Fighting fascism is hard. Fighting it while arguing who’s in charge of the struggle only makes things harder.
Multinational military coalitions have been around since the time of the Peloponnesian War, Canadian military historians Bercuson and Herwig write. But WWII imposed requirements of a novel sort on the coalition that formed between Britain and the U.S.; both Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt knew that “Allied victory would demand that their two nations fight virtually as one,” and that forging this unity both on the battlefield and in the production of war materiel was essential. Over a ten-day period around Christmas 1941, the two met in Washington to lay the foundations for what Churchill would dub “the grand alliance.” Although the two liked each other and shared a highly developed understanding of world politics, their work was complicated by their accompanying retinues, among whose ranks were an American admiral who despised the British and a British air marshal who insisted that American air forces be put under British command. Hammering out logistical details was one problem; Bercuson and Herwig slyly note that supplying Churchill with his vast daily alcohol requirements exhausted the White House booze allowance and required dipping into State Department funds. Determining a workable chain of military command was another; interestingly, we learn, Roosevelt initially recommended that a British general be put in charge of the combined American, British and Dutch forces who made up the first iteration of the Allies. He did so knowing that friction among Commonwealth leaders made an American commander the better choice, information he likely acquired “through American interception and decrypting of British diplomatic radio traffic.” Espionage aside, among the highlights of this account is its look at the Allied leaders’ timetable for the war, which matched historical events closely in many respects—but also departed from them significantly.
Students of WWII, especially of its diplomatic and geopolitical aspects, will want to have a look.