For most of the Second World War, General Sir Alan Brooke (1883–1963), later Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke, was Britain's Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) and Winston Churchill's principal military adviser, and antagonist, in the inner councils of war. He is commonly considered the greatest CIGS in the history of the British Army. His diaries—published here for the first time in complete and unexpurgated form—are one of the most important and the most controversial military diaries of the modern era. The last great chronicle of the Second World War, they provide a riveting blow-by-blow account of how the war was waged and eventually won—including the controversies over the Second Front and the desperate search for a strategy, the Allied bomber offensive, the Italian campaign, the D-day landings, the race for Berlin, the divisions of Yalta, and the postwar settlement.
Beginning in September 1939, the diaries were written up each night in the strictest secrecy and against all regulations. Alanbrooke's mask of command was legendary but these diaries tell us what he really saw and felt: moments of triumph and exhilaration, but also frustration, depression, betrayal, and doubt. They expose the gulf between the military and the politicians of the War Cabinet, and how often military strategy was misguided and nearly derailed by political prejudices. They also reveal the incredible strain on Alanbrooke of the Allied conferences in Washington, Moscow, Casablanca, Quebec, and Tehran, as he tried after intense and exhausting argument (not least with Churchill) to match Allied strategy with the reality of British military power and the fragility of the British Empire. These diaries demonstrate the true depth of Alanbrooke's rage and despair at Churchill's failure to grasp overall strategy. This was particularly acute in the winter of 1943–44 when Churchill, fueled by medicine and alcohol, no longer seemed master of himself.
Alex Danchev is Professor of International Relations at Keele University. His books include A Very Special Relationship: Field Marshal Sir John Dill and the Anglo-American Alliance (1987) and Alchemist of War: The Life of Basil Liddell Hart (1998). Daniel Todman is a history research graduate at Pembroke College, Cambridge.
Note: first names and titles have been inserted in this text in [square brackets]. In the book itself, all of the individuals referred to by last name were introduced earlier and so only the last name is used. In addition, the book includes a detailed cast of characters with short biographical descriptions of the major figures.
6 August 1942
One of the most difficult days of my life, with momentous decisions to take as far as my own future and that of the war was concerned.
Whilst I was dressing and practically naked, the PM suddenly burst into my room. Very elated and informed me that his thoughts were taking shape and that he would soon commit himself to paper! I rather shuddered and wondered what he was up to! Ten minutes later he burst into my room again and invited me to breakfast with him. However, as I was in the middle of my breakfast by then he asked me to come as soon as I had finished my breakfast. When I went round he made me sit on the sofa whilst he walked up and down. First of all he said he had decided to split the ME Command in two. A Near East taking up to the canal, and a Middle East taking Syria, Palestine, Persia and Iraq. I argued with him that the Canal was an impossible boundary as both Palestine and Syria are based administratively on Egypt. He partially agreed, and then went on to say that he intended to remove the Auk [Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck] to the Persia Iraq Command as he had lost confidence in him. And he wanted me to take over the Near East Command with [Field Marshal Viscount] Montgomery as my 8th Army Commander! This made my heart race very fast!! He said he did not require an answer at once, and that I could think it over if I wanted. However I told him without waiting that I was quite certain that it would be a wrong move. I knew nothing about desert warfare, and could never have time to grip hold of the show to my satisfaction before the necessity to attack became imperative.
Another point which I did not mention was that after working with the PM for close on 9 months I do feel at last that I can exercise a limited amount of control on some of his activities and that at last he is beginning to take my advice. I feel therefore that, tempting as the offer is by accepting it I should definitely be taking a course which would on the whole help the war the least. Finally I could not bear the thought that Auchinleck might think that I had come out here on purpose to work myself into his shoes! PM was not pleased with this reply but accepted it well.
At 10.30 we had a meeting with him, [Lieutenant General Sir Wilfrid Gordon] Lindsell, [General Sir Ronald F.] Adam and [Lieutenant General Thomas William] Corbett to examine details concerning tail of the army. It was not a happy meeting and he rather lost his temper with Corbett before it was over. [Field Marshal Jan Christian] Smuts attended. After the meeting, I took Adam, Lindsell and Corbett onto the lawn to decide action to take to meet PM's requirements.
After lunch Smuts asked if he could see me for a bit, and we retired to a quiet room. He then started on the same story as the PM in the morning. Telling me what importance he attached to my taking it, and what a wonderful future it would have for me if I succeeded in defeating Rommel. I repeated exactly what I had said to PM. Thanked him for his kindness and told him that he did not really know me well enough to be so assured I should make a success of it. However, he replied that he knew I had taken a leading part in saving the BEF [British Expeditionary Force] in France. At last I got him to agree that Alexander [Harold, Earl Alexander of Tunis] was a better selection than me. I have been giving it a great deal of thought all day and am quite convinced that my decision was a right one, and that I can do more by remaining as CIGS [Chief of the Imperial General Staff].
Then went round to GHQ where I had interview with [Lieutenant General Herbert] Lumsden, [General Bernard] Freyberg and Jumbo Wilson [Field Marshal Henry Maitland Wilson]. Then on to an AG [Adjutant-General] meeting to lay down policy for amalgamation of units owing to the shortage of reinforcements. Whilst there was sent for by the PM to meet him and Smuts and read their final decision. The telegram was to the War Cabinet recommending a splitting of the Middle East into Near East and Middle East. Auk to vacate the former and take over the latter. Alexander to take over Near East, [Lieutenant General William Henry Ewart] Gott to take over the 8th Army. [Major General William Havelock] Ramsden to leave, [Lieutenant General Sir Edward Pelew] Quinan [10th Army] to leave, Corbett and [Brigadier Eric E.] Dorman-Smith also to go. Considering everything this is perhaps the best solution. I accepted it. Alexander is to fly out at once to take over ME, and for us to see him before we leave. Went back to GHQ and gave talk on world situation. After that had 1/2 hour with [Richard Gardiner] Casey. Then back for bath and another interview with PM to see his last telegram.
7 August 1942
Spent most of the morning with [Field Marshall Archibald Percival] Wavell discussing various problems connected with India, and getting his advice on the situations which we are faced with here. At 12 noon PM sent for me to see reply from Cabinet to his wire concerning changes. They are quibbling at the split in the Command. Their arguments are not very conclusive and he was able to deal with them fairly easily. Spent afternoon with Adam and Wavell, also interviews with Corbett and Dorman-Smith.
Just as I was starting for home for dinner I received the news that Gott had been killed this afternoon being shot down whilst flying back from Burg el Arab! A very hard blow coming on top of all the planning we had been doing. He was one of our linkpins! I do feel sorry for Mrs Gott. After dinner PM, Smuts and I had conference as to how the matter should be settled. Had some difficulty. PM rather in favor of Wilson. However Smuts assisted me and telegram has now been sent off to Cabinet ordering Montgomery out to take command of 8th Army. I hope we get Alexander and Montgomery out soon so that I may settle details of Corps Commanders and Chiefs of Staff with them.
[William Averill] Harriman arrived today, together with some Russians. They are to accompany us to Moscow. Also Maxwell the American General is to join us. De Gaulle turned up to lunch, as supercilious and self-satisfied as ever. I am longing to finish tidying up this front, and am having rather a job to keep the PM on the move.
Gott's death was a very serious blow, and the most unexpected one. He was flying back on the Burg el Arab-Heliopolis route, considered so safe that no escort had been found necessary for Winston when we flew out. It happened to be an individual German plane, driven out of high altitude in combat, and dashing home at lower altitude. It came across the slow transport plane on its way and shot it down in flames. It seemed almost like the hand of God suddenly appearing to set matters right where we had gone wrong. Looking back on those days with the knowledge of what occurred at Alamein and after it I am convinced that the whole course of the war might well have been altered if Gott had been in command of the 8th Army. In his tired condition I do not think that he would have had the energy and vitality to stage and fight this battle as Monty did. . . . Let it not be imagined from these remarks that I had not got a high opinion of Gott. On the contrary I held him in the highest esteem and capable of great things, but he was not at his best, had had too long a run in the desert, and wanted rest.
8 August 1942
I was called early to go round to PM's bedroom as he had received reply from Cabinet. They had agreed rather reluctantly to splitting of Command, but disliked nomenclature!!! Middle East Command should remain ME Command and new one to be called Persia-Iraq Command. Perhaps they are right. However Montgomery was fixed and his replacement by K. Anderson [1st Army] was settled. Jacob was then sent off with PM's letter to Auchinleck and instructed to bring back reply. PM and I with Harriman then accompanied Dick McCreery in a visit to 8th, 9th and 24th Armoured Brigades. All of them awaiting issue of tanks. Fine lot of men looking very fit. Met many old friends including Charles Norman, Currie, [illegible], etc. Returned here at 2.30 pm, late for a large lunch attended by 3 of our Russian friends who are to accompany us on our journey to Moscow. I had a long talk to the General after lunch. Then back to office to tell Wavell latest developments, and on to the USA GHQ, where I met General Maxwell and was given a full account with film of their recent survey of the trans-African route.
Back to Embassy to see [Field Marshal Sir Claude William] Jacob with PM. Result Auchinleck refuses new appointment and prefers retirement. He is I am sure wrong--the Iraq-Persian front is the one place where he might restore his reputation as active operations are more than probable.
However, I am not certain that we are not better off without him. This will now mean finding new commander, and probably placing this front under India. Went back to GHQ to see Wavell about this, he agrees. Then went back to see Casey and had long talk with him. Apparently he has been having a very difficult time of it with the Auk, and poured his heart out to me. Back to Embassy again to receive a long lecture from PM, with all his pet theories as to how essential it is for Alex to command both ME and 8th Army. I again had to give him a long lecture on the system of the chain of command in the Army! I fear that it did not sink much deeper than it has before!
9 August 1942
Had settled to breakfast with the PM on his terrace at 8.30 am. At 7.15 am his valet woke me to inform me that the PM was awake and wanted to know when I should breakfast. I replied 8.30 am as settled. The valet was horrified and replied, 'But Sir Alan, the Prime Minister likes to breakfast when he wakes up!' I replied that if this was so then I regretted he would have to breakfast alone as I intended to breakfast at 8.30, and turned round for another snooze! At 8.30 I went round. He had finished but bore me no ill will. We were expecting Alexander, and I wanted to see him badly before the PM got hold of him and had instructed for him to be brought round to my room. Unfortunately he arrived whilst I was having breakfast on the veranda. The PM's flag lieutenant whispered in my ear that he had arrived, but PM overheard and had then to be told that Alex had gone to the lavatory! Finally I got an opportunity and dashed out to see him. I wanted to warn him as regards the PM's conception of the Command of the ME as opposed to that of the 8th Army, which he mixes together. I then brought Alex in to PM and we had a long talk after which I had a long go with Alex by himself.
At 12 noon I received a message from the Auk that he had arrived at GHQ and wanted to see me before we went to PM, for which he was already over 1 hour late! I slunk out and went round to GHQ where I found him in a highly stormy and rather unpleasant mood. He wanted to know what the decision had been based on, and I had to explain mainly lack of confidence in him. I then brought him round for the PM to see. He was with him till 1.30 pm and made lunch late. Especially as PM asked to see me as soon as Auk left to tell the results of his interview. Apparently Auk is still havering as to whether to accept Persia-Iraq Command, and PM has given him a few days to think it over. After lunch, I had another interview with the Auk and again found him in an unpleasant mood. Later Alex turned up and I left the two together and went to have an interview with Wavell. Later he and I had 3/4 hour with [Marshal of the RAF Arthur William] Tedder on the air aspect of the proposed new Command. Tedder was astonishingly pigheaded and has fallen in my estimation.He is, I am afraid, only a small brained man. Finally I had 1/2 hour with Maxwell the GHQ gunner on the artillery situation.