Collecting Allies: ‘The finger of God is with us’ June 1940–December 1941

The distinction between politics and strategy diminishes as the point of view is raised. At the summit, true politics and strategy are one.

Winston Churchill, The World Crisis

After the war, Sir James Grigg said he ‘felt it would be wrong to portray Brooke as selfless and unambitious, he had a natural and healthy ambition of the successful professional soldier’.1 Two days after Churchill visited Brooke’s V Corps near Gosport on 17 July 1940, Brooke was appointed commander-in-chief Home Forces. His contretemps with Churchill at Le Mans had clearly not damaged his career prospects, and he was now faced with the tough job of training an army that had abandoned most of its heavy equipment in France. He flung himself into the task. Writing to Wavell some months later, he opined that ‘We are not anything like as tough as we were in the last war. There has been far too much luxury, Safety First, etc, in this country. Our own idea is to look after our comforts and avoid being hurt in any way.’ That was why, during his time commanding the Home Forces, Brooke insisted on protracted exercises lasting several days, in all weathers, with 30-mile marches and longer.

The post also had the advantage, for an ambitious general, of regular contact with the Prime Minister, including occasional visits to Chequers. He was there on the afternoon of 3 October when he joined the Chiefs of Staff to discuss Operation Ajax, a plan to attack Trondheim in Norway, which had been evacuated by the British only the previous May. On 16 November 1940, he also stayed for the night at Ditchley, the country house that Churchill repaired to at weekends when the moon was high and the Luftwaffe bombers were believed to be able to pinpoint Chequers.

Despite these visits, however, Churchill did not socialize with Brooke outside their working relationship. The visitors’ book at Chartwell, the Prime Minister’s home in Kent, which includes the names of all the 780 people who stayed there after 1922, does not feature Brooke’s name at all. By contrast, Professor Lindemann (later Lord Cherwell) appears eighty-six times, Montgomery forty-six, Bracken thirty-one, and there are also entries for Alexander, Ismay, Ironside and scores of others.2 After the war Brooke was elected to the Other Club, founded by Churchill and F. E. Smith in 1911, although he did not often attend. This club was far more widely based than Churchill’s cronies, and included several people who profoundly disagreed with him politically, but he had veto rights over its candidates, and so Brooke’s membership can be taken as a guarantee that they were not enemies.

Brooke almost never fought Churchill out of pride or pugnacity or perversity, but did so because of the effect of their decisions on the services. With his powerful moral conscience, Brooke was always, figuratively speaking, looking out of that Le Mans window and seeing the young men sitting under the tree in the sunshine possibly being condemned to capture or worse if he settled for an easier life. Like Dill, Brooke was a devout Ulster Protestant, with a deep religious faith that supported him, especially during the tragic time of heartbreak and guilt after the death of his first wife. During the Phoney War, the eight months before fighting began in earnest, when Brooke was in France, he and Benita arranged to read identical Bible extracts every day at the same time. By contrast, Churchill had been convinced since his subaltern days, when he read The Martyrdom of Man by William Winwood Reade, that Jesus Christ had been a charismatic and inspired prophet and a profoundly holy man, but was not the Son of God. As Moran put it: ‘King and Country, in that order, that’s about the only religion Winston has.’3 Churchill’s private secretary Jock Colville believed that the first time the Prime Minister attended a church service during the war, other than a funeral, was in Scotland in March 1945.

On 11 October 1940, staying at Chequers for the weekend, Churchill and Brooke disagreed over the use being made of the eccentric but occasionally brilliant Major-General Percy Hobart (pronounced ‘Hubbard’), who was then languishing as a lance-corporal in the Home Guard due to the War Office’s extreme disinclination to employ him. ‘Brooke said he was too wild,’ recorded Colville, ‘but Winston reminded him of Wolfe standing on a chair in front of Chatham brandishing his sword. “You cannot expect”, he said, “to have the genius type with a conventional copy-book style.”’ That exchange could almost be taken as a template for their future relationship, with Brooke warning against wildness, and Churchill defending it as genius. (Over Hobart, Churchill was right, as the ingenious inventions he deployed at D-Day were later to prove.)

That evening’s discussions did not break up until 2.15 a.m., giving Brooke another foretaste of what lay in store for him when he became CIGS. The Chiefs of Staff nicknamed these late-night meetings ‘the Midnight Follies’, after the famous 1920s hotel cabaret act, Midnight Follies at the Metropole. The First Sea Lord, Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound, had a subtle way of pointing out how late Churchill was keeping them up; when offered a whisky and soda by Churchill at 2 a.m. he would say: ‘I never drink spirits in the morning. I’ll have a glass of port.’4 Churchill seemed addicted to these late nights, but they were to infuriate Brooke, since unlike the Prime Minister he could not take an afternoon nap at the War Office. One historian has pointed out that ‘It says something about their code of politeness, duty and respect that none of those who suffered under these afflictions, not even the arch-sufferer Sir Alan Brooke, is known ever to have protested to his face.’5 Perhaps they were conscious of being present when history was being made, and did not wish to seem petty.

Created in 1924 to provide the Government with expert co-ordinated service advice, the Chiefs of Staff became a permanent committee of the War Cabinet in 1939. When Churchill became prime minister and assumed the title of minister of defence in May 1940, he frequently attended their meetings, which when he was present were called Staff Conferences. Churchill was very conscious that it had been the absence of a constitutionally established, military inter-service authority, working directly for the prime minister, that had led to the dangerous dissensions between the ‘Frocks [frock coats]’ (politicians) and the ‘Brass Hats’ (soldiers) during the Great War, the Masters and Commanders of their day. He avoided a repetition of that by working on all strategic problems with and through the Chiefs of Staff, however frustrating they all found it at times.

The Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee when Brooke joined was Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound. Like Churchill and Harold Macmillan, Pound had an American mother. Elizabeth Pickman Rogers came from a Massachusetts seafaring family, but her son had few fond memories of her since her kleptomania and profligacy destroyed his parents’ marriage.6 He began his naval career at thirteen, excelled at exams and was appointed naval assistant to the First Sea Lord, Sir John ‘Jackie’ Fisher, during the Great War. He thus had first-hand knowledge of the combustible relationship between Fisher and Churchill, and learnt lessons about how to deal with Churchill that he later put to good use as chief of the Naval Staff.

In 1916 Pound was given his first independent command, the battleship HMS Colossus, which took part in the sinking of the cruiser Wiesbaden and a destroyer at the battle of Jutland. During the severe shelling, the range-taker standing next to Pound on the bridge had his arm blown off. In the inter-war years, Pound served first as chief of staff to Sir Roger Keyes, then as second sea lord, and then as commander-in-chief of the Mediterranean Fleet, the Navy’s best active command. Partly due to a series of illnesses at the Admiralty, he became first sea lord in July 1939, despite arthritis of the hip that forced him to walk with a cane. It was probably he who ordered the famous ‘Winston is back!’ signal to be telegraphed to all the ships of the Navy in September 1939, although wags implied that it was as much a warning to the captains as an invocation to their crews.

Drawing on his experiences under Fisher, Pound evolved a way of dealing with the Prime Minister that he vouchsafed to a deputy: ‘Never say a direct “No” to Churchill at a meeting. You can argue against it, and as long as you don’t exaggerate your case the PM will always let you have your say.’ Churchill rarely spoke of friendship, but he did with regard to Pound, often telling his naval aide Commander C. R. ‘Tommy’ Thompson that the First Sea Lord was one of the three men whose companionship meant most to him, the others being Lord Beaverbrook and the South African premier Jan Christian Smuts. Colville recalled that Churchill ‘bullied’ Pound over the telephone when he thought the Admiralty was being unimaginative, but the admiral’s ‘serious wrinkled face would flicker with pleasure and amusement when Churchill teased him’. One summer night at Chequers, walking in the rose garden after dinner, Pound, ‘who was lame but unquestionably sober’, fell down the steps and lay flat on his back. ‘Try to remember’, said Churchill, as he and Colville helped him to his feet, ‘that you are an Admiral of the Fleet and not a midshipman.’ A slow smile spread across Pound’s face.7

Pound’s American counterpart, the US Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold R. ‘Betty’ Stark, drafted ‘Plan Dog’ in Washington in October 1940, his view of how a global war should be fought were the United States and Great Britain to become active allies against the Axis powers. It was then refined by other Staff officers and subsequently sent to Marshall who also approved it. In essence it set out what came to be known as the ‘Germany First’ policy, stating that ‘If Britain wins decisively against Germany, we could win everywhere; but…if she loses, the problem confronting us would be very great; and while we might not lose everywhere, we might, possibly, not win anywhere.’8

The adoption of the memorandum, first by Marshall and then by Roosevelt–though not in writing–and then by the US Joint Planning Committee, meant that the United States had an outline plan to use during the secret, arm’s-length Anglo-American Staff talks, codenamed ABC-1, which were about to start. No such talks could be organized before Roosevelt’s third inauguration on 20 January 1941, because during the election campaign he had promised American parents that ‘Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.’

Churchill told Jock Colville emphatically that Roosevelt ‘would win the election by a far greater majority than was supposed and he said he thought America would come into the war. He praised the instinctive intelligence of the British press in showing no sign of the eagerness with which we desired a Roosevelt victory.’ Four days after that prediction, Roosevelt did indeed win re-election over the Republican candidate Wendell Willkie by 449 electoral votes to 82. Churchill went on to say, his ruminations punctuated with bursts of the song ‘Under the Spreading Chestnut Tree’, that ‘he quite understood the exasperation which so many English people feel with the American attitude of criticism combined with ineffective assistance; but we must be patient and we must conceal our irritation.’9 His own private irritation was evident from his complaint the next month that ‘We have not had anything from the United States that we have not paid for, and what we have had has not played an essential part in our resistance.’10

In 1941, some 84 per cent of the munitions used by British and Commonwealth forces originated in Britain. The system called Lend–Lease, whereby American arms were sold to Britain on generally favourable borrowing terms, accounted for only 1 per cent at the time, and the British paid cash for a further 7 per cent under pre-Lend–Lease contracts. So in the last nine months of 1941 Britain received 2,400 aircraft and 951 tanks from the USA, or the equivalent of six weeks’ output from British factories.11 It was useful, obviously, but not so much as to make a great difference militarily. Where the $14 billion of Lend–Lease aid by the time of Pearl Harbor did help, however, was in Britain’s overall financial and food situation. On New Year’s Day 1941, Colville, listening to Churchill composing a ‘forceful’ telegram to Roosevelt on Britain’s financial predicament, thought that the Prime Minister ‘obviously fears that the Americans’ love of doing good business may lead them to denude us of all our reasonable resources before they show any inclination to be the Good Samaritan’.

From his appointment as commander-in-chief Home Defence, Brooke attended meetings of the War Cabinet Defence Committee, a combination of service Chiefs and their political ministers, at least on matters that impinged on his brief. On 10 January 1941, for example, he had discussed there Italian operations in Africa and German naval operations in the North Sea, ending with a long list of the manpower and matériel deficiencies he faced.12 Even if the memory of their Le Mans conversation had dimmed, Churchill was thus well aware of Brooke’s direct manner, his habit of speaking very fast, and his strength of character. He was not always impressed, however, writing to the Secretary for War David Margesson and Dill the next day to say that Brooke’s contribution ‘did not seem to be at the level of the discussion’, and was ‘not very illuminating’. He complained that, instead of talking about his strategy for using twenty-five divisions and two thousand guns to counter-attack the expected German invasion, Brooke had merely delivered a list of equipment shortfalls, of which Churchill was ‘well aware’. Dill was due to retire as CIGS on Christmas Day 1941: had he done so at the beginning rather than the end of the year, it is safe to assume that Brooke would not have got his job.

Warned by Dill of this threat to his advancement, Brooke acted quickly. A fortnight later he was writing to Churchill about Operation Victor, an anti-invasion exercise in which Neasden power station and the Metropolitan Water Works were captured by two ‘German’ brigades and thirty light tanks that were landed in London by parachute, but were then fully engaged by his Home Forces. This was much more Churchillian fare, and prompted the Prime Minister to inform Harry Hopkins and Dill that when the invasion came his broadcast to the nation would end with the words: ‘The time has come: Kill the Hun!’ Soon afterwards Brooke was again invited to stay at Chequers, where he brought an epidiascope or magic lantern to give a lecture on Operation Victor to Clementine Churchill, the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden and the Labour leader Clement Attlee, about which the Prime Minister was ‘very flattering’.

Brooke would not put his commitment to his career over his obligations to the High Command, however. In the late summer of 1940, Churchill tried to use him to outmanoeuvre the Chiefs of Staff Committee–Dill, Pound and Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal–over Operation Ajax. Having failed to convince the Chiefs of its merits, which he needed to do before it became strategic policy, the Prime Minister sent for Brooke to come to Chequers. ‘Then in front of the Chiefs of Staff’, Brooke recalled years later, ‘he ordered me to prepare an expeditionary force out of my resources for the capture of Trondheim,’ and gave him a week in which to do it. Brooke said that he would need the Commanders-in-Chief of the Home Fleet and Bomber Command, the Minister of Transport and several other high officials to help him in the planning, all of whom Churchill promised would be put at his disposal.

The British and French had captured Trondheim and Narvik under Churchill’s orders in April 1940, only to be forced to evacuate them by superior German forces. Luftwaffe superiority had cost the Royal Navy dear in that campaign, although it had been the parliamentary debate over that disaster that had, paradoxically enough, brought Chamberlain down and Churchill into the premiership. The idea of returning to Norway only a matter of months later, without air superiority and with the Germans in complete control of the entire coastline, was anathema to War Office Planners.

After seven days Brooke came to the same conclusions that the Chiefs of Staff had, that the operation was unfeasible, mainly because of the lack of aircraft carriers to provide the necessary support. When he reported this to Churchill, he ‘received a very unpleasant welcome!’ The Prime Minister later tried to persuade the Canadians to undertake the operation, but failed in this too. As well as apprising Brooke of the fundamental impracticality of Ajax–later codenamed Operation Jupiter–the experience also alerted him to the readiness of Churchill to try to bypass the service Chiefs to get his way. In retrospect, far from being the wasted week that it must have seemed at the time, it was one well spent.

Relations between Churchill and Brooke improved in the spring of 1941. In a radio broadcast of 9 February, in which he quoted Longfellow’s lines from ‘The Building of the Ship!’, Churchill declared that he had ‘the greatest confidence in our Commander-in-Chief, General Brooke, and in the generals of proven ability who, under him, guard the different corners of our land’. The next day he toured Brooke’s headquarters in the reinforced-concrete basement of the Office of Works near the Cabinet War Rooms in Whitehall, and then invited Brooke up to the No. 10 Annexe, the rooms on the ground floor of the same building almost directly upstairs where Churchill lived for much of the war instead of in Downing Street. He showed Brooke his drawing room and dining room, Mrs Churchill’s bedroom and bathroom, his own bathroom, and even the kitchen and scullery. After the war, Brooke recalled that, fitted out with elaborate anti-bomb devices, special ventilators, telephones, message conveyors and map rooms, his ‘was in every way an excellent battle headquarters, with only one fault, namely its proximity to Winston!’13

Brooke later remembered his stay at Chequers on the night of Sunday 9 March 1941 as ‘one of the first occasions on which I had seen Winston in one of his really lighthearted moods’. Churchill’s friend and scientific adviser Lord Cherwell was also staying, and Brooke recorded that there was much ‘flippant’ conversation about metaphysics, solipsists and higher mathematics, not subjects that naturally lend themselves to flippancy. After dinner Churchill played martial tunes on a gramophone while giving his guests a display of arms drill with an elephant gun in the Great Hall. His simulated bayonet practice left Brooke convulsed with laughter; after the war he wondered to himself what Hitler would have thought of it all. Churchill–who was wearing a light-blue siren suit, which Brooke thought looked like ‘a child’s “rompersuit”’–had bronchitis, and so went to bed at the record early hour of 11.30 p.m. The ice was broken, and it is well to remember, when Brooke’s relations with Churchill later became stormy and exasperated, that there had been pleasant moments too.

Later that month, in discussions about whether reinforcements should be sent to the Middle East, Churchill put Brooke’s demands not to let troops out of the country down to the natural desire ‘that every General should try to keep as many troops as possible in his own hands’, but ‘We must not get too invasion-minded.’14 Churchill knew from intercepted German messages in late March 1941 that an invasion was definitely off the Wehrmacht’s agenda, and he had been impressed by Brooke’s willingness to allow large numbers of troops and tanks to leave Britain in the summer of 1940 to protect the Nile Valley. ‘When real risks arise in other quarters, risks will be run with courage here,’ wrote Churchill, ‘as they have been in the past.’ If he saw Brooke as willing to run them–as he had shown when the invasion threat was far higher–it could only have redounded to Brooke’s credit.

Brooke also learnt how to stay silent at opportune moments. At a dinner at Chequers in late April 1941, attended by Margesson, Ismay, Cherwell and Churchill’s daughter-in-law Pamela (née Digby, later Harriman), the Prime Minister kept everyone up till 3.30 a.m. and got into a heated argument with Major-General John Kennedy, the Director of Military Operations at the War Office (and one of the men who had sat outside the window at Le Mans). Kennedy had intimated that there would be worse things strategically than the loss of Egypt, which Churchill took as unacceptably defeatist, saying that he should be made an example of, and citing Admiral Byng’s execution by firing squad in 1757.

In his diary, kept surreptitiously like all the many others, Kennedy complained that Brooke completely failed to intervene on his behalf, ‘although I knew I had said nothing with which he did not agree’. Had Kennedy the opportunity to read Brooke’s own diary entry, where the discussion was dismissed as ‘a rather pompous discourse on strategy’, he might have expected less, but his superior officer also had two other reasons for remaining silent.15 The first was that he had a large number of important matters to discuss with Churchill the next day–including pressing manpower and tank shortages–and the second was of course that he did not want to be perceived by Churchill as defeatist himself, which might have been fatal to his chances of promotion to CIGS in due course. Afterwards Brooke wrote effusive thanks to Churchill for his ‘great kindness for giving him the opportunity of discussing the problems and putting some of the difficulties’ to him, adding, ‘These informal talks are of the greatest help to me.’

In late January 1941, Marshall’s view of the likelihood of ‘American boys being sent into foreign wars’ became startlingly evident when the press discovered that the War Department had placed an order with a Cleveland metallurgy firm for four million small discs on which soldiers’ names and enlistment numbers would be stencilled, known as ‘death tags’ or ‘dog tags’. Marshall tried to explain that they needed two million because each soldier would be required to have two, but in an army of just over a quarter of a million men that argument seemed wanting. ‘The whole procedure is routine and the number involved is not large considering the constant use being made of these tags,’ Marshall told the President, who would nonetheless have been deeply embarrassed by such a revelation had it emerged before the election.16 What it did show was that Marshall had high ambitions for the future size of the US Army, ambitions that in the event were to be massively exceeded.

In March, the ABC-1 Staff talks were satisfactorily concluded. After fourteen sessions in Washington over two months, American and British Planners agreed the strategy that would be adopted in the event of the United States entering the war. Germany would be defeated first, Allied interests in the Mediterranean would be maintained and the Pacific theatre would stay on the defensive until victory was secured in the west. This was to form the kernel of Allied grand strategy, once the attack on Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941 catapulted the USA into the Second World War.

Meanwhile, the damaged British aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious was repaired in a US shipyard despite America’s strict neutrality laws. At that time no fewer than eight thousand RAF pilots were being trained in the United States, and by October 1941 the Joint Staff Mission in Washington numbered two hundred military personnel, their duty to interpret the views of the British Chiefs of Staff to the US Chiefs of Staff and to keep Anglo-American planning up to date. By the end of the war these tasks required no fewer than three thousand people. In their role of keeping in constant touch with the Plans, Operations, Intelligence and Communications branches of the American service departments, the Joint Staff Mission grew to be huge, though not unwieldy.17

Although Roosevelt publicly opposed the employment of convoys, which might involve American vessels firing at German ones, he was in favour of ‘patrols’ that could protect American against aggressor vessels, which often amounted to much the same thing. One such patrol of 10 April 1941 entailed the destroyer USS Niblack, while rescuing the Dutch survivors of a merchantman, dropping three depth charges on the U-boat that had torpedoed it. The following day the President told Churchill that he was extending the patrol area to 25 degrees west longitude, a position midway between the western bulge of Africa and the eastern bulge of Brazil. The Royal Navy therefore effectively no longer had to worry about patrolling the western Atlantic.

This strained US naval resources and Marshall strongly advised the President to move some of the Pacific Fleet based at Pearl Harbor on the Hawaian island of Oahu into the Atlantic instead. Marshall was certain that, with heavy bombers and new pursuit planes, American forces were such that the Japanese would not attack. This was, of course, terrible advice, which Roosevelt anyhow turned down since American relations with Japan were at a critical stage, and the removal of ships would be seen by Tokyo as a sign of weakness. The following month, Marshall made an equally dire prediction when he informed the President that ‘The island of Oahu, due to its fortifications, its garrison, and its physical characteristics, is believed to be the strongest fortress in the world. With this force available a major attack against Oahu is considered impracticable.’18

Churchill described the German invasion of Russia on the night of Saturday 21 June 1941 as ‘the fourth climacteric’ of the war, the others being the fall of France, the battle of Britain and the passing of the Lend–Lease Act. ‘Trust him to find a word no one else had ever heard of,’ commented one of his lady-typists.19 Hitherto the only British grand strategy worthy of the name depended upon blockading Germany, aerial bombardment and attempting to foment revolt in Europe, none of which held out realistic hope of victory over the Nazis. Now Operation Barbarossa so altered the geo-strategic situation that it made it imperative for Roosevelt, Churchill and Marshall–Brooke was still only commander-in-chief of Home Forces–to meet face to face to co-ordinate plans to assist Russia against Germany and deter Japan from attacking in the Far East. After Brooke had estimated to the War Cabinet that Hitler’s invasion of Russia could cost Germany as many as two million casualties, Churchill commented: ‘It came from God–we did nothing about it.’ The Prime Minister added that the ‘War can’t end in 1942 but optimistically in 1943.’20 Far too optimistically, as it turned out.

On 24 July at Downing Street, first Harry Hopkins and then Churchill spoke to Roosevelt on the telephone, but the President forgot he was not using the scrambler device, and said ‘some things about a certain rendezvous which he afterwards bitterly regretted’. That was Placentia Bay on the southern coast of Newfoundland. The following day Churchill telegraphed Roosevelt to say that Europe would be liberated ‘when the opportunity is ripe’ by an imposing quantity of tanks being landed ‘direct onto beaches’ by specially adapted ships. ‘It ought not to be difficult for you to make the necessary adaptation in some of the vast numbers of merchant vessels you are building so as to fit them for tank-landing fast ships,’ he added. Even three years before D-Day, therefore, the methods of victory were being contemplated, confounding later accusations that Churchill ‘never’ wanted to invade Normandy.

In a nine-page handwritten letter on 4 August to his cousin and confidante Margaret ‘Daisy’ Suckley, who lived close to him in Dutchess County, New York, Roosevelt described how he had been secretly transferred from his presidential yacht thePotomac on to the heavy cruiser USS Augusta, and, with another cruiser and five destroyers as escort, had made his way to Newfoundland. The Potomac had continued to fly his presidential flag once he’d left her, in order to maintain the deception: ‘Even at my ripe old age I feel a thrill in making a getaway, especially from the American Press.’21

The presidential flotilla arrived at Placentia Bay at 6 a.m. on Thursday 7 August 1941. The next day Averell Harriman, Roosevelt’s special representative to Britain, and the Under-Secretary of State Sumner Welles arrived by plane and the Americans staged what Roosevelt called ‘a dress rehearsal conference’ before the British arrived, which included General Marshall, Hap Arnold of the USAAF, two very senior American admirals, Harold Stark and Ernest J. King, and seven others. ‘All set for the Big Day tomorrow,’ Roosevelt told his cousin about his meeting with Churchill.

Unbeknown to the Americans, the British were also running a dress rehearsal for what was codenamed the Riviera Conference, with the permanent under-secretary of the Foreign Office, Sir Alexander ‘Alec’ Cadogan, playing the role of Roosevelt, as he and Churchill strode along the cold and blustery deck of their 35,000-ton battleship, HMS Prince of Wales.22 These rehearsals allowed Roosevelt and Churchill to explore avenues, practise arguments, work out which démarches might be profitable and which unprofitable, and generally make a verbal reconnaissance of the various combinations and permutations that any future conversation could take. It focused their minds and lessened the danger of surprises. Both were to repeat this sensible practice before almost all of the great wartime conferences.

The general good humour of the Placentia Bay meeting was protected by both sides staying off subjects–such as Britain’s Indian empire–that they knew would produce discord. There were also moments of humour: after Roosevelt had said that he couldn’t understand the British aristocracy’s concept of primogeniture and was going to divide his estate equally between his five children, Churchill explained that such a distribution was nicknamed ‘the Spanish Curse’ by the British upper classes: ‘We give everything to the eldest and the others strive to duplicate it and found empires. While the oldest, having it all, marries for beauty. Which accounts, Mr President, for my good looks.’23 Since Churchill’s father was a younger son, there was more modesty than mock-vanity in that remark than the President probably realized.

After meeting Churchill on the USS Augusta on Saturday 9 August, Roosevelt reported to Suckley: ‘He is a tremendously vital person and in many ways is an English Mayor LaGuardia! Don’t say I said so! I like him–and lunching alone broke the ice both ways.’24 Fiorello H. LaGuardia was the short, squat but hugely energetic Republican mayor of New York between 1934 and 1945 who had supported the New Deal and saw his city through the worst of the Depression. A half-Italian, half-Jewish dynamo and gangster-buster, he was then serving as Roosevelt’s first director of the Office of Civilian Defense.

The discussions, which confirmed the general outlines of the ABC-1 Staff talks, and drew up some high-sounding war aims, were a great success. The Americans pledged to assist Russia ‘on a gigantic scale’ in co-ordination with Britain, to provide a capital ship and five-destroyer escort on north Atlantic convoys, to deliver bombers for use by Britain, and to take over anti-submarine patrols east of Iceland. On 11 August an exuberant Roosevelt reported to Daisy, ‘A day of very poor weather but good talks.’ At dinner with Churchill that night, ‘We talked of everything except the war! and he said it was the nicest evening he had had!’ This prompted Roosevelt to ruminate, ‘How easy it is to do big things if you can get an hour off! The various officers came after dinner and we are satisfied that they understand each other and that any future needs or conversations will meet with less crossed wires.’ This was unquestionably the case with Sir John Dill and his opposite number Marshall, who struck up a genuine friendship that was to prove invaluable to Anglo-American relations.

On Tuesday 12 August, Roosevelt and Churchill signed the Joint Declaration, later known as the Atlantic Charter, defining the two countries’ ideals in the widest sense. These stated that the USA and Great Britain desired no territorial changes that did not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the people concerned, respected the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they lived, guaranteed equal access to trade, and so on. After what the President told Suckley was ‘a moving scene as they received full honours going over the side’, Churchill and his party bade farewell and the Prince of Wales left the Bay at 5 p.m.

On his way back to Washington, Roosevelt sailed through Canadian seas that were feared to contain German U-boats. He also faced political risks once he arrived. The House of Representatives had only passed the bill to extend the Selective Service Act by 203 votes to 202, showing that isolationism and the America First movement were still powerful forces in American politics. At the next Cabinet meeting, after commending Churchill’s ability as a negotiator, Roosevelt joked: ‘But of course, you know Grandpa’s pretty good at trading too.’ ‘You want to look out, Mr President,’ someone around the table replied, ‘Churchill may be pulling your leg by letting you win the first round.’25

Adolf Hitler said that Operation Barbarossa would make the world ‘hold its breath’, and he was right. The Wehrmacht had completed a land blockade of Leningrad by 8 September, and eleven days later took Kiev. By 1 October it was driving from Smolensk to Moscow, and a fortnight after that was only 26 miles from the Russian capital. Just as King Richard I is said to have gazed upon Jerusalem from afar during the Third Crusade, it was the closest they were to get.

The immense Soviet defeats spawned a powerful movement in Britain for a ‘Second Front’, an Allied return to the Continent that would draw German troops off the USSR. By late September this had spread far wider than simply among members of the British Communist Party. In a debate in the House of Commons on 30 September, Churchill attempted to counter it: ‘If I were to throw out dark hints of some great design, no one would have any advantage save the enemy. If, on the other hand, I were to assemble the many cogent reasons which could be ranged on the other side, I should be giving altogether gratuitous reassurance to Hitler.’26

The Sandhurst-educated Conservative MP for Eccles, Richard Cary, nonetheless insisted on a Second Front ‘now’, and was supported by the Independent Labour MP Colonel Josiah Wedgwood DSO and the Labour MP John Tinker, who said, ‘I hope to goodness we do not let it get into the minds of the Russian people that we are prepared to fight to the last Russian before risking any of our own people.’ The accusation–that the British had no intention of returning to the Continent and bearding the Nazi beast in its lair–was one that adherents of Marshall were privately to make against Churchill and Brooke before very much longer, and lasts to this day. With the Germans taking Kursk on 3 November, and mounting a second offensive against Moscow later in the month, Churchill’s subtle argument was not going to satisfy supporters of the Second Front for ever. At the time, Britain had no longer-term strategy than mere survival.

As early as 28 September 1941, Churchill began considering replacing Field Marshal Sir John Dill, who had been CIGS only since Dunkirk. ‘He now has got his knife right into Dill and frequently disparages him,’ recorded Colville. ‘He says he has an alternative CIGS in mind: Sir Alan Brooke.’ Churchill knew that Dill had not actually done anything identifiably wrong as CIGS, and during the Dunkirk campaign he was considered to have done well in command of I Corps. Yet his cruel private nickname for him, ‘Dilly-Dally’, illustrates the lack of fire that Churchill blamed him for, and there was no personal empathy between the two men. Dill meanwhile regarded Churchill as an arch-meddler whose interventions had to be borne with as much patience as he could muster.

In his published memoirs, Churchill gave no reason for not reappointing Dill beyond his sixtieth birthday, but an earlier draft of them mentioned the CIGS’s support for defending Singapore over Cairo during a row over grand strategy in May 1941. At another point that year, Churchill had said of the British High Command in the Middle East, ‘What you need out there is a court martial and a firing squad.’27 Dill only thought up his (hardly crushing) rejoinder–‘Whom would you wish to shoot?’–long after the meeting was over. Against the whip-like wit of Winston Churchill, such mild esprit de l’escalier was not enough. Brooke would have had a far sharper retort.

Years after the war, David Margesson, who was secretary of state for war until February 1942, told Brooke that Eden had said to him, ‘Brooke will never get on with Winston,’ to which Margesson had replied that Churchill needed ‘a man who would present the military point of view without fear or favour’. The discussions preceding Brooke’s appointment were lengthy, before Churchill finally said: ‘Well, David, I’ll take him, after all you are secretary of state, but I warn you you may regret it, for I don’t think we’ll get on.’ Margesson recalled that, some years afterwards, Churchill had admitted: ‘You were quite right, David, we owe you a lot. Brooke was the right man–the only man.’28 In a sense, though, they were both right.

With Dill’s sixtieth birthday falling on Christmas Day, all Churchill needed to do was tell him that his appointment would not be renewed, as Dill had every expectation that it would be under the special conditions of wartime. On the evening of 17 November Churchill broke this news, offering to make Dill governor of Bombay and rather absurdly emphasizing that he would have ‘a bodyguard of lancers’ that would follow him everywhere, something that might have thrilled Churchill but meant nothing to Dill.

After helping Dill draft a press statement to the Ministry of Information, John Kennedy noted that the CIGS seemed ‘very disturbed but I think not really unhappy and is glad that Brooke is taking over’. Kennedy thought that:

the politicians do not quite realise what they have taken on in Brooke. So far as I know him he is rough and tough and rather impatient. It may be a change for the better in that respect. If he can cut down the time we spend in useless debate with the PM it will be good for the proper conduct of the war…We may be thankful that Brooke has been chosen to succeed him–it might well have been someone quite unsuitable.29

Brooke achieved many things as CIGS, but right to the end of his time with Churchill he was still complaining of the hours wasted in ‘useless debate’.

Brigadier Ronald Weeks was on Brooke’s special train when the telegram appointing him CIGS arrived at breakfast time on 18 November. ‘This is a frightful thing,’ said Brooke, ‘I don’t know how to tackle it.’ Weeks remembered that Brooke ‘disliked the idea of “pushing out Dill”, his great friend, and was nervous as to how to handle Winston Churchill’. There was no question that both duty and ambition compelled Brooke to accept the Army’s most senior post, of course, and he didn’t need to have any fears with regard to Dill. It was a publicly smooth transition with the minimum of press comment, although some newspapers ruefully commented that Dill turning sixty was a strange reason for his retirement, considering that the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Dudley Pound, was sixty-four and Churchill himself sixty-seven. In reply to Brooke’s letter accepting the appointment, Churchill wrote: ‘I did not expect that you would be grateful or overjoyed at the hard anxious task to which I summoned you. But I feel that my old friendship for Ronnie and Victor, the companions of gay subaltern days and early wars, is a personal bond between us, to which will soon be added the comradeship of action in fateful events.’30

Sir James Grigg, permanent under-secretary at the War Office, who was ‘puzzled at Brooke’s great emotion at certain times’, told a post-war interviewer that Brooke ‘had tears in his eyes’ when saying farewell to Major-General Bernard Paget and his fellow officers at Home Forces HQ, and had ‘rushed from the room unable to finish his farewell’. This was all the more strange because Brooke had a rather low opinion of Paget and was responsible for replacing him with Montgomery as commander of 21st Army Group before D-Day. It nonetheless does testify to Brooke being a far more emotional man than he allowed himself to seem from the outside.

In a sense, all of Brooke’s past life had been but a preparation for this hour and this trial. He arrived at the War Office for his first day as CIGS on Monday 1 December, and Kennedy found him ‘very quick and decided’. It was not the last time he was to apply that pair of adjectives to his new boss. Brooke settled into his new role immediately, especially in its most important aspect: the formulation of grand strategy. In his diary for 3 December he wrote: ‘I am positive that our policy for the conduct of the war should be to direct both our military and our political efforts towards the early conquest of North Africa. From there we shall be able to reopen the Mediterranean and to stage offensive operations against Italy.’ In a mood of distinct self-congratulation after the war, he commented that it was ‘interesting to note’ that already on his third day as CIGS ‘I had a clear cut idea as to what our policy should be…It is some gratification to look back now, knowing that this policy was carried out, but only after many struggles and much opposition from many quarters.’31

Yet although Brooke did indeed adopt this strategy, which incidentally was already Churchill’s, it is also true that, as the distinguished military historian Professor Sir Michael Howard put it, ‘None of the British leaders, including Churchill and Brooke, were yet prepared to recommend where and how the decision should be forced–if indeed it had to be forced at all.’32 The phrase ‘against Italy’ certainly does not demonstrate that as early as 1941 Brooke envisaged a strategy in which Allied armies fought all the way up the Italian peninsula as far north as the River Po. If this was his scheme, he did not mention it again, even to his diary, for over a year.

At first neither Admiral Pound nor Air Chief Marshal Portal much liked the idea of Brooke joining them as their Army colleague on the Chiefs of Staff Committee, since they thought him ‘too abrupt, over-forceful and tactless’.33 Occasionally described as ‘hawk-faced’ and ‘stoop-shouldered’, Brooke would look Churchill in the eye at meetings, say ‘I flatly disagree,’ and go on to give his reasons.34 It is true that Brooke was indeed, as Field Marshal Lord Bramall puts it, ‘impatient to a fault, even outdoing Churchill in this respect’, but very soon his colleagues on the Committee saw his qualities, and especially his readiness to stand up to Churchill.35 During arguments with the Prime Minister he would sometimes break a pencil in half, a surprisingly forceful–even almost threatening–gesture when closer than 4 feet from Churchill across the narrow green-baize table of the Cabinet Room. In this scion of the Fighting Brookes, the son of the intrepid Sir Victor, Churchill had at last found a CIGS with a determination to match his own.

If he was tough on those above him, Brooke could be tough on those below too. ‘He was ruthless where he found anyone at fault,’ recalled Weeks, ‘and had no use for anyone who had fallen below his standards and had failed him.’ For example, in August 1942 he was sent a report on airborne forces which he found sub-standard and which he returned covered in the traditional green ink of the CIGS. Its hapless author found no fewer than thirteen paragraphs of Brooke’s corrections, the last, numbered ‘13’, heavily underlined and against it written: ‘A most suitable ending to a really lamentable effort.’36

Brooke’s mere presence at the War Office galvanized those around him. In The Military Philosophers, the ninth volume of Anthony Powell’s sequence of novels A Dance to the Music of Time, the hero Nicholas Jenkins is chatting in the great hall of the War Office, when his attention was:

unequivocally demanded by the hurricane-like appearance of a thickset general, obviously of high rank, wearing enormous horn-rimmed spectacles. He had just burst from a flagged staff-car almost before it had drawn up by the kerb. Now he tore up the steps of the building at the charge, exploding through the inner door into the hall. An extraordinary current of physical energy, almost of electricity, suddenly pervaded the place. I could feel it stabbing through me. This was the CIGS.

Sackville Street was where Brooke sometimes used to go to relax at lunchtimes, to study ornithology books and prints at the antiquarian booksellers Sotheran’s, but Powell’s paragraph gives a sense of the pulse that Brooke’s presence used to impart to those around him the moment he entered the portals of the War Office on Whitehall.

Because this book is about grand strategy, one should not assume that its four principals spent all, or even most, of their time considering it, even though it was the most important aspect of their duties. Roosevelt was head of state and had simultaneously to carry out those multifarious practical and ceremonial tasks connected with that role. He also spent much of his time overseeing the many government agencies driving the production revolution that turned America into, in his phrase, ‘the arsenal of Democracy’. Domestic politics did not end with the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Congress continued to send up bills for his approval. With sustained American economic prosperity now a war-winning weapon, the President had to concern himself with financial questions as much as at any time during the Great Depression.

Nor could Churchill concentrate entirely on grand strategy, having similarly important domestic political calls on his attention. Surprisingly large amounts of time had to be spent honing his speeches, attending Commons debates, lunching with newspaper editors, visiting bombsites, factories and military encampments, watching weapons-testing, briefing the King, soothing the Tory Party (which he always feared secretly hated him), meeting ambassadors and foreign leaders, and–to an extent that tended to infuriate Brooke–involving himself in military tactics at a far lower level than grand strategy.

The Cabinet which Churchill chaired furthermore regularly considered subjects far removed from the war, such as whether Noël Coward should be awarded a knighthood, or whether child allowances should be paid to the father or the mother. (Of the latter issue, ‘The Prime Minister, in his puckish mood, said it must be left to a free vote and he would not vote at all lest he lose the votes of the fathers or mothers.’)37 The most aggressive Cabinet row of the entire Second World War was not over a military subject at all, but over the £775 million surplus sterling balances that India had been allowed to build up by November 1944. Churchill was furious with the Viceroy, Lord Wavell, and demanded to know who ‘was responsible for piling up this vast debt against Great Britain’, calling it a ‘scandalous intrigue against this country’ and the ‘greatest financial disaster in our history’. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Sir John Anderson, explained that it had been due to ‘our current expenditure in India’, whereupon Churchill asked if there had been ‘No effort made to relieve us of a danger worse than the American debt’. He added that the situation was ‘terrible–how can you get out of a just debt? The day will come when whole position will be disastrous.’38 He blamed the situation on Wavell’s desire to be popular with the Indians, whereupon Leo Amery, the Secretary of State for India, ‘told him not to talk damned nonsense’. According to a spectator, ‘This shook the PM considerably and there was no end of a row. Amery withdrew the actual words but not the sense of what he had said.’39 After that Anderson threatened to resign, saying, ‘I can’t go on if there is feeling in your mind that things are being mismanaged.’ Churchill then himself threatened to resign–‘The PM said he was ready to go etc etc’–as Admiral Cunningham, the First Sea Lord, put it.40 Of course neither man did resign, and their threats were not recorded in the anodyne report of the discussions in the official Cabinet minutes, but it was an indication of the non-military political crises that Churchill had to find time for on top of his consideration of grand strategy.41

Similarly, George Marshall was kept busy on very many other matters than grand strategy, although according to his meticulously kept engagement diary for 1943, the Army Chief of Staff attended no fewer than fifty-six Joint Chiefs of Staff meetings that year–usually a 1 p.m. lunch followed by a 2.15 p.m. meeting–and forty-two Combined Chiefs of Staff meetings in Washington as well. There had been plenty more meetings, of course, during the total of ninety days that he spent abroad that year. He visited the White House only thirty-two times in 1943, and not always for military meetings with the President, but also for occasions such as lunches, dinners and receptions for dignitaries including Madame Chiang, the President of Haiti and the Foreign Minister of Brazil. He also gave seven off-the-record press conferences and one on the record.

Although he took four days off with a cold, Marshall went home to Leesburg for only nineteen days in 1943, and officials would occasionally motor out to see him there. Most of the rest of his time was taken up with meetings with generals–who usually got half an hour each–and a large array of senators, admirals, ambassadors and Cabinet members. There were also memorial services, the Foreign Relations Committee, speeches, radio addresses, congressional groups and of course visits to military bases around the country. He would watch propaganda films, such as Frank Capra’s Battle of Tunisia, before they were released, and lunch with important figures such as the British Ambassador Lord Halifax, Harry Hopkins (four times), General Pershing (thrice) and the Secretary of War Henry Stimson. The Duke of Windsor for some reason got one-and-three-quarter hours of his time on one of his visits from the Bahamas, otherwise he tended to grant people interview slots of fifteen minutes each.42 The reason why Marshall tended to minimize social functions during the war was well illustrated after a relatively small White House dinner in honour of Anthony Eden in the spring of 1943. On the way back to Leesburg, he showed Katherine eight place-cards, on the back of each of which he had noted requests made by various guests. The subsequent correspondence complying with these favours required thirty-two letters and several telegrams.43

The man who had the most time to think about Allied grand strategy was Brooke, who, although he was responsible for running the entire British Army, was expert at delegation. The duties of the CIGS ranged across the entire gamut of war-making, but foremost among them were evolution of grand strategy, appointment of field commanders, allocation of manpower, the equipment and deployment of the Free French, Poles, Dutch, Belgians and Czechs, and the organization of tactical air forces in support of land operations, as well as the protection of sources of raw materials. By far the most important, however, was the first, the provision of an overall global blueprint for how to win the war.

So time-consuming was this primary task that Brooke left the financial, administrative and organizational aspects of the Army to the Secretary of State for War, David Margesson up to February 1942 and thereafter Sir James Grigg, elevated from civil servant to Cabinet minister. Since Grigg got on well with Brooke, but also with his vice-CIGS, Archibald Nye, and the new deputy CIGS, Ronald Weeks, the traditional distrust that had long existed between the military and political sides of the War Office largely disappeared. Brooke could concentrate on strategy and the all-important task of advising Churchill. He was respected in the War Office for being excellent at delegation and almost never got caught up in the details of day-to-day military operations. Like other talented and hard-working individuals at the top of their professions, he only did what only he could do.

On Thursday 4 December 1941 Brooke had his first indication of what life was going to be like as CIGS, when, during a Staff Conference that started at 10 p.m., Churchill’s naval plans for raiding Italy were turned down because of the Chiefs of Staff’s preoccupations with Japan. ‘At midnight Winston banged his papers on the table and walked out,’ Brooke told Kennedy the next morning, ‘complaining the Chiefs frustrated him in all his offensive projects.’ Brooke, who had what Kennedy called ‘a delicious talent for mimicry’, gave his staff ‘a most amusing’ account of Churchill’s surprise exit.44 The Chiefs were right to be preoccupied by Japan, however, as events that Sunday confirmed with the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The defeat of Italian forces in Libya in early 1941 had persuaded Hitler to despatch General Erwin Rommel and the Afrika Korps there in the spring, and by the end of the year General Sir Claude Auchinleck had seemingly been out-fought by the ‘Desert Fox’, whose troops had better tanks and a far better anti-tank gun, the dual-purpose 88mm. Despite Auchinleck having an enlarged army of two corps, his tendency to divide his forces and commit them piecemeal compounded what were at times heavy losses. This in turn meant that the Prime Minister was often in moods alternating between mere ill-temper and what he himself called ‘black dog’ depression. ‘This Libyan “fiasco” is the immediate problem,’ Kennedy wrote at this difficult time. ‘Winston is very depressed. He had built so many hopes on this offensive.’45

The British were right to hold their nerve, as Rommel’s bold out-flanking movement towards Egypt did not come off, and Auchinleck regained the initiative and relieved the first siege of Tobruk, prior to pushing the Germans back across Cyrenaica all the way to El Agheila on the Gulf of Sirte, from where their offensive had originally been launched in March. Visiting Churchill to discuss the Libyan situation on 5 December, Kennedy found him ‘looking pale and rather unwholesome’ seated alone at the Cabinet table with his back to the fire in his air-force-blue siren suit, an extinct cigar in the ashtray with half an inch of ash attached. ‘But he was in fairly good heart, having apparently got over his fit of depression.’ Of the Far East, Churchill told Kennedy that ‘The Japs were fools if they come in. Hong Kong will be gone soon, I suppose, he added mournfully.’ (It fell on Christmas Day.) The relief of Tobruk by Auchinleck on Sunday 7 December 1941 was not destined to be remembered by history, however, because on that ‘day of infamy’ all attention was riveted by events half a world away.

Before Pearl Harbor, Churchill had been hoping for a maritime incident similar to the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 to bring America into the war, especially once the US Navy was acting more and more proactively in protection of Lend–Lease ships all the way from Greenland to the Azores. As for Japan, Kennedy recorded that ‘Winston always felt Japan would be unlikely to come in and if she did we could leave her to America.’46

The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt went to the rostrum of the House of Representatives to ask for a declaration of war, denouncing the ‘unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan’. The vote took thirty-three minutes, with only the Montanan Republican pacifist Jeannette Rankin dissenting. Simultaneously both Houses of the British parliament voted for war on Japan also. At the United Service Club that evening, Kennedy was unimpressed when he heard Churchill broadcast on the subject: ‘He was either very tired or not quite sober. He spoke badly. I wish we had someone in sight in case he breaks up. It is frightful to be so dependent upon a man who is so old and of such luxurious habits.’47

On 10 December 1941, just before Germany declared war on America, Churchill told the War Cabinet:

We must address a substantively new situation to that which existed last week. Germany is about to declare war against the US. Japan has attacked Great Britain & the US and placed the right battle group at the right spot, but the US has not lost all her ships, although there has been a disaster in the Pacific. Pearl Harbor was taken by surprise, maltreated…Japan is in complete control from Cape Horn to Vancouver. In a sense they can…land at any particular island or place–a situation no one supposed would occur. We will have to put up with a lot of punishment till the situation can be brought around.48

Yet he was able to discern that, for all the short-term dangers, in the long run the attack would redound to Britain’s benefit:

Looking past the first phase, the real situation is vastly improved, nothing can compare to the US in warfare and now she has to fight for her life. So far as Russia is concerned, Hitler has suffered a colossal defeat which may be turned into colossal disaster, from Leningrad to [indecipherable] German armies are in a frightful condition: mechanised units frozen, prisoners taken in rags, armies trying to stabilise, Russian air superiority. Germany is busted as far as knocking out Russia is concerned. The tide has turned and the phase which now begins will have gathering results. What to face in the Indian & Pacific Oceans we cannot tell. Hong Kong will fight to the death. But we must devise a different kind of warfare and get more ships. It is a bad time but that must not daunt us or inflict doubt upon us in any vital way. They may attack Indian coastal towns, we have lost command of these waters. We and the US will take some time to regain it…I must meet the President quite soon. There should be no anxiety about the eventual outcome of the war. The finger of God is with us. We must keep our word to Roosevelt, in spite of the fact we don’t get enough help from the US.

Asked whether Britain should make an appeal to the Russian dictator Marshal Joseph Stalin to declare war against Japan, Churchill answered, ‘He’s holding off so much I’m not going to ask him to come into this war. He would not be able to bring back his Siberian army. The battle on the Russian front is going to break the heart of Germany. It would be a mistake to bring them in at this moment. It suits us, it is true, but nothing can compare to the way it suits us in smashing of German armies.’ When someone suggested that Churchill should visit Marshall, or that Pound should ‘go and concert a policy’, the Prime Minister agreed that ‘the two Staffs must meet’ soon. He added that he didn’t ‘think you will get a large Japanese force landed in Australia’, but considered raids possible against Canadian islands and the Californian coast.

Later that evening the news came through of the loss of HMS Prince of Wales (which had conveyed Churchill to Placentia Bay only four months before) and HMS Repulse, sunk by Japanese dive-bombers off Malaya, further underlining how important it was for the Western Allies to co-ordinate their strategy because an American aircraft carrier might have saved them. With Japan’s entry into the war, noted John Kennedy, there would be fewer supplies to send to the Middle East for the next spring offensive, and convoys round the Cape of Good Hope would become more precarious. ‘The importance of North Africa is therefore greater than ever,’ he concluded. ‘If we could get the whole North African shore and supply the Middle East through the Mediterranean we should be much happier.’49 Yet could the United States be encouraged to help in an operation so very far from where they had been attacked in the Pacific?

Lunching in late March at the Carlton Grill restaurant, where Kennedy was outraged that the bill for two with a bottle of burgundy came to £5, Ismay said that Churchill was ‘tired and irritable and difficult’, and Kennedy complained of the way that ‘Winston seems to suck the vitality out of his entourage like a leech,’ and how ‘very difficult and dictatorial’ Churchill had been about the detailed movements of troops, especially the sending of the 18th Division to reinforce India. ‘Brooke had great difficulty in stopping him sending it to Burma to carry out a sweep behind the Japanese into Siam. He would not realise that the country in Burma, with its mountains and jungles, was quite impassable for a British mechanised division and furthermore no administrative facilities have been built up for British troops.’50 It was to be one of very many clashes between Brooke and Churchill where the Prime Minister was convinced that War Office Planners such as Kennedy were deliberately stymieing his vision by their lack of imagination.

Of course Hitler’s suicidal declaration of war on the United States–literally so, as it turned out–suddenly and radically altered the relationship between Britain and America, whose leaders immediately realized that they needed to confer again as soon as practicable, if possible before the month was out. No longer was Britain an imploring supplicant to a neutral power. Now, she and America were in a common Manichean struggle. Brooke enjoyed relating that, hearing Admiral Pound still speaking of the United States with the careful phraseology of the pre-Pearl Harbor days, Churchill had turned to him and ‘with a wicked leer in his eye’ had said, ‘Oh! That is the way we talked to her while we were wooing her, now that she is in the harem we talk to her quite differently!’51

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