World War II
British War Cabinet War Notebooks
2,320 pages of notes and translations from British cabinet meetings, dating from April 13, 1942 to December 31, 1946, copied from material maintained at the British National Archives.
The collection contains 912 pages of images of notes and 1,408 pages of text transcriptions of the notes. The disc contains a glossary of the individuals mentioned and the meaning of abbreviations commonly used in the notebooks. Text searches can be done across all text on the disc.
The Cabinet Secretaries' notebooks cover the dates, April 13, 1942 to November 19, 1942, November 26, 1942 to July 14, 1943, Match 6, 1945 to February 7, 1946, and February 7 1946 to December 31, 1946. These notebooks were not declassified by the British government until 2006. The notebooks have been released without any redactions.
The Cabinet Secretaries´ Notebooks are the handwritten notes which the Cabinet Secretary makes when he attends Cabinet Meetings as the Senior Secretary. The notebooks in this collection were maintained by Norman Brook, who was Deputy Cabinet Secretary until 1947. The entries in these notebooks document the relationships between and the views of the individual ministers as not documented elsewhere. They also shed a different light on the relationship between Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin and de Gaulle.
These notebooks differ from the official Cabinet minutes in several ways. The official minutes do not attribute views to individual ministers as the notebooks do. Nor do the items necessarily correspond: the Cabinet Secretary did not note every item, but sometimes included incidental discussion not reflected in the official minutes. These notebooks give a look at the tone of the views and personalities of those people who attended Cabinet or who were being discussed at Cabinet. They also give an indication of the dynamics in Cabinet, for example, on the occasions where ministers split along party lines. They show that where the Cabinet failed to agree, a decision was deferred for further discussion.
Until 1942, these notebooks were destroyed at the end of the year. In 1942 it was decided to preserve the notes.
The notebooks recount the naval, military and air operations as they happened. These include: the number of sorties from Bomber, Fighter and Coastal Commands, the numbers of Allied and enemy planes and aircrew lost, the damage to towns in the United Kingdom and the shipping losses through attacks on the convoys, particularly in the Atlantic.
Participants include Prime ministers Winston Churchill and Clement Atlee. Other ministers include the Deputy Prime Minister, Lord President of the Council, Lord Chancellor Viscount, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, Minister of Agriculture, Minister of Aircraft Production, Minister of Civil Aviation, Minister of Defence, Minister for Reconstruction, Minister of War Transport, Secretary of State for War and others.
Enquiry into Bethnal Green tube deaths.
On the night of 3/4 March 1943, 170-180 people were killed at Bethnal Green tube (subway) station when two or three people fell down the steps in the dark and others then fell on top of them. There was pressure for a public inquiry. The government insisted on a private inquiry; however, they did say that, subject to security considerations, they would publish the conclusions. The War Cabinet's view was that an oral statement should be made rather than publishing the conclusions. The points which would be included were that there would be modifications to existing arrangements which would stop any further incidents of this kind and that there was no evidence that the disaster was due to Jewish or Fascist elements amongst the people in the shelter.
The Cabinet discussed, on 25 June 1942, the shipping losses on the convoy routes, which were critical at this stage. The losses were mainly through the success of the U-Boats, the number of which was steadily being increased. Within 13 German ports there were 271 U-Boats in the process of being built or being fitted out and it was expected that by March 1943 the number would have risen to 500. The losses of escort vessels and destroyers had been very heavy in the first half of 1942, with 30 destroyers alone being sunk. It was necessary therefore to increase the number of ships being built (many of them in the United States), and the Cabinet discussed the size, speed and tonnage of the ships. They also discussed what and how the U-Boats could be destroyed, as this was crucial if supplies were to get through.
The Cabinet discussed in August 1942, whether de Gaulle should be involved in the planning for TORCH (as the Allied invasion of North Africa was code-named). They agreed that no steps should be taken to associate de Gaulle with the planning of operations in metropolitan France, but that he should be involved in hypothetical plans only. They also agreed that the UK should talk to him about Special Operations Executive (SOE) activities. However, because he himself had no secret organization in France (there were only groups who used him as a figurehead), control of these organizations should remain with the UK, but consultation would be useful, ´as a way of keeping him out of Torch´.
Should Rome be bombed?
In December 1942, the Cabinet discussed the approach which had been made by the Vatican and whether the United Nations should refrain from bombing Rome. The Cabinet discussed whether there was anything in Rome worth bombing and whether they wanted to bomb Rome.
Churchill and Stalin.
The following notes were taken on August 25, 1942 by Brook of Churchill's comments about is his meeting with Stalin. "4 mtgs. nil to add to a/c circulated. But opinion - large man: great sagacity. Expld. some past mysteries. Pre-war misleadg, of our Missions etc. because certain B. didn´t intend war - wd. frame-up with French. Confirmed by our offers - F. 80 Divns. B. 3 Divns. Sure H. wasn´t bluffing. At Munich an effort might have bn. made after tht. nil with our offered strength. When Molotov there in June ´40 you raided Berlin. Ribbentrop took him to shelter. Effect on M. of his visit here has bn. permanent - never stops smiling - now thought in Russia to have a B. orientation, whereas of old he had a German orientation."
The Cabinet discussed the possibility of reprisals for the savage cruelties being practiced by the Germans in Czechoslovakia. Churchill suggested wiping out German villages (three for one) by air attack. The RAF said that it would require 100 bombers and bright moonlight. The Cabinet discussed whether it was a good idea, whether resources should be diverted for this purpose and whether it would lead to reprisals both in Czechoslovakia and in the UK. The cabinet opposed Churchill's proposal of retaliation. Brook records Churchill as saying, "My instinct is strongly the other way... I submit (unwillingly) to the view of Cabinet against."
Reports of large scale massacres of Jews in Poland.
The Cabinet in December 1942 discussed the large-scale massacres of Jews in Poland. Foregin Secretary Anthony Eden reported that there was no confirmation of the methods used, but that it was known that Jews were being transferred to Poland from occupied countries.
Discussion of trial and punishment of war criminals.
The Cabinet discussed a scheme, which had been agreed in principle with President Roosevelt, for the establishment of a UN Commission on Atrocities, which would be a purely fact-finding body. The Cabinet had before them a memorandum setting out the issues involved in the trial and punishment of war criminals. Brook recorded Churchill as saying, "Contemplate tht. if Hitler falls into our hands we shall certainly put him to death. Not a Sovereign who cd. be said to be in hands of Ministers, like Kaiser. This man is the mainspring of evil. Instrument - electric chair, for gangsters no doubt available on Lease Lend (From the United States)."
Should principal Nazi leaders be put on trial or executed summarily?
The Cabinet discussed in April 1945 whether the principal Nazi leaders, including Hitler, should, when caught, be put on trial or summarily executed without any judicial inquiry.
Negotiation with Nazi leaders.
Later, Churchill proposed that Britain negotiate what to do with Nazi leaders such as Gestapo head Heinrich Himmler, who had already sought secret peace talks with Britain, and then "bump him off later."
Treatment of Prisoners of War.
The Cabinet discussed in October 1942, the German communiqué regarding the decision to put in chains British prisoners of war captured at Dieppe. The communiqué also referred to Britain's announcement that if the Germans persisted in their intention, then similar measures would be taken with a similar number of German prisoners of war. The Germans went on to say that if this measure came into force, they would then put in chains three times that number of British prisoners.
India and Gandhi.
Sir Stafford Cripps had been sent to India with a proposal for settlement of the India question. The plan provided for dominion status after the war, for an Indian union of British Indian provinces and princely states wishing to accede to it, a separate dominion for those who did not, and firm defence links between Britain and an Indian union. However, in August 1942, Gandhi launched the "Quit India Movement" against the British. The Indian government retaliated by arresting about 60,000 individuals including Gandhi and other leaders. The Cabinet discussed whether Gandhi should be deported from India, whether he should be released as soon as he went on hunger strike or whether he should be force fed. At the Cabinet´s meeting on 24 August, the Lord President reported that he had received a telegram from the Viceroy which said ´strongly in favour of letting G. starve to death: + added all Moslem members of Council wd. take same view´. There were also discussions as to whether Gandhi wanted to starve to death and whether he should have visitors and who should be responsible for his health and welfare.
In the summer of 1942, it had been agreed that, should Gandhi declare a fast, he would not be released and that special arrangements were to be made with a view to relieving the Government of India of any responsibility should he do so. However, by January, the Secretary of State for India had received telegrams from the Viceroy and the Governor of Bombay explaining the Governor's view that if the previous agreement was carried out, the reaction of the public was likely to be bad and that he was unwilling to detain Gandhi beyond the point at which his life would be in danger. The Cabinet agreed that Gandhi should not be allowed to secure his release by a threat to fast until death. If the conditions were such that he could be set free on compassionate grounds rather than fasting then this would be considered.
In July 1943, the Cabinet discussed the situation in Palestine. The Cabinet agreed that action was needed to damp down the existing agitation, which was being brought on by extremist statements. There was concern that the situation might lead to future military commitments. The Notebooks highlight the different attitudes between the Jewish factions. They record that the Jews in Palestine were regarded as totalitarian, aggressive and expansionist and that ´They were trying to run a state w´in a state v. much on Nazi lines´. However, they make it clear that there was still moderate Jewish opinion both inside and outside Palestine and that this should be encouraged. The Cabinet agreed a draft declaration by the UK and US governments, which said that no decision on Palestine should be reached without full consultation between both Arabs and Jews.
US "coloured" troops in the UK.
In October 1942, the Cabinet discussed the issues that had arisen with the arrival of US ´coloured´ troops in the UK. It was agreed that the US Army's views must be considered in determining the British attitude to ´coloured´ US troops and that it was desirable that the people of England should avoid becoming too friendly with US ´coloured´ troops. However, the Cabinet also agreed that while it was right that British people and British troops should be educated to know what the US attitude was, it was equally important that the Americans should recognize that the UK faced different issues regarding its own ´coloured´ troops and that a modus vivendi would need to be found.
The Cabinet agreed that the UK should not object to the Americans making use of administrative arrangements for the segregation of their troops, but they must not expect the UK authorities to assist them with this policy. It should be made clear to the US that there should be no restrictions on the use of canteens, cinemas, pubs and theatres by ´coloured´ troops and those who wanted to extend invitations to both white and ´coloured´ troops should seek advice before doing so.
Viscount Cranborne was uneasy with the view that people of England should avoid becoming too friendly with ´coloured´ US troops as this was at variance with the attitude adopted towards British ´coloured´ subjects who came to the UK. It might cause offence to those people now in this country and lead to their becoming a focus for discontent when they returned to their homes in the colonies.
On 5 January 1943, the Cabinet discussed food stocks. Lord Woolton (Minister of Food) was due to visit the US and it was expected that food rationing would be discussed. Lord Woolton reported that the US was about to ration in order to build up stocks and that they wanted the United Kingdom's support on this issue. They also discussed a joint declaration by the two countries that would relieve the Dutch and the Norwegians. This was that the UK would not revert to unlimited consumption until the immediate necessities of Europe were met. Lord Woolton said that if rationing after the war was not continued then we would have serious trouble, although we would have some reserves in the UK of, for instance, corned beef. The Cabinet discussed rationing after the war in general and how much help would need to be given once Europe was liberated. The UK should ration to the same amount as the US did. Indeed, if the US did not reduce their consumption, the UK would be in a very bad way. It was therefore crucial that stockpiles were built up.
Food Shortages in Liberated Europe.
In March 1945, the Cabinet discussed the food situation in liberated Europe. In most areas of France, they had enough to eat, but they were living on a ´ship to mouth basis´ and there were no reserves of food. In Belgium, the food situation was reasonably good, but there were also no reserves. Holland, however, was flooded. The water needed to be pumped out before any sowing could begin and there was a shortage of food in the occupied area which would need to be dealt with quickly. Prime Minister Churchill reported that the US was ´battering´ on the United Kingdom's reserves and that this must be resisted.
Reparations and the dismemberment of Germany.
In March 1945, the Cabinet discussed reparations and the dismemberment of Germany. In particular they discussed how the German economy would be affected and thus how the German people would survive, how the Russians intended to take all the machinery that they could from Germany and how a Germany in economic dissolution and semi-starvation would eventually command world compassion.
The Death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Brooks records Churchill's reaction as, "Profound shock. Leap into unkown."
Three powers meeting at Potsdam.
At the Cabinet meeting in June, Churchill said that he felt it might be awkward for him to speak with any great authority at the forthcoming Three Power Meeting whilst the results of the election were unknown. Brook recorded Churchill as saying, "Had thought we cd. have solid front if CRA came too - his added declns wd. give us watertight decln … …But CRA´s agreement is challenged by leader of Socialist Party. I shd. be leaning on a broken crutch. Occurred to me therefore tht. it might be better to wait until someone can clearly be responsible for B. policy… …Not therefore unreasonable to suggest postponement on grd. tht. CRA´s credentials are imperfect.
Soviet influence in Europe.
Sir Norman recorded on June 11, 1945, that Winston Churchill described Russia's advance into Central Europe as "one of the most terrible events in history".
On 4 October, the Cabinet ministers were informed that the Russians and the US representatives on the inter-Allied Commission for the prosecution of war crimes had proposed that the German General Staff should be indicted as a criminal organization so that, if the case against the German General Staff as a whole were proved, individual members of that staff could be dealt with as war criminals, if it could be proved that they had been members of that organization. The UK Government was willing for Generals Keitel and Jodl to be indicted individually, but considered that an indictment of the entire General Staff could be met by the defence with the claim that they had only been carrying out the orders of their government.
Policy towards Germany.
On 7 May 1946, the Cabinet discussed the UK´s future policy towards Germany. The Prime Minister said that the Cabinet needed to discuss the various options and whether they should continue to work towards a unified, though federalized, Germany or seek to promote a Western German State which would act as a bloc to the spread of Communism. Brook recorded Prime Minister Atlee as saying, "My own view - try for unified policy on E.B.´s line - a) because of end we wish to reach b) because attempt to achieve W. Policy wd. involve us in expendre of resources we can´t afford. Diffies of econ. posn in W. Zone. Not in posn to make W. Zone attractive as cpd. eastern zone & on that grd. alone we shd. go for federal centralised G."
On 10 October 1946, the Cabinet was informed that the Control Council in Berlin was considering the appeals which had been lodged following the sentences which had been imposed by the Nuremberg trial. An appeal had been heard about the sentence of death on General Jodl being changed from being executed by shooting rather than hanging; this had been supported by representatives of the US and France but neither the British nor the Soviet member of the council endorsed this view. The Cabinet endorsed the view that the sentences should not be modified. Count von Papen, who had been acquitted at Nuremberg, had applied to take up residence in the British Zone. This had been refused and the Cabinet ministers were asked to endorse the decision. The Cabinet agreed that he should not be admitted because he would then have to be interned and brought before a tribunal as a potentially dangerous person and it was undesirable that the British authorities should appear to be putting the same man on trial again and it was undesirable that they should appear to be giving asylum to a person of such notoriety.
Post War Domestic Issues.
Later entries covered a wide range of domestic post war issues including suspension of civil defence acts, dock strikes, reconstruction of post-war Britain, the National Health Service, food for Europe, refugees, International Control of Atomic Energy, repatriation of Poles, National Insurance Scheme, broadcasting policy, the London Airport, and more.
Text searches can be done across all text on the disc.
W.M. 43(45). 12th April, 1945. (3.0 p.m.)
1. British Prisoners of War.
Telegram 745 from Berne read to War Cabinet.
A.E. Wd. like to do it.
P.J. Partake in G. war only.
A.E. If "Allied" means Anglo-Am. don't find diffy: will never get R. consent. Consult U.S. & tell Russia.
P.M. Send to U.S. & R.: strong resolve is to accept it at once: not askg. for consent. We are prepd to agree for ours, whatever you do.
A.E. They ask for agreemt. of "Allied Govts."
B.B. Russians have now allowed public suggn of agreement with Germans allowing us to advance in West.
Evatt. Applies only to G. war.
P.M. Dangerous to mention that. Agreed: not resting it with us entirely.
A.E. If we & U.S. agree, I wd. tell G. so. Tell the French. They wd. get the benefits. No need to ask them.
2. War Criminals.
Evatt. Have discussed with our repve on Commn , who agrees.
A.E. V. good.
M.A.P. Disagreed: mixes pol. & judicial decn with disadvantage to both. No real trial for Hitler: facilities to argue in disproof. Will be criticised not proper trial: give him chance of harangue. Neither proper trial nor pol. act – worst of both worlds.
A.G. Gestapo – wd. be a proper trial. Prosecn leadg. up to charge of conspiracy to commit war crime.
P.J. V. large nos. – hundreds of thousands.
W.M. 44(45). 13th April, 1945
Death of President Roosevelt.
P.M. Profound shock. Leap into unkown. Truman's statemt. – will keep present Cabinet, & prosecute the war to the utmost v. Germany & Japan. Truman will be well man: F.D.R. has been a sick man for months. On Tuesday: I shd. move resolution (Heads of States). Wish among Party leaders – only one speech. Procedure: passed new. con. Spker shd. be asked about that Had thought of going to-day to Funeral. But v. private: in room at White House. Interment at Hyde Park: relatives & Can. only. Suggest A.E. shd. be present. Debate Tuesday on S. Francisco. L.P. to open: P.M. to wind up if me. Thursday on Poland & Foreign Affairs = P.M. Identical resolution & procedure (one speech) in H/Lords.
B. View in U.S. = that Stimson will wield main influence.
M/L. Belief Stettinius will rise in power & influence.
J.A. He is v. well disposed to us.
P.M. King & Queen wish to attend Memorial Service. Tuesday a.m. Abbey or St. Pauls?
J.A. If tradition is not against it for celebration of international event, Abbey wd. be more convenient. Agreed: Enquire: presumption in favour of Abbey.
P.M. Will send personal telegram to Truman. Relations with Russia.
P.M. Accept quietly U.S.'s apology on Crossword. Poland: Will draft telegram circulate to War Cab. & send to
A.E.: he must get Truman to agree. Essential that our Polish policy shd. be unanimous.
A.E. Was to see Mik. to-day.
P.M. Hope he will at least declare friendliness to R. Can't press him on Soviet if he won't do that.
C.M. 22(45). 14th August, 1945 at 10.50 p.m.
E.B. Read out message recd from Byrnes. Proposed 6.30. Washington time: pressed for 7.p.m. W. = midnight Ldn. He has since talked to Moscow & Chungking & fixed this time.
P.M. Is this satisfactory?
E.B. Want to get it checked with State Dpt.
P.M. Assumg. that is O.K. – will b'cast at 12 m'night: send warning flash in advance: King to b'cast to-morrow night. Or – announce to-night that to-morrow is V.J. Day.
P.L. Then Truman's announcement will come first.
E.B. Further message: time will stand if E.B. has nothing further to say. Genl. view: this is satisf. if U.S. Embassy confirm the terms.
P.M. Read draft of announcement. Suggns - refer to impending release of our p.o.w.
END OF WAR WITH JAPAN.
Abbreviations in documents aboveabove:
A.E. = Anthony Eden, Foreign Secretary
P.J = PJG - Sir P.J. Grigg, Secretary of State for War
P.M. = Prime Minister Winston Churchill
B.B. = Brendan Bracken, First Lord of the Admiralty
M.A.P. = Minister or Ministry for Aircraft Production, Sir S. Cripps
B. = Lord Beaverbrook, Lord Privy Seal
M/L. = Minister of Labour, E. Bevin
J.A. = Sir John Anderson, Chancellor of the Exchequer
E.B. = Sir Edward Bridges, Cabinet Secretary
P.L. = Richard Law, Minister of Education