Torch Reignited: ‘A new and rather staggering crisis in our war strategy’ July 1942

If Rommel’s army were all Germans, they would beat us.

Winston Churchill, July 19421

‘The criticism of Sledgehammer is that we had so little and that it could virtually have been destroyed,’ argued George Marshall after the war. ‘This overlooks the fact that the Germans had little in the West and that little was of poor quality.’ It was true; the Germans had only twenty-five divisions ready to repel Sledgehammer in 1942, but over twice that number in France and the Low Countries in 1944. Marshall continued: ‘I thought I had a firm commitment on Roundup,’ but in Washington ‘the backing of the President weakened.’2

When considering German divisions, there is a severe problem comparing like with like. A full-strength panzer division simply cannot be compared with one just brought out of the line after heavy losses, and an elite division like the Grossdeutschland had little in common with a rear-areas security division; it would be like comparing the Guards Armoured Division with the Home Guard, and tells us next to nothing. Yet divisions are the standard currency of grand strategy, and have to be employed as such. Because German divisions were constantly being moved around the Reich, Russia, Africa and Occupied Europe during the war, and some were of superb fighting quality and well equipped while others were little better than militia, made up towards the end of the war of middle-aged men and adolescents, any statement of what the Allies might or might not have faced had they invaded France in 1942 or 1943, or even of what they did face on 6 June 1944, when there were around fifty-seven German divisions in France and the Low Countries, must be inexact. Although these fifty-seven divisions were clearly many more than the average of around twenty-five estimated to have been in France for much of 1942, they were smaller and weaker from losses sustained in the meantime.3Intelligence reports on where German divisions were at any one time were necessarily inexact also.

It is vital, when considering the Allies’ attitudes towards cross-Channel operations, to try to remember that they did not know what we do today, that Operation Roundup (rebranded as Overlord) took place on 6 June 1944 and was a success. Amphibious operations generally did not have a happy history in British arms; indeed many had led to humiliating evacuations. Churchill was very conscious of this, telling Eden in July 1941: ‘Remember that on my breast are the medals of the Dardanelles, Antwerp, Dakar and Greece.’4 It was true. Churchill had been directly responsible for four of the worst amphibious operations and evacuations of both world wars, and while in his mood of self-decoration he might also by then have added Norway, Dunkirk and Crete.

Moreover, the number of German divisions stationed in France, and even their quality, was not really the essence, because until the spring of 1944 they always had strong reserves that could be rushed to wherever the coastal blow fell. In December 1961, J. R. M. Butler, the general editor of the Grand Strategy series of the Official History of the Second World War, wrote to Brooke to ask him to comment on one of the volumes then in production. In his reply, Brooke complained that one of the chapters failed to expound upon the geographical and communication factors that affected the German position. He explained his overall view of strategy and thus his fundamental difference of view from Marshall. ‘Having been forced to fight on two fronts during the 1914–18 War’, he began, the Germans ‘had further developed their East–West communications with double railway lines and autobahns, to meet the possibility of being again forced to fight on two frontiers. They were capable of moving some six to eight divisions…simultaneously from East to West.’ Yet the Germans had far less easy manoeuvrability in southern Europe and the Mediterranean, where, he argued, the rail and road communications from northern France to southern Italy and the Mediterranean ‘were very poor. Furthermore, command of the sea gave us the power of selecting our point of attack at a suitable point on the outer circumference of German-and Italian-held territory.’ Brooke then lamented that he:

could not get either Marshall or Stimson to realize that operations across the Channel in 1942 and ’43 were doomed to failure. We should go in with half-trained divisions against a superior number of war-hardened German divisions and the Germans would have the facility of reinforcing that front at a rate of two to three divisions for every one we might put in. Any idea of a cross Channel operation was completely out of the picture during 1942 and ’43, except in the event of the German forces beginning to crack up, which was very unlikely.5

Samuel Eliot Morison was unconvinced by these arguments, pointing out in his Oxford lectures the various excellent north–south connections in southern Europe and especially Italy, where Field Marshal Kesselring was able to rush troops swiftly and effectively to Salerno and Anzio in 1943–4. There were also some who thought that Brooke was wrong in thinking that there was any great mass of reserves in Germany which could be called upon to repulse Sledgehammer or Roundup. One of these was the man theoretically best placed to know, Victor Cavendish-Bentinck, head of the Joint Intelligence Committee throughout the war, who thought Brooke was always too pessimistic on this score and that the Germans were stretched to the limit on the Eastern Front and ‘substantially without reserves’ in central Europe.

Yet because each service had its own intelligence section, and each Chief of Staff was reading the Ultra decrypts that arrived from Bletchley Park every day, they were able to form views that were often at variance with those of Cavendish-Bentinck and the Joint Intelligence Committee, whose principal job was to collate all three services’ intelligence reports to see if any overall pattern emerged. The Joint Intelligence Committee therefore played a more minor role in the Second World War than its name suggests, and than it has in later conflicts.

Brooke was keen to scotch the assumption of so many American Planners that he was viscerally opposed to any cross-Channel operation ever taking place, something to which even Dwight Eisenhower’s war memoirs, Crusade in Europe, lent some credence. ‘A major factor in all American thinking at that time’, Eisenhower wrote, ‘was a lively suspicion that the British contemplated the agreed-upon cross-Channel concept with distaste and with considerable mental reservations concerning the practicability of ever conducting a major invasion of north-west Europe.’6 Just as politicians are advised never to use the word ‘never’, so the word ‘ever’ should be absent from grand strategy. (Strictly speaking, Eisenhower was right, however, because he was writing of a general ‘lively suspicion’ rather than saying it was justified.)

‘I was all for assembling US divisions in England to complete their training and in preparation for the ultimate cross-Channel operation,’ Brooke told Butler. ‘I could never get Marshall to appreciate the fact that the North Africa and Italian operations were all part of one strategy preparing for the final blow. I feel it is most important that our strategy should be looked on as one large whole, and not detached theatres, and one in which we made full use of our historical maritime strategy.’ Here, Brooke was using too much hindsight, as invading Italy was nowhere near the agenda on either the Modicum or Argonaut missions.

Until Germany was weakened by bombing and on the Eastern Front, and there was enough shipping available for a massive attack, Brooke was determined not to undertake anything more than large-scale raids, on places like Dieppe and Saint-Nazaire. Over the Second Front, David Fraser writes, ‘Churchill’s and Brooke’s minds were complementary, with the former producing the visionary, the latter the prosaic elements.’7

Meanwhile, Roosevelt made clear to American strategists–though not to the British–that he too had concerns about an over-hasty Roundup. ‘We were largely trying to get the President to stand pat on what he had previously agreed to,’ Marshall later said of this very trying period for him. ‘The President shifted, particularly when Churchill got hold of him…The President was always ready to do any sideshow and Churchill was always prodding him. My job was to hold the President down to what we were doing. It was difficult because the Navy was pulling everything toward the Pacific, and that’s where the Marines were, and they got a lot of publicity.’8 It was to try to break this seeming log-jam over future policy–with the cross-Channel operations stalled by the British and Gymnast opposed by the American military–that Marshall visited London again in July 1942, accompanied once more by Hopkins.

The historian Richard Overy has convincingly argued that because Britain had no large settler communities in the Mediterranean, nor vital economic interests, and took much of her oil from the New World by 1942–although she did need to deny Germany access to Middle Eastern supplies–‘The chief argument for Allied presence in the Mediterranean was that here they were fighting a corner of the war that they could win in 1942, against weak Italian forces, spiced up with a handful of German divisions and air squadrons. It was not a glamorous alternative, but it was a realistic one.’9 This went to the heart of the Anglo-American disagreements about whether to undertake Torch. If it was just a defensive measure to ‘close the ring’ around Germany while still relying on bombing and blockade for victory, the American OPD would be excused for concentrating strength in the Pacific instead. Yet if it was the vital first stage in clearing the North African littoral, turning the Mediterranean into an Allied lake and thus easing pressure on shipping, press-ganging hitherto neutral Turkey into a war that Italy was simultaneously being forced out of, then threatening the so-called ‘soft underbelly’ of southern Europe and drawing German divisions away from Russia, Torch could be absolutely integral to Germany First. Preparing for an eventual Roundup by these methods made much more sense to British strategists.

General Hull recalled that although the OPD had discarded plans for invading North Africa by mid-1942, ‘The British hadn’t though. They still had a problem in Africa and that was the area of principal concern to them. That’s the area where Churchill wanted to go. We tried our darnedest not to get into it but Mr Roosevelt decided that we would have to go into North Africa or someplace else and start fighting Germans face to face and that was why we agreed to go into there.’10 Many Americans, especially the Anglophobes of whom there then seems to have been no shortage in the OPD, assumed that Churchill and Brooke–proud sons of the Empire both–had ulterior imperialist motives for wanting Gymnast, namely the defence of the British Empire in Egypt and its interests in the Middle East.

Though no Anglophobe himself, Marshall astonishingly did not reprimand Albert Wedemeyer for installing a secret tape recorder in his office, one that he could activate with his knee from behind his desk. He later played Marshall a recording in which British officers from the Joint Planning Staff had made ‘unreasonable demands, while using big names like Roosevelt and Hopkins to intimidate me or influence my action. Marshall was extremely interested and advised me to record all future discussions, which I gladly did.’11 Wedemeyer claims he later also told Dill, who ‘was surprised, but sympathetic, too’. (There is no record of Dill warning any British Planners about this underhand activity.) Perhaps it was true that the British took advantage of the fact that American Planners were not always au fait with presidential intentions over grand strategy, but it was a devious thing for Wedemeyer to have done, and if the British had discovered it before the end of the war it would have wrecked Anglo-American trust, especially if it had been revealed that Marshall had not forbidden such disgraceful behaviour.

On 1 and 2 July 1942, Churchill faced the House of Commons for a two-day debate on the fall of Tobruk. Supporting the motion ‘that this House…has no confidence in the central direction of the war’, the Labour MP Aneurin Bevan said that the War Cabinet as a whole should be able to meet the Chiefs of Staff ‘instead of the Prime Minister’. At this Churchill interjected: ‘They do.’ But Bevan continued: ‘Instead of the Prime Minister seeing them before the War Cabinet sees them. Because then the Prime Minister goes into the War Cabinet defending his own decisions.’ Churchill again interjected: ‘That is not true.’ In fact it was very substantially the case, because Staff Conferences very often preceded War Cabinets. Much less credibly another critic, Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, complained that Churchill was too easily swayed, and ‘could never be induced to override the advice of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, or to undertake any exercise, unless they were prepared to share fully with him in the responsibility’.12

Later on in the same debate, Churchill said he would ‘meet a complaint which I have noticed that the Minister of Defence [was] in Washington when the disaster of Tobruk occurred’. In fact, Churchill argued, still speaking of himself in the third person, ‘Washington was the very place where he should have been. It was there that the most important business of the war was being transacted.’ He prayed Brooke in aid: ‘When I left this country for the United States on the night of 17 June, the feeling which I had, which was fully shared by the CIGS, was that the struggle in the Western Desert had entered upon a wearing down phase, or a long battle of exhaustion, similar to that which took place in the autumn.’13

The debate was not all bitter and hard fought; at one point the Prime Minister had the House roaring with laughter when he said of the prototype A-22 tank: ‘It had many defects and teething troubles, and when these became apparent the tank was appropriately christened “the Churchill”.’ The Government survived the debate easily–by 475 votes to 25–and the malcontents were well-known troublemakers, extremists or a combination of the bitter, disappointed and marginalized. Any senate of more than six hundred politicians will always be able to cobble together a couple of dozen professionally perverse members, even in wartime. After the debate, Roosevelt cabled Churchill just three words: ‘Good for you.’

On the second night of the debate, Churchill and his brother Jack dined with Eden, and the Prime Minister argued repeatedly that Britain had not done as well during the war as she should have, adding, ‘I am ashamed.’ They then discussed the problems of the Army, ‘its Trade Union outlook, paucity of talent, etc’.14 Churchill suggested ‘another journey’, probably a reference to his going out to the Middle East to see the situation for himself. When Eden deprecated this, saying he’d just get in the way, Churchill replied: ‘You mean like a giant bluebottle buzzing over a huge cowpat!’ Eden agreed that that was exactly what he meant.

Churchill employed humour regularly, and his words should not always be taken entirely literally. At a War Cabinet meeting in July 1942, when discussing the issue of what to do with the senior Nazis, Churchill said: ‘If Hitler falls into our hands we shall certainly put him to death. He was not a sovereign who could be said to be in hands of ministers, like the Kaiser. The man is the mainspring of evil. The best instrument to use would be the electric chair, which is used in America for gangsters and would no doubt be available on Lease Lend.’15 Churchill was serious about executing Hitler, of course, but probably not about the means, and certainly not because of the thrift involved.

Nor was it just the Nazis whom Churchill considered executing. ‘What led thirty thousand men to surrender at Tobruk?’ he asked the War Cabinet on 6 July. ‘Orders were given to generals not to surrender without express permission from home. Some order should be given that generals will be put on capital charge after the war if they surrender.’ This would include the Commander-in-Chief, although ‘some other generals should not be affected. Enquire about the four thousand tons of petrol Tobruk left undamaged.’16 General Nye answered that there was ‘no evidence’, but that a secret inquiry was under way in Cairo to discover what had happened.

Although he would hardly have said so to Churchill, Brooke agreed with the problem of paucity of talent in the Army. Writing to Wavell in India–‘My dear Archie’, and signing off ‘Yours ever, Alan’–he said that Harold Alexander was ‘one of the few good commanders we have got. But the shortage of good ones is one of my worst troubles. The last war casualties took the cream of the generation that should be providing division and Corps commanders now.’ Brooke also wrote:

I like Marshall and find him an easy person to deal with. There is a good deal of divergence of outlook which will want watching. King, the Admiral, has his eyes riveted on the Pacific whilst Marshall looks out towards Europe, and between them the ‘prima donna’ MacArthur must maintain the Australian front in the limelight! I think the President as Commander-in-Chief may well find himself puzzled at times!17 *

On 7 July the Chiefs of Staff pointed out to Churchill that preparations for a cross-Channel operation should be continued because it was important that the Allies should ‘Not lead the Russians to think there is no chance of our attacking this year’. The double negative is instructive. Brooke did not want Stalin to know that there was no hope of a Second Front in Europe in 1942; however, he did want the Americans to be told that Sledgehammer was off the agenda ‘at once’. He added that there was ‘no satisfactory solution’ to the problem of how to take and hold the northern tip of Norway.

At a War Cabinet at 5.30 p.m. that day memoranda written by both Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff were read out, because they had only just been finished and could not be circulated in time. Churchill then summarized the discussions he had had about Sledgehammer, Roundup, Gymnast and Jupiter. To be able to ‘summarize’ was a great advantage for the Prime Minister, who naturally put his side of the case forcefully and the opposing arguments with far less rigour. He was objective, however, in stating of Sledgehammer that ‘the conditions which would make this operation practicable in 1942 were now extremely unlikely to arise,’ and the War Cabinet agreed ‘only to make such preparations for it as would enable us to deceive the enemy, but not at the expense of interference with Roundup’.

Of Gymnast, however, Churchill said that ‘the President had always expressed the keenest desire to carry it out.’ They hoped an attack on Rommel from the west, and the capture of air bases in French North Africa, might transform the Mediterranean situation. It would consist of six US divisions, with ‘a spearhead of British assault troops’. As for Jupiter, Churchill admitted that the Chiefs of Staff found the ‘difficulties insurmountable’, but he nonetheless thought that a lodgement in northern Norway, possibly in conjunction with the Russians and Norwegians, was worth planning for. ‘The War Cabinet fully agreed with this view,’ recorded the minutes, which committed them to nothing.

Pound then pointed out, with regard to Jupiter, that in view of the disaster that had recently overtaken Convoy PQ-17–only eleven of whose thirty-five merchantmen had reached port–‘we would have great difficulty in setting up an air striking force in Murmansk. Furthermore, we should have to gain simultaneous control of all airfields between Petsamo and Narvik,’ a potentially vast operation. The naval forces required ‘were beyond our present capacity’, not least because anti-submarine craft would have to be withdrawn from the Western Approaches, which he said was ‘quite unacceptable’. Finally, the Germans had spent two years acclimatizing to Arctic conditions and had five divisions in northern Norway and its environs, with another three capable of being deployed there rapidly, as well as 255 aircraft.

‘After further discussion’, the minutes relate, the War Cabinet agreed that ‘the Americans should be encouraged to proceed with Operation Gymnast, and that we ourselves should undertake Jupiter, if by any means a sound and sensible plan could be devised’.18It was an excellent let-out clause. They also decided that Jupiter was ‘to be carried out largely by Canadian troops’. The poor Canadians were obviously regarded as the forlorn hope by the Cabinet, though not by Brooke who had been attached to them in the Great War. The following month it was a largely Canadian force that was earmarked for the Dieppe Raid (codenamed Operation Jubilee). The lack of Canadians on the Combined Chiefs of Staff meant that, for all their superb loyalty and generosity, they were often assigned the toughest tasks. In the event, though, Jupiter was considered beyond even their capacity for self-sacrifice.

After that meeting, Eden went back to the Foreign Office and told Cadogan of the ‘Very gloomy outlook and Cabinet’, complaining that strategically the ‘Chiefs of Staff have no ideas and oppose everything.’ Churchill had said: ‘We’d better put an advertisement in the papers, asking for ideas!’19 It was one of the few examples of Winston Churchill ever telling an unfunny joke. Meanwhile, across Whitehall back at the War Office, Brooke agreed that the Cabinet had been ‘a thoroughly bad one’, telling Kennedy that ‘Winston was in one of his worst moods and abused the Army and criticised our generalship and our failure to use the masses of men in the Middle East.’ When Bevin had asked him whether it could not be right to urge Auchinleck to attack, Brooke replied that a false move would be fatal and the Auk ‘might lose Egypt in five minutes if he made a mistake’.20 Churchill apologized to Brooke after the meeting.

On 6 July Churchill wrote to Roosevelt to try to clarify the terms used for operations. Astonishingly enough–and this cannot but have added to the mood of mistrust between the two Staffs–the British and Americans often used the same term to denote quite different operations. At one stage, for example, Roosevelt had been writing ‘One-Third Bolero’ to mean Sledgehammer. Churchill suggested a final clarification, but of course could not explicitly name in the cable the places due to be attacked, which made the whole process even more convoluted. He also stated that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had been using the term ‘Semi-Gymnast’, which in fact they had not.

The US Chiefs regularly used ‘Bolero’ to mean both the build-up in the UK and one or both of the cross-Channel invasion plans, whereas for the British it just meant the build-up. The distinction was vital for Brooke, who supported Bolero and an eventual Roundup but not Sledgehammer, whereas for Marshall it was less important. In several cases Planners seemed to use whichever term best supported their ideas, so British Staff officers occasionally criticized Roundup for attributes that in fact only pertained to Sledgehammer, causing further confusion in Washington. For a group that prided themselves as much as did Hollis and Jacob on the superiority of their organization and the precision of their language, it was extraordinary that the War Office secretariat could have allowed such ambiguities to pervade their counsels for so long.

Some British Planners had been using ‘Roundup’ to mean a limited, opportunistic attack across the Channel in the event of a German collapse, which was actually Sledgehammer, whereas for the Joint Chiefs of Staff ‘Roundup’ was (rightly) taken to mean the vast, forty-eight-divisional attack on France. ‘To the befuddlement of both contemporaries and historians, both plans were labelled Roundup,’ records Warren Kimball.21 Churchill anyway disliked the term Roundup, which he thought either over-confident or over-gloomy, depending on who was likely to be rounded up.

As for ‘Gymnast’, the British originally thought it meant an Anglo-American attack east of Tunis. Yet by mid-1942 it had morphed into an American attack on Morocco near Casablanca, a different operation entirely. The situation was becoming absurd, so in his reply two days later Roosevelt defined the terms clearly, in accord with Churchill’s suggestions. Henceforth, Bolero would mean the preparation and movement of American forces into the United Kingdom. Sledgehammer was to be a limited, nine-divisional cross-Channel attack in 1942 in the event of either a German or a Russian collapse. Finally, Roundup was to mean the massive forty-eight-divisional cross-Channel invasion to liberate the Continent, ‘to be carried out by combined American and British forces in 1943 or later’. No mention was made of Gymnast, the mythical term Semi-Gymnast (found nowhere else in the records) or Super-Gymnast. Here, however, was an indication–the first in any document–that Roosevelt understood, in stark contrast to what he had told Molotov only the previous month, that the cross-Channel attack would not take place until possibly ‘later’ than 1943.

The next War Cabinet meeting addressed the question of who should command Roundup. Churchill said that on his recent visit to Washington he had gathered that if the supreme command was offered to Marshall–as the Americans were proposing to employ twenty-seven divisions to Britain’s twenty-one–the general ‘would be very pleased to accept it’, and Churchill added that ‘our interests would be best served by the appointment of an American as Supreme Commander’. If Marshall were appointed he would, of course, ‘receive loyal and effective aid and support from the Staffs in this country, who might be expected to exercise some influence over his views’, and he would also be best placed to obtain the maximum resources and equipment from the United States. If the operation failed, Churchill said, ‘there would be no reproach’ against ‘a British generalissimo’.22 He added that in so large an operation there would be plenty of British corps commanders. It was a deeply pessimistic stance to adopt, indicative of the Prime Minister’s fears.

Dill had written a telegram emphasizing Marshall’s claims and the War Cabinet expressed ‘general agreement’ that Roosevelt should be invited to appoint him, with ultimate responsibility to the Combined Chiefs of Staff. The minutes are quite specific; though they do not record exactly what Brooke said, they do state that ‘The three Chiefs of Staff all expressed agreement with the proposal that General Marshall should be invited to be Supreme Commander.’ Meanwhile, Dill warned Churchill and Brooke that Marshall was seriously looking at a Pacific alternative if they continued to oppose Sledgehammer. It seems likely that Marshall himself drafted the telegram in which Dill first alerted London to the likely consequences of rejecting Sledgehammer in favour of Gymnast.23 But was Marshall bluffing?

Churchill replied to Roosevelt that the War Cabinet had been considering what he called ‘maximum Bolero’ (meaning Roundup) and asked whether ‘General Marshall would undertake this supreme task in 1943. We shall sustain him to the last inch.’ A few moments later, he sent another one-sentence telegram to say that he assumed that the appointment of Marshall ‘over Bolero 1943 does not prejudice operations of immediate consequence such as Gymnast’. Churchill must have known that Roundup was near impossible in 1943 if the troops earmarked for it were to be used in Gymnast, and certainly Marshall and Brooke knew it, since it was one of the primary reasons why Marshall opposed Gymnast, and one of the only reasons why Brooke could be prevailed upon to support it.

The morning after the telegrams were sent, Thursday 9 July, saw a flurry of almost identical news reports that Marshall was about to be appointed supreme commander of all Allied military forces, with Marshal Foch cited as the precedent. A report came from a US radio despatch quoting ‘British and American circles in Washington’, and was printed by the Evening Standard, Daily Mirror, News Chronicle and Daily Express in Britain. The following day saw a categorical denial by the War Department.

Yet Marshall was not to be fobbed off with the command of an operation still far in the future, especially once he had learnt from Dill that the War Cabinet meeting of 7 July had definitely decided against Sledgehammer and in favour of Gymnast. (Dill ought not to have told him; at that Cabinet meeting Brooke had specifically said he did not think the Americans should be informed of the decision too soon.) Once he realized what was happening, Marshall determined to fight back. He first went to Stimson to report what he called ‘a new and rather staggering crisis that is coming up in our war strategy’. He explained that the British were ‘going back on Bolero and are seeking to revive Gymnast–in other words, they are seeking now to reverse the decision which was so laboriously accomplished when Mr Churchill was here a short time ago.’ He cannot have yet digested Roosevelt’s telegram on definitions: Churchill supported Bolero, but opposed Sledgehammer.

Marshall complained to Stimson that Gymnast ‘would be simply another way of diverting our strength into a channel in which we cannot effectively use it’, meaning North Africa. ‘I found Marshall very stirred up and emphatic over it,’ recorded Stimson. ‘He is very naturally tired of these constant decisions that do not stay made. This is the third time this question has been brought up by the persistent British and he proposes a showdown which I cordially endorsed. As the British won’t go through with what they agreed to, we will turn our backs on them and take up the war with Japan.’ Stimson later wrote in a post-war addition to his diary that it showed the effect of Churchill’s ‘obstinacy on Marshall and me, for we were both staunch supporters of the “Europe First” plan and argued for the Pacific only because we were desperate at British inaction’.24

The same day as the press leaks, Eden’s private secretary Oliver Harvey recorded in the diary that he too kept throughout the war in defiance of regulations, that because of the British rejection of Sledgehammer the US Ambassador to London, John ‘Gil’ Winant, ‘is worried and so is Dill, both think it may cause the Americans to shy off the West and go all out for the Pacific.’25 Sure enough, the very next day, Friday 10 July, there was a great démarche in Washington. Marshall–with the enthusiastic support of Admiral King–telegraphed Roosevelt in Hyde Park to say that ‘If the United States is to engage in any other operation than forceful, unswerving adherence to Bolero plans, we are definitely of the opinion that we should turn to the Pacific and strike decisively against Japan; in other words, assume a defensive attitude against Germany, except for air operations; and use all available means in the Pacific.’26

Did Marshall genuinely want to ditch Germany First because the British had turned against Sledgehammer, or did he simply hope the threat of it would persuade the British to change their minds? The fact that Dill took the threat seriously implies that it probably was genuine, unless Marshall was bluffing Dill too, or–much less likely–Dill was in on it and putting his friendship with Marshall before his duty to the British Chiefs of Staff. Also, since the British were not in receipt of Marshall–Roosevelt communications, there would be no point in Marshall sending that telegraph to Hyde Park if he was indeed bluffing.

Years later Marshall said he used the Pacific option ‘as a club’ with which to bludgeon the British whenever necessary: ‘In my own case, it was bluff, but King wanted the alternative.’27 Marshall was therefore claiming to have used King to give the bluff verisimilitude. (It is not known whether King ever knew Marshall was using him in this way.) Equally, that might well have been an ex post facto rationalization of Marshall’s actions, because they did not come off. King was certain that the British did not have their heart in the cross-Channel operation and said at a Joint Chiefs of Staff meeting on 10 July that they would never invade Europe ‘except behind a Scotch bagpipe band’.28 (In a sense he was right; one of the very first men ashore on Sword beach on D-Day was Piper Bill Millin of Lord Lovat’s No. 4 Commando, playing ‘The Blue Bonnets’ and ‘keeping the pipes going as he played the Commandos up the beach’.)

The journalist Leonard Mosley believed that Churchill’s and Brooke’s volte face over Sledgehammer had left Marshall ‘appalled. Later he would become much more sophisticated in his reaction to examples of political expediency. But on this occasion he was genuinely shocked by what he considered Mr Churchill’s casual perfidy, and he did something that was quite unusual for him. He hit back.’29 On this occasion at least, Mosley was right. If it was all a bluff by Marshall, it was a daring and gigantic one, intended to terrify the British into re-engaging meaningfully with Roundup and Sledgehammer and dumping Gymnast. Yet such a scheme could be pulled off only with Roosevelt’s full support. There was certainly appetite for a new policy among American decision-makers. Eisenhower had already suggested that, if the British blocked the cross-Channel operations further, America should turn away from the Atlantic war and try to defeat Japan first. Douglas MacArthur continually emphasized the help that the United States could give Russia by drawing off Japan, thus allowing the Soviets to move divisions to their western front, as well as the popularity of a Pacific-centred war among Americans. Stimson was in favour and so too, of course, was Admiral King, who had opposed Germany First from the beginning.

Having digested Marshall’s telegram, Roosevelt telephoned from Hyde Park to ask for a full assessment of the Pacific alternative by the afternoon of Sunday 12 July. He wanted to know how many men, planes and ships needed to be withdrawn from the Atlantic, and its likely effects on the situation in the USSR and Middle East. Marshall immediately left Dodona for the War Department to draw up this appreciation. Of course it was impossible to reconfigure the whole of US grand strategy over one weekend, as both FDR and Marshall must have known.

On 14 July Churchill sent Roosevelt a five-sentence telegram that left no doubt about his stance. ‘I am most anxious for you to know where I stand myself at the present time,’ it began. ‘I have found no one who regards Sledgehammer as possible. I should like to see you do Gymnast as soon as possible, and that we in concert with the Russians should try for Jupiter. Meanwhile all preparations for Roundup should proceed at full blast, thus holding the maximum enemy forces opposite England. All this seems to me as clear as noonday.’30 It was clear as noonday to Roosevelt too–except the Jupiter part–as Marshall, Stimson and King were about to discover in equally forthright terms.

‘I have carefully read your estimate of Sunday,’ wrote Roosevelt to Marshall and Stimson on Tuesday 14 July, before his return to the White House the next day. ‘My first impression is that it [the Pacific option] is exactly what Germany hoped the United States would do following Pearl Harbor. Secondly, it does not in fact provide use of American troops in fighting except in a lot of [Pacific] islands whose occupation will not affect the world situation this year or next. Third: it does not help Russia or the Near East. Therefore it is disapproved of at present.’ In order to underline the gravity of this disapproval, as well as to remind Marshall, Stimson and King who was ultimately in charge, he signed his memorandum, very unusually for him, ‘Roosevelt C-in-C’.

After Marshall had explained Roosevelt’s view to the Joint Chiefs later that day, it was concluded that, although the Pacific would be preferable, ‘apparently our political system would require major operations this year in Africa,’ and the President wanted Gymnast. Marshall was effectively not blaming Churchill, therefore, but Democracy itself for the decision. The President was under political pressure, Marshall slightly disloyally explained to his Planning Staff, and that took precedence. Although Roosevelt still adhered to the formulation that he supported the concepts of both Roundup and Sledgehammer, Marshall fully appreciated ‘that he was leaning towards the North African strategy’.31 Without firm opposition to Gymnast from the President, Marshall faced defeat.

On the same day that Roosevelt comprehensively rejected the Japan First alternative, Dill told Churchill about a recent conversation he had had with Marshall. He warned that Marshall and King would be seeing Roosevelt the next day, and ‘would recommend turning to the Pacific as, in their opinion, the only practical alternative to action in Europe’, something Marshall had confirmed to Dill personally. Marshall’s objections to Gymnast, Dill reported, were that it would take carriers from the Pacific which were urgently required for operations already under way there, that it would necessitate a new line of sea communications, and that to strike at Casablanca would not draw off any German troops from Russia. Furthermore, to attack Bizerte or Algiers ‘would be too hazardous’ should the Germans attack through Spain to cut the Americans off, and finally it would also destroy any possibility of Roundup even in 1943.32

These were a formidable list of objections. Indeed Wedemeyer said of them after the war: ‘I couldn’t have presented the American case better if I had tried. One wonders where Dill got this information, which certainly would be considered classified.’ Dill further alerted Churchill that Marshall had warned him that any future concentration on the Pacific ‘would reduce the air forces sent to Britain by some two-thirds’, adding of Germany First:

There is no doubt that Marshall is true to his first love but he is convinced that there has been no real drive behind the European project. Meetings are held, discussions take place and time slips by. Germany will never again be so occupied in the East as she is today and if we do not take advantage of her present preoccupation we shall find ourselves faced with a Germany so strong in the West that no invasion of the Continent will be possible. We can then go on pummelling each other by air but the possibility of a decision will be gone. Marshall feels, I believe, that if a great businessman were faced with pulling off this coup or going bankrupt he would strain every nerve to pull off the coup and would probably succeed.33

This analogy broke down on a number of levels, of course. Great businessmen are virtually never faced with such stark alternatives, and in any case the difference between commercial bankruptcy, from which it is possible to return, and being flung off the Continent and possibly invaded was enormous.

Dill’s advice to Churchill was straightforward: ‘Unless you can persuade him of your unswerving devotion to Bolero, everything points to a compete reversal of our present agreed strategy and the withdrawal of America to a war of her own in the Pacific leaving us with limited American assistance to make out as best we can against Germany.’ Pogue believes that this letter was almost certainly sent with Marshall’s encouragement, which implies that if it was a bluff, Dill was probably in on it. Having read it, Churchill must have known that calling Marshall’s bluff risked a return to the dark twelve months when the British Commonwealth stood alone in 1940–41. He would be taking a gamble, with stakes that could hardly have been much higher.

Dill also mentioned another unwelcome fact to Churchill in his telegram, namely that the American Chiefs of Staff were reading Field Marshal Sir William Robertson’s two-volume memoir about the grand strategy of the Great War, Soldiers and Statesmen, and that Marshall had sent him a copy with the third chapter of the first volume heavily annotated. Churchill would have understood immediately what that meant. Robertson, who had been CIGS from 1915 to 1918, was a Clausewitzian, and volume i chapter iii of his book covered the Dardanelles expedition. ‘An essential condition of success in war being the concentration of effort on the “decisive front”, or place where the main issue will probably be fought out,’ it began, ‘it follows that the soldiers and statesmen charged with the direction of military operations should be agreed among themselves as to where that front is.’ Like Marshall, Robertson believed it to be in north-west France, not–as Marshall suspected Churchill did in both 1915 and 1942–in the Mediterranean.

Over the Dardanelles, Robertson did not deny that ‘it might be desirable to threaten interests which are of importance to the enemy, so as to oblige him to detach for their protection a force larger than the one employed in making the threat, thus rendering him weaker in comparison on the decisive front,’ which was to be precisely Churchill’s and Brooke’s Italian strategy for 1943–4, but Marshall is unlikely to have underlined that for Dill’s attention. Much more likely candidates for annotation were Robertson’s strictures on ‘ministers’–primarily Churchill himself–who were ‘indifferent to, or ignorant of, the disadvantages which always attend on changes of plan and the neglect to concentrate on one thing at a time’. Churchill was also criticized by name for having briefed the supreme strategy-making body, the War Council, directly, instead of allowing the Admiralty professionals to do it, ‘as was, in fact, done after Mr Churchill left that department’.34

Marshall further read that the General Staff had been opposed to the Gallipoli Expedition from the very beginning, but had been overruled by the politicians, particularly Churchill. There were long quotations from the Dardanelles Commission Report about ‘the atmosphere of vagueness and want of precision which seems to have characterised the proceedings of the War Council’. Robertson criticized Churchill for sending messages to the Russians promising a diversionary attack on Turkey that had not previously been cleared by the War Council, and complained that ‘even the Prime Minister’, Herbert Asquith, ‘did not see the reply until after it had been dispatched’. Marshall would have also approved of the BEF commander Sir John French’s opposition to the plan to ‘draw off troops from the decisive spot, which is Germany itself’. French believed that in the Near East there were ‘no theatres…in which decisive results can be attained’. Gallipoli therefore precisely mirrored Marshall’s criticisms of Gymnast.

Robertson’s book was a critique as much of the process of decision-making–‘the whole affair was so irregularly handled’, he wrote–as of the Gallipoli decision itself. He criticized the methods by which Churchill had dragged the General Staff into the expedition, by taking advantage of ambiguous phraseology in War Council conclusions and by pressurizing the First Sea Lord, Jackie Fisher, at every opportunity. Robertson also charged the War Council in general and Churchill in particular with gross over-optimism, writing that ‘The stress laid upon the unquestionable advantages which would accrue from success was so great that the disadvantages which would arise in the not improbable case of failure were insufficiently considered.’35 He quoted the report as saying that Churchill had been ‘carried away by his sanguine temperament, and his belief in the success of the undertaking which he advocated’. Robertson charged that Churchill’s ‘unsystematic methods’ had led to disaster.

It is easy to see why Marshall and Stimson felt this should be required reading for Roosevelt in July 1942, but what they failed to take into account was that it was precisely because of the Dardanelles débâcle that Churchill behaved in so relatively restrained a manner towards his General Staff when he became prime minister. He railed, ranted, wept sometimes, often cajoled and relentlessly pressurized, but the Dardanelles had been the defining crisis of his life so far, and he had genuinely learnt from it.

Ismay believed that, while he was serving on Pershing’s staff, Marshall had:

Like almost everyone, both American and British, who fought in the main theatre…regarded our failure at the Dardanelles as well-deserved retribution for an unjustifiable strategic gamble, and he condemned the expeditions to Salonika and Palestine, etc, as diversionary debauches. In the Second World War he used all his influence to prevent the slightest deviation from the principle of concentration of all available force at the decisive point.36

Handy spoke for almost everyone in OPD when he said of Churchill: ‘He was a wonderful man, but we never thought that he was too hot as a military strategist…He was one of the main instigators of the Gallipoli operation in World War One. It had more or less been a complete disaster.’ When Churchill proposed action in the eastern Mediterranean, therefore, Handy and others suspected, ‘Maybe he wanted to prove he had been right then.’37

When Churchill learnt from Dill about Marshall’s annotations in Robertson’s book he of course spotted the implications, but replied in surprisingly good humour, saying of Gymnast: ‘Soldiers and Statesmen here are in complete agreement.’ Privately, however, he was pained by Marshall’s choice of reading matter. As Brooke told Kennedy, ‘Winston’s hackles were up,’ and the Prime Minister ‘indicated that he would make short work of Marshall if he tried to lay down the law over Soldiers and Statesmen’. Brooke had heard that in Washington ‘the supplies of Robertson’s book in the libraries have run dry and Ministers are walking about with Volume One under their arms.’ He went on: ‘It may do some good, but I doubt it.’ To have brought up the disastrous Dardanelles campaign directly with its principal author would have been a brave–or more probably a foolhardy–thing for Marshall to have done.

Even if the British soldiers and statesmen were not in complete agreement–especially over Jupiter–they were not as split in outlook as the Americans, for as Brooke commented to his diary that evening: ‘Harry Hopkins is for operating in Africa, Marshall wants to operate in Europe, and King is determined to strike in the Pacific!’ Since Hopkins represented Roosevelt, it is clear what the President wanted, and all that the British now needed to do was coalesce together under the coming onslaught from Marshall and the OPD. In his memoirs, Jock Colville recalled that Hopkins was ‘privately supporting Churchill and Alan Brooke in their determination that the first Anglo-American enterprise should be in North Africa and not…take the form of a premature, ill-judged invasion of Europe’. Without knowing it, Marshall was travelling to London with a cuckoo in the American nest.

On the evening of 14 July, at a meeting at No. 10 of representatives of Allied countries grandly entitled the Pacific War Council, Kennedy recorded: ‘Winston in his blue romper suit but with a clean white shirt with cuffs…looked well and serene, lit a cigar and proceeded to give a general survey of the war, speaking slowly and without effort.’ After asking the New Zealand High Commissioner Sir William Jordan to stop taking notes because it distracted his attention, he talked of shipping losses, the efforts to sustain Russia, and the Eastern Front, and pointed out that the Germans had only seventy-five days before winter fell there. He believed ‘The Japs would attack Russia when the moment came–they would stab her in the back…But for the moment they were gorged with their prey.’

Speaking in front of the representatives from Australia, South Africa, China, New Zealand and Holland, Churchill said that the loss of half of Japan’s aircraft carriers since the war started had made India’s and Australia’s positions safer. As for taking on Japan across the Bay of Bengal and through the islands of the south Pacific, this could be done only if Auchinleck beat Rommel and the threatened German attack through the Caucasus did not materialize. If it did, ‘We would have to devote all our efforts to meeting that onslaught.’ During the hour-long meeting, Churchill caught sight of some of his memoranda lying on the Cabinet table. As he spoke he took a paste pot and stuck one of his red labels saying ‘Action This Day’ on to a file, and rang for a secretary to take it away. Kennedy was impressed by the way that ‘He shows no sign of the terrific strain to which he is subjected.’38

Alec Cadogan’s diary entry of 15 July was similarly understated. After discussing the global situation in a conversation with Eden, he wrote: ‘We have made up our minds against a Second Front this year. This, I’m afraid, is right–sad though it might be. We want Americans to do Gymnast, President would probably be willing. But Marshall against. I fear that his idea is that, if Sledgehammer is off, America must turn her attention to the Pacific. This is all rather disquieting.’

Meanwhile, in Washington, Wednesday 15 July became, as Churchill acknowledged in his war memoirs, ‘a very tense day in the White House’, as the President’s willingness to carry out Gymnast came under severe threat from his advisers. When Roosevelt returned there from Hyde Park that morning, Stimson and Marshall visited to try to dissuade him one more time. They took along a copy of Soldiers and Statesmen, telling the President that it showed that Churchill had always been addicted to ‘half-baked’ schemes that drew attention from the vital front in northern France, and they pointedly left the book with the President afterwards, advising him to read it carefully.39

The meeting resulted, in Stimson’s words, in ‘a thumping argument’ between Roosevelt and Marshall over American involvement in the Middle East, which Marshall thought even more ill advised than involvement in the North African operation, as it would endanger the war in the Pacific and relegate any significant cross-Channel operation to 1944 at the earliest. Instead, Marshall argued, a Pacific-centric policy might be able to prevent Japan and Germany linking up in the Indian Ocean. The President nonetheless ruled out any major offensive in the Pacific. They did however agree that Marshall, Hopkins and King should go to London immediately, and Roosevelt cabled Churchill to that effect.

The President further told Stimson that he had disliked the Japan First memorandum he had been sent at Hyde Park at the weekend, which struck him as like ‘taking up your dishes and going away’–that is, being childish and petulant. Stimson had to admit the truth in that, but said that ‘it was absolutely essential to use it as a threat of our sincerity in regard to Bolero if we expected to get through the hides of the British,’ which Roosevelt did not deny.40 Stimson then employed an equestrian analogy to illustrate his point: ‘When you are trying to hold a wild horse, the way to do it is to get him by the head and not by the heels [sic], and that is the trouble with the British method of trying to hold Hitler in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.’

As far as Stimson was concerned, his and Marshall’s Japan First threat was a bluff, but in his autobiography he admitted that ‘Mr Roosevelt was not persuaded, and the bluff was never tried. It would not have worked in any case, for there was no real intention of carrying it out,’ which Stimson ‘supposed that the British knew as well as he did’.41 In fact, however, the British–especially Dill, unless he was a co-conspirator with Marshall–could never be certain of that, and Lord Halifax was writing in his diary at the time: ‘Just because the Americans can’t have a massacre in France this year, they want to sulk and bathe in the Pacific!’

After Marshall produced a set of instructions for himself for the London visit, Roosevelt returned it with ‘Not approved’ written at the bottom right-hand corner, and ‘See my substitute’ underneath. At the end of these alternative instructions, the President wrote in his own hand the ominous words that, if he failed to persuade the British of the benefits of Sledgehammer, Marshall would have to determine ‘upon another place for US troops to fight in 1942’. Their watchwords in London, Roosevelt emphasized, must be ‘speed of decision on plans, unity of plans, attack combined with defense, but not defense alone’. Once again he signed the document as ‘Commander-in-Chief’.42

Stimson’s autobiography attests that he ‘pushed his disagreement with the President to the limits prescribed by loyalty’. Had he and Marshall by then spotted, as he later claimed, that Gymnast ‘destroyed Bolero even for 1943’? It would have taken supreme foresight to have looked eighteen months ahead at that stage of the war, and might be doubted. Old men forget, but old statesmen forget selectively. Stimson did, however, foresee the way the impasse would be resolved, stating that since Churchill and Brooke categorically refused to undertake a cross-Channel attack in 1942, while Roosevelt ‘categorically insisted that there must be some operation in 1942’, the only way that both demands could be satisfied simultaneously was through Gymnast.

Thus before Marshall even landed in Britain he was in a minority of one among the four Masters and Commanders, and he had failed to get presidential authority to try to bluff the British. It is unclear, even at this distance of time, whether King was aware that the memorandum he co-signed with Marshall might have been intended as a bluff. If he had thought it was Marshall’s genuine reaction to disappointment over Sledgehammer, he was about to be gravely disappointed.

In Hinge of Fate, published in March 1950, Churchill wrote of this ‘very tense day in the White House’ that, although there were discussions about ending the Germany First policy, ‘There is no evidence that either General Marshall or Admiral King harboured such ideas.’ Yet in fact he knew from Dill’s telegram that that was not the case, and that both King and Marshall did harbour ‘such ideas’, or claimed to do so. Churchill blamed ‘a strong sense of feeling in the powerful second rank of the American staff’ for the resurgence of Japan First, adding that ‘The President withstood and brushed aside this fatal trend of thought.’ According to Dill’s telegram it was the Joint Chiefs themselves, not their lieutenants, who considered the Pacific ‘the only practical alternative to action in Europe’.43 Churchill had certainly been reminded of the contents of that telegram in 1950, because he had bowdlerized it on the previous page of his book. He played outrageously fast and loose with the facts in his six volumes of The Second World War, especially with regard to people who were still in positions of power at the time of publication, and Marshall had only just ended his post-war stint as US secretary of state.44

Churchill edited out Dill’s final paragraph in which he had somewhat cheekily informed him that Roosevelt, Marshall and King were reading Soldiers and Statesmen. In an early draft of Hinge of Fate, Churchill had included that fact, along with the observation: ‘Naturally General Marshall could not know how perfect was the harmony of thought between his British comrades, and that the divisions and quarrels of Soldiers and Statesmen which had disfigured the previous war belonged to a vanished epoch.’ In the event, he cut this somewhat arch sentence before publication.

The news from Russia was bad in mid-July 1942, with the Germans pressing forward along a wide front and the British War Office fearing that there seemed little chance of stopping them ‘before they get to the Caucasus and the oil’. It was hoped that by the time winter came, there might still be Russian resistance on the Volga. Auchinleck remained on the defensive in North Africa, with the initiative lying with Rommel. The ‘big commitment’ to the desert campaign worried British Planners, especially if the Germans got to the Caucasus and threatened Iran and Iraq. ‘Altogether, the war is in an anxious phase,’ noted Kennedy. This seems to contradict Wedemeyer’s criticism that ‘The truly depressing thing about [Gymnast] was that, even as it was being accepted, the danger of a junction of the Germans and Japanese in the Indian Ocean had completely evaporated. The fall of Tobruk had been a temporary worry.’

Wedemeyer believed that, after the battle of Midway in June 1942, where the US Navy sank four Japanese aircraft carriers, ‘The British could no longer logically play up such a threat as they had in the past in order to obtain resources from American production for their African ventures. The die had been cast, however, before the full implications of Midway had dawned on the authors of [Gymnast]…our feet were on the ladder.’45 Yet even if the Japanese were no longer so serious a threat in the Indian Ocean after Midway, they continued to pose a threat to northern India until the victories at Kohima and Imphal in the spring of 1944, and even had there been no link-up at all, Germany’s control of the Iraqi and Iranian oil fields would have been disastrous for the Allies.

On Thursday 16 July, Marshall, Hopkins and King flew from Washington ‘to finalize the competing claims’ between Gymnast and Sledgehammer (which was still confusingly called Bolero by some Britons and many Americans). Although Churchill knew from Dill that Marshall was considering dropping Germany First, he also understood that it was the Commander-in-Chief who took the ultimate decision, and he had squared him a month before at Hyde Park.

Roosevelt’s written instructions to Marshall, Hopkins and King–of which Churchill was unaware–had left the field completely open in the conflicting claims between the two operations. He ordered the three men to ‘reach immediate agreement’, however, on ‘definite plans’ for action in 1942, as well as ‘tentative plans for the year 1943’. He ordained that ‘Absolute co-ordinated use of British and American forces is essential,’ that ‘It is of the highest importance that US ground troops be brought into action against the enemy in 1942’, and that ‘If Sledgehammer is finally and definitely out of the picture, I want you to…take into consideration…a new operation in Morocco and Algiers designed to drive in against the back door of Rommel’s armies.’

Roosevelt then reiterated his commitment to Germany First–‘I am opposed to an American all-out effort in the Pacific’–making the extraordinary prediction that ‘Defeat of Germany means the defeat of Japan, probably without firing a shot or losing a life.’ His final line was about his ‘hope for total agreement within one week of your arrival’.46 Having thus completely hobbled his delegates, Roosevelt needed only to wait for Churchill and Brooke to turn down a 1942 Sledgehammer for Gymnast to be adoptedfaute de mieux. Roosevelt had not even permitted his team the possibility of stretching out negotiations, let alone coming home empty-handed.

Before Hopkins left for London, he and the President worked out a series of private codenames for their messages to one another. Marshall was ‘Plog’, named after Roosevelt’s mother’s superintendent at Hyde Park, William Plog; Churchill was ‘Moses Smith’, named after a friend who rented a farm from Roosevelt; Portal was ‘Rev. Wilson’, the rector of the local church, and Brooke was ‘Mr Bee’, who was the caretaker of Roosevelt’s hilltop village there.47 The last would perhaps have not been as impenetrable to eavesdropping Germans as some of the others, but the characterization of Marshall, Churchill and Brooke all as tenants or employees of Roosevelt was an unconscious indication of the way that the relationship between the British and Americans was moving.

Marshall’s TWA Stratoliner landed at Prestwick in Scotland at 5.19 p.m. on Friday 17 July 1942; his party also included Admiral King, Harry Hopkins (and his doctor), FDR’s press secretary Stephen T. Early, Brigadier-General Walter Bedell Smith and Marshall’s aide-de-camp Major Frank McCarthy. When they arrived, the weather was too bad to go on to London by plane, and Churchill had sent his train with Commander Thompson to take the senior members of the party direct to Chequers. This led to the first clash of the trip, however, since Marshall wanted to talk to Eisenhower and other senior London-based American Staff officers before seeing the Prime Minister, whereas Churchill understandably wanted to talk to Marshall, Hopkins and King before their views were informed and strengthened by Eisenhower and his Planning team. Marshall therefore instructed the train to go straight to London, where it arrived before breakfast on the morning of Saturday 18 July, Harry Hopkins and Steve Early playing gin rummy on the journey down. It was met at Euston Station by Brooke, Eisenhower and Winant. ‘Since Thursday, Ike has been working night and day, preparing reports for General Marshall’s use,’ recalled Eisenhower’s naval aide and family friend Harry C. Butcher in his bestselling diary, Three Years with Eisenhower, published in 1946.48

The American party took sixteen rooms on the fourth floor at Claridge’s Hotel, where Marshall and King conferred with Eisenhower, Mark Clark, the Commander of the Eighth Air Force Carl Spaatz and Admiral Stark. Each of the rooms had a military sentry, with King insisting upon a Marine. Churchill was angry with Hopkins for snubbing his hospitality, and telephoned him at the hotel to upbraid him over the diplomatic protocols broken by such behaviour. ‘The Prime Minister threw the British Constitution at me with some vehemence,’ Hopkins later joked to Roosevelt. ‘As you know, it is an unwritten document, so no serious damage was done.’ He nonetheless went off to Chequers, while Marshall and King used the weekend to confer with the Planners.

Brooke was ‘delighted’ that the Chequers weekend, at which he would have had to have been present, had fallen through, and was ‘very amused’ by a rumour that Marshall did not want to assume the post of supreme commander, ‘so long as he would have to deal with Winston as prime minister’. Brooke and the Chiefs of Staff also prepared for the visit, recognizing from Dill’s warning telegram to Churchill the potential danger that it posed to Germany First. ‘They have come over as they are not satisfied that we are adhering sufficiently definitely to the plans for invading France in 1943, and if possible 1942,’ Brooke noted. ‘In my mind 1942 is dead off and without the slightest hope. 1943 must depend on what happens to Russia. If she breaks and is overrun there can be no invasion and we should then be prepared to go into North Africa instead. But Marshall seems to want some rigid form of plan that we are bound to adhere to in any case!’ After the war, Brooke wrote of these meetings that he had ‘found Marshall’s rigid form of strategy very difficult to cope with. He never fully appreciated what operations in France would mean–the different standard of training of German divisions as opposed to the raw American divisions and to most of our new divisions.’ Brooke feared that Marshall still ‘hankered after direct action in France without appreciating that in the early days such action could only result in the worst of disasters’.49

At 4 p.m. on Saturday 18 July, just as Brooke could see the end of the day’s work in sight and was thinking of going home, he was informed that all the Chiefs of Staff were ‘wanted at Chequers for the night!!’ He got there just in time for dinner, finding Pound, Portal, Mountbatten, Ismay and Cherwell already present. After dinner there was a long meeting reviewing the situation until 2 a.m., when they were taken to see a short film, finally getting to bed at 2.45 a.m.

Chequers, a fine Elizabethan country house in Buckinghamshire with some neo-Gothic alterations, had been given to the nation by Lord Lee of Fareham in 1917 as a retreat for prime ministers who had nowhere to live near London. Churchill used it instead of the more distant Chartwell. Although we do not know which room was used for his meetings with the Chiefs of Staff, it might well have been the long and spacious library, where there were large sofas on either side of the fireplace and places for chairs to be drawn up. At their meeting on the Saturday night, Churchill and Brooke agreed to tell the Americans that the ‘only feasible proposition’ for 1942 ‘appeared to be’ an American landing in French North Africa, with ‘more easterly’ support from the British.50 They could not be certain that they were not about to be presented with an ultimatum and effectively blackmailed into undertaking some sort of cross-Channel operation, of course, but Churchill trusted to whatever deal he had worked out with Roosevelt at Hyde Park the previous month.

With both sides thoroughly prepped for their coming clash, the British assembled at 12.30 p.m. on Monday 20 July. Brooke had originally intended to meet the Americans at 10 a.m. ‘for a private talk’, but Churchill was ‘very suspicious and had informed me at Chequers that Marshall was trying to assume powers of C-in-C of American troops which was President’s prerogative!’ Churchill knew that Brooke was highly sceptical of Jupiter and had been critical of Gymnast, and so presumably did not want him discussing operations with Marshall beforehand and in his absence. Instead Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff worked over lunch on the details of the British reply to Marshall’s proposals.

When the Americans arrived at 3 p.m., Marshall put forward his case for Sledgehammer, stating that ‘We would be guilty of a gross military blunder if Germany should be permitted to eliminate an Allied Army of eight million men, when some stroke of ours might have saved the situation.’ If Russia and Germany were approaching their crisis, he argued, ‘Sledgehammer would constitute the most effective action that the Allies could take on behalf of Russia and, indeed, for the Allied cause in general.’ This led to what Brooke described as a ‘long argument’ with Marshall and King. ‘They failed to realize that such an action could only lead to the loss of some six divisions without achieving any results!’ the CIGS noted afterwards.

When the Americans next argued for a Sledgehammer-style bridgehead to be established in Normandy in 1942 that would serve as the base for a Roundup-style operation in 1943, Brooke tried to convince them that there was no hope of it surviving the winter. Afterwards Gymnast was discussed, but the Americans said they preferred action in the Pacific to North Africa. The threat was therefore made, even if Roosevelt had already likened it to a child breaking dishes in a tantrum.

Six years later, Jacob recalled some of the arguments used against Sledgehammer in those hard-fought July meetings:

We said that if you do this there is no guarantee that you will be able to carry it out. In the meantime the Germans might stabilize the front in Russia and concentrate one hundred divisions in France. In that case Roundup could not be launched in ’43, six months would have been wasted, and we would still have undertaken no offensive action. The essential thing was, we said, to operate in 1942 in some area where we could meet the Germans on reasonable terms regardless of what happened in Russia.51

This was an exaggeration: merely stabilizing the Eastern Front could not have freed up one hundred German divisions out of the 185 or so stationed there; only pushing the Soviets back beyond the Urals could have achieved that.

At 11 a.m. the next day, Marshall presented Brooke with another memorandum in favour of Sledgehammer, in which he argued that it needed to be executed before 15 October 1942 and ‘regarded as the opening phase of Roundup with a consequent purpose, not only of remaining on the Continent, but of building up ground and air forces and logistic facilities, and expanding our foothold, to the limit of our capabilities’. He wanted a task-force commander appointed immediately, with an initial objective of taking the Channel Islands and Cherbourg. Such a foothold, Marshall argued, ‘will afford some relief from the continued inaction we are now enduring’ and would ‘provide valuable training and experience’ as well as tending ‘to promote an offensive spirit throughout the entire British and American armies, and peoples’. It would also bolster Russian morale, ‘and will either force some material diversions from the Russian front or will allow us to operate in France against the weakest forces we can ever hope to find there’.

Meanwhile, the occupation of Cherbourg would seriously interdict German communications through the English Channel, and could take place before the enemy had an opportunity further to fortify the beach defences. This was a strong point to make, since it was mainly in 1943 and 1944 that the Germans built the formidable coastal fortifications known as the Atlantic Wall. Cherbourg’s capture, Marshall argued, would also give ‘positive evidence to the people of France and other occupied countries of our will to carry the war to the enemy’.

Marshall used his memorandum to counter some of Brooke’s arguments. On the question of lack of air support, he pointed out that, other than the Pas de Calais, Cherbourg was the best place for English-based air operations, which could be concentrated closely there. The 250 German bombers then stationed in France could be made to pay a high price at Cherbourg through fighter attack by day and barrage balloons and anti-aircraft defence by night. Their aerodromes would also be bombed continually. If it were true that Sledgehammer would have ‘no effect whatever on the Russian Front’, as Brooke alleged, then Marshall suggested that ‘our prospects for future success will be enhanced’.52 It was a curiously circular but logical and undeniably optimistic stance.

It also had absolutely no effect on Brooke, however, who wrote in his diary: ‘Disappointing start! Found ourselves much where we started yesterday morning!’ They argued for two hours over the Russian front and weather conditions in the Channel, ‘during which time King remained with a face like a Sphinx, and only one idea, i.e. to transfer operations to the Pacific’. Yet Brooke’s physiognomy was equally unrevealing; Hopkins told Moran that ‘Nothing that they said appeared to make the slightest impression on General Brooke’s settled convictions…he kept looking into the distance.’53

At 11 o’clock that night Brooke had to go to report to Churchill, who had returned to Downing Street. Although Eden and Hopkins were also there, he was not allowed to join them, ‘for fear that Marshall and King should hear of it and feel that I had been briefed by Hopkins against them according to the President’s wishes!!’ Instead Churchill came to the Cabinet Room to hear the results of the meetings so far, and Brooke did not get home to his flat at 7 Westminster Gardens until half-past midnight.

It is clear that something significant was going on at Downing Street that night. If he had nothing to reproach himself for, Hopkins would have been able to meet Brooke, as he had on numerous occasions when Marshall was present (including the meeting early that same day). It is therefore likely that Hopkins was passing on to Churchill and–at one remove therefore–to Brooke, Roosevelt’s view, which coincided with the British stance but clashed with that of Marshall and King.

The President was thus possibly–via his intimate confidant Hopkins–encouraging Churchill and Brooke to stay firm in their opposition to Sledgehammer, leaving Gymnast as the only alternative, under his written instructions to Marshall. Despite travelling over and staying at Claridge’s with them, Hopkins was nonetheless there to undermine Marshall’s and King’s position if they couldn’t get Sledgehammer past Brooke. Not meeting Brooke directly in Marshall’s absence would preserve deniability if necessary. Although this seems a lot to infer from a single diary entry, there is further circumstantial evidence to suggest that that was indeed what was going on.

Negotiations began again at 11 a.m. the next day, Wednesday 22 July, when Marshall handed Brooke another memorandum supporting an attack on the Cherbourg salient as the preliminary move for a larger assault in 1943, and Brooke put the case against. Rather than arguing the same issue yet again, the Americans merely stated that they would now have to put the matter to the President, asking to see Churchill beforehand. Brooke therefore fixed a meeting for 3 p.m. that day, and went to Downing Street to explain to the Prime Minister ‘how matters stood and to discuss with him most profitable line of action’.54

After lunch with his wife–‘it was such a joy and rest from my labours having a couple of hours with you’–Brooke went back to Downing Street for what was clearly going to be the major showdown of the visit. In the Cabinet Room between 3 and 4 p.m., Marshall, King and Hopkins argued for a Cherbourg bridgehead before Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff. ‘Without Sledgehammer,’ said Marshall, ‘we are faced with a defensive attitude in the European theatre.’55 Hopkins passed a piece of Downing Street paper on which he had written ‘I feel damn depressed’ to Marshall, who concluded the third meeting with the British by saying that he needed to report the stalemate to the President. Churchill–who Brooke thought was ‘very sound on the whole business’–told Marshall ‘that no decision was constitutionally valid until confirmed by the War Cabinet, of which Brooke was the senior military adviser’, thus effectively warning him that Brooke’s decision was final.56 Marshall cannot have hoped the War Cabinet would endorse his own views over those of the CIGS.

At 5.30 p.m. Brooke reported to the War Cabinet on the negotiations with the Americans and read out the salient points of Marshall’s memorandum for Sledgehammer, which he said ‘was envisaged by the American Chiefs of Staff as either (a) a desperate venture to assist Russia; or (b) a valuable prelude to the Roundup operation of 1943’. He then told the politicians what he had told the Americans, namely that Cherbourg was on the fringe of the area over which fighters could operate from Britain and thus no continuous fighter protection could be guaranteed. The maximum force that could be maintained there was six divisions plus ancillary units such as anti-aircraft, which he did not believe would ‘get very far inland’. To hold a peninsula 16 miles at the top and 65 at the base would require at least ten divisions, he argued, and since the United States could contribute only three by mid-October, ‘the rest of the force would have to be provided by this country’.

Brooke conceded that the Luftwaffe had only 250 bombers operating from four French aerodromes, but they could quickly fly in reinforcements from Germany. He reminded the Cabinet how they had reinforced their air forces bombing Malta in late 1941, despite the Russian campaign. The Germans had about twenty-seven divisions in France, he estimated, of which about fifteen were stationed in the coastal areas between Belgium and Brest. A force of some six to ten divisions could therefore quickly be built up and brought to bear against the Sledgehammer forces without weakening the Eastern Front.

Taking no account of the Italians, therefore, the Wehrmacht could amass a considerable force against the Cherbourg peninsula. The Allies would soon be bottled up there, Brooke argued, and a systematic air and land attack would be directed on the troops and port facilities. ‘The result might well be that our forces would be driven back into the sea,’ he feared, ‘while the troops themselves, and their equipment would be lost.’57 It was a dour assessment wildly at odds with the US memorandum, but it came from the man who had commanded both II Corps at Dunkirk and the Second BEF, much of which had been evacuated from Cherbourg itself.

Portal told the War Cabinet that a large fighter force could be available on the invasion day for about three hours, after which thirty-five fighters could be kept aloft at any one time, but they would be in the vicinity of a German first-line aircraft strength of 324 bombers and 426 fighters, three-quarters of which would be serviceable from the outset, so he could not guarantee ‘that we should not suffer severe losses during the assault’. As the campaign progressed, however, things might get worse. Even if two aerodromes in the peninsula and two in the Channel Islands were captured, he estimated, the fighter force would still be 280 or fewer, and would require protection by six hundred anti-aircraft guns.

‘Assuming that the Russians were still holding on the Volga, that Rommel had been driven back, and that Germany was not involved in major operations in Persia, Iraq or Spain,’ Portal said, ‘Germany might possibly be able to build up against us a force of 700 bombers and 930 fighters,’ of which he estimated three-quarters would be serviceable. Within six months, therefore, Cherbourg and its environs would be ‘a heap of ruins’. For good measure Admiral Pound gave statistics for how bad the weather could be in the Channel in the autumn. The four consecutive days of good weather needed for the attack happened, as an average over the last ten years, only 4.3 times in September and 2.2 times in October.

Churchill said that Cherbourg was attractive only as part of a much larger plan of simultaneous landings along the French coast, but would not work on its own and would delay Roundup indefinitely. ‘On the other hand,’ he told the War Cabinet in the Americans’ absence, ‘we must not show ourselves too ready to raise difficulties.’58 He was still very conscious of the pressures on Roosevelt and did not want to provoke Marshall’s ire unnecessarily, chiefly because of the Pacific alternative. Only Mountbatten supported the Cherbourg operation, as ‘the one area of the coast on which we could stage a successful assault this year’. Since it was Mountbatten’s criticisms of Sledgehammer during his marathon meeting with Roosevelt the previous month that had precipitated the whole change of plan, it is understandable that Brooke and the other Chiefs of Staff occasionally became exasperated with him. He was also the major progenitor of the calamitous Dieppe Raid the following month, and it is probably fair to assume that an attack on Cherbourg would merely have been a vastly larger version of that.

Churchill then stated that ‘If Sledgehammer was abandoned’, discussion of Gymnast ‘would at once be started’ and that ‘planning for Roundup in 1943 would, of course, continue.’ At this, Brooke told the Cabinet that Gymnast had to be carried out before the end of 1942, therefore ‘many months before Roundup’, and before the enemy could anticipate an attack in North Africa. While there had been ‘no definite discussion’ with the Americans on Gymnast, he said, ‘they were favourably impressed with the importance of the scheme’.59 It is hard to see how he could have come to this conclusion, given that the operation had indeed been considered, and dismissed, by Marshall only very recently.

At the end of the meeting, Churchill went around the table asking each member in turn for his views, and got a unanimous verdict against Sledgehammer and in favour of Gymnast (or actually a hybrid of it codenamed Mohican, which comprised several more attacks along the North African coast). Brooke recorded afterwards of Sledgehammer: ‘I had no trouble convincing Cabinet who were unanimously against it.’60 Ismay was then instructed to inform Marshall that the War Cabinet had turned Sledgehammer down, which Churchill thought would ‘open the way for discussion on the alternative operation with the least difficulty’. Eisenhower reacted somewhat melodramatically to the news, telling Butcher that Wednesday 22 July 1942 could well go down as ‘the blackest day in history’ if Russia was defeated by ‘the big Boche drive now so alarmingly under way’, and the West had done nothing to save her.61

That night the British Chiefs of Staff gave their American counterparts dinner at Claridge’s, which must have been a somewhat strained social occasion as they all awaited the President’s response to Marshall’s gloomy report of the three days’ impasse. Nonetheless, Brooke recorded that ‘On the whole [it] went well.’ The least desirable placement for a Briton that evening must have been to be sat next to Ernest King, for as Marshall told Pogue in 1957: ‘I had trouble with King because he was always sore at everybody. He was perpetually mean. I made it my business to be on a very warm and understanding basis with the British, and they were appreciative of that. We were more suspicious of them than they were of us. This may not have been a compliment. I think they just thought we didn’t know enough.’

Back in Washington, Stimson insisted on seeing the standoff in terms of ‘a fatigued and defeatist government which had lost its initiative, blocking the help of a young and vigorous nation whose strength had not yet been tapped’.62 Brooke of course feared that the US strength would not be ‘tapped’ so much as wrecked, and Britain’s along with it. The experience of these negotiations with Marshall and King must have been rather like reliving his June 1940 conversation with Churchill at Le Mans.

That day John Kennedy was given a full briefing on the negotiations by Brooke, who told him that Roosevelt had ‘given instructions to Marshall to the effect that the American Army must get into action somewhere against the Germans and that he was to go and make plans accordingly’.63 This is so remarkably accurate that Brooke simply must have known at least the gist of the secret instructions that Roosevelt had given Marshall and Hopkins before they left. Had Hopkins leaked them to Churchill, who passed them on at the 11 p.m. meeting at Downing Street? However he came by the information, Brooke knew that if he stayed utterly intransigent over Sledgehammer–if he kept ‘looking into the distance’–Marshall was under orders finally to buckle. Thus forewarned, Brooke could hardly fail; it was like playing poker against an opponent whose cards were face up on the table.

Brooke told Kennedy that, after he had expounded on all the defects of Sledgehammer, Marshall had said to him: ‘Well, how are you going to win the war? You cannot win it by defensive action.’ Brooke replied that ‘That was another matter and the question was not so easy to answer.’ It was hardly an inspiring response from Britain’s senior military strategist, who still thought Gymnast risky and Jupiter suicidal.

Kennedy emphasized to Brooke that, over Sledgehammer, ‘much as one might hate constant refusal to take offensive action, there seemed no doubt that the project was impracticable in the near future. What we had to do in this phase of the war was avoid losingit. We could only expect a disaster if we landed prematurely.’64 He estimated that the Germans might concentrate up to thirty divisions against an invasion without taking a single one from the Russian front, since they had forty-seven in central Europe and twenty-seven in France. Moreover, the Allies would only have small aerodromes and few port facilities in the Cherbourg area, the use of which could be denied them by German air action alone. As Churchill also put it to Kennedy: ‘We should be eating up the seed corn of later and bigger projects.’65

Kennedy therefore believed it ‘really a good thing’ that Marshall had written his Sledgehammer memorandum, ‘for it is easier to point out the fallacies’. He considered it ‘most curious that Marshall has no sense of reality in considering the position that would arise if we found ourselves in the same land theatre as the German army with a tiny army against their huge forces’. He loyally concluded of his boss: ‘We are indeed fortunate in having Brooke to expound these matters, for he is clear and decisive and most practical in his outlook.’66

At a 3 p.m. meeting the next day, Thursday 23 July, Churchill told the Chiefs of Staff that ‘Roosevelt had wired back accepting that western front in 1942 was off. Also that he was in favour of attack in North Africa and was influencing his Chiefs in that direction. They were supposed to be working out various aspects with their staff and will probably meet us tomorrow.’ Roosevelt, Churchill and Brooke had therefore decided fundamentally to alter the future direction of the war southwards. The phrase ‘western front’, with its Great War overtones, was instructive; after all, Casablanca is six degrees further west than Cherbourg, and North Africa was never referred to as the ‘southern front’. Brooke was certainly not enthusiastic about Gymnast–soon to be rechristened Operation Torch for security reasons–and recorded that Churchill was ‘anxious that I should not put Marshall off Africa by referring to Middle East dangers in 1943. Told him I must put whole strategic position in front of Americans. Foresee difficulties ahead of me!!’67

That evening Marshall dined at Brooke’s flat in Westminster Gardens with Brooke, Grigg, the Quartermaster-General Sir Walter Venning and the Deputy CIGS Lieutenant-General Ronald Weeks. Marshall was ‘in very pleasant and friendly mood’, which is a fine testament to his strength of character since just about everything he had worked for on the strategic level since Pearl Harbor was collapsing around him, and his bluff had also been called successfully.68 If anything confirms the universal description of Marshall as a great gentleman it was his good nature when dining with his arch-antagonist (at least in strategic terms) that night.

‘We were at a complete stalemate,’ Marshall recalled of that period years later when talking to Pogue. ‘Churchill was rabid for Africa. Roosevelt for Africa. Positive reaction by both. Both were aware of political necessities. It is something we fail to take into consideration.’ The need for an alternative plan was now overwhelming, and the President’s instructions were unambiguous, so ‘One morning before breakfast, I sat down at Claridge’s in my room and began to write. I recognized we couldn’t do Sledgehammer and that there was no immediate prospect of Roundup. What was the least harmful diversion? Always bearing in mind that we didn’t have much. I started into writing a proposal…It called for an expedition into North Africa with operations, limits, nature.’69 Just as Marshall was finishing the paper, King entered the room. He had obviously come to the same conclusion. ‘It is remarkable now,’ recalled Marshall fourteen years later, ‘but King accepted without a quibble, despite the fact that he usually argued over all our plans’. King’s acceptance of the situation illustrates how hopeless it was for the American delegation.

Portal believed that the decisive factor in making the Americans accept Operation Torch was ‘our argument that we couldn’t amass enough shipping for Roundup until the Mediterranean was open, and we were saved a long [journey] all around the Cape. When we put this argument to Marshall and the others in conjunction with the Torch plan, they argued it out amongst themselves at the Dorchester all one evening, and finally came round to accepting our point of view.’70 He was wrong, and not just in the name of the Mayfair hotel. In fact it was a very clear order from their commander-in-chief that forced Marshall and King to think again.

Like Portal, Kennedy also thought that superior British arguments rather than presidential diktat had won the day. ‘The last week has seen a development in our planning with the Americans that may govern the future course of the war,’ he wrote. ‘Marshall and King came over with very fixed ideas of what they wanted to do and were convinced that our ideas were sounder.’71 This was a wholly inaccurate interpretation. Marshall and King hadrun up against two immovable objects in the shape of Churchill and Brooke, and in the event of not being able to shift them had been ordered by Roosevelt to take the North African route.

Once Marshall had completed his memorandum after breakfast on Friday 24 July, he contacted Brooke to arrange a noon meeting with the Chiefs of Staff. ‘I was a bit nervous as to what they might have been brewing up since our last meeting!’ Brooke confessed to his diary. ‘I wondered what new difficulties and troubles I might have to face!’ He needn’t have worried; Marshall’s paper, he discovered, contained ‘almost everything we had asked them to agree to at the start’. This document, officially entitled ‘Operations in 1942–3’ but known by its designation ‘CCS 94’ (that is, the 94th memorandum put out by the Combined Chiefs of Staff), was adopted with only minor alterations. In return for an agreement to give up Sledgehammer and an early Roundup, and to prepare for an attack on North Africa, Brooke had to agree to cuts in proposed air allotments in the Far East and to having a US armoured division stationed in Iran. Neither was problematic.

‘It having been decided that Sledgehammer is not to be undertaken as a scheduled operation,’ CCS 94 began,

we propose the following plans for 1942–3…If the situation on the Russian front by 15th September indicates such a collapse or weakening of Russian resistance as to make Roundup appear impracticable of successful execution, the decision should be taken to launch a combined operation against the North and North-west coasts of Africa at the earliest possible date before December 1942.

Marshall’s memorandum stated that Sledgehammer would be continued only for the purposes of deception; that an American armoured division would be sent to the Middle East in British ships; that the operation against Casablanca would be wholly American, while others against Algiers and Oran would be British ‘but under a United States veneer’, the whole to be under the overall command of an American; that ‘plans should be made…to re-enter Europe as soon as opportunity offered’, and that it was hoped that the US would have 3,100 first-line aircraft in Britain by April 1943, but 800 would be diverted to the Pacific and 700 to the North-west African operation, leaving ‘a substantial Air Force in this country for bombing Germany or for operations against the Continent in 1943’.

As so often in hard-fought compromises between Staffs, the key detail was to be found towards the end, almost in the small print. Under paragraph C subsection 4 it stated: ‘That it be understood that a commitment to [Torch] renders Roundup in all probability impracticable of successful operation in 1943 and therefore that we have definitely accepted a defensive encircling line of action for the Continental European theatre, except as to air operations and blockade.’72

That might sound like Brooke’s strategy, but there was a catch, one that Michael Howard has even likened to a Faustian compact made between the British Chiefs of Staff and the Americans. CCS 94 seemed to imply that Churchill’s original WW1 document from the Arcadia Conference had now been officially superseded, and that instead of Germany First, the phrase ‘defensive encircling line of action’ meant that the Americans could now also concentrate more on the Pacific. This rogue interpretation seemed to be supported by the specific provision in CCS 94 for the transfer of fifteen US aircraft groups–about 800 planes–‘for the purpose of furthering offensive operations in the Pacific’. (They were to prove invaluable for the conquest of Guadalcanal.)

The US Navy soon professed to believe that CCS 94 now rendered the Germany First policy, as delineated in Churchill’s WW1 document, obsolete. On 11 August Dill warned the Chiefs of Staff that CCS 94 ‘gives to American Naval Staff the extra emphasis on the Pacific theatre they have always wanted and intend to maintain’, and that in Washington it was now being ‘quoted verbatim as the present “Bible”’. That same day Dill wrote to Marshall about this interpretation of strategic holy writ, saying: ‘At present our Chiefs of Staff quote WW1 as the Bible whereas some of your people, I think, look upon CCS 94 as the Revised Version.’73

Marshall’s reply was direct; in his view CCS 94 did indeed revise WW1 by diverting the air groups to the Pacific and by instituting Torch, which would, ‘in my opinion, definitely preclude the offensive operations against Germany that were contemplated in WW1’. Meanwhile, Brooke wrote to Dill to say that the reference in CCS 94 to ‘a defensive encircling line of action’ only meant that a longer prelude was needed before the cross-Channel assault than the one ‘that we had in mind when we accepted the Bolero plan’. So whose interpretation of CCS 94 was to prevail? If it was Admiral King’s, it would lead to a very different war from that of Sir Alan Brooke.

At the time, however, CCS 94 looked to Brooke very much like victory over Sledgehammer and at 4.30 p.m. he took it to Churchill, who immediately approved it, seeing that it gave the green light to his beloved Torch operation. Yet at the 5 p.m. Cabinet, in Brooke’s words: ‘From the start things went wrong!’ Usually a lapdog over grand strategy, suddenly the Cabinet expressed their doubts, and argued over perceived flaws in the deal. ‘I perspired heavily in my attempts to pull things straight,’ Brooke recalled, ‘and was engaged in heated arguments with Eden and Cripps with most of Cabinet taking sides.’ This was an unexpected development, and for Brooke–who had spent seven hours in discussion with Marshall on 22 July–a most unwelcome one. He was infuriated to have politicians such as Attlee, Lyttelton and A. V. Alexander, who had not attended the Combined Chiefs of Staff meetings, threatening to wreck the agreement at the last moment. In the end CCS 94 was passed without a word being altered, after Churchill had thrown his considerable weight behind Brooke. ‘Any changes would have been fatal,’ Brooke believed, because ‘the Americans have gone a long way to meet us, and I should have to ask them for more.’

Nor had Churchill, Brooke or the War Cabinet spotted the problem with CCS 94 of which Dill was later to warn. Instead the discussion centred on the effect of Operation Torch on the timing of Roundup, with emphasis being put on whether planning for both could proceed concurrently. Brooke said there was ‘complete unanimity’ between the British and American Staffs over CCS 94, and thus, theoretically at least, over the future course of the war. Yet Marshall might have been surprised to hear Brooke claim that ‘Both the British and the United States Chiefs of Staffs believed that it was unlikely Roundup would be carried out in 1943, and that…Operation Torch therefore held the field,’ since CCS 94 had a target date for Roundup as ‘before July 1943’ in its very first paragraph. ‘A very trying week,’ concluded Brooke after the Cabinet sceptics finally piped down, ‘but it is satisfactory to think that we have got just what we wanted out of the USA Chiefs.’74

In Washington, Stimson tried to make a last-ditch protest against Torch, but all the President did was good-naturedly to offer to wager him on how the operation would turn out, which the War Secretary accepted. If either Stimson or Marshall had been commander-in-chief, Sledgehammer or Roundup would have been launched in 1942 or 1943. Asked later whether he thought the war could have been ended sooner, Stimson stuck to the formulation that ‘if he were faced with the problems of 1942, he would argue again as he had then.’ So his answer was yes.

Meanwhile Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, Pound’s representative on the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington, was vociferously in favour of Torch, arguing that ‘It would go a long way toward relieving our shipping problem once the short route through the Mediterranean was gained.’ He also believed it would ‘jeopardize the whole of Rommel’s forces and relieve anxiety about Malta. It would shake Italy to the core and rouse the occupied countries.’75 He was to be proved right on all fronts.

That night the Admiralty gave a dinner for the Americans in the Painted Hall of Wren’s baroque architectural masterpiece, the Old Royal Naval College at Greenwich, where Nelson had lain before his state funeral. The chief guests were taken there by launch from Whitehall, possibly in order to show them how badly the City of London had suffered in the Blitz. After dinner, Churchill and Hopkins sang around the piano, which was played by the First Lord of the Admiralty, A. V. Alexander. ‘One of the highlights’, John Martin told his parents, ‘was Admiral Stark singing “Annie Laurie” solo. Even the grim Admiral King thawed.’

One who had not thawed was the American Ambassador Gil Winant, who had seen Eden that day and ‘was very critical of us’ for abandoning Sledgehammer. The Foreign Secretary reminded him ‘that his people did not suggest anything before October’ that could be useful to the Eastern Front. ‘He had no arguments, but was obstinate,’ recorded Eden. ‘I have never seen Winant so put out. He dislikes Gymnast.’76 Eden was right, however: the Americans had not offered enough divisions or planes to be able to insist on Sledgehammer taking place. With Roundup, it would be different.

The British Commonwealth had already been fighting in North Africa for two-and-a-half years, and as the historian Sebastian Haffner put it, if the Americans ‘did not want to wait until they could wage their own war in two or three years’ time–and America is an impatient country–they had no choice but to join in Britain’s war as it stood and reinforce her with their initially slender but gradually increasing military resources.’77 Furthermore, as Handy told the SOOHP, ‘You’ve got to remember that the British were our principal ally and as a matter of fact were the only ones putting anything worthwhile into it’ (a statement that might have surprised Stalin). ‘They had the RAF and that was pretty good and they had some British divisions and they had the Royal Navy and we had to fight the war with them.’78

On Saturday 25 July, Churchill and Brooke were back at Chequers, where Marshall, King, Hopkins and Harriman were shown Oliver Cromwell’s death mask and a ring that had once belonged to Queen Elizabeth I. The Americans then left by special train for Scotland, from where they flew back to the USA. The Britons meanwhile first watched the movie The Younger Mr Pitt (which became one of Churchill’s favourites: it was a propaganda film, the great orator Pitt, played by Robert Donat, representing Churchill, and Napoleon, played by Herbert Lom, representing Hitler, with costumes by Cecil Beaton). They then discussed the visit before getting to bed at 2.45 a.m., in Brooke’s words ‘Dog tired and grateful this week is over.’

Although it had indeed been a successful week for the British in terms of getting what they needed out of Marshall, there was a heavy price to pay in terms of American suspicion, as well as the–possibly deliberate–ambiguity of CCS 94. As late as August, Marshall was complaining that Torch ‘represented an abandonment of the strategy agreed in April’, and of course he was right.79 The change of Allied policy from attacking Cherbourg in France to attacking Casablanca in Africa, swivelling the whole focus of grand strategy 1,150 miles to the south, cannot but have rankled with Marshall. Even ten months later, walking to a meeting together in Washington, he told Brooke: ‘I find it very hard even now not to look upon your North African strategy with a jaundiced eye!!’80 Considering that even the US Secretary of War had bet the President that the American invasion of Morocco would fail–something that would surely have forced his resignation if known publicly–there was much ground to be made up.

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