Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Joint Press Conference with Prime Minister Churchill

May 25, 1943

THE PRESIDENT: We are awfully glad to have Mr. Churchill back here. I don't have to tell him that. All he has to do is to read the papers, and look into the faces of any American. He is very welcome.

I don't think we have very much to tell you, except that we are making exceedingly good progress, and considering the size of our problems- the global nature of the war—these discussions have been done in practically record time.

And so I am going to turn the meeting over to Mr. Churchill, and I think that he will be willing to answer almost- with stress on the almost- any question. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, in Australia there is a very great fear as to the Japanese threat in that area. What is your feeling about the matter?

THE PRIME MINISTER: The threat is certainly, in our opinion, less serious than it was when I saw you last in this room December 23, 1941.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, what can you tell us generally about the plans for the future, probably beginning with Europe?

THE PRIME MINISTER: A very expansive topic (laughter), and one which leads very early to difficult country; but our plans for the future are to wage this war until unconditional surrender is procured from all those who have molested us, and this applies equally to Asia and to Europe. It used to apply, until quite recently, to Africa.

THE PRESIDENT: I think that word "molestation," or "molesting" is one of the best examples of your habitual understatement that I know. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, could you say anything about how well satisfied you are with the way things are going on the fighting fronts?

THE PRIME MINISTER; I am very much more satisfied than I was when I was here last. (Laughter) It was here that the President handed me the telegram of the surrender of Tobruk. And as I have mentioned to him, I don't think there was any Englishman in the United States so unhappy, as I was that day, since Burgoyne surrendered at Saratoga. (Laughter)

But the situation is very different now. The plans which were made then in June, and before June, and the movements of troops which were set in motion before June last, enabled us to alter the balance of the affairs in Africa entirely. And we opened our Alamein offensive on the twenty-third of October. The United States and British descent upon North Africa began on the eighth of November, and since then we have already had a very great measure of success, culminating in decisive victory of proportions equal to any of the great victories that have been won: complete obliteration of the enemy.

And too, while this has been going on, our Russian ally, who in June last year was subject to the beginning of a very heavy and possibly deadly offensive by the Germans, and it seemed that they might well lose the Caucasus, has gained another series of successes, culminating in Stalingrad.

And Hitler has been struck with two immense blows, tremendous shattering blows: in Tunisia, and at Stalingrad. And from every point of view we must regard the last ten or eleven months as examples of highly successful war- a perfectly indisputable turning of the tide.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, on this question of Russia. After you spoke to Congress, Senator Albert B. Chandler of Kentucky issued a statement saying that while you had promised Great Britain would stay to fight Japan to the end, you could not promise Russia would. Of course, there are reasons for this, but do you care to say anything? In your opinion of Russia's self-interest, would it lead her to fight Japan after the European war?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Oh well, it's one of those oversights that I haven't been placed in the position to give directions to Russia, as he mentions. (Laughter)

And I have this feeling, that those people have been doing such a tremendous job facing this enormous mass—they have done what nobody else was in a position to do: torn a large part of the guts out of the German Army. And they have suffered very grievous losses. They are battling with, as I said to the Congress, 190 German divisions—not up to strength, of course—and 28 satellite divisions from the different countries that Hitler gathered around him in his attack on Russia. They are bearing all that weight, and I certainly have not felt that I ought to suggest to my Government asking more of them.

But their strength may grow as time goes on. They must know that Japan has watched them with a purely opportunist eye. But it isn't for me to make any suggestions to them at all.

They have been grand Allies; and of course they have shown it in heroic fashion. They have struck blows that no one else could strike, and they have endured losses that no one power has ever been capable of enduring, and continuing an effective and even a growing factor in the field.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, what do you think of the dissolution of the Comintern?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, I like it—(laughter) I like it.

Q. To get back to Russia, sir, are you confident that the Russians will be able to hold out this year, as they have in past years?

THE PRIME MINISTER: I certainly think that they have a much better prospect of holding out this year than they had the previous time. Indeed, I must express my full confidence that they will hurl back any attack which is made upon them.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, in the light of developments since your speech to Congress, would you care to make any general statement concerning the experiment of bombing Germany into submission?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, I haven't had very much time to goon with the experiment since I spoke to Congress. (Laughter)

We have had the heaviest raid we have ever had, the raid on Dortmund, where 2,000 tons were cast down upon them with, I believe, highly satisfactory results.

And also, it has been an extremely good week for the United States Air Forces in the United Kingdom. They made, I think, four heavy daylight attacks, which are judged to be extremely successful. Precision bombing in the daylight, of course, in proportion to the weight of bombs dropped, produces a more decisive effect—more than the night bombing, because it goes to more specific targets precise and accurate.

THE PRESIDENT: You know, I think that's something that hasn't been brought out, and that is that the night bombing over Europe carries more weight of explosives; but of course being night-time the precision of the actual bombing can't be so great as the day bombing, which carries less explosives but with more precision because it's daylight. On the whole, the combination of the two, day and night, is achieving a more and more satisfactory result.

THE PRIME MINISTER: It's like running a twenty-four-hour service. (Laughter)...

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, the last time you spoke to us you used a term that I have remembered, because you said that you were not going to rely on an internal collapse of Germany, rather would you rely on an external knockout, at that time. Well, since then you have worked on Germany and the occupied countries a good deal, and there are constantly recurring evidences that the German people may be getting close to "had enough." We still are working for this knockout, but have you any further light on that for us—on the internal collapse?

THE PRIME MINISTER: I stand pat on the knockout. (Laughter) But, of course, any windfall will be gratefully accepted. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, some quarters interpret your remarks to Congress on bombing to mean that other methods, which you said should not be excluded, should be postponed until the termination of the experiment.

THE PRIME MINISTER: Oh, no. That would be a most distorted deduction to draw. I said there is no reason why the experiment should not be continued, provided other methods are not excluded- I mean other simultaneous methods, or current methods, are not excluded.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, whenever you and the President confer, the rumor always goes around that you are about to pick an Allied commander in the European theater. Could you tell us whether you have done that?


Q. Picked an Allied commander for the European theater?

THE PRIME MINISTER; Well, we have an Allied commander in the theater that is at present in force in Northwest Africa.

Q. I was thinking of the next one, sir? (Laughter)

THE PRIME MINISTER: No step of that kind has been taken at the present moment, because the great preparations that are going forward.

Q. (interposing) Mr. Prime Minister, back to Australia—

THE PRIME MINISTER: (continuing)—haven't got to the point where the executive commander has to be chosen.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, this may be an oversight, or you might not have been informed of this either, but I am curious to know what you think is going on in Hitler's mind now? (Laughter)

THE PRIME MINISTER: I have very little doubt that if he could have the past back he would probably play his hand a little differently. I think he would have hesitated long, before he rejected all the repeated peace efforts that were made by Great Britain, which even brought the name of our Government into disrepute, so far did we go on the path of trying to placate and appease.

But he then got out of the period where he was restoring his country to its place among the countries of Europe. He had achieved that, but that wasn't what he was after at all. Appetite unbridled, ambition unmeasured—all the world! There was no end to the appetite of this wicked man. I should say he repents now that he did not curb his passion before he brought such a great portion of the world against him and his country.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, do you think it's a sound assumption that he still has a mind? (Laughter)

THE PRIME MINISTER; I have no reason to suppose that he isn't in control of his faculties, and of the resources of his country. But, of course, I haven't the same facilities of acquainting myself with what is going on there, as I fortunately have on what is going on in the United States. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, do you care to say anything about Mussolini, and Italy? Is there any hint or news that you can bring us on that?

THE PRIME MINISTER: You know as much as I do about that. I think they are a softer proposition than Germany but I wouldn't count on anything but the force of arms. It may be aided at any time by a change of heart on the part of the enemy's countries, a weakening of morale.

Nobody proposes to take the native soil of Italy away from the Italian people. They will have their life. They will have their life in the new Europe. They have sinned- erred- by allowing themselves to be led by the nose by a very elaborate tyranny which was imposed upon them so that it gripped every part of their life. The one-party totalitarian system, plus the secret police applied over a number of years is capable of completely obliterating the sense of personal liberty.

And thus they were led by intriguing leaders, who thought they had got the chance of five thousand years in aggrandizing themselves by the misfortunes of their neighbors who had not offended them in any way, into this terrible plight in which they find themselves.

I think they would be very well advised to dismiss those leaders, and throw themselves upon the justice of those they have so grievously offended. We should not stain our names before posterity by cruel and inhuman acts. We have our own reputation to consider. But after all it really is a matter for them to settle among themselves, and settle with their leaders.

All we can do is to apply those physical stimuli- (laughter) which in default of moral sanctions are sometimes capable of inducing a better state of mind in recalcitrant individuals and recalcitrant Nations. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, there has been a lot of interest in the experts from India you brought with you. Would you care to comment about the situation in India, or China?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, I am very anxious to increase the intensity of the war effort against Japan, and therefore brought these commanders in chief in order that they could meet with the United States officers, and particularly with those who have been serving with such effect in China, like General Chennault and General Stilwell, and the high officers here, because it is evident that the war in that theater must be prosecuted with the very greatest vigor, and on the best lines. And we have been talking a great deal about that, and thinking a great deal, and have arrived at conclusions which I believe are sound- are good.

When I saw you last, in December, 1941, or January, 1942, of course, this question of priority-which was first and which was second of the two great theaters and antagonists -assumed a much more sharp form than at the present time. Our resources have greatly expanded. If the war continues on both fronts the war will be waged with equal force as our resources grow. Instead of being consecutive our efforts will be concurrent, and that great degree of effort will be capable of being applied at the same time in both directions. They have been already applied.

The forces that we have are becoming very respectable in munitions, and in men trained to war of all kinds; but as I pointed out to Congress, the problem is one of application, and that problem of application is limited by distance, and the U-boat war, the amount of shipping, the character of the communications, the vast distances of the ocean. Our forces are growing and gathering their ambition, but to apply it is a matter of time, and it is exceedingly difficult to apply.

But we follow out this principle, that all soldiers must be engaged, and ships and airplanes must be engaged on the widest possible fronts, the broadest possible superficies, and maintain the fighting with the utmost intensity, because we are the stronger animal; we are the stronger combination; we are shaking the life out of the enemy; and as we are able to continue, we will not give him a moment's surcease.

This is particularly true of the air, where they are already beginning to fail to keep up at all to the necessary strength on the various fronts. Neither Japan nor Germany is able to maintain equality with Britain, the United States, and Russia on all fronts.

Still less are they able to do so in the field of production. Immense plurality—the superiority of production—is on our side. And although it takes a certain number of months after planes are made before they come into action—perhaps a good many months, having regard to all the distances to be covered, and to the large ground staffs that have to be transported—but in spite of that, at the end of certain periods, the great superiority in numbers of our manufacture and of our training is bound to have effect, which so far as the air war is concerned will be decisive.

Whether the deciding of the air war will entail a similar ending of the other forms of warfare has yet to be seen. But the air was the weapon with which these people chose to subjugate the world.

This was the weapon they struck at Pearl Harbor with. This was the weapon with which the Germans boasted they would terrorize all the countries of the world. And it is an example of poetic justice that this should be the weapon in which they should find themselves most outmatched and first outmatched in the ensuing struggle.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, have you anything to say about the submarine side of the situation?

THE PRIME MINISTER: I am very much encouraged by all that has happened there since the turn of the year. Really, it has been very encouraging. The output from the United States' shipyards is prodigious and has fulfilled all hopes, hopes which, when the plans were first made and published, seemed to be excessive. But they have been made good. The movement of supplies across the ocean has been on an increasing scale. The surplus of new building over sinkings over the last six months has been substantial, especially in the later months; and the killings of U-boats have improved and reached a very high pitch—never better than in the last month .... That is due, of course, to the decreasing numbers of U-boats, but it is also due to the improved methods, and some wonderful things that have been thought of on both sides of the Atlantic. And, of course, we interchange everything immediately. Anything we have we share and bring into action. A lot of clever people are thinking a lot about these things.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, there is a great deal more confidence in the Allied commanders in the field than there was a year ago. Would you care to comment on that?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, they have had a chance to come into action on reasonable terms. Indeed, on advantageous terms, because we struck with superior forces at the right spot. We —as your Confederate general [Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Cavalry commander in the Civil War] used to say, "We got there fustest with the mostest." (Laughter)

Q. (aside) That's right.

THE PRIME MINISTER: (continuing) And also, because our troops have—since I was here last—been equipped with all the best weapons. You have only got to turn the industry of the United States and Britain over from peace to war. It undoubtedly takes a couple of years or more to get it running, but when it does run it gives you a flow of weapons which certainly neither Germany nor Japan possibly can beat us.

Q. Mr. Prime Minister, would you undertake to make a prediction on the progress of the war for the rest of this year? I have in mind this statement you and the President made at Casablanca, on new and heavier blows against all of the Axis members in 1943?

THE PRIME MINISTER: Well, I think that seems to be a very sound prediction, and couched in terms which are unexceptionable from the point of view of military security. (Laughter).

Q. Thank you very much, sir.

THE PRIME MINISTER: Thank you very much.

(The newspapermen started to leave slowly, and the Prime Minister climbed on his chair and gave the V for Victory sign with his fingers.)

THE PRESIDENT: May I say one word, please? Don't get the idea that our conferences are concluded. They are not. They are continuing. (Laughter)

THE PRIME MINISTER: We have a lot of ground to cover.


Franklin D. Roosevelt, Excerpts from the Joint Press Conference with Prime Minister Churchill Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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