As Napoleon sagely wrote over 220 years ago, “The victors writes the history!” How true! Each society has its own narrative on how it sees itself. In a sense almost all autobiographies are lies, and if they were true, who would really know? On the other hand, no biographer knows everything, how could they? When a cohort of Winston Churchill’s worried how history would view questionable events, Churchill is reported to have said, “…don’t worry! I’ll write the history!” In Hamilton’s first book, “The Mantle of Command,” the scene is set for America’s emergence into the greatest and most important crusade against evil in history! Peter Baker, of the NY Times wrote, in his review in the last book in the trilogy:
Since Roosevelt left no lasting record of his life and thoughts following his untimely death in Warm Springs, Ga., in April 1945 at age 63, Hamilton relies on those left by others, including insightful diaries by Mackenzie King, the Zelig-like Canadian prime minister who always seemed to be on hand at key moments, and Henry L. Stimson, the Republican secretary of war who at times resisted Roosevelt’s judgments only to come around to recognize the virtues of the president’s approach.
Thus, as a student and faithful follower of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his immense legacy, I was most gratified to start Nigel Hamilton’s massive trilogy regarding “FDR at War” and his relationship with his great partner in that titanic event, Winston S. Churchill the most significant war-time Prime Minister of Great Britain (there were two other Neville Chamberlain and Clement Atlee.) Peter Baker of the NY Times continued in his review:
But for years in many households, it provoked endless dinnertime debate. In the annals of the 20th century, who was the greater, more significant historical figure: Franklin D. Roosevelt or Winston Churchill?
The case for Churchill is powerful. He rallied Britain against Hitler’s hordes when the rest of Europe had fallen. While the United States remained on the sidelines and the Soviet Union embraced its devil’s-bargain alliance with Nazi Germany, Churchill virtually single-handedly defied the Third Reich in the face of existential threat: He was personally at risk, along with his countrymen, amid the cascade of bombs raining down on London during the Blitz.
But count Nigel Hamilton in Roosevelt’s camp — not just in his camp but perhaps his most passionate and eloquent champion. In “War and Peace,” his latest book on the American wartime leader, Hamilton presents a farsighted Roosevelt riding to the rescue of freedom, then setting the stage for a new world order to come. Churchill is depicted as a military dunderhead who let ego and imperial ambition get in the way of sensible strategy. Courageous? Yes. A stirring orator? Absolutely. But if not restrained by Roosevelt, Churchill, in Hamilton’s view, might easily have lost World War II for the Allies.
“War and Peace” is the third and final volume in Hamilton’s “F.D.R. at War” trilogy and certainly as gripping and powerfully argued as the first two, “The Mantle of Command” and “Commander in Chief.” Hamilton, as the historian Evan Thomas once observed, ended up producing the extended memoir that Roosevelt himself never got to write. Throughout Hamilton’s three books, Roosevelt is the wise and clever sage fending off myopic cabinet secretaries, generals, admirals and colleagues to steer the Allies to victory and the world to a better future.
“The Mantle of Command” opens with the critical Atlantic Conference held between President Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in the waters of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland in August of 1941.
In FDR’s typical, secretive way, he used diversionary tactics to prevent the revelation to the press, the public, and his own government of this meeting with the Prime Minister. The secrecy of this meeting was critical when one understands the isolationist, anti-British feeling that not only dominated many in the Congress, but throughout the country. Of course, Churchill was eager for this meeting, and in a sense it was an effort to induce the president to support a declaration of war against Nazi Germany. This meeting came almost after two years of war, which saw the decline and fall of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, who preceded Churchill, and the various disaster that befell the western alliance of Britain and France.
After the invasion of the Low Countries, the fall of Norway and Britain’s naval disasters in the North Sea, the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), along with thousands of French and Dutch soldiers from Dunkerque, the massive losses to German submarines in the Atlantic, setbacks in North Africa at the hands of General Erwin Rommel, along with the failures of British commanders, Wavell, Auchinleck and Ritchie in the Egyptian-Libyan Desert War, and the threat to the Suez Canal, the British were on the verge of desperation, and thus the need for this meeting. A declaration of war was certainly not in FDR’s mind, knowing the mood of a majority of the American people. But he wanted a strong show of commitment to the cause of Britain, without making a commitment that would probably never be sustained.
Out of that conference emerged the Atlantic Charter, an agreement to transfer 50 surplus American Destroyers to Great Britain, in exchange for the United States to have long-term leases on British territories in the Caribbean. There was no formal, legal document entitled “The Atlantic Charter”. It detailed the goals and aims of the Allied powers concerning the war and the post-war world, and it was based very much on FDR’s famous “Four Freedoms,” State of the Union speech made in January of 1941.
Of course, events following that meeting in August of 1941, would change the calculus of world power and the direction it was heading. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the heart of the American Navy and its armed forces in the Hawaiian Islands on December 7, 1941, would of course bring a Declaration of War on the Japanese Empire, but it did not mean we would be involved in the European War. As a consequence of that surprise attack, the Japanese war juggernaut would attack American, British and Dutch territories all over the Pacific Rim. Before America could even respond, the Philippines were attacked, and the American Army Air Force, under the direct command of General MacArthur, was virtually destroyed. As these multiple tragedies unfolded, Churchill was privately relieved of his greatest anxiety that he would have to continue to fight alone against the Nazis. Of course, he couldn’t be sure that America would be directly involved in the European War, and as a consequence of the Japanese attack on British interests, more disasters ensued. Eventually Hong Kong, Malaya, and their impenetrable fortress of Singapore would eventually collapse. As time moved on, even before America could respond, Burma would fall, as Rangoon was taken by the Japanese, and the India Ocean would become almost a Japanese lake.
In one of the strangest moves in history, Hitler, seeing the immediate success of the Japanese war machine, impulsively declared war on the United States. This of course, eliminated the problem for FDR regarding an effort to declare war on Nazi Germany! Therefore, after December 11, 1941, we were in World War II on both fronts, East and West! With this reality in mind, Churchill immediately made plans to travel to Washington to formulate a coordinated strategy to first turn the tide of battle around and eventually win the war. In the critical days through Christmas, 1941, in now wartime America, the policy of Germany First would emerge.
In the days ahead, Churchill would attempt to direct and control President Roosevelt with regards to the direction of their joint effort. As Christmas approached, the United States was facing the unpleasant reality that the Philippines and MacArthur’s American and Filipino Forces on Bataan and Corregidor, were doomed to destruction as were the British possessions of Hong Kong, Malaya and their Singapore fortress. The Americans, with their Filipino allies, fought a delaying action in the Philippines, while a mixed American, British, Dutch, and Australian (ABDA) naval structure was set up to operate from Java in an attempt to hold the Japanese at the Malay Barrier. Given command of ABDA naval forces, Admiral Thomas Hart directed part of this defense into mid-February 1942. By that point in time, it had become evident that despite the brave ABDA sailors, the Japanese were not to be denied. The Japanese Navy was able to literally destroy the remaining Allied naval assets in, and around, the Java Sea and the India Ocean.
Therefore, as India was being threatened by massive Japanese naval assets in the Indian Ocean, two realities emerged. There were not enough Allied ships to counter their strength and India soldiers had almost no enthusiasm to defend India and their colonial status from the potential of a Japanese invasion. In fact, the British were seeing more and more evidence that their colonial armies were not willing to fight for the British Empire. FDR, a confirmed anti-colonialist understood this reality, despite Churchill’s inability to face the reality of the deteriorating situation in both the Middle and the Far East. FDR urged Churchill to promise India eventual self-rule or even the commonwealth status of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Churchill hated this option, danced around it, and delayed making a decision, until he almost was backed into a corner. He certainly was opposed to giving up any sovereignty in India, as he claimed that the subcontinent was not really a country, but a collection of princely states and contentious religions bodies: Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs among hundreds of others sects, who spoke many hundreds of dialects. To add to the anxiety of the British, their fortress at the Port of Tobruk (Libya) fell to an inferior force (30,000 personnel surrendered) without putting up a major fight.
With that in mind, along with the existential threat to India, the British were apoplectic and were trying to insist that American intervene in the Indian Ocean. Of course, Americans did not have the assets to counter the Japanese. But, FDR initiated a bold plan that would eventually produce a remarkable chain of events. He wanted to strike back at the Japanese and change the whole defeatist attitude that was threatening to become pervasive in the post-Pearl Harbor America, and with our British allies. Roosevelt authorized the famed Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. The raid was planned, led by and named after Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle of the United States Army Air Forces. FDR was able to turn the corner of defeat with one bold stroke.
This air raid, by sixteen United States B-25s, from the aircraft carrier Hornet, on the Japanese capital, Tokyo and other places on Honshu Island, was the first air operation to strike the Japanese archipelago. The sixteen B-25B Mitchell medium bombers were launched without fighter escort from the deep in the Western Pacific Ocean, (further out than planned) each with a crew of five men. The plan called for them to bomb military targets in Japan, and to continue westward to land in China, since landing a medium bomber back on the Hornet was impossible. The bombing raid killed about 50 people, including civilians, and injured 400, was tactically minimal, but, in retrospect, strategically immense.
It was also the first time, in more than 1000 years, that the Japanese home islands were attacked. It demonstrated that the Japanese mainland was vulnerable to American air attack, served as retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor and provided an important boost to American morale. Even though the results were almost minuscule the political and strategic fallout was immense. The Japanese had never been attacked on their home islands, and with the knowledge that their air defenses were almost non-existent, they therefore, in an almost panic withdrew much of their naval assets from the Indian Ocean, to protect the Home Islands. The next consequence of this action was to assemble a massive fleet to strike back at America. Their aim was Midway Island. If they destroyed the American assets and presence on Midway, and occupied the island as a base, both the West Coast of America and Hawaii would be threatened. The Japanese never knew that American cryptographers had broken their naval and diplomatic codes (the Purple Codes) years before. When the speculation that Midway was confirmed as the target (the famous water desalination plant ruse) of this large Japanese force, of which some headed north to the Aleutian Islands, an American naval trap northeast of Midway was set. Of course, the rest is history.
Despite initial successes by the Japanese naval force regarding their bombardment of Midway and the destruction of many attacking American carrier and land-based planes, a series of strange and fortuitous events ensued, as the battle took a dramatic and fatal turn against the Japanese fleet. As a result of courage and luck, the United States Navy under Admirals Chester Nimitz, Frank Jack Fletcher, and Raymond A. Spruance were able to defeat this massive, attacking fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy under the command of Admirals Isoroku Yamamoto, Chūichi Nagumo, they inflicted devastating damage on the Japanese fleet that proved irreparable. Military historian John Keegan called it “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare” With their loss of four fleet aircraft carriers, the Japanese were never able to regain the initiative in the Pacific. They would never be able to replace these ships, men or planes for years. With that result, India would never be threatened, the divisive issue of Indian independence was placed on the back burner, and after early June, 1942, the United States would always be on the offensive against the widespread Japanese-controlled territories.
After this spectacular and unexpected victory, the next strategic argument would be where the Allies would strike. The issue of Germany First was settled, as Japanese expansion in the Pacific was halted with the both the naval stalemate (strategic victory) at the Battle of the Coral Sea and the “incredible victory” with the Battle of Midway! President Roosevelt was dynamically opposed to an invasion of France in 1942. Our leading military leaders, including General George C. Marshall, Henry Arnold, and Admiral King were focusing on France, as was Secretary of War Stimson. The British, for sure, were totally against that effort, but were obfuscating the issue by diverting attention to other theaters of operation. In fact, they were not sure of anything, but wanted to defeat the Afrika Korps in Libya.
This, of course, was creating a fissure between FDR and the Joint Chiefs. His idea was to invade French, Vichy-controlled, northwest Africa. Many American military leaders were opposed to helping the British retain their empire at the expense of American blood and treasure. A number of these same people (ranking officers) were using the threat (blackmail) to the British of moving the president away from the Germany First strategy to a focus on the Pacific. The British were incredibly fearful of this happening. But, FDR was much tougher than they realized and adamant about his strategic perspective. His idea was to establish a landing in Vichy French Morocco and North Africa and thus control the West Coast of Africa. He realized immediately, with his encyclopedic knowledge of geography, that the Germans would be prevented from using that part of Africa as a potential launching site (springboard) for a later invasion of South America. In other words, FDR was protecting our Southern Hemispheric flank. FDR also recalled retired Admiral William D. Leahy, who had been his Ambassador to Vichy France, and made him his personal Chief of Staff. Leahy would be his direct, and authoritative liaison to Marshall, King and Arnold. Leahy also reported to FDR that there were less than 200 German personnel in Morocco.
With this information, and FDR’s coterie of diplomatic, vice-counsels (spies) assigned to French North Africa, (Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco) who were known as the 12 Apostles, he knew more about the conditions on the ground (in Vichy-controlled North Africa) then Churchill, General Alan Brooke, the head of the Imperial War Staff, and certainly the American chiefs. He was able to keep this plan secret from the press, his own government, other members of the US military and most importantly, the Axis Powers.
Eventually, all the concerted opposition to the newly renamed Operation Torch would dissipate. The European invasion of France, called at one time, Operation Bolero and Roundup, leading to the eventual Operation Sledgehammer, would be tabled (delayed) to at least 1943. Marshall Joseph Stalin, our eastern ally in this great effort to destroy the Nazis, had been calling for a “Second Front” to divert Nazi forces for almost a year. Understanding the reality of the war and the limited strength that the western Allies possessed, Stalin was delighted with Operation Torch. Of course, FDR was proven completely correct. The invasion of North Africa turned out to be a brilliant strategic move. At almost the same time, the British 8th Army, led by their new commander General Bernard Law Montgomery, successfully broke the German lines in the 2nd Battle of Alamein. The result was that for the first time since September 3rd 1939, the Axis, led by Hitler and the Nazis, were on the defensive. Rommel’s Afrika Korps was on the run and caught between the two pincers: the British surging westward towards Tunisia and the Americans eastward from Morocco.
With regards to WW II Churchill’s strategy was basically no better than Chamberlain’s. Under his watch the British experienced disasters with the navy in Norway, the 8th Army in North Africa and its collapse at Tobruk, the insane and huge defeat and disaster in Singapore, (the worst and most costly British defeat in history), the disaster at Dunkerque, the catastrophic losses of the HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales off Hainan Island, near the Chinese mainland, the abandonment of Greece and Crete, the ill-fated attack at Dieppe, the alienation of the French and the subsequent defection of the French fleet, causing the need for it to be crippled by British naval action along with many others. He was lucky that the Nazis re-directed the Luftwaffe to bomb British cities and not go after their radar early warning stations, their aerodromes, and the British fighter defense. A smartly delivered strategy against these targets would have reduced the British to a position where their air cover became hopeless. One could say that Churchill’s greatest failure was his ego, his idea that he was a military expert, and his ability to choose the right people, for the right task.
In retrospect, as the war would move on to its successful conclusion, Churchill did have many successes aside from American help. Their victory at Taranto that devastated the Italian fleet, the sinking of the Graf Spee, the hunting down of the Bismarck, the destruction of the 10 German destroyers off Norway, his policy supporting Orde Wingate and the Chindits in Burma, his mobilizing massive bombing raids over Germany, the destruction of the French dry docks at Saint Nazaire, and his selection of Montgomery to head the British 8th along with his subsequent victory at El Alemain were strong plusses. But even with the entrance of America into the war, later British strategy with Churchill’s blessing and interference led to the huge loses in Holland with the ill-fated Market-Garden assault on the Dutch bridges. Montgomery, Churchill’s greatest choice for leadership squandered his opportunity to cross the Rhine and was trumped by the American capture of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. That single event of intrepid work by American forces dealt a huge blow to German resistance on the Western front. While Montgomery was accumulating landing craft, the US Army was surging over the Rhine with men and armor, creating an unassailable bridgehead, and trapping German forces on the wrong side of the River.
FDR, on the other hand mobilized the American economy in an unprecedented way, fought an effective two ocean war, selected and appointed excellent overall leadership with his Joint Chiefs lead by Admiral William D. Leahy, who coordinated the activities of Generals Marshall and Arnold along with Admiral King. FDR’s selections, in all of the theaters of his responsibility, of MacArthur, Nimitz, Eisenhower, reflected excellent carefully thought out judgment. Their choices of subordinates that included Bedell-Smith, Clark, Bradley, Patton, Hodges, Simpson, Eaker, Doolittle, Stillwell, Halsey, Spruance, Vandergrift, Smith, Lemay and many others, spelled eventual success. His speeches, and cool leadership gave the people confidence after Pearl Harbor and the loss of the Philippines. FDR’s leadership of the wartime conferences at Argentia Bay, Quebec, Casablanca, Teheran and Yalta were the driving force behind victory and the post-war dominance of the West. Roosevelt knew almost all the top ranking officers of our armed forces, because he had been president for eight years before Pearl Harbor. Therefore, he knew their weaknesses and their strengths and how they could be best utilized. He knew who to fire and who to hire!
The centerpiece of Roosevelt’s strategy, and that of all of the American leadership, of course, was Operation Overlord, the Normandy invasion, which Roosevelt advocated relentlessly despite doubts, arguments and even sabotage by Churchill. The prime minister, aware that the sun was setting on the empire on which the sun never set, suggested almost every other option. He pressed for more Allied focus on Italy, as well as landings in Greece and the Aegean. He was consumed inexplicably with the island of Rhodes. He fixated on the bloody battle of Anzio. Roosevelt batted away one Churchill effort to derail the D-Day invasion after another, single-mindedly determined to seize the beaches of Normandy. In Peter Baker’s words:
Hamilton’s case for Roosevelt is a compelling one. Even in decline, the president had a vision that eluded others, including his closest partner. Yet if the author’s antipathy for Churchill’s strategic miscalculations is buttressed by prodigious research, it nonetheless seems to sweep aside too easily the profound importance of his singular resolve, grit and determination to defeat Hitler — not to mention his clear eyed view of Stalin and the looming Soviet threat that Roosevelt, ever confident of his own powers of persuasion, mistakenly thought he could manage.
To Hamilton, Churchill’s inspiration was no match for Roosevelt’s sagacity, his stirring speeches no substitute for the American’s strategic brilliance. Roosevelt was the architect and engineer who translated Churchill’s grandiloquence into a plan for victory. The Allies did fight on the beaches, as Churchill once memorably vowed, but it fell to Franklin Roosevelt to make sure they were the right beaches.
History has favored Winston Churchill for many reasons, which include his lonely pre-war opposition to the rise of Hitler and the threat of Nazism. He battled against both the appeasers and the pro-fascist elements in Britain. He also stood head and shoulders above his rivals, like Lord Halifax, who wanted to succeed the failed Neville Chamberlain.
He was always given exceptionally high marks as an inspiring and eloquent orator before the war and during it. His ability to lead a beleaguered nation in its darkest hours can never be underrated. With that in mind, he has been awarded high marks for standing alone during the Blitz (German air attacks) and keeping up British morale despite the nightly bombings, the massive destruction and the battlefield reversals. He certainly deserved criticism for his endless micro-managing policy, interference with his generals, reversals in strategy and poor choice in military appointments. He even was very critical of his “star” appointment of General Montgomery. The victor at Alamein. Ironically, Montgomery wasn’t his first choice to command the 8th Army in Egypt.
His first selection was Lt. General Richard Gott, who killed in a plane crash. According to many of the veterans of that campaign, who were familiar with both men, they felt that Gott certainly would have lost the battle for control of Egypt, the Suez Canal and the oilfields of the Middle East. Churchill certainly opposed Operation Torch and wanted American men and material supporting Montgomery, was against Operation Anvil-Dragoon, the August, 1944 invasion of Southern France, in the days after the Normandy Invasion and the breakout into France.
On the other hand, he and the British leadership understood FDR’s problems and political skills. His promises on the mobilization of American’s war industry were exceeded, and he for sure delivered on America being the Arsenal of Democracy. FDR’s strategic vision reached much farther and more accurately than Churchill’s FDR understood the emergence of Russia and China as world powers, and he pressed for the Unconditional Surrender, to avoid the postwar disaster that followed the end of WWI. He also knew that the Allies had to secure the peace, and that was why he worked so hard to create the United Nations. Churchill vision was most often limited to the sustaining of the British Empire.
As Nigel Hamilton commented at the end of his first book, “The Mantle of Command,”
On Armistice Day, 1942, “America’s new journey had just began. It would not be an easy road, but it was a noble challenge Roosevelt was setting. Moreover, they (the people and the military) could take comfort in the fact that the President, who had saved the nation at a time of the worst economic depression it had ever suffered, was now, on a global stage, proving to be perhaps the greatest commander in American History!”
The next book, “Commander–in-Chief brings us into the great battle, in 1943, between FDR and Churchill, as the American contribution to the war effort escalates and fighting gets tougher in theaters, all over the world.
Tehran the most Critical Meeting in the 20th century! FDR at the Top of his Game!
“War and Peace” Volume 3
Franklin D. Roosevelt finally gets the meeting he wants with Churchill and Stalin- the Big Three. He starts his incredible secret journey aboard the USS Iowa, our newest “super” battleship, captained by his former naval aid, Captain John McCrea. It will be a dangerous voyage in the South Atlantic crossing to Africa with all the members of the president’s top military staff, including General Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff, Admiral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations, his own head of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral William Leahy, General Henry Arnold, head of the US Army Air Force and many others.
Of course, as it has been noted numerous times, the voyage was dangerous. There was always the threat regarding secrecy and security, regarding news leaks, the threat of land-based German long-range planes, new U-Boats which much more sophisticated weaponry, which had been updated by greater underwater staying power (the snorkel) and their highly secret new “smart” torpedoes.
But, what really threatened the Iowa on this crossing was the inadvertent discharge of a torpedo, during a preparedness exercise from the USS Porter which was directed right at the Iowa and its precious cargo, the President of the United States, and the Joint Chiefs. By remarkable evasive action by the Captain McRae, luck, and every small gun trained and firing on the wayward projectile, the tragedy was averted as it was exploded either by the choppy waves or by gunfire. Amazingly, with almost a general panic aboard the ship, FDR, never lost his “cool” insisted he be brought up to the deck to observe the action, and never seemed to be worried or as concerned as everyone else who was involved.
But, in reality what was really happening, was that after three days at sea, and in the “wake” of the missed torpedo, there was still the strategic crisis over the British attempt to insist on a long-delay of the proposed cross-channel (Overload) invasion of Northern France. It seemed it was always about Churchill’s desire to redress his WWI failure at Gallipoli, which was an immense military disaster and cost him his job as First Lord of the Admiralty and his reputation for almost two decades, aside from his well-known failures as battlefield commander on the Western Front.
So, where was the world in November of 1943? FDR, finally, after one year of trying, was able to establish the critical meeting with Stalin, who before would never leave the Soviet Union for a number of reasons. He claimed, as the chief of their armed forces, he could never leave his direct command, he was extremely paranoid, possibly about assassination, had severe fear of flying any distance, among other personal excuses directed back to the president. The Allies were incredibly fearful about a separate German-Soviet peace. The British wanted to preserve their overseas empire, with American assistance (which was opposed by a vast majority of the American public and its leadership.) They certainly wanted to maintain their Mediterranean hegemony from Gibraltar in the West to Crete and Palestine in the East, Egypt in North Africa, with the Suez Canal, with its critical passageway to India, and their political influence over Greece and the Aegean.
As the Iowa heads for Oran, in North Africa, Churchill and his staff are heading from Britain on the HMS Renown, a World War I dreadnaught, to a similar port of call at Malta. The Prime Minister began to recognize the criticality and enormity of this undertaking, with regards to a complete recasting of the Allied war strategy, barely six months before the agreed launch date of Overlord. What a dilemma for Churchill and the whole Allied effort – months earlier, before the Quebec Conference (Quadrant) – the British were talking about the invasion of Northern France sometime in 1945 or even 1946! Even though the date for the invasion was tentatively established for May 1, 1944, in Churchill’s mind it was just a “scrap of paper.” He saw, if possible, the task of the Soviets would be of defeating the Nazis, without much contribution of the Western Allies. Where that would leave Europe seems to be an unanswerable question. But, of course, Churchill imagined the Allies would go north from the Aegean into Eastern Europe and defeat the Germans in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, before the Soviets even reached Poland. The realism of this incredible, fantasied, gambit was never in American consideration. Again, in Churchill’s mind, right up to Tehran, the agreement was nothing more than a piece of “lawyer’s paper” – as he put it, “a contract which Britain could simply decline to observe, or keep asking to defer, each moment, until the bill came due!” This was the existential problem that FDR and the American Joint Chiefs faced as their ship advanced on North Africa. But, in fact, they had no real clue to Churchill’s obstructionism, as they had no idea what was on his mind.
The question that FDR put to his advisors on November 15, 1943, – “aware that at the end of the day, there was no way to enforce the Quebec Agreement, if Churchill resigned (as he threatened to do before) or withdrew the British commitment to the military partnership for the May, of 1944 cross channel endeavor, the war against Hitler would be effectively lost. Of course, if FDR accepted Churchill’s “option” and the Soviets felt betrayed about a “real” Second Front, and worked out a separate peace, an entente-cordial, with Hitler, as opposed to more countless casualties, the US military was between a rock and a hard place – with no obvious way of breaking the deadlock. This is what would face FDR and his advisors as they approached the landing at Oran and his flights to Cairo and Tehran. On the HMS Renown, Churchill bounced his theories, disappointments, and angst off the very receptive Harold MacMillan (a future British Prime Minister), who was serving as the British political advisor to General Eisenhower. Churchill complained that no one listened to him and that his “military genius” was restrained by the Americans, almost like a “man whose hands were tied behind his back” Of course, as many historians have reported, his own Imperial War Staff, led by General (later Field Marshall) Alan Brooke, had grave doubts about his judgment and were constantly offended, and put out with his interference on matters of tactics. His judgement regarding commanders was also questionable. In fact, up to this time he had made numerous mistakes in personnel, dividing his forces, and not judging the strength of the enemy opposition in| the Far East, Burma and the Indian border, the Indian Ocean, ate Aegean, Dieppe, etc.
Macmillan was a perfect sounding board for Churchill, he was classically educated, a bon vivant and an English social and intellectual snob, with his Eton and Oxford education. He by nature looked down his nose at the Americans and had seemingly forgotten the many failures the British had endured, and “began to feel not gratitude for the way the US had helped save Britain in 1942 for mounting Torch (the invasion of North Africa),” but instead a discernible resentment at the growing American economy and military might in the Mediterranean. Of course, the British considered the Mediterranean as their sea, in the words of Mussolini and the old Roman adage, “Mere Nostrum!” thus as the HMS Renown safely reached Malta, where Churchill had a meeting with Lt. General Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, one could readily see that he had no real clue what he wanted to do, and General Alan Brooke, the head of the Imperial War Staff disagreed with almost all of his decisions, his blurred vision, and his mixed messages to Anthony Eden, his Foreign Minister, to Marshall Stalin and to the Americans.
Churchill was, on the surface, quite confidant in the upcoming preliminary meeting in Cairo – codenamed Sextant, which would include Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. Roosevelt, after making a dangerous and heroic trip across the Atlantic, was able to land safely in Dakar and eventually fly to Tunis and then to Cairo. He met with Chiang Kai-Shek, made commitments to help China so they could fight the Japanese who controlled the whole East coast of China, cooperate with our American general Joseph Stillwell, and have the huge Chinese army trained and better armed. The British objected to this meeting. They assumed when the Japanese were beaten, the French would go right back to ruling their Indochinese colonies. Churchill never wanted the precedent of de-colonization to start with removal of the decadent French, who after 100 years of rule, left that forlorn part of the world, worse than when they occupied it. He saw the eventual loss of Hong Kong, Malaya, and India as a disaster that he would do all to prevent.
This meeting would eventually accomplish very little, Churchill was very bitter at the scheduling of the meeting with the Chinese leader, because he felt China had nothing to do with the defeat of Germany. In fact, all the promises that FDR and Churchill grudgingly had made with him would eventually be reversed by Churchill. This duplicity promulgated by the British would later reverberate with disastrous consequences. With the ultimate failure of Sextant and Churchill’s continual disappointment with the American position on Overlord, the scene was set for Tehran and the meeting with Stain.
Here in Tehran, the capital Iran, the most important conference of the 2nd World War, certainly of the first half of the 20th Century and possibly, the whole 20th Century, until our time, the fate of Europe and the world was decided by the Big Three, led by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who initiated this meeting who led each session, Marshal Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union and commander of their armies and Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain.
In this meeting, Churchill, who objected to American command of Europe, though we were supplying two thirds to three quarters of the men and material to the Western cause and supporting the Soviet armies with 10 to 15% of their trucks, planes, ammunition, guns, and equipment through Lend Lease through Iran and the deadly North sea route to Murmansk and Archangel, had to be convinced that the correct path to victory over Nazi Germany was through Northern France.
Churchill seemed to have no interest in that effort, may have actually believed that the Soviets and the Nazis would bleed each other to death, wanted to preserve the British Empire at all costs, and continued to have operations in the Aegean Sea, the Dodecanese Islands, Rhodes, and points east to actuate an invasion of the Dardanelles, and entice Turkey into the war on the Allied side. This was almost dissolution, bordering on irrational. He envisioned, again, a surge northward to liberate Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria, from whom, I ask? They were allies of Germany! They needed liberation? What about the western democracies under the thumb of four years of Nazi occupation, featuring; looting, slave labor, tyranny and murder?
What was his purpose to fight in the mountainous terrain of Yugoslavia, and divert attention away from Overlord, the invasion of France? He even opposed the invasion of Southern France, planned under the code name Anvil. Later, when he was convinced of the need for the invasion of Southern France, at Marseilles, he had the code name changed to Anvil-Dragoon, because he was “dragooned” into the controversial, but most successful operation, which would move the American armies up through the Rhone River Valley, under the overall command of General Jacob Devers and Admiral Kent Hewitt. The main ground force for the operation was the US Seventh Army commanded by Alexander Patch. The US Army’s VI Corps, led by Major General Lucian Truscott, would carry out the initial landing and be followed by the French Army B under command of Général Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. Accompanying the operation was a fully mobilized separate detachment called “Task Force Butler”, consisting of the bulk of the Allied tanks, tank destroyers, and mechanized infantry. Despite Churchill’s fears, opposition and fruitless demands, it overwhelmed the light German forces in what had been Vichy France, and was able to liberate most of Southern France and created a southern pincer to the eventual Normandy Invasion and breakout. This was another case of superior American strategy over Churchill’s continued expression of his self-importance regarding overall theories of the conduct of the war.
With regards to more of Churchill’s mistakes and his obsession with the Balkans, eventually, the Germans were driven out of Yugoslavia, with the help of the Allies, Tito and his Red-Star hatted Communists. .They were triumphant as the (pro-American) Chetniks were defeated and their leader, Draz Mihailovich became a hunted man, with a price on his head. The Allies soon recognized their colossal error, with regards to Tito, but the main burden for that failed policy fell into the laps of the British and Churchill later admitted it was his greatest mistake. Frankly, he made many mistakes. The Soviets through their spies in Britain, later known as the Cambridge Five, were able to convince the Brits that the Chetniks were really pro- German and that Tito and his partisans were the force to completely support. After the war, eventually after 18 months or so, on the run, Draza Mihailovich was captured. He had many opportunities to escape, but seemed to be resigned to his fate. Maybe he felt that as long as he remained at-large in Yugoslavia, there was resistance to the Communists. He was captured, indicted and tried for treason.
When news of his show trial reached the West, the former OSS men, who had a great deal of experience with him and the American air crews, who were rescued, fed and protected by the Chetniks and General Mihailovich, protested, almost in vain, to the American government. But, that was a hopeless journey and Mihailovich was convicted and in July, of 1946, not long after his conviction he was executed by a firing squad.
Churchill desperately wanted to concentrate on capturing Rome and to surge northward with an idea that he could circumvent the Alps to invade Germany, which no one in history was ever to accomplish. Did he care about the hundreds of thousands of allied causalities in the mountainous territory of Italy? Were his arguments ever sincere? That is the question. Of course, he wrote the history (a six volume set, winning himself the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953) and said he “would bury his mistakes,’ which were legion! In fact, his history was forced by law to omit the reality of ULTRA, the breaking of the German Code, and his omissions of critical issues were historically insincere and frankly terribly inaccurate.
Roosevelt received tremendous support from Marshall Stalin, who knew more of military strategy than Churchill, pointed out all the pitfalls regarding Turkey, the Aegean and the so-called worthlessness of attacking the so-called “soft under belly” of the Axis. For sure Italy was no “soft belly!” Why was the attack and occupation of Rhodes so important to Churchill? Where would that lead? In fact, the British were just thrown out of that region by strong German defenses and counter attacks. He seemed to have forgotten the British failures in Crete, Greece including 1940 and the later ones in 1943, in the Peloponnese, the Dodecanese region, along with the islands of Leros and Rhodes. What was Churchill’s ideas and was he even sincere about invading France even in 1945 or 1946?
Roosevelt was insisting on the American command of the cross channel invasion of France. He intimated that it would be the well-respected General George C, Marshall, the current US Chief of Staff. This was approved by Stalin and Churchill, but the British Prime Minister, who wanted British command of all of Europe, insisted that if the Americans commanded the Overlord Operation the British would command the Mediterranean. Of course, this would be his chance to divert forces back to the Aegean. This compromise, would lead to the backtracking of aid to China, a cancelling of Operation Buccaneer, the invasion of Andaman Islands, which caused the Chinese leadership to lose faith in American and allied support. The Nationalist Chinese thus focused their forces on the communists and Mao Zedong, who controlled northwest China. This turned out to be long-term disaster for China, Indochina, and the immediate postwar future of Southern Asia.
As Eisenhower was later to recall, “It was difficult to escape the feeling that Mr. Churchill’s views were colored” by considerations “outside the scope of the immediate military problem,”: that the Prime Minister was all too, interested in personal objectives, and happy to disregard the military challenges involved, when it suited him. It seemed to Eisenhower that Churchill preferred to focus on British political needs, even personal prizes of low-hanging “fruits” dangling before him in his capacious mind. When “fired up about a strategic project, logistics (maybe reality) did not exist for him. Eisenhower reflected, about Churchill that “Combat troops just floated forward and around obstacles – nothing was difficult.”
In the end, it was not Marshall who would command SHAEF and Overlord. It would be Eisenhower. The conventional wisdom was that Marshall would go to London and Eisenhower to the Pentagon as the new Chief of Staff. Of course, for many reasons this was never going to happen. FDR never really wanted Marshall out of Washington and the United States. When he asked Marshall which he wanted, Chief of Staff or the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force.
Marshall answered that he would serve the President in any role, with cheerful enthusiasm that the President wished. This was typical of Marshal and FDR saw that he would not make a “personal” commitment!” No one knows what was on FDR’s mind about Marshall’s future role. But, this enabled him to choose Eisenhower. He finessed Britain with the specter of Marshall as the Supreme Commander and he finally choose the most experienced officer in the field, General Eisenhower, who commanded American troops in North Africa and Sicily!
For sure, FDR was at the top of his game, he traveled a perilous 17,000 mile journey, finally met with Stalin, made sure that the Soviets were committed to defeating Germany, and got the recalcitrant Churchill on board for the invasion of Europe, sometime between May and June of 1944. It was a remarkable triumph, aside the unfortunate consequences regarding the British scuttling of the China promises of assistance to Chiang Kai-Shek, and further foolish British adventurism in the East Mediterranean.
Commander in Chief” Nigel Hamilton- volume 2 of “FDR at War”
As I finished book two, “Commander in Chief,” of Nigel Hamilton’s brilliant trilogy, “FDR at War,” I was moved my Winston Churchill’s daughter Mary and her words.
She found the president “magnetic and full of charm,” as she wrote in her diary: “his sweetness to me is something I shall always remember- but he is a raconteur,” she noted. At dinner, the 20 year old wrote, “Mummy is on his right & and several nights no other guests being there I’ve been on his left. I am devoted to him and admire him tremendously- he seems to have fearless courage & and the art of selecting the warmest part of the iron.”
Still so young, Mary thought both her father and the president indestructible. She did, however find herself intrigued, as was Daisy Suckley, (FDR’s cousin) by the contrast between their two characters. “To me,” she noted her diary, Roosevelt, “seems at once generous– idealistic-cynical-warm hearted & worldly-wise-naïve-courageous-tough-thoughtful-charming-tedious-vain-sophisticated- civilized all these and more for ‘by their works ye shall know them’- ‘And what a stout hearted champion he has been for the unfortunate & the battling- and what a monument he will always have in the minds of men. And yet while I admire him intensely and could not but be devoted to him after his great personal kindness to me – yet I must confess (he) makes me laugh & he rather bores me.” The truth was, the President had other things on his mind, despite doing his best to keep the Churchill’s and their daughter entertained.
Of course, young Mary Churchill was not different from the countless people who met Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He has been described countless ways. His great biographer, James McGregor Burns, characterized him as, in the words of Machiavelli, “The Lion and the Fox!” He was a complex man, who the press called the Sphinx. He kept his own counsel, had few, if any friends, after he contracted polio, as he devoted himself to his recovery. Once Louis Howe died in the spring of 1936 and his devoted private secretary, Missy LeHand had a stroke in 1941, no one was really left from his earliest inner circle, political days. He was an incredibly discreet and private man, who, in the last 25 years of his remarkable life, knew many people, met countless others, but few really knew him personally. His life, given in the service of his country and the world, was heroic, self-sacrificing, and unprecedented. In the 74 years since his passing, no one has been able to fill his Seven League boots.
After Tehran: Rome, D-Day, the Pacific, and the Struggle Between FDR and Churchill
“FDR at War,” the Final Volume, “War and Peace” by Nigel Hamilton
The political and strategic turning point of World War II came at the Tehran Conference, where the critical direction of the war in Europe was determined. Europe was always the critical battlefield involving all major combatants of the Old World and their descendants from the Americas. In the Pacific, the burden of the war was carried almost universally by the American forces, Army, Navy and Marines by the joint command of General Douglas MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific Sector and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz in the South East and Central Pacific. Nimitz was based in Hawaii and MacArthur in Australia. Their personalities, styles and philosophies of war, regrading strategy and tactics, couldn’t have been much different. But, in their own ways, with their own staffs, they achieved remarkable goals.
Thus, after this most important meeting between the Big Three, which determined the strategy for the next critical phase of the war, it was up to the Allied armies to deliver tactically the success they needed to actuate this strategy. The decision for a cross-channel invasion, establishing the critical Second Front was what was determined, and the cooperation of the Soviets was clearly established. Sometime in the spring of 1944, depending on the weather and the availability of the most essential element of an invasion, the landing craft, the invasion would strike somewhere in Northern France. In coordination with that happening, the Soviets would launch a massive counter offensive against the German Wehrmacht, which was still occupying a huge swath of the European portion of the Soviet Union.
But, as a consequence of this agreement, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who had commanded American forces in both North Africa, Sicily and the Mediterranean was transferred to London to organize the massive invasion, known as Overlord. Since the British could not achieve their desire regarding their own singular command over all of the European Theater from Britain to Greece, they were forced to concede to American control of the upcoming D-Day invasion Therefore, they demanded, and received, control over the Mediterranean Theater, which seemed to be always in their best colonial interests. No one should ever forget the logistical needs of this great effort. Aside from the build-up of men, artillery, armor, supplies, food, and ancillary equipment, without the critical landing craft, no invasion could succeed. Thus, there was always one sector competing with another for these vital ships (LSTs, LCIs and LCMs, among many designs and iterations).
Churchill, in the continued wake of his disappointments at Tehran, continued to fester over the thwarting of his desires to attack up and through the Aegean area all the way to the Dardanelles. He never seemed to come to the realization that these adventures were to never happen, no less succeed. In the meantime, the campaign in Italy had slowed down dramatically, the difficult terrain benefitted the defending German army, and the casualties were mounting at an alarming rate. The American command, and especially, FDR never saw the conquest of Italy as a strategic lynch pin for success. They were happy to have German divisions diverted from the Eastern Front with the Soviets and, thus have their manpower and supplies drained. For sure, the liberation of Rome was not a strategic objective, needed at all costs. Almost immediately, as Eisenhower relinquished command of the Mediterranean sector to the British, Churchill pushed for another invasion, up the boot of Italy at Anzio.
FDR, who was stricken with the flu, and as a result was being diagnosed with extreme hypertension and heart disease, was in no position of forcefully opposing this action. Anzio turned out to be a complete disaster. Even though it was a British created and directed operation, it was manned almost completely by American troops, who took the brunt of the fighting and casualties. Eventually, after a very difficult period, success was achieved under the heroic leadership of the controversial 5th Army Commander, the young General Mark Clark. The disaster of this campaign has been discussed and debated for decades. But, eventually, on the eve of D-Day, Rome was finally liberated. Many accused Clark of taking the Eternal City as a matter of glory and at the expense of other objectives, but in fact, when advanced units of the American Armed forces, including the war correspondent Ernest Hemingway drove into the outskirts of Rome, they found it almost abandoned by the German Army. In reality, those accusations are political and questionable. Italy was never a priority of the United States planners, but it was certainly more important than securing British interests in the Eastern sector of the Mediterranean. The eastern Mediterranean was far beyond effective allied naval and air support. Their abilities to adequately supply such actions, in the face of German land-based air support was tenuous at best. The Americans want no ancillary diversions from their main goal, the invasion of France. The fall of Rome was an important symbol, but meaningless to both the Germans and the Allies. The city had no strategic importance.
Once again, Churchill’s interference with the goals of Tehran proved costly to allied efforts with regards to blood and treasure. Eventually, with the August invasion of Marseilles, in the Anvil-Dragoon Operation Churchill was proven quite incorrect. He, even in one of his more lucid moments, he admitted it was his greatest mistakes. Unfortunately, throughout the war, there were many, “greatest mistakes” from Norway, to Singapore, to Tobruk, to Anzio, and his operation to the southern invasion of France. The most remarkable consequence of his actions was that General Brooke, chief of the Imperial Army and his staff didn’t resign en mass regarding Churchill’s interference, inconsistencies, casting of blame, and ranting diatribes, In fact, after the war all of their diaries supported their concerns about Churchill’s stability.
Unfortunately, after Tehran and the remarkable effort of FDR, his health did deteriorate significantly. It started with the flu, which many were afflicted with in the fall and the winter of 1943. A physical malaise set in and alarm bells went off with FDR’s daughter Anna, his cousin and confidante, Daisy Suckley, and others. His doctor, Rear Admiral Ross McIntire, was literally forced to bring in outside consultation. The young Dr. Howard Bruenn, a cardiologist discovered, along with the president’s traditional high blood pressure, advanced heart disease and all of its ancillary problems. With alarm bells ringing loudly, eventually specialists, including, the eminent Doctor James Paullin, former head of the AMA and Dr. Frank Lahey of the Lahey Clinic, were brought in to assist with the diagnosis. He went up to Hyde Park for rest and recovery, but until all three of them could agree on a plan to deal with his severe health threat, FDR’s was in mortal danger. Finally, they agreed with Dr. Bruenn’s assessment, and he was allowed to administer digitalis, which then was the only treatment of an enlarged heart. Though risky, it probably saved his life.
Even Churchill was not immune to the stress and ravages of age and his consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. After Tehran, Churchill had collapsed in Tunis and reports had surfaced that he had died. Of course, the reports were unfounded, but he was seriously ill. But, with that reality in mind, many were speculating whether he could continue to serve as Prime Minister. Churchill had suffered other health setbacks, including mild heart attacks and bout with the flu and pneumonia, including in the days after his late December, 1941, visit to the White House. In the midst of FDR’s latest health crisis, Churchill rapidly recovered from pneumonia and atrial fibrillation.
As American command of the Mediterranean was turned over to the British, the pressure for the Anzio Operation was forcibly promoted by Churchill. As mentioned earlier, this action was supposed to relieve pressure on General Mark Clark’s US 5th Army, which was bottled up south of the monastery of Monte Casino, while British forces were also bogged down in the mountainous western part of Italy.
With all this happening, as FDR was recovering at Hyde Park, Churchill again was anxious for another Big Two summit. FDR wanted no part of another meeting and would not countenance Churchill’s next moronic plea for more landing craft to be deprived from the Overlord buildup. There would be no change in the American resolve to meet the agreed deadline of the cross- channel invasion in the late spring of 1944.
Of course, D-Day would eventually commence on June 6, 1944, over one month from the proposed May 1st objective. Despite all the existential anxieties and fears by almost all the parties involved, the invasion took place, and despite some bloody setbacks at Omaha Beach, the foothold on French territory was secured. The Germans were completely fooled over the true location of the invasion, as they continued to hold in reserve their powerful armored divisions, with the idea that the main invasion would take place at Pas de Calais. They never were able to mount a successful counter attack, and with the help of incredible Allied air supremacy along with the assistance of both the French resistance and allied OSS and SOE agents, the access to Normandy was sufficiently blunted. This total effort allowed American, British and Canadian forces to consolidate their five beachheads at Omaha, Utah, Sword, Juno and Gold. Even though they had adverse weather, which not only initially limited their ability to pulverize enemy positions further from the beachhead, but wrecked their artificial ports, they eventually slogged through the French hedgerows in the bocage country and would liberate Caen, Cherbourg and St. Lo. Once this done, the western Allies would not be denied nor reversed. As part of the Tehran agreement, the Soviet forces, on June 22nd, initiated a huge counter-attack on German positions. Thus Germany was caught between the teeth of two giant pincers from the east and west and were facing the two-front war they so feared. American armor, uninhibited by the mountainous terrain of Italy and under the command of General George S. Patton and his 3rd Army was unleashed into the flat French plains of southerner Normandy and Brittany and into the Loire Valley.
Therefore, with the political concerns of the 1944 election looming, FDR had to make difficult and wrenching choices, on not only whether to run for a 4th term, but how to manage a campaign when he was diagnosed with advanced heart disease. Of course, it was debatable whether he really understood the criticality of his health or just denied its reality. For sure, he had to decide who would be is running mate in 1944. As popular as he was the old New Dealers and many other liberal Democrats, his Vice-president Henry A. Wallace wasn’t popular with the party regulars who were delegates, the party leadership, a number of the labor leaders, and many of the average voters. Thus, FDR was faced with the dire necessity of not only facing the fact that the party needed him and only him as their standard nearer, and their dissatisfaction with his Vice-President, who at one time, was the most popular and effective member of the Cabinet. FDR had to choose between retaining Wallace, against his party’s wishes, and Jimmy Byrnes, a southerner from South Carolina, who had problems with unions, northern liberals, and because he had been a Catholic and was now a convert to being a Protestant, Justice William O. Douglas, who was too young and too controversial, and Harry S Truman, a little known Senator from Missouri, who had impressed many party leaders while chairing the Truman Committee.
Eventually, when FDR asked his Democratic Chairman Bob Hannegan to check on Truman, get him nominated by the DNC Convention, before there is any more trouble with Wallace and to make sure to “clear it with Sidney!” Of course, Sidney was Sidney Hillman, FDR’s close ally and friend, an active, committed liberal, who was the head of the CIO –Political PAC.
Once FDR was nominated, he was backed by virtually 100% by his party, except the sole vote of Joe Kennedy Jr, the only dissenting vote, in the whole convention. He had never attended the convention and was headed in his armored train, the Ferdinand Magellan, to San Diego for the critical voyage on the USS Baltimore, a heavy, 14,000 ton cruiser to Hawaii and a meeting with his Pacific Commanders. Once FDR and his staff boarded the USS Baltimore for the three day voyage to Hawaii, he began to recover his health and vigor, as he always did with sea voyages. Thus, with his spirits and demeanor buoyed, despite his worn and sallow pallor, he and his staff worked on the challenges of the meeting at Pearl Harbor.
By, all accounts, his welcome in Hawaii was unprecedented, as over 100 ships in the harbor saluted him, as their crews, in their dress whites, lined the desks cheering his arrival. He was eventually greeted by over 20 top command level officers of the Army and Navy. It was a remarkable event. The only one absent was the imperious MacArthur, whose association with FDR, went back decades with FDR. Of course, MacArthur had arrived earlier, but it was a long flight from Australia, and the president didn’t seem to mind the supposed “slight” from his old associate and sometime adversary. Both men knew that FDR had saved MacArthur’s career after his disaster in the Philippines back in 1942. MacArthur, who had been saved from surrender at Corregidor, had been order to Australia directly by FDR. He always thought that his beleaguered men on Bataan and Corregidor could have been relieved by an American naval force. Of course, that was a fanciful pipe dream, which lingered with MacArthur for the rest of his long life. In truth, FDR was always careful about his true feelings, and showed no obvious pique regarding MacArthur, for he knew him all too well.
The vast Pacific Theater was divided between the commands of the self-absorbed General Douglas MacArthur, whose headquarters was in Australia and had presidential ambitions pushed by a number of members of the Republican Party and Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who was based at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Both men were strong leaders with diametrically opposing styles and personalities. MacArthur’s command was the Southwest Pacific, with his forces made up by members of the US Army, his own Air Force and naval assets, the much smaller 7th Fleet.. His primary focus was New Guinea, and dealing with the Japanese strongholds of Rabaul and Truk Admiral Nimitz, the commander of most of the US Navy’s assets, including its fleet carriers, battleships, cruisers, destroyers and submarines, also was the tactical commander of all of the US Marine assets, which were part of the Navy.
This meeting would determine the future strategies to be employed in the Pacific Theater and the prosecution of the War against Japan. The included MacArthur’s concept of invading the three large islands of the Philippines; Mindanao, Leyte and Luzon and the navy’s idea of striking first at Formosa, bypassing the Philippines and eventually attacking the Bonin Island and eventually Iwo Jima as a stepping stone to Japan. Eventually, with FDR chairing the meeting and without an over-abundance of staff, (MacArthur had little with him), both commanders made their presentations regarding their strategies. FDR, listened to both with an open mind, had no preconceived notions and eventually with consultation with Admiral Leahy, his Chief of Staff, he made the final decision reaching compromises on both the Philippines, bypassing Formosa, and the plans to move closer to the Japanese home islands. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q232u5QnAjc .
It was another great effort by a seriously ill president. Eventually he was back on the USS Baltimore, made his way to the Aleutian Islands to visit American troops and then made his way back to the mainland and the issues and controversies that lay ahead. One of these continuing problems was the dealing with the demands of Churchill, as the late summer moved on into September and a second meeting with Churchill in Quebec.
Before this very successful meeting in the Pacific with the two American commanders, America’s partner in the great European crusade was still causing mischief and controversy in the central Mediterranean. Even as great progress was being made in Northern France, Churchill was offering alternatives to Anvil-Dragoon, the Southern invasion of France, scheduled for August 15th, a bit more than two months after D-Day!
Once more Churchill was proven devastatingly wrong as a strategist or a tactician. As a result of Anvil-Dragoon, Marseilles was overrun quickly and liberated within a week, when General Jacob Dever’s 6th Army moved quickly up the Rhone River Valley to link up with units of Eisenhower’s forces that were sweeping south in a wide arc to encircle German forces in the Falaise Gap.
Therefore, by September of 1944, this meeting had become superfluous and redundant, and there was no way that the ailing President Roosevelt was going to meet Churchill in Scotland or almost anywhere else, except in North America, especially in the midst of the presidential campaign. As the time for the next Quebec Conference approached, both western leaders were seriously ill. On the voyage west to meet with their American colleagues on the Combined Chiefs of Staff committee, at the Chateau de Frontenac, Churchill was quite impossible to argue with. Field Marshall Brooke later recalled, “It was a ghastly time which I carried away the bitterest of memories!” Churchill felt the same about his top two commanders, Brook and Admiral Andrew Cunningham.
Churchill still wanted to reach Vienna from the Adriatic and he was coming to Quebec, with hat in hand, to solely obtain 20 landing ships to carry out an operation against Istria (a peninsular in the Adriatic) to seize Trieste. No matter what the British Staff reacted up against Churchill’s futile protestations, their objections went to “dead and deaf” ears! “Was Churchill then mad,” Brooke wondered or “perhaps ill?”
The next day of the voyage, Churchill’s fever increased and he became increasingly worse. Brooke recorded in his diary. “He knows no details, has only half the picture in his mind, talks absurdities and makes my blood boil to listen to his nonsense!”
According to Nigel Hamilton, Field Marshall Brooke wrote, “I find it hard to remain civil,” and he continued, “and the wonderful thing is that three-quarters of the population of the world imagines that Winston Churchill is one of the strategists of history, a second Marlborough and the other one-quarter have no conception what a public menace he is and has been throughout the war!” Of course, FDR, in the midst of the presidential campaign, was a shadow of his former self, who was trying to end the war without more unnecessary, further bloodshed. He wasn’t looking for more “side shows” or gambits to satiate more imperial desires of Churchill. His objective was to defeat Germany, get the United Nations concept in place, and secure the peace.
Thus, to sum up the Quebec Conference with regards to Churchill’s speech to the gathered fourteen chiefs and their staffs, his objectives regarding Vienna and Singapore were totally dismissed out of hand, as FDR punctured all of his trial balloons. FDR doubted that the Germans or the Japanese were about to fold.
The Japanese were beyond fanatical and suicidal on Saipan and the Germans eventually would retreat behind the wide Rhine River. He also predicted that there would be another huge German offensive in the West. Eventually he was proven right as the German attack in the Ardennes, known historically as the Battle of the Bulge would take place in nine weeks. As for fortress Singapore, FDR for sure didn’t want to attack fortified positions with the high resultant casualties, unless the position had strategic importance. Singapore had no strategic importance and he recommended that it be isolated from the north with an effort in the Malay Peninsula.
He explained that General MacArthur had successfully bypassed the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul and that Singapore could also be isolated and marginalized. Of course, the Prime Minister’s display of casualness in the face of casualties made Brooke groan. It was like he couldn’t care less!
But, FDR had convinced the Joint Chiefs of his sage advice and strategy. Admiral Leahy, the senior member of the Combined Chiefs was delighted, as was Field Marshall Brooke, who was also relieved! He later wrote, “My mind is now much more at rest!” The war was finally being “left to the professionals, who knew that its strategic direction bad been set by the president.”
The most interesting and controversial story that came out of the 2nd Quebec Conference was the Morgenthau Proposal on the post war conversion of Germany from an industrialized-based state to a group of bifurcated agricultural, almost min-states. Of course, by many, this was seen as draconian punishment of the German People. Obviously FDR was of that mind. The first negative reaction was from Secretary of War Stimson who was appalled at this, saw it as a case of Jewish vindictiveness, and thought it flew in the face of the Atlantic Charter’s declaration and goals. FDR, though sicker than it seems he would admit, was for sure affected by reports of German brutality, especially to the Jews and others. At first Churchill was indignant and repulsed by the proposal. Conventionally, excuses were made against the plan under the dubious auspices of Christian charity.
Franklin Roosevelt was a confirmed “German-hater.” He told the NY Times in August 1944, “If I had my way, I would keep Germany on a breadline for 25 years!” He wrote Cordell Hull, America’s Secretary of State, “Every person in Germany should realize that this time Germany is a defeated nation… and that the whole nation has been engaged in a lawless conspiracy against the decency of modern civilization.” It was FDR who advocated, against the wishes of Winston Churchill for the policy of “unconditional surrender” and a tough peace. He said that Germany should be dismembered and their leaders punished. Roosevelt, in truth, never rejected the “Morgenthau Plan” that called for the economic destruction of post-war Germany, and let his friend and the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry M. Morgenthau present and promote the plan. Thus, with its revelation, Secretary of War Stimson took a softer line and complained about its brutality to the President. He found that FDR was unwavering in its support, for the concept of a destroyed industrial state, surviving only on agriculture. Whether the plan was sensible or even w viable, it would later be scrapped by Truman who also accused Morgenthau of Jewish vindictiveness. Both Truman and Stimson agreed that no Jews, especially Morgenthau, should be at any peace conference determining the fate of Germany.
Even with Churchill’s opposition, he had almost immediately learned that Great Britain’s Exchequer (Treasury) was virtually broke. With that in mind, FDR allowed Morgenthau to “sweeten the pot” regarding their effort to have Churchill sign on to the proposal. He made it clear that the US was willing to extend at least $6 billion in Lend-Lease funds to Britain after the war. At this, Churchill did not jump to sign, he leaped. All of sudden, the specter of billions to help Britain, meant that the British may be able to actually retain their hold on their teetering empire.
No matter how it was accomplished, Churchill initialed the Morgenthau Plan for post-war Germany. When the news of the Quebec Conference reached Germany, Propaganda Minister Goebbels claimed, “Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to the Jewish murder plan.” German radio announced that Roosevelt’s “bosom” friend Henry Morgenthau, the “spokesman of world Judaism” was singing the same song as the Jews in the Kremlin,”- dismember Germany, destroy its industry and “exterminate forty-three million Germans.” Interestingly, across the Atlantic, another democratic leader seems to have concurred with the blame-the-Jews theory.
An unpublished article by Winston Churchill, written in 1937 and discovered in the Churchill archives by Cambridge University historian Richard Toye in 2007, claimed that Jews were “partly responsible” for the mistreatment that they suffered. Churchill denounced the “cruel and relentless” persecution of the Jews but then criticized German Jewish refugees in England for their willingness to work for less pay than non-Jewish laborers, which — he claimed — caused antisemitism. Some of Churchill’s earlier statements about Jews and communism indulged in anti-Semitic stereotypes, such as referring to the Russian Bolshevik leadership as “Semitic conspirators” and “Jew Commissars.”
Not long after the breakup of the Quebec Conference, was the failure of the operations to seize the Rhine River Bridges, known as Market-Garden. It was the brainchild of Field Marshall Montgomery, even though it was originally panned by two American generals. The objective was to go north through Holland with airborne units, capturing bridges across the Rhine and bypass the vaunted Siegfried Line. The nexus of this plan seemed to come from various sources regarding the failure to capture French ports from the Germans, attacks by V-2 missiles on London, a problem of supplies, the inability to cross the Rhine River in force, and aggressive German resistance. Montgomery eventually flew to Brussels, where he confronted the Supreme Commander, Dwight Eisenhower, over his reluctance to sign on to this effort, originally called Operation Cornet. Eventually the effort was re-configured according to Montgomery’s design, and by a series of mix-ups, poor coordination, and heavy resistance, the effort failed miserably, and the American and British airborne troops were decimated, and forced to retreat, as the operation turned into a chaotic disaster.
Meanwhile, as bad as FDR felt, he was able to finish the campaign and though it was the closest election in many years, he was able to beat back the aggressive challenges of Governor Tom Dewey of NY, who lost the election. The Republicans campaigned against the New Deal seeking a smaller government and less-regulated economy, as the end of the war seemed in sight. Nonetheless, Roosevelt’s continuing popularity was the main theme of the campaign. To quiet rumors of his poor health, Roosevelt insisted on making a vigorous campaign swing in October and rode in an open car through NYC’s rainy and crowed streets. He finished the campaign with an address at Brooklyn’s Ebbet’s Field. He certainly had rebounded miraculously. But, this like other extreme efforts, took a lot out of his constitution.
A high point of the campaign occurred when Roosevelt, speaking to a meeting of labor union leaders, gave a speech carried on national radio in which he ridiculed Republican claims that his administration was corrupt and wasteful with tax money. He particularly derided a Republican claim that he had sent a US Navy warship to pick up his Scottish Terrier, Fala, in Alaska, noting that “Fala was furious” at such rumors. The speech was met with loud laughter and applause from the labor leaders. In response, Governor Dewey gave a blistering partisan speech in Oklahoma City a few days later on national radio, in which he accused Roosevelt of being “indispensable” to corrupt big-city Democratic organizations and American Communists; he also referred to members of Roosevelt’s cabinet as a “motley crew”. However, American battlefield successes in Europe and the Pacific during the campaign, such as the liberation of Paris in August 1944 and the successful Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines in October 1944, made President Roosevelt unbeatable.
Throughout the campaign, Roosevelt led Dewey in all the polls by varying margins. On Election Day, the Democratic incumbent scored a fairly comfortable victory over his Republican challenger. Roosevelt took 36 states for 432 electoral votes while Dewey won twelve states and 99 electoral votes. In the popular vote, Roosevelt won 25,612,916 (53.4%) votes to Dewey’s 22,017,929 (45.9%).
With the election out of the way, the next big crisis for the Western Allies was the Battle of the Bulge, which followed a massive incursion into the Ardennes Forest by German armored divisions, in their attempt to split the allies and retake the vital port of Antwerp. Eventually, it would fail as the late December weather, which had been incredibly bleak and overcast, had cleared up enough to sufficiently allow Allied airpower to attack all the units of the German army, which had been bottled up at the important crossroad city of Bastogne. Eventually, Bastogne was relieved on the ground by advanced elements of General Patton’s 3rd Army, which had swung northward over a period of 72 hours and relieved the almost surrounded city and its 101st Airborne Division defenders. The battle for Bastogne alone resulted in 3000 American casualties as they faced a German force over five times its size. As for the Battle of the Bulge, it was a last gasp effort by the Germans in the West and it was the largest battle fought in the West.
Total American casualties were over 85,000, with British losses at less than 1,500 and with the German losses, upwards of 100,000. With the collapse of Germany’s last offensive effort in the West, along with the Soviet Union’s penetration into Warsaw, Poland, it became apparent that there needed to be another Big Three Meeting to determine the final “end game” strategy of the European War and to determine what would happen in the war against Japan.
Therefore the critical Big 3 meeting was scheduled for the Crimea. The USS Quincy, a heavy cruiser, and a sister ship to the USS Baltimore, carried FDR on his last overseas odyssey to Yalta. He was accompanied by his daughter Anna, and a small entourage on board, which included his Chief of Staff Admiral Leahy, his Director of War Mobilization, former US Supreme Court Justice James (Jimmy) F. Byrnes, his Press Secretary Steve Early, his political adviser Ed Flynn, from the Bronx, his naval and military aides, his two doctors and three officers from the White House map room.
On January 31, 1945 as they passed into the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar, they celebrated FDR’s 63rd birthday, one day later. On February 2nd they entered into the Grand Harbor at Valletta, Malta and disembarked. All of bomb ravaged Malta was out to greet him along with Ambassador Harriman, Harry Hopkins, his personal assistant, and Anthony Eden. Ed Flynn remarked, “It was quite an emotional moment!” One could just imagine how this small island, which endured 1000 air raids welcomed this great leader of the United Nations and the Western Allies.
After their stay in Malta, he and his intimate team, bordered a newly furbished C-54, the latest, newly equipped version of his plane, the “Sacred Cow.” (an early version of Air Force1). The plane was screened by six fighter planes and escorted to Russia.
Churchill, from his perspective, according to Harry Hopkins, dreaded the conference and despised the location. But, since Churchill had flown to meet personally with Stalin in Moscow, he wasn’t going to be left out of this conference. As damaged as Yalta was treated by the Nazis invaders and looters, who even took out the piping in most of the buildings, including the summer residence of the former Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, the Livadia Palace, it was meticulously restored and rehabilitated by the Russians. Frankly, it was in excellent condition.
In the last few months of his life, FDR struggled to balance the interests of the West, the special relationship with Great Britain, and the criticality of building trust with the Soviet Union and their leader Josef Stalin. He understood the anxiety of the Russians; their fear of the rise of German militarism in the future, and he also knew that the Soviets feared a united Western Alliance, bent on their destruction.
He envisioned a Big Four, comprised of the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the emerging China, which would keep the peace, work for decolonization, and build understanding between competing economic and social systems. He understood the dynamic of nationalism and he also understood clearly that the Soviet Union was in control of Eastern Europe and that they would not easily give up their hard earned, with blood and treasure, buffer. He certainly didn’t believe it was in America’s interest to fight a 3rd World War over Poland’s sovereignty. Despite the opinion of his conservative critics, FDR was quite aware of what he was doing at Yalta. He tried to build confidence in Stalin, by showing him that the West was not in monolithic lockstep. He did annoy Churchill, who couldn’t understand his tactics, and it was basically the British who criticized his health and attentiveness. Almost all the others, did not see FDR as the “weak sister” of the conference. He was for sure the leader of the Big Three and he also understood the reality of “Russian boots on the ground.” During his later address to a Joint Session of Congress he addressed that reality.
Of course, as FDR and many of his aides understood, “the United States had not entered the war to take responsibility for the democratic future of such enemies – which they had effectively become German allies, following Hitler’s declaration of war on America.” There was in reality little that the United States could actually do to save them from communism. On the other hand this did not mean having to abandon the notion of a United Nation Organization. Even with British protests regarding the Russian view on Poland, and their support for the Lublin Poles (Russian backed, government in exile) the British had almost zero cooperation from the London Poles, and they couldn’t help Poland in 1939 and for sure couldn’t help them in 1944 or 1945. Where were these democracies in Eastern Europe? They certainly never had a democratic tradition in Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Albania, Croatia, or Poland! The Baltic States were controlled by Russian and the Soviets before 1917 and had varied periods of independence until 1939 when they were conquered by the Germans. The Finns were aligned with the Germans against the Soviets and Austria was basically a Nazi state. There would not be a satisfactory answer to both Britain’s concerns about the future of a free Poland, along with the lesser concerns of the United States about the same issue. This consequences would have later political consequences for both the Democratic Party in the wake of FDR’s passing in Warm Spring on April 12, 1945, and the British general election, which would oust the ruling Conservative Party coalition and cause the replacement of Churchill as Prime Minister with Labour’s Clement Attlee.
Aside from all the reports of divisions between the Western Allies and concerns about Stalin’s cooperation, the Big Three were able, with the assistance of their staffs, to issue a comprehensive statement, which would eventually reach Hitler’s underground bunker. Hitler, virtually a sick, broken, and delusional prisoner in his Chancellery Bunker, was still railing to all who would listen, that the Allies would soon be divided, fighting amongst each other and that the 3rd Reich’s super weapons would snatch from the jaws of defeat, victory. The Nazi regime’s 2nd most influential voice, Herr Joseph Goebbels, the propaganda minister, also bought into the myth that the Yalta Conference would be an abject failure.
The fact that Russian armies in the East and the Allied armies in the West were, against stiff German resistance, moving inexorably towards Berlin seemed to be irrelevant. Goebbels was about to ask Hitler to make a “clear statement of the war aims,” but that became patently realistic when the details of the Yalta Agreement reached the Bunker.
On February 12, 1945, the statement hit the delusional top Nazis with a large dose of realism. Its declaration, divided into “nine separate sectors and covered not only how the allies proposed to end the war.” It specified the following: specified occupation zones (US, Soviet, British and French), a new world security system (which would be the United Nations), unconditional surrender (declared at Casablanca), total disarmament, destruction of German war-making potential, an Allied Control Commission (for administrating the post war Germany), dissolution of the German High Command, arrest of German war criminals and their prosecution and punishment, along with complete de-nazification.
The final morning of the Yalta Conference Summit, in February of 1945, saw FDR looking at the sunrise over the Crimea. President Roosevelt and his daughter Anna, who was serving as his aide on this historic trip, managed to get in some sight-seeing on the grounds of the Livadia Palace. The final plenary meeting was held in the president’s dining room, and the final communique’s wording was fleshed out.
At 3:45 PM, that afternoon when the final document was completed, FDR, Churchill and Stalin presented it to their foreign ministers, for their polishing and release. They signed three blank pieces of paper which were to be later affixed to the final copy of the conference’s statement. After the meeting FDR bade his farewell to Churchill, and thanked Stalin for his hospitality. Within a few minutes, after gifts were exchanged, FDR was wheeled to a waiting car and he was driven to the coast of the Black Sea. The Yalta Conference was over, and FDR began his journey, and his “the Last Mission” to Egypt and his meeting with the “three kings!” (Haile Selassie, King Farouk of Egypt and Ibn Sa’ud of Saudi Arabia).
As they made their three hour journey, FDR insisted that they drive through the devastated City of Sevastopol, once thought to be the most beautiful port city in Europe, now as the Chicago Tribune called it, “the city of death.” It was completely destroyed by the Nazi siege, and the pre-war population of 150,000, had been reduced to a few thousand. FDR boarded the USS Catoctin for a night’s rest in the captain’s quarters. In the morning he faced another 3.5 hour drive (80 miles) to Saki Airport, where he met Harry Hopkins, Secretary of State Stettinius and his translator Charles Bohlen, along with other members of the American delegation and Foreign Minister Molotov.
The flight was a slow and torturous effort covering 1000 miles and 5.5 hours from the Crimea to Egypt. Because of FDR’s heart condition, the flight could not be above 10,000 feet and the plane had to circumvent Turkey’s high mountain peaks. Eventually the plane landed at Deversoir Field on the shores of the Great Bitter Lake, which is part of the Suez Canal system. Of course, in the last few months of his life, FDR did assure both the Zionists in America of his continued support and the British and the Arabs that he would not unilaterally force a Zionist state on them without their consent. This dualism is not easily answered. In a sense FDR was continuing his balancing act with his British Allies. He understood their deep reliance on both India, with their large Muslim population and their long relationship with the Arabs. Certainly he did want not to threaten their unity with extraneous issues not related to winning the war in both Europe and Japan. He was unaware that the Atomic Bomb would be successfully tested in the coming months, and therefore he looked forward to a long bitter and bloody struggle to subdue and conquer Japan. Again, Roosevelt was also exhausted by his 12,000+ mile trip back and forth to Yalta. The last leg of his voyage on the Quincy was marked by the fact that Harry Hopkins was terribly ill and had to be flown back to the states, and the death of his naval aide, and close friend General Edwin “Pa” Watson. In a sense, according to Ambassador Alexander Kirk, who had been part of the President’s diplomatic party, it was a “Death Ship!’
FDR’s Yalta Address was carried live on the radio and during his later address to a Joint Session of Congress he addressed that reality. There were few who could disagree with his evaluation. His extemporaneous remarks led some among the American Zionists to wonder about his true commitment to a Jewish State. Maybe in reaction to this original misconception, FDR on March 16, 1945, allowed Rabbi Stephen Wise to quote him directly and say: that FDR’s positive position on Zionism, from October of 1944, had not changed. Wise’s private account of this meeting is more sanguine, as he wrote in a note to Chaim Weizmann.
Wise revealed that FDR did something he rarely did, admit, “the one failure of his trip,” FDR confessed, “had been his meeting with Ibn Sa’ud.” Indeed, the president had arranged this meeting, “for the sake of your cause!” He deeply regretted his inability to make an impression on the Saudi ruler. “I have never so completely failed to make an impact upon a man’s mind in as in his case.” FDR feared that Sa’ud would attempt to unify the Arab States in a “holy war” which could easy defeat the small contingent of Jews in Palestine. He then revealed that the issue be brought eventually to the first meeting of the Council of the United Nations.
Franklin D. Roosevelt would never see the opening of the United Nations in San Francisco. As the world knows, he passed away on April 12, 1945, at his small home, the Little White House, in Warm Springs, Georgia. He was both the “Soldier of Freedom,” and as James MacGregor Burns said, “The Lion and the Fox.” He was the creator of the New Deal which halted and reversed the Great Depression. He authored the Four Freedoms and wrote the Atlantic Charter with Winston Churchill. He was the architect of victory for the Western World over the forces of darkness and enslavement. He founded the United Nations. His words and ideas would be incorporated in the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He fought for victory to the end, and gave his life as an average soldier would in battle.
At his death, Winston Churchill said, “In the days of peace he had broadened and stabilized the foundation of American life and union. In war he had raised the strength, might, and glory of the Great Republic to a height never achieved by any nation in history.” To Churchill, as he stated, “for us it remained only to say that in Franklin Roosevelt there died the greatest American friend we have ever known and the greatest champion who ever brought help and comfort from the New World to the Old.”
In speaking of the late President, Churchill said in Parliament to the members of the House of Commons on April 17, 1945, “he died in harness, and we may say in battle harness, like his soldiers, sailors, and airmen, who side by side with ours are carrying on their task to the end, all over the world. What an enviable death was his.”
FDR never anticipated his own death and no matter how much he would have brought Truman into the councils of his own thoughts and strategy, he could not guide Truman’s hand from the grave. Truman, with all of his limitations, turned out to be a strong and resolute chief executive. Of course, the Harriman “Cold Warrior” hardliners won the day, but ironically both he and George Kennan reversed their thinking on reengaging with the Moscow.
In the words of Professor Costigliola, in his book, “Roosevelt’s Los Alliances,” “It was Harriman, who had worked most tirelessly to distort and undo Roosevelt’s vision, who later paid the most poignant testimony to his wartime boss. Harriman later stated, “FDR was basically right in thinking he could make progress by personal relations with Stalin… The Russians were utterly convinced that the change came as result of the shift from Roosevelt to Truman.” Harriman added, “If Roosevelt had lived with full vigor, it’s very hard to say what could have happened because – Roosevelt could lead the world.”
Of course FDR’s death, like Lincoln’s almost exactly eighty years earlier had proven to be a disaster for America. Great leadership is not easy to develop. Truman, though an excellent president, who history has treated quite kindly, could not fill the Seven League boots of his great predecessor.
In the end, neither FDR nor Churchill, made any headway with Sa’ud, who was an obdurate, narrow-minded oligarch, who had no concept of what the future, which was upon him, would mean. FDR, caught between his desire to aid the Zionist cause and to maintain good relations with the oil-rich Arabs, would struggle with this intractable problem right up to his death.
Even though his effort in moving the process along, had failed, it had marked a remarkable alteration in the evolution of American involvement in foreign policy. The United States, from that moment on would now be a player in world events, aside from contributing mightily to the defeat of both the militarism of the Kaiser’s Germany in the First World War and Nazi Germany, in the 2nd. The United States had become a global force, far beyond the New World and the Monroe Doctrine.
One of the great causes of the failed peace was the death of FDR, because he was the only one with the skills and prestige to lead the West and insure the peace. Truman did as best as he could, considering his inexperience and poor advice.
As to the West, its fear of communism obfuscated the crimes of the Fascists, Nazis and Eastern European strongmen, who brutalized Germany, Italy and all the countries east of the Oder-Niese. The dictators of Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania were not democratically inclined and Poland was run by a military junta. FDR was not going to commit the US to go to war over Poland and he had stated that the Russians and Poles had hated each other for centuries and they both had blood on their hands. How correct he was! Poland was the trip wire for war with regards to Britain and France. They had no special allegiance to Poland and their treaties were signed to draw the line with regards to German aggression. As to the Soviet Union, they were making geo-political deals to survive no differently than the West. As to Stalin, he was in a long line of oligarchs who had run Russia forever. The crimes of the Romanov’s, which had lasted 400 years, were not much different then the Bourbons of France and the other royal dynasties that disappeared in Austria and Spain. As Napoleon sagely said, “The victors write the history.” In the same sense, that the Soviets and the Russian people, after hundreds of years of oppression, turned to another system and, for better or worse, supported it.
Roosevelt and Church, their Political and Military Legacies
With regards to Winston Churchill, the political role of the American system is much different then Britain. Churchill never had to really stand for election as leader and was never really trusted with “domestic” responsibilities. He was much more of a “loose cannon” and never really felt comfortable working with others. He was certainly a fabulous talent, but had too many inner doubts to be completely confident with himself. His “black” moods and depression limited his ability to have the confidence to “rule.” He had too many opinions that limited his ability to make political alliances. He was a man of action and not a calculating “planner.” He never understood the need to build organizations of political support. He was basically a talented loner.
His forte was more foreign policy and the Empire. He had cabinet level domestic responsibilities early in his career, but his name and fortune was linked with the navy when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. Of course because Britain was primarily a naval power since the time of Drake, and through Nelson, and had dominated the seas, the post of First Lord of the Admiralty had great cachet.
He was not willing to sublimate himself to the will of others, and never could pose, or participate as a team player. Later on, after the WWII victory, he wasn’t prepared for the 1945 elections that swamped him and his government. His campaign was terrible and he did not have a “clue” what the public was thinking about its needs. On one hand, he was still a captive of the upper classes that dominated British life. He seemed unaware and unconcerned, regarding how the MacDonald-Baldwin-Chamberlain governments ignored the working classes that suffered throughout the Depression.
Of course, British politics were divided between the “plutocrats” and the “aristocrats” and Churchill never seemed to know where he fit. He was not keen on real reform that would have worked to restructure the critically unbalanced British economic and social landscape along with its infrastructure. He never understood the moribund future of colonialism, and his attitude towards India was foolish and archaic. His political philosophy was inconstant and vacillating. Both sides of the British ideological divide constantly mistrusted him. He was not able to dominate either party and was perceived by the public as a political outsider with no place to “hang his hat.” His strategy as First Lord of the Admiralty, in the First World War, was badly criticized after the disaster of Gallipoli. His “snafu” was actuated more by logistical insanity then strategic miscalculation. All in all, it was a costly failure in blood and material, and therefore his career suffered terribly.
With regards to WW II his strategy was basically no better than Chamberlain’s. Under his watch the British experienced disasters with the navy in Norway, the 8th Army in North Africa and its collapse at Tobruk, the insane and huge defeat and disaster in Singapore, (the worst and most costly British defeat in history), the disaster at Dunkerque, the catastrophic losses of the HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales off Hainan Island, near the Chinese mainland, the abandonment of Greece and Crete, the ill-fated attack at Dieppe, the alienation of the French and the subsequent defection of the French fleet, causing the need for it to be crippled by British naval action along with many others. He was lucky that the Nazis re-directed the Luftwaffe to bomb British cities and not go after their radar early warning stations, their aerodromes, and the British fighter defense. A smartly delivered strategy against these targets would have reduced the British to a position where their air cover became hopeless.
Basically, US Lend-Lease, the US Navy and the convoy system, the undeclared US naval war in the North Atlantic against the Nazi submarine wolf packs, and the attacks by Germany on Yugoslavia and Greece, culminating with the postponed late spring, early summer invasion of Russia helped Britain survive. Churchill’s strong vocal leadership rallied Britain and the free world, but without Roosevelt and the power that he formulated by creating the “Arsenal of Democracy,” Britain would have eventually been beaten despite the flawed Hitlerian strategy. If the US had not helped Britain with our fleet, the fifty-destroyer exchange and Lend-Lease for Russia, the Soviets probably would have been neutralized and the further European resistance would have ceased. Greece and Yugoslavia were basically beaten, and the rest of the Eastern Europe, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania were German allies. Turkey was in Germany’s camp and would have remained an associated “player” looking to reclaim their former Ottoman Empire.
Churchill did have many successes aside from American help. Their victory at Taranto that devastated the Italian fleet, the sinking of the Graf Spee, the hunting down of the Bismarck, the destruction of the 10 German destroyers off Norway, his policy supporting Orde Wingate and the Chindits in Burma, his mobilizing massive bombing raids over Germany, the destruction of the French dry docks at Saint Nazaire, and his selection of Montgomery to head the British 8th along with his subsequent victory at El Alemain were strong plusses. But even with the entrance of America into the war, later British strategy with Churchill’s blessing and interference led to the huge loses in Holland with the ill-fated Market-Garden assault on the Dutch bridges. Montgomery, Churchill’s greatest choice for leadership squandered his opportunity to cross the Rhine and was trumped by the American capture of the Ludendorf Bridge at Remagen.
That single event of intrepid work by American forces dealt a huge blow to German resistance on the Western front. While Montgomery was accumulating landing craft, the US Army was surging over the Rhine with men and armor, creating an unassailable bridgehead, and trapping German forces on the wrong side of the River.
FDR, on the other hand mobilized the American economy in an unprecedented way, fought an effective two ocean war, selected and appointed excellent overall leadership with his Joint Chiefs lead by Admiral William D. Leahy, who coordinated the activities of Generals Marshall and Arnold along with Admiral King. FDR’s selections, in all of the theaters of his responsibility, of MacArthur, Nimitz, Eisenhower, reflected excellent carefully thought out judgment. Their choices of subordinates that included Bedell-Smith, Clark, Bradley, Patton, Hodges, Simpson, Eaker, Doolittle, Stillwell, Halsey, Spruance, Vandergrift, Smith, Lemay and many others, spelled eventual success.
FDR also chose Republicans Henry L. Stimson and Frank Knox to head the War and Navy Departments, along with William “Wild Bill” Donovan,” a Republican, who ran against Herbert Lehman for Governor of New York, as his personal envoy, his chief information gatherer, without portfolio, and eventually the head of the OSS, (Office of Strategic Services.) It was this spy and espionage agency which became the forerunner of the CIA.
FDR’s greatest skill was balancing the needs, egos, and innate rivalries of these ambitious, talented men. He also had to balance the political necessities involving the Executive Branch regarding State, the War and Navy Departments, and the needs and desires of Congress. With the leadership of the skilled, non-partisan Marshall and the politically astute Stimson and Knox, American wartime policy was able to balance the different needs expressed by Cordell Hull, the American Secretary of State and FDR’s friend and upstate NY, neighbor, Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who did a masterful job in financing the massive spending required during WWII.
His speeches, and cool leadership gave the people confidence after Pearl Harbor and the loss of the Philippines. FDR’s leadership of the wartime conferences at Argentia Bay, Quebec, Casablanca, Teheran and Yalta were the driving force behind victory and the post-war dominance of the West. His sponsoring of the Bretton Woods Conference had the most lasting effect on the future world’s economies vis-à-vis monetary stability. All in all FDR’s domestic leadership before and during the war were unprecedented. The late President, the architect of victory, won a hard earned election in 1944, with excellent majorities in Congress, even with his health suffering from advance heart disease and arterial sclerosis. He was able to maintain his majorities in Congress all through his tenure in office, and even though the Democrats narrowly lost Congress in 1946, they quickly recovered their majorities until the Eisenhower landslide of 1952. But from 1954 until the 1980’s the FDR-New Deal coalition of Democrats maintained Congressional hegemony.
Aside from this top-notch staff which built the largest army we had ever had, they built the largest navies and air forces the world had ever seen. From total forces that numbered in the hundreds of thousands, these men, with the guidance of FDR created a force able to win victories in the Pacific and put together the incredible multi-service and national forces that successfully invaded Europe and prosecuted the European War from North Africa, to Sicily, to Italy, and then on to Normandy and Marseilles, before it moved on to the Rhine River and into the heart of Nazi Germany.
FDR’s greatest skill was balancing the needs, egos, and innate rivalries of these ambitious, talented men. He also had to balance the political necessities involving the Executive Branch regarding State, the War and Navy Departments, and the needs and desires of Congress. With the leadership of the skilled, non-partisan Marshall and politically astute Stimson and Knox, American wartime policy was able to balance the different needs expressed by Cordell Hull, the American Secretary of State and FDR’s friend and upstate NY, neighbor, Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., who did a masterful job in financing the massive spending required during WWII.
Churchill, as a man, was bold, talented and basically remarkable. He was a brilliant speaker, a marvelous writer, a brave soldier, a reporter, a painter, a magnificent Parliamentarian, a cabinet official, a Prime Minister, and most importantly a beloved wartime leader. He embodied what was great about Britain. But he was a failure as a politician, lacked excellent judgment went it came to strategy and suffered from great insecurities. His terrible childhood and education plagued him with self-doubts, depression and lack of direction.
Churchill spent a lifetime comparing himself to his father Randolph who had a meteoric political career but eventually became a miserable failure. Churchill, like Roosevelt, became much more a product of his mother. Overall he was able to overcome all of those limitations. Churchill was still, at heart, part of the “ruling class” that dominated Britain. He was still part of the Imperialist mindset, and he was still sadly lacking, with regards, to what the average “Brit” needed.
He never built a political base, and when the post-war choices were made he was cast aside with little regret from the British people. His return to office in 1951 was no great success and he was too, too old to be a major factor in re-shaping Britain after years of war and social reform.
FDR was not the writer that Churchill was, but as an orator he was certainly in his league. He was determined and self-confident. His childhood was one of nurtured success and happiness. He was beloved by his adoring parents. He was self-educated to age fourteen and went on to the best schools where he achieved moderate success. In a dissimilar way, FDR’s father, whom he adored and respected, died when he was eighteen while he was a freshman at Harvard.
Unlike Churchill’s father who was much younger, James Roosevelt was intimately interested in his second son. His first son, a product of his earlier marriage to Rebecca Howland, who died, was 29 years older and his contact with him was not well known. But even with his loss, FDR had looked up to his father and respected his judgment and memory. James Roosevelt was not a politician like Randolph Churchill, and with his death FDR was able to transform his need for a psychological mentor to his 5th cousin Theodore Roosevelt.
Unlike Churchill, FDR was the single greatest elected politician in modern history and was able to overcome the devastating physical challenge of Polio. He was a vigorous man who overcame a lifetime of sickness. He had wonderful mentors, Theodore Roosevelt, Al Smith, and Woodrow Wilson. He took something from all of them, and was smart enough to avoid the problems they all experienced.
He shaped his own destiny, built the new Democratic Party, reversed the Depression, rallied the public, instilled great respect from the world at large, inspired great enemies and opposition, took on the Fascists when America wanted no part of that fight, created the United Nations, built the “Arsenal of Democracy” and through his actions, at the Atlantic Conference in Argentia Bay, put forth his vision of the world based on the “Four Freedoms.” His vision is the vision of the modern world; his vision is of one of the world community pulling together for the common good. Not unlike Churchill, who was one of the lone voices protesting against “appeasement,” FDR had withstand an “American First” isolationism that cut across almost all social and political barriers and subgroups. FDR had to use his unequaled mastery of the America political landscape to on one hand re-arm America and on the other hand battle the limitations of our Neutrality Laws and the passion of people like Charles Lindbergh, who were his most vocal critics.
In retrospect Churchill really left no governmental legacy. He really never governed. FDR’s legacy was one of not only unprecedented leadership, but of government innovation, reform and restructuring. Both have great-unequaled places in the history of our world and our time.
*Many of the passages in quotation, before the comparison between FDR and Churchill, are taken directly from the Nigel Hamilton’s words.