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SOLDIERS AND STATESMENREFLECTIONS ON LEADERSHIP
By JOHN S. D. EISENHOWER
UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI PRESSCopyright © 2012 John S. D. Eisenhower
All right reserved.
Chapter OneChurchill, a Formidable Ally
There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them
Prime Minister Winston Churchill, behind his desk in the British War Office at Whitehall, London, was in a foul mood. The date was June 20, 1944, two weeks after the Allies had landed in Normandy, on June 6. Outside his window the worst storm in fifty years was raging over Great Britain and the English Channel, a storm so violent that it could conceivably destroy the Anglo-American OVERLORD beachheads on the coast of Normandy. The fruits of years of preparation were in greater peril that day than they had been on the better-remembered D-day itself.
In Churchill's office, for a short visit, was my father, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, with me present as an aide. Dad and I had been planning to visit OMAHA Beach, in Normandy, the day before. Now we found ourselves marooned in Dad's "Telegraph Cottage" south of London, incapable of taking any action whatsoever. Frustrated at his enforced isolation, Dad decided to drive up to London to see Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
After minimal greetings, all three of us sat down at the large table in Churchill's office and said little except for Churchill's fretting over the situation. He slouched in his chair, glaring at the floor. "They have no right," he growled, "to give us weather like this!" So sure was he of the rightness of the Allied cause that he took this storm as a personal affront on the part of the Almighty to himself.
No business of any substance was discussed. The two men, British prime minister and Supreme Commander, were there primarily as friends, taking comfort in sharing their common frustration and to draw strength from each other. What I remember most about the incident is the ease with which they communicated. The personal bond between them would never falter, even though the differences in their official positions and conflict between national interests would sometimes cause them to be rivals for power.
The incident I have described above occurred toward the end of their close association. Eleven months later Hitler committed suicide, and Germany surrendered. It had taken a long time to reach this level of intimacy. Churchill's ties with the Americans, however, especially with President Franklin Roosevelt, had begun well before that.
The Anglo-American alliance of the Second World War did not occur by chance; it was to a large extent the product of Churchill's will and determination. Americans in general were opposed to entering the war. So it was up to Britain to woo them. The courting began formally in April 1940, when Churchill was called from the political wilderness to be first lord of the admiralty. He took the initiative when he wrote Roosevelt a letter in which he proposed a private correspondence on "naval matters." Somewhat disingenuously, he hinted that, as first lord in the First World War, he recalled meeting Roosevelt, who had been assistant secretary of the Navy in the United States. Roosevelt had welcomed the idea of a correspondence, and encouraged it even more when Churchill was elevated to the position of prime minister in May 1940.
By coincidence Churchill came to power on the very day that the panzers of Adolf Hitler launched the blitzkrieg on the western front that resulted in the French surrender and the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk across the channel back to Britain. Britain itself was left alone, largely disarmed and protected only by the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. If Churchill had ever harbored any doubts of Britain's dependence on the United States, he lost them at that time.
Roosevelt proved to be an easy mark for Churchill's flattery and blandishments. He and his wife, Eleanor, were Anglophiles, having hosted the British king and queen at the White House in 1939. Convinced that Britain must survive the war, he did everything politically possible to aid Britain within the limitations imposed by a reluctant American public. In September 1940 Roosevelt signed an executive order transferring fifty "obsolete" American destroyers to Britain in exchange for the use of some naval bases in the Caribbean. In early 1941 he pushed through Congress the Lend-Lease Act, which essentially absolved Britain from paying for the growing supply of armaments the United States was providing them. In August 1941 the two national leaders met at Argentia, Newfoundland, flashing a message to the world that the United States, though neutral in the European conflict, was "neutral on Britain's side." American and British military staffs began joint planning for the day when the United States would enter the war. By later that year, American warships were exchanging fire with German submarines in the North Atlantic. In effect, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and Hitler's declaration of war three days later were merely confirming a situation that already existed. America was already in the war.
Churchill had long been anticipating the day, and he had already laid his plans for an early conference with Roosevelt. He now had a reason for extra urgency: the Americans might change plans and put their strength against Japan, not Nazi Germany. He wheedled a reluctant invitation from Roosevelt, and on December 12, 1941, he and a large staff left Scotland destined for the United States. While at sea he sent a single message to Roosevelt asking him to reaffirm the previously agreed-on principle of "Europe First." On receiving a quick affirmative reply, he knew that he had already accomplished his most urgent aim.
Churchill's party arrived at Hampton Roads on the evening of December 22, and a plane was waiting to fly him to Washington, where Roosevelt and his right-hand man, Harry Hopkins, were out at the airport. Roosevelt invited Churchill to stay as a personal guest in the White House.
Churchill's main aim now was to make friends with Roosevelt, and the president reciprocated, going all out to accommodate his guest. The two quickly became personal friends. Too much so, it was reported, for the taste of Eleanor Roosevelt, who was uncomfortable over the late hours her husband was keeping in playing the genial host. Another unhappy person was General George Marshall, the American Army Chief of Staff, who feared that the persuasive Churchill might lure Roosevelt into participating in ventures of solely British interest, not desirable to the Americans.
Churchill himself was also under great strain. He was forced to tolerate the large Roosevelt family, bent on celebrating a large, happy Christmas despite the war. He was also called on to speak at the traditional lighting of the national Christmas tree on the Ellipse. But he drew the line at the Christmas dinner. He left early to prepare a speech to the joint session of Congress.
The next day Churchill and his physician were driven to the Capitol to address Congress. He went with trepidation, worried about the reception he would receive. Unlike many of his countrymen, who still thought of the Americans as merely "transplanted Englishmen," he knew better. Further, he was still haunted by the fear that the members individually represented constituents whose thirst for revenge on Japan might tempt them to ignore the European Theater. Churchill's worries turned out to be unfounded, however. The American senators and congressmen vied with each other to laud him.
He was at his most eloquent. In one paragraph he summarized what Americans had been thinking but could not, without his oratorical ability, so eloquently verbalize:
What sort of people do they [the Axis powers] think we are? Is it possible they do not realize that we shall never cease to persevere against them until they have been taught a lesson which they and the world will never forget? He must indeed have a blind soul who cannot see that some great purpose and design is being worked out here below, of which we have the honor to be the faithful servants.... The best tidings of all is that the United States, united as never before, have drawn the sword of freedom and cast away the scabbard.
That concise summary of Allied war aims, though inspirational, was overshadowed by some words spoken at the beginning. Referring to his American-born mother, he remarked, "I cannot help reflecting that if my father had been American and my mother British, instead of the other way around, I might have got here [into the American Congress] on my own." Such flattery struck a responsive chord. From that time forward, not only the Congress but Americans in general looked on the British prime minister as one of their own.
Following the Christmas celebrations and Churchill's address to Congress, the code-named ARCADIA conference settled down in earnest. They were breaking new ground in history. Two strong, proud nations, sharing resources though lacking any formal treaty between them, were now planning ways to employ those resources. Most of the issues fell into the sphere of the military organization, in which the Army Chief of Staff, George C. Marshall, dominated. His greatest accomplishment was to establish a system of theater commands around the world, each consisting of troops from all the services of the Allied nations involved. Some British officers resisted the idea, but Marshall, as an enticement, proposed that the first theater commander should be British general Sir Archibald Wavell, who would command all the American, British, and Dutch forces fighting Japan in the Far East. Possibly aided by that carrot, Marshall finally won his point.
The ARCADIA Conference had set up procedures and, more important, had affirmed the Anglo-American plan to concentrate the bulk of their forces on what they considered their main enemy, Nazi Germany, and only when Hitler was destroyed turn their combined might on Japan. Churchill and Roosevelt had not seriously discussed how the war in Europe would be fought. Would the Allies invade France, and if so, when? It was here that Churchill, armed with a vital geographical position—Britain—and experienced staffs, virtually dictated the way the European war would be fought. This he managed so deftly that the people of both Britain and the United States had the impression that everything had always gone smoothly, according to a previously agreed-upon plan. Such was far from the case.
In his dealings with the Americans, Churchill always downplayed the fact that British and American war aims were far from identical, emphasizing their partnership as allies against Hitler, Mussolini, and Japan. And so they were. What he seldom emphasized was his determination to preserve the already shaky British Empire, which spread from England, and included Gibraltar, India, Malaysia, and Hong Kong. Americans had no interest in Britain's empire; in fact, our anticolonial tradition gave Churchill little or no sympathy in his effort to preserve it. But they, like the British, tried to brush that issue under the rug unless, as Marshall in particular feared, American troops would be employed to that end. The result was a dichotomy of concepts. Churchill conceived defeating Hitler by first securing the Mediterranean and then squeezing Hitler's Western Europe in a gigantic ring;3 the American Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), to whom Roosevelt delegated all but the momentous decisions, wanted to cross the English Channel from Britain at the first possible moment.
The issue was not immediately addressed on Churchill's return to London because the planners had other things on their minds, trying to send troops and supplies to their meager forces in the Pacific that were falling one by one to Japanese power. One by one, Singapore (which fell while Churchill was in the United States), Hong Kong, Malaysia, and the Dutch East Indies eventually fell to the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy. But the Americans, especially Marshall, wanted action, and Marshall initiated it as early as April, even before the fall of Corregidor.
Marshall's staff worked almost around the clock, fighting the war with Japan and at the same time planning for extensive operations in Europe. The overall plan broke down into three phases—or two and a half. The first was a buildup of United States forces in Britain (BOLERO). The second was to launch an invasion of France from Britain in 1943 (ROUNDUP). The third was a long shot, a high-risk attack across the Channel that very same year, 1942 (SLEDGEHAMMER). The last of these was the issue at stake. BOLERO was a basic requisite, and ROUNDUP, Marshall's "Holy Grail," was a year off. SLEDGEHAMMER, if it could be sold, was designed to take the heat off the beleaguered Russians, who were reeling under vicious German attacks in the Caucasus. Russia must not be allowed to fall.
Roosevelt was not immediately convinced. But his respect for Marshall was so great that he was reluctant to turn down the chief of staff's plans arbitrarily. He therefore took the easy way out: he ordered Marshall and his staff to sell the program to Churchill. Roosevelt himself would stay in the background, playing the role of arbitrator.
On April 4, 1942, Marshall and Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt's unofficial right-hand man, flew from Washington to London to meet with Churchill and the British military. When they landed in London on April 8, they were surprised to find Churchill himself at the airport to meet them. They were about to begin their education in how Churchill got his own way.
It seems inconceivable that Churchill would ever give SLEDGEHAMMER serious consideration. But he did not say no. He invited Hopkins to stay with him, and during the next few days Hopkins conferred with Churchill. Marshall, on the other hand, concentrated on the British Chiefs of Staff (BCOS). This arrangement gave Marshall one great advantage: he was spared the ordeal of conforming to Churchill's late nights. Hopkins, though also a night person, was outclassed.
There was only one bad moment, and it had nothing to do with war planning. On Saturday night—or three o'clock Sunday morning, April 12—the conviviality was interrupted by a message from Roosevelt in which the president offered no sympathy for the failure of the so-called Cripps Mission to India. Churchill had sent Sir Stafford Cripps to visit Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi and persuade him to cease agitating against British rule, at least for the duration of the war. Gandhi had refused. So upset was the prime minister that he berated Hopkins for some time. Yet even that episode did not mar the generally cordial nature of the few days of talks.
Churchill had charmed his guests. Not only Marshall but also the more cynical Hopkins left London on April 18 believing that Churchill had agreed to executing SLEDGEHAMMER in 1942. They were especially inspired by Churchill's rhetoric regarding the "two nations marching shoulder to shoulder in a great brotherhood of arms." They so reported to Roosevelt, who was pleased but remained noncommittal. He was more aware of Churchill's indirect tactics than were his emissaries.
Following that meeting, an amazing four months then passed without direct discussions between the Americans and the British. Nevertheless, the problem would not go away. A series of visitors came to Washington, the most important of whom was Russian foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, who pleaded for SLEDGEHAMMER. Possibly to offset Molotov, Churchill sent Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, who threw cold water on it.
Churchill came to Washington again in June, but no conclusions were reached. At that time, however, Roosevelt informed Churchill of the establishment of the MANHATTAN PROJECT, a set of scientists and engineers meeting at Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Its purpose was to develop a new super-bomb, based on the energy released from splitting the atom. Churchill offered to contribute what scientific brains Britain had to offer, under the overall direction of the Americans.
Finally, Roosevelt decided to bring the question of SLEDGEHAMMER to a head and again sent Marshall and Hopkins to London, with Admiral Ernest King. Churchill did not mince words. Citing the "War Cabinet," which was really an extension of Churchill's views, he declared that SLEDGEHAMMER in 1942 was out. On notification, Roosevelt was apparently pleased, and he readily agreed that instead of crossing the English Channel in 1942, the Allies would "occupy" French North Africa before the end of the year.
Why these discussions had been so stretched out remains difficult to understand. One possibility, a strong one, is that such an invasion in 1942 was never really in the cards, because the Americans were not yet prepared to participate. Perhaps at the first Hopkins-Marshall visit Churchill was carried away with the thought. As John Keegan has written of the First World War, Churchill was "undiscriminating if a project were grand enough."
Whatever Churchill's thought processes, he had carried the day in what was perhaps the single most important Anglo-American strategic decision of the war: the Mediterranean would be the arena of Allied action for the rest of 1942 and probably into 1943.
Once the invasion of North Africa in the fall of 1942 was agreed upon, a commander had to be selected. But who? Oddly, Roosevelt and Churchill quickly decided that he would have to be an American, because the Vichy French occupying Morocco and Algeria had not forgotten Churchill's sending the Royal Navy into Oran Harbor and destroying the French fleet to prevent its falling into German hands after the French defeat in 1940. Many American generals were possibilities for the post, but Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower was already on the spot as commanding general of U.S. Forces in Europe. Eisenhower was young—not yet fifty-two years of age—and he lacked experience in high command, but Marshall placed a great amount of trust in him and he quickly convinced Roosevelt and Churchill that Eisenhower was the best choice. So Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed as Allied Force commander for Operation TORCH.
Excerpted from SOLDIERS AND STATESMEN by JOHN S. D. EISENHOWER Copyright © 2012 by John S. D. Eisenhower. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI PRESS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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