UK Prime Minister Churchill’s address to Congress (5-19-43)

Prime Minister Churchill’s address to Congress
May 19, 1943, 12:31 p.m. EWT

Churchill speech V Norman

Broadcast audio (NBC):

Mr. President, Mr. Speaker, and Members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:

Seventeen months have passed since I last had the honor to address the Congress of the United States. For more than 500 days – every day a day – we have toiled and suffered and dared shoulder to shoulder against the cruel and mighty enemy. We have acted in close combination or concert in many parts of the world – on land, on sea, and in the air. The fact that you have invited me to come to the Congress again – a second time – now that we have settled down to the job, and that you should welcome me in so generous a fashion, is certainly a high mark in my life, and also shows that our partnership has not done so badly. I am proud that you should have found us good allies, striving forward in comradeship to the accomplishment of our task without grudging or stinting either life or treasure or indeed anything we have to give.

Last time I came at a moment when the United States was aflame with wrath at the treacherous attack upon Pearl Harbor by Japan and at the subsequent declarations of war upon the United States made by Germany and Italy. For my part I say quite frankly that in those days after our long, and for a whole year lonely, struggle I could not repress in my heart a sense of relief and comfort that we were all bound together by common peril, by solemn faith and high purpose to see this fearful quarrel through at all costs to the end. That was an hour of passionate emotion, an hour most memorable in human records, an hour, as I believe, full of hope and glory for the future.

The experiences of a long life and the promptings of my blood have wrought in me the conviction that there is nothing more important for the future of the world than the fraternal association of our two peoples in righteous work, both in war and in peace. So, in January 1942, I had that feeling of comfort and I therefore prepared myself in a confident and steadfast spirit to bear the terrible blows which were evidently about to fall on British interests in the Far East, which were bound to fall upon us from the military strength of Japan during a period when the American and British Fleets had lost for the time being the naval command of the Pacific and Indian Oceans. One after another in swift succession very heavy misfortunes fell upon us and upon our allies, the Dutch, in the Pacific Theater. The Japanese have seized the land and islands they so greedily coveted. The Philippines are enslaved. The lustrous, luxuriant regions of the Dutch East Indies have been overrun. In the Malay Peninsula and at Singapore we ourselves suffered the greatest military disaster, or at any rate the largest military disaster, in British history.

Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, all this has to be retrieved and all this and much else will have to be repaid.

And here let me say this: Let no one suggest 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; and 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 a breath in our bodies and while blood flows in our veins.

A notable part in the war against Japan must, of course, be played by the large armies and by the air and naval forces now marshalled by Great Britain on the eastern frontiers of India. In this quarter there lies one of the means of bringing aid to hard-pressed and long-tormented China. I regard the bringing of effective and immediate aid to China as one of the most urgent of our common tasks. It may not have escaped your attention that I brought with me to this country and to this conference Field Marshal Wavell and the other two commanders-in-chief from India. Now they have not traveled all this way simply to concern themselves about improving the health and happiness of the Mikado of Japan. I thought it would be good that all concerned in this theater should meet together and thresh out in friendly candor and heart to heart all the points that arise, and there are many. You may be sure that if all that was necessary was for an order to be given to the great army standing ready in India to march toward the Rising Sun and open the Burma Road that order would be given this afternoon. The matter is however somewhat more complicated and all movements or infiltration of troops into the mountains and jungles to the northeast of India is very strictly governed by what your American military men call the science of logistics.

But, Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, I repudiate, I am sure with your sympathy, the slightest suspicion that we should hold anything back that can be usefully employed, or that I and the government I represent are not as resolute to employ every man, gun, and airplane that can be used in this business as we have proved ourselves ready to do in other theaters of the war.

In our conferences in January 1942, between the President and myself, and between our high expert advisers, it was evident that while the defeat of Japan would not mean the defeat of Germany, the defeat of Germany would inevitably mean the ruin of Japan. The realization of this simple truth does not mean that both tasks should not proceed together, and indeed the major part of the United States forces is now deployed on the Pacific fronts. In the broad division which we then made of our labors in January 1942, the United States undertook the main responsibility for prosecuting the war against Japan and for aiding Australia and New Zealand to defend themselves against a Japanese invasion, which then seemed far more threatening than it does now. On the other hand, we took the main burden on the Atlantic. This was only natural. Unless the ocean lifeline which joins our two peoples can be kept unbroken, the British Isles and all the very considerable forces which radiate therefrom would be paralyzed and doomed. We have willingly done our full share of the sea work in the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean and in the Arctic convoys to Russia, and we have sustained, since our alliance began, more than double the losses in merchant tonnage that have fallen upon the United States.

On the other hand, the prodigious output of new ships from the United States building yards has for the 6 months past overtaken and now far surpasses the losses of both allies, and if no effort is relaxed there is every reason to count upon a ceaseless progressive expansion of Allied shipping available for the prosecution of the war.

Our killings of U-boats, as the Secretary of the Navy will readily confirm, have this year greatly exceeded all previous experience, and the last 3 months and particularly the last 3 weeks have yielded record results. This, of course, is to some extent due to the larger number of U-boats operating, but it is also due to the marked improvement in the severity and the power of our measures against them and of the new devices continually employed. While I rate the U-boat danger as still the greatest we have to face, I have a good and sober confidence that it will not only be met and contained but overcome. The increase of shipping tonnage over sinkings provides, after the movements of vital supplies, food, and munitions have been arranged, that margin which is the main measure of our joint war effort.

We are also conducting from the British Isles the principal air offensive against Germany, and in this we are powerfully aided by the United States Air Forces in the United Kingdom, whose action is chiefly by day as ours is chiefly by night. In this war numbers count more and more, both in night and day attacks. The saturation of the enemy’s flak, through the multiplicity of attacking planes, the division and dispersion of his fighter protection by the launching of several simultaneous attacks, are rewards which will immediately be paid to the substantial increases of British and American numbers which are now taking place. There is no doubt that the Allies already vastly outnumber the hostile air forces of Germany, Italy, and Japan, and still more does their output of new planes surpass the output of the enemy.

In this air war, by which both Germany and Japan fondly imagined they would strike decisive and final blows and terrorize nations great and small into submission to their will, in this air war it is that these guilty nations have already begun to show their first real mortal weakness. The more continuous and severe the air fighting becomes the better for us, because we can already replace casualties and machines far more rapidly than the enemy, and we can replace them on a scale which increases month by month.

Progress in this sphere is swift and sure, but it must be remembered that the preparation and development of airfields and the movement of great masses of ground personnel, on whom the efficiency of modern air squadrons depends, however earnestly pressed forward, is bound to take time.

Opinion, Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, is divided as to whether the use of airpower could, by itself, bring about a collapse of Germany or Italy. The experiment is well worth trying, so long as other measures are not excluded. There is certainly no harm in finding out. But however that may be, anyhow we are all agreed that the damage done to the enemy’s war potential is enormous. The condition to which the great centers of German war industry, and particularly the Ruhr, are being reduced is one of unparalleled devastation. You have just read of the destruction of the great dams which feed the canals and provide power to the enemy munition works. That was a gallant operation, costing 8 out of the 19 Lancaster bombers employed, but it will play a very far-reaching part in German munitions output.

It is our settled policy, the settled policy of our two staffs and war-making authorities, to make it impossible to carry on any form of war industry on a large or concentrated scale either in Germany, in Italy, or in the enemy-occupied countries. Wherever these centers exist or are developed, they will be destroyed and the munitions population will be dispersed. If they do not like what is coming to them, let them disperse beforehand on their own. The process will continue ceaselessly, with ever-increasing weight and intensity, until the German and Italian peoples abandon or destroy the monstrous tyrannies which they have incubated and reared in their midst.

Meanwhile, our air offensive is forcing Germany to withdraw an ever-larger proportion of its war-making capacity from the fighting fronts in order to provide protection against air attack. Hundreds of fighter aircraft, thousands of anti-aircraft cannon, and many hundreds of thousands of men, together with a vast share in the output of the war factories have all been assigned to this purely defensive function. All this is at the expense of the enemy’s power of new aggression or of the enemy’s power to resume the initiative. Surveying the whole aspect of the air war, we cannot doubt that it is a major factor in the process of victory. That, I think, is established as a solid fact. It is similarly all agreed between us that we should at the earliest moment bring our joint airpower to bear upon the military targets in the homelands of Japan. The cold-blooded execution of United States airmen by the Japanese government is a proof not only of their barbarism but of the dread with which they regard this possibility. It is the duty of those charged with the direction of the war 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 munition centers of Japan in ashes. For in ashes they must surely lie before peace comes back to the world.

That this objective holds a high place in the present conference is obvious to thinking men, but no public discussion would be useful upon the method or sequence of events which should be pursued in order to achieve it. Let me make 1t plain, however, that the British will participate in this air attack on Japan in harmonious accord with the major strategy of the war. That is our desire. And the cruelties of the Japanese enemy make our airmen all the more ready to share the perils and sufferings of their American comrades.

At the present time, speaking more generally, the prime problem which is before the United States, and to a lesser extent before Great Britain, is not so much the creation of armies or the vast output of munitions and aircraft. These are already in full swing, and immense progress and prodigious results have been achieved. The problem is rather the application of those forces to the enemy in the teeth of U-boat resistance across the great ocean spaces, across the narrow seas, or on land through the swamps, mountains, and jungles in various quarters of the globe. That is our problem. All our war plans must, therefore, be inspired, pervaded, and even dominated by the supreme object of coming to grips with the enemy under favorable conditions, or at any rate tolerable conditions – we cannot pick and choose too much – on the largest possible scale at the earliest possible moment, and of engaging that enemy wherever it is profitable and, indeed I might almost say wherever it is possible to do so. Thus, in this way we shall make our enemies in Europe and in Asia burn and consume their strength on land, on sea, and in the air with the maximum rapidity.

Now, you will readily understand that the complex task of finding the maximum openings for the employment of our vast forces, the selection of the points at which to strike with the greatest advantage to those forces, and the emphasis and priority to be assigned to all the various enterprises which are desirable, that is a task requiring the constant supervision and adjustment of our Combined Staffs and of the heads of governments. This is a vast and complicated process, especially when two countries are involved directly in council together, and when the interests of so many other countries have to be considered, and the utmost good will and readiness to think for the common cause of all the United Nations is required from everyone participating in our conference. The intricate adjustments and arrangements can only be made by discussion between men who know all the facts, and who are and can be held accountable for success or failure. Lots of people can make good plans for winning the war if they have not got to carry them out. I dare say if I had not been in a responsible position, I should have made a lot of excellent plans, and very likely should have brought them in one way or another to the notice of the executive authorities. But it is not possible to have full, open arguments about these matters. That is an additional hardship to those in charge – that such questions cannot be argued out and debated in public, except with enormous reticence and even then there is great danger that the watching and listening enemy may derive some profit from what they hear. In these circumstances, in my opinion, the American and British press and public have treated their executives with a wise and indulgent consideration, and recent events I think have vindicated their self-restraint. Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, it is thus that we are able to meet here today in all faithfulness and sincerity and friendship.

Geography imposes insuperable obstacles to the continuous session of the Combined Staffs and executive chiefs, but as the scene is constantly changing, and lately I think I may say constantly changing for the better, repeated conferences are indispensable if the sacrifices of the fighting troops are to be rendered fruitful and if the curse of war which lies so heavily upon almost the whole world is to be broken and swept away within the shortest possible time. I therefore thought it my duty with the full authority of His Majesty’s Government, to come here again with our highest officers, in order that the Combined Staffs may work in the closest contact v1ith the Chief Executive power which the President derives from his office, and in respect of which I am the accredited representative of the Cabinet and His Majesty’s Government.

The wisdom of the founders of the American Constitution led them to associate the office of Commander-in-Chief with that of the Presidency of the United States. In this they followed the precedents which were successful in the case of George Washington. It is remarkable that after more than 150 years this combination of political and military authority has been found necessary not only in the United States, but in the case of Marshal Stalin in Russia, and of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek in China. Even I, as majority leader in the House of Commons in one branch of the Legislature, have been drawn from time to time – not perhaps wholly against my will – into some participation in military affairs. Modern war is total, and it is necessary for its conduct that the technical and professional authorities should be sustained and if necessary directed by the heads of governments who have knowledge which enables them to comprehend not only the military but the political and economic affairs at work, and who have the power to focus them all upon the goal. These are the reasons which compelled the President to make his long journey to Casablanca, and these are the reasons which bring me here. We, both of us, earnestly hope that at no distant date we may be able to achieve what we have so long sought, namely, a meeting with Marshal Stalin and if possible with Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. But how, when, and where this is to be accomplished is not a matter upon which I am able to shed any clear ray of light at the present time, and if I were I should certainly not shed it. In the meanwhile, we do our best to keep the closest association at every level between all the authorities of all the countries who are engaged in the active direction of the war, and it is my special duty to promote and preserve this intimacy and concert between all parts of the British Commonwealth and Empire, and especially with the great self-governing Dominions, like Canada, whose Prime Minister is with us at this moment, and whose contribution is so massive and invaluable.

There could be no better or more encouraging example of the fruits of our consultations than the campaign in Northwest Africa which has just ended so well.

One morning in June last, when I was here, the President handed me a slip of paper which bore the utterly unexpected news of the fall of Tobruk and the surrender of its garrison of 25,000 men in unexplained circumstances. That, indeed, was a dark and bitter hour for me. I shall never forget the kindness, the delicacy, the true comradeship which our American friends showed me and those with me in such adversity. Their only thought was to find the means of helping us to restore the situation, and never for a moment did they question the resolution or the fighting quality of our troops. Hundreds of Sherman tanks were taken from the hands of American divisions and sent at the utmost speed around the Cape of Good Hope and Egypt. When 1 ship carrying 50 tanks was sunk by torpedo, the United States Government replaced it and its precious vehicles before we could even think of asking them to do so. The Sherman tank was the best tank in the desert in the year 1942, and the presence of these weapons played an appreciable part in the ruin of Rommel’s army at the battle of Alamein and in the long pursuit which chased him back to Tunisia.

At this time also, in June 1942, when I was here last, there lighted up those trains of thought and study which produced the memorable American and British descent upon French Northwest Africa, the results of which are a cause of general rejoicing today. We have certainly a most encouraging example here of what can be achieved by British and Americans working together heart and hand. In fact, one might almost feel that, if they could keep it up, there is hardly anything they could not do, either in the field of war or in the not less tangled problems of peace. History will acclaim this great enterprise as a classic example of the way to make war. We used the weapon of sea power, the weapon in which we were strongest, to attack the enemy at our chosen moment and at our chosen point. In spite of the immense elaboration of the plan and the many hundreds, thousands even, who had to be informed of its main outline, we maintained secrecy and effective surprise. We confronted the enemy with a situation in which he had either to lose invaluable strategic territories or to fight under conditions most costly and wasteful to him. We recovered the initiative, which we still retain. We rallied to our side French forces, which are already a brave – and will presently become a powerful – army under the gallant Gen. Giraud. We secured bases from which violent attacks can and will be delivered by our airpower on the whole of Italy, with results which no one can measure, but which most certainly will be highly beneficial to our affairs. We have made an economy in our strained and straitened shipping position worth several hundreds of great ships, and one which will give us the advantage of far swifter passage through the Mediterranean to the East, to the Middle East, and to the Far East. We have struck the enemy a blow which is the equal of Stalingrad and most stimulating to our heroic and heavily engaged Russian allies.

All this gives the lie to the Nazi and Fascist taunts that parliamentary democracies are incapable of waging effective war. Presently we will furnish them with further examples.

Still I am free to admit that in North Africa we builded better than we knew. The unexpected came to the aid of what was designed and multiplied the results. For this we have to thank the military intuition of Cpl. Hitler. We may notice, as I predicted in the House of Commons 3 months ago, the touch of the master hand. The same insensate obstinacy which doomed Field Marshal von Paulus and his army to destruction at Stalingrad has brought this new catastrophe upon our enemies in Tunisia. We have destroyed or captured considerably more than a quarter million of the enemy’s best troops, together with vast masses of material, all of which had been ferried across to Africa after paying heavy toll to British submarines and to British and United States aircraft. No one could count on such follies. They gave us, if I may use the language of finance, a handsome bonus after the full dividend had been earned and paid.

At the time when we planned this great joint African operation, we hoped to be masters of Tunisia even before the end of last year. But the injury we have now inflicted upon the enemy, physical and psychological, the training our troops have had in the hard school of war, and the welding together of the Anglo-American Staff machine – these are advantages which far exceed anything which it was within our power to plan. The German lie-factory is volubly explaining how valuable is the time which they bought by the loss of their great armies. Let them not delude themselves. Other operations which will unfold in due course, depending as they did upon the special instruction of large numbers of troops. and upon the provision of vast technical apparatus, these other operations have not been in any way delayed by the obstinate fighting in northern Tunisia.

Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, the African war is over. Mussolini’s African Empire and Cpl. Hitler’s strategy are alike exploded. It is interesting to compute what these performances have cost those two wicked men and those who have been their tools or their dupes. The Emperor of Abyssinia sits again upon the throne from which he was driven by Mussolini’s poison gas. All the vast territories from Madagascar to Morocco, from Cairo to Casablanca, from Aden to Dakar are under British, American, or French control. One continent, at least, has been cleansed and purged forever from Fascist and Nazi tyranny.

The African excursions of the two dictators have cost their countries in killed and captured 950,000 soldiers. In addition, nearly 2,400,000 gross tons of shipping have been sunk and nearly 8,000 aircraft destroyed, both of these figures being exclusive of large numbers of ships and aircraft damaged. There have also been lost to the enemy 6,200 guns, 2,550 tanks, and 70,000 trucks, which is the American name for lorry and which I understand has been adopted by the combined staffs in Northwest Africa in exchange for the use of the word “petrol” in place of “gasoline.” These are the losses of the enemy after 3 years of war. At the end of it all, what is there to show? The proud German Army has by its sudden collapse, its crumbling, and breaking up – unexpected to all of us – the proud German Army has once again proved the truth of the saying:

The Hun is always at your throat or your feet.

That is a point which may have its bearing on the future. But for our part at this milestone in the war we can say, “One continent redeemed.”

The Northwest African campaign, and particularly its Tunisian climax, is the finest example of the cooperation of the troops of three different countries and of the combination under one supreme commander of the use of sea, land, and air forces which has yet been seen. In particular, the British and American staff work, as I have said, has matched the comradeship of the soldiers of both our countries striding forward side by side under the fire of the enemy. It was a marvel of efficient organization which enabled the Second American Corps, or rather Army, for that was its size, to be moved 300 miles from the southern sector, which had become obsolete through the retreat of the enemy, to the northern coast, from which, beating down all opposition, they advanced and took the fortress and harbor of Bizerte. In order to accomplish this march of 300 miles, which was covered in 12 days, it was necessary for this very considerable army, with its immense modern equipment, to traverse at right angles the communications of the British 1st Army, which was already engaged, or about to be engaged, in heavy battle, and this was achieved without in any way disturbing the hour-to-hour supply upon which that army depended. I am told that these British and American officers work together without the slightest question of what country they belong to, each doing his part in a military organization which must henceforward be regarded as a most powerful and efficient instrument of war. There is honor, Mr. President and Mr. Speaker, for all; and I shall at the proper time and place pay my tribute to the British and American commanders by land and sea who conducted or who were engaged in the battle. This only will I say now: I do not think you could have chosen any man more capable than Gen. Eisenhower of keeping his very large, heterogeneous force together through bad times as well as good, and of creating the conditions of harmony and energy which were the indispensable elements of victory.

I have dwelt in some detail, but I trust not at undue length, upon these famous events, and I shall now return to the general war for a few minutes in which they have their setting and proportion. It is a poor heart that never rejoices. But our thanksgiving, however fervent, must be brief. Heavier work lies ahead, not only in the European but, as I have indicated, in the Pacific and in the Indian spheres; and the President and I and the Combined Staffs are gathered here in order that this work shall be, as far as lies within us, well-conceived and thrust forward without losing a day. Not for one moment must we forget that the main burden of the war on land is still borne by the Russian Armies. They are holding at the present time no fewer than 190 German divisions and 28 satellite divisions on their front. It is always wise, while doing justice to one’s own achievements, to preserve a proper sense of proportion, and I therefore mention that these figures of the German forces opposite Russia compare with the equivalent of about 15 divisions which we have destroyed in Tunisia after a campaign which has cost us about 50,000 casualties. That gives some measure of the Russian effort and of the debt which we owe to her. It may well be that a further trial of strength between the German and Russian Armies is impending. Russia has already inflicted injuries upon the German military organism which will, I believe, prove mortal. But there is little doubt that Hitler is reserving his supreme gambler’s throw for a third attempt to break the heart and spirit and destroy the armed forces of the mighty nation which he has already twice assaulted in vain. He will not succeed. But we must do everything in our power that is sensible and practicable to take more of the weight off Russia in 1943.

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I do not intend to be responsible for any suggestion that the war is won or will soon be over. That it will be won by us I am sure. But how or when cannot be foreseen, still less foretold. I was driving the other day not far from the field of Gettysburg, which I know well, like most of your battlefields. It was the decisive battle of the Civil War. No one after Gettysburg doubted which way the dread balance of war would incline. Yet far more blood was shed after the Union victory at Gettysburg than in all the fighting which went before. It behooves us, therefore, to search our hearts and brace our sinews and to take the most earnest counsel one with another in order that the favorable position which has already been reached, both against Japan and against Hitler and Mussolini in Europe, shall not be let slip. If we wish to abridge the slaughter and ruin which this war is spreading to so many lands and to which we must ourselves contribute so grievous a measure of suffering and sacrifice, we cannot afford to relax a single fiber of our being or to tolerate the slightest abatement of our effort. The enemy is still proud and powerful. He is hard to get at. He still possesses enormous armies, vast resources, and invaluable strategic territories. War is full of mysteries and surprises. A false step, a wrong direction of strategic effort, discord, or lassitude among the Allies might soon give the common enemy the power to confront us with new and hideous facts. We have surmounted many serious dangers. But there is one grave danger which will go along with us until the end. That danger is the undue prolongation of the war. No one can tell what new complications and perils might arise in 4 or 5 more years of war. And it is in the dragging out of war at enormous expense till the democracies are tired, or bored, or split that the main hopes of Germany and Japan must now reside.

We must destroy this hope, as we have destroyed so many others; and for that purpose, we must beware of every topic, however attractive, and every tendency, however natural, which divert our minds or energies from the supreme objective of the general victory of the United Nations. By singleness of purpose, by steadfastness of conduct, by tenacity and endurance, such as we have so far displayed, by these, and only by these, can we discharge our duty to the future of the world and to the destiny of man.