SEVENTEEN

Overlord

IN THE FIFTH YEAR of Britain’s war, all those concerned with its direction were desperately tired: “It’s not the hard work, it’s the hard worry,”917 said Robert Bruce Lockhart, head of the Political Warfare Executive. To the British public, the wait for D-Day, the decisive milestone in the war in the west, seemed interminable. The Ministry of Information, in one of its regular opinion surveys, described domestic morale in the spring of 1944 as “poor,” not least because of public apprehension about invasion casualties. “Spirits remain at a low level,”918 reported the ministry’s monitors on April 14. More and more workers flaunted disaffection. Industrial stoppages soared. February found 120,000 miners on unofficial strike in Yorkshire, 100,000 in Wales, and several hundred thousand more elsewhere. Even the president of the miners’ union suggested that Trotskyite agitation was playing a part.

Miners’ strikes abated in April after wages were increased, but there were also stoppages among gas workers and engineering apprentices. Some 730,000 man-hours were lost in one Scottish aircraft factory. At another firm in August 1944, 419,000 hours were lost when workers rejected a management proposal that women should manufacture textile machinery—the firm’s normal business—while men continued to make aircraft components. On April 8, 1944, the British embassy in Washington reported to London about American public opinion: “Considerable disquiet919 is being evidenced over general political situation in England. This has centred mainly round Churchill’s demand for a [parliamentary] vote of confidence, through continuing coal and shipyard strikes, alleged evidence of failures of party truce … are being taken as indications that all is by no means well. Press reports give impression that there is deep dissatisfaction over domestic policy and that British public no less than American is apprehensive over apparent lack of Allied unity.”

The British and American peoples would have been even more alarmed had they known of the acrimony which overtook relations between Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff in the spring of 1944. Ironically, given that the prime minister’s interest in the Japanese war was desultory, this was provoked by argument about operations in the Far East. Churchill became obsessed with the desire to commit all available British forces, including the powerful fleet earmarked to join the Americans in the Pacific, to a “Bay of Bengal” strategy for the recapture of Burma and Malaya. He was especially enthusiastic about a prospective landing on Sumatra, to provide a stepping-stone. He threatened to impose this plan on the Chiefs of Staff, against their implacable opposition, by exercising his prerogative as minister of defence. On March 21, Brooke wrote of a meeting with Cunningham and Portal: “We discussed … how best920 to deal with Winston’s last impossible document. It is full of false statements, false deductions and defective strategy. We cannot accept it as it stands and it would be better if we all three resigned sooner than accept his solution.”

It was a measure of the extravagance of Churchill’s behaviour, and of the exhaustion of the Chiefs at this time, that they should have discussed resignation in the shadow of D-Day. The prime minister had never visited the Far East, knew nothing of conditions there, and seldom acted wisely in his occasional interventions in a hemisphere where Allied operations were overwhelmingly dominated by the United States. In the event, a compromise was fudged. The British proposed a campaign against the Japanese, launched from Australia through Borneo. A minor-key version of this was executed by Australian forces in the summer of 1945. Relations between the Chiefs of Staff and the prime minister steadied in the weeks following the awful March 1944 meetings, as the minds of these strained and weary men focused on the dominant reality of impending invasion of the Continent.

Churchill’s misgivings about Overlord persisted until the invasion. D-Day planner Lt. Gen. Sir Frederick Morgan, his rancour increased by being denied an operational role in the invasion, said later: “Until the invasion921 of NW Europe was actually demonstrated to be successful, I believe [the prime minister] had the conviction it could not succeed.” This is an overstatement and oversimplification, but there is no doubt of Churchill’s unhappiness about Allied deployments. All through the spring of 1944, he chafed at the inadequate resources, as he perceived it, committed to Italy, and about continuing U.S. insistence upon Anvil, the planned Franco-American landing in southern France. Ironically, after so many clashes between Churchill and his Chiefs of Staff, they were now brought together by opposition to U.S. European strategy. “Difficulties again with our American922 friends,” Brooke wrote on April 5, “who still persist in wanting to close down operations in Italy and open new ones in the south of France, just at the most critical moment.” The same day, Churchill minuted the chiefs: “The campaign in the Aegean was ruined by stories of decisive battles in Italy. The decisive battles in Italy were ruined by pulling out seven of the best divisions at the critical time for Overlord.”

On April 19, he talked of the invasion to Cadogan: “This battle has been forced upon us923 by the Russians and the United States military authorities.” The diplomat, who spent some hours that day in meetings with the prime minister, was dismayed by his rambling: “I really am fussed about the PM,” he wrote in his diary. “He is not the man he was twelve months ago, and I really don’t know whether he can carry on.” When the dominion prime ministers met in London on May 1 to begin a nine-day conference, Canadian premier Mackenzie King joined South Africa’s Jan Smuts in paying tribute to Churchill’s achievement in having deflected the Americans from a D-Day in 1942 or 1943. Churchill avowed to the dominion leaders that he himself would have “preferred to roll up Europe from the south-east924, joining hands with the Russians. However, it had proved impossible to persuade the United States to this view. They had been determined at every stage upon the invasion in North-West Europe, and had consistently wanted us to break off the Mediterranean operations.”

The range of problems besetting the prime minister was as daunting as ever, especially when others saw in him the same exhaustion as did Cadogan. “Struck by how very tired and worn out925 the prime minister looks now,” wrote Colville on April 12. Churchill was full of fears about the cost of Overlord, though he wrote cheerfully to Roosevelt that day, asserting that he did not think losses would be as high as the pessimists predicted: “In my view, it is the Germans926 who will suffer very heavy casualties when our band of brothers gets among them.” The prime minister had never liked Montgomery, whose egoism and crassness grated on him. Now, he told the War Office that the general must abandon his vainglorious round of public receptions and civic visits. In particular, Churchill recoiled from Monty’s proposal to hold a “day of prayer” and to “hallow” Britain’s armed forces in advance of D-Day at a grand religious service during which the king’s coronation regalia would be paraded. Such an occasion, thought Churchill, would be more likely to demoralise the invasion forces than inspire them.

Intelligence warned that Hitler’s secret weapons, flying bombs and rockets, would soon start to fall upon Britain. There was continuing difficulty with Washington about the Free French. The United States refused to concede authority in France to de Gaulle following the invasion. Churchill agreed that it would be prudent to keep the general in Algiers until the last moment before D-Day. He chafed unceasingly about the stalemate in Italy, both at Anzio and around Monte Cassino. Again and again, Allied forces suffered heavy casualties in assaults frustrated by Kesselring’s stubborn defenders. Greek troops and sailors in Egypt mutinied, calling for Communist participation in their own leadership. An ugly armed confrontation took place. Churchill insisted on rejection of the mutineers’ demands. The revolt was suppressed after a British officer was killed.

The Foreign Office and the service chiefs urged the prime minister to curb his telegraphic bombardment of Roosevelt about strategic issues. Churchill now favoured additional landings on the Atlantic coast simultaneous with Overlord. Dill cautioned him on April 24: “The president, as you know, is not military-minded.” Appeals to Roosevelt were simply referred to Marshall, who could only be irked by attempts to circumvent him. The British lost an important battle with Washington about preinvasion bombing of French rail links. Churchill and the War Cabinet opposed extensive attacks, which were bound to kill many French civilians. Eisenhower and his staff insisted that a sustained interdiction campaign was essential, to slow the German post-D-Day buildup. Roosevelt and Marshall agreed, and were surely right. The RAF joined the USAAF to mount raids by night and day in the weeks before June 6, which inflicted damage of critical value to the Allied armies, at the cost of around 15,000 French lives. In the course of the whole war, Allied bombing killed 70,000 French people, against 50,000 British who died at the hands of the Luftwaffe.

Relations with the Russians had grown icy. Moscow accused the British of intriguing against them in Romania. Churchill wrote bleakly to Eden on May 8, “The Russians are drunk with victory, and there is no length they may not go.” In the preceding six months, 191 British ships had carried more than a million tons of weapons and supplies to Russia, at last matching the scale of deliveries to the need. But there was no gratitude from Stalin. Wrangles about Poland persisted. Churchill again urged the London Poles to show themselves less intractable. He perceived how little leverage they possessed, with the Russians on the brink of overrunning their country, and Washington apparently indifferent.

The British won a notable victory that spring when they repulsed a Japanese offensive in northwest India, against Imphal and Kohima. This, however, increased tensions with the Americans. They intensified demands for a major offensive into northern Burma, to open the land route into China. Churchill deplored the prospect of a campaign in steaming, fever-ridden jungles, to no purpose that he valued. But, in the absence of U.S. shipping for amphibious landings in Southeast Asia, Slim’s Fourteenth Army was indeed committed to invade northern Burma.

On May 14, there was belated good news from Italy. Alexander’s Diadem offensive broke through the German line, a notable contribution being made by Gen. Alphonse Juin’s French colonial forces. On the twenty-third, the Anglo-Americans launched their breakout from the Anzio perimeter. Churchill urged on Alexander the importance of cutting off Kesselring’s retreat, a much more important objective than the seizure of Rome. General Mark Clark disagreed, however. His U.S. Fifth Army drove hard for the Italian capital, diverting only a single division to impede the enemy’s withdrawal. So skilful were German disengagements927, in Italy as later in northwest Europe, that it is unlikely Clark could have stopped Kesselring, even had he committed himself wholeheartedly to do so. But he did not. The liberation of Rome on June 4 prompted celebration among the Allied nations for a symbolic victory, but its strategic significance was small. As everybody concerned, from the prime minister downwards, should have perceived, the Italian capital was a mere geographical location. Kesselring was once more able to establish a defensive line. The Italian campaign continued as it had begun, in frustration and disappointment for its commanders and above all for its principal sponsor, Winston Churchill.

The prime minister seems quite wrong to have supposed that the Allied cause would have profited from an increased Italian commitment in 1944. For all Churchill’s personal enthusiasm for Alexander, the Guardsman was an inadequate commander whose chief virtue was that he worked amicably with the Americans, as Montgomery did not. He seldom pressed a point, because he rarely had one to make. The terrain of Italy favoured the defence, which Kesselring conducted brilliantly. It was right for the Allies to take Sicily in July 1943, right to land and fight in Italy two months later. It was essential, once committed, to sustain a limited campaign there until 1945. But the Americans were correct, first to insist upon Overlord, then to accord its interests overwhelming priority. It is hard to believe that the forces later diverted to Operation Anvil would have achieved commensurate results if they had been retained in Italy. The Germans were too good, the battlefield unsuited to Allied purposes. Moreover, with the northern French rail net wrecked by bombing, Marseilles later proved a vital logistics hub for all of Eisenhower’s armies, a channel for 40 percent of their supplies up to December 1944.

The prime minister thus expended capital in a struggle with Washington that he was bound to lose, and deserved to. He might have fared better in some of his trials of strength with the United States in 1944 had he not chosen to challenge his ally on so many fronts. On June 4, following the news of Rome’s fall, he cabled Roosevelt: “How magnificently your troops have fought928. I hear that relations are admirable between our own armies in every rank there, and here certainly it is an absolute brotherhood.” It is necessary for great men at great moments to say such things to each other, but Churchill’s rhetoric stretched truth to its limits. The U.S. journalist John Gunther put the matter more realistically when he wrote in a contemporary book about Overlord, “Lots of Americans and British929 have an atavistic dislike of one another.”

The best that can be said about Anglo-American relations in 1944—and it is a very important best—is that at the operational level, the two nations’ armed forces worked adequately together. Britain and the United States were the only major belligerents to sustain a real collaboration; Germany and Japan, and the Western Allies and Russia, did not. The men on the spot knew it was vital that it should be so. The Americans liked some senior British officers—Portal, Tedder, Morgan, Montgomery’s chief of staff Freddie de Guingand—even if they found it hard to relate to others such as Brooke. Cunningham, for the Royal Navy, observed that he found it easier to get along with America’s soldiers than with her sailors, above all King, the glowering chief of naval operations. The U.S. admiral never forgave the British for rejecting a request for the loan of an aircraft carrier for Pacific operations at a desperate moment in 1942, after the Americans had several times made their own flattops available to support British purposes in the European theatre. But while it is acknowledged that all alliance relationships are profoundly difficult, there remains much cause for admiration and gratitude for the manner in which the U.S. and British armed forces made common cause between 1942 and 1945. Eisenhower, who privately liked the British a good deal less than his geniality caused them to suppose, deserved much of the credit.

The troubles of the alliance were most conspicuous at its summit. Churchill, speaking of Allied deception plans, famously observed that truth is so precious that it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies. He might have said the same about his relationship with the United States. Benign deceits were indispensable. In May 1942, when criticism of his leadership was at his height, a letter writer to the Times suggested that instead of being prime minister, Churchill should fill “a place that has long been vacant930 in our body politic; it is the post of Public Orator.” The proposal was mischievous, but this was a role which Churchill indeed filled to supreme effect, in conducting Britain’s dealings with the United States. In his speeches between 1940 and 1945, he created a glorious fiction of shared British and American purposes. He never hinted to his own public, still less the transatlantic one, his frustrations and disappointments about the policies of Roosevelt, any more than he did about those of Stalin. Roosevelt, in his turn, largely reciprocated. The key to understanding the wartime Anglo-American relationship is to strip aside the rhetoric of the two leaders and acknowledge that it rested, as relations between states always do, upon perceptions of national interest. There was some genuine sentiment on Churchill’s side, but none on Roosevelt’s.

As D-Day approached, Churchill’s attitude was bewilderingly complex, perhaps even to himself. He thrilled to a historic military operation, the success of which would go far to fulfil every hope he had cherished since 1940. He emphasised to his own people, as well as to the Americans, that Britain was wholeheartedly committed. He took the keenest interest in every detail of the invasion plans, and personally originated the Mulberry artificial harbours which were to be deployed off the Normandy coast. But he never ceased to lament the consequences of the huge commitment to Eisenhower’s campaign for that of Alexander in Italy. He knew that the United States would dominate operations in northwest Europe once the Allies were ashore. The British war effort would attain its apogee on June 6. Thereafter, it must shrink before the sad gaze of its chieftain. At the British Army’s peak strength in Normandy, Montgomery commanded 14 British, 1 Polish and 3 Canadian divisions in contact with the enemy. The U.S. Army in northwest Europe grew to 60 divisions, while the Red Army in mid-1944 deployed 480, albeit smaller formations. Seldom was less than two-thirds of the German army deployed on the Eastern Front. Throughout the last year of the war, Churchill was labouring to compensate by sheer force of will and personality for the waning significance of Britain’s contribution.

For all his declarations of optimism to Roosevelt and Marshall, and at the May 15 final briefing before the king and senior Allied commanders at Montgomery’s headquarters, St. Paul’s School in West London, he nursed terrible fears of failure, or of catastrophic casualties. Every rational calculation suggested that the Allies, aided by surprise, airpower and massive resources, should get ashore successfully. But no one knew better than Churchill the extraordinary fighting power of Hitler’s army and the limitations of the citizen soldiers of Britain and the United States, most recently exposed at Anzio. His imagination often soared to heights unattained by lesser mortals, but also plunged to corresponding depths. So often—in France and the Mediterranean, at Singapore, in Crete, Libya, Tunisia, Italy—his heroic expectations had been dashed, or at least limply fulfilled.

If, for whatever reason, D-Day failed, the consequences for the Grand Alliance would be vast and terrible. Hitler’s defeat would still be assured, but no new invasion could be launched until 1945. The peoples of Britain and the United States, already tired of war, would suffer a crippling blow to their morale, and to confidence in their leaders. Eisenhower and Montgomery would have to be sacked, replacements identified from a meagre list of candidates. And this was a U.S. presidential election year, so disaster in Normandy might conceivably precipitate defeat for Roosevelt. At Westminster and in Whitehall, there were already plenty of mutterings that Churchill himself was no longer physically fit to lead the country. “I’m fed up to the back teeth with work,” he growled to his secretary Marion Holmes on the night of May 14, “so I’ll let you off lightly.” Though his fears about Overlord were unlikely to be fulfilled, and his apprehensions were magnified by his burdens and exhaustion, who could blame him for allowing them to fill his mind? What seems most remarkable is the buoyancy and good cheer with which, in the last weeks before D-Day, he concealed black thoughts from all but his intimates.

Alan Brooke invoked the authority of the king to dissuade Churchill from viewing the D-Day assault from a cruiser in the Channel. The prime minister felt that he had earned the right to witness this greatest event of the western war: “A man who has to play931 an effective part, with the highest responsibility, in taking grave and terrible decisions of war may need the refreshment of adventure,” he wrote aggrievedly. Yet, beyond the risk to his safety, Brooke surely feared that, should there be a crisis on the day, Churchill would find it irresistible to meddle. It was for this reason that, since 1942, the CIGS had always sought to ensure that the prime minister was absent from any theatre where a battle was imminent. On the morning of June 6, had Churchill been aboard a warship in the Channel, he would have found it intolerable to stand mute and idle while—for instance—the Americans struggled on Omaha Beach. Commanders striving to direct the battle deserved to be spared from Churchillian advice and imprecations.

Thus, he was obliged to content himself with a round of visits to the invasion forces as they prepared for their moment of destiny. “Winston … has taken his train932 and is touring the Portsmouth area and making a thorough pest of himself!” wrote Brooke ungenerously. The day of June 4 found the prime minister aboard his railway carriage, parked a few miles from the coast in a siding at Droxford, in Hampshire, amid a revolving cast of visitors. Eden was irritated by the inconveniences of the accommodation, which had only one bath and one telephone: “Mr. Churchill seemed to be always in the bath933 and General Ismay always on the telephone. So that, though we were physically nearer the battle, it was almost impossible to conduct any business.” Out of earshot of the prime minister, Ernest Bevin and the foreign secretary chatted amiably, though disloyally, about the possibility of sustaining the coalition government if “the old man” was obliged to retire. Bevin said he could work with Eden as prime minister, so long as the Tory committed himself to nationalising the coal mines, which the unions would insist upon. Smuts joined them, and asked what they had been discussing. When told Bevin’s terms, “Socrates” said crisply: “Cheap at the price.”934 It was a curiously tasteless discussion for the three men to hold, as half a million young men prepared to hurl themselves at Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. But it reflected the new mood among Britain’s politicians, who were looking to a future beyond Winston Churchill.

De Gaulle came, belatedly summoned from Algiers. The prime minister walked down the rail tracks to meet him, arms outstretched in welcome. The Frenchman ignored the offered embrace, and vented his bitterness that he himself was denied a role in the Allied return to his country. Churchill told him that the Americans insisted that his committee should not be granted its claim to the governance of liberated French territory. The British must respect U.S. wishes. He urged de Gaulle to seek a personal meeting with Roosevelt, in the hope that this might resolve their differences. The Frenchman later claimed that at Droxford Churchill told him that if forced to choose between America and France, Britain would always side with the United States. This was almost certainly false, or at least a wilful exaggeration. But de Gaulle’s bitterness about being denied authority in France, a claim which he had striven for four years to justify, confirmed an animosity towards Britain which persisted for the rest of his life. Churchill exchanged cables with Roosevelt about the possibility of sending the Free French leader back to Algiers. In the event, he was allowed to remain. But Anglo-French relations were poisoned to a degree unassuaged by de Gaulle’s subsequent elevation to power.

The Yugoslav partisan leader Milovan Djilas was with Stalin at his dacha outside Moscow when word came that the Allies would land in France the next day. The Soviet warlord responded with unbridled cynicism: “Yes, there’ll be a landing935, if there is no fog. Until now there was always something that interfered. I suspect tomorrow it will be something else. Maybe they’ll meet up with some Germans! What if they meet up with some Germans? Maybe there won’t be a landing then, but just promises as usual.” Molotov hastily explained to the Yugoslav that Stalin did not really doubt that there would be an invasion, but enjoyed mocking the Allies. On this matter, after the prevarications and deceits of the previous two years, the Soviet leader had perhaps earned his jibes.

By the evening of June 5, Churchill was back in London. As Clementine departed for bed, she bade good night to her husband in his Map Room below Whitehall. He said: “Do you realize that by the time you wake up in the morning, twenty thousand young men may have been killed?” Unlike the Americans, with their unshakeable optimism, Churchill had borne the consequences of so many failures since 1940. It would be the crowning misery if British arms now failed to acquit themselves in a manner worthy of this crowning hour.

The D-Day landings of June 6 represented the greatest feat of military organisation in history, a triumph of planning, logistics and above all human endeavour. The massed airborne assault on the flanks which began in darkness, the air and naval bombardment followed by the dawn dash up the fire-swept shoreline by more than 100,000 American, British and Canadian engineers, infantrymen, armoured crews and gunners, achieved brilliant success. In a spirit that would have warmed the prime minister’s heart, as one landing craft of the East Yorkshire Regiment approached the beach at La Brèche, company commander Major “Banger” King read Henry V aloud to his men:

On, on you noble English!
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof
.

At Colleville, the local mayor appeared on the sands to welcome the invaders, his person adorned by a gleaming brass fireman’s helmet. At Omaha Beach, the U.S. 29th Division landed to meet the most savage resistance of the day. “As our boat touched sand and the ramp went down,” an infantryman recalled later, “I became a visitor to hell.” To Ernest Hemingway, serving as a war correspondent, the guns of the supporting battleships “sounded as though they were throwing whole railway trains across the sky.” The invaders fought doggedly through flame and smoke, wire entanglements, pillboxes, minefields and gun positions, to stake out the claims of the Allied armies inside Hitler’s Europe.

Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was breached. Churchill spent the morning of D-Day in his Map Room, following the progress of the landings hour by hour. To few men in the world did the battle mean so much. At noon, he told the House of Commons: “This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complex and difficult that has ever taken place.” He lunched with the king, then returned for the afternoon to Downing Street, then at 6:15 felt able to tell the Commons that the battle was proceeding “in a highly satisfactory manner.” Instead of the carnage which Churchill feared, just three thousand American, British and Canadian troops died on D-Day, together with about the same number of French civilians. By nightfall, in places the invaders had advanced several miles inland, securing perimeters which would soon be linked. A long and terrible struggle lay ahead, as invaders and defenders raced to reinforce their rival armies in Normandy. There were days when more Allied soldiers perished than on June 6. But the triumph of Overlord was assured.

Critically aided both by Anglo-American deception plans, which kept Hitler in expectation of further landings, and by preinvasion bombing, the German buildup proved much slower than had been feared. By nightfall on June 7, 250,000 of Eisenhower’s men were ashore. Three evenings later, there were 400,000. Churchill warned Parliament of the need to avoid exaggerated optimism. Though “great dangers lie behind us, enormous exertions lie before us.” On June 10, in a cable to Stalin he expressed extravagant hopes about Italy. Alexander, he proclaimed, was “chasing the beaten remnants of Kesselring’s army swiftly northwards. He is on their tracks while mopping up the others.” In truth, such a display of energy, so comprehensive a victory, was entirely beyond Alexander and his armies.

Two days later, on June 12, Churchill was at last allowed to visit the invasion beachhead in Normandy, an expedition which, of course, he adored. On the way to Portsmouth, he sought to tease a companion, Adm. Ernest King, a venture akin to striking a match on an iceberg: “Don’t look so glum936. I’m not trying to take anything away from the United States Navy just now.” He was enchanted by the spectacle of the invasion coast, cabling again to Stalin: “It is a wonderful sight to see this city of ships stretching along the coast for nearly fifty miles and apparently safe from the air and the U-boats which are so near.” Lunching with Montgomery, he expressed surprise that the Norman countryside seemed relatively unscathed: “We are surrounded by fat cattle937 lying in luscious pastures with their paws crossed.” Before returning to England, the destroyer which carried him fired a few rounds towards German shore positions, at a range of six thousand yards. He declared his delight at sailing for the first time aboard a ship of the Royal Navy in action.

Back home, a grim welcome awaited. That night, German V-1 flying bombs began to fall on London. Churchill stood outside Downing Street, scanning the sky and listening to the growling motors of the “doodlebugs” overhead, whose sudden silence presaged descent and detonation. They were soon landing close by him. On Sunday, June 18, a V-1 killed sixty people during a service in the Guards’ Chapel, three hundred yards from his study. During one noisy night of explosions and antiaircraft fire, at two a.m. he was dictating to his secretary Marion Holmes. “The PM asked if I were frightened938. I said ‘No.’ How can one feel frightened in his company?” The first sea lord, Cunningham, was often a critic of the prime minister, but wrote in his diary after a meeting of the anti–flying bomb Crossbow Committee on June 19: “[Churchill] was at his best, and said the matter939 had to be put robustly to the populace, that their tribulations were part of the battle in France, and that they should be very glad to share in the soldiers’ dangers.”

In truth, however, the British people were much shaken by the V-1 offensive. They were almost four years older, and incomparably more tired, than they had been during the blitz of 1940. The monstrous impersonality of the doodlebugs, striking at all hours of day and night, seemed a refinement of cruelty. Mrs. Lylie Eldergill, an East Londoner, wrote to a friend in America: “I do hope it will soon940 be ended. My nerves can’t take much more.” Brooke was disgusted by the emotionalism of Herbert Morrison, the home secretary: “He kept on repeating941 that the population of London could not be asked to stand this strain after 5 years of war … It was a pathetic performance.” The bombardment severely affected industrial production in target areas. In the first week, 526 civilians were killed, and thereafter the toll mounted. It was a godsend to morale that Rome’s fall and D-Day had taken place before the V-1 offensive began. Hitler made an important mistake, by wasting massive resources on his secret weapons programme. The V-1s and subsequent V-2 rockets were marvels of technology by the standards of the day, but their guidance was too imprecise, their warheads too small, to alter strategic outcomes. The V weapons empowered the Nazis merely to cause distress in Britain. They might have inflicted more serious damage by targeting the Allied beachhead in Normandy.

Macmillan described Churchill one evening at Chequers at around this time: “Sitting in the drawing-room942 about six o’clock [he] said: ‘I am an old and weary man. I feel exhausted.’ Mrs. Churchill said, ‘But think what Hitler and Mussolini feel like!’ To which Winston replied, ‘Ah, but at least Mussolini has had the satisfaction of murdering his son-in-law [Count Ciano].’ This repartee so pleased him that he went for a walk and appeared to revive.” One of Brooke’s most notorious diary entries about the prime minister was written on August 15:

We have now reached the stage943 that for the good of the nation and for the good of his own reputation it would be a godsend if he could disappear out of public life. He has probably done more for this country than any other human being has ever done, his reputation has reached its climax, it would be a tragedy to blemish such a past by foolish actions during an inevitable decline which has set in during the past year. Personally I have found him almost impossible to work with of late, and I am filled with apprehension as to where he may lead us next.

Yet if Churchill was indeed old, exhausted and often wrong-headed, he was unchallengeable as Britain’s war leader, and Brooke diminished himself by revealing such impatience with him. The prime minister possessed a stature which lifted the global prestige of his country far beyond that conferred by its shrinking military contribution. Jock Colville wrote: “Whatever the PM’s shortcomings944 may be, there is no doubt that he does provide guidance and purpose for the Chiefs of Staffs and the F.O. on matters which, without him, would often be lost in the maze of inter-departmentalism or frittered away by caution and compromise. Moreover he has two qualities, imagination and resolution, which are conspicuously lacking among other Ministers and among the Chiefs of Staff. I hear him much criticised, often by people in close contact with him, but I think much of the criticism is due to the inability to see people and their actions in the right perspective when one examines them at quarters too close.” All this was profoundly true.

Even in the last phase of the war, when American dominance became painfully explicit, Churchill fulfilled a critical role in sustaining the momentum of his nation. After D-Day, but for the prime minister’s personal contribution, Britain would have become a backwater, a supply centre and aircraft carrier for the American-led armies in Europe. On the battlefield, there was considerable evidence that the British Army was once more displaying its limitations. The war correspondent Alan Moorehead, who served through the desert, Italy and into Normandy, enjoyed a close relationship with Montgomery. His view was noted after the war by Forrest Pogue: “By July, the American soldier945 [was] better than the English soldier. Original English … came from divisions which had been much bled. In first few days [I] went with Br. tanks. They stopped at every bridge because there might be an 88 around.” These strictures might be a little harsh, but the Americans were justified in thinking the British, after five years of war, more casualty-averse than themselves.

In 1944–45, Churchill exercised much less influence upon events than in 1940–43. But without him, his country would have seemed a mere exhausted victim of the conflict, rather than the protagonist which he was determined that Britain should be seen to remain until the end. “So far as it has gone,” Churchill told the Commons, “this is certainly a glorious story, not only liberating the fields of France after atrocious enslavement but also uniting in bonds of true comradeship the great democracies of the West and the English-speaking peoples of the world … Let us go on, then, to battle on every front … Drive on through the storm, now that it reaches its fury, with the same singleness of purpose and inflexibility of resolve as we showed to the world when we were alone.” And so he himself sought to do.

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