Marshall’s Mission to London: ‘A momentous proposal’ April 1942

Let’s have this straight for once and for all, Pim! British submarines sometimes, unfortunately, ‘fail to return’. But German U-boats are destroyed.

Winston Churchill to Captain Richard Pim, head of the No. 10 Annexe Map Room1

When Marshall, Hopkins, Wedemeyer and Hull arrived in London on Wednesday 8 April 1942, the battle-lines had effectively been drawn between the American High Command, who wanted an early–almost an immediate–cross-Channel attack, and the British, who believed this would be grossly premature and preferred to wait until Germany was weaker before taking the risk of returning to the Continent. Marshall and Brooke were to become the standard-bearers for these two, later bitterly opposed, points of view. It is not true, as some Americans–though not Marshall–were to allege, that the British never wanted the cross-Channel attack to take place at all. They did, but not until certain key criteria had been met, primarily the massive diminution of the Wehrmacht’s capacity to respond. Roundup was therefore for Churchill and Brooke rather like treachery had been for Talleyrand, a matter not so much of principle as of dates.

Yet because the British desperately needed very substantial American forces in the British Isles to protect them against a German invasion should the Soviet Union suddenly collapse, as it was feared it might at any time, Brooke and Churchill could not simply heap contumely on the Marshall Memorandum, however misguided they might have thought it. Brooke could and did point out the defects in the proposed operations, but only within the overall context of accepting them, especially Bolero, which proposed a massive build-up of American forces in the British Isles.

For Churchill and Brooke always feared–even as late as the autumn of 1943–that if Roosevelt and Marshall came to believe that they opposed a cross-Channel operation outright, the Americans would switch their attention to the Pacific, adopting a Japan First policy instead. This would leave Britain in renewed and possibly mortal peril, a return to the cold winds of strategic isolation she had experienced in the twelve months between the evacuation of Dunkirk and Operation Barbarossa. Churchill and Brooke therefore had to undertake a precarious balancing act. Their opposition to the Marshall Memorandum had to be presented in such a way that the Americans nonetheless decided to go ahead with Bolero, and flood Britain with thirty divisions, of which six would be mechanized. There is a lively controversy over whether, as some historians have alleged, there was an element of actual deception about the British welcome of the Memorandum during the Modicum talks, and also whether there was also an element of bluff by the Americans in seeming to threaten to abandon Germany First if Roundup were not executed promptly.

There was certainly a high level of suspicion about British motives within the American High Command, matched only by an equally lofty level of disdain for the Americans’ strategic expertise from their British counterparts. Neither of these augured well for Allied co-operation, not least because the Americans interpreted Brooke’s attitude towards them as insufferably patronizing. His manner seemed to convey the feeling that the Americans were simplistic novices in the world of grand strategy, rather than, as they saw themselves, Britain’s ultimate saviours. This was probably a valid criticism; even if Brooke was not intending to give that impression, his diary makes it clear that that was exactly how he felt.

Brooke’s view of Marshall never really changed. ‘I saw a great deal of him throughout the rest of the war,’ he wrote once it was over,

and the more I saw of him the more clearly I appreciated that his strategic ability was of the poorest. A great man, a great gentleman and great organizer, but definitely not a strategist. I found that his stunted strategic outlook made it very difficult to discuss strategic plans with him, for the good reason that he did not understand them personally but backed the briefs prepared by his staff.2

The contempt that Brooke clearly felt for Marshall had to be kept from the Americans if at all possible, and the CIGS was not good at dissimulation. If Marshall sensed the disdain Brooke felt for his abilities, he at least did not show it. Although both Churchill and Brooke were of course personally welcoming to the members of the Modicum Mission, the Prime Minister hailed the Marshall Memorandum with salutations and fanfares while Brooke examined it under an unforgiving microscope but nonetheless eventually accepted it, as British self-interest dictated that he must.

‘The ultimate objective of all military operations is the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces by battle,’ reads the US Army’s Field Service Regulations of 1923, the bible of American strategy. ‘Decisive defeat in battle breaks the enemy’s will to war and forces him to sue for peace.’ This was Marshall’s attitude towards war-fighting, and the message he intended to put over in London. It is the Clausewitzian approach to warfare, by which the enemy is relatively quickly brought to a decisive battle on the most important front. By contrast the British adopted an older concept, pioneered by the Chinese military theorist Sun Tzu, by which the enemy is worn down by peripheral attacks and only fully engaged once fatally weakened.

‘Pressured hourly to send men and resources to two divergent theaters,’ Pogue wrote of Marshall, ‘he saw the Middle East and the Mediterranean as peripheral areas…He feared the prospect of starving his forces in the Pacific to build up reserves in Britain that might be swallowed up in enterprises in Norway, North Africa or the Middle East or in small raids along the coast of Europe.’3 The American naval historian Rear-Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison likened the American and British strategies to ‘the massive thrust at the enemy’s heart’ versus ‘successive stabs around the periphery to bleed him to death, like jackals worrying a lion before springing at his throat’.4 Other military historians have employed the analogy of the picadors who weaken the bull with their lances before the matador finishes him off with banderillas and sword.

Reminiscing on television in 1958 about the arguments he had had with the Americans, Brooke put his own view cogently. ‘The arguments mainly with Admiral King were connected with the relative effort to be put into the Pacific as compared with the effort to be put in Europe,’ he said, whereas those with General Marshall were about where in Europe that effort should go. ‘Was it to be put in a cross-Channel operation early on during the war or at a later stage? Were we justified in going into North Africa and on to Italy?…In our minds we felt that going across the Channel before the condition was ripe for it,’ continued Brooke, ‘before Germany had been ripened all round, ripened by the air action, ripened by forcing her to spread and distribute her forces throughout Europe, ripened by the action of Russia on the far side…might have had disastrous effects on the war.’

Brooke’s sense of superiority was evident from his suggestion that ‘Having been involved in operations in France against the Germans, we were perhaps a little better able to gauge the strength of the Germans at that time and the difficulty of obtaining the necessary victories with partially trained troops against the highly efficient and experienced German forces.’5 Brooke was in effect claiming that the American attitude was over-optimistic, naive and born of not having yet faced the unbloodied Wehrmacht in battle, as he had. General Sir David Fraser believed that Brooke ‘reckoned that the Americans had no knowledge of the modern German soldier and seriously underestimated him’.

Brooke’s experiences in France in the two BEF expeditions of 1940 had a deciding influence on the assumptions underlying his formulation of grand strategy in the Second World War, principally in convincing him that the French could not be relied upon and that the Germans were very formidable opponents indeed. Only very rarely is it possible to spot a word of criticism of the German fighting man from Brooke, and then only towards the very end of the war when they were conscripting children and the middle-aged. In some American eyes, this counted against him. ‘There were officers on Marshall’s staff’, recorded Pogue, ‘who believed that [Brooke’s] service in the costly campaigns of Flanders in World War I and in two evacuations of troops from France in World War II were not conducive to the aggressive strategy that they believed necessary for victory.’6 Pogue was being diplomatic; they constituted the majority, though this did not include Marshall himself.

The Americans’ flying-boat touched down at Lough Erne in Northern Ireland on the morning of 8 April. On the flight Marshall read a 25-cent copy of H. G. Wells’ The Outline of History, given to him by his wife just prior to departure, which he handed on to Hopkins. They then flew on to Hendon Aerodrome where they were met by Churchill, Brooke, Portal and Pound. On the drive into London, Marshall was shown the bomb damage caused by the Luftwaffe in the Blitz. Brooke had come straight from a Chiefs of Staff meeting attended by General Bernard Paget of Home Command, Mountbatten and the head of Fighter Command, Air Marshal Sholto Douglas, in which they had put up what Brooke called ‘a thoroughly bad’ plan ‘to assist Russia through action in France’. He was perhaps not therefore in the best frame of mind to meet someone the sole purpose of whose journey was to propose precisely the same thing. Meeting the plane was purely a courtesy, because he had other meetings throughout the day and next saw Marshall at dinner that evening.

According to Hopkins’ notes of the trip, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Marshall presented the ‘broad outlines’ of his Memorandum to Churchill, who ‘indicated that he had told the Chiefs of Staff that, in spite of all the difficulties, he was prepared to go along’. Churchill repeated the objections that the Chiefs of Staff had put, ‘all of which we had heard in Washington before coming to England’. Marshall was more optimistic about the interview than Hopkins, thinking that ‘Churchill went a long way and he, Marshall, expected far more resistance than he got’.7

In explaining the fall of Singapore the previous month, Churchill simply said it had been ‘a mess’, which had been handled very badly; he offered ‘no explanation of the lack of resistance on the part of the British’. Churchill gave Marshall and Hopkins dinner at Downing Street at 8.30 p.m. that evening, with Brooke, Attlee, Eden and the deputy leader of the Labour Party Arthur Greenwood in attendance. Conversation was ‘in the main social’, with Churchill discussing the Great War and the American Civil War, and the assembled leaders, as Hopkins recalled, ‘never really getting to grips with our main business, although General Brooke got into it enough to indicate that he had a great many misgivings about our proposal’. What Hopkins guessed, but Marshall seems not to have, is that Churchill privately opposed an early Roundup and Sledgehammer just as much as Brooke.

‘Brooke made an unfavourable impression on Marshall, who thinks that although he may be a good fighting man, he hasn’t got Dill’s brains,’ was how Hopkins reported their first meeting.8 The American historian Robert Sherwood, who edited Hopkins’ papers, thought that that remark might have been made in unconscious resentment of Brooke for having replaced Marshall’s friend Dill as CIGS. Nor was Marshall alone in underestimating Brooke. ‘Just between ourselves now,’ General Handy told his SOOHP interviewer, ‘in our opinion, that is at the working level, Brookie wasn’t the smartest of the British…We didn’t think that he was really smart. Now maybe that was our prejudice, but we didn’t and down on the working level we rated Brookie right down near the bottom.’9

Of this first encounter, Moran wrote:

Brooke and Marshall, who now met, had a good deal in common. They both came of virile stock. However, the acquisitive instinct, common enough among full-blooded men, had no part in their lives. Their one ambition was to lead armies in the field, but they would not lift a finger to bring this about. They were both selfless men with a fine contempt for the pressures of the mob. Even if Brooke was not impressed by Marshall’s ability, he could not help liking him; he felt he could trust him–and that went a long way with the CIGS…With his long upper lip and craggy features, Marshall looked more like a painting by Dobson than a modern staff officer.10

(The seventeenth-century portraitist William Dobson painted Charles I, Charles II, Prince Rupert and other grandees of the Stuart court, before being imprisoned for debt.)

Pogue agreed that Marshall and Brooke had something in common:

To most Americans, as to some of his colleagues, Brooke was icy, imperturbable, and condescending. Four years younger than Marshall, he was smaller in stature, delicately boned, and with large dark eyes that had a shining, impenetrable stare. Precise, methodical, abrupt to the point of rudeness, he lacked Dill’s charm. Marshall later saw a pleasanter side of Brooke…Some Americans sneered at his bird watching, but Marshall felt at home with a soldier who liked birds, gardening, and fine horses.11

The sole reference that Brooke made to the dinner was that ‘Neither Hopkins nor Marshall disclosed their proposed plans for which they have come over. However it was an interesting evening and a good chance to get to know Marshall. But did not get back until 1.30am!!’ Churchill’s late hours were to produce a large number of double exclamation marks in Brooke’s diary over the coming years, as were subsequent meetings with Marshall.

It was important for Hopkins to come on the mission, because as Marshall later admitted, ‘I couldn’t get at the President with the frequency he could–nothing like it; nor could I be as frank, nor could I be as understanding.’ Marshall was impressed with Hopkins’ physical courage in flying to London. A severe anaemic, in the previous two weeks ‘he had ten blood transfusions, and he had been found crawling up the back stairs at Hyde Park because he wasn’t strong enough to walk up.’ (If accurate, this was surprising, as the front stairs were supplemented by a lift for Roosevelt’s wheelchair.) Marshall maintained that Hopkins ‘supported me strongly where I was in difficulties with Churchill, and where I was in difficulties with the President’, and he had a gift of making ‘the military position–the strategical graphs and all–plainer to the President than I could possibly have done myself’.12 Yet, as Marshall was to discover on a subsequent trip to London, Hopkins the court favourite spoke only with his master’s voice.

The meeting at which Marshall unveiled his Memorandum to Brooke and his colleagues took place at 10.30 the following morning, Thursday 9 April, and lasted two hours. Brooke had called a Chiefs of Staff meeting for 9 that morning, to consider their response before it was even formally proposed. As well as Brooke and Marshall, the others present at the later gathering were Pound, Portal, Major-General James E. Chaney (the USAAF commander in the British Isles), Wedemeyer, Ismay, Mountbatten and Hollis. Marshall presented his three plans, which comprised Bolero (the build-up of US forces in Britain), Sledgehammer (the nine-division assault to be launched in the autumn of 1942), and Roundup (forty-eight divisions and 5,800 planes attacking France on 1 April 1943). Marshall stated that Sledgehammer would be ‘justified only in case’ of an ‘imminent collapse of Russian resistance unless pressure is relieved by an attack from the west’. He went so far as to label it, somewhat dishearteningly, as ‘a sacrifice in the common good’, which was an error later pounced upon by its British critics.13

The British minutes record Marshall suggesting that, if the war in the east were to develop ‘unfavourably’ for the Soviets, ‘We might have to stage an “Emergency Operation” on the Continent to help them’ (that is, Sledgehammer). Equally, if Germany failed to break Russian resistance in 1942, Marshall thought: ‘We ought to be prepared to exploit the consequences.’14 With Mountbatten worried about not having the element of surprise, and Portal doubtful about being able to give proper air support to the Sledgehammer bridgehead, Marshall failed to win support from the British Chiefs of Staff at this first meeting.

For his part, Brooke strongly doubted Sledgehammer’s chances of success without a German collapse, which he did not foresee in the near future. He declared flatly that seven infantry and two armoured divisions were simply not enough to maintain the bridgehead against the forces that the Germans would be able to throw against Sledgehammer. ‘Worse still,’ he argued, ‘the Allies would be unable to extricate the units if the Germans determined to expel them.’15

Brooke further pointed out that a shortage of landing craft meant that only about four thousand men could be taken across the Channel at any one time. To deliver the necessary reinforcements for Roundup or Sledgehammer would involve these craft going backwards and forwards across miles of open sea under constant Luftwaffe attack, in order to engage as many of the twenty-five German mobile divisions then estimated to be stationed in France as were sent to attack the landing places. Moreover, seven out of the nine divisions that Sledgehammer required would have to be British, and, in the neat understatement of one recent historian, ‘given London’s strategic views, this presented an obvious problem of motivation’.16

According to Brooke’s account of the meeting, Marshall ‘gave us a long talk on his views concerning the desirability of starting [the] western front next September and [stated] that the USA forces would take part. However the total force which they could transport by then only consisted of 21/2 divisions!! No very great contribution. Furthermore they had not begun to realize what all the implications of their proposed plan were!’ In fact Marshall knew very well the problems; the day before he had left Washington, his Planners had concluded that by 15 September 1942 only fifteen-and-a-half Roundup divisions would even be in existence in the USA, let alone in Britain, that fighter cover would be insufficient over the battle zone, that landing craft would severely limit the force size, and that the shipping, cargo and port facilities required for Roundup would reduce what food and other supplies could to be exported to Britain. Brooke consistently underestimated the Staff work done by the Americans on all these issues, regularly resorting in his diary to sarcasm and reductio ad absurdum to caricature Marshall’s stance. None of these undoubted military and logistics problems, however, deterred Marshall, who wanted an agreement in principle rather than an argument about details. He was probably right in thinking that, once the political will for the operation was established, all the other issues would be surmountable.

After the morning meeting, the British Chiefs gave their American counterparts lunch at the Savoy Hotel. ‘I liked what I saw of Marshall,’ concluded Brooke that night, ‘a pleasant and easy man to get on with, rather over-filled with his own importance. But I should not put him down as a great man.’17 There is of course a contradiction here, in that people rarely genuinely like those who they feel are over-filled with self-importance, but Brooke had no reason to lie to his diary or to Benita. After the war he had occasion to ruminate with hindsight about this diary entry, and he wrote:

These first impressions of mine about Marshall are interesting and of course incomplete. They were based on the day’s discussions, which had made it quite clear that Marshall had up to date only touched the fringe of all the implications of a re-entry into France. In the light of the existing situation his plans for September of 1942 were just fantastic! Marshall had a long way to go at that time before realizing what we were faced with. It will be seen from my diary that during the next few days I was busy sizing up Marshall’s character and military ability. It was very evident that we should have to work extremely closely together, and for this a close understanding of each other was essential.18

It is obvious that with Marshall doubting Brooke’s intelligence and Brooke thinking Marshall pompous, relations had hardly started swimmingly, although of course neither knew of the other’s views. Marshall cannot have been in the best spirits either, because on 9 April the news came through that thirty-five thousand US troops had been captured on the Bataan Peninsula in the Philippines, the largest single surrender of American soldiers since Stonewall Jackson captured Harper’s Ferry eighty years earlier. (Unlike Singapore, however, the Americans at Bataan had held out for five months.)

Even if Brooke was unconvinced, Marshall certainly impressed Ismay, who thought him ‘formidable’ and recorded in his memoirs: ‘He was a big man in every sense of the word, and utterly selfless. It was impossible to imagine his doing anything petty or mean, or shrinking from any duty, however distasteful. He carried himself with great dignity.’ He did find Marshall ‘somewhat cold and aloof’ at first, and noted that, unlike many other senior officers, the general never used either nicknames or Christian names, so Eisenhower was never Ike and Dill was never Jack. ‘But he had a warm heart,’ concluded Ismay. Marshall admitted to Ismay that the most painful part of his job was telling officers, some of them his close friends, that they could expect no further employment. ‘His integrity was unshakeable,’ Ismay believed, ‘and anything in the nature of intrigue or special pleading was anathema.’19

While Marshall met Brooke and the Chiefs of Staff, Hopkins was with Churchill in the Cabinet Room at 10 Downing Street, where the Prime Minister was left in no doubt about ‘the serious weight which the President and Marshall gave to our proposals’. Hopkins made it plain that the two men had made up their minds that a cross-Channel attack was ‘by far the most advantageous from a strategic point of view’, and so they ‘mean business’. Hopkins furthermore told Churchill that the President and Marshall ‘were prepared to throw our ground forces in’, because Marshall had got the impression that Churchill’s advisers felt ‘that the ground attack would never be made, at least for nearly a year’. According to Hopkins’ notes of the meeting, ‘Churchill took this very seriously,’ saying he hadn’t hitherto fully taken in ‘the seriousness of our proposals’.

Might the Americans have misunderstood the negative British reaction to Sledgehammer and an early Roundup–but not to Bolero, which they always favoured–because of Churchill’s manner? As Portal told the Australian war correspondent Chester Wilmot of the Chiefs of Staff’s own attitude towards the Prime Minister: ‘We used to listen to him enthralled with his words, but once we got to understand him we were never taken in. We knew him too well. We knew what to discount, what to accept. We got to know when he was in earnest, when he was only flying a kite.’ Portal felt that the Americans never understood this aspect of Churchill, however.

They admired him and respected him but they were doubtful of his strategic judgment and suspected his political motives. They so often heard him raise wildcat ideas and they were never able to tell, as we were, when he was serious and when he was just leading them on. They didn’t realize, as we did, that half the time these ideas were just put up because Churchill believed that in the sharp clash of discussion ideas could be thrashed out and developed.20

Portal went on to explain that if Churchill was worried about a particular course of action, he would sometimes throw out a suggestion in such a way as to make his listener think he was strongly in favour of it, and then would put forward arguments violently in support, not because he genuinely believed them but because he wanted to draw every possible objection out of his interlocutor. He would then drop the idea completely, satisfied that it did not measure up. ‘We were well aware of this technique, this means of clarifying his own thoughts,’ explained Portal, ‘but the Americans always took him seriously and literally, and so to them he appeared unpredictable, unreal and extravagant.’ In a rare bout of anti-Americanism, he added, ‘The reason why the Americans distrusted Churchill, in spite of their affection for him,’ was because ‘their rather pedestrian and matter-of-fact minds couldn’t keep track of the voluble outpourings of his fertile imagination.’21 Yet was it really so pedestrian or matter-of-fact to expect a British Prime Minister, at high-level global-strategy meetings, where lives could be at stake, actually to believe what he was saying?

The Modicum Mission was based at Claridge’s, where the Americans took over an entire floor of the hotel, with Marshall booked under his codename Mr C. G. Mell. Wedemeyer’s bedroom was next to Marshall’s sitting room, and in his 1958 autobiographyWedemeyer Reports! he recounted being woken by a valet on the morning of 9 April who gave him bacon that was stringy, mushrooms that were tough and coffee that was ‘execrable’. There were no eggs.

‘I recall vividly this initial joust with the British concerning definite plans for a cross-Channel operation,’ Wedemeyer wrote, juxtaposing the Americans as ‘always keeping uppermost in mind the basic idea of concentrating and making a decisive effort against the heartland of the enemy’, against the British, who ‘kept returning to a concept of scatterization or periphery-pecking, with a view to wearing down the enemy’. According to Wedemeyer, Brooke:

talked in low measured tones and was cautious as he commented upon the American concept as described by Marshall. The British were masters in negotiation–particularly were they adept in the use of phrases or words which were capable of more than one interpretation. Here was…all the settings of a classic Machiavellian scene…When matters of state are involved, our British opposite numbers had elastic scruples. To skirt the facts for King and Country was justified in the consciences of these British gentlemen…There was no expressed opposition to Marshall’s ideas at this first meeting, just polite suggestions that there might be difficulties in undertaking this task or that. What I witnessed was the British power of finesse in its finest hour, a power that has been developed over centuries of successful international intrigue, cajolery and tacit compulsions.22

Even sixteen years after the conversations, Wedemeyer’s bitterness is plainly evident, and there was plenty more overt Anglophobia to come, along with such splendidly mixed metaphors as: ‘It is true, I thought, that the sun never sets on the British Empire. But neither does the dove of peace. Moreover, the wings of justice had constantly been clipped as British influence and possessions were increased all over the world. I reflected upon the history of the British as I sat watching these senior military leaders carefully parrying, sidestepping and avoiding a head-on collision at this stage of the scheduled conferences.’23

Wedemeyer believed that the British were ‘familiar hands at using the intimidation of latent force or resorting to subtle deals, doing anything and everything to protect and extend British interests’, whereas by total contrast, ‘We Americans, who were adolescents in the international field, had no clear-cut conception of our national interest.’ The image of a trusting, naive America, personified by Marshall, being led down the garden path by wily, cynical, perfidious, aristocratic Old World Limeys, as personified by Brooke, was widely accepted among American Planners during the Second World War–indeed the ‘garden path’ metaphor was explicitly used by them later on in the conflict.

At lunch at the Savoy Hotel that day, Wedemeyer sized up the British as individuals. ‘I surmised that Brooke would be a source of future trouble for my chief, General Marshall,’ he wrote years later. ‘I sensed in Brooke a quick, incisive mind. He was articulate, individual, sensitive; one who would nibble away to gain his ends, meanwhile skilfully avoiding the necessity of coming to grips frontally with a basic issue. Over the following months this initial impression was many times confirmed by many fellow Americans, and even by a few Britishers.’ Pound, by contrast with this Machiavellian monster, was a courteous gentleman with ‘a twinkle in his clear blue eyes’, small in stature and ‘rather taciturn’. Portal had a ‘large nose and high forehead. He seldom raised his eyes,’ and was careful when choosing his words. Poor old Is may was written off as merely ‘a smoothie’, ‘insincere’, a ‘Mr Fix-It’, a man ‘without real convictions and incapable of reaching sound conclusions’, although Wedemeyer had a much more positive view of him later on. Not so of Brooke.

In March 1948, Portal reminisced to Chester Wilmot about the British Chiefs’ reactions to the Marshall Memorandum:

We wouldn’t look at it for 1942 and even then we were very doubtful for 1943. The Americans had tremendous confidence in their own troops and by and large their confidence was justified, for they did learn very quickly once they got into action–far more quickly than our chaps did, and once they got the experience they fought extremely well. But this doesn’t mean they could have carried out a successful invasion in ’42 even if the craft had been available, which they weren’t.

He then made an astonishing admission–especially as he was talking to a television journalist–which confirms much of what the Americans were saying privately about the British Army at the time. ‘I’m afraid that we never had the same confidence in our troops,’ the Chief of Air Staff openly stated. ‘It was clear to us that they had been very badly shaken by the early defeats and we were very much afraid of setting them a task beyond their capacity.’24

As for the accusation that Churchill had perfidiously and deliberately misled Marshall over seeming to support his Memorandum, as Stimson, Wedemeyer and several American historians were to allege, Portal told Wilmot that ‘When Winston described Marshall’s suggestion as “a momentous plan”, he was certainly not thinking of Sledgehammer but rather of Marshall’s idea that the final blow to Germany must be delivered across the Channel. We had learnt not to take Winston too seriously, and no doubt he was being polite to Marshall and was anxious not to discourage his general conception, but at no time did he or we agree to Sledgehammer.’ This was because ‘None of us believed that we could possibly hold any bridgehead.’25 Yet that was not at all the impression that Marshall took away with him when he returned home, and began to send troops to Britain under Operation Bolero.

On Friday 10 April, Eden saw Churchill after Cabinet: ‘We spoke of [the] American plan. He feared [the British] General Staff would say “Yes” and make this a pretext for doing much less elsewhere.’ After a long day’s work, ‘mainly concerned with trying to save India from the Japs’, including two Chiefs of Staff meetings, Brooke drove down to Chequers with Pound and Portal for dinner with Marshall, Hopkins and Churchill. ‘We were kept up till 2am doing a world survey, but little useful work,’ he recorded. After the war, Brooke recalled being ‘amused at Marshall’s reactions to Winston’s late hours, he was evidently not used to being kept out of his bed till the small hours of the morning and not enjoying it much!’ Marshall used to say that no important decision was ever taken after four o’clock in the afternoon, but he soon learned that Churchill thought otherwise.26 He was also astonished at the level of access that Brooke had with the Prime Minister, saying that he frequently did not see Roosevelt for a month or even six weeks. This prompted Brooke to note with feeling: ‘I was fortunate if I did not see Winston for 6 hours.’27

The Modicum visit brought Churchill and Marshall into close contact over a long period, allowing the general to observe the Prime Minister’s habits closely. He admired Churchill’s gift for language, of course, as well as ‘his knowledge and sense of history, his splendid contempt for the enemy, his capacity for boldness’. Yet, according to Pogue, Marshall was also ‘appalled’ by Churchill’s ‘swift changes of plans, a flexibility that brought chaos in planning, a daring that brushed aside careful details’. Most of all he ‘dreaded’ Churchill’s influence on Roosevelt, who he said ‘also delighted in the dramatic and the unexpected, and who was determined, now that he was in the war, to strike a sudden and vital blow at the Nazis’.28 It was very commendable, but where would it fall?

On Saturday 11 April, three days into the visit, Hopkins cabled Roosevelt to say that discussions with Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff were progressing well. He complained that ‘my underwear is itching like the devil’, which was probably more information than the President needed. The Buckinghamshire countryside led him to eulogize about how ‘It’s only when you see that country in spring that you begin to understand why the English have written the best goddam poetry in the world.’ It was a calm weekend, although Mrs Churchill was feeling exhausted and they again stayed up till the early hours.

Unfortunately a telegram from Roosevelt about Stafford Cripps’ mission to India arrived at 3 o’clock on Sunday morning. Cripps was attempting to secure Indian political support for the Allied war effort, in return for full autonomy after the war, but the President thought that large measures of Indian self-government should be accorded while the war was still being fought. Churchill told Hopkins that he ‘refused to be responsible for a policy which would throw the whole subcontinent of India into utter confusion while the Japanese invader was at its gates’.29 Churchill deeply resented Roosevelt’s attempted interference in imperial matters, and did not mind making that clear. Hopkins’ scribbled notes also indicate that Churchill threatened to resign ‘if that would do any good in assuaging American public opinion’ with regard to India, an absurd notion on so many levels that it can safely be put down to one of Churchill’s late-night rodomontades.

Churchill’s late nights had tired out Hopkins, who anyway suffered from anaemia. ‘Please put Hopkins to bed and keep him there under 24-hour guard by Army or Marine Corps,’ Roosevelt joked in a telegram to Marshall later that day. ‘Ask the King for additional assistance if required on this job.’ Brooke got away from Chequers in time to spend the day pruning roses at home, and playing with his daughter Kathleen, nicknamed ‘Pooks’. That afternoon, Marshall telephoned McNarney, his deputy in Washington, to say that Churchill had ‘indicated that he had virtually accepted in toto the proposals I submitted to him, and that the Defense Cabinet Committee would undoubtedly approve. I regard this as acquiescence in principle. We must now get to business and arrange the details.’30

McNarney duly told the President that Marshall’s message ‘indicates good progress’, adding that the general was due to sit with the full Cabinet on Monday the 13th and the Cabinet’s Defence Committee the next day, but already ‘Naval Person [that is, Churchill] told me he accepts our proposal.’31 Considering how opposed Brooke had been on the morning of 9 April to two of the three proposals–Roundup and Sledgehammer–it was surprising that Marshall had taken Churchill’s word as representing ‘acquiescence in principle’ to the proposals ‘in toto’. Perhaps there was as much an element of self-delusion by Marshall as there was dissembling by the British.

There were lighter moments at Chequers that Sunday morning also. Hopkins had asked Wedemeyer to have two crates of fresh food put on the Clipper in Bermuda to present to Churchill and the request had duly gone down the command chain. Churchill, accompanied by Hopkins and Marshall, went to watch the gardener carefully prise open the crate and to see ‘what precious gift had been brought him’. Some pineapples, perhaps, or paw-paw, or some other delicious, exotic tropical fruit? It turned out to be Brussels sprouts, one of the vegetables in plentiful supply in England. ‘Churchill started to laugh, and soon everyone joined in.’

Churchill telegraphed Roosevelt about the Marshall Memorandum that Sunday, to say that he had ‘read with earnest attention your masterly document about future of the war and the great operations proposed. I am in entire agreement in principle with all you propose, and so are the Chiefs of Staff.’ His sole proviso was that ‘We must of course meet day-to-day emergencies in the east and west while preparing for the main stroke.’ Although he stated that the whole matter was going to be discussed by the Defence Committee on the evening of Tuesday the 14th, to which ‘Harry and Marshall’ were of course invited, Churchill concluded: ‘I have no doubt that I shall be able to send you our complete agreement. I may say that I thought the proposals made for an interim operation in certain contingencies this year met the difficulties and uncertainties in an absolutely sound manner. If, as our experts believe, we can carry this whole plan through successfully, it will be one of the grand events in all the history of the war.’32

This was at best disingenuous, because as the Chiefs of Staff meeting on the morning of 9 April showed, the British experts plainly did not believe that Sledgehammer, the ‘interim operation’ referred to, could be carried through successfully in 1942. Although Churchill had not been present, having been in conclave with Hopkins at the time, he must have known this, having been in regular and close contact with Brooke since then. Churchill’s seeming wholehearted endorsement of the Marshall Memorandum in its entirety stored up great–and largely unnecessary–problems later on.

Monday 13 April brought three meetings of the Chiefs of Staff and Cabinet, each dedicated to ‘trying to frame a reply for Marshall’. These took up most of the day, and Brooke only got away after 8 p.m., when he had Marshall to dine with him. ‘The more I see of him the more I like him,’ he noted at the time. Yet after the war Brooke added this damning assessment of that dinner: ‘There was a great charm and dignity about Marshall which could not fail to appeal to one. A big man and a very great gentleman, who inspired trust, but did not impress me by the ability of his brain.’33 Since this was written several years later, long after Brooke had got to know Marshall very well indeed, it must be taken as his considered appraisal.

Marshall had meanwhile heard the reservations that Brooke and others had about the cross-Channel proposals, telegraphing McNarney that his Memorandum would be accepted in principle, ‘but relative to avoidance of future dispersions particularly of planes, such acceptance will have to be considerably and continuously bolstered by firmness of our stand.’ He concluded perceptively that ‘Virtually everyone agrees with us in principle but many if not most hold reservations regarding this or that.’

Marshall attended the Chiefs of Staff meeting the next morning, Tuesday 14 April, at which Brooke handed him a document giving their detailed reply to his Memorandum. As Marshall had surmised, it was favourable overall but contained strong caveats. They agreed with his 1943 timetable, while stating that any action in 1942 would need to await developments on the Russian front, and that India and the Middle East would have to be made safe before anything else. Marshall then said that ‘within the next three or four months we were very likely to find ourselves in the position when we were forced to take action on the Continent,’ and this ‘might be either because we might not be able to hold back while the Russians were being driven back or borne down, or because a favourable opportunity had presented itself’.34 At the time everyone assumed that the Manichean struggle between Nazism and Communism must come to a swift and decisive conclusion; it seemed unlikely to anyone that the conflict might still be going on a full three years later.

Brooke concluded that if Britain was ‘forced to undertake an operation on the Continent, it could only be on a small scale’.35 Marshall ought to have taken from this, as well as all the earlier discussions and the conversations over the various lunches and dinners, that there might have been a serious disagreement between Brooke and Churchill over future operations, yet he does not seem to have, or if he did he obviously thought that Churchill’s will must prevail. Mountbatten also pointed out the lack of landing craft, which was to become a central issue very soon. ‘Marshall, who has made a splendid impression here,’ Hopkins cabled Roosevelt, ‘has presented our case with moderation but with great force. I believe we will achieve not only agreement in principle but a real meeting of minds.’36

Welcoming Marshall and Hopkins to the crucial Defence Committee meeting at Downing Street at 10 p.m. that Tuesday evening were Churchill, Attlee, Eden, the Minister of Production Oliver Lyttelton, the First Lord of the Admiralty A. V. Alexander, the War Minister Sir James Grigg, the Air Minister Sir Archie Sinclair, Brooke, Pound, Portal, Ismay and Mountbatten, along with Hollis and Jacob from the secretariat. Churchill opened the meeting by saying that Hopkins and Marshall had brought over what he again called ‘a momentous proposal’, one that had been fully discussed and examined by the Staffs.

For himself, he had no hesitation in cordially adopting the plan. The conception underlying it accorded with the classic principles of war, namely, concentration against the main enemy. One broad reservation must however be made–it was essential to carry on the defence of India and the Middle East. We could not possibly face the loss of an army of six hundred thousand men and the whole manpower of India. Furthermore, Australia and the island bases connecting that country with the United States must not be allowed to fall, as this would inevitably prolong the war. This meant that we could not entirely lay aside everything in furtherance of the main object proposed by General Marshall.37

So far, therefore, the British had not made any direct criticisms of Roundup or Sledgehammer, but had only put their imperial self-interest first, as the Americans must have expected they would.

Marshall was the next to speak, saying that ‘It was a great relief for him to know that there was a basic agreement on general principles. All were in complete agreement as to what should be done in 1943.’ He mentioned a strong bombing offensive and the importance of occasional raids on the French coast, in order to raise morale and provide a battle-hardened nucleus of American troops. ‘The availability of troops presented no problem,’ he promised. ‘The main difficulties would be in providing the requisite tonnage, the landing craft, the aircraft and the naval escorts.’

The general then brought up the ‘two points of doubt’ which had arisen in his discussions with the British Chiefs of Staff. The first was whether the United States would contribute enough matériel to support Britain in the Middle East and India, and the second was the practicality of making ‘a landing on the Continent’ in 1942. ‘We might be compelled to do this, and we must, in any case, prepare for it,’ he said. He thought that air superiority would solve most of these problems, and this would come both from the Allied plane-building programme and from the Luftwaffe’s preoccupations in Russia.

He admitted that there had not been much time before he left the United States to study the problem of operations in 1942 and, on the data available, he had concluded that they could not be undertaken before September. ‘If they had to be done before then, the United States contribution would be modest,’ he admitted, ‘but whatever was available in the way of American forces over here at the time could be used to the full. The President had particularly emphasised that he wished his armed forces to share to the greatest extent possible in whatever might be undertaken.’

Marshall then discussed trebling production of landing craft by the United States, the defence of Australia and the south-west Pacific by the US Navy, the garrisoning of Iceland, and other projects that could be undertaken concomitant with Bolero, adding that full provision was being made for holding the Australia–Hawaii–Alaska line in the Pacific. He ended by using a legal analogy he was to return to in the future, stating that it was ‘essential that our main project, i.e. operations on the Continent, should not be reduced to the status of a “residual legatee” to whom nothing was left’. It was a powerful appeal, presented with the assurance of a man who had already practised it several times by then.

Brooke spoke next, saying that the British Chiefs of Staff Committee had:

examined very carefully General Marshall’s proposals. They were in entire agreement with him on the project for 1943. Operations on the Continent in 1942 were governed by the measure of success achieved by the Germans in their campaign against Russia. If they were successful, we could clearly act less boldly. If, however, the Russians held the Germans, or had an even greater measure of success, our object should be to force the Germans to detach air forces from the Russian front. This could be done either by air operations or by the landing of troops, which would force heavy air battles.

Brooke then stated unequivocally that ‘The Chiefs of Staff entirely agreed that Germany was the real enemy. At the same time, it was essential to hold the Japanese and ensure that there was no junction between them and the Germans.’ He conjured up the by now familiar lurid scenario in which the Japanese won control of the Indian Ocean, allowing the Middle East to be gravely threatened and oil supplies prevented from going through the Persian Gulf. Under those circumstances, Germany would seize Persia’s oil, the southern route to Russia would be cut off, and Turkey would be isolated, destroying any hope of her joining the Allies, while Germany and Japan could exchange any hardware they needed. American assistance was thus vital to prevent Japan taking control of the western Indian Ocean. Churchill unsurprisingly agreed, readily acknowledging that Britain was ‘unable to cope unaided’ with the Japanese threat there.

This led to a discussion between Churchill, Brooke and Pound about the Indian Ocean, with the Americans as spectators, although that did not prevent Churchill from suggesting moves that involved their fleets, and even individual ships. If the new battleship USS North Carolina was to sail to the British naval base at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, he posited, HMS Duke of York could be released for duty in the Indian Ocean. When Brooke said he ‘welcomed the idea of an offensive in Europe’ after measures had been taken ‘to prevent a collapse in the Indian Ocean’, which would require American assistance, he was of course asking for an open-ended commitment. This prompted Hopkins to warn the Committee that ‘If public opinion in America had its way, the weight of American effort would be directed against Japan. Nevertheless, after anxious discussion, the President and American military leaders had decided that it would be right to direct the forces of American arms against Germany.’ He explained that the Germany First policy had been adopted because the US High Command wanted to fight on land, at sea and in the air, as well as ‘in the most useful place, and in the place where they could attain superiority, and they were desirous above all of joining in an enterprise with the British’.38 He might have been more honest, if less comradely, if he had added that Roosevelt and Marshall realized how more difficult the task would be if Britain lost to Germany during the time that it took for the United States to defeat Japan.

Attlee, Eden and Mountbatten then all had their say, before Churchill summed up, affirming that although the details of the cross-Channel plans still needed to be worked out, it was clear that there was ‘complete unanimity on the framework’. He would request help in the Indian Ocean, ‘without which the whole plan would be fatally compromised’, and rather grandly he acknowledged that ‘It would gradually be known that the English-speaking peoples were resolved on a great campaign for the liberation of Europe.’39

Although Churchill had inserted the Indian Ocean, and not the Middle East, into his caveat, the mention of the Indian Ocean only made sense in terms of the Middle East, and he had mentioned the Middle East unequivocally earlier on. Moreover Brooke had already inserted his several caveats about the Roundup operation. The way that matters stood, it did sound as though the British would be able to veto any cross-Channel operation until they were satisfied that both the Indian Ocean and the Middle East were safe from Japanese and German aggression, and the United States was fully committed to bringing about that seemingly Utopian state of affairs.

Marshall expressed confidence that the Indian Ocean theatre could be protected at the same time that Roundup was undertaken and Hopkins emphasized that once the decision had been taken to cross the Channel it would become the United States’ major contribution to the war effort and would therefore become irreversible. The Prime Minister then gave him a solemn assurance that the British would support the great enterprise energetically and unreservedly.

Churchill also promised Marshall ‘that nothing would be left undone on the part of the British Government and people which could contribute to the success of the great enterprise on which they were about to embark’. Perhaps the very extravagance of Churchill’s remarks, especially as no dates were given and as there was no indication of whether he was referring to Sledgehammer, Bolero or Roundup, ought to have given Marshall pause for thought. What he could not fail to spot, however, were the implications that British support for Continental attacks entirely depended upon America protecting British positions in the Indian Ocean and Middle East.40

Unsurprisingly, Marshall telegraphed Stimson soon afterwards to say that he’d been successful on all fronts. Yet in his memoirs Churchill stated that he only ever saw Sledgehammer as a feint, always preferring operations in North Africa and Norway. ‘I had to work by influence and diplomacy in order to secure agreed and harmonious action with our cherished Ally,’ he wrote, ‘without whose help nothing but ruin faced the world. I did not therefore open any of these alternatives at our meeting on the 14th.’41Crucially, therefore, and in order to secure Bolero, Churchill hid his deep reservations about Sledgehammer and entirely failed to mention his preference for both Ajax and Gymnast, the attacks on northern Norway and North Africa. Marshall had indeed been misled, by Churchill if not by Brooke, and he understandably came to resent it.

Ismay was adamant in his own memoirs that:

Everyone at the meeting was enthusiastic about the prospect of the despatch of a mighty American army to Europe, and of the English-speaking peoples ‘marching ahead together in a noble brotherhood of arms’ as Churchill put it…Everyone seemed to agree with the American proposals in their entirety. No doubts were expressed; no discordant note struck. It is easy to be wise after the event, but perhaps it would have obviated future misunderstandings if the British had expressed their views more frankly…I think we should have come clean, much cleaner than we did, and said: ‘We are frankly horrified because of what we have been through in our lifetime…We are not going to go into this until it is a cast-iron certainty.’42

With a classic penchant for understatement, Ismay concluded: ‘This misunderstanding was destined to have unfortunate results.’ In the controversy over whether the British deliberately misled the Americans during the Modicum Mission, Ismay, who was writing in 1960–during Churchill’s lifetime–confined himself to suggesting that they might have done so unintentionally.

The most ‘unfortunate result’ was that Marshall became convinced later on that Churchill and Brooke had indeed broken faith with him, and suspected that their opposition to Sledgehammer and an early Roundup in fact extended to any Roundup operation at all. Moran recalled his puzzlement over the way that Churchill had ‘agreed with Marshall, almost, as it were, without a fight. It was not like him.’ His explanation–and since he was not present at any of the meetings this was mere speculation–was that Churchill ‘may have decided that the time has not yet come to take the field as an out-and-out opponent of a Second Front in Europe. Anyway, 1943 seems a long way off, and a good deal may happen in the meanwhile.’ Moran added that Churchill told him it was no time for an argument with Roosevelt, who might be driven by domestic public opinion to concentrate on the Far East instead.

In two private interviews with Chester Wilmot in March and April 1948, Ian Jacob also went a good way towards admitting that the British had deliberately misled the Americans six years earlier. After explaining that Marshall wanted to use all American shipping possible so that a cross-Channel attack could be launched in 1942, he said:

We were convinced that it could not but we were reluctant to say so too strongly lest Marshall should pack up his divisions and take them to the Pacific…Consequently at the last meeting when the PM was most enthusiastic about the importance of crossing the Channel as soon as possible, Marshall went home thinking that an attack could be launched that year. The basic difference centred on the question of when it would be possible. Marshall thought this year, we thought not before 1943, if then.43

Something significant seems to have taken place between the pessimistic morning Chiefs of Staff meeting on 14 April, when objections were raised about air cover, landing craft and so on, and the wildly over-optimistic Defence Committee meeting at 10 o’clock that evening, at which the Chiefs were also present. Had the Prime Minister persuaded Brooke that Britain would be far better defended in the event of a German victory in Russia should there be seven or eight American divisions in the United Kingdom to help her? Brooke was under personal as well as professional pressure on 14 April; between the Chiefs of Staff meeting and another meeting with Lyttelton he had to dash back to his flat where his wife was suffering from an ear infection–mastoids–that his son had earlier only narrowly escaped. The operations to counter it were complicated and painful in those days, and Brooke admitted he found it all ‘Most distressing’ and ‘a source of deep anxiety’.44

Brooke’s diary entry for that evening stated that there had been ‘A momentous meeting at which we accepted their proposals for offensive action in Europe in 1942 perhaps and in 1943 for certain. They have not begun to realize all the implications of this plan and all the difficulties that lie ahead of us! The fear I have is that they should concentrate on this offensive at the expense of all else! We have therefore been pressing on them the importance of providing American assistance in the Indian Ocean and Middle East.’ This was a fairly accurate summation of the double-act that he and Churchill had put on for Marshall’s and Hopkins’ benefit, right down to repeating Churchill’s own adjective ‘momentous’. His reference to 1943 operations ‘for certain’ shows that he did not himself feel he was misleading the Americans, because he also believed–or at least hoped–that an attack might be possible by then. There was no reason why Brooke should lie to his diary: in April 1942 he felt himself committed to Roundup some time in 1943.

Sir Michael Howard believes that, as he puts it, the American plan ‘did not conflict in any essentials’ with such ideas as Churchill and Brooke had entertained, and that the ‘evidence suggests that both Mr Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff were, in April 1942, entirely sincere in their acceptance of the Bolero–Roundup plan as expounded by General Marshall, and were determined to put it into effect. There was certainly not, at that time, any alternative and conflicting “Mediterranean strategy”.’ Although careful studies were conducted in London into the practicability of Operation Sledgehammer, ‘about Roundup no doubts were expressed at all’.45

This was true, but after the war Brooke noted that with the situation prevailing in April 1942, ‘it was not possible to take Marshall’s “castles in the air” too seriously! It must be remembered that we were at that time literally hanging on by our eye-lids!’ With Australia and India under threat from the Japanese, a temporary loss of control in the Indian Ocean, Germany threatening Iranian and Iraqi oil supplies, Auchinleck hard-pressed in the Western Desert, and the battle of the Atlantic hanging in the balance, ‘We were desperately short of shipping and could stage no large scale operations without additional shipping. This shipping could only be obtained by opening the Mediterranean and saving a million tons of shipping through the elimination of the Cape route. To clear the Mediterranean, North Africa must be cleared first.’46 Of course Brooke had not made this case at the Defence Committee meeting, mentioning neither North Africa nor the Mediterranean, let alone the idea that Marshall was building ‘castles in the air’.

That same night, Marshall telegraphed McNarney to report that, although the British Chiefs of Staff had expressed some reservations, he believed there was ‘complete agreement as to 1943’. On the following afternoon, Wednesday 15 April, Marshall visited Brooke’s room at the War Office in Whitehall for two hours to hear about British military dispositions. ‘He is, I should think, a good general at raising armies and providing the necessary links between the military and political worlds,’ recorded Brooke. ‘But his strategical ability does not impress me at all!! In fact in many respects he is a very dangerous man whilst being a very charming one!’ Marshall led Brooke to believe that because Admiral King was ‘proving more and more of a drain on his military resources, continually calling for land forces to capture and hold bases’ in the Pacific, while simultaneously the Commander of the south-West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur, now based in Australia, was also demanding forces to develop an offensive from there, his advocacy of Roundup was intended to ‘counter these moves’. Nor was this a bluff; only three weeks later Marshall talked Roosevelt out of sending more men to MacArthur, since it would detract from the cross-Channel project.47

Brooke believed that protection of personnel and resources for Germany First was the real reason that, in his words, ‘Marshall has started the European offensive plan and is going 100% all out on it!’ He considered that Marshall was making ‘a clever move which fits in well with present political opinion and the desire to help Russia’, one which was ‘also popular with all military men who are fretting for an offensive policy. But, and this is a very large “but”, his plan does not go beyond just landing on the far coast!! Whether we are to play baccarat or chemin de fer at Le Touquet, or possibly bathe at Paris Plage is not stipulated! I asked him this afternoon–do we go east, south or west after landing? He had not begun to think of it!!’48 Paris-Plage was a popular part of the seaside resort of Le Touquet, but Brooke presumably did not in fact ask whether the expedition would move west after landing, because that would take it back into the English Channel. Yet as the official US Army history admits: ‘Only the most hurried and superficial investigation of the complex logistic problems involved had been made before the London Conference, and the Conference contributed very little to an understanding of them or to argument about them. Everything remained to be done.’49

Brooke’s contemporaneous sarcasm was not really softened when he made extensive notes on his diaries years afterwards, in which he stated that his conversation with Marshall that afternoon had been ‘an eye-opener! I discovered that he had not studied any of the strategic implications.’ Of course this was unfair, as Marshall had been doing little else over the previous fortnight, and the discussions on 15 April centred on the difficulty of the landing compared with what happened afterwards. Brooke believed that ‘our real troubles would start after the landing. We should be operating with forces initially weaker than the enemy and in addition his rate of reinforcement would be at least twice as fast as ours. In addition his formations were fully trained and endured [inured] to war whilst ours were raw and inexperienced.’50

In May 1957, Samuel Eliot Morison vigorously defended Marshall against Brooke’s criticisms, some of which had been published earlier that year in Brooke’s memoirs Turn of the Tide as ghosted and edited by the historian Sir Arthur Bryant. Several of Brooke’s harsh diary entries about Marshall had been quoted in the book, and in a tart rejoinder during a lecture series in Oxford, Morison said that ‘General Marshall has adopted a policy of dignified silence about these war controversies, so I cannot quote him; but I am confident that his strategic ideas did not stop at the water-edge; that he had a very definite concept of land strategy, namely the double envelopment of the Ruhr, which was actually carried out in 1945 against the strong objections of Field Marshals Brooke and Montgomery.’51 While it is actually unlikely that Marshall had planned anything like that far ahead in 1942, it was right to defend Marshall from Brooke’s repeated and unfair strictures about his strategic abilities.

Brooke’s exasperation about Marshall in his diaries–‘almost impossible to get him to grasp the true concepts of a strategic situation’, for example–needs to be put in the overall context of his blistering rudeness about almost everyone else, very often over their supposed lack of strategic understanding. Churchill was described as ‘temperamental like a film star’ and ‘peevish like a spoilt child’ with ‘no long term strategic vision…He can never grasp a whole plan’; Lord Gort’s ‘brain has lately been compared to that of a glorified boy scout’ who ‘just fails to be able to see the big picture’; Eisenhower ‘literally knew nothing of the requirements of a commander in action’ and had ‘a very very limited brain from a strategic point of view’; Eden was ‘dangerous–rather obstinate, featherheaded–and with no strategic sense’; Alexander had ‘many fine qualities but no very great strategic vision…It was very doubtful whether he was fit to command his Army’; Mountbatten was ‘quite irresponsible, suffers from the most desperate illogical brain, always producing red herrings’.52

A definite pattern thus emerges, of people who might have charm and even some organizing ability, but are not gifted enough to grasp Brooke’s overall strategy. Over and again identical criticisms appear in Brooke’s journals. Almost the only senior wartime figures to emerge unscathed were Douglas MacArthur, the South African premier Jan Christian Smuts, and Stalin. Yet it simply cannot be the case that no one on the Allied side but Brooke had any grasp of strategy. Far from being strategic amateurs, as Brooke constantly implied about the American Joint Chiefs, Marshall had been a senior Planning officer on General Pershing’s staff, Stark had been flag secretary to Admiral Sims in 1917–18, King had been assistant chief of staff to Admiral Mayo, Commander-in-Chief of the Atlantic Fleet in the Great War, and Eisenhower had been chief of staff to the XXII Corps and after that of Walter Krueger’s Third Army, hugely successful in the famous 1941 Louisiana manoeuvres. Just because these men disagreed with Brooke, it did not follow that they were all dunderheads over strategy.

‘Those who did not know Marshall were apt to think of him as a cold man,’ wrote his biographer, ‘but compared with the hard, distant, lofty Field Marshal Brooke, he was a ball of fire.’53 After the publication of Turn of the Tide, Pogue asked Marshall for his comment on what the British official historian John Ehrman had written of Brooke:

Possessing a clear and acute mind, great professional integrity, and–a useful attribute on occasions–a strong but controlled temper, his views always commanded the respect of the army, of his naval and air colleagues, and, even when the two men differed, of the prime minister. Insofar as the Chiefs of Staff designed British strategy, that strategy bore his impress.

If Pogue was trying to draw Marshall into criticizing Brooke, he failed, as the gentlemanly general merely answered: ‘Of the Chiefs of Staff, I thought Portal was probably the most brilliant, but I had a great respect for Brooke and I think the characterization regarding him is quite correct.’ On another occasion Marshall told Pogue that ‘Brooke was cold, but did not give the impression he disliked him. Portal had the best mind of the lot and was thus the most difficult to deal with in the sense of putting anything over.’ He also recalled being ‘Affectionately fond of Pound.’ Others leapt to Marshall’s defence by criticizing Brooke in 1957, but Marshall did not stoop to it, writing to thank him for his signed copy ‘and for your gracious inscription, the sentiments of which I deeply appreciate’.54

On 16 April 1942 Brooke attended an important Chiefs of Staff meeting to discuss Bolero, Sledgehammer and Roundup. ‘The plans are fraught with the gravest dangers,’ he confided to his diary. ‘Public opinion is shouting for the formation of a new western front to assist the Russians. But they have no conception of the difficulties and dangers entailed!’ One of the advantages of having a CIGS from the nearest British equivalent to the Junker class was that he despised public opinion, and felt it almost a point of honour not to bend to it. All the political campaigns, newspaper editorials and demonstrations in Trafalgar Square in favour of the Second Front meant absolutely nothing to him, except insofar as they might affect politicians’ judgement, despite the suspension of general elections for the duration of the war. ‘The prospects of success are small and dependent on a mass of unknowns,’ he opined about an early Second Front, ‘whilst the chances of disaster are great and dependent on a mass of well established military facts.’55 Foremost among these, as we have seen, was the proven ability of the German Army, of which he had a healthy–although many Americans thought too robust–respect.

The next morning, on 17 April, after a short Chiefs of Staff meeting, Brooke went over to Downing Street to bid Marshall farewell. ‘He was very charming as usual and hoped I would be able to return his visit,’ he wrote afterwards. They had been in each other’s company–sizing each other up, as Brooke put it–for nine days. Hopkins and Marshall left London later that day, stopping the night in Londonderry. Before they got back, however, Churchill cabled Roosevelt, stating baldly: ‘We wholeheartedly agree with your conception of concentration against the main enemy, and we cordially accept your plan with one broad qualification,’ that it was ‘essential that we should prevent a junction of the Germans and Japanese’. This could have been a qualification so broad that it might have wrecked Roundup, since the hinge between the Middle East and the Indian Ocean was as large as it was vulnerable, covering several countries. Nonetheless, Churchill sought to reassure Roosevelt by adding that ‘Marshall felt confident that we could together provide what was necessary for the Indian Ocean and other theatres, and yet go right ahead with your main project.’56

The Prime Minister then made a reference to Sledgehammer that, considering his and Brooke’s severe private reservations, was at best a red herring, at worst deliberately misleading. After saying of Roundup, ‘The campaign of 1943 is straightforward, and we are starting joint plans and preparations at once,’ Churchill wrote:

We may, however, feel compelled to act this year. Your plan visualised this, but put mid-September as the earliest date. Things may easily come to a head before then. Marshall explained that you had been reluctant to press for an enterprise that was fraught with such grave risks and dire consequences until you could make a substantial air contribution; but he left us in no doubt that if it were found necessary to act earlier, you, Mr President, would earnestly wish to throw in every available scrap of human and material resources. We are proceeding with plans and arrangements on that basis. Broadly speaking, our agreed programme is a crescendo of activity on the Continent.57

This seems like nothing less than an endorsement of Sledgehammer in only five months’ time, or even ‘before then’, but only once United States troops were flooding over under Bolero, or what Churchill was soon confusingly to call ‘Super-Bolero’. Yet were the British really committed to such a ‘concentration against the main enemy’ in a cross-Channel attack? The historians Warren Kimball and Norman Rose describe Churchill’s message as ‘disingenuous’.58 The writer Leonard Mosley went further, writing of Churchill’s ‘insincerity’.59

Brooke meanwhile told John Kennedy over at the War Office that ‘he had backed the first stage–that is movement into the UK–because that suits all eventualities including defence of the UK and possible action overseas elsewhere, as well as the main conception put forward by Marshall,’ and that Marshall ‘has gone back with substantial agreement in principle, but a better realisation of practical difficulties and a better appreciation of the possible dates’. This seems a clear indication that Brooke had accepted Sledgehammer in principle because he wanted Bolero in practice, and knew that Sledgehammer could be argued out when the time came. Some in the War Office thought the Americans themselves would drop Sledgehammer as soon as their Planners had further analysed its deficiencies.

In Ulster, Marshall inspected the Bolero advance guard, American units under Major-General Russell P. Hartle. While he and Hopkins were there, and then while they were on their way to Port Patrick in western Scotland prior to flying home, a situation developed that led Churchill to suggest that the two men return to London. Roosevelt had heard that Marshal Philippe Pétain, the dictator of Vichy France, was restoring the pro-German former premier Pierre Laval to power, under pressure from Hitler, leading the President to ask Marshall to consider reviving Gymnast, on the ground that the French in North Africa might prefer the Allies to Laval.

Although Roosevelt did not think the situation was fast moving enough to justify Marshall returning to London, his instinctive reaction–that Gymnast be reactivated–was indicative of a continued presidential fondness for the North African operation that the American Chiefs intensely disliked. Marshall can hardly have failed to infer as much. Often, even when nothing comes of them, such démarches can throw sudden light on a scene, like a split-second flash of nocturnal lightning. Marshall, in Eden’s phrase, ‘would not be stopped’ from returning home, but he now knew that his various memoranda had not killed off Gymnast in Roosevelt’s restless mind.60

After the war, Albert Wedemeyer told the BBC interviewer Richard Dimbleby that, on their flying-boat going back to Washington, Marshall had turned to him and said: ‘I think the British have bought your plan, but I think they did so with tongues in their cheeks.’61 Wedemeyer also claimed to his SOOHP interviewer that Marshall could tell by the questions that the British had asked him that they preferred to invade Europe through the so-called ‘soft underbelly’ of the Mediterranean.62 Was this ex post factorationalization, or did it really happen? Did Marshall really spot Brooke’s future foot-dragging over Roundup as early as on his return flight home? If so, it makes his later professed shock at British perfidy rather deceptive itself. Wedemeyer was a senior member of the Joint Planning Staff and was present at strategy conferences before he became US Chief of Staff of the South-East Asian Command in 1943. His testimony–even at three decades’ remove–is therefore noteworthy. In the end, however, it is simply not convincing: as Michael Howard notes, the British had no conception of invading Europe from the south in April 1942, with the phrase ‘soft underbelly’ not being coined by Churchill until the following year.

Ismay essayed a metaphor of seduction when describing the Modicum Conference to Pogue four years later, saying the British had been ‘swept off their feet when Marshall and Hopkins visited them on Roundup and that they agreed to it without considering what it entailed’. According to him, Churchill and Brooke ‘were swept away by the prospect of going back [to France] in 1943’.63 This was only partly true, and to continue the analogy, Churchill might have been flirting outrageously, but Brooke was still only mildly teasing. Certainly neither had by then decided to go all the way.

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