As 1941 begins, the United States is coming to terms with the fact that Europe is at War. In his State of the Union Address on Jan 6, President Roosevelt introduces the concept of the “Four Freedoms” which the Allied Nations are fighting to defend, and he salutes the efforts of those who stand up to aggression to keep War out of our hemisphere. (Incidentally, on this day the keel of the battleship USS Missouri was laid.)
On the 21 and 22 of January, Elmer Davis reports on the British Victory Tobruk in North Africa. As part of Operation Compass, the battle was part of the first major Allied operation in Western Africa and a complete success. The Lend-Lease Act had been introduced before Congress on Jan 10, and on Jan 23, Elmer Davis reported Charles Lindberg's opposition to it.
On Feb 9, Winston Churchill speaks over the radio in a world-wide broadcast where he tells the American people “give us the tools, and we will finish the job”, speaking about the fight against Fascism.
On Mar 9, Edward R. Murrow reports on the coming of spring to England after a winter which included the Blitz. The report comes on the day after the Lend-Lease Act was passed by Congress, but Murrow is cautious with his optimism.
On May 3, we hear Whirlaway winning the Kentucky Derby, and at March Field in California, Bob Hope performs his first show for the USO.
From the sinking of the HMS Hood on May 24 until the end of the month we hear reports on the battleship Bismarck until it is sunk by the Royal Navy. On June 22, the Nazi's launch what would be considered their biggest mistake of the War, Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia. In our collection, we hear the initial reports from Prime Minister Churchill.
In August, Roosevelt and Churchill met secretly aboard ship off Newfoundland to draft the Atlantic Charter, the agreement which would eventually shape the post-war world. Churchill reported on the Conference over the BBC on August 24.
On August 31, The Great Gildersleeve, starring Howard Peary, debuts.
On September 11, Charles Lindberg speaks at the America First Rally in Des Moines and accuses “the British, the Jewish and the Roosevelt Administration” of leading America towards war. Popular support for Lindberg begins to evaporate almost immediately.
As War swirls throughout the world, it becomes increasingly obvious that America will become involved. The Oct 19 edition of Jergen's Journal, with Walter Winchell, tells of Nazi tanks approaching Moscow and reports the names of 10 American Sailors who are missing after the USS Kearny was torpedoed by a U-boat off Reykjavik. They were the first American military casualties of the war. Winchell ends the broadcast by admonishing Americans that we must first defeat the defeatists at home.
On Nov 11, NBC News reported the sinking of the British aircraft carrier, the HMS Ark Royal.
For most of us, the defining event of 1941 comes near the end of the tumultuous year, the Dec 7 attack on Pearl Harbor. On Dec 5, we hear Senator Tom Connelly of Texas warning Japan against aggression. The CBS World News Today, for Dec 6, reports London's reaction to the apparent breakdown of relations between the US and the Empire of Japan. The Chinese ambassador encourages the free nations to react should Japan “pounce” on another and Britain reacts with amusement over Japanese anger that their proposals to President Roosevelt are published in the newspapers. In the same broadcast, there is a report from Manila, which is “the center of a circle of tension extending 1500 miles”. In Washington, a diplomatic waiting game continues.
Our December 7 coverage includes some of the first programs to be interrupted by news bulletins of the attack through the West Coast blackout warning from KIRO in Seattle through the declaration of war, the Day of Infamy speech, in congress on Dec 8.
The War will dominate the radio news for the next few years.