MHM 135 Letters – July

Your thoughts on issues raised by the magazine.


Images: Wikimedia Commons

Larrie D Ferreiro’s otherwise excellent article ‘Churchill’s American arsenal’ (MHM April/May 2023), describing United States and British cooperation in scientific and technical developments in World War II, omits key details about Britain’s great contribution to the success of the atomic bomb.

In August 1943, Roosevelt and Churchill (pictured) signed the Quebec Agreement, confirming cooperation on nuclear weapons development. The British contribution was crucial; for example, British expertise in shaped charges made the Fat Man model, dropped on Nagasaki, possible. Hans Bethe, head of the Manhattan Project’s theoretical division, stated: ‘Without the members of the British Mission, it is not unlikely that our final weapon would have been considerably less efficient.’

Even the originally semi-hostile project director, Lieutenant General Leslie Groves, wrote in his 1962 book Now It Can Be Told that, without the British scientists’ ‘crucial expertise, there would probably have been no atomic bomb to drop on Hiroshima’.

A follow-up to Quebec, the 1944 Hyde Park Agreement, extended nuclear research cooperation into the post-war period. However, on becoming president in 1945, Harry Truman felt no obligation to honour an agreement between Roosevelt, now dead, and Churchill, now out of office. The British were also told that the Hyde Park Agreement paper could not be found (it turned up years later).

Finally, the McMahon Act, signed by Truman in 1946, forbade sharing US atomic information with any other country, a betrayal that caused bitterness among the British scientists who had contributed so much.

Nicholas O’Dell Phoenixville, PA


I thoroughly enjoyed Jonathan Eaton’s critique of Sir John Keegan’s book, The Face of Battle (MHM June/July 2023). As a now retired civilian surgeon, the article was a powerful reminder of the raw experiences of men in combat. 

Michael Crumplin FRCS FRHistS, via email


I enjoyed your article on The World at War (MHM June/July 2023), although I thought some of Taylor Downing’s criticisms regarding omissions in the series were a little unfair.

For example, he states that the role of Polish servicemen in the Battle of Britain and at Monte Cassino is not mentioned. However, many other nationalities flew with the RAF in the Battle of Britain who are also not mentioned. Neither are the different nationalities that fought with the Allies in Italy, although an interview with Mark Clark, the youngest four-star general in the US Army during the war, does highlight the multinational nature of the Allies.

The division of Poland is not covered, but nor are the divisions within France or Italy. As the former was behind the Iron Curtain at the time of production, there may have been difficulties in obtaining material. 

And as for the Ultra intelligence ‘not being hinted at’, as Downing states, restrictions on its reporting were in place in Britain until 1974. Very little material would have been available at the time the series was made.

Despite its shortcomings, the series, with its unrivalled interviews with key historical figures, still provides an excellent framework for anyone wishing to study the period.

Simon Davidson, London


I enjoy reading David Porter’s Back to the Drawing Board articles, particularly the recent one on Austria-Hungary’s doomed Viribus Unitis-class battleships (MHM April/May 2023). Having studied the Great War and the Austro-Hungary/Italian Front for 65 years, I wish to add a few good anecdotes to the history of the class.

Lacking money for fuel to use in manoeuvres, and shells to use in target practice, the Royal Italian Navy opted for a cost-effective system of motor torpedo boats (MAS) in combat. A resourceful Captain Luigi Rizzo of the Merchant Marines, commanding a MAS in December 1917, entered the port of Trieste and, using hydraulic cutters, cut the chains and nets protecting the Austrian battleship Wien. She was then sunk by two of the MAS’s torpedoes.

As Porter describes, this feat was repeated the following June, when Rizzo – now in the Royal Italian Navy – sank Szent István off the Strait of Otranto. The two protagonists of the sinking of Viribus Unitis, meanwhile, used a human torpedo called Mignatta. Lieutenants Paolucci (of the medical corps) and Rossetti were their names.

Years later, Rizzo – by then an admiral – was suffering from lung cancer and was operated on by none other than his good friend and chest surgeon Professor Raffaele Paolucci.

Gaetano V Cavallaro, Ormond Beach, Florida