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The Big Leak
So big was the leak that it might have caused us to lose World War II. So mysterious is the identity of the leaker that we can’t be sure to this day who it was … or at least not entirely sure.
December 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 8
Meanwhile on December 9, Franklin D. Roosevelt made another address to the nation. It accused Hitler of urging Japan to attack the United States. “We know that Germany and Japan are conducting their military and naval operations with a joint plan,” Roosevelt declared. “Germany and Italy consider themselves at war with the United States without even bothering about a formal declaration.”
This was anything but the case, and Roosevelt knew it. He was trying to bait Hitler into declaring war. On December 10, when Hitler resumed his conference with Raeder, Keitel, and Göring, the Führer’s mind was made up. He said that Roosevelt’s speech confirmed everything in the Tribune story. He considered the speech a de facto declaration of war, and he accepted Raeder’s contention that the war with Japan made it impossible for the Americans to follow the grand strategy of defeating Hitler first that had been laid down in Rainbow Five.
On December 11 Hitler went before the Reichstag and announced that Germany and Italy had been provoked “by circumstances brought about by President Roosevelt” to declare war on the United States. His final decision, Hitler said, had been forced on him by American newspapers, which a week before had revealed “a plan prepared by President Roosevelt … according to which his intention was to attack Germany in 1943 with all the resources of the United States. Thus our patience has come to a breaking point.”
With a little extra prodding from the White House, the Tribune story had handed Roosevelt the gift that he desperately needed to proceed with the program outlined in Rainbow Five. Contrary to Raeder’s expectations, neither America’s military leaders nor the President altered the Europe-first cornerstone of the Victory Program. “That’s because it was sound strategy,” says General Wedemeyer, who went on to plan Operation Overlord, better known as D-day.
After the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, everyone but the FBI and the Germans lost interest in the Tribune ’s story.
But for a few weeks the big leak developed yet a third life in Germany. The German army—as distinct from the F’fchrer—greeted the Tribune ’s revelations as a gift from on high. Its offensive against Moscow and Leningrad was faltering in the freezing Russian winter. The generals seized on the Roosevelt war plan to reinforce a suggestion they had already made to Hitler: to pull back to carefully selected defensive positions and give them time to regroup and reinforce their decimated divisions.
In his book Inside Hitler’s Headquarters , Col. Walter Warlimont, the deputy chief of the general staff, revealed how little information the generals had on the United States, which made Rainbow Five all the more important to them. He told of receiving a phone call from Jodl in Berlin on December 11, 1941.
Much of the British spy story is fabrication, but it suggests, in a murky way, who may have engineered the leak.
“ ‘You have heard that the Führer has just declared war on America?’ Jodl asked.
“ ‘Yes and we couldn’t be more surprised,’ Warlimont replied.
“ ‘The staff must now examine where the United States is most likely to employ the bulk of her forces initially, the Far East or Europe. We cannot take further decisions until that has been clarified.’
“ ‘Agreed,’ Warlimont said. ‘But so far we have never even considered a war against the United States and so have no data on which to base this examination.’
“ ‘See what you can do,’ Jodl said. ‘When we get back tomorrow we will talk about this in more detail.’ ”
On December 14 the OKW staff submitted to Hitler a study of the “Anglo-Saxon war plans which became known through publication in the Washington Times Herald .” The analysts concluded that to frustrate the Allies’ objectives, Germany should choose a “favorable defensive position” and terminate the Russian campaign. Next Hitler should integrate the Iberian Peninsula, Sweden, and France within the “European fortress” and begin building an “Atlantic wall” of impregnable defenses along the European coast. The “objective of greatest value” should be the “clearing of all British and Allied forces out of the Mediterranean and the Axis occupation of the whole of the northern coast of Africa and the Suez Canal.”