From the St Lawrence to the Pyramids: ‘All this “Overlord” folly must be thrown “Overboard”’ August–November 1943

I suppose that when working with allies, compromises, with all their evils, become inevitable.

General Sir Alan Brooke, August 19431

Only moments after being dealt his terrible disappointment at lunchtime on Sunday 15 August 1943, Brooke had to attend a Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting at 2.30 p.m., which lasted for ‘3 very unpleasant hours’. Marshall argued that, if Overlord did not have ‘overriding priority’ over Italy and everywhere else, then ‘in his opinion the operation was doomed and our whole strategic concept would have to be recast’. This was of course simply the same old threat to dump Germany First in favour of the Pacific. He further insisted on the seven divisions being removed from Italy by the agreed date. Brooke reiterated that the Mediterranean and cross-Channel operations were not in competition but rather intimately connected, the former being intended to draw off German forces from the latter.

The fact that he had just heard that an American–therefore probably Marshall–would take the post he coveted, and had doubtless made private plans for, cannot have helped Brooke’s temper, and he predictably noted in his diary of Marshall: ‘It is quite impossible to argue with him as he does not even begin to understand a strategic problem!’ Both Marshall–the boy crying ‘Wolf!’ over Japan yet again–and Brooke, mistaking plain disagreement for strategic ignorance, were starting to sound like stuck gramophone records by the late summer of 1943. That evening Brooke dined alone with his thoughts, after which he spoke to Dill, who had earlier found Marshall ‘most unmanageable and irreconcilable, even threatening to resign if we pressed our point’. That ‘point’ was explained in one sentence by Brooke: ‘By giving full priority to the cross Channel preparations you might well cripple the Italian theatre and thus render it unable to contain the German forces necessary to render the cross Channel operation possible.’2

Marshall definitely himself dated what he later called his ‘big break’ with Brooke to his own insistence that the seven divisions come out of Italy in order to ‘solidify on a practical basis for the landings in Normandy’. With Overlord intended to number from twenty-seven to twenty-nine divisions, these therefore made up one-quarter of the entire force, and were thus indispensable. He nonetheless told Pogue years later that he had ‘a great sympathy for the British in their situation’, because ‘there was the fact that I hadn’t commanded troops. Brooke had commanded II Corps in France when he was sent over after the first withdrawal to establish a line to defend the Brest peninsula. He had done all these things and, while I had been chief of operations in an army in the First War, I had done nothing like that. So they felt I didn’t understand the problems.’3 Marshall was sensitive enough to spot this, yet tough enough not to let it affect him. (In fact Brooke had commanded II Corps in the Dunkirk campaign, not the Brest peninsula, when he had commanded the whole of the Second BEF.) Asked by NBC in 1958 what would have happened if Marshall had been in charge of Overlord, Brooke took a few seconds before answering, diplomatically: ‘That’s a very difficult question to answer. There are so many ifs…You get led on from one if to another if, and I don’t think one gets very far with them.’

On Monday 16 August, Brooke and Marshall returned to the Trident system of off-the-record meetings. The secretaries and Planners left the Salon Rose, and for three hours after 2.30 p.m. the Combined Chiefs undertook ‘the difficult task of finding a bridge’. These discussions were ‘pretty frank’, with Brooke opening by saying that ‘the root of the matter was that we were not trusting each other’. He went on to accuse the Americans of doubting the British commitment ‘to put our full hearts into the cross Channel operation next spring’, while for their part the British were not certain that the Americans ‘would not in future insist on our carrying out previous agreements irrespective of changed strategic conditions’. This was a veiled reference to the seven divisions due to be withdrawn from the Mediterranean theatre only eleven weeks hence.

‘In the end I think our arguments did have some effect on Marshall,’ noted Brooke, though not on Admiral King. Brooke was feeling the strain, stating that since that was his sixth meeting with the American Chiefs, ‘I do not feel that I can possibly stand any more!’4 At one stage during the Quebec Conference, Marshall and Dill even discussed the possibility of the Combined Chiefs of Staff taking a vote every time a division needed to be moved anywhere.5 It was never tried, but shows how far down the atmosphere of mistrust had descended.

Captain Lambe pointed out the best riposte to the American accusation that the British were never serious about Overlord, telling Pogue in February 1947:

Vast amounts of construction work had to be done–hard roads, railways to beaches, exits, fuel and storage tanks, railway sidings. The amount of construction in southern England was terrific. It is interesting to note that millions of pounds were spent from early 1943 onwards, when there was only COSSAC Staff; millions spent on a plan which had not been approved.

Lambe believed that if the Supreme Allied Commander had chosen to attack anywhere other than Normandy, the logistics by then dictated that ‘he couldn’t have’.6

Roosevelt arrived in Quebec on the evening of Tuesday 17 August, the same day that the US 3rd Division under Patton took Messina, ending the Sicilian campaign. Basil Liddell Hart believed that the mainland of Italy was invaded primarily because Sicily was cleared in mid-August, by which time it was too late for anything in the Channel, and Sicily was so close to Italy that it really chose itself. ‘It was the logic of events resulting from loss of time more than logic of argument,’ he argued, ‘which swung the Allied strategy.’7 There were other reasons too. When Lieutenant-General Morgan presented COSSAC’s plans for Overlord at Quebec, Brooke observed that they required the Luftwaffe to be drastically weakened in France, the number of German divisions in France and Holland to be reduced, and communications between Germany’s two fronts to be severely disrupted. Simultaneously, Arnold supported Brooke’s plan for invading Italy by saying that the capture of the huge Foggia airfields near Naples would allow the USAAF and RAF to bomb all of southern Germany, 60 per cent of German fighter-production factories and all the major east–west road and rail connections through Germany, while drawing off Luftwaffe units from the west. Morgan and Arnold thus effectively made Brooke’s case for him.

Although Brooke constantly admonished Marshall in his diary for failing to appreciate the connection between the Mediterranean and cross-Channel strategies, as early as the first day of the conference Marshall emphasized the connection between the European and Pacific theatres. For him the reconquest of Burma was always a far higher priority than it was for Brooke, despite Burma being a British colony and the gateway to India. This was because Marshall believed that China was on the verge of being forced out of the struggle altogether, with potentially disastrous long-term implications for the war against Japan. Only by opening up and keeping operational the northern Burmese–Chinese connection known as the Burma Road, he thought, and by flying in supplies to Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Army, could China be sustained. Brooke, by contrast, believed China had no choice but to stay in the war almost come what may, considering what Japan had inflicted on her since 1931, that the Chinese could absorb almost any amount of punishment, and certainly any supplies that were sent. He was not impressed with Chiang Kai-shek’s contribution to the war, and thought that major efforts in Burma should wait until Germany was defeated. His agreement to undertake Anakim had been reluctant, hedged with reservations, a quid pro quo for other concessions, and conditional on the United States providing most of the shipping and landing craft.

On 17 August, Brooke also stated that MacArthur’s plan to thrust up the northern tip of the Vogelkop–the peninsula of western New Guinea–ought to be curtailed in order to release men and matériel for Overlord.

Since, together with Admiral Nimitz’s attack from Hawaii through the Gilbert and Marshall Islands to Palau, MacArthur’s was the major offensive towards recapturing the Philippines, Marshall and especially King profoundly differed from Brooke over this too.

Meanwhile, Churchill was still pressing hard for an attack on the northern tip of Sumatra, codenamed Operation Culverin. Rather condescendingly Brooke wrote that ‘Winston…had discovered with a pair of dividers that we could bomb Singapore’ from Sumatra, ‘and he had set his heart on going there.’ Brooke believed Sumatra to be an unsuitable place for any long-term projects against the Malay States, and told the Prime Minister at a meeting at the Citadel at noon on 19 August that ‘when he put his left foot down he should know where the right foot was going to’. In the cold black and white of print, that does not look too rude, but we cannot know the tone of voice and the body language that accompanied it. The result was that Churchill lost his temper completely and shook his fist in Brooke’s face, saying: ‘I do not want any of your long term projects, they cripple initiative!’8

To have a fist shaken in one’s face is even more of an aggressive act than breaking pencils in half during meetings, but Brooke kept calm and ‘agreed that they did hamper initiative’, but nonetheless told him that ‘I could not look upon knowing where our next step was going as constituting a long term project!’ Coming from that meeting, Brooke went straight into one of the Combined Chiefs in which, because it became so ‘heated’, he and Marshall ordered their Staffs to leave yet again for an off-the-record discussion. ‘After further heated arguments in our closed session we ultimately arrived at an agreement,’ Brooke recalled at the end of what he called ‘Another poisonous day!’9

There then occurred one of the classic moments of the history of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, which also underlines how intractable, hard fought and confrontational these meetings had become. After the agreement was reached with Marshall, Mountbatten asked to be allowed to demonstrate an invention codenamed Habbakuk, a self-propelled floating airfield made entirely of Pykrete, a mixture of ice and wood pulp named after its British inventor Geoffrey Pike. These artificial islands, it was hoped, could be used by fighter squadrons to give close support to the invasion troops in Normandy. To demonstrate Habbakuk’s superior attributes over a normal iceberg, Mountbatten had one block of ice and one of Pykrete rolled in to the Salon Rose, whereupon he theatrically produced his gun and announced that he was going to fire at each of the blocks in turn, in order to demonstrate their different defensive qualities. ‘As he now pulled a revolver out of his pocket,’ recalled Brooke, ‘we all rose and discreetly moved behind him.’ Firing at the ice merely produced ‘a hail of ice splinters’, as expected, but when Mountbatten shot at the Pykrete the bullet ricocheted off, and ‘buzzed round our legs like an angry bee!’ When the shots were heard outside the room, one of the Staff officers who had left at the start of the off-the-record meeting exclaimed: ‘Good heavens, they’ve started shooting now!!’10

Like every oft told anecdote, there are a number of slightly different punch-lines and attributions of it, but the waggish remark wouldn’t have been retold–and indeed wouldn’t have been funny–had the Combined Chiefs of Staff not by then had a reputation for acrimony. Although the joke sounds too good to be true, it was confirmed to Charles Donnelly by Colonel Andrew McFarland, secretary of the Planning committee of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, one of those turfed out of the conference room. What is still inexplicable even today is what Mountbatten could possibly have been thinking of in demonstrating the ricochet-inducing qualities of Pykrete in front of the entirely unprotected Combined Chiefs of Staff.

Marshall’s and Brooke’s off-the-record meeting and other similarly frank discussions meant that by Thursday 19 August much had been agreed at Quadrant: Overlord was to be ‘the primary US–British ground and air effort against the Axis in Europe’ with 1 May 1944 reiterated as the definite launch date; an attack on southern Italy would be undertaken by the forces agreed at Trident ‘except insofar as these may be varied by decision of the Combined Chiefs of Staff’ (Marshall would have preferred no strings attached, but Brooke got that wording added); there would also be a landing on the south coast of France (codenamed Anvil) to coincide with Overlord, and the defeat of Japan was planned within twelve months of victory in Europe, which was assumed would come in the autumn of 1944.11

The Manhattan Engineer District project was also beginning to bear fruit. This was the codename given to the creation of the atomic bomb that had been developed jointly at Los Alamos in New Mexico by British and American scientists, under the terms of the agreement Churchill and Roosevelt had come to at Hyde Park in June 1942. At Quadrant it was agreed not to deploy the weapon without the consent of both powers, and that Marshall would chair a committee to control the project.

(The prospect of the Bomb actually working filled Churchill with joy. On 23 July 1945 he told Brooke–‘pushing his chin out and scowling’–that the imbalance of power was now redressed with the Russians, who did not have it, and that he could finally dictate to Stalin: ‘we could say if you insist on doing this or that, well we can just blot out Moscow, then Stalingrad, then Kiev, then Kuibyshev, Karkhov [sic], Stalingrad, Sebastopol, etc, etc. And now where are the Russians!!!’12 One wonders what the poor inhabitants of Stalingrad did to deserve a double dose of vaporization, despite the flattening of their city by the German Sixth Army. As it was, Churchill lost the general election three days later and neither Britain nor the United States so much as considered employing nuclear blackmail against their still domestically fêted ally, which lost over twenty-seven million dead in its Great Patriotic War.)

At Quadrant, long-range strategy for the Pacific was put back to a future conference, and the US was left to attack the Philippines in its own way, with Rabaul to be ‘neutralized rather than captured’. A South-East Asia Command (SEAC) was to be created, separate from the India Command, although it was not long before Pentagon wags nicknamed it ‘Save England’s Asian Colonies’. All these agreements, some going against the grain of the British strategic thinking, disprove Wedemeyer’s suspicion that ‘Quebec was a repetition of Casablanca, of course.’13

On the penultimate day of the conference, Brooke once again exploded against Churchill in his diary, writing on Monday 23 August that it was bad enough having to face the American demand for the transfer of the seven divisions in ten weeks’ time, ‘But when you add to it all the background of a peevish temperamental prima donna of a Prime Minister, suspicious to the very limits of imagination, always fearing a military combination of effort against political dominance, the whole matter becomes quite unbearable! He has been more unreasonable and trying than ever this time.’ Some historians believe that Brooke was on the verge of a breakdown at this period; his own diagnosis, recorded on 24 August, is revealing:

The conference is finished and I am feeling inevitable flatness and depression which swamps me after a spell of continuous work, and of battling against difficulties, differences of opinion, stubbornness, stupidity, pettiness, and pig-headedness. When suddenly the whole struggle stops abruptly and all the participants of the conference disperse in all directions, a feeling of emptiness, depression, loneliness and dissatisfaction over results attacks one and swamps one! After Casablanca, wandering alone in the garden of the Mamounia Hotel in Marrakesh, if it had not been for the birds and the company they provided, I could almost have sobbed with the loneliness. Tonight the same feelings overwhelm me, and there are no birds!

At the very least he was in desperate need of rest.14 The very next day he wrote that he had been feeling ‘liverish’ and would have liked ‘to remove’ the criticism of Churchill, but that would have meant rewriting several pages of his diary, and he didn’t have the time.

At noon on Tuesday 24 August, Quadrant ended with a press conference. During it, as Churchill launched into a speech, Roosevelt leant over to Leahy and whispered: ‘He always orates, doesn’t he, Bill?’ The next day Brooke and Portal went fishing for two days in the Lac des Neiges, but after driving 60 miles ‘through the bush’, and going 2 miles up the lake by motor launch, just as they had started fishing, to Brooke’s ‘horror’, Churchill turned up with his Canadian host, Colonel Clarke, and Brooke was obliged to leave his beat. ‘I could have shot them both I felt so angry,’ he wrote. This does not mean, as some have speculated, that Brooke was genuinely feeling murderous towards the Prime Minister, but was merely an expression of furious frustration at having his brief respite from him temporarily ruined. ‘What made it worse was that Winston couldn’t fish and lost a good trout through having his line slack,’ he later told Kennedy. Brooke was clearly not long disturbed, because in two days he caught 93 trout and Portal 104, averaging 11/2 pounds, with the biggest at 33/4 pounds.

When Churchill was on his boat, unwittingly disturbing his service Chiefs’ well-deserved relaxation, Royal Marine Lance-Corporal Emerson, who was fishing with Inspector Thompson, fell into the lake. ‘Don’t expect your prime minister to come and fish you out!’ Churchill called, but he did lend him one of his suits to wear.15 Admiral Pound did not feel well enough to fish. Ismay had remarked to Joan Astley about Pound’s ‘lethargy, and the lack of his former crisp grasp of essentials’ while the conference was going on. ‘Little did I realize on saying goodbye to old Dudley Pound’, Brooke noted in his diary, ‘that I should never see him again!’16

Back in London on 30 August, Brooke and Kennedy went through Eisenhower’s plans for Operation Baytown, landings on the toe of Italy on 3 September, also Operation Avalanche, the landings in the Gulf of Salerno just south of Naples on 9 September, and the simultaneous Operation Slapstick, the attack on Taranto in the heel of Italy. They thought them ‘sketchy’, and the fact that the British Chiefs of Staff couldn’t issue instructions direct to Eisenhower was ‘a confounded nuisance’. The Joint Chiefs of Staff tended not to demand as much information from their commanders in the field as the British did, which Kennedy put down to the fact that ‘The Washington machine is not so highly organized as ours.’ Overall they considered that these operations were ‘in the nature of a gamble–which might be justified’.17

Brooke has been criticized for not interfering enough with his generals’ battle plans. ‘Errors in the planning of Tunis, Sicily, Salerno, Cassino and Anzio might have been averted by the Chief’s timely advice,’ argued the historian Nigel Nicolson.18 Since none of those was solely a British operation, any advice to commanders such as Eisenhower and Clark would have had to be directed through the Combined Chiefs of Staff; Brooke was no longer able to give ‘timely advice’ that had the force of authority, and anyhow he tended to think it best to trust to the judgement of the man on the spot. He did, however, write regular personal letters to commanders like Wavell, Auchinleck and Montgomery that had all the force and authority of the CIGS, who each of those men accepted was a master strategist.

Discussing the upshot of Quebec–‘Good in so far as they left most of the big things to be settled in the light of developments’–Brooke complained to Kennedy about the Americans’ lack of trust, especially over the return of the seven divisions in the autumn. He said that it had emerged that this distrust stemmed from ‘something the PM had said to Stimson during his visit here’.19 This was doubtless the Dover train conversation in which Churchill had criticized ‘Roundhammer’ and spoke of thousands of Allied corpses floating in the Channel. He had also mentioned supplying the Balkans from Italy. Small wonder the Americans had got alarmed whenever Brooke tried to renegotiate the seven-divisions deal.

Kennedy believed that once the Americans were committed on the Italian mainland, ‘the problem would solve itself,’ since ‘If we needed the divisions, they would stay there.’ He recalled Foch being asked in 1914 how many British soldiers he needed for his campaign, and the marshal answering: ‘One, and I shall make sure he is killed.’ Brooke agreed that once American troops were in action it might prove near impossible to withdraw too many men from a continuing battle. On the issue of the Pacific, he complained that Churchill had been ‘extremely trying’ over the operations against the Japanese from India and had ‘brushed aside’ Chiefs of Staff appreciations and demanded attacks that were ‘quite beyond the capacity of the forces available. His free discussions with the American Chiefs of Staff, Louis Mountbatten and Wingate had embarrassed the Chiefs considerably.’20

For all that the British deplored American distrust of them, they too distrusted the Americans. Inveighing against Eisenhower’s Italian plans, Kennedy wrote: ‘The real fault goes back to the American unwillingness to devote great strength to the Mediterranean effort. We do not feel that the Americans fully grasp the realities of operations against the Germans and how seriously they have to be taken.’ This, only days after Sicily had been wrested from the Axis grasp, seven months after the Kasserine Pass débâcle, and less than forty-eight hours before the Baytown landings, was deeply unjust.

When Mark Clark’s Fifth Army landed at Salerno on Thursday 9 September 1943, the Germans had fourteen divisions in Italy. By the end of October they had no fewer than twenty-five, with reinforcements having been drawn equally from Russia and north-west Europe. Professor Sir Michael Howard, who won the Military Cross with the Cold-stream Guards at Salerno, considers that number ‘more than enough to pacify the country and compel the Allies to fight hard for every yard of their advance on Rome’.21Moreover, because the invasion of Sicily opened up all sorts of other possibilities for the Allies in Europe’s ‘underbelly’, the Germans had to cover the entire area. By the end of 1943 there were a further twenty German divisions stationed in Yugoslavia, Greece and the Aegean islands, for example.22

With forty-five divisions thus standing guard on Germany’s southern flank, protecting south-east France, Austria and the Balkans, the Wehrmacht could not help but be weakened on the two Eastern and Western Fronts that were indeed to mean life or death to the Reich. The reason that the Germans did not simply pull back to an easily defensible line north of Rome was that their commander Field Marshal Albert Kesselring–a former chief of staff of the Luftwaffe–well understood the use that could be made of the airfield complex around Foggia in south-east Italy. He was also under orders to contest every inch of Italy. After the war, Major-General Walter Warlimont of Hitler’s military staff wrote that the Führer’s Mediterranean strategy ‘threw a far greater strain upon the German war potential than the military situation justified and no long-term compensating economies were made in other theatres.’23 Brooke could hardly have hoped for a better encomium. ‘One elementary principle governed everything but there was no great lofty idea behind it and no thought of concentrating upon essentials,’ continued Warlimont; ‘instead the supreme command had only one object, to defend the occupied areas everywhere on their outermost perimeter.’ This was precisely how Brooke had hoped Hitler would try to cope with the defeat in Sicily: by replicating the Tunisian and Stalingrad errors in Italy. It fitted into the Nazi philosophy that willpower was all in warfare as in politics, but it made for terrible strategy.

Mark Clark’s Fifth Army, comprising one American and one British corps, landed at Salerno, a port on an inlet of the Tyrrhenian Sea. With air cover provided from British aircraft carriers and Sicily, the troops got ashore in Operation Avalanche, but heavy German counter-attacks spearheaded by three panzer divisions from 12 to 14 September came close to flinging them back into the sea. Amphibious operations were risky ventures, and had it not been for the battleships HMS Warspite and HMS Valiantarriving from Malta during the six-day battle and training their 15-inch guns on the German positions, events might have gone differently. The Germans also used heavy bombs guided by radio for the first time, and two Allied cruisers were severely damaged on 11 September. Warspite herself was knocked out of action on 16 September, and had to be towed back to Malta. By then, however, contact had been made with the Eighth Army, which had marched up the 150 miles from Reggio. The near-disaster of Avalanche militates against the idea that Sledgehammer or Roundup could have worked in 1943.

The next row between the British and Americans was started by Churchill putting forward various schemes for Italy designed to take advantage of her surrender, but which Roosevelt and Marshall feared would divert resources from Overlord. Brooke, meanwhile, thought that the campaign to take Rome needed a major concentration of effort. It started a month-long argument between Churchill and the others over the recapture of Rhodes, in which Churchill recognized that he was in a minority of one.

In the first fortnight of September, after Quadrant, Churchill went to Washington, Boston and Hyde Park. Brooke was spared this trip and returned to London. Eden thought Roosevelt’s ‘determination not to agree to a London meeting for any purpose, which he says is for electoral reasons, is almost insulting considering the number of times we have been to Washington…We are giving the impression, which they are only too ready by nature to endorse, that militarily all the achievements are theirs and Winston, by prolonging his stay in Washington, strengthens that impression.’24 By early October Churchill had to accept that his scheme to attack in the Dodecanese–Rhodes, Leros, Samos and Cos–had failed to win over anyone else.

Once back in Britain, Churchill wired the President asking for Marshall to come out to the Mediterranean for a conference in Tunis to settle the matter, hoping ‘in his heart’ to be able to swing the meeting by his force of personality, as he had convinced himself he had done at Algiers. Roosevelt replied: ‘Frankly I am not in sympathy with this procedure under the circumstances. It seems to me the issue under discussion can best be adjusted by us through our Combined Chiefs of Staff set up in better perspective than by the method you propose.’25 Brooke thought this a ‘very cold reply’, but Churchill wired back again asking Roosevelt to reconsider, leaving Brooke to comment: ‘The whole thing is sheer madness, and he is placing himself quite unnecessarily in a very false position! The Americans are already desperately suspicious of him, and this will make matters far worse.’ Marshall flatly refused to allow any troops to be spared for the Dodecanese operations, and this largely unnecessary row, brought on by Churchill, was perhaps the first clear indication that the Americans were beginning to recognize what had been true since Brooke was denied the post of supreme commander for Overlord, that they had become the senior partner in the relationship.26

The Prime Minister had not helped his own case by including in his original telegram to Roosevelt the sentence ‘Even if the landing craft and assault ships on the scale of a division were withheld from the buildup of Overlord for a few weeks without altering the zero date it would be worthwhile.’27 Over Rhodes, Marshall recalled telling Churchill, using a profanity that was all the more powerful because it never usually passed his lips: ‘God forbid if I should try to dictate, but not one American soldier is going to die on that goddamned island!’28

‘I doubt if I did anything better in the war’, stated Marshall in 1956, ‘than to keep him on the main point. I was furious when he tried to push us further into the Mediterranean.’ He remembered many ‘hectic scenes’ with Churchill over the Dodecanese, recalling that the Prime Minister ‘Could be strong and loud. Churchill, however, once he accepted a point, would not hold it against him. Would put his arms around him.’ Marshall also appreciated the British Chiefs of Staff’s position over that issue, which he described as ‘extraordinarily difficult. Mr Churchill was very intense when he got a certain idea and he did business with them every day, where sometimes I didn’t see the President for a month.’29 As well as being a strength, of course, this could also be a weakness, because, as Marshall admitted, he was still fearful–though less so now–that the President might be ‘inveigled’ or ‘palavered’ by Churchill into ‘side shots’.

In early drafts of his war memoirs, Churchill was bitter about the Americans baulking his Dodecanese enterprise, arguing that, ‘but for pedantic denials in the minor sphere’, the Allies could have controlled the Aegean. From there he had hoped to strike north, and pressurize Turkey into entering the war. Chapter 12 of Closing the Ring is entitled ‘Island Prizes Lost’, and he blamed the ‘prejudice’ of the President’s advisers, though not Marshall by name. He also had some criticisms of Eisenhower, and Roosevelt was described as ‘ungenerous’. All these were removed before publication, however, probably because Ike was supreme commander of NATO’s Allied Command Europe at the time. Perhaps Churchill used the early proofs of his book as a safety-valve, rather as Brooke used his diary and Roosevelt his draft telegrams, because throughout the extensive redrafting process sharp comments about individuals were constantly toned down, often on the advice of General Pownall, Norman Brook, William Deakin and other members of his ‘Syndicate’ of drafters and fact-checkers. What Churchill also omitted was that Brooke had been just as resolutely opposed as the Americans to what the CIGS described in his diary as ‘Rhodes madness’.30

Even though the Eighth Army took Taranto on 10 September and there were four divisions ashore at Salerno by 13 September, with the 7th Armoured Division arriving that day, Alexander, who as commander-in-chief of Allied forces in Italy was Clark’s superior officer, was sending ‘somewhat gloomy’ telegrams stating that the Salerno bridgehead saw ‘the Germans concentrating faster than we can’. The War Office were ready with the blame. ‘Eisenhower never produced a proper appreciation,’ wrote Kennedy; ‘one doubts if he even made one. It is very hard to understand why he cannot deploy more of his colossal forces. It all seems to indicate rather a muddle at Algiers.’ The speed with which the Planners got these excuses arranged would have impressed a politician.

‘The only good feature so far is that it will bring home to the Americans a truer sense of the realities of these landing operations against Germans,’ Kennedy continued, ‘which should have a wholesome influence on their future plans and make our task of rubbing it into them less thankless. One must admire their drive and fearlessness in planning, but without due caution as well, disasters are bound to happen.’ Partly because of the two battleships from Malta, disaster did not in fact happen, but it is easy to guess the extent of the mutual Anglo-American recrimination that would have exploded if it had. But a few days later Kennedy was even prompted to observe: ‘If we had a walkover at Salerno we should almost certainly have had a bigger disaster later on. This is all very salutary.’31

Press rumours that Marshall was about to be promoted emerged in early September, with opposition to such a plan emerging from various quarters, all of them flattering to him. Some papers said that he was too precious to be wasted on a theatre commandership, others that Roosevelt was trying to remove the one strong man capable of preventing the reorganization of the Army Service Forces, for various supposedly nefarious reasons of his own. Three ranking senators on the Senate military affairs committee had to be personally placated by Stimson over this. On 16 September, Pershing himself wrote to the President from his hospital bed opposing Marshall’s transfer, describing his ‘deep conviction’ that it would be ‘a fundamental and very grave error in our military policy’ to lose someone so talented from the General Staff, because in a global war the most accomplished officer should be the Chief of Staff.32

If Marshall had asked for the job, he could have been supreme commander of Overlord, which after all won Eisenhower the presidency in 1952. Since Marshall served as US secretary of state after the war, it is not inconceivable that he might have run for the White House had he commanded the Normandy invasion. He is famous today, of course, but primarily because of his post-war European reconstruction plan. Just like Brooke, had he become supreme commander in the autumn or winter of 1943, Marshall would now be seen as one of the greatest generals of history, and the books, statues, aircraft carriers and street names presently dedicated to Eisenhower would today bear a different name.

Did Marshall glimpse any of this back in 1943? Whether he did or not, he put what he perceived to be his duty before hopes of lasting global glory, just as Brooke had in the Western Desert in August 1942. Eisenhower, a Marshall appointee and acolyte, had no hope of competing for the job against his mentor. He told his naval aide and confidant, Captain Harry Butcher, that ‘while his record as Allied Commander in North Africa would cause his name to be considered, he doubted if anyone except Generals Marshall and Brooke could be assigned.’ He also claimed that he liked his ‘semi-independence’ in Algiers, and ‘didn’t relish’ moving to a headquarters in London or Washington where he would be subjected to much more political interference.33

The War Cabinet of 20 September had to consider what would happen to the five battleships, eight cruisers, eight destroyers and twenty-one submarines of the Italian Navy that had surrendered to date. If there was any dispute with the Americans over which navy got which ships, Churchill thought, they should be divided equally. ‘What right does Italy have to pretend to be a modern power that has a future?’ he mused. Of the Italian ships that had already taken refuge in Fascist Spain, Churchill said there must be ‘no nonsense about that’.34 Very often, as on this occasion, Brooke gave long and detailed analyses of the global position on all fronts with no comment at all from Churchill. For the most part they worked closely with one another over the three-and-a-half years they were together; anything else would have been insupportable over that period of time.

On 28 September, Marshall reported in almost lyrical prose to Roosevelt all the benefits that had already accrued from the Italian campaign:

The fall of Foggia has come exactly at the time when it is needed to complement our bomber offensive now hammering Germany from bases in the UK. As winter sets in over northern Europe, our heavy bombers operating from the dozen or more (13) air bases in the Foggia Area will strike again and again at the heart of German production not only in Germany proper but in Austria, Hungary and Rumania. For our bombers operating from England, this aerial ‘Second Front’ will be a great assistance.35

It was typical of Marshall’s exactitude, even in an almost elegiac letter such as this, that he should still need to give the exact number of air bases that justified his phrase ‘dozen or more’. He went on to say that the Germans now had to provide 1,200 further miles of air defences, and ‘In a matter of days we will be in a position to strike into the soft side of Germany.’ This was the closest he got to accepting Churchill’s stance that Europe had a ‘soft’ side.

That same day, on the other side of the Atlantic, Churchill was ‘shouting a lot’ at a Defence Committee meeting on the Far Eastern situation. ‘Brookie obviously anxious lest too much were diverted from Mediterranean,’ noted Eden.36 After it, Eden, Attlee and Mountbatten stayed up until 1.30 a.m. discussing with Churchill whether Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham should replace Pound as first sea lord. On 8 September, Pound had visited Churchill in his big bed–sitting room in the White House to say that he had suffered a stroke and his right side was largely paralysed. ‘I thought it would pass off, but it gets worse every day and I am no longer fit for duty.’ When he signed his resignation letter back at the Admiralty, his secretary had to guide his hand. In his memoirs, Churchill claimed that, after Admiral Sir Bruce Fraser had refused the promotion, ‘the obvious choice’ had been Cunningham. In fact, however, Churchill put up a series of objections to the man who had stood up to him over Greece and Crete in 1941 and he only accepted Cunningham–who was indeed the obvious choice–with some reluctance. ‘Winston was loud in cries that he would not appoint any First Sea Lord who didn’t accept his Far Eastern plans,’ wrote Eden.37

At the end of the long session, Churchill joked that ‘he would end by killing us all by these late hours’, to which Eden laconically added in his diary, ‘which may well be true’. Three days earlier, Eden had worked hard on Saturday morning, then lunched with the Churchills and motored down to Cranborne. In his own words he was ‘Very tired after dinner and suffered from a complete “black out” which happily nobody noticed.’ The following year, when he slept badly, he ‘had to use heavy ration of dope to produce any effect’.38 A week later he was taking a pink pill to help him sleep. The physical and psychological pressures on the senior wartime decision-makers need to be borne in mind when considering their occasional bouts of furious ill-temper with one another.

The King’s Dragoon Guards took Naples on 1 October 1943. Dill wrote from Washington that day to congratulate Brooke on the Italian successes. ‘I don’t believe it was ever possible to make the Americans more Mediterranean-minded than they are today,’ he claimed, saying the Joint Chiefs of Staff ‘have given way to our views a thousand times more than we have given way to them’. It was true, but it was all about to change. When Alexander wrote to Brooke on 17 October asking for landing craft to put ashore a force further north on the west coast of Italy, behind the German lines, Brooke replied that he ‘feared that any opinion from our side would be suspected by the Americans who seemed to have an ineradicable impression that our hearts were not in Overlord and that we took every opportunity of directing to the Mediterranean resources which they considered should be concentrated in Great Britain’.39 He therefore suggested that it would be better to go via Eisenhower and the Combined Chiefs of Staff than direct to him.

That same day Kennedy made a diary note which explodes Brooke’s later claims that he had no interest in operations in the Balkans, an issue that was to become the next major bone of contention between the Masters and Commanders. ‘There is still a very distinct cleavage of opinion between us and the Americans as to the correct strategy in Europe,’ wrote Brooke’s colleague, closest aide, Director of Military Operations and fellow bird-watcher.

CIGS feels very strongly that we should exploit the openings in the Med and extend the range of our offensive operations to the Aegean and Balkans. The Germans are sitting on a volcano in the Balkans…The PM has come round to this point of view too, and has just said that he would like to tackle the Americans again upon it. But I must say I see no chance of converting them–especially in view of Marshall’s impending appointment for Overlord.

Just as in the Pentagon, the assumption until December 1943 at the War Office was that the post would go to Marshall.

Far from his holding Churchill back from the Aegean and Balkans, therefore, Kennedy believed–and was in a prime position to know–that Brooke was in fact building Churchill up to believe that the Mediterranean strategy might have much further to go northwards and eastwards. Unlike Churchill, however, Brooke was always intensely conscious of the importance of not disclosing future stages of his strategic ambitions to the (understandably) suspicious Americans.

Where Churchill, Roosevelt and Brooke were wrong, and Marshall right, was in rating highly the chances of bringing Turkey into the war against Germany. The British calculated that this was possible, even likely, and Roosevelt wanted to plan for it too, but Marshall never thought it likely, and did not want to design strategy around such an eventuality. In March 1943, Churchill said to Brooke of the Turks: ‘We must start by treating them purry-purry puss-puss, then later we shall harden!’40 Yet the Allies had no opportunity of doing either, as Marshall was correct: the Turks felt no inclination to declare war on a power as geographically close and still capable of lashing out as viciously as Nazi Germany. If purry-purry puss-puss did not work, neither did threats; in November Eden had asked Churchill what he should tell Turkey to try to coerce her into the Allied camp. Churchill replied: ‘Tell Turkey Christmas is coming.’41

There was only one occasion during the war when Brooke’s commitment even to an eventual Operation Overlord in 1944 seems momentarily to have wavered. Having received a note from Churchill at the morning Chiefs of Staff meeting on Tuesday 19 October, expressing the wish ‘to swing round the strategy back to the Mediterranean at the expense of the cross Channel operation’, Brooke noted: ‘I am in many ways entirely with him, but God knows where that may lead us to as regards clashes with Americans…I shudder at the thought of another meeting with the American Chiefs of Staff, and wonder whether I can face up to the strain of it.’ That evening at 10.30 there was another important meeting to discuss Overlord. As well as the Chiefs of Staff, Churchill had brought in Smuts, Attlee, Cadogan, Lyttelton and Leathers, a sure sign that he wanted political muscle behind him for a major démarche.

The Prime Minister criticized the May 1944 target date for Overlord; Cadogan suggested ‘stirring up action in the Balkans’ instead; Brooke complained of fighting a war based on ‘lawyers’ contracts’ (a reference to returning the seven divisions); Smuts spoke of ‘a clear run in to victory’ in the Mediterranean, at which Portal warned that the Americans would instead divert larger forces to the Pacific. The Prime Minister said he would be willing to risk that, and summed up in Utopian terms: ‘if we were in a position to decide the future strategy of the war’ the Americans should agree to ‘reinforce the Italian theatre to the full’, ‘enter the Balkans’, ‘hold our position in the Aegean Islands’, intensify air attacks on Germany, and build up US forces in Britain for an operation which ‘might not occur until after the spring of 1944’. Churchill therefore called for another full-scale Combined Chiefs of Staff conference in early November to try to sell this strategy to Roosevelt and Marshall.

Brooke put his name to this wish-list, knowing that that was all it could be, since Britain was no longer ‘in a position to decide the future strategy’ almost unilaterally. Roosevelt and Marshall were certainly not about to sign up for the first three desiderata, suspecting that it was merely yet another way of postponing the last. So the meeting served no useful purpose other than blowing off prime ministerial steam. It was not mentioned at all in Churchill’s war memoirs, probably because he did not want readers to appreciate how doubtful he still was about Overlord.42 Yet he was, and so–at least on this occasion–was Brooke. It was during the month of October 1943 that Brooke’s commitment to a spring 1944 Overlord, which had always been genuine, contrary to US suspicions, was seriously questioned for the first and last time. It had probably been the correct decision not to appoint him as its supreme commander after all.

On 21 October 1943–appropriately enough, Trafalgar Day–Sir Dudley Pound died in a London hospital. He had worked himself into an early grave. Commander Thompson recalled how deeply ‘distressed’ Churchill was by the death of one of his few personal friends in the higher command of the war.43 With Smuts often abroad and Beaverbrook in the Government but not the War Cabinet, Churchill had plenty of colleagues to work with, but few close friends. Brooke and Portal acted as pall-bearers at Pound’s funeral at Westminster Abbey, another was Pound’s successor, Cunningham, a man Jock Colville believed to be ‘impervious to Churchill’s spell’.44 A true naval hero (his biographer subtitled his book ‘The greatest admiral since Nelson’), Sir Andrew Browne Cunningham has been described as ‘a smallish man with sparkling blue eyes, not particularly robust physically, but with a will of iron and no respecter of persons’.45 Or prime ministers.

‘A.B.C.’ had entered the Navy in 1897, serving ashore in the Boer War before specializing in destroyers. He was commander-in-chief Mediterranean when he sank three 10,000-ton cruisers in the close-range night action off Cape Matapan in March 1941, without loss to the Royal Navy, and when, two months later, he accepted sinkings, against the General Staff’s advice, in order to bring twenty-two thousand troops off Crete rather than leave them to be captured. ‘You have said, General, that it will take three years to build a new Fleet,’ he had told Wavell on that occasion. ‘I will tell you that it will take three hundred years to build a new tradition.’46 He also kept Malta supplied by sea, despite heavy Luftwaffe bombing. Cunningham had been Allied naval commander for both Operations Torch and Husky. Eisenhower described him as vigorous, hardy and straightforward: ‘A real sea-dog’. The Navy meant everything to him. ‘He appears to have had no inner life and no intellectual interests,’ writes one historian. ‘His idea of a good time was to lie on his back and throw ping-pong balls into a chandelier.’47 (Which doesn’t sound like such bad fun, in fact.)

It took a man like Cunningham, who had crippled the Italian fleet at Taranto harbour with Swordfish torpedo bombers in 1940, putting three Italian battleships out of action, to stand up to Churchill’s constant demands for daring action. Yet if anyone deserved Churchill’s cruel jibe about the Chiefs of Staff Committee demonstrating ‘the sum total of their fears’, it was he. ‘In unexpected contrast to his powerful leadership at sea,’ admits his biographer,

A.B.C. himself was curiously passive as First Sea Lord. In the Mediterranean he had been master of men and events. He made things happen. In Whitehall, he let things happen to him. By his own testimony there were Chiefs of Staff meetings at which he made no contribution, or remained neutral on a particular subject because in his opinion it did not concern the Navy.48

After Stalin had agreed to meet the other two members of what was to be called the ‘Big Three’ at Teheran in late November 1943, Churchill telegraphed Roosevelt on 23 October begging for another Anglo-American meeting soon, saying that they ought not to meet the Russians without first agreeing about future Anglo-American operations. He pointed out that by their Teheran meeting it would be ninety days since Quadrant, and in that time Italy had surrendered and been invaded ‘successfully’, and the Germans were gathering twenty-five divisions there. ‘All these are new facts,’ he concluded. He went on to state quite bluntly that ‘Our present plans for 1944 seem open to very grave defects.’ Putting fifteen American and twelve British divisions into Overlord while there were six American and twelve British and Commonwealth divisions in Italy meant that ‘Hitler, lying in the centre of the best communications in the world, can concentrate at least forty or fifty divisions against either of these forces while holding the other…without necessarily weakening his Russian front.’ (This was an exaggeration; Hitler had indeed weakened his Russian front in order to defend central Italy.) Instead of strategic need dictating the disposition of forces between the Mediterranean and the Channel, Churchill alleged, it was down to ‘arbitrary compromises’, by which he meant the seven-divisions deal. ‘The date of Overlord itself’, he pointed out, ‘was gained by splitting the difference between the American and British view.’ This telegram merely confirmed the suspicions of Americans such as Marshall and Hopkins that the Prime Minister had gone cold on the whole Overlord project once again.

Churchill went on to state that the date was looming when decisions over Overlord’s landing craft needed to be made, which if they were taken from Alexander ‘will cripple Mediterranean operations without the said craft influencing events elsewhere for many months’. Ditto the 50th and 51st Divisions then in Sicily, which were close to the Italian battle but would be out of action for seven months if they were transferred to Overlord instead. Speaking for Brooke and himself, Churchill wrote: ‘We stand by what was agreed at Quadrant but we do not feel that such agreements should be interpreted rigidly and without review in the swiftly changing situations of war.’49 There was only one way to interpret it: Brooke–many of whose favourite phrases appeared in the telegram–wanted to renege on the promise to withdraw the seven divisions, whatever effect that would have on the May 1944 date for Overlord.

Quoting the German general Wilhelm von Thoma, whom secret microphones had picked up telling fellow POWs in Hertfordshire, ‘Our only hope is that they come where we can use the Army on them,’ Churchill said he didn’t doubt that Overlord would be successful in getting ashore and deploying, but he was ‘deeply concerned’ with what would happen between the thirtieth and sixtieth days thereafter. ‘I have the greatest confidence in General Marshall and…if he is in charge of Overlord we British will aid him with every scrap of life and strength we have,’ Churchill claimed, before imploring Roosevelt, ‘My dear friend, this is much the greatest thing we have ever attempted, and I am not satisfied that we have yet taken the measures necessary to give it the best chance of success. I feel very much in the dark at present, and unable to think or act in the forward manner which is needed. For these reasons I desire an early conference.’ He suggested 15 November ‘at latest’. Roosevelt, who was suffering from influenza, replied on 25 October, suggesting a meeting, with small staffs, at the Pyramids.

Simultaneously Churchill telegraphed Marshall: ‘Naturally I feel in my marrow the withdrawal of our 50th and 51st Divisions, our best, from the very edge of the battle of Rome in the interests of distant Overlord. We are carrying out our contract, but I pray God it does not cost us dear. I do hope to hear of your appointment soon. You know I will back you through thick and thin and make your path here smooth.’50 Meanwhile Brooke was furious that operations in Italy seemed to be ‘coming to a standstill’. He did not credit Kesselring’s fine resistance, but blamed Marshall’s ‘insistence to abandon the Mediterranean operations for the very problematical cross Channel operations’.51

Brooke feared a major German counter-offensive on the Eastern Front unless the Russians were successful–which they were being, breaking into the Nogaisk Steppes on 27 October–and complained that the Allied build-up in Italy was both slower than the German and far slower than he had expected. ‘We shall have an almighty row with the Americans who have put us in this position,’ he predicted, and then wrote sarcastically: ‘We are now beginning to see the full beauty of the Marshall strategy!! It is quite heartbreaking when we see what we might have done this year if our strategy had not been distorted by the Americans.’52 Rarely was his diary safety-valve used to greater effect.

In fact the Americans were not insisting on ‘abandoning’ the Mediterranean. All that they had insisted on at Quadrant was sticking to the Trident agreement that seven divisions should be withdrawn from the Mediterranean for Overlord by 1 November. Now, within a week of that date, the British were frantically attempting to renege. Rather than ‘distorting’ the British strategy, the Americans had gone along with it to a remarkable extent, and the fruits were evident: the defeat of Italy and diversion of many German divisions southwards. Brooke was thus not only indulging in hyperbole, but attempting to turn what was originally intended to be a subsidiary front into a major one.53 For all that the Third Reich could be harried from the south, it could only be killed stone dead from the west, by taking the Ruhr, and the east, by taking Berlin. With the time for that approaching, the seven divisions were needed more in Britain than in Italy.

Yet senior British figures could not appreciate that at the time. If Alexander’s pessimistic prognostications about the Germans massing to crush him in Italy proved accurate, thought Alec Cadogan, ‘all this “Overlord” folly must be thrown “Overboard”.’ After Alexander’s doleful report, Cadogan recorded that the whole War Cabinet were ‘definite’ that Britain could not be tied to the 1 May 1944 timetable for Overlord, and ‘Winston will fight for “nourishing the battle” in Italy and, if necessary, resign on it.’54 Of course Churchill’s resignation was unthinkable, and was merely a negotiating tool or rhetorical device. Michael Howard has written of Churchill and the Italian campaign, ‘over whose destinies he brooded with such possessive passion’, that this was a case where emotion took over in strategy-making. Churchill spoke of the Italian campaign, where there were twelve British and Commonwealth divisions under their own commanders Alexander and Montgomery, in a more personal and emotional way than he ever did of the far larger Allied campaigns in France and Germany the following year. Howard rightly puts this down to ‘sheer chauvinism’.55

On 26 October, the Joint Chiefs of Staff began selecting attendees for the coming Cairo Conference (codenamed Sextant) and were not going to make the same mistake that they had at Casablanca. Seventy-five officers and thirty warrant officers and enlisted men were chosen for the military delegation, with twenty more officers coming in from other theatres, not including further signals, medical and supply personnel. Furthermore Eisenhower, Stilwell and General Claire L. Chennault, the USAAF commander in China, would also be attending along with their Planning Staffs. Nor did that include the political and diplomatic group personally attending the President. The Americans would arrive at the Pyramids inundated with Staff, ready to deal with anything the British might spring on them.

‘I feel that Eisenhower and Alexander must have what they need to win the battle in Italy,’ Churchill wrote to Roosevelt about the importance of taking Rome, ‘no matter what effect is produced on subsequent operations.’ On 27 October Roosevelt drafted a reply to Churchill that he never sent, but a copy of which he passed to Marshall, stating that preparations for Overlord–which he was ‘anxious’ should take place on 1 May 1944–‘seem to have reached a stage from which progress difficult unless and until [the] Commander is appointed. As you know[I] cannot make Marshall available immediately.’ FDR suggested that Churchill ‘may care to consider early appointment of British Deputy Supreme Commander’, before going on to suggest Brooke, Dill or Portal.56

Brooke would not have entertained the idea after having been turned down for the top job, and it anyway seems slightly absurd that Roosevelt should have encouraged the appointment of a deputy before he himself got round to choosing the supreme commander, which was perhaps why the message was never sent. After the war, Lieutenant-General Morgan told Pogue that the President had revealed to him in November 1943 that he needed an Army chief of staff ‘who could handle MacArthur’. Eisenhower had served on MacArthur’s staff for nearly nine years in the 1930s, and might therefore have adopted a deferential attitude, whereas the President knew that Marshall could handle the difficult, occasionally irascible but undeniably brilliant MacArthur, whom Marshall had never liked. That might have been the real reason why Eisenhower became supreme commander instead of taking Marshall’s place as US Army chief of staff. Another possibility is that health reasons intervened; in June 1954 Marshall told Moran that his heartbeat had been ‘all over the place’ at Quadrant.57

‘During the past week,’ Kennedy confided to his journal on 30 October, ‘matters have moved steadily to a head with regard to the divergence of view between us and the Americans on future strategy.’ Alexander had sent Eisenhower his appreciation of how his advance on Rome had slowed up for lack of landing craft to attack round the German flanks, and asking for more troops. (Very few generals ever write to their superiors requesting fewer.) The problem was, in Kennedy’s words, that:

if we give Alexander what he wants, and if we allot further resources for operations in the Aegean and Balkans as we should do to take full advantage of the situation, Overlord must perforce be postponed. The American Chiefs take the view that this is a breach of contract and almost dishonourable. The impasse arises from a fundamental difference in the British and American points of view as to what is possible in a combined operation.58

Kennedy believed that history proved that combined operations often failed through ‘slowness of “buildup” on the part of the attacker’. Well-planned and well-executed plans generally succeeded, he believed, citing Gallipoli as an example of a plan that was badly executed. (In fact Gallipoli had been executed as well as it could have been; it was the plan to send thousands of men again and again up precipitous slopes over a rocky peninsula far from Constantinople in the teeth of well-entrenched and dogged Turkish resistance over eight months that had been the real problem.)

‘We have never yet carried out a successful combined operation in the face of strong opposition on the beaches,’ wrote Kennedy. ‘Sicily and Salerno were not strongly opposed. In France we may expect to meet such opposition.’ The Americans had a faulty appreciation of the problems involved, he believed, and instanced Eisenhower’s steep learning curve once he had arrived in North Africa, and the way that he had declared the Sicilian landings ‘impossible’ if the Germans had more than two divisions on the island. American reliance on overwhelming air power in breaking up enemy concentrations was, in Kennedy’s view, ‘illusory’, since ‘Air power has never yet in this war interfered seriously with the Germans’ power to move their armies.’ Despite the Allies’ overwhelming domination of the air over Sicily, two German divisions had managed to escape, but Kennedy was wrong to deprecate the importance of air power, which was indeed seriously to interdict the Germans’ capacity to counter-attack at Normandy. ‘In the end,’ he predicted, ‘I suppose we shall probably go into France with little opposition and then the historians will say that we missed glorious opportunities a year earlier, etc, etc. It will be the Easterners and the Westerners as in the last war but with locations reversed!’59 (Kennedy was referring to the controversy within the British High Command in 1915 over Gallipoli versus the Western Front.)

The prospect of yet another Combined Chiefs of Staff conference filled Brooke with weariness and dread, as usual. ‘The stink of the last one is not yet out of my nostrils!’ he wrote on 1 November. ‘I now unfortunately know the limitations of Marshall’s brain and the impossibility of ever making him realize any strategical situation or its requirements. In strategy I doubt if he can ever, ever see the end of his nose.’60 Brooke went on to blame himself for his failure to make the Joint Chiefs of Staff ‘see daylight’, which was really a disparagement of them, posing unconvincingly as self-criticism. Had the Americans gone along with the Dodecanese projects, ‘We should have been in a position to force the Dardanelles by the capture of Crete and Rhodes, we should have the whole Balkans ablaze by now, and the war might have been finished in 1943!!’ Instead of that golden prospect, however, Brooke believed that to satisfy ‘American shortsightedness’ the seven divisions had to be sent off ‘for a nebulous 2nd Front’ which has ‘emasculated our offensive strategy!! It is heartbreaking.’ Did Brooke really mean all this, since he had not supported the capture of Crete or Rhodes–let alone the Dardanelles–at the time, and certainly not in the Chiefs of Staff Committee? He was also writing on 1 November, the date the divisions were due to be withdrawn, yet five of the seven were still fighting in Italy.

Brooke’s outburst–written after the strain of a long Chiefs of Staff meeting and a Cabinet meeting and before yet another night meeting, of which he was ‘sick unto death’–was, as Michael Howard points out, ‘neither accurate nor fair’.61 In fact, the aims for the Mediterranean theatre agreed in the three 1943 conferences had all been achieved by the end of the year, including clearing the sea for Allied shipping and tipping the anti-U-boat campaign in the Allies’ favour. Around forty-five German divisions were now operating in Italy and the Balkan peninsula; Allied planes from Foggia were bombing central and south-eastern European targets nightly, and Yugoslavian partisans were on their way towards receiving huge amounts of supplies to tie down almost as large a number of German divisions as those operating in Italy. That was about as much as the Mediterranean campaign could ever realistically have achieved.

The Americans–who were indeed probably wrong to consider invading France in 1942 or 1943–were right to insist on doing so by the late spring of 1944. Furthermore the British, who were right to call for the invasion of Italy up to Naples in 1943, were similarly wrong to continue the campaign up to Rome, let alone beyond. The Allies had already achieved their aim of luring large German reinforcements into Italy; they did not then need to play to the Germans’ defensive strengths by trying to break through the Gustav Line and subsequently the Gothic Line much further north. There had to be a Salerno to take Naples, but once the Foggia airstrips were secured there did not need to be an Anzio landing to help take Rome, nor the many costly assaults on Monte Cassino. If a moment needs to be pinpointed when the British started to get strategy wrong, and the Americans started to get it right, it was in mid-October 1943 when Churchill successfully persuaded Brooke to try to postpone Overlord. Brooke seems to have overcome his month of autumn madness, however, and never returned to the supposed attractions of attacking Rhodes and Crete or ‘forcing’ the Dardanelles. Indeed he later came to deny they ever existed.

In late October 1943 Dill wrote to Marshall and King suggesting that the British and Americans should each have an officer attached to the other’s Planning Staff. Predictably, King opposed this, so Marshall wrote him a memorandum saying, ‘It seems to me that Dill’s proposal is sound unless we assume an attitude of suspicion in relation to this matter. We have to work with these people and the closer the better, with fewer misunderstandings I am certain.’ He instanced the success of having General Morgan at COSSAC. Morgan had been working in Washington since Quadrant, and Marshall believed he had gone so native that ‘it may be embarrassing in his relation to the British Chiefs of Staff in London.’62

Marshall then pointed out that, when it came to ‘the other side’–meaning Britain, not Germany–‘We are fighting battles all the time, notably in regard to the Balkans and other places, and the more frankness there is in the business at the lower level the better off I believe we are; particularly because it seems to me in a majority of cases the younger elements on the British side favour our conceptions rather than those of the Prime Minister.’ King once again replied negatively, arguing that such an arrangement ‘would permit us no privacy in the consideration of problems which are purely those of the United States’. Marshall forwarded this reply to Dill, and the project was stillborn.

Just as some Americans retained their suspicion of Britons, so some Britons preserved their equally unjustified sense of superiority over the Americans. After dinner at 10 Downing Street with the King and the Chiefs of Staff on 3 November, Sir Alan Lascelles reported that the Chiefs’:

great problem at the moment is to teach the Americans that you cannot run a war by making rigid ‘lawyers’ agreements’ to carry out preconceived strategic operations at a given date (i.e. ‘Overlord’), but that you must plan your campaign elastically and be prepared to adapt it to the tactical exigencies of the moment. They don’t seem to grasp that a paper-undertaking made in the autumn to invade Europe (or any other continent) in the following spring may have to be modified in accordance with what the enemy does or does not do in the intervening winter.63

Since these are all views and phrases that crop up in Brooke’s diaries, memoranda and conversations of the time, it is not difficult to work out Lascelles’ placement at dinner that right. Needless to say, had the Americans twice promised something in writing that Brooke still very much wanted, and had they threatened to renege on it, Brooke would probably not have been so aristocratically disdaining of ‘lawyers’ contracts’. Marshall did not want the seven divisions out of pedantic literalism but because he felt they would do more good in France than in Italy. And by then he was right.

A proposal from Admiral Leahy that Marshall should take over both the Mediterranean and the Western Fronts caused consternation in London on 8 November. Dill warned Brooke who warned Churchill, and, according to Brooke’s report to Kennedy, the Prime Minister threatened that he would not agree to it ‘while he remained in office’. Kennedy, who had only that week been made assistant CIGS, with control over the Operations, Intelligence, Plans and Maps departments, saw it as an attempt to stymie the Mediterranean campaign in favour of Overlord. As it turned out, the following day Marshall contacted Churchill and Brooke via Dill to say that Leahy’s proposal had come from Roosevelt, but it ‘had never received any proper consideration by the US Chiefs of Staff. I do not think you need to take it too seriously.’64 It was a relief to the British to hear that Marshall was not interested, but not that Leahy had been encouraged by the President.

With only days to go before the Cairo Conference began, the British crystallized their ideas about what they wanted out of it. The main desiderata would be to continue the offensive in Italy, to increase the flow of supplies to the partisans in the Balkans, to try to induce the Balkan powers to break away from Germany, to induce Turkey to enter the war, and to accept a postponement of Overlord. Of these five British hopes, only the first two were adopted in the short to medium term, far below Brooke’s normal hit-rate. For by the time of the Cairo Conference, the balance of power had decisively shifted to the Americans, and it was never to shift back. In terms of economic might, industrial and military production, troops under arms, sheer numbers of ships and aircraft, and almost every single other measurable criterion of power, the United States had comprehensively overtaken Great Britain by November 1943, and was also overtaking the British Commonwealth as a whole.

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