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Microform: War Cabinet Minutes (HMSO), 1939-1945

Identity Statement

Reference code(s): GB 0099 KCLMA MFF 1
Held at: Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives, King's College London
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Full title: Microform: War Cabinet Minutes (HMSO), 1939-1945
Date(s): 1939-1945, 1989
Level of description: Collection (fonds)
Extent: 195 fiche
Name of creator(s): Cabinet Office, War Cabinet


Administrative/Biographical history:

When World War Two began for Britain on 3 Sep 1939, Prime Minister Rt Hon (Arthur) Neville Chamberlain appointed an eight member strong War Cabinet. It consisted of the Prime Minister, who was the Chairman; the Chancellor of the Exchequer; the Foreign Secretary; the three service Secretaries; the Lord Privy Seal; the Minister for the Co-ordination of Defence; and the Minister without Portfolio. This number increased when select non-War Cabinet Ministers were invited to attend meetings and when the Chiefs of Staff and the Permanent Under Secretary to the Treasury attended, bringing the Cabinet numbers to fifteen members. The War Cabinet met daily during the first year of the war and, as the war progressed, often met more than once a day to deal with a range of issues from military planning to food rationing. The Cabinet Minutes from Sep 1939 to May 1940 were devoted almost exclusively to the situation on the Western Front, which remained decidedly unchanged throughout the period. From May 1940, Rt Hon Winston (Leonard Spencer) Churchill, who had been appointed First Lord of the Admiralty at the outbreak of war, criticised the Chamberlain government's handling of the war and urged a more offensive British approach to the Western Front. In addition, the Allied campaign in Norway ended in disaster. Consequently, and following a debate in the House of Commons, at which 200 members voiced a non- confidence against Chamberlain, Churchill became Prime Minister and Chairman of the War Cabinet. Following the defeat of France in Jun 1940, the United Kingdom faced a severe defensive crisis and thus the War Cabinet was enlarged. Rt Hon Clement Richard Attlee; Rt Hon Arthur Greenwood; Rt Hon Robert Anthony Eden; and Rt Hon Sir John Anderson immediately entered, as would eventually Rt Hon Ernest Bevin, as Minister of Labour and National Service; Rt Hon William Maxwell Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook, as Minister of Aircraft Production; Rt Hon Sir Kingsley Wood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer; Capt Rt Hon Oliver Lyttelton, Minister of State in the Far East; Rt Hon Sir (Richard) Stafford Cripps as Lord Privy Seal; Rt Hon Herbert Stanley Morrison as Secretary of State for Home Affairs and Minister of Home Security; and Rt Hon Frederick James Marquis, 1st Baron Woolton of Liverpool, as Minister of Reconstruction. At the end of 1940, the War Cabinet was preoccupied with the planning a unified British strategy for the waging of war, with Gen Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, often acting as a refrain to Churchill's more unconventional ideas about strategy. By mid-1941, concentration turned from the defence of Britain to intervention in Balkans, the war in North Africa, plans for providing armed forces to Europe to draw German forces from the Soviet Union, and the prospect of bringing the United States into the war. In 1942, the British persuaded US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to authorise a combined invasion of North Africa. In 1943, the War Cabinet remained pre-occupied with strategic affairs, but began to think increasingly about the post-war reconstruction of Britain and general social security measures for the British population. With a firm schedule for the Allied invasion of France firmly in place in 1943, the War Cabinet turned its attention to the post-war settlement of Europe, an Allied occupation strategy for Germany and Austria, and the post-war rehabilitation of Britain. As the war drew to a close, there began to appear increasing signs of strain between the two major parties in the British Coalition Government, which ultimately affected the War Cabinet's ability to operate effectively. On 23 May 1945, Churchill resigned as Prime Minister. On 30 May 1945, the first meeting of the new British Cabinet took place, marking the end of the War Cabinet and the return to peace-time civil procedures.


Scope and content/abstract:

War Cabinet Minutes (HMSO), 1939-1945 is a themed microfiche collection containing copies of the minutes of the War Cabinet Meetings, Sep 1939-Jul 1945, and Cabinet Conclusions and Confidential Annexes, 1941-1945. Meeting minutes include British plans to create discord amongst the German High Command, Nov 1939; criticism of the military campaign in Norway, May 1940; First Lord of the Admiralty Winston (Leonard Spencer) Churchill's criticism of the Allied propaganda campaign in France, May 1940; speculation on the ability of the German population to sustain prolonged war, May 1940; reaction to the Allied withdrawals in France and Belgium, May 1940; the debate over the possible compromise peace with Germany, 26-28 May 1940; the decision to intern all enemy aliens in the United Kingdom; May 1940; Churchill's reaction to American isolationism, May 1940; the seizing of French warships in British and Egyptian harbours and the sinking of French warships at Mers-el-Kebir, Egypt, 23 Jun 1940; straining Anglo-French relations, Jul 1940; the Anglo-American 'destroyers for bases' agreement, Aug 1940; Churchill's attempt to take to court the Sunday Pictorial and the Daily Mirror over the newspapers' alleged anti-Government editorials, Oct 1940; preparations for the possible German invasion of the Britain, 1940; civil defence precautions in Britain, 1940; the British intervention in Greece, 1941; speculation on Soviet military collapses following the invasion of the Soviet Union by German armed forces, Jun 1941; Churchill's appeals to US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt for American intervention in the war, 1941; reaction over the fall of Singapore and Malaya to Japanese armed forces, Feb 1942; Anglo-American preparations for the invasion of North Africa, 1942; naval and air operations against France, 1943; the 'Beveridge Report' on social security in Britain, 1943; reports on Allied conferences at Casablanca, Jan 1943, and Washington, May 1943; the Allied decision to invade France made at the QUADRANT Conference, Quebec, Canada, Aug 1943; the planning and conduct of Operation OVERLORD, the Allied invasion of France, Jun 1944; the effect of the bombardment of London by German V1 pilotless aircraft and possible RAF reprisals against German civilian targets, Jun 1944; post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation in Europe, Jul 1944; plans for the Allied occupation of Germany and Austria, Nov 1944; British intervention in Greece in order to prevent a Communist take-over of the peninsula, Nov 1944; the establishment of the United Nations, 1945; arrangements for celebrating the end of the war in Europe, May 1945; the British General Election, Jul 1945.

Access & Use

Language/scripts of material:

System of arrangement:

Arranged into chronological sections.

Conditions governing access:

Open, subject to signature of reader's undertaking form.

Conditions governing reproduction:

Copies, subject to the condition of the original, may be provided for research use only. Enquiries concerning the copyright of the original material should be addressed to Public Records Office, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Richmond, Surrey, TW9 4DU

Finding aids:

Summary guide available on-line at, and in hard copy in the Centre's reading room, L D Freedman, M L Dockrill, M Roper (eds.), War Cabinet Minutes: The Microfiche Edition HMSO Books, London, 1989).

Archival Information

Archival history:

Immediate source of acquisition:

Public Record Office, Kew, Surrey

Allied Materials

Related material:

Publication note:

Description Notes

Archivist's note:

Rules or conventions:

Date(s) of descriptions:
Date of compilation: Sep 1999

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