From the very start of our alliance after Pearl Harbour the President and General Marshall, rising superior to powerful tides of public opinion, saw in Hitler the prime and major foe.
Winston Churchill, The Hinge of Fate1
On Saturday 13 December 1941, the brand-new battleship HMS Duke of York left the River Clyde to sail to America for a conference codenamed Arcadia. Aboard were Churchill, Pound and Portal, as well as Brigadier Leslie ‘Jo’ Hollis and Colonel Ian Jacob of the War Cabinet secretariat. Dill also went along, even though he was no longer CIGS, because of his intimate knowledge of strategy. Yet Brooke was left behind ‘to mind the shop’, as the phrase then went, and also to ‘read himself into’ his new job, with Ismay staying to assist him. ‘How I hated being left behind!’ Ismay recalled. In an early draft of his third volume of war memoirs, The Grand Alliance, Churchill originally wrote: ‘I was anxious that Brooke should remain in London in order to grip the tremendous problems that awaited him.’2 Although this was removed by the time of publication in 1950, it seems to have been the real reason. (Eisenhower claimed in his book Crusade in Europe that Brooke had attended the Arcadia Conference, but that was not the case.)3
Although it was indeed important for Brooke to be in London, reporting to the War Cabinet about the terrifyingly rapid Japanese advance across south-east Asia, his absence from Washington cut him out of the vital decisions that were being made there. He approved of some, such as the Germany First strategy for the defeat of Germany before concentrating on Japan, but vehemently opposed others, such as the plan to impose ‘unity of command’ in all theatres, whereby a single supreme commander would be given ultimate operational control over all Allied forces in each geographical region. Being absent and thus unable to argue his case, or to stiffen the opinions of Pound and Portal, meant that Brooke was reduced to complaining furiously and impotently after they got home. While in London, Brooke gave orders for a scorched-earth policy to be carried out in those areas of the Far East–principally Penang, Borneo and Sarawak–through which the Japanese were marching, seemingly unstoppably.4
One of the major lessons that Marshall learnt from Pearl Harbor was, in Stimson’s words, ‘the importance of unity of command; all the armed forces in any one area must have a single commander.’ Stimson felt ashamed that it should have taken such a catastrophe to teach the War Department (and principally himself) something so obvious, considering what had already befallen British arms in North Africa, France, Greece and Crete. ‘It was only by the force and tact of General Marshall’, he recalled in 1949, ‘that unity of command was established in all outposts,’ which in the Far East necessitated compromises with the British, Australians, New Zealanders and Dutch.5
To have one single supreme commander in each theatre of the war, who had overall control over the land, sea and air forces of all the Allied powers, might seem obvious in retrospect, but at the time it involved each nation giving up long-established and much-prized autonomy of action. Marshall considered it a necessity, however, and first sold the idea to Roosevelt before persuading an initially reluctant Churchill at Arcadia, employing the ‘big bribe’ that General Wavell should be the supreme commander for the whole of the Far East theatre. Brooke was never persuaded of its merits and was not even present to put forward his objections, but was forced to go along with it because he was outnumbered three to one by Roosevelt, Churchill and Marshall.
Unity of command was to be a vital issue, once the US contribution to the war effort out-compassed that of the British Commonwealth, as both Marshall and Brooke had already calculated that it eventually would. (By late 1943, US warplane production would be equal to that of Germany and Russia combined, and over three times that of the UK.) These key commands–in particular the future supreme Allied commands in North Africa, the Pacific and north-west Europe–would in the long run have to go to Americans. It might be too cynical to ascribe such Machiavellian thinking to Marshall less than three weeks after Pearl Harbor, but he did champion a system that was eventually to work hugely in the United States’ favour.
The grand strategy Arcadia agreed was summarized in a document written by Churchill entitled WW1, which was to represent the Allied overall position until superseded by another document, CCS 94, in August 1942. This enshrined the concept of Germany First. Crossing the Atlantic in the Duke of York, Churchill dictated four great memoranda in only five days, ‘The Atlantic Front’ on 16 December, ‘The Pacific Front’ on 17 December, ‘1943’ on 18 December and ‘Notes on the Pacific’ on 20 December. Once accepted in principle by the Chiefs of Staff–Pound had the next-door cabin–this immense feat of intellectual effort and foresight made up WW1.
In ‘The Atlantic Front’, Churchill emphasized the importance of supplying Russia ‘without fail and punctually’, of an Anglo-American expeditionary force landing in North-west Africa in 1942, and of the movement of American troops and bomber squadrons to Northern Ireland ‘as a powerful additional deterrent against an attempt at invasion by Germany’. His next memorandum, ‘The Pacific Front’, was somewhat over-optimistic, expressing the hope that Singapore might hold out ‘for at least six months’, while admitting the possibility that it might not. In ‘1943’, he envisaged that the whole of the northern African littoral and the eastern Mediterranean ‘would be in Anglo-American hands’, after which a ‘footing’ might be established in Sicily and mainland Italy, with the hope that Italy might be knocked out of the war. Ultimate victory, however, could come only with ‘the defeat in Europe of the German armies’, aided by ‘internal convulsions’ in the Reich produced by heavy aerial bombing, ‘economic privations’ and a collapse in morale.
Overall, it was necessary ‘to prepare for the liberation of the captive countries of Western and Southern Europe by the landing, at suitable points, of British and American armies strong enough to enable the conquered populations to revolt’. This he timed for the summer of 1943, with victory coming at the end of 1943 or in 1944. Two days later, in ‘Notes on the Pacific’, Churchill foresaw ‘the burning of Japanese cities by incendiary bombs’ as the means of persuading the people of Japan to sue for peace. The danger would be if the United States were to concentrate on defeating Japan before Germany, which would absorb American manpower and supplies–he predicted a ten-million-man US Army–and preclude the early reconquest of Europe. In order to forestall this, the Americans should be encouraged to fight a naval, but not land-based, struggle against Japan ‘to regain their naval power in the Pacific’, while their armies were committed to defeating Germany.6
Portal recalled in 1948 that ‘On the way over on the ship we worked out our approach to the Americans and, thanks to the President, we managed to sell them the “Germany First” idea right away.’7 This was unfair to Marshall and Roosevelt, since they had quite independently come to favour that strategy and did not need to have it ‘sold’ to them at all. In the event of a war on two fronts, such as the one the Axis had forced upon them, the American service Chiefs and Commander-in-Chief had already decided to defeat Germany first.
As Dwight D. Eisenhower, whom Marshall had promoted to brigadier-general and brought in as head of the War Plans Division of the General Staff, was to explain to Pogue in 1947: ‘In any consideration of global strategy the one dominant factor was that until Germany was defeated a large proportion of British land, sea and air forces would be tied down to the British Isles. For this reason it was necessary to defeat the Axis in Europe in order to release British forces for action.’ Eisenhower agreed with Admiral Stark’s original assessment in ‘Plan Dog’ that the defeat of Germany would make the defeat of Japan a matter of time, whereas the defeat of Japan would not materially weaken Germany.
It is true that Churchill’s plans for defeating the Axis–WW1–amounted to one of the great state papers of the war, and have prompted some historians to observe that the Prime Minister’s ‘conceptual reach, at best, far surpassed that of his professional advisers, including Brooke’.8 But the memorandum produced by Marshall and Stimson for Roosevelt’s use during Arcadia also explicitly recognized the Germany First policy, stating that notwithstanding the attack in the Pacific, ‘Our joint war plans have recognised the North Atlantic as our principal theater of operations should America become involved in the war’. The first thing was to ensure ‘the preservation of our communications across the North Atlantic with our fortress in the British Isles covering the British fleet’.9
In general, Roosevelt accepted Churchill’s ‘peripheral’ view of how to win the war–by blockading and bombing Germany, while containing it with small raids and an attack on North Africa–before finally returning to the Continent for the knockout blow once it had been weakened in Russia. FDR appreciated the advantages of such a strategy, as well as the political dangers of any setback resulting from a military reverse on the Continent. Marshall, Stimson, Eisenhower, Hull and Handy, however, preferred the ‘Ulysses S. Grant’ view that it should be done with a full frontal assault on Germany via France as early as possible. (The commander of the Federal forces in the American Civil War was thought of as personifying the direct as opposed to peripheral military strategy because of his plans for the invasion of the South.) Yet the President could be swayed, or it seemed as if he could be. As he told Henry Morgenthau: ‘Nothing could be worse than to have the Russians collapse. I would rather lose Australia, New Zealand or anything else than have the Russians collapse.’10 Even though he could never have said so openly–any more than Roosevelt could–Churchill agreed. Yet, unlike the Americans, Churchill and Brooke did not think that Russia could necessarily be saved by an early Second Front anyway.
Marshall drew up another memorandum for Roosevelt that made it clear that he was ready to undertake an attack on North Africa at very short notice, on the assumption that Vichy France would ‘invite the United States and Great Britain jointly to occupy and defend North Africa’. One Marine division of eleven thousand men could be ready to embark for Casablanca at ten days’ notice by 15 January 1942, along with 160 fighter planes and 114 bombers, with another infantry division of twenty-one thousand men and one armoured division of thirteen thousand to be ready at ten days’ notice after 15 February. Anti-aircraft units could be supplied by the British. ‘The US Army is prepared to reinforce the foregoing initial contingent with air and ground forces to the extent necessary to maintain its position in North Africa against probable Axis attack,’ the general told the President.11
Marshall was thus prepared to undertake an operation on the Atlantic seaboard of North-west Africa in early 1942, always provided that the French would not oppose such a landing. Of course once it became clear by mid-1942 that Vichy would indeed fight back everything changed, but this was nonetheless indicative that Marshall was not always diametrically and philosophically opposed to the concept of large numbers of Americans ever arriving in North Africa, as is sometimes suggested.
Churchill arrived in Washington on Monday 22 December, and was given offices in the White House across the corridor from the President. They saw each other constantly. ‘He is the only head of state whom I have ever received in the nude,’ the Prime Minister later told Lord Halifax. With Churchill’s WW1 paper accepted and the outlines of grand strategy already agreed at Placentia Bay–at least in the widest possible sense and in the short term–the conference tackled the much thornier question of which organization should be ultimately responsible for carrying it out. A body was needed to ensure the most intimate and smoothest co-operation between the British and American High Commands. Marshall appreciated that the ultimate decision-making body–to be named the Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee–needed to consist of those who would be responsible for putting those decisions into effect. In Stimson’s words, Marshall ‘insisted that the Combined Chiefs should in fact be chiefs, and not merely elders of the council’.12
Hitherto, American strategy was not made by the commanders of each service working together in the same committee. Part of the reason Marshall wanted to institute a Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee to mirror the British Chiefs of Staff Committee was his recognition that the way the British High Command had been organized since the early 1920s gave them an undoubted edge in military planning, a lead that he was determined to minimize as time went on. Brigadier-General Thomas Handy, who like Marshall had graduated from VMI, served in the War Plans Division from 1936 to 1940 and returned there in 1941. The next year he was promoted to major-general and became assistant chief of staff in the new, revamped Operations Division (OPD) at the War Department. Working closely with Marshall as a senior Planner throughout the war, he ended up as a four-star deputy chief of staff. ‘After Pearl Harbor the Prime Minister descended on Washington with a whole gang of people,’ Handy recalled of Arcadia. ‘We were more or less babes in the wood on this planning and joint business with the British. They’d been doing it for years. They were experts at it and we were just starting. They’d found a way to get along between the services.’13 Marshall essentially tried to copy that successful formula.
Certainly, Colonel Ian Jacob was shocked by the haphazard nature of the American system before Marshall created the Joint Chiefs of Staff. ‘To our eyes, the American machine of Government seems hopelessly disorganized,’ he recorded of a meeting in the White House Cabinet Room on the first day of Arcadia. ‘The President, to start with, has no proper private office. He has no real private secretary, and no secretariat for Cabinet or military business.’ A stickler for efficient staff procedure, indeed something of a martinet, Jacob was no less astonished by how relaxed the American style of government was. ‘The President sat at his desk, with the Prime Minister in a chair on his left hand side, and the rest of the company perched on chairs and sofas in a rough semi-circle facing him,’ he recalled of one Oval Office meeting. ‘No tables or anything, and very awkward looking at maps or taking down notes.’ The meeting was also attended by Fala, the President’s Aberdeen terrier, ‘who suddenly started barking, and had to be ejected, just as the PM was in the middle of an oration’. It was far more of a country-house-weekend way of doing things than the crisp, clipped formal efficiency of the War Cabinet Office, and it could not survive the rigours of global war. Marshall was right to adopt the British Staff system in its place. ‘The Americans are like we were in the days of Jackie Fisher and Kitchener,’ concluded Jacob, harking back to the naval and army chiefs of the Great War. ‘Personalities each pushing their own ideas, and no real co-operation…They will get all right, but they have a hell of a lot to learn.’14
At one meeting held at the Federal Reserve building on Christmas Eve 1941, there was no agenda, and the first thing that Admiral Stark, who as the senior American officer present was in the chair, did was to run through the notes he had made at the previous day’s meeting. In Britain these would all have been circulated beforehand. ‘General Marshall had also dictated, on his return to his office, his idea of what had happened,’ wrote Jacob, surprised that this had not been done by a junior secretary. ‘We of course had our minutes prepared, and it was a complete waste of everyone’s time to go all over the ground again. Not to mention the waste of effort on the part of these Chiefs of Staff to have themselves to go back and put down an account of the meeting.’15
The upshot of all this was the realization by the British that the way to achieve results with the Americans was, in Jacob’s words, ‘to give up all idea of proceeding in an orderly way in accordance with our own machinery, and to deal directly with individuals’. One man going directly to Marshall or Arnold, he believed, would ‘achieve much more than any discussion with their Chiefs of Staff in session’. What Jacob did not know was that Marshall was fully aware of the organizational shortcomings of this system and was busy fashioning one based on that of the British. Before it was in place, however, there was a farcical situation by which ‘The Director of Plans of their Army, after attending a meeting of the Joint Planning Committee, had to go back and tell General Marshall about it; then he had to attend a meeting of the Chiefs of Staff at which the JPC paper was taken, and on return to his office he had to dictate a note on what took place at that meeting.’16
The senior US Army member of the Joint Secretariat of the Combined Chiefs of Staff was Colonel Paul Robinett. Born and educated in Missouri, he had volunteered for the Army in 1917 but was rejected as underweight. He nonetheless persisted, and was finally commissioned into the 1st Cavalry and assigned to the Mexican frontier. An outstanding horseman, Robinett had been in the US equestrian team at the 1924 Paris Olympics. It was his assignment as an ADC to General Malin Craig that put him on the fast track for promotion, involving a course at the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth in 1932–3. Spells at Harvard, in the Military Intelligence (G-2) section of the General Staff and finally in Marshall’s secretariat followed, so by the time of the Arcadia Conference he was an established high-flier. He also kept a (hitherto unpublished) daily diary, which was not against US regulations.
Robinett agreed that the first Arcadia meeting had been badly organized by the Americans, and blamed Lieutenant-Colonel Lawrence Higgins of the foreign liaison section of Military Intelligence, who had not even ascertained beforehand how many people were likely to attend. Instead of initially choosing the imposing board room of the Federal Reserve, Higgins allotted the meeting to Rooms 2064–2066, which proved too small and had to be changed at Robinett’s insistence. ‘It must have been embarrassing to General Marshall when he saw what had been done,’ wrote Robinett. ‘But Higgins was supposed to know something about conferences, for he had been a member of the foreign service.’17 (For someone who had worked in Washington, Robinett retained a touching faith in the efficiency of the State Department.)
‘The British sat on the south side of the table and the Americans sat on the north side,’ recalled Tom Handy of these meetings at the Federal Reserve. ‘The Secretaries sat at the end of the table. After the administrative people had been posted on the outside, the conference settled down to business.’ Handy thought the British Chiefs ‘not very impressive. First Sea Lord Admiral Pound is lame…Field Marshal Dill is a fine appearing man of average physique but looks old and tired. Air Chief Marshal Portal is swarthy, eagle-beaked and young. His keen eyes are alert to everything about him.’ These were not unfair assessments. Robinett later wrote that the British secretariat, ‘unlike the American, was a working team’ under Jo Hollis. Handy thought the ablest member of the Chiefs of Staff was Portal, but as for Pound, ‘He went through a couple of those conferences and never opened his mouth.’18
One of Marshall’s major problems at Arcadia was Roosevelt’s habit of getting into almost ad hoc meetings with the British without any American minders being present, which wound up discussing important policy issues. Robinett recalled that on one occasion the President ‘was wheeled in’ to a room at the White House and, ‘without his advisers, participated in a meeting with the British. The upshot of the conference was a directive to the Combined Chiefs of Staff for a meeting at 4pm, signed by Brigadier Hollis, to consider the diversion of reinforcements now en route to the Philippines in case MacArthur was unable to receive them.’19 Whereas the American Chiefs of Staff had had no time to study the directive, the British had heard all the discussions that led up to it and had copies of the directive before they met. Brooke was fortunate that the mirror situation–in which Churchill invited himself into a meeting of the US Joint Chiefs and blithely agreed to call a Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting to approve a policy the British Chiefs had not approved–was utterly unthinkable.
Now, the British system of having the executive officers in charge of each of the services also being the chief policy advisers to the Government was adopted, and Marshall also insisted on the staff for the new Anglo-American body producing a continuous record of consideration and decision and directive. This made the body ‘an executive committee for the prosecution of a global war’, rather than just an ad hoc body that met whenever the British and American service Chiefs happened to be in the same city at the same time.
Marshall believed that the new body needed, for security and political reasons, to be based in Washington. This was why he devised the concept of a Combined Chiefs of Staff Committee which would consist of the British Chiefs of Staff Committee and the American Chiefs, themselves brought together in a new body named the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When the three British members of the Chiefs of Staff were in London, as of course they would be for the day-to-day running of the war, they would each be represented by very senior British officers in Washington, but also collectively by the Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission, who would be Field Marshal Sir John Dill.
This was utterly revolutionary and flung the British into a ferment. For the first time in history the overall decision-making body for the British armed forces, with ultimate powers over when, where and how Britons would fight, would be based outside the United Kingdom. It required careful persuasion of Churchill by Roosevelt and Marshall, and Marshall first had to persuade Roosevelt and Stimson, who both suspected that they were being required to give up powers to Marshall.
Marshall recognized that the existing system, whereby the US Army and Air Force on one side and the US Navy on the other individually made policy that they then tried to persuade the British to adopt, was grossly inefficient and potentially damaging. There were many pitfalls along the way, but the Combined Chiefs of Staff system was an inspired idea, and made a significant contribution to victory. The Combined Chiefs would have a Joint Secretariat and a Joint Planning Staff which would co-ordinate the activities of the Planning Staffs of the Chiefs of Staff and Joint Chiefs of Staff in London and Washington respectively.20 It looked complicated on paper, but it worked in practice because there was the will on both sides that it should do so–and the prospect of failure was too dire to contemplate.
Yet, even after Churchill had been persuaded, Brooke remained fundamentally opposed to the whole concept. If a body ‘to coordinate supply matters, overseas military movements, and broad military strategy’ were based in Washington, he assumed, the United Kingdom would lose powers of initiation and perhaps eventually even of veto, whatever the paper guarantees of equality. Brooke instead wanted a mirror committee in London, but the other Chiefs understandably feared that these two committees would be bound either to duplicate bureaucratically or to clash disastrously. Churchill decided to try Marshall’s idea out for a month. It was a classic Whitehall manoeuvre, as it is notoriously more difficult to disinvent an idea once it is already in operation than to mount opposition to an untried concept, and the issue never arose again.21 Brooke’s physical distance from the discussions, and being so new to his position, left him too weak to impose a veto. Furthermore his fellow Chiefs of Staff, including their chairman Dudley Pound, were willing to try it out.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff system involved all institutions and players ceding some autonomy for the common good, which everyone–other than Brooke, who was never wholly reconciled–was willing to do. Perhaps those who sacrificed the most were those smaller Allied nations, especially of the British Commonwealth, who made large relative contributions in terms of troops and financial commitments yet had no seats on the Committee. When soon after its inception the Free French leader Charles de Gaulle demanded that France should have a seat on the Combined Chiefs of Staff, Ismay replied that if Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Holland, Belgium, Denmark and Norway also had the right to be represented, ‘the only place we could have a meeting is the Albert Hall’.22
From January 1942 until his untimely death in November 1944, Sir John Dill was Churchill’s personal representative in Washington, but also that of the Chiefs of Staff as head of the British Joint Staff Mission. He was thus also the de facto British ambassador for all matters military, while the real ambassador, Lord Halifax, concentrated on the diplomatic and non-military aspects of Anglo-American relations. The British Chiefs of Staff and American Joint Chiefs of Staff were to coalesce as the Combined Chiefs of Staff at ten Roosevelt–Churchill summits and on three other occasions during the war, but otherwise Dill stood in for the British Chiefs of Staff at all CCS meetings, and was thus a key figure in the higher direction of the war.
Dill did not initiate military policy, but was invaluable in guiding it. By suggesting that he stay in Washington after Arcadia, Brooke might have been merely attempting to soften the blow of Dill’s recent demotion, and in accepting this advice Churchill may have been acting from similar motives. Whatever the reasons, nothing could have been more effective in creating good relations between the American and British military staffs there. In his sincerity, modesty, frankness, integrity and self-discipline, Dill in many ways resembled his friend George Marshall.23 This amity between Marshall and Dill transcended simply that of comrades thrown together by force of circumstance. The Marshalls invited the Dills to intimate dinners of family and neighbours at Dodona, such as Thanksgiving, went on holiday and attended church together.
In this respect, it was fortunate that Churchill had left Brooke to ‘mind the shop’, because it allowed Dill to establish close and friendly relations with Marshall that lasted the rest of his life. This closeness, however, sometimes worried Brooke who, like others in the Chiefs of Staff, feared that his friend and mentor might have ‘gone native’ in America. But it is just as likely that Britain benefited as much from Marshall’s willingness to trust Dill as vice versa. Brooke acknowledged in 1958 that Dill had ‘acted as a great link between Marshall and myself’. Link is one word: another might be shock-absorber. The creation of a buffer between the volatile British CIGS and his American counterpart was later to be invaluable, because Dill proved expert at engineering ways out of seeming deadlocks that did not damage the amour propre of either man. What Ismay did in smoothing the often rocky relations between Brooke and Churchill, therefore, Dill managed for relations between Brooke and Marshall.
Marshall’s institution of the Joint Chiefs of Staff could not, however, wholly alter the disorganization in the American system which Jacob had commented upon so tartly. Roosevelt’s desire to retain power closely in his own hands, and to keep Administration officials competing for his favour, led him to adopt methods that seem incredibly byzantine, even administratively dysfunctional, to modern eyes. ‘Mr Roosevelt was always very sensitive about the reports on the conduct of his own affairs,’ Marshall recalled after the war. ‘He didn’t want a record of cabinet meetings. He didn’t give us the messages he was sending half the time. He would communicate with Churchill…and I would be wholly unaware of it, though it directly affected the affairs of the army and the air and maybe the navy.’ The way that Marshall found out what Roosevelt was telling Churchill was often through Churchill’s sending copies of the President’s telegrams to Brooke who sent them on to Dill, who, unbeknown to Churchill and Brooke, then showed them to Marshall. It was an absurdly roundabout way of keeping tabs on one’s own commander-in-chief. ‘Dill would come over to my office,’ Marshall reminisced, ‘and I would get Mr Roosevelt’s message…Otherwise, I wouldn’t know what it was. I had to be careful that nobody knew this…because Dill would be destroyed in a minute if this was discovered.’24
Knowing the dangers involved, Dill would not physically hand over to Marshall a hard copy of the messages, but would sit opposite him at his desk and read them over to him instead. ‘This was quite a risky thing for Dill,’ Marshall pointed out, ‘but he realized that we just had to have the information. Why should the British Chiefs of Staff have it–it was from our President–and the American Chiefs of Staff not have it? It was just Mr Roosevelt’s desire for secrecy.’ However irregular, even underhand, this system might have been, it worked both ways, for as Marshall went on to explain: ‘Dill would frequently get messages from Mr Churchill and ask him to ascertain General Marshall’s possible view of this. Dill would come over and read me Mr Churchill’s communication. Then he and I would make up the reply.’ Marshall readily acknowledged that it was ‘a rather curious set up’, but that it was also ‘a very effectual one in this business, because these were all strong men–Mr Roosevelt and Mr Churchill–and the coordination of these matters was of vital importance.’25 In this and many other ways, Dill would prove a good deal more useful to transatlantic relations than if he had been packed off to Bombay, with or without his bodyguard of lancers.
The distinguished historian of the Dill–Marshall relationship and co-editor of Brooke’s wartime diaries, Professor Alex Danchev, has discovered that the extent of Dill’s and Marshall’s willingness to share secret information went further than Marshall was willing to admit, even to his trusted biographer. ‘Dill showed Marshall virtually all the Chiefs of Staff telegrams he received, including those “For His Own Information”,’ we now know, as well as many of the Joint Staff Mission messages and his personal replies sent to London, in addition to private telegrams and letters from his regular correspondents, for example Brooke and Wavell. ‘Churchill’s “hot ones” were immediately discussed à deux, and in Dill’s absence simply taken to Marshall’s office by the senior secretary of the JSM, rather as if the US Chief of Staff were on the regular British distribution list.’26 If Brooke had suspected this was happening, his fear that Dill had ‘gone native’ would have been understandable.
On occasion Dill would warn Marshall of issues that were in early stages of development; one telegram had the message appended: ‘The question dealt with in the attached is not ripe to put to you officially but I always like you to know the shape of possible things to come.’ Dill believed that the earlier that Marshall knew about something, the less likely it was that he would cause problems when the issue had sufficiently ‘ripened’ into prospective action. Meanwhile, Marshall kept Dill, who intimately understood the intricacies of his relations with Roosevelt, Hopkins and Stimson, in close touch with what he was doing. Neither man liked surprises.
Harry Hopkins was a key figure in Roosevelt’s entourage, especially during the earlier part of the war, as the President’s confidant, sounding-board, scout and emissary. Ian Jacob described Hopkins as:
a frail anaemic man of great honesty and courage, who lives permanently in the White House and is the President’s constant companion. Dumbie [Brigadier Vivian Dykes of the Joint Staff Mission] calls him ‘the disused prawn’ and the name certainly describes his lanky figure, bent back…and rather fish-like expression. He has no official appointment, though he has been nominated to various functions connected to Lend–Lease administration.
Jacob believed Hopkins to be ‘a real friend of Great Britain, and it is a mercy that we have such a man as the President’s chief familiar’. In a Tudor or Stuart court, Hopkins would have been termed a favourite.
On 27 December, Marshall presented to Pound and Portal his plan for a single unified command covering a vast area in the Pacific, stretching across India, Burma, the Philippines and Australasia. He formally proposed Wavell as supreme commander, accepting that ‘With Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and British and Dutch islands at stake, it would be difficult for Great Britain to accept an American for this post.’ Even Admiral Ernest J. King, the Chief of the US Naval Staff, who prided himself on his defence of American autonomy, supported the idea.
In Stimson’s phrase, the Royal Navy ‘kicked like bay steers’ against having a unified command imposed upon them, let alone the equally horrendous concept of having their ships ultimately being commanded by Wavell, a soldier. Yet the meeting ended with the Combined Chiefs of Staff agreeing to present a joint proposal to Roosevelt and Churchill in favour of the idea. ‘The chief of the naval planners rushed to the door to shake hands with me and put his arm around me, which surprised me,’ Marshall told Robinett fifteen years later. ‘And Dill followed and threw his arms around me, and still another one acted explosively.’27 For all this obvious–and rather unBritish–enthusiasm, Churchill and Brooke had yet to be convinced.
Churchill discussed Marshall’s plan with Roosevelt at the White House that evening, saying that it was probably too geographically wide an area of operations for one man to control successfully, and contrasting it to the responsibilities of the last supreme commander, Marshal Foch, who only had to concentrate on the area between the Vosges and the Channel when he had taken over in March 1918. The analogy was imperfect, since Foch had to relay all orders through the national commands, which was not what Marshall was proposing at all.
It is unclear whether the key meeting between Churchill and Marshall took place on the morning of 27 or 28 December–the sources conflict, and frankly it is immaterial–but whichever it was, the Prime Minister was in bed shortly before noon, suffering from an attack of angina pectoris, deficient oxygenation of the heart muscles. Marshall found him ‘propped up in bed with his work resting against his knees’ with ‘the ever-present cigar in his mouth or swung like a baton to emphasise his points’.28
Marshall used the opportunity to impose himself on Churchill, just as he had once before with the President. ‘Aware from his talks with Roosevelt that a man on his feet had an advantage in an argument,’ Pogue wrote of the encounter, ‘the General walked up and down as he talked.’ (Anyone capable of taking advantage of presidential polio would not baulk at prime ministerial angina, but of course there is no certainty that this tactic had the slightest effect on men as stratospherically self-confident as FDR and Churchill, whatever Marshall might have thought.)
Churchill took refuge on this occasion, as on others, in Elizabethan historical analogy, but he was clearly given short shrift. ‘I told him I was not interested in Drake and Frobisher,’ recalled Marshall, ‘but I was interested in having a united front against Japan, an enemy which was fighting furiously. I said if we didn’t do something right away we were finished in the war.’ Churchill went off for a bath, where much important prime ministerial thinking was done, only to return with the delphic remark that Marshall would have ‘to take the worst with the best’.29
Marshall readily admitted to enjoying listening to Churchill, and to learning much from him. The Prime Minister would regularly deliver mini-lectures on the historic things that had happened in places they visited, as he was to do in Downing Street in a dinner à deux with Marshall later that year, but he soon found that Marshall was never bowled over by his rhetoric as others sometimes could be. (Admiral Stark was similarly suspicious of Churchillian oratory; whenever he heard it, he said, he kept his hand on his watch.)30 At Arcadia, Marshall instead started to exercise a fascination over the Prime Minister. ‘There were few people who could mesmerise Churchill,’ Colville later recalled; ‘Marshall was one of those few who came close to doing so.’ Hopkins went further, alleging that Marshall was ‘the only general in the world whom Churchill is afraid of’.31
Churchill telegraphed to the Cabinet on 28 December that Roosevelt had ‘urged’ the idea of unity of command and that Marshall had ‘pleaded case with great conviction’, and furthermore ‘it is certain that a new far-reaching arrangement will have to be made…Marshall has evidently gone far into detailed scheme.’ He ended by saying that he would receive Pound’s and Portal’s views and then give the Cabinet their conclusions. Yet, instead of waiting for London’s response to this revolutionary démarche, Churchill had another conversation with Roosevelt and cabled again later that same day: ‘I have agreed with President, subject to Cabinet approval, that we should accept his proposals, most strongly endorsed by General Marshall.’ He insisted that the War Cabinet decide before 1 January, urging acceptance of ‘this broad-minded and selfless American proposal, of merits of which as a war-winner I have become convinced’.
Back in London, however, Brooke was profoundly sceptical, describing the scheme as ‘wild and half-baked’. He suspected that Churchill had been outmanoeuvred by Roosevelt and Marshall, and that Wavell was–in Dill’s words–merely being set up to be ‘responsible for the disasters that are coming to the Americans as well as ourselves’. If Brooke had travelled to Arcadia rather than being left to mind the shop, Marshall would have found it much harder selling the American–British–Dutch–Australasian (ABDA) unified command structure for the Pacific theatre, let alone the idea of a Washington-based Combined Chiefs of Staff.
Once Roosevelt and Churchill had approved the ABDA scheme, recalled Jacob, ‘It did not take long for the British Chiefs of Staff and the American Navy to come into line, though the former urged strongly that the Commander should be American. They foresaw disasters in the Far East.’32 These fears were overruled, however, and the principle was accepted and strongly recommended to London, where the War Cabinet–which then consisted of Eden, the Lord President of the Council Sir John Anderson, the Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the Labour Party Clement Attlee, the Minister of Supply Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister of State Oliver Lyttelton, the Home Secretary Herbert Morrison and the Minister without Portfolio Arthur Greenwood–could do nothing but accept the Prime Minister’s fait accompli. Although Anthony Eden had resigned from the Chamberlain Government over appeasement in 1938, had been secretary for war in Churchill’s first ministry and was foreign secretary by December 1940, as well as Churchill’s heir apparent, it is surprising what little influence he had on strategic decisions during the Second World War. His was the main voice in Churchill’s inner circle arguing for close connections with the Russians, but otherwise he seems to have played next to no part in the day-to-day creation of British grand strategy.
‘It is, of course, an unequal contest,’ observed Moran, who since he was not a government official had the right to keep a diary, although in his case its publication of intimate doctor–patient details possibly contravened his Hippocratic Oath. ‘Our Chiefs of Staff miss Brooke, whom we have left in London picking up the threads. The peace-loving Dill is no substitute. What he lacks is the he-man stuff.’ Over the issue of having the Combined Chiefs of Staff based in Washington, Moran noted that ‘Marshall remains key to the situation. The PM has a feeling that in his quiet, unprovocative way he means business, and that if we are too obstinate he might take a strong line. And neither the PM nor the President can contemplate going ahead without Marshall.’33
As Planning discussions about the attacks on the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts of North-west Africa, now codenamed Gymnast, progressed, General Joseph Stilwell–a protégé of Marshall’s and an expert on China–began to notice Marshall’s support for it wavering. On New Year’s Day 1942, Stilwell, who was originally slated to command the American part of the assault, recorded in his diary that at the outset Marshall had seemed so much in favour that he had ‘brushed aside’ the argument that U-boats might wreck the operation, arguing that the attack convoy would be so well guarded by air and surface defences that ‘subs can’t get in’, and citing the inability of US submarines to sink the ‘Jap troopships all around the Philippines’. Stilwell’s conclusion was characteristically scatological: ‘The War Department is just like the alimentary canal. You feed it at one end, and nothing comes out the other but crap.’34
Yet at a three-and-a-half-hour ‘pow-wow’ on 3 January, only forty-eight hours later, Stilwell found that Marshall, Arnold and the senior Planning Staff officers, including the tall, gangling Mark Clark, the Chief of the War Plans Division Leonard Gerow and the Assistant Chief of Staff for Supplies Brehon Somervell, were all now opposed to Gymnast because of the fear that the Germans would march through Spain and cut off the American expedition at the Straits of Gibraltar. Meanwhile the profoundly Anglophobic Stilwell sneered that the ‘Limeys claim that Spain would “bitterly oppose” Germans. What rot. The Boches own the country. Franco must pay the bill for his [Spanish Civil] war.’
Portal’s assurances that an American air attack area around Casablanca could be carried out with relatively few squadrons were denounced by the ultra-suspicious Stilwell as ‘too transparent for words, but Our Big Boy [Roosevelt] has swallowed it…I also asked George [Marshall] what the basic US objective was in going over there. He said to protect the Mediterranean sea lane, which, if it could be used for convoys, would “quadruple the available British shipping.” I don’t see it.’35 Stilwell summed up the American Planners’ fears about Gymnast in a meeting with Stimson: ‘All agree that the means are meagre, the transport uncertain, the complications numerous, the main facts unknown, the consequences serious.’ It was true that an opposed attack from the United States across the Atlantic on to the North-west African coastline would always involve great danger, and the American Planners were right to view it as a risky undertaking.
Having been shown what he called ‘an amazing document’–the final report of the Arcadia Conference summarizing the conclusions reached–Stilwell wrote:
It demonstrated the tremendous hold the Limeys have on Our Boy. They shout off their faces as if they were our delegates and not theirs. So and so simply must be done. The Magnet Plan [to base US troops in Northern Ireland] will relieve several British divisions, which can now go home to jolly old England, thank you. No hint that they might help elsewhere. And we must keep up the Lend–Lease torrent to our British cousins, even though our people go without…And by God the Limeys now say it is impossible for Great Britain to produce even the munitions she needs for herself, and we must keep up our stream of offerings or else. I don’t know what ‘or else’ means, but I would like to ask them. And then tell them what they could do.36
Small wonder that Stilwell’s nickname was ‘Vinegar Joe’, or that he was later considered unsuitable to command inter-Allied operations. His account dripped with sarcasm and Anglophobia, and was an unfair summary of the conference, yet it did represent the sincere view of a number of senior OPD officers towards Britain.
‘We did look at Great Britain with suspicion at the time,’ Marshall admitted to Pogue in 1956, mentioning how once, after the British had proposed something–he could not recall what–his senior Planners Albert C. Wedemeyer and Ed Hull had persuaded him to oppose it because they feared British ‘ulterior motives’. Marshall presented their rebuttal to the British Chiefs of Staff, only to learn from Portal that the proposal had originally been taken from an American Planners’ memorandum.37
The suspicion that Marshall and the Planners, especially Stilwell, Wedemeyer and Hull, felt over Gymnast was that Britain needed the operation not so much to deliver a blow against Rommel as to ‘pull the British Empire’s chestnuts out of the fire’ in North Africa after the fall of Tobruk. The defence of British Middle Eastern interests, in places like Egypt, Iraq and Palestine, was always held by the OPD to be the primary reason why Churchill and Brooke wanted to drive the Afrika Korps out of Africa. As with all really enduring but ultimately wrong conspiracy theories, it had just enough of a leavening of truth to give it life. Of course the British wanted to protect Egypt, but ultimately it was also in America’s best interests that the Germans did not capture the Middle Eastern oil fields, which would have been the very next step for the Afrika Korps.
Over at the White House on New Year’s Day 1942, Halifax recorded that Roosevelt and Churchill were consulting in Churchill’s bedroom, while he and Beaverbrook were sitting on a box in the corridor and Harry Hopkins was ‘floating past in a dressing-gown’. The Ambassador can be forgiven for thinking it ‘the oddest ménage anybody has ever seen’. Churchill was keen not to overstay his welcome in Washington, and so decided to take some days off. He was not yet ready to return to England, however. The detailed conversations still going on between the military Staffs about how to concert military action, which, after ABC-2 and ABC-3, had got up to ABC-4, were too important, but according to the preternaturally well-informed Ian Jacob he felt that his continued presence in the White House might be irksome and ‘liable to cause suspicion’ in the minds of American servicemen and Cabinet members, ‘who might think he was trying to establish too intimate a connection with the President’. He therefore went, with his assistant private secretary John Martin, his naval aide Commander Tommy Thompson and Moran, to stay incognito in a bungalow near Miami for five days from 5 January.
Marshall made his own plane available to fly the party to Florida, and FDR’s principal bodyguard was assigned to protect Churchill there. On his return, the man related how the Prime Minister would bathe naked and was once ‘rolled by rough seas. He had then got up and shaken his fist at the sea, and been rolled again, and reduced to a state of great indignation.’38 It was nothing compared to the indignation he was to feel once Operation Gymnast seemed to slip from his grasp.
On 9 January 1942, the day that the Eighth Army recaptured the Cyrenaican port of Bardia, Marshall sent Roosevelt a memorandum on French North Africa that breathed freezing cold over Gymnast. It stated that the proposals to occupy Madeira and Tangier and land a large force at Casablanca might indeed have their advantages in protecting the south Atlantic sea lanes and air routes and ‘preventing the extension of Axis influence to the West and South’, but they also involved serious disadvantages.
Attacking Madeira would sacrifice the element of surprise, would be opposed by Franco, and might prompt a counter-attack by the Axis from the Canaries. Furthermore Spain had 150,000 men in Spanish Morocco, many of them veterans of the Spanish Civil War, and Tangier was vulnerable to air bases in Spain and North Africa. It was also doubtful what support could be expected from ‘the natives of North Africa and the opportunist French…Self-preservation will undoubtedly be their controlling motive. For planning purposes, it must be assumed that both French and natives will adopt the line of action which involves the least danger to themselves.’ Marshall concluded that the only possible plan was one that combined not attacking Spanish territory and being invited by France to occupy French Morocco.39 The first part was possible, the second was not.
Two days earlier, Roosevelt had proposed to Congress a truly massive increase in the defence budget, designed to produce 125,000 aircraft, 75,000 tanks and no fewer than 8 million tons of shipping by the end of 1943. Marshall had already doubled the size of the US Army to two hundred thousand by the time of Pearl Harbor, but was further to increase it forty-fold by Victory in Japan Day. The total number of Americans mobilized in the Second World War–14.9 million–was more than that of Britain (at 6.2 million) and France (6 million) combined, twice that of Japan (7.4 million), more than Nazi Germany (12.5 million) or China (8 million), and surpassed only by the awe-inspiring 25 million mobilized by the Soviet Union (whose troops were however often grossly under-equipped).40 It was this huge expansion of America’s war-making power that underlay Marshall’s ability to ‘mesmerise’ Churchill, who understandably stood in awe of the sheer productive capacity of the United States.
The drawback, at least for Britain, of Roosevelt’s massive increase in armaments was Marshall’s growing desire that as much of them as possible should be kept in the United States until it was certain where they would be needed. Marshall wrote to the President via Hopkins to warn against Lend–Lease allocations being changed, especially if the US Army was to be built up to 3.6 million men by the end of 1942. It had thirty-five divisions in mid-January, and it was hoped that ten of them would be fully equipped, the remainder averaging 50 per cent by the end of March.41 On 25 March the creation of a further thirty-six new divisions would be undertaken, which would be 50 per cent equipped during the calendar year 1942, always supposing that all the desired production schedules were met.
Marshall warned the President that the ammunition-production rates were ‘seriously inadequate’ for the number of troops in training, arguing that any increases in Lend–Lease ‘must involve the cutting down on equipment for units that we may be called upon to commit to active theatres once we embark on any particular operation’. Basic arithmetic showed that of the fourteen-and-a-half new divisions–only two-thirds of which would even exist by the end of the first quarter of 1942–only nine were earmarked for Europe and Africa, and the rest to the Pacific and Latin America. Although this meant that the Germany First policy still prevailed, it effectively precluded any serious hope of the United States conducting any significant operations on the European mainland in 1942.
The last meeting of Arcadia took place on Wednesday 14 January 1942 at the Federal Reserve, after which it was adjourned to the dining room by Admiral Stark, who presided over cocktails and a lunch that was repeatedly interrupted by photographers’ flashlights. Robinett listed the conference’s achievements as: confirming the Germany First priority; establishing the Combined Chiefs of Staff mechanism for conducting combined US–UK operations; agreeing on the principle of unity of command in each theatre; prescribing the limits of Pacific reinforcement; drawing up common measures to keep China in the war; and the coordinating of shipping.42 These were impressive, and stand as a tribute to Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall, Portal and Pound. When the British party left Washington that evening, ninety-two of them fitted into three Boeing Clipper flying-boats; they took 18,000 pounds of luggage, including silk stockings, lipstick, hams, underclothes, soap and oranges, as well as what Jacob called ‘other acceptable produce to take to expectant families’.43
On his return from Washington, Churchill reported to the War Cabinet, and started off with a soon-to-be-famous story:
The President and his wife were kind and hospitable. I lived in intimacy with them, just up the corridor from the Map Room…The first day after I arrived FDR came in and I had time to grab a towel…The last thing he said when he came to see me off was ‘To the bitter end, trust me.’ We are suffering heavy blows…but the US is setting about the war with great vigour…they have jumped right into it. There is a sense of resolve to fight it out. They have tactical ideas of war, Hitler is the enemy, they will do what can re: Japan. But…nothing will get in the way of defeating Hitler. [He then spoke of the United States] occupying the North & West African Coast. If they could win it, it would be a vital factor for our Mediterranean shipping–sixty Infantry Divisions and ten Armoured Divisions is what they are aiming for–they should be enough…The Americans are anxious to get into combat with the enemy. There is Olympian calm at the White House.44
Churchill was clearly relieved by the reiteration of the Germany First policy; furthermore from this report it seems that Gymnast had been agreed with Roosevelt even while Marshall was still investigating its potential, and was having increasing doubts over it. Churchill reported that Harry Hopkins was ‘our great friend’ and he seemed surprised by the level of access he had had with Roosevelt: ‘Lived in the closest intimacy, lunched nearly every day alone or with Hopkins, their ministers asked me what happened–went to Florida for five days.’45 The juxtaposition of this last piece of information tends to support Jacob’s surmise that Churchill left Washington because he feared he was getting too close to Roosevelt for the comfort of American officials, who had to come to ask him for reports on the President’s thinking on various points.
It also seems that the Administration had succumbed to a bout of hubris, although it is unclear how far Churchill shared it: ‘All in all their Cabinet feel that have got over the hump of the war. If they do it well they will do it in 1943, if clumsily 1944 or 1945. Supplies of matériel and manpower are overwhelming.’ Over the Arcadia agreements, Churchill said: ‘Marshall, Hopkins & the President wanted unity of command in the Far East–I was at first against it (I was impressed with Marshall who is not narrow). He proposed Wavell…Anyone who has seen what has happened since will see that it shows how necessary it was.’
Churchill said he had also ‘proposed to Marshall to take brigades at a time for guard duty on the English beaches–they would like that–troops should be used that want training–not their best troops as they need to keep them for North Africa.’ Here was a further indication that Churchill hoped and expected American forces, indeed the ‘best’ of them, to see action in North Africa long before any cross-Channel invasion. Moreover, he seems to have mentioned it directly to Marshall, who had only agreed, however, to US brigades guarding the invasion beaches of southern England.
Later in his briefing, Churchill told the War Cabinet that he had been ‘Impressed with calibre of the 3 American Chiefs of Staff’, and that since Admiral Stark’s ‘number’s up’, because of Pearl Harbor, ‘Admiral King is the man with whom we shall have to deal.’ Roosevelt had therefore not hidden from Churchill the fact that the man held ultimately responsible for the Pearl Harbor débâcle would be replaced as soon as the immediate crisis was over, as he duly was in March. Stark’s replacement, Ernest J. King, was to provide the British Chiefs of Staff with more problems than any other American in the higher direction of the war.
Pausing only to reminisce about his journey back–‘I drove the plane for a bit…the engines purred like happy kittens’–Churchill then gave a global overview of strategy.
According to the classic rules of war, you stave off one and crush the other. Well we’ve done that; they have only 1/3 of North Africa left and when pushed out of Cyrenaica the picture will then be all altered. If we had squandered our strength we would be thin and dissipated before a war that had not begun. We would have been guilty of grossest error of policy. We should not have got through but for Russia…There is no use supposing we can keep a lot of a/c [aircraft] and tanks in Britain. All must be disposed of to best ability. Then the Japanese will feel the…power of the US–they’ll never forgive Pearl Harbour–they will find her and disarm her…They feel over the hump.46
It was Brooke who made the worst prediction of the meeting. When asked about the protection of transport on the way to Singapore, he said, ‘If we can go on putting stuff in it ought to be all right.’ The next day the Japanese invaded Burma, and two days after that Rommel launched a new desert offensive and began driving the British back to the Gazala Line defending Tobruk. ‘It was apparent that we could not consider Singapore a fortress, for it seemed that no proper landward defences had been prepared,’ Churchill informed the Defence Committee on 21 January. ‘Taking the widest view, Burma was more important than Singapore. It was the terminus of our communications with China which it was essential to keep open. The Americans had laid the greatest stress on the importance of keeping the Chinese fighting on our side.’ As for reinforcing Singapore: ‘We did not wish to throw good men after bad.’47 The fact that Churchill had been the Chancellor of the Exchequer who had financed the building of the Singapore fortress, with its lack of ‘proper landward defences’, was understandably not raised by anyone. Even as late as 2 February, Burgis was recording at the War Cabinet that, after Brooke had reported that Commonwealth forces had withdrawn inside the city, where there was four months’ food supply and ‘satisfactory’ water supplies, Churchill said that thirty-seven thousand men had already been sent to defend Singapore and it was the ‘Will of the Cabinet to defend it to the last’.48
After the meeting on 2 February, Anthony Eden recorded in his Rymans Scribbling Diary that Churchill was tired and depressed and had a cold: ‘He is inclined to be fatalistic about the House [of Commons], maintained that the bulk of Tories hated him, that he has done all he could and would be only too happy to yield to another,’ adding that the complaints over Singapore, the Australian Government’s ‘intransigent’ demands for the return of two divisions from Libya to defend their homeland, and constant ‘nagging’ from the Commons ‘was more than any man could be expected to endure’.49 Churchill might well have been suffering a bout of ‘black dog’ depression, or merely complaining melodramatically, as it is inconceivable that he would really have been willing to hand over the premiership to Eden or anyone else. Equally it is often overlooked how much the Chamberlainite backbench Tories still distrusted Churchill, even after 1941.
That same day, Brooke wrote to Auchinleck, the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East, about Auchinleck’s recent suggestion for ‘carrying the war into Germany from Africa’ in a letter that affords us a glimpse into the CIGS’s strategic thinking at the time. ‘I am afraid it does not take account of the shipping situation,’ Brooke wrote. ‘Shipping is exercising a stranglehold on strategy which is likely to be increased by recent events…What I am certain of is that North Africa would provide an excellent base of attack on Italy.’ This was not something, however, that Brooke had any intention of letting on about to the Americans, who were wary about committing themselves even as far west as Algiers at the time. As late as mid-January 1943, he was deliberately leaving it open whether any North African campaign should be followed up on mainland Italy. If the Americans had suspected that the British wanted to attack Italy after North Africa, rather than land in France, they would not have looked favourably on attacking North Africa in the first place.
As for future operations against Tripoli, Brooke wrote: ‘Against Italians all would be well, but against Germans, and with some six weeks to obtain reinforcements, the odds may well be stacked heavily against us.’ In the Far East there was no prospect of any offensive in the near future; indeed ‘the difficulty is to find adequate resources to cork up the holes…And yet, if we don’t withdraw from the Middle East to reinforce the Far East, we may well lose control of communications in the Indian Ocean to such an extent as to seriously endanger our communications with the Middle East, thus rendering it difficult to reinforce you at all.’ The true horrors of the situation, which were only just becoming apparent with the possibility of Singapore’s fall, were to blight the next eight months.
In a Defence Committee meeting at 10 p.m. on 21 January, with Churchill wearing a red dressing gown adorned with dragons, the Chiefs argued that it would be better to evacuate Singapore and fight on further south in Malaya, explaining that the Singapore channel was narrow, that British aerodromes could be dominated by Japanese artillery fire from Johore, that mangrove swamps tended to impede fields of fire, and so on, all factors that made Singapore a bad defensive position. ‘But Winston’, noted John Kennedy, ‘thinks the island should be fought to the last man.’ After a good deal of discussion, a message from the Australian Prime Minister John Curtin was brought in disagreeing with British proposals for defending Australia, which Curtin thought needed to be done by Australian troops presently fighting in North Africa. ‘Winston was so angry at this that the meeting broke up and they were all able to get to bed at a decent hour after all.’50
This description of the Defence Committee meeting illustrates the superiority of Kennedy’s diary account over the officialese of the minutes, not least because it reveals that Churchill’s original position regarding the defence of Singapore was very far from the almost deliberately misleading War Cabinet record that ‘We did not wish to throw good men after bad.’ Kennedy was impressed with Brooke’s first two months in the job, observing that ‘Since Winston came back from America of course the strain has been greater,’ largely because he ‘cannot resist interference in details and a stream of rather nagging telegrams has already been directed upon Wavell. Brooke has a great sense of humour and his descriptions of meetings with Winston are very good fun.’
The first full meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff took place at its Washington headquarters in the old Public Health Building on Constitution and 19th Street–today the Department of the Interior, South–on Friday 23 January 1942, with Dill representing the British Chiefs of Staff. Although Admiral Pound, who had returned to London, was fully in favour of the Combined Chiefs of Staff system, he characterized the elaborate command and control system they had established with the Americans, when compared to the still relatively small US forces, as ‘plenty of harness but no horse’. Roosevelt and Marshall would soon be providing a stampede, however. Sometimes, though not on this occasion, Dill, Marshall and King would stay behind after the official session was over and once ‘the cloud of witnesses’ had departed to get down to the real, behind-the-scenes business.51
On 18 January 1942, in a memorandum to Roosevelt, Marshall identified what was for Brooke also a key aspect of the war, and one that the British believed justified the Gymnast operation. ‘The future effort of the Army is dependent on shipping,’ he wrote. ‘More shipping than is now in sight is essential if the national war effort is not be neutralised to a serious extent.’ Marshall estimated that by December 1942 there would be 1.8 million American troops ready for overseas service, and by the end of 1943 about 3.5 million. The Army therefore needed eighteen extra cargo ships per month solely for military use, to permit an overseas force of three-quarters of a million by the end of 1942, which was still less than half of those potentially available.
The 1943 naval construction programme, announced by the President in February and subsequently increased, was for 10.7 million tons of shipping, which would allow an overseas fighting force of 1.5 million men. ‘Immediate steps are urged to increase the tempo of the shipbuilding program to a much higher figure,’ wrote Marshall. ‘The maximum possibilities in this regard should be exploited.’ Throughout the war, the issue of shipping stayed at the very top of the strategists’ agenda, especially during the battle of the Atlantic. Without the necessary shipping capacity, the Allies simply could not undertake a cross-Channel attack, however much political will was there.
Yet on 1 February 1942 the German Navy unexpectedly introduced a fourth rotor wheel to their U-boats’ Enigma enciphering machines, a seemingly minor addition but one which was to defeat the best efforts of the cryptologists at Bletchley Park to crack the Kriegsmarine codes for the next ten months. The code had first been cracked in May 1941, but now the Royal Navy was once again largely sailing blind in the battle of the Atlantic. Hitherto, Ultra–the codename given by the British to information gained from the decipherment of German radio traffic–had revealed where and when the U-boats would be meeting their supply submarines, allowing the Royal Navy to rendezvous there in force. The increased tonnage and lives lost as a result of being deprived of Ultra suddenly threatened Britain’s chances of survival all over again. March 1942 was the worst month of the war so far in terms of Allied shipping losses, with no fewer than 273 merchant ships sunk, totalling 834,184 tons, up from less than four hundred thousand tons in December.
Even supposing that a successful Anglo-American landing in northern France had been possible militarily in 1942 or 1943, it would have demanded a vast flow of men and matériel to exploit any successes all the way to Berlin, which could not have been guaranteed while the battle of the Atlantic was still in the balance. Had German submarines prevented the reinforcement of the beachheads or future campaigns deep within France, it would have been disastrous for the Allies: as long as the battle of the Atlantic was undecided, an invasion could not be safely undertaken. Even after the German naval code was cracked again in December 1942, it took several months for the battle to turn in the Allies’ favour; indeed it was not until July 1943 that there was a full calendar month in which a greater tonnage of Allied shipping was launched than was sunk.52 Apart from a short spat between Marshall and King early in the war over the value of convoys, the politicians and Chiefs of Staff of both Britain and America were united over the best ways to win the vital battle of the Atlantic, which was for a strong protective cordon of warships surrounding the merchantmen, and as much air cover as land-based aerodromes could supply.
The decisions taken by commanders on the ground as a result of Ultra information were enormously improved tactically, but Allied grand strategy was also enhanced when it could be ascertained from decrypts that Hitler intended to defend Tunisia and Italy to the last man. An indication of what the Second World War would have been like had British scientists and mathematicians not early on built a special deciphering machine to unravel Enigma messages came during the Ardennes counter-offensive (the battle of the Bulge), which the Germans launched with complete radio silence and during which, in January 1945, they very nearly reached the River Meuse and split the Allied forces in two.
Far less sophisticated than Enigma was the code adopted in February 1942 between the British Staff officers Brigadier Vivian Dykes of the Joint Staff Mission secretariat in Washington and his friend Colonel Ian Jacob of the War Cabinet secretariat in London, as they began their weekly conversations by transatlantic radio-telephone. These kept the War Cabinet secretariat in London in touch with what the British were doing in Washington, beyond what could be communicated by telegraph. Despite being intended to protect anonymity, the names they gave to their principals showed a certain psychological insight into personality. Brooke, for example, was codenamed ‘Colonel Shrapnel’ and Marshall was ‘Tom Mix’, after the actor who had played a cowboy in 325 silent movies between 1910 and 1935. Mix was a Pennsylvanian who had served in the US Army during the Spanish–American War, but his name was probably chosen as code for Marshall because his screen persona was of the clean-cut decent all-American who always saved the day; it might also have reflected Marshall’s passion for cowboy fiction. The admirals got far less admiring codenames: King was ‘Captain Kettle’, Stark was ‘Tugboat Annie’ and Pound was ‘The Whale’.53 (The jokes didn’t all go one way though; behind his back his secretaries nicknamed Jacob ‘Ironpants’.)
‘Dumbie’ Dykes (nicknamed after a Sir Walter Scott character, the misanthropic Laird of Dumbiedykes, with whom he had nothing in common) was an attractive character who, as Jacob recalled, ‘had great fun over the CIGS, whose birdlike aspect and fast clipped speech lent themselves to caricature. I have never met a man who so tumbles over himself in speaking…All this, together with his constant habit of shooting his tongue out and round his lips with the speed of a chameleon, made him an easy prey to Dumbie’s imitative wit.’ A charming and popular Staff officer, and yet another diarist, Dykes was educated at Dulwich College, the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and Caius College, Cambridge, and had been temporarily blinded by mustard gas in the Royal Engineers during the Great War, after which he served in Ireland and India. He had suffered a tragedy when his infant son choked to death on a toy.
It was at the Staff College at Camberley between 1932 and 1934, whose commandant was then Sir John Dill, that Dykes discovered his aptitude for Staff work, becoming secretary of the Overseas Defence Committee from 1935 to 1938 and showing a ‘wonderful knack of spreading good humour and willing co-operation’. He was also expert at keeping minutes, and master of the way that the language of official committee minute-taking could be an exercise as much in obfuscation as in elucidation. He would write of ‘fixing up’ and ‘cleaning up’ the Combined Chiefs of Staff minutes.54
Dykes became director of plans at the War Office under Dill in 1940, escorted Colonel William J. ‘Wild Bill’ Donovan, the future head of the undercover Office of Strategic Services, on a tour of ten countries of the Mediterranean, and after Pearl Harbor joined the American Brigadier-General Walter ‘Beetle’ Bedell Smith as one of the two senior secretaries of the Combined Chiefs of Staff. They became friends and would drop into each other’s offices unannounced, asking questions like ‘What’s the matter with Uncle Ernie today?’ of the famously irascible Admiral King. Their relationship therefore mirrored that of their bosses Dill and Marshall.
Bedell Smith had been a Marshall acolyte since entering the Infantry School at Fort Benning in the early 1930s. ‘The ulcerous “Beetle” Smith was an intimidating character, not given to any declaration of emotion other than chronic bad temper,’ is the estimation of one historian. ‘Tough, profane, intolerant, large, self-educated–reputed to have started his career selling newspapers in the streets–but also loyal and discreet, he was a formidable operator.’55
In the early 1970s the US Army instituted a splendidly comprehensive oral-history project in which military historians were sent to the homes of retired admirals and generals to interview them about their wartime experiences. The verbatim transcripts of the Senior Officers Oral History Program (SOOHP) are lodged at the Military History Institute in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and constitute a treasure trove of anecdote and reflection. Of course retired soldiers tend to remember their old war stories with advantages, which needs constantly to be kept in mind, but nonetheless this gigantic historical resource is full of plums. In 1974 Tom Handy described to a SOOHP interviewer a conversation he had heard between Dykes and Bedell Smith over the draft minutes of one Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting:
BEDELL SMITH: ‘This sounds just fine; in fact it’s wonderful. There isn’t but one thing wrong with it.’
DYKES: ‘What’s that?’
BEDELL SMITH: ‘Hell, this isn’t what he said!’
DYKES: ‘I know damn well it isn’t, but it’s what he should have said. You see, these fellows won’t object if somebody writes down what he should have said.’56
For all that it might have been a sensible approach for the politicians and Staff, especially in the protection of their reputations, such exchanges make historians wary of relying too heavily on official accounts.
Dykes came from Dill’s entourage, and Dill knew that Dykes would defend him loyally. There were groups in the armies of both countries during the Second World War that almost approximated to the loose eighteenth-century concept of political parties, whereby loyal supporters and friends grouped around a more senior officer under whom they had served or studied at Staff college. Brooke, Montgomery, Auchinleck, Wavell and Dykes were very much of Dill’s clique; Marshall’s men included Bedell Smith, Eisenhower, Stilwell, Handy, Bradley, Hull and Matthew Ridgway, several of whom had trained under him at Fort Benning. This might have approximated to a cabal–and there were certainly accusations of favouritism–but it also guaranteed loyalty. (This closeness was to continue after death: George and Katherine Marshall’s grave in Arlington Cemetery is to be found under a tree in plot seven on Roosevelt Drive, not far from that of Dill, and on the next hill from Robert E. Lee’s Arlington House. The graves of Hull, Ridgway and Bedell Smith are in the same group, only a matter of yards from each other.)
Marshall had to work hard to persuade Roosevelt of the benefits of setting up a new Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. The President naturally feared that an overall war-planning body might impinge on his constitutional rights and duties as commander-in-chief. Divide and rule between the Army and Navy had worked well for chief executives before, whereas a Joint Chiefs of Staff system might unite and solidify service opinion in a manner that could become hard to overrule. In spite of Stimson’s and Marshall’s urgings, Roosevelt had hesitated for some time before accepting the need to appoint a Chief of Staff, but was brought around.
On Monday 9 February 1942 the American Joint Chiefs of Staff met for the first time. From April onwards they were chaired by Admiral William D. Leahy, who had been chief of naval operations from 1937 to 1939 before being brought out of retirement in 1940 to become US ambassador to Vichy France. Roosevelt had known ‘Bill’ Leahy from his days as assistant naval secretary in the Great War, and as well as chairing the Joint Chiefs of Staff he was chief of staff to the Commander-in-Chief (a post he held until 1949). Marshall had proposed Leahy knowing both that the President liked him personally and that a naval chairman would reduce opposition to the whole scheme from Admiral King, especially as the fourth member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff would be Arnold, who was technically Marshall’s subordinate (the Air Force remained part of the US Army until 1947).
Marshall found Leahy an impressive office, large secretariat and new quarters in the Public Health Building, close to where the Chiefs convened. ‘I told him where to sit when we next met,’ recalled Marshall. ‘King was furious when Leahy came in and sat down as presiding officer.’ But crucially he did not contest the issue. Marshall told Pogue that ‘Leahy was neutral enough for my purpose,’ but he was irritated when he acted too much as a presidential aide, going to political meetings with Roosevelt and not reporting back fully to him.57
Once inaugurated in early 1942, this four-man Joint Chiefs of Staff–comprising the Chief of Staff (Leahy), plus the chiefs of the Army (Marshall), Navy (Admiral Ernest J. King) and Army Air Force (Hap Arnold)–became Roosevelt’s principal military advisers and, in Stimson’s view, soon began to exercise ‘a most salutary effect on the President’s weakness for snap decisions; it thus offset a characteristic which might otherwise have been a serious handicap to his basically sound strategic instincts.’58 It also helped that each member stayed in situ for the rest of the war.
As part of the Senior Officers Oral History Program, General Paul Caraway, who served in the OPD between 1942 and 1944, was asked how Marshall had established personal dominance over the Joint Chiefs of Staff, despite not chairing it nor even enjoying an in-built voting majority over the two Navy men. ‘General Marshall by sheer force of character established a moral ascendancy over three very difficult old men, Leahy, Arnold and King,’ answered Caraway.
King wouldn’t give anyone the time of day. He’d sell you the time of day, but he wouldn’t give it to you. He was a strong man, and anybody who could establish any kind of ascendancy over him had to be good, and Marshall could get an agreement out of King. Marshall could get an agreement out of Arnold, although Hap was fighting everyone to show he was the biggest dog in the fight. Leahy went with Marshall almost all of the time.59
It helped that at meetings the President used to ask Marshall what he thought before asking Leahy or anyone else.
General Handy, who attended many Combined Chiefs of Staff and Joint Chiefs of Staff meetings as a senior Planner, agreed with Caraway about Marshall’s power inside the Joint Chiefs Committee: ‘He was the dominant character, there is no question about it. Now that doesn’t mean that King wasn’t a very strong character; he was.’ Marshall rarely used to resort to ‘pounding the table’, as King sometimes would, recalled Caraway, but he established his dominance nonetheless. King, one of whose daughters thought him ‘always angry’, on occasion went too far. Once, Marshall did indeed have to pound the table and tell the admiral, who was abusing Douglas MacArthur, ‘I will not have any meeting carried on with this hatred.’60
The British also saw Ernest King as immensely tough-minded, and recognized the strong degree of Anglophobia in his complicated psychological make-up. ‘A hard drinker, to the verge of alcoholism; a womaniser, despite having a happy family life, with six daughters and a son; tactless, petty and parochial; and a hot-tempered and rigid disciplinarian,’ is the uncompromising judgement of Field Marshal Lord Bramall.61 Set against that must be the fact that he led the US Navy in America’s victory over Japan. King’s drinking was mentioned by Brooke alongside that of the Australian General Blamey and Marshal Voroshilov.62
A drunk could not have held down the job King did and have fought the inter-departmental battles he fought for so long. Early on, Jacob spotted him as ‘a very dominating personality, who looks as if he would be the man to inspire the American fleet with a strong and offensive spirit. He would be a difficult man to manage, and I should say might be easily roused to obstinacy and pig-headedness.’ Colville recalled that King was always ‘suspicious and resentful of Churchill’s undoubted influence’ with Roosevelt and Marshall.63 To make the atmosphere on the Joint Chiefs of Staff worse, King also resented Leahy, who tended to lean towards Marshall in strategic matters rather than his fellow sailor. Yet King had an ally in Roosevelt, whose secretary Grace Tully remarked that he was ‘the type of sea dog whom the President really liked and understood. He loved the stories of King’s toughness.’ After hearing that Senator Arthur Walsh of New Jersey, an old friend of King’s, had given the admiral the present of a blowtorch, Roosevelt wrote to King saying that ‘he understood the Admiral was so tough he cut his toenails with a torpedo net-cutter.’64
In 1957 Marshall explained to Pogue the contrasting ways that he had worked with King and Arnold on the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee. Soon after Pearl Harbor, when a turf war had soured relations, Marshall had visited King in his office in the Munitions Building and told him to his face: ‘If you and I start fighting at the very start of the war, what in the world will the public say about us? They won’t accept it for a minute.’ King thought so too, for as Marshall commented: ‘We did get along. We had one or two pretty mean fights, but anyone has that.’ In the USAAF Commander’s case, Marshall recalled that he ‘tried to give Arnold all the power I could. I tried to make him as nearly as I could chief of staff of the air without any restraint, though he was my subordinate. And he was very appreciative of this.’65 They were two very different approaches, and of course Marshall could not have adopted the Arnold approach with King, who was technically his equal in rank. Yet hard-fought compromise on the one hand and generous devolution of power and responsibility on the other produced the right results in each case for Marshall, a talented man-manager.
On the same day that the Joint Chiefs of Staff met for the first time, Brooke drove back from his country house, Ferney Close in Hampshire, with ‘soft rain freezing on the surface’ of the roads, to discuss with the Chiefs of Staff the parameters for the Combined Chiefs of Staff’s powers, which were to be very wide indeed. After a long meeting Brooke recorded that, ever since Portal and Pound had returned, he had ‘told them that they “sold the birthright for a plate of porridge” while in Washington. They have, up to now, denied it flatly. However this morning they were at last beginning to realize that the Americans are rapidly snatching more and more power with the ultimate intention of running the war in Washington! However, I now have them on my side.’66 Although the biblical quotation was actually ‘mess of pottage’, the point was made. Brooke never truly felt that the United States should be allowed to, as he put it once in a letter to Dill, ‘butt in’ on areas of the British Empire–such as Burma–that he felt did not concern them.
For Brooke the setting up of the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington, with its very wide powers, marked a tilt in the balance of power between the British Commonwealth and the American Republic which, with an ultimate US mobilization of 14.9 million people, could only go in one direction. ‘Seldom has the passing of power been so concretely defined,’ writes one historian of the locating of the Combined Chiefs, noting also that ‘Brooke’s was the lone voice of protest.’67 Nevertheless, within the British Chiefs of Staff Committee itself, Brooke would soon be in a position to assume control of the making of grand strategy, and would then turn the Committee into his personal fiefdom.
On 5 February 1942 Lord Halifax asked Mrs Cary Langhorne of Virginia, at a dinner at the British Embassy in Washington, whether Americans disliked Britain. She replied that ‘that was putting it a bit too strong’, but volunteered that, both through history and from what they thought to be ‘English habits of thought’, many Americans had ‘a certain inferiority complex’. This begs the question of whether the British were haughty towards Americans, and Brooke was certainly accused by members of the US War Department of adopting an aloof attitude towards them.
There is little in Brooke’s diaries that criticizes Americans per se, as opposed to the strategic views of Marshall and the Joint Chiefs, although a snobbish anti-Americanism was indeed rife among the British upper classes at that time. Americans were widely thought to be vulgar and plutocratic, although that could emphatically not have been held against the ones that Brooke dealt with during the war, especially Roosevelt, Marshall, Arnold and Eisenhower, who were models of the well-mannered gentleman.
One of the most emotional letters Brooke ever wrote was to an American, the US Ambassador to London Gil Winant, who had sent him a set of Audubon bird books on his retirement as CIGS in January 1946. Writing from the War Office in his customary light green ink, Brooke used unaccustomed superlatives such as ‘wonderful’, ‘deep feelings’, ‘great joy’, ‘beyond my wildest dreams’, and said that he could not ‘remember having been made happier by a present’. To get under the tough exterior of Alan Brooke, one needed ornithology.
Although Brooke decried the practice of commanders in the field writing to Churchill letters that were not copied to himself, he did not mind receiving information from them that he would not have considered passing on to the Prime Minister, even though Churchill also held the post of minister of defence. On 6 February Auchinleck wrote to ‘My dear Alan’ to say that he was sending out a long official telegram about ‘the possibility of our resuming the offensive at an early date’, adding that ‘I purposely refrained from giving the detailed calculations of our prospective tank strength on which we have reached our conclusions,’ because he had ‘learnt from previous experience the impossibility of reconciling such figures with those arrived at by calculations carried out at home, particularly by the Defence Minister’. He nonetheless had sent under separate cover his calculations in full, ‘as I thought you would like to have them for your own personal information, and that of your advisers’.68
The implication was obvious: Auchinleck was going behind Churchill’s back to Brooke, providing him with important information that Churchill ought to have had as minister of defence. In this way he hoped that he might limit Churchill’s capacity for interference with his command. The CIGS should not have gone along with this underhand activity, but he did. Indeed, as Kennedy recorded, ‘Brooke found it an invaluable rule never to tell Churchill more than was absolutely necessary,’ recalling him once scoring out nine-tenths of a draft minute to the Prime Minister, saying as he did so: ‘The more you tell that man about the war, the more you hinder the winning of it.’69