Hitler concluded after Munich that allowing Chamberlain to deny him aar had been a mistake. He was not to be denied his war. Germany invaded Poland September 1, 1939. The results of the German rearmament program were immediately apparent as Poland was quickly defeated. Next Hitler turned west. The allies (Britain and France) were rearming assisted by the Roosevelt Administration in America. The question became whether the democracies could rearm fast enough to close the German advantge, epecially the inballance in airplanes, before Hitler struck in the West. The German Western Offensive (May 1940) shocked the world. France fell within weeks and many thought that Britain would oon follow. President Roosevelt had to decide if scarce arms needed by the American military should be sent to Britain. They were and made a crucial difference in Britain's fight for survival. President Roosevelt first used the term "Arsenal of Denocracy" on December 29, 1940 in one of his Fireside Chats, radio boradcasts, to the American people. He expalined the importance of supplying the people of Europe, at the time primarily Britain with the "implements of war". He said that the United States "must be the great arsenal of democracy". The very day he spoke, a Luftwaffe raid on London severly damaged famous buildings and churches in the city center and engulfed St. Paul's Cathedral in flames. [Gilbert, p. 356.] Hitler feared America more than any other country, but was convinced that Britain could be defeated before America could be mobilized or American industry could be effevtiverly harnassed for the war effort.
The Germans more than any other military, correctly assessed the lessons of World War II. The War in Europe began on September 1, 1939 when the German blitzkrieg smashed Poland in only a few weeks. The invasion was made possible the preceeding week when Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler. The Panzers crossed the Polish frontier on September 1 along with a devestating strike by the Luftwaffe. The Polish Army and Air Force was shattered. Britain and
France declared war (September 3). Within 6 days Cracow, the center of Polish nationhood, fell. Pincer movements began on to encirle the major remaining Polish forces in the west (September 9). Once certain of Polish defeat, Stalin ordered the Red Army to attack from the East. Poland's fate was sealed when the Soviets joined their NAZI ally and invaded Poland from the east (September 17). German and Russian forces met at Brest-Litovsk (September 18). Warsaw fell a few days later after a ruthless bombing assault. The Blitzkrieg tactics that were to prove so devestaing in the West during 1940 were
all on display in 1939. Neither the British or French paid much attention, abscribing Polish defeat to military incompetance. The French had promissed the Poles an offensive in the West. It never came. [Fest, pp. 602-603.]
Most Americans disliked Hitler and the NAZIs, but wanted no part in another European War. Congress as aesult of public opinion had passed the Neutrality Acts to ensure that the President woukld keep the United Strates out of another war in Europe. The Acts required that the President to embargo arms shipments to beligerants once war was declared. Thus there would be no incidents at sea which would have drawn America into the War. The isolationists clamored for an immediate presidential proclamation. While the Neutrality Acts required formal neutrality, President Roosevelt was by no means neutral. He delayed for 2 days to give the British and French time to ship arms accross the Canadian border and to get loaded merchant ships out of port. On the other hand he ordered inspections so that the German ship Breman could not sail. [Freidel, pp. 119-120.] He also began efforts to abrogate the Neutrality Acts. The President also proclaimed a limited emergency and authorized increases in the size of the Regular Army and the National Guard.
Hitler's ability to use the modern Luftwaffe to coerce the Allies caused both Britain and France to begin to rearm and looked to America. Arms purchases in America were possible. In favct President Roosevelt hoped to dter Hitler by the threat of American industry supplyong the Allies, especially with auircraft. The
Neutrality Acts would, however, require the Administration to terminate sales to all belingerants if war was declared. The President saw the need to revise the Neutality Acts. In the interim he discussed with British and French officials how the Neutrality Acts could be evaded. One way was to ship parts to Canada where they could be assembled at plants near U.S. factories and then shipped on to the Allies. The President and French representative Jean Monnet, the future
mastermind of the Common Market, in secret talks on October 19, 1938 at Hyde Park discussed just such an opeation which could produce 5,000 planes annually. [Freidel, p. 309.] Public opinion polls, after the NAZIs violated the commitments made at Munich and seized the rest of Czecheslovakia, showed a major change in American senbtiment concerning the need to revise the Neutrality Acts. [Freidel, p. 315.]
President Roosevely when war broke out in Europe (September 1939) requested that Congress ease the arms embargo required by the Neutrality Act so that war
material could be sold to the democracies (Britain and France) opposing Hitler. The debate over the repeal of the embargo provissions of the Neutrality Act was one of the most bitter since the gret debates over slavery in the 19th century. Roodevelt charged that the words of isolationists like Borah, Johnson, and Fish were being reported on the font pages of the NAZI press. Borah charged, "Our boys would follow our guns into the trenches." [Freidel, p. 323.] After the debate and arm twisting by Roosevelt, the embargo provision was repealed by a new Neutrality Act signed by the President on November 4, 1939. The Neutrality Act still had severe limitations. The Act permitted belligerents to purchase materials of war on a strictly cash and carry basis, but banned American merchant ships from travelling in war zones designated by the President. Although worded neutrally, "cash and carry" at the time favored Britain and France. Their financial resources and control of the seas enabled them to buy war materials in the United States and transport them in their own ships. It was a marked a shift from isoloation to pro-Allied neutrality and extrenely dangerous politically for FDR withan election only a year away. The conditions were very strict, were to be no U.S. ships in war zone around
British Isles, no loans to belligerents, no travel on belligerent ships, and no armed merchant ships. This was the best FDR could do for the Allies at the time. At least arms and munitions as well as other supplies could now be provided the Allies. Hitler hoped that the allies could be defeated before American supplies could make a difference. Here Hitler almost proved right.
Despite sharp criticism from the isolationists, the Roosevelt Administration at considerable politocal cost ensured that much of America's expanding production of aircraft reached the Allies. The French had orderd 600 planes and had a commitment for an additional 1,500 more by ealy 1940. They had ordered twice as many bombers as French aircraft plants could produce. Much of the initial orders had been delivered by the time that Hitler initiated the War in September 1939. [Freidel, p. 312.] Germany still had a dominant lead, but expanded domestic production in France and Britain and imports from America were beginning to close the gap. Unfortunately it would prove to late to save France. Large orders were not placed until 1940. The French ordered 5,000 air frames and 10,000 enggines for delivery in 1941 and were wiling to take double the amount. The problem was that America had a still very limited arms production capacity. Major corporations were reluctant to convert their factories to war production. One factor was all the negative publicity and charges emnenating from the Nye Committee. Munition manufacturers were called "merchants of death". Another factor was that gearing up factories for war production was costly. Companies did not want to take the risk of investments in new plants or war production not knowing how long the war would last. [Freidel, pp. 326-327.] This was especially the case as by 1940 the economy was picking up and their were healthy orders for consumer products like cars and appliances which factories were already tooled to produce.
The United States lanuished in the Depression througout the 1930s. The New Deal ameliorated the human suffering as a result of the Depression, but it did not end it. Amazingly, many modern Democrats think that it did and use it to justify failed spending policies. Here historians and economists disagree as to why the Depression persisted so long in the United States, longer than in Europe. Perhaps the New Deal impeded necessary economic adjustments. Perhaps it was too concerned with balanced budgets. And perhaps President Roosevelt did not promote business enough. On the other hand, many industrialists saw the New Deal as shocking as thus as a result were unwilling to commit capital. Here there is no consensus. On one point historians and economists do agree--it was the War that finally began to bring America out of the Depression. War orders from Europe as well as American defense spending revilatalized the ecnomy. Workers had money again and spent. Corporations making cars and other consumer products like washing machines and refrigerators had their best years in 1940 and 41 since the 1929 Wall Street Crash. Cars had the time used maassive quantities of steel and chrome. A good example is the 1941 Buick. Thus we see cars using steel and other critical raw materials like copper and crome coming out of American factories at a time when the future of the world was being determined on the battlefields of Europe. Even so, the mobilizatioin of American industry through 1941 should not be overstated. Orders from Europe was niot going to enbd the Deopression. Fir the modt part only Britain and France were plscing orders nd after Frabnce fell only Britain. Lend Lease was importabt,m but by the end iof 1941 had just begun to kivl in. Throughout 1941 there contunued to be many unemnployed Americans, quite a number in migranht labor camps. Thgere were also unused or underurtilized factories. That only finally changed, and changed almost over night, after the Japanrse attcked Oearl Hsrbor (December 7, 1941).
Hitler launched the long-awaited Western offensive (May 10). Within onlky 5 days the Netherlands surrendered May 15). And the Dutch Army was about the saje size. General Marshal told President Roosevelt that if the Germans landed five division in America, there wiuld be nothing the U.S. Army could do to stop them. Belgium surrendered 2 weeks later (May 28). The Belgians who had effectively resisted the German at the start of World War I, surrendered 2 weeks later (May 28). Atvthe time the british and French were attempotung to ecape at Dunkirk. At first it looked like few of the men could be brought off the bech. In that enviroment, President Roosevelt picked up the phone and made certainly the most important telephone call of the War. And he made it to a very unlikely person--Willian Knudsen. Knudsen was an ardent Republican who had opposed the President for 8 years and the very embodiment of the individuals who the President had called economic royalists. To the credit of both men, the put aside partisan differences and cooperated to save not ionly America, but the the Free World as well. The United sTates had the greatest industrial potential of any country, but its industry was not geared for war. The United State was not even manufacturing tanks despite what had trspired in Europe. And there was not realistic plan for converting American industry for war. Nor was there any expertise in Washington for beginning the effort. This is why Roosevelt called Knudsen. And the team of other Roosevelt-hating Republicans that Knudsen put together accomplished the most remarkable industrrial trnsformation in history. By the times Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, American arms production had equled that of NAZI Germany--and that was just the begginnin of the American industrial transformation..
Germany's huge advanage in modern aircrft and superior use of armor yield a stateling sucess when the loing awaited estern Offensive was unleased on May 10, 1940. The Germans proceeded to conquer virtually all of Western Europe. After a few months of the "Phony War", France's turn came. The Germans struck on a wide front against the neutral Netherlands, Belgiym, and Luxemburg. The terror bombing of Rotterdam convinced the already hard-pressed Dutch Army to surrender. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) rushed north to aid the Dutch. The Germans then struck in the Belgian Ardennes which allowed them to avoid the formidable Maginot Line. The French and Belgians considered the Ardenes impassable to tanks. The Germans managed to easily penetrate the rough terraine, crossed two substantial rivers, and the XIX Panzer Corps rapidly reached the English Channel--cutting the BEF off from the French and rendering the Maginot Line uselss. The French entrenched behind the Maginot Line simply could not cope with the exposive highly mobil style of Blitzkrieg warfare. The French on June 22 were forced to capitualate to the Germans.
American Ambassador Joseph P. Kennedy reviewd a paper written by his son John which attempted to assess why Britain and France failed to adequately confront Hitler when there was still time. John leaned toward blaming the public more than the British and French leaders. The Ambassador suggested a somewhat different focus. He wrote his son, "The national leaders failed to rearm, and they were caught at Munich. The had to shut up because they couldn't put up. It would be very simple to blame the leaders and to say theu should have been prepared. However, Britain is a democracy and at that time, Britain was definitely a pacifist democracy. .... The Amrerican Congress has repeatedly cut the President's requests for defense appropriations. And Rooselvt was strong. The English leaders didn't fight for rearmament. Roosevelt fought but Congresscresisted and sometimes licked him." [Joseph P. Kennedy, pp. 434-435.]
The United States had been aiding the Allies from the xtart of the War, although the Neutrality Acts placed severe limitations on what the Administration could do as did the isolationists. With the fall of France, President Roosevelt had a difficult decesion to make. Should America continue to support Britain with equipment badly needed by the American Army even though it might fall at any time. It was not even clear at first if Britain would fight. If so, those arms would fall into German hands. Or should the President stop further shipments so as not to antagonize Hitler and use them to build up the American Army. A great deal has been written about this. Some authors contend that President Roosevelt had no confidence in Primeminister Churchill and only the action at Oran (Mers-el-Kebir) to incapcitate the French fleet convinced him to continue the commitment to the British. We will never know precisely what went through the President's mind because heleft no memoirs. It seems, however, that the President was not as unsure as some authors suggest. The President seems to have had some doubts about Churchill, especially thst he drank too much. He sems, however, to have decided to support Britain from a very erarly point. Within days of Dunkirk, the President ordered General Marshall to go through weapmns depot and ship all possible surplus equipmrnt to the British. In fact much more than surplus was shipped. The action of Mers-el-Kabir certainly lefy no dount gthat the Britidh were going to fight.
The evacuation at Dunkirk saved the British Army, but its equipment had to be abanoned on the beachs and surrounding countryside. The First Canadian Army was the only fully equipped force in Britain prepared to resist a German invasion. If the Germans had been able to invade at the time, they would have encountered a largely disarmed Britain. British factories could rapidly produce the needed arms and equipment, but they needed time and the Germans were not prepared to give them time. Britain turned to the United States for emergency arms delivries. President Roosevelt responded immediately and ordered U.S. military arsenals to send all available war materiel to Britain. Many in America opposed this step, including General Marshall. Arms for Britain mean that the Ameican Army would be less prepared. Roosevelt was, howevr adament. The shipments included a great del of World War I equiment. America shipped 500 French 75 artillery pieces as well as 0.5 million 500,000 Enfield rifles, 500 mortars and machine guns, and large quantities of amunitin which had also been left at Dunkirk. The rifles and machine guns proved to be of only limited use because the American 30-06 round was completely incompatible with the British 303 round. (This was a problem not resolved until the formation of the North Atlantic Trreaty Organization (1948). The American rifles were used mainly to arm the Home Guard and for training. The American artillery pieces and mortars, however, ewre vital. These shipments were only a fraction of the Lend Lease arms that were to follow, but they came when Britain was desperate. During the crucial summer of 1940, the Americn arms were a substantial part of the artillery available to the British Army. The RAF narrowly managed to preent the expected invasion, but if the Germans had come that summer this woukd have been the artillery available to the Army. [Moss] Roosevelt's decesion was made not only opposition from the U.S. Army, but in theface of the powerful Isolationist Movement that was organzing to ensure that he would not be reelected.
The isolationist determination to keep America out of the war in Europe meant that Hitler could attack Britain and France with only the limited support Roosevelt could provide. The result was the fall of France and nearly the fall of Britain as well. It was a shift in the strategic ballance of breathtaking proportions--posing a mortal threat to America. This meant that America might have to face NAZI Germany, perhaps united with Soviet Russia and Japan, alone. President Roosevelt launched into what would become the largest armaments program in American history. He proceeded with the same speed that he had launched the New Deal in Match 1933. Congressional opposition to rearamament weakened, but the American Firsters and other isolationists still resisted. General Marshall in April 1940 had argued late into the night with Congressional leaders to get $18 million restored to the army budget. The President in June rushed through an additional $5 billion without much more limited Congressioinal opposition. President Roosevelt reported that American capacity for building airplanes had been increased from 6,000 to 12,000 planes annually. He proposed increasing it to a minimum of 50,000 planes annually. [Freidel, pp. 330-331.] While the Congressional logjam was broken. Many American industrialists were not cooperating. Times were good. For the forst time since the Depression began, cars, appliances, and other manufactured goods were selling. Americans had money and were spending. Many corporations did not want to convert their production lines to war=related production.
After the fall of France, there was no possibility that Britain could win the War by itself. The question was wether Britain could even survive. The importance here was not just Britain. If Hitler had achieved a British Vichy, he would have domianted Europe. And the question would have been whether Stalin or Hitler were to eventually dominate Europe--a chilling prospect. There would have been no way for America to have projected power to Europe to challenge him. More so, a British Vichy may have given Hitler possession of the British fleet. This combined with the weapons under development such as long-range bombers and balistic misselles as well as jet aircraft would have given Hitler the ability to bring the war to America with the immense productive capability of a united, NAZIfied Europe behind him. Britain could not defeat Hitler alone, but for western democracy to survive, Britain had to survive. [Schama]
The British Expeditionary force had been saved a Dunkirk, but they arrived back in England with literally only the shirts on their back. America had shipped large quatities of weapns to Britin and France and much of it was now lost in France. Now many question whrther the British could hold out alone. America was about to begin building the army that would defeat Hitler in the West. The great Arsensal of Democracy had not yet been brought into existence. Weapons production was still reklatively limited. American military planners wanted the limited production to be allocated to building America's own forces. Military plsanners questioned further shipments to the Allies. The great architect of American war strategy in the coming War, Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, expressed his concerns, "There was no doubt that we had sold so generously to the Allied Powers that our own stocks were below the safety point. One could argue that by giving more aid to Britain and Canada we would be increasing our own defensive strength. That might be true, but it was not provable, and if Britain were defeated the Army and the Administration could never justify to the American people the risk they had taken." President Roosevelt signed the $1.3 billion defense spending bill (June 13). America had begun modernizing the Navy and Air Force (still the Army Air Corps), but the Army was another matter. The U.S. Army was totally unprepared for War.
President Roosvelt had a monentous decission to make. It was unclear after France fell if Britain would continue to fight. And if she did, was there any prospect that she could survive? For a while in May, it looked like much of the Bitih amy would be trapped in Belgium. Even after Dunkirk, the British Army was virtually stripped of tanks, artillery, and heavy weapons. Even rifles were in short supply. Shipping weapons desperately needed by a still largely unarmed American Army entailed great risks. If Britain fell to the NAZIs these arms would be sorely missed and would further allienate Germany. Roosevelt and Churchill had begun to correspond when Churchill entered the Government as First Lord of the Admiralty in September 1939. It was a remarkable correspondence and was to continue throughout World War II between the two men who would play key roles in effect saving Western Civilization. [Tarapani] One historian was to refer to it as "the supreme partnership". They were two very different men, but Roosevelt was aware of Churchill's long struggle to alert Britain to the dangers posed by Hitler and the NAZIs. [Schlesinger] Churhchill's goal was to draw America into the War. Roosevelt at first still hoped that Hitler could be stopped without using American troops. Upon becoming Prime Minister and as the Panzers poured into Frnce, Churchill's correspondence with President Roosevelt became increasingly pressing. The Prime Minister wrote President Roosevelt on May 15 addressing the cable, "President Roosevelt From Former Naval Person" Churchill wrote, " ... I trust you realise, Mr. President, that the voice and force of the United States may count for nothing if they are withheld too long. You may have a completely subjected, Nazified Europe established with astounding swiftness, and the weight may be more than we can bear." [Kimball, p. 1:37.] Thus letter was the beginning of the destroyers for bases deal and eventulally Lend Lease itself.
Too Often Americans looking back on World War II see American aid to Britain as a disinterested, almost chaitabnle step. Certainly there were Ametricans that thought that way. Certainly President Rooselvelt and his advisers were horrified at the thought of not only France, but even Britain falling under the cobntrol of NAZI Germany. Churchill himself was later to describe Lend Lease in these terms. But American aid to Britain was not a disinterested or charitable action. In the long term, knowledeable Americans realized that war with the NAZIs was inevuitable and the thouught of waging that war without Britain was daunting. More pressing was the British fleet. The Atlantic ocean dominated by the Royal Navy and American Navy was a formidable shield. If the Royal Navy was to fall in NAXI hands, all naval calcuilations would be fundamentally altered. President Roosevelt had raised the issue with the British Ambassador. Churchill as France was falling this clear to President Roosevelt in one of his letters. Churchill wrote, "Althoughh the presebnt government and I prsonally would never fail to send the fleet across the Atlantic if resistance was beaten down here, a point may be reached in the struggle where the present ministers no longer have control of saffairs and where very easy terms could be obtained for the British Islands by their becoming a vassal state of thev Hitler Empire. A pro-German Government could certainly be called into being to make peace and might present to a shsttered or stsrving nation an almost irresitible case for entire submisdsion to the Nazi will. The fate of the British Fleet, as I have already mentioned to you, would be decisive on the future of the United States, because it were joined to the fleets of Japan, France, and Italy, and the great resources of German industry, overwealming sea power would be in Htler's hands. He might, of course, use it with a merciful moderation. On the other hand he might not. This revolution in sea-power might happen very quickly and certainly long before the United states would be able to prepare against it. If we go downyou may have a United States of Europe under the Nazi command far more numerous, far stronger, far better armed than the New SWorld." (June 15, 1940)
Churchill as the Panzers poured into France pleaded with President Rossevelt for assistance. One possibility was mothballed destroyers, sorely needed to protect the critical North Atlantic convoy routes. The U.S. Navy had "moth balled" 70 destroyers after World War I. In fact FDR as Assisstanat Secretary of the Navy had played a part in this. There were great dangers to America in providing these destroyers to Britain. Not only would it be an act only slightly short of war, but it would weaken the ability of America to rapidly expand its fleet. Even more serious was that if Britain capitualed, the destroyers might even fall into German hands. The President also faced political dangers in that the Republicans could charge him with weakening America's defenses, a serious concern in the middle of the 1940
presidential election campaign. FDR finally agreed on August 14 during the height of the Battle of Britain to provide the British badly needed destroyers for their Atlantic convoys being hard pressed by the U-boats. At this stage of the War any good news was extremely important for the British and Churchill. The executive order was issued August 27, 1940. The United States would trade 50 old Navy destroyers for 99 year leases on British sea and air bases in the Western
Hemisphere (most were in the Caribbean and in Newfoundland). The approach was extremely savy politically. It sounded like an actual exchange and involved bases close to the United States. In actuality the British were more than willing to provide America bases. It was also a cold political calculation. It was still unclear as to whether Britain would survive. If there was to be a British Vichy, it would be important to have American bases on the British Atlantic and Caribbean islands. The President also allowed British pilots to train in the United States and British ships to be repaired in U.S. ports. The Flight Ferry Command and Eagle Squadron were created. These were very bold exactions taken by the President without Congressional cover in the middle of the presidential election campaign. His Republican opponent Wendel Wilkie cruticised the President for not getting Congressional approval.
Roosevelt submitted a conscription bill to Congress. It was heavily criticised by the isolationists. It could have become a major political issue coming as it did during a presidebntial election campaign. The isolationists still had great influence within the Republican Party. Here Republican Candidate Wendel Wilkie put country beefore party. He was no isolationist and supported the bill. There was still heated debate, but Congress passed the Selective Sevice Act (September 1940). This meant that America would have an army when war came--albeit a still small one. Until this time the American Army was abdsurdly small given the dangers posed in Europe and Asia. The Act was a trenative step. The Act stipulated that draftees could not be deployed outsidev of the United States, the Western Hemisphere, and Americsn possessions (which included the Philippines). More important than the restrictions, however, was the fact that the United States could begin to train a substantial new army. Another provision, however, limited service to 1 year. I'm not sure who authored this providion, but assume it was a Congressional amendment to appease the Isolsationists. This meant that the isolantionists would have another opportunity to kill the draft.
The 1940 presidential election may have been the second most important election in American history, second only to the 1860 elrction bring Abraham Lincon to the White House. The first American President, George Washington, retired after two 4-year terms. This set a precedent that every other president had followed. FDR because of the international crisis decided to run for a third term which became a campaign issue. The national debate over neutrality and isolationism that had been raging since the mid-1930s reached its height. There were powerful spokesmen on both sides. Isolationist groups, such as the American Fist Committee, opposed any risks that could lead to war and shaply attacked the President's policies. International groups and an increasing number of average citizens demanded more active aid to Britain. His Republican opponent was a surprise choice, Wendell Willkie, a wealty busniessman who had swept the Republican primaries. Willkie did not crticise FDR's support for the democracies, by the time of the camapign only England. His nomination was an indication of the shift in public opinion toward intervention.
U.S. Secretary of War Henry Stimson and British Minister of Supply Sir Walter Layton after the American presidential election agreed to a partial standardization of British and American military weapons and equipment (November 1940). Given that America would be supplying a great deal of Britain;s arms amnd munitions, this was an important step. The agreement also established a general policy of pooling British and American technical knowledge, patents, and formulas for weapons production. This was also vital because Britain had a great deal of high-technology research aplicable for wepoons production. especially electronics. America for its part and the industrial capacity to produce equipment and arms in quanity. After the war, American industry turned much of this research into sucessful consumer product. Britain, in part becaue the post-War Labour Government was more focused on nationalizing industry rather than supporting innovative companies, made much less use of this technology.
President Roosevelt first used the term "Arsenal of Denocracy" on December 29, 1940 in one of his Fireside Chats, radio boradcasts, to the American people. He expalined the importance of supplying the people of Europe, at the time primarily Britain with the "implements of war". He said that the United States "must be the great arsenal of democracy". At the time he delivered the speech, the only nation left fighting the NAZIs was the British. The NAZIs in a with apparent ease had had defeated both counties that had dared ippose them and neutral nations that stood in their way (Czecheslovakia, Poland, Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France). Other nations had been cowed into submission. The President began, "My friends: This is not a fireside chat on war. It is a talk on national security; because the nub of the whole purpose of your President is to keep you now, and your children later, and your grandchildren much later, out of a last-ditch war for the preservation of American independence and all of the things that American independence means to you and to me and to ours."
The Great Depression of the 1930s was the worst economic slump ever to affect the United States. A new era of the American presidency was initated on Sunday evening, March 12, 1933. Most Americans sat down after dinner in their living rooms to listen to the newly inagurated president. Most were worried. The Depression was rapidly paralizing the country and the Government seemed unable to take effective action. With all this gloom, a calm, reassuring voice came through the radio exuding confidence in the future. President Roosevelt explained in understandable terms just how the Depression had come about and what he planned to do to get the country out of the Depression. The radio seems almost made for President Roosevelt. It offered the ability to speak directly to the whole country with out the complications of visual images. The fireside chats were a revolution in communication and in many ways profoundly change the office. The presideny was a much more formal office before FDR. The fireside chats seem very casual and informal. They were of course swrewdly calculated. Primarily previous presidents communicated with the public through the press. Many important newspapers, however, in the 1930s were oriented toward the Republicans. Homey, "down-to-earth" language was carefully adopted so that the major issues of the day could be explained to the proverbial "common man". FDR had a wonderful feel for the power of words and phrasing. Terms like "lend lease" and the "arsnal of democracy" were used in the fireside chats to help win public acceptance of the administration's policies. Most of the fireside chats were dilivered from the White House, but a few were made at Hyde Park as well. They were carefully times. May were on Sunday knowing that the whole family would be home. Almost always they were in the evening, timed to catch the family after they had dinner and were gathering around the radio in the living room to listen to the evening programs. To many it was almost as if they were inviting the President into their living room for a personal chat. No other president had ever attempted talked to the average voter in this way. And none had the voice that the president possessed.
The very day he spoke, a Luftwaffe raid on London severly damaged famous buildings and churches in the city center and engulfed St. Paul's Cathedral in flames. [Gilbert, p. 356.] The NAZI effort to break the Royal Air Force having failed, Hitler had ordered the terror bombing of London and other British cities--the Blitz. Americans watched in horror.
Hitler feared America more than any other country, but was convinced that Britain could be defeated before America could be mobilized or American industry could be effectively harnassed for the war effort. Neither the NAZIs or the Japanese had any idea just how effectively American production could be converted to war production. Air Marshall Goering sneared. "The Americans only know how to make razor blades." Four years later with the Luftwaffe in tatters, Goering said he knew that the War was lost when American P-51 Mustangs appeared over Berlin escoring waves of bombers. Among Japanese leaders, only Yamamoto appears to have been fully aware of America's industrial capacity. Yamamoto pledged that if it came to War, his carriers could score great victories for the first 6 months. After that he could not guarantee what would happen. His prodiction was to prove highly accurate.
The United States vcreated a new U.S. Defense Board (December 20, 1940). The DB was created to coordinate strategic defense planning. The Roosevelt administration announced the creation of a four-man Office of Production Management, under the direction of William Knudsen. The goal was to speed the pace of converting to military productiom. The Administration wanted to increase the quantity of arms delivered to the expanding U.S. military as wel as the forces of it Allies. The following day, the German government protested this very un-neutral action which it denounced as a form of 'moral aggression'.
The RAF managed to defeat the Luftwaffe and stave off invasion in 1940. But now NAZI Germany dominated virtually all of Western and Central Europe. It seemed that Britain in the long run had little chance of holding out against the economic and industrial resources at Hitler's command. Worse still, Britain was rapidly reaching the point that it could not afford to continue purchasing military equipment and supplies in the United States. Churchill wrote to Roosevelt in a letter he described as the most important he had ever written (Decemnber 1940). Churchill described in stark terms Britain's position and the substantial losses as a result of the Blitz and U-boat attacks. He warned the President, "Unless we can establish our ability to feed this Island, to import the munitions of all kinds which we need, we may fall by the way, and the time needed by the U.S. to complete her defgensive preparations may not be fortcoming." Then Churchill came to the crux of the matter,"The moment approiacheswhere we shall no longer be able to pay cash for shipping and other supplies. While we shall do our upmost and shrink from no proper sacrifices to make payments across the exchange, I believe you will agree that it would be wrong in principle and mutually disadvantageous in effect if, at the eight of this struggle Great Britain would be divested of all saleable assetts othat after the victory was won with our blood, civilization saved and the time gained for the United States to be fully armed against all eventualities, we hould stand strpped to the bone. Such a course would not be in the moral or economic interests of either if our countries. .... You may be assured that we shall prove ourselves ready to suffer and sacrifice to the utmost to the Cause, and that we shall glory in being its champions. The rest we leave with confidence to you and to your people, being sure that ways and means will be foundwhich future generations on both sides of the Alantic will approve and admire."
Once having conceived Lend Lease, President Roosevelt had conceived of Lend Lease, he wanted a complete assessment of the British war effort and commitment. Roosevelt dispatched his closest adviser Harry Hopkins to assess Britains will and ability to resist. Before leaving, Hopkins was advised by Jean Monet, a then little known French banker attached to the British Purchasing Board, to focus on Churchill, "Churchill is the British War Cabinet and no one else matters." [McJimsey, p. 135.] The Battle of Britain made a German cross-Channel invasion impossible in 1940. The huge German Army, however, dominatd Europe. The Royal Navy was hard-pressed in the Atlantic. It was unclear at the end of 1940 if the British were prepared to continue the fight. Roosevelt had to know just how determined Britain was. The American Army was still not equipped with modern arms. Should America provide the still limited production of Armaments to Britain before its own military was equipped. Many around Roosevelt, including Harry Hopkins, were unsur how closely Roosevelt should tie American defense to Britain. Roosevelt dispatched Harry Hopkins to assess whether Britain's determination and situation. Churchill did not understand just who Hopkins was. Churchill was informed that he was close to Roosevelt and informed of Hopkin's WPA work thought him a social worker, if not a soicisalist, and began giving him statistics about bathrooms and electrity in British slums. Hopkin's interupted him. ""Mr Churchill, I don't give a damn about your cottagers. I've come over here to find out how we can help you beat this fellow Hitler." Of course nothing could have pleased Churchill more. Churchill rose and said, "Mr Hopkins, come with me," and the two disappeared into Churchill's study. Churchill proceeeded to escort Hopkins all over the United Kingdom, from Scappa Flow in Scotkand to the beach defenses in Kent. Hopkins was staggered at Churchill's seemingly limitless ebnergy. [McJimsey, p. 135.] They spent time together at Chequers. Churchill completely convinced him that the British were firmly committed to waging war. No one really knew what Hopkins would say in private to Rossevelt when he returned to Washington. At a
small dinner party before he returned, Hopkins rose to propose a toast. "I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return. Well I am going to quote to you one verse from the Book of Books. ... "Whither thou goest, I will go and where thou lodgest I will lodge, thy people shall be by peple, and thy God my God." Hopkins then added in on enfing, "Even to the end." Tears were streaming down Churchill's face. Hopkins became the aministrator of Lend Lease. [Goodwin, pp. 213-213 and Meacham]
Congress repealed more provisions the Neutrality Act (March 1941). This essentially gutted the Neutrality Act that had limited President Roosevelt's actions.
Lend lease if not the most important is surely one of the most notable laws ever passed by Congress. The NAZI Blitz on London, reprtedly nightly by radio by Edward R. Murrow had a profound impact on American public opinion. Public opinion polls by December, 1940, indicated that 60 of Americans favored helping Britain, the only country still resisting the NAZIs, even if it meant war. This and the President's overwealming reelection, strengthened his hand in Congress. Passage, however, was by no means certain. Here Republican presidetial candidate Wendel Wilkie plasyed a major role in winning Congressional approval. The U.S. Congress's in March, 1941, passed the Lend-Lease Act proposed by theAdministration. It proverd to be one of the most important pieces of legislation in history. . The Lend-Lease Act empowered the president to "lend, lease, or exchange" war materials with nations whose struggle against aggression was considered necessary to American security. It made the United States the "arsenal of democracy," not only for the United States, but for a vast coalition of allied nations forming around Britain and the United States.
American and British military staffs held their first combined staff conferences to discuss strategy in the event of U.S. military participation in the War. The staffs agreed that if the United States entered the war, the Allies would concentrate on the defeat of Germany first. German First would be the Allied commitment from the very beginning. Hitler nd the Germans were seen by all as the greatest threat. There would be many disagreements between the Americans and British, but the Germany First doctrine was not one of them.
The Royal Navy was in constant contact with the German Kreigs Marine from the onset of the War and with the Italian Navy (June 1940). They sustained considerable damage, not only from naval engagemnts, but because many of these battles were conducted in costal areas within range of the Luftwaffe. Repiring the damage was a serious problem as Britain was hard pressed to build more ships to meet war demands, especially the desperate battle with the German U-boats in the North Atlantic. While still neutral, the United States began repairing damaged Royal Navy ships, a very unneutral act. Surprisingly this does not seem to have attracted the ire of the Isolationists the same way that other neutrality violtions did. Perhaps because it was a fairly limited undertaking and conducted in U.S. Navy shipyards without a lot of publicity and at any case began after the passage of Lend Lease. We have only limited information at this time. We do know that two British carriers (HMS Formidable and HMS Illustrious) were repaired at the U.S. Navy Norfolk shipyard. This is significant because both were large ships and would have taxed British yards at a very critical point of the War. HMS Illustrious while involved in opertions protecting Malta and protecting convoys to Greece which had been invaded by Italy was attacked by Luftwaffe aircraft and hit by two bombs (January 1941). She was hit again undergoing repairs in Malta. Subsequent near mises further damaged the ship. Had it not had an armored deck (like American carriers with wooden decls), it probably would have been sunk). [Brown, p. 48.] After being pacyed up in Malta, Egypt, and South Africa, the ship ultimately arrived at the American Norfolk Navy Yard for permanent repairs (May 12). [McCart, p. 19.] HMS Formidable was also in the Mediterranean supporting British operations with HMS Illustrious. It was hit by Luftwaffe aircraft attempting to interdict supply convoys to Tobruk (May 26). Shee arrived in Norfolk for repairs (August 25). Both carriers after completing repairs departed together for Britain (December 12). Of course by this time, the Japanese had struck at Pearl Harbor. And Ameria not only was repairing British ships, but began building ships for the Royal Navy. What was desperately needed was ships to escort the North Atlantic convoys under attack from Dönitz's expanding U-boat fleet. A major contribution was the The Captain class frigates--which the U.S, Navy would have classified as destroyer escorts. The United States buit 78 of these escort ships for the Royal Navy which made midifications before they were deployed to the fleet.
With the on set of the War, the Royal Air Force faced two problems, getting improved aircrcraft in production and training pilots. As it was, they almot began the War with bi-wing figters, the Royal actually did. But by the time of the Battle of Britain, the RAF had solved the fighter problem. The major problem they faced was the shortage of pilots. Large numbers of poorly trained pilots had to be sent up to almot certain death. Rather late the RAF began to significantly train more pilots. Training pilots in the middle if the Battle of Britain was a dodgey undertalkng. They were subject to enemy attack and the priorities at active air bases in the middle of the War. In addition, the British weather limited the days in which flight instruction could be conducted. The RAF thus looked across the Atlantic and began training pilots and air crews in Canada which had joined Britain in the War. Much of the Royal Air Force's pilot training program was thus relocated to Canada and other Commonwealth countries under the Empire Air Training Scheme. But Canada also had weather problems with a short summer also limiting good flying weather. This slowed the program nd reduced the number of pilots which could be trained at any facility. The obvious answer was the United States. American neutrality laws at first made this impossible. The pssage of Lend Lease (March 1941) made it possible for British pilot training to begin in America. The first British students arrived in civilian clothes (June 1941). Six flight schools for the RAF were eventually opened in the southern United States. The first was No. 1 British Flying Training School (BFTS)at Terrell, Texas, east of Dallas. Other schools were located Lancaster, California; Miami, Oklahoma; Mesa, Arizona; Clewiston, Florida; Ponca City, Oklahoma; and Sweetwater, Texas. The schools were owned by private American operators, staffed with civilian instructors, but supervised by British flight officers using the RAF�s training syllabus. The aircraft were supplied by the U.S. Army Air Corps. Some 2,000 British cadets were trained at Terrell alone. [Killebrew] No only Britain benefitted the United States at the time was also in the business of rapidly training pilots, especially after Pearl Harbor (December 1941). Some of the RAF training methods were adopted by the American Army Air Corps.
Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941. Britain was no longer alone. The German Blitzkrieg rapidly rolled over the western Soviet Union. It looked at first like Russian would be one more defeated nation fallen victim to Hitler and the NAZIs. American military planners concluded the Soviets could not stop the NAZIs. Churchill immediately offered aid to the Soviets. FDR offered Lend Lease material to the Soviets, but it would take time to get war material to them. Stalin had played a role in the NAZI victory in France. Now a a result, the Red army faced Hitler alone
President Roosevelt issued Executive Order 8802 (June 28, 1941). This ordered the desegregation America's defense industries and establishing the Fair Employment Practices Commission. A. Philip Randolph played a major role in concincing the Presidebt to take this action. He was focused for on the NAZI victories in Europe. And he needed southern Democratic support for his effort to save Britain and build a creditable American military force. The deciding factor appears to have been Randolph's threat to organize a march on Washington to protest discrimination in defense work. The result was the most important civil rights initiative of the Roosevely Administration. It was the first major assault on seggregation.
The President wrote Navy Secretary Knox and War Secretary Simpson asking what would be required to defeat the Axis countries if the United States entered the War (July 9). The President at the time was asuring the public at the time that the United States was not going to enter foreign wars. The military used Supply Priorities and Allocation Board (SPAB) make this assessment. America in 1941 was building a two ocean navy, the largest airforce in the world (50,000 combat air craft), and a 6 million man army. It took the military some time to respond. The President rececived his answer from General Marshall and Admiral Strark who wrote for the War and Navy Departments (September 25). "If Germany and her European sattelites are to be defeated , it will be necessary for the United States to enter the war" Marshall and Stark drew the same conclusion for the Pacific if Japan was to strike in the Pacific.
A little known senator from Missouri, Harry Truman, helped create a comitte to assess how well the military was spending the vast summs being approved for defense. The committe would become known as the Truman Committee. Truman helped ensure that the major U.S. corporations did not profit unduly from the contracts that the Pentagon was writing in the face of a national emergency. He also attempted to make contracts more available to small business. Here he did not succeed which was probably a good thing. A decentralized approach would have surely slowed the rapid increases in weapons production that were needed immeditely. [Black p. 665.]
The Atlantic Charter is one of the key documents of the 20th century and remains still relevant today. President Roosevelt and Primeminister Churchill meet aboard the Prince of Wales on August 9-13, 1941 at Placentia Bay. The Prince of Wales had been badly mauled by Bismark in May. It was to be sunk by a Japanese aerial attack in December. Roosevelt and Churchill issue the Atlantic Charter. The two were war time allies. Britain had weathered the worst that the NAZI Luftwaffe could throw at it. America and Britain were fighting the U-boats in the North Atlantic to keep Britain alive. It was clear that America would soon be drawn into the War. America had already played an important role in keeping Britain alive and the two countries were the only hope of the occupied European and in fact Western civilization itself--threatened by the evil tide of NAZI tyranny. The two leaders, the two most important men of the 20th century, agreed to a simple, but elegant eight-point statement of their aims which today still stands as the central credo of the Atlantic Alliance.
The isolations were not silenced with their defeat over Selective Service (September 1940), Roosevelt's Third term (November 1940), and Lend Lease (March 1941). The United States virtually did not have an army before the Selective Service Act was passed. This was the first step in building a 6 million man army. The isolations staged a major effort to defeat the renewal of the act. Despite the war in Europe and Japanese advances in the Pacific, there was considerable resistance in Congress for not renewing the Selective Service Act. The resistance was led by the Republican minority , but the draft was such a sensitive issue that they were joined by enough Democrats that renewal as in question. This would have meant that the men drafted in 1940 would go home and that America would have entered World War II essentially without an army. While the President was with Churchill at the Atlantic Conference when the House approved the renewal of Selective Service by 1 lone vote. The vote was 203 to 202. There were attempts to change votes and runa a vote count, but Speaker Rayburn gaveked them down. To gain even this margin, the bill had to include a commitment not to send draftees out of the Hemisphere without Congressional authorization. [Black, p. 656.]
President Roosevelt in great secrecy made one of the most monentous decesions of the 20th century (October 9, 1941). Leo Szilard wrote a letter to the President that he convinced Albert Einstein to sign (October 11, 1939) recommending the United States explore the possibility of a nuclear weapon. The emigree scientists were worried about advances in nuclear fission reported by German scientsts. The President showed interest, but the military did not take the project seriously. Scientist adviser Vannevar Bush and Agriculture Secretary brought the project to the President's attention and with only minimal discussion the President decided to persue the project with a high priority (October 9). He persuaded Speker Rayburn to push through the necessary propriations without Congressional scrutiny.
The President asked the Congress to arm merchantmen and for permission for them to make deliveries to beligerent ports (October 9, 1941). This meant Britain and now the Soviet Union. It was also the final end of the Neutrality Acts. The President wrote, "We will not let Hitler prescribe the waters of the world on which our ships may travel. We cannot permit the affirmative defense of our rights to be annulled and diluted by sections of the Neutrality Act which have no realism in the light of unscrupulous ambitions of madmen. .... We intend to maintain ... the freedom of te seas against the dominationby any foreign power which had become crazed with a desire to control the world."
Escorting convoys meant that America was entering an undecalred naval war with Germany in the North Atlantic. The first U.S. freighter, the Robin Moor was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sunk May 21. The lifeboats were found June 10. Hitler was still intent on keeping America out of the War, especially as he was about to invade the Soviet Union, and ordered Doenitz's U-boats to avoid all U.S. warships. The U.S. destroyer Greer on September 4 attacked the U-652, eluded 2 torpedos. FDR on September 11 declared Greer attack was "piracy" as was the August 17 sinking of U.S.-Panamanian freighter Sessa killing 24 of 27 crew. Little discussed in the press was the fact that the United States and helped set of flag of convenience registrations in Panama to circuvent provisions of the Neutrality Acts. FDR also protested the September 5 sinking of U.S. freighter Steel Seafarer clearly flying U.S. flag. He gave the Navy orders to "shoot-on-sight". A Gallup poll showed 62 percent of Americans approved the deeping involvement in the War. The U.S. freighter Montana on September 11 was sunk en route to Iceland, but no one was killed. The armed U.S.-Panamanian freighter Pink Star sunk en route to Iceland carrying food. U.S.-Panamanian oil tanker I.C. White was sunk on September 27 en route to South Africa, three people were killed. U.S. tanker W.C. Teagle was sunk and U.S.-Panamanian freighter Bold Venture were sunk sunk on October 16. The U.S. destroyer Kearny on October 17 was torpedoed and damaged with 11 killed inside the Security Zone. The U.S. freighter Lehigh on October 19 was sunk in South Atlantic. Oct. 30 - U.S.-Panamanian armed tanker Salinas on October 30 was torpedoed and damaged. The U.S. destroyer Reuben James was torpedoed abd sunk inside the Security Zone on October 31, 115 crew members were killed. It was first U.S. warship lost to the U-boats. America well before Pearl Harbor was involved in an undeclared naval war with Germany. Hitler's frustration with this war, was one reason he declared war on America after Pearl Harbor.
Historians debate Roosevelt's leadership at this stage of the War. Some maintained that he lied to the American people and was steadily dragging America into war, assuming that continued provocations would bring about a NAZI attack. Of course the blow finally came, only in the Pacific rather than the Atlantic. The charge that Roosevelt lied is a very strong, but it seems difficult to avoid the charge that he was not frank with the American people. Surely the use of terms like "Lend Lease" desguised the fact that it was a virtual act of war against an immensly powerful country at a ime America had virtually no army. Even more stsrk is that Roosevely committed the Navy to a shooting war in the North Atlantic with out any Congressional authorization or in fact public debate. This in particular lead the President vulnerable to charges that he exceeded his authority or even violsted the Constitution. Subsequent presidents went even further, but since Viet Nam, such actions would lead to a poltical fire storm. This leads to avery difficult conflict in a democracy, does security outwigh the need for an open debate. Interestingly Mrs. Rooselvelt who had her differences with Churchill admired his more frant (some would say honest approch). She wrote about the less contentious war period, "To explain to one's country that there must be a long period while the military forces are being trained and armed, during which peope must be patient and hope at best 'to hold the linr' is no easyb or popular thing to do. I alwayts had great admiration for the way in which Mr. Churchill did this. In some ways he was moire blunt with the peopke oif Great Britain than my husband ever was with us," [E. Roosevelt] She added the added caveat that the British were closer to the danger.
It was the Japanese carrier attack on Pearl Harbor that brought America into the War. While Pearl Harbor was a stunning tactical victory, it was a strategic blunder by the Japanese of incaluable proportions. It was a stunningly successful military success, brilliantly executed by the Japanese. Eight battle ships, the heart of the American Pacific fleet were sunk. But the three carriers were not at Pearl. Despite the success of the attack, it was perhaps the greatest strtegic blunder in the history
of warfare. The Japanese attack on the Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor changed everything. A diverse and quareling nation, strongly pacifistic was instantly changed into a single united people with a burning desire to wage war. The issolationism that President Roosevelt had struggled against for over 7 years instantly disappeared. Even Lindburg asked for a commision to fight for the United States.
Black, Conrad. Franklin Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom (Public Affairs: New York, 2003), 1280p.
Brown, J. D. Carrier Operations in World War II (Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 2009).
Fest, Joachim C. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1974), 844p.
Freidel, Frank. Franklin D. Roosevelt: Rendezuous with Destiny (Little Brown: Boston, 1990), 710p.
Goodwin, Doris Kearns. No Ordinary Time: Frranklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World war II (Simon & Schuster: New York, 1994), 759p.
Kennedy, Joseph P. Sr. "Letter to John F. Kennedy, May 20. 1940. In Amanda Smith, Hostage to Fortune (Viking: 2001), 764p.
Killebrew, Tom. The Royal Air Force in Texas: Training British Pilots in Terrell during World War II Part of the War and the Southwest Series. University of North Texas Press: 2009).
Kimball, Warren F., ed. Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence 3 vols. ( Princeton University Press, 1984). This is a remarable collection of Roosevelt and Churchill's communications. Kimball has written excellent books on both Lend-Lease Act and on the Morgenthau Plan for occupied Germany. The collection came from presidential, State Department, prime-ministerial, Foreign Office files, and even German intercepts of previously unpublished transatlantic telephone conversations.
McCart, Neil. The Illustrious & Implacable Classes of Aircraft Carrier 1940�1969 (Cheltenham, UK: Fan Publications, 2000).
McJimsey, George. Harry Hopkins: Ally of the Poor and Defender of Liberty (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1987), 474p.
Meacham, Jon. Franklin and Winston: An Intimsate Portrait of an Epic Friendship (Random House: New York, 2003), 490p.
Moss, Norman. Nineteen Weeks: America, Britain, and the Fateful Summer of 1940 (2004).
Sawyer, L.A. and W.H. Mitchell. The Liberty Ships (Lloyd's of London Press, 1985).
Roosevelt, Eleanor. This I Remnenber (Harpers: New York, 1949).
Schlesinger, Arthur Jr. "The Supreme Partnership," The Atlantic Monthly (October 1984).
Schama, Simon. A History of Britain.
Sherwood, Robert E. Roosevelt and Hopkins (1948).
Trapani, Carol, "Letters cemented partnership," Poughkeepsie Journal (December 8, 2001).
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