How the initially fragile Anglo-American alliance was forged in the perilous days of World War II.
In early 1941, Britain was perilously close to being forced to surrender to Germany. Submarines were sinking hundreds of thousands of tons of merchant shipping each month, creating dangerous shortages of food and materiel necessary to fight the war, yet Franklin Roosevelt held back from authorizing U.S. military convoys to accompany ships. Former Baltimore Sun White House correspondent Olson (Troublesome Young Men: The Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England, 2007, etc.) re-creates the dramatic interplay of personalities and world politics, from the relationship between Winston Churchill (who understood that America was Britain’s lifeline) and FDR (who feared precipitating war with Germany and was suspicious of British imperialist motives), to the successful efforts of a small group of Americans living in London who played a vital behind-the-scenes role in bringing the two leaders together and forming an important alliance. These included Ambassador John Gilbert Winant, a former Republican governor who was nonetheless an ardent New Dealer; Edward R. Murrow, whose live broadcasts brought the reality of German terror bombings home to Americans; Averill Harriman, FDR’s special emissary who served as lend-lease coordinator and coached the prime minister on how to deal with the president; and Harry Hopkins, FDR’s closest advisor. Though many mingled with Britain’s “rich and powerful,” Murrow relished reporting about the “front-line” troops in the “Battle of London,” the “firemen, wardens, doctors, nurses, clergymen, telephone repairmen, and other workers who nightly risked their lives to aid the wounded, retrieve the dead, and bring their battered city back to life.” After Pearl Harbor, strains in the alliance emerged regarding the conduct of the war, with Dwight Eisenhower playing a crucial on-the-scene role in integrating the U.S.-British military command.
A nuanced history that captures the intensity of life in a period when victory was not a foregone conclusion.