You can use a brilliant but lazy man as a strategist, a brilliant but energetic man as a Chief of Staff, but God help you with a dumb but energetic man!
General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold1
‘We must not regard Overlord on a fixed date as the pivot of our whole strategy on which all else turns,’ wrote Brooke in a memorandum for Churchill before the Cairo Conference. ‘We should stretch the German forces to the utmost by threatening as many of their vital interests and areas as possible and, holding them thus, we should attack wherever we can do so in superior force.’2 Brooke suggested advancing beyond Rome to the Pisa–Rimini Line, intensifying aid to the Balkan partisans, pressing Turkey to open the Dardanelles and doing everything possible to ‘promote a state of chaos and destruction in the satellite Balkan countries’. Yet, as was now very apparent, areas east of the Adriatic ‘were regarded by American strategists with something akin to the superstitious dread with which medieval mariners once contemplated the unknown monster-infested reaches of the Western Ocean’.3 Marshall was foremost among these, and with Overlord slated for less than six months away, only one strategy could prevail.
On Monday 15 November 1943 Roosevelt held a meeting at Shangri-La attended by Harry Hopkins and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, at which he indicated the very firm stance he intended to adopt towards Churchill and Brooke at the coming Cairo (Sextant) and especially the Teheran (Eureka) conferences, the second of which Stalin was also going to attend. The Chinese generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek would also be coming to Cairo, and Far Eastern strategy was another area at which the Americans expected clashes with the British.
Although ‘the British wanted to build up France into a first-class Power, which would be on the British side,’ the President said that ‘It was his opinion that France would certainly not again become a first-class Power for at least twenty-five years.’ To a Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum opposing involvement in the Balkans strategy, all FDR said was ‘Amen’, adding that the United States should ‘definitely’ take a stand against it at the earliest opportunity. The minutes also record that Roosevelt ‘said it was his idea that General Marshall should be the commander-in-chief against Germany and command all the British, French, Italian and US troops involved in this effort’.4 It is evident from his mention of the Italians–who had no part to play in Overlord–that he meant Marshall to accept an inclusive European command that encompassed the Mediterranean theatre. Given that Marshall could be guaranteed to push for Overlord rather than Italy were he to assume the overarching supreme command Roosevelt wanted, and given that the previous month Churchill had threatened to resign if the Italian battle were not ‘nourished’, trouble clearly loomed.
Over the future of King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, Roosevelt told his advisers: ‘The British are definitely monarchists and want to keep kings on their thrones. They are monarchist-minded,’ whereas ‘We would like to get the King out.’ Although Leahy and Admiral King could not see what difference it made, and thought that the situation would ‘solve itself’, the President insisted on a national plebiscite on the issue. Whether this was more for ideological republicanism, to punish Victor Emmanuel for waiting so long before acting against Mussolini, or to irritate the British, must be open to doubt. Finally he said that he would like his meeting with Chiang Kai-shek ‘to be separate from and precede any meeting with the British’. Churchill’s telegram resiling from the May date for Overlord meant that the Anglo-American relationship was in for a testing time the following week.
‘The coming conference will be a difficult one,’ judged Kennedy, accurately.
The Americans seem to think we have acted in an almost underhand way over the Mediterranean and have been guilty of unilateral action to implement our belief that the Mediterranean should have priority over Overlord, in spite of signed agreements in the contrary sense. This is curious because we have felt exactly the same about them. CIGS feels that the war may have been lengthened by the American failure to realize the value of exploiting the whole Mediterranean situation and of supporting Turkey strongly enough to bring her into the war.
Kennedy concluded that ‘The time has now come for plain speaking on both sides.’5 In fact, as we have seen, there had already been a good deal of plain speaking up until then. Cairo was to hear much more.
Just as Roosevelt was gradually becoming less enamoured of Churchill, so Churchill was finding an anti-American streak in himself that had not been apparent since the naval disputes of the mid-1920s. A new tone of asperity had entered the ‘Former Naval Person’ correspondence on both sides, and on the evening of 18 November, when the Chiefs of Staff met around the Prime Minister’s bed in Malta after his nap, Churchill ‘gave long tirade on evils of Americans and of our losses in the Aegean and Dalmatian coast’. Of course by losses he meant missed opportunities, and Brooke was worried that the line the Prime Minister was intending to pursue at the conference would be ‘all right if you won’t play with us in the Mediterranean we won’t play with you in the English Channel.’ After the war Brooke put what he called Churchill’s ‘new feelings of spitefulness’ down to the fact that ‘the strength of the American forces were now building up fast and exceeding ours. He hated having to give up the position of the dominant partner which we had held at the start. As a result he became inclined at times to put up strategic proposals which he knew were unsound purely to spite the Americans. He was in fact aiming at “cutting off his nose to spite his face”.’6
Brooke believed that the primary attraction for Churchill of an Austrian or Balkan front lay in the fact that it would be ‘a purely British theatre when the laurels would be all ours’. Objectively, such nationalistic atavism–if Brooke was right in attributing such feelings to Churchill–was of course completely out of place in a war that had to be fought as a combined effort, but both Roosevelt and Churchill had their re-election to consider: Roosevelt in November 1944 and Churchill as soon as the war in Europe was won, which was then expected to be at about the same time. Just as it was important for Roosevelt electorally not to be seen as holding on to Churchill’s shirt-tails, so Churchill had proclaimed only a year before that he had ‘not become the King’s first minister’ in order to see the empire he loved liquidated. Churchill could see the way events were headed, and did not like it. Overlord would be a majority American operation, so prestige dictated that the British Empire should be able to claim the lead role in destroying Nazism in the Mediterranean.
The minutes of a strategy meeting held at 3 p.m. in the admiral’s cabin of Roosevelt’s ship on Friday 19 November make it clear quite how deeply conscious the Americans were of their emergent superiority by the time of Sextant. Right at the start of the discussion about having a supreme Allied commander for the west, covering Overlord, the Mediterranean and the Middle East, the question was raised whether Churchill would accept such a proposition.7 Marshall pointed out that ‘at times the British Cabinet has overridden Mr Churchill’s decisions’, but it was the President who put his finger on the main point at issue, when he asked what total forces Britain and the US would have at home and abroad by 1 January 1944. The figures produced were as follows: the British Army, Navy and RAF would total 3,822,000 men plus 1,070,000 Dominion forces, which for some reason was rounded down to four and a half million. The United States, meanwhile, would have 3,779,600 men serving overseas but enough in uniform in America to bring the total to 10,529,400, which for some equally mysterious reason was rounded up to eleven million. Therefore, the President observed, ‘We are definitely ahead of the British as regards the number of men we have overseas at the present time and we will soon have as many men in England for Overlord as the total British forces now in that place.’ Marshall added that ‘he felt that we were already ahead of the British in England,’ where there were only five operational divisions. Arnold added that overseas, ‘with regard to air, we have passed the British rapidly. By 1 January 1944 we will have over twelve thousand operational planes, while the British will only have about eight thousand.’ The implications were obvious: Roosevelt and Marshall could speak with a far stronger voice at Cairo than at any other conference hitherto.8
Roosevelt said he ‘felt that the overall Mediterranean command proposed by the British might have resulted from an idea in the back of their heads to create a situation in which they could push our troops into Turkey and the Balkans’. King pointed out that this would be impossible because the Combined Chiefs of Staff would still have the final say in grand strategy. The President replied that he would veto any plan of Alexander’s to use American troops and landing craft against the Dodecanese if the Prime Minister brought up the subject again. The meeting then got around to the question of Churchill’s proposed Balkan initiative. Here Marshall was adamant, telling the President:
We must see the question of this Balkan matter settled. We do not believe that the Balkans are necessary. To undertake operations in this region would result in prolonging the war and also lengthening the war in the Pacific. We have now over a million tons of supplies in England for Overlord. It would be going into reverse to undertake the Balkans and prolong the war materially…The British might like to ditch Overlord at this time in order to undertake operations in a country with practically no communications. If they insist on any such proposal, we could say that…we will pull out and go into the Pacific with all our forces.9
This time, unlike in the summer of 1942, Roosevelt did not demur. Churchill’s complaints about Overlord had gone too far. The Pacific threat, which in most of the Anglo-American strategic discussions up to this point had been implicit rather than explicit, was now becoming real. This time the Americans were not going to be bluffing.
Roosevelt evinced yet more hostility towards Britain in the COSSAC proposals for the division of post-war Germany into zones, codenamed Rankin. He believed that ‘The British wanted the north-western part of Germany and would like to see the US take France and Germany south of the Moselle River. He said he did not like that arrangement.’ Other than mentioning its Roman Catholicism, the President did not explain what he had against ‘southern Germany, Baden, Württemburg, everything south of the Rhine’, but he clearly preferred America to control the Protestant north-west of the Reich. The reason was doubtless because that was generally where the manufacturing industries were located. But once again the President was wrong to ascribe sinister intent to British policy-makers. Marshall explained that the geographical breakdown sprang from the simple logistical fact that the British were going to be on the left (that is, northern) flank of Overlord, which would take them into northern France and hence northern Germany, whereas the United States on the right (that is, southern) flank would necessarily–unless there was an administratively nightmarish cross-over of forces–wind up to the south. King added that the military plans for Overlord were too far developed to permit any change in deployment. Roosevelt then astonishingly suggested that American forces might instead be sent around Scotland and land in northern Germany, adding that ‘He felt that we should get out of France and Italy as soon as possible, letting the British and the French handle their own problem together. There would definitely be a race for Berlin. We may have to put the US divisions into Berlin as soon as possible.’10
At this stage of the war, therefore, it was not Russia that Roosevelt was hoping to beat to Berlin, but Great Britain, and he was suggesting completely altering the entire Overlord planning in order to effect it. As the OPD Planner Lieutenant-General Charles Donnelly recorded: ‘To have carried out Roosevelt’s [first] idea, there would have to have been a massive crossing of the lines by Army groups which would have played no end of havoc with transportation and logistic dispositions. Roosevelt finally gave in on this later when the logic became clear to him.’11
It was at this meeting too that Roosevelt said one of the strangest things of the entire war, when he ‘envisaged a railroad invasion of Germany with little or no fighting’. Marshall disagreed, saying that the land advance would have to be done by motor trucks as there was unlikely to be much rolling stock, whereupon Hopkins ‘suggested that we must be ready to put an airborne division into Berlin two hours after the collapse of Germany’. Leahy felt that with civil war likely in France it would be best if the British were left with the problem rather than the United States, since ‘The Germans are easier to handle than would be the French under the chaotic conditions that could be expected in France.’
Roosevelt concluded the session with the observation that ‘the British would undercut us in every move we make in the southern occupational area [of Germany] proposed for the United States. He said that it was quite evident that British political considerations were at the back of the proposals in this paper.’ As the Sextant Conference opened in Cairo, therefore, Roosevelt evidently felt deep suspicion of and even hostility towards Britain, although often on absurdly illogical grounds.
‘We felt almost from the outset of the meetings at Cairo that our American associates, so many of whom we looked upon as close friends, had worked themselves into a state bordering on self-deception,’ wrote Air Marshal Sir William Sholto Douglas, the Commander-in-Chief of the RAF in the Middle East. ‘They seemed to be determined not to listen to our ideas…there was more of a negative, automatic rejection of the views of the British by the Americans than any positive approach to a consideration of new ideas.’ British commanders felt ‘something approaching wonderment over the blank refusal by the Americans to listen to what we had to say’.12
Mutual suspicion was not helped by the fact that by mid-November 1943 the Allied push up Italy had frustratingly stalled in bad weather at the Gustav Line, which ran through the town of Cassino, 87 miles south of Rome close to the Rapido river. Hitler had imposed a draconian no-withdrawal policy on Kesselring, even though the same strategy had cost Germany a quarter of a million men both in Tunisia and at Stalingrad. Cassino’s sixth-century Benedictine abbey–once it was severely damaged by Allied aerial bombardment on 15 February 1944–provided in its rubble a highly effective strongpoint to hold up the Allied advance. The battle of Monte Cassino was one of the most hard-fought engagements of the Second World War, after the flooding of the Rapido meant that tanks and motorized equipment could not be employed.
The Mena House Hotel in Giza, in the suburbs of Cairo, was built in the early 1890s, almost in the shadow of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Although the Combined Chiefs of Staff held twelve meetings there–their 127th through to 138th between 22 November and 7 December–its members were distributed in villas along the road to Cairo. There were also five plenary sessions held in Roosevelt’s Villa Kirk in the grounds of the hotel. The British Chiefs’ villa looked imposing from the outside, but Hap Arnold decided he preferred his rooms because although the British had three baths each, they had no hot water. ‘It was said to belong to a princess,’ recalled Cunningham of his villa, ‘but if so she had rather skimped the plumbing.’13
The British delegation nonetheless moved in en masse, their eight hundred items of baggage weighing 35 tons. Everything was provided by the Royal Marines, including a barber, orderlies (whose average age was eighteen and a half, since higher gunnery ratings could not be spared), and batmen for Women’s Royal Naval Service officers, ‘whose duties included washing their “smalls”’.14 Part of the job of the security detail included burning all jottings and blotting paper left over at the end of each day’s deliberations.
The Americans arrived at Sextant with even more Staff officers than they had had at Quadrant. As well as Marshall, Leahy, King and Arnold and five aides, additional officers included Lieutenant-General Somervell, Major-General Handy, Rear-Admiral Cooke and eleven other senior officers, plus three from the Joint Strategic Survey Committee; three from the secretariat; six Joint Staff Planners; the ‘Senior’, ‘Red’, ‘Purple’ and ‘Blue’ teams of the Joint War Plans Committee, numbering twelve; three from the Joint Logistics Committee; nine Logistics Planners; four from the Planners’ secretariat (including Donnelly); two from Intelligence; eight Theater Representatives; two from War Shipping Administration (including Lew Douglas); two from the Assistant Secretary of War’s Office and two from the Civil Affairs Division, totalling seventy-nine officers in all.15 When the British asked difficult questions this time, there would be someone on hand with the answers.
Between Monday 22 and Friday 26 November the two sets of Chiefs of Staff met separately in the mornings, and then the Combined Chiefs of Staff met formally together in the afternoons. On the Tuesday and Friday the discussions got rather acrimonious. Although the British wanted an agreement on Overlord and the Mediterranean before they all met the Russians at Teheran, the Americans needed a decision on south-east Asia immediately, but wanted to discuss Overlord and the Mediterranean only at Teheran, where they knew they would be supported by Stalin, who was as desperate for Overlord as he was opposed to a Western presence in the Balkans. Furthermore, Roosevelt and Marshall rated Chiang Kai-shek highly and saw China as a post-war great power, whereas Churchill thought him a peripheral figure and Brooke considered that he ‘Evidently [had]…no grasp of war in its larger aspects but [was] determined to get the best of the bargains’ and ‘never did much against the Japs during the war’.16 The scene was thus set for another titanic clash.
The plenary session with Chiang Kai-shek on the morning of Tuesday 23 November was not successful, despite his wife Madame Chiang appearing at the meeting wearing a clinging black satin dress with ‘a slit which extended to her hip bone and exposed one of the most shapely of legs’, as a result of which Brooke thought he ‘heard a suppressed neigh’ coming from a group of the younger Staff members.17 Over the question of air operations from India and China into Burma, Arnold wrote in his diary, ‘Before we finished, it became quite an open talk, with everyone throwing his cards on the table, face up.’18 Another problem centred around ships: were there enough for an expedition to Rangoon? Or to land troops near Aykab? Would aircraft be available to attack Rangoon? The British were more interested in keeping shipping in the Mediterranean than in the Indian Ocean, and little progress was made. ‘Brooke treated the Burmese campaigns with an indifference so cold that it might have been culpable if they had not been so strategically irrelevant,’ wrote a reviewer of his biography many years later.19
The next Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting became, in Brooke’s classic understatement, ‘somewhat heated’ over his proposal to divert landing craft from a project supported by Roosevelt, Marshall and especially King–an attack on the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal codenamed Operation Buccaneer–to the Aegean. Donnelly recalled that ‘things became so hot that Admiral King and General Brooke traded insults’. Stilwell’s diary entry for that meeting read: ‘Brooke got nasty and King got good and sore. King almost climbed over the table at Brooke. God he was mad. I wish he had socked him.’20 Sholto Douglas found it an ‘unhappy–though perversely stimulating–experience’ to hear Brooke and Marshall have ‘the father and mother of a row’.21 The upshot was that the landing craft went to neither the Andamans nor the Aegean but stayed in Italy for use in the Anzio landings now scheduled for January 1944.
It is still one of the great mysteries of the Second World War that while the United States could spend $350 billion on the conflict, and was capable of building a Liberty ship in one hundred hours, there never seemed to be enough landing craft to go around all the major theatres. Marshall blamed officials in the Bureau of Yards and Construction for deliberately engineering the shortages, but without producing any evidence for the accusation.22 ‘After Midway,’ concludes Roosevelt’s biographer,
it should have been possible to direct more men and landing craft to the European theatre. By the summer of 1943, the US Navy had twice as many battleships and three times as many aircraft carriers as Japan. In May 1944, the United States had thirty-one thousand landing craft, but only 2,500 assigned to D-Day. Two-thirds of the landing craft on that occasion were provided by the British.23
Immediately after the Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting ended, a trilateral one began attended by four Chinese generals, at which Brooke further infuriated the Americans by cross-examining them mercilessly about their plans. Stilwell thought it a ‘Terrible performance. They couldn’t ask a question. Brooke was insulting. I helped them out.’ When the Chinese were asked about the Yunnan force protecting the Burma–India–China communications link in south-west China, Stilwell replied for them. ‘Brooke fired questions,’ he recalled, ‘and I batted them back.’24 In this he was helped by Chennault, but since Brooke thought Stilwell ‘was nothing more than a hopeless crank’ and Chennault ‘a very gallant airman with a limited brain’, not much was achieved. ‘The meeting came to a standstill!!’ wrote Brooke afterwards, and as he left it he told Marshall: ‘That was a ghastly waste of time!’25
On no evidence whatever, Stilwell’s biographer Barbara Tuchman put Brooke’s tough cross-examination down to his being ‘the kind of Englishman who considered a foreigner to be snubbed and if non-white to be stepped on’.26 Regardless of how Brooke would have taken to being called an Englishman, it was surely within his rights as Chief of the Imperial General Staff to ask the Chinese searching questions about the defence of Yunnan, the key province where China’s training facilities and supply depots were located and where the airlift over the Himalayan ‘Hump’ terminated. Meanwhile Stilwell ‘continually made snide remarks concerning the British’, recalled a doubtless delighted Wedemeyer, ‘criticizing their inability or unwillingness to fight’.27 For the most distinguished member of the Fighting Brookes, this too must have been infuriating.
Marshall called for a major attack in Burma in early 1944, using British, Indian and Chinese troops. He said that Chiang Kai-shek’s support for Operation Tarzan–capturing Upper Burma in order to protect Hump supplies and open the Burma Road–‘constituted a milestone in the prosecution of the war’.28 As with Sledgehammer, however, Brooke tended to look askance at Marshall proposing major attacks that were not to be carried out by significant bodies of Americans.
‘The British used one word repeatedly which irritated our side,’ wrote Donnelly; ‘when they wanted some aircraft or other matériel they submitted their “demands”; we would have said “requests” or “needs”. The British did not use the term in any harsh sense but did not understand the difference in emphasis we attached to the term.’29 Although the British and Americans spoke a common language, Ed Hull explained in his unpublished autobiography that ‘We didn’t always mean the same thing with what we said, however, and this sometimes led to misunderstandings. The British use the expression “to table” a matter when they want to bring it up for immediate discussion, while we use it normally to put the question aside or defer action on it.’ At one Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting a rancorous discussion ensued after Portal said he wanted to table the issue of intensifying the bombing campaign against Germany, and Arnold thought he wished to postpone it.
Furthermore, the British included a broader group in their need-to-know list than the Americans. ‘When they were trying to swing us over to their point of view in some particular matter,’ recalled Donnelly, ‘it was not uncommon for them to bring the matter up in a number of different committees and discussion groups. Our representative often did not know anything about the matter, not having been briefed or included on the need-to-know list, with the result that on several occasions someone expressed a view that was opposite to our official position.’ The British would then naturally fasten upon whichever answer was more amenable to them. ‘Even General Arnold’, Donnelly recalled, ‘got talked into a commitment to furnish three hundred C-47 transports for a Far Eastern operation before he talked it over with his logistics experts. It took him a couple of months to get off this hook.’30
At the Sextant and Eureka conferences, wrote Arnold, ‘We found it very difficult to reconcile the conflicting racial and national aspirations: Chinese, Russian, British, American.’ Through it all, however, he noted how ‘General Marshall was increasing in stature, in comparison with his fellows, as the days went by. He had more mature judgment, could see further into the future.’ When they went to view the Sphinx together at Giza, Arnold told Roosevelt that, although Marshall would be the best supreme commander for the European theatre, he would ‘very much dislike to see him go’, not least because he was the best adviser the President had.31
At lunch with Eden on Thursday 25 November, Churchill complained that poor progress was being made at the conference. Cadogan believed this was because Roosevelt was ‘a charming country gentleman’ who had no methods of organization, and ‘the Prime Minister had to be a courtier, seizing opportunities when they arose.’32 He might have been right about Churchill’s seizing opportunities, but Roosevelt’s façade of charming country gentleman should not have fooled the permanent under-secretary of the Foreign Office. Little progress was being made at Cairo because the President did not want it to be until they met Stalin at Teheran.33
The Americans vastly overestimated Chiang Kai-shek’s capabilities and importance at Cairo, while showing much suspicion of British intentions in the Balkans but surprisingly little of Russian ambitions there or elsewhere. Roosevelt had wanted to invite Molotov to Cairo, but the Russians wouldn’t meet the Chinese generalissimo for fear that it might compromise the uneasy truce Russia had maintained with Japan since 1941. Churchill also had to put up with presidential joshing over Russia such as: ‘Winston, you have four hundred years of acquisitive instinct in your blood and you just don’t understand how a country might not want to acquire land somewhere if they can get it. A new period has opened in the world’s history and you will have to adjust yourself to it.’34 Considering that Churchill had signed the first article of the Atlantic Charter, which stated that Great Britain desired no territorial changes that did not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the people concerned, it couldn’t have been easy remaining the ever attentive ‘lieutenant’ during such lectures as that.
Hopkins, telling Moran about a meeting on 25 November, reported that Churchill had hardly stopped talking, mostly about ‘his bloody Italian war’. The President’s confidant was dry and ‘full of sneers and jibes’, remarking: ‘Winston said he was a hundred percent for Overlord. But it was very important to capture Rome, and then we ought to take Rhodes.’ He made it clear to Moran–perhaps with the intention of having it passed on–that if Churchill was going to adopt this stance at Teheran, ‘The Americans will support the Russians.’35 The threat could not have been more explicit. ‘All Hopkins’ views on strategy come, of course, from Marshall,’ concluded Churchill’s doctor, who added a medical analogy, ‘but in changing hands they seem to go sour, as a microbe gains in virulence when it passes from one host to another.’
Moran, an acute observer who (it must be emphasized again) wrote up his contemporaneous notes much later, noticed at Cairo ‘a certain hardening of purpose in the American camp. They left Quebec in great heart, assured that everything was settled for good. And here is the British Prime Minister at his old game again. There is an ominous sharpness in their speech when they say that they are not going to allow things to be messed about in this way indefinitely.’36 When considering the testimony of any doctor, of course, it is worth bearing in mind that he sees his subjects most often when they are least well.
Churchill’s doctor even wondered whether the invasion would ever come off, believing that his patient had changed his mind since Quebec, especially after the near-defeat at Salerno, and had ‘grown more and more certain that an invasion of France as planned must fail’. Churchill also supposedly told Moran at this time that Roosevelt ‘is the most skilful strategist of them all…better than Marshall’. Roosevelt certainly got his way more often than any of the other Masters and Commanders, despite self-confessedly knowing the least about grand strategy. As for Marshall, Churchill’s effect on Roosevelt meant that ‘He can never be sure what will happen when Winston and the President get together. With the President wobbling, he and Admiral King fear that the Prime Minister may, after all, get his own way.’ As Hopkins aggressively reiterated to Moran: ‘Sure, we are preparing for a battle at Teheran. You will find us lining up with the Russians.’37
Hopkins–ever FDR’s assiduous courtier–undoubtedly seems to have viewed Churchill as an opponent rather than a friend at this time, telling the American editor and publisher Ralph Ingersoll that the reason Marshall had to become supreme commander in the West was because he was the only man qualified to ‘stand up to Churchill’, who dominated his own generals. As already noted, it was Hopkins’ view that ‘He is the only general in the world whom Churchill is afraid of,’ for, ‘when Churchill gets oratorical, Marshall just listens and then brings the conversation back to earth with just the right facts and figures to destroy the PM’s case.’38 Marshall was not the ‘only’ general like that; he might also have been describing Sir Alan Brooke.
Thanksgiving Day, Thursday 25 November, was dedicated to trying to improve relations between the American and British Chiefs, because, as Arnold wrote, they ‘had had hard sledding over many fundamentals and weren’t getting along very fast’. The meeting of the Plans Committee that evening was postponed and instead they concentrated on socializing. However, Brooke thought the church service before their Thanksgiving Dinner was ‘a sad fiasco and abominably badly run…I was in a cold sweat of agony throughout.’39 Whatever the state of Anglo-American relations, those between the British Army and RAF can hardly have been perfected by Air Marshal Tedder opining that ‘We should decorate Rommel for teaching the British Army how to fight.’
The next day, Friday 26 November, saw Brooke and Marshall have what the former called ‘the father and mother of a row!’ at a 2.30 p.m. off-the-record Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting. Given that they knew they had to meet both their own political masters almost immediately, and then Stalin in forty-eight hours’ time, they nonetheless ‘made more progress’, recorded Brooke. ‘In the end we secured most of the points we were after.’ A pattern had thus definitely emerged, of initial disagreements and intense brinksmanship, with a big row clearing the air in the final hours of the conference and a compromise deal covering most of the theatres agreed only moments before the generals were due to present their final report, knowing that if they could not agree one then Roosevelt and Churchill would be free to settle matters between themselves, which both sets of soldiers automatically assumed would be far worse.
‘We discussed the war in all its aspects and phases, and came to full agreement on all matters of moment without any difficulty,’ wrote Cunningham of the Cairo Conference in his 1951 memoirs, A Sailor’s Odyssey. ‘There was no dissimilarity of views at this conference.’40 This was completely untrue, and Cunningham must have known it to be, writing only eight years later and having been present at all the key meetings. In the Sextant compromise, the Joint Chiefs of Staff accepted the British view that the Mediterranean command would not be subordinated to the Supreme Allied Commander, who would be responsible for Overlord alone, thus stymieing Marshall’s ability to wind down the Italian campaign.41 They also accepted the British proposals for the Mediterranean ‘as a basis for discussion with the Soviets’ and further agreed that the date of 1 May 1944 was not completely sacrosanct for Overlord. The Americans nonetheless refused to postpone, let alone cancel, Operation Buccaneer, the attack on the Andaman Islands.
After the war, Brooke summed up Cairo by complaining that the three fronts of Russia, Italy and the Channel ‘might have been separate wars’ for Marshall, who he claimed refused to accept their intimate interrelation or the way in which strategy ‘had become a delicate matter of balancing’. He wondered what might have happened had MacArthur–‘the greatest general of the last war’–been Army chief of staff instead. (MacArthur more than returned the compliment in 1962, describing Brooke as ‘undoubtedly the greatest soldier that England has produced since Wellington’.) ‘I must…confess that Winston was no great help in the handling of Marshall,’ continued Brooke, ‘in fact the reverse. Marshall had a holy fear of Winston’s Balkans and Dardanelles ventures, and was always guarding against these dangers even when they did not exist.’42 Yet for all his post-war protestations over this, the dangers did indeed exist, and Brooke was a leading progenitor of them.
According to Elliott Roosevelt’s tendentious 1946 memoir of his father, As He Saw It, the President grew exasperated with Churchill during the Cairo Conference. ‘Believe it or not, Elliott,’ FDR is supposed to have said there, ‘the British are raising questions and doubts again about that western front.’ Elliott claims he replied, ‘But I thought that was all settled at Quebec!’ ‘So did we all,’ replied his father. ‘It is, too. It’s settled. But Winston keeps on making his doubts clear to everybody.’ Of course one must read with scepticism claims of perfect verbatim recall of three-year-old conversations, but Elliott then reports his father telling him that over the issue of Churchill’s desire for a Balkan offensive: ‘I think Winston is beginning not to like George Marshall very much. He finds that no matter what tactics he uses, whether it’s wheedling or logic or anger, Marshall still likes best the strategy of hitting Hitler an uppercut right on the point of the jaw.’
In fact there is no evidence that Churchill held Marshall in anything other than high regard, and he was perfectly capable of feigning anger to get results, and was completely able to compartmentalize his life. ‘The morning at Mena when the Prime Minister was really on the warpath,’ recalled his Royal Marine chief orderly Major Buckley, ‘he growled at Eden; he told off the Chiefs of Staff; he moaned at General Ismay and, firing a real broadside at John Martin, disappeared into the grounds.’ Later Martin discovered him ‘apparently in high good humour’, arguing with his orderly, Lance-Corporal Wright, over the respective merits of first-class versus village-green cricket, with ‘Wright arguing back’.43
On Saturday 27 November the entire conference decamped to Teheran, flying over the Suez Canal, Bethlehem, Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and the Syrian desert. Stalin had arrived the day before. Iran was under Allied–mainly Russian–control, and security was intense. It was the first time that the Big Three had met together; Churchill was nearly sixty-nine, Stalin sixty-four and Roosevelt sixty-one. (They were to die in reverse order of age, Roosevelt in 1945, Stalin in 1953 and Churchill in 1965.)
Three plenary sessions were held on Sunday 28, Monday 29 and Tuesday 30 November at the Russian Legation and there was one military conference on the middle day. For all their vast secretariat, Marshall and Arnold missed the first plenary session due to a scheduling error; they went on an automobile tour of the mountains north of Teheran instead. From the first moment of the conference, Brooke convinced himself that Stalin had ‘a military brain of the very highest calibre. Never once in any of his statements did he make any strategic error, nor did he ever fail to appreciate all the implications of a situation with a quick and unerring eye.’ By contrast Brooke characteristically thought Marshal Voroshilov had ‘nothing in the shape of strategic vision’.44Nonetheless, everything Stalin said that day would have delighted Marshall and was utterly opposed to Brooke’s strategic views.
The Russian dictator stated unequivocally that Overlord should be the overriding priority for 1944, that the Italian campaign was a mere diversion (and an unimpressive one at that); that Turkey would not enter the war, so Britain’s Aegean plans were stillborn, and that southern France needed to be invaded before Overlord.45 Arnold’s notes of Stalin’s remarks on how to win the war–‘Hit her where the distance to Berlin is the shortest. Don’t waste time, men or equipment on secondary fronts’–was Marshall’s policy distilled to its essentials. It is impossible not to notice that when Marshall said exactly these kind of things, and far less didactically, Brooke derided him as a worthless strategist, yet when Stalin said them he was accorded Brooke’s ultimate accolade.
Stalin, who had not left the USSR since 1918, was of course the cynosure of all eyes at Teheran. Other than Harriman and Hopkins, the Americans were almost all meeting him for the first time. He was also disrespectful about allies in an overt way that sent a frisson of excitement through the conference. ‘When he talked about the British, the Prime Minister, and the CIGS,’ recalled Arnold, ‘he was half humorous, half scathing.’46 He dressed in a light-brown uniform with red stripes on his trousers and gold epaulettes on his shoulders which featured a large gold star and the insignia of a Red Army marshal. He wore the Gold Star medal, was about 5 foot 4 inches and Arnold thought him ‘a fine-looking soldier’.
There was a cult of personality about Stalin among Western strategists almost as powerful as the one that his propagandists had ordained for him back in the USSR. ‘Stalin is more of a hero than the King or even Winston,’ marvelled Kennedy, who was shocked to notice that many of the Scots Guards stationed at the Tower of London had a picture of the marshal over their beds. At the end of the plenary meetings at Teheran, Major Buckley recalled ‘a neck-and-neck race round the table between Cunningham and Hollis to secure the latest of Stalin’s famous doodles, with the Royals as ever winning by a short head’.47 (Buckley and Hollis were Royal Marines.)
Roosevelt later explained to his long-standing labor secretary, Frances Perkins, how he had melted the ice with Stalin by making common cause with him against Churchill, at least in a social sense. ‘I had come there to accommodate Stalin. I felt pretty discouraged because I thought I was making no personal headway,’ he said. ‘I couldn’t stay in Teheran forever. I had to cut through this icy surface so that later I could talk by telephone or letter in a personal way.’ Roosevelt said he had an inkling that the Russians did not feel happy that he and Churchill were ‘conferring together in a language which we understood and they didn’t’.
Therefore, at the next session, Roosevelt joked in a whisper to Stalin, ‘Winston is cranky this morning, he got up on the wrong side of bed.’ After Stalin smiled at that, Roosevelt decided he ‘was on the right track. As soon as I sat down at the conference table I began to tease Churchill about his Britishness, about John Bull, about his cigars, about his habits. Finally Stalin broke out into a deep, hearty guffaw, and for the first time in three days I saw light. I kept it up until Stalin was laughing with me, and it was then that I called him “Uncle Joe”…that day he laughed and came over and shook my hand.’48 The light Stalin saw was a chink through the Anglo-American façade, and that was what made him happy quite as much as Roosevelt’s jokes. Far from not ‘feeling right’ about the Anglo-Americans conferring in English, the Russians assumed the capitalist nations would provide a united front; when Stalin saw that this was not necessarily true he was naturally delighted.
‘Churchill, lighting up his cigar,’ recalls his interpreter, Hugh Lunghi,
at first seemed not unduly embarrassed by the fairly heated arguments between the Americans and British over strategic priorities now being played out in front of Stalin. As the debate developed, the Prime Minister increasingly appeared on the defensive, still arguing strongly for his vision of the military options. At the start, regardless of Roosevelt’s ‘jokes’ at Churchill’s expense, Stalin seemed puzzled at the open display of disunity between the Americans and the British. Then…he allowed his normally inscrutable face a rare smile. Stalin spoke–as always–softly, briefly, to the point, completely in command of facts and statistics, hardly ever looking at a note, asking pertinent, awkward questions. At times we could hardly make out his words, with their marked Georgian accent.49
Lunghi was also ‘struck by the yellow whites to his greenish-brown, cat-like eyes’.
Even though dangerously outnumbered, Churchill could not be shifted from some stances. After Roosevelt told Stalin that Overlord was targeted for 1 May 1944, Churchill said that the operation would indeed take place some time in 1944, and that the Mediterranean operations were ‘always regarded’ as ‘stepping stones’, but added: ‘I wish to place on record that I could not, in any circumstance, agree to sacrifice the activities of the armies in the Mediterranean in order merely to keep the exact date of May 1 for Operation Overlord.’
Writing in 1951 in Closing the Ring, Churchill said that although the cross-Channel assault ‘was the greatest event and duty in the world’, a million Allied troops were fighting in Italy and he did not want to see them sabotaged. ‘Here the American, clear-cut, logical, large-scale, mass production style of thought was formidable,’ he wrote. ‘In life people have first to be taught “Concentrate on essentials”.’ As a result of these battles with the Americans, he recalled, ‘Twenty or a dozen vehicle landing-craft had to be fought for as if the major issue turned upon them.’50 Marshall’s reply would be that it was he who was concentrating on the essential operation of Overlord, and Churchill who was not, and at that stage of the war he would have been right.
On Tuesday 30 November–Churchill’s sixty-ninth birthday–Voroshilov mounted a full-scale attack on Brooke over his supposed lack of commitment to Overlord, especially with regard to shipping, landing craft and air cover. It was the first time that the Soviets had met the Combined Chiefs of Staff for Staff discussions on all the war fronts, and Leahy recalled that although Marshall was ‘inclined to go along’ with Voroshilov about Overlord, ‘Sir Alan Brooke insisted stubbornly that all available Mediterranean forces should be used in the Italian and Eastern Mediterranean campaigns, including the pet project of…the capture of the island of Rhodes.’51 Since Marshall had already stated that no American would be taking part in that ‘goddamned’ operation, the battle-lines were drawn. It was soon clear that Hopkins had not been bluffing when he threatened that the Americans would join the Russians in putting maximum pressure on the British.
When Voroshilov asked Brooke point-blank if he attached the same importance to Overlord as General Marshall, Brooke replied that he did, but added that he knew how strong the German defences were in France and that ‘under certain circumstances Overlord could fail.’ To this Voroshilov ‘admitted the difficulties of a trans-Channel operation’, but said that the Russians ‘had encountered comparable difficulties in the crossing of wide rivers and had overcome them because they had the will to do it’.52
At that point Marshall decently came to Brooke’s defence, pointing out the obvious difference between crossing a river and undertaking an amphibious invasion of a country. Failing to cross a river might be a reverse, he said, whereas ‘the failure of a landing operation is a catastrophe’. Marshall went on to say that, although his Great War experience had all been about roads, rivers and railroads, in the last two years it had been based on oceans and seas. ‘Prior to the present war I never heard of any landing craft except a rubber boat,’ he joked. ‘Now I think about little else.’53 He added that the US had plenty of men–1.6 million stationed in Europe and 1.8 million in the Pacific–but his primary problem was moving them.
Brooke told Voroshilov that of the twenty-seven German divisions in Italy, eleven could be destroyed or captured by an amphibious attack just south of Rome behind the Gustav Line, and the need for landing craft for that would push back Overlord by one month to 1 June. He tried to explain amphibious operations to the Russian, but with limited success. (Hugh Lunghi, who was translating for Brooke, recalled Voroshilov being dismissive about landing craft during the Channel crossing, saying ‘We usually managed to find local resources like trees, timber to make rafts. Red Army men can use their initiative.’)54 The Combined Chiefs of Staff then agreed to sixty-eight landing craft staying in the Mediterranean until 15 January 1944, and a general push being made up to the Pisa–Rimini Line. In return, the British Chiefs of Staff agreed that an attack in the south of France–Operation Anvil–should coincide with Overlord, disregarding Stalin’s wish that it precede Overlord as strategically impractical.
‘My British counterparts will tell you that we didn’t have the landing craft,’ sneered Albert Wedemeyer in 1973. ‘They made a great evacuation from Dunkirk without the landing craft, particularly craft that would permit it. We could have if we had the spirit and the will, and if the Navy had not begun to take surreptitiously some of our landing craft out to the Far East if they were convinced they were going across earlier.’55 What he said about the US Navy was true, but so senior a Planner ought to have recognized the very different types of craft needed when assaulting a beach and when evacuating from one.
The Americans were deeply suspicious of Churchill’s eloquence and persuasiveness at Teheran, while also admiring it. In 1946 General John R. Deane, who had been secretary of the Joint Chiefs of Staff before being sent to head the US military mission to Russia in 1943, published a book about US–Russian wartime co-operation in which he recalled of the Eureka conference: ‘Churchill used every trick in his oratorical bag, assisted by illustrative and emphasizing gestures, to put over his point. At times he was smooth and suave, pleasant and humorous and then he would clamp down on his cigar, growl, and complain.’56 It seems hard on Churchill that he should be expected to have identical moods throughout these exhausting, stressful and vital times, but equally he was the master of the theatrical, which is partly what makes him still so fascinating.
Hugh Lunghi recalls that ‘Brooke was like the headmaster of our group, beside whom Portal and Cunningham seemed like sixth-formers on holiday. He was the least easy, he was strict, serious about everything, didn’t relax. But he was a joy to interpret for, as he was a linguist and so he stopped every few sentences and was completely logical.’
At the end of the afternoon plenary session on the second day, Stalin put the key question: ‘Who will command Overlord?’57 He appreciated that it would come off only if someone senior, talented and utterly committed was in charge. Roosevelt–from whom a decision was by now long overdue–answered that the commander had yet to be appointed, while Churchill said that although a Briton had been responsible for the planning, he was willing to see an American take the job, which must have been galling for Brooke to hear once again. ‘Stalin made it plain’, Harriman later recalled, ‘that until the supreme commander was appointed he could not take seriously the promise of a cross-Channel invasion. For him the appointment was a specific assurance that the invasion would take place.’
Roosevelt and Churchill both had Marshall in mind at this stage, and Stalin also believed that Marshall would get history’s ultimate call-up. ‘They considered him the one soldier pre-eminently qualified to command what all agreed was likely to prove the most difficult operation in the history of warfare,’ averred Harriman. Roosevelt also believed that, with his headquarters in London, ‘Marshall, alone, with his granite integrity, was equipped to resist any eleventh-hour manoeuvres by Churchill and General Brooke to delay or divert the cross-Channel invasion.’58
Yet at Cairo both King and Arnold had protested that Marshall simply could not be spared, and if Eisenhower was to take over as Army chief of staff while Marshall was in London, the wilfulness of his former boss MacArthur might cause serious problems. Harriman’s views on the issue, as stated in 1975, are instructive: ‘I know that General Marshall wanted more than anything else to command this historic military action, and I have no doubt that Roosevelt would have appointed him if he had given the slightest indication of his personal desires. But he left the decision entirely to the President. It was the most selfless thing any man could do.’59
With an American commanding Overlord, a Briton–either Alexander or General Sir Henry ‘Jumbo’ Maitland Wilson, the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East–could command in the Mediterranean. No one seems to have considered promoting a Canadian to an important international command, despite the number of their troops, the quality of their commanders, the size of their Navy and the generosity of their exchequer. A more assertive prime minister than Mackenzie King could probably have secured a better deal for Canada in particular and the British Dominions in general.
Was Marshall somehow shirking the awesome responsibility of commanding Overlord? There is no evidence to suggest that he would have done anything other than thrive on it. He had faith in Eisenhower’s abilities, of course, otherwise he would certainly have taken it on himself. Had he done so, then Eisenhower, Bradley, Clark, Patton and MacArthur could not have complained. He probably felt, like Brooke the previous year, that he had a duty to keep his master in check, and that no one else was likely to do it so well. Because he vouchsafed his private thoughts to no one on this matter–not even to his wife or Forrest Pogue–we only have Marshall’s own high character as circumstantial evidence on which to base a judgement.
The most likely explanation for his great act of self-abnegation is the straightforward one: that he put his country’s best interests before his own ambition, despite the fact that, as he had told Stimson, ‘a soldier’s first wish is to serve in the field’. Brooke was right: when asked after the war whether Marshall had stayed because he was ‘the one man they had who could get on with the British’, the field marshal answered, ‘Well, that may have been the case but I think it would have been a great pity to move General Marshall…as he had a complete grasp by that time of the functions of the Staffs, and to take him away for a command would have removed one of the lynchpins of the higher direction of the war.’60 He might just as easily have been describing his own decision to stay on as CIGS, and probably was.
Churchill’s birthday banquet at the British Legation in Teheran on Tuesday 30 November 1943 afforded Stalin an opportunity to chaff Brooke. Arnold thought he counted a total of one hundred toasts drunk at the dinner, each after a short speech. Major Buckley, who swiped one of the candles from Churchill’s birthday cake as a memento, recalled Marshal Semën Timoshenko ‘finished under the table’. At one point Roosevelt proposed a toast to Brooke, making a reference to their fathers having known one another. Stalin then chipped in, saying that as a result of this conference, and ‘of having come to such unanimous agreement’, he hoped that General Brooke ‘would no longer look upon Russians with such suspicion’ because if he really got to know them, as the CIGS himself paraphrased it, ‘I should find that they were quite good chaps!!’ For some reason Brooke blamed mischief-making by Harriman for what he called in his diary this ‘most unexpected and uncalled for attack’. To modern ears it sounds as if Stalin was teasing Brooke rather mildly, not making a serious accusation, but of course we cannot know the tone in which he uttered his remark.
Roosevelt’s interpreter, Charles ‘Chip’ Bohlen, took it seriously too, recalling in his autobiography Witness to History how Stalin’s mock-toast caused ‘some consternation among the British because Sir Alan was known to be an Irishman with a quick temper, and it was feared that he might destroy the friendly atmosphere with an angry reply to Stalin’s gratuitous insult’.61 Instead Brooke waited for a propitious moment to answer–‘It was rather nervous work, considering what the audience was!’–and made a graceful speech implying that he had only been feigning his anti-Bolshevism, just as Stalin himself had created ‘masses of dummy tanks and aeroplanes on the fronts [where] he was not going to attack’. This went down well and the buttoned-up Briton was surprised to be virtually hugged by Stalin after dinner, ‘almost with our arms round each other’s necks!’ (It is quite untrue, as Bohlen claimed, that Brooke had said in his speech that he had feigned his anti-Soviet feelings in the same way that Stalin had feigned his anti-Nazi feelings at the start of the war, and that ‘the dictator [took] the jibe in good humour’. Bohlen might have been good at interpreting Russian into English but he couldn’t interpret English into American very well, because to have mentioned the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact to Stalin in semi-public would have been an unthinkable diplomatic faux pas.)
‘Overlord and Anvil are the supreme operations for 1944,’ stated the Combined Chiefs of Staff final report of the Eureka Conference. ‘They must be carried out during May 1944. Nothing must be carried out in any other part of the world which hazards the success of these two operations.’62 This seemed to go back upon the agreement over landing craft needed for the Anzio operation, codenamed Shingle, and the Andamans attack, codenamed Buccaneer. Stalin promised to declare war on Japan after Germany surrendered, and to launch an offensive during Overlord to discourage the Wehrmacht from moving troops westwards during its initial stages. The minutes of the discussions regarding Poland read: ‘The Prime Minister demonstrated with the help of three matches his idea of moving Poland westward, which pleased Marshal Stalin.’ Put simply–and with three matches there could hardly have been any other way–Churchill wanted the old Curzon Line to be the future Russo-Polish border, so Poland would be compensated with east German territory for the loss of land to the USSR. The outlines of a proposed new world organization, to be called the United Nations, were discussed, and agreements were reached on Iranian post-war independence.
Brooke was content with the final report, and soon afterwards managed to get the Overlord date pushed back a month so that it would not hobble the campaign to take Rome, and the south of France attack turned into something more elastic which he believed at the time ‘can be adjusted without affecting Italy too seriously’.63 By the time of D-Day in June 1944, the Allies had twenty-seven (fuller-strength) divisions in Italy. Military historians such as Basil Liddell Hart and Richard Holmes have legitimately questioned, therefore, quite who was pinning down whom in that wasp-waisted peninsula.64 Once the far higher Allied populations and sizes of armies are taken into account, however, Churchill’s and Brooke’s Italian strategy was worth while, up to a point. The problem was that they took that point further north than the Gustav Line, with fewer returns than the great effort and loss of life strategically justified, especially after the fall of Rome on 4 June 1944.
After a day’s rest and relaxation at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem and visiting the holy sites, the Staffs returned to the Mena House Hotel in Cairo by lunchtime on Thursday 2 December 1943. For the next three days the Combined Chiefs of Staff debated hard whether to use the available landing craft for attacking the Andaman Islands, or for the Anzio operation scheduled for the following month. Marshall feared that cancelling Buccaneer might encourage Chiang Kai-shek to stop fighting in Upper Burma, which would in turn threaten the air routes to China and possibly allow the Japanese to transfer forces to the Pacific. Finally, on the evening of Sunday 5 December, Roosevelt supported Brooke over Marshall and agreed to postpone the Andaman assault.
A newspaper in Tucson, Arizona, with reputed connections to Pershing, claimed that ‘the British were trying to kick [Marshall] upstairs’ in order to get a more pliable chief of staff, which Marshall dismissed as ‘absurd’. Conspiracy theorists also claimed that Roosevelt wanted to replace Marshall with General Somervell and ensure the use of Army contracts to secure re-election, which was equally ludicrous. Yet the decision over who was to be supreme commander for Overlord–with the British refusing to have an American supreme commander over the whole of the west because of the effect on Italy–could not be long delayed after Stalin’s enquiry.
There is no reason to doubt Marshall’s own account to Pogue about how he visited the President at Cairo where Roosevelt, ‘after a great deal of beating about the bush’, asked him what he wanted to do. Marshall repeated that he would ‘cheerfully’ do whatever the President said. He could advise the Commander-in-Chief on all Army appointments, which would usually be accepted unhesitatingly, but not his own. Roosevelt finally said, ‘Well, I didn’t feel that I could sleep at ease with you out of Washington,’ so Eisenhower was appointed instead. Marshall himself recalled that Churchill, sensing Roosevelt’s hesitation in confirming his appointment, offered the job to Brooke yet again, and was ‘very much embarrassed’ when it went to Eisenhower.65 There is no confirmation for this from any other source, and Brooke would certainly have fumed to his diary if it had happened. No other Americans but Marshall and Eisenhower were in the running, because Marshall championed Eisenhower. After the war Marshall said that if he had taken the Overlord command he probably wouldn’t have been able to put up with Montgomery’s ‘overwhelming egotism’ in the way that Eisenhower did.
Discussing the situation with Stimson afterwards, Roosevelt said that ‘he had got the impression that Marshall was not only impartial between the two but perhaps preferred to remain as Chief of Staff.’66 Of course this was inherently contradictory: Marshall could not be both impartial between the two and also prefer to remain, so was Roosevelt salving his conscience in persuading himself that Marshall preferred the post that he, Roosevelt, wanted him to stay in? Stimson believed he knew from Marshall’s phrase about ‘any soldier preferring a field command’ that Marshall actually wanted Overlord.
The realities were spelt out to Stimson by Roosevelt after Marshall had specifically refused to ask for the Overlord post: ‘The President said that he had decided on a mathematical basis that if Marshall took Overlord it would mean that Eisenhower would become Chief of Staff.’ Yet Eisenhower was unfamiliar with the war in the Pacific and, in Stimson’s view, he ‘would be far less able than Marshall to handle the Congress’, both of which were vital aspects of the Chief of Staff’s duties. Roosevelt told Stimson that he ‘would feel far more comfortable if he kept Marshall at his elbow in Washington and turned over Overlord to Eisenhower’.
Afterwards, as Stimson attested, ‘never by any sign did [Marshall] show that he was not wholly satisfied with the President’s decision.’ That in itself shows tremendous strength of character if indeed he wasn’t satisfied. Stimson himself was deeply disappointed, and always regretted not going to Cairo where he thought he could have emphasized that Marshall had definitely wanted to command Overlord and was the right man for the job, because he could ‘push through the operation in spite of the obstacles and delays’ which he feared Churchill and Brooke were putting up against the operation.67 Handy, who ended the war as a four-star general and worked closely with both men as assistant chief of staff in the OPD up to 1944 and then as deputy chief of staff thereafter, thought that Eisenhower was chosen over Marshall because ‘There were situations back home and a lot more people had confidence in [Marshall] than they had in the President…They were very strongly anti-New Deal.’68
As they drove together to see the Egyptian monuments during this Second Cairo Conference, Roosevelt remarked ‘almost casually’ to Churchill that ‘as Marshall was not to have the Mediterranean and Overlord in his hands, he would prefer to keep him in Washington. He could not spare him except to have this supreme direction of the final phase of the war.’ In refusing to allow Marshall to take both western commands, therefore, Churchill was being blamed by Roosevelt for blocking Marshall’s chances of taking on Overlord alone, yet the final draft of Churchill’s war memoirs makes almost no mention of this. It was unmerited, in any case, because Churchill had been enthusiastic about Marshall commanding Overlord, just not both theatres simultaneously.
Elliott Roosevelt also blamed Churchill for effectively preventing Marshall from taking command of the cross-Channel attack. He stated that his father had said: ‘It seems pretty clear that Winston will refuse absolutely to let Marshall take over…It’s not that he’s argued too often with the PM on military matters, it’s just that he’s won too often.’ Elliott’s own view was that Marshall’s great qualities as a commander were the same ones ‘which had made him an enemy in Winston Churchill’.69 However ridiculous that might sound, it was Elliott’s genuine view. The publication of these judgements in his bestseller As He Saw It in October 1946 understandably pained Churchill.