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This Week in History
June 1-7, 2014

June 5-6, 1944

FDR, the Russians and D-Day

by Anton Chaitkin

U.S. troops landing on the beaches of Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.

At the beginning of June, 1944, the Allied invasion of France was finally ready to go. General George Marshall, whom President Franklin Roosevelt had given top responsibility for military planning, had stalwartly pushed against British resistance and sabotage for the opening of the second front. Its objective: to relieve the Soviets and finish off the Nazis from both East and West.

On Monday, June 5, about three quarters of a million Soviet troops were in the 58th day of their Jassy-Kishinev offensive to drive the Germans out of Rumania. Furious Nazi counteroffensives from tank-led forces had inflicted 150,000 casualties on the Soviets. The city of Jassy (present-day Iasi) had powerful emotional significance: Nazi Rumanians had massacred over 13,000 Jews, a third of the city’s Jewish community, in one week in 1941 immediately after Romanian and German forces had attacked the Soviet Union.

On Monday evening, June 5, 1944, General Marshall addressed an audience at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, where he received the Order of Suvorov, First Degree, the Soviets’ highest honor. With the invasion of Normandy set to start the next morning, Marshall presented the war as a single battle: “the final action in this terrible European war is now focused on a single battle in which every Allied force will be represented. It is to be a battle to the death for the Nazis and a battle to victory for the allies.”

Gen. Marshall was honored “for outstanding military activities and merits in the leadership of the American armed forces in the fight against the common enemy … Hitlerite Germany.”        In receiving the Soviet decoration, Marshall said “I am profoundly honored” because “it is tenedered by a country which made an historic defense against the titanic assault of the German army at the height of its efficiency and numbers.” [New York Times June 6, 1944, page 7]

President Roosevelt was also represented at the Soviet Embassy ceremony by Secretary of War Henry Stimson.

The previous Friday, June 2, Vice President Henry Wallace represented FDR by addressing an audience in the opera house of Irkutsk, Siberia. Speaking in Russian, Wallace said “Now that the early dawn of the future post-war world is slowly rising on the horizon, it is becoming quite clear that only the full collaboration of our two great countries and their allies can insure to the world a stable peace and true development.”

Wallace called for a partnership to build up the American Northwest, Canada, Alaska and Soviet Siberia: “These huge, thinly populated territories have been conquered in our time by aviation. Now their agriculture and their industry stand in need of development.” Wallace had previously visited Siberia’s Uelkal-Seymchan, Magadan and Komsomolsk. [New York Times, June 3, 1944, page 5]

On Tuesday Morning, June 6, the greatest seaborne invasion in history went ashore in Normandy.

General Dwight Eisenhower reported by cable to General Marshall at 8 AM, that the operation was going well. That day President Roosevelt led the nation in prayer. Eleven months later, with the Eisenhower-led forces crashing in from the west and Soviet forces sweeping into Berlin, the Nazis surrendered to the Allies.

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