Joint Message of Assistance to the Soviet Union from President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The Soviet Union and Germany maintained an uneasy peace at the outset of World War II, despite ideological differences and long-standing animosity. In August 1939, the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact with Germany, agreeing to divide Eastern Europe into German and Soviet “spheres of influence” after the war, and the two powers invaded Poland in September, Germany from the west and the Soviets from the east. When Germany and its allies attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was caught by surprise and the Red Army was unprepared. Three million men from Germany, Italy, Romania, Hungary, and Finland made astounding progress through the Soviet Union along a nearly two-thousand-mile front, capturing valuable industrial and agricultural resources in Ukraine and speeding toward Moscow. Both British prime minister Winston Churchill and US president Franklin Roosevelt, despite their distrust of Stalin and his previous relationship with German chancellor Adolf Hitler, understood that the Soviets needed assistance, and promised aid. Two months after the invasion, when it was clear that the Soviet Union was in desperate trouble, Britain and the United States sent this clear message of support, suggesting that the powers meet in Moscow to discuss strategy and resources. This led to the first Moscow Conference of the three powers, from September 29 to October 1, 1941.

Summary Overview

The Soviet Union and Germany maintained an uneasy peace at the outset of World War II, despite ideological differences and long-standing animosity. In August 1939, the Soviet Union signed a nonaggression pact with Germany, agreeing to divide Eastern Europe into German and Soviet “spheres of influence” after the war, and the two powers invaded Poland in September, Germany from the west and the Soviets from the east. When Germany and its allies attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was caught by surprise and the Red Army was unprepared. Three million men from Germany, Italy, Romania, Hungary, and Finland made astounding progress through the Soviet Union along a nearly two-thousand-mile front, capturing valuable industrial and agricultural resources in Ukraine and speeding toward Moscow. Both British prime minister Winston Churchill and US president Franklin Roosevelt, despite their distrust of Stalin and his previous relationship with German chancellor Adolf Hitler, understood that the Soviets needed assistance, and promised aid. Two months after the invasion, when it was clear that the Soviet Union was in desperate trouble, Britain and the United States sent this clear message of support, suggesting that the powers meet in Moscow to discuss strategy and resources. This led to the first Moscow Conference of the three powers, from September 29 to October 1, 1941.

Defining Moment

In August 1939, after Soviet negotiations with England and France stalled, Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a nonaggression agreement that committed the two mutually distrustful nations not to attack one another militarily or to aid either of their respective enemies. They also agreed to divide Eastern Europe into Soviet and German spheres of influence. When Germany invaded Poland days later, the Soviet Union followed suit and occupied a section of Polish territory. Despite this agreement, Stalin and Hitler kept a close eye on one another. As early as 1925, Hitler had written in his personal manifesto, Mein Kampf, of his plans for an invasion of the Soviet Union to provide Germany with food and raw materials. Hitler thought of Russians and Slavic peoples as genetically and culturally inferior to Germans, ruled by Jewish Bolshevik interests and suitable only for slavery. Although both were totalitarian systems in practice, Communist and fascist ideas were diametrically opposed, and German Communists were rounded up and sent to concentration camps. Communism was despised by German leadership, and Stalin himself was deeply distrusted.

Despite these differences, Germany relied on the Soviet Union for commodity imports, particularly oil and wheat, for which it exchanged industrial and military supplies. During the early years of the war, the two enjoyed a brisk commercial relationship, and even entered into negotiations that would have allied the Soviet Union with Germany and the other Axis powers against England and France and their allies. These talks continued into 1941, long after Hitler had begun making preparations to invade the Soviet Union.

The reasons for Germany's invasion to the east were practical as well as ideological. Military success on the Western Front meant that resources could be spared to fight in Russia. Hitler feared a British-Soviet alliance, and believed that he could cause the collapse of the Soviet Union quickly and then devote his full attention to subjugating Britain. In addition, Germany desperately needed raw materials and resources. On June 22, 1941, Germany and her allies launched Operation Barbarossa, opening up an eastern front spanning nearly two thousand miles, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Upon hearing of the invasion, British prime minister Winston Churchill promised to aid the Soviets, and two days later, the United States also promised assistance. British and Soviet diplomats began working on a mutual assistance agreement that was signed on July 13, 1941, providing for military aid to the Soviet Union and prohibiting either nation from making peace with Germany separately. In July and August, the Soviet Union continued to suffer heavy losses. An inexperienced officer corps, the result of Stalin's purges of military officers, made poor tactical decisions, and Germany was able to capture or destroy vast quantities of military equipment. On August 14, Churchill and Roosevelt announced their postwar aims in the Atlantic Charter declaration. The following day, they again assured Stalin of their support for the Soviet Union, but wished to broaden the conversation to include long-term planning, in addition to emergency relief. The result of this message was the Moscow Conference—the first of a number over the course of the war—in September 1941, where British, American, and Soviet leaders met and agreed to a treaty providing desperately needed military assistance to the Soviet Union.

Author Biography

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was born in 1882 in Hyde Park, New York. He studied law and entered politics in 1910 as a state senator. In 1912, Roosevelt supported Woodrow Wilson's presidential candidacy at the Democratic National Convention, and when Wilson won, he appointed Roosevelt assistant secretary of the Navy, a position he held from 1913 to 1920. Roosevelt held the governorship of New York from 1928 to 1932, when he was elected president of the United States, a position he held until his death in 1945.

Winston Churchill was born in 1874 in Oxfordshire, England. After a career as a military officer, Churchill gained a measure of fame as a journalist and war correspondent. Upon his return to England, he held a variety of political positions during and after World War I. During the 1930s, Churchill denounced the rise of the Nazi Party and advocated for a strong British military. In 1939, he was appointed first lord of the Admiralty, and on May 10, 1940, Churchill became prime minister, a position that he held until 1945 and again from 1951 until 1955. Churchill died in 1965 at the age of ninety.

Historical Document

We have taken the opportunity afforded by the consideration of the report of Mr. Harry Hopkins on his return from Moscow to consult together as to how best our two countries can help your country in the splendid defense that you are making against the Nazi attack. We are at the moment cooperating to provide you with the very maximum of supplies that you most urgently need. Already many shiploads have left our shores and more will leave in the immediate future.

We must now turn our minds to the consideration of a more long term policy, since there is still a long and hard path to be traversed before there can be won that complete victory without which our efforts and sacrifices would be wasted.

The war goes on upon many fronts and before it is over there may be further fighting fronts that will be developed. Our resources though immense are limited, and it must become a question as to where and when those resources can best be used to further the greatest extent our common effort. This applies equally to manufactured war supplies and to raw materials.

The needs and demands of your and our armed services can only be determined in the light of the full knowledge of the many factors which must be taken into consideration in the decisions that we make. In order that all of us may be in a position to arrive at speedy decisions as to the apportionment of our joint resources, we suggest that we prepare for a meeting to be held at Moscow, to which we would send high representatives who could discuss these matters directly with you. If this conference appeals to you, we want you to know that pending the decisions of that conference we shall continue to send supplies and material as rapidly as possible.

We realize fully how vitally important to the defeat of Hitlerism is the brave and steadfast resistance of the Soviet Union and we feel therefore that we must not in any circumstances fail to act quickly and immediately in this matter on planning the program for the future allocation of our joint resources.

Signed: FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT

Signed: WINSTON S. CHURCHILL

Document Analysis

This message to the Soviet Union begins with a statement of united purpose between the United States and Great Britain. The two leaders had met to discuss “how best our two countries can help your country.” They acknowledge the “splendid defense” the Soviets are making against the Nazis, and the urgent need for the two nations to work together to provide the Soviet Union with assistance. They will endeavor to provide the “very maximum of supplies that you most urgently need.” Roosevelt and Churchill are eager to broaden the conversation with the Soviet Union to address more long-term goals, however. The three nations will need to think strategically, since “there is still a long and hard path to be traversed” before victory can be achieved.

Though the Soviet Union is at a crisis point, it is one of many battlefronts, and there will be more. England and the United States must determine how to use their limited resources, and “it must become a question as to where and when those resources can best be used to further the greatest extent our common effort.” Supplies and materials must be allocated in a way that makes the most strategic sense. The British and American allies do not fully understand the needs of the Soviet Union, and so aid can only be effectively delivered in “the light of the full knowledge” of the Soviet position. To that end, Roosevelt and Churchill request that a meeting be held “in order that all of us may be in a position to arrive at speedy decisions as to the apportionment of our joint resources,” and asks that representatives meet in Moscow as soon as possible so this conversation can take place. This is not a stalling tactic, however. The Soviet Union is assured that “we shall continue to send supplies and material as rapidly as possible,” as the United States and Britain understand that the “brave and steadfast resistance of the Soviet Union” is crucial to the “defeat of Hitlerism.”

Essential Themes

The primary theme of this message is the establishment of the relationship between the Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain that continued for the remainder of the war. Though the United States was still technically neutral at the time of this message, Roosevelt had joined with Churchill to offer the Soviet Union the support it needed to defend itself against Germany. They were aware that a quick Soviet defeat, which seemed possible and even likely in August 1941, would leave Germany in control of Europe with vast military resources to turn on England and eventually the United States. At the same time, Roosevelt and Churchill were suspicious of Stalin, who had been collaborating with Hitler until the eve of the invasion. They were anxious to come to an understanding that established a mutually beneficial relationship among the three powers.

Bibliography and Additional Reading
  • Beevor, Antony. The Second World War. New York: Back Bay, 2012. Print.
  • Fenby, Jonathan. Alliance: The Inside Story of How Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill Won One War and Began Another. London: Simon, 2006. Print.
  • Hartmann, Christian. Operation Barbarossa: Nazi Germany's War in the East, 1941–1945. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2013. Print.
  • Kershaw, Robert. War without Garlands: Operation Barbarossa 1941–1942. Chatham: Ian Allen, 2000. Print.
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