"In World War 2, Franklin Roosevelt (FDR) played a major role as President of the United States. The same can be said of Roosevelt's friend, Winston Churchill-British Prime Minister, who played a similar role in leading Britain during most of the war.
In World War 2, the three great Allied leaders against Germany were President Roosevelt, Winston Churchill , and Joseph Stalin of the Soviet Union. Three finer war leaders could not have been found at any time in history. Churchill, a leader with bulldog tenacity and possessing fine oratorical skills, Stalin, the man of steel, and Roosevelt, the great politician and compromisor, held the allies together when things looked blackest and then led them to victory over the fanatical resistance of the Germans and Japanese.
On the other side of the war, Hitler, although an evil person, also had his moments of leadership particularly at the start of the war. But none of the other Axis leaders (certainly not Mussolini!) were of the caliber of the three Allied leaders. Hitler was outnumbered three to one when it came to leadership.
This web site deals with President Roosevelt during World War 2. He had followed Herbert Hoover as president in 1933 shortly after the Great Depression began and served as president until 1945 when he died in office just as World War 2 was ending. Vice-President Harry Truman succeeded Roosevelt as president and led America in the immediate post-World War 2 era as the cold war began.
FDR's close ties to Winston Churchill are discussed on this web site. `
"The only thing we have to fear is fear itself."
Roosevelt was one of America's greatest presidents. To me, he has always been the perfect example of what an American president should be. Depending on the crisis at hand, Roosevelt undertook whatever corrective steps he thought needed to be taken. A child of the upper class, he, nevertheless, felt it was his duty to help those less fortunate than himself and he initiated the New Deal.
The president's wife (and fifth cousin), Eleanor Roosevelt, also had strong feelings in that direction and encouraged FDR in his efforts. Although he often had to compromise with his rich and powerful friends, he was a true champion of the "forgotten man."
President Roosevelt was conscious of the power of the presidency and used it as no one ever had before. He worked his way through two major crises in his 4 terms as president: the Great Depression and World War 2.
U.S. Unprepared at Beginning of World War 2. After Czechoslovakia fell to Germany in 1938, Roosevelt felt sure that Europe would erupt into war and that the U.S. would be drawn in. He knew the British and French were our natural allies and that Germany was wrong in its forced acquisition of surrounding nations. Even though he knew which side we must support, he could make no overt maneuvers because this country, including Congress, was militantly isolationist at the time. There was opposition to war from both the right and the left.
The right wingers were particularly adamant in their opposition. Some even wanted to join Hitler and the Nazis and attack Russia to clean out the communists who they thought were the "real" enemy (worse than Hitler!? The right-wingers were a little out of touch with reality).
So, even though President Roosevelt watched country after country fall into Nazi Germany's hands in 1939, 1940 and 1941, he was unable to attempt a rescue because American public support was not there.
All in all, the United States was lightly armed in 1938. The Navy was adequate but the army was woefully small. Roosevelt had to get the country ready for war he knew was probably coming but in such a manner as to not upset the isolationists. He had to move slowly: He did a wonderful job in this effort.
1. In November of 1938, President Roosevelt startled his military advisers by advocating the production of 10,000 military aircraft by 1940 and providing the capacity to produce 10,000 planes per year thereafter. This advice did not set well with some advisors who wanted a more balanced approach. But Roosevelt was trying to let Hitler know what America could produce if aroused. He was hoping to discourage Hitler's aggression.
2. In July of 1939, Roosevelt issued a military order moving agencies related to defense to report directly to the President and not to the various official government department heads. This created some confusion since the department heads were often left out of matters. However, the order provided a personal relationship between the president and the military chiefs. This is the way Roosevelt liked to work. It also magnified the power of the military chiefs which was a good thing as the nation prepared for war.
3. In September of 1940, Roosevelt made a destroyer deal with Great Britain providing them with 50 World War I destroyers in return for a string of bases in the Caribbean.
4. In September of 1940, the Selective Service Act was passed and Americans began to be drafted.
5. In early 1941, President Roosevelt had Congress pass the "Lend-Lease Act" which provided Britain and Russia with arms via lease but with no conditions for repayment. As the president said, "When your neighbor's house is on fire, one does not haggle over the price to put it out, the hose is readily loaned and the price is figured later."
America was slowly getting ready for war!
U.S. Enters World War 2.
On December 7, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and, on December 11th, Germany declared war on the U.S. (A big mistake by Hitler - otherwise, we might have concentrated on beating Japan first). America was now in World War 2! Americans were no longer isolationists - they were mad as hell and they were not going to take it! Overseas, Churchill, despite the disaster, could not help but feel a great relief (actually he was ecstatic) that America was now in the war. He later wrote,
"No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy.............but now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all! Yes, after Dunkerque; after the fall of France; .......after the threat of invasion......after seventeen months of lonely fighting.........We had won the war. England would live;.........Our history would not come to an end....Hitler's fate was sealed.........there was no more doubt about the end."
Churchill could relax for a moment after standing up to the Nazis, virtually alone, for two years. In retrospect, Churchill's optimistic outlook only partly came true. The Allies won the war all right and both Germany and Japan were defeated. But the British Empire was doomed as the nations who made up the commonwealth began to fly the coop after the war and, finally, Britain was the only significant power left. Although Bitain ended up on the winning side, the empire was finished as were other empires, e.g., German, Italian, French, and Japanese empires.
Just prior to the start of World War 2 in September 1939, President Roosevelt had written Churchill (Churchill was not yet prime minister) and the two opened a correspondence and began a warm friendship that would last until Roosevelt's death in 1945 although problems began to occur near the end because of Roosevelt's hesitancy in joining Churchill in moving to limit Soviet Union expansionism. This close relationship between the two leaders, of course, spilled over into the relationship between the countries. It led to the creation of the Combined Chiefs of Staff which was a joint military command over all British-American operations. It also led to the development of a second front in France, development of an atomic bomb, creation of the United Nations, and final defeat of the axis powers.
Prior to the war and for the first year or so of World War 2, President Roosevelt functioned as the "real" Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. armed forces. This is an authority that all presidents have a constitutional right to exercise but few do. Roosevelt was personally involved in all major decisions. One reason for this is that the enemy had the initiative early on and America was developing a strategy to counter the assault and seize the initiative. Alternative methods of conducting the war had to be considered and the president had to decide which way to go. (See Planning & Strategy for more on strategy.)
Once the war had gone on for awhile, the tide had turned, America and its allies had the initiative, and a master plan had been developed, so there was no need for President Roosevelt to be so heavily involved. Also, as the war proceeded, the military command system became too large for the personal control Roosevelt liked to exercise. Now he had to depend on theater commanders, the planning staffs, etc. He still used the personal touch with Churchill and his top military advisors but he could no longer control events as he did in pre-war days. This was true of strategy development and in operational planning. Roosevelt was not above stepping in on certain occasions but, essentially, control of military details had shifted to others closer to the action.
President Roosevelt still maintained close contact with events through his top assistants - Harry Hopkins and Admiral William Leahy - whom he relied heavily on in making wartime decisions. Early in the conflict, Roosevelt relied more on Hopkins than his military chiefs, however, this changed as the war went on. For his part, Leahy served as a liaison officer or, as Roosevelt called him, "a sort of leg man," transmitting information between the President and the Joint Chiefs. Leahy was a perfect man for the job due to his military seniority, personal friendship with the President, and personality. Largely due to his efforts, the views of the President and the military chiefs never drifted far apart as had occasionally happened early in the war.
Roosevelt as Commander-in-Chief - Operation TORCH. Early in the war in 1942, Roosevelt was still acting as the "real" Commander-in-Chief and moved forcibly on a critical strategic decision.
A joint American - British decision for a cross-channel invasion of France in 1943 (Operation OVERLORD) had been made early on. The plan had been endorsed enthusiastically by the Americans and reluctantly by the British. As time went by, the two sides began squabbling over whether the invasion of France should actually be made in 1943 or delayed until 1944. The American military chiefs even went so far as to recommend that, if the British did not go along with the U.S. invasion plan, the Americans should drop the prevailing Europe-first strategy and begin to move forces to the Pacific theater. In July 1942, Roosevelt intervened strongly in the dispute. He said he would not allow any diversion of forces from Europe to the Pacific. In effect, the British approach won out because of the president's intervention. Instead of an invasion of Europe in 1943, a much less aggressive landing of forces was made in North Africa (Operation TORCH) in late 1942. This substitute action for the now-delayed Operation OVERLORD held the British - American coalition together and the Europe-first strategy was preserved. In retrospect, the decision to delay was probably the correct one because we really were not fully ready for an invasion in 1943. Casualties would have been immense, and indeed, the invasion might have failed.
It should be noted that Stalin became infuriated with the postponement of Operation OVERLORD. He was in favor of a second front as early as possible to take pressure off his country. The Russians were already taking immense casualties - they were not that concerned that others might have to share taking casualties with them.
Roosevelt Contrasted to Churchill as Leaders During World War 2. Roosevelt's usual hands-off approach as Commander-in-Chief was unlike his restless friend Churchill's approach. Churchill could not refrain from meddling with the British commanders in the matters of tactics and strategy. It should be noted here that, for all his greatness, Churchill's meddling did not always have a happy ending as he often wanted to move the allied thrusts to obscure (e.g., invade the "soft underbelly of Europe") theaters away from the primary theater. At these times, he sometimes seemed to act as a child playing with his toys. He had had the same problem in World War I when he initiated the doomed attack on Galipoli, Turkey, a disaster which cost him his position. He was almost - but not quiet - as bad a meddler with the military leaders as Hitler was on the German side.
Roosevelt and Churchill had much different personalities. Roosevelt was a very political man, a man who used his charm, a compromisor, and a man who tried to avoid any controversy. His approach was always the indirect approach. (Had Roosevelt been a military man, he would have followed the "indirect approach" of Liddell Hart.) And by no means was Roosevelt an open man. He did not easily reveal his reasons for making decisions so his subordinates constantly had to try to read his mind and it did not appear to bother him at all to keep them guessing. The Bronx political leader, Edward Flynn, once observed of Roosevelt, "Roosevelt would adopt ideas only if he believed in them. If he disagreed, he simply did nothing."
Churchill, on the other hand, had a very opposite personality. His was the direct approach. He loved controversy and debate. He presented his ideas openly and loudly with much documentation and with great fervor. His associates and critics alike were allowed to do the same. He was an 'open read'. You always knew where Churchill stood on an issue. Because of his pugnacious disposition, Churchill was always getting knocked about by someone and had often, in his career, lost whatever job he might have at the time. But he had great tenacity and always got back on his feet full of fight.
Such different men!.... but together, they made a great team. They, along with Stalin, ran World War and won it.
The World War 2 Conferences. A number of conferences were held between Roosevelt and Churchill during World War 2. The Casablanca Conference between Roosevelt and Churchill was one of the more important conferences. A decision was made at this conference that no peace would be concluded with the Axis except on the basis of "unconditional surrender." This was done partly to placate the always suspicious Soviets that America and Britain would not seek a separate peace with Germany leaving the Soviets "holding the bag." Some critics say that this action unnecessarily lengthened World War 2 and caused unnecessary casualties. Politically, though, it was probably necessary.
Two of the last conferences were held at Teheran and Yalta and included Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin. Here the long range objectives of the United States and Britain began to deviate and some strain began to show on the friendship of Roosevelt and Churchill.
Churchill had been looking ahead to the post-World War 2 period and had perceived that the Soviet Union was going to be a problem with its expansive goals and its communistic ideology.
Roosevelt was less concerned about the Russians. He was more concerned about America getting caught up in the rebuilding of Europe and the possibility that they might have to station troops there indefinitely. He apparently felt that Americans would revert to their isolationists ways after the war and he had to get the country out of Europe as soon as possible. He also accepted the idea that Russia would have an expanded role in Europe after the war. Critics have long criticized Roosevelt in this aspect of his policy. To some, he sold out to the Soviets. To others, he was so anxious to end the war fast and get out of Europe that he ignored long-range political aspects which make up so large a part of war.
There is no doubt that the rapidly deteriorating health of President Roosevelt's health affected his performance during the last months of his life and contributed to his weakness regarding the Russians during the last two conferences.
President Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, a little over two weeks before the death of Hitler and a month before Germany surrendered and the European part of World War 2 ended. After his death, Churchill wrote Eleanor: "I have lost a dear and cherished friendship which was forged in the fire of war."
Overall, Roosevelt was a wonderful leader for America.  He pulled us through both the great depression of the 30s and the World War 2. He made his share of mistakes. For example, there is no doubt that he waffled on the Jewish problem even as news of German atrocities toward the Jews began to be publicized. However, when you look at how the other American leaders have handled different crisis in the twentieth century, he was, in my opinion, clearly superior to all the others.
1. Germany in World War 2. Germany fought long and hard in World War 2 but the U.S., Great Britain, and Russia were too smart and tough.
2. American Generals - World War 2. Roosevelt had some great generals working with him in World War 2. They had to be great! They were facing fine German generals who knew new warfare tactics, e.g., blitzkrieg.
3. Pacific War. After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt and the American people wanted to revenge the attack by Japan.
President Roosevelt was a great American president and led America during World War 2. The great Allied victory over Germany and Japan in World War 2 was largely due to the leadership qualities of President Roosevelt.
Last Updated: 09/13/14