The Hard Underbelly of Europe: ‘Total War requires total mobilization’ January–June 1943

Logistics Churchill disdained.

Sir John Colville, May 19821

‘It’s difficult to argue against success,’ wrote General Hull in his unpublished autobiography, ‘for the North African operation was a complete success. However, I still believe it was strategically a mistake.’ In order to capitalize on Torch’s success, he argued, the Allies were ‘practically forced’ into the long struggle ‘over extremely difficult terrain’ up the Italian peninsula. He went on to argue that there were twice the number of German divisions in France and the Low Countries in 1944 that there had been in the summer of 1943, which was not quite accurate but not far off. The phrase ‘mission-creep’, like ‘group-think’, is a modern one, but they both have applications for the Second World War. Under mission-creep, operations continue to be undertaken for reasons far removed from the original intention, because the conduct of the conflict has imperceptibly outgrown the reasons it was undertaken. That is what was to happen in Italy.

Ian Jacob believed that being expelled from North Africa ‘would be shattering for the Italians. Their vitals would be exposed to attack.’2 The surrender of Italy would present Hitler with a tough choice: either let her go or else reinforce her by taking troops from elsewhere, such as Russia and the Balkans. There was an aspect to the Führer that was only just becoming apparent to the Allied High Commands: it seemed clear from the orders that he gave both to Paulus in Stalingrad and to Rommel at El Alamein (and again in Tunisia) that he could not countenance even strategically justified withdrawals. This psychological disorder on his part–the result, perhaps, of going from corporal to commander-in-chief without the intervening stage of divisional command or Staff college–was to be a strategic blind-spot that was to be greatly exploited by the Allies over the coming months and years.

Interviewed by NBC television in 1958, Brooke explained how the British strategy for the Mediterranean was designed to draw out the Germans:

The soft underbelly of Europe was the whole of southern Europe including a portion of southern France, the whole of Italy and the whole of Greece, all of which Germany was defending, and all of which is difficult to defend. It’s like a series of fingers spread out into the sea. In order to defend it you’ve got to disperse your forces through it…We crossed over into Italy by defeating the Italian forces and wiping them off the map, forcing German detachments to take over the jobs that the Italians had been doing and to detain forces in Italy. That was the idea.3

On the day the Casablanca Conference ended, Churchill and Roosevelt drove 120 miles to Marrakesh, having a picnic lunch on the way, and stayed the night at the Villa Taylor, which had been built in 1927 by the American industrialist Moses Taylor and which had subsequently become the residence of the US vice-consul. It had a ‘Marvellous view of snow-capped Atlas’ mountains, as FDR told Daisy Suckley.

Churchill insisted on the President being carried up on to the roof of the Villa Taylor, ‘his paralysed legs dangling like the limbs of a ventriloquist’s dummy, limp and flaccid’ in the words of an onlooker, and together they watched the purple mountains changing colour in the setting sun. It was from that roof that Churchill painted his only picture of the war, despite taking his canvases and paint box on several trips. He gave it, a view of the minaret of Katoubia Mosque in Marrakesh with the Atlas range beyond, to Roosevelt. Inspector Thompson, who admittedly was a bodyguard rather than an art critic, remarked that ‘The whole scene was a riot of the colour from which he draws his inspiration.’4 After the President had been carried back down the tower, Churchill walked with Charles Moran among the orange trees in the garden. ‘I love these Americans,’ he said. ‘They have behaved so generously.’ It is unclear whether he was referring to their vice-consul providing the villa, or their agreeing to his Mediterranean strategy.

‘I saw him in bed and I think it was one of the most marvellous sights I’ve ever seen in my life,’ said Brooke of Churchill at the Villa Taylor, before going on to describe the lights on either side of the ‘ornate Moorish’ bed and how he was ‘wearing one of those two marvellous dressing gowns, which suited the ceiling, full of red dragons’.5 Brooke himself was staying at the Mamounia Hotel, where Jacob joined him for coffee–there was no tea on offer–in the garden. ‘The Hotel is said to be the finest in North Africa,’ enthused Jacob, ‘and I think it could lay great claim to the distinction. The public rooms are large and airy, and the bedrooms on the second floor are a dream, as they open onto balconies from which it almost seems as if one could touch the Atlas snows.’ The next day the CIGS went bird-watching. Churchill was still wearing his bedragoned dressing gown when he saw the President off from the aerodrome on the morning of Monday 25 January, and he himself left with Brooke shortly afterwards for Cairo and then Turkey.

It was while he was in Cairo that Brooke learnt from Portal that one of the Liberators returning home from Gibraltar with Planning Staff on board had crashed. The outer starboard engine had caught fire an hour away from the Welsh coast, and then it and its surrounding framework had plunged into the sea. When the pilot tried to land at Haverfordwest aerodrome, the inner starboard engine had cut out and then the bomber somersaulted and smashed into fragments. Vivian Dykes and Guy Stewart were asleep in the hold when they died instantaneously, and two others were seriously injured. Astonishingly, thirteen people on board escaped with minor injuries.

On Brooke’s instructions, the news was kept from Churchill ‘in view of tomorrow’s journey’. When it was broken to him once he had landed in Turkey, his thoughts naturally turned to what would happen were he himself to die. ‘It would be a pity to have to go out in the middle of such an interesting drama,’ Jacob heard the Prime Minister ruminate. ‘But it wouldn’t be a bad moment to leave. It is a pretty straight run now, and even the Cabinet could manage it.’6 The war saw a large number of prominent people die in aircraft crashes or shootings-down, including ‘Strafer’ Gott, General Sikorski, the Duke of Kent, Orde Wingate, Admiral Yamamoto, Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory, Marshal Italo Balbo, Major-General Vyvyan Pope, Sir Bertram Ramsay, Subhas Chandra Bose and of course Major Glenn Miller. Roosevelt and Churchill were brave men to undertake such arduous journeys at their ages. In all, Churchill made no fewer than nineteen journeys outside the United Kingdom between August 1941 and March 1945, none of them free from hazard.

Speaking to his assistant Bill Hassett, who had asked about the risks involved in flying to and from Casablanca, Roosevelt said the decisions could not have been arrived at any other way. ‘We were not getting anywhere in our plans for operations,’ he said. ‘The British joint chiefs would agree among themselves, but they could not reach an accord with our joint Staffs.’ Furthermore Roosevelt had to consider ‘the personal equation; the prima donna temperament’. If he sent Stimson to London, then the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, ‘would have thought he should go. It was the same between the Army and Navy in London. Churchill and I were the only ones who could get together and settle things.’7

At 7.45 a.m. on Sunday 31 January 1943, Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus (promoted by Hitler the day before in an attempt to dissuade him from surrendering) destroyed his wireless equipment–it must have been something of a relief to know there would be no more ‘Stand fast’ messages from the Führer–and was captured in Stalingrad after 162 days of the most gruelling campaign in the history of warfare.8 Hitler’s refusal to allow any attempted break-out from the 15-by-9-mile Kessel area had helped seal the Sixth Army’s doom. What happened next was almost biblical in its apocalyptical ferocity: of the 91,000 survivors of the Sixth Army and allied detachments who surrendered and became prisoners-of-war in Russia–more than 170,000 had already died in the fighting–only nine thousand ever returned home, many of them as late as the mid-1950s.

The immediate effect of the surrender was to make Roundup less likely in the short term as a necessity for relieving Russia, but more likely in the medium term as a means of exploiting the loss of German morale attendant upon the slow realization by the more perceptive of them that the odds had now tipped significantly against their winning the war.

On 3 February Churchill wrote to Roosevelt to say that Stalin was entitled to more precise information about the Casablanca conclusions, since ‘no one can keep secrets better’. He suggested that they should tell Stalin that they hoped to ‘destroy or expel’ a quarter of a million Germans and Italians in eastern Tunisia by April; that in July they would attack Italy with three or four hundred thousand men with the object of promoting an Italian collapse ‘and establishing contact with Yugoslavia’, and that ‘we are aiming at August for a heavy operation across the Channel’ of between seventeen and twenty divisions, supported by almost the entire metropolitan air force of Great Britain. Churchill concluded by proposing that they also ‘say that in accepting the conclusions of our Combined Chiefs of Staff, the President and the Prime Minister have enjoined upon them the need for the utmost speed and for reinforcing the attacks to the extreme limit that is humanly and physically possible’. Churchill added: ‘I have talked it all over with the CIGS who is in agreement.’9

Yet Brooke was simply not in agreement with the concept of an August 1943 date for Roundup, one month after Operation Husky, not least because some of the same landing craft were thought to be needed for both operations. Unless Churchill took refuge in the wording of the sentence–that these operations were being ‘aimed at’–it was disingenuous. Roosevelt was equally sanguine, however, replying: ‘I wholly approve of your view.’ He did suggest changes, such as replacing the word ‘Italy’ with ‘Sicily’ and saying that Roundup ‘must of course be dependent upon the condition of German defensive possibilities’, but otherwise he was just as over-optimistic as Churchill. His military aide, Pa Watson, commented to Marshall the next day that over Roundup the President ‘promises much more than can be done, even though the word used is “aiming”’. It seems that Churchill, Roosevelt and Brooke, and possibly Marshall, were taking refuge in lexical exactitudes in order not to fall out at that stage either with each other or with Stalin over the realities governing Roundup. Promising Stalin an August 1943 Roundup–or seeming to–suited each of their agendas at the time. They had done the same with Molotov the previous June, but in the long run it was very bad policy to mislead Joseph Stalin.

The first full Cabinet after Churchill’s return from his four-week journey on 7 February dealt with the threat of a fast by Mahatma Gandhi. Taking Brooke’s place at the meeting was John Kennedy, who recorded: ‘Winston thundered at the Cabinet and said that the line proposed by them and the Viceroy was much too weak–Gandhi should not be released on the account of a mere threat of fasting. We should be rid of a bad man and an enemy of the Empire if he died.’ Grigg then said that Gandhi was getting glucose in his orange juice, and another minister suggested that he was having ‘oil rubbed into him which was nutritious’, allowing Churchill to claim that this ‘is apparently not a fast, merely a change of diet’.10 In the event Gandhi was not released and completed his three-week fast in good health, though if he had died in gaol on a fast-cum-hunger-strike their decision would have haunted the Government for years.

The mood then lightened, and Churchill told the Cabinet a little of his African and Turkish visits. He and Brooke had failed to persuade Turkey to enter the war, which was the primary purpose of their visit. He said that British troops got a bad exchange rate for sterling in Algeria, but, after all, they ‘had nothing to spend their money on except oranges and women’. He teased Herbert Morrison by saying that the recent criticism of the former Vichy Interior Minister Marcel Peyrouton, then a Giraudist governor of Algeria, was not wholly justified: ‘After all, it may be a misfortune to be Home Secretary, but it is not a crime.’ He said he did not know whether Eisenhower was a good general or not, but he supposed that good generalship consisted largely of ‘sleight of hand’. He then reminisced about how he had had the President carried up the tower and on to the roof of the Villa Taylor in Marrakesh to see the sunset over the Atlas mountains: ‘One of the most lovely sights I know in Africa.’ All of this charm and good-natured badinage allowed him to vouchsafe the barest minimum to his colleagues in terms of the actual strategy agreed at Casablanca.

Between 16 and 21 February, Churchill suffered a bad bout of pneumonia, a serious problem for someone in their sixty-ninth year. It was during one such illness that Marshall told Churchill that he nicknamed pneumonia ‘the old man’s friend’. Churchill said: ‘Pray explain?’ to which Marshall replied: ‘Oh, because it carries them off so quickly.’ Moran recalled how jokes like that established Marshall ‘high in the PM’s favour’.11

Discussing the ban on visitors in ‘Invasion Areas’ along the south coast that had been in force since 1940, the War Cabinet later in February slipped neatly from maintaining the ban because of fear of a German invasion of Britain to maintaining it because of the hope of an Allied invasion of France. Herbert Morrison argued that there was ‘No justification for maintaining this ban unless very strong military reasons for it. [We] Don’t want to destroy the “invasion mentality”–but [the] public aren’t fools.’ At this point Grigg enlightened the Home Secretary: ‘Our main point is not that: it is preparations for offensive action. We shan’t want people unnecessarily to see what we are doing.’ Brooke then pointed out that ‘We shall later have to deny entry to [the] coastline: and over a wide area to provide cover.’12 These, again, are not the actions of officials who–as many American Planners would have had it–‘never’ wished to re-enter the Continent. Neither was the RAF’s systematic bombing of the European railway system which started on 6 March 1944.

The Allied offensive that took place in the gap in the Tunisian mountain chain called the Kasserine Pass opened on 14 February. It ended in an American defeat at the hands of Rommel five days later, although the Allies subsequently rallied to a fine defence. For the cost of 989 German casualties (and 535 captured Italians), the US II Corps suffered 6,600 killed, wounded and missing. It proved that there was still much to learn about equipment, generalship, tactics and above all the capacity of the Wehrmacht to counter-attack. All these had serious implications for a summer 1943 Roundup, to which all of the Masters and Commanders, even including Brooke, continued to pay at least a form of lip-service.

In early March several newspapers ran stories saying that Marshall was shortly to be appointed to command the Allied forces in Europe. Katherine Marshall later recalled that she read these comments and editorials and ‘was determined not to be caught napping. George had said nothing and I asked him no questions.’ Nonetheless she bought a second-hand trailer in readiness for any move. Marshall was meanwhile testifying before Congress trying to get a Manpower Bill passed that would increase the US Army to 8.2 million men. ‘Emergency manpower shortage cannot be met overnight,’ he told the special committee. ‘The 1944 army must be trained in 1943…Total war requires total mobilization of resources. This is not being done.’

Brooke and Marshall were meanwhile arguing over the American desire to ship arms to Giraud’s forces in Africa, which Brooke saw as a waste of shipping resources considering that the French ‘can play no part in the strategy of 1943’.13 The situation was not eased by the antics of de Gaulle, and on 3 March Churchill even threatened to have the Free French leader arrested. According to the verbatim minutes taken at the War Cabinet meeting by Norman Brook that day, Eden reported that de Gaulle had asked to visit his troops in North Africa. At a sensitive time between the Giraudist and Free French forces in the French colonial empire, it was feared that his always combustible presence might wreck the delicate balance of power there. When de Gaulle was told by the Foreign Office that the moment was ‘unsuitable’, he enquired whether he was ‘to regard himself as a prisoner’. Churchill suggested a form of words by which he should be told that it was ‘Not considered in [the] interests of the United Nations at this stage…that he should leave the country.’ As usual, he worried about Roosevelt’s reaction, urging Eden to ‘Think of the Americans, who believe us responsible for all de Gaulle’s acts.’14

Brendan Bracken then suggested that they should prevent de Gaulle from broadcasting from London, but Eden pointed out that the general couldn’t in any case ‘without pre-censorship by me’. Churchill said that the press should be asked not to discuss the issue, as the ‘Free French will try [to make] propaganda about [de Gaulle being a] “prisoner”.’ Attlee believed there would be trouble anyway, since ‘his reputation is higher than ever’. Churchill was adamant. ‘Put it quite bluntly,’ he said to Eden. ‘And arrest him if he tries to leave e.g. by a French destroyer. Security measures should be laid on to prevent that.’15 When discussions resumed on 15 March, Churchill said that de Gaulle was ‘actuated by personal motives’, and believed he had the ‘title-deeds of France in his pocket’. The Prime Minister concluded that Giraud was ‘a much better man: and de Gaulle was probably a bitter enemy of Great Britain.’16

On the same day that Churchill threatened to arrest de Gaulle, 3 March, 111 adults and 62 children were killed in Bethnal Green tube station in the East End of London, the worst non-military single-incident death toll of Britain’s entire war. When on 6 April the report commissioned by the Government was brought to him, Churchill was determined that it should be suppressed until after the end of hostilities. It revealed that public panic during an air raid had been responsible, rather than a direct hit by the Luftwaffe, which had been the official explanation. Churchill declared himself:

Against giving such limelight to this incident…It would give disproportionate importance, and be meat and drink to the enemy and an invitation to repeat. We will say the Report was received and considered: no need to publish it: and all its lessons are being vigorously applied. Why publish? The Government’s position is unassailable. Moreover, we said earlier there had been ‘no panic’: this makes clear there was panic and it was partly the cause: and this we are withholding.

The Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, disagreed, contending that the large number of deaths ‘shook the public’, and that refusing to publish the report would be taken as an admission that there was something to hide. He added: ‘We held off the discontented locals by the promise to publish the results.’ Attlee, who sat for the nearby Limehouse constituency, was concerned to ‘Make it clear that panic was not due to Jews and/or Fascists,’ which were two of the rumours swirling about at the time.17 In the event the report was not published until 1946.

Between 8 and 12 March 1943 the Eighth Army repulsed heavy German counter-attacks in Tunisia, foreshadowing the end of the German presence in North Africa. Reporting to the War Cabinet about the successes in the Western Desert, Brooke stated that the Churchill tank was doing well, and that the American forces in the middle sector were ‘almost back to where they were before the German attack’. As for the Eighth Army, there were ‘indications of German columns turning round and going back’.18 It was not all sweetness, however; on 22 March after the War Cabinet heard from Nye about the land advance on the west Burmese port of Akyab in the Arakan–in which nine Japanese battalions were fighting fifteen Allied ones–Churchill pronounced it ‘Very unsatisfactory. Though we outnumber [the Japanese] they outmanoeuvre us. No unit ascendancy on our part.’ Nye had to ‘Admit we are not as good as Japs at jungle warfare’, even though the Allies had superior weapons and, at 1,500 versus 2,500, fewer battle casualties.19 In the event Akyab stayed in Japanese hands until January 1945.

By 29 March the battle in Tunisia seemed to have turned against the Allies once again. After Brooke had given his report to the War Cabinet, Churchill said: ‘Not happy about fighting in the north, we uniformly had the worst of it. Looks as if Germany is beating us unit for unit, despite the fact that we have greater artillery than the enemy.’20 The terrible truth was–and it was not just true of the Tunisian campaign–that unit for unit the Wehrmacht regularly did indeed beat the British and American armies. The statistics are incontrovertible; in his intensely detailed studies of several hundred individual military engagements, the historian Trevor Dupuy has concluded that:

In 1943–44 the German combat effectiveness superiority over the Americans and British was in the order of 20–30%. On a man-for-man basis, the German ground soldiers consistently inflicted casualties at about a 50% higher rate than they incurred from the opposing British and American troops under all circumstances. This was true when they were attacking and when they were defending, when they had local numerical superiority and when, as was usually the case, they were outnumbered, when they had local air superiority and when they did not, when they won and when they lost.21

It was an astonishing achievement, and one that Brooke and Churchill reluctantly recognized privately but of course could never publicly acknowledge. The battles at Kasserine Pass, Anzio, Monte Cassino, Caen, Arnhem and the Ardennes forced the deeply uncomfortable fact upon both the British and American High Commands that the Germans, even in defeat, were formidable fighters against whom significant numerical superiority on the ground and in the air was needed.

The same day that the War Cabinet assessed Eisenhower’s slow progress in North Africa, Marshall met Harry Butcher who was on his way back to Algiers and told him to tell ‘General Eisenhower’–it was never ‘Ike’ with Marshall–to ignore the criticisms that were being made by the press and politicians, and also sotto voce in the armed forces. Marshall said he was ‘not to waste time on any effort to defend any of his past actions’ and ‘not to waste his brain power’ over it. ‘The General said Ike’s rise or fall depended on the outcome of the Tunisian battle,’ recorded Butcher. ‘If Rommel & Co. are tossed into the sea, all quibbling, political or otherwise, will be lost in the shouting of a major victory.’ It was doubtless meant to be highly supportive, but if Marshall really did use the phrase ‘or fall’, it would have concentrated Eisenhower’s mind wonderfully.

On 30 March Churchill was asked in the Commons how many fronts His Majesty’s forces were engaged upon, to which he replied ‘three fronts–in North Africa, in Burma and in the South-west Pacific…His Majesty’s ships have to operate continuously on all the oceans of the globe. The areas in which our air forces are engaged may be defined as follows: Western Europe, the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, India and Burma, the Pacific.’ Another member asked whether, therefore, the use of ‘that very misleading phrase the Second Front ought to be discontinued’. Churchill was not about to fall into any trap over this, since any public criticism of the phrase might be misinterpreted by the Soviets, so he said: ‘No, sir; I do not want to discourage the use of it, because our good friends, fighting so hard, know very well what they mean by it.’

An aspect of foreign policy that was to bedevil both Britain and America–naivety about the true post-war intentions of the USSR–emerged at the War Cabinet of 13 April when Anthony Eden reported on his recent visit to the United States. The Foreign Secretary said that Roosevelt had asked him whether he ‘thought that Russia would want to “Communise” Europe after the war’, and he replied that he ‘did not think so, and that he thought one of the best ways of avoiding this was that we should do what we could to keep on good terms with Russia’.22 As the verbatim reports make clear, the Churchill ministry was just as naive as the Roosevelt Administration about Stalin’s true purpose, which was to bring as much of Europe under the Soviet heel as he could. Kennedy recorded that one delegate from a British military mission to Moscow in December 1941 had declared that Stalin was ‘like a clergyman, another [that he was] like a respectable old farmer, another that he was like a great cat. All agreed that he was quiet and shrewd and absolutely ruthless.’23 It seems that far too many people in the higher directorate of the war concentrated too much on the worthless first parts of this analysis rather than the accurate last four words.

In the course of a War Cabinet discussion about the command structure of Husky, Churchill reported that the Joint Chiefs of Staff wanted an American-led enterprise. ‘We have suggested it would be administratively convenient to have a British commander and joint staff all under Eisenhower. But we may have to argue on the basis that command goes with major forces…And no US Navy goes inside the Mediterranean. On this, Husky couldn’t be more than equal share. I don’t feel we should give way.’24 The Cabinet agreed. The result was that Montgomery and Patton were given equal billing in the invasion of Sicily under Eisenhower, which was to lead to much competition and animosity between the two generals, and just as many headaches for their superiors.

By late April 1943, Brooke and Churchill were considering what should happen after Sicily fell, fearing that Marshall might refuse to attack mainland Italy, but instead demand that everything should be concentrated on a cross-Channel attack. ‘I was conscious of serious divergences beneath the surface,’ Churchill wrote later, ‘which, if not adjusted, would lead to grave difficulties and feeble action during the rest of the year.’ So he wrote a telegram to Roosevelt offering to be with him by 11 May, along with Brooke, in order to discuss the exploitation of Husky, the future of Anakim, the shipping situation and ‘a number of other burning questions’.

The month originally envisaged for Roundup–May 1943–saw forty-two German divisions stationed in the West. Although the Roundup plans envisaged forty-eight divisions landing eventually, that would not now be enough, even supposing ‘there had been sufficient assault shipping to lift them, or merchant shipping to supply them, or aircraft to cover them, or signals intelligence to guide them, which in each case there was not’.25

After tea on Saturday 17 April, Churchill called Brooke about a wire he had received from Marshall suggesting that the attack on Sicily should take place even before Tunisia was finally cleared of Axis forces. ‘Quite mad and quite impossible,’ was Brooke’s reaction to the idea of simply undertaking Husky seemingly regardless of the fact that over two hundred thousand enemy troops were still holding out astride the Allied supply lines, ‘but PM delighted with this idea which showed according to him “a high strategic conception”. I had half hour row with him on the telephone.’26 North Africa was only finally cleared of Germans and Italians in May, just two months before Husky was launched. The whole discussion merely confirmed Brooke in his low appreciation of Marshall’s grasp of strategy, and of Churchill’s. The advent of the ‘Trident’ Conference in Washington therefore filled Brooke with foreboding. ‘I do NOT look forward to these meetings,’ he wrote, ‘in fact I hate the thought of them.’ It had been less than four months since Casablanca, and Brooke was not constitutionally attuned to debate, preferring to give orders rather than to discuss them. He did not trust the Americans’ good faith, fearing that the meetings would involve many hours of argument and hard work defending Germany First, after which ‘they will pretend to understand, will sign many agreements and…will continue as at present to devote the bulk of their strength to try to defeat Japan!!…It is an exhausting process and I am very very tired, and shudder at the useless struggles that lie ahead.’ After the war, Brooke blamed the diversion of American effort into the Pacific for the fact that the war went on as long as it did. The accusation of prolonging the war was a surprisingly common one among strategists, even though it was about the most serious one imaginable.

Trident was necessary, however, as the prevailing sense between the British and American Staffs at this period was one of deep mutual suspicion. Just as Marshall and his Planners in the OPD of the US War Department suspected that the British never wanted to invade France, so too Brooke and the War Office Planners in Whitehall suspected that Marshall was resiling from the Casablanca final report, and sending resources to the Pacific that should have been allocated to Bolero and the Mediterranean. King, meanwhile, was still suspicious that the British would drop out of the war against Japan once the United Kingdom was finally made safe by the defeat of Germany. Conversely, Wedemeyer, Stilwell and others were suspicious that if Britain pursued the war against Japan vigorously it was merely to re-establish her Empire and block off American interests in the Far East.

Such was the atmosphere when at 6.30 p.m. on Tuesday 11 May the British party reached Washington, where it was met by Roosevelt, Marshall, King and Dill. They all went straight into a cocktail party in a large hotel, before Brooke moved into Dill’s house. The British again fielded a large team: Sir Alan Lascelles thought it dangerously so, complaining that Churchill ‘took with him, in the Queen Mary, the three Chiefs of Staff, Cherwell, all the Planners, the three Commanders-in-Chief in the East (Wavell, Peirse and Somerville), Leathers, Ismay and Jacob, the secretaries to the War Cabinet, and Beaverbrook. “Was für Plunder”, as any young Blücher in an Atlantic U-boat might exclaim.’27

Although the great liner sailed far faster than any German submarine, zig-zagging for further protection, it was a reasonable criticism. To confuse the enemy, notices in Dutch had been posted around the ship, intending to deceive spies into believing that it was Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands rather than Churchill who was the mystery VIP passenger.

On the day the Trident Conference opened, Wednesday 12 May, General Jürgen von Arnim surrendered in Tunisia, and over 230,000 Axis troops passed into captivity, though not Rommel himself, who had been recalled to Germany shortly beforehand ‘on health grounds’. It was a great victory after thirty-two months of fighting backwards and forwards along the North African littoral; it had proved that major opposed amphibious assaults could work, and that the Western Allies could co-operate successfully on the field of battle. Yet could they still co-operate successfully in the conference chamber? Between 13 and 25 May there were fifteen meetings of the Combined Chiefs of Staff–the eighty-second through to the ninety-sixth–as well as six plenary sessions of military officials with Churchill and Roosevelt at the White House.

‘The PM spoke at length on the advantages that would accrue to the Allied cause by a collapse or a surrender of Italy through its effect on the invaded countries of the Near East and Turkey,’ wrote Leahy of the opening meeting in the White House on 12 May. ‘In regard to a cross-Channel invasion in the near future it is apparently his opinion that adequate preparations cannot be made for such an effort in the spring of 1944, but that an invasion of Europe must be made at some time in the future.’ Churchill spoke of the psychological effect of ‘a definite break in the Axis conspiracy’, and of the withdrawal of Italian troops from the Near East, and of the chances of bringing Turkey on to the Allied side.

Churchill’s rhetoric about how he ‘passionately wanted to see Italy out of the war and Rome in our possession’ shows the degree to which grand strategy can be directed by considerations other than strict military logic.28 Sir Michael Howard has written that ‘For Mr Churchill himself, and perhaps for the commanders of the victorious British armies in Africa, the impulse to carry the battle into Italy was emotional as well as strategic.’ To force Italy out of the war and overthrow the strutting, bombastic Mussolini, the butt of so many of the Prime Minister’s best jibes–‘This whipped jackal Mussolini is frisking up by the side of the German tiger’–was a principal British war aim, just as a modern-day triumph through the streets of Rome could not but appeal to the historian and romantic in Churchill.

Leahy’s diary reveals his own profound suspicions of the British in his complaint that Churchill had ‘made no mention of any British desire to control the Mediterranean regardless of how the war may end, which many persons believe to be a cardinal British national policy of long standing’. In fact control of the Mediterranean had not really been a British policy objective since Nelson’s day. Leahy nonetheless seemed impressed that Churchill had described the group assembled in the Oval Office as ‘the most powerful group of war authorities that could be assembled in any part of the world’ (except, of course, in the Kremlin on any day of the week).

In reply, Roosevelt advocated a cross-Channel invasion at the earliest practicable date. He expressed opposition to any Italian adventures beyond the seizure of Sicily and Sardinia, and stated that the air transport line from India to China must be opened without delay, and that China must be kept in the war at all costs. He directed his Staff to look into the military possibilities of invading Bulgaria and Roumania via Turkey, however, promising to ‘investigate the political possibilities of such a move’ himself. Churchill added the idea of an attack on Sumatra, which he described as ‘lightly garrisoned’.29

Churchill opened his remarks by saying that the last time he and Brooke had been in the President’s Office was when Tobruk had fallen. ‘It was not a very happy beginning,’ Hopkins told Moran.

The Americans had not forgotten the occasion. They had gone to the White House to clinch the plan for the invasion of France, when news had been brought to them of the disaster. Then in some manner–they were even now not quite clear how–they found themselves agreeing to the diversion of ships and troops to North Africa that were meant for the invasion of France. They could not help admiring the PM’s gift of dialectic, but they had made up their minds that it was not going to happen again.30

The memory of the Tobruk news affected Brooke too. ‘I could see us standing there and the effect it had on us,’ he later wrote. ‘I felt rather as if in a dream, to be there planning two stages ahead, with the first stage finished and accomplished.’31

Just like Churchill, Brooke started off his meetings with Marshall badly. He ought to have reassured the Americans by making positive noises about some aspects of a future Roundup in 1944, but instead he left them deeply suspicious by painting a vista of victory in the Mediterranean. He also went badly wrong by mentioning various Greek and Turkish islands in the Aegean as places that might be captured next. This merely increased American suspicion that the British were looking to their supposed post-war eastern Mediterranean and Middle Eastern interests and ambitions, rather than concentrating on early re-entry into France.

At one Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting Marshall likened Brooke’s strategy to ‘a suction pump’ that would–if the Allies were to land in mainland Italy–suck enough troops from Roundup to leave it a mere Sledgehammer-sized operation. In order to prevent this, Marshall forced Brooke to agree at Trident that if the mainland of Italy were invaded after Sicily, three British and four American divisions would be withdrawn from the Mediterranean for Roundup by 1 November 1943. Without such an agreement, Marshall intimated, there could be no invasion of mainland Italy. Brooke duly promised. He was to regret it ever after.

When Moran, who seems to have conducted extraordinarily sensitive conversations on strategy even though he was only Churchill’s doctor, asked Hopkins what Roosevelt made of Churchill’s belief that Italy’s surrender might be the beginning of the end for Germany, the answer came: ‘Not much. This fighting in Sicily does not make much sense to him. He wants twenty divisions, which will be set free once Sicily has been won, to be used in building up the force that is to invade France in 1944.’ Churchill nonetheless convinced himself that, if he could only get Marshall out to Eisenhower’s headquarters in Algiers, ‘it would all be plain sailing’ and the general would agree with him about the need to invade mainland Italy. Moran personally believed that Churchill’s optimism was ‘interfering with the cold functioning of his judgement’, and in this he might well have been right.32 Even though Moran’s diaries need to be treated with a degree of wariness, since he wrote them up after the war from contemporaneous notes, this sentiment rings true. Marshall was far too objective a judge to be swung around by a trip to Algiers.

The next day, Thursday 13 May, Brooke gave the Combined Chiefs of Staff a presentation on global strategy that indicated for Leahy ‘that the British will decline to engage in 1943 in any military undertaking outside the Mediterranean Area’. Since Roosevelt had directed Leahy to press for an Anglo-American invasion of Europe ‘at the earliest possible date’, disagreements flared up immediately.33 The meeting left Brooke ‘thoroughly depressed’, which a tour of the brand new Pentagon building with Marshall and a quiet dinner alone with Dill did little to alleviate. Roosevelt, vigorously supported by Marshall, said he ‘feared that this [the British approach] meant a lengthy pecking away at the fringes of Europe’. Presidential elections beckoned in November 1944, and he wanted a definite commitment to a cross-Channel operation taking place before then.

Brooke opened the Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting at 10.30 a.m. on Friday 14 May by telling the Americans frankly that the British Chiefs of Staff did not agree with their views on global strategy. Stilwell followed, saying that he disagreed with most of what the British thought too. They then all lunched together, and went to the White House to discuss Burma with Churchill and Roosevelt, who both made opening remarks. Then Wavell spoke, followed by Somervell who contradicted him, followed by Stilwell who disagreed with them both. ‘I remember feeling the absolute hopelessness,’ wrote Brooke after the war. ‘The Americans were trying to make us undertake an advance from Assam into Burma without adequate resources.’ Of ‘Vinegar Joe’ Stilwell, Brooke was predictably dismissive (‘a small man with no conception of strategy’), noting that he had a ‘deep rooted hatred of anybody or anything British!’34 Stilwell’s biographer, Barbara Tuchman, described Brooke as ‘a small, dark, unamiable man who disliked Americans and vice versa’, which was wrong in almost every instance. He did not dislike Americans in general, just Stilwell (and a few others, such as Cooke) in particular.

Meanwhile Stilwell recorded in his own diary that he had ‘locked horns with Brooke to King’s delight’, on specifics rather than over general policy.35 The British attitude towards Operation Anakim was characterized by Stilwell as ‘can’t–can’t–can’t’. Since Roosevelt, Churchill and Brooke were lukewarm towards Anakim, no amount of eloquence from Stilwell could have brought the Allied High Command behind it. By the end of the day, relations between the two negotiating teams had clearly become fraught, so it was very welcome when, at the weekend, Marshall and McNarney invited the six British Chiefs of Staff and Commanders-in-Chief as their guests to Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia. Today such ‘getting to know you’ weekends in hotels among work colleagues–sometimes nicknamed ‘awaydays’–are a common business practice, but in the 1940s they were not. Yet that is essentially what this was intended to be, rather than the more traditional ‘Friday to Monday’ of the British country-house weekend. The idea was that the British and Americans would relax and interact socially, thereby lowering the temperature and helping to dispel the mutual suspicion that was tending to poison their counsels. If they got to know one another as individuals, so the reasoning went, they would be able to trust one another as comrades in the great combined purpose. Ismay said afterwards that the weekend was ‘beautifully arranged, had given them all a chance to get to know one another, and there had not once been a mention of the war. Otherwise, during a fortnight of meetings, discussions had been frank, at times bitter.’36

It was organized by Marshall’s personal aide, Frank McCarthy, who had a meticulous eye for detail. McCarthy had been born in 1912 near by in Richmond, Virginia, and like Marshall he attended the Virginia Military Institute, after which he became press agent to the theatrical producer George Abbot in New York. He joined the US Army Reserves on hearing an inspirational radio broadcast by John Wheeler-Bennett on the night of France’s surrender in June 1940, which the young assistant director of the British Press Service in New York had begun with the words: ‘Tonight my country stands alone–alone–before the embattled might of totalitarian Europe.’ By 1941 McCarthy was Marshall’s military secretary and in 1943–5 he was secretary of the War Department General Staff. After the war he co-produced magnificent war movies such as MacArthur, Decisions before Dawn and the 1970 Oscar winner, Patton. (Marshall, naive in some social matters, constantly but in vain introduced the handsome young McCarthy to attractive single women such as Joan Bright, not realizing that he was homosexual.)

The Williamsburg Inn where the two parties stayed had been built in 1936 by John D. Rockefeller Jr, who ordained that it should combine ‘comfort, convenience and charm’, but that it must not compete in splendour with the Governor’s Palace or the Capitol in Colonial Williamsburg, which he had been restoring at vast expense. McCarthy allocated Marshall Room 212, one of the smallest in the Inn, because ‘General Marshall especially desired that no particular attention be paid to him.’ Brooke was three doors down in 215. A new table was built for the thirteen (clearly unsuperstitious) guests who sat around it on the Saturday night, and the pitch of the swimming-pool lights was altered so as not to throw a glare in diners’ eyes. William Johnson, Rockefeller’s butler, was specially brought down from New York to supervise the food and service. The terrapin for Saturday’s dinner had to simmer in its own juices for two days in the Union Club in New York, before Johnson carried it down to Richmond on the upper berth of a Pullman.

Marshall’s plane arrived at Langley airfield at 3.52 p.m. and the British party five minutes later. From Langley they drove up Route 17 to Yorktown, hardly the most tactful of destinations for British guests. Marshall later recalled that, after stopping the car at the Yorktown Victory Monument, ‘I announced that they were engaged in a peaceful, and I hoped pleasurable, visit. I did not want them to pass by the historic spot that marked the virtual close of our American Revolutionary War–Yorktown–the site of Cornwallis’ surrender to George Washington. There was much laughter, but I was somewhat humbled to find one or two who had no recollection of that event.’

In his car, General Marshall’s conversation turned to duck-hunting and he told Pound and Wavell that he had found time to go only twice in the previous two years. Pound swanked about a hunt in India where his party had shot 1,656 ducks. Meanwhile, in the other car with McNarney, ‘General Brooke remarked about the birds and endeavoured to identify as many as he could.’ They spotted a hawk on the way into Williamsburg, which afforded the falconry expert Charles Portal a good line of conversation. On the way to tea at the Raleigh Tavern, Marshall was told that the large numbers of people lining the route had turned up in the hope of seeing Winston Churchill.37

Before dinner at the Williamsburg Inn on Saturday night, some British officers went for a swim in the pool–Portal dived in and momentarily lost his over-large swimming trunks–while others played croquet on the south terrace.38 By the time they reconvened in the hotel lobby for mint juleps at 7.45 p.m., in front of roaring fires, it was clear that the weather meant they would have to eat inside. Marshall sat at the head of the table, with Pound on his right, Brooke on his left and McNarney at the far end. For Britons who had survived two-and-a-half years of rationing, dinner was sumptuous. A crabmeat cocktail was followed by Terrapin à la Maryland, drunk with Harvey’s amontillado. For the rest of the dinner they drank 1929 Heidsieck Dry Monopole champagne. There was fried chicken in cream gravy, fresh asparagus, a Virginia ham, Canadian cheddar, and strawberry ice cream. The conversation at dinner was ‘lively and interesting’, and studiously avoided anything to do with the war. Marshall told of the time in April 1942 when his plane had been grounded at Bermuda on the way to the Modicum Conference and he read the lesson in church the next morning. Afterwards a woman ‘threw her arms around his neck and kissed him roundly’.

After dinner Marshall invited the guests to retire to the drawing room for coffee and brandy, and ‘urged all of them to forget about the future for the time being and let their thoughts dwell on that interesting period in the past when Williamsburg was the capital of England’s most important colony’. At 11 p.m. they visited the palace of the royal governors, admiring the authenticity of its furnishings, the beauty of the flower arrangements and the charm of its gardens. Marshall played a tune on an antique spinet. Admiral Pound got lost in the maze and had to call to his colleagues to rescue him, a couple of whom promptly got lost too.39 When they visited the Governor’s council chamber, Marshall remarked: ‘Gentlemen, why don’t we just sit down here and continue the meeting where we left off a few hours ago?’ But of course that wasn’t the point of the exercise at all.

‘I kept on feeling I had been transported back to the old days, and expected the Governor to appear at any moment,’ Brooke told his diary. He was also enchanted by the flower arrangements in the mansion, done ‘on historical principles’, and by the way clothes were laid out, the chessmen on a board, gloves on a table and books pulled out for reference, all ‘as if the house was inhabited’. There was undoubtedly a romantic, almost whimsical side to the flinty Ulsterman. They left at midnight, each in turn shaking hands with Fleming, the palace’s usher. Marshall later told Admiral Stark that his guests ‘appeared to enjoy it thoroughly, examining everything minutely and at great length. The Sea Lord and the Air Marshal even went swimming, in water too frigid to tempt anyone else.’40

On Sunday morning, after ham and eggs on the terrace, Marshall and Brooke became engrossed watching a robin redbreast feed her young in a pine tree. Marshall asked the innkeeper whether there were any orioles in that part of the world, and was told there were. They made a tentative plan to view some later. Marshall’s modesty also led to his asking for a less conspicuous pew than the Governor’s in Bruton Parish Church, where they all attended the Sunday-morning service. Admiral Pound read the lesson, St Matthew 6 verses 19 to 34, from a Bible donated by King Edward VII on the tercentenary of the founding of the Episcopalian Church in America. ‘Take therefore no thought for the morrow,’ he read; ‘for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.’ It was a perfect summation of the weekend.

Unfortunately, before Marshall and Brooke could go looking for orioles–‘Behold the fowls of the air’ had featured in Pound’s reading–Marshall and Portal were called off at 10.50 a.m. to see the President and Churchill at Shangri-La (now Camp David). They flew to Washington and then on to Hagerstown, Maryland, where they motored up into the mountains. One wonders what Brooke felt about the others conferring without him. Since the discussions were about Eisenhower’s reception of Marshall’s plans for Sicily, they did concern him, but Churchill probably did not want to interpose the CIGS into what was primarily an American matter. In 1955, Marshall recalled to a would-be biographer that he was ‘most impressed’ by Brooke and the other Britons that weekend.

Some swam, some occupied themselves in photography (Lord Wavell), but Alan Brooke, with his field glasses, devoted his time to a study of the Virginia birds in that locality. His persistence and his pleasure in his task were very appealing. We had been having a very hard time in Washington reaching agreements, but the weekend in Williamsburg with no business discussions cleared the air entirely.41

Back at the Inn there were mint juleps before Sunday luncheon–lobster salad, cold Virginia ham, cold roast turkey and crabflake soufflé–and then they returned to the airfield for the 160-mile flight back to Washington and a Chiefs of Staff meeting at 5.30 p.m.

In a novel, the Chiefs’ sojourn together would have brought a miracle breakthrough in negotiations, with spontaneous Anglo-American trust and unity breaking out the very next morning. The reality of global war was different. ‘Another very disappointing day,’ recorded Brooke, after a long strategy meeting on Monday 17 May, ‘which led us nowhere.’ He put this down to national characteristics, and the supposed fact that ‘the American mind likes proceeding from the general to the particular, whilst in the problem we have to solve we cannot evolve any form of general doctrine until we have carefully examined the particular details of each problem.’ Brooke had to admit, however, that the major problem ‘really arises out of King’s desire to find every loophole he possibly can to divert troops to the Pacific!’42

Trident is regarded as one of the most ill-tempered and rancorous of all the wartime summits, not least because after their perceived ‘defeat’ at Brooke’s hands at Casablanca the Americans were determined not to lose out again. Leahy had to admit to the Chinese representative in Washington, Dr T. V. Soong, that information regarding aircraft shipments to China could not be given him ‘because of the present unsettled state of the Staff conversations’.43 Only very slowly did the bare outlines of anagreement for a spring 1944 cross-Channel attack, to take place after an invasion of mainland Italy, emerge from the hard-fought negotiations.

‘The Americans are now taking up the attitude that we led them down the garden path taking them to attack North Africa!’ noted Brooke on Tuesday 18 May. ‘That at Casablanca we again misled them by inducing them to attack Sicily!! And now they are not going to be led astray again.’ Only half jokingly he added, ‘before long they will be urging that we should defeat Japan first!’ Re-reading his diaries after the war, Brooke admitted that it was ‘evident’ that he ‘went through a phase of deep depression’ during Trident. He blamed this on the Americans who ‘still failed to grasp how we were preparing for a re-entry into France through our actions in the Mediterranean’.

Yet again he listed the advantages of the Mediterranean strategy as having opened up that inland sea, ‘and in doing so had regained the equivalent of about a million tons of shipping’, taken a quarter of a million Axis prisoners in Tunisia–roughly the same number as were killed or captured at Stalingrad–and inflicted heavy losses at sea and in the air, opened the way for an attack on Sicily and Italy, forcing the enemy to defend southern Europe–‘a region of bad intercommunication’–and allowing the bombing of Germany from the south. Few of these, except the first and last, would have impressed Marshall, however. Prisoners would have been captured and damage inflicted, he believed, in a cross-Channel attack, where the communications in southern Europe would have been irrelevant. Similarly, if the Allies had won a foothold in Normandy, the bombing of Germany could have been carried out from airfields just as close as Foggia in Italy. The great advantage of Foggia, however, was that the Roumanian oil fields of Ploesti could be attacked, which was not possible from bases in Britain and Normandy. Most of the Wehrmacht’s oil came from Roumania.

American resentment manifested itself at Trident when, walking to a Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting with Brooke and Dill, Marshall said: ‘I find it very hard even now not to look on your North African strategy with a jaundiced eye.’ Brooke asked what he would have preferred. Marshall answered: ‘Cross-Channel operations for the liberation of France and advance on Germany, we should finish the war quicker.’ ‘Yes, probably,’ came Brooke’s rejoinder, ‘but not the way we hope to finish it!’44 Sharp-tongued ripostes like that were something of a speciality with Brooke, honed by his regular verbal jousting with Churchill.

‘It was quite evident that Marshall was quite incapable of grasping the objects of our strategy,’ Brooke noted for about the dozenth time as he re-read his diaries, ‘nor the magnitude of operations connected with cross Channel strategy…Any attempts to unduly push our strategy on Marshall had a distinct tendency to drive him into King’s Pacific Camp.’ This was wildly unfair: Marshall understood perfectly what Brooke was telling him over and over again; it was just that he disagreed with it. Furthermore, except for very briefly in July 1942–which, as we have seen, was almost certainly a bluff anyway–Marshall never reneged on Germany First.

Part of the explanation for Anglo-American tension might have lain in something as prosaic as the seating arrangements at Combined Chiefs of Staff meetings. At the back of the room sat large numbers of Planning officers and other experts, up to sixty of them, whose mere presence increased the antagonistic, even gladiatorial, nature of the encounters. The atmosphere has been compared to ‘a centre court tennis match at Wimbledon with tiers of supporting staff seated behind their principals’.45

Wednesday 19 May saw the toughest day of a tough conference. Both sides began the 10.30 a.m. Combined Chiefs meeting by criticizing the other’s papers on future strategy. Marshall then suggested the conference room be cleared for an off-the-record discussion between the two Staffs alone. Rather like a boxing match where the seconds leave the ring, the room emptied; tennis was replaced by pugilism. The six Chiefs remained, plus Leahy, Dill and a secretary whose pen was firmly holstered. ‘We then had heart to heart talk and as a result of it at last found a bridge across which we could meet!’ wrote Brooke. ‘Not altogether a satisfactory one, but far better than a break up of the conference!’

Brooke’s reminiscences about these off-the-record meetings, given to NBC in 1958, are worth reproduction in extenso:

At a long table on one side sat the American Chiefs of Staff with their secretary, on the other side we sat with our secretary and in the back of the room were a rather large number of staff officers–possibly thirty on either side. It rather weighted the atmosphere of the conference when you had sixty onlookers…A lot of the items on the agenda were settled quite easily but occasionally amongst the more difficult ones we argued up to a certain point where it became clear that we were going to have difficulties at arriving at agreement. Well, then, depending on who happened to be in the chair, either Marshall or I would suggest that we should have an off-the-record conference, and clear the room. By clearing the room of this rather heavy atmosphere, and by being able to take our hair down then and really thrash out the matter, we knew that we had to arrive at an agreement. It was no good going up and meeting the President and the Prime Minister and telling them we had failed to agree…Well, by approaches then of a rather more intimate [nature]–and that is a time when General Marshall always shone, he was always perfectly ready to discuss–he put his cards on the table and we put our cards on the table and we shuffled them round until we got some pattern out of it. And I felt always in those discussions there how fortunate we were to have a man of Marshall’s temperament, integrity and outlook generally, to arrive at these decisions, and how difficult it could have been had we had someone else in the chair…We both spoke the same language, but rather more than that…There’s rather more than a language between English-speaking people. I think it’s an English way of thinking that we have, and I found that Marshall had the same way of thinking that I had.46

Of course this was far from Brooke’s earlier phrenological view about how British and American minds worked in completely different ways.

Sure enough, by 6 p.m. on 19 May, before the American Chiefs entertained their British counterparts to dinner at the Statler Hotel, they had agreed that an initial assault force of nine divisions, growing quickly to twenty-nine, would be prepared for entry into France by 1 May 1944. Meanwhile, Eisenhower would exploit victory in Sicily in ways that ‘are best calculated to eliminate Italy from the war and to contain the maximum number of German forces’.47 Although this did not quite amount to a written commitment to invade mainland Italy after Sicily, and the wording left Eisenhower as the ultimate arbiter, it seemed obvious that the only way to force an Italian surrender was to land troops. Even so, Brooke considered that the agreement on Italy had been ‘a triumph as Americans wanted to close down all operations in Med after capture of Sicily’.

It was at Trident that the British made the first of three binding decisions to launch a cross-Channel invasion in May 1944, and the price the Americans seem to have paid–off-the-record meetings really were just that–was an Italian campaign. Marshall finally had a firm date for Roundup–from now on called Operation Overlord–but it looked as if he and King might be reluctantly dragged behind Brooke’s chariot wheels, step by step all the way up to the Eternal City. Brooke was also bound, in the black-and-white of the final report, to allow the seven divisions to be removed from the Mediterranean on 1 November 1943.

Their first off-the-record meeting without advisers had been successful, and the technique was later to be used on several occasions when Marshall and Brooke, in Brooke’s words, ‘arrived at loggerheads. It always helped to clear the air.’ Brooke believed that, without the vast staffs present, Marshall felt less uneasy about ‘shifting from some policy he had been briefed on by his Staff lest they should think he was lacking in determination’. This too was unfair: Marshall was not the kind of man to be unduly influenced by a desire to retain the esteem of his Staff rather than doing what he thought right, and it ignores the fact that Brooke shifted significantly too, in a way his own Planners might deprecate, especially in agreeing a definite date for Overlord and relinquishing the seven divisions from Italy. Roosevelt was keen on getting a date for the cross-Channel operation by the end of the conference, so Brooke knew he could hardly hold out over furnishing one. Just as the 1942 mid-terms had influenced the Torch decision, so the looming 1944 presidential elections affected the Trident ones.

Brooke accepted that the Allies should discuss how far Italy needed to be penetrated, which proved a contentious issue for the rest of the war, the British generally wanting to push much further north up the peninsula than did the Americans (except Mark Clark).48 Whereas the Americans only ever saw the Italian campaign as a way of drawing off German divisions from France and Russia, and for setting up air bases in the Foggia Plains, the British believed it had a further inherent value as a gateway into various other places in Europe, including France, Austria and the Balkans. Yet they knew that when on 1 November 1943 Marshall came to demand his seven divisions for Overlord, the push northwards up Italy would necessarily be undermined.

The off-the-record discussion method was used again over Burma at the Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting on Thursday 20 May, after there was a ‘complete impasse’ over the American desire to attack that country from the north-eastern Indian province of Assam, ‘contrary to all administrative possibilities’, so the British thought. The deal struck on that occasion was that ten thousand tons of supplies a month would be sent to China from India, and that an air offensive would be conducted against Burma from Assam, but there would be no land offensive in the short term. This agreement was reached just in time for the Combined Chiefs of Staff members to be serenaded by a Marine band at the White House, prior to the British Chiefs giving their American counterparts dinner. Further agreements were made the next day on American plans against Japan in the central Pacific, this time all on the record.

In his memoirs, Leahy listed the agreements made at Trident as: a twenty-nine-division cross-Channel invasion from England by 1 May 1944; an intensified combined bomber offensive against Germany; the attack on Sicily; the destruction of the Ploesti oil fields; the occupation of the Azores; ten thousand tons of supplies a month to be flown from India to China; the seizure of New Guinea and the Marshall, Caroline, Solomon and Aleutian Islands, and an air campaign against Burma.49 There was no written commitment to invade Italy in the final report of Trident, however, nor for any action elsewhere in the Mediterranean once Sicily had fallen.

When Brooke spoke of Allied troops’ inexperience and lack of manpower for Overlord, compared with possibilities in the Mediterranean, Marshall replied that the invasion of Italy would create a ‘vacuum’ for 1944. He bluntly stated that if the British ‘were committed to the Mediterranean, except for air power alone, it meant a prolonged struggle and one that was not acceptable to the United States.’50 The deal was clear if not written down: either both Italy and Overlord were to be undertaken, or neither was. Leahy might have been biased, but he was right in thinking that a pendulum had swung since Casablanca, when the British had gained all their desiderata to the Americans’ intense chagrin. Now, only four months later, ‘Roosevelt, who seemed to dominate the conference, finally obtained British approval in principle of his plans, including the 1944 invasion. He also succeeded in getting approval of a plan that was effective in keeping China in the war against Japan.’51 Roosevelt’s change of mind on Overlord at Trident led directly to the change of Allied policy, and the setting of the May 1944 date for the operation.

From 4.30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday 24 May the Combined Chiefs of Staff were at the White House presenting their joint final report of agreements reached during the conference. Yet one aspect, an American proposal to attack Sardinia, Churchill now refused to accept, and instead spent an hour trying to extend the whole Mediterranean theatre into Yugoslavia and Greece, something the Americans would not entertain. He asked that the final decision be postponed until the next day. This hugely increased the Americans’ suspicion of British double-dealing, knowing as they did how closely and often Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff conferred. ‘The PM’s attitude is in exact agreement with the permanent British policy of controlling the Mediterranean Sea regardless of what may be the result of the war,’ a profoundly distrustful Leahy told his diary. ‘It has been consistently opposed by the American Chiefs of Staff because of the probability that American troops will be used in the Mediterranean Area at the expense of direct action against Germany.’52

Brooke was livid with Churchill, describing his behaviour as ‘tragic’. Having agreed the final report, and Roosevelt even having congratulated the Combined Chiefs on it, ‘Now at the eleventh hour he wished to repudiate half of it.’ Worse, some of his proposed alterations were on points that Brooke had conceded to Marshall in the course of their hard-fought and detailed negotiations in order to secure better ones. High-level pacts on global grand strategy were multi-layered and multifaceted. ‘He had no idea of the difficulties we have been through,’ complained Brooke, ‘and just crashed in “where angels fear to tread”.’

Brooke feared that Marshall and the Joint Chiefs would assume that he had ‘gone behind their backs in an attempt to obtain those points through Winston…and it was not possible to explain to them how independent Winston was in his actions.’ After the war Brooke recalled Churchill saying that he ‘always feared that we should “frame up” (he actually accused me in those terms one day) with the American Chiefs of Staff against him! He knew the Americans could carry the President with them, and he feared being opposed by a combined Anglo-American block of Chiefs of Staff plus President.’53 Far from ‘framing up’ with Marshall, Brooke said he was usually ‘at loggerheads with him over Pacific and cross Channel strategy’, but ‘Under such circumstances it may be imagined how complicated matters became!’ While Churchill feared Brooke and Marshall ‘framing up’ against him, Brooke was anxious lest Marshall think that he (Brooke) was not supporting Roosevelt and Marshall against Churchill, when in fact he was. Matters had indeed become complicated, and were about to get more so.

The next day Churchill accepted the Combined Chiefs of Staff report, which must to a degree have allayed Marshall’s suspicions. However, as a consolation prize from the President, Churchill was told that Marshall could join him and Brooke on a journey to Algiers, which the Prime Minister hoped would enthuse the Army Chief of Staff about the advantages of an Italian campaign. Marshall, who was due to take three days’ rest after the rigours of Trident, was instead given only six hours’ notice–between 2 and 8 a.m.–before Churchill’s plane took off. He ‘ruefully’ remarked to Stimson ‘that he seemed to be merely a piece of baggage useful as a trading point’.54 He felt understandable chagrin at the President not consulting him, but as Henry Morgenthau recorded in his diary, Roosevelt ‘was tired. He has had ten days of arguing with Churchill, and the man is exhausted.’55

The President’s evident weariness worried Churchill. ‘Have you noticed that the President is a very tired man?’ he asked Moran. ‘His mind seems closed; he seems to have lost his wonderful elasticity.’ That might have been a euphemism for his ability to be persuaded by Churchill; certainly Hopkins no longer worried about the President being left alone with him. Later that day, Churchill articulated his concerns again. ‘The President is not willing to put pressure on Marshall,’ he said. ‘He is not in favour of landing in Italy. It is most discouraging. I only crossed the Atlantic for this purpose. I cannot let the matter rest where it is.’

In his memoirs, Churchill claimed that he wanted to take Marshall to Algiers in order to show that he had not ‘exerted an undue influence’ in favour of his Mediterranean strategy on the various commanders that he and Brooke were meeting in North Africa. Stimson was furious at this hijacking of Marshall, however, and accused Churchill of taking him along ‘in order to work on him to yield on some of the points that Marshall has held out on’. It was a mistake to do this because ‘To think of picking out the strongest man there is in America, and Marshall is surely that today…and then to deprive him in a gamble of a much needed opportunity to recoup his strength by about three days’ rest and send him off on a difficult and rather dangerous trip across the Atlantic Ocean where he is not needed except for Churchill’s purposes is I think going pretty far.’56 Marshall thought so too, but of course he obeyed his commander-in-chief.

Sicily was not even slated for invasion until 10 July, and Marshall’s extreme reluctance to discuss any post-Husky strategy with Churchill–let alone to get into detailed conversations regarding specific objectives such as Rhodes, Sardinia, Italy and Corsica–until he had first sounded out Eisenhower led to a comic situation on the plane. As Marshall told Pogue of Churchill, ‘Well, all during the earlier part of the trip he was so busy with his own state papers, which he’d gotten far behind in, that the hazard of such a conversation didn’t arise. But as we were approaching Gibraltar, Mr Churchill ran out of work and came back and sat down with me, and then I knew I was in for it.’ In order to steer the subject off future strategy, Marshall ‘hurriedly thought up something to talk about’. Lord Halifax had just lent him a biography of the former Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings, so he chose that as a topic, which Churchill talked about for twenty minutes before ‘he suddenly ran out of soap’. After that Marshall asked what had really happened over Rudolf Hess’ flight to Britain in 1941. ‘I know that Brooke had never heard this and he was fascinated. I again was overly fascinated and he got to the end of that–that was about fifteen minutes.’ Just as Churchill had finished, Marshall asked about the Abdication Crisis, whereupon Churchill said that the King should have just gone ahead and married Mrs Simpson, which took up another twenty minutes. ‘It was a marvellous lecture, just marvellous. Then the steward, thank God, announced supper–and it was all over.’57

(It was a trick Marshall was to use on other occasions. At dinner the night before one conference’s plenary session, when he wanted to avoid talking strategy, Marshall asked Churchill about the Victorian historian Lord Macaulay. The Prime Minister leapt up and strode around the room reciting passage after passage, until ‘the lateness of the hour resulted in General Marshall respectfully saying goodnight and departing’, leaving Churchill ‘well satisfied about Macaulay but entirely frustrated about working on General Marshall’.)

On the earlier part of the journey to Algiers, from Washington to Botwood in Newfoundland, where they refuelled before crossing to Gibraltar, Marshall redrafted a communiqué to Stalin the wording of which Roosevelt and Churchill had previously disagreed over. Once Marshall had finished, Churchill telegraphed the President: ‘I agree with every word of it, and strongly hope that it can be sent to Stalin by the Chief of the United States Staff, concurred in by the CIGS, and that it has our joint approval.’ Churchill was thus hoping that the Western Allies were united on a message which stated that the aims of Allied strategy were ‘to give priority to the control of the submarine menace’ and ‘next in priority, to employ every practicable means to support Russia’.

The rest of the priorities Marshall set out were to try to get Turkey into the war, to keep up pressure on Japan by attacking the Aleutian Islands, to maintain China, and to prepare the French forces in Africa for eventual fighting in Europe. Roosevelt’s sole alteration was diplomatically to combine the first two, so that the goal of supporting the Russian war effort equalled that of defeating the U-boat threat. Stalin was also told that a full-scale invasion of the Continent would now definitely be launched ‘at the peak of the great air offensive’ in the spring of 1944.

‘I was immensely impressed with this document, which exactly expressed what the President and I wanted,’ Churchill later wrote of Marshall’s draftsmanship, ‘and did so with a clarity and comprehension not only of the military but also of the political issues involved. Hitherto I had thought of Marshall as a rugged soldier and a magnificent organizer and builder of armies–the American Carnot. But now I saw that he was a statesman with a penetrating and commanding view of the whole scene.’58 (Lazare Carnot was the French Minister of War whom Napoleon had dubbed ‘The organizer of victory’.) Of course when Churchill was writing The Hinge of Fate, Marshall was the US Secretary of State who was saving Europe with his eponymous reconstruction plan, so the foresight to spot a great statesman would have redounded well on Churchill. Nonetheless it was a fine encomium, and in the plane from Gibraltar in May 1943 Churchill had written to his wife, ‘I got the President to let General Marshall come with me in order that the work I am now about to do at Algiers should run evenly, and that there should be no suggestion that I exerted a one-sided influence. I think very highly of Marshall…There is no doubt he has a massive brain and a very high and honourable character.’59Another occasion saw Churchill describe Marshall to Moran as ‘The greatest Roman of them all’.60 This is worth bearing in mind when considering Elliott Roosevelt’s accusations that Churchill disliked and ‘can’t abide’ the US Army Chief of Staff.61

On 28 May 1943 Churchill, Marshall, Brooke and Ismay landed in Algiers, on the same day that the conclusions of Trident were announced to the press in a single sentence: ‘The recent conference of the Combined Chiefs in Washington has ended in complete agreement on future operations in all theatres of the war,’ which had the advantage of brevity despite its mendacity.

There were three formal meetings at Eisenhower’s villa in Algiers to map out post-Husky strategy, between late May and 3 June, but plenty of other, extraneous meetings too. In his 1967 book At Ease, subtitled Stories I Tell to Friends, Eisenhower related how at this Algiers mini-conference ‘It developed that General Brooke…had never really liked the Overlord idea…He came to me privately and argued that all Allied troops should stay in the Mediterranean, chipping away at the periphery of the Axis empire. But we should avoid any commitment of major ground forces.’ To Ike’s question about how to rid central and western Europe of the Soviets in the absence of an Anglo-American invasion in the west, Brooke is reported to have ‘thought that the Soviets would not try to maintain such an extended empire and would retire back into the limits of Russia once the war had been won’.62 Of this, Eisenhower wrote: ‘I was reasonably confident that both President Roosevelt and General Marshall were determined to take no chances on such an outcome and I must say I agreed.’

Yet little about this reminiscence rings true: firstly, Brooke was not absolutely opposed to Overlord ever taking place: he always knew the Continent had to be invaded from the west eventually for Germany to be defeated. Secondly, there is no record of this important conversation in Brooke’s private diary, though he had no reason to exclude it. Thirdly, there is no record in Butcher’s diary, which covered Eisenhower’s every move at that time. Fourthly, Brooke was not so naive when it came to Soviet ambitions, as his subsequent behaviour proved. It might be that Eisenhower, in this rather tall ‘story I tell to friends’, was ‘remembering with advantages’ as sometimes old soldiers are capable of doing, especially once their supposed interlocutors are safely dead.

At the first strategy session at Eisenhower’s villa his naval, army and air force commanders, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, General Sir Harold Alexander and Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder–all Britons–insisted that mainland Italy should be invaded so that the Germans would be obliged to reinforce Italy and the Balkans after Rome had surrendered. Forces in the Mediterranean, they said, could not be kept idle between the end of Husky, which they hoped would be in August, and the start of Overlord nine months later.63 Not to keep the initiative was to ask for the Axis to counter-attack, and they needed little invitation. Churchill then offered Marshall eight Commonwealth divisions in any push to capture Rome. Since in 1943 the British Army never fielded more than twenty divisions, this was a significant amount. (The Germans meanwhile had 156 divisions fighting full time on the Eastern Front alone.)64

Eisenhower accepted that, if Sicily fell soon, an invasion of Italy could indeed be advantageous, although Marshall resolutely refused to commit himself until they knew how it had gone. At the second strategy session on 31 May, Marshall asked Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Bedell Smith, how many extra troops would be needed to attack Italy. Bedell Smith estimated thirty-three thousand American and thirty-three thousand Commonwealth troops needed to come from beyond North Africa and Sicily. Marshall said this might upset the agreements made at Trident for Overlord, but Churchill said the shipping could be made available from Britain.

Churchill was optimistic that he had persuaded Marshall, telling Moran that he ‘doesn’t, for the moment, want to make up his mind what we ought to do once Sicily is taken. But he is ready to accept my plan. He is not opposed to the invasion of Italy now.’ When Moran asked what had changed Marshall’s mind, Churchill seemed taken aback. ‘The merits of the case’, he expostulated, ‘are surely beyond question.’ Two months after that, however, Moran got a very different version from Marshall himself, who said he hadn’t thought then that the moment had come for a decision:

It would be better, I said to the Prime Minister, to decide what to do when Sicily was well under way. I wanted to know whether Germany was going to put up a stiff resistance in southern Italy or whether she would decide to retire to the Po as Winston suggested. I wanted more facts. I wanted to ask Winston a dozen questions, but he gave me no chance. He kept telling me what was going to happen. All wishing and guessing. When I did get a question in, Winston brushed it aside…I said to the Prime Minister that I would be content if Sardinia were taken before the invasion of France. He replied that the difference between taking southern Italy and Sardinia was the difference between a glorious campaign and mere convenience.65

The way that the great protagonists were clearly already buffing up their anecdotes while the war was going on–this one only a couple of months after the event–indicates the degree to which they knew that their deeds would interest historians for centuries to come.

Moran described how ‘Marshall’s long upper lip stretched in amusement’ as he told the story, and commented that Churchill had obviously ‘talked at the American’ rather than to him. ‘I have never heard anyone talk like this before,’ Marshall said. ‘I’d never met anyone like Winston. He is a very wonderful man, but he won’t look at things like a man who has been all his life a soldier. I must have facts.’66 Yet facts were impossible to glean about a future operation such as the invasion of a mainland five weeks before the operation to take its adjacent island had even begun. Informed, calculated ‘wishing and guessing’ had to play an important part in the creation of future grand strategy, and in this particular case the quest for non-existent facts materially damaged the next stage of the campaign.

The third and last strategy session at Algiers, on Thursday 3 June, agreed the bombardment of the railway marshalling yards on the outskirts of Rome. Marshall recalled to General John R. Deane after the war that he had ‘favored very much’ bombing Rome itself, believing ‘the blood of the present’ completely outweighed ‘the desire to preserve the historical treasures of antiquity’.67 Nonetheless, the minutes show that Churchill ‘expressed satisfaction at the great measure of agreement which he had found in these meetings’, and indeed the entry in Butcher’s diary covering the meeting was headed ‘Love Fest’, with more of a sense of relief than of sarcasm. Marshall made generous remarks about the British support for Eisenhower, and spoke of the ‘greatest discomfort’ that the Germans must be feeling about the Anglo-Americans working ‘so well as a team’. He did not, however, commit himself to any Mediterranean operation after Husky. Churchill’s memoirs therefore contained an outrageous misrepresentation of Marshall’s position when he summed up the meeting with the words: ‘I felt that great advances had been made in our discussions and that everybody wanted to go for Italy’ (unless by Italy Churchill meant just Sicily, which is unlikely).

Eisenhower meanwhile merely set up two Planning groups to investigate operations against Sardinia and southern Italy. ‘The curious situation obtained, therefore,’ records Michael Howard, ‘that when the Allied armies landed in Sicily, nobody had yet decided where they were to go next.’ Marshall went back to Washington via Accra, Ascension Island, Recife and Belem in Brazil. By 7 June he had covered 14,000 miles in eleven days, without yielding any significant strategic ground whatever. Brooke left Algiers, where he had spotted some crossbills and little bustards, for a weekend in the country with his wife.

Reporting to the War Cabinet in London on 5 June, Churchill commended the Trident final report, saying that his:

journey had been justified because of the Anglo-American difference in point of view. The US masses’ attention was turned mainly on Japan and tended to think it more important to keep China in the war than Russia. At the outset there were sharp differences between the Chiefs of Staffs. Theirs suggested that concentration on Italy and the Mediterranean would interfere with Bolero and would even prolong the war. But personal contacts and personal friendships broke this down and agreement was reached. This document agrees on Italy being the target, but we’ve undertaken to move some troops back at intervals for Bolero. Over Anakim there were differences also. We came to the conclusion there was no reason to re-open the Burma Road until mid ’45. But all the same we must fight, wherever we can engage the enemy…The US public hadn’t realized until I said it to Congress that the greater part of US forces are deployed in Pacific. The US Executive treats Congress as an enemy, and was surprised at the sort of speech I made, though I said it was common form for the House of Commons. US opinion is quite cool about North Africa. Strategic issues were settled in broad outline. Whereas a year ago we had to say ‘Hitler first and Tojo after’, there is now enough force to take a rather different view–a matter of emphasis now, not of choice…Eisenhower was inclined to go for Sardinia before Italy: I strongly advocated the second, then the first will fall in. I therefore went to see Eisenhower and took General Marshall with me. Marshall rewrote the paper for communication to Russia…this document is evidence of his great mental grasp. His visit to Africa with me has done him good–widened his appreciation of the African campaign.68

Churchill had misled either the Cabinet or himself: Marshall was careful that neither the Trident final report nor any other document committed the United States to invading mainland Italy. Of Giraud and de Gaulle and the French National Committee, Churchill told the Cabinet that he ‘gave them all lunch yesterday, and a speech in my best anglicised French’.69

Returning to the War Office, Brooke summed up the Trident and Algiers talks as holding operations, telling Kennedy that the Americans had ‘slipped right back to their old conception of the invasion of Europe, and were most unwilling to be drawn into large and unknown commitments in the Mediterranean’. At Algiers, Marshall had even told Brooke that he still felt Torch had been a mistake. Brooke had no doubt that Trident had been ‘badly needed’, but another conference would be required soon. It was a prospect that filled him with dread.

Churchill introduced General Alexander to the War Cabinet on 7 June, after Brooke had summed up the general situation on all the fronts of the war. The Prime Minister began by expressing his ‘admiration for a great military achievement’, before Alexander, far more modestly, reported that ‘The situation is in a bit of a tangle. The first thing was to stabilize the front, tidy it up and separate the US and ourselves.’ Thus far he might have been talking about a complicated piece of knitting, but it got more martial when he spoke of how the Germans were attacking to regain the initiative, and he ended his long exposition by saying that his troops were ‘in terrific heart–never had such a good army as we have today. The Germans are not as good as they were.’70 This weakening of German combat effectiveness was the news that the British High Command had waited nearly four years to hear. Before it came, they rightly thought a return to the Continent suicidal. Once it was certified on Italian soil, however, it would lead to the beaches of Normandy.

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