Brooke and Marshall Establish Dominance: ‘He was very difficult and could be pig-headed’ February–March 1942

It is only by building up the authority of the Combined Chiefs of Staff that we can do anything to curb the tendency of the American Chiefs of Staff to take unilateral action.

Field Marshal Sir John Dill to General Sir Alan Brooke, October 19421

It was almost certainly the fiasco over the escape of the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen on 12 February 1942, blithely steaming up the English Channel and evading every effort of the Royal Navy and RAF to stop them, that persuaded Churchill to appoint Brooke in Pound’s place as chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee.2 ‘I’m afraid, sir,’ Pound had told the Prime Minister on the telephone, ‘I must report that the enemy battle cruisers should by now have reached the safety of their home waters.’ Churchill had gone quiet for a moment, then said ‘Why?’ but put the phone down before his old friend had a chance to go through the litany of blunders that had taken place. Unlike Brooke and Portal, Pound was also an operational officer as first sea lord, and Churchill felt that to chair the Chiefs of Staff on top of these other responsibilities was too much for him.

‘Pound is necessary to me,’ he had told Robin Barrington-Ward of The Times the previous December. ‘His slow unimpressive look is deceptive!’ In fact it was not at all deceptive, but rather the effect of a narcoleptic medical condition that is still undiagnosed today. A month beforehand, Brooke had noted how, in a Chiefs of Staff meeting on shipping shortages, ‘During most of the discussion the First Sea Lord went sound to sleep, and looked like an old parrot asleep on his perch!’ Although there is still doubt about what ailed the sixty-five-year-old admiral, there is none that he ought to have been retired altogether by Churchill rather than merely relieved of his Chiefs of Staff chairmanship. Pound’s biographer argues that although he did catnap and also had a habit of closing his eyes when concentrating, he also had the ability to perk up whenever words like ‘cruiser’ or ‘destroyer’ cropped up in the conversation.3 Nonetheless, Brooke’s testimony on more than one occasion is unambiguous and such an affliction should have automatically removed him altogether from the higher direction of a vital service during a world war.

‘You should lighten your load,’ Churchill wrote to Pound when relieving him of the chairmanship. ‘If therefore you represented this to me,’ he continued, very courteously, ‘I could arrange for Brooke, as it is the Army’s turn, to preside on the Chiefs of Staff Committee.’4 It is very unlikely that in wartime the principle of Buggins’ Turn really existed for the chairmanship of the Chiefs of Staff, as in peacetime; Brooke won it because he was acknowledged to have the best strategic brain, and possibly because at forty-eight Charles Portal was ten years younger than him. Churchill also asked that the Director of Combined Operations, Lord Louis Mountbatten, should join the Chiefs of Staff as an equal member. Churchill admired Mountbatten and wanted Combined Operations–between the Army, Navy and Air Force–to be given a greater role in strategy-making. This greatly irritated Brooke, who later complained that Mountbatten ‘frequently wasted both his time and ours’. Pound also opposed Mountbatten’s appointment, but they were overruled.

On the morning that Brooke was due to take over as chairman, Monday 9 March 1942, Pound thoughtfully turned up early and took the junior seat that Brooke had formerly occupied, saving his colleague from the embarrassment of physically seeming to usurp him. ‘Went off all right,’ noted Brooke, ‘and both Portal and Pound played up very well.’ The phrase–echoing the Henry Newbolt line ‘Play up, play up and play the game’–was actually high praise from someone of Brooke’s background.

Brooke’s RAF colleague on the Committee, Sir Charles Portal, the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), was born in Hungerford in May 1893. A descendant of a Huguenot family that had arrived in 1695, he played in the Winchester College cricket XI before going up to Christ Church, Oxford. After having won a motorcycle race in 1914, Portal joined the Army as a despatch rider in the Royal Engineers, two days after the outbreak of the Great War, and was mentioned in the very first batch of wartime despatches written by Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the BEF. The following month a shell landed near Portal, killing five people; he escaped injury because he was blown through a doorway. He later transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and won the Distinguished Service Order and the Military Cross. He was an authority on falconry, owning a famous game falcon called Sibella, a first-rate shot and a keen fisherman, and was reputed to be able to pilot any type of aircraft then in existence. As a squadron commander in the late 1920s he also won the Minot trophy for bomb-aiming.

Portal’s Times obituary in April 1971 recorded an apology he once made to Churchill after a Chiefs of Staff meeting: ‘I’m sorry if I seemed a bit over-assertive or hot under the collar, Prime Minister,’ for which he received the characteristic reply: ‘In war, my boy, you don’t have to be sorry; you only have to be right!’5 Colville recalled Portal as a ‘quiet, unemotional and unassuming Wykehamist…who only spoke when he had something to say, listened intently and neither made promises unless he could fulfil them nor allowed himself to be the victim of undue optimism or pessimism’. Many Americans thought him the most impressive of the three British service Chiefs.

Portal tended to give the CIGS better support against the Prime Minister than did Pound. ‘Sir Charles Portal handled Churchill extremely well,’ wrote Jacob. This handling of the Prime Minister–which could at times resemble the handling of a Mills grenade–was a vital part of the duties of all the Chiefs of Staff. Fortunately there were only four of them during the whole course of the war after December 1941, and each had his own way of doing it. Brooke was forthright, Pound charming, Portal logical and Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham–who replaced Pound in the autumn of 1943–uncompromising.

The Chiefs of Staff system–which Ismay believed to be ‘the most perfect machine for the higher organization of the war’–was in theory a triumvirate that made suggestions as to military policy and then had the responsibility for initiating, explaining, expounding and defending them. ‘In practice, however’, recalled Archie Nye, the responsibility rested primarily on Brooke’s shoulders ‘and much less on those of the CAS and the CNS [Chief of the Naval Staff]’. This Nye put down partly to the fact that Brooke was the chairman, and ‘partly to his overwhelming personality, his exceptional clear brain and his forceful character’.6

While still commander-in-chief of Home Forces, Brooke had attended a Chiefs of Staff meeting in autumn 1940 that he had afterwards likened to the Mad Hatter’s tea party. Under his own chairmanship, business was despatched promptly and efficiently. The Committee’s greatest strength lay in the collegiate nature of its decision-making, but from March 1942 he was acknowledged to be primus inter pares, in the same way that Marshall was becoming on the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Brooke despised committee chairmen who allowed meetings to go on too long, or who pursued red herrings. In the month that he took over the Chiefs of Staff Committee, he railed to Kennedy about the way Churchill ran the Defence Committee meetings, ‘Here we have been arguing two hours over a simple issue which any one of us could have decided in a few minutes and we have got no answer yet.’7 In a sense it was no different from many complaints made by subordinates about their bosses the world over.

Pound and Portal were hardly ever steamrollered by Brooke, but were unmistakably guided by him, and until Cunningham joined the Chiefs of Staff after Pound’s retirement there are only a very few examples of Brooke failing to get his way, even against the combined opposition of the other two Chiefs. The quid pro quo of collegiality was rock-solid devotion to the Committee’s decisions once taken. During the whole war there was not so much as a single leak from anyone on the Chiefs of Staff Committee about anything discussed there, however seemingly trivial. Nor were there any examples during the war of Marshall or Churchill managing to turn a member of the Chiefs of Staff against the others once a decision was taken, even if that Chief had vigorously opposed it. It was the reason that Churchill never once overruled–as he was constitutionally permitted to do–any military decisions of the Chiefs of Staff Committee during the Second World War. Jacob wrote of Brooke, Portal and Pound: ‘The Prime Minister developed a very strong liking for these three, and a real respect for their judgement and professional attainments.’8 Colville went even further, claiming that Churchill ‘might argue with the Chiefs of Staff, and bark at them fiercely; but he loved them deeply.’9Whether that was really true of Brooke will be for the reader to decide.

‘They stood in awe of him,’ Colville wrote of the relationship between Churchill and the Chiefs, ‘but they seldom failed to stand up for their convictions, nor would he have respected them if they had been a tamer body. He complained of their obstinacy and would grumble to their combined faces that he was expected to wage modern war with antiquated weapons; but I never remember him denigrating them as men.’ It was hardly likely that Churchill would have denigrated men who had sunk the Wiesbaden at the battle of Jutland (Pound), closed the Belgian gap on the retreat to Dunkirk (Brooke), been awarded a Military Cross in the Great War (Portal) and won the naval victories of Taranto and Cape Matapan (Cunningham).

‘I cannot say that we never differed among ourselves…’ Churchill admitted in his war memoirs, ‘but a kind of understanding grew up between me and the British Chiefs of Staff that we should convince and persuade rather than try to overrule each other. This was of course helped by the fact that we spoke the same technical language, and possessed a large common body of military doctrine and war experience.’10 The military historian Captain Basil Liddell Hart believed that Churchill had not overruled the Chiefs of Staff on any issue, ‘even when his views were mostly clearly right’, because of the Dardanelles disaster, after which he had spent two years in the political wilderness ‘as a penalty for putting himself in opposition to the weight of official opinion’. It might well have summoned up occasional ghosts for Churchill, but that was unlikely to have been the main reason. Instead, as Portal told the broadcaster Chester Wilmot, Churchill:

was always the democrat. For all his ardent advocacy of his own point of view he was at heart always a compromiser and he was most thoroughgoing in his search for advice and expert opinion…He wanted good hard stones on which to sharpen the knife of his ideas…He knew his own weaknesses, and knew that he needed to have around him men who from their experience and their expert training could keep his imagination in check.11

Churchill would not have chosen the good hard stone of Alan Brooke as CIGS, and then also as chairman of the Chiefs of Staff three months later, if he had wanted someone he could bully. He knew of the reputation of the Fighting Brookes, and would certainly have remembered the argument during his telephone call to Le Mans in June 1940. It was part of the self-confident bigness of Winston Churchill that he appointed such a foil for his own genius, the best possible person to ‘keep his imagination in check’ when many another, lesser politician would have opted for a yes-man in that post.

As well as being a master strategist, Brooke was a successful departmental tactician. The Deputy CIGS Sir Ronald Weeks recalled how good he was at choosing the best battlegrounds to fight Churchill, telling an interviewer about the constant stream of requests and demands from the Prime Minister that he passed straight on to Weeks, which were ‘frequently annoying to the recipient, and often difficult to answer–sometimes they were trivial.’ Yet, as Weeks spotted, Brooke tried never to fight Churchill over small issues and would often refuse to sanction Weeks’ combative replies to minutes from No. 10, hoping to let them ‘die a natural death’. On big issues, however, Weeks noted that ‘Brooke would not give way, and would fight Churchill to the last ditch–Churchill rarely in the end would go against him, but there was many a prolonged fight. The secret of Brooke’s success with Churchill lay in the fact that he only fought him on big matters.’ Brooke never sought out confrontation with Churchill, any more than Churchill did with him; it was simply in the nature of their jobs that clashes arose, and a consequence of the profoundly serious way that both men viewed their responsibilities.

In the spring of 1942 a confidential guide was drawn up in the US War Department to the personalities of the British Chiefs of Staff. For ‘Sir Allan [sic] Brooke’, it read: ‘Suave, intelligent, politico.’ Sir Charles Portal had ‘Lots of ability, imbued with offensive spirit, however, primary interest in creating tremendous, and essentially British, air power.’ Pound was written off as ‘A tired old gentleman, straightforward, quixotic, an eminently successful naval officer of the old school.’ Lord Louis Mountbatten they believed to be ‘an outstanding naval officer’ but one whose ‘enthusiasm might result in hastily and ill-considered judgments’. From a distance, and taking into account that it misspelt Brooke’s Christian name and could not decide whether Pound was straightforward or quixotic, this estimation was surprisingly accurate, if rather overgenerous about Mountbatten’s abilities as a sailor.

The Chiefs of Staff met every day except Sunday, and very often had another meeting in the evening. The number of meetings held after the outbreak of war is testament to the Chiefs’ diligence, with 117 meetings in 1939; 441 in 1940; 463 in 1941; 420 in 1942; 372 in 1943; 414 in 1944, and 198 in 1945 before V-J Day, a total of 2,425 meetings, of which 1,329, the majority, were chaired by Brooke.12 There were also eighty Combined Chiefs of Staff meetings at which Marshall and Brooke were present, and a further thirteen plenary sessions at the various conferences attended by Churchill and Roosevelt as well. By the end of the war, these men all knew each other very well.

Every Monday evening the three British Chiefs attended the War Cabinet to give an account of the global struggle over the previous week. This was the supreme policy-making body of the nation and unless there was urgent news to impart or a foreign guest to welcome they started with long analyses from the CAS, then the CNS and then the CIGS, with only the Prime Minister commenting and interjecting. After they had summed up the news from all the fronts, Churchill began discussions and invited comments, but usually only from those ministers directly involved.

As well as these, at 10.30 a.m. every Tuesday the Chiefs of Staff would meet the Joint Intelligence Committee in Great George Street. ‘I had to lead this little choir,’ recalled its chairman, Victor Cavendish-Bentinck. ‘I gave an aperçu of the position as we saw it. Then they questioned us.’ He formed a high opinion of Portal–‘the best, the most intelligent and the calmest’–but disliked Brooke, whom he thought less able than Dill. Bill Bentinck, who later became the ninth and last Duke of Portland, nonetheless recalled how Brooke completed the agenda in half the time that Pound had taken.13 ‘Brooke was a powerful personality,’ he recalled. ‘He used to gobble like an irate turkey. He was very difficult and could be pig-headed.’

Not all War Cabinet meetings were held at Downing Street, and their location could be changed at the last minute. As well as in the Cabinet War Rooms underneath Whitehall, they were held in the GPO Research Station at Dollis Hill (once), the Rotunda in Horseferry Road, the disused Down Street tube station and Church House beside Westminster Abbey (during the Blitz). In the Cabinet War Rooms seating accommodation was so constrained that Burgis recalled that ‘an extra table was put inside the square exactly opposite the…mouth holding the cigar’. Pound christened it ‘The Dock’. The room was air-conditioned, although on one occasion, squeezing past the very fat Ernest Bevin, Burgis unwittingly switched the air-conditioning off, after which, ‘with the PM’s cigar, Attlee’s pipe and Bevin’s cigarettes, the atmosphere soon became unbearable’.14

A body Churchill never came to like was the Joint Planning Staff, which provided information and ideas for the Chiefs of Staff and which he called ‘the whole machinery of negation’, since, as Jacob recalled, all too often they produced papers ‘which proved conclusively that what he wanted to do was out of the question’. Churchill told Brooke that ‘Those damned Planners of yours plan nothing but difficulties’ and on another occasion described them as ‘psalm-singing defeatists’.15 Given that Brooke saw it as an important part of his job to defend the Staff from prime ministerial ire, this provided another fruitful area of contention between them.

Yet, as ever with Churchill, humour infused criticism. Seen in the cold light of six decades later, the word defeatist has an almost sinister ring, but if Churchill said it to Brooke with a twinkle in the eye, it might have been meant humorously, especially when attached to the adjective ‘psalm-singing’ which summoned up the image of joyless Puritan Planners stymieing the imaginative plans of the Cavalier premier. Without wishing to subject everything Churchill said to the fetters of structuralist analysis, it is important to try to see his many jibes and gags in proper context. There is sadly no special font for ironic humour, since many of Churchill’s remarks, which in print simply look downright rude, would undoubtedly merit it. Equally, there is no doubt that occasionally Churchill was often genuinely furious with the Joint Planners, as when they opposed–or more accurately provided the grounds for the Chiefs of Staff to oppose–his plans for operations against northern Norway, Singapore and northern Sumatra.

The Defence Committee was formally a sub-committee of the War Cabinet, which Churchill chaired in his capacity as minister of defence and which included all three service ministers–the Secretary of State for War, the Secretary of State for Air and the First Lord of the Admiralty–as well as the Chiefs of Staff. This met less frequently–only twenty times in 1942, for example–and sometimes went months without convening, but it did consider important issues. The items on the agenda for its meetings in Great George Street covered–to take a typical sample from late 1942–convoys to Russia, Operation Breastplate (an attack on Tunisia from Malta), the catch-all item ‘Future Strategy’, a draft telegram to Stalin, the build-up of American forces in Britain, aircraft carriers for the Pacific, the situation in Tunisia, and several more.16 Non-service ministers attended as and when required, and the secretariat comprised Hollis and Jacob, neither of whom helpfully secreted their verbatim notes like Burgis. From Brooke’s diaries it is clear that decisions of the Defence Committee meetings often seem to have produced the most furious rows between him and Churchill.

Eden wanted to abolish the Defence Committee altogether, but recorded that Churchill was ‘obstinate about it, and maintains that it is one place where service ministers have a show’.17 Eden thought that since it effected little and tended to attract criticism in parliament, it ought to go, but Churchill spotted that it would be better for an impotent committee to attract criticism than the real power-house of the war, which were the Staff Conferences–that is, those Chiefs of Staff committees that he attended too. As the war progressed, Defence Committee meetings got fewer, while the number of Staff Conferences increased. By contrast, full-scale War Cabinets–though important in home policy and theoretically the ultimate arbiter–rarely interfered in major issues of grand strategy, to Brooke’s intense relief.

A vital cog in each of these bodies was Lieutenant-General Hastings Ismay, who combined the official posts of military secretary to the War Cabinet and chief Staff officer to the Minister of Defence; he was also a member of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, although he didn’t sign their reports. This collection of posts emphasizes how much of a hybrid he was, while always being Churchill’s faithful ‘Pug’. He personified the formal and informal links between civil and military authorities, Churchill and Brooke. Able to interpret each man’s views to the other, he tried to ward off some controversies before they blew up and softened others once they had. ‘Ismay was the oil-can that greased the relationship between Churchill and Brookie,’ says General Fraser18–much as Dill oiled that between Brooke and Marshall.

Pug was the son of Sir Stanley Ismay, a judge in India and author of the 1885 work Rules for the Superintendence and Management of Jails in the Central Provinces. Born in 1887 and educated at Charterhouse and Sandhurst, Pug had had a varied Army career, having been a cavalryman on the North-west Frontier, served in Somaliland during the Great War, attended the Staff College at Quetta as well as the RAF Staff College in Andover, been military secretary to the Viceroy of India Lord Willingdon, and then assistant secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence. He was recognized by everyone as a ‘good chap’ and, despite being a professional soldier, his ultimate loyalty lay with Churchill. Brooke liked him as much as Ismay himself admired Brooke, and so the wheels between Prime Minister and CIGS, which could otherwise have ground against one another on a myriad of occasions, were kept well oiled. In an enclosed world that sometimes witnessed malice and backstabbing, no one seems ever to have had a bad word to say of Ismay.

Dining with John Kennedy at the Savoy Grill on 4 June 1942, Ismay said that Churchill ‘needs someone to use as a whipping boy on whom to blow off steam’ and he was ‘quite frank in admitting this as his chief function’. He added that ‘If someone with sounder and stronger judgment could hold his job it would doubtless be better, but the chances are that such a person would soon be thrown out.’ Kennedy concluded that he would not have had Ismay’s job ‘for anything in the world’. Churchill could be fantastically rude to Ismay: he would occasionally shout ‘Appeaser!’ at him, or say, ‘You have grown fat in honours from your country, and now you betray her,’ or ‘All you want is to draw your pay, eat your rations and sleep,’ or ‘Very well, if you don’t care about winning the war, go to sleep,’ but this was said in mock-anger, and Ismay knew not to take it seriously.19

One of Churchill’s unfairest remarks was the one he made–‘with frightful sibilant emphasis’–about the Chiefs of Staff Committee to the Minister Resident in North-west Africa, Harold Macmillan: ‘Why, you may take the most gallant sailor, the most intrepid airman, or the most audacious soldier, put them at a table together–what do you get? The sum total of their fears.’20 It is sometimes asked why, if Churchill was so difficult to work with, people nevertheless stuck at it, rather than simply resigning, as everyone was always free to do. As Sir George Mallaby of the War Cabinet military secretariat, the brother of Colonel Aubertin Mallaby, wrote:

Anybody who served anywhere near him was devoted to him. It is hard to say why. He was not kind or considerate. He bothered nothing about us. He knew the names only of those very close to him and would hardly let anyone else come into his presence. He was free with abuse and complaint. He was exacting beyond reason and ruthlessly critical.

Yet he concluded that ‘Not only did he get away with it but nobody wanted him otherwise. He was unusual, unpredictable, exciting, original, stimulating, provocative, outrageous, uniquely experienced, abundantly talented, humorous, entertaining…a great man.’21Moreover it is given to few to live in the limelight of history, or even near the penumbra of the limelight that was always trained on Churchill during the war. It further afforded anecdotes for friends, children and grandchildren. Above all, it was work that mattered.

In May 1943 Brooke wrote to Wavell, who had threatened to resign the command of the Indian Army over Churchill’s rudeness, to say that ‘If I were to take offence when abused by Winston and given to understand that he had no confidence in me, I should have to resign at least once every day!’ But Brooke never felt that it would be ‘likely to have the least effect in reforming Winston’s wicked ways!’ It was anyhow unpatriotic to resign in wartime; personal issues needed to be put in the overall perspective of duty rather than one’s sense of pique. Brooke considered it his duty to remain CIGS regardless of Churchill’s behaviour, and he also knew he was making history. Churchill’s occasional bouts of ill-temper were after all a small price to pay in order to be able to say: ‘I was there.’ (Of course that is not always a commendable reason to continue to serve; it was also partly why Traudl Junge and his other secretaries stayed with their–personally rather considerate–Führer till the end.)

Churchill himself constantly emphasized that Britain was writing a new and glorious chapter in her history, equating the struggle with the days of the Spanish Armada and Napoleonic Wars. Anyone leaving the central stage of world history prematurely would have seemed a small figure indeed, and for all Brooke’s strictures against Churchill in his diaries it is hard to find an expression of a sincere intention to resign. He desperately wanted the war won so that he could escape the pressure and Churchill, but he recognized his central place in the struggle and never genuinely considered quitting it prematurely, except once in 1944 when the entire Chiefs of Staff were ready to leave office sooner than permit an attack on northern Sumatra. At a dinner at the Ritz with Kennedy in mid-March 1942, Margesson suggested that ‘One of Brooke’s great gifts was being able to shake himself like a dog coming out of water after unpleasant interviews with Winston, and another his power of debate (and his rasping voice).’22

Churchill’s tendency to micromanage could be infuriating. Only three days before Brooke took over the Chiefs of Staff chairmanship, the Prime Minister wrote to him that he had noticed in a press report that a British regiment had ‘failed to silence’ some machine-guns in the desert and asked the CIGS for an explanation, adding that he understood that the way to silence machine-guns was by artillery fire. ‘This is typical of Winston’s futility,’ thought Kennedy. To inundate the CIGS with minor operational matters down to regimental level, and to write on such a subject to the man who invented the very concept of the creeping barrage, indeed either shows Churchill’s ‘futility’ or alternatively his genius at leaving no stone unturned, or perhaps both simultaneously.

Although Moran’s diaries are a somewhat tainted source, as he wrote them up from notes long after the events they described, there is no indication that he invented, and he was an intelligent and perceptive man who was indeed present at many key moments in the war. His view of the relationship is therefore valuable:

The PM got his own way with everyone else: only Alan Brooke would not budge. If he sensed Winston’s dislike of criticism he paid no attention to it. He could indeed be brutally frank in pulling to pieces Winston’s pet projects. He would even venture to stand up to him when summoned to appear before the Cabinet, and if necessary to answer him back. In short, he kept Winston on the rails in the conduct of the war. That is his epitaph.23

It is important not to caricature Churchill’s relationship with Brooke as one of constant friction and mutual irritation. Brooke’s diaries tend to concentrate on the rows precisely because he used his journals as a way of venting his spleen. Nonetheless in the Burgis and Norman Brook verbatim accounts of the War Cabinet meetings there are astonishingly few accounts of such clashes, which suggests that they could not have been a very regular occurrence. No soldier enjoys interference from politicians, and Brooke was no exception, but he often acknowledged how inspirational Churchill was to the general populace, and he understood how important that was.

There could also be perfectly innocent misunderstandings between the two men, as in this comical account by Churchill’s secretary Elizabeth Nel of an incident at which she was the only spectator, other than the Prime Minister’s notoriously ill-behaved fluffy grey Persian cat, Smokey:

Mr Churchill sat in bed and Smokey sat on the blankets watching him. The PM’s telephone conversation with the CIGS was long and anxious; his thoughts were far away; his toes wiggled under the blankets. I saw Smokey’s tail switch as he watched, and wondered what was going to happen. Suddenly he pounced on the toes and bit hard. It must have hurt, for Mr Churchill started, kicked him right into the corner of the room shouting, ‘Get off, you fool’ into the telephone. Then he remembered. ‘Oh,’ he said, ‘I didn’t mean you,’ and then seeing Smokey looking somewhat dazed in the corner, ‘Poor little thing.’ Confusion was complete, the CIGS hung up hastily and telephoned the private secretary to find out what was happening. It took a long time to get it all sorted out, and Sir Alan Brooke assured that it was not his fault.24

In another of history’s significant coincidences, on the same day that Alan Brooke took up the reins of the Chiefs of Staff–Monday 9 March 1942–George Marshall instituted a very wide-ranging reform of the War Department. With the Joint Chiefs of Staff system now firmly in place he wanted to sweep away the pre-Pearl Harbor deadwood and create a far tighter, smaller, more efficient staff structure with clearer and more direct lines of reporting. Having seen his General Staff grow imperceptibly from 122 to nearly 700, Marshall massively slimmed down the operation, with all the changes coming into effect immediately.

Major-General Joseph T. McNarney, the chairman of Marshall’s War Department Reorganization Committee, recommended instituting a tripartite structure for the US Army, and Marshall forced it through. By splitting the US Army into three separate commands–Army Ground Forces, Army Air Forces and Army Service Forces–Marshall reestablished central control over the machinery. Within two months, no fewer than six hundred officers had come off the Staff, which became manageable again. Dozens of generals over the age of fifty were retired (although not Eisenhower or Patton). Many senior officers never forgave Marshall, but that was the price of leadership. One of the senior Planners who survived the mass cull, Lawrence ‘Abe’ Lincoln, was to call it ‘a matter of evolution, or perhaps almost revolution, effected by necessity’.25

The War Plans Division, which had been in existence since 1921, was thrown by Marshall into an alphabet soup of other forces–including the AGF, A-AF and SOS–to create the all-powerful Operations Division (OPD). It had a Theater Group, Strategy and Policy Group, Operations Group, Troop Control Group, Logistics Group, Current Affairs Group, and so on, which then broke down into sections covering different aspects of Army affairs, and Eisenhower was at the head of it. In addition to its plans and policy role, OPD became Marshall’s command post. ‘OPD ran the war,’ Lincoln recalled. ‘Its planners made the plans which under General Marshall’s influence guided the strategy around the globe.’ Marshall was helped in his massive reorganization by the fact that the President was relatively uninterested in the Army. As he told Pogue, ‘While I picked theater commanders without him knowing the people–he never saw Ike before he was appointed–he even intervened in selection of heads of department in the Navy.’26

By March 1942, therefore, Alan Brooke in London and George Marshall in Washington had both established dominance over their administrative and bureaucratic hinterlands, and over the military side of the creation of grand strategy. Their clashes with Churchill and Roosevelt–and with each other–could only be conducted once they were entrenched as the two guiding forces on the Chiefs of Staff and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committees. That achieved, each man now tried to promote his vision for victory.

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