World War II Chronicle: 4 December 1941

On this date in 1941 President Franklin Roosevelt meets with congressional leaders regarding the “Far Eastern situation” (see image below the fold), while Japanese fleets haul anchor and secretly sail for the invasions of Guam, Malaya, and Thailand.

HMS Prince of Wales moored at Singapore on 4 December 1941. Japanese bombers will send this new battleship to the bottom of the South China Sea in less than a week, taking the lives of 327 sailors.

Meanwhile, the Japanese submarine fleet received the attack schedule for Pearl Harbor. Off the coast of Hawaii, the battleship USS Arizona conducted nighttime gunnery training, and the complement of Marine Corps F4F Wildcats of Marine Fighter Squadron 211 (VMF-211) take off from the deck of USS Enterprise and fly to their new home at Wake Island. Enterprise should return to Pearl by 6 December.

At home, the Chicago Tribune ran a devastating story on 2 December leaking America’s war strategy for war with Nazi Germany. The United States population was largely isolationist in 1941, having no desire to be manipulated into another bloody European conflict. Many people — even Democrat congressmen and senators in Washington — opposed President Franklin Roosevelt’s foreign policies like Lend-Lease, which they saw as a mechanism to slowly merge us into war.

American war planners had a color-coded plan for potential conflicts with most everyone, including unlikely opponents like Canada. The top-secret “Victory Program,” however, differed from these military playbooks by answering questions like how much manpower we would need, how many ships it would take, and when we could commit our troops to defeat Nazi Germany.

Senator Burton Wheeler, a Democrat and an isolationist from Montana, forwarded the documents to Chicago Tribune reporter Chesley Manly. But we can only theorize who put a copy of the Victory Program in Wheeler’s hands. Lt. Gen. Henry H. “Hap” Arnold, concerned that Lend-Lease foreign aid diverted critical resources from our own military. A cloud of suspicion surrounded Victory Planner architect, Maj. Albert C. Wedemeyer, an isolationist and one of the Army’s preeminent experts on Germany. We can’t really rule out President Roosevelt, who may have leaked the docs to lure Germany into declaring war before his forces had whittled down the Soviets and British.

What we do know is the German embassy forwarded the Tribune article to Berlin immediately. German strategists reformulated much of their war plans to exploit Wedemeyer’s conclusion that the Americans wouldn’t be able to deploy an expeditionary army prior to July 1943. On 14 December, just after Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States, the German general staff recommend that the Führer withdraw his forces from Russia, step up attacks on shipping to the United Kingdom, and fortify the Atlantic coast to prevent an American landing to counter the Victory Program. Hitler initially approved of the new strategy, but soon reversed his decision and kept up the Soviet offensive.

Image courtesy of the Southeast Missourian
Above image and featured image from The Evening Star (Washington, D.C.)

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Author: Chris Carter

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