Thursday, March 7, 2019

December 11, 1941: Hitler Declares War on US

Thursday 11 December 1941

Adolf Hitler 11 December 1941
Adolf Hitler and cronies during his speech at the Kroll Opera House on 11 December 1941.
German/US Relations: On 11 December 1941, Adolf Hitler instructs Reich Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop to deliver a formal declaration of war to United States Chargé d'Affaires in Berlin Leland B. Morris. The primary reason for this, as stated in the text of the declaration, is the order given by President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt on 11 September 1941 for US warships to "fire upon" Kriegsmarine war vessels "on sight." The United States Congress then votes to declare war on Germany within hours, passing the:
Joint Resolution Declaring That a State of War Exists Between The Government of Germany and the Government and the People of the United States and Making Provisions To Prosecute The Same.
Adolf Hitler gives a long speech to the Reichstag at the Kroll Opera House explaining this decision. President Roosevelt, however, merely sends down a written request to Congress asking for a declaration of war.

Adolf Hitler 11 December 1941

The Reich's declaration of war against the United States is considered Hitler's worst blunder of the war, topped only, perhaps, by his invasion of the Soviet Union. The reasons for Hitler's decision are debated, but his previous speeches indicate a deep resentment about the United States for flouting the international rules of warfare in support of Great Britain. Another possible motivation is to draw attention away from the Eastern Front, where the Wehrmacht is reeling due to the Red Army counteroffensive at Moscow. Hitler also is a creature of the Great War, and many of his strategies mirror those taken by the German Empire in that conflict. In this instance, Hitler adopts the thinking of the German high command in 1917 that unrestricted submarine warfare could finally isolate England and cause its eventual starvation and surrender. This would prevent United States intervention on the Continent and free the Reich's military to finally subdue the USSR. The strategy did not work in World War I, but perhaps Hitler thinks that the United States Navy is inadequate to fight a two-ocean war. In any event, the Reich is not bound by a treaty to support the Empire of Japan. While the Japanese Ambassador has sought such written assurance, the Reich has not provided them. In any event, Hitler never shows much deference to treaties regardless of how applicable they may be. This is Hitler's decision alone, made after four days of consideration, and stands as his only formal declaration of war.

FDR signs the declaration of war, 11 December 1941
President Roosevelt signs the declaration of war against Germany, 11 December 1941.
Axis Relations: In Italy, Benito Mussolini issues a statement declaring war on the United States. Germany, Italy, and Japan, the original signatories of the Tripartite Pact, sign a new agreement that bars any of them from making a separate peace with either the United States or Great Britain. Various other countries declare war on one side or the other in the coming days, but the main battle lines now are drawn.

New York Times, 11 December 1941
The New York Times continues lacing real news with not-so-real news in its headlines. The United States has not even seen any of Japan's battleships or aircraft carriers yet, much less damaged them. While two Japanese destroyers are sunk off Wake Island today, that is merely a happy coincidence of which the Times reporters are completely unaware. As for stopping the Japanese on land, that also sort of is true on Wake Island, but not anywhere else - particularly on Guam, where the US garrison already has surrendered.
Battle of the Pacific: Four days have gone by at Pearl Harbor, and still the military in the Hawaiian Islands has no idea where the attackers of 7 December 1941 came from or where they went. The priority since the attack has been recovery and self-preservation, but no countermeasures. Today, the US Army Air Force finally attempts to find out, sending six Douglas B-18 Bolos to investigate the waters offshore. They find nothing: the Imperial Japanese Navy's main striking force, Kido Butai, is long gone.

Wheeler Field, 11 December 1941
Destruction at Wheeler Field in Hawaii, as photographed on 11 December 1941.
The war in the Pacific proceeds much as it has since the first Japanese attacks, with steady Japanese gains and only occasional flashes of success by the Allies. Hong Kong's defenses are under artillery fire and aerial attack, and the British defenses on Kowloon and the New Territories already are crumbling. The British begin to evacuate all forces to Hong Kong Island, with no assurance that it can be held, either. In the Philippines, the Japanese already are on Luzon and heading south on Route 5 toward Tuguegarao and Laoag. They also embark 2500 men of the 16th Division for landings in southern Luzon to take place early on the 12th. On the Malay Peninsula, the Indian 9th Division of Indian III Corps begins pulling out of Kelantan, retreating from the airfields at Gong Kedah and Machang which the Japanese are now happy to use. The Japanese harass the retreating Indian troops as they head south.

Adolf Hitler 11 December 1941
While driving to the Kroll Opera House to give his speech to the Reichstag, Adolf Hitler's Mercedes passes by the Foreign Ministry. Note that everyone except the soldiers on duty offer Hitler the "Hitler greeting" (Hitlergruß) (AP Photo). 
At Wake Island, however, things are a bit brighter for the Americans, as the 1st Defense Battalion defeats attempted landings by the South Seas Force and even manages to sink destroyer Hayate (one survivor) using six 5-inch coastal defense guns. US Navy F4F-3 Wildcats, flown in less than a week ago, also bomb and sink destroyer Kisaragi (no survivors). The Japanese are forced to withdraw. US reporters, hungry for any positive news, make up a legend that the US commander on the island, naval aviator Commander Winfield S. Cunningham, USN, sends his superiors the cheeky message "Send us more [Japanese]" when asked what he needs. This charming invention makes headlines around the world, but it does sum up the feelings of many following the first United States success against the Empire of Japan. The Japanese, however, are not happy to lose two destroyers and hand the enemy a propaganda victory, so they immediately divert aircraft carriers Sōryū and Hiryū from Kido Butai (which is in the vicinity following its successful strike against Pearl Harbor) to help take Wake Island. The US Navy, meanwhile, is still unable to send any aid to the embattled US Marines and hundreds of civilian construction workers on the island.

Judy Garland and Lana Turner, 11 December 1941
Judy Garland and Lana Turner on the set of "Ziegfeld Girl," 11 December 1941 (Clarence Sinclair Bull, via The Judy Garland Experience).

The Reich's Declaration of War upon the United States:


The Government of the United States having violated in the most flagrant manner and in ever increasing measure all rules of neutrality in favor of the adversaries of Germany and having continually been guilty of the most severe provocations toward Germany ever since the outbreak of the European war, provoked by the British declaration of war against Germany on September 3, 1939, has finally resorted to open military acts of aggression.

On September 11, 1941, the President of the United States publicly declared that he had ordered the American Navy and Air Force to shoot on sight at any German war vessel. In his speech of October 27, 1941, he once more expressly affirmed that this order was in force. Acting under this order, vessels of the American Navy, since early September 1941, have systematically attacked German naval forces. Thus, American destroyers, as for instance the Greer, the Kearney and the Reuben James, have opened fire on German submarines according to plan. The Secretary of the American Navy, Mr. Knox, himself confirmed that-American destroyers attacked German submarines.

Furthermore, the naval forces of the United States, under order of their Government and contrary to international law have treated and seized German merchant vessels on the high seas as enemy ships.

The German Government therefore establishes the following facts:

Although Germany on her part has strictly adhered to the rules of international law in her relations with the United States during every period of the present war, the Government of the United States from initial violations of neutrality has finally proceeded to open acts of war against Germany. The Government of the United States has thereby virtually created a state of war.

The German Government, consequently, discontinues diplomatic relations with the United States of America and declares that under these circumstances brought about by President Roosevelt Germany too, as from today, considers herself as being in a state of war with the United States of America.

Accept, Mr. Charge d'Affaires, the expression of my high consideration.

December 11, 1941.


Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering, 11 December 1941
Hermann Goering, upper left, presides over the Reichstag as Adolf Hitler declares war upon the United States.

December 1941

December 1, 1941: Hitler Fires von Rundstedt
December 2, 1941: Climb Mount Niitaka
December 3, 1941: Hints of Trouble in the Pacific
December 4, 1941: Soviets Plan Counteroffensive
December 5, 1941: Soviets Counterattack at Kalinin
December 6, 1941: Soviet Counterattack at Moscow Broadens
December 7, 1941: Japan Attacks Pearl Harbor
December 8, 1941: US Enters World War II
December 9, 1941: German Retreat At Moscow
December 10, 1941: HMS Prince of Wales and Repulse Sunk
December 11, 1941: Hitler Declares War on the US
December 12, 1941: Japanese in Burma
December 13, 1941: Battle of Cape Bon
December 14, 1941: Hitler Forbids Withdrawals
December 15, 1941: The Liepaja Massacre
December 16, 1941: Japan Invades Borneo
December 17, 1941: US Military Shakeup
December 18, 1941: Hitler Lays Down the Law
December 19, 1941: Brauchitsch Goes Home
December 20, 1941: Flying Tigers in Action
December 21, 1941: The Bogdanovka Massacre
December 22, 1941: Major Japanese Landings North of Manila
December 23, 1941: Wake Island Falls to Japan
December 24, 1941: Atrocities in Hong Kong
December 25, 1941: Japan Takes Hong Kong
December 26, 1941: Soviets Land in the Crimea
December 27, 1941: Commandos Raid Norway
December 28, 1941: Operation Anthropoid Begins
December 29, 1941: Soviet Landings at Feodosia
December 30, 1941: Race for Bataan
December 31, 1941: Nimitz in Charge


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