A richly detailed examination of the military and civilian leaders of Britain and America during World War II.
Just before Franklin Roosevelt’s death in April 1945, when Nazi Germany had all but collapsed, U.S. military commander George C. Marshall wrote, “Our greatest triumph really lies in the fact that we achieved the impossible, Allied military unity of action.” Schooled in the wars of the 19th century and the trenches of WWI, Marshall shared military background but little else with his British counterpart, Alan Brooke. In 1942, the American newcomers to the European theater found that, even after defeats nearly every time British forces met German ones on the ground, the British general staff was not inclined to have former colonials in command. Fantastic rows ensued as both the British and the American armies aligned command structures closely enough to cooperate in battle. It cost the British leadership considerable effort to convince American counterparts that the war in North Africa was not a sideshow, while the Americans believed that the British were “viscerally opposed to any cross-Channel operation ever taking place,” all the way up to D-Day and the Normandy landings. Even very late in the war, Roberts (A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900, 2007, etc.) notes, those leaders sharply disagreed on matters of both strategy and tactics. Yet amazingly, Marshall, Churchill, Roosevelt and Brooke developed an effective partnership in the West. Historians disinclined to the Great Man school of historical writing may object to the notion, but clearly powerful personalities and no small degree of luck were involved. Roberts’s narrative sometimes reads like an exercise in game theory, with each player trying to secure maximum advantage without ending the game or, worse, losing all. His book will be of value to students not just of military history, but also diplomacy, business and other endeavors requiring negotiation.
Excellent and essential.