( AP ) - Winston Churchill had bitter disputes with his Cabinet during the Cold War about building the hydrogen bomb and conducting private diplomacy with the Soviet Union - even threatening to resign at one point, declassified documents showed Thursday. The aging British prime minister threatened to quit in 1954 in order to quell a revolt by Cabinet ministers, angered at his high-handed leadership style, according to Cabinet notebooks released by the National Archives.
The details are in Cabinet Secretary Sir Norman Brook's notebooks covering the year 1954.
The first flashpoint occurred during a two-day Cabinet meeting on July 7-8, when Churchill, then 79, announced that the time had come for a decision on whether to replace Britain's existing atomic weapons with the more powerful hydrogen bomb.
He argued that the H-bomb was "essential" to deterring a Soviet attack.
"(We) must be able to make it clear to Russia that they can't stop effective retaliation. That is (the) only sure foundation for peace," he said.
Harold MacMillan, then Britain's housing and local government minister, was appalled. It was, he said, a "shock to be told, casually, that we were going to do this."
He was backed by the Lord Privy Seal, Harry Crookshank, who demanded: "Is this sensible for (the) U.K. alone in Europe to do this when we know we shall not wage (a) major war without the U.S. as (an) ally?"
Churchill prevailed as other ministers argued that the H-bomb was simply a more "efficient" version of Britain's existing atom bomb.
Churchill served as prime minister during World War II as the atomic era dawned, from 1940-1945, and again during the Cold War from 1951-1955
In 1954, Churchill got into even more trouble with his Cabinet when ministers learned he had sent a secret telegram to Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, proposing a grand Anglo-Russian summit in Vienna, Austria. The ministers were outraged he had not consulted them first.
The attack was led by Lord Salisbury, the lord president of council, who said that while the prime minister had the constitutional right to make such decisions, ministers had the right to resign if they disagreed.
"If you reserve your absolute right to conduct such personal correspondence, we shall have to consider our position also," Salisbury told Churchill.
With other ministers backing Salisbury, Churchill conceded he may have "exaggerated the urgency of my hope for strengthening world peace."
However, he was adamant that he would accept no censure for an initiative undertaken in good faith. Ministers remained unhappy when the Cabinet returned to the issue two weeks later.
This time, it was Churchill's turn to threaten to quit.
"(I) don't admit that my action was improper. If the Cabinet thought so, I should have forfeited their confidence and should resign," he told the meeting.
Despite some grumblings, none of the ministers called his bluff.
The notebooks also show Churchill was determined to keep Britain out of the looming Vietnam conflict, despite American appeals for support.
"We mustn't lose our influence with the U.S. But we shouldn't go into this," he told the Cabinet in April 1954.