go ahead with the meeting despite the risks. He embarked on HMS Prince of Wales along with an escort of destroyers.

President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill seated on the quarterdeck of HMS Prince of Wales for a Sunday service during the Atlantic Conference, 10 August 1941.

As it happens, the German warships Tirpitz, Scharnhorst, and Gneisenau were in port fitting out and the U-Boats were too slow. In effect, the trip was far less dangerous than initially predicted.

The famous meeting between FDR and Churchill in Placentia Bay resulted in the “Atlantic Charter.” The agreement was pivotal for the British war effort – it outlined the post-war rules and the US’s support of the UK.

The return home was, in imitation of the outbound voyage, uneventful but sadly many sailors of HMS Prince of Wales would drown four months later as the result of a Japanese attack.

Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill aboard HMS Prince of Wales in 1941.

Later in the year, in December 1941, Churchill once again crossed the Atlantic after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and attacked British possessions in South-East Asia. This time, the indefatigable Prime minister traveled on board HMS Duke.

The President of Turkey confers with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill at Cairo.

The Prince of Wales sister ship reached Hampton Roads Virginia safely. Only gale force winds made the voyage bothersome the Nazis were never a threat.

However, Churchill did encounter some danger during this voyage. It happened during his recuperative stay in Florida after a mild heart attack. Apparently, a rather large shark was spotted off the coast. After that, the PM decided to stay in the shallows for the remainder of his stay.

King (back left) with (counterclockwise from King) Franklin D. Roosevelt, Governor General the Earl of Athlone and Winston Churchill during the Quebec Conference in 1943

As well as resulting in the Allied formulation of the future war strategy against the Axis powers, this most recent trip had another pivotal impact: Churchill discovered a whole new way of getting around.

On January 14, 1942, Churchill’s party left Norfolk Naval Base for Bermuda to meet up with the Duke of York. During the four-hour flight, Churchill got to know the aircraft a lot better. Captain John Kelly Rogers even let the Prime Minister take the controls for a while.

Churchill then inquired whether it would be possible to make the journey from Bermuda to the UK. The pilot affirmed that it could be done – and they did.

From then on, for the larger part, Winston Churchill took to the air. It was perfect for him: he loved flying and hated to waste time. Furthermore, as the war progressed, the Luftwaffe no longer had control of the air.

The “Big Three” at the Tehran Conference: Joseph Stalin, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill.

Six months after Bermuda, Churchill undertook his only transatlantic round-trip during the war. BOAC’s Bristol carried Churchill and his party from Stranraer in Scotland to Baltimore, USA, then 14 days later back to the UK via Newfoundland.

In August 1942, during the heat of the war in North Africa and the Mediterranean, the Prime Minister flew to the Middle East. After that, he went on to Moscow to meet Stalin for the first time. The two leaders got along swimmingly thanks to copious amounts of booze.

The sky would beckon Churchill many more times in 1943. He flew from the UK to Casablanca (Unconditional Surrender Conference with FDR), with ensuing stops at Nicosia, Cairo, Tripoli, and Algiers. Again, it must be said that the Mediterranean was still dangerous due to the Italian and German air forces. Then, at the end of the year, FDR, Joseph Stalin, and Churchill all met up in Teheran.

The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with military leaders during his visit to Tripoli. The group includes: Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese, General Sir Harold Alexander, General Sir Alan Brooke and General Sir Bernard Montgomery.

In 1944, Churchill undertook many more trips. For example, he went to the Italian theater around Naples. Later in the year, he went via Naples to Moscow. After D-Day, Churchill traveled to Paris for the first time since the Nazi invasion. Finally, on Christmas Eve, he boarded a Skymaster plane for Athens to mediate in the Greek civil war.

The PM’s 25th and final trip during WW2 was uncharacteristically distant from danger. Churchill spent a week in Bordeaux painting before the final summit in Potsdam, Germany.

Churchill when he arrived in Quebec City in 1943.

As you have seen, Churchill was by far the more active traveler compared to FDR. It is even rumored that the “British Bulldog,” as the Soviets liked to call him, wanted to land in France with the forces of the British Empire on D-Day. The King persuaded his Prime Minister to leave the fighting to younger and fitter men.

For Churchill, danger was never a deterrent – he was a fighter all of his life. For him, meeting face to face, no matter the odds, always superseded personal safety.

Churchill, FDR meet off Newfoundland, Aug. 9, 1941

On this day in 1941, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill arrived aboard the battleship HMS Prince of Wales at Placentia Bay off the coast of Newfoundland for a secret meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

On Aug. 5, Roosevelt had boarded the cruiser USS Augusta from the presidential yacht Potomac. The Augusta proceeded to Placentia Bay along with the cruiser USS Tuscaloosa and five destroyers. The flotilla arrived there on Aug. 7 while the presidential yacht played a decoy role by continuing to cruise off New England as if the president — ostensibly on a 10-day fishing trip — were still on board.

Churchill was ferried to the U.S. warship for their meeting on the deck of the Augusta. After they shook hands, a moment of silence passed until Churchill said, “At long last, Mr. President,” to which Roosevelt replied, “Glad to have you aboard, Mr. Churchill.” Churchill then delivered a letter to the president from King George VI.

On the following day, a Sunday, Roosevelt transferred to the destroyer USS McDougal to meet Churchill aboard the HMS Prince of Wales. They sat through a church service on the fantail along with their staffs and nearly the entire ship’s company. Churchill chose the hymns for the service, which included “Onward Christian Soldiers.”

Trump’s Trade Pullout Roils Rural America

Subsequently, in a radio broadcast, Churchill explained this choice. “I felt,” he said, “that this was no vain presumption, but that we had the right to feel that we are serving a cause for the sake of which a trumpet has sounded from on high.

“When I looked upon that densely packed congregation of fighting men of the same language, of the same faith, of the same fundamental laws, of the same ideals . it swept across me that here was the only hope, but also the sure hope, of saving the world from measureless degradation.”

Roosevelt and Churchill ended their meeting — their first of 11 during the conflict — by issuing a joint policy statement that came to be known as the “Atlantic Charter.”

It set out the end goals of a global war that the United States was to enter four months later: no territorial aggrandizement no territorial changes made against the wishes of the people self-determination restoration of self-government to those deprived of it reduction of trade restrictions global cooperation to secure better economic and social conditions for all freedom from fear and want freedom of the seas and abandonment of the use of force, as well as disarmament of aggressor nations.

Roosevelt briefed Congress on the charter’s content on Aug. 21. FDR later said: “There isn't any copy of the Atlantic Charter, so far as I know. I haven’t got one. The British haven’t got one. The nearest thing you will get is the [message of the] radio operator on Augusta and Prince of Wales. That's the nearest thing you will come to it. . There was no formal document.”

Building a new world

The joint declaration known as the Atlantic Charter set out eight principles. They included the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live, along with a wish "to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them."

It was a rationale for the global conflict which set the foundation for the United Nations Charter that followed in 1945, said St. John's lawyer Ches Crosbie, an organizer of commemoration efforts.

"It speaks to us even today as to why the Second World War was fought, and why there has been a long peace at least between the great powers ever since."

Churchill on HMS Prince of Wales and Roosevelt on the heavy cruiser USS Augusta, each with several warships to guard against U-boat attack, staged their first summit in the quiet bay off Ship Harbour for diplomatic reasons, Crosbie said. A halfway point, Newfoundland was then a British dominion.

Roosevelt's love of fishing may well have helped choose the location, Russell added.

The American president had made two previous salmon fishing trips to the island "and spoke admiringly of the country and people," former Newfoundland governor Sir Humphrey Walwyn reported of his own meeting with Roosevelt.

Crosbie said 75th anniversary events planned in St. John's by the Atlantic Charter Foundation will feature several speakers at Memorial University of Newfoundland on Saturday. They include Russell and Bob Rae, the former interim leader of the federal Liberals.

A banquet dinner Saturday with former media baron Conrad Black as keynote speaker will replicate the meal served to Churchill and Roosevelt in 1941.

The menu includes salad with mandarin orange and strawberry slices, baked chicken with traditional Newfoundland savoury stuffing, and chocolate ice cream with chocolate sauce and cream.

On Sunday, participants will travel by bus to Ship Harbour for a re-enactment of the church service held on HMS Prince of Wales, a community garden party and a chance to see the beach where Churchill came ashore.

His great-grandson Duncan Sandys will speak on behalf of the Churchill family.

"Newfoundlanders need to know and recognize that our small place did play an important role in the Second World War," Crosbie said in an interview.

"It provided a venue for this meeting which has played over into establishing the foundations for the peace that has lasted ever after."


The Atlantic Charter is hailed by some as Churchill and Roosevelt's vision of a more peaceful and egalitarian post-war world: a world where countries would not seek territorial expansion, aggressors would be disarmed, all nations would have the right to govern themselves and there would be social and economic welfare for all.

The Atlantic Charter is considered by some to be a logical successor document to Woodrow Wilson's 14 Points. In a way it was. Just as Wilson's 14 Points were turned into a bitter fraud by the Versailles Treaty, so too would the following promises of England and America be turned into a grim charade.

In order to understand the Charter better, it is important to understand where the war was going at the time that it was written. By 1940, it was starting to look like Germany could potentially win the war. Germany occupied northern France and all of France's Atlantic coastline down to the border with Spain, so now they were at Great Britain's doorstep. While the British were able to repel the Germans with their Air Force, they were desperate for American aid in the war effort.

The trouble was that the American population was very pro-isolationist at this time. After World War I, they had become adamantly opposed to joining another international war. From 1935, U.S. neutrality acts had forbidden the selling of war supplies to belligerent countries. In November 1939, a revised neutrality law authorized the sale of war supplies on a cash-and-carry basis, but forbade U.S. vessels and nationals from traveling in combat zones. Yet in 1940, Roosevelt began preparing for a possible U.S. entry into the war. Gaining the sympathy of the American people for the Allied cause was key to entering the war.

On August 14th, 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill met together on a ship in the North Atlantic off the coast of Newfoundland. The two agreed on presenting a plan for a new world based on an end to tyranny and territorial aggrandizement, the disarmament of aggressors, and the full cooperation of all nations for the social and economic welfare for all. The Atlantic Charter was also designed as a counterthrust to a possible new Hitler peace offensive as well as a statement of postwar aims. The Charter they drafted ended up agreeing upon eight common principles that both The United States and Great Britain claimed they would support.

When the Charter was released to the public, it was titled "Joint Declaration by the President and the Prime Minister" and was generally known as the "Joint Declaration."

What is particularly odd is that no signed version of the document ever existed. The document was threshed out through several drafts and the final agreed upon text was telegraphed to London and Washington. President Roosevelt gave Congress the Charter's content on 21 August 1941. He said later, "There isn't any copy of the Atlantic Charter, so far as I know. I haven't got one. The British haven't got one. The nearest thing you will get is the [message of the] radio operator on Augusta and Prince of Wales. That's the nearest thing you will come to it . There was no formal document."[1]

While one of the key goals of writing the Charter was to inspire Americans to get involved in the war effort, much to Roosevelt's frustration, this didn't work. It wasn't until the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941, that American public opinion shifted to war.


The Charter was quickly and widely endorsed by Allied nations and leading organizations. At the subsequent meeting of the Inter-Allied Council in London on 24 September 1941, the governments in exile of Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, and Yugoslavia, as well as the Soviet Union, and representatives of the Free French Forces, unanimously adopted adherence to the common principles of policy set forth in the Atlantic Charter.

Raising support in Germany: The British also dropped millions of flysheets over Germany to allay fears of a punitive peace that would destroy the German state. The text cited the Charter as the authoritative statement of the joint commitment of Great Britain and the U.S. "not to admit any economical discrimination of those defeated" and promised that "Germany and the other states can again achieve enduring peace and prosperity."

The Axis powers interpreted the Atlantic Charter as a potential alliance against them. In Tokyo the Atlantic Charter raised support for the militarists in the Japanese government, who pushed for a more aggressive policy against the U.S. and Britain. [2]

The Arcadia Conference and the Declaration by United Nations: From December 22, 1941 to January 14th, 1942, the first Anglo-American conference after U.S. entry into the war was held in Washington D.C. President Roosevelt, Prime Minister Churchill, and their staffs of military and civilian advisors solemnly agreed to wage war against the Axis until victory. At this meeting they also agreed to give first priority to the European theater of war to forge a constricting ring around Germany by air attack and blockade to stage an eventual invasion of the European continent and to land their forces in North Africa. The two powers also decided to form a Combined Chiefs of Staff, paving the way for the closest military collaboration between two sovereign states in history.

During the conference, 26 countries, including the United States, Britain, the USSR, and China, signed a Declaration by United Nations. The signatories endorsed the Atlantic Charter and agreed to use all of their military and economic resources to defeat the Axis. They also pledged not to make a separate armistice or peace with their common enemies.

The amazing thing about the Charter is that it forged an agreement between a range of countries that all held diverse opinions. The agreement proved to be one of the formative steps towards the creation of the United Nations.


Churchill in turn was troubled by the implications that this Charter would have for the territories of the British Empire. In fact, he repudiated many key aspects of the Charter not too long after it was written. Along with several members of his Cabinet, he was particularly alarmed by the third point of the Charter, which mentioned the rights of all peoples to choose their own government. He was concerned that this clause acknowledged the right of colonial subjects to agitate for decolonization.

As Roosevelt's speech writer Robert E. Sherwood mentioned, "it was not long before the people of India, Burma, Malaya, and Indonesia were beginning to ask if the Atlantic Charter extended also to the Pacific and to Asia in general." With a war that could only be won with these allies, Roosevelt's solution was to put some pressure on Britain but to postpone until after the war the issue of self-determination of the colonies. [3]

Yet in a September 1941 speech, Churchill claimed that the charter was only meant to apply to states under German occupation, and certainly not to the people who formed part of the British Empire. Churchill rejected its universal applicability when it came to the self-determination of subject nations, such as British India. He eventually stated that he considered the Charter to be an "interim and partial statement of war aims designed to reassure all countries of our righteous purpose and not the complete structure which we should build after the victory [4]."

Indeed, around the same time the Charter was being drafted and promoted, Great Britain was busy with violating point number one of the Charter, "no territorial expansion." In August of 1941, the British along with the Soviets invaded Iran. Even though Iran was technically neutral in the war, the Anglo-Soviet forces took over their government for being "too pro-German." It was not coincidental that they needed to secure Iranian oil fields in order to establish Allied supply lines for the Soviets fighting Axis forces on the Eastern Front.


The Poles were also alarmed by the implications of the Charter. The office of the Polish Government in Exile wrote to warn Władysław Sikorski that if the Charter was implemented with regards to national self-determination, it would make the desired Polish annexation of Danzig, East Prussia and parts of German Silesia impossible, which led the Poles to approach Britain asking for a flexible interpretation of the Charter.

During the war Churchill also allowed an interpretation of the Charter that let the Soviet Union continue to control the Baltic States. Initially this interpretation was rejected by the U.S, but they did not press the issue against Stalin while he was fighting the Germans.


The most obvious and glaring example of the Allies violating their own Charter came in the treatment of Germany after the war.

We hear a lot about the horrific crimes committed by the Germans during World War II, but little is mentioned of what happened to the Germans after World War II. In this era, the victorious allies unleashed a horrific era of destruction, looting, starvation, rape, "ethnic cleansing," and mass killing. Times magazine calls this era "history's most terrifying peace" [5].

The Allies broke up the territory of the former Reich without so much as a plebiscite to discuss the matter. Germany lost around 25% of its pre-war territory, an estimated 15 million Germans were expelled from their former lands and more than 2 million were killed in the process (Source: Necrometrics).

The usual rights guaranteed to prisoners of war were also completely ignored with German POW's. The U.S. and British authorities scrapped the Geneva convention and stripped millions of captured German soldiers of their status, and their rights as prisoners of war [6].

Read our report on The Seizure of Eastern German Territories for more information on this matter.


It should be noted that China and The Soviet Union were signatories on The Declaration by United Nations in 1942, the document that endorsed the principles of The Atlantic Charter. These are two nations that would go on to commit the largest mass murders of their own civilians in history, ratcheting up a death toll that was larger than the number of people killed during World War II. Mao reportedly killed 40 million of his own people (and that number is more likely 80 million accounting for all the unrecorded deaths) Source: Necrometrics. Stalin in turn killed 20 million Necrometrics. In terms of territorial aggrandizement, the Soviet Union carved up a good part of Eastern Europe (map of territorial acquisition) (map of Soviet Union Expansion into the Eastern Bloc 1938-1948).

This is also not to mention America's countless wars for 'freedom' in the post war world. In the Korean War 3-4 million were killed and 18 out of 22 North Korean cities were bombed Necrometrics. In the Vietnam War, in which America took the side of the colonizers (The French), 5.5 million died. In Iraq, more than 1.5 million have died from a combination of war and sanctions. In total, America has bombed 33 countries since the end of World War II.

So was the Atlantic Charter meant to build a more egalitarian world for all or simply the winners of the war? It is a troubling question indeed


[1] Gunther, John (1950). Roosevelt in retrospect: a profile in history. New York: Harper & Brothers. pp 15-16

[2] Sauer, Ernst (1955). Grundlehre des Völkerrechts, 2nd edition (in German). Cologne: Carl Heymanns. p.407

[4]: Prażmowska, Anita (1995). Britain and Poland, 1939–1943: the betrayed ally. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. p. 93.

[5] Time magazine issue of Oct. 15, 1945.

[6] Günter Bischoff and Stephen Ambrose, Eisenhower and the German POWs (Louisiana State University Press, 1992), pp. 9-10 (incl. n. 24), 58-64, 147 (n. 33), 178.

The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty's Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.

First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other

Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned

Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them

Fourth, they will endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity

Fifth, they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security

Sixth, after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want

Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance

Eighth, they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measure which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.

A Joint Declaration By The United States Of America, The United Kingdom Of Great Britain And Northern Ireland, The Union Of Soviet Socialist Republics, China, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Costa Rica, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, India, Luxembourg, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Poland, South Africa, Yugoslavia.

The Governments signatory hereto,

Having subscribed to a common program of purposes and principles embodied in the Joint Declaration of the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of Great Britain dated August 14, 1941, known as the Atlantic Charter,

Being convinced that complete victory over their enemies is essential to defend life, liberty, independence and religious freedom, and to preserve human rights and justice in their own lands as well as in other lands, and that they are now engaged in a common struggle against savage and brutal forces seeking to subjugate the world,

(1) Each Government pledges itself to employ its full resources, military or economic, against those members of the Tripartite Pact and its adherents with which such government is at war.

(2) Each Government pledges itself to cooperate with the Governments signatory hereto and not to make a separate armistice or peace with the enemies.

The foregoing declaration may be adhered to by other nations which are, or which may be, rendering material assistance and contributions in the struggle for victory over Hitlerism


The Big Four: The Republic of China, The Soviet Union, The United Kingdom, The United States

British Commonwealth: Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa

Central American and Caribbean Powers: Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatamala, Haiti, Nicaragua, Panama

In Exile: Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia

Later Signatories:

1942: Ethiopia, Mexico, Philippines

1943: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Iran, Iraq,

1945: Chile, Ecuador, Egypt, Lebanon, Paraguay, Peru, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, Uruguay, Venezuela

Atlantic Charter

On August 14, 1941, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill issued the Atlantic Charter, which defined the Allies’ postwar goals for the world.

In reality, the charter was a statement more than a legal document. It was the culmination of two years of communication between Roosevelt and Churchill.

US #2559d – Fleetwood First Day Cover.

The two leaders arranged to meet each other in secret in August 1941. At the time, President Roosevelt was on a 10-day fishing trip. On August 9, Churchill was aboard the HMS Prince of Wales when it steamed into Placentia Bay on the southeast coast of Newfoundland. There he met President Roosevelt who was on the USS Augusta.

US #2559d – Classic First Day Cover.

This event marked the first time the two men would meet. After a brief silence, Churchill greeted Roosevelt, “At long last, Mr. President,” to which Roosevelt replied, “Glad to have you aboard, Mr. Churchill.” After that, Churchill gave Roosevelt a letter from King George VI and delivered an official statement. Over the next few days, the two men discussed their goals for the war and postwar world.

On August 14, 1941, Roosevelt and Churchill presented their statement, then referred to as the Joint Declaration by the President and the Prime Minister. A few weeks later Churchill called it the Atlantic Charter and the name stuck.

US #2559d – Silk Cachet First Day Cover.

The charter stated that the US supported the UK in the war and that both nations held the same hopes for a peaceful postwar world. A major focus was on the peace to come, rather than specific American involvement in the war itself. The charter consisted of eight main points: the US and UK didn’t seek any territorial gains land that had been seized would be returned according to the wishes of the people everyone would have a right to self-determination trade barriers would be lowered all nations would agree to economic cooperation and social welfare reform all signers would work toward a world free from want and fear there would be freedom of the seas and aggressor nations would be disarmed.

Item #55907 – Fleetwood First Day Proof Card.

There was no signed version of the document – it was developed over several drafts and then telegraphed to London and Washington. Shortly after its release, the Allied nations arranged a meeting in London on September 24 and unanimously agreed to adhere to the principles set forth in the charter.

Those that agreed on the charter then signed the Declarations by United Nations on January 1, 1942, which provided the basis for the modern United Nations. The Atlantic Charter is credited as the inspiration for several international agreements that followed.

A secret encounter that shaped world history

This article was published more than 6 years ago. Some information in it may no longer be current.

Peter Russell is emeritus professor of political science and principal of Senior College at the University of Toronto. Andrew Caddell lived in St. John's in the 1980s and has served with the UN abroad. They are members of the Atlantic Charter Foundation.

It is perhaps one of the most important, yet least-known moments in Canadian history, an event that set out a future of peace when the world was enveloped in conflict and despair.

In early August, 1941, just off the tiny town of Ship Harbour in Newfoundland's Placentia Bay, two of the giants of the 20th century had their first formal meeting. Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt would meet many times, but this first encounter defined their relationship.

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Winston Spencer Churchill was the embattled prime minister of Great Britain, who had acceded to the position a year before. At 66, he was not a young man: He had struggled through the escape of British troops at Dunkirk and the devastating Battle of Britain. Franklin Delano Roosevelt was 59, but had been stricken by polio two decades before. FDR was into his third term as president, and the attack on Pearl Harbor was several months away. Despite negotiating the Lend-Lease Agreement to provide ships to Britain, he was wrestling with a recalcitrant Congress and an "America First" movement that sought to maintain an isolationist approach to the war in Europe.

The two men, and the governments they led, knew they should meet. But any rendezvous had to be in secret, given the delicacy of the British engagement in war and American avoidance of it. An agreed-upon point was established, effectively "halfway" between London and Washington: the Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland, then a British dominion.

Churchill staged a flag day in London and boarded the battleship HMS Prince of Wales, which navigated the North Atlantic sea lanes chock-a-block with German U-boats. Roosevelt offered a ruse to the U.S. news media: Under the guise of a weekend fishing trip off New England, he slipped onto a U.S. Navy cruiser, the Augusta, and headed north.

Once ensconced at Ship Harbour on Aug. 9, Churchill ferried over to Roosevelt's ship with a letter from King George VI and stepped aboard, saying "At long last, we meet, Mr. President." Then they got down to work. The two leaders concentrated on writing a statement of war aims – the kind of world they hoped to build after the defeat of the Axis powers. Roosevelt had to have this if he was to lead his country into the war.

Over the next three days, Churchill and Roosevelt laboured over the eight clauses that make up what came to be known as the Atlantic Charter. In stirring words they spelled out the principles of a world order worth fighting for, including the "right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live." The meetings ended on Aug. 12 and the Charter was made public Aug. 14.

On Jan. 1, 1942, representatives of 26 nations, meeting in London signed the United Nations Declaration and endorsed the Atlantic Charter as defining their common purposes. In effect, the Atlantic Charter became the approved vehicle of Allied war aims and the precursor of the UN Charter in 1945.


Churchill and Franklin met aboard the HMS Prince of Wales in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, to respond to Germany's successful attacks on Britain, Greece, and Yugoslavia. At the time of the meeting (Aug. 9–10, 1941) Germany had invaded the Soviet Union and was on the verge of attacking Egypt to close off the Suez Canal. Churchill and Franklin were also, simultaneously, concerned about Japan's intentions in Southeast Asia.

Churchill and Franklin had their own reasons for wanting to sign a charter. Both hoped that the charter, with its statement of solidarity with the Allies, would sway American opinion toward involvement in the war. In this hope, both were disappointed: Americans continued to reject the idea of joining the war until after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

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Roosevelt and Churchill The Atlantic Charter

Winston Churchill was no stranger to storms. They had engulfed him in various ways throughout his long career and he had always turned to face them with jutting jaw and indomitable spirit. Dark clouds had hovered over him from the moment he became Britain’s Prime Minister in May 1940. Now, fifteen harrowing months later, he was setting out to meet President Franklin Roosevelt, the one man who could offer real assistance in his hour of need. And another storm awaited – this time one of a meteorological kind as his ship, HMS Prince of Wales, ran into a howling gale within hours of leaving its base at Scapa Flow.

Churchill demanded to be escorted to the Captain’s cabin. His escort was a nervous young officer who feared that, in total darkness up swaying stairs, the Prime Minister, a man of some girth, might fall into the roiling sea. But Churchill relished it, remarking later that it was like an adventure after being trapped in No.10 Downing Street. The storm was so bad that the three-destroyer escort, sailing alongside to ward off the very real prospect of the battleship being torpedoed by German U-Boats, could not keep up. Undaunted, Churchill gave the order ‘Full steam ahead!’

The risks were considerable, especially as Churchill had brought the bulk of his senior military staff with him. When he heard of it, the Canadian Prime Minister thought him mad. When the secret journey was revealed a few days later, Members of Parliament were aghast. But, Churchill knew where his deliverance lay, and he knew that he could no longer postpone a meeting with the man who held Britain’s fate in his hands.

After five days, the coast of Newfoundland hove into view and when Britain’s Prime Minister was piped aboard USS Augusta at Placentia Bay, there began a meeting which, in hindsight, could be seen as one of immense profit for the future of mankind. It was a meeting that allowed FDR and Churchill to get to know each other and become friends. It was also a meeting that, somewhat unexpectedly, produced a document, strangely never signed, called The Atlantic Charter – an eight point agreement designed to act as a guide for how the world’s nations should behave towards each other in the post-war years. Many of the principles laid out in this document are incorporated into the Charter of the United Nations.

In this book, the authors seek not only to explain how this document came into being – bits of it being scrawled out on scraps of paper over dinner – but to delve into the lives of the two most prominent and influential figures of the twentieth century. For most people belonging to younger generations, they are but legendary names from history.

In addition the authors have added biographies of the men who helped them change history – Harry Hopkins and Sumner Welles Lord Beaverbrook and Lord Cadogan as well Randolph Churchill, the rambunctious and often misunderstood son who had a greater influence on his father’s life than many critics were willing to accept.

The creation of the Atlantic Charter stands as a pivotal moment in time – the moment two great leaders, men of courage, empathy and imagination, stood alone against tyranny to save the world.

Watch the video: Atlantic Charter