This is the first book in a planned two book series focusing on FDR during his war years. This book covers the years 1941 and 1942 which Hamilton considers FDR's most critical decisions occur. Hamilton seeks to shed light on FDR's direction of the war effort and show that FDR was truly the one behind the scenes directing allied strategy. The bleak situation the allies were in and the unpreparedness of America for war are put in focus. This sets the stage for one of the biggest changes in fortune in world history.
Hamilton starts with FDR's meeting with Churchill at Placentia Bay in Canada prior to the Pearl Harbor attack. I found it interesting how FDR handled Churchill in this first meeting. Churchill's expectation dashed as he was expecting the Americans to join the war.
Hamilton writes about the tensions between Japan and the United States and FDR's efforts to contain them. The attack on Pearl Harbor is discussed and what FDR and his chiefs of staff knew before the attack. Hamilton writes of the intercepted diplomatic messages and expectations for attack of the British and Dutch colonies or the Philippines. He explains America's reaction to the attack and FDR's meetings with Churchill. Then tells about the establishment of supreme theatre commanders and Combined Chiefs of Staff stationed in Washington.
Hamilton pulls no punches when discussing MacArthur and Churchill. He points out all their flaws especially with Churchill. He discusses all the things that Churchill either left out of memoirs or glossed over. Hamilton writes of MacArthur's defeat in the Philippines including allowing the air force to be destroyed on the ground and failure to provision Corregidor. He explains the relationship between MacArthur and FDR and suggests why FDR put up with MacArthur's antics.
The story continues with the defeats of the British at Singapore and in Burma. Hamilton talks about FDR pushing Churchill to offer self government to India and Churchill's resistance despite likely collapse of India without change in resolve of the Indian soldiers. Hamilton explains Churchill's reluctance, but uses this episode as an example of FDR's foresight.
Talks about FDR's pet project, the Doolittle bombing raid on Tokyo. Explains how this surprise attack, while not causing substantial damage altered the course of the Pacific campaign by drawing the Japanese away from their pressure on India and the Southern Pacific and back towards the US. With good naval code breaking intelligence, the Americans inflicted heavy casualties on the Japanese at Coral Sea and Midway.
Most of the book follows the allies in their planning of the second front against Germany. The rift in allied strategy hinges on the British reluctance to invade France and seeking to undermine Germany by other means against the American military focus on the invasion of France as the primary means to achieve victory. Always pushing from the side are the Russians, pleading with the Western allies to bring immediate relief by establishment of a second front to relieve pressure from them by distracting the Germans. I found Hamilton's telling of the endless negotiations as the most comprehensive I have read. For some alternate accounts, I recommend Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy and Cross-Channel Attack or Neptune: The Allied Invasion of Europe and the D-Day Landings.
What is often overlooked is FDR's subtle hand in the events. He sets the constraints of American military policy with the intent of bringing his military leaders to the same conclusions that he has reached (invading North Africa). Essentially he imposes a deadline for start of a second front (1942) with the requirement of obtaining British agreement with the plan of attack. Faced with these constraints, General Marshall and the Secretary of War favor a cross channel assault on Normandy, but are unable to get the British to fully support them. During negotiations that frequently are handled in a dubious manner all parties find themselves thinking the other side as incompetent or underhanded. General Marshall threatens to switch to Pacific theater, but his bluff is called by FDR. The British follow a passive non-committal appeasement of the American military only to later veto Marshall's plans. Ultimately FDR's will prevails and Operation Torch is selected to be the primary offensive operation of 1942. Operation Torch is described in limited detail, but enough to show it a successful amphibious assault while pointing out that attack on prepared Normandy beaches might have lead to disaster.
One of the biggest differences, from other accounts I have read is FDR's support for invading North Africa well before it was later recommended by Churchill. Hamilton explains FDR had commissioned several reviews on the idea from the American military, but they indicated that it was not feasible and less likely to succeed than a cross channel attack into Normandy. While a lot changed in 1942 to make the plan more feasible (submarine menace reduced, American production escalation, etc), the American military reviews were proven incorrect.
As to the contention of the Mediterranean operations as unnecessary side shows diverting resources from quicker victory, the book stops too soon to truly analyze the subject. From my knowledge of events, I would say that while Operation Torch was successful, it (along with British opposition) did end up delaying a cross channel attack in 1943. Operation Torch did draw new German divisions to North Africa to contest the Allied thrust and cause Germany to garrison Southern France. Operation Torch did enable follow up operations in Sicily and Italy. These campaigns did result in the collapse of Italy as an adversary, but drained resources and did not result in a decisive victory as Germany was able to maintain resistance in Italy throughout the war without committing immense resources. Italy's withdraw did weaken Germany's hold on the Balkans threatening the resources being exploited there, but as Germany quickly occupied Italy, Germany was provided with significant new free labor (Italian civilians as well as Italian and allied POWs) to put to work in their manufacturing industries. Read John Keegan's The Second World War for a good overview of WWII. And would a 1943 cross channel attack have succeeded as it did 1944. One will never know. However, the battle of Normandy did cripple the Western German army and contribute significantly to the defeat of Germany within one year.
I would note that, Guadalcanal is ignored even though it started in August 1942. The book coverage of the Pacific Theatre stops after Midway.
“The Mantle Of Command” explores FDR’s role as commander in chief from the meeting with Churchill at Placentia Bay, Newfoundland that spawned the Atlantic Charter to the success of Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. The focus is totally on FDR and his relationships with Churchill, Gen. Marshall, Adm. King and other American and foreign military and political leaders. During this time decisions were made in many venues concerning who would declare war on whom and where the Americans would strike back, in the Pacific, across the English Channel or on the periphery of the Nazi empire, North Africa. Roosevelt would manage the delicate relationships with MacArthur and President Quezon as the Philippines were falling and contend with Churchill over concessions to be made to rising Indian Nationalism.
This book brings out facts and viewpoints that I have not encountered elsewhere. Although Newfoundland was a British colony, the Placentia Bay conference was really an American venue as a result of the near-by American base obtained in exchange for the destroyers. President Quezon advanced a proposal for Philippine independence and neutrality that had to be dealt with to avoid the appearance of Asian peoples accommodating Japan, as did Indian troops who switched to fight for the Japanese. As the Philippines were falling Gen. MacArthur got President Quezon to deposit $500,000 into MacArthur’s account for past services. The British war effort to that point is shown as having been a series of defeats, some without fighting that led, inevitably, to a lack of confidence in British arms, the retreat from Empire and its replacement by the United States as the driver of the Allied war effort. Victory at Midway is shown, not only as a turning point in the Pacific, as I had seen it, but as having saved India and Ceylon by drawing Japanese Navy Units back from the Indian Ocean. Consultations with Canadian Prime Minister McKenzie King play a greater role than in any other book that I have read.
Author Nigel Hamilton shows FDR as the master military, as well as political strategist. He is depicted as the leader who resisted the call to declare war at Placentia Bay while insisting on a statement of principles. It was Roosevelt who overruled his generals, including Marshall, in their demands for a cross Channel invasion in 1942 or 1943 while ordering the landings in North Africa. I had often read of that decision being largely a political one, one designed to get Americans fighting against the Germans before public opinion would force a Japan First policy, a policy that Marshall and King advocated at times. Hamilton presents it as a military reading of the need to give Americans experience against French resistance before taking on the Germans and a real way to provide a second front to draw pressure off of the Russians.
Readers quickly get the idea that Roosevelt was the indispensible man, not only as the political genius who coaxed a reluctant nation into war and guided it to the Germany First policy, but also as the military commander who could see opportunities and limitations that even the professionals overlooked. He is shown as more practical than Churchill and wiser than the generals and admirals and a statesman who put soldiers’ lives ahead of Democratic votes. When I finished this book I had a much different view of many of the events of 1941-42. I had a much greater appreciation of Roosevelt’s contribution than I had previously. I am left wondering whether Hamilton has carried his analysis too far. Did Midway really save India? Did FDR doubt Marshall’s judgment to America’s advantage? Did the President really foresee that, like the British who took two years to learn how to fight Germans, Americans would need on the job training for combat? Perhaps not as much as this work suggests, but even with those doubts “The Mantle Of Command” is a monumental contribution to World War II literature.
Excellent history of Roosevelt's handling of one of the most challenging times, told in an excellent narrative that keeps you interested all the way through. Hamilton uses primary sources, which gives him insights that challenge the usual narrative, and give insight into the major players in this drama. Since FDR didn't live long enough to write his own memoirs (although he was preparing his papers for that task), many of the others (especially Churchill) shaped this history to their own perspectives, and to their own benefit. Hamilton has in essence shown the world the true story. I await the next volume to finish this peek behind the curtain.