Presidential Correspondence, lot 66 D 204, “Churchill Correspondence with Eisenhower, February 1953 thru March 1955”

No. 1100
Prime Minister Churchill to President Eisenhower

private and confidential

My Dear Friend: Thank you very much for your kind letter of February 12.1 I now write to you about the Suez Canal and M.E.D.O.

We reached an agreement with the late United States Administration about the minimum arrangements necessary before we began to withdraw our forces. I do not know the level on your side [Page 1990] which our discussions with your people had reached; Acheson and Bradley certainly knew. The talks took place here between December 31 and January 7 and the conclusions were set out in agreed papers copies of which I enclose.2 I have given my assent to these plans, epitomized on page 11, paragraph 1, in the five sub-heads a, b, c, d, and e,3 and in A in the Appendix on page 7,4 because of the enormous advantages which might flow from our joint action.
There is no question of our seeking or needing military, physical, or financial aid from you. Alex5 assures me that our forces in the Canal Zone are in ample strength to resist any attack, and even if necessary, in order to prevent a massacre of white people and to rescue them, to enter Cairo and Alexandria, for which all preparations have been for some time at 96 hours. notice. Moreover, nearly half the effective Egyptian Army, about 15,000 men, stands on the Eastern side of the Canal watching Israel. They could be easily forced to surrender perhaps indeed merely by cutting off supplies. As for Egypt herself, the cutting off of the oil would, as you know, exercise a decisive effect. There is therefore no question of our needing your help or to reinforce the 80,000 men we have kept at great expense on tiptoe during the last year. The advantages of our working together on the lines agreed with your predecessors are so great that a successful result might be achieved without violence or bloodshed and without exposing you to any military obligation.
We feel however that our Ambassador, Stevenson, requires to be guided by one of our strongest military personalities. The Socialist Government sent Field-Marshal Slim out there in 1949 and 1950, and he did extremely well in his visits. He has profound knowledge of the military situation and was indeed until recently responsible as C.I.G.S. for advising us upon it. I am sure you know him well. He would head our delegation if the Australian Government will agree to postpone for a few weeks his assumption of their Governor-Generalship. If not, it might be Slessor or Portal or Tedder, as the Air has a lot to say. I wonder whether you would consider favourably placing a first class American military figure with Ambassador Caffery? You have many versed alike in policy and defence.
Thus we should present to the dictator Naguib an agreed plan which represents far-reaching concessions on our part, sustained by Britain and the United States and by outstanding representatives thoroughly soaked in the Middle East problem. This would, I am sure, give the best chance of making a tolerable arrangement for M.E.D.O. without a renewal of Anglo-Egyptian strife. Let me repeat that if all fails the United States would in no circumstances be involved in military operations.
[Page 1991]

I shall be most grateful if you will let me know what you think of these ideas.6

Yours ever,

Winston S. Churchill
  1. Not printed here.
  2. The reference is to the agreed papers of the United States–United Kingdom Talks on Egypt, not printed. See footnote 1, Document 1056.
  3. The reference is to Paper No. 3 of the United States–United Kingdom Talks on Egypt. See footnotes 2 and 3, Document 1082.
  4. The reference is to Case A in Appendix D to Paper No. 1 of the United States–United Kingdom Talks on Egypt. See Document 1061.
  5. Field Marshal the Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, Minister of Defense in Churchill’s Conservative Government.
  6. On Feb. 20, the British Ambassador, Sir Roger Makins, delivered by hand another brief message, which is not printed, from Prime Minister Churchill to President Eisenhower reiterating Churchill’s desire for an early answer to his message dated Feb. 18. (Presidential Correspondence, lot 66 D 204, “Churchill Correspondence with Eisenhower, February 1953 thru March 1955”)

    On Feb. 23, Makins sent another message to the President from the Prime Minister, which is also not printed. In it, Churchill informed Eisenhower that the British Government was announcing that same day that it had retained the services of Field Marshal Sir William Slim, the former Chief of the Imperial General Staff, to have him available to advise British negotiators on the military issues involved in any discussions which might begin with Egypt about the Suez Canal Zone. (Presidential Correspondence, lot 66 D 204, “Churchill Correspondence with Eisenhower, February 1953 thru March 1955”)