D-Day: President Roosevelt's Press Conference on D-Day
(June 6, 1944)
THE PRESIDENT: (as members of the White House staff filed in) My goodness! -- all smiles -- all smiles. Look at these two coming in! (Laughter)
MR. JONATHAN DANIELS: You don't look like you're so solemn yourself, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I'm not so solemn, I suppose.... All right, bring in the "wolves." (Laughter)
MR. EARLY: One hundred and eighty-one of them waiting to come in. (The correspondents came in and sat in a circle around the President's desk) . . .
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think this is a very happy conference today. Looking at the rows of you coming in, you have the same expressions as the anonymous and silent people this side of the desk who came in just before you- all smiles!
I have very little more news that I can tell you than what you all got in your offices.
I think it's all right to use this, which has not been published yet. It came in a dispatch from Eisenhower on the progress of the operations, as of about 12 o'clock today. The American naval losses were two destroyers and one L.S.T. And the losses incident to the air landing were relatively light -- about one percent.
Q. That's the air-borne troops, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, air losses as a whole.
And, of course, there are a great deal of reports coming in all the time, and it's being given out over there just as fast as it possibly can. I think the arrangements seem to be going all right. I think that's all that I have over here. You are getting it just as fast as we are.
Q. Mr. President, how do you feel about the progress of the invasion?
THE PRESIDENT: Up to schedule. And, as the Prime Minister said, "That's a mouthful." (Laughter)
Q. Mr. President, could you now tell us how closely held this secret was, or how many people were in on the actual "know"?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know. You would have to ask in London. Over here, there were relatively few. When I say relatively few, of course, a great many people in both the War Department and the Navy Department knew that we were sending very large forces over to the other side. A very small number knew the actual timing.
Q. That is what I refer to.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes- very few.
Q. On the fingers of your hand, sir?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I wouldn't say that. It must have been more than that, but not very much more.
Q. Mr. President, how long have you known that this was the date?
THE PRESIDENT: I have known since -- (pausing) -- I am trying to think back -- I would say Teheran, which was last December, that the approximate date would be the end of May or the very first few days of June. And I have known the exact date just within the past few days.
And I knew last night, when I was doing that broadcast on Rome, that the troops were actually in the vessels, on the way across.
Q. I was wondering if you could explain what were the elements entering into the consideration as far back as Teheran that would lead military leaders to be able to choose a date which seems to be quite far ahead?
THE PRESIDENT: Did you ever cross the English Channel?
Q. Never been across the English Channel.
THE PRESIDENT: You're very lucky.
Q. Tide? Is it largely a question of -
THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) Roughness in the English Channel, which has always been considered by passengers one of the greatest trials of life, to have to cross the English Channel. And, of course, they have a record of the wind and the sea in the English Channel; and one of the greatly desirable and absolutely essential things is to have relatively small-boat weather, as we call it, to get people actually onto the beach. And such weather doesn't begin much before May.
Q. Well, was weather the factor, sir, in delaying from the end of May until the first week in June?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, yes. After the June date was set, there was only an actual delay of one day.
Q. Mr. President, was it timed to come after the fall of Rome?
THE PRESIDENT: No, because we didn't know when Rome was going to fall.
Q. Mr. President, you said only one day after the time- was it postponed one day?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes, yes.
Q. That was the weather consideration again?
THE PRESIDENT: That was the consideration. But, of course, you have all seen- and you will see increasingly -- the reasons why we didn't institute, at the behest of politicians and others, a second front a year ago when they began clamoring for it; because their plea for an immediate second front last year reminds me a good deal of that famous editor and statesman who said years ago, before most of you were born, during the Wilson administration, "I am not worried about the defense of America. If we are threatened, a million men will spring to arms overnight." And, of course, somebody said, "What kind of arms? If you can't arm them, then what's the good of their springing to something that 'ain't' there?"
Well, it will be shown that the preparations for this particular operation were far bigger and far more difficult than anybody except the military could possibly determine beforehand. We have done it just as fast as we possibly could. The thing came up--of course, it enters into the general, the highest strategy of the war--oh, back the first time that we held a conference of the combined staffs, which was in late December, 1941, and early January, 1942. Why, we took up the question of a second front--of course we did. And we have been taking it up at every conference in the meantime. But there were so many other things that had to be done, and so little in the way of trained troops and munitions to do it with, we have had to wait to do it the very first chance we got. Well, this particular operation goes all the way back to December, 1941, and it came to a head--the final determination-in Cairo and Teheran. I think it is safe to say that.
Q. Mr. President, isn't there another factor, that in the last six months it has given you a chance to double the invasion force?
THE PRESIDENT: I would hate to say that categorically, because I haven't got the exact figures; but, of course, it has made a great deal of difference. We know that it has meant that a great many more divisions, and a great many more of everything, especially landing craft, have been made possible. We couldn't have done it six months ago, because we didn't have enough landing craft ....
Q. Mr. President, at Teheran you took this subject up, and as you know, there were constant cries demanding a second front. Can you say whether or not Marshal Stalin was aware of what was going on? Marshal Stalin, for instance, was demanding a second front.
THE PRESIDENT: Not after Teheran.
Q. He understood thoroughly?
THE PRESIDENT: Absolutely. Mr. Stalin's mind was entirely cleared up at Teheran, when he understood the problem of going across the Channel; and when this particular time was arrived at and agreed on at Teheran, he was entirely satisfied.
Q. Mr. President, when you said that the time was fixed at Teheran approximately, was the point of attack also fixed at the same time?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, no. Oh, no.
Q. When did that develop?
THE PRESIDENT: That was a matter which was -- well, I can't tell you the exact date, but it was always open to change. In other words, it may have been half a dozen different places.
Q. That was a matter of strategy?
THE PRESIDENT: A matter of strategy, yes.
Q. Mr. President, may there still be a half-dozen different places?
THE PRESIDENT: Gosh! What an awful question! You know they are all improper, highly improper. (Laughter)
Q. Mr. President, on this date and point of attack then, as I understand it, that was all left up to the high command?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes.
Q. And has been decided comparatively recently?
THE PRESIDENT: Decided by General Eisenhower.
Q. Comparatively recently?
THE PRESIDENT: Oh, yes- yes. It's a long, long coast from Spain to Norway, you know.
Q. Mr. President, have there been any reports of cooperation by the French underground in the invasion of-
THE PRESIDENT: (interposing) With the underground? No.
Q. Nothing yet?
THE PRESIDENT: Nothing yet.
Q. (interposing) Mr. President
THE PRESIDENT: (continuing) It seems probable--don't quote me in any way on this, but in an area where there is fighting going on, the chances are there are very few civilians in that area. We know, for example, that the Germans have been pushing the French population further and further to the rear. Whenever they got a chance they moved them out. So you can't get cooperation out of stones and dirt. I don't believe there are many people in there -- French people.
Q. Is that off the record, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: No, as long as you don't attribute it to me ....
Q. Mr. President, some reports that have come in on the progress of operations did say that the Germans were taken by surprise tactically.
THE PRESIDENT: I don't know -- I don't know. Perfectly frankly, I have no idea.
Q. They knew about the time and tide too, didn't they, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT: They must have known whether it was raining or not. (Laughter)
Q. Mr. President, can you tell us anything about the impact of this invasion on the home front -- the population here?
THE PRESIDENT: No. It has all been coming across the ocean. I haven't heard anything except that the whole country is tremendously thrilled; and I would say on that that I think that it is a very reasonable thrill, but that I hope very much that there will not be again too much overconfidence, because overconfidence destroys the war effort.
A fellow came in some time ago whom I have known for quite a while -- near home -- and he had come -- oh, this was several months ago, at the time we took Sicily- and he had had a mighty good job out on the Pacific coast. I don't know what he was -- a welder or something like that.
I said, "What are you doing back home?"
"Oh," he said, "the war's over. I am going to try and get a permanent job before everybody quits working on munitions."
He just walked out, quit his job -- and he was a good man, he was a munitions worker -- because when we took Sicily he said to himself the war's over.
Now, that's the thing we have got to avoid in this country. The war isn't over by any means. This operation isn't over. You don't just land on a beach and walk through--if you land successfully without breaking your leg -- walk through to Berlin. And the quicker this country understands it the better. Again, a question of learning a little geography.
Q. Mr. President, could you tell us something of your hopes for the future on this great day?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know what it is, it's win the war and win it a hundred percent.
Q. One last question, Mr. President. How are you feeling?
THE PRESIDENT: I'm feeling fine. I'm a little sleepy. (Laughter)
Sources: FDR Library