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PRIMARY DOCUMENTS  |  Provoked by Pearl Harbor: The White House Meetings of FDR and Churchill, December, 1941
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Activities: II. Inside the White House  |  Back to Activity


G. Roosevelt and Churchill in the Map Room


"Nobody enjoyed the war as much as Churchill did," [American journalist] Martha Gellhorn wryly observed. "He loved the derring-do and rushing around. He got Roosevelt steamed up in his boy’s book of adventure."

No sooner, for instance, had Roosevelt seen Churchill’s mobile map room than he wanted one of his own so that he, too, could visualize the progress of the war. Within days, a sophisticated map room was created on the ground floor of the White House in a low-ceilinged room that had previously been a coatroom for women. Located between the diplomatic reception room and [White House physician] Dr. McIntire’s office, it provided easy access for the president when he visited the doctor for his daily massage. "The walls were covered with fiberboard," naval aide George Elsey recalled, "on which we pinned large-scale charts of the Atlantic and the Pacific. Updated two or three times a day, the charts displayed the constantly changing location of the enemy and Allied forces. Different shape pins were used for different types of ships, around-headed pin for destroyers, a square head for heavy cruisers. For the army we had a plastic cover with a grease pencil to change the battle lines as new dispatches came in."

The information was derived from the War and Navy Departments; it was hand-delivered by messenger several times a day and then transferred to the big maps. Special pins revealed the location of the leaders of the Big Three. Churchill’s pin was shaped like a cigar, FDR’s like a cigarette holder, Stalin’s like a briar pipe. Since top-secret dispatches came in at all hours, the map room was manned around the clock by three shifts of officers taken from the navy, army, and air force. Beyond the map-room personnel, access was strictly limited to Roosevelt, Hopkins, Marshall, King, and Leahy.*

There was one occasion, however, when Eleanor, passing the map room on her way down the hall, happened to glance inside. There, in front of the brightly colored charts, she saw her husband and Churchill engaged in animated conversation, pointing at pins in various theaters of the war. "They looked like two little boys playing soldier," Eleanor observed. "They seemed to be having a wonderful time, too wonderful in fact. It made me a little sad somehow."

* General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army Chief of Staff; Admiral Ernest J. King, U.S. Chief of Naval Operations; U.S. Admiral William Leahy, member of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff


No Ordinary Time, pp. 310-311





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