on 8 August 2014
Wars are fought by enlisted men and led by NCOs and Junior Officers. Generals, Chiefs and their Government Masters make the plans that are so essential for Victory. This book takes a good look at the four giant Western WW2 personalities - two American and two British who devised, argued, cajouled, and conferrred with each other - and with others. They devised the strategy that overthrew the Nazi and Faschist Alliance between 1941-1945 and resulted in the overthrow and inconditional surrender of Nazi germany. Natioal Leaders in a Democracy must be seen to always act in the Public Interest. The Military Chiefs being mindful of the lives of the men they Command - as well as the defeat of the enemy. The author shines a light on the personalities of these four strong minded men and their many meetings where they thrashed out the strategy for Victory. There were many disagreements and arguments at conferences - but they somehow remained united in their quest to defeat Nazi Germany as the prelude to defeating Japan in the Pacific. That was the strategy that Winston Churchil and President Roosevelt had agreed they would follow at their meeting soon after the Japanese attack on the US Navy at Pearl Harbour in December 1941. This book is compelling reading and gave me a better understanding of the enormous responsibilities that these four Senior Leaders carried at that precarious time in our world history.
on 25 November 2008
This fascinating book, thick with historical data and insights, makes a riveting read. Whilst having no wish to quarrel with previous reviewers, for this reviewer, the book's strength is to be found within the all too rare combination of the elucidation of pertinent details and the subsequent compilation and marshaling of this data in order to reach coherent conclusions. The hi-lighting of detailed minutiae is only of secondary value, it would appear, if any historical advances are unable to be procured from it. Fortunately, this fastidiously researched volume abounds in both.
It is a lengthy read, at round 670 pages, and is at times dense in the chronicled information it conveys. It is an honest read, too, and this reviewer proffers that an alternative title could well have been formed along the lines of 'How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke very nearly didn't Win the War in the West'! Indeed, some readers - especially those none too conversant with the internecine bickering that went on in and around the corridors of power prior to the D-Day Landings, for example - might be quite take aback at the apparent abrasiveness and the various fractious dealings which formed part of the staple diet of 'Allied' conferences, rhetoric and debate.
This reviewer would want to take issue with one or two points in previous press reviews which have suggested that, whilst Andrew Roberts' book remains a immense achievement, it establishes and thus contributes only slight, minor historical detail to the ongoing research into the WWII fray. Surely this is both to ignore key passages and sections of the book and to miss the point. Firstly, from an historical perspective, Roberts has successfully revealed a number of new 'primary' sources (in the forms of 'oral' reports and written chronicles, diaries et al) and, secondly, this information helps us to somewhat 'recalibrate' certainly, and possibly even to reassess the methods and the roles of a number of key policymakers. Again, this would appear to illustrate the author's successful achievement in having interpreted the mass of available data and having translated this into 'applied history'.
There is plenty of historical meat within this work and it should appeal to the interested/well-informed general reader on the one hand and the historian (and possibly even the military tactician) on the other. IThis reviewer found the sections relating to the Allies' 'sweep' across Europe especially interesting and I must congratulate Andrew Roberts on handling the material (which remains a sensitive substance within certain quarters and factions) very well, with confidence and authority. Narratives pertaining to the reticence with which Brooke approached the invasion of France, the mood swings and what amounted to the basic pessimism of Churchill et al will never sit easily with some, yet to gloss over delicate topics such as these would be to gloss over history and to, ultimately misrepresent it. As Quiller-Couch put it, we sometimes have to be prepared 'to murder our darlings' ... occasionally these need to be historical or conceptual little treasures, too!
In a nutshell, this volume accomplishes a great deal, to the mind of this reviewer, at least. It is eminently readable, dense with data, and offers measurable and definite conclusions based on the material within. As ever, this work, too, will now be subject to the rigours of historic analysis itself. This reviewer suspects that it will fair pretty well.
Michael Calum Jacques (author of '1st Century Radical: the shadowy origins of the man who became known as Jesus Christ')
on 18 August 2014
Masters and Commanders is the story of how British and US leaders set the overall Anglo-American strategy of the Second World War.
I found the book fascinating for most of it's 600 pages. It's a long and very detailed book, but written in a gripping style.
The Anglo-American disagreements were between a Clausewitzian head on attack on Germany (largely favoured by the US) and a more Sun Tzu style whittling down (largely favoured by the British).
Churchill is seen as the core of the alliance and as a very human figure - massively energetic, hugely charming, a genius, but harebrained, stubborn, emotional and sometimes a bully - although much is made of the fact that he never overruled his commanders.
Brooke, the British chief of staff comes over as the tough-guy Churchill needed to keep him on track. The fact that Brooke kept a diary means his views on strategy are clearly understood as well as his views on the other characters (none of whom, in his opinion, really 'get it', his exasperation with almost everyone comes over well).
President Roosevelt is portrayed as the swing vote with little understanding of military strategy, though a political genius. Everyone tries to keep Churchill away from him, afraid of his persuasiveness.
American chief of staff General Marshall comes across as a tough-minded and professional soldier as well as an old-school gentleman, not perhaps a strategic genius, but a genius as an organiser.
American Admiral King is cast almost as the villain - an unpleasant man, who no one on either side likes and who is constantly upsetting the apple cart. Many of the other Americans are accused of an irrational hatred and suspicion of the British. The British are shown as at least up to 1943 as being better organised. After that, the Americans catch up and then take over - to the chagrin of some of the British.
The participants are mostly exhausted and sick of each other by the end and relationships have become strained to say the least - the victory celebration where Churchill offers Brooke champagne and a short speech of thanks and appreciation and gets nothing in return was almost heartbreaking - but disagreements were brushed over in the flush of victory and the participant's postwar memoirs are also shown to be uniformly self-serving and bowdlerised.
The author also makes the case that both the Americans and the British fell into group-think, but were forced to justify themselves to the other nation. In the end that made the allies' strategy better - the British-style 'peripheral' strategy was right in 1942 and 1943, but by 1944 the time had come for the American-style 'frontal assault'.
The book did get a bit samey (another conference, more arguing) and it petered out a bit towards the end, but I guess that's a consequence of the fact that it's real history, not a novel.
Overall a fascinating study for anyone interested in grand strategy.
on 12 October 2008
Reviews of Masters and Commanders
`Writing with clarity and elegance, Mr Roberts conveys how his four principals and their armies of aides and staff officers thrashed out the formulae for victory. This is an important book which, in its layered references to Waterloo, the Crimea and the Somme, sees Mr Roberts lay claim to the title of Britain's finest contemporary military historian.'
`Despite eschewing the visceral drama of the battlefield for the less deadly, if no less hard-fought, debates of various Allied conferences, cabinets and committees, Roberts has produced a surprisingly gripping read. He has marshalled his material superbly and his warts-and-all assessment of his four subjects is invariable spot-on. Exhaustively researched and judiciously written, with a gimlet eye for telling detail, this may be his finest book yet.'
Saul David, Sunday Telegraph
`In Masters and Commanders, Roberts offers us a compelling analysis of American and British strategy during the war. He also tells a profoundly human story - of two soldiers who loyally served their masters, only to be each denied at the end the prize that would have made one of them world famous.'
Laurence Rees, Sunday Times
`Roberts displays a profound understanding of the interactions between strategy and politics, and his interpretation of British/US strategic relations between 1941 and 1945 is unlikely to be superseded.'
Prof Vernon Bogdanor, Financial Times
`Couched in elegant prose, this book is a masterpiece of robust historical analysis, steeped in scholarship and alive to every nuance of personality. Roberts re-evaluates each of the masters and commanders with scrupulous fairness.'
Christopher Silvester, Daily Express
`The author has crafted a masterly and fresh interpretation of the grand strategy of World War II. Roberts's pen-portraits, with their wealth of amusing and often acerbic anecdotes, reveal the evolution of that strategy by the master statesmen.'
John Crossland, Daily Mail
`The strength of Masters and Commanders lies in the power of the narrative and the fascinating detail used to construct it. Roberts has exploited a rich mine of private papers to fill in missing parts of the story, and although there is little new to be learned about the long strategic arguments between the British and the Americans over the best way to defeat Hitler, there is a lot to learn about the way that argument took place. Roberts has a shrewd grasp of the ins and outs of decision making.'
Prof Richard Overy, Literary Review
`Marshal Foch famously said that he had "less respect for Napoleon, now that I know what a coalition is". The high quality of the leadership of the coalition Andrew Roberts so expertly describes was a decisive factor in their success.'
Conrad Black, Mail on Sunday
`A wonderful page-turner, a really good read.'
Chris Patten, Start the Week
on 10 September 2009
I thorouhgly enjoyed this book. It may be a little too detailed for a general reader but as a former History teacher I appreciated the enormous amount of work which has gone into researching the correspondence between the generals and between the politicians in charge of the British and American forces. I knew very little about the man in charge of the Combined British Forces, Sir Alan Brooke, and this book has done much to remedy that. Andrew Roberts clearly has a soft spot for Brooke but this does not prevent him from being objective in his writing. The book also shows the enormous and probably unappeciated strain which the war placed on both masters and commanders. I would recommend reading it before the other book, his History of the Second World War, as it places the overall outcome of events in a deeper context.
on 20 October 2009
This is a brilliant study of the wartime cooperation between Prime Minister Churchill, President Roosevelt, and their military commanders, General George C. Marshall and General Sir Alan Brooke. Roberts makes good use of the previously unused verbatim notes of War Cabinet meetings taken by Lawrence Burgis (assistant secretary to the Cabinet office) and the reports of Cabinet meetings made by deputy Cabinet secretary Norman Brooke, released in 2007. Roberts also uses the diaries of 27 senior figures and the unpublished papers of another 60.
After the battle of Britain, the USA and Britain had the luxuries of time and space. With Britain no longer under threat of imminent invasion, they could choose when and where to deploy their forces. The Soviet Union had no such freedom. The US and British governments were relying on the Soviets to win the war for them, or at least to weaken the German army enough to make D-Day possible.
Marshall and the US Chiefs of Staff wanted to concentrate the entire US-British war effort on the key point of the battlefield, Northwest Europe, as soon as possible, that is, in 1942 or 1943. But Churchill and Brooke saw a premature landing in France as the greatest danger.
So Churchill said that he agreed, writing to Roosevelt in April 1942 of a Second Front in September 1942 or even `before then'. Instead though, he continually proposed other operations, in North Africa, Italy, the Balkans, Norway ...
Marshall said that Torch, the North African campaign of 1942-43, `represented an abandonment of the strategy agreed in April'. Roberts adds, "and of course he was right." Roberts writes, "Churchill and Brooke had deliberately misled Roosevelt and Marshall into thinking that if the United States poured troops into the United Kingdom in 1942 they might be used to attack France that year, when in fact they had no intention of allowing that to happen."
In June 1942, Churchill and Roosevelt promised Molotov, in writing, the Second Front: "we expect the formation of a Second Front this year." After his meeting with Molotov, Roosevelt issued a communiqué: "Full understanding was reached with regard to the urgent task of creating a Second Front in Europe in 1942." On 3 February 1943, Churchill said to Stalin, "We are aiming at August  for a heavy operation across the Channel."
Yet there was no D-Day until 6 June 1944. But there were plenty of diversions. As Roberts points out, the Italian campaign of 1943-44 was `largely a waste of effort after Rome'. Operation Anvil, the invasion in the south of France in June 1944 was also a waste of time - the Allies should have focused on freeing Antwerp, not Marseilles.
Roberts sums up the Soviet Union's decisive role, "it was the Eastern Front that annihilated the Nazi dream of Lebensraum (`living space') for the `master race'. Four in every five German soldiers killed in the Second World War died on the Eastern Front, an inconvenient fact for any historian who wishes to make too much of the Western Allies' contribution to the victory."
on 26 August 2009
Beware, this book is not a history of WW II, nor does it deal with "the operational art" of battles and campaigns.
The subject of this book is British and U.S. grand strategy in WW II, and how it was decided upon. Andrew Roberts analyses and describes much source material, some of it previously locked away in archives. In particular he has consulted verbatim reports of Cabinet and General Staff meetings.
Robert's book is clearly structured and very well written. A prerequisite for full enjoyment of the book is some knowledge of WWII history, but if you have that, in this area of WW II studies, this book is simply the best.
on 5 December 2008
I read a short review of this book in the Sunday times and ordered a copy next day. I had never heard of Alan Brooke and only knew of George Marshall from the post war Marshall Plan, so the book was a revelation. For two weeks this has been my bedtime read, and I always looked forward to it. The mixture of high politics and anecdotal detail from the diaries of the observers of these events was fascinating.
At times I felt that I was in the room with the protagonists and could feel their frustration. Previously I had only a gritty view of the physical war, but now better understand the high stakes at the high table of war.
I normally read historical, crime and spy fiction, so well done Andrew Roberts for producing a book to be enjoyed by the likes of me. It was very well researched and some of the material drawn from unpublished memoires and diaries are real gems of insight.
on 7 December 2015
Excellent copy. Very carefully wrapped. Happy to re-read the in-depth story of the four men who basically ran the Allies show during WWII. It was a bonus for me that Andrew Roberts, the author of this tremendous book, was happy to communicate with his readers.
on 20 September 2009
It is commonly asserted that about two-thirds of business mergers ultimately fail, usually because of an inability to mesh the cultures of the new partners. True in business, that seems also true in politics, especially when several nations, each with its own interests, attempt to work together in war to defeat a common enemy. Thus it was no easy task for the British and Americans to merge their forces in order to defeat their deadly foes in the Second World War. In this meticulously documented, but engagingly written book, Andrew Roberts explains how the two heads of state, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, and their two senior military advisers, Generals George Marshall and Alan Brooke, charmed and debated and disparaged each other, but ultimately arrived at a consensus that allowed them to set out consistent policies and, ultimately, to win the war.
Roberts is British, and his account has a British perspective perhaps, but that is understandable since the two democracies began their alliance before America had been attacked, and when the immediate threat came from Nazi Germany, which had almost effortlessly gobbled up western Europe and was preparing to swallow the "sceptred isle" as well. Much emphasis is given to the development of the "Germany first" policy, which was a tough sell to America after the assault on Pearl Harbor.
Roberts does a good job of describing the character and traits of his four protagonists, none of them a shrinking violet. They emerge from his pages as powerful personalities who did not submerge their own ideas readily, but could eventually put the broad interests of their military enterprise ahead of personal pride. Their German opponent, Adolf Hitler, considered himself omniscient and never had to defend his ideas against the differing opinion of a subordinate. He ruled supreme, commanded without regard for his generals' apprehensions and concerns, and...lost.
The author has recently published (in Britain, not yet in America) The Storm of War, a one-volume account of the Second World War. Masters and Commanders makes an excellent prelude to the new book. For those who enjoy the first book as much as this reviewer, it will be pleasing to know there will be another, for dessert.