Thursday, August 14, 2014

USS Augusta (CA 31) and the Atlantic Charter, 1941

One of the valuable items in the museum’s World War II exhibit is the aft steering wheel from USS Augusta (CA 31), shown above. On August 14, 1941, this cruiser witnessed one of the most famous summits of the 20th century, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill signed the Atlantic Charter at Argentia, Newfoundland.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at
the Atlantic Conference, where they signed the Atlantic Charter on August
14, 1941. Left to right: General George S. Marshall, USA; President Roosevelt
(seated); Prime Minister Churchill (seated); Admiral Ernest J. King, USN;
Admiral Harold Stark, USN. (National Archives photograph.)
The complexities of the war situation (in which America was still officially neutral) persuaded Churchill and FDR that the time had come to meet.  In August 1941 the two men set out secretly on naval vessels and rendezvoused, along with their staffs, at the new American naval base at Argentia. The President embarked on the Augusta on August 5 in Vineyard Sound, Massachusetts, transferring to the cruiser from the Presidential yacht Potomac at 0617. For security purposes, the President's flag remained on Potomac in New England waters. A Secret Serviceman, approximating the President in size and affecting the Chief Executive's mannerisms when visible from a distance, played a starring role in the drama. Press releases issued daily from Potomac led all who read them to believe that FDR was really embarked in his yacht on a pleasure cruise.

As for the meeting with Churchill, the most important result was the linking of Britain and America in a moral partnership to defeat the Axis powers and seek political freedom for all people in the postwar world. One participant said that the meeting “gave meaning to the conflict between civilization and arrogant, brute challenge.”

USS Augusta (CA 31) and USS McDougall (DD 358) at Argentia, August 1941.
Seen from HMS Prince of Wales. Note the American and British sailors
mustering together. (NHHC photograph collection.)
As for the Augusta, the heavy cruiser (built by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. and launched on February 1, 1930) went on to distinguished service during Operation Torch and the Normandy Invasion. The sturdy veteran, a one-time flagship of the Asiatic Fleet, hosted President Roosevelt again after the Yalta Conference in 1945 and President Truman en route to the Potsdam Conference that same year.

(This blog post was written by HRNM Curator Joe Judge.)

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