A mere 15 days after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of the United States into the Second World War, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and a British delegation arrived in the American capital for the First Washington Conference (codenamed the Arcadia Conference). During the three-week conference strategies for defeating Germany and Japan were studied and considered as the American and British chiefs of staff met a total of twelve times. The results of the conference included agreement on a “Germany First” strategy, the creation of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, and the adoption of a supreme theatre commander structure in the establishment of the short-lived American-British-Dutch-Australian Command under General Wavell. Historians, however, have been dismissive of the Arcadia conference, deeming it inconclusive and observing that the participants only discussed strategy in general terms. John F. Shortal in Code Name Arcadia: The First Wartime Conference of Churchill and Roosevelt writes that these critical assessments are not entirely accurate. In his detailed, scholarly study, he recounts the discussions and decision-making at the conference and finds that at Washington “the American and British chiefs met for the first time since the United States entered the war and gauged each other to assess the talents and abilities of their counterparts.” The Arcadia Conference “left a solid foundation for the Anglo-American alliance.” At the conference, Churchill and Roosevelt “cemented their partnership” and “forged an alliance that would win World War II.”
In regard to the British prime minister, Shortal interestingly writes that at Washington Churchill “was determined to get as much as he could, as fast as he could, from the Americans. This was his responsibility as the British leader. He was his nation’s advocate and did not care whose toes he stepped on.” On occasions he pushed the American’s beyond their interests or capabilities, such as in pressing for the diversion of reinforcement to Singapore or attempting to control the distribution of war equipment. Shortal also observes that the British chiefs of staff and accompanying secretariat were much better prepared than their American counterparts, who had just been plunged into the war. Additionally, he notes that the Americans suspected that the British chiefs of staff were steadfastly presenting Churchill’s initiatives even if they did not necessarily support them. This confused the American chiefs as they did not know if the recommendations being offered were “the best British military opinion” or something the British chiefs had been pushed into adopting by the prime minister.