"Running a war seems to consist in making plans and then ensuring that all those destined to carry it out don't quarrel with each other instead of the enemy." - Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke
WAR DIARIES is Alanbrooke's daily record of events, addressed to his beloved wife Benita, during the time that he was British II Corps commander in France, then head of (England's) Southern Command, then Commander-in-Chief of Home Forces, and finally Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) from December 1941.
It isn't until page 205 of this monster 721 page narrative that Alanbrooke (AB) becomes CIGS. The reader would've been better served if this volume's editors had eliminated the first 204 pages, which are barely more than a series of entries with the flavor of that for 18 April 1941:
"Left 8:15 am for Dover where I met Bulgy Thorne and Charles Allfrey and went round with them defences 43rd Div round from Dover through Walmer, Deal, Ramsgate, Margate, Herne Bay and Whitstable. Finally returned at 6:45 pm and put in an hour in the office."
It isn't until AB becomes CIGS, when his perspective on the war becomes global and he interacts on a daily basis with Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his generals, and attends periodic conferences with Roosevelt and Stalin and their military chiefs, that AB's nightly jottings become interesting in an historical and personal sense. It's then you realize the truth behind AB's observation that heads this review.
AB, rightly or wrongly, evidently considered himself to be the best war strategist available to the western Allies. His opinion of the strategic ability of Churchill and such military commanders as U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower, U.S. General George Marshall, U.S. Admiral Ernest King, and Louis Mountbatten (Supreme Commander, Southeast Asia) is positively scathing. Indeed, AB doesn't consistently say nice things about anybody except Field Marshal John Dill (his mentor and predecessor as CIGS), Joseph Stalin, and (briefly) U.S. General Douglas MacArthur (whom he never actually meets between these pages).
The first post-war publication of AB's diary caused a stir on both sides of The Pond for its excoriation of Eisenhower and Churchill. Indeed, though AB admired and loved Winston as the superman without whom England would've lost the war, the latter's inconsiderate treatment of those around him and his gadfly approach to war strategy caused AB to write in frustration on 10 September 1944:
"Never have I admired and despised a man simultaneously to the same extent."
What comes across in WAR DIARIES is that Alanbrooke was the consummate staff officer - competent, dedicated, meticulous, organized, hard working to a fault, intelligent, honest, honorable, and persistent - upon whom Winston relied upon (without giving public credit) to haul the Empire back from the brink of defeat. Outside of his duties, however, AB was an oddly mild and unprepossessing man. His chief hobby was birdwatching; he liked to show bird films to friends who came to dine with him and Benita. Also, he seems a rather dour individual who took himself too seriously. There's no evidence in his writing of any humor, self-deprecating or otherwise.
WAR DIARIES contains a small section of sixteen photographs that's inadequate when considering those individuals often mentioned, but who don't appear: Roosevelt, King George VI, Stalin, de Gaulle, Eisenhower, AB's elder son Tom, Polish Lt. General Wladyslaw Anders, British generals "Jumbo" Wilson, Claude Auchinleck, and Ronald Adam, South African Prime Minister Smuts, and Canadian generals Andrew McNaughton and Henry Crerar.
Despite the first 200 pages, which are virtually useless except that they introduce one to AB's way of thinking and writing style, I'm awarding four stars because the remainder of WAR DIARIES is a fascinating worldview rarely encountered by Yanks, a perspective in which the American icons of WWII mythology - Marshall, Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, and Churchill - aren't painted as the heroes we're familiar with. And, because honor is due Alanbrooke's Herculean but largely ignored and unappreciated service to his King, country and the Allies.