The Mediterranean Garden Path: ‘I intended North Africa to be a springboard, not a sofa’ November 1942–January 1943

Prestige has surely been the most fruitful source of military mistakes since the beginning of time.

Major-General John Kennedy, November 19421

In his speech at the Mansion House dinner in London on Tuesday 10 November 1942, Churchill declared that the victories at El Alamein and Torch represented ‘perhaps the end of the beginning’ of the war. The phrase was originally thought up by Lieutenant-Colonel (later General Sir) Ridley Pakenham-Walsh when he was advising on Churchill’s four-volume life of the Duke of Marlborough in the early 1930s.2 When Churchill found a vivid phrase it often lodged in his brain to be called forth for later use; ‘fight them on the beaches’ first appears in relation to seal pups in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim.

Another famous phrase from that Mansion House speech–‘I have not become the King’s First Minister in order to preside over the liquidation of the British Empire’–would only have confirmed Marshall and others in their suspicion that Churchill wanted to recover Malaysia and Singapore in order to preserve the Empire almost as much as to defeat Japan. Churchill’s researcher William Deakin believed that the Joint Chiefs of Staff ‘felt lured into the Mediterranean…because they had to admit [not only] that the build-up for a decisive landing in northern France was far from completion, but that Mediterranean operations were essentially designed to further exclusively British interests–to preserve and control from Mediterranean bases the imperial route to Asia and the Far East’.3 It was undoubtedly what the Americans felt, but to what extent were they right?

King George VI’s principal private secretary Sir Alan Lascelles, writing in a diary that he too, as a public servant, ought not to have been keeping, noted of Torch that ‘Winston, in his speech, gave the credit for its original conception to Roosevelt; but I believe it belongs more truly to himself.’4 Rather like some inventions and scientific discoveries, to say nothing of political ideas, it is often hard to pinpoint exactly the authorship of successful military strategies. They cannot be patented, and after the war Brooke strongly denied that it had been Churchill or Roosevelt rather than his own Planning Staff who had thought up the idea. Yet judging by Dill’s strictures against Kennedy, Torch does not appear to have been a War Office concept.

Roosevelt himself spoke of the genesis of Torch at a meeting on 10 November with his vice-president Henry Wallace, House Speaker Sam Rayburn and the majority leaders of both Houses, Senator Alben Barkley of Kentucky and Representative John McCormack of Massachusetts. The President mentioned that the Moroccan and Algerian attacks ‘had been talked over with Churchill when he was here last June’. Wallace claimed that it had been thought of as early as December 1941, when he had given FDR a Christmas present of a book about the Mediterranean, with certain chapters marked up to imply that an attack in North-west Africa was recommended. Roosevelt replied that it ‘began to take more definite form in July of 1942 when Hopkins visited London but it did not really take definite form until…August’.5 In the words of Mussolini’s foreign minister Count Ciano, later appropriated by President Kennedy after the Bay of Pigs disaster: ‘Victory has a hundred fathers, but defeat is an orphan.’

Of course total victory in North Africa was far from imminent, perhaps partly as a result of the compromises made over Torch. As Ian Jacob told the author, ‘We should have insisted on going straight for Tunis and Bizerte…It would have saved us six months of battling along the North African coast.’6 Within hours of Torch, German forces were landing at Vichy-controlled airfields in Tunisia, and on 11 November they landed at Bizerte too, which the British had wanted to earmark as a Torch target only to be overruled by the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hitler’s decision to flood Tunisia with troops led ultimately to calamity after he refused to withdraw them, of course, but at the time they held up Kenneth Anderson’s eastward drive towards the Tunis Straits.

The strength of Marshall’s voice in the counsels of Allied strategy directly correlated to the numbers of Americans under arms. He kept up unrelenting pressure on Roosevelt over the size of the US Army, claiming in December 1942 that the Bureau of the Budget had privately fixed the strength of the Army in the calendar year 1943 at 6.5 million, whereas the President had approved the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommendation of a planned strength of 7.5 million, and denouncing the way the Bureau of the Budget ‘definitely limits the development of the Army’. He rather histrionically told the President that the Bureau’s figures ‘jeopardize our success in this war and should be revoked immediately’. Roosevelt replied the next day with characteristic sang-froid: ‘I wish the Government as a whole would talk in terms either of calendar year or fiscal year but not both!…Let me put it so clearly that there can be no misunderstanding. For Budget purposes the strength of the Army is fixed for an average of 6.5m for the calendar year 1943.’ Since the US Army numbered five million in January and would be seven million by December, the President patiently explained, like a mathematics teacher to a plodding pupil, that the average could not exceed 6.5 million. Furthermore, the Director of the Budget understood that he had to budget for equipment for 7.5 million by the end of 1943. ‘If the Army and Budget people will only do what I have written,’ he concluded, ‘they will see there is no argument between them.’7

It was a magisterial rebuke, and the figures still have the power to impress. An army of fewer than two hundred thousand when the European war broke out in September 1939 would grow into one of seven million–thirty-five times its size–a mere four years later. In divisional terms, the US Army had 37 trained divisions at the time of Pearl Harbor, 73 by Operation Torch, 120 by the summer of 1943 and 200 by D-Day. By contrast the British Commonwealth had seventy-five divisions by the summer of 1943 and hardly any more the next year.8 Nor was the American revolution confined to the Army; on 13 November 1942 a US shipbuilding yard built a standard 10,500-ton merchant vessel–a ‘Liberty ship’–in exactly four days and fifteen hours. Two days later the ship was fully equipped and ready for service. No other country or alliance could begin to match such efficiency and productive power.

Eisenhower’s recognition, immediately after Torch, of the former vice-premier of Vichy, Admiral Jean François Darlan, as political head of French North Africa, raised political hackles in both Britain and America. Nonetheless it had been Darlan who, as titular head of all French forces, had ordered his troops to stop resisting the Allies, turning Torch, a potentially dangerous operation, into what Kennedy correctly described as ‘a walkover’. To recognize someone who had actively collaborated with the Nazis was politically embarrassing for the Americans, however good their raisons d’état, and there remained for the next three years deep disagreements between the British and Americans over where true legitimacy lay with regard to the French leadership, state and (especially) Army. Yet as Churchill had intimated with his remark over rival ‘pet Frenchmen’, and was explicitly to state several times over to his own Foreign Office, he was not about to jeopardize his valuable good relations with Roosevelt over the issue, least of all not in favour of someone as clearly Anglophobic as Charles de Gaulle, however much he admired the general for his actions back in 1940. Churchill, no less than Eisenhower, accepted the iron dictates of expediency in this respect.

‘It is a queer situation in North Africa,’ noted Kennedy on 12 November. ‘The French are allowing the Germans to put forces into Tunisia without firing a shot while they have opposed us in Algeria and Morocco…The truth of the matter is that although the French hate the Germans I am afraid they hate us more.’ The Germans got over five thousand men into Bizerte and Tunis unopposed immediately after Torch, and their tenacity there had lessons for the Allies over Roundup, underlining the formidable capacity of the Germans to counter-attack invading forces, which were never allowed to keep the initiative for very long.9

On Sunday 15 November, a sleep-deprived Anthony Eden was at Chequers with Churchill, Smuts, Brooke and the other Chiefs of Staff for a meeting called by the Prime Minister ‘to drive on his ideas of offensive action’, as Smuts put it later. ‘A bad night,’ Eden lamented in his diary. ‘I don’t know why it is that Chequers never suits me. Cold still heavy, if not heavier and [his physician Dr] Rossdale’s cocaine makes me feel giddy.’10 Just before the conference started at 11 a.m. a telegram arrived from Eisenhower announcing the terms of his agreement with Darlan, against which Eden protested, before the meeting got on to future strategy in general and Italy in particular. The idea that the next stage of Britain’s grand strategy of the Second World War, primarily the proposed attack on Italy, might have been discussed with the Foreign Secretary self-confessedly ‘giddy’ on cocaine might have been a cause for concern had it not been an area where Churchill and Brooke fully agreed. Churchill had also mentioned Italy to Roosevelt in his cable of 22 September proposing action in northern Norway when he had written: ‘We might decide to do Jupiter instead of attacking the underbelly of the Axis by Sardinia, Sicily and even possibly Italy.’ So the Americans were not unaware of what the British now began to argue was the inevitable next stage of the war.

Captain Basil Liddell Hart believed that it was the tardiness of Eisenhower’s advance from Algeria into Tunisia that drew the Germans into moving such large reinforcements southwards across the Mediterranean in order to protect their Tunisian bridgehead, only to be ‘trapped with the sea at their back’.11 Had the entire German and Italian army in Tunisia–approximately a quarter of a million men–not been captured, they might well have stalled the later Allied advances into southern Europe. It might be, therefore, that the very lack of early success immediately after Torch paradoxically increased the successes later, given Hitler’s unwillingness to retreat even tactically, a characteristic that Allied strategists were about to note with glee.

At the Chequers meeting, Smuts stated that ‘there seemed to him to be no difference of opinion on long-term policy,’ even though Churchill had written a memorandum complaining that the Chiefs of Staff were insufficiently aggressive. Churchill and Brooke did disagree on the amount of stores, supplies and general non-military equipment the Army needed, however, with the Prime Minister pressing for a heavy reduction in the administrative ‘tail’ of the forces in North Africa. ‘The Army is like a peacock,’ Churchill complained, ‘nearly all tail.’ Not to be outdone by an ornithological reference, Brooke retorted: ‘The peacock would be a very badly balanced bird without its tail.’12

On 16 November, Churchill explained the Government’s position over Darlan to the War Cabinet. He said that Eisenhower had given a ‘convincing’ account of the political situation with regard to the French in North Africa, who after all still had four divisions in Morocco, three in Algeria and one in Tunisia. Darlan ‘is contemptible figure’, said the Prime Minister. ‘Whilst the French Navy was fighting, [he] was negotiating. He was now advising the French to fight against Germany.’ Churchill equally despised Giraud, who, he said: ‘1) signed a letter to Pétain saying he would behave, 2) then manoeuvred to get power for himself, 3) now he’s accepted a commission from Eisenhower to fight.’ Eden thought Eisenhower’s policy towards Darlan would outrage British opinion, and Churchill pointed out: ‘He’s not our C-in-C–Eisenhower is responsible to the Washington authorities. We can’t afford to upset Eisenhower just now.’ He concluded: ‘Eisenhower is our friend–grand fellow–we don’t want to get across him.’

Eden said that nonetheless the US authorities must be told ‘fairly soon’ that the Darlan position could not be stabilized, and that ‘When we get Tunis we ought to get rid of’ the admiral. A telegram was drafted to that effect. Brooke then reported on Algiers, Oran and Casablanca and added that the ‘French are [now] showing tendency to assist us,’ although the capacity of Casablanca harbour was severely restricted. The Eastern Task Force had landed 56,000 men, the Central 51,700 and the Western 37,000, totalling 144,700 men to the west of Rommel.13

The success of Torch raised a number of possibilities for the War Office Planners. At last the British Army was on the offensive, a new way of conducting warfare, although Churchill was never satisfied with the amount of ground covered, telling Major-General Sir Noel Holmes, the Director of Movements, ‘I intended North Africa to be a springboard, not a sofa.’ Among the scenarios that were now subjected to ‘urgent examination’ were projects for taking Rhodes and the Dodecanese Islands (Operation Mandibles); bombing Italy; invading Sicily; sending air squadrons to help the Russians in the Caucasus; ‘getting command of the Aegean again’, and using Smyrna and the other Turkish ports further north. ‘The Germans are now in a mess, although they are still tough and strong,’ concluded Kennedy. ‘It is the maddest thing ever done in military history to hold a two-thousand-mile front through the Russian winter.’14

Yet what every one of these plans had in common was that they involved what the American Planners were calling–comprehensibly if not felicitously–‘scatterization’.15 With an estimated total of thirty-six German combat divisions in the west in December 1942, Brooke considered it was still too early for Roundup, and certainly for Sledgehammer, although he could not have known that the number was only set to rise. Writing from the British Joint Staff Mission in Washington, Dill warned that ‘There are still a good number of people in authority here, who feel that we have led them down the Mediterranean garden path and although they are enjoying the walk are fearful of what they might find at the end of it.’16 Foremost among these was George C. Marshall.

For all this urgent new activity at the War Office–‘Winston issues notes urging on action everywhere and very soon,’ wrote Kennedy–Brooke still spent his lunch hours prowling around second-hand bookshops and hunting for gadgets for his bird-watching cameras, sometimes not returning until 4 p.m., although like Marshall he often continued working after supper. His contribution to the North African successes was recognized by the award of the Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath. With Churchill and Brooke now tending to agree on the big issue–that the next stage in the war ought to be in the Mediterranean rather than across the Channel–Brooke allowed himself to be irritated only by small issues, such as Churchill’s love of rodomontades during meetings. At one Defence Committee with ‘Winston holding forth’, he passed a note to Grigg saying ‘15 minutes gone and no work done’, which he subsequently altered to 20, 25, 30, 35, 40 and then 45, before the real business of the meeting began. ‘Winston is really stupid the way he tries his team,’ concluded Kennedy after he heard this. ‘I wish someone had the courage to tell him about it.’ (The only person other than the King who could, Clementine Churchill, had tried it successfully with a very direct note to her husband back in June 1940, but the effect had been temporary.)

At a War Cabinet on 30 November 1942, the crucial issue of the Russian attitude towards future Allied policy was discussed. Churchill read a telegram he had received from Stalin about the Second Front, and commented that the ‘Mediterranean must be regarded as an inadequate contribution to the battle. We must not only fool around in the Mediterranean. It would be a calamity if it got in Russia’s mind we were only going to contribute with Mediterranean next year.’ This does not prove that Churchill still felt that Roundup was a possibility for 1943, but more likely implies that he was still hankering after Jupiter, or even a force in the Caucasus to link up with the Red Army. To Stalin’s request for aircraft support in the Caucasus, Churchill said Britain should ‘make a definite contribution to the fighting. Don’t want to dismount our squadrons.’17 Of course Brooke didn’t want to ‘dismount’ them either, but merely to use them in North Africa.

On Wednesday 2 December, Brooke dined at Kennedy’s house, 98 Cheyne Walk in Chelsea, and was ‘in great form and kept us interested and amused with graphic stories of his dealings with Winston and his trips to Moscow and America. He is very loyal to Winston and always shows that even when he is telling a story at Winston’s expense.’ ‘Brookie’ then described his dealings with Churchill, especially his ‘extraordinary obstinacy. Like a child who has set his mind on a forbidden toy. It is no good to explain that he will cut his fingers or burn them. The more you explain the more fixed he becomes in his idea.’ When the Prime Minister became ‘quite immovable on some impossible project’, Brooke said it often meant only that ‘he will not give way at that particular moment. Then suddenly after some days he will come round and will say something to show that [it] is all right and that all the personal abuse has been forgotten. Winston is a bully and like all bullies is worse if you don’t stand up to him.’ Brooke further complained of Churchill’s tendency ‘suddenly to start using the arguments which have been put to him as his own–even to those who have originally produced them–and as if they were something quite new’. Although many subordinates complain about their bosses in much these terms, it is hard to see how Kennedy could justify describing Brooke’s monologue as ‘very loyal to Winston’.

Asked by another guest at their dinner à quatre, Jean Strathearn, who was ‘the biggest man’ out of Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill, Brooke said that since they were so different they could hardly be compared. ‘For instance, Roosevelt could never have rallied the country as Winston did after Dunkirk.’ This was surprising, and somewhat unfair, considering what Roosevelt had done in the difficult circumstances after Pearl Harbor, when the United States was not in danger of invasion. Brooke went on to say that ‘Winston had a very human and lovable side,’ and recalled how, when flying back from America early one morning, the Prime Minister had come up the plane to get a first sight of land, wearing his dressing gown and yachting cap and smoking a cigar, ‘and they peered down together through the clouds’. Churchill had said: ‘Do you know, I feel so thrilled. I can imagine the feelings of those men who first flew the Atlantic.’

What irritated Brooke most, he admitted, was being summoned to No. 10 ‘when undressed and about to get into his bath at midnight as often happens. Then usually to find that there is nothing definite to answer–only bluster to an indefinite conclusion.’ He wound up saying that ‘It is very hard to stick to important principles in late sittings. Sometimes you feel you must give way on something. Then in the morning you wake up and think “Now what did I do last night–was I too weak?”’18 With Alan Brooke, the answer was almost certainly no.

In early December 1942 the Allies suffered grave setbacks in Tunisia as the Germans counter-attacked successfully at Tébourba and forced the First Army under Anderson on to the defensive. Eisenhower had poured as many troops as he dared into the eastward move, and another attempt was made later in the month, but rain, mud, lack of supplies but principally exceptionally tough Axis resistance prevented the capture on 22–24 December of the strategically important ‘Longstop’ Hill which controlled the Madjerda valley in Tunisia. The realization that the race for Tunisia had been lost led to renewed fears in the British War Office that Eisenhower was not ‘skilful enough in command’. Nonetheless, Kennedy assumed that ‘Rommel would be finished off in a couple of months,’ and the Planners needed to agree what to propose to do next.19

It was at that point that Churchill made noises favouring Roundup, and produced, in Kennedy’s words, ‘a directive the gist of which was that we must stop our Mediterranean operations about June next and concentrate here again for an invasion of France’. The Chiefs of Staff were summoned to discuss this with him the same afternoon, where Brooke ‘gave it him pretty straight and said he would ruin everything by a premature attack in France’. Brooke claimed that the Germans had forty divisions to oppose Roundup–although some historians today dispute that figure–but just as importantly there was still a serious shortage of landing craft and other shipping necessary to get the forces over in time.

‘CIGS is quite determined to go flat out in the Med,’ recorded Kennedy.

We can waste the German strength there and tackle him on equal or better terms in outposts like Sardinia, Sicily, tip of Italy, Crete. We cannot develop an offensive on both fronts. The essential condition for France is still a crack in German morale and strength. Italy may be knocked out of the war by a combination of landing attacks and bombing. The Balkans are a weak spot for the Axis. If we can get near enough to bomb the Roumanian oilfields and cut the Aegean and Turkish traffic (chrome, etc) we can go far to hamstring the Germans…The Americans must meanwhile pour in here as fast as shipping will allow so that we may seize the opportunity to get back on to the Continent when the time is ripe. There is a real opportunity that the Germans may collapse within a year.20

Except for the over-optimistic last sentence, that was a fairly good appreciation of the way the next two years of the Second World War did develop, but at the time it must have seemed to Brooke that knowing Marshall’s desire for Roundup he had to work hard to get Churchill back on to the Mediterranean track, hence his giving ‘it him pretty straight’ at the meeting.

After a conversation with Archibald Clark Kerr, the British Ambassador to Moscow then on home leave, on the evening of 9 December, Brooke noted that it had corroborated ‘all my worst fears, namely that we are going to have great difficulties in getting out of Winston’s promise to Stalin, namely the establishment of a western front in 1943!’ That month, when the Western Allies faced only 6 German divisions in Africa, the Russians were fighting 183 on the Eastern Front.21 Clark Kerr argued that, without a Second Front to relieve him, Stalin might seek a separate peace agreement with Hitler, which the Führer would be mad to refuse. Brooke utterly discounted the possibility, however, as being domestically impossible for either dictator. In this he was being optimistic: the totalitarian dictators had signed a pact before and could have done so again.

The certainty that there would be another full-scale clash over grand strategy with Marshall was confirmed two days later, when a message arrived from Dill ‘giving insight into Marshall’s brain’. According to this excellent source, Marshall wanted ‘to close down’ all offensive operations in the Mediterranean once the Germans were expelled from North Africa, and then concentrate everything on Roundup, combined with a possible move through Turkey.22 This was to be the next great area of disagreement between Brooke and Marshall. At the time it seemed that, despite Brooke’s straight talking, Churchill agreed with the American more than with him. Brooke received a large Smithfield ham from Marshall, ‘as a US contribution to your Christmas dinner. I hope it reaches you in good condition. With it go my Christmas greetings with the hope that jointly we may have much to celebrate in the New Year.’ Included was Mrs Marshall’s recipe for its cooking. Brooke replied on Christmas Day with thanks for both ham and recipe, and added: ‘may all your hopes and ours for the New Year be fulfilled.’23 Sadly, they couldn’t both be.

Brooke was right that the titanic struggle between Stalin and Hitler over Stalingrad rendered it very unlikely that they would make peace; it would have meant Hitler giving up his eastern conquests, which was inconceivable. Yet to support the quarter-million-strong German Sixth Army trapped inside Stalingrad from the air would have taken 700 tons of supplies a day, and although Göring vaingloriously promised to provide this, it proved impossible, with only a fraction of that ever arriving. The blizzards and windchill factor reduced General Friedrich Paulus’ forces trapped within what they called the Kessel (cauldron) to frostbite and starvation, with most of the habitable buildings in the city already destroyed by the German bombing offensive that had rendered it a moonscape wilderness of rubble. Field Marshal Erich von Manstein’s efforts to relieve Paulus collapsed by 13 December, having got to within 35 miles of the city.

British strategists were cognizant of the enormous differences of scale between the war in the east and that in North Africa, and thus between the Russian and Western contributions to victory. As Kennedy wrote in May 1943 of the German Army Group A’s bridgehead on the Taman peninsula, south of the Sea of Azov, ‘It is a curious reflection that the Taman bridgehead is about the same size as the Tunisian final front and the number of Germans in it is about equal. Yet the Taman bridgehead is tiny in comparison with the whole Russian front.’24 The rout of the Italian divisions on the River Don between 16 and 20 December ensured that Manstein’s Eleventh Army would not now have another opportunity to try to relieve Stalingrad. Germany’s Operation Winter Storm–an unfortunate title considering what the weather was wreaking on the German defenders in Stalingrad–had failed.

At the War Cabinet of 14 December, Churchill asked if there was any truth to the story of a wholesale massacre of Jews in Poland ‘by mass electrical methods’. Eden replied that there was ‘Nothing direct, but indications that it may be true’, although the method could not be confirmed. Eden said that they did ‘Know that Jews are being withdrawn e.g. from Norway and sent to Poland, for some such purposes evidently’.25 He announced a joint declaration that committed the Allies to punishing Nazi war criminals.

Dill was meanwhile writing to Churchill about Marshall’s thoughts, which could not but provide further worries for Brooke. In a ‘Personal Important Most Secret Cypher Telegram’, he reported that Marshall was ‘very encouraged to know that your thoughts and his are running on the same lines, but he has made it clear to me that until he sees the full development of operations in North Africa and has the views of Eisenhower, his opinion as to our future strategy cannot be firm.’ Nonetheless Marshall was ‘more and more convinced’ that they should undertake ‘a modified Roundup’ before the summer of 1943. This would be possible only if, instead of exploiting Torch in the Mediterranean, ‘we start pouring American forces into England’. Marshall thought that that would be ‘much more effective’ than invading either Sicily (Operation Husky) or Sardinia (Operation Brimstone).

Roundup, Marshall felt, would be less costly in shipping, would be ‘more satisfying to the Russians’, would engage many more German air forces, and would also ‘be the most effective answer to any German attack through Spain’. It sounded as though, far from having no ‘firm’ idea of the next stage as he claimed, Marshall’s plans for 1943 were fairly well advanced. Of course it was precisely the size of the Luftwaffe in the west that made Roundup so impractical for Brooke, who also–rightly as it turned out–discounted the idea of a German advance through Spain, and for whom satisfying the Russians was at best a tertiary consideration, especially now that the German Sixth Army had been comprehensively encircled in Stalingrad with negligible prospects of escape.

‘Marshall would, of course, have liked to discuss these questions with you and the Chiefs of Staff,’ Dill told Churchill, ‘but as American and British ideas now appear to be so close there is, he considers, less need for such personal discussions.’ Indeed, Marshall was convinced that another high-level conference would be ‘a mistake’ because it might ‘make the Russians feel that they had been cut out of the decision-making’ and ‘were being asked to sign on the dotted line’, something they would ‘resent bitterly’ with possible long-term consequences. He also felt that the existing Anglo-American liaison channels–that is, Dill and the Combined Chiefs of Staff–ought to ‘clear our Anglo-American strategy in broad outline’ before another rendezvous, which Marshall thought ought to be Moscow rather than London. ‘I would add’, Dill told Churchill, ‘that these ideas as well as those on strategy have been given to me most privately “off the record”. They have not been discussed with the President.’26

Marshall was therefore communicating with Churchill behind Roosevelt’s back, but was he being entirely straightforward? Since he knew that Brooke did not support Roundup, either ‘modified’ or of any other kind, taking place before the autumn of 1943, it was obviously untrue that ‘American and British ideas now appear to be so close’ that a bilateral meeting was unnecessary. Marshall’s stated reason against a meeting, that he did not want the Russians to suspect collusion, was either naive or not the true reason. Of course the Soviets assumed that the Western democracies would forge policy together, indeed they were surprised later in the war when it seemed to be no longer so.

Since Marshall was anything but naive, it is far more likely that he was going behind Roosevelt’s back in order to collude with Churchill in agreeing that there should be no meeting between himself and Brooke before the next conference–which would in fact take place in Casablanca rather than Moscow–because he knew that British and American ideas over Roundup were not at all close, and thanks to Dill’s briefing he saw a way of splitting Churchill from Brooke. Furthermore, until quite late in the war he feared that Churchill would persuade Roosevelt into further diversionary courses of action. Oliver Harvey recorded on 15 December, ‘The PM and the American General Marshall are veering back to a Second Front this year, with increasing bombing against Germany, while leaving the Mediterranean action limited to the bombing of Germany, without invasion, opening the sea lanes to Egypt and bringing Turkey in if possible.’ As for a major conference, Stalin ‘refuses to leave Russia’; meanwhile ‘The PM is hankering after a meeting with the President…whilst trying to keep Stalin reassured.’27

The next evening saw another major policy discussion between Churchill and Brooke over a 1943 Roundup. With Portal, Pound, Eden, Mountbatten and Ismay also present, Brooke warned emphatically that the rate and scale of the American build-up in Britain were inadequate to allow a successful cross-Channel landing in 1943. He pointed out that the ‘magnificent’ German rail routes in western Europe would bring many more German troops to north-west France than the Allies could land during the same period. Instead, he preferred to try to hold forty German divisions in north-west Europe ‘by the threat of a cross-Channel operation’ while actually pursuing an Italian and ‘perhaps’ a Balkan strategy (the southern thrust into Austria via Yugoslavia).28

Churchill fully accepted Brooke’s facts and figures, but argued that a cross-Channel landing in 1943 ‘was still the better strategy, if only adequate forces for a successful re-entry to the Continent could be assembled in this country’. He said he was ‘prepared to agree’ with Brooke’s assessment that the figures proved this could not happen in 1943, and thus agreed with their conclusion, but ‘with the proviso’ that the figures were ‘confirmed in discussion with the Americans’. So there was no hope for an attack unless the Americans ‘could vastly improve’ on the number of troops, planes and landing craft they provided. They could; Operation Overlord in June 1944 was to involve more than eleven thousand aircraft and over five thousand ships.

‘If we were to adopt the Roundup policy we should have to shut down the Mediterranean very soon,’ stated Kennedy, who saw Brooke the morning after the meeting. ‘Even if we did we could not concentrate a force strong enough in the UK to give us the smallest chance of tackling the Germans on equal terms in France by the autumn of 1943.’ The time issue hung heavily on Brooke, because ‘In the meantime the Germans would have five or six months’ respite.’ Brooke concluded, and Kennedy fully agreed, that ‘The best and only way to engage the Germans, to wear them down, and to relieve the pressure on the Russians, is actively in the Mediterranean–especially against Italy.’ But how was he going to sell this policy to Churchill, Roosevelt and Marshall, who each seemed actively to want Roundup the following year?

The answer was that Churchill was not as wedded to a 1943 Roundup as he seemed. Brooke had gone off to the meeting ‘rather apprehensively and armed with quantities of statistics of shipping movement and German facilities for movement’, but told Kennedy afterwards that ‘to his surprise the PM had accepted the case as put forward’. Kennedy suspected that the Prime Minister had argued against Brooke primarily ‘so that he might firstly be sure himself that the calculations had been thoroughly worked out and secondly that he might know the case au fond in order to be able to convince the Americans’.29 If so, it would not have been the first time that Churchill had employed such devil’s advocacy. It is perfectly possible that, during the whole period that Brooke felt he needed to convince Churchill, all the Prime Minister was really doing was making the CIGS check and sharpen his arguments, the better for them both to prevail when next they met Marshall.

November and December 1942 saw a series of long, seemingly hard-fought meetings by which Brooke slowly brought Churchill round to the Mediterranean strategy. ‘Churchill and Brooke slugged it out, toe to toe, until Brooke won,’ records Pound’s biographer. ‘Churchill was deeply concerned that he had promised Stalin a second front in 1943, and even though Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff had reached agreement, Brooke was continually haunted by the worry that Marshall might win Churchill back to Roundup.’30 Despite that, Brooke continued to scorn Marshall, telling Kennedy after the Staff Conference of 16 December ‘that Marshall, who is still advocating Roundup, was no strategist and that his whole experience had been rather dealing with politicians and in organising the Army. He argued only on what would be put ashore on the beaches and in the ports in France but had no idea what was to be done next and what the plan of campaign should be and what the chances were of carrying it out.’

The trouble with having no set agreement for the next stage of the war, or even an agreement on whether to have a conference in order to hammer out an agreement, was that it impeded all longer-term preparations. In a War Cabinet discussion on building programmes for aerodromes, for example, the Minister of War Production, Oliver Lyttelton, needed to know, as he put it: ‘Is Bolero to stand, or be modified?’ There were 510 aerodromes then in use in the United Kingdom, with a further 106 under construction and 56 more projected, and important decisions needed to be taken soon. ‘Should we make Bolero provision or not?’ asked Bevin, who as minister of labour also needed to find an extra 115,000 men if so. Grigg said that Bolero was projected to involve nearly half a million men by April 1943, so the discussion then turned to the competing claims for building resources. At that point, Churchill admitted that the ‘Scale of Bolero needs re-examination.’

When Bevin reported that the recruitment of Land Girls–young female volunteers to work in agriculture–was being held up because of lack of housing, Churchill suggested a 20 per cent cut in airfields, and ordered that no new ones be built without further instructions. He stated that the maximum number of US divisions to be stationed in Britain by August 1943 would be fifteen. ‘We are preparing for twenty-seven divisions,’ he said (the full Roundup figure). ‘If they aren’t here till August, they won’t be any use.’31 Grigg asked whether, in terms of storage and hospital accommodation, the Planners might ‘Assume not more than 65% of Bolero [would be] needed in ’43?’ and this was then accepted by the War Cabinet. Here was a strong indication that Churchill was not committed to Roundup in 1943, even though he could not intimate that fact to Marshall.

That Christmas Marshall sent Roosevelt and Churchill two identical 4-feet-diameter globes for their offices. The President set his up directly behind his chair, so ‘I can swing around and figure distances to my great satisfaction.’32 On 19 December, Churchill made his Saturday-morning call to Eden, conjecturing about his next meeting with the President. ‘The delay is maddening as no plans for the future can be made meanwhile,’ he complained. ‘I don’t know whether to stand on my head or sit on my tail.’ Two days later X Corps of the Eighth Army recaptured Benghazi, the first time they had held it since January.

The War Cabinet of 21 December considered the question of making Rome an ‘open city’–that is, free from bombing on account of its religious, cultural and historical significance–which Churchill did not mind doing, but only because in his view there was ‘Nothing much in Rome worth bombing.’ ‘Yes, [the] railway,’ replied Brooke, and Portal added that vulnerable marshalling yards were just outside the city, which Grigg (wrongly) thought impossible to bomb without hitting the Eternal City itself.33 Rome itself was spared, in the end, although the marshalling yards were bombed.

On the issue of the internecine loathing among the French leadership in Africa, which he later likened to ‘a basket of snakes’, Churchill thought de Gaulle was ‘missing his market’, as his two rivals Giraud and Darlan were both consolidating their positions. As ever, the Prime Minister’s underlying worry was of falling out with the Americans, and of their thinking in terms of ‘our Darlan and their de Gaulle’.34 At the next Cabinet meeting, Churchill reported that de Gaulle was ‘in a high-stepping mood. Anxious to embroil us with the Americans’, which was something Churchill would never allow. Meanwhile Alec Cadogan feared that American policy in North Africa ‘is not being directed by State Department, but by Gen. Marshall!’

On Christmas Eve 1942, Churchill, Eden and Attlee lunched together at No. 10 after discussing policy towards Portugal. The Prime Minister ‘emphasised how much a key man R[oosevelt] was in the States’. In Britain whatever happened to Churchill himself, ‘or even all three of us’, there were enough ‘resolute men to carry on and see the business through. But in the US?’35 He didn’t think much of Henry Wallace, who had made a bawdy joke–‘and not a very good one’–at their first meeting, which Churchill had taken a few moments even to get.

When the news arrived later that day that Darlan had been assassinated by a French patriot in Algiers, Eden was delighted. ‘I have not felt so relieved by any event for years,’ he told his diary. The Americans supported Giraud, although de Gaulle still had his own long-term plans. For all that Churchill did not want to row with the Americans over which Frenchman’s writ would ultimately run in Africa, on other issues he was willing to stand up to them. In a discussion on a treaty with China over Kowloon, Eden had commented that it was ‘going to be tiresome. We shan’t get much support from US though they should support us.’ Churchill warned him about America’s ‘Readiness to give away our imperial rights. Don’t let us go any further than we have gone.’36Squabbling Frenchmen in Africa were one thing as far as the Prime Minister was concerned, the rights of the British Empire quite another.

‘I am afraid that Eisenhower as a general is hopeless!’ exclaimed Brooke in his diary, provoked by the slowness of the advance in Tunisia that Christmas. ‘He submerges himself in politics and neglects his military duties, partly, I am afraid, because he knows little if anything about military matters.’ Since Eisenhower had been a soldier all his life, and a notably successful one in all he had undertaken, this can be discounted as a typical example of Brooke’s habit of disparagement-therapy. Moreover the political situation in North Africa was almost as important as the military at that point. As minister resident at Allied HQ in North-west Africa, the Conservative MP Harold Macmillan had an important part to play in advising Eisenhower in his difficult negotiations between Vichy and the Free French. Meanwhile Eden, discussing with Churchill the growing anxiety of the Chiefs of Staff about the American handling of the North African campaign, concluded: ‘They are probably right but they are not free from blame themselves for failing to supply our people with good tanks.’37

The strategy of North Africa–Italy–France, stated the American historian Rear-Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison in an Oxford lecture series in the 1950s, ‘was a perfectly cogent and defensible strategy; but Sir Alan Brooke disclosed it only bit by bit, which naturally gave the Americans the feeling that they had been “had”.’ He cited Admiral King’s prediction that, once committed to the Mediterranean, ‘we would be forced to go on and on in that region and never be able to disengage.’38 Yet if Brooke had proposed North Africa as a stepping stone to mainland Italy and the Balkans, and possibly beyond, right at the start, the Americans would never have undertaken Torch. It is anyway very unlikely that Brooke was really ever seriously considering the Italian peninsula as an alternative when he was arguing against Sledgehammer back in April 1942.

By New Year’s Day 1943 there had been what Kennedy called ‘a crystallization of the differences between us and the Americans over the strategy for 1943, and the increasing distrust of Eisenhower’s conduct of operations in North Africa’. The fact that the British side of the push towards Tunis was under the direct command of his friend and close colleague Kenneth Anderson, but was making slow progress, probably left Kennedy all the keener to blame Eisenhower. Marshall wanted ‘to go for Roundup and to cut Mediterranean activity to attacks by air from North Africa and possibly Turkey, while in the Pacific they want to carry on the operations against Japan on a scale that we feel is bound to prejudice the main object of defeating Germany first’.

Meanwhile, by total contrast, Brooke wanted ‘to develop operations for the Mediterranean’, by which he meant attacking either Sicily, Corsica or Sardinia, and meanwhile put the ‘residue’ of US forces ‘into the United Kingdom pending the time when we can get back into the Continent without the certainty of defeat’. As for the Pacific operations, Brooke wanted ‘to cut them to the minimum required to hold Japan until Germany is defeated’. Since the gulf between these conceptions of future policy between Marshall and Brooke was so wide, it was evident that another conference was necessary, indeed overdue. Brooke was however willing to countenance such a thing only once he was confident that Churchill would not waver in his commitment to the Mediterranean strategy. Meanwhile the War Office Planners ‘had immense labour working out the shipping and other connected problems’ connected with the next stage of operations. This Staff work was to pay off handsomely later that month.

The War Cabinet discussion on colonial policy on 7 January 1943 found the Prime Minister in typically pugnacious mood. There had been some pressure for a Government statement on the future of the Empire, somewhat analogous to the Atlantic Charter, yet Churchill severely deprecated any ‘Time taken off the war in order to find a formula to gratify the Americans. Why should we apologize? We showed the world a model of colonial development. The only criticism is that we haven’t spent enough in the colonies,’ he argued. ‘Or defended them,’ slipped in Eden. ‘Not so,’ replied Churchill. ‘When the war ends, we shall find we have defended them all.’39 One of the main reasons Churchill wished British forces to recapture Singapore, Malaya and Hong Kong, rather than merely have them returned to him at a peace conference, was so that he could make precisely this argument. It was why he wanted a Far East strategy based on the Bay of Bengal rather than the more direct route to Japan centred in the south-west Pacific.

Lord Cranborne, the Colonial Secretary and a lifelong imperialist, pointed out that the pressure for an official statement had come from within the Government, not from Washington, and that it had been strong ever since the fall of Malaya. ‘Pressure, yes,’ retorted Churchill, ‘from people not in on the war.’ At this Eden pointed out that ‘Smuts, who is in on the war, favoured it.’ (The reason Eden brought up Smuts was that Churchill and Smuts had a relationship akin to a favourite nephew with his favourite uncle, ‘with the nephew’ in Tedder’s estimation ‘being Churchill’.)40 ‘Why bring this up now?’ asked Churchill. ‘We are busy enough with the war. If you do nothing, it will blow over.’ Yet the idea that nationalism in the former colonies then occupied by Japan might ‘blow over’ was sheer wishful thinking on Churchill’s part.

The Chiefs of Staff meeting the following day was one of those in which Brooke complained that Admiral Pound was ‘asleep 90% of the time and the remaining 10% is none too sure what he is arguing about’.41 Since the Americans left Washington the very next day for the Casablanca Conference, which was to involve nine days of hard and detailed negotiations deciding the whole future course of the war, it is extraordinary that Pound should have been allowed to stay in his vital role as operational head of the Royal Navy. The task ahead for the Chiefs of Staff–and especially Brooke–was mammoth. Brooke believed that Churchill supported his Mediterranean policy, but he now had to persuade Roosevelt and Marshall of it. If that proved impossible he and Churchill needed to try to split Roosevelt from Marshall, as they had managed to do over Torch six months earlier.

Locations where Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin might have met had included Iceland (turned down as too cold by FDR), Khartoum and ‘an oasis south of Algiers’. Churchill preferred Marrakesh, where he’d spent a happy month painting in 1936, but the communications were thought not good enough. Stalin then argued that he could not leave Russia at such a vital juncture in the war, and Roosevelt did not want to meet Churchill privately before conferring with Stalin, but Churchill felt that he and the President had to meet beforehand in order to frame a joint answer to the major question that Stalin needed answered: when would there be a Second Front in Europe?

Roosevelt stated that ‘for political reasons it would be impossible for him to come to London’. The next presidential elections were two years off, but he did not want to seem to be conforming to British-led strategy. Instead, Churchill accepted Bedell Smith’s suggestion of the small port of Fadala, 15 miles north of Casablanca where part of the Western Task Force of Torch had landed under Patton. In the event, the Anfa Hotel and its surrounding villas at Casablanca were chosen. Brooke was very fortunate indeed that Stalin did not attend the Casablanca Conference: had he been present it would have been far more difficult to win the commitment he hoped for, of only ‘limited offensive operations’ in north-west Europe for 1943, unless Germany suddenly collapsed.42

Marshall left for Casablanca at 9 a.m. on Sunday 9 January, flying via San Juan and Trinidad; he was to be away for twenty days in all. With him were Admiral King, Lieutenant-General Arnold, General Somervell, Sir John Dill, Brigadier Dykes and Brigadier-General John R. Deane, secretary to the Joint Chiefs. Meanwhile a second group comprising Roosevelt, Hopkins, Leahy, Captain John McCrea of the White House Map Room, the President’s doctor Rear-Admiral Ross McIntyre, Grace Tully and other secretaries and bodyguards left Washington at 10.30 p.m. from a secret railway siding under the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, in the presidential train bound for Miami. This had a drawing room, a dining room that sat twelve, and five state rooms, all protected against machine-gun bullets.43 In the unlikely event of anyone trying to impersonate Leahy, he was furnished with a letter on White House writing paper signed by the President stating that he was aged sixty-seven, was 5 foot 10 inches tall, weighed 162 pounds and had grey-brown hair and grey eyes.

The weather was too bad for a Clipper passage so it was decided to send Brooke, Pound, Portal, Mountbatten, Slessor, Leathers and Kennedy by two Liberator bombers from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire. Brooke was placed next to Mountbatten on the overnight flight, which he found very uncomfortable, ‘as every time he turned round he overlay me, and I had to use my knees and elbows to establish my rights to my allotted floor space!’44 This could serve as a metaphor for Sir Alan Brooke’s entire war.

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