Spring 1944 (Age 69)

Three Miles from the Enemy: While eagerly and anxiously awaiting the invasion of Europe, Churchill also worried about possible perfidy by the Soviets. “Once we get on to the Continent with a large commitment, they will have the means of blackmail, which they have not at the present, by refusing to advance beyond a certain point, or even tipping the wink to the Germans that they can move more troops to the West.” Force and facts, he believed, were the only realities the Communists understood. Later he would comment: “Never forget that the Bolsheviks are crocodiles.” At home his government purged known British Communists from D-Day planning.

“he could still always sleep well, eat well, and especially drink well, but that he no longer jumped out of bed the way he used to.”

Clementine’s fifty-ninth birthday was the occasion for a family gathering except for Randolph who was in Yugoslavia. They partied until 4:30 a.m., playing Gilbert and Sullivan and old musichall songs on the gramophone. Churchill wrote Randolph: I am keeping Winston with me in the country where he is safe from the London bombings and has room to play about… Mary is in action two or three nights a week.”

Churchill’s disagreement with the Americans on strategy in Italy continued. He feared that their insistence on an invasion of the south of France after Normandy, on top of Alexander’s “desolating delay,” would destroy future success in Italy. He and his American allies also disagreed on whom to support in Yugoslavia.

On Good Friday, he spoke to the senior British and American generals on plans for D-Day. General de Gaulle was not yet aware of those plans. It was decided not to tell him until June 4th.

In their memoirs Brooke, Eden and Eisenhower all comment on the Prime Minister’s exhaustion at this time. In early May Churchill admitted to Brooke that he felt like Roosevelt, who “was no longer the man he had been.” Speaking of himself, Churchill said that “he could still always sleep well, eat well, and especially drink well, but that he no longer jumped out of bed the way he used to.'”

One evening at Chequers Churchill startled his guests, who had assembled to listen to a professional pianist, when he commented that what mattered most in music are the silences between the notes.

In early May be met with the Dominion Prime Ministers, King of Canada, Curtin of Australia, Fraser of New Zealand, Smuts of South Africa and Huggins of Southern Rhodesia.

Casualties were a constant worry for him. He was unhappy about the pre-invasion bombing of France but accepted the arguments of the Americans that it was necessary to limit the losses and perhaps the success of the invasion. Before he went to bed on the evening of June 5th he told his wife: ‘Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning twenty thousand men may have been killed?”

On June 4th Rome was liberated and Churchill’s feelings of elation about that achievement were so strong that he took the first ten minutes of his speech to the House on June 6th to ask the House to ‘take formal cognisance of the liberation of Rome by the Allied forces under the command of General Alexander.’ Need-less to say, members waited throughout that speech for his announcement about the landings in Normandy. After his speech in the House, he lunched with the King and drove with him to Eisenhower’s headquarters.

On June 10th, after Montgomery announced that “we have won the battle of the beaches” Churchill, Smuts, Brooke, General Marshall and Admiral King crossed the Channel where they were met by Montgomery. After a beach welcome they drove through “our limited but fertile domain in Normandy.” They lunched on the lawn at Montgomery’s headquarters, looking towards the front which was only three miles away. Churchill enquired about the chances of German – armour breaking up their lunch. Montgomery acknowledged that the chateau had indeed taken a pounding the night before. The Prime Minister reminded him that “anything can be done once or for a short time, but custom, repetition, prolongation, is always to be avoided when possible in war.” Montgomery moved his headquarters two days later.

On the night of June 12th the first flying bombs fell on London and for the next nine months the home front was once again a battlefield.

Brooke now found Churchill, relieved of his Normandy worries, “in a very good form, and quite ten years younger,” but the debate over a Southern France invasion versus an aggressive offensive in Italy would continue to vex the British Prime Minister.

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