Brother Franklin Delano Roosevelt was the longest serving President in the history of the United States. He was born on January 30, 1882 , at Hyde Park New York, the only child of James and Sara Roosevelt. The Roosevelt’s were among New York State’s most prominent patrician families representing “old wealth”, a long history of civic involvement, and politically well connected. When he was five, Franklin met President Grover Cleveland at a White House meeting he attended with his father ( supposedly Cleveland joked with the young Roosevelt about someday becoming president).
As was customary with many wealthy turn of the century families, Roosevelt was educated at home by a series of private tutors. At age 14, he was sent to attend Groton Preparatory School in Groton, Massachusetts: a school known for its headmaster Endicott Peabody who placed strong emphasis on public service. It was while he was at Groton Franklin heard his 5th cousin Theodore Roosevelt speak to the student body. Franklin looked to “TR” as a role model that he wished to emulate. In 1900, FDR entered his freshman year at Harvard University: shortly after, his father died. He became very involved in Harvard’s social and extra curricular activities serving as editor of the college’s newspaper The Harvard Crimson. He earned his B.A. degree in history in three years. He then went on to attend Columbia Law School. At this time he also married his distant cousin Eleanor Roosevelt. Like Franklin, Eleanor had also lost her father, so when the couple was married on St. Patrick’s Day in 1905, she was “given away” by her uncle, President Theodore Roosevelt. Franklin continued at Columbia but took and passed the New York bar exam before completing the last few courses needed for his law degree. He left school and went to work for a law firm in New York City.
Franklin had been a great admirer of “T.R.’s” political rise, and in 1910 stepped in to the political arena when he won a seat in the New York State Senate. The major difference in the distant cousins “political paths” was that Franklin Roosevelt declared himself a Democrat where as Theodore Roosevelt was a Republican. Franklin established a reputation for aggressively promoting legislation that promoted forest conservation, and aided farmers. After being elected to the state senate, he also followed “T.R.’s” path into masonry.
On October 11, 1911, Franklin Roosevelt was initiated as an Entered Apprentice in Holland Lodge No. 8 in New York City. On November 28, 1911, he was raised to Master Mason. His cousin and political role model Teddy Roosevelt had become a mason in 1901. Three of “F.D.R.’s” sons would also become masons: he would attend the raising of all three. Franklin would also become a member of the Scottish Rite (32o), and “The Ancient Arabic Order of the Nobles of the Mystic Shrine” (Shriners).
In 1912, FDR helped get Woodrow Wilson elected to the presidency. Shortly after, he was offered an appointment as assistant Secretary of the Navy, a position his cousin Teddy Roosevelt had held thirteen years earlier. Franklin accepted and would serve in the position for seven years. In 1920 he was nominated as the Democratic Vice Presidential running mate for James Cox. The election that year went to the Republican candidate Warren G. Harding, who was also a freemason. FDR returned to practicing law in New York, but his spirited campaign in the 1920 election left him as one of the Democratic party’s rising stars.
During the summer months, the Roosevelt family frequented their summer home on the Canadian island of Campobello, off the coast New Brunswick. In the summer of 1921 FDR was enjoying the summer with his family at their retreat. On August 10th he spent the day swimming and sailing. He went to bed early complaining of feeling feverish and “achy”. By the next morning, he had a fever of 102o(f) and could not move his legs very well. By August 12th he could not stand. Eleanor sent for a number of doctors, but it was not until August 25th one of them Dr. Robert Lovett finally diagnosed Roosevelt with poliomyelitis (polio). Doctors may have been reluctant to make the diagnosis earlier because Roosevelt was thity-nine, which was a somewhat unusual “old age” to be stricken with the disease.
By all rights this paralyzing disease should have been the end of Roosevelt’s political aspirations, but he was determined to beat the affliction and regain use of his legs. He spent the next three years pursuing rehabilitation methods to improve his disability. In 1924 a friend, George Foster Peabody, told Roosevelt about a young polio victim who had made significant improvement to his mobility after swimming in the warm springs near a resort that Peabody owned in Georgia. In October of 1924 Roosevelt traveled by train to the resort. Amazingly the time he spent in the springs improved his situation. He was able to straighten his legs and stand on his own. His partial recovery received national press coverage and soon after polio victims flocked to the Georgia warm springs. In 1927 FDR purchased the warm springs resort and established the Georgia Warm Springs Foundation (the center was later renamed The Roosevelt Warm Springs Institute for Rehabilitation) . The resort was converted to a polio treatment and research center and became one of the nation’s leading polio centers.
In 1928, feeling he had made sufficient recovery, Roosevelt ran as the Democratic candidate for Governor of New York. His campaign was successful : like the Assistant Secretary of Navy’s position, he occupied a seat once held by his distant cousin Teddy Roosevelt. FDR’s campaign for reelection in 1930 was also successful, but he was now facing the worst economic crisis in America’s history: the “Great Depression”. Even before the depression hit, Roosevelt was making a name for himself as a progressive governor – advocating for tax relief for farmers, and hydro-electric projects for the production of low cost electricity. As the “Great Depression” deepened, Roosevelt became more aggressive in his approach. He called for direct government intervention to deal with the economic crisis. He began relief programs for the unemployed under a new state agency, the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration. He introduced a state conservation program that put 10,000 men to work making improvements and planting trees in New York’s state parks. He pushed for a state social security program for the elderly, and a child welfare program. In March of 1930 he created the Commission on Stabilization of Industry. Made up of representatives of both labor and business, Roosevelt charged the commission with developing a long term-program for promoting industrial growth and preventing unemployment.
As governor, FDR called for a crack-down on government corruption, especially within the city government of New York. He also sent investigators and prosecutors after state and county officials with a history of inefficiency or incompetence. It was not just officials that became the subject of such actions. The state’s prison system, electric rate setting practices, and care of mental patients were all investigated and reforms recommended.
Roosevelt’s actions gained national attention. He was viewed as one of the few government officials anywhere trying to take serious action to improve the crisis. His high profile national recognition secured the nomination for Democratic candidate for President in the election of 1932. During the presidential campaign Roosevelt called for a “New Deal” which was basically taking the progressive agenda he had instituted in New York and applying it on a national scale. As the election approached, incumbent President Herbert Hoover who had advocated a government “hands-off” policy in relation to the economic crisis, began to institute several relief programs which proved to be too little too late. Franklin Delano Roosevelt would take the electoral vote in forty-two of forty-eight states to win the Election of 1932.
As the newly elected President, Roosevelt faced a nation with 13,000,000 (or 25% of the workforce) unemployed. The prairie states were suffering from severe drought and dust storms that devastated agriculture and forced thousands to abandon their farms. One hundred million acres of agricultural land had become wasteland. Eleven thousand of the nation’s 24,000 banks had failed. Wall Street was in chaos and had been since the great market “crash” of 1929.
On March 4, 1933, Roosevelt delivered his first inaugural address from the review stand on the east steps of the Capital building. His campaign speeches had been upbeat, optimistic, and laced with humor – but his inaugural address would be a definite departure from this style. For the nation that heard it from the capitol or over the radio it proved to be very solemn. FDR recognized the horrendous problems facing the nation, but assured the public the situation was not insurmountable with a phrase for which his address would always be remembered: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” He noted that dealing with the crisis would call for an unprecedented expansion of the federal government’s powers (especially the executive branch). He asked for the nation’s support while making it clear the main priority was to get Americans back to work. He worked quickly to get his cabinet appointed. Over the course of his presidency President Roosevelt would appoint 25 cabinet members, 11 of those were freemasons. He also appointed the first woman ever to serve in a U.S. President’s cabinet – Frances Perkins, Secretary of Labor.
Roosevelt began by calling the U.S. Congress into a special session. In the course of three months fifteen major pieces of legislation were passed. The Federal Emergency Relief Administration was established to provide funds to the states to help the unemployed. The Civil Works Administration was established to create short term jobs for workers, it was soon replaced by the Works Progress Administration that put money into the economy for long term public projects that would employ thousands. The Federal Deposit Insurance Commission was established to protect individual bank accounts. The Civilian Conservation Corps was modeled after the program Roosevelt designed as New York Governor to put thousands of younger unemployed men to work in improving public parks and lands. CCC was a national program for men 18-25 years of age: three million men worked for CCC between 1933 and 1942 (the year it was dissolved).
Other legislation was passed including an Emergency Banking Act to deal with the numerous bank failures: a Farm Credit Act to aid farmers: the National Industrial Recovery Act to establish a voluntary alliance of industries, that would follow a set of standard industrial codes, fix prices, wages, and guidelines for working hours NIRA and establish a 3.3 billion dollar public works project: and the Agricultural Adjustment Act to stabilize farm prices.
Roosevelt’s efforts as Governor of New York to promote inexpensive hydro-electric power reached a national scale with passage of the Tennessee Valley Authority. TVA not only provided inexpensive power, but also brought electricity to many regions in the southern states that had never had it ( “electrification” of this region would prove vital to the war effort during World War II).
To build public support for the New Deal, President Roosevelt reached out to the public via radio. By 1930 most American homes had a radio and families typically spent several hours in the evening listening to their favorite radio programs. Roosevelt call his special radio program series “fireside chats”. He broadcast in a relaxed style speaking the same way he would as if he were the listener’s living room and carrying out a conversation with the family. The first “chat” was broadcast on Sunday March 12, 1933 and addressed Roosevelt’s efforts to resolve the banking crisis. The “fireside chats” proved very popular. Thirty of these special radio programs would be produced during FDR’s twelve years as president.
Overall, the New Deal’s programs had mixed results (some were very successful, others not), but it enjoyed wide-spread support from the public. In 1935, however, the New Deal would “hit a wall”. In a case appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Schechter Poulrty Corporation v. the United States, the Justices ruled that Congress had overstepped its bounds and given too much regulatory authority to the executive (President). In effect, the ruling “gutted” most of the New Deal.
Roosevelt immediately launched a “Second New Deal” program. The Wagner Act gave workers collective bargaining rights. The Social Security Act provided unemployment and old age insurance (FDR noted in 1935 that the Social Security Act was the “cornerstone” of his New Deal program). The Banking Act of 1935 strengthened the Federal Reserve System. Yet again, the U.S. Supreme declared parts of these programs and laws as exceeding the powers given the executive by the U.S. Constitution. The justices, in split decisions, ruled against Roosevelt’s programs in seven out of nine major cases involving the National Recovery Act.
Out of frustration Roosevelt proposed enlarging the Supreme Court by six judges (from nine to fifteen), by adding a judge every time an existing justice reached age 70 and did not retire. This could have been accomplished by a simple act of Congress since the constitution left the number of Federal judges and Supreme Court justices to be determined by Congress. The “court packing” issue, as it became known, did not go over well with the public. Congress would not take the proposal to the floor (many older Congressmen including members of Roosevelt’s own party took offense to the “over-the-hill” age implications in the proposition). To a degree, FDR’s public image was damaged by this issue. Ironically, a series of court decisions handed down the next year reversed the earlier rulings on the New Deal (one judge had shifted his position thus placing the majority vote in Roosevelt’s favor). After 1936, the court would never again rule against a recovery program. President Roosevelt, would eventually appoint eight justices to the court (due to retirements). Of the eight, six, Hugo Black, Stanley Foreman Reed, William O. Douglas, James Frances Byrnes, Robert Houghtwood Jackson, Wiley Rutledge, were fellow freemasons. William O. Douglas would become the longest serving Justice in the history of the court (1939-1975).
From 1935 to 1937, the economy was actually improving which led to President Roosevelt being reelected by a landslide (only two states, Vermont and Maine did not go to FDR). The improvement, however, was due mostly to massive government spending on various programs that just could not be sustained. Roosevelt ordered sharp cuts in spending hoping the revitalized private sector could keep the economy moving forward. The plan did not work: the economy went into a sharp decline from 1937 to the spring of 1938. On April 14, 1938, President Roosevelt asked Congress to approve $3.3 billion for PWA and WPA projects to stimulate the economy. The New Deal was helping individuals such as the unemployed, but it was not helping the economy stand on its own two feet.
By 1938, public enthusiasm for the New Deal was waning, but FDR was succeeding in making the principles of the New Deal the platform base for the Democratic Party. It would be events elsewhere in the world that would recharge and send the American economy surging forward.
In 1922, the Italian government had fallen under control of Europe’s first fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini. Mussolini was not viewed as a serious threat by Americans, in fact many viewed his public performances as almost “comical”, but when a fascist party came to power in Germany in 1933 under Adolf Hitler Europe, and to some degree America, became more concerned. Americans, for the most part ,were primarily concerned with “problems at home” and had adopted an “isolationist” thinking when it came to world affairs. Two years before President Roosevelt came to office, Japan invaded Manchuria. Six years later, in 1937, Japanese forces launched an all out invasion of China. In 1935 Mussolini invaded and took Ethiopia.
The worse the world situation became, the deeper the U.S. seemed to retreat into isolation. President Roosevelt, although concerned over the “looming war clouds” forming in Asia and Europe, signed a series of Neutrality Acts aimed at keeping the U.S. out of any potential conflicts.
Germany and Japan both denounced all arms control treaties they had agreed to in the 1920s and early 1930s. Hitler announced Germany would no longer abide by any of the Versailles Treaty restrictions placed upon his country after World War I. No nation, including the United States, seemed willing to challenger these actions.
Despite the public cries for isolation, and the U.S. Government’s efforts to remain neutral, America suffered its first battle casualties on the road to war. On December 12, 1937, a group of Japanese bombers strafed a U.S. Navy gunboat, the USS Panay and several ships owned by Standard Oil operating on the Yangtze River in China. Two members of the Panay crew were killed as was an Italian journalist who was aboard the Panay at the time of the attack. The Panay itself sank.
The Japanese imperial Government immediately stated the “incident” was a mistake, issued an official apology, and paid $2,225,000 dollars in reparations. The statement that the Japanese had made a mistake and did not know it was a U.S. vessel they were attacking did hold credibility with naval authorities. The Panay’s upper deck had been painted with a large American flag to clearly identify it as a U.S. warship. To avoid any other potential attacks, the U.S. Navy ordered its remaining gunboats in China to withdraw to the Philippines. The incident did turn the American public against the Japanese, but not to a point where they were willing to go to war with Japan (there were several public efforts launched to boycott Japanese made goods, but little else).
The incident did convince President Roosevelt that the U.S. Navy needed to be strengthened. In 1934, FDR had signed the Vinson-Trammel Naval Expansion bill, but after 1937 it appeared this would not be enough. Roosevelt convinced the U.S. Congress to pass a second expansion bill in 1938 calling for a twenty percent increase in the size of the U.S. fleet and a naval air arm of no less than 3,000 aircraft.
The magnitude of these xpansion programs stimulated the economy and put more people to work, but at the same the programs caused isolationists to doubt Roosevelt’s sincerity in relation to keeping the U.S. neutral and out of the growing foreign conflicts in Europe and the Pacific. Congressional isolationists even proposed a constitutional amendment (the Ludlow Amendment) calling for a public referendum on any declaration of war. Intervention v. Isolation was shaping up as a primary issue in the election of 1940.
The U.S. also adopted a policy of not accepting refugees who might try to enter the United States due to the deteriorating situation in Europe. In May of 1939, the SS St. Louis, a passenger ship carrying 930 German Jews, fleeing Hitler’s Germany, attempted to dock in Havana, Cuba, to allow the passengers to depart. Cuban authorities refused to allow anyone aboard the St. Louis to leave the vessel. The ship left Cuba seeking to land in a U.S. port. Secretary of State Cordell Hull strongly advised President Roosevelt not to allow the ship to dock in the United States. With Europe on “the edge”, and the U.S. trying to maintain its neutrality, Hull felt allowing the refugees entry into the U.S. may be seen as anything but neutral. It was also feared that allowing the refugees into the U.S. would be a target of criticism the isolationists would use against the administration. The President followed Hull’s advice and refused to allow the St. Louis to enter a U.S. port. Finally, Belgium allowed the St. Louis to dock. Britain, France, and Holland all agreed to take in some of the refugees. In the U.S., FDR found his administration being roundly criticized for turning away the St. Louis, especially after Belgium, France, and Holland were overrun by Germany in 1940 – thus sealing the fate of the refugees who had gone to those countries.
When Hitler occupied what remained of Czechoslovakia in 1939, FDR dropped any pretension of impartiality. He out rightly asked Congress to remove all weapons embargos and allow the U.S. to sell small arms to both Britain and France. The U.S. Congress, however, resisted the President’s request. In April of 1939, President Roosevelt wrote to Hitler and Mussolini requesting they pledge not to invade ten countries he listed in his letter. Hitler answered for both himself and Mussolini, informing Roosevelt he [Roosevelt] “had nothing to fear.” Hitler also presented Roosevelt’s letter to his puppet Reichstag (parliament), reading it in a ridiculing manner.
On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland thus launching Europe into World War II. The U.S. moved to strengthen its neutral position. In his September 3rd fireside chat broadcast, Roosevelt continued to support the United States official position of neutrality, but toward the end of his address he stated, “This nation will remain a neutral nation, but I cannot ask that every American remain neutral in thought as well. Even a neutral has a right to take account of facts. Even a neutral cannot be asked to close his mind or close his conscience.”
Shortly after his September radio address, President Roosevelt again called Congress into session and asked for modifications to the Neutrality Act. He went as far as to say he regretted the law ever being passed, and regretted even more the fact that he had signed it. Reluctantly, Congress gave the President some of what he wanted. The European allies were allowed to purchase weapons from the United States , but had to send their ships to transport those weapons across the Atlantic: American commercial shipping continued to be prohibited from carrying war supplies to the allies.
After Hitler’s invasion of Poland, Americans attitudes began to shift. Although the isolationists remained a strong force politically, there was a growing feeling among the public that America should do everything it could for the allies short of going to war. Imperial Japanese Army atrocities in China, such as “the rape of Nanking” , were stirring strong anti-Japanese sentiments in America, but few believed the U.S. should or would go to war over the situation in Asia. FDR had to constantly evaluate where American sentiments sat, and “proceed with caution” when it came to promoting support for the allies.
Although France and England declared war on Germany within foty-eight hours of Poland being invaded, little happened after Poland fell on September 30th. The remainder of 1939 became known as the “phony war”, due to the lack of any significant military actions or campaigns. President Roosevelt, however, did order the U.S. Navy to begin “neutrality patrols” from the American coastline to the mid-Atlantic. His objective was to discourage German submarines and surface raiders from operating near the American east coast. By keeping the area “clear” the U.S. was also giving indirect protection to ships carrying war supplies to England.
The relative quiet of the “phony war” was shattered in the spring of 1940. On April 9th German troops swept into Denmark unopposed. Simultaneously, German air, naval, and land forces struck the Norwegian coast. On May 10th the German Luftwaffe (air force) and army Panzer (tank) units struck Holland and Belgium. On May 12, 1940, German Infantry forces crossed the Muese River and began the invasion of France. German armored forces would push the French and British armies sent to stop them back to the French coast. From May 26th through June 5th Britain evacuated its defeated forces and those of its allies from the port of Dunkirk. On June 10th Mussolini declared war on France. On June 22nd France officially surrendered to Germany.
The rapid fall of Western Europe stunned Americans. Britain remained the only nation standing between Hitler and complete domination of Western Europe. The real possibility of a Nazi controlled Europe had a sobering effect on Congress. President Roosevelt asked for massive increases in defense spending which easily passed through the Congress. The new Prime Minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill, an English freemason, appealed to the U.S. for military supplies. Soon after the U.S. War and Navy Departments released arms stockpiles for shipment to England. The thinking in the United States began to shift from “will we go to war or not” to “when will we go to war.”?
In July of 1940, Hitler began his massive air campaign against England thus beginning the Battle Of Britain. President Roosevelt continued efforts to bolster American defenses while trying to find ways to get further aid to England . The Isolationists continued to present these efforts as evidence of Roosevelt’s intent to draw the U.S. into the conflict. For the isolationists, U.S. intervention in the war became the key issue they hoped would defeat FDR and his unprecedented effort to win a third term. The President’s Republican opponent Wendell Willkie pushed the campaign message that Roosevelt’s reelection would mean the U.S. in World War II within months. At first FDR tried to avoid replying directly to Willkie’s statement , but fearing his opponent was “gaining traction” with the issue, Roosevelt stated on several occasions American “boys” were not going to be sent to fight in foreign wars. The public may have felt they were getting a mixed message from FDR because in September the President signed a bill that instituted the United States first peacetime draft (which had a 12 month limit on obligated service).
The fall of France and Britain’s “hanging-on-by-a-thread” caused many Americans to realize that the isolationists were not facing the hard reality that the war could be at their doorstep if England fell and Hitler’s “Blitzkrieg” continued. To make matters worse, just weeks before the 1940 elections, Germany, Japan, and Italy entered into a military alliance known as the Tripartite Pact. The Democrats pointed to Roosevelt as the man who, had, so far, guided the U.S. through the worsening international situation adopting the campaign slogan “Don’t switch horses in the middle of the stream”. When the votes were counted, President Roosevelt had taken 38 of 48 states, becoming the first United States president ever elected to a third term in office.
With the election behind him, FDR turned to finding ways to better help Great Britain. Winston Churchill informed Roosevelt that Britain was fast running out of cash. Because of legislation passed in the mid-1930’s the President could not seek a direct loan to great Britain, but did find a way to get England the war supplies it badly needed: the Lend Lease. Without cash exchanging hands, Roosevelt arranged for Britain or any other nation seen as vital to U.S. security to receive the war materials it needed. Lend-Lease was central to the President’s 16th fireside chat where he presented America as “the arsenal of democracy”. In his January address to Congress FDR tied England’s security to America’s own stating that the Royal Navy was the only thing standing between Hitler and the coasts of North and South America. It was in this speech Roosevelt outlined the “four freedoms” for which democracies fight –“ freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear”. The speech inspired a Vermont freemason, Norman Rockwell to paint a series of portraits ,called four freedoms, which he offered to the U.S. Government for use as war bond sale posters. The paintings were declined, but the Saturday Evening Post (one of the most popular magazines in the U.S. in the 1940s) asked for the rights to publish Rockwell’s series. When published, the four freedoms paintings became so popular with the American public, that the War Department government realized it had made a mistake, reversed course, and had the War Information Office, secure and publish the prints in a series of posters that remain popular to this day,
Congress debated the Lend-Lease concept for two months. The isolationist faction saw the legislation as their “last stand” and fought hard to defeat it. In March of 1941 Lend-Lease finally became law. The chances of Lend-Lease passing probably improved when Mussolini launched attacks on Greece and North Africa that eventually had to be supported by German troops. The European situation further deteriorated when Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria allied with Germany. The only “bright spot” appeared to be the fact that Hitler’s Luftwaffe was not winning the air war it waged in the skies over England.
The war entered an entirely new phase on June 22, 1941, when Hitler launched “Operation Barbarossa” , the largest land invasion in history, against the Soviet Union. Close to 4,000,000 German troops swept into Russia. Within 48 hours after the invasion started, both President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill offered aide to the Soviet Union, but by early fall, it looked as though Russia might not be able to hold out. Soviet Armies were being devastated by the German armored blitz. As it had in Poland and France the German Luftwaffe caught much of the Soviet Air Force on the ground.
In August of 1941, under very tight security, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill met aboard several warships anchored in Ship Harbour, Newfoundland, at what would become known as the Atlantic Conference. On August 14th the two leaders issue a joint declaration establishing a vision for a post war world. When released, a British newspaper called the agreement “The Atlantic Charter” – the name stuck. The charter called for the destruction of Nazi tyranny (Roosevelt had already discussed a two front war (Atlantic and Pacific) with several generals and admirals all agreeing the defeat of Nazi Germany would be the U.S. number one priority if and when America entered World War II).
America’s support of England and Russia made the United States and President Roosevelt an enemy of the Nazi “Third Reich.” Hitler, however, appeared to want to keep the U.S. out of the war, at least until his European campaigns were won , but events unfolding in the North Atlantic caused many Americans to believe war with Germany was inevitable and not far away.
The U.S. Navy had been actively patrolling the North Atlantic between the U,S. Coast and Iceland for over a year when on April 10, the destroyer U.S.S. Niblack, while aiding a torpedoed Dutch freighter, reported dropping depth charges on a suspected German U-Boat (post-war records showed no German U-Boats operating in the same area at the same time as the Niblack so there have been doubts about the Niblack’s contact). On September 4, 1941, a U.S. Navy destroyer, the U.S.S. Greer was contacted by a British patrol plane and informed that a German U-Boat (submarine) had crash-dived ten miles ahead of the Greer’s course. A little more than half-an-hour later, the destroyer’s soundman picked up the submarine. The Greer began to tail the submarine, letting the British patrol plane know its location. The aircraft, low on fuel, closed in, dropped a spread of depth charges over the U-Boat’s suspected location, and returned to its base. Greer again picked up the U-Boat when a lookout spotted it on the surface maneuvering to dodge the Greer. Unlike the Niblack, the Greer’s crew had visual confirmation they were dealing with a German submarine. The Greer then detected a torpedo headed in the ship’s direction: the Greer became the first U.S. naval vessel fired on by the Germans during World War II. The torpedo missed the Greer by about 100 yards. The American destroyer then charged the U-Boat dropping depth charges as the submarine dove. The destroyer’s lookouts spotted a second torpedo head towards Greer : this one missed by nearly 300 yards. The Greer eventually lost contact with the U-Boat and broke-off its search.
President Roosevelt was outraged when informed of the German attempt to torpedo the Greer. He publicly denounced the attack as an act of piracy and ordered the U.S. Navy to “shoot-on-sight” U-Boats operating in the security zone. A Gallup poll conducted right after the Greer incident showed 62% of Americans approved of the President’s actions: the isolationists were beginning to lose the public. The situation turned deadly when on October 17, 1941, the destroyer USS Kearny was struck by a U-Boat torpedo killing eleven crewmen. The incident occurred while five U.S. destroyers were escorting a convoy near Iceland. A number of U.S. freighters and their crewmen were lost to U-Boat attacks even with convoy coverage. On October 31, the destroyer USS Reuben James was torpedoed while escorting a convoy. The ship was literally blown in half. Other destroyers in the convoy ,not realizing many of the Reuben James crew were in the water, saturated the area with depth charges. Of the 160 man crew on the Reuben James only 45 survived and were rescued. Long after the U.S. entered World War II, navy men would say “The United States entered World War II on December 7, 1941 after Pearl Harbor…..the U.S. Navy entered the war on September 5, 1939.” Americans watched developments intently, convinced an incident was coming in the Atlantic that would launch the U.S. into World War II. That incident would come on the other side of the world barely more than a month after the sinking of the Reuben James.
U.S. relations with Japan were deteriorating rapidly. Since the late 1930’s the U.S. had insisted Japan give up its war in China and withdraw from the country. Japan flatly refused to even discuss China with the U.S. In 1940 President authorized $25 million in military aid to China (oddly enough China also received aid from the Soviet Union and until 1940 from Nazi Germany). The situation became a crisis when Germany forced France to surrender in 1940 and later accept Japanese occupation of French Indochina (today Vietnam).
The U.S. Government was furious over Japan’s occupation of southeast Asia and demanded immediate withdrawal, which the Imperial Japanese government refused. President Roosevelt then ordered a series of actions to pressure Japan to yield to U.S. demands. An embargo was put in placed on trade, scrap metal, aviation fuel and oil, all vital to Japanese war industries. This action cut off 75% of Japans overseas trade and 88% of its Petroleum supply. In addition, the U.S. Pacific Fleet was ordered to move from its home port in California to the main U.S. Naval base in the Territory of Hawaii: Pearl Harbor. Shortly after, President Roosevelt issued an order freezing all Japanese financial assets in the United States.
The Japanese Government, firmly under the control of its military, was faced with a difficult situation. The U.S. had the Japanese nation “pinned-down” economically. The oil embargo would leave its military with an estimated six month inventory if any kind of campaign was launched. There were indications the U.S. would at least partially backdown on the oil embargo if Japanese forces withdrew from Indochina. A full lifting of the U.S. embargo would be tied to Japanese withdrawal from China. If Japan were to refuse U.S. demands it would have to find another source of oil and that could only mean attempting to take the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies. This would mean “running a gauntlet” of British and American strongholds in the Philippines, Hong Kong, and Singapore not to mention the U.S. Pacific fleet. The Japanese military government decided to follow a two-fold strategy – (1) Continue to negotiate with the U.S. while (2) devising a strategy to take-out all the American and British strongholds between Japan and the East Indies and most importantly destroy or cripple the U.S. Pacific fleet before it could act against a Japanese sweep southward. The military planning of such a strategy appeared impossible and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) leadership expressed its doubts about initiating a war with the United States. It was the Imperial Army leadership, however, that controlled key positions in the Japanese Government including the office of Prime Minister and demanded a plan be developed.
The U.S. had one major advantage in dealing with Japan: Army and Navy cryptologists in the U.S. War Office had broken the message encoding system used by the Japanese diplomatic corps. The U.S. “Magic” System, as the decoding method became known, was so highly classified even President Roosevelt was not informed of its existence until five months after it had been gathering information from intercepted Japanese messages. Even with the highest security clearances, “Magic” intercepts were available only on a strict individual “need to know” basis. What apparently was passed on to the President, high ranking military officials, and the state department was the fact the Japanese government seemed to be placing emphasis with its embassy in Washington that any diplomatic solution to the crisis would have to be found by November. Some within the U.S. government interpreted this to mean Japan planned to go to war sometime, somewhere after November of 1941.
The interpretation was not wrong. The Japanese military had assembled its war plan that would be launched in December of 1941. It called for a naval invasion fleet to head south towards the Dutch East Indies. Little if any attempt would be made to hide this movement. The critical part of the plan was, in the strictest secrecy, to dispatch an aircraft carrier task force to attack the U.S. Pacific Fleet at its anchorage in Pearl Harbor and inflict enough damage to render it useless. With the U.S. Pacific fleet out of action, immediate attacks would be launched on the Philippines and Singapore. The scale of this plan was massive, but if successful the Japanese would capture the oil rich Dutch East Indies , take British and American strongholds in the eastern Pacific that could then be used to protect oil transport routes back to Japan, and have rendered enough damage to U.S forces in the Pacific to force the U.S. to negotiate a peace on Japanese terms. Although there was disagreement between the Japanese Army and Navy on a number of points, one thing they did agree on – Japan had to win a quick decisive war against the U.S.: Japan could not win a prolonged conflict.
Based on Magic intercepts, the U.S. War Department began issuing “war warnings to various commands in the Pacific. Since the Japanese military did not share detailed military plans with its foreign ministry, many of the deductions made from decoded information and relayed to U.S. commanders in the Pacific was vague or speculative at best.
By October of 1941 Japan’s military had pressured members of the civilian government who pushed for a peaceful resolution to the Asian crisis with the U.S. to either accept the inevitability of war or leave their post in the Imperial government. On November 20th a special Japanese envoy met with President Roosevelt and Secretary of State Hull to deliver a “final” Japanese peace proposal. The proposal was drafted by military officials tied to the new Japanese Prime Minister General Hideki Tojo. Tojo’s government knew the terms outlined in the proposal would never be accepted by the U.S., and served only as a cover to give the appearance the Japanese were still willing to negotiate. On November 26, Secretary of State Hull, on behalf of President Roosevelt, informed the Japanese no terms could be negotiated until Japan ended its war in China and withdrew from Indochina. What the President, Secretary of State, and the special Japanese envoys did not know was that on this same day, the first step in initiating the Pacific War was already being taken.
By the fall of 1941, U.S. Naval intelligence was closely following Japanese fleet movements (primarily by monitoring radio traffic). By November 25th, they had no doubts a major Japanese task force, including troop transports, was headed south towards the Dutch East Indies. When informed, President Roosevelt was enraged, he knew at that point the Japanese had been using diplomacy to mask their true intentions, thus the pointed U.S. response demanding withdrawal from China and Indochina. In addition, Pacific commanders were notified that “war was imminent.” Many in the War Department a Japanese strike at the East Indies would be the start of the Pacific War. There was one troubling gap, however, facing Naval Intelligence. On November 16th intelligence officers following the movements of the Imperial Navy, lost track of what was known as “The First Air Fleet”. This consisted of six of Japan’s large aircraft carriers. Radio traffic for this group just seemed to stop, and it could not be identified as being in any particular port or location. There was speculation the 1st air fleet was supporting the movement south possibly with the intent of striking American bases in the Philippines. The idea it might strike an American target was correct but not the location. In the pre-dawn hours of November 26th, the same day the U.S. made its demands for Japanese withdrawal, the first air fleet quietly slipped from a remote anchorage in Japan’s northern Kuriles Islands and under strict radio silence began following a course into north the Pacific towards the Hawaiian Islands. Its mission: to deliver a fatal blow to America’s Pacific fleet based at Pearl Harbor. The first air fleet under the command of Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was to monitor radio broadcasts from Japan. If the 1st air fleet received the message “Climb Mount Niitaka”, it was to go ahead with the planned attack on Pearl Harbor (at the point the broadcast was made, the order: was considered irreversible). The message was sent by Admiral Yamamoto to the first air fleet on December 2nd.
The 1st Air Fleet had been preparing for months for the Pearl Harbor under the watchful eye of the Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto. Six aircraft carriers,420 plus aircraft, two battleships, two cruisers, sixteen submarines, and support vessels made up the task force that would strike Pearl Harbor. The task force would take a north Pacific route towards Hawaii away from commercial shipping routes. It would take a sharp turn South as it approached Hawaii and launch its aircraft 280 miles (450 kilometers) north of Oahu. Pilots of the Japanese aircraft were told in no uncertain terms that their primary target was the American aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl Harbor. They would attack in three separate waves, return to their carriers, and the fleet would turn back to Japan. The plan depended on complete surprise, but many in the Japanese Navy feared a task force that large, could not travel that far, and fail to be detected.
At 7:53 a.m. on Sunday morning of December 7, 1941, Japanese bombers and torpedo planes, having achieved complete surprise, struck the U.S. fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbor. Right away Japanese pilots discovered the United States Navy was not the only one caught off guard by failed intelligence: the primary target of the Japanese pilots, the American Pacific fleets’ aircraft carriers, that were supposed to be moored at Pearl Harbor were nowhere to be found. The pilots turned to their secondary target the U.S. Navy’s Battleships moored off Ford’s Island. Others strafed American Army Air Corps aircraft crowded together on runways on several Oahu airfields. At about 8:10 a.m. a Japanese aircraft released an armor piercing bomb over the U.S.S. Arizona. The munition penetrated the forward deck, exploded, and ignited an ammunition magazine. Just after 8:30 a.m., the second Japanese attack wave began its strike. The resulting explosion killed 1,177 crewmen and destroyed the ship. Hit by bombs and torpedoes the USS West Virginia sank upright. Torn open on its port side by nine torpedo hits the USS Oklahoma rolled over and sank taking over 400 of her crew with her. The was struck by a torpedo, but still managed to get underway (the only battleship that did that morning). Once Japanese pilots realized the ship was moving they descended on it from all directions, it was bombed, strafed, and the ship’s upper decks set ablaze. The captain ordered the ship run aground and abandoned just south of Ford Island. The USS California was struck by a spread torpedoes. The resulting fires and flooding could not be controlled and the ship was ordered abandoned. The USS West Virginia was struck by a number of torpedoes and began to list and roll. The crew quickly counter flooded so the ship settled upright. Repetitive bomb hits caused fires on the upper deck that forced the crew to leave the ship. The USS Tennesse had two of his main gun turrets knocked out, but little other bomb damage. Unfortunately the explosion of the nearby Arizona started fires aboard that caused further damage to the upper decks. Twenty-two ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were destroyed or damaged. One hundred eighty-eight U.S. aircraft were destroyed and another one hundred fifty-nine damaged. Two thousand four hundred three Americans including sixty-eight civilians were killed. Another One thousand one hundred seventy-eight military personnel and civilians were wounded.
When returning Japanese carrier pilots reported the absence of the American carriers, Admiral Nagumo worried his task force may be being hunted by those very carriers. He called off the third attack and ordered his task force to return to Japan. In reality, the American carriers Enterprise and Saratoga had been sent from Pearl Harbor in late November and early December respectively to ferry aircraft for the reinforcement of Wake Island.
President Roosevelt was having lunch in the White House with his chief policy advisor Harry Hopkins, when a call came in from Secretary of War Henry Stimson. Stimson informed Roosevelt of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Hopkins, shocked, told the president he didn’t believe the report: FDR responded, he did! Roosevelt spent the rest of the day receiving and reviewing updates about the attack. Throughout the day heavier and heavier security surrounded the White House and other key buildings. The President made it clear he intended to appear before Congress the next day to ask for a declaration of war against Japan. The Secret Service was concerned they had no vehicle to transfer the President from the White House to the capital building that offered any degree of armored protection. One Secret Service agent suddenly realized there was such a vehicle available sitting in the treasury Departments parking lot: the armored Cadillac limousine seized from the infamous Chicago gangster Al Capone, when he was arrested on tax evasion charges. Mechanics spent most of the night of December 7 going over the car with a “fine tooth comb” to prepare it as a presidential transport. Capone had had the car equipped with 3,000 lbs of protective armor, one-inch thick bulletproof glass, sirens, and flashing lights. It was perfect as a protective vehicle for the President. It is said that when the limousine came for the President, he inquired as to where it had come from. When informed as to whose car it was, Roosevelt supposedly said, “Well, I hope Mr. Capone won’t mind!”
President Roosevelt went before the U.S. Congress on December 8th and asked for a declaration of war against the Empire of Japan, referring to the attack on Pearl Harbor as “a day that will live in infamy.” Nothing was mentioned of Germany and Italy. This was not an error or oversight – FDR felt the public would accept war against Japan because the U.S. had been attacked by Japan , but they still might not support involvement in the European war. This put the president in a difficult spot. He had already committed to Prime Minister Churchill that if and when America entered the war the defeat of Nazi Germany would be given the first priority. Even though the Japanese had delivered a serious, but not fatal, blow to the U.S. Pacific fleet, Roosevelt still viewed Germany as the more serious threat. The solution to the President’s dilemma came from the most unexpected source. On December 11, 1941, four days after Pearl Harbor, Japan’s Axis partners Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. Overnight, the isolationist opposition vanished. Rumors spread among the public that Germany had put the Japanese up to the Pearl Harbor attack. Many in the U.S viewed Germany and Italy’s action as “kicking us when we were down.”
Even with the country instantly behind a “war effort” FDR was faced with what seemed to be insurmountable problems. Reports coming in from the Pacific just kept getting worse. Within hours after Pearl Harbor, the Philippines were under attack by Japanese forces. On December 8th Hong Kong came under attack as did Wake Island, Thailand, and Malaya. On December 10th Guam was overrun. On December 10th two British battleships, the HMS Repulse and HMS Prince of Wales, sent to defend Singapore, were sunk by Japanese bombers. On January 10, 1942 the Japanese began their invasion of the Dutch East Indies. Shortly after, the Solomon Islands fell under Japanese control thereby presenting a serious threat to Australia.
President Roosevelt had to call for and oversee the greatest mobilization of manpower and resources in U.S. History. Rationing had to be introduced, industries had to be converted to war production (which met giving up production of many consumer goods), U.S. forces had to be built up to a point a two front war could be effectively fought and supported. A conscription or draft law had been passed in 1940, and was put into full effect at the start of 1942. Money had to be raised to finance the war through special taxes and bond sales.
Roosevelt was also faced with a panic sweeping the west coast states. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, many in the coastal regions of Washington, Oregon, and California feared a Japanese attack or invasion. On December 8th the Mayor of San Francisco declared a state of emergency. On the night of December 9th there were claims a flight of Japanese aircraft passed over the city. Reports poured in to authorities for days of sightings of Japanese aircraft or ships over or off the coast of California. Public fear reached a fever pitch when in the early evening hours of February 23, 1942, a Japanese submarine I- 17, surfaced off California’s Santa Barbara Islands and fired twenty-four shells into the Elwood Oil Fields refinery. Little actual damage was done and the sub left the area when American aircraft came after it. The incident caused further “panic” with the west coast public. Soon after rumors began to spread that Americans of Japanese ancestry were relaying information about American ship movements, and west coast defenses to Imperial forces. Investigations by federal authorities revealed absolutely no act of disloyalty by any American of Japanese descent. Despite this , the President still received pressure from west coast governors and members of Congress to do something about the 120,000+ Japanese Americans living in the coastal regions of California, Oregon, and Washington. Although some members of his cabinet opposed it, President Roosevelt finally issued Executive Order 9066 which established an “exclusion zone” in the three west coast states. No person of Japanese ancestry could live or work in the “zone.” Enforcement was placed in the hands of the military. The end result was the removal of 110,000 Americans of Japanese descent to interment camps outside the 200 mile exclusion zone. Thousands lost their homes, businesses, jobs, and personal property and would remained in these camps until releases began in July of 1945. Although Executive Order 9066 was upheld by the federal courts, it came under severe public criticism from late 1945 on.
News did not get better as America entered the new year of 1942. From January to March reports kept coming to President Roosevelt that the American hold on the Philippines was rapidly collapsing. General Douglas MacArthur had been pushed back to Luzon’s (main island in the Philippines) narrow Bataan Peninsula and the tiny island of Corregidor. Roosevelt did not want MacArthur to fall into Japanese hands so on March 12, 1942 he ordered MacArthur to abandon his command and evacuate to Australia to prepare a Pacific counter offensive. MacArthur, a freemason, was reluctant to follow the order feeling he should stay with his command to the last. After pressure from the President and the war department, MacArthur finally yielded, turned command of the Philippine forces over to fellow freemason General Jonathan Wainwright and escaped to Australia, promising to return with a relief force. It would be almost three years before that promise could be kept.
Despite what appeared to be a United States “on the ropes”, FDR wanted to launch major counteroffensives against the Axis powers in 1942. A number of American Generals including Dwight D. Eisenhower wanted to launch an all out invasion of Hitler’s “fortress Europe” and push straight to Berlin. This plan had Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s full support (Stalin felt that from 1941 on the Soviet Union was fighting the Nazi juggernaut single handedly) , but Prime Minister was dead set against. Churchill convinced the President such an offensive would be suicidal. Instead he drew the President’s attention to an area where he felt German forces were vulnerable – North Africa. Even Eisenhower finally agreed it may be the better plan (primarily because he realized U.S. forces and war production would not be sufficiently built up in 1942 to carry out such an operation). Stalin was outraged with Churchill for not supporting a direct invasion of continental Europe. He branded Churchill and the English people “cowards”. Roosevelt now found the “war within the war” he would have to deal with for three years – infighting among the allies.
There were also rivalries within the President’s own military leadership. General MacArthur, from his headquarters in Australia wanted to launch and offensive against the Japanese pushing up through the Solomon Islands and then retaking the Philippines with the U.S. Navy playing a supporting role (thereby making it subordinate to the Army). Admiral Nimitz the newly appointed Commander of the United States Navy’s Pacific Fleet wanted to strike at and take key Japanese Islands in the central Pacific, thus allowing the U.S. to cut the Japanese off from their routes to and from the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies. The argument between Nimitz and MacArthur was an academic exercise, because just like the plan to invade Europe, the resources just were not there to do either. Admiral Ernst King, the Chief of Naval Operations, had also made it clear he did not agree with the way the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff , General George Marshall, was handling war planning (both men were freemasons). The President had to perform a constant “balancing act” to get his commanders on the same page.
There were three things, however, the President no longer had to worry about: isolationists, the economy, and unemployment. The attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent declaration of war on the United States by Germany and Italy immediately silenced the isolationists. War production needs not only put factories operating at 100% of capacity, but demanded significant industrial expansion. The manpower needs of the military drew millions of men as either volunteers or draftees. This, coupled with the manpower demands of expanding production, not only wiped out unemployment, but created manpower shortages. Women came forward to fill the ranks of industrial workers. In addition, over two hundred seventy-five thousand (275,00) women would serve in U.S Forces between 1941-1936.
The President was concerned that the American public needed to see some evidence the Germans and Japanese were not invincible and that the U.S. would eventually turn the war in its favor. Planning proceeded for an invasion of German held North Africa, but FDR wanted a strike, even if just symbolic, at the heart of Japan: Tokyo. Admiral King had suggested U.S. aircraft carriers be used to transport land based bombers across the Atlantic. Once in range, the land base bombers could take off from the carriers and strike enemy positions. There was just one problem – a land based bomber had never taken off from an aircraft carrier (many said it was impossible, because bombers needed more runway length to take off than any aircraft carrier could offer). King and U.S. Army Air Force (USAFF) General and freemason “Hap” Arnold worked on the concept and once convinced it might be a way to strike at Tokyo turned planning over to one of the USAFF’s most renowned pilots Colonel James “Jimmy” Doolittle (also a freemason). Doolittle worked on a plan where modified B-25 Mitchell mid-range bombers might be able to take off from an aircraft carrier, but could never return to land. Instead, after launch and the bombing of Japan, the American aircraft would fly on to China and land at airfields in the interior and away from the Japanese patrolled coast. What concerned the navy was the risking of highly valuable aircraft carriers to carry our the mission. FDR, however, had no intentions of backing away from a chance to strike back at Japan. The carriers Hornet and Enterprise along with their escort vessels were assigned to carry out what became known as “The Doolittle Raid”.
After months of training and preparation, the carrier U.S.S. Hornet put to sea on April 2, 1942, with 16 B-25s tied down on its flight deck. On April 13th , Hornet linked up mid-ocean with the U.S.S Enterprise, which would provide fighter cover if needed. The plan called for Hornet to launch the B-25s 400 miles out from the Japanese coast. This would allow the aircraft to over fly Japan and still have enough fuel to make it to the designated airfields in China. Unfortunately on April 18th , the task force was spotted 650 miles from the Japanese coast by enemy patrol boats. The escorts immediately opened fire destroying the picket boats, but the fear was the Japanese crews may have got off a radio warning before being silenced. Doolittle made the decision to launch despite the increased distance. Most of the aircraft made it and bombed their Tokyo targets, but none had enough fuel to make it beyond the immediate coastline of China. The B-25s crashed landed on the China coast, and the crews had to do their best to avoid capture. Three crewmen died in the crash landings on or off shore. Eight wound up being captured by the Japanese. Of those three were executed, one died of malnutrition, and the remaining four tortured, starved, and placed in solitary confinement until rescued by the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in 1945. One of the B-25 crews, that knowing its aircraft could not make the Chinese coast, turned north and landed in the Soviet port of Vladivostok. Stalin was furious. FDR had tried to negotiate the Soviet Union as a landing area for the Tokyo raiders, but was flatly turned down. Stalin saw his country as being in a fight for its very existence against Nazi Germany, the last thing he needed was an incident that would provoke the Japanese into war with Russia. He ordered the B-25 crew arrested and imprisoned. Fourteen months later, the crew showed up in British held Iran claiming to have “escaped” after bribing a prison official.
President Roosevelt first found out the mission had succeeded when he was informed that a Japanese radio message had been intercepted and that the announcer was in near hysteria yelling that Tokyo was being bombed. In reality the bombing did little physical damage, but its psychological impact was tremendous. To Americans, it met the country, was striking back after a stinging series of Pacific defeats – the Japanese were not invincible. The raid shocked the Japanese military. The Imperial Army wanted to pull in and build a string of bases and fortifications to protect its newly conquered territories and oil routes and give the home islands better defensive coverage. The Imperial navy wanted, instead, to draw out and finish off the U.S. carrier fleet in a single decisive battle then destroy its main forward Pacific bases at Midway Island and Pearl Harbor. The Tokyo raid may have caused the Japanese to follow a rash course of action that would suddenly turn the war in America’s favor.
When FDR held a news conference to announce the Tokyo, he knew the question would come up: where did was this raid conducted from (even the “greenest” reporter covering the war knew the US did not possess a bomber with the capability of flying across the entire Pacific). The President’s answer was “from our secret base in Shangri-La.” Shangri-La was a mythical place that appeared in a popular 1933 novel by James Hilton – Lost Horizon. How quickly Japanese Intelligence Agencies caught on to this is unknown, but apparently after his news conference Roosevelt had to explain to at least one reporter, who had never heard of the novel, that Shangri-La was not real. In Tokyo, though, a number of military planners were convinced the attack had to have come from Midway Island (which helped win Admiral Yamato’s argument to attack Midway). The “Shangri-La” must have confused the Japanese further when Roosevelt gave the name to a presidential retreat in Maryland, and three years later a new Essex class carrier the Shangri-La was fighting in the naval battle off Okinawa (the carrier had been named in honor of the Doolittle raid and Roosevelt’s “joke” comment).
Elation over the Tokyo raid was tempered by the announcement that U.S. forces under General Wainwright, were forced to surrender to the Japanese Army on May 8, 1942 thus making the Philippines another part of Japan’s expanding Pacific Empire. The Japanese quickly established a puppet government in the capital, Manila. Soon after President Roosevelt issued a statement denouncing and refusing to recognize the regime and expressing support for those Filipinos remained loyal to the United States.
Word also arrived in Washington on May 8th that the U.S. Navy had engaged in a major battle with the Imperial Japanese Navy in the Coral Sea between the Solomon Islands and Australia. Both the U.S. and Japanese lost an aircraft carrier (the USS Lexington and IJN Shoho respectively). A second American carrier, the USS Yorktown , was damaged and a destroyer , the USS Sims was sunk. Next to the Lexington the most serious loss for the U.S. was the destruction of the “oiler” (fuel supply ship) Neosho. The U.S Pacific fleet had very few “oilers” and the loss of even one met operations had to be cut back. Tactically, the Japanese won the battle of the Coral Sea, but strategically – they lost it. The battle forced Japan to call off their push to take Port Moresby on New Guinea island, and establish an airfield that would have put their land based bombers within range of Australia.
Although the Japanese military did not consider the battle of the Coral Sea a major set back, Admiral Yamamoto, felt it was evidence that a fatal blow had to be dealt America’s Pacific Fleet before U.S. war production could more than compensate for any losses resulting from combat action. Yamamoto pushed for an all out attack on Midway Island, believing the U.S. Navy would be committed to sending their remaining Pacific fleet, especially its remaining aircraft carriers, to defend the forward base. What Yamamoto did not know was that the highly Secretive IJN-25 message coding system for radio communication that he put full faith in, had been cracked by American code breakers who now knew the Japanese combined fleet’s every move. On June 4, 1942 Four of Japan’s top aircraft carriers, 2 battleships, 2 heavy cruisers, 12 destroyers, 15 submarines, and numerous transports and support vessels closed in on Midway Island. The expectation was the island would be easily taken, then when the Americans sent their carrier forces to “save” Midway, the Japanese task force would be in position attack the American task force and destroyer its remaining carriers as they moved northwest from Pearl Harbor. What Japanese Naval planners didn’t know was the Americans knew about the attack and had positioned its carriers in an “ambush” position northeast of Midway. As Japanese carrier aircraft attacked Midway, three American carriers (Yorktown, Hornet, and Enterprise) closed in on the unsuspecting Imperial Navy task force. The first wave of American torpedo bombers sent against the Japanese failed to hit a single Japanese ship, but the dive bombers that followed caught the Japanese carriers refueling their aircraft on their decks. The American attack destroyed three Japanese carriers and heavily damaged a fourth (which the Japanese had to abandon the next day as it sank).
The Midway victory was the turning point of the war in the Pacific and a political “break” for President Roosevelt. Until Midway the Japanese were winning the early battles of the Pacific War, and the American public, enraged over Pearl Harbor, felt the U.S. had “taken the fight” to Japan before Germany and Italy. This popular sentiment ran contrary to the President’s “Germany first” policy and his promise to British Prime Minister Churchill. With the victory at Midway Japanese expansion in the central Pacific came to a halt. The Imperial Navy and its aviation branch in particular, would never recover from its losses. FDR felt that with Pearl Harbor “avenged” at Midway (the four Japanese carriers sunk at Midway had led the strike on Pearl Harbor) and the Japanese forced on to the defensive, he could go forward with his plans to make the European Theater the first priority.
FDR’s “Europe first policy” may have been motivated in part by a grave concern he shared with Churchill: a concern that remained the most secretive topic of World War II – the atomic bomb. In August of 1939 Roosevelt received a letter from the celebrated physicist Albert Einstein who wrote that he also spoke for two other scientists, Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, whom, like Einstein, had fled Germany. In his letter Einstein warned FDR that scientists in Germany were working on projects that could lead to the development of nuclear weapons. The president immediately established a scientific advisory board to investigate the issue and also consulted with Churchill about ways the U.S. and Britain could sabotage German atomic research. By 1942, the President was convinced the U.S. had to develop an atomic weapon before Germany did. The top secret program, “Manhattan Project,” was initiated and placed under the command of General Leslie Groves. Two massive complexes were built at Los Alamos, New Mexico, and Oak Ridge Tennessee to facilitate the development of an American nuclear weapon. To maintain secrecy, the staff and workers lived in closed communities at both sites. The project would involve over 125,000 personnel and cost over $2,000,000,000.
Even with Germany being the focal point of the war effort, the President’s Pacific commanders still wanted to launch a campaign to push back the Japanese. Imperial forces had a strong enough presence in the Solomon Islands to continue to pose a threat to Australia and its shipping lanes – both vital any U.S. plans to retake the Pacific. The situation became critical in American eyes when the Japanese began constructing an airfield on the island of Guadalcanal. Admiral King convinced the President that despite the priority being given to build forces for the European Theater, the Guadalcanal “threat” had to be eliminated. With F.D.R.’s approval, the U.S. Navy and Marines began to ready , “Operation Watchtower” , a campaign to take Guadalcanal from the Japanese.
At 6:00 a.m. on August 7, 1942 U.S. forces began an amphibious assault on Guadalcanal to take the partially constructed Japanese airfield at Lunga Point. Although the initial objective was achieved within a two day period American forces soon found that the Japanese army and navy would put up a fierce fight to hold every square inch of Pacific territory they had conquered. General George Marshall and several other top military leaders tried to persuade the President to shift priorities and forge ahead in the Pacific while America had the initiative. FDR replied with an outright refusal and a reaffirmation of his “Europe first” commitment. The President gave a direct order to U.S. military commanders to begin support for the British plan to invade French (west) North Africa.
Lt. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was given command of 65,000 U.S. troops who would launch Operation Torch, the invasion of the North African ports of Casablanca, Oran and Algers . The Italians felt something was afoot when they noticed a greatly increased amount of Allied shipping activity around the British held “fortress” of Gibraltar. Although they reported this to their German counterparts, German intelligence agencies wrote it off as the British just increasing their defenses of Gibraltar. On November 8, 1942 the Germans suddenly realized their mistake when thousands of U.S. troops landed in Morocco and Algeria. By catching the Germans, Italians, and Vichy French by surprise, American and British forces were successful in the initial stages of the invasion. The German Wehrmacht wasted no time regrouping its forces and preparing to push the allies back. In February of 1943, the famed Afrika Korps of General Erwin Rommel delivered the Americans a major defeat at Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. Through the remainder of the winter of 1942-1943, it looked as though the German North African Army might actually stop the Allied invasion force. The Germans had a weak point, however, – their supply lines. Every resource the Wehrnacht possessed had to be shipped across the Mediterranean to North Africa. As Allied navy and air forces concentrated on cutting these supply lines, the German position in North Africa began to rapidly crumble.
On January 7 1943, President Roosevelt delivered his State of the Union Address to the U.S. Congress. He declared that the Axis powers knew they either had to win the war by the end of 1942 or be destined to lose it: they had not won. FDR stressed reverses and losses the Axis were facing on all fronts. He also emphasized the scale of American war production in a way that made victory sound inevitable. Interestingly, he used the term “Unit ed Nations” to refer to the twenty-six countries fighting the Axis powers as of the beginning of 1943.
By April of 1943, German forces in North Africa were being driven back into a corner of Tunisia with their backs to the Mediterranean and with no chance of resupply., reinforcements, or evacuation. On May 13, 1943, the Afrika Korps and its Italian allies, despite orders from Hitler to fight to the bitter end, surrendered to the British and Americans. Although the Americans won the battle for North Africa they learned from experience that the Germans fought tenaciously and would not be easy to defeat when the time came for the Allies to launch their invasion of continental Europe.
FDR was beginning to win one war, but lose another. By mid 1943, the strains of the Presidency and the continuing battle with polio were rapidly eroding the President’s health. He spent much of his time in a wheelchair. Standing, even for short periods of time, became more and more difficult. In November of 1943, the President traveled to Teheran, Iran, to meet with Churchill and Stalin to discuss allied strategy and postwar Europe (including the touchy question of the extent Soviet influence in eastern Europe once the war was over). Stalin pushed hard to get a commitment for a major allied offensive in western Europe. Roosevelt and Churchill finally gave Stalin the promise of a second front that would be initiated no later then the spring of 1944.
The President returned from the Teheran Conference. physically exhausted. After examination by several physicians, FDR’s family was quietly told the truth about F.D.R.’s condition. Roosevelt’s health was in a very delicate state. He was rapidly losing weight (at first that was good, but not when it went, suffering from hypertension and bronchitis, but worst of all there were definite signs of congestive heart failure. Apparently nobody told the President just how bad his health was and he never asked about the results of his physicals. To some degree, F.D.R. must have known he was failing, because he asked his wife Eleanor to begin traveling on his behalf. This appeared a reversal of his original sentiments, because in September of 1943, Eleanor had made it known she wanted to visit American troops on Guadalcanal. FDR was opposed to the idea, but Eleanor insisted and wound up spending five weeks in the South Pacific visiting and addressing over 400,000 military personnel. Guadalcanal and the other tours that followed, made Eleanor immensely popular with the public and thus proved to be a tremendous political asset for her husband, who had already made the decision to run for an fourth term.
From January of 1943 to the election in November of 1944, the war began turning in the Allies favor. Germany suffered a devastating blow when most of its veteran VI Army was destroyed in early 1943 at Stalingrad. From that point on, the Germans were driven back on the eastern front. A July invasion of Sicily by the British and Americans led to the overthrow of Mussolini. In September the Italians signed an armistice with allies. German troops made sure Italy remained a battle front and fought viciously against the Allied advance up the Italian peninsula.
In the Pacific, the U.S. continued chipping away at Japan’s central and western Pacific strongholds. The Marshall Islands were taken by U.S. Marines in several hard fought battles. The main Japanese naval base in the South Pacific, Truk, was destroyed by U.S. Naval forces. The first bombing attacks since the Doolittle raid were carried out against the Japanese homeland.
In June of 1944 U.S. Naval aircraft broke the back of the Imperial Navy’s air power in a one sided battle that became known as the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”. General Mac Arthur then began his liberation of the Philippines with an amphibious landing on Luzon. In the same month allied forces in Europe landed on the Normandy coast of France and began the push east towards Germany. It was now clear the Axis powers were losing the war.
Even though victory seemed inevitable, the war was placing a strain on material and economic resources as well as public patience and morale. The U.S. more than any other nation involved in the conflict was fighting on two major fronts with supply lines spanning two oceans. Logistical demands were staggering and called for a total mobilization of American industry, manpower, economic resources, and the society as a whole. The demands on President Roosevelt were probably greater than those on any other U.S. President. Outwardly he appeared to thrive on his role as wartime leader of the U.S. but there were those who feared the physical strains were becoming too much.
In mid 1944 Dr. Frank Lahey, the founder of the Massachusetts based Lahey Clinic, was contacted by Roosevelt’s personal physician and asked to come to Washington D.C., to examine the president. After conducting a physical, Lahey outright noted the president’s condition was so grave he could not possibly survive another term. Lahey’s July 7th diagnosis was kept from the public, but not from the president. He was well aware of his condition before he was nominated by the Democratic Party for another term. To a close few, FDR seemed to have expressed a wish to retire, but felt obligated to stay and see the war through (at this point in time some military leaders were predicting the war, especially the Pacific theater could go on well into 1946).
Although there was overwhelming support for a fourth term for FDR in the Democratic party , there was definite resistance to President Roosevelt keeping his Vice President (and fellow freemason) , Henry Wallace, on the ticket. Wallace had been Roosevelt’s Secretary of Agriculture during the President’s first term. Although well liked by FDR, the party had never been comfortable with him. Wallace was seen as “quirky” ,too idealistic, and too trusting of Stalin and the Soviet Union. Although he was reluctantly nominated for Roosevelt’s third term campaign, the party insisted he be dropped as Vice Presidential nominee for FDR’s fourth term. Instead of Wallace, the Democrats turned to a U.S. Senator (and freemason) from Missouri who was gaining a tough reputation as chair of a special Senate investigating committee charged with going after manufacturers under government contracts who were “short changing” or producing defective equipment for U.S. Armed Forces. Truman let it be known he was not interested in either the vice presidency or the presidency, but pressure from the party’s leadership finally caused him to yield and accept the V.P. nomination.
The Republicans flirted with the idea of offering their nomination to the Pacific Army Commander General Douglas MacArthur, however, made it clear he would not accept. The Republicans nominated the popular New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey to run as their presidential candidate and Ohio Governor John W. Bricker to run as their vice presidential candidate. Dewey and Bricker, like Roosevelt and Truman, were freemasons. Dewey ran a vigorous campaign, which many close to FDR felt he would not be able to match due to his health. Roosevelt insisted on throwing himself into a full blown reelection campaign, to squelch rumors he was in poor health. Many who saw him at public appearances were stunned at his physical appearance. The White House on several occasions issued statements that the Presidents health was fine.
Despite some predictions the election would be close, the positive course of the war left little doubt FDR would be reelected. When the votes were counted, FDR had won and unprecedented fourth term. On inauguration day January 20, 1945, there were no celebrations, no crowds before the capital building watching the president swear in. Instead a small ceremony was held on the south portico of the White House with the President giving what was the second shortest inaugural speech in U.S. History. Some felt it was done this way because a “celebration inaugural” just did not seem appropriate with the war still on. Others felt it just reflected the President’s exhausted state.
Shortly after his inauguration FDR prepared for a meeting with Churchill and Stalin in the Crimean city of Yalta. Many in the White House feared the 14,000 mile round-trip would be too much for the frail President. Roosevelt insisted on attending. With the Americans and British poised to cross the Rhine river into the heart of Germany and Soviet armies within forty miles of Berlin the discussions at Yalta would focus more on post-war Europe than the few remaining days for Hitler’s Third Reich. Roosevelt also knew the talks were critical to how Europe would be reshaped when the conflict finally ended. Roosevelt wanted a commitment from Stalin that as soon as Nazi Germany was defeated, the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan. Stalin was willing to enter the war against Japan but only after the principle of a permanent Soviet “buffer” in Eastern Europe was recognized by Roosevelt and Churchill. Churchill’s personal physician Lord Moran was at Yalta and was shocked by Roosevelt’s appearance. After the meeting ended he told a friend that the President appeared as “a walking dead man”.
Upon his return to the United States, FDR reported the results of Yalta to a joint session of the U.S. congress on March 1, 1945. For the first time, Roosevelt addressed the Congress sitting down. He asked Congress to excuse his delivering the speech while seated, but noted that the his leg braces were just too much to support. Never had Roosevelt made a public comment about his condition. To many in the Congress it was a clear sign that the President was failing rapidly. Near the end of March, the President prepared to travel by train to his retreat in Warm Springs, Georgia, in hopes of getting some badly needed rest and recuperation. When his train arrived in Georgia, many well-wishers, who came to see the President, noted his attempt to wave to the crowd was weak. He later attended Easter services at a local church: those in attendance could see the President was uncomfortable and struggling to get though the service. He never asked to go to the swimming pools at the resort, which in the past had been the focus of many of his visits. It was clear after several weeks the President’s health was not improving. He was found to be “best” between mid -morning and mid day, but as afternoons progressed he would become more and more fatigued.
As FDR’s stay at Warm Springs stay went on, government and military aides along with several of FDR’s cousins came to brief and assist the President. Roosevelt spent more and more of his time sleeping. On April 12th, he arose complaining of a chill despite the fact the weather was warm and humid. He finished several dictations before he was scheduled to sit for portrait painter Elizabeth Shoumatoff . Shortly after lunch, Roosevelt worked at his makeshift desk while Shoumatoff painted. At approximately 1:00 p.m., the President told Shoumatoff, after fifteen more minutes they would have to call it a day. Shortly after, Daisy Suckley, one of the President’s noticed him slumped over his desk. Thinking he had dropped something and was trying to pick it up, she went to assist him. It was then she realized the President was barely conscious. He tried to reach the back of his head complaining of an intense headache: he then passed out. A staff doctor was immediately summoned. Roosevelt was carried to his bedroom by valets as the doctor attempted to bring him to. Nothing worked. At 3:35 p.m., President Franklin Delano Roosevelt passed away: a cerebral hemorrhage had taken his life.
The news shocked the nation and the world. For an entire generation of Americans who had come of age during the depression and were now fighting the greatest conflict the United States had ever been involved in this was the only president they had ever really known. Navy Chief Petty Officer Graham Jackson, an African-American accordion player who had played for Roosevelt on a number of his visits to Warm Springs, stood outside the presidential retreat with tears streaming down his face, playing the song “Going Home” as the President’s cortege headed down the driveway to take the President’s body to a waiting train.
Tens of thousands of ordinary citizens lined the route to watch the passing of the eleven car train that took the President’s body back to Washington, D.C. and, after services in the capitol, to his beloved Hyde Park estate. Winston Churchill was so shaken over Roosevelt’s death he broke down while trying to deliver a speech about the President to the British House of Commons. Stalin ordered Soviet state controlled newspapers to place both the story of the President’s death and his pictures on the front page (this was unprecedented: until FDR’s death the front pages of Soviet newspapers were reserved strictly for stories about the Soviet Union itself). On April 15, 1945 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was laid to rest with full military honors in the rose garden of his family’s Hyde Park home.
Both Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor had been instilled with a strong sense of public service and responsibility from an early age. The Roosevelt family’s dedication to this principle may have best shown when Vice President Truman was summoned from capitol hill to the White House. Expecting to meet with the President, he was instead greeted by Eleanor Roosevelt who placed her hand on Truman’s shoulder and said, “Harry, the President is dead.” Shocked, Truman asked the first lady if there was anything he could do for her. Eleanor’s response was , “Is there anything we can do for you? You are the one in trouble now.”