Category Archives: World War II

FATEFUL ORDERS – HOW 3 US OCEAN LINERS CARRIED 20,000 BRITISH TROOPS TO WAR

(The unknown correspondence between Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill authorizing a top-secret convoy of 20,000 British troops to Singapore on three American transports.)  ss.america

A series of “Triple Priority” telegrams between President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill that would result in FDR breaking the Neutrality Act, began only two weeks after the Atlantic Conference in August 1941.  As a result, FDR approved the transport of British troops to war in American ships, even as the United States remained technically at peace.

There was much to be concerned about.  Churchill’s first message to FDR on September 1, 1941 revealed doubts about maintaining Britain’s strategic Middle East situation:  “Would it be possible for you to lend us twelve United States liners and twenty U.S. cargo ships manned by American crews from early October until February…I know from out talks that it will be difficult to do, but there is a great need for more British troops in the Middle East.”  Churchill ended plaintively.  “It is quite true that the loan of these liners would hamper any large dispatch of U.S. forces to Europe or Africa, but as you know I have never asked for this in any period we can reasonably foresee in the near future.”

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GHOST SHIPS – THE UNKNOWN PRE-WAR US NAVY GLOBE-CIRCLING VOYAGE

From mid to late January 1942, as Singapore lay under siege, the U.S. Navy landed 20, 000 British troops from America’s three most important former ocean liners.  A globe-circling voyage – the longest of the war – but unknown for decades.  How it happened, and why it remains unknown today.   The July 2002 PROCEEDINGS (U.S. Naval Institute) history feature.

SS Washington
SS Washington, 1941, in San Francisco before conversion. Large American flags warned U-boats of U.S. neutrality
First Class dining room on SS Washington
First Class dining room SS Washington before hasty conversion into USS Mount Vernon (AP-22)

An August 1941 meeting between President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill yielded more than the Atlantic Charter.  The leaders set plans to move British troops to the Middle East in three former U.S. ocean liners.  But after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the orders changed, and the mighty liners became “the ghost ships of Task Force 14.”

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Top-Secret ULTRA

British Heritage magazine special issue: ‘Britain at War, September 2000

It was easily the most closely guarded and enduring secret of World War II. Thousands of books, articles and reminiscences by the generals, admirals and civilian leadership masterminding the war were all silent on the subject. The usually loquacious Winston Churchill said nothing about it in his six volume History of the Second World War. The 12,000 men and women who were there, sworn by an oath to king and country, neither spoke nor wrote anything for three decades after the war. They remained silent until the mid 1990s.

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