On May 19, 1943, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt set a date for the cross-Channel landing that would become D-Day—May 1, 1944. That date will prove a bit premature, as bad weather becomes a factor.
Addressing a joint session of Congress, Churchill warned that the real danger at present was the “dragging-out of the war at enormous expense” because of the risk that the Allies would become “tired or bored or split”—and play into the hands of Germany and Japan. He pushed for an early and massive attack on the “underbelly of the Axis.”
And so, to “speed” things up, the British prime minister and President Roosevelt set a date for a cross-Channel invasion of Normandy, in northern France, for May 1, 1944, regardless of the problems presented by the invasion of Italy, which was underway. It would be carried out by 29 divisions, including a Free French division, if possible.
The D-Day invasion ended up taking place on June 6, 1944.
READ MORE: D-Day: Facts on the Epic 1944 Invasion That Changed the Course of WWII
1943 Churchill and FDR plot D-Day
On this day in 1943, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt set a date for the cross-Channel landing that would become D-Day—May 1, 1944. That date will prove a bit premature, as bad weather becomes a factor.
Addressing a joint session of Congress, Churchill warned that the real danger at present was the “dragging-out of the war at enormous expense” because of the risk that the Allies would become “tired or bored or split”—and play into the hands of Germany and Japan. He pushed for an early and massive attack on the “underbelly of the Axis.” And so, to “speed” things up, the British prime minister and President Roosevelt set a date for a cross-Channel invasion of Normandy, in northern France, for May 1, 1944, regardless of the problems presented by the invasion of Italy, which was underway. It would be carried out by 29 divisions, including a Free French division, if possible.
On this day in 1943, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, meeting at the White House, set a date for the cross-channel landing into northern France that would become D-Day. The date they chose, May 1, 1944, turned out to be premature. It took another five weeks for the invasion — by 29 American, British and Canadian divisions, as well as a Free French division — to occur.
Addressing a joint session of Congress on his second wartime visit to the Capitol, Churchill warned that the real danger facing the Allies was “dragging-out of the war at enormous expense.” They risked, he said, becoming “tired or bored or split,” which would play into the hands of the German and Japanese.
“It is the duty of those who are charged with the direction of the war,” Churchill said, “to overcome at the earliest moment the military, geographical and political difficulties and begin the process so necessary and desirable of laying the cities and other munitions centers of Japan in ashes for in ashes, they must surely lie before peace comes back to the world.”
“Let no one suggest,” Churchill continued, “that we British have not at least as great an interest as the United States in the unflinching and relentless waging of war against Japan. But I am here to tell you that we will wage that war side by side with you, in accordance with the best strategic employment of our forces while there is breath in our bodies and while blood flows in our veins.
“The African war is over. Mussolini’s African Empire and Corporal Hitler’s strategy are alike exploded. One continent at least has been cleansed and purged forever from Fascist and Nazi tyranny.”
The lawmakers greeted Churchill’s speech with tumultuous applause.
SOURCE: “THE LAST LION: WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL: DEFENDER OF THE REALM, 1940-1965,” BY WILLIAM MANCHESTER (2010)
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The Winding Road to D-Day
I t was, Winston Churchill noted at the time, &ldquoa strange Christmas Eve.&rdquo Only weeks after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent German declaration of war on the U.S., Churchill crossed the Atlantic aboard the H.M.S. Duke of York for conversations with Franklin D. Roosevelt in December 1941. Eleanor Roosevelt was asked to lay in stocks of brandy, champagne and whiskey (Churchill brought his own cigars) the work at hand was to be all-consuming. &ldquoAlmost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle,&rdquo Churchill said during the lighting of the National Christmas Tree, &ldquoand, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other.&rdquo The issue before Churchill and FDR was the most fundamental of all: how best to wage a world war against the Axis powers.
During the discussions, British and American officials affirmed the earlier product of joint staff talks. Code-named ABC-1, the military conferences, held in Washington in the first months of 1941, had asserted the primacy of defeating Germany first. The other potential global foe, Japan, would be taken on only secondarily. With his industrial might and Continental base, Adolf Hitler was viewed as the predominating opponent whose defeat the Anglo-American alliance would come to see as the common cause.
On the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, the amphibious assault on Nazi-occupied Europe, we understandably celebrate the Normandy landings as the central act of the 20th century what Churchill called &ldquothe most difficult and complicated operation that has ever taken place&rdquo is one of the great hinges of history. Yet the road to the opening of the Second Front in northwest Europe was by no means a simple one. The story of D-Day is as much about years of diplomatic skirmishing among Churchill, Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin as it is about the landings themselves on the beaches where President Obama and other world leaders will gather this week. And in that convoluted tale lies a lesson in leadership, for FDR&rsquos patient maneuvering in 1941, &rsquo42 and &rsquo43 was that of a President at once constrained and determined as he sought the right answer in the calamitous times. What seems straightforward in retrospect was, in real time, highly improvisational&mdash­and at moments, dare we say it, Franklin Roosevelt led from behind.
As 1942 began, several key American figures&mdash­notably Army Chief of Staff George Marshall and General Dwight Eisenhower&mdashargued for a predictably American strategy. If the target were Germany first, they argued, then hit Germany first, hard and quickly. The fastest way to relieve the immense pressure on Stalin was to cross the English Channel in 1942. There was a problem, though: Winston Churchill.
The Prime Minister was averse to a large-scale strike against Germany for at least two reasons. The first was biographical. As First Lord of the Admiralty during World War I, Churchill had presided over the disastrous Gallipoli strategy that killed 28,000 British soldiers in the ill-considered invasion of Turkey. The experience crushed him. (Afterward he resigned from the government and led an infantry battalion at the front in France.) As scholars have long noted, the second reason was his tendency to prefer secondary operations on the periphery of Hitler&rsquos empire, in the hopes of weakening the enemy at less cost and&mdashthough this was and is much disputed&mdashplacing British troops in position to protect colonial and postwar interests.
Stalin, for his part, wanted a Second Front in Europe not today, not tomorrow, but yesterday. And so Roosevelt found himself in the midst of a push-and-pull between London and Moscow. Churchill carried the day for 1942 and &rsquo43, arguing for other operations and suggesting that there were not yet sufficient resources to mount a successful attack on the French coast. As much as FDR wanted to take the direct route across the Channel, he at first sided with Churchill against Stalin, approving a Mediterranean strategy.
For Roosevelt the hour of decision came at Tehran in November 1943. Stalin pressed and pressed for a cross-Channel operation, and Churchill, while always agreeing in principle, managed to raise a seemingly infinite number of reasons to delay. Stalin spoke starkly: Were his Western allies truly with him or not? Roosevelt then made his choice, insisting on Overlord and overruling Churchill. The industrial might of America had by now built a huge war machine the men were trained and in that moment in the Tehran autumn, the new world of competing superpowers, with Britain in a subsidiary role, came into being.
Roosevelt was right to make the call he made at Tehran, which led to Overlord in June 1944 Churchill was also right early on in resisting a hasty cross-Channel operation. &ldquoIt is fun to be in the same decade with you,&rdquo Roosevelt once told Churchill. For the rest of us, it was more than fun. As the triumph of Overlord proved beyond doubt, it was providential.
The Road to D-Day
Geoffrey Warner looks at the reasons for the delay in opening a second Allied Front.
'Our country is waging a war of liberation single-handed', complained Stalin in 1941. But it was not until June 6th, 1944, that the Allies opened 'a second front' in Europe with the invasion of Normandy.
During the First World War the Germans had failed to defeat the French and expel their British allies from the mainland of Europe, so that when the Americans entered the war in 1917 they were able to reinforce an already existing front in western Europe. The position in the Second World War was quite different. The fall of France and the evacuation from Dunkirk in 1940 meant that the British and the Americans had to recreate a front in western Europe by means of an amphibious invasion before they could even get to grips with the main body of the German armed forces, let alone defeat them. Even after their sensational victories of 1940 the Germans had felt unable to launch an invasion of the British Isles. To mount an operation in the opposite direction was no less fraught with difficulties.
It seemed to many, especially in Britain, that this point was not sufficiently appreciated by the third partner in the coalition against Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union. Despite repeated warnings, the German invasion of the USSR on June 22nd, 1941, had caught the Russians almost completely by surprise, and as the Red Army reeled before the onslaught the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, sent an urgent appeal for help on July 18th to the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. 'It seems to me, Stalin wrote, . that the military position of the Soviet Union, and by the same token that of Great Britain, would improve substantially if a front were established against Hitler in the West (Northern France) and the North (Arctic).' Churchill replied that while he would do 'anything sensible and effective' to help the Russians, an invasion of France was out of the question. 'To attempt a landing in force', he wrote, 'would be to encounter a bloody repulse, and petty raids would only lead to fiascos, doing far more harm than good to both of us.' He promised, however, to consider aero-naval operations in the Arctic. Stalin was not satisfied. He returned to the charge in further private communications in September and then, on November 6th, 1941, proclaimed his dissatisfaction to the world in a speech in Moscow. 'One of the reasons for the reverses of the Red Army', he declared, 'is the absence of a second front in Europe against the German fascist troops. The situation at present is such that our country is waging a war of liberation single-handed, without military help from anyone . '
A month later the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and Hitler's subsequent declaration of war brought the United States into the conflict. British and American military planners had already agreed that if and when the United States came into the war the defeat of Germany should receive a higher priority than that of Japan, and this principle was reaffirmed at an Anglo-American summit conference in Washington at the end of 1941. It was also agreed that a large-scale land offensive against Germany in 1942 was unlikely, except on the Russian front, but that 'in 1943 the way may be clear for a return to the Continent, via the Scandinavian Peninsula, across the Mediterranean, from Turkey into the Balkans, or by simultaneous landings in several of the occupied countries of Northwestern Europe.'
This agreement reflected British rather than American views. In a strategy paper which he had drafted on his way to Washington, Churchill had argued that the 'main offensive effort' in the west in 1942 should be 'the occupation and control by Great Britain and the United States of the whole of the North and West African possessions of France, and the further control by Britain of the whole North African shore from Tunis to Egypt, thus giving, if the naval situation allows, free passage through the Mediterranean to the Levant and the Suez Canal.' Already engaged against the Germans and their Italian allies in North Africa, the British saw the opportunity to drive them out of the area and to attack Nazi-controlled Europe through its weakest link, Fascist Italy.
The Americans were never happy with this strategy. They felt that a cross-Channel invasion was the only effective way of beating the Germans and that the sooner it was mounted the better. Britain's advocacy of operations in the Mediterranean, they believed, was largely motivated by its political interests in the Middle East. In April 1942 the US army persuaded President Franklin D. Roosevelt to adopt a three-part plan for a cross-Channel attack. The first part, codenamed BOLERO, was for a build-up of American forces in the British Isles. The second, code-named ROUNDUP, was for a large-scale invasion of France in the spring of 1943, while the third, codenamed SLEDGEHAMMER, was for an emergency landing in France in September 1942 in the event of a sudden German collapse or, more likely, a crisis on the Russian front. Apart from the strategic considerations mentioned above, there were a number of reasons why this plan appealed to the President and the US army. On grounds of domestic politics it was important to find a means of involving American troops in the war against Germany as soon as possible. There was also a strong desire to do something to help the Russians, not only to prevent a possible military collapse on their part, but also to offset American unwillingness at this early stage in the war to agree to the Soviet Union's request for certain post-war territorial changes in Eastern Europe. Finally, there was a need to forestall the US navy's incessant pressure in favour of shifting the emphasis of American effort to the Pacific.
Roosevelt sent a high-level mission to London to persuade the British to accept BOLERO, ROUNDUP and SLEDGEHAMMER. They did so in principle, but entertained all kinds of reservations in practice, especially as regards SLEDGEHAMMER. Churchill, who still hankered after his North African operation, subsequently wrote of SLEDGEHAMMER, 'I was almost certain the more it was looked at the less it would be liked.' When the Soviet foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, visited London and Washington in May and June 1942, he was told by Roosevelt 'to inform Mr Stalin that we expect the formation of a second front this year', but by Churchill that 'we can. give no promise in the matter.'
Britain's lack of enthusiasm for SLEDGEHAMMER, which Roosevelt's military advisers had come to regard as more and more desirable, so exasperated the latter that they proposed retaliation in the form of accepting the navy's policy of concentrating American strength against Japan, thereby overturning the agreed basis of allied strategy. The President vetoed this suggestion, however, and sent another mission to London in July instead with instructions to reach agreement on some operation which would mean American troops fighting Germans in 1942. Since the only operation which the British would agree to was in North Africa, this was reluctantly accepted. It was codenamed TORCH.
In August 1942 Churchill flew to Moscow to break the news to Stalin. The Soviet leader was not at all pleased. He accused the British and Americans of breaking their promises and said that if the British army had been fighting the Germans as much as the Red Army it would not be so frightened of them. At the same time he professed to see some merit in the TORCH operation, which Churchill explained to him by means of his famous crocodile analogy as the prelude to a simultaneous assault upon Hitler's Europe in 1943 via the 'hard snout' (northern France) and the 'soft belly' (Italy). 'May God prosper this undertaking', remarked the ex-seminary student who now ruled Russia in the name of an atheistic creed. The British Prime Minister left Moscow convinced that despite the initial bad feeling he had 'established a personal relationship which will be helpful.' Unfortunately, this was based upon the assumption that if there was to be no cross-Channel invasion in 1942, it would most assuredly take place in 1943. Churchill almost certainly believed this himself, but both British and American military planners thought that TORCH had probably ruled it out.
The TORCH landings took place in French North Africa in November 1942. At an Anglo-American summit conference in Casablanca in January 1943, it was agreed. that once the Germans and Italians had been driven out of North Africa the allies should press on into Sicily. The Americans had been uneasy about further operations in the Mediterranean, but once again the British got their way. As one American planner ruefully commented, 'We came, we listened and we were conquered.'
Although Churchill's military advisers were now certain that a cross-Channel attack in 1943 was impossible, the Prime Minister still appeared to believe that it was not. Moreover, he communicated this view to Stalin. 'We are. pushing preparations to the limit of our resources for a cross-Channel operation in August', he wrote to the Soviet leader on February 12th, 1943. '. If the operation is delayed by the weather or other reasons, it will be prepared with stronger forces for September.' Sooner or later, however, reality was bound to triumph, and at the Anglo-American summit conference in Washington in May it was finally agreed that the invasion of France, soon to be given the new code-name of OVERLORD, could not take place before May 1st, 1944. When Stalin was informed of this decision, relations between the USSR and its allies plummeted to new depths. 'You say that you "quite understand" my disappointment', the Soviet leader wrote bitterly to Churchill on June 24th, 1943. 'I must tell you that the point here is not just the disappointment of the Soviet government but the preservation of its confidence in its allies, a confidence which is being subjected to severe stress.' To mark their displeasure, the Russians went so far as to recall their ambassadors from both London and Washington.
Paradoxically, during the autumn of 1943, the Americans thought that the British might be able to secure a further postponement of the cross-Channel invasion as a result of Russian support. Following a decision taken at the Anglo-American summit conference in Quebec in August 1943, British and American forces had invaded the mainland of Italy in September. Mussolini's regime had been overthrown in July and its successor not only surrendered to the allies, but joined them against Germany in October. The Germans were determined to hold out in Italy for as long as possible, however, and it soon became clear that far from being a 'soft belly', the country was an exceedingly tough nut. At a conference of the American, British and Soviet foreign ministers in Moscow in October 1943, the situation was explained to Stalin by the British Foreign Secretary, Anthony Eden. Stalin asked point-blank whether this meant a postponement of OVERLORD and did not seem to take offence when told that it might. Moreover, the Russians had expressed a strong interest at the conference in persuading the Turks to enter the war and thereby open up some sort of front in the Balkans. This fitted in with Churchill's ideas of mopping up German-controlled islands in the Aegean and extending help to resistance forces in Greece and Yugoslavia. The head of the US military mission in Moscow reported to his superiors in November that the Russians might attach less importance to OVERLORD than they had done hitherto and that they could even propose action in Italy and the Balkans at its expense.
The issue was settled at the first meeting of the three heads of government at Teheran on November 28th, 1943, when Stalin made it clear that the Russians had not changed their minds about the second front. 'They did not consider that Italy was a suitable place from which to attack Germany proper', he said. '. The best method in the Soviet opinion was getting at the heart of Germany with an attack through northern or northwestern France and even through southern France.' While it would be 'helpful' if Turkey entered the war, the Soviet leader added, 'the Balkans were far from the heart of Germany, and while with Turkish participation operations there would be useful, northern France was still the best.' Faced with a united Russo-American front, the British had no alternative but to give way. The May 1944 date for OVERLORD was reaffirmed and Roosevelt promised to nominate a Commander-in-Chief for the operation within the next few days. As if to symbolise the growing predominance of American military power over that of Britain, he was to come from the United States: General Dwight D. Eisenhower.
OVERLORD was launched on June 6th, 1944, a little later than the original target date, but not enough to make any significant difference. Anglo-American disagreements over strategy continued: first between Churchill and Roosevelt over whether OVERLORD should be accompanied by an invasion of southem France (as the President wanted) or by a drive into Yugoslavia and Austria through the Ljubljana Gap (as the Prime Minister wanted) and later between General Eisenhower and Field-Marshal Montgomery over the relative merits of a broad-fronted assault on Germany (favoured by the American) and a concentrated thrust (favoured by the Briton). On both occasions the American point of view prevailed. Having defied Nazi Germany single-handed in 1940-41, Britain was now very much the junior partner in the alliance which finally brought the Third Reich to its knees.
As the archives were opened, first to the official historians and then to the rest of the academic community, we were able to see the arguments over the second front in a clearer perspective. It was soon conceded, for example, that the British had never been totally opposed to a cross-Channel invasion, as some of their American counterparts had suspected, and that many of the reasons they put forward for its postponement – e.g. the shortage of landing craft – were perfectly genuine. It was not that the British did not want OVERLORD they wanted to ensure that it was a complete success.
By the same token, arguments advanced in the years immediately after the war by such commentators as Hanson Baldwin and Chester Wilmot to the effect that British proposals for operations in the Mediterranean and the Balkans reflected great political sophistication in that they were designed to forestall the Soviet conquest of Eastern Europe did not survive the cold light of scholarship. Not only did the British never advocate major operations in the Balkans, but their strategy was not motivated by anti-Soviet considerations, except in the solitary case of Churchill's call for a drive through the Ljubljana Gap in the summer of 1944. Even then he was not supported by his senior military advisers. Moreover, the American insistence upon an early cross-Channel invasion was not as politically naive as these early commentators supposed. The American historian Mark Stoler has shown convincingly that, far from failing to perceive the political consequences of a Soviet military victory, US army planners were well aware of what might happen and argued that the sooner a cross-Channel attack took place, the more chance there would be of preserving some sort of balance of power in post-war Europe.
What of the effects of the dispute over the second front on the Soviet Union? There is no doubt that, from a purely military point of view, the Russians had considerable cause for complaint. Anglo-American operations in northern Africa and Italy were sideshows compared to the cataclysmic struggle taking place on the eastern front. There is no doubt, too, that the Russians were misled by British and American promises about a second front, and it is likely that the repeated postponement of the cross-Channel invasion fed Soviet suspicions that the capitalist powers wanted to see Germans and Russians fight each other to a standstill. As a relatively unknown American senator from Missouri, Harry S. Truman, had put it at the time of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, 'If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany and that way let them kill as many as possible. ' But even if these Soviet suspicions were correct – and there is no evidence to support them – did they have any moral right to complain? After all, the Soviet Union itself had hoped to benefit from a similar stalemate between Britain, France and Germany in 1939. Privately, the Soviet foreign ministry even justified the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact of August 1939, which had freed Hitler to invade both Poland and western Europe, by 'the need for a war in Europe.' Unfortunately for the Russian people, things did not turn out quite as their leaders had intended.
Geoffrey Warner is Professor of European Humanities at the Open University.
FDR’s D-Day Prayer
At 9:57 pm on D-Day, June 6, 1944, FDR sat in front of a microphone in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House waiting to begin a national radio address.
Earlier in the day the President had held a press conference in the Oval Office for over 180 reporters. While providing few details on the invasion, Roosevelt expressed confidence about its success. Now he wanted to speak directly with the public.
FDR’s address took the form of a prayer. He had composed it during the weekend before the invasion, with assistance from his daughter, Anna, and her husband, John Boettiger. The text was released in advance so Americans could recite it with him. Roosevelt’s “D-Day Prayer” struck a powerful chord with the nation. Printed copies were distributed and displayed widely throughout the remainder of the war.
D-Day and the reopening of America: What history teaches about endgame strategies
Wars are easy to start but harder to finish. The victory that seems at hand, history has amply demonstrated, can slip in a cruel instant from one’s grasp. The formulation of an endgame strategy is a tricky business.
On the 76th anniversary of D-Day, June 6, it’s instructive to look back at the problems the Allied leaders faced and the passionate debate that raged among them as they plotted this unprecedented push toward, as one resigned German general conceded, “the twilight” of the war.
And it’s a particularly piquant history lesson at this unsettling national moment because, while the specifics of the D-Day debate were unique to that war, the broad strategic issues — as well as the political agendas and the temperaments of the leaders making the decisions — resonate across the generations with an edifying interconnectedness. There is commonality in the conflicting pulls of careful timetables and erratic emotions that surround the drives to strike the final blows against goose-stepping hordes in the 1940s and, today, a perplexing, stealthy virus compounded by social unrest and riot in our streets.
The three main Allied leaders of World War II — FDR, Churchill and Stalin — met for the first time in Tehran at the tail-end of November 1943 to sort out their differences over when to initiate “Operation Overlord,” the code name for the invasion of France. It was a knives-out debate.
Stalin was in a rush, “completely and blinded set,” reported Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary. He demanded, as the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov put it, “urgent measures as will ensure the invasion of France by Anglo-American armies.” And there was good reason for his urgency. The Soviet Union had defeated the Nazis in the course of the decisive 162-day battle for Stalingrad that ended in February 1943 but had paid a horrific price: Some 2 million people were killed or wounded in the brutal combat. The beleaguered Russians needed the opening of a second front as soon as possible to divert the Wehrmacht’s focus.
Churchill was well aware of the valiant sacrifices made by Stalin’s forces. He would stand up in Parliament and concede, “It is the Russian armies who have done the main work in tearing the guts out of the German army.” He also fully realized that the previous May, five months before arriving in Tehran, he and FDR had assured Stalin that the invasion would occur “in the early spring of 1944.” However, informed by new knowledge, new strategic concerns, he now saw things differently.
“This is what happens when battles are governed by lawyers’ agreements made in good faith months before, and persisted in without regard to the ever-changing fortunes of war,” he argued, demanding that certain pre-conditions regarding the Italian campaign and the deployment of landing craft be achieved before the date for the invasion could be set. Sounding very much like a present-day governor who is reluctant to remove restrictions on economies or assembly until there is adequate coronavirus testing, the prime minister’s position was that “We will do our very best to launch Overlord at the earliest possible moment at which it had a reasonable prospect of success.” He was not the sort of leader who’d pick an arbitrary date like Easter to reopen the nation simply because, as President Trump Donald Trump Pence said he's 'proud' Congress certified Biden's win on Jan. 6 Americans put the most trust in their doctor for COVID-19 information: poll OVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Biden administration to evacuate Afghans who helped US l Serious differences remain between US and Iran on nuclear talks l US, Turkish officials meet to discuss security plans for Afghan airport MORE argued, “It’s such an important day for other reasons.”
It was left, then, to President Roosevelt to finesse a compromise between his two partners in the war. Since Pearl Harbor, American generals had been arguing for a concerted push through the heart of Europe to Germany but, after consulting with the British, they had agreed first to launch major operations in North Africa and Italy. And, no less crucial to his thinking, FDR arrived in Tehran with a visionary political strategy for the governing of the post-war world. He saw a future where peace would be enforced by “Four Policeman” — the U.S.S.R, the United States, Great Britain and China.
Stalin was not very enthusiastic about this partnership, but FDR decided he’d have a chance to change the Soviet marshal’s mind — and, at the same time, fulfill his military advisers’ strategic vision — if he endorsed the plan for an invasion in late spring. And, once the proposal had America’s full commitment, Churchill, although he’d continue to grumble for months afterward, had little choice but to go along.
In the end, Mother Nature forced a delay in the invasion the June 6 date was, as Churchill would say, “set by the moon and the weather.” Nevertheless, the conversations at the conference were examples of pragmatic deal-making — the sort of presidential leadership reinforced by a guiding vision that will be required today to bring our nation back to vibrant economic and community life.
Also at Tehran (as in more recent days) there were questions about whether remarks were made in jest, satiric barbs thrown out to amuse, or if they were official pronouncements.
At a dinner at the Russian embassy for the Allied leaders, Stalin declared that 50,000 German officers “should be rounded up and shot at the end of the war.” Churchill was aghast. “I would rather,” he announced, “be taken out into the garden here and be shot than sully my own and my country’s honor by such infamy.”
FDR tried to calm the unsteady situation. Perhaps, he joked weakly, only 49,000 could be shot. It was a rejoinder as cringe-worthy as the fatuous attempts by present-day medical experts to walk back statements which have drawn presidential ire.
Churchill had heard enough. He stomped off into an adjoining room. He was sitting in the semi-darkness, alone except for his raging thoughts, when the prime minister felt a heavy pair of hands reach out from behind and grab him by the shoulders. He turned to see a grinning Stalin. The marshal insisted he’d been “only playing.” But Churchill wasn’t convinced — just as many Americans today remain persuaded that the president’s suggestion to ingest disinfectant to kill the coronavirus was more genuine than sarcastic, as Mr. Trump later scrambled to explain.
Despite the tumult at Tehran, the Allies were able to establish the foundational plan for D-Day and to set in motion the events that brought the war in Europe to its end. One can only hope that with a similar practicality, guided by a similar sense of vision, present-day leadership — the decision makers in the federal and state governments — also will be able to put aside their differences and formulate a reasonable plan to bring the nation successfully to the other side of its battle against both a raging pandemic and inflamed racial tensions.
The 4,414 Allied soldiers who were killed on D-Day did not die in vain. And it will be tragic if the courage and sacrifices of the soldiers in the frontline of combat against today’s pernicious virus — doctors, nurses, grocery store workers, take-out deliverers — are for naught.
Howard Blum is a writer and contributing editor for Vanity Fair, a former Village Voice and New York Times reporter, and the author of more than a dozen nonfiction books. His latest book, “Night of the Assassins: The Untold Story of Hitler’s Plot to Kill FDR, Churchill and Stalin,” was published June 2 by HarperCollins.
FDR, Stalin, and Churchill’s working relationship
At that Teheran conference in 1943, in which the three heads of state met to determine the post-WW2 world order, FDR suggested that Eastern European governments ought to be “friendly” to the Soviet Union. But he asked Stalin not to make this concession public, since he did not wish to jeopardize the Polish vote in the 1944 election—“as a practical man,” FDR “didn’t want to lose their votes.” (Shortly before the Teheran conference, FDR had absurdly claimed in a meeting with New York Archbishop [later Cardinal] Francis Spellman that the population of eastern Poland “wants to become Russian.”) He also said of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania—the Baltic states that Stalin was in the process of forcibly incorporating into the Soviet Union—that he was “personally confident that the people would vote to join the Soviet Union.” Stalin never bothered to ask them.
.In a May 1944 article in the Saturday Evening Post that was published with FDR’s approval, Forrest Davis described the president’s negotiating stance:
The core of his policy has been the reassurance of Stalin. That was so, as we have seen, at Teheran. It has been so throughout the difficult diplomacy since Stalingrad….Suppose that Stalin, in spite of all concessions, should prove unappeasable. . . . Roosevelt, gambling for stakes as enormous as any statesman ever played for, has been betting that the Soviet Union needs peace and is willing to pay for it by collaborating with the West.
Franklin D. Roosevelt Day by Day – August
The Atlantic Charter
FDR and Winston Churchill aboard the HMS Prince of Wales at the Atlantic Charter Conference. August 10, 1941. FDR Library Photo
The Atlantic Charter was the statement of principles agreed to by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill of Great Britain at their first wartime conference, August 9-12, 1941. The conference was held on board naval vessels anchored in Placentia Bay, off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada. The Charter was not an official document, but rather a joint statement expressing the war aims of the two countries–one technically neutral and the other at war.
The Charter expressed the two countries’ beliefs in the rights of self-determination, of all people to live in freedom from fear and want, and of freedom of the seas, as well as the belief that all nations must abandon the use of force and work collectively in the fields of economics and security.
One of the major provisions of the Atlantic Charter declared as follows:
Atlantic Charter Dinner Menu
The agreement is often cited by historians as one of the first significant steps towards the formation of the United Nations.
The joint declaration was issued by President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill on August 14, 1941.
For more information on FDR’s daily activities as President, please visit Franklin D. Roosevelt Day by Day.
Propaganda Campaign Also Affects Germany
All these people and their varied activities did more than just convince Americans that Hitler was an enemy who would have to be faced. They also managed to convince Hitler of the same idea—that he would have to fight the Americans sooner or later in a full-scale war.
With the United States already at war with Japan, this seemed a golden opportunity for Germany. America would then be faced with a long, expensive, and very difficult two-front war, dividing American strength and resources. And so, on Thursday, December 11, four days after Pearl Harbor, Hitler opened formal hostilities against the United States. He went before the Reichstag and, in a bitter tirade against Franklin D. Roosevelt and the United States, demanded a declaration of war. In Washington, DC, Congress reciprocated on the same day. Germany and the United States were finally at war.