America Prepares For War

Ralph Zuljan

While the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) is recognized as the event that caused the United States to join the war, it is not as widely known that America was engaged in a massive rearmament program, provided military aid to the British and their allies and generally provoked German, Italian and Japanese retaliation before their official entry into the war. The following is a chronology of pertinent American actions leading up to Pearl Harbor.

November 4, 1939: The Neutrality Act of 1935 was modified to allow belligerents to purchase arms from private companies in the US on a "Cash and Carry" basis.

May 31, 1940: Roosevelt introduced a "billion-dollar defense program" to boost American military capability. Supplementary expenditures were announced in the following months.

June 13, 1940: The first surplus stocks of American rifles and artillery weapons were shipped to the UK in response to prior requests made by Churchill to Roosevelt during the Battle of France. The Neutrality Act was circumvented by first selling the arms to a steel company and then reselling them to the British government.

June 27, 1940: The American Secretary of State met with British and Australian representatives and discussed the Japanese threat. No agreements were reached.

July 25, 1940: The US prohibited the export of oil to countries outside the Americas and Great Britain. This decision was confirmed on August 1, 1941 when it is modified to include aviation fuel and allow exports to all countries of the British Empire as well.

August 16, 1940: Roosevelt announced discussions with the UK on the acquisition of bases for western hemisphere defense. He did not disclose that the British wanted old destroyers in return.

September 2, 1940: The US transferred 50 old destroyers to the UK in return for bases in the West Indies and Bermuda.

September 16, 1940: The Selective Service Bill became law. All males between the ages 21-35 were now subject to compulsory induction into the armed forces.

September 26, 1940: An embargo on scrap iron and steel exports to Japan was initiated.

October 5, 1940: The Secretary of the Navy condemned the Tripartite Pact (signed by Germany, Italy and Japan on September 27th) and announced a partial call-up of the naval reserve.

November 21, 1940: The Dies report on German and Communist espionage and subversive activities in the USA was published. It wildly overestimated their impact and called for preventive measures.

November 23, 1940: The British Ambassador to the United States publicly stated that the UK was running out of money to pay for arms purchases.

December 17, 1940: At a press conference, Roosevelt announced his intention to provide further aid to Britain through a scheme that would not require up-front payments (Lend-Lease).

January 8, 1941: Roosevelt presented his budget to Congress. Of the $17.5 billion budget, $10.8 billion were for defense. Congress would agree to several large additional military expenditures over the course of the following months.

January 10, 1941: The Lend-Lease Bill was introduced to Congress. There was a vocal minority in Congress opposed to the bill.

January 29, 1941: Secret staff talks began in Washington between British and American representatives. One of the results of these talks, which continued until March 27, 1941, was agreement that defeat of Germany should receive priority in the event of a war with both Germany and Japan.

March 11, 1941: The Lend-Lease Bill was enacted.

March 30, 1941: US took German, Italian and Dutch ships into "protective custody."

April 4, 1941: British warships were given permission to be repaired and refueled in the US.

April 14, 1941: Secret talks were held in New York between US and Icelandic representatives concerning the replacement of British troops by Americans. On July 7th, US troops began to arrive in Iceland.

April 24, 1941: Roosevelt formally ordered US warships to report the movement of German warships west of Iceland.

June 14, 1941: German and Italian assets in the US were frozen.

June 16, 1941: German and Italian consulates as well as offices of other German agencies in the US were ordered to close.

June 24, 1941: Roosevelt announced at a press conference that he intended to send aid to the USSR in response to the German led invasion of the Soviet Union, begun two days prior.

July 26, 1941: The US (and Britain) froze Japanese assets. The Dutch East Indies followed-up two days later and cancelled its oil contracts as well. These moves resulted in the loss to Japan of 75% of its foreign trade and 90% of its oil supplies.

August 9-12, 1941: Churchill and Roosevelt met in Newfoundland, producing the Atlantic Charter. They also discussed possible reasons for an American entry into the war.

September 1, 1941: The US Navy was allowed to escort convoys in the Atlantic comprising ships of any nation provided an American merchant ship was present.

September 4, 1941: The USS Greer was accidentally attacked by a German U-Boat.

September 11, 1941: Roosevelt ordered US warships to "shoot on sight" at German warships in waters "the protection of which is necessary for American defense."

September 15, 1941: The Attorney General ruled that the Neutrality Act did not prevent US ships from carrying war material to British possessions in the Near and Far East or in the Western Hemisphere.

September 23, 1941: At a press conference Roosevelt announced that the US was considering arming its merchant shipping against possible German attacks.

October 9, 1941: Roosevelt asked Congress to allow the arming of US merchant ships and to repeal sections of the Neutrality Act.

October 16-17, 1941: The US destroyer Kearny sustained casualties (including 11 dead) during a convoy battle in the Atlantic with U-Boats.

October 31, 1941: The US destroyer Reuben James was sunk by a U-Boat with the loss of 100 of its crew.

November 13, 1941: Congress altered the Neutrality Act to allow US merchant ships to be armed and to enter war zones.

November 27, 1941: The US government issued a "war warning" to overseas commanders.

Originally published in "World War II" at on January 1, 2000.
Revised edition published in "Articles On War" at on July 1, 2003.

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