President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, meeting at the White House on this day in 1943, set a date for the Allied cross-channel landing into northern France that would become D-Day. The date they chose, May 1, 1944, turned out to be premature. It took another five weeks for the invasion — by 29 American, British and Canadian divisions, as well as a Free French division — to occur.
During the 13-day visit, Churchill and Roosevelt met every two days in the White House. The British and American military leaders met nearly every day in the Board of Governors Room at the Federal Reserve Building.
The Allies decided to postpone the continental landings — against fierce opposition from Moscow — largely because of their lack of supplies. All British landing craft had been deployed to Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. At the time, only one U.S. division was immediately available due to a higher priority of operations in the Pacific against Japan and other priorities.
The conferees decided that they could build up troop strength, produce more landing craft and supplies, and thus ensure complete command of air and sea by delaying the landings for another year. They also discussed the difficulties posed by French beaches with their high tides, the German defenses, the optimal timing to stage an attack and anticipated weather conditions.
Addressing a joint session of Congress on his second wartime visit to the U.S. Capitol, Churchill warned that the real danger facing the Allies was “dragging out of the war at enormous expense.” They risked, he said, becoming “tired or bored or split,” which would play into the hands of the German and Japanese enemy.
“It is the duty of those who are charged with the direction of the war,” Churchill said, “to overcome at the earliest moment the military, geographical and political difficulties and begin the process so necessary and desirable of laying the cities and other munitions centers of Japan in ashes; for in ashes, they must surely lie before peace comes back to the world.”
“Let no one suggest,” Churchill continued, “that we British have not at least as great an interest as the United States in the unflinching and relentless waging of war against Japan. But I am here to tell you that we will wage that war side by side with you, in accordance with the best strategic employment of our forces while there is breath in our bodies and while blood flows in our veins.
“The African war is over,” he said. “[Benito] Mussolini’s African empire and Cpl. Hitler’s strategy are alike exploded. One continent at least has been cleansed and purged forever from fascist and Nazi tyranny.”
The assembled lawmakers greeted Churchill’s speech with tumultuous applause and a standing ovation.