“Umm … Can You Slow Down a Bit?”

Roosevelt and Winston Churchill aboard HMS Pri...
Roosevelt and Winston Churchill aboard HMS Prince of Wales for 1941 Atlantic Charter meeting. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Early in August 1941, two Canadian destroyers, H.M.C.S. Assiniboine and H.M.C.S. Restigouche, were patrolling the North Atlantic when they received a thrilling message in code.  They were to rendezvous with the new battleship H.M.S.C. Prince of Wales at a place given in longitude and latitude.

What could a lone British battleship be doing at sea at that time?   The Assiniboine and Restigouche had to go full steam ahead to make the rendezvous on schedule, and sighted the Prince of Wales amidst rain and fog at 9:25 on the morning of August 6.  Then they were told why they were there.  The battleship flashed a message to the destroyers:  “We have the Prime Minister, the First Sea Lord, the Chief of Imperial General Staff, and the Chief of the Air Staff on board and are proceeding to rendezvous with the President of the United States.”  Restigouche and Assiniboine were to act as an anti-submarine screen for the battleship to Argentia, in Placentia Harbour, Newfoundland.

Although the sea was rough, the battleship raced ahead at 30 knots.  It was difficult for the destroyers to keep pace.  Their egg-shell hulls could not stand the pounding a battleship could, and they asked the Admiral to slow down.  Reluctantly, he agreed to reduce speed to 29 knots!

Restigouche and Assiniboine, passing through a lane of American destroyers, entered Placentia Harbour with the Prince of Wales on August 9.  President Roosevelt was on board the U.S.S. Augusta with his naval and military advisers, and Secretary of State, Cordell Hull.  The United States was not involved in the war until December 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour and the Philippines.  Nevertheless, President Roosevelt was battling the isolationists in the United States and giving the nations of the British Commonwealth all the aid he could.

Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt held conferences alternately on the Prince of Wales and the Augusta and issued what was known as the Atlantic Charter on August 14.  It emphasized that neither Britain nor the United States sought any other nation’s territory.  They respected the rights of all people to choose their own form of government and intended to see that sovereign rights were restored to nations from which these had been taken.  The charter also said there should be trade on equal terms for all nations, including the enemy, and access to raw materials.  It concluded with a strong plea for disarmament.

While Churchill and Roosevelt were drawing up the Atlantic Charter, their military experts were making plans.  They included an agreement about convoy escorts that gave Canadian and American destroyers a larger area of responsibility.  Restigouche, Assiniboine, and many other unites of the Royal Canadian Navy played outstanding roles in the Battle of the Atlantic.

To learn more about today’s post and the Atlantic Charter, I suggest visiting The Office of the Historian, and the World War II Today. Lastly, I will highly suggest visiting the National Archives for a comprehensive article called “Teaching With Documents: Documents Related to Churchill and FDR”.

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