The personal relations between Roosevelt and Churchill illustrated a real alliance of interests; the personal relations between Roosevelt and Stalin concealed a real opposition of interests.
Hugh Trevor-Roper to Bernard Berenson, 19481
The loss of General Alphonse Juin’s French Expeditionary Corps, mountain-trained units intended to break the Gothic Line, to Dragoon effectively forced Alexander to winter in the Apennines, fighting a campaign of attrition with what he had left. At that point the Germans ought strategically to have withdrawn from the Po to the Alps, thus freeing up divisions to fight in France, but the Führer’s no-withdrawal obsession precluded that. It is small wonder that Churchill was actually relieved that Hitler survived the 20 July Bomb Plot, telling the House of Commons in September that ‘It would be most unfortunate if the Allies were to be deprived in the closing stages of the struggle of that form of warlike genius that Corporal Schicklgruber has so notably contributed to our victory.’
As the war progressed, such political factors as the post-war political configuration of Europe weighed more heavily with the politicians, but not with the generals whose sole job was to see every campaign in terms of what would bring victory soonest with the minimum loss of Allied life. ‘By and large we were not influenced by political factors in making our military decisions,’ claimed Portal. Churchill and Eden were, of course, but, as he rightly pointed out: ‘That was their job.’ Over such issues as Operation Torch, the Bay of Bengal strategy and the liberation of Vienna and Berlin–all of which had deeply political overtones–the Chiefs of Staff resolutely considered only the military implications. That does not mean that they were not also keenly aware of the potential dangers that arose from a vast Red Army pushing towards the heart of Europe.
The next issue to divide the Americans and British was over what kind of supreme commander Eisenhower should be. Was he to function as essentially a non-executive chairman of the board, overseeing but not interfering much in the activities of his Army commanders, and calming the prima-donna tendencies of his lieutenants such as Bernard Montgomery (21st Army Group), George Patton (Third Army) and Omar Bradley (12th Army Group)? Or was he going to exercise direct daily military control over the immense scope of the war in France, the Low Countries, north-west Europe and Germany, at least as much as any individual reasonably could? In very crude outline, Churchill and especially Brooke wanted the former, while Roosevelt and especially Marshall expected and demanded the latter.
That question then led to the next: what kind of front would the Allies choose in the drive to the Rhine and beyond? Would it be a ‘broad’ one that comprehensively forced the Germans back towards the Fatherland, with two major advances on wide fronts north and south of the Ardennes, or would the attack instead be on ‘narrow’ fronts, spearheaded by several faster thrusts to try to capture important targets deep within Germany, possibly even including Berlin before the Red Army reached it? Here again, roughly speaking, Roosevelt and Marshall supported Eisenhower’s inclination for the former, while Brooke and Churchill tended to opt for Montgomery’s and Patton’s preference for the latter.
On the question of what the armies in Italy under Alexander and Clark would do once Lucian Truscott’s Fifth Army and Sir Richard McCreery’s Eighth Army broke through the Gothic Line, the Americans strongly deprecated proposed moves towards Trieste, Istria, the Ljubljana Gap, Vienna and the Balkans. Over Far East strategy, the British–with Churchill now generally persuaded and included–wanted the Royal Navy to join in the reconquest of the south-west Pacific alongside the US Navy, but it was (rightly) feared that Admiral King wanted to spurn this help. All these grand-strategy issues, and more localized ones as they arose, gave Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Brooke ample incentive to continue dancing their complicated, fast-moving, intimately interlocking minuet.
On 18 August, Lord Halifax and Alec Cadogan visited Marshall at the Pentagon. Halifax noted that Marshall was ‘quite optimistic’ about the campaign in north-west France and showed them maps of how advance elements of the Allied forces were only about 12 miles from Paris. Marshall said he believed that, since the Germans were exhausted and starved of oil and resources, Eisenhower should adopt a broad front, taking local setbacks as they came. At a meeting between Montgomery and Eisenhower five days later, Monty told Ike that in his opinion the Supreme Commander should stay aloof from the land battle, and that his 21st Army Group should make a single bold thrust along a narrow front straight to Berlin.
That meeting seems to have had precisely the opposite effect of what Montgomery hoped for, because Eisenhower very soon afterwards set up his own Command HQ in France. At a Chiefs of Staff meeting at this time, Cunningham sought to moderate criticism of the Americans, pointing out that ‘We should do exactly the same if we had two-thirds of the troops in the field.’ Employing a phrase that should have expired in 1914, he told his journal: ‘I am full of hope that the war will be over by Christmas.’2 It was ominous, but an appreciation that the British Joint Intelligence Committee encouraged too, with their generally over-optimistic estimates of Allied strengths and German weakness.
On 29 August Churchill sent Roosevelt a telegram about the Mediterranean in which the final paragraph once again brought up their Teheran conversation. It ended, ‘I am sure that the arrival of a powerful army in Trieste and Istria in four or five weeks would have an effect far outside purely military values.’ Although the condition of Hungary could not be predicted, he believed that having troops there would leave the Western Allies ‘in a position to take full advantage of any great new situation’.3 Roosevelt passed this on to Marshall, who asked McNarney and Handy to work on a draft reply that covered Italy in full but deliberately bypassed Istria completely. Churchill cannot have failed to mark the implications.
On a visit to Montgomery, Brooke satisfied himself that the Allied armies in the north were strong enough to destroy the German forces ranged against them. Montgomery’s mission was to take the British and Canadian armies up the coast, while Bradley commanded the nine-division 12th Army Group on his right. Patton’s Third Army, part of the 12th Army Group, was to make for the German border south of the Ardennes mountain region, through which the Germans had attacked in 1940. The broad-front strategy had prevailed for the moment, though Brooke was far from happy with it.
At a lunch party at Downing Street on 30 August–the day that the Red Army entered Bucharest and the seat of French government was transferred from Algiers to Paris–Cunningham was asked by Lord Camrose about Eisenhower taking over the day-to-day command of the ground forces in two days’ time. He defended it as ‘expected’ and ‘the correct procedure’, and then overheard Camrose telling Clementine Churchill that it would be ‘most popular’ if Monty were made a field marshal. ‘I trust it will come to nothing,’ wrote Cunningham, very prematurely, as two days later it did. The reason seems partly political; Churchill, wearing ‘a sumptuous pale-blue dressing gown of oriental design’ in his Annexe, told Lascelles that the promotion ‘will put the changes in command in their proper perspective’. With a full-scale conference about to take place in Quebec, the Prime Minister wanted Montgomery’s rank to be at least notionally superior to that of the senior American generals, even including Marshall. ‘The Americans would not like it,’ remarked Cunningham. ‘I don’t much myself.’4
On 3 September the British Second Army liberated Brussels, and the next day Antwerp was taken and flying-bomb sites in the Pas de Calais started to be destroyed. With the Americans having liberated both Rome and Paris–although for political reasons the Free French were allowed to take the fore in the latter–victory in the west seemed within the Allies’ grasp. Now even Roosevelt and Marshall accepted that the time had come for another conference.
Churchill seemed in a good mood at 11 a.m. on Tuesday 5 September in the saloon car of his train on the way up to the Clyde, where he was going to board the Queen Mary. Cunningham reckoned that ‘If he keeps up his present attitude things should go well in Quebec and it will be what the Americans called “a love feast”. But it takes little to rouse his vengeful temper and he will do anything then to get the better of our allies.’5 At 5 p.m. Churchill called Cunningham back to the saloon to say that there was a rumour that Germany had capitulated, and what if, two days out to sea, it proved to be true? ‘The only thing to do was to turn the ship round and come back,’ replied the First Sea Lord. On board the great liner, which sailed from Greenock for Halifax, Nova Scotia, that night, were Winston and Clementine Churchill, Brooke, Portal, Cunningham, Leathers, Cherwell, Ismay, Hollis and Colville.
As the Prime Minister crossed the Atlantic, the President was attending a meeting at the White House to discuss Henry Morgenthau’s extraordinary plan to deindustrialize post-war Germany. ‘There is no reason why Germany couldn’t go back to 1810,’ expounded Roosevelt at some length, ‘where they would be perfectly comfortable but wouldn’t have any luxury.’ In fact 1810 saw the German Confederation dominated by Napoleon, with Prussia still seething with revanchism after her humiliation at Jena–Auerstadt, but the general point was made. Roosevelt’s reverie of a defanged Teutonic rural idyll was darkened only by the idea that Britain might be the ultimate beneficiary of the lack of competition from German iron and steel manufacturers. Discussing the Saar and the Ruhr, with Hopkins and Morgenthau arguing on one side and Stimson and Hull on the other, it was ‘a very unsatisfactory meeting’, as Roosevelt worried ‘that the English would have the advantage of the steel business if the Ruhr were closed’ and consequently ‘he had the idea that this thing was good for England.’6 The assumption that that could therefore not also be good for the United States shows how far Roosevelt’s thinking had come since the Riviera and Arcadia conferences.
On Friday 8 September the first V-2 rocket-propelled bombs fell on Britain, and Churchill held a wide-ranging Staff Conference on the liner in which, according to Cunningham, ‘he was in his worst mood. Accusing the Chiefs of Staff of ganging up against him and keeping papers from him and so on.’ He refused to accept that after Kesselring was defeated, Italy ‘becomes a secondary front and that the real work is on the Russian and Western fronts’, even though that had effectively been true ever since D-Day. Churchill still hankered after an amphibious operation against Istria, even though the Chiefs of Staff thought it ‘of no military consequence and so on and so on’.
Churchill’s true animus was against the Americans, however, ‘who he accuses of doing the most awful things against the British. There is no question he is not well and is feeling this hot sticky weather,’ thought Cunningham. The liner was in the Gulf Stream where the water was 72 degrees Fahrenheit, and when Churchill tried to persuade Commodore James Bissett to change course towards cooler climes, Cunningham had to go with the commodore–who had first gone to sea in 1898–to talk the Prime Minister out of it. ‘I am afraid that he is very definitely ill and doubtful how much longer he will last,’ wrote Brooke the next day. ‘The tragedy is that in his present condition he may well do untold harm!’ Ten years after Brooke wrote that, Churchill was Prime Minister again, and twenty years later had outlived both Cunningham and Brooke.
The trip on the Queen Mary witnessed another particularly low point in Churchill’s relationship with the British Chiefs. On 10 September, just before the ship docked at Halifax, Brooke complained–in perhaps his most oft-quoted and notorious diary entry–that at their noon meeting on Culverin that day Churchill:
knows no details, has only got half the picture in his mind, talks absurdities and makes my blood boil to listen to his nonsense. I find it hard to remain civil. And the wonderful thing is that 3/4 of the population of the world imagine that Winston Churchill is one of the Strategists of History, a second Marlborough, and the other 1/4 have no conception what a public menace he is and has been throughout this war!…Without him England was lost for a certainty, with him England has been on the verge of disaster time and again.7
Redeeming Churchill (and himself) somewhat was Brooke’s post-war comment that these remarks were written ‘at a moment of exasperation’. A married couple who felt like that about each other could always get divorced, but that route wasn’t open to Churchill and Brooke, although once the war was over they saw little of each other by choice.
When the Churchills’ train arrived at Quebec at 10 a.m. on Monday 11 September, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt were just disembarking from theirs. The High Command again had suites on the fifteenth floor of the Château Frontenac, airy in the heat and with fabulous views overlooking the river. The place cannot have had happy memories for Brooke, however, since it had not been far off, on the Citadel terrace, that Churchill had told him that he would not after all be commanding Overlord, which had since been such a success. Cunningham noted that the American Chiefs of Staff seemed ‘in good form and very friendly’. They certainly arrived mob-handed, their military delegation alone numbering 125.
At lunch at the Citadel that day with the Roosevelts, Mackenzie King and the Governor-General of Canada, the Earl of Athlone (the King’s uncle, who was married to Queen Victoria’s granddaughter Princess Alice), Churchill told the President that he was ‘the head of the strongest military Power today, speaking of air, sea and land’. Roosevelt replied that it was ‘hard for him to realize that, as he did not like it himself. He could not feel that way.’8 Perhaps in order to equalize their relative worth, Churchill went on to say ‘quite frankly that if Britain had not fought as she did at the start, while others were getting under way, America would have had to fight for her existence. If Hitler had got into Britain and some Quisling government had given them possession of the British Navy, along with what they had of the French fleet, nothing would have saved this continent,’ especially with Japan preparing to strike. According to Mackenzie King’s notes, ‘The President was inclined to agree with him that they could not have got ready in time.’9 Churchill’s message was clear, and was not disputed by Roosevelt: the Americans might be providing the men, money and matériel today, but four years earlier the British had provided time: an equally important element for the defence of Western civilization.
The Second Quebec Conference (codenamed Octagon) witnessed the 172nd to 176th Combined Chiefs of Staff meetings back in the Salon Rose between Tuesday 12 and Saturday 16 September, as well as two plenary sessions at the Citadel on the 13th and 16th. The British and American Chiefs of Staff had not met since the Americans had come to London four days after D-Day in June. At the first Combined Chiefs meeting at noon on 12 September, Brooke agreed with the optimistic assessment of the Joint Intelligence Committee that Germany was crumbling, and in those circumstances he saw ‘great advantages in a right swing at Trieste and an advance from there to Vienna’.10 Although German and Austrian resistance would mean not getting there till after the winter, he believed that seizure of the Istrian peninsula ‘not only had a military value, but also a political value in view of the Russian advances in the Balkans’.11
How different was this–albeit short-lived–stance from the one that Brooke later claimed to have adopted. ‘We had no plans for Vienna,’ he stated in Triumph in the West, ‘nor did I ever look at this operation as becoming possible.’12 Yet the minutes of the conference (which Brooke approved at the time) and the contemporary diaries of many of its participants are incontrovertible. At Octagon Brooke supported the Vienna strategy, and for manifestly political reasons, in complete contrast to his stated stance of not allowing such considerations to sway his judgement.
Had he been persuaded by Churchill, or Alexander, or his own anti-Bolshevism? We cannot know, and he soon afterwards changed his mind anyhow and thereafter denied he was ‘ever’ tempted by the Vienna option. For all that he is well represented by the impressive statue of him outside the Ministry of Defence in Whitehall, which rightly proclaims him a ‘Master of Strategy’ on its pedestal, Brooke was not above altering his point of view. The plan he presented to the Americans at Octagon was substantially the same one that he had decried when Alexander first mentioned it, and had argued against with Churchill. Yet by September 1944 he was seemingly all in favour. Unlike their statues, human beings–even Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke–are not made of bronze and granite.
Marshall told the British that he did not intend to weaken the Fifth Army in Italy by reinforcing the Seventh Army in southern France. (There were already four hundred thousand Allied troops taking part in Dragoon, after all.) He also promised to hold landing craft in readiness for a possible British amphibious assault in Istria, in contrast to everything he had previously said. That same meeting agreed to Eisenhower’s proposal to consider Montgomery’s northern approach–from Holland to the Ruhr–into Germany. Cunningham therefore found the American Chiefs ‘in a most accommodating mood and had no disputes’, and Charles Donnelly described the ‘tone’ at Octagon as ‘much more relaxed and agreeable than had been the case in previous meetings. It was no longer a question of if the Axis could be beaten, but when.’13 At 6.30 that evening, Cunningham found Churchill ‘in a mood of sweet reasonableness’. Was everyone going to be on his best behaviour throughout the conference? No; Admiral King had yet to speak.
Churchill told Colville that he feared Roosevelt had got ‘very frail’ since he had seen him last. Colville later said of Roosevelt–to whom he was introduced for the first time at Quebec–‘I heard him say nothing impressive or even memorable and his eyes seemed glazed.’ At his talks with Roosevelt at the Citadel, Churchill warned about ‘the rapid encroachment of the Russians into the Balkans and the consequent dangerous spread of Russian influence in the area’, something at which the American side took relatively little alarm. All that the conference minutes state is: ‘Balkans: Operations of our air forces and commando-type operations continue.’ Cunningham told Pogue in February 1947 that, at least up until the Yalta Conference, Churchill ‘thought he could help Russia by going into the Balkans or into Austria’. Cunningham did ‘not believe that he was motivated at that time by fear of Russia’.14 The truth was different.
Ian Jacob believed that Marshall and the American Chiefs ‘looked upon the Balkans as a political jungle and they weren’t going to have their troops in there. They regarded the whole war in Europe merely as a problem for a fire brigade. The fire was in Germany, therefore you sent the fire brigade by the shortest road into Germany…To them it was as simple as that.’15 If the British wished to get entangled in Balkan intrigues and struggles, Marshall seemed to be saying, he might provide some landing craft but would otherwise leave it entirely up to them.
‘It was a dazzling idea, this grand project of reaching Vienna before our Russian allies,’ wrote General Alexander in his memoirs, ‘and we discussed it informally at my headquarters.’ Yet taking the route to Vienna along the so-called Ljubljana Gap involved horrendous difficulties. The ‘Gap’ was a col 2,000 feet high and 30 miles wide leading to the Save Valley. Between the Save and Vienna is the Karawanken mountain range, with 6,000-foot peaks through which only two roads descended into the Klagenfurt valley. After that there were 200 miles of roads through yet more narrow valleys. ‘The powers of recovery of the German forces were a matter of record,’ points out Sir Michael Howard. ‘They would be falling back along their own lines of communication; at the Ljubljana Gap they would have had a front to defend about one-quarter of the length of the Pisa–Rimini Line…Finally, the distance from Rome to Vienna is some six hundred miles–about three times the distance from Naples to Rome which it had taken the Allies six months to cover.’16 It seems surprising that a strategist of Brooke’s eminence could ever have proposed such a scheme to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, though not that he should later have denied doing so. He had sarcastically criticized Churchill’s Jupiter plan for proposing to ‘advance victoriously over one mountain range after another’ in northern Norway, yet that is roughly what he himself now advocated in the push to Vienna.
Rear-Admiral Morison explained that the Ljubljana Gap, ‘narrow, tortuous, dominated by mountain peaks, would have been a tactical cul-de-sac’.17 A railway that ran through a large number of tunnels could have been easily destroyed, while the two-lane road could have supported two divisions at most. Furthermore, if it turned into a race to Vienna and Budapest, the Russians would comfortably have won it from the north-east. Even with a Trieste landing taking place in September at the earliest, the Western Allies had run out of time, as the Russians were already in Bucharest.
At the first plenary meeting of the conference, held at 11.45 a.m. on Wednesday 13 September, Churchill opened the proceedings with an overview of everything that had happened since they had last all met in Cairo:
Although the British Empire had now entered the sixth year of the war, it was still keeping its end up with an overall population, including the British Dominions and Colonies, of only seventy million white people. The British Empire effort in Europe, counted in terms of divisions in the field, was about equal to that of the United States. This was as it should be. He was proud that the British Empire could claim equal partnership with their great ally, the United States, whom he regarded as the greatest military Power in the world. The British Empire had now reached its peak, whereas that of their ally was ever-increasing.18
While the subtle reference to how much longer the Empire had been fighting the Axis was reasonable, it was somewhat disingenuous of Churchill only to count the white population of the Empire and using that in contrast to the much larger population of the United States. At two-and-a-half million men, the Indian Army was the largest volunteer force in the history of mankind; it had soldiers fighting in almost every theatre, lost eighty-seven thousand of them during the conflict and won thirty Victoria Crosses. It surely deserved to be taken into account.
A ‘tentative programme and time-table’ had been drafted by the British on the Queen Mary, ostensibly ‘to save time’, which was agreed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff.19 Attempts to control the agenda had long been a British manoeuvre, and on three of the proposed four days of meetings some aspect or other of ‘British participation in the Pacific in the war against Japan’ found its way on to the schedule. At the first plenary session, Churchill expounded his Far East strategy, declaring that ‘He had always advocated an advance across the Bay of Bengal and operations to recover Singapore, the loss of which had been a grievous and shameful blow to British prestige which must be avenged. It would not be good enough for Singapore to be returned to us at the peace table. We should recover it in battle.’ He also found time to be gracious about Dragoon, congratulating the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the operation ‘which had produced the most gratifying results’. Indeed, Churchill was exuberant, observing that in general ‘everything we had touched had turned to gold, and during the last seven weeks there had been an unbroken run of military successes’.20
In his answer, Roosevelt said he believed that the enemy would soon retire to the Alps and the right bank of the Rhine, but ‘The Germans could not be counted out and one more big battle would have to be fought.’ This was perceptive, and a full three months later the battle of the Bulge was to prove him right. The President did not agree with Churchill over Singapore, however, which he thought it possible to bypass, since the fortress ‘may be very strong and he was opposed to going up against strong positions.’ The Americans had been very successful at ‘island-hopping’ in the Pacific, leaving stranded Japanese garrisons in the rear for, as Roosevelt put it, ‘mopping up later’.
Churchill disagreed with Roosevelt, arguing that ‘there would undoubtedly be a large force of Japanese in the Malay Peninsula and it would help the American operations in the Pacific if we could bring these forces to action and destroy them in addition to achieving the great prize of the recapture of Singapore.’ In reply, Roosevelt ‘referred to the almost fanatical Japanese tenacity’, especially at Saipan, where he said ‘not only the soldiers but also the civilians had committed suicide rather than be taken.’21 In fact the civilian families who leapt from the 220-foot cliff at Marpi Point on Saipan in the Mariana Islands on 9 July 1944 did so under compulsion from the Japanese military, but more than seven thousand Japanese soldiers committed suicide there too, so Roosevelt was right about their fanaticism in general terms.
Octagon’s major point of contention then arose when Churchill asked what plans the Americans had for employing the Royal Navy in the Pacific after the collapse of Germany. The British wanted to be seen to be taking an active part in the victory over Japan, wanted the return of their many bases and possessions, and wanted the prestige in Australasia of having helped liberate the Far East. This could be done only by active Royal Navy involvement in the final victorious campaign. Although Roosevelt said he wanted ‘to use it in any way possible’, at that point Admiral King–who didn’t want it used at all–said that a paper had been prepared for the Combined Chiefs of Staff. It sounded like a delaying tactic to avoid a decision being taken in the plenary session before the two heads of government, and Churchill asked ‘if it would not be better to employ the new British ships in place of battle-worn vessels of the United States’. King reiterated that ‘the matter was under investigation’. Churchill then bluntly said that ‘the offer had been made and asked if it was accepted’. At this point Roosevelt stepped in and said categorically: ‘It is.’ Cunningham recalled FDR as replying: ‘No sooner offered than accepted.’22 King ‘glowered’ at his commander-in-chief’s intervention, but Churchill’s insistence had yielded the result the British wanted. These meetings were not simply for polite mutual congratulation after all, but the struggle was not over.
Donnelly thought that ‘Probably the chief reason for King’s dissent was that the US Navy…were smelling a not-too-far-off victory over Japan, a victory they were loath to share with an eleventh-hour entry.’ King also recognized that the active involvement of the Royal Navy in the south-west and central Pacific might entail the United States giving up bases that she would find it difficult to get back from Britain afterwards. (The US took leases on fourteen Atlantic and Caribbean bases for ninety-nine years in 1940, some of which she still uses to this day.) In his memoirs Cunningham recalled that the Chiefs of Staff had been pleasantly surprised when Churchill offered the British Fleet to operate alongside the US Navy, as he had hitherto wanted to use it exclusively against Singapore, Malaya and Borneo; it looked like a step back from the Bay of Bengal strategy.
The next meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, at 10 a.m. on Thursday 14 September, once again in the Salon Rose conference room of the Château Frontenac, was climactic. Far from Octagon being a ‘love feast’, it saw the most aggressive Staff clashes of the war so far. The Joint Chiefs of Staff had circulated a paper suggesting that the British Fleet ‘should be on the western flank of the advance in the south-west Pacific’, which would have accorded it a minor role at best. So Brooke started off by saying that the British Chiefs were ‘disturbed’ by the statement, adding that he ‘realized that this paper had been written before the plenary session on the previous day. He felt that it did not entirely coincide with the proposal put forward at that conference and approved by the President.’ Brooke then emphasized that ‘For political reasons it was essential that the British Fleet should take part in the main operations against Japan.’ British prestige in the Far East was intimately bound up with being in at the kill.
‘It might be that the British Fleet would be used initially in the Bay of Bengal and thereafter as required by the existing situation,’ answered Admiral Leahy, a classic delaying compromise, but Cunningham pointed out that the main Fleet ‘would not be required in the Bay of Bengal since there were already more British forces there than required’. He went on to say that a supply Fleet Train operating out of Australia, consisting of repair boats, ammunition transports, tankers, store-vessels, salvage craft and floating hospitals, would mean that a force of four battleships, six large carriers and twenty light Fleet carriers could operate unassisted for several months. The British Chiefs of Staff therefore wished to see the Fleet operate in the main battle theatre against Japan, which was in the central Pacific rather than the Indian Ocean.
Admiral King immediately weighed in, complaining that ‘at the plenary meeting no specific mention of the central Pacific had been made’, to which Brooke answered that ‘The emphasis had been laid on the use of the British Fleet in the main effort against Japan,’ which implied the central Pacific. King replied that ‘he was in no position now to commit himself as to where the British Fleet should be employed.’ Portal then quoted from an earlier CCS document agreed to by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, which stated in paragraph nine that the British Fleet should indeed be used ‘in the main operations against Japan’.23 Cunningham ‘stressed that the British Chiefs of Staff did not wish the British Fleet merely to take part in mopping-up operations in areas falling into our hands’. Leahy replied that ‘he felt that the actual operations in which the British Fleet would take part would have to be decided in the future,’ suggesting the reconquest of Singapore instead.
Portal was not about to be fobbed off with that, reminding the Combined Chiefs of Staff that Churchill had only the previous day offered the British Fleet for use ‘in the main operations against Japan’. At this point King said ‘that it was of course essential to have sufficient forces for the war against Japan. He was not, however, prepared to accept a British Fleet which he could not employ or support.’ This was despite Cunningham’s statement that it could support itself out of Australia with its large Fleet Train. ‘It would be entirely unacceptable for the British main Fleet to be employed for political reasons in the Pacific and thus necessitate withdrawal of some of the US Fleet,’ King insisted. At some point in these discussions, he went so far as to describe the Royal Navy as a ‘liability’.
Portal thereupon ‘reminded’ Admiral King that the Prime Minister had suggested that certain of the newer British capital ships should be substituted for certain of the older American ships. Cunningham added that, the very day before, Roosevelt and Churchill had agreed ‘that it was essential for British forces to take a leading part in the main operations against Japan’. Whereupon, astonishingly, King ‘said that it was not his recollection that the President had agreed to this’, and anyhow ‘He could not accept that a view expressed by the Prime Minister should be regarded as a directive to the Combined Chiefs of Staff.’24
Portal–repeating himself almost word for word for the third consecutive time, a sure signal that the talks were getting deadlocked and ill-tempered–said ‘that the Prime Minister felt it essential that it should be placed on record that he wished the British Fleet to play a major role in the operations against Japan’. Brooke added that ‘as he remembered it, the offer was no sooner made than accepted by the President.’ His use of Roosevelt’s exact phrase was telling. King sensibly changed tack at this, and asked for specific British proposals, whereupon Portal went back to quoting from paragraph nine of the CCS document that related to the Royal Navy playing ‘a full and early part’ in ‘the main operations’ against Japan. Leahy accepted that, with the caveat that they could ‘not say exactly where the Fleet could be employed at this moment’.
King, however, would not let the matter rest there, but asserted ‘that the question of the British proposal for the use of the main Fleet would have to be referred to the President before it could be accepted’. Cunningham repeated Brooke’s point that it already had been, to which King, trying to widen the argument and bring in Arnold, replied ‘that the Prime Minister had also referred to the use of British air power in the Pacific’. Arnold said that the amount of British air power would depend on the development of suitable facilities, to which Portal added that he would put forward proposals for ‘air facilities available in the bases in the Pacific so that the British could play their part’.
Marshall then spoke for the first time, suggesting that ‘the best method would be a statement of numbers of aircraft and dates at which they would be available.’ Arnold agreed. Brooke stated that since the Combined Chiefs had accepted the principle of the British Fleet operating in the central Pacific–which King by then most certainly had not–British land forces ‘could only arrive at a later date’. King asked whether ‘it was intended to use the British Fleet only in the main operations and to make no contribution to a Task Force in the south-west Pacific’. He and Marshall then disagreed over the Task Force proposal, and in King’s authorized biographer’s view, ‘they nearly had words.’ After King had criticized Marshall, Leahy told him: ‘I don’t think we should wash our linen in public.’25
For the British this could hardly have played out better, with an open US Army-versus-Navy spat, in which the US Navy representatives were themselves split. Brooke stoked up the situation by repeating that ‘The British Fleet could of course play a part in operations in the south-west Pacific if they were required.’ Finally the Combined Chiefs ‘Agreed that the British Fleet should participate in the main operations against Japan in the Pacific’, in a manner both ‘balanced and self-supporting’.26 This meant that it could expect no logistical support from Admiral King’s US Navy, which anyone present could probably have guessed anyway.
‘King made an ass of himself,’ recorded Cunningham in his diary, ‘and having the rest of the US Chiefs of Staff against him had to give way to the fact that the British Fleet would operate in the central Pacific, but with such bad grace.’ Arnold recounted the way that ‘King hotly refused to have anything to do with it. All Hell broke loose! Admiral King could not agree that there was a place for the British Navy in the Pacific, except for a very small force. The American Navy had carried the war all the way from Honolulu to the west and it would carry it on to Japan!’27 In the end the issue was never resolved because the Japanese surrendered only three months after Victory in Europe Day, although Task Force 57, the British carriers under Vice-Admiral Sir Bernard Rawlings, did play a part in neutralizing Japanese airfields in the Sakishima Gunto islands, 250 miles south-west of Okinawa, and by frequently attacking Japanese forces on Formosa.
Arnold’s own role had been almost as unhelpful as King’s, however, and when later Churchill said to him, ‘With all your wealth of aerodromes, you would not deny me the mere pittance of a few for my heavy bombers, would you?’, Arnold replied that the Super Fortresses had started to move in to Guam, Saipan, Tinian and Iwo Jima, and it would take a Combined Chiefs of Staff decision to reverse that and replace them with Lancasters. This was all a ridiculous dispute about pride, prestige and post-war positioning. Of course the Americans should have grasped the chance to broaden the load, perhaps saving American lives in the process. Instead, as King’s biographer accepts, ‘Not only was King unwilling to share in the glory, but, most galling of all, he called the Royal Navy a liability.’28
Recalling the row, Brooke commented that King had ‘lost his temper entirely’. Portal later remembered ‘blunt speeches and some frayed tempers’, while Arnold’s biographer rightly described that meeting as ‘one of their most emotional and acrimonious confrontations during the war’.29 King’s own semi-autobiographical account completely failed to mention it, but as Arnold’s biographer asserts, the book ‘made convenient omissions where his habitual bad manners were concerned’. On that occasion it seems to have been Marshall who calmed the situation, and the minutes recorded the very obvious compromise–but arguably also commonsensical–solution, ‘that the method of the employment of the British Fleet in the main operations in the Pacific would be decided from time to time in accordance with the prevailing circumstances’.30 This could be taken to mean absolutely anything or everything, which was what was fully intended.
The open disagreement between Marshall and King over the south-west Pacific Task Force–washing their dirty linen in public, as Leahy had called it–could not have happened among the British Chiefs of Staff, who strictly adhered to collective responsibility. Once decisions were taken internally, they were presented as unanimous to the outside world, whether it was to Churchill, the War Cabinet or the Americans. It was the secret of Brooke’s power, and he knew it, acknowledging it in generous terms when his two colleagues retired after the war. As is clear from Cunningham’s diary, like any independently minded man he sometimes disagreed with his colleagues, but he stuck to the ethos of the Committee that he had joined relatively late on in the war. Over Anvil, for example, he wrote in his autobiography: ‘On the whole I was neutral, though when it came to a collective decision I was at one with my colleagues.’31
On the evening of the row, after a vast dinner, Colville recalled that ‘there was a shockingly bad film chosen by the President. The PM walked out halfway through which, on the merits of the film, was understandable, but which seemed bad manners to the President.’ At the next Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting, at 10.30 a.m. on Friday 15 September, ‘Everything went sweetly,’ with King ‘more or less resigned’ to having the Royal Navy in the central and south-west Pacific after victory in Europe. It was not so sweet at the 6 p.m. Staff Conference with Churchill, however. The Prime Minister tried to amend the Combined Chiefs’ final report until it was pointed out that it had been agreed with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and so was not susceptible to change without their permission. ‘He was just at his worst and Brooke was very patient with him,’ wrote Cunningham. ‘Looked likely to wreck all the good that had been done. Finally we left him as he had to see General Marshall but we briefed Eden to talk to him.’ This, too, conformed to the pattern of earlier conferences: a last-minute threat by the Prime Minister to destabilize the whole network of agreements was seen off by Brooke at the eleventh hour.
That same day Roosevelt and Churchill, amazingly enough, initialled the Morgenthau Plan, which said that Germany needed to be turned ‘into a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character’. Brooke was fundamentally opposed, already seeing Germany as a future ‘ally to meet the Russian threat of twenty-five years hence’.32 Considering that twenty-five years after writing that in 1944, West Germany was an integral part of NATO and Russia had just crushed the Prague Spring, Brooke was more acute than either Roosevelt or Churchill at the time. Once Churchill had properly examined the plan, which amounted to an agricultural Treaty of Versailles and would have hardly allowed a fraction of Germany’s population to survive on her own territory, he rightly denounced it as ‘unnatural, unchristian and unnecessary’.
The final Combined Chiefs of Staff session at 11 a.m. on Saturday 16 September ‘went very happily’, as did the final plenary session and press conference at the Citadel. The British Chiefs of Staff had plans to go off fishing together that afternoon, but at 2.30 p.m. a message arrived to say that Churchill wanted to see them that night to discuss operations in Burma. Portal wrote a note pointing out all the arrangements he would be wrecking, and the Prime Minister cancelled the meeting. ‘He really is a most selfish and impossible man to work with,’ wrote Cunningham of the incident.33 This was undeserved: Churchill was prime minister and minister of defence during a world war and he wanted to discuss a major theatre of operations with his Chiefs of Staff, while they wanted to go off fishing. As he had been the one to give way, it was hardly the moment to accuse him of selfishness.
Being a keen fisherman was almost a precondition of entry to the Chiefs of Staff Committee in the Second World War, on both sides of the Atlantic. After a Chiefs of Staff meeting in April 1944, Cunningham had gone off to the Army & Navy Stores in London to buy tackle, and there he found Portal buying waders. A fortnight later Brooke presented him during another Chiefs of Staff meeting with an all-purpose dry fly. After Octagon the three men flew off to fish three lakes in canoes, and had ‘good sport’. At the same time, Arnold and Marshall went on a ten-day fishing break in the High Sierras, riding out together from Bishop, California. At altitudes of 10,000 feet, ‘in the middle of an excellent fishing ground’, they were kept in touch with Washington 2,400 miles away by radio. (On one occasion top-secret papers in a securely locked pouch were misdropped by an Army courier plane 2 miles away from the camp. ‘To say there was confusion, apprehension and concern is putting it mildly,’ recalled Arnold.)
After fishing, the British Chiefs made their way back via New York, where Cunningham stayed at the Knickerbocker Club on Fifth Avenue. He tried to buy fishing tackle at Abercrombie & Fitch, and noticed in a department store that his devoted secretary, Captain A. P. Shaw, ‘appeared much interested in buying undies…for a lady who I sensed was not Mollie Shaw’.
Roosevelt could not attend the Second Moscow Conference (codenamed Tolstoy) because of the presidential elections, and it was at this conference that Churchill concluded the notorious ‘percentages’ deal with Stalin. The Prime Minister had already suggested an arrangement of this kind to Roosevelt on 31 May, but had been turned down. Nonetheless, he went ahead and offered the Soviets paramountcy in Roumania if Britain were given a free hand to put down the Communist insurgency in Greece. Stalin had probably already decided not to intervene there in any event, and so placed a big blue tick on what Churchill, with some understatement, later called this ‘naughty document’.
Realpolitik in eastern Europe hardly came more blatant and brutal than in Soviet policy towards Poland. On 2 October, discussing the way that Stalin had cold bloodedly refused clearance for aircraft to help Warsaw during the recent uprising there, Eden told the War Cabinet that the Polish President and Commander-in-Chief had been ‘unhelpful’ in the publicity they had given to Russia’s actions. Churchill then spoke of ‘These heroic people dogged by their maladroitness in political affairs for three hundred years.’34 It is one of the less attractive aspects of British policy-making in this period that the Government constantly gave the Russians leeway over the Poles, even to the point of declining to recognize that Stalin, and not the Nazis, had committed the Katyn Massacre of Polish officers in 1940 despite overwhelming proof to that effect.
Averell Harriman and John R. Deane, head of the US military mission to Russia, were invited to the military conferences with Stalin, and were amused by the way that Brooke gave excellent presentations of Eisenhower’s plans, which were then subjected to constant interruptions by Churchill, who would ‘leap from his seat and stride to the map in order to emphasize the magnitude or difficulties of certain phases of the Anglo-American operations’.35 It is doubtful that Brooke took much solace from the fact that General A. E. Antonov, the Red Army Deputy Chief of Staff, was subjected to much the same kind of behaviour by Stalin. Deane also recalled with embarrassment a meeting on the evening of 14 October in the large conference room outside Stalin’s office, in which Stalin asked him how many divisions the Japanese had, and he did not know. ‘The day went to the British,’ he admitted, after Brooke ‘quickly thumbed through his papers and came up with the right answer’.
Because Roosevelt and Marshall were not present, the Second Moscow Conference was not able to resolve major issues in eastern Europe, and when Churchill did complete his percentages deal with Stalin, it was not ratified by the Americans, insofar as he even explained it to them. Churchill went on to claim, rightly, that Britain had nonetheless saved Greece from ‘the flood of Bolshevism’. Speaking to Leo Amery soon after returning from Russia, Brooke said that ‘the change even in two years away from proletarian Communism to uniforms, decorations, rigid class distinctions, etc and towards old fashioned nationalism is very marked. There is fearful squalor behind the façade.’36
In early October, Churchill having effectively been given the go-ahead by Stalin, Lieutenant-General Ronald Scobie’s III Corps began to occupy Athens in Operation Manna, at least once Generaloberst Alexander Löhr’s Army Group E evacuated Greece in order to avoid being cut off by Soviet forces. Rather like the Suez Crisis of 1956, this could hardly have come at a worse time in the American electoral cycle. As the Germans had started to withdraw from Greece, Churchill cabled Roosevelt to warn him that the Communist-dominated EAM (National Liberation Front) and its military wing ELAS (National Popular Liberation Army) would soon fill the power vacuum in Greece and crush all opponents unless Athens were swiftly occupied by the Allies.
At the time, Roosevelt replied that he had no objections to this. When Scobie arrived, however, fighting broke out between ELAS and supporters of King George II of the Hellenes, and there was much criticism in the American press about Limey attempts to impose a reactionary, monarchical regime on freedom-loving Greek republicans. (In fact the King favoured a liberal democratic constitution, and most of the Greek republicans were pro-Soviet Communists.) Stalin, under the terms of the ‘naughty document’, did his bare minimum to support ELAS and EAM, but Roosevelt failed to say a word in Britain’s favour. Churchill said he understood the President’s difficulty, but he privately resented the complete lack of moral support afforded him on that occasion. Marshall utterly opposed any American involvement in Greece to assist Britain (although when he became secretary of state he supported US intervention there).
On Tuesday 7 November 1944 Franklin D. Roosevelt was re-elected with 25.6 million votes, against 22.0 million cast for the Republican candidate Thomas E. Dewey. Marshall congratulated him ‘with great respect and compete loyalty to your leadership’. Yet neither Roosevelt nor Marshall altered his stand to a more supportive one over Greece, and on 10 December it was discovered that Admiral King–never one to let an opportunity to discomfit the British go by–had even ordered the American landing craft in the Mediterranean to cease taking British troops and supplies to Greece. This was later quietly countermanded by Harry Hopkins, acting on Roosevelt’s behalf.37 There were unmistakable echoes of the incident six months previously when King had unilaterally tried to move the flotilla from the Channel without consulting the Admiralty, though at the next day’s Chiefs of Staff meeting Brooke reported that ‘Hopkins had asked the PM that there should be no recriminations and the PM had agreed.’
Marshall later recalled: ‘We were very much afraid that Mr Churchill’s interest in matters near Athens and in Greece would finally get us involved in that fighting, and we were keeping out of it in every way we possibly could.’ On 13 December, Roosevelt cabled Churchill to say that ‘the traditional policies of the US’ meant that as head of state he had to be ‘responsive to the state of public feeling’ against Britain on the Greek issue, and he concluded, ‘I don’t need to tell you how much I dislike this state of affairs as between you and me.’ Churchill replied generously: ‘I have felt it much that you were unable to give a word of explanation for your action, but I understand your difficulties.’ The new burden of combating Communism in south-eastern Europe therefore looked as if it would be carried entirely by the British.
On 2 November, Walter Bedell Smith flew to London for lunch with Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff. ‘Some good talk’, recorded Cunningham, who learnt there of the huge attacks planned by Eisenhower along the whole Allied line, with Patton starting off with nine divisions in three days’ time and Bradley and Montgomery leading the main attack towards the Cologne–Ruhr area. ‘Brooke obviously does not think the main attack has enough weight behind it and looks on Patton’s attack as too great a diversion of strength,’ noted Cunningham. ‘However these Americans are often right!!’ For all the regular confluence of views between the CIGS and the First Sea Lord, that was simply not a sentence that could have been written by the former. Churchill joked that in the discussions with the Americans over whether Alexander should be given two extra divisions, the opinion at Eisenhower’s headquarters was ‘that it would be cheap at the price provided Monty accompanied the two to Italy and Alex came in his place’.
On 4 November, Field Marshal Sir John Dill died in Washington. ‘We mourn with you the passing of a great and wise soldier, and a great gentleman,’ Marshall wrote to Brooke as part of a long and heartfelt letter that concluded: ‘His task in this war has been well done.’ By a special Act of Congress, Dill was buried at Arlington Cemetery, the only non-American to have been accorded that honour. There is a very fine equestrian statue of him there, cast with such attention to detail that it is even possible to make out the rosettes on three of his campaign medals.
Marshall read the lesson at the funeral. Another of the mourners, a cousin of the general, noted afterwards: ‘I have never seen so many men so visibly shaken by sadness. Marshall’s face was truly stricken…It was a remarkable and noble affair.’38 Giving Marshall a silver tea service to remember her husband by, Dill’s widow Nancy wrote to say: ‘He really loved you, George, and your mutual affection meant a great deal to him–he always trusted you implicitly.’ Marshall’s reply mentioned ‘the intimate bond between Dill and myself’. Under the impression that Dill was about to be recalled to London for being too pro-American, Marshall had organized for a number of American honorary degrees to be bestowed on him, to convince Churchill of his prestige.
Charles Donnelly spotted that Dill’s death was ‘a blow’ because his assistance had been ‘immeasurably valuable’ transatlantically ‘in calming bitter arguments which so often arose between Sir Alan Brooke and Marshall’. That job could not really be filled by Jumbo Maitland Wilson, who now replaced Dill in Washington, with Alexander taking over as supreme commander in the Mediterranean, ‘a post for which he is totally unfitted’ in Cunningham’s view, because he was ‘completely stupid’.39
Lord Halifax told Churchill, ‘very much off the record’, that Marshall had suggested Ismay would be the best successor for Dill. ‘The latter’s close contact with you and knowledge of your thought would, in Marshall’s view, be of great value to the partnership between us.’40 Halifax had warned Marshall that Churchill would probably be unwilling to lose Ismay, and he was right. It nevertheless shows the emphasis that Marshall placed on finding someone who was close to Churchill for this most sensitive of posts. Maitland Wilson was not a Churchill confidant; the rows that developed later would not have been avoided had Dill survived or had Ismay succeeded, but their intensity might have been lessened in either case. Certainly Marshall doubted whether Churchill–who had twice turned Dill down for a peerage–and even Brooke ‘fully realize the loss you have suffered’.
At Octagon the Combined Chiefs of Staff had approved Eisenhower’s plan to mount a major northern effort encircling the Ruhr, with secondary attacks towards Bonn and Strasbourg, yet this strategy satisfied neither Montgomery, who wanted to go straight to the Ruhr, nor Patton, who wanted to go to Berlin. Brooke, who was not insensible to Montgomery’s vanity and attention-seeking, nonetheless protected the new field marshal from a prime minister who he believed was jealous of Monty’s popularity with the public, and also from those Americans who had long ago spotted an anti-American prima donna.
‘I first got to know Brooke (“Brookie” as he has always been to me) in 1926 when I went as an instructor to the Staff College, Camberley,’ recalled Montgomery in his memoirs; ‘he was already there, as instructor in artillery. I quickly spotted that he was a man of outstanding character and ability, and my liking and respect for him can be said to have begun then.’ With uncharacteristic modesty, Montgomery also wrote, ‘He was well tuned to my shortcomings and often administered a back-hander, sometimes verbally and sometimes in writing; in neither case could they ever be misunderstood!’ Overall, Montgomery’s ‘feeling was that in strategic matters Brookie was generally right and Marshall wrong’.41
Brooke was in many ways Montgomery’s mentor, and so when on 22 November ‘Monty’ wrote to ‘My dear Brookie’ from 21st Army Group, he was willing to listen sympathetically. Montgomery complained that Eisenhower seemed ‘to have a curious idea that every Army Command must have an equal and fair share of the battle’, and he pointed out that two army groups were involved north of the Ardennes and two south of it, with Omar Bradley’s command split between them. Montgomery proposed that since ‘Ike seems determined to show that he is a great general in the field,’ the theatre should be divided ‘naturally into two fronts–one north of the Ardennes and one south’, with him commanding the northern and Bradley the southern sectors; meanwhile ‘Ike should command the two fronts, from a suitable Tactical HQ.’42
Brooke approved of this. It is not necessary to entertain the belief of Eisenhower’s son John that Brooke’s ‘zealous’ support for Monty against his father was ‘intensified…by his own personal disappointment’ over the post of supreme commander, a serious charge for which he gives no supporting evidence.43 But before Brooke could genuinely help at all, let alone zealously, later that month Montgomery wrote to Eisenhower asking for some of Patton’s troops in 12th Army Group to be moved north of the Ardennes and calling the current campaign a ‘failure’, something to which Ike understandably took great exception. If Patton, Clark and Bradley–not to mention some Britons such as Cunningham–hadn’t existed, then Montgomery would have been his own worst enemy. Since they did, he was spoilt for choice.
‘Monty wants to command a northern group of armies and the Americans are always suspicious of his motives,’ concluded Cunningham after a Chiefs of Staff meeting on 4 December, ‘The fact is we are stuck.’ Three days later Cunningham and Portal and their wives dined at Brooke’s flat; after dinner he showed them his bird films, some made in his garden and one on a trip to the Faroe Islands, which Cunningham claimed to his diary were ‘Most interesting.’
On 29 November Churchill made clear his objections to the early liberation of the Channel Islands, telling the War Cabinet that while the twenty-eight thousand Germans there ‘can’t get away’, if they surrendered Britain would ‘have to feed them’. The islands therefore remained under German occupation for the eleven months between D-Day and V-E Day.44
On 12 December 1944 Churchill and the Chiefs of Staff convened in the Map Room in the Annexe after the 5.30 p.m. Cabinet to meet Eisenhower and Tedder and hear their plans for an attack by simultaneous thrusts across the Rhine, one north of the Ruhr and the other from Mainz–Frankfurt towards Kassel. Brooke ‘vehemently argued’ for Montgomery’s idea of ‘a really strong thrust north of the Ruhr’ eastwards, with the Frankfurt area to be merely subsidiary. ‘Ike was good and kept an even keel,’ thought Cunningham. ‘He was obviously impressed by the CIGS’s arguments but refused to commit himself.’45 At dinner, which went on until 1.30 a.m., Eisenhower said that he had recently rejected an offer of half a million dollars by a newspaper to allow articles that he had not written to be published under his name.
The meeting in the Map Room exposed the disagreement over strategy between Eisenhower and Brooke. As in the past, Eisenhower turned to his own mentor, Marshall, writing the next day to say that ‘Field Marshal Brooke seemed disturbed by what he calls our “dispersion” of the past weeks of this campaign.’ He added that until the floods in the lower Rhine valley he had tried to give everything he could to the northern thrust but these had naturally foiled it. At the War Cabinet on 13 December, Brooke set out Eisenhower’s suggested plan and ‘also gave his reasons for not accepting it and stressed the necessity of making the punch north of the Ruhr strong enough not to be held up at the expense of attacks elsewhere’. Before a full-scale Anglo-American argument could develop between Marshall and Brooke over Eisenhower’s strategy, however, Hitler intervened. Before dawn on Saturday 16 December 1944, the Germans unleashed one of the greatest surprise offensives in the history of modern warfare.
Operation Herbstnebel (Autumn Mist) flung no fewer than twenty-four divisions–the last of Germany’s reserves–into an all-out attempt to split the United States and the British Commonwealth armies and recapture Antwerp. The Führer chose to attack through the same semi-mountainous and wooded Ardennes region on the east Belgian–German–north Luxembourg borders where four-and-a-half years earlier his armour had broken through to deliver him the Fall of France.