Franklin D. Roosevelt

Excerpts from the Press Conference

November 10, 1942

THE PRESIDENT: In regard to the North African operations, we have practically no news that you people don't get just about as fast as we get official news.

I do want to revert back for a minute to one thing I talked about quite a long while ago as to peaks and valleys in the conduct of the war. I think we should remember what I said at that time, that there are peaks and valleys, and especially so in lay opinion. In other words, the average person is a layman and we mustn't get unduly depressed over one operation, and unduly elated over another operation. So far, the expedition into Africa seems to be going well. So far, the British operation in western Egypt seems to be going well. I think we should, on all operations which are either successful or the contrary, we should not do too much prognosticating as to the ultimate results as laymen. I don't want to throw cold water on that particular area. That particular operation seems to be going well up to the present time. We can be very thankful that that is so.

Q. Mr. President, we realize that there are certain limitations and a certain secrecy which must be maintained, but is there anything you can tell us now about the planning and the execution of this African expedition?

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I was telling two or three people this morning, which probably would come to you secondhand; so I might as well make it firsthand. (Laughter)

The inception of this particular operation goes back to about two weeks after Pearl Harbor—that is a long time ago at the time that I invited Mr. Churchill and his joint staff to come over here, just before Christmas last year. It was timed for joint planning between the two of the Allied Nations that have the most military and naval force.

And we discussed at that time the desirability of an offensive. And there were various offensives considered, especially the possibility of a very large frontal attack across the English Channel. That was considered in the light, of course, of the creation of sufficient munitions, such as planes, to make it reasonably sure of success. There was also the very large factor of shipping, as to how many people could be got across from here within a given time. And the military and naval opinion at that time was that it would be feasible. And a good deal of work was done along that line.

The more it was studied, however, the more it became apparent that because of physical limitations, an offensive along the coast of France or Belgium probably could not be carried out with a reasonable chance of success in the year 1942. There were, I say, physical limitations—the production of various munitions, the training of sufficient men, and the transportation of the men and the materials over to the other side.

Therefore, at the time I asked Mr. Churchill to come over here- I think it was at the end of May or the beginning of June there was an issue presented in regard to an offensive; and that was whether an offensive on a very large scale, which would have been compulsory, could be conducted some time around the middle of 1943, or whether an offensive on a smaller scale, for which the problems of transportation and manufacture were not so great, could be started in 1942.

And at that time we surveyed the various possibilities of an offensive more limited in its scope. And a good many of them were dismissed, with the result that by the end of June there was general agreement on the African offensive; and by the end of July certain fundamentals of it, such as points of attack, numbers involved, and shipping and manufacturing problems, were all determined on.

And it was about that particular time- perhaps a little bit later—that people were beginning to talk about a second front. Actually, the second front had already been determined on by the two Governments. By the end of August the approximate date of the attack was decided on.

And so in succeeding months both Mr. Churchill and I have had to sit quietly and take with a smile, or perhaps you might say take it on the chin (laughter) as to what all the outsiders were demanding.

And I discovered nearly a year ago a very simple fact, and that was that in a world war neither Mr. Churchill nor I could walk down the street and go into a department store and purchase and walk out with a second front. I learned it a long time ago- many months. I found that a second front was tailor-made—custom-built. They had to decide what kind of a suit of clothes you wanted, and then take it to the expert clothes-makers and not get it delivered until several months had passed.

I thought that most people would have discovered that fact just the way I did. Well, now they have.

And I suppose that's a pretty good rule of all wars. You can throw an expedition together to go somewhere without planning, and in a very rare instance it might work, if you had all the luck on your side, and the other fellow made all the mistakes and you didn't make any. But after all, where hundreds of thousands of lives are involved; we do try to conduct war operations by what is known as a reasonable chance of success. That involves a great deal of study, a great deal of coordination, a great deal of preparation of all kinds, starting literally in the fields and in the mines. It means tying it in with our other operations in every part of the world. It means that you have to find out how much you have got in the way of men and munitions and planes and guns, and see whether you have to do any robbing of "Peter" to pay "Paul"; that in order to carry out the one given objective, whether you can maintain the other objectives, or whether you would be forced to abandon some of the other objectives.

And of course—I am talking just in words of one syllable—I think I have acquired during this past year or more, that viewpoint- because it's really words of one syllable- you can't conduct at top speed objectives all over the world where you would like to, because of all kinds of things: the totals of production, the totals of trained manpower, not untrained manpower. And finally, the problem of getting the man and the weapon to the place where he will fight the enemy.

And it comes back to the fact that you can't find a second offensive in a department store, ready-made.

And so we ordered an offensive about four months ago, and it has taken that length of time actually to put it into effect. And we hope it is going to work. I don't know any easier way of putting it than that. . . .

Q. Mr. President, in your chronology there was one important event which wasn't mentioned. Were the final decisions clinched during the visit of Mr. [Harry] Hopkins, and [Steve] Early, and —(laughter)

MR. EARLY: (laughing) Oh!

Q. (continuing) Chief of Staff—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) I think Steve probably—that Steve did the whole thing. (Much laughter)

Q. Well, excluding Mr. Early—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) It wasn't needed. This was a developing thing—absolutely developing thing. But, in other words, where do you draw the line? You see, the difficulty is where do you draw the line as the point of departure? Well, the point of departure in one sense was last January, after Mr. Churchill got through here. The next was another step in June. And then after that there were several steps that were handled partly in person and partly by cable, until the thing got "buttoned up"—using the worst expression I can use —somewhere around the end of July. That was the final determination, not merely the policy; that went much further back. Not merely on location; that went much further back. Not merely on general things, like general scope. But it actually got down at that time to details.

Q. Mr. President—

Q. (interposing) Mr. President—

Q. (interposing) Mr. President, isn't Steve's visit still a military secret?


Q. Isn't Steve's visit still a military secret?

THE PRESIDENT: My Lord, I had forgotten that! (Laughter)

MR. EARLY: (interposing) No. It was announced from Hyde Park.

THE PRESIDENT: Announced at Hyde Park ....

Q. Mr. President, I understood you to say that the dates of the African invasion were selected at the end of August, and the time at the end of July. Would you make sure what that was—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) No. The details you might call oh, I suppose a good example is places of landing, general totals of units. That was decided on around the end of July. And the decision on the date came about a month later.

Q. Mr. President, can you tell us why the date was put after election?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, Jimmie Byrnes made a very wise remark today—one of those curious anomalies. The date was set without anybody thinking about election. But Jimmie said today, if we had really been smart we would have gone back to the fact that I had shifted Thanksgiving Day one week ahead, and why, therefore, didn't I shift the election date to one week later. (Laughter)

Q. Mr. President, you spoke of planning these offensives as one does custom-made clothes. Could you tell us whether you are giving any consideration to the possibility of a new suit of spring clothes for Mussolini?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, by that time he might not have any clothes on at all! (Laughter)

Q. Couldn't we even use that?

THE PRESIDENT: That's all off the record. But they do tell me that he has only got a shirt on now! (More loud laughter)

Q. Mr. President, are there any details of the planning you can give us, such as when you made your records, and the planning that went into that- the French-language broadcast? There are some very interesting stories going around on that.

THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I think they are essentially true. The messages to His Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Morocco, and His Highness the Bey of Tunis, and the Governor General of Algeria, I think I did those about—about three weeks ago—just about—maybe a little more—perhaps nearly a month ago. And then about a few days- two or three days later I did the phonograph message in the Cabinet room one day. Even Steve [Early] wasn't there. (Laughter) But then he doesn't speak French, so it was all right. (More laughter) Admiral Leahy and Captain McCrea, and two special operators were in there and did the transcription.

Q. Mr. President, you spoke of the choice between a limited offensive now and a larger offensive next summer. Are the limiting factors necessarily still operating to the same extent that they were?

THE PRESIDENT: No. No. In other words, I don't think you need to assume that the total of prospective offensive operations has been limited in any way by this African expedition.

Q. Well, I was wondering if it might not open up additional possibilities, that is, through the release of—

THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Well, as I was saying to the Secretary of State [Cordell Hull]—or rather as he was saying to me just now, "Before we talk about the future let's get firmly established in Africa."

Q. Well, I just meant as part of the war of nerves.


Q. I just meant as part of the war of nerves.

THE PRESIDENT: Of nerves. Well, I think this has worked pretty well as a sample of the war of nerves.

Q. Don't you suppose, sir, it might be all right to put your observations regarding Mr. Mussolini's wardrobe on the record?

THE PRESIDENT: (laughing) No. No. . . .

Q. Mr. President, is Bill Donovan's work [Chief of the O.S.S.] still a secret?

THE PRESIDENT: Oh my, yes. Heavens, he operates all over the world. (Laughter)

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

Simple Search of Our Archives