FDR and Churchill
Their Political and Military Legacy
Richard J. Garfunkel
November 11, 2021
With regards to Winston Churchill, the political role of the American system is much different then Britain. Churchill never had to really stand for election as leader and was never really trusted with “domestic” responsibilities. He was much more of a “loose cannon” and never really felt comfortable working with others. He was certainly a remarkable talent, but had too many inner doubts to be completely confident with himself. His “black” moods and depression limited his ability to have the confidence to “rule.” He had too many opinions that limited his ability to make political alliances. He was a man of action and not a calculating “planner.” He never understood the need to build organizations of political support. He was basically a talented loner. His forte was more foreign policy and the Empire. He had cabinet level domestic responsibilities early in his career, but his name and fortune was linked with the British Navy when he was First Lord of the Admiralty. Of course, because Britain was primarily a naval power since the time of Drake and through Nelson, therefore, with vast overseas interests, it had to dominate the seas. Thus, the post of First Lord of the Admiralty had great cachet for Churchill. With all that in mind, the Churchill, who is known and revered today, is a result of his leadership in the days after the collapse of the Chamberlain government, which was seen as a failure. Chamberlain had become the symbol of appeasement, specifically with ill-fated Munich Agreement, which surrendered the Sudetenland (the industrial part of Czechoslovakia) to Nazi Germany, his failure to take action against Germany when they invaded Poland, and finally with the collapse of Norway on April. Let us not forget that at the same time Churchill was named Prime Minister, May 10, 1940, the Low Countries were successfully invaded, quickly conquered and the Battle of France would commence. The disastrous, forced evacuation of British Forces along with some of the allied troops at Dunkerque, and the eventual collapse and surrender of France, on June 25, 1940, would happen while Churchill was Prime Minister and Minister of Defense.
But, with regard to pre-WWII British preparedness, let us not forget some other realities; the coastline radar stations were created, built, and installed by the Chamberlain government, as were the designs and production of the Hurricanes and Spitfires that won the Battle of Britain, along with the British heavy bombers, the Lancasters and Wellingtons which brought the war to Germany. Churchill was not part of the government in those days, but had warned of the threat of Nazi Germany, especially with regards to their military buildup and strength.
Churchill was not willing to sublimate himself to the will of others, and never could pose, or participate as a team player. Later on, after the WWII victory, he wasn’t prepared for the 1945 elections that swamped him and his government. The Conservatives suffered their greatest parliamentary loss since 1806. His campaign was terrible and he did not have a “clue” what the public was thinking about, or its needs. On one hand, he was still a captive of the upper classes that dominated British life. He seemed unaware and unconcerned, regarding how the MacDonald-Baldwin-Chamberlain governments ignored the working classes that suffered throughout the Depression. Of course, British politics were divided between the “plutocrats” and the “aristocrats” and Churchill never seemed to know where he fit. He was not keen on real reform that would have worked to restructure the critically unbalanced British economic and social landscape along with its aging infrastructure. He never understood the moribund future of colonialism, and his attitude towards India was foolish and archaic. His political philosophy was inconstant and vacillating. Both sides of the British ideological divide constantly mistrusted him. He was not able to dominate either party, and was perceived by the public as a political outsider with no place to “hang his hat.” His strategy as First Lord of the Admiralty, in the First World War, was badly criticized after the disaster of Gallipoli. His “snafu” was actuated more by logistical insanity then strategic miscalculation. All in all, it was a costly failure in blood and material, and therefore his career suffered terribly. As a so-called military “genius,” let us also not forget his very controversial role in the WWI defense of Antwerp, Belgium and the rightwing, revisionist attempt to exculpate him from the collapse of that city to the German army.
With regards to WW II his strategy was basically no better then Chamberlain’s. Under his watch the British experienced disasters with the navy in Norway, the 8th Army in North Africa and its collapse at Tobruk, the insane and huge defeat and disaster in Singapore, (the worst and most costly British defeat in history), the disaster at Dunkerque, the catastrophic losses of the HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales off Hainan Island, near the Chinese mainland, the abandonment of Greece and Crete, the ill-fated attack at Dieppe, the alienation of the French and the subsequent defection of the French fleet, causing the need for it to be crippled by British naval action along with many others. He and Britain were fortunate that the Nazis re-directed the Luftwaffe to bomb British cities and not go after their radar early warning stations, their aerodromes, and the British fighter defense. A smartly delivered strategy against these targets would have reduced the British to a position where their air cover became hopeless.
Under his watch, the British Navy allowed the German battlecruisers, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau to steam through the Channel to the Atlantic where they sunk 22 ships amounting to 116,000 tons. Eventually, those two ships and the Prince Eugen were docked at the occupied French port of Brest. Later, they made their historic dash back across the English Channel. The Channel Dash had cost the Germans 17 aircraft shot down, while the Luftwaffe lost 11 men and the Kriegsmarine two. Additionally, two torpedo boats were damaged, and the two battlecruisers had suffered damage below the waterline.
But the Nazis were quick to take advantage of the remarkable victory, their propaganda machine going into overdrive. Hitler basked in the glory of being proved right. Admiral Ciliax and Kapitan Hoffmann each received the Knights Cross.
In Britain, there was a national outcry at the perceived incompetence. The Times lambasted the inept performance of the armed forces, saying that Admiral Ciliax had “succeeded where the Duke of Medina-Sidonia failed.” The Duke had commanded the Spanish Armada in 1588. “Nothing more mortifying to the pride of our sea power had happened since the seventeenth century.”
This embarrassment was quickly followed on February 15 when Singapore fell and Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his government came under scathing attack from all sides. Against his better judgment, Churchill ordered an inquiry into what became known as The Battle of the Narrow Seas, which he considered of “minor importance.” The findings of the inquiry were handed into the prime minister in early March, but for security reasons they were not published until after the war. Of course, in the context of WWII, this is a minor episode, but Churchill was also the Minister of Defense!
Basically US Lend-Lease, the US Navy and the convoy system, the undeclared US naval war in the North Atlantic against the Nazi submarine wolf packs, and the attacks by Germany on Yugoslavia and Greece, culminating with the postponed late spring, early summer invasion of Russia helped Britain survive. Churchill’s strong vocal leadership rallied Britain and the free world, but without Roosevelt and the power that he formulated by creating the “Arsenal of Democracy,” Britain would have eventually been beaten despite the flawed Hitlerian strategy. If the US had not helped Britain with our fleet, the fifty-destroyer exchange and Lend-Lease for Russia, (10% of their logistical needs were provided by America, along with over 400,000 trucks) the Soviets probably would have been neutralized and the further European resistance would have ceased. Greece and Yugoslavia were basically beaten, and the rest of the Eastern Europe, Hungary, Bulgaria and Romania were German allies. Turkey was in Germany’s camp and would have remained an associated “player” looking to reclaim their former Ottoman Empire.
Churchill did have many successes aside from American help. Their combined naval/air victory at Taranto that devastated the Italian fleet, the sinking of the Graf Spee, the hunting down of the Bismarck, the destruction of the 10 German destroyers off Norway, his policy supporting Orde Wingate and the Chindits in Burma, his mobilizing massive bombing raids over Germany, the destruction of the French dry docks at Saint Nazaire, and his selection of Montgomery to head the British 8th along with his subsequent victory at El Alemain were strong plusses. But, even with the entrance of America into the war, the later British strategy with Churchill’s blessing and interference, led to the huge loses in Holland with the ill-fated Market-Garden assault on the Dutch bridges. Montgomery, Churchill’s greatest choice for leadership squandered his opportunity to cross the Rhine with his constant demands for more men and material, was one upped by the American capture of the Ludendorf Bridge at Remagen. That single event, reflective of intrepid opportunism by American forces, dealt a huge blow to German resistance on the Western front. While Montgomery was accumulating landing craft, the US Army was surging over the Rhine with men and armor, creating an unassailable bridgehead, and trapping German forces on the wrong side of the River.
FDR, on the other hand, mobilized the American economy in an unprecedented way, fought an effective two ocean war, selected and appointed excellent overall leadership with his Joint Chiefs lead by Admiral William D. Leahy, who coordinated the activities of Generals Marshall and Arnold along with Admiral King. FDR’s selections, in all of the theaters of his responsibility, of MacArthur,
Nimitz, Eisenhower, reflected excellent carefully thought out judgment. Their choices of subordinates that included Bedell-Smith, Clark, Bradley, Patton, Hodges, Simpson, Eaker, Doolittle, Stillwell, Halsey, Spruance, Vandergrift, Smith, Lemay and many others spelled eventual success. His speeches, and cool leadership gave the people confidence after Pearl Harbor and the loss of the Philippines. FDR’s leadership of the wartime conferences at Argentia Bay, Quebec, Casablanca, Teheran and Yalta were the driving force behind victory and the post-war dominance of the West. His sponsoring of the Bretton Woods Conference had the most lasting effect on the future world’s economies vis-à-vis monetary stability. All in all FDR’s domestic leadership before and during the war were unprecedented. The late President, the architect of victory, won a hard earned election in 1944, with excellent majorities in Congress, even with his health suffering from advance heart disease and arterial sclerosis. He was able to maintain his majorities in Congress all through his tenure in office, and even though the Democrats narrowly lost Congress in 1946, they quickly recovered their majorities until the Eisenhower landslide of 1952. But from 1954 until the 1980’s the FDR-New Deal coalition of Democrats maintained Congressional hegemony.
Churchill, as a man, was bold, talented and basically remarkable. He was a brilliant speaker, a marvelous writer, a brave soldier, a reporter, a painter, a magnificent Parliamentarian, a cabinet official, a Prime Minister, and most importantly a beloved wartime leader. He embodied what was great about Britain. But he was a failure as a politician, lacked excellent judgment went it came to strategy and suffered from great insecurities. His terrible childhood and education plagued him with self-doubts, depression and lack of direction. Churchill spent a lifetime comparing himself to his father Randolph who had a meteoric political career but eventually became a miserable failure. Churchill, like Roosevelt, became much more a product of his mother. Overall he was able to overcome all of those limitations. Churchill was still, at heart, part of the “ruling class” that dominated Britain. He was still part of the Imperialist mindset, and he was still sadly lacking, with regards, to what the average “Brit” needed. He never built a political base, and when the post-war choices were made he was cast aside with little regret from the British people. His return to office in 1951 was no great success and he was too, too old to be a major factor in re-shaping Britain after years of war and social reform.
FDR was not the writer that Churchill was, but as an orator he was certainly quite capable, but few were in Churchill’s league. He was determined and self-confident. His childhood was one of nurtured success and happiness. He was beloved by his adoring parents. He was self-educated to age fourteen and went on to the best schools where he achieved moderate success. In a dissimilar way, FDR’s father, whom he adored and respected, died when he was eighteen while he was a freshman at Harvard. Unlike Churchill’s father who was much younger, James Roosevelt was intimately interested in his second son. His first son, a product of his earlier marriage to Rebecca Howland, who died, was 29 years older and his contact with him was not well known. But even with his loss, FDR had looked up to his father and respected his judgment and memory. James Roosevelt was not a politician like Randolph Churchill, and with his death FDR was able to transform his need for a psychological mentor to his 5th cousin Theodore Roosevelt.
Unlike Churchill, FDR was the single greatest elected politician in modern history and was able to overcome the devastating physical challenge of Polio. He was a vigorous man who overcame a lifetime of sickness. He had wonderful mentors, Theodore Roosevelt, Al Smith, and Woodrow Wilson. He took something from all of them, and was smart enough to avoid the problems they all experienced. He shaped his own destiny, built the new Democratic Party, reversed the effects of the Great Depression, rallied the public, instilled great respect from the world at large, inspired great enemies and opposition, took on the Fascists when America wanted no part of that fight, built the “Arsenal of Democracy” and through his actions at the Atlantic Conference in Argentia Bay, put forth his vision of the world based on the “Four Freedoms.” Eventually, in the midst of the war he coined the name United Nations and would work to establish that body at the Yalta Conference, where he received the agreement of Churchill and Stalin.
His vision is the vision of the modern world; the vision of the world community pulling together for the common good. Not unlike Churchill, who was one of the lone voices protesting against “appeasement,” FDR had withstood an “America First” isolationism that cut across almost all social and political barriers and demographics. FDR had to use his unequalled mastery of the America political landscape to on one hand re-arm America and on the other hand battle the limitations of our Neutrality Laws and the passion of people like Charles Lindbergh, who were his most vocal critics. He was also strongly elected to office an unprecedented four times. Churchill was never elected to national leadership in 1940. He was appointed by the King after the forced resignation of Chamberlain. After five years in the leadership of Great Britain, hi ruling Conservatives Party suffered its greatest defeat since 1806, when the national vote was finally counted in 1945, while he was attending the Potsdam Conference in July.
Churchill mishandled the election campaign by resorting to party politics and trying to denigrate Labour. On 4 June 4th, he committed a serious political gaffe by saying in a radio broadcast that a Labour government would require “some form of Gestapo” to enforce its agenda. It backfired badly and Attlee made political capital by saying in his reply broadcast next day: “The voice we heard last night was that of Mr Churchill, but the mind was that of Lord Beaverbrook”. Churchill was not prepared politically to run a national campaign and the results bore that out historically. Many reasons have been given for Churchill’s defeat, key among them being that a desire for post-war reform was widespread amongst the population and that the man who had led Britain in war was not seen as the man to lead the nation in peace. He was forced to leave the conference to his successor, the new Prime Minister Clement Attlee.
When he was again appointed Prime Minister again in 1951 by King George VI, after the new election in 1951, his party had actually received less votes than the losing Labor Party, with only a 17 seat majority. In fact, he served a lack-luster 3.5 years until April of 1955 when he was finally forced by health issues to resign. Churchill was nearly 77 when he took office and was not in good health following several minor strokes. By December, 1951, George VI had become concerned about Churchill’s decline and intended asking him to stand down in favor of Eden, but the King had his own serious health issues and died on February 6, 1952, without making the request. Churchill developed a close friendship with Elizabeth II. It was widely expected that he would retire after her Coronation in May 1953 but, after Eden became seriously ill, Churchill increased his own responsibilities by taking over at the Foreign Office. Eden was incapacitated until the end of the year and was never completely well again.
On the evening of 23 June 1953, Churchill suffered a serious stroke and became partially paralyzed down one side. Had Eden been well, Churchill’s premiership would most likely have been over. The matter was kept secret and Churchill went home to Chartwell to recuperate. He had fully recovered by November. He retired as Prime Minister in April 1955 and was succeeded by Eden.
One of the most tragic issues before WWII in Europe was the Nazi treatment of the Jews of Germany. During and after the war the evidence of their atrocities towards the Jews and other minorities was fully exposed. As for the punishment of Nazi Germany, regarding their conduct during the war, Churchill initialed the Morgenthau Plan proposed by US Secretary of Treasury, Henry J. Morgenthau Jr.) for post-war Germany, which called for the breakup of Germany and its de-industrialization. When the news of the Quebec Conference reached Germany, Propaganda Minister Goebbels claimed, “Roosevelt and Churchill agreed to the Jewish murder plan.” German radio announced that Roosevelt’s “bosom” friend Henry Morgenthau, the “spokesman of world Judaism” was singing the same song as the Jews in the Kremlin,”- dismember Germany, destroy its industry and “exterminate forty-three million Germans.” Interestingly, across the Atlantic, another democratic leader seems to have concurred with the blame-the-Jews theory. Also, let us not forget that Churchill signed on to many agreements that came out of WWII meetings, and later either ignored, denied or opposed these same agreements.
With regards to Churchill’s real feelings, an unpublished article by Winston Churchill, written in 1937 and discovered in the Churchill archives by Cambridge University historian Richard Toye in 2007, claimed that Jews were “partly responsible” for the mistreatment that they suffered. Churchill denounced the “cruel and relentless” persecution of the Jews but then criticized German Jewish refugees in England for their willingness to work for less pay than non-Jewish laborers, which — he claimed — caused antisemitism. Some of Churchill’s earlier statements about Jews and communism indulged in anti-Semitic stereotypes, such as referring to the Russian Bolshevik leadership as “Semitic conspirators” and “Jew Commissars.” Of course, anti-Semitism was rife through Europe, especially Eastern Europe and in Russia, before and after the Russian Revolution which eventually saw the triumph of the Bolsheviks and the rise of the Soviet Union. As for Britain, Jews were expelled in 1290 and only by 1655 were a small group of Sephardic Jews were allowed to stay. Over the next two hundred years Jews existed in Britain with a number of restrictions. True emancipation for them as a religious group came somewhat between 1829 or 1858. Before WWII over 500,000 European Jews sought asylum in Britain, only 70,000 were allowed to stay.
In the United States, though there was discrimination against Jews, Catholics, Asians, Blacks and Latinos, Jews were never restricted from immigration. Even with the very restrictive immigration laws of 1921 and 1924, which was based on National Origin demographics in 1890, which limited basically Jews and Catholics from the Mediterranean and Eastern Europe with quotas, Jews always immigrated to the United States. From 1933 through the beginning of WWII, despite obstacles from the American Department of State, mostly dominated by Republican appointees from the previous twelve years of Republican Administrations and Southern Democrats, over 150,000 Jews were allowed into the States. During the Depression and the immediate pre-war period, there was the rise of more virulent anti-Semitism in the United States. Most of that rise was surely fomented and encouraged by the large and significant German-American minority who bought into the rise of German nationalism. The rise of the German-American Bund was paid for and strongly supported by the Nazi Party in Germany.
As with of emergence of the Roosevelt Administration in 1933, FDR called upon Felix Frankfurter, of the Harvard Law School to start sending young lawyers down to Washington to staff the emerging New Deal. The Roosevelt administration employed many young Jewish lawyers, labor leaders and intellectuals to help rescue our society from the social and economic ravages of the Great Depression. FDR also leaned on his strong relationship with Jews throughout his whole political life: Bernard Baruch, Henry Morgenthau, his Secretary of Treasury, David Niles, Anna Rosenberg, Herbert Lehman, Governor of New York, later US Senator, along with the aforementioned Frankfurter, Ben Cohen, and his lawyer and chief writer, Judge Rosenman. With regards to his associations with Jews, they were novel and advanced for the period. Again, he had an “open” friendship with Henry Morgenthau who served in his cabinet for 12 years. Eleanor Roosevelt was also quite close to Elinor Morgenthau, the Secretary of Treasury’s wife.
FDR appointed many, many Jews to high office, and had a comfortable, but distant relationship with most of his contemporaries.
Jews made up 3% of the American population in the 1930’s but the New Deal, called the “Jew Deal” by anti-Semites, who often referred to FDR as that Jew “Rosenfelt,” but made up 15% of his administration. FDR was elected with approximately 70% of the Jewish vote in 1932, and by 1944 he received over 93% of that vote. FDR appointed, cumulatively, more Jews to office than all the previous 31 administrations and all that followed until the Clinton Administration!
In retrospect Churchill really left no governmental legacy. He really never governed. FDR’s legacy was one of not only unprecedented leadership, but of government innovation, reform and restructuring.
History has favored Winston Churchill for many reasons, which include his lonely pre-war opposition to the rise of Hitler and the threat of Nazism. He battled against both the appeasers and the pro-fascist elements in Britain. He also stood head and shoulders above his rivals, like Lord Halifax, who wanted to succeed the failed Neville Chamberlain. Let us not forget, that Roosevelt also warned of the threat of rise of the dictators with his “Quarantine Speech” which was universally excoriated by the conservatives and isolationists, who refused to see the worldwide threat of the Nazis and Fascists.
Churchill was always given exceptionally high marks as an inspiring and eloquent orator before the war and during it. His ability to lead a beleaguered nation in its darkest hours can never be underrated. With that in mind, he has been awarded high marks for standing alone during the Blitz (German air attacks) and keeping up British morale despite the nightly bombings, the massive destruction and the battlefield reversals. He certainly deserved criticism for his endless micro-managing policy, interference with his generals, reversals in strategy and poor choice in military appointments. He even was very critical of his “star” appointment of General Montgomery. The victor at Alamein. Ironically, Montgomery wasn’t his first choice to command the 8th Army in Egypt.
His first selection was Lt. General William Gott, who killed in a plane crash. According to many of the veterans of that campaign, who were familiar with both men, they felt that Gott certainly would have lost the battle for control of Egypt, the Suez Canal and the oilfields of the Middle East. Churchill certainly opposed Operation Torch and wanted American men and material supporting Montgomery, was against Operation Anvil-Dragoon, the August, 1944 invasion of Southern France, in the days after the Normandy Invasion and the breakout into France.
On the other hand, Churchill and the British leadership understood FDR’s problems and political skills. FDR’s promises on the mobilization of American’s war industry were incredibly exceeded and he for sure delivered on America being the “Arsenal of Democracy.” FDR’s strategic vision reached much farther and more accurately than Churchill’s FDR understood the emergence of Russia and China as world powers, and he pressed for the Unconditional Surrender, to avoid the postwar disaster that followed the end of WWI. He also knew that the Allies had to secure the peace, and that was why he worked so hard to create the United Nations. Churchill vision was most often limited to the sustaining of the British Empire.
Also, let us not forget many of the leaders of the Western Alliance during WWII and their generals were no raving successes, As for The United States, out of the fifty-six Lt. Generals, who were appointed during the war from December 1941 through March of 1945, about 45 of those served overseas, seven were recalled for incompetence or other reasons. As for the top leadership, Secretary of State Hull was not well and often ignored completely and had little to do with any decision regarding the prosecution of the war. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, a great patriot, a Republican and a former Secretary of War and State was consistently wrong. Even the sainted Chief of Staff of the Army George C. Marshall was also wrong regarding North Africa and the call for a cross Channel invasion of France in both 1942 and 1943, as was the head of the Naval Admiral Ernest King.
As for General MacArthur, his failures in the Philippines were outrageous and many called for his removal and to be court marshalled. Admiral Robert L. Ghormley who was in charge of the naval operations around Guadalcanal and Tulagi was replaced by Admiral William F. Halsey because of lack-luster performance and incompetence. As for the heroic Halsey, his “Bull’s Run” and indecision around the Leyte Gulf Invasion almost created a disaster for American landing force. Also, his command in the following days after Typhoon Cobra bordered on incompetence and criminal conduct. Following the typhoon a Navy court of inquiry was convened on board USS Cascade in the naval base at Ulithi. Admiral Nimitz, CINCPAC, was in attendance at the court, Vice Admiral John H. Hoover presided the Court with admirals George D. Murray and Glenn B. Davis as associate judges. Forty-three-year-old Captain Herbert K. Gates was the Judge Advocate. The inquiry found that though Halsey had committed an error of judgement in sailing the Third Fleet into the heart of the typhoon, it stopped short of unambiguously recommending sanction. The events surrounding Typhoon Cobra were similar to those the Japanese navy had faced some nine years earlier in what they termed “The Fourth Fleet Incident.”
General Joseph Stillwell, the veteran of the China-Burma-India Theater and the military liaison to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek had to be removed because of insubordination and downright idiocy. In Sicily, Lt. General Patton had to be relieved of his command for foolish incidents regarding the slapping of two “wounded” soldiers. He was regarded as a racist, a bigot, and an anti-Semite among his other attributes. General Mark Clark, the leader of the 5th Army in Italy had many detractors. But both he and Patton, who despised him because his mother was Jewish were liked by FDR. They both succeeded, despite intense criticism during and after the war.
As for French; the only two Generals who were not coopted by the Germans and dragooned into the Vichy Government were Henry Giraud, a total incompetent and Charles De Gaulle, a vain pompous ass. This famous quote was attributed to Churchill- “The hardest cross I have to bear is the Cross of Lorraine.” This remark referring to Charles de Gaulle was actually made by General Louis Spears, Churchill’s envoy to France. Film producer Alexander Korda asked Churchill in 1948 if he had made the remark, he replied, “No, I didn’t say it; but I’m sorry I didn’t, because it was quite witty … and so true!”
As for the British, aside from Churchill, they had really no leadership after Chamberlain, but another appeaser, Lord Halifax, who actually disliked America and Americans and was ironically made Britain’s Ambassador to the United States. Others like Beaverbrook were for sure not up to the task. With regards for the British Imperial Staff, no one would regard Field Marshall Alan Brooke as a far-ranging thinker.
FDR and Churchill and WWII Strategy!
Churchill attempted to direct and control President Roosevelt with regards to the direction of their joint effort. As Christmas approached, the United States was facing the unpleasant reality that the Philippines and MacArthur’s American and Filipino Forces on Bataan and Corregidor, were doomed to destruction as were the British possessions of Hong Kong, Malaya and their Singapore fortress. The Americans, with their Filipino allies, fought a delaying action in the Philippines, while a mixed American, British, Dutch, and Australian (ABDA) naval structure was set up to operate from Java in an attempt to hold the Japanese at the Malay Barrier. Given command of ABDA naval forces, Admiral Thomas Hart directed part of this defense into mid-February 1942.Eventually it had become quite evident that despite the brave ABDA sailors, the Japanese were not to be denied. The Japanese Navy was able to literally destroy the remaining Allied naval assets in, and around, the Java Sea and the India Ocean.
Therefore, as India was being threatened by massive Japanese naval assets in the Indian Ocean, two realities emerged. There were not enough Allied ships to counter their strength and India soldiers had almost no enthusiasm to defend India and their colonial status from the potential of a Japanese invasion. In fact, the British were seeing more and more evidence that their colonial armies were not willing to fight for the British Empire. FDR, a confirmed anti-colonialist understood this reality, despite Churchill’s inability to face the reality of the deteriorating situation in both the Middle and the Far East. FDR urged Churchill to promise India eventual self-rule or even the commonwealth status of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Churchill hated this option, danced around it, and delayed making a decision, until he almost was backed into a corner. He certainly was opposed to giving up any sovereignty in India, as he claimed that the subcontinent was not really a country, but a collection of princely states and contentious religions bodies: Hindus, Moslems and Sikhs among hundreds of others sects, who spoke many hundreds of dialects.
With that in mind, along with the existential threat to India, the British were apoplectic and were trying to insist that American intervene in the Indian Ocean. Of course, Americans did not have the assets to counter the Japanese. But, FDR initiated a bold plan that would eventually produce a remarkable chain of events. He wanted to strike back at the Japanese and change the whole defeatist attitude that was threatening to become pervasive in the post-Pearl Harbor America, and with our British allies. Roosevelt authorized the famed Doolittle Raid on Tokyo. The raid was planned, led by and named after Lieutenant Colonel James Doolittle of the United States Army Air Forces. FDR was able to turn the corner of defeat with one bold stroke.
It was also the first time, in more than a thousand years, that the Japanese home islands were attacked. It demonstrated that the Japanese mainland was vulnerable to American air attack, served as retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor, and provided an important boost to American morale. Even though the results were almost miniscule, the political and strategic fallout was immense. The Japanese had never been attacked on their home islands, and with the knowledge that their air defenses were almost non-existent, they therefore, in an almost panic withdrew much of their naval assets from the Indian Ocean, to protect the Home Islands. The next consequence of this action was to assemble a massive fleet to strike back at America. Their aim was Midway Island. If they destroyed the American assets and presence on Midway, and occupied the island as a base, both the West Coast of America and Hawaii would be threatened. The Japanese never knew that American cryptographers had broken their naval and diplomatic codes (the Purple Codes) years before. When the speculation that Midway was confirmed as the target (the famous water desalination plant ruse) of this large Japanese force, of which some headed north to the Aleutian Islands, an American naval trap northeast of Midway was set. Of course, the rest is history.
With regards to WW II, Churchill’s strategy was basically no better than Chamberlain’s. Under his watch the British experienced disasters with the navy in Norway, the 8th Army in North Africa and its collapse at Tobruk, the insane and huge defeat and disaster in Singapore, (the worst and most costly British defeat in history), the disaster at Dunkerque, the catastrophic losses of the HMS Repulse and Prince of Wales off Hainan Island, near the Chinese mainland, the abandonment of Greece and Crete, the ill-fated attack at Dieppe, the alienation of the French and the subsequent defection of the French fleet, causing the need for it to be crippled by British naval action along with many others. He was lucky that the Nazis re-directed the Luftwaffe to bomb British cities and not go after their radar early warning stations, their aerodromes, and the British fighter defense. A smartly delivered strategy against these targets would have reduced the British to a position where their air cover became hopeless. One could say that Churchill’s greatest failure was his ego, his idea that he was a military expert, and his ability to choose the right people, for the right task.
With historical concern regarding Egypt and the Middle Eastern Command, Generals Claude Auchinleck and Archibald Wavell (both later appointed Field Marshalls) both failed miserably in North Africa, as did Wavell, who subsequently failed in Burma. General Bernard Law Montgomery (also later appointed a a Field Marshall) and the victor in the 2nd Battle of El Alamain, did not earn high marks for the slowness of his march up the Eastern side of Sicily, along with his command of British forces on the Adriatic side of Italy. Again, his failure at Market-Garden has been well-documented. His later inability to cross the Rhine River was exposed as a fruitless effort when the American Army took the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen and crossed the Rhine. Let us not forget Lord Louis Mountbatten planned disaster at Dieppe, which cause the Canadians thousands of casualties. Also let us not forget the folly of British Lt. General Neil Ritchie, “Tobruk ist gafallen!” The surrender of the British outpost, with 30,000 men, of Tobruk in Libya with nary a shot fired. Also in 1942 the surrender of the large garrison in Singapore by Lt. General Arthur Percival to a Japanese force less than one-half the size of his 80,000 man force. This was the largest surrender of British-led forces in history.
In retrospect, as the war would move on to its successful conclusion, Churchill did have some tactical and strategic successes aside from direct American help. Their victory at Taranto that devastated the Italian fleet, the sinking of the Graf Spee, the hunting down of the Bismarck, the destruction of ten German destroyers off Norway, his later policy supporting Orde Wingate and the Chindits in Burma, his mobilizing massive bombing raids over Germany, the destruction of the French dry docks at Saint Nazaire, and his selection of Montgomery to head the British 8th along with his subsequent victory at El Alamain were strong plusses. But even with the entrance of America into the war, later British strategy with Churchill’s blessing and interference led to the huge loses in Holland with the ill-fated Market-Garden assault on the Dutch bridges. Montgomery, Churchill’s greatest choice for leadership squandered his opportunity to cross the Rhine and was trumped by the American capture of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen. That single event of intrepid work by American forces dealt a huge blow to German resistance on the Western front. While Montgomery was accumulating landing craft, the US Army was surging over the Rhine with men and armor, creating an unassailable bridgehead, and trapping German forces on the wrong side of the River.
Churchill was always given exceptionally high marks as an inspiring and eloquent orator before the war and during it. His ability to lead a beleaguered nation in its darkest hours can never be underrated. With that in mind, he has been awarded high marks for standing alone during the Blitz (German air attacks) and keeping up British morale despite the nightly bombings, the massive destruction and the battlefield reversals. He certainly deserved criticism for his endless micro-managing policy, interference with his generals, reversals in strategy and poor choice in military appointments. He even was very critical of his “star” appointment of General Montgomery. The victor at Alamein. Ironically, Montgomery wasn’t his first choice to command the 8th Army in Egypt.
His first selection was Lt. General Richard Gott, who killed in a plane crash. According to many of the veterans of that campaign, who were familiar with both men, they felt that Gott certainly would have lost the battle for control of Egypt, the Suez Canal and the oilfields of the Middle East. Churchill certainly opposed Operation Torch and wanted American men and material supporting Montgomery, was against Operation Anvil-Dragoon, the August, 1944 invasion of Southern France, in the days after the Normandy Invasion and the breakout into France.
The Prime Minister began to recognize the criticality and enormity of this undertaking, (the invasion of France) with regards to a complete recasting of the Allied war strategy, barely six months before the agreed launch date of Overlord. What a dilemma for Churchill and the whole Allied effort – months earlier, before the Quebec Conference (Quadrant) – the British were talking about the invasion of Northern France sometime in 1945 or even 1946! Even though the date for the invasion was tentatively established for May 1, 1944, in Churchill’s mind it was just a “scrap of paper.” He saw, if possible, the task of the Soviets would be of defeating the Nazis, without much contribution of the Western Allies. Where that would leave Europe seems to be an unanswerable question. But, of course, Churchill imagined the Allies would go north from the Aegean into Eastern Europe and defeat the Germans in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, before the Soviets even reached Poland. The realism of this incredible, fantasied, gambit was never in American consideration. Again, in Churchill’s mind, right up to Tehran, the agreement was nothing more than a piece of “lawyer’s paper” – as he put it, “a contract which Britain could simply decline to observe, or keep asking to defer, each moment, until the bill came due!” This was the existential problem that FDR and the American Joint Chiefs faced as their ship advanced on North Africa. But, in fact, they had no real clue to Churchill’s obstructionism, as they had no idea what was on his mind. Why liberate the Allies of Nazi Germany?
Of course, if FDR accepted Churchill’s “option” and the Soviets felt betrayed about a “real” Second Front, and worked out a separate peace, an entente-cordial, with Hitler, as opposed to more countless casualties, the US military was between a rock and a hard place – with no obvious way of breaking the deadlock. This is what would face FDR and his advisors as they approached the landing at Oran and his flights to Cairo and Tehran. On the HMS Renown, Churchill bounced his theories, disappointments, and angst off the very receptive Harold MacMillan (a future British Prime Minister), who was serving as the British political advisor to General Eisenhower. Churchill complained that no one listened to him and that his “military genius” was restrained by the Americans, almost like a “man whose hands were tied behind his back” Of course, as many historians have reported, his own Imperial War Staff, led by General (later Field Marshall) Alan Brooke, had grave doubts about his judgment and were constantly offended, and put out with his interference on matters of tactics. His judgement regarding commanders was also questionable. In fact, up to this time he had made numerous mistakes in personnel, dividing his forces, and not judging the strength of the enemy opposition in| the Far East, Burma and the Indian border, the Indian Ocean, ate Aegean, Dieppe, etc.
The British considered the Mediterranean as their sea, in the words of Mussolini and the old Roman adage, “Mere Nostrum!” thus as the HMS Renown safely reached Malta, where Churchill had a meeting with Lt. General Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, one could readily see that he had no real clue what he wanted to do, and General Alan Brooke, the head of the Imperial War Staff disagreed with almost all of his decisions, his blurred vision, and his mixed messages to Anthony Eden, his Foreign Minister, to Marshall Stalin and to the Americans.
Churchill was, on the surface, quite confidant in the upcoming preliminary meeting in Cairo – codenamed Sextant, which would include Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. Roosevelt, after making a dangerous and heroic trip across the Atlantic, was able to land safely in Dakar and eventually fly to Tunis and then to Cairo. He met with Chiang Kai-Shek, made commitments to help China so they could fight the Japanese who controlled the whole East coast of China, cooperate with our American general Joseph Stillwell, and have the huge Chinese army trained and better armed. The British objected to this meeting. They assumed when the Japanese were beaten, the French would go right back to ruling their Indochinese colonies. Churchill never wanted the precedent of de-colonization to start with removal of the decadent French, who after 100 years of rule, left that forlorn part of the world, worse than when they occupied it. He saw the eventual loss of Hong Kong, Malaya, and India as a disaster that he would do all to prevent. Well it eventually happened and will the British ever fight for Hong King? Never!
This meeting would eventually accomplish very little, Churchill was very bitter at the scheduling of the meeting with the Chinese leader, because he felt China had nothing to do with the defeat of Germany. In fact, all the promises that Churchill grudgingly made with Roosevelt would eventually be reversed by Churchill. This duplicity promulgated by the British, would later reverberate with disastrous consequences. With the ultimate failure of Sextant and Churchill’s continual disappointment with the American position on OVERLORD.
Churchill had been vacillating over OVERLORD for months, as he found excuses to pursue his unsupported adventures in the Aegean. As for Churchill’s hopes for a quick advance to Rome, Pisa and the Tuscan Mountains they were running into tough opposition. Eventually as the Allies bogged down on the road to Rome, he grudgingly admitted things were not going his way, and he took no responsibility nor any shame at ignoring the difficulties of fighting in the mountainous eastern Mediterranean, where island by island German forces were methodically liquidating the surviving meager British forces that landed in the Aegean. It was the disastrous Battle of Crete, which the British had ignominiously lost in 1941, all over again. It seemed the Prime Minister never could re-learn the same lesson. He continued was pressuring President Roosevelt and his staff, including Eisenhower to postpone OVERLORD, and its timetable would hamstring the war in the Mediterranean and deprive the Allies of “great prizes!” What great prizes? What and how could more adventures in the Eastern Mediterranean be sustained? Where were the supplies to come from? In fact, barely six months from the invasion of Northern France, the whole OVERLORD concept was a theoretical undertaking in Churchill’s vision, while the Mediterranean Theater was real. He warned the President to put all of the Allied eggs in the Italian basket, not the cross-Channel gambit. One can understand without too much more explanation the angst the Field Marshall Brooke felt. He even wanted all the landing craft currently being moved to Britain for OVERLORD to be transferred to southern Italy. Aside from the Americans being astounded and alarmed, so was the British High Command.
Eventually, FDR finally was able to get his meeting with Stalin scheduled in Tehran the capital of Iran. Franklin D. Roosevelt finally gets the meeting he wants with Churchill and Stalin- the Big Three. He starts his incredible secret journey aboard the USS Iowa, our newest “super” battleship, captained by his former naval aid, Captain John McCrea. It will be a dangerous voyage in the South Atlantic crossing to Africa with all the members of the president’s top military staff, including General Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff, Admiral Ernest King, Chief of Naval Operations, his own head of the Joint Chiefs, Admiral William Leahy, General Henry Arnold, head of the US Army Air Force and many others.
Of course, as it has been noted numerous times, the voyage was dangerous. There was always the threat regarding secrecy and security, regarding news leaks, the threat of land-based German long-range planes, new U-Boats which much more sophisticated weaponry, which had been updated by greater underwater staying power (the snorkel) and their highly secret new “smart” torpedoes. Ironically, during a ocean training session, a torpedo from an American vessel was launched by accident and headed dangerously close to the USS Iowa, where FDR and the American chiefs were traveling to the Mediterranean.
But, in reality what was really happening, was that after three days at sea, and in the “wake” of the missed torpedo, launched by an American escort, there was still the strategic crisis over the British attempt to insist on a long-delay of the proposed cross-channel (OVERLORD) invasion of Northern France. It seemed it was always about Churchill’s desire to redress his WWI failure at Gallipoli, which was an immense military disaster and cost him his job as First Lord of the Admiralty and his reputation for almost two decades, aside from his well-known failures as battlefield commander on the Western Front.
So, where was the world in November of 1943? FDR, finally, after one year of trying, was able to establish the critical meeting with Stalin, who before would never leave the Soviet Union for a number of reasons. He claimed, as the chief of their armed forces, he could never leave his direct command, he was extremely paranoid, possibly about assassination, had severe fear of flying any distance, among other personal excuses directed back to the president. The Allies were incredibly fearful about a separate German-Soviet peace. The British wanted to preserve their overseas empire, with American assistance (which was opposed by a vast majority of the American public and its leadership.) They certainly wanted to maintain their Mediterranean hegemony from Gibraltar in the West to Crete and Palestine in the East, Egypt in North Africa, with the Suez Canal, with its critical passageway to India, and their political influence over Greece and the Aegean.
As the Iowa headed for Oran, in North Africa, Churchill and his staff are heading from Britain on the HMS Renown, a World War I dreadnaught, to a similar port of call at Malta. The Prime Minister began to recognize the criticality and enormity of this undertaking, with regards to a complete recasting of the Allied war strategy, barely six months before the agreed launch date of OVERLORD. What a dilemma for Churchill and the whole Allied effort – months earlier, before the Quebec Conference (Quadrant) – the British were talking about the invasion of Northern France sometime in 1945 or even 1946! Even though the date for the invasion was tentatively established for May 1, 1944, in Churchill’s mind it was just a “scrap of paper.” He saw, if possible, the task of the Soviets would be of defeating the Nazis, without much contribution of the Western Allies. Where that would leave Europe seems to be an unanswerable question. But, of course, Churchill imagined the Allies would go north from the Aegean into Eastern Europe and defeat the Germans in Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, before the Soviets even reached Poland. The realism of this incredible, fantasied, gambit was never in American consideration. Again in Churchill’s mind, right up to Tehran, the agreement was nothing more than a piece of “lawyer’s paper” – as he put it, “a contract which Britain could simply decline to observe, or keep asking to defer, each moment, until the bill came due!” This was the existential problem that FDR and the American Joint Chiefs faced as their ship advanced on North Africa. But, in fact, they had no real clue to Churchill’s obstructionism, as they had no idea what was on his mind.
In fact, what was on Churchill’s mind was his secret attempt to sabotage the whole cross Channel operation, known as OVERLORD, which was planned for May 1, 1944. He was plotting with his chiefs of staffs to subvert the agreements made two months earlier in Quebec. He later would totally omit this from six volume history of the war. Distinguished Cambridge historian, David Reynolds said that this was “one of the most blatant pieces of distortion in his six volume memoirs.” He constantly talked about invading the Dodecanese Islands, bringing Turkey into the war, dominating the Aegean Islands, and being then able to enter the Black Sea with the British Fleet and the aid of the Russians in all their recovery of the northern coast, the Crimea, etc. Of course, this was farcical on its face, and very close to re-living the disaster at Gallipoli in 1915.Of course, when he wasn’t getting his own way with his own staff, he threatened to resign on October 29, 1943.General Alan Brook noted in his diary, “had he gone mad!”
The question that FDR put to his advisors on November 15, 1943, – “aware that at the end of the day, there was no way to enforce the Quebec Agreement, if Churchill resigned (as he threatened to do before) or withdrew the British commitment to the military partnership for the May, of 1944 cross channel endeavor, the war against Hitler would be effectively lost. Of course, if FDR accepted Churchill’s “option” and the Soviets felt betrayed about a “real” Second Front, and worked out a separate peace, an entente-cordial, with Hitler, as opposed to more countless casualties, the US military was between a rock and a hard place – with no obvious way of breaking the deadlock. This is what would face FDR and his advisors as they approached the landing at Oran and his flights to Cairo and Tehran. On the HMS Renown, Churchill bounced his theories, disappointments, and angst off the very receptive Harold MacMillan (a future British Prime Minister), who was serving as the British political advisor to General Eisenhower.
Churchill complained that no one listened to him and that his “military genius” was restrained by the Americans, almost like a “man whose hands were tied behind his back” Of course, as many historians have reported, his own Imperial War Staff, led by General (later Field Marshall) Alan Brooke, had grave doubts about his judgment and were constantly offended, and put out with his interference on matters of tactics. His judgement regarding commanders was also questionable. In fact, up to this time he had made numerous mistakes in personnel, dividing his forces, and not judging the strength of the enemy opposition in| the Far East, Burma and the Indian border, the Indian Ocean, ate Aegean, Dieppe, etc.
Macmillan was a perfect sounding board for Churchill, he was classically educated, a bon vivant and an English social and intellectual snob, with his Eton and Oxford education. He by nature looked down his nose at the Americans and had seemingly forgotten the many failures the British had endured, and “began to feel not gratitude for the way the US had helped save Britain in 1942 for mounting Torch (the invasion of North Africa),” but instead a discernible resentment at the growing American economy and military might in the Mediterranean. Of course, the British considered the Mediterranean as their sea, in the words of Mussolini and the old Roman adage, “Mere Nostrum!” thus as the HMS Renown safely reached Malta, where Churchill had a meeting with Lt. General Bedell Smith, Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff, one could readily see that he had no real clue what he wanted to do, and General Alan Brooke, the head of the Imperial War Staff disagreed with almost all of his decisions, his blurred vision, and his mixed messages to Anthony Eden, his Foreign Minister, to Marshall Stalin and to the Americans.
Churchill was, on the surface, quite confidant in the upcoming preliminary meeting in Cairo – codenamed Sextant, which would include Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek. Roosevelt, after making a dangerous and heroic trip across the Atlantic, was able to land safely in Dakar and eventually fly to Tunis and then to Cairo. He met with Chiang Kai-Shek, made commitments to help China so they could fight the Japanese who controlled the whole East coast of China, cooperate with our American general Joseph Stillwell, and have the huge Chinese army trained and better armed. The British objected to this meeting. They assumed when the Japanese were beaten, the French would go right back to ruling their Indochinese colonies. Churchill never wanted the precedent of de-colonization to start with removal of the decadent French, who after 100 years of rule, left that forlorn part of the world, worse than when they occupied it. He saw the eventual loss of Hong Kong, Malaya, and India as a disaster that he would do all to prevent. Well it eventually happened and would the British ever fight for Hong King? Never!
This meeting would eventually accomplish very little. In fact, Churchill was very bitter at the scheduling of the meeting with the Chinese leader, because he felt China had nothing to do with the defeat of Germany. Realistically, all the promises that Churchill grudgingly made with Roosevelt would eventually be reversed by Churchill. This duplicity promulgated by the British, would later reverberate with disastrous consequences. With the ultimate failure of Sextant and Churchill’s continual disappointment with the American position on OVERLORD.
Here in Tehran, the capital Iran, the most important conference of the 2nd World War, certainly of the first half of the 20th Century and possibly, the whole 20th Century, until our time, the fate of Europe and the world was decided by the Big Three. Led by Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who initiated this meeting and who led each session, Marshal Joseph Stalin, leader of the Soviet Union and commander of their armies and Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain and their Minister of Defense, would decide the strategy that would either win the war, prolong it, or even be forced to “broker” a peace.
In this meeting, Churchill, who objected to American command of Europe even though we were supplying two thirds to three quarters of the men and material to the Western effort! Though we were also supporting the Soviet armies with 10 to 15% of their trucks (400,000), planes, ammunition, guns, and equipment via Lend Lease through a land route using Iran as a marshalling base and the deadly North Sea route to Murmansk and Archangel, Churchill still had to be convinced that the correct path to victory over Nazi Germany was through Northern France.
Churchill seemed to have no interest in that effort, may have actually believed that the Soviets and the Nazis would bleed each other to death, wanted to preserve the British Empire at all costs, and continued to have operations in the Aegean Sea, the Dodecanese Islands, Rhodes, and points east to actuate an invasion of the Dardanelles, with the dream of enticing Turkey into the war on the Allied side. This was almost dissolution, bordering on irrational. He never abandoned the pipe dream of an effort to surge northward to liberate Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria from whom, I ask? They were allies of Germany! They needed liberation? What about the western democracies under the thumb of four years of Nazi occupation, featuring; looting, slave labor, tyranny and murder?
What was his purpose to fight in the mountainous terrain of Yugoslavia, and divert attention away from Overlord, the invasion of France? He even opposed the invasion of Southern France, planned under the code name Anvil. Later, when he was convinced of the need for the invasion of Southern France, at Marseilles, he had the code name changed to Anvil-Dragoon, because he was “dragooned” into the controversial, but most successful operation. Later, after D-Day, in August of 1944, naval operation and its subsequent landings would move the American armies up through the Rhone River Valley, under the overall command of Admiral Kent Hewitt and General Jacob Devers. The US Army’s VI Corps, led by Major General Lucian Truscott, would carry out the initial landing and be followed by the French Army B under command of Général Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. Accompanying the operation was a fully mobilized separate detachment called “Task Force Butler”, consisting of the bulk of the Allied tanks, tank destroyers, and mechanized infantry. Regarding the immensely successful invasion of Southern France and despite Hitler’s personal order that vital coastal enclaves were to be defended to the last man, reason started to penetrate into the minds of the German defenders. The main ground force for the operation was the US Seventh Army commanded by Lt. General Alexander Patch. At that critical juncture in the Southern France Campaign (Anvil), the German High Command began to re-evaluate its entire position in the west. By August 16, with many of their divisions in danger of annihilation, the German leaders elected to order a general withdrawal from France. German General Johannes Blaskowitz was to leave strong garrisons at Toulon, Marseille, and several key Atlantic ports. Those actions only served incrementally to delay the Allied advance.. Marseille fell in less than a week. This mission of the VII Corps, strongly aided and abetted by Free French resistant forces, started to move northward. Though their supply lines were being stretched thin, all Allied Anvil commanders nevertheless agreed that keeping the initiative was paramount. Allied forces, under General Jacob Dever’s 6th Army, part of the VII Corps continued to surge northward on the heels of the retreating Germans. Eventually they would link up with Eisenhower’s forces that were sweeping south in a wide arc to encircle German forces in the Falaise Gap — the hammer striking the anvil — to finally drive the Germans out of France. Despite Churchill’s fears, opposition and fruitless demands, the Anvil Forces overwhelmed the light German forces in what had been Vichy France, as it was then able to liberate most of Southern France.
This was another case of superior American strategy over Churchill’s continued expression of his self-importance regarding overall theories of the conduct of the war.
With regards to more of Churchill’s mistakes and his obsession with the Balkans, eventually, the Germans were driven out of Yugoslavia, with the help of the Allies, Tito and his Red-Star hatted Communists. They were triumphant as the (pro-American) Chetniks were defeated and their leader, Draz Mihailovich became a hunted man, with a price on his head. The Allies soon recognized their colossal error, with regards to Tito, but the main burden for that failed policy fell into the laps of the British and Churchill, who later admitted it was his greatest mistake. Frankly, he made many mistakes. The Soviets through their spies in Britain, later known as the Cambridge Five, were able to convince the Brits that the Chetniks were really pro- German and that Tito and his partisans were the force to completely support. After the war, eventually after 18 months or so, on the run, Draza Mihailovich was captured. He had many opportunities to escape, but seemed to be resigned to his fate. Maybe he felt that as long as he remained at-large in Yugoslavia, there was resistance to the Communists. He was captured, indicted and tried for treason and eventually executed.
Sunny Italy turns into Bloody Italy as the Churchillian Gambit turns sour!
Let all of us understand that the Italian Theater of combat came about for various reasons. One was that the Allies, assuredly America was not prepared for a cross-channel attack in 1942 or 1943, envisioned by American planners, like General Albert Wedemeyer, and foolishly agreed upon by Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Chief of Staff of the Army, General George C. Marshall, and head of the Navy Admiral Ernest King. Not only was America not logistically prepared, but its armies were not battle tested and they wouldn’t be until the hard fought campaign in North Africa, from the landings during Operation Torch through the defeat at the Kasserine Pass by the Afrika Korps to the final victory in Tunisia. The 2nd reason was that after the successful liberation of North Africa by the combined forces of Britain’s 8th Army, under the command of General Bernard Law Montgomery, which drove from Egypt and America’s VII Corps, commanded by General Eisenhower and spearheaded by Lt. General George C. Patton which drove from Morocco and Algiers eastward into Tunisia, there was no other choice that was sensible. Therefore, the next logical target was Sicily and the combined forces under Patton and Montgomery quickly secured the island after their successful landings, beachheads, and thrusts northward. Prime Minister Churchill, acting also as Britain’s Defense Minister even wanted invasions of Corsica and Sardinia, which were totally unnecessary. The British, with Churchill at the lead, never wanted a cross-Channel invasion and as I have demonstrated would rather have ventured further east into Rhodes and Greece. Generally speaking, it was finally agreed upon to invade Italy from the south with Montgomery crossing the straits of Messina and the American 5th Army, under Lt. General Mark Clark invading at Salerno, not far from Naples. Thus, this satisfied Churchill’s quest to attack the soft-belly of the Axis somewhere. Unfortunately, from then on almost all went wrong. The soft-belly of Italy was not soft, and British gambits in the Eastern Mediterranean were a disaster.
This set the stage for another Churchill gambit. He desperately wanted to concentrate on capturing Rome and to surge northward with an idea that he could circumvent the Alps to invade Germany, which no one in history was ever to accomplish. Did he care about the hundreds of thousands of allied causalities in the mountainous territory of Italy? Were his arguments ever sincere? That is the question. Of course, he wrote the history (a six volume set, winning himself the Nobel Prize for literature in 1953) and said he “would bury his mistakes,’ which were legion! In fact, his history was forced by law to omit the reality of ULTRA, the breaking of the German Code, and his omissions of critical issues were historically insincere and frankly terribly inaccurate.
But, what of that gambit? In truth, the disaster of Italy could be summed up in one word, “Anzio, – Operation “Shingle.” It proved as General Eisenhower and Secretary Stimson had predicted and feared, a calamity. The 43,000 Allied casualties on the beaches of Anzio and the surrounding hills, over the next 4.5 months, included over 7000 who died there would be a terrible indictment of General Brooke’s support of the latest Churchill flawed strategy, but most of all his impetuosity and shallowness. In reality, Churchill’s autocratic and often wild behavior seemed to General Brooke to be substantially worse than ever in November, 1943, when Brooke had despaired of having to work with such an impossible Commander in Chief. As of mid-January, 1944, Brooke wrote in his diary that he could not “stand more of it, ”After 4 hours of meetings with Churchill.. “In all his plans he lives hand to mouth, he can never grasp a whole plan, either in its width or its depth.” He added, “His method is entirely opportunistic, gathering one flower her another there! My God how tired I am of working with him.”
The campaign in Italy went from bad to worse- no less than three bloody battle were fought at the foothills of Monte Cassino, with little or no results as the stranded forces at Anzio could not linkup with General Clark’s forces. Italy was, as Admiral William Leahy, FDR’s person Chief of Staff had predicted, a disaster. This was the “soft under-belly of the Axis?” Anzio was, in short, a mess, a catastrophe as Rome was still as far away as ever. This caused the shaken Prime Minister to plead for an emergency meeting with the President and the American chiefs of staff in the United States of the Bahamas. Because Roosevelt’s lingering bronchitis, it would never happen.
More problems would ensue between Churchill and the British chiefs of staff. In fact it would get much worse. By March of 1944, the entire British Chiefs were on the point of resignation! To Brooke, Churchill “has lost all balance and is in a very dangerous mood!”
Aside from the immediate problems caused by Churchill and the British command of the Mediterranean Theater, President Roosevelt, who received tremendous support from Marshall Stalin, felt that Stalin knew for sure more about military strategy than Churchill. FDR pointed out all the pitfalls regarding Turkey, the Aegean and the so-called worthlessness of attacking the so-called “soft under belly” of the Axis. For sure again, Italy was no “soft belly!” Why was the attack and occupation of Rhodes so important to Churchill? Where would that lead? In fact, the British were just thrown out of that region by strong German defenses and counter attacks. He seemed to have forgotten the British failures in Crete, Greece including 1940 and the later ones in 1943, in the Peloponnese, the Dodecanese region, along with the islands of Leros and Rhodes. And the question remains, what was Churchill’s ideas and was he even sincere about invading France even in 1945 or 1946?
Roosevelt was insisting on the American command of the cross channel invasion of France. He intimated that it would be the well-respected General George C, Marshall, the current US Chief of Staff. This was approved by Stalin and Churchill, but the British Prime Minister, who wanted British command of all of Europe, insisted that if the Americans commanded the Overlord Operation the British would command the Mediterranean. Of course, this would be his chance to divert forces back to the Aegean. This compromise, would lead to the backtracking of aid to China, a cancelling of Operation Buccaneer, the invasion of Andaman Islands, which caused the Chinese leadership to lose faith in American and allied support. The Nationalist Chinese thus focused their forces on the communists and Mao Zedong, who controlled northwest China. This turned out to be long-term disaster for China, Indochina, and the immediate postwar future of Southern Asia.
In the end, it was not Marshall who would command SHAEF and OVERLORD. It would be Eisenhower. The conventional wisdom was that Marshall would go to London and Eisenhower to the Pentagon as the new Chief of Staff. Of course, for many reasons this was never going to happen. FDR never really wanted Marshall out of Washington and the United States.Harry Hopkins, as FDR’s emissary, asked Marshall which he wanted, to remain Chief of Staff or the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force?
Marshall answered that he would serve the President in any role, with cheerful enthusiasm that the President wished. This was typical of Marshal and FDR saw that he would not make a “personal” commitment!” No one knows what was on FDR’s mind about Marshall’s future role. But, this enabled him to choose Eisenhower. He finessed Britain with the specter of Marshall as the Supreme Commander and he finally choose the most experienced officer in the field, General Eisenhower, who commanded American troops in North Africa and Sicily! In fact, FDR had consulted the aged General John J. Pershing, who knew and respected Marshall, but warned against his appointment.
Churchill, in the continued wake of his disappointments after the conferences at Casablanca, Quebec, etc., continued to fester over the thwarting of his desires to attack, up and through, the Aegean area all the way to the Dardanelles. He never seemed to come to the realization that these adventures were to never happen, no less succeed. In the meantime, the campaign in Italy had slowed down dramatically, the difficult terrain benefitted the defending German army, and the casualties were mounting at an alarming rate. The American command, and especially, FDR never saw the conquest of Italy as a strategic lynch pin for success. They were happy to have German divisions diverted from the Eastern Front with the Soviets and, thus have their manpower and supplies drained. For sure, the liberation of Rome was not a strategic objective, needed at all costs. Almost immediately, as Eisenhower relinquished command of the Mediterranean sector to the British, Churchill pushed for another invasion, up the boot of Italy at Anzio, which turned out to be another military quagmire, with the great loss of both American and British lives.
As Eisenhower was later to recall, “It was difficult to escape the feeling that Mr. Churchill’s views were colored” by considerations “outside the scope of the immediate military problem,” that the Prime Minister was all too, interested in personal objectives, and happy to disregard the military challenges involved, when it suited him. It seemed to Eisenhower that Churchill preferred to focus on British political needs, even personal prizes of low-hanging “fruits” dangling before him in his capacious mind. When “fired up about a strategic project, logistics (maybe reality) did not exist for him. Eisenhower reflected, about Churchill that “Combat troops just floated forward and around obstacles – nothing was difficult.”
Once again, Churchill’s interference with the goals of Tehran proved costly to allied efforts with regards to blood and treasure. Eventually, with the August invasion of Marseilles, in the Anvil-Dragoon Operation, Churchill was proven quite incorrect. He, even in one of his more lucid moments, admitted it was his greatest mistakes. Unfortunately, throughout the war, there were many, “greatest mistakes” from Norway, to Singapore, to Tobruk, to Anzio, and his operation to the southern invasion of France.
The most remarkable consequence of his actions was that General Brooke, Chief of the Imperial Army and his staff didn’t resign en masse regarding Churchill’s interference, inconstancies, casting of blame, and ranting diatribes, In fact, after the war all of their diaries supported their concerns about Churchill’s stability. Did this ever happen with Roosevelt, his staff, his war cabinet or anyone around him? No!
The End Game, OVERLORD and the Long Sought and Anticipated Invasion of Northern France!
Of course, on D-Day, June 6, 1944, all the arguments ended, the hand-wringing and doubts were superfluous. The beachhead was secured, eventually there was the anticipated Breakout and the earlier mentioned invasion of Southern France, Operation Anvil-Dragoon, proved a brilliant success. Roosevelt and the American planners were right. The VII Corps and the 6th and 7th US Armies moved up the Loire Valley, cut through Vichy, France and eventually linked up with General Patton’s 3rd Army as the Germans were in a general retreat from France.
The question over Churchill’s competence echoed through the British Imperial War Staff. Churchill was not immune to the stress and ravages of age and his consumption of copious amounts of alcohol. After Tehran, Churchill had collapsed in Tunis and reports had surfaced that he had died. Of course, the reports were unfounded, but he was seriously ill. But, with that reality in mind, many were speculating whether he could continue to serve as Prime Minister. Churchill had suffered other health setbacks, including mild heart attacks and bout with the flu and pneumonia, including in the days after his late December, 1941, visit to the White House. In the midst of FDR’s latest health crisis, Churchill rapidly recovered from pneumonia and atrial fibrillation.
Therefore, by September of 1944, another meeting between FDR and Churchill had become superfluous and redundant. There was no way that the ailing President Roosevelt was going to meet Churchill in Scotland or almost anywhere else, except in North America, especially in the midst of the presidential campaign. As the time for the next Quebec Conference approached, both western leaders were seriously ill. On the voyage west to meet with their American colleagues on the Combined Chiefs of Staff committee, at the Chateau de Frontenac, Churchill was quite impossible to argue with. Field Marshall Brooke later recalled, “It was a ghastly time which I carried away the bitterest of memories!” Churchill felt the same about his top two commanders, Brooke and Admiral Andrew Cunningham.
Thus, to sum up the Quebec Conference with regards to Churchill’s speech to the gathered fourteen chiefs and their staffs, his objectives regarding Vienna and Singapore were totally dismissed out of hand, as FDR punctured all of his trial balloons. FDR doubted that the Germans or the Japanese were about to fold.
The Japanese were beyond fanatical and suicidal on Saipan and the Germans eventually would retreat behind the wide Rhine River. He also predicted that there would be another huge German offensive in the West. Eventually he was proven right as the Germans attacked in the Ardennes, known historically as the Battle of the Bulge. As for fortress Singapore, FDR for sure didn’t want to attack fortified positions with the high resultant casualties, unless the position had strategic importance. Singapore had no strategic importance and he recommended that it be isolated from the north with an effort in the Malay Peninsula.
Churchill still wanted to reach Vienna from the Adriatic and he was coming to Quebec, with hat in hand, to solely obtain 20 landing ships to carry out an operation against Istria (a peninsular in the Adriatic) to seize Trieste. No matter what the British Staff reacted up against Churchill’s futile protestations, their objections went to “dead and deaf” ears! “Was Churchill then mad,” Brooke wondered or “perhaps ill?”
The next day of the voyage, Churchill’s fever increased and he became increasingly worse. Field Marshal Brooke recorded in his diary. “He knows no details, has only half the picture in his mind, talks absurdities and makes my blood boil to listen to his nonsense!”
Brooke also wrote, “I find it hard to remain civil,” and he continued, “The wonderful thing is that three-quarters of the population of the world imagines that Winston Churchill is one of the great strategists of history, a second Marlborough and the other one-quarter have no conception what a public menace he is and has been throughout the war!” Of course, FDR, in the midst of the presidential campaign, was a shadow of his former self, who was trying to end the war without more unnecessary, further bloodshed. He wasn’t looking for more “side shows” or gambits to satiate more imperial desires of Churchill. His objective was to defeat Germany, get the United Nations concept in place, and secure the peace.
Therefore, the critical Big Three meeting, known as the Yalta Conference was scheduled for the Crimea. The USS Quincy, a heavy cruiser, and a sister ship to the USS Baltimore, carried FDR on his last overseas odyssey to Yalta. He was accompanied by his daughter Anna, and a small entourage on board, which included his Chief of Staff Admiral Leahy, his Director of War Mobilization, former US Supreme Court Justice James (Jimmy) F. Byrnes, his Press Secretary Steve Early, his political advisor Ed Flynn, from the Bronx, his naval and military aides, his two doctors and three officers from the White House map room.
On January 31, 1945 as they passed into the Mediterranean through the Straits of Gibraltar, they celebrated FDR’s 63rd birthday, one day earlier. On February 2nd they entered into the Grand Harbor at Valletta, Malta and disembarked. All of bomb ravaged Malta was out to greet him along with Ambassador Harriman, Harry Hopkins, his personal assistant, and Anthony Eden. Ed Flynn remarked, “It was quite an emotional moment!” One could just imagine how this small island, which endured 1000 air raids welcomed this great leader of the United Nations and the Western Allies.
After their stay in Malta, he and his intimate team, bordered a newly furbished C-54, the latest, newly equipped version of his plane, the “Sacred Cow.” (An early version of Air Force One). The plane was screened by six fighter planes and escorted to Russia.
Churchill, from his perspective, according to Harry Hopkins, dreaded the conference and despised the location. But, since Churchill had flown to meet personally with Stalin in Moscow, he wasn’t going to be left out of this conference. As damaged as Yalta was by the Nazis invaders and looters, who even took out the piping in most of the buildings, including the summer residence of the former Tsar of Russia, Nicholas II. The Livadia Palace, was meticulously restored and rehabilitated by the Russians. Frankly, it was in excellent condition.
In the last few months of his life FDR struggled to balance the interests of the West, the special relationship with Great Britain, and the criticality of building trust with the Soviet Union and their leader Josef Stalin. He understood the anxiety of the Russians; their fear of the rise of German militarism in the future, and he also knew that the Soviets feared a united Western Alliance, bent on their destruction. He envisioned a Big Four, comprised of the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the emerging China, which would keep the peace, work for decolonization, and build understanding between competing economic and social systems. He understood the dynamic of nationalism and he also understood clearly that the Soviet Union was in control of Eastern Europe and that they would not easily give up their hard earned, with blood and treasure, buffer. He certainly didn’t believe it was in America’s interest to fight a 3rd World War over Poland’s sovereignty. Despite the opinion of his conservative critics, FDR was quite aware of what he was doing at Yalta. He tried to build confidence in Stalin, by showing him that the West was not in monolithic lockstep. He did annoy Churchill, who couldn’t understand his tactic, and it was basically the British who criticized his health and attentiveness. Almost all the others did not see FDR as the “weak sister” of the conference. He was for sure the leader of the Big Three and he also understood the reality of “Russian boots on the ground.” During his later address to a Joint Session of Congress he addressed that reality. There were few who could disagree with his evaluation.
But, in truth, it was only FDR who could have handled the post-war dilemma regarding peace or potential Cold War. As for Yalta, FDR comported himself quite well, and all the revisionist right-wing fiction can’t change the facts.
We could not have won the war without Stalin or the Soviet Red Army. They had 10+ million soldiers on the Eastern Front, they distrusted the Western Allies’ sincerity, especially Churchill, who had little clue how to lead a peace-time nation. The Soviets feared a resurrected Germany, and its partition was well justified. Unfortunately, because of the ensuing Cold War, Germany escaped greater and more deserved draconian punishment. At least in the Soviet Zone they suffered more deservedly then in the three Western Occupation Zones.
The great reason for the failed peace was the death of FDR, because he was the only one with the skills and prestige to lead the West and insure the peace. Truman did as best as he could, considering his inexperience and poor advice. As to the West, its fear of communism obfuscated the crimes of the Fascists, Nazis and the other Eastern European strongmen, who brutalized Germany, Italy and all the countries east of the Oder-Niese. The dictators of Bulgaria, Hungary, and Romania were not democratically inclined and Poland was run by a military junta. FDR was not going to commit the US to go to war over Poland and he had stated that the Russians and Poles had hated each other for centuries and they both had blood on their hands. Poland was the “trip wire” with regards to Britain and France. They had no special allegiance to Poland and their treaties were signed to draw the line, with regards to German aggression. As for the Soviet Union, they were making geo political deals to survive no differently than the West. With Stalin, he was just another in a long line of oligarchs who had run Russia forever. The crimes of the Romanov’s, which had lasted 400 years, were not much different than the Bourbons of France and the other royal dynasties that disappeared in Austria and Spain. As Napoleon sagely said, “The victors write the history.” In the same sense, that the Soviets and the Russian people, after hundreds of years of oppression, turned to another system and, for better or worse, supported it. Was Churchill more aware of the threat of the Soviet Union than Roosevelt, or was a healthy FDR much more capable of handling Stalin, the Soviet Union, and encouraging their trust in the West? That is the eternal question.
For sure, Churchill’s vast mistakes in strategy were mostly a consequence of an inflated ego and a self-belief that he was an unequalled military genius, a mid-2th Century Carl von Clausewitz.
Churchill was a great man, with unparalleled oratorical skills, a polished writer, a wonderful artist, but understandably was most interested in preserving the British Empire. He stated it! Long-time, Canadian Prime Minister MacKenzie King, when comparing President Roosevelt and the Prime Minister of Great Britain, he wrote in his dairy, “Churchill has been raised up to meet the need of the day in the realm of war, to fight, with the power of the sword, the brute beasts that would devour their fellow men in the lust for power.” He also added, “Roosevelt might not be a greater man as an orator, or military ‘genius’; nevertheless he was a greater man!”
Of course, Prime Minister King was a dear friend of FDR, and he stated, “The President has overtaxed his strengths in other ways (than Churchill’s drinking). His fight for the people has made him many and bitter enemies!” As a consequence of his long political leadership from being the Governor of New York during the early days of the Great Depression, along with his long social, economic and political leadership of America from 1933 through the attack on Pearl Harbor, “he has been sincere in his determination to better the conditions of the masses, he is more human than Churchill!”
FDR never anticipated his own death and no matter how much he would have brought Vice-President Truman into the councils of his own thoughts and strategy, he could not guide Truman’s hand from the grave. Truman, with all of his limitations, turned out to be a strong and resolute chief executive. Of course, Averill Harriman and the other “Cold Warrior” hardliners won the day, but ironically both he and George Kennan reversed their thinking on reengaging with the Moscow.
In the words of Professor Frank Costigliola, author of FDR and the Lost Alliances, “It was Harriman, who had worked most tirelessly to distort and undo Roosevelt’s vision, who later paid the most poignant testimony to his wartime boss. Harriman later stated, “FDR was basically right in thinking he could make progress by personal relations with Stalin… The Russians were utterly convinced that the change came as result of the shift from Roosevelt to Truman.” Harriman added, “If Roosevelt had lived with full vigor, it’s very hard to say what could have happened because – Roosevelt could lead the world.”
Of course FDR’s death, like Lincoln’s almost exactly eighty years earlier had proven to be a disaster for America. Great leadership is not easy to develop. Truman, though an excellent president, who history has treated quite kindly, could not fill the Seven League boots of his great predecessor.