There are no laws of war which say that men can die but staff officers mustn’t be vexed.
As Marshall and Brooke bade farewell in London their two sets of Staffs got down to putting meat on the bones of the three operations, which in the case of Roundup and Sledgehammer were still positively skeletal. As they did so, a process now known as ‘group-think’ got under way on both sides of the Atlantic. Knowing that Marshall was committed to an early cross-Channel operation, the Operations Division of the US War Department found arguments and strategies to support one. Similarly, knowing that Brooke was in favour of a later operation, once Germany had been ‘ripened’, the War Office Planners found arguments to oppose an early crossing. It is surprising, despite their all being intelligent, independent thinkers, how few American Planners supported a later and how few British Planners an earlier cross-Channel operation. Meanwhile, London watched intently for any sign in Washington that the President could be detached from Marshall in his support of Sledgehammer. If the tectonic plates gave any hint of shifting between them, speed in exploiting it would be of the essence.
Foremost among the sceptics of an early Second Front in the British War Office was the man whose duty it now was to begin planning for one, the Director of Military Operations, John Kennedy. He receives relatively little attention as an important figure today, but his testimony from the very heart of the military decision-making process is compelling. ‘The slowness of getting ashore and the certainty of ultimate defeat while the Germans are in a good state are the governing factors in knocking a French operation out of court at the moment,’ he wrote, neatly encapsulating British thinking in April 1942. ‘We cannot afford to lose a big Army detachment so long as there’s a chance of the Germans surviving the Russian battle and then attempting invasion.’2
Over the next four months, the War Office were planning to send abroad five divisions–four infantry and one armoured–while only receiving a maximum of two American divisions into the United Kingdom, leaving a large net loss of troops from the mainland. Another problem with Roundup was the widespread belief in British military circles that the Free French were unreliable. After General de Gaulle’s chief of staff Pierre Billotte came to see Brooke, bringing maps and plans for sabotage in France and for raising the local population, Kennedy commented: ‘It is hard to get all of these on the right basis because of the difficulty that de Gaulle cannot be trusted.’3 Relations between de Gaulle and the British Government had deteriorated soon after his flight to London in June 1940, and worsened when loose talk by Free French officers was blamed by the British for the Allied attack on Dakar that September turning into a débâcle.
On Sunday 19 April, as Lord Halifax drove to the airport in Washington to welcome Marshall home, and Hopkins stopped off at Hyde Park to report on Modicum to the President, Kennedy told his diary: ‘I think the Germans will be able to advance a long way when the weather permits but that they will not be able to knock the Russians out and the Russian front will remain and prove a fatal commitment in the end.’ That was just the sort of prescience he was hired for. ‘We can do a lot by raids and air action to cause a diversion of strength from the Russian front,’ he continued, ‘although not much to affect the German Army dispositions.’
Although a constant American refrain would be that Britain was not doing enough to help the beleaguered USSR, of the two countries it was even more in Britain’s interests than America’s that Russia should remain fighting. If Germany won in the east she would have been able to move into Iran and Iraq, cutting off Britain’s oil supply.4 Yet even that danger would not have justified Sledgehammer, so Brooke believed, because it would have made no appreciable difference to what happened in the east, while costing the Allies dear if it failed, as he was certain it would.
Marshall had mentioned Sledgehammer as a ‘sacrifice’ to avert an imminent collapse of Russian resistance, and was to refer to it as such for the rest of his life. He had made it clear in London that this sacrifice would be made mainly by the British, since so few American divisions could be transported for ‘immediate’ action by the autumn of 1942. By 15 September, the US could provide only 700 of the planes required, for example.5 Yet by presenting two operations instead of one–that is, Sledgehammer as well as Roundup–Marshall allowed the British authorities to concentrate their arguments on the weaker of the two. In strategic and tactical terms this was undoubtedly Sledgehammer, which the War Office Planners soon came to view as little more than the modern equivalent of the ‘forlorn hope’ that was sometimes seen in seventeenth-century battles.
When Marshall returned to Dodona he saw all the improvements that Katherine had made in his absence in Washington and London. ‘As we drove along the narrow roller-coaster road,’ she recalled,
the honeysuckle along the fences filled the air with fragrance, the cows were heading towards the barns for their evening meal, while sheep grazed contentedly…George gave a sigh of contentment, and then followed the happiest hours of the past three years. He stopped the car, got out and walked around, taking in every detail. Finally he turned and said in a husky voice, ‘This is home, a real home after forty-one years of wandering.’
They sat on the lawn until 9 p.m. as he told her of the highlights of his trip to ‘war-torn Europe’.
On Thursday 23 April Churchill spoke to a secret session of the House of Commons, the first since the fall of Singapore in February. In one of his longest speeches of the war, he made no attempt to minimize the various disasters of the previous six months. He described how the Ark Royal, Barham, Prince of Wales and Repulse had been sunk, and how the battleships Nelson, Valiant and Queen Elizabeth had been crippled, pointing out that in a mere seven weeks one-third of the Navy’s battleships and battle cruisers had either been sunk or severely damaged. He related to an understandably sombre House that one hundred thousand Commonwealth troops had surrendered Singapore to a mere thirty thousand Japanese.
Yet he concluded his wide-ranging recitation of these ‘ugly realities’ with an upbeat assessment of the future, and said that the Germany First policy was ‘earnestly and spontaneously shared by the Government and dominant forces in the United States’. He went on: ‘The visit of General Marshall and Mr Hopkins was to concert with us the largest and swiftest measures of this offensive character. It will no doubt become common knowledge that the liberation of the Continent by equal numbers of British and American troops is the main war plan of our two nations.’6
He then read out a recent telegram from Roosevelt, which stated that the President was ‘delighted with the agreement which has been reached between you and your military advisors and Marshall and Hopkins. They have reported to me of the unanimity of opinion relative to the proposal which they carried with them and I appreciate ever so much your personal message confirming this.’ In fact the numbers of troops earmarked for the operations were far from equal–seven British divisions to two American for Sledgehammer, or eighteen British against America’s thirty divisions for Roundup–but then neither was there genuine ‘unanimity of opinion’ between Marshall and Brooke over either operation, as was soon to become evident.
At the War Cabinet of 27 April, with Norman Brook taking verbatim notes, Portal gave details of the bombing raids on Cologne and Rostock. Churchill said: ‘Don’t make too much of this in Press–we’re hitting them three times as hard–don’t give impression this is quits…Tone down, and keep in proportion. Don’t give out photos.’ (A red-haired Scottish sergeant-pilot from Motherwell who was being honoured at the White House for heroic feats bombing Germany told Halifax of the tremendous fires in Rostock. ‘I’m afraid we not only killed them,’ he said; ‘we cremated them.’)7 Later on in the War Cabinet, discussing the modifications proposed for ‘R’-class battleships, Churchill denounced them as ‘Floating coffins. Unsafe to face any modern vessels or air attack.’ Pound replied that any increase in their armour would produce bulges that would reduce their speed to 15 knots, further reducing their value as ocean-going warships.
‘On 13 January last,’ Marshall wrote to Roosevelt on 5 May, ‘you authorized an increase in the enlisted strength of the Army to 3.6 million by 31 December 1942. Authorization for additional men in 1942 is now essential to our plans.’ In the intervening four months the Army had had to garrison the lines of communication to Australia, and rush reinforcements to Hawaii, Alaska and Panama. Anti-sabotage measures and enemy internment sucked in further troops. ‘The Bolero plan requires a material increase in special troops, eventually requiring some three hundred thousand men for the ground forces alone.’ Marshall therefore asked for another 750,000 men, making a total of 4.35 million, by January 1943.8
Although Roosevelt did not reply to that immediately, the next day he sent his own memorandum to Marshall, Stimson, Arnold, King and Hopkins, which was not to be circulated beyond them. ‘I always think it well to outline in simple terms and from time to time complex problems which call for overall planning,’ he began. ‘Therefore I would like you gentlemen to read the following.’ Emphasizing that with ‘the world situation changing so rapidly’ the memorandum could only apply to the present time, it nonetheless set out future strategy from the very first sentence: ‘The whole of the Pacific Theater calls, at the present time, fundamentally for a holding operation.’ Two bombing offensives–against the Japanese mainland and its lines of communication–were desirable in the furtherance of ‘defence of all essential points’. Further west, the President believed ‘We can very nearly separate India and Burma into a separate theater of war.’ Here, the primary responsibility was British, but with the US assuring air connections with China and helping British armies in India.
Roosevelt characterized the recapture of previously British-and Dutch-owned islands as ‘premature’. In the Near East and East African theatres, the responsibility was again British, although America ‘must furnish all possible matériel’ in Libya, Egypt, Palestine, Syria and the Persian Gulf. Britain and America would split responsibility for the Atlantic, while ‘The principal objective is to help Russia,’ since ‘It must be constantly reiterated that Russian armies are killing more Germans and destroying more Axis matériel than all the twenty-five United Nations put together.’ (At that time the phrase ‘United Nations’ was shorthand for the global anti-Axis coalition, and had nothing to do with the post-war multilateral organization.) The President then brought up the possibility, once they had air superiority, of fast Commando raids and week-long ‘super-Commando operations’ of up to fifty thousand men on the Continent, and finally ‘a permanent front’ big enough to ensure that it was not ‘pushed into the sea’.9
While the Pacific, Indo-Burmese and Near East theatres all required merely to maintain existing positions ‘for the next few months’, Roosevelt opined, the Atlantic theatre needed ‘active operations to be conducted in 1942. I fully realize difficulties in relation to the landing of armed forces under fire,’ he wrote. Nonetheless, ‘The necessities of the case call for action in 1942–not 1943.’ Roosevelt concluded: ‘If we decide that the only large scale offensive operation is to be in the European area, the element of speed becomes the first essential.’ This memorandum would have come as no surprise to Marshall–who would probably have been forewarned of it by Hopkins–and it merely reiterated his own Germany First views on grand strategy. However for the US Navy, and especially for Admiral King, it represented a serious reverse to their Pacific ambitions, at least in the medium term.
Nonetheless there were also alarming implications for Marshall in Roosevelt’s memorandum. While seeming to reaffirm his own Memorandum, it actually contained a bombshell that threatened it profoundly. The phrase ‘action in 1942–not 1943’ effectively meant that the British could ultimately decide where the first military blow against Germany and Italy fell, just as Brooke was starting to consider outright opposition to Sledgehammer and having severe doubts about an early Roundup. Since the British had an effective veto on both operations, which could only be staged from the United Kingdom, Roosevelt’s insistence on ‘action in 1942’ handed over the final say to Churchill and Brooke. Seeing the President’s memorandum in terms of his turf war with Admiral King, Marshall seems to have failed–at least for the moment–to spot what for him would soon be a far more dangerous portent.
Meanwhile, in London, Brooke had to consider who should be in charge of any cross-Channel attack were one to take place that September. ‘We have to nominate commanders now and make plans for conversion for forces to an offensive basis on a phased programme which at the outset must still take account of the possible revival of the invasion threat,’ said Kennedy, ever the professional Planner. ‘Staffs have to be reorganized and augmented and arrangements coordinated with the Americans. We have considered whether we could get a Supreme Commander appointed in order to obviate a soviet of Commanders–Army, Navy and Air Force and American and British.’
Brooke was against the idea, ‘because he does not think the man could be found. Or if he could it would be somebody like MacArthur who would be more of a nuisance than anything else.’ Brooke’s distaste for an early operation left him feeling that if anyone should be making the running in terms of organization, it should be Marshall. (He was to alter his view of Douglas MacArthur, who by the end of the war he considered the finest Allied commander of them all, a view perhaps aided by the fact that he was operating more than ten thousand miles away.) Kennedy put the opposing view over the issue, saying that, since plans were obviously taking definite shape over in Washington, any future commander could be handed plans for whose execution he would be responsible even though he had not been party to drawing them up. Kennedy told Brooke that such a problem ‘would of course be solved if he himself or one of the other Chiefs of Staff, who had seen the plan grow up, took charge’, but Brooke failed to rise to the bait, merely restating his view ‘that at the moment we should only get Marshall or MacArthur if we pressed it and that would not help’.10 This is the only recorded occasion in the war that Brooke was dismissive of Marshall by name in front of someone else.
On 26 May 1942 Churchill asked for the construction of special piers that could unload supplies from ships during an invasion of France. ‘They must float up and down with the tide,’ he minuted. ‘The anchor problem must be mastered. Let me have the best solution worked out.’ Planning for the vast ‘Mulberry’ harbours and the Pipeline Under The Ocean (PLUTO) was thus put in motion a full two years before D-Day, testament to British commitment to an eventual return to the Continent. Nonetheless, two days later Churchill sent Roosevelt a couple of telegrams setting out his doubts about any cross-Channel attack in 1942, and in support of the old Operation Ajax attack on Norway (now rechristened Jupiter), which he hoped would address the President’s concerns about helping Russia. In the first he wrote: ‘We must never let Gymnast pass from our minds. All other preparations would help if need be towards that.’ In the second he went into the three great difficulties that Brooke felt worked against an early Sledgehammer and what Churchill now called ‘Super-Roundup’, namely the Luftwaffe’s command of any paratroop landing sites, the lack of landing craft–only 383 would be operational by August 1942 and 566 the next month–but most importantly the American contribution, which would not be up to strength until 1943.
Churchill reported to Roosevelt that he had told the visiting Soviet Foreign Minister V. M. Molotov that it was ‘the earnest resolve of the British Government to see what could be done this year to give the much needed support to the valiant Russian armies’, but had significantly added that ‘It was unlikely that any move we could make in 1942, even if it were successful, would draw off large numbers of enemy land forces from the Eastern Front.’11 From this, Roosevelt could have been left under no misapprehension about Churchill’s and Brooke’s profound doubts about Sledgehammer.
On his return to Washington from Modicum in April, Marshall had appointed Eisenhower to command all American forces in the European Theater of Operations. Eisenhower then flew to London. In his diary for 28 May, he recorded a meeting on Roundup in which Brooke ‘outlined the position in detail’, stressing the need for agreement on a supreme commander ‘at an early date’. As we have seen, this was probably a bluff, as Brooke was in no hurry over anything to do with attacking the Continent. Eisenhower replied that any operation taking place in 1942 would ‘be under British command, with our forces attached to the British in suitable capacities’.12 He went on to say that Marshall might be prepared to accept Mountbatten as the commander, which was unlikely to commend itself to Brooke, who was sceptical about Mountbatten’s abilities.
Eisenhower noted, ‘It is quite apparent that the question of high command is the one that is bothering the British very much and some agreement, in principle, will have to be reached at an early date in order that they will go ahead wholeheartedly into succeeding steps.’ The fact that Eisenhower had written of ‘the assault echelon of Bolero’ rather than Roundup, just as Churchill had written of ‘Super-Roundup’, is indicative of the severe nomenclature confusions that both allies were soon to experience over the codenames of these three distinct but almost overlapping operations.
The next day Kennedy met Eisenhower for the first time and found him ‘a very pleasant, intelligent and forceful character’, as did almost everybody. They discussed the maps in their offices. On Kennedy’s, ‘America is shown twice in order that one may realize the size of the Pacific, the usual maps being cut through the middle of the Pacific.’ Eisenhower said he did the same thing, but as Kennedy, a son of the Empire, observed with astonishment: ‘He had had his map cut through India because that was the place in which he was least interested!’ Brooke also liked Eisenhower, and was greatly amused when Ike quoted one of his young Staff officers telling him: ‘Well, you know sir, there are two things in which, from the beginning of time, amateurs have always considered themselves experts–one is military strategy and the other is prostitution.’13
The same day that Eisenhower met Kennedy, Molotov arrived at the White House at 4 p.m. for a series of meetings that lasted until after midnight. The next day he was back to see the President, Hopkins, Marshall and King, with interpretation undertaken by Vladimir Pavlov and Samuel H. Cross, the Professor of Slavic Languages and Literature at Harvard. In answer to the Soviet Foreign Minister’s long and impassioned request for a Second Front in 1942 to draw off forty German divisions from the USSR, Roosevelt asked Marshall ‘whether developments were clear enough so that we could say to Mr Stalin that we were developing a Second Front’. Marshall replied, ‘Yes, Mr President.’ Then Roosevelt ‘authorized Mr Molotov to inform Mr Stalin that we expect the formation of a Second Front this year’.14
There was a good deal of theatre to all this, since the President knew perfectly well what had been agreed the previous month in London. Yet after his reception there, where Churchill and Brooke gave no such cast-iron commitment, Molotov could have been forgiven for assuming that there were divided counsels among the Western Allies, and that it was the Americans who were driving the idea forward. The fact that this was true does not make it any less reprehensible of Roosevelt for promising something that was still in its early developmental stages and which Churchill had recently downgraded in his telegram. For all the kudos that the Americans gained from the Soviets over the British by this play-acting, the President had set the Allies up to disappoint Stalin when no Second Front emerged in France either in 1942 or in 1943. Of course it could not have happened had Churchill and Brooke been more straightforward with Marshall about the genuine likelihood of any operation in the near future.
Marshall outlined to Molotov what seems to have been a hybrid Sledgehammer–Roundup operation, emphasizing that the transport difficulties ‘were complicated by the necessity of sending tonnage to Murmansk’. He laid out his strategic vision, which was ‘To create as quickly as possible a situation on the Continent under which the Germans would be forced into an all-out air engagement, but they will not engage on this scale without the pressure of the presence of our troops on the ground.’ He envisaged shipping enough men across the Channel ‘to provoke an all-out battle for the destruction of the German air force’.15 Under this idea, Cherbourg was intended as a kind of honey-trap, to draw in the Luftwaffe to its destruction by squadrons based in the Channel Islands, the Cotentin Peninsula and mainland Britain.
At the end of Molotov’s visit, Roosevelt issued a communiqué to the press which included the fateful words: ‘Full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent task of creating a Second Front in Europe in 1942.’16 This raises the question whether he genuinely believed a Second Front was still possible, or whether he merely wished to placate Molotov. Did he hope to calm public opinion rather than inflame it with such a remark? Or did he hope such a promise might encourage the British to plan more proactively? We do not know. It is one of the many aspects of America’s enigmatic commander-in-chief that historians continue to debate. The most likely explanation was that given by Ian Jacob to Chester Wilmot in the spring of 1948: ‘Roosevelt went much too far in his assurances to Molotov and did so without reference to us and on the strength of what Marshall told him.’17 Since Marshall only told him what Churchill had explicitly told him at the key Defence Committee on the evening of 14 April, Churchill was effectively deceiving the Russians by proxy, as an unexpected by-product of misleading the Americans about Britain’s true enthusiasm for Sledgehammer and an early Roundup.
Molotov flew back to London from Washington. Although Churchill did not want to put his name to a ‘full understanding’ for ‘a Second Front in Europe in 1942’, Roosevelt had effectively sold the pass, and just such an Anglo-Soviet communiqué was indeed released on 11 June. At the same time, Churchill gave Molotov an aide-mémoire in front of his colleagues in the Cabinet Room which stated that, although the Allies were making preparations for a landing in August or September 1942, the shortage of landing craft meant that ‘We can therefore give no promise in the matter.’ Molotov did not care about this private caveat, having secured the all-important public declaration. As he later pointed out, he did not think that the Western powers would create a Second Front in 1942, but their promise to do so had immense political and propaganda potential once they had reneged upon it for two calendar years running. ‘This undermined faith in the imperialists,’ he wrote. ‘All this was very important to us.’ For all that Roosevelt would have been outraged at being classed as an imperialist, that was of course how both the Western Allies were regarded by the veteran Bolshevik.
Meanwhile Roosevelt told Churchill that he had ‘got on a personal footing of candor and of friendship as well as can be managed through an interpreter’. This was again frankly naive, as Molotov was notoriously lacking in either candour or friendship with foreigners, which could carry with it a death sentence, even in Stalin’s closest circle. Roosevelt added: ‘I am more anxious than ever that Bolero proceed to definite action beginning in August and continuing so long as the weather holds.’ Changes were made to this draft by Hopkins who cut the words after ‘beginning’ and inserted ‘in 1942. We all realize that because of weather conditions the operation cannot be delayed until the end of the year.’18 While resiling from the August date, therefore, Roosevelt and Marshall still hoped to keep to 1942, or at least they wanted Brooke and Churchill to think that they still supported that date. Since the weather in the English Channel in autumn is notoriously changeable, in effect Hopkins’ altered wording mattered little.
Delivering the graduation speech at West Point on Sunday 31 May, Marshall further built up public expectations by announcing that ‘American troops are landing in England and will land in France,’ at which the Corps of Cadets let out ‘a mighty roar’ of cheering. He ended his address by saying: ‘We are determined that before the sun sets on this terrible struggle, our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming power on the other.’ He gave no timetable for the French operation, obviously, but this speech indelibly thereafter connected his name and reputation to an early cross-Channel operation.
Eisenhower returned from London on 4 June to report back to Marshall. He had met the Chiefs of Staff, Bernard Paget of Home Command, Bernard Montgomery of South-eastern Command and Archibald Nye, as well as all the most important Americans there, and he told his diary, ‘It is necessary to get a punch behind the job or we’ll never be ready by spring 1943 to attack. We must get going.’ That is also what he told Marshall, and a week later, after recording speculation that he might go over to command the US forces in whichever operation was chosen, he wrote in his diary: ‘The chief of staff says I’m the guy.’ With II Corps earmarked to be shipped over and Mark Clark as its commander, the man universally nicknamed Ike (except by Marshall) commented: ‘Now we really go to work.’
In May 1942, the US Army moved into the first half-million square feet of the Pentagon building, even though the $87 million construction project would not be complete until the following January. Previously the General Staff had worked in the Old Munitions Building, a temporary Great War structure on the Mall, so to provide security for the move soldiers were posted along the whole route from there, across the Fourteenth Street bridge, and through the fields to the vast new structure. The Army’s files were transported from the old building to the new in armoured cars. At a mile in circumference, the Pentagon was the largest building in the world at the time. With office space for forty thousand people it had been built in a little over a year, albeit with an accident rate four times the average for US building sites.19 The size of the edifice gave rise to jokes about how easy it was to get lost, such as the one about the pregnant lady who asked a Marine guard to help her get to a maternity hospital, saying it was an emergency as she was in labour. When he said that she shouldn’t have gone there in that condition, she replied: ‘When I came in here, I wasn’t.’
At a War Cabinet on Monday 1 June, Churchill ‘congratulated’ Portal and Bomber Command on the previous night’s raids, when 1,137 bombers had ‘left this island and almost as many go tonight’, describing the attacks as a ‘Great manifestation of air power. US like it very much. Give us bigger action again early next month.’ Portal replied that although fifty-one bombers had been lost, photographs taken over Cologne and the Rhine ‘show results are good’. In a reference to bombing Germany earlier in the war, Churchill had said that he did not see why ‘the disgusting stertorous slumber of the Boche should remain undisturbed,’ and on another occasion, urging that the size of bombs dropped on Germany be increased, he complained: ‘We might as well drop roasted chestnuts.’20
Pound had far less happy news; a convoy from Iceland to Russia had been very heavily mauled–of the thirty-five ships the Cabinet had chosen to send, six were sunk by bombers and one by a U-boat, with the overall loss of 147 tanks, 37 aircraft and 770 motor vehicles. Churchill wanted the next convoy postponed, but Eden pointed out the disastrous effect on Anglo-Russian relations that would result. Brooke, his forearms badly swollen after being stung trying to shake a swarm of bees off a branch that weekend, reported on the fighting taking part in that area of the Western Desert known as ‘Knightsbridge’.21 On 2 June, Lieutenant-General Sir Neil Ritchie, commander of the Eighth Army, was forced to abandon the Gazala Line, a series of fortified positions stretching 40 miles from Gazala on the coast to Bir Hacheim.
On the morning of Sunday 7 June, Churchill telephoned Eden at his seventeenth-century country house, Binderton, near Chichester in Sussex. Eden had stayed in bed to work on the contents of his red despatch boxes as it was too cloudy to enjoy gardening, and instead talked to the Prime Minister about the disappointing reports from Libya, which he admitted ‘depressed’ them both as Rommel appeared to be retaining the initiative. ‘I fear we have not very good generals,’ said Churchill. Eden recorded that the Prime Minister ‘was also depressed by the Chiefs of Staff’s sudden decision to cancel their own previous plans to take[a] certain place in north’, are ference to Trondheim. Churchill feared it was because of the ‘extreme reluctance’ of the Commander-in-Chief of the Home Fleet, Admiral Sir John Tovey, to continue sending convoys to Russia. ‘The politicians are much abused, but they get little help or inspiration from their service advisers’ was Churchill’s comment, to which Eden added, ‘It can hardly be denied.’22 Before this rather self-pitying conversation evokes too much sympathy, it ought to be pointed out that Operation Ajax/Jupiter had been a Churchillian idea that Brooke and all the Chiefs had always opposed equally doggedly.
Churchill was enormously cheered by the news that started to come in on 8 June about the great American naval victory at the battle of Midway, indicating that two Japanese carriers had been sunk and two damaged, prompting him to declare to the War Cabinet:
Losses at sea have produced signs of fear on part of the Japs–the Navy is a political force in Japan, which will perhaps be more inclined to a restrictive and cautious policy. This policy might be in harmony with sending out submarine raiders. If we think of this as having an effect on the Jap situation, I think they will go for China and Chiang Kai Shek conquest. I don’t think they’ll try India or Australia. This gives us two or three months’ breathing-space. We must come to rescue of China–it would be an appalling disaster if China were forced out of the war and a new government set up. The General Staff should think of attacking lines of communication in Burma. If carrier losses are confirmed we can review the consequences of diminution of enemy forces. If Japan adopts conservative course it is a chance for us to get teeth into her tail.23
Brooke evidently agreed, as he answered that there was a ‘possibility of opening up the Burma Road in the next two or three months to land practical military aid’. Churchill answered: ‘Tell Chiang Kai Shek to hold the fort because we are coming next October or November.’ Asking for a report from Wavell, Churchill said: ‘The further removed from danger and fighting, the more dangers and responsibilities seem to weigh with officers,’ which might or might not have been a criticism of Wavell, or even of the Chiefs of Staff.
By mid-June 1942, Churchill desperately needed to know Roosevelt’s state of mind over Roundup and Sledgehammer. The man he cannily chose to sound him out was Lord Louis Mountbatten, who as director of combined operations had been promoted by Marshall as a possible commander for the operations, despite being a sceptic of Sledgehammer due to the paucity of landing craft. On 15 June, Mountbatten dined with the President and Harry Hopkins at the White House, but crucially, and to their chagrin, Marshall and King were not present. In post-war interviews, Marshall spoke of how Mountbatten used to go to him behind the backs of the British Chiefs of Staff, telling him privately how he supported various American stances that Brooke opposed. This time, however, he would very effectively undermine Marshall himself.
Mountbatten told his hosts frankly that, since the Germans had twenty-five divisions in France, however hard-pressed Russia might be she would not be aided by a massacre of Allied troops there. Roosevelt replied that he did not want to accumulate one million American troops in Britain if all they were going to do was form a home guard while British troops fought in the Middle East and India.24 Shoring up the British Empire was not the proper role of the US Army, he implied. Nonetheless, Mountbatten could spot a chink between Roosevelt’s and Marshall’s views on future operations, and he encouraged Churchill and Brooke to come over to try to widen it.
‘Lord Mountbatten was closeted with Roosevelt for five hours,’ noted a highly suspicious Wedemeyer. ‘I understand that no American officer was present…Now we had an extremely articulate Britisher endeavouring to raise bogeys about the hazards of a cross-Channel operation.’25 Although Wedemeyer was chronically suspicious of British motives on most occasions–he joked that he would never meet a British officer without a witness being present–he was right to be on this occasion.
Mountbatten’s report of his White House meeting, which according to his aide Commodore John Hughes-Hallett had in fact lasted six hours, indicated that Roosevelt had agreed with him that there were not enough landing craft to mount a Sledgehammer sufficiently powerful to force Germany to take pressure off Russia. Yet the President still wanted the British to make some sort of landing, in order to damage German morale. Furthermore, he was ‘resolutely opposed to sending a million men to England on the off-chance that Roundup’ would be launched. Roosevelt wanted absolute guarantees of an attack by 1 April 1943, but Mountbatten spotted that in Roundup’s absence the President was much more sympathetic than his advisers to the idea of landings in North Africa.26 Mountbatten flew back via Montreal and went straight to Chequers, where he was kept up until 4 a.m. reporting to Churchill. He then made it to the Chiefs of Staff meeting at 9.30 a.m., and worked a full day until 9.30 p.m.
Here was the news for which Churchill had been waiting and hoping. Alerted that there might be a chance of splitting Roosevelt off from Marshall over Sledgehammer and an early Roundup, and guiding him instead towards North Africa–where Rommel was once again on the offensive–Churchill leapt. ‘In view of the impossibility of dealing by correspondence with all the many difficult points outstanding,’ he telegraphed the President, ‘I feel it is my duty to come to see you. I shall hold myself ready to start as weather serves from Thursday 18th onwards, and will advise you later. I shall bring the CIGS, General Brooke, whom you have not yet met, with me, also General Ismay.’
The need for an American attack in North Africa could not have been more pressing. On 10 June Churchill had held a two-hour Staff Conference on Middle Eastern strategy, saying that he doubted Auchinleck’s offensive spirit–‘I don’t know what we can do for that Army, all our efforts to help them seem to be in vain’–and complaining that the one hundred thousand Commonwealth soldiers defending Egypt ‘all come up for their rations but not to fight’. These were terrible libels on the British Army, and Brooke regarded it as his duty to defend his men. Just before he went to bed, he told his friend and aide-de-camp Barney Charlesworth, who shared his flat in London, ‘Well, that is one of the bloodiest days I have had for a long time.’27
Three days later, having lost 230 tanks, British forces withdrew to the Sollum–Sidi Omar Line near the Libyan frontier with Egypt. Churchill cabled Auchinleck to say ‘he presumed there was no question in any case of giving up Tobruk’, for, ‘as long as Tobruk was held, no serious enemy advance into Egypt was possible’. Auchinleck replied the following day that he had no intention whatever of doing so. Taking time off from weeding and hoeing the long herbaceous border at his country home, Thatched Cottage, near Northam in Sussex, Alec Cadogan wrote of Rommel’s victories: ‘I suppose he’s a very good general, but I am quite convinced that our own (including CIGS) are blockheads, who cannot learn anything.’ It was a rare criticism of Brooke, and probably prompted by frustration at the lack of success in the Western Desert rather than by genuine doubts about his intelligence.
June 1942 was the worst month of the war so far for Allied shipping losses, with 83 per cent of the tonnage lost through U-boat action, and 60 per cent in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. Marshall wrote to King in mid-June, ‘The losses by submarines off our Atlantic seaboard and in the Caribbean now threaten our entire war effort,’ pointing out that 22 per cent of the bauxite fleet and 3.5 per cent of all tanker tonnage had been lost in that month alone. King replied two days later that the US had little in the way of anti-submarine forces and that convoys would be used as ‘the only way that gives any promise of success’. It was far too late in the conflict for him to be discovering that, given how valuable convoys had been in the Great War.
Pound meanwhile had to announce to the War Cabinet that he was not very hopeful of a convoy being able to reach Malta at all. That island had been heavily bombed by Axis planes based in Sicily, yet holding it was vital in order to interdict resupply of the Afrika Korps from Italy. Churchill answered that this was ‘Grave; have another shot. Lie [to the press]; say all important stores got in.’ In the previous week alone thirty-six ships had been sunk, with the loss of 225,000 tons in eight days, and the losses were getting more widespread. Brooke then went through the ‘two distinct phases’ of the battle then being fought at Bir Hacheim and Knightsbridge, which had forced the British withdrawal. Churchill said this did not strengthen ‘the case for passive defence’. He expressed anxiety about Auchinleck’s lack of reserves and said that the Eighth Army seemed to have been ‘outmanoeuvred and outfought’ and had ‘lost the battlefield’, estimating Rommel as having only 150 tanks.
1. The Masters and Commanders at the Casablanca Conference, January 1943
Back row from left to right: General Brehon Somervell, General Henry ‘Hap’ Arnold, Admiral Ernest J. King, Lieutenant-General Sir Hastings ‘Pug’ Ismay, General George C. Marshall, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, General Sir Alan Brooke, Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, Rear-Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten. Front row: President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill
2. General John J. ‘Black Jack’ Pershing and his aide-de-camp, Colonel George C. Marshall, in France in 1919
3. Alan Brooke in the uniform of a lieutenant of the Royal Horse Artillery, 1910
4. Without entourage or even a detective, Winston Churchill arrives at Downing Street for a Cabinet meeting on 15 May 1940, two days after his ‘blood, toil, tears and sweat’ speech
5. President Roosevelt telling Congress about the attack on Pearl Harbor the previous day, 7 December 1941, which he memorably dubbed ‘a date which will live in infamy’
6. Churchill and Roosevelt meet for the first time since 1918, on board the USS Augusta on 9 August 1941, during the top secret Riviera Conference. Roosevelt is receiving a letter from King George VI. From left to right: Averell Harriman (right hand in pocket, smiling), King (right hand in pocket, head turned), Churchill, unidentified naval officer, Franklin Roosevelt Jr, Sumner Welles, Captain John R. Beardall USN, President Roosevelt and Captain Elliot Roosevelt.
7. ‘The tremendous hold the Limeys have on Our Boy’: Churchill making a point, which Roosevelt is enjoying, on board HMS Prince of Wales at Placentia Bay on 14 August 1941
8. Marshall, Churchill and US Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson watch a mass demonstration of paratroopers at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, on 24 June 1942
9. Alan Brooke’s lunch for Marshall at the Savoy Hotel in July 1942. From left to right: Portal, Pound, Marshall and Brooke
10. Harry Hopkins, General Mark Clark, President Roosevelt and General Dwight D. Eisenhower eat lunch from mess kits after inspecting American troops in North Africa on 31 January 1943
11. Eisenhower and Marshall meet in Algiers, 3 June 1943
12. Churchill, recuperating from pneumonia in his blue and gold bedragonned dressing gown on Christmas Day 1943 in Carthage. On the steps behind him, Eisenhower and General Sir Henry ‘Jumbo’ Maitland Wilson, are, from left to right, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, unidentified soldier, Admiral Sir John Cunningham, General Sir Harold Alexander, Major-General Sir Humfrey Gale, Brigadier Leslie ‘Joe’ Hollis and General Walter Bedell Smith
13. Generals George S. Patton (note the pearl-handled revolver), Omar Bradley and Bernard Montgomery smiling together in France. Their intense rivalry suggests the photograph was highly posed
14. The Combined Chiefs of Staff at Casablanca, January 1943. Note Brooke’s jabbing finger. Brigadier Vivian ‘Dumbie’ Dykes, the dark-haired moustachioed man near the top left of the photograph, has only a few more days to live
15. At Allied HQ in North Africa on 8 June 1943. From left to right around Churchill are Anthony Eden, Brooke, Tedder, Andrew Cunningham, Alexander, Marshall, Eisenhower and Montgomery
16. A Combined Chiefs of Staff meeting at the First Quebec Conference, codenamed Sextant, in August 1943. From the left: Brooke, Brigadier-General John R. Deane, Arnold, Marshall, Admiral William Leahy and Pound
17. The Château Frontenac hotel towers over the Second Quebec Conference, codenamed Octagon, in September 1944. Sitting at the nearby Citadel are, from left to right: Clementine Churchill, the Earl of Athlone, President Roosevelt, HRH Princess Alice, Countess of Athlone, Winston Churchill, Eleanor Roosevelt and the Prime Minister of Canada, William Mackenzie King
18. Churchill and Roosevelt greet each other at the Second Quebec Conference, 1944
19. Field Marshal Sir John Dill, Andrew Cunningham, Brooke, Portal and Ismay at Quebec, 1944
20. Planning campaigns in smoke-filled rooms: the British Joint Planning Staff at the Château Frontenac in September 1944, Quebec Conference. Lieutenant-Colonel Aubertin Mallaby is sixth from the left
21. Marshall’s stepson, Lieutenant Allen Tupper Brown, who was killed by a German sniper near Rome in May 1944
22. Brooke (centre) and his friend, flatmate and aide-de-camp, Barney Charlesworth, during exercises in October 1941. Charlesworth was later killed in an air crash in February 1945
23. Churchill with his friend and surrogate uncle Field Marshal Jan Smuts on the lawn of the British Embassy in Cairo in August 1942; behind them are Tedder and Brooke
24. Churchill’s chief of staff, ‘Pug’ Ismay, thanks a lady called Hildegarde for singing a song about England, 1942
25. The Anglophobic General Albert C. Wedemeyer with General Marshall: he bugged his office desk to record British officers’ indiscretions, with Marshall’s knowledge
26. General Sir Archibald Wavell at the Viceroy’s House in New Delhi, with the American General Joseph W. Stilwell, another Anglophobe
27. The British Chiefs of Staff on the eve of Victory in Europe: Cunningham, Brooke (with jabbing finger in motion) and Portal in April 1945
28. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff: Leahy, Arnold, King and Marshall in a celebratory mood at the end of the War
29. Lawrence Burgis of the War Cabinet secretariat, who took verbatim notes of the War Cabinet throughout the conflict, and his friend Brigadier Leslie ‘Jo’ Hollis in the Map Room of the Cabinet War Rooms
30. Major-General John Kennedy, Director of Military Operations and later Assistant Chief of the Imperial General Staff, who had much in common with his boss Alan Brooke, including keeping a forthright daily diary
31. Major-General Thomas Handy, Marshall’s assistant chief of staff, whose recollections shed light on the inner workings of the Operations Division of the US Army after 1942. A letter from Sir John Dill to General Marshall lies on his desk
Churchill then went into the history of the training of the 10th Armoured Division and instructed the CIGS ‘to look into counter offensive at first possible date’, accepting that there had been ‘Not a lot of change in the actual positions. Total advance of Germans has not been very great after three weeks fighting.’ Many of these criticisms accorded with Brooke’s own view, and it is hard to escape the conclusion that, even at these great crisis moments of the war, Brooke was confining his fury to his diary rather than openly rowing with the Prime Minister.
In response to the Lidice massacre in Czechoslovakia–where the Germans had shot 181 innocent villagers and taken away forty-nine women to be gassed at Ravensbruck, in revenge for the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, acting Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia–Churchill reported a conversation he had had with the Czech leader, Eduard Beneš, ‘about the possibility of reprisals for the savage cruelties now being practised by Germans in Czechoslovakia’. Churchill ‘Suggested wiping out German villages (three for one) by air attack’, and proposed that one hundred bombers would be required to drop incendiaries from low levels in bright moonlight on three unprotected German villages, with the reason announced afterwards. If it was ‘thought worthwhile’ by the Cabinet, Churchill said he would give the RAF discretion to carry out such a raid ‘to fit it in when they can’. As might be expected, this prompted a lively debate.
Sir Archibald Sinclair, the Secretary for Air, thought it a diversion from proper military objectives, as well as an unnecessary risk to RAF planes and crews. Attlee doubted whether ‘it is useful to enter into competition in frightfulness with the Germans’. The Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, considered the likelihood of reprisals on English villages which had no air-raid sirens or shelters. He feared the public would say: ‘Why have you drawn this down on us?’ Eden approved of ‘the deterrent element’ and Bevin argued that ‘Germany responds to brute force and nothing else,’ whereas Stanley Bruce, the Australian High Commissioner, feared that it might lead to even greater atrocities in Czechoslovakia. The Lord President of the Council, John Anderson, was opposed because ‘It costs us something and them nothing.’ Brendan Bracken and the Colonial Secretary Lord Cranborne were also opposed. ‘My instinct is strongly the other way,’ said Churchill. The Secretary for India, Leo Amery, asked: ‘Why a village? Why not a residential town?’, but the Lord Privy Seal, Sir Stafford Cripps, said that the operational argument against such a reprisal raid was very strong. ‘I submit (unwillingly) to the view if the Cabinet are against,’ concluded Churchill.28
After a report from Brooke on the Levant–Caspian front, where Churchill said ‘We’re not very strong–we’ve only two men and a boy there, and Libya has lost us some face again,’ the discussion got round to public morale. Churchill told the Cabinet that it was ‘Likely the news for next months will cure undue optimism,’ and there would be ‘No practical change on the Second Front which newspapers think so easy’. Bracken reported that a Second Front was being demanded at public meetings all over the country. ‘Can’t be helped,’ replied Churchill, ‘but ministers should be careful–the less said the better.’ As for the demonstrations themselves, he felt that the ‘Important thing is to make clear that close relations with Russia does not involve coddling our Communists.’29
In Libya, meanwhile, the South African brigades had retreated from Gazala into Tobruk. The 50th Division were stranded behind the German lines and feared lost, orders for their withdrawal having been sent too late. ‘CIGS tells me however that Winston thinks this movement a piece of fine generalship,’ wrote Kennedy, whose own view was that it was ‘a piece of bad bungling’, not least because the Germans were claiming to have captured twelve thousand prisoners. Kennedy put the episode down to bad British and good German generalship, the inferior quality of British to German tanks in both manoeuvrability and firepower (British tanks were mostly armed with a 2-pounder gun against the German 41/2-pounder). ‘Winston has been especially wrongheaded throughout this battle,’ opined Kennedy. ‘There has been a stream of telegrams from him, practically none of which should have been sent by a PM. These telegrams have not been the result of calmly considered advice from the Chiefs of Staff.’ It was true that Churchill had deluged Auchinleck with questions, such as that of 14 June, ‘To what position does Ritchie want to withdraw the Gazala troops?’, and exhortations such as ‘This is a business not only of armour but of will-power,’ but these hardly affected the outcome of the struggle.
The usual procedure was for Churchill to draft telegrams and then get agreement for them over the telephone, which Kennedy considered ‘dangerous’, because ‘although he appears to be covered in each step by professional advice, the general trend of strategy is too much influenced by his personality.’ If the battle went well, the directives and orders he constantly issued ‘would give the impression that he had directed all operations successfully as a sort of Commander-in-Chief’. Yet if they went awry, ‘he as PM is bound to be in a very bad position.’
Churchill’s plans for the reconquest of Burma Kennedy thought ‘quite impractical because the resources…are not even in sight. But he bores away at it.’ Equally, Operation Jupiter was ‘impractical from the naval, air and army points of view…out of the question. Yet Winston has been pressing it and wasting our time on it for several weeks.’ In Kennedy’s view the most dangerous matter of all was Churchill’s pressure on Auchinleck to hold Tobruk under any circumstances. He spoke to Brooke about how, back in April 1941, Wavell had taken the decision to defend Tobruk, and that it had come right owing to the unexpected withdrawal of German forces–especially Luftwaffe–to the Russian front. Yet now he felt that for all of Tobruk’s obvious importance to the defence of Egypt it could only be held at too high a cost, especially to the Navy, in view of its long desert perimeter. ‘If we are to lose it,’ he advised the CIGS, ‘it is better to lose it without throwing away a big garrison at the same time.’ Yet he feared that its political value would weigh too heavily with Churchill to permit evacuation.
Only in one area would Kennedy give Churchill much credit, and this was over Roundup and Sledgehammer, where he said that ‘Winston was good on this in his talks with Marshall. We have got it established that nothing big is to happen this year unless the Germans begin to crack. The Americans are still in confusion and the Marshall plan for moving an enormous army over here is being disputed by the other Services in the USA. This will be the next big thing to clear up.’30 With the news Mountbatten had brought back post-haste from the White House, that was exactly what was about to happen.
Just before leaving for America, Brooke took the day off to go to the Farne Islands off Northumberland to photograph seabirds, but his dinghy overturned alongside the naval launch and his £250 camera was damaged by seawater. ‘Although his day was spoilt he could laugh about it,’ recorded Kennedy. Warned that it was very hot in Washington in June, Brooke managed to get a lightweight military suit and white denim jacket made in twenty-four hours, although there was no time for his impressive rows of medal ribbons to be sewn on to the suit, because at 11.30 p.m. on Wednesday 17 June he and Churchill flew from Stranraer to Washington in a BOAC flying-boat called the Bristol. Brooke later told Kennedy, who had been to school at Stranraer, that Churchill had walked along the pier there singing the Great War ditty ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’. According to Ismay, ‘Our Boeing flying-boat was the acme of comfort–plenty of room, full-length bunks, easy chairs, and delicious food…We were in the air for twenty-six hours at a stretch, but the time passed quickly and pleasantly.’
At 4.30 p.m. US time, still four hours from Washington, Churchill asked Commander Thompson for dinner to be served. On being told of the time difference, and that he was going to have dinner at the British Embassy that night, he replied: ‘I go by tummy time, and I want my dinner.’ He put his personal method of avoiding jet-lag more delicately in his war memoirs, stating: ‘I adhered to my rule in these flights that meals should be regulated by stomach time. When one wakes up after daylight one should breakfast; five hours after that, luncheon; six hours after luncheon, dinner. Thus one becomes independent of the sun, which otherwise meddles too much in one’s affairs and upsets the routine of work.’
Before they left they heard from Auchinleck that he intended to hold Tobruk, covered by fighters from the port of Sollum in Egypt, which pleased Churchill greatly. He also had time to write to the King, saying, ‘Sir, In case of my death on this journey I am about to undertake, I avail myself of your Majesty’s gracious permission to advise you that you should entrust the formation of a new Government to Mr Anthony Eden.’31
While the British party was in the air, a shocked Henry Stimson attended a meeting at the White House at which Roosevelt reopened the whole issue of cross-Channel operations. ‘The President sprung on us a proposition which worries me very much,’ the Secretary of War wrote afterwards. ‘It looked as if he was going to jump the traces after all that we had been doing in regard to Bolero and to imperil our strategy of the whole situation. He wants to take up the case of Gymnast again.’ Stimson hoped that the reason he was doing this was ‘in his foxy way to forestall trouble that is now on the ocean coming towards us in the shape of a new British visitor’, but he could not be sure.
The President’s new démarche in favour of Gymnast met with ‘robust opposition’ from his advisers. Marshall had already prepared a paper against it, as he had ‘a premonition of what was coming’. Stimson also ‘spoke very vigorously’.32 During what the War Secretary called ‘a disappointing afternoon’, the Navy were nothing like so vigorous. Marshall could begin to see he was about to find himself in a minority of one, unless he was able to bring Brooke over to his point of view.
Marshall’s paper stated that ‘The Gymnast Operation has been reexamined on the assumption of full French co-operation, utilizing British shipping, and the use of US troops only.’ Among many problems he identified were the lack of aircraft carriers and naval escorts for the convoys in the Atlantic, delays over reinforcements, and the late availability of US anti-aircraft units (ready in October) and air forces (December). ‘The operation is not possible unless Bolero is abandoned,’ he concluded, ‘or at best indefinitely postponed.’
Furthermore, since the Gymnast operation involved occupying North-west Africa with 220,000 US troops, comprising six divisions and air squadrons protected by the Navy, it was extremely worrying that Casablanca harbour could only accommodate a maximum of forty-three vessels, with no more than twelve capable of being unloaded at any one time. Marshall estimated it would take a month to disembark forty thousand troops with all their equipment and supplies, and so to land the entire force ‘would consume at least six months’, while of course the enemy would try to ‘bomb Casablanca during the early phases’. Furthermore, the use of scarce British shipping ‘would seriously affect’ the flow of vital reinforcements to the Middle East and to India, and so in the event of a Russian collapse ‘the resulting threat to the Middle East would require a maximum of British shipping to block a probable Axis advance into that theater’.
Marshall also believed that, although French co-operation and Spanish neutrality were ‘essential’, nothing suggested that either would be forthcoming. With so little in its favour, he seemed almost to be understating his case when he concluded: ‘It appears that this operation should not be undertaken in the present situation.’33 Stimson also drew up a strong defence of the Sledgehammer operation for Roosevelt–who had by then gone to Hyde Park–which Marshall copied to Arnold, McNarney and Eisenhower.
At 8.15 p.m. local time on Thursday 18 June, the flying-boat Bristol landed at the Anacostia naval airstation in Washington. The party were met at the airport by Halifax, Dill and Marshall and driven to the Lutyens-designed British Embassy on Massachusetts Avenue where they sat down to a second dinner. Brooke later observed of Churchill: ‘As I had to share every one of these meals with him and they were all washed down with champagne and brandy, it became a little trying on the constitution.’34
When Churchill discovered that Roosevelt was at Hyde Park rather than Washington, he was ‘rather put out at the President being away, and inclined to be annoyed that he hadn’t been diverted to New York’. Halifax noted that ‘He got into a better temper when he had some champagne.’ The party was kept up till 1.30 a.m., with Lady Halifax ‘much impressed’ by the way that Brooke, Ismay, Moran and John Martin ‘all took advantage of the darkness on the porch to snatch bits of sleep while Winston talked’.35
The Second Washington talks, codenamed Argonaut, started on the morning of Friday 19 June, with Marshall conferring with Churchill at the Embassy. The Prime Minister then flew up to Hyde Park to stay with Roosevelt for the weekend, as Marshall telegraphed the President warning that ‘your guest…is pessimistic regarding Bolero and interested in August Gymnast and another similar movement in Norway.’ This forewarned FDR, although the destination of the second operation should certainly not have been mentioned en clair. Marshall meanwhile warned Stimson that Churchill ‘was full of discouragement and new proposals for diversions. Therefore the importance of a firm and united stand on our part is very important.’ It was not to be.
Roosevelt’s great-grandfather had moved to the Hyde Park area in 1818, and half a century later James Roosevelt–the President’s father and seventh in a line of Roosevelts who were prominent in New York City–bought the Springwood estate there. They were not ostentatious, and James lived the equine, estate-management and hunting-based life of an English country squire. Franklin Roosevelt had been born at Springwood and had spent his boyhood there, privately tutored until the age of fourteen, before attending Groton, Harvard and (briefly) Columbia Law School.
Although it had been built as a farmhouse around 1800, FDR turned Springwood into a country house in 1915 by adding two substantial wings and extensively redesigning the rest, largely using his mother’s money. He adored the place, and returned there no fewer than two hundred times during his presidency. The house is still kept as it was during his last stay in March 1945, complete with the telephone in his bedroom that used to be connected straight through to the White House.
Because it was unchanged from his death, and opened to the public a year later, it is possible today to view the rooms where the two men planned the outlines of Allied grand strategy very much as they were then. Churchill would doubtless have felt at home seeing the large collection of seafaring prints on the hallway walls, at least until he noticed that they mostly commemorate the War of 1812. Elsewhere in the hallway a 1783 Isaac Cruikshank cartoon illustrates British Valour and Yankee Boasting and anotherThe Fall of Washington 1814.
A beautiful panelled library extends the entire southern width of the house, with a large marble fireplace flanked by two high-backed chairs commemorating Roosevelt’s gubernatorial term in New York. Churchill stayed in the Pink Bedroom immediately on the right of the top of the staircase, one of many guest bedrooms in the thirty-five-room house. At one point on this trip, driving Churchill around the estate in his specially adapted Ford, FDR–who was 6 foot 3 inches tall and weighed 190 pounds–invited Churchill to feel his biceps, which were tremendously powerful.
The two men had much to discuss besides the cross-Channel versus North African operations, and reached full agreement for complete co-operation over the project to build and deploy the atomic bomb. While at Hyde Park, Roosevelt received a ten-point letter from Stimson, which had the unanimous endorsement of Marshall and his Staff, and which argued vigorously that an early Second Front in Europe was the best way of ‘keeping the Russian Army in the war and thus ultimately defeating Hitler’. Despite the Axis powers controlling every other ‘feasible landing spot’ on the Continent, ‘By fortunate coincidence one of the shortest routes to Europe from America led through the only safe base not yet controlled by our enemies, the British Isles.’ Hence Bolero, which Stimson described as ‘an essentially American project, brought into the war as the vitalizing contribution of our fresh and unwearied leaders and forces’. He listed its advantages as not requiring carrier-based air cover, and as being launched from a site that did not need time spent on its development and fortification and where ‘we could safely develop air superiority’. Furthermore, ‘Geographically and historically, Bolero was the easiest road to the centre of our chief enemy’s heart…Over the Low Countries has run the historic path of armies between Germany and France.’36
Stimson argued that the sinking of four Japanese aircraft carriers at the battle of Midway earlier that month had alleviated the danger of raids on American aircraft factories, and (less credibly) that unrest in Occupied Europe was increasing. He believed that a German victory over Russia might lead to a German invasion of Britain, when it would be ‘imperative for us to push our forces into Britain at top speed’, which would be impossible if American shipping was ‘tied up with an expedition to Gymnast’. Moreover, Gymnast’s need for large-scale aircraft-carrier support ‘could not fail to diminish the superiority over Japan which we now precariously hold in the Pacific’.
As for the consideration of ‘other plans’–by which Stimson meant Gymnast–‘When one is engaged in a tug of war, it is highly risky to spit on one’s hands even for the purpose of getting a better grip.’ The tug of war he was referring to was against Britain, not Germany, as was clear from the next sentence: ‘No new plan should even be whispered to friend or enemy,’ which through a process of elimination meant Britain, since Roosevelt would hardly whisper American plans to the Nazis. Stimson ended by saying that Gymnast would detract from Bolero, and nothing should be allowed to do that.37 It was a formidable indictment, and it is easy to detect Marshall’s hand in helping to draw it up, not least because many of its points precisely mirrored those from Marshall’s own note to the President on the same subject.
Back in Washington on 19 June, Brooke and Marshall met in Room 240 of the Combined Chiefs of Staff Building at 12.30 p.m., along with a large gathering of British and American senior servicemen, including Vice-Admiral Horne (representing Admiral King), Arnold, Ismay, Dill, McNarney, Eisenhower, Clark, Rear-Admiral Charles ‘Savvy’ Cooke, Colonel Jacob, Lieutenant-General G. N. Macready and Dykes. It was the first time that Brooke had met Arnold, whom Ismay described as ‘a veteran airman, with an unlimited belief in air power’. He certainly was a veteran, having first flown with the Wright brothers themselves. Jacob found Arnold a ‘cherubic little man, with white hair and humorous blue eyes. Quick on the uptake and rather impatient.’ Wedemeyer thought he had ‘a good understanding of human beings and the use of air power. I think he was a great administrator…self-effacing, never a strutter.’38 Marshall was fortunate to have Arnold as his right-hand man on the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Brooke reviewed the strategic situation, and told the Committee that ‘the object of the PM’s visit was to clear up a number of points which had been mentioned by the President in a conversation with Lord Mountbatten’. These all related to grand strategy for 1942 and early 1943. He then touched upon some broad areas, indicating the Chiefs of Staff’s views on each. Sometimes minutes of Staff meetings, especially those written with an eye to history, or inter-departmental struggles, or minimizing inter-Allied disagreement, or anything other than a strict record of what took place, can be as difficult to decipher as the hieroglyphics of Linear B. Yet at this meeting Brooke rattled through the strategic objectives straightforwardly, which were:
The importance of employing in an active theatre the United States forces which were being sent to England, and in this connection the fact that no operation in France might be possible in the event of a Russian collapse, permitting large German reinforcements to return to Western Europe.
The difficulties which would arise, in the event of the Russians being hard pressed, in establishing a Second Front in Western Europe in 1942 in accordance with our promises.
The possible establishment in late 1942 or the winter of 1942/3 of a bridgehead in the neighbourhood of Cherbourg or the Brest salient as a base for 1943 operations.
The possibility of carrying out some kind of Gymnast operation in 1942. The undertaking of offensive operations based on Australia against the Japanese.
Brooke stated that ‘The crux of the matter was the degree of reliance we could place on the Russian front holding,’ about which he was fairly confident, since ‘the Russians’ showing, both at Sevastopol and in the Kharkov area, was encouraging.’ If the Russians held, he argued, ‘our chances of a successful offensive on the Continent in 1943 were good, and the Middle East situation would be relieved, as there would be no German threat to the oil fields and the Persian Gulf and therefore our scale of reinforcements could be cut down’.
If the establishment of a Western Front was impossible in France in 1942, Brooke continued, ‘then some form of Gymnast should be considered and forces now set up for Bolero might be used.’ Consideration needed to be given to training, shipping and whether it ‘was to be undertaken entirely by the United States forces or on a combined basis’, which would be largely dependent on whether the Vichy French resisted. Unlike Marshall, Brooke believed it improbable that there would be a ‘rapid arrival of German forces through Spain’.
Brooke then went through the four options that the British Chiefs of Staff had been considering ‘aimed at relieving pressure on the Russians’. These were, ‘A landing in the Pas de Calais Area’, ‘Establishment of a Bridgehead at Cherbourg or the Brest Salient’, ‘Large Raids’ and ‘Operations in Northern Norway’. The first, even if undertaken by six divisions, Brooke believed would be ‘unlikely to achieve important results’, such as the diversion of significant German forces from the Eastern Front. The Cherbourg operation would require fifteen divisions, but was ‘worth further careful study’. Large raids were also being considered actively, even those intended to last two or three days.
As for Norway, the opportunity to free the northern convoy route of German aircraft was highly attractive, but it would mean keeping four-and-a-half divisions supplied north of Narvik. If it was going to be done, it had to be undertaken immediately because the most dangerous period was during the extremely short Arctic summer nights when the Luftwaffe could operate virtually around the clock. Brooke was similarly non-committal about Burma, saying that since five or six Japanese divisions were within easy reach of Rangoon, a seaborne attack there could not be undertaken ‘except simultaneously with some other offensive against the Japanese’, by which he meant ones undertaken in conjunction with the Americans.39
Brooke’s exposition was short–all over by lunchtime–but it set the agenda for the rest of the Argonaut discussions. Nothing was ruled out, and Gymnast was on the long list of possible operations. In the revised version of the minutes he inserted two other aspects that had not been in the originals, either because he had not in fact mentioned them at the meeting or because of stenographical error, most probably the former. These were: ‘The possibility of economizing shipping by dispatching substantial US forces direct to the Middle East rather than by reinforcing the Middle East by British forces from the UK’, and the fact that ‘It would be necessary during the present visit to give urgent consideration to the question of command arrangements for a Continental offensive’ (that is, of who was going to command Roundup).
Dykes privately recorded the American reaction when Brooke said that the President was ‘worried because US troops would not be engaged with the enemy on any scale this year’. Because this effectively meant that ‘Bolero had dropped back in the batting,’ Dykes could see that Marshall and Eisenhower ‘were considerably perturbed by this’.40 After lunch, Marshall, Brooke, Dill, Ismay, Eisenhower and some other members of the US War Department sat down at 2 o’clock for an ‘informal meeting’ in Marshall’s office, one which was nonetheless minuted. The discussions, in the catch-all phrase, ‘generally revolved around the basic reasons that led initially to the adoption of Bolero as the principal effort of the United Nations and the possibilities of conducting an offensive operation either in Western Europe or North-west Africa during 1942 as a means of assisting Russia’.41
Brooke and Marshall seem to have agreed at that meeting that, although Bolero ‘should constitute the basis of our future strategy’, nonetheless logistical factors precluded its being mounted before the spring of 1943. Any other offensive operations undertaken in 1942 must ‘not materially delay the date at which Bolero can be mounted’, they agreed, and ‘should contribute directly to the success of Bolero’. Both men used Bolero as shorthand for Roundup and Sledgehammer, which stemmed from it.
As for Gymnast in 1942, Marshall and Brooke agreed that it ‘would seriously curtail reinforcements in the Middle East with possibly disastrous consequences in that theatre’, that it would ‘thin out’ naval concentrations in other theatres, especially aircraft carriers and escort vessels, that it was impossible to predict the various psychological factors pertaining in North Africa that would be crucial to its success (that is, the French reaction), that it would have a ‘marked effect in slowing up Bolero’, and that it would generally ‘tend to disperse further our available resources and weaken our effort’. Pressing his theme, Marshall had the conclusions minuted that ‘It was the considered opinion of the conferees (a) That Gymnast should not be undertaken under the existing situation. (b) That United States and Great Britain should adhere firmly to the basic decision to push Bolero with all possible speed and energy.’ From this is it clear that Brooke was almost as sceptical about Gymnast as Marshall, however much Churchill liked the idea.
Brooke did agree that any 1942 operation–that is, including Gymnast–‘should be undertaken only in case of necessity or if an exceptionally favourable opportunity presented itself’. Anyone present at that meeting on 19 June 1942 would have been forgiven for assuming that there would be no Operation Gymnast at all, but a cross-Channel invasion some time around May 1943. Yet in fact American troops were to go ashore in North Africa that very November, and Operation Bolero–by then conflated with Roundup and renamed Operation Overlord–would not take place until June 1944. Brooke’s principal objective for Argonaut was to scotch Sledgehammer and a pre-1943 Roundup, as well as the northern Norway operation, whereas Churchill’s principal objective was to secure Roosevelt’s support for Gymnast.
Brooke concluded, after the two Combined Chiefs of Staff meetings on 19 June, that ‘we made further progress towards defining our policy for 1942 and 1943. Found that we were pretty well of the same accord as to our outlook.’ That was a fair summation, but although Marshall and Brooke were agreeing in Washington, so too were Roosevelt and Churchill in Hyde Park–to something quite different. After dining with Dill at his house that night, Brooke noted: ‘On the whole made fine progress today, but am a little doubtful as to what PM and President may be brewing up together.’42
After the meetings that day, Eisenhower composed a memorandum that neatly encapsulated American strategic thinking about how to win the war against Germany. This read suspiciously like the letter Stimson had written to the President which Marshall had already copied on to Eisenhower. ‘To defeat Germany we must operate against her with overwhelming superiority,’ it began in classic Clausewitzian style. ‘For logistic reasons North-west Europe is the only front on which this superiority can be achieved.’ Eisenhower assumed that it would be clear by September 1942 whether Russia would ‘crack’ or not, and Bolero covered both eventualities. In the event of a Russian collapse, Eisenhower accepted that a cross-Channel attack in 1943 could not take place and ‘an alternative front would have to be found,’ but overall he concluded that ‘Continental operations on a large scale at the earliest possible moment should be the principal offensive effort of the United Nations.’43
The memorandum was discussed at a meeting of the Combined Chiefs of Staff at 11 a.m. the next day, Saturday 20 June, at which Brooke met Admiral King for the first time. Brooke–who sweltered in the intense heat as he had put on the wrong uniform–said ‘that he had been much encouraged to find that there was complete unanimity of opinion between the US and British Staffs on general strategic policy and the merits of the Bolero plan as a whole’. This was slightly disingenuous, since it was not Bolero but Sledgehammer that had been the bone of contention between them, and was another example of codeword nomenclature being used with advantages.44
Ernest King then bluntly stated that he was ‘entirely opposed to any idea of carrying out Gymnast in 1942. An entry into North-West Africa would open a ninth front with all the increase in overheads and escort and transportation problems involved therein.’ He did not want naval forces withdrawn from the Pacific even for Bolero, let alone for Gymnast. ‘He was tough as nails and carried himself stiffly as a poker,’ recalled Ismay of King. ‘He was blunt and stand-offish, almost to the point of rudeness. At the start he was intolerant and suspicious of all things British, especially the Royal Navy; but he was almost equally intolerant and suspicious of the American Army.’ King resented any American resources being used for any other purpose than to attack Japan, and–like Marshall, Leahy and Wedemeyer–he deeply mistrusted Churchill’s powers of advocacy and was apprehensive that the Prime Minister was persuading the President to neglect the war in the Pacific.
As a fellow Anglophobe, Wedemeyer predictably admired Ernest King, declaring, ‘I thought he was the strongest man on our Joint Chiefs of Staff.’ Yet even he described the admiral as ‘rather cold–not an attractive man.’ He added:
They say in the Navy he kept a tight ship and didn’t have many good friends although he was highly respected. I would say that he protected America’s interests more than any other member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. People say that he made the remark, ‘What’s good for the American Navy is good for the United States.’ He was always thinking in terms of conserving US men and materials, and he resisted the British, who were trying, always, to get everything they possibly could from us.45
Brooke also met Henry Stimson for the first time on this occasion, characteristically noting that he had ‘a limited strategic outlook. He was one of the strong adherents of breaking our heads in too early operations across the Channel. Consequently a strong supporter of Marshall.’
At the 20 June meeting, Marshall added that since a commitment to a cross-Channel invasion in 1943 would concentrate all efforts, any change of plan, by which he meant the adoption of Gymnast, would achieve nothing. ‘To defeat the Germans we must have overwhelming power,’ he said–paraphrasing the Eisenhower memorandum–‘and North-west Europe was the only front on which this overwhelming superiority was logistically possible. It was, therefore, sound strategy to concentrate on this front and divert minimum forces only to the other fronts. From the military point of view, therefore, there seemed no other logical course than to drive through with the Bolero plan.’46 This too was pure Clausewitzian military thought, the concentration of maximum forces on the most important point of the battlefield. It was what Napoleon, Grant and the elder Moltke did whenever possible, and it was what was taught at the US military academies. In arguing for this strategy, Marshall had history as well as classic strategic teaching on his side. But did he have his commander-in-chief?
At lunch at Dodona on the 20th, Marshall and Brooke speculated about what Roosevelt and Churchill, in Brooke’s words, ‘were brewing up together at Hyde Park…We fear the worst, and are certain that North Africa and North Norway plans for 1942 will loom large in their proposals, whilst we are convinced that they are not possible!’ The ‘We’ in this sentence definitely includes Marshall and possibly King too.47 They were right to worry, for just as the two military Commanders were damning Gymnast in Washington, Churchill was handing Roosevelt a note at Hyde Park that was to alter the whole course of the war.