George B. McClellan
George B. McClellan
Abraham Lincoln and George B. McClellan
Both President Lincoln and Prime Minister Winston Churchill had a remarkable capacity to grasp the complexity of war, but even they needed to work through subordinates who did not always share their military priorities. Still, Churchill critics like historian John Connell have written: “Churchill’s strategic ideas have been amateurish, his judgment on people and events often mercurial, and his attitude towards senior commanders ambivalent; but his courage and his zest in a dark time were matchless.”1 Both leaders have not been immune from criticism about their tactical and leadership decisions. Lincoln’s strategy was characterized by the “Anaconda strategy” originated by General Winfield Scott – to surround and squeeze the Confederacy. Churchill’s “Mediterranean strategy” stressed confronting the Axis powers in North Africa before battling them in Europe. Even these strategic decisions were questioned. As historian Tuvia Ben-Moshe observed: “Churchill deepened his Britain’s involvement in the Middle East to a degree greater than that desired by his military advisers. Moreover, he did so without according priority to laying the foundations for future Anglo-American military cooperation.”2 Critics, however, have the advantage of hindsight. Churchill and Lincoln had to make decisions based on the domestic and international political pressures they perceived as well as the military priorities they set.
In January 1862, President Lincoln received a letter from General Henry W. Halleck, then commanding Union troops in the Mississippi River valley. “It is exceedingly discouraging,” President Lincoln wrote. “As everywhere else, nothing can be done.”3 For Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill, dealing with generals could be frustrating. They would urge action. The generals would explain why action was impossible – at least impossible without more men and more resources. Historian John Connell observed: “Churchill’s sentiments about generals were ambivalent from his earliest youth onwards: he distrusted and despised them, yet he yearned to be himself a super-general, in emulation of his ancestor, [the Duke of] Marlborough.”4
Generals themselves became frustrated with their civilian bosses. At one point in 1943 at a Washington conference, General Archibald Wavell took umbrage at Churchill’s remarks. On May 9, General Alan Brooke wrote in his diary that a Wavell aide “arrived while I was shaving with a note from Archie in which he said that had been unable to sleep and was so upset by Winston’s reference to the Burma operations that he proposed to send him a letter which he enclosed. In that letter he said that since Winston had lost confidence in him it was better for him to send in his resignation!!! I went round and saw him and advised him not to send the letter. Later he saw Winston, had a talk with him and now all is quiet and I may shave in peace tomorrow!!” Brooke added: “I told [Wavell] that if I were to take offence when abused by Winston and given to understand that he had no confidence in me, I should have to resign at least once every day!”5
For both Churchill and Lincoln, dealing with commanding generals could resemble a wrestling match. Lincoln aide William O. Stoddard recalled President Lincoln stopping at his office shortly after the Second Battle of Bull Run but before the Battle of Antietam in September 1862. “Leave that and come with me. I am going over to McClellan’s house,” said the president. “I arose at once, but did so without any reply whatever, for there was something in Mr. Lincoln’s voice and manner that seemed to forbid any remarks on my part. He was arrayed in a black frock uniform. Down we went and out, and the distance to be traveled was not long. He did not utter one word nor did I, for I was strongly impressed with the fact that there was something on his mind. All the while a kind of rebellious feeling was growing within me, for I inwardly growled because the President ought to have sent for his subordinate, commanding him to come, instead of going to call upon him.”
The house was reached and we were shown into a well-furnished front parlor with the usual fireplace and mantel and a centre table. I went over to the right and sat down in a chair, but the President took a seat in the middle of the room. He was calm, steady, even smiling, but in half a minute there was no room there at all. Only Abraham Lincoln, filling the place brimful. Our names had been carried upstairs, I knew, but long minutes went by and I felt the hot blood surging into my cheeks, hotter and hotter with every moment of what seemed to me a disrespectful waiting-time. Not so the great man over there beyond the table, for he was as cool and solid as ice. Then – for the hall door was open – a kind of jingle, and slow, descending footsteps were heard from the stairs. It was the great general himself, in full uniform, followed by his chief of staff, General [Randolph] Marcy, and an army colonel. In dress uniform with their swords they were a brilliant trio. General McClellan may have thought they had come downstairs to receive the President formally and impressively, but he was altogether mistaken. He entered that parlor to be received there, very kindly, by President Abraham Lincoln, who somehow had take possession and was the only man in the room.
The conference began almost immediately for a kind of report of the situation and of plans was plainly called for. It was given, in a masterly way, by McClellan. He was a man of nerve strength, and I admired him as he went on into what was made more and more evidently a grand wrestling-match, with the control of the armies for the prize; also the future control of the political situation or field and the next President of the United States. That important point was really settled before the match was over – for it was a long one. Lincoln listened well and he said little, at first. Then a word at a time, he began to open, expanding visibly as he went on, and the match became intensely interesting. Grapple after grapple, tug, strain, down you go! Perfect accord, perfect good-will, perfect good manners, not a trace of excitement on either side. There was, in fact, a mutual yielding of many points under discussion, but at the end of it they had all been surrendered by General McClellan, with the courteous assistance of his handsome and capable chief of staff, General Marcy. Silence was my stronghold, and I held it tenaciously. A close came, and Mr. Lincoln and I were ceremoniously show to the door. The parlor we left behind us was still, to my mind, full of Mr. Lincoln, although he had walked out. Never before had I so fully appreciated the human will in its greatest power.6
McClellan himself was not so quick to understand who was the Union commander-in-chief. On July 27, 1861 after the Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run, George B. McClellan had been appointed commander of the Army of the Potomac, replacing General Irvin McDowell. On August 1, McClellan wrote President Lincoln a long letter – one of several long epistles he would send Lincoln over the next 15 months: “The object of the present war differs from those in which nations are usually engaged, mainly in this; that the purpose of ordinary war is to conquer a peace and make a treaty on advantageous terms; in this contest it has become necessary to crush a population sufficiently numerous, intelligent and warlike to constitute a nation; we have not only to defeat their armed and organized forces in the field but to display such an overwhelmingly strength, as will convince all our antagonists, especially those of the governing aristocratic class, of the utter impossibility of resistance. Our late reverses make this course imperative; had we been successful in the recent battle it is possible that we might have been spared the labor and expense of a great effort; now we have no alternative; their success will enable the political leaders of the rebels to convince the mass of their people that we are inferior to them in force and courage, and to command all their resources. The contest began with a class; now it is with a people. Our military success can alone restore the former issue. By thoroughly defeating their armies, taking their strong places, and pursuing a rigidly protective policy as to private property and unarmed persons, and a lenient course as to common soldiers, we may well hope for the permanent restoration of peaceful Union; but in the first instance the authority of the Government must be supported by overwhelming physical force. Our foreign relations and financial credit also imperatively demand that the military action of the Government should be prompt and irresistible.
The rebels have chosen Virginia as their battle-field — and it seems proper for us to make the first great struggle there; but while thus directing our main efforts, it is necessary to diminish the resistance there offered us, by movements on other points, both by land and water. Without entering at present into details, I would advise that a strong movement be made on the Mississippi, and that the rebels be driven out of Missouri. As soon as it becomes perfectly clear that Kentucky is cordially united with us, I would advise a movement through that state into Eastern Tennessee, for the purpose of assisting the Union men of that region, and of seizing the Railroads leading from Memphis to the East. The possession of those roads by us, in connection with the movement on the Mississippi, would go far towards determining the evacuation of Virginia by the rebels. In the mean time all the passes into Western Virginia from the from the East should be securely guarded; but I would make no movement from that quarter towards Richmond unless the political condition of Kentucky renders it impossible or inexpedient for us to make the movement upon Eastern Tennessee through that state; every effort should however be made to organize, quip, and arm as many troops as possible in Western Virginia, in order to render the Ohio and Indiana regiments available for other operations.
On August 4, 1861, General McClellan dined at the White House. Later, he wrote his wife: “It made me feel a little strangely last evening when I went in to the Presdt’s with the old General leaning on me — the old veteran (Scott) & his young successor; I could see that many marked the contrast.”7 McClellan’s relationship with 75-year-old General Winfield Scott quickly soured – along with McClellan’s attitude toward the President and his cabinet. McClellan wrote his wife on August 15: “Genl Scott is the most dangerous antagonist I have — either he or I must leave here — our ideas are so widely different that is impossible for us to work together much longer — tant pour cela!”8 McClellan quickly ran afoul of Secretary of State William H. Seward who criticized McClellan for circumventing protocol and Scott. “I can’t tell you how disgusted I am becoming with these wretched politician – they are the most despicable set of men, and I think Seward is the meanest of them all – a meddling, officious, incompetent little puppy – he has done more than any other one man to bring all this misery upon the country and is one of the least competent to get us out of the scrape. The Presdt is nothing more than a well meaning baboon. Welles is weaker than the most garrulous old woman you were ever annoyed by,” McClellan wrote his wife on October 16.9 Two weeks later, McClellan expanded his criticism to include “the cowardice of the President, the vileness of Seward, and the rascality of [Secretary of War] Simon Cameron.10
The dapper, mustachioed McClellan gave a good impression of a general. “General McClellan is indeed a striking figure, in spite of his shortness,” recalled Lincoln aide William O. Stoddard. “He is the impersonation of health and strength, and he is in the prime of early manhood. His uniform is faultless and his stars are brilliant, especially the middle one on each strap. His face is full of intelligence, of will-power, of self-assertion, and he, too, is in some respects a born leader of men. He has been admirably educated for such duties as are now upon hm, and he has studied the science and art of war among European camps and forts and armies and battle-fields. He has vast stores of technical knowledge never to be acquired by any man among the backwoods, or on the prairies, or in law courts, or in political conventions. He can hardly conceal the clearness of his conviction that he ought not be trammeled by any authority in human form that is by him supposed to be destitute of the essential training which he himself so fully possesses.”
McClellan’s ego grew steadily. “You have no idea how the men brighten up now, when I go among them — I can see every eye glisten,” he wrote in September 1861. “Yesterday they nearly pulled me to pieces in one regt. You never heard such yelling. I did not think the Presdt liked it much.”11 During the fall, however,, frustration grew in Washington over the failure of the Army of the Potomac to take any offensive action. Opposition to McClellan grew, especially among Radical Republicans. In early October, Ohio Senator Benjamin F. Wade wrote: “I begin to despair of ever putting down this rebellion through the instrumentality of this administration. They are blundering, cowardly, and inefficient.” He complained that Lincoln’s attitudes “could only come of one, born of poor white trash, and educated in a slave state.”12 On November 1, 1861 when President Lincoln appointed McClellan to replace Winfield Scott as general in chief, McClellan bragged: “I can do it all.” Historian Chester G. Hearn wrote: “Lincoln held a discussion with his new general-in-chief. He made no special demands aside from asking McClellan to confer with him ‘so far as necessary,’ which was the president’s way of saying, ‘Keep me informed.’ Later that evening Lincoln called at McClellan’s headquarters for a chat because he worried the thirty-four-year-old general might not comprehend the enormous responsibilities imposed on a general-in-chief.”13
McClellan, however, was repeatedly disrespectful of President Lincoln’s authority and office. For several weeks, President Lincoln regularly visited McClellan – either at the White House, the War Department or McClellan’s headquarters. British journalist William Howard Russell noted in early October that he called at McClellan’s headquarters only to be told: “The General’s gone to bed tired, and can see no one. He sent the same message to the President, who came inquiring after him ten minutes ago.” Often unsympathetic, Russell added that Lincoln was “to be pitied, surrounded by such scenes, and trying with all his might to understand strategy, naval warfare, big guns, the movements of troops, military maps, reconnaissances, occupations, interior and exterior lines, and all the technical details of the art of slaying. He runs from one house to another armed with plans, mss, reports, recommendations, sometimes good humored, never angry, occasionally dejected, and always a little fussy.”14
Over the next year, McClellan’s relations with President Lincoln worsened. The Union general never seemed to understand who was in charge of the government. Historian Michael Burlingame noted: “McClellan’s poor opinion of Lincoln was…manifested in the general’s letters to his wife, in which he called Lincoln ‘an idiot,’ ‘the original gorilla,’ and ‘an old stick’ – & of pretty poor timber at that.’ He spoke of ‘the cowardice of the Prest’ and said that ‘I can never regard him with feelings other than those of thorough contempt – for his mind, heart & morality.” Under the circumstances, noted Burlingame, Lincoln showed extraordinary patience. After McClellan did not show up for an appointment, Lincoln commented: “Never mind; I will hold McClellan’s horse if he will only bring us success.”15 Publicly suave, McClellan nursed many grievances. He began by disliking Secretary of State Seward. He soon disdained President Lincoln and eventually developed a particular dislike for Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton.
Historian Russell Weigley wrote: “Lincoln followed up the Executive Mansion military conferences of early January with this General War Order N\o. 1 of January 27, ordering a coordinated advance of the Union armies on all major fronts beginning on February22, Washington’s Birthday. A special War Order, No. 1, of January 31, specifically directed the Army of the Potomac, ‘after providing safely for the defense of Washington,’ to advance beyond Manassas Junction, beginning the movement on February 22….The only immediate accomplishment of Lincoln’s orders was to precipitate a further discussion with McClellan about a proper route of advance. Lincoln made it clear that he saw in McClellan’s projected amphibious movement down the Chesapeake no advantage to compensate for the time and expense of collecting the necessary shipping, while the risks in case of failure would be greater than if the army advanced overland from Washington and thus covered the capital no matter what happened.”16 Lincoln was also frustrated by McClellan, his inaction, his insubordination, and his mistakes. When told in February 1862 that canal barges had been built too large to fit through canal locks, Lincoln reportedly “swore like a Philistine.” Aide William O. Stoddard later wrote that he “never knew Mr. Lincoln so really angry, so out of all patience, as when it was reported impossible to obey his celebrated order for a general advance of the army on the 22d of February, 1862.”17 President Lincoln was already under great pressure; his beloved son Willie had died of typhoid on February 20. Lincoln finally accepted McClellan’s more difficult, more risky plan.
On March 11, McClellan was removed as the Union Army commander by Special War Order No. 3. That order expanded the territory commanded by Henry W. Halleck.
Once on the Virginia Peninsula, the cautious McClellan first encountered a Potemkin-village-type defense at Yorktown constructed by Confederate General John Magruder which delayed McClellan until he attacked on May 5. By then, the rest of the Confederate army under General Joseph Johnston has a chance to move into position. “For the next three weeks,” wrote historian Allen Guelzo, “McClellan slowly felt his way up the peninsula, growing more and more convinced that Johnston had as many as 200,000 rebels defending Richmond (Johnston actually had only 60,000) and demanding that Lincoln send him more reinforcements, starting with McDowell’s troops, whom he wanted to move overland across the Rappahannock to join him around Richmond.”18
McClellan was allowing the Confederates to utilize their interior lines to stymie him – violating a cardinal rule of warfare. “From 1861 to 1864 the Confederates repeatedly used their interior lines in both the Easter and Wester theaters to achieve at least a partial concentration of forces to strike at invading Federal armies,” noted Civil War historian James M. McPherson. Confederate troops under General Stonewall Jackson were able in the spring and summer of 1861 to move back and forth across Virginia to attack different Union forces as necessary. It was a critical defect in McClellan’s strategy.19 Moreover, McClellan consistently overestimated the size of the Confederate forces he faced. In the Peninsula campaign, McClellan turned victory in defeat in a series of battles and then blamed Washington for that defeat. “I have lost this battle because my force was too small. I again repeat that I am not responsible for this,” McClellan protested. “If I save this Army now I tell you plainly that I owe no thanks to you or to any other persons in Washington – you have done your best to sacrifice this Army.”20 Increasingly, McClellan was disrespectful and disdainful of the President himself. He tried Lincoln’s patience but the President was boxed along with the Army of the Potomac when McClellan withdrew to Harrison’s Landing after the failure of his Peninsula campaign. By separating himself from land supply lines, McClellan had created his own strategic difficulties.
At the beginning of July, Lincoln wrote McClellan: “It is impossible to re-inforce you for your present emergency. If we had a million of men we could not get them to you in time. We have not the men to send. If you are not strong enough to face the enemy you must find a place of security, and wait, rest, and repair. Maintain your ground if you can; but save the Army at all events, even if you fall back to Fortress-Monroe. We still have strength in the country, and will bring it out.21 Regrettably, the Army of the Potomac had become a beached whale on the Peninsula. “Lincoln had to decide what to do with the Army of the Potomac,” wrote historian Michael Burlingame. “Some advisors, including Stanton and Montgomery Meigs, feared that Lee would attack Washington while that army licked its wounds.” After writing the letter, Lincoln visited the army and McClellan, who gave the president his own presumptuous letter laying out his advice on both civil and military matters. Burlingame wrote: “It is hard to know how Lincoln felt about McClellan’s brazen letter. After receiving it from the general’s hand, he read it, thanked its author, and said nothing about it to him. He jestingly told Frank Blair that Little Mac’s advice reminded him ‘of the man who got on a horse, and the horse stuck his hind foot into a stirrup. The man said, ‘If you’re going to get on I’ll get off.’”22
The next two months were frustrating ones for President Lincoln. First, McClellan delayed reenforcements to General John Pope’s Army of Virginia, ensuring the disastrous Union defeat at the Second Battle of Bull Run. As the battle ended on August 31, General-in-chief Henry W. Halleck wired McClellan: “I beg of you to assist me in this crisis with your ability and experience. I am utterly tired out.” At a September 2 cabinet session, Lincoln said: “McClellan knows this whole ground; his specialty is to defend; he is a good engineer, all admit, there is no better organizer; he can be trusted to act on the defensive, but having the slows, he is good for nothing for an onward movement.”23 The cabinet was distressed by McClellan’s reinstatement. Several days later, Lincoln said: “I must have McClellan to reorganize the army and bring it out of chaos. There has been a design, a purpose in breaking down Pope without regard of consequences to the country. It is shocking to see, and I know this, but there is no remedy at present. McClellan has the army with him.”24 When Union troops marching through Washington on September on Pennsylvania Avenue, they made a sharp turn to pass by McClellan’s HQ, Navy Secretary Gideon Welles noted: “They cheered the General lustily, instead of passing by the White House and honoring the President.”25
Lincoln aide John Hay wrote in his diary on September 5, “This morning I walked with the President over to the War Department to ascertain the truth of the report that [Confederate General Stonewall] Jackson has crossed the Potomac. We went to the telegraph office and found it true. On the way over the President said ‘McClellan is working like a beaver. He seems to be aroused to doing something, by the sort of snubbing he got last week. I am of opinion that this public feeling against him will make it expedient to take important command from him. The Cabinet yesterday were unanimous against him. They were all ready to denounce me for it, except [Postmaster General Montgomery] Blair. He has acted badly in this matter, but we must use what tools we have. There is no man in the army who can man these fortifications and lick these troops of ours into shape half as well as he.’ I spoke of the general feeling against McClellan as evinced by the Prests mail. He rejoined, ‘Unquestionably he has acted badly toward Pope. He wanted him to fail. That is unpardonable. But he is too useful just now to sacrifice.’ At another time he said ‘if he cant fight himself, he excells in making others ready to fight.’”26 Lincoln clearly saw that he had no other option, but also recognized the emotional opposition to his reappointment of McClellan. In their biography of President Lincoln, aides Hay and John G. Nicolay wrote: “There is no other official act of his life for which he has been more severely criticized.”27 President Lincoln acted from necessity – but he remained pessimistic about McClellan’s aggressiveness. During this period, he told aide William O. Stoddard that “for organizing an army, for preparing an army for the field, for fighting a defensive campaign, I will back General McClellan against any general of modern times. I don’t know but of ancient times, either. But I begin to believe that he will never get ready to go forward.”28
Criticism of McClellan mounted over the next two months. After the Altoona Conference of Union governors in late September 1862, the governors visited President Lincoln at the White House, Iowa Governor Samuel J. Kirkwood told President Lincoln:
“Now, Mr. President, as I suppose the business for which we came here as a body has been concluded, there are a few words that I desire to speak for the people of Iowa, and on my own account. That in the opinion of our people George B. McClellan is unfit to command the Army of the Potomac. The people of Iowa fear, and I fear, that the administration is afraid to remove General McClellan from his command. And I know it would be a great comfort to the people of Iowa if on my return I can say to them that the President believes in the loyalty of George B. McClellan. His army is well clothed, well armed, well disciplined, and fighting in as good a cause as men ever fought for, and fought as bravely as men ever fought, and yet are continually whipped, and our people did not think he was a good general who was always whipped.”…
When Governor Kirkwood had finished, President Lincoln arose immediately, and in his speech, showing more excitement than was usual to him, at once proceeded to reply. He said: “Do I believe in the loyalty of General McClellan? Of course I believe in his loyalty. I have the same reason to believe in his loyalty that I have to believe in the loyalty of you gentlemen before me now. I suppose you to be loyal, and I believe he is loyal. I cannot dive into the hearts of men to find what is in them.”
Then the President paused for a moment, and continued: “Now, gentlemen, after saying so much in favor of General McClellan, I do not want you to think I do not know his deficiencies; I think I do know them. He is very cautious, and lacking in confidence in himself and his ability to win victories with the forces at his command. He fights the battle about as well as any of them when he does fight, but when a substantial victory is won he seems incapable of following it up so as to reach the fruits, and it does not seem to do us any good. But if I remove him, some one must be put in his place, and who shall it be?”
When President Lincoln sat down, Governor Blair, of Michigan, asked, coolly: “Why not try another man, Mr. President?” to which the President replied: “Oh, but I might lose an army by that.”
The excitement that arose out of this discussion and the suggestion of General McClellan’s command disappeared, and the interview closed pleasantly; the hopes of the President and his confidence unshaken. This was equally true of the governors, and they immediately returned to their States to fulfill the promise of their address; and they did fulfill them to the letter, as the country well knows.29
With the knowledge McClellan obtained from the captured orders of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, McClellan had a clear advantage at the Battle of Antietam, but “he frittered away numerical strength in timidity and uncoordinated assaults. Repeatedly on September 17, 1862, one more blow might have broken Lee’s attenuated line; but all day McClellan kept Fitz-John Porter’s Fifth Corps uncommitted, striking no blow with it whatever, and when late in the day Franklin’s Sixth Corps also came to hand, only its Third Brigade, Second Division got into serious action,” wrote historian Russell Weigley.30 In the aftermath of the Battle of Antietam on September 22, 1862, President Lincoln issued the Draft Emancipation Proclamation to which McClellan privately objected. Lincoln had committed himself to promulgate it once there was a Union victory.
President Lincoln visited the Army of the Potomac in Maryland from October 1 to 4. Lincoln biographer David H. Donald wrote: “During the visit Lincoln managed to conceal his negative view of McClellan, and the general hid his low opinion of the President. McClellan reported to his wife that the President was ‘very kind personally’ and ‘very affable,’ and that he said ‘he was convinced I was the best general in the country.”31 William O. Stoddard wrote: “The President’s visit to the army was a wise and well-advised action, and Mr. Lincoln has, no doubt, obtained from personal observation and friendly consultation with his favorite general, a far better and clearer idea of the position and capabilities of the army, than he could ever had done from the garbled and unfair reports of either the friends or the enemies of McClellan. The former, by the way, seem to be doing their uttermost to effect the ruin of their idol. They seem to take it for granted that all the world besides themselves are striving to do him harm, and by their frantic charges at every flag of any other color, they are fast transferring to him much ill feeling and distrust that they alone have merited.”32
During the six weeks after Antietam, President Lincoln grew increasingly frustrated with the unwillingness of McClellan to move against General Robert E. Lee’s Confederate Army: “[I]f we never try, we shall never succeed,” wrote Lincoln to McClellan in late October, 1862. The commander-in-chief began his letter: “You remember my speaking to you of what I called your overcautiousness. Are you not over-cautious when you assume that you can not do what the enemy is constantly doing? Should you not claim to be at least his equal in prowess, and act upon the claim?” Lincoln lectured McClellan on military strategy: “Again, one of the standard maxims of war, as you know, is ‘to operate upon the enemy’s communications as much as possible without exposing your won.’ You seem to act as if this applies against you, but can not apply in your favor. Change positions with the enemy, and think you not he would break your communication with Richmond within the next twentyfour hours? You dread his going into Pennsylvania. But if he does so full force, he gives up his communications to you absolutely, and you have nothing to do but to follow, and ruin him; if he does so with less than full force, fall upon, and beat what is left behind all the easier.”33
Lincoln visited in October 1862, McClellan wrote: “His ostensible purpose is to see the troops & the battle fields. I incline to think that the real purpose of the visit is to push me into a premature advance.”34 Historian Stephen R. Taaffe wrote: “Lincoln visited the Army of the Potomac in early October, and although he pledged to protect McClellan from his domestic political enemies, there were plenty of signs in the following weeks that the president’s continued support depended upon McClellan’s aggressive prosecution of the war. A few days later, Lincoln peremptorily ordered the Army of the Potomac to advance, but McClellan responded with his usual litany of excuses. On 13 October, Lincoln admonished McClellan for his excessive timidity in a private letter designed to spur him on, but this tactic proved no more fruitful than his more indirect approach over the previous weeks. Instead, McClellan continued to demand more equipment, supplies, and men.”35 On October 13, Lincoln John G. Nicolay wrote of the state of McClellan’s inactivity: “The President has well-nigh lost his temper over it. I wish he would sometime get angry enough to dismiss about half the officers in the army.36 ” A week later Nicolay wrote of the Army of the Potomac: “The President is anxious that it should move and fight, and I still hope that even if McClellan refuses or neglects to take the responsibility, the President himself will give the order to ‘forward, march!’”37 Historian Russell Weigley wrote: “Incessantly prodded from Washington, on October 26, McClellan’s army at last began crossing the Potomac southward. Th next day, however, the general sent a telegram implying he did not intend to fight at all until his old regiments were restored to full strength – an impossibility, considering the flawed Union recruitment system that generally raised new units instead of filling up old ones.”38 At the beginning of November, President Lincoln told some women from Chicago: “General McClellan thinks he is going to whip the rebels by strategy, and the army has the same notion. They have no idea that the war is to be carried on and put through by hard, tough fighting that will hurt somebody, and no headway is going to be made while this delusion lasts.” Lincoln added: “General McClellan is all the time calling for more troops, more troops, and they are sent to him, but the deserters and furloughed men outnumber the recruits. To fill up the army is like undertaking to shovel fleas.”39
On November 7, General McClellan was finally removed from command of the Army of the Potomac after state elections had passed. Historian Allen C. Guelzo wrote: “The immediate reason for McClellan’s dismissal was his slowness in pursuit of Lee’s battered Army of North Virginia after its hammering at Antietam the previous September. Looming behind that was the larger conflict between Lincoln and McClellan over slavery and emancipation.”40 Lincoln aide John G. Nicolay wrote: “The President’s patience is at last completely exhausted with McClellan’s inaction and never ending excuses, and he has relieved him from command of the Army of the Potomac. The President has been extremely reluctant to do this. In many respects he thinks McClellan a very superior officer. This, with the high personal regard for him, has led him to indulge him in his whims and complains and shortcomings as a mother would indulge her baby, but all to no purpose. He is constitutionally too slow, and has been fitly dubbed the Great American Tortoise. I am sure sensible people everywhere will rejoice that he, and not the Army, goes into winter quarters.”41 Lincoln aide William O. Stoddard wrote in an anonymous newspaper dispatch: “The Government itself has at last shown clearly that it attributes the delay and the common want of anything like brilliant and decided successes, to grave defects in the military management of its two most prominent generals [McClellan and Buell], and they have in consequence been summarily removed.” He added: “Nor can any one doubt, who has been in a position to note carefully the course of events in Washington, that both of the important steps referred to would have been taken long since, had it been an easy matter to determine who, among our crowds of starred and buttoned heroes, was competent to assume the vacated commands, with any reasonable promise of a real improvement.”42
Dismissal of a general was – for both Lincoln and Churchill – only part of the solution to military paralysis. The other part was finding a better replacement. Lincoln settled on General Ambrose Burnside, who reluctantly agreed to replace his friend McClellan. Historian Brooks D. Simpson wrote that“McClellan receded into retirement, content to prepare a report of his military operations. In 1863, however, he became involved in politics when he endorsed George W. Woodward, the Democratic candidate for governor of Pennsylvania. Many observers saw this act as McClellan’s first step towards seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 1864.”43 Indeed at the September 1864 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, McClellan was nominated for president. He proved a worse political than he had been a general. In May 1864, Lincoln met with Rush C. Hawkins, an army colonel who had complained to Lincoln about McClellan in December 1861: “Poor George, you knew him better than any of us. I did all I could for him but he could do nothing for himself.”44
Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s critical command dilemmas in the first two years of World War II centered on the Middle East. Churchill aide John Colville observed that General Archibald Wavell “was considered by many the finest soldier in the British Army.” General Hastings Ismay wrote: “Wavell had been Commander-in-Chief of the Middle East since July 1939. He had found himself conducting five campaigns at one and the same time, much as a juggler keeps five balls in the air at once. He had won splendid victories. His first campaign in the Western Desert had result in the capture of the whole of Cyrenaica. He had conquered Eritrea and Italian Somaliland. He had thrown the Italians out of Absynnia and enabled the Emperor to return to his throne. He had retaken British Somaliland. He had shown strategic genius of a high order. His withdrawal of the Fourth Indian Division from the battle still raging in the Western Desert, and their despatch to the Sudan, a distance of over 1,000 miles, was a master stroke.”45 Wavell had big responsibilities – including Egypt, Syria, and Iraq as well as Greece. Wavell was something of a Renaissance man with the soul of a poet, but the mind of a student of warfare He authored a book of his own poetry, Other Men’s Flowers, but also military books like The Palestine Campaigns, Generals and Generalship, and Allenby: A Study in Greatness before World War II. Wavell biographer John Connell wrote: “Calmly and with self-confidence he took his own decisions within the sphere of his responsibility, and in his turn accepted loyally the decisions of the Government to which he was responsible…. He would not – indeed he could not – surrender his own integrity and independence of judgment; and this was, in fact, what Churchill demanded, quite unconsciously but inexorably.”46
Wavell’s prime defect was that he was not as good a communicator as he was a general. In fact, he could be downright taciturn in person, especially with Churchill. Historian Gerald Pawle wrote: “Although a man of great intellect, Wavell was not a fluent or convincing talker. On paper he invariably expressed himself with complete clarity, but at the conference table he would often remain silent for an unconscionable period, apparently tongue-tied by indecision.”47 Colville noted that Wavell “was shy and not good at expressing himself orally so that Churchill never grasped his best qualities. He did, moreover, preside over a grossly overmanned H.Q. in Cairo and he seemed to Churchill more interested in building up a large body of supporting personnel in Egypt than in taking offensive action.”48
The Mediterranean was to Churchill what the Mississippi River was to Lincoln – a vital strategic lifeline. Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert wrote: “The removal of these armoured troops from Britain to Egypt, at the very moment when Britain herself seemed so vulnerable, was a decision of courage by all concerned, principally Churchill, Eden and the Chiefs of Staff, constituting, as John Martin has written, the despatch, ‘of precious troops and arms, including nearly half our best tanks….’”49 Historian David Dilks wrote “it was to [the Mediterranean] theatre that from August 1940, long before anyone could be confident that the threat of invasion had abated, the British government sent a large proportion of its armoured strength. The decision entailed a calculated and bold risk and originated with the CIGS, General [John] Dill and the Secretary of State for War, [Anthony] Eden. It was first opposed by General [Alan] Brooke, who was then C.-in-C. Home Forces and later to succeed Dill. The Prime Minster, once convinced gave his indispensable support. Without that decision and a series of similar actions in 1941, the Middle Eastern position might well have been lost.”50 Historian Andrew Roberts wrote: “The constant fear of both the American and British High Commands centred on what would happen if the Germans moved south-eastwards into the Caucasus and Iraq at precisely the same time that Japanese naval and air forces managed to close the Gulf of Persia and thus the southern exit of the Suez Canal.”51 The loss of these oilfields would have been devastating to the Allied effort.
In July 1940, CIGS John Dill and Churchill clashed over the prime minister’s criticism of Wavell attached to a report from theMideast commander: “One of the clearest impressions I get from General Wavell’s statement is that, as is his habit, he is taking blame to himself which properly belongs to his subordinates, particularly those who were taken prisoner and are therefore unable to state their case,” wrote Dill to Churchill. The prime minister responded: “I must retain the right to address my own Cabinet colleagues as I think fit upon such information as is before me at any time.”52 Churchill and Wavell would never understand each other. Historian Carlo D’Este noted: “In Wavell, Churchill had a bright, aggressive commander – of the sort that was in desperately short supply in the moribund British army of the 1940 and 1941 – to tackle one of the most difficult command assignments ever handed a British officer.”53
Communication and personality were key problems between Churchill and his commanders. Historian Corelli Barnett argued that Churchill disdained Archibald Wavell because he was “absolutely tongue-tied” and disdained Claude Auchinleck as defeatist.54 General Ulysses S. Grant, too, was taciturn. Lincoln respected him. Wavell was taciturn. Churchill was annoyed. As Wavell once observed, “Winston is always expecting rabbits to come out of empty hats.”55 Churchill’s impatience was understandable; it was also often unreasonable. “Resentment and distrust now coalesced in Churchill’s mind,” wrote historian Ronald Lewin. “Twice, in 1940 and 1941, Wavell had opposed shipment of armour through the Mediterranean; though he had accepted support for Greece, he had failed to submit to London a precise military appreciation to justify that acceptance, and Crete appeared to have collapsed because energetic measures for its defence had not been undertaken from Cairo; over Iraq, and again over Syria, he had been reluctant to intervene when instance action seemed critically important; and now, in an operation which, for Churchill, was the inevitable preliminary to the relief of Tobruk and the abolition of Axis in Africa nothing had happened but fumbling and defeat.”56
Like Lincoln, Churchill placed a high premium on aggressive military action by his subordinates. In mid-August, 1940, Secretary of War Anthony Eden wrote Churchill: “Dill and I were much perturbed at your judgment of Wavell. Neither of us know of any General Officer in the army better qualified to fill this difficult post at this critical time.”57 In the fall of 1940, Anthony disclosed to the Defence Committee “that Wavell had decided not to await [General Rodolfo] Graziani’s attack at Mersa Matruh, but to take the offensive himself at an early date; and he followed up this startling announcement with an explanation of Wavell’s plans [the successful attack on Italian forces called Operation Compass]. Every one of us could have jumped for joy, but Churchill could have jumped twice as high as the rest. He has said that he ‘purred like six cats.’ That is putting it mildly. He was rapturously happy. ‘At long last we are going to throw off the intolerable shackles of the defensive,’ he declaimed. ‘Wars are won by superior will-power. Now we will wrest the initiative from the enemy and impose our will on him.”58
In late 1940 Wavell secretly planned a major operation against the Italians in Libya. Keegan wrote that “Wavell also intended to ensure Churchill would not interfere in the operational details and, despite the latter’s chafing at the lack of action by the ‘Army of the Nile’, Wavell kept his silence.”59 In his communication with Mideast leaders at the end of 1940, wrote Ismay, Churchill “wanted, perhaps above all else, to impart to the commanders his own ‘impetuous, adventurous and defying character.’ He wanted them to feel that they were always in his thoughts, and that he was sharing their failures as well as their successes. He wanted them to tell him in what way he could help them, and he wanted them to understand that, provided they showed a sincere desire to engage the enemy, he would back them to the limit, whatever the result.”60 Churchill was, however, determined to pester regardless of whatever his generals did. Churchill worried in December 1940: “General Wavell is only playing small, and is not hurling in his whole available forces with furious energy, he will have failed to rise to the height of circumstances.”61
In early 1941, Churchill agonized over Greece, wanted to keep British commitments to the country made by Chamberlain but saying in October 1940 “that it would be wrong and foolish to make them promises which we could not fulfill.” A few days later Churchill said: “Aid to Greece must be attentively studied lest whole Turkish position is lost through proof that England never tries to ‘keep her guarantees.’”62 Writing to President Franklin D. Roosevelt in January 1941, Harry Hopkins acknowledged that Churchill “thinks Greece is lost – although he is now reinforcing the Greeks – and weakening his African Army.”63 The tradeoff was clear and difficult. The British War Cabinet decided on February 24 to move three British divisions to Greece to fight the Italian invasion. Churchill was ambivalent on what to do and looked to Dill, Eden, and Wavell to advise him. They advised aid to Greece “partly because of the misreading of German intentions and capability by Wavell’s intelligence staff in Cairo, and partly because of a sudden change of heart in Athens,” wrote historian Robin Edmonds.64
Churchill was dubious. Churchill wired Eden on March 6: “Difficult for Cabinet to believe that we now have any power to avert fate of Greece unless Turkey and/or Yugoslavia come in, which seems most improbable….We do not see any reason for expecting success, except that of course we attack great weight to opinions of Dill and Wavell….Loss of Greece and Balkans by no means a major catastrophe for us provided Turkey remains neutral.”65 Eden and Dill concluded otherwise. “In Cairo, Eden and Dill found that Wavell, Longmore and Cunningham were as emphatic as the Ambassador in feeling that ‘Lustre’ should go ahead.”66 Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies was in London during the cabinet discussions regarding Greece and objected vehemently to the initiative proposed by Dill and Eden.67 An unsympathetic historian R. W. Thompson wrote: “Why Wavell gave in remains for most of us a mystery. Four precious British divisions, the very means of complete victory in the desert, were on their way to experience a second Dunkirk on the shores of Greece, followed by a devastating blow upon them from the airborne enemy in Crete, 15,000 men were lost with all their valuable equipment, and the naval resources in the Mediterranean were dangerously extended in the work of rescue.”68 Thompson charged: “Eden had been a poor and dangerous counsellor, for he lived in a rarified political air of his own, incapable of relating political ends to military means, a condition that would bring him to ruin.”69 Admiral Andrew Cunningham recalled the deliberations regarding Greece: “We, the naval element, thought roughly as follows. We were bound by treaty to help Greece if she were threatened, so there was no question at all that it was, politically, the right thing to do. On the other hand, we had serious misgivings if it was correct from the military point of view. We doubted very much if our Naval, Military and Air resources were equal to it.”70
The cabinet met on March 7 to evaluate the situation – with strong support from Eden in a telegram, saying what British leaders believed: “Collapse of Greece without further effort on our part to save her by intervention on land, after the Libyan victories had, as all the world knows, made forces available, would be the greatest calamity….No doubt our prestige will suffer if we are ignominiously ejected, but in any event to have fought and suffered in Greece would be less damaging to us than to have left Greece to her fate.” Colville diaried about British support for Greece in March 1941: “It was thrust upon us partly because, in the first place, the PM felt that our prestige, in France, in Spain and in the US, could not stand our desertion of Greece; partly because Eden, Dill, Wavell and Cunningham (who has now telegraphed to point out the extreme length to which his resources are stretched) recommended it so strongly. But the danger of another Norway, Dunkirk and Dakar rolled into one looms threateningly before us.”71
General Hastings Ismay, the prime minister’s top military aide, wrote that Churchill repeatedly advised Wavell that the desert campaign should have priority over Greece. Eden and Dill were dispatched to the area to make a first had evaluation. “Scarcely had Eden and Dill arrive26 in Cairo when the Prime Minister warned them that the Cabinet were in no mood to press the matter of help to Greece.” Eden repeatedly said that help should be sent to Greece: “We are all agreed that the course advocated should be followed and help given to Greece.”72 Biographer Martin Gilbert wrote, however “Churchill’s desire to reinforce Crete and Wavell’s concern for his own strength in Egypt could not be reconciled.”73 Churchill concluded that Britain “should go forward with a good heart.”74
Evacuation from Greece began on April 24 under severe German attack. Not only did Britain lose Greece and Crete, it also lost the gains it had made against the Italian army when Rommel counterattacked in April. Greeks surrendered on April 24 – leading to an evacuation of 50,000 British soldiers. David Dilks noted that “early in May the House of Commons debated a motion of no confidence. Lloyd George attacked the Prime Minister fiercely for surrounding himself with yesmen’. Churchill replied by comparing Lloyd George to Pétain. In the resulting division the Government won by 447 votes to 3.”75 Wavell’s support for British intervention in Greece would prove his undoing. Historian Robin Edmonds wrote: “This was his first major failure since he became Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. Not only did British forces lose on land, both in Greece and Libya, but the defence of Crete in particular cost the Royal Navy ships that were badly needed in the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.”76 Historian Carlo D’Este argued: “However noble British intentions, the Greek campaign did not make good military sense and was little more than a futile political gesture.”77 Churchill observed that the Greece operation had served a purpose: Without it, “Yugoslavia would not now be an open enemy of Germany. Further, the Greek war had caused a marked change of attitude in the United States.”78
After the Greece debacle, attention turned back to the desert war in North Africa. Churchill wrote General Ismay on April 30, 1941: “All concerned are reminded that we have in the Middle East an army of nearly half a million men, whose whole fighting value may be frustrated and even destroyed by a temporary hostile superiority in tanks and aircraft. The failure to win the battle of Egypt would be a disaster of the first magnitude to Great Britain. It might well determine the decisions of Turkey, Spain and Vichy. It might strike the United States the wrong way, i.e., they might think we are no good.”79 Dill wrote Wavell on May 21, “My attitude has always been that if the P.M. has lost confidence in you he should at once replace you. I have told him this several times because I felt he was losing confidence in you; and yet in spite of that I am sure, as I have already said twice, it would be disastrous for you to go now. It is odd how difficult it is to apply simple principles, such as trust or sack. [Lloyd George] didn’t trust Haig and couldn’t sack him. At least I don’t think he could. Too many people had complete confidence in him. Is history going to repeat itself?”80
Biographer John Connell wrote that Churchill’s War Cabinet system “was not a system that brought out the best in Wavell” and “the trust and confidence which Wavell was given so fully by his subordinates he could never get from Churchill.” Connell concluded that Wavell “fought all his campaigns against odds, and in averse circumstances such as few could have surmounted.”81 Churchill was oblivious to the physical problems faced by Wavell as he organized his beleaguered forces – but Wavell was probably insensitive to the political problems that Churchill faced as he rushed tanks through the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean to Cairo. Military historian John Keegan wrote: “What proved the final breaking point was the further development of the desert campaign. With news of more German tanks reaching Tripoli in late April, Churchill had rushed the ‘Tiger’ convoy through the Mediterranean, a total of 238 new tanks for Wavell reaching Alexandria on 12 May. Churchill expected his ‘Cubs’ to be used immediately, especially as Ultra had revealed the parlous state of [German General Erwin] Rommel’s logistics. Wavell intended to go on to the offensive and launched Operation Brevity on 15 May in anticipation of making good losses from the newly arrived tanks. Unfortunately, Brevity failed as did a second operation – Battleaxe – launched with the new tanks of 15 June.”82 Historian Corelli Barnett wrote that “Battleaxe had been hopelessly premature.”83 In May 1941 Colville noted that Churchill “said some very harsh things about Wavell, whose excessive caution and inclination to pessimism he finds very antipathetic.”84
After the failure in June 1941, of Operation Battleaxe, an operation whose success Wavell diplomatically described as “doubtful,” Churchill axed the Mediterranean commander. Dill warned Wavell on May 21, “My attitude has always been that if the P.M. has lost confidence in you he should at once replace you. I have told him this several times because I felt he was losing confidence in you; and yet in spite of that I am sure, as I have already said twice, it would be disastrous for you to go now. I is odd how difficult it is to apply simple principles, such as trust or sack. [Lloyd George] didn’t trust Haig and couldn’t sack him. At least I don’t he could. Too many people had complete confidence in him. Is history going to repeat itself?”85 Writing on June 20, Churchill declared: “I have come to the conclusion that a change is needed in the command in the Middle East. Wavell has a glorious record, having completely destroyed the Italian Army and conquered the Italian Empire in Africa. He has also borne up well against the German attacks and has conduced war and policy in three or four directions simultaneously since the beginning of the struggle. I must regard him as our most distinguished General. Nevertheless, I feel he tired, and that a fresh eye and an unstrained hand is needed. I wish therefore to bring about a change-over for temporary war time conditions between him and Auchinleck.”86
Churchill had agonized over the decision to his Mideast commander before writing Wavell on June 21: “I have come to the conclusion that the public interest will best be served by the appointment of General Auchinleck to relieve you in the Command of the armies of the Middle East. I have greatly admired your command and conduct of these armies both in success and adversity, and the victories which are associated with your name will be famous in the story of the British Army and are an important contribution to our final success in this obstinate war. I feel however that after the long strain you have borne a new eye and a new hand are required in this most seriously menaced theatre.”87 Always the gentleman, Wavell responded: “I think you are wise to make the change and get new ideas and action on many problems in Middle East and am sure Auchinleck will be successful choice…..I appreciate your generous references to my work and am honoured that you should consider me fitted to fill post of C-in-C India.”88 Still, the dismissal hurt.
Wavell biographer John Connell wrote: “Wavell…was not unaware of the extraordinary linking of the man and the hour, and was far from unresponsive to its poetic and patriotic implications. But never could he give what Churchill asked. Far more subtle and complex in character than Churchill, and far better educated, he was steeled by a lifetime of strong self-discipline. He was cool and reticent where Churchill was warm and overflowing with emotion. He obeyed orders as readily as he gave them, but always with a clear, far-sighted understanding of their full consequences.”89 General John N. Kennedy, who was assistant chief of staff for the British army, wrote of Wavell’s dismissal that “his biggest mistake had been his failure to take the right line with regard to the instructions he had received from London. How far was a commander in the field justified in opposing directives from his Government with which he disagreed? We felt that he must expect to be abused, and to be reproached for lacking initiative, and that he ‘must be prepared to resign if his advice on major questions were over-ruled.’”90 Writing of frustration with the Middle East campaign in the fall of 1941, military strategist Kennedy wrote: “To cope with the situation adequately, it would almost have been worth while to have two staffs: one to deal with the Prime Minister, the other with the war. His domination over the Chiefs of Staff seemed greater than ever; and Dill, on whom fell the brunt of opposing him, now began to show signs of great exhaustion.”
When Churchill’s projects were finally thrown aside, after the useless expenditure of much labour and energy, he obviously did not realize that he had been saved from disasters. On the contrary, he seemed to think he had been thwarted by men who lacked initiative and courage. At such times as this, we often felt that we would give almost anything for a less colourful occupant of No. 10.91
Churchill was worried about the political impact of returning Wavell to London, so Wavell was sent to India instead. Historian R. W. Thompson wrote maintained that “to Churchill, any such person as Wavell must be either a rival or in a position to do him some potential harm.”92 Harold Nicolson, then an official in the Information Ministry wrote in his diary: “Grave public apprehension will be caused by the dégommage of Wavell, and we have not handled it properly. The P.M. simply does not understand that one cannot land the public with shocks.”93 In September 1941, Wavell visited London. “Why does Winston dislike me, Joan?,” Wavell asked Joan Bright as he walked the Defence Department aide back to her office. She wrote: “It was a tragedy that Churchill had lost confidence in Wavell but more of a tragedy that Wavell was so inarticulate, so unable to make out a case for himself. He was a soldier’s soldier, a poet, a philosopher, but he was not astute when it came to dealing with his brilliant Prime Minister.”94
“Dismissal of Wavell, in fact if not in intention, made him a scapegoat for Churchill’s own mistakes,” wrote historian Corelli Barnett. “Now the Commander-in-Chief was gong, Churchill could recognise that he had asked too much of him, and could ease the responsibilities of his successor.” Churchill later wrote: “It was only after the disasters had occurred in Cyrenaica, in Crete, and in the Desert that I realised how overloaded and under-sustained General Wavell’s organisation was. Wavell tried his best; but the handling machine at his disposal was too weak to enable him to cope with the vast mass of business which four or five simultaneous campaigns imposed on him.”95 At the time, Churchill wrote to the viceroy of India of Wavell: “I feel he is tired, and that a fresh eye and an unstrained hand is needed. I wish therefore to bring about a change-over for temporary war time conditions between him and Auchinleck.” Churchill added: “I feel sure Auchinleck would infuse a new energy and precision into the defence of the Nile Valley, and that Wavell would make an admirable Commander-in-Chief in India, who would aid you in the whole of the great sphere which India is now assuming as our flank moves eastward.” Years Later, Generals Ian Jacob and Pug Ismay discussed why Churchill replaced Wavell: “I can see you now, holding out both your hands as though you had a fishing rod in each of them, and you said: ‘I feel that I have got a tired fish on this rod, and a very lively one on the other.”96
General Claude Auchinleck was a general of competence, diligence, diplomacy, class, and ill luck. “As a soldier he was a complete professional and highly talent. He had a distrust of politicians which is shared by many soldiers, and he would not compromise his principles or adopt methods which appeared to be dishonest. “He could not accept the thesis that the end justifies the means; from his background, upbringing and training, honesty was not merely the best policy, but the only policy, concluded military historian John Keegan.97 “Auchinleck was an able and strong-minded officer always ready to attempt the bold and novel course,” wrote historian Corelli Barnett.98 “Auchinleck, with the character of the preux chevalier to which Churchill always responded, handsome, open, frank, a soldier of the firing-line, suffered not so much from distrust as from dissatisfaction,” wrote historian Ronald Lewin. “Like Lincoln in the crisis of the Civil War Churchill sought commanders who could deliver, and Auchinleck’s tragedy was that his great and manifest gifts aroused too great hopes – some of which, unfortunately, might have been fulfilled had the Prime Minister been less exigent, and his general more sophisticated in both his relations with Downing Street and his conduct of the battle. Dill was no deranged Cassandra when he observed, at the time of the switch of appointments, that ‘Auchinleck, for all his great qualities and his outstanding record on the Frontier, was not the coming man of the war, as the Prime Minister thought’.”99
General Ismay wrote that Auchinleck “was not a gambler, but never shrank from taking a calculated risk if the situation so demanded. His whole heart and soul were in the battle, and he was an apostle of the offensive. Time and again he would quote from Nelson’s Trafalgar memorandum: “No captain can do very wrong if he places his ship alongside that of an enemy.”100 However, noted historian Tuvia Ben-Moshe, when “Auchinleck refused to open his offensive before the autumn of 1941, Churchill recalled him to London, where he informed the general that it would be most unpleasant were the Russians to bear the main burden of the war while Britain did nothing at all.”101 In fairness, Churchill keenly felt his obligations to allies. He wrote the Chiefs of Staff in May 1942 about a pending convoy to Russia. “The operation is justified, if a half gets through. Failure on our part to make the attempt would weaken our influence with both our major Allies. There are always the uncertainties of weather and luck, which may aid us. I share your misgivings, but I feel it is a matter of duty.”102
Auchinleck resisted hasty action – understanding better than Churchill the realities of desert warfare. General Hastings Ismay wrote in his memoirs that Auchinleck “had retrieved the battle of Side Rezegh [in November 1941] when all seemed lost, and more recently he had saved Cairo. On both occasions he had show resolution and tactical skill of an exceptional order.”103 One of the biggest decisions Auchinleck had to make was choosing a commander for the critical Eighth Army facing Rommel. On November 26, 1941, Auchinleck dismissed General Alan Cunningham from that position after Cunningham recommended halting Operation Crusader he was leading against Rommel. Historian Correlli Barnett wrote that the pipe-smoking General Neil M. “Ritchie appeared the best possible candidate for the command of the Eighth Army. There was no time for a new Army Commander to fly out from England; Cunningham must be replaced in a matter of hours.”104 Ritchie was meant to be a temporary fix, but he served for seven months until Auchinleck relieved him. Ismay wrote that Auchinleck “may have been perfectly right to put Ritchie in temporary command of the Eighth Army when Cunningham broke down, but was it wise to keep him there as a permanency. If no one on the spot seemed the right man, there was nothing to prevent his asking for a replacement from England; and there is little doubt that even so senior a man as Alexander would have jumped at the opportunity.”105 Auchinleck observed that “Ritchie was perforce pitch-forked into a command at a desperate moment, knowing little or nothing of his subordinate commanders or troops and told to retrieve an apparently lost battle. I, therefore, thought it only right to ‘hold his hand’ and make myself very readily available for consultation at a short notice.” The assignment against one of the war’s toughest generals was nearly impossible for Ritchie, who was being asked to command subordinates who were both senior to him and far better informed about battlefield conditions.106 General Ismay wrote: “In London it was expected and hoped that Auchinleck would take personal control of the battle; but to the general astonishment, he appointed Major-General Ritchie.”107 Ritchie was the wrong man for the job but it took seven more months to discover how wrong.
Under the press of German General Erwin Rommel’s Desert Corps in the first half of 1942, Auchinleck soon lost Churchill’s confidence in the general’s will to be act aggressively. In May 1942, Churchill wrote Auchinleck: “There are no safe battles. But this one arises from an enemy attack and your forestalling or manoevring counter-stroke, or whether it has to be undertaken by you on its own, we have full confidence in you and your glorious army, and whatever happens, we will sustain you by every means in our power.’”108 Churchill had limited respect for Auchinleck, whom he wrote was “obstinate.” General Ismay wrote of Auchinleck: “Only those who knew him well realised that he was shy and sensitive. He was as much an introvert as his political chief was an extrovert, and there were likely to be misunderstandings between them unless they got to understand each other.” At Chequers, Ismay once tried to help Auchinleck understand Churchill, telling: “Churchill could not be judged by ordinary standards; he was different from anyone we had ever met before, or were ever likely to meet again. As a war leader, he was head and shoulders above anyone that the British or any other nation could produce. He was indispensable and completely irreplaceable. The idea that he was rude, arrogant and self-seeking was entirely wrong. He was none of these things. He was certainly frank in speech and writing, but he expected others to be equally frank with him. To a young brigadier from Middle East Headquarters, who had asked if he might speak freely, he replied, ‘Of course. We are not here to pay each other compliments.’ He was a child of nature.”109 When Auchinleck delayed the Churchill-demanded counterattack against Rommel in January, Churchill called it “intolerable.”110 In May 1942, Churchill wrote Auchinleck: “There are no safe battles. But this one arises from an enemy attack and your forestalling or manoevring counter-stroke, or whether it has to be undertaken by you on its own, we have full confidence in you and your glorious army, and whatever happens, we will sustain you by every means in our power.’”111
The prime minister always thought that Cairo was overstaffed with non-combatants and support personnel. He thought that superiority in numbers should count for something. Churchill’s lack of patience was obvious when he wired Auchinleck: “You have over 700,000 men on your ration strength in the Middle East. Every fit male should be made to fight and die for victory; there is no reason why units defending Mersa Matruh position should not be reinforced by several thousands of officers and the administrative personnel ordered to swell the battalions.” Lamb contended: “It was malicious of Churchill to bombard Auchinleck in this way at the height of the battle” especially when “Auchinleck was in the unpleasant position of having to sack Ritchie and take over command of the Eighth Army in person. It was the worst possible moment for Churchill to nag.” One of the serious problems that the Mideast commanders faced was that their tanks were inferior to the Germans’ tanks. One of Churchill’s problems was that he had told Parliament that British equipment was as good as that used by the Germans. That was not true. Lamb wrote that on May 6, “Auchinleck stated that he could not start his offensive until 15 June. Not until then, he said, would he have the necessary superiority in tanks. And should the fresh Italian division Littorio arrive in the battle zone, the offense would have to be postponed until August, while he had to divert forces to aid Turkey no offensive was possible at all. Lamb maintained that “Auchinleck’s conduct of his desert campaign was definitely first-class; he was defeated not because of his strategy or tactics, but because Rommel’s tanks and guns were superior.”112
Rommel’s strategy was also superior to Ritchies – leading to the envelopment of Tobruk. On June 21, Prime Minister Churchill learned of the fall of Tobruk and the loss of nearly 35,000 British and Dominion soldiers when he was meeting with President Franklin Roosevelt at the White House. In his memoirs, Churchill wrote: “This was one of the heaviest blows I can recall during the war.”113 Tobruk had obsessed Churchill. Martin Gilbert wrote: “Intent on following the defence of Tobruk as closely as possible, Churchill asked Ismay to prepare both a large-scale plan and a model for him, and, meanwhile, ‘the best photographs available, both from the air and from the ground.’”114 Historian Richard Lamb wrote: “After the fall of Tobruk Churchill plainly had little confidence in Auchinleck, but it is hard to understand why he thought that prodding and pinpricking would help the battle. After the war Auchinleck commented mildly: ‘I was not afraid of Churchill. Some people were. But his interference was a disturbing influence on a chap like myself who was concentrating the whole day and night on one thing. I did not need encouragement to beat the enemy although I was glad to get it if things went well.’ That is the nearest Auchinleck ever went to criticizing Churchill.”115
The fall of Tobruk might have been the very unfortunate result of Churchill’s meddling, according to some commentators. Historian Richard Lamb argues that Auchinleck had made it clear on January 10: “It is NOT my intention to try to hold permanent Tobruk or any other locality west of the frontier.” Neither Churchill nor Brook commented. Auchinleck repeated that intention a month later when he wrote: “If for any reason, we should be forced at some future date to withdraw from our present forward positions, every effort will still be made to prevent Tobruk being lost to the enemy, but it is not my intention to continue to hold it once the enemy is in a position to invest it effectively.”116 Lamb noted: “On 15 June the Prime Minister cabled Auchinleck to ask if the War Cabinet should interpret his telegram to mean that, if the need arose, Ritchie would leave as many troops in Tobruk as were necessary ‘to hold the place for certain. The following day Auchinleck replied that this was a ‘correct interpretation’, adding that Rommel was not strong enough to invest Tobruk and ‘mask’ British forces on the frontier.” Lamb contended: “Churchill’s insistence on Tobruk being defended pushed his general into a gross tactical mistake against his better judgement at the eleventh hour.” He argued: “Tobruk ought to have been abandoned, and the disastrous loss in prisoners and equipment must be laid at Churchill’s door.” Lamb wrote: “Auchinleck was also furious when Churchill wanted him to ‘depute’ a senior officer on his staff to conduct an enquiry into the fall of Tobruk. He protested vigorously to Churchill who climbed down, saying in excuse that it was a War Cabinet request, not his personal one.”117
Auchinleck biographer John Connell placed much of the blame for the Tobruk disaster on General Neil Ritchie’s tendency to listen to subordinate, General William Gott, rather than his superior, General Auchinleck. Neither accurately assessed the seriousness of the situation. “Auchinleck’s advice was good advice,” wrote Connell, “and when Ritchie took it he was a successful general. When he rejected it, when he fell under other influences, he failed. Men who were subordinate to him, but were sure of themselves and had a greater faith in their own judgment than he in his, could sway his opinion.” Gott’s advice had been to withdraw the Eighth Army and let Tobruk withstand the German siege. “With dismal frequency the British commanders were obliging Rommel by doing what he expected and wanted,” noted Connell.118 In his war memoirs, Churchill clearly placed the blame: “The personal association of Auchinleck and Ritchie did not give Ritchie a chance of those independent conceptions on which the command of violent events depends. The lack of clear thought and the ill-defined responsibility between General Auchinleck and his recent staff officer, General Ritchie, had led to a mishandling of the forces which its character and consequences constitutes an unfortunate page in British military history.”119
The British prime minister received the news of Tobruk’s fall while he was visiting the White House and sitting with the American president. “Tobruk has surrendered, with twenty-five thousand men take prisoners ” read the telegram that President Franklin D. Roosevelt received at the White House on June 21, 1942. “Nothing could exceed the sympathy and chivalry of my two friends,” wrote Churchill of Hopkins and Roosevelt who were in the room with him when he received the news. “There were no reproaches; not an unkind word was spoken. ‘What can we do to help,’ said Roosevelt. Meeting in his White House study with Winston S. Churchill, FDR wordlessly gave the telegram to the prime minister. “Neither Winston nor I had contemplated such an eventuality and it was a staggering blow. I cannot remember what the individual words were that the President used to convey his sympathy, but I remember vividly being impressed by the tact and real heartfelt sympathy that lay behind these words,” wrote Field Marshall Alan Brooke.120 Churchill’s physician remembered that Churchill declaring: “What matters is that it should happen when I am here” before moving to the White House window. “I am ashamed. I cannot understand why Tobruk gave in. More than 30,000 of our men put their hands up. If they won’t fight —‘ The P.M. stopped abruptly.”121 The next day, Churchill declared: “I am the most miserable Englishman in America – since Burgoyne.” In his memoirs. Churchill wrote of Tobruk: “Defeat is one thing; disgrace is another.”122 The loss of Tobruk also led to a confrontation with Churchill’s critics in the House of Commons – his second of 1942.
Churchill and CIGS Alan Brooke went to Cairo at the beginning of August 1843. “Both believed that there was something radically wrong with the Command; but the Prime Minister had not apprehended that whatever previous shortcomings there had been, whatever reverses had occurred (for which he, with his impetuosity and his interference, bore no small responsibility), the Axis forces had been decisively defeated during July. In Brooke the deep and steadfast awareness of his duty, of his personal and professional responsibilities, were tinged with a cautious, somewhat sombre foreboding,” wrote John Connell. “The Prime Minister, as he unashamedly confessed, was looking forward to a rare and exciting jaunt.”123 The delegation also included Field Marshal Jan Smuts, prime minister of South Africa, on whom Churchill relied for military and command advice. Many of the soldiers captured at Tobruk had been South African.
Auchinleck had in effect been serving as both Mideast commander and commander of the Eighth Army on the front lines fighting Rommel. Churchill and Brooke wrestled over new leadership – including at one point a Churchill suggestion that Brooke take over the Eighth Army. Brooke knew he did not have the desert war experience the job required; he preferred Bernard Montgomery for the job. After meeting with Auchinleck, however, Brooke wrote in his diary: “I had expected some opposition, but I felt some serious doubts as to whether an Auk-Monty combination would work. I felt that the Auk would interfere too much with Monty; would ride him on too tight a rein, and would consequently be liable to put him out of his strike. As I was anxious to place Monty in command of the Eighth Army, I felt this might necessitate moving the Auk to some other command.”124
Churchill was intent on a game of changing military chairs. Ideas were thrown out, discarded, adopted, and in one case ended in disaster. On August, 6, Brooke wrote about “[o]ne of the difficult days of my life.” The general recorded: “Whilst I was dressing and practically naked, the PM suddenly burst into my room. Very elated an 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 com 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 to the Persia Iraq Command as he had lost confidence in him. And he wanted mt to take over the Near East Command with 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.”
Churchill decided on August 6 that General William Gott would take charge of the Eighth Army. It was a bad choice – Churchill was influenced by the general’s surface characteristics rather than military acumen. Reluctantly, Gott agreed and then flew off to Cairo. En route, his plane was shot down by a German fighter. Churchill was forced to adopt Brooke’s earlier suggestion of Bernard Montgomery to head the Eighth Army. Although Churchill made the decision, it required ratification by the War Cabinet meeting in London with Deputy Prime Minister Clement Atlee in the chair. With Brooke’s support, Churchill decided on another change at the top of the Mideast command – suddenly replacing General Auchinleck as Mideast commanders. General Ian Jacob was dispatched to deliver the news to Auchinleck in a letter which offered him the Near East command. “I felt as if I were just going to murder an unsuspecting friend,” wrote Jacob in his diary. “He opened it and read it through two or three times in silence. He did not move a muscle, and remained outwardly calm, and in completely control of himself. He then asked me whether it was intended that Persia should be under India. I told him that it was not so, the whole idea being that there should be three independent Commands. We discussed this for a bit, and then he led me out into the open, and we wandered about while he cleared his mind by talking to me. He said that it was a very evenly balanced question as to whether Iraq and Persia should come under India, or under the Middle East, but that it would never work to make an independent Command in those two countries. He felt that sooner or later they would inevitably come under India.” He decided that he could not accept the new post because his demotion meant “He could hardly in these circumstances retain the confidence of the troops, and by reason of this invidious position he could hardly have confidence in himself.” Jacob concluded: “I could not have admired more the way General Auchinleck received me, and his attitude throughout. A great man and a great fighter.”125 Auchinleck biographer John Connell viewed Auchinleck’s dismissal as reflecting a difficulty in distinguishing the roles of Mideast commander and Eighth Army leader: “An obstinate refusal to pay much regard to the established procedure of commands and staffs in the Army could be construed as a properly vigorous contempt for red tape and unnecessary convention, and, therefore, not merely pardonable but praiseworthy,” wrote Connell. More damnably, Churchill “blinded himself to the truth, which was that for the past six weeks Auchinleck had not been sitting in Cairo, while great events were occurring in the Desert, attending to matters appropriate to either a Minister or a quartermaster, but at the Tactical Headquarters of Eighth Army, directing those great events and beating Rommel to a standstill.”126
“It was a terrible thing to have to do [dismissing Claude Auchinleck]. He took it like a gentleman. It is difficult to remove a bad General at the height of a campaign: it is atrocious to remove a good General,” wrote Churchill. “We must use Auchinleck again. We cannot afford to lose such a man from the fighting line.”127 After relieving Auchinleck by letter, Churchill “then took off all of my clothes and rolled in the [Mediterranean] surf. Never had I had such a bathing.”128 Auchinleck retired (albeit temporarily) rather than be reassigned to Iraq. Historian Corelli Barnett wrote: “What was Auchinleck’s and [Eric] Dorman-Smith’s crime? It was to tell Churchill to his face in Cairo in August 1942 that his demand for an early offensive against Rommel was simply not militarily reasonable, and that the Eighth Army could not be properly re-trained and re-equipped until late September 1942.”129 Ironically, the excuse that Auchinleck used was not dissimilar to the excuse that Churchill himself used for postponing a frontal invasion of France by Anglo-American forces.
Auchinleck was one of many officials who would be awarded the “Order of the Boot” by Churchill. His predecessor, Archibald Wavell, commented at the time: “The P.M. is in his most Marlburian mood, and sees himself in the periwig and red coat of his great ancestor, directing Eugene (for which part Alexander is now cast) to begin the battle of Blenheim. Heads are falling so fast that the supply of chargers to put them on must run short soon, and the last Reinforcements Camp of Superior Commanders must be almost empty.”130 Auchinleck meanwhile returned to India where on Jun 18, 1943, he was again appointed commander-in-chief of British forces, serving until 1947. Having shaken up the Mideast command, Churchill left immediately for Moscow by plane for consultations with Josef Stalin.
Auchinleck was replaced by General Harold Alexander, who had been commander of British forces in Burma but was preparing for the joint Allied invasion of northwest Africa. Alexander John Colville wrote of General Alexander: “Widely respected for his gallant First War record as an officer of the Irish Guards, Alexander had commanded, with cool efficiency, first the rearguard on the Dunkirk beaches, and the fighting retreat of the British Army in Burma….he had a personal charm which enabled him to allay discord. He explained his plans with a quiet confidence that won immediate attention without seeming to demand it; and he stuck to his guns with as much courage in the Council Chamber as on the field of battle.”131 Historian John Keegan concluded that Alexander “was not a great soldier, though he was a strategist of some insight. Alexander was not a great diplomat, though he had a remarkable facility for making divergent and powerful personalities work together. Alexander was not a great battlefield commander, though he never lost a battle. Alexander could never be said to be a master of detail, nor a managerial wizard, though his armies operated over the most difficult terrain encountered in the European theatre of operations, and yet they were universally regarded as well administered.”132 After the British Eighth Army recaptured Tobruk in November 1942, Churchill declared: “This noble Desert Army, which has never doubted its power to beat the enemy, and whose pride had suffered cruelly from retreats and disasters which they could not understand, regained in a week its ardour and self-confidence. Historians may explain Tobruk. The Eighth Army has done better: it has avenged it.”133
For Further Reference
- John Connell, Wavell, Scholar and Soldier, p. 454.
- Tuvia Ben-Moshe, Churchill: Strategy and History, p. 317.
- Roy P. Basler, editor, The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln, (CWAL), Volume V, p. 95 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to Simon Cameron, January 10, 1862).
- John Connell, Wavell, Scholar and Soldier, p. 254.
- Alex Danchev, Daniel Todman, editors, Lord Alanbrooke: War Diaries, 1939-1945, p. 400 (May 9, 1943).
- Rufus Rockwell Wilson, editor, Intimate Memories of Lincoln, pp. 233-234.
- George B. McClellan, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 79 (Letter from George B. McClellan to Ellen McClellan, August 4, 1861).
- George B. McClellan, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 84 (Letter from George B. McClellan to Mary Ellen McClellan, August 15, 1861).
- George B. McClellan, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 106 (Letter from George B. McClellan to Mary Ellen McClellan, October 10, 1861).
- George B. McClellan, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 114 (Letter from George McClellan to Ellen McClellan, October 31, 1861).
- George B. McClellan, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan, p. 98 Letter to Mary Ellen McClellan, September 11, 1861).
- Ethan S. Rafuse, McClellan’s War: The Failure of Moderation in the Struggle for the Union, p. 137 (Letter from Benjamin F.Wade to Zachariah Chandler, October 8, 1861).
- Chester G. Hearn, Lincoln and McClellan at War, p. 54.
- William Howard Russell, My Diary North and South, p. 317.
- Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Diary, p. 289.
- Russell F. Weigley, A Great Civil War, p. 120.
- Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Diary, pp. 292.
- Allen C. Gulezo, Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War & Reconstruction, p. 164.
- James M. McPherson, This Mighty Scourge; Perspectives on the Civil War, pp. 56-57.
- George B. McClellan, The Civil War Papers of George B. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 323 ( Letter from George B. McClellan to Edwin M. Stanton, June 28, 1862).
- CWAL, Volume V, p. 298 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to George B. McClellan, July 1, 1862).
- Michael Burlingame, Abraham Lincoln: A Life, Volume II, pp. 327-329.
- Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume I, p. 105 (September 2, 1862).
- Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume I, p. 113 (September 5, 1862).
- Gideon Welles, Diary of Gideon Welles, Volume I, p. 111 (September 6, 1862).
- Michael Burlingame and John R. Turner Ettlinger, Inside Lincoln’s White House: The Complete Civil War Diary of John Diary, pp. 38-39 (September 5, 1862).
- John G. Nicolay and John Hay, Abraham Lincoln: A History, Volume VI, p. 21.
- Michael Burlingame, editor, William O. Stoddard: Inside the White House in War Times; Memoirs and Reports of Lincoln’s Secretary, p. 80-81.
- William Henry Egle, Life and Times of Andrew Gregg Curtin, pp. 321-322.
- Russell Weigley, A Great Civil War, p. 154.
- David Herbert Donald, Lincoln, p. 388.
- Michael Burlingame, Dispatches from Lincoln’s White House: The Anonymous Civil War Journalism of Presidential Secretary William O. Stoddard, p.112 (October 6, 1862).
- Roy P. Basler, editor, Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (CWAL), Volume V p. 460-61 (Letter from Abraham Lincoln to George B. McClellan, October 13, 1862).
- George B. McClellan, The Civil War Papers of George C. McClellan: Selected Correspondence, 1860-1865, p. 300 (Letter of George B. McClellan to Ellen McClellan, October 1, 1862).
- Stephen R. Taaffe, Commanding the Army of the Potomac, p. 53.
- Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House, p. 89 (Letter from John G. Nicolay to Therena Bates, October 13,, 1862)
- Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House, p. 89 (Letter from John G. Nicolay to Therena Bates, October 20, 1862).
- Russell Weigley, A Great Civil War, p. 161.
- Mary Livermore, My Story of the War, pp. 556-557.
- Allen C. Guelzo, Fateful Lightning, p. 327.
- Michael Burlingame, editor, With Lincoln in the White House, pp. 90-91 (Letter from John G. Nicolay to Therena Bates, November 9, 1862).
- Michael Burlingame, editor, Dispatches from Lincoln’s White House: The Anonymous Civil War Journalism of Presidential Secretary William O. Stoddard, p. 119 (November 10, 1862).
- Paul Finkelman and Martin J. Hershock, editors, The Political Lincoln: An Encyclopedia, p. 463.
- Don E. and Virginia Fehrenbacher, editors, Collected Words of Abraham Lincoln, p. 203.
- Hastings Lionel Ismay, Memoirs of General Lord Ismay, p. 211.
- John Connell, Wavell, Scholar and Soldier, p. 254.
- Gerald Pawle, The War and Colonel Warden, p. 116.
- John Colville, Fringes of Power, p. 771.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 756.
- David Dilks, Churchill and Company, p. 50.
- Andrew Roberts, Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945, p. 127.
- John Kennedy, The Business of War, p. 145.
- Carlo D’Este, Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945, p. 485.
- Corelli Barnett, The Lords of War: From Lincoln to Churchill, p. 286-287
- William Manchester and Paul Reid, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, p. 520.
- Ronald Lewin, Churchill as Warlord, p.76.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 731. (Letter from Anthony Eden to Winston Churchill, August13, 1940).
- Hastings Lionel Ismay, Memoirs of General Lord Ismay, p. 197.
- John Keegan, Churchill’s Generals, p. 76.
- Hastings Lionel Ismay, Memoirs of General Lord Ismay, p. 210.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 935 (December 7, 1940).
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, pp. 878, 884.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 982.
- Robin Edmonds, The Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt & Stalin in Peace and War, p. 231.
- R. W. Thompson, Winston Churchill: The Yankee Marlborough, p. 290 (Telegram from Winston Churchill to Anthony Eden, March 6, 1941).
- Ben Pimlott, editor, The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45, p. 188.
- David Day, Menzies and Churchill at War, pp. 83-84.
- R. W. Thompson, Winston Churchill: The Yankee Marlborough, p. 291.
- R. W. Thompson, Winston Churchill: The Yankee Marlborough, p. 291.
- Viscount Andrew Browne Cunningham, A Sailor’s Odyssey: The Autobiography of Admiral of the Fleet, Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope, p. 315.
- John Colville, The Fringes of Power, p. 361 (March 5, 1941).
- Hastings Lionel Ismay, Memoirs of General Lord Ismay, p. 199-201.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 899.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 1027-1030.
- Ben Pimlott, editor, The Second World War Diary of Hugh Dalton 1940-45, p. 188.
- Robin Edmonds, The Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt & Stalin in Peace and War, p.231.
- Carlo D’Este, Warlord: A Life of Winston Churchill at War, 1874-1945, pp. 511-515.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 1072 (Diary of John Colville, April 29, 1941).
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, pp. 1075-1076.
- John Connell, Wavell, Scholar and Soldier, p. 463 (Letter from John Dill to Archibald Wavell, May 21, 1941).
- John Connell, Wavell, Scholar and Soldier, p. 18.
- John Keegan, Churchill’s Generals, pp. 80.
- Corelli Barnett, The Desert Generals, p. 76.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 1102.
- John Connell, Wavell, Scholar and Soldier, p. 463 (Letter from John Dill to Archibald Wavell, May 21, 1941).
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 1113.
- Martin Gilbert, Finest Hour, p. 1114.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 1115 (Telegram from Wavell to Churchill, Jun 21, 1941).
- John Connell, Wavell, Scholar and Soldier, p. 254.
- John Kennedy, The Business of War, p. 133.
- John Kennedy, The Business of War, pp. 173-174.
- R. W. Thompson, Winston Churchill: The Yankee Marlborough, p. 292.
- Nigel Nicolson, editor, Harold Nicolson: Diaries and Letters, 1939-1945, p. 176 (July 2, 1941).
- Joan Bright Astley, The Inner Circle: A View of War at the Top, pp. 71-72.
- Corelli Barnett, The Desert Generals, p. 77.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 1116.
- John Keegan, Churchill’s Generals, pp. 144-145.
- Corelli Barnett, The Desert Generals, p. 77.
- Ronald Lewin, Churchill as Warlord, p. 116.
- Hastings Lionel Ismay, Memoirs of General Lord Ismay, p. 270.
- Tuvia Ben-Moshe, Churchill: Strategy and History, p. 169.
- Winston S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate: Second World War, Volume IV, p. 234 (May 17, 1942).
- Hastings Lionel Ismay, Memoirs of General Lord Ismay, p. 276.
- Corelli Barnett, The Desert Generals, p. 124.
- Hastings Lionel Ismay, Memoirs of General Lord Ismay, p. 276.
- Corelli Barnett, The Desert Generals, p. 125.
- Hastings Lionel Ismay, Memoirs of General Lord Ismay, p. 272.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory 1941-1945, p. 114.
- Hastings Lionel Ismay, Memoirs of General Lord Ismay, pp. 269-270.
- William Manchester and Paul Reid, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill, Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, p. 480.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill: Road to Victory 1941-1945, p. 114.
- Richard Lamb, Churchill as War Leader, pp. 140-143, 146.
- Winston S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate: The Second Word War, Volume IV, p. 343.
- Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill Finest Hour, 1939-1941, p. 1055.
- Richard Lamb, Churchill as War Leader, p. 144.
- Richard Lamb, Churchill as War Leader, p. 138
- Richard Lamb, Churchill as War Leader, p. 145.
- John Connell, Auchinleck: A Biography of Field-Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck, pp.581-582, 586.
- Winston S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate: The Second World War, Volume IV, p. 378.
- Alex Danchev, Daniel Todman, editors, Lord Alanbrooke War Diaries, 1939-1945, p. 269 (June 21, 1942).
- Baron Charles McMoran Wilson Moran, Winston Churchill: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965, p. 41 (June 21, 1942).
- Winston S. Churchill, The Hinge of Fate: The Second World War, Volume IV, p. 344.
- John Connell, Auchinleck: A Biography of Field-Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck, pp. 691-692.
- Alex Danchev, Daniel Todman, editors, Lord Alanbrooke: War Diaries, 1939-1945, p. 291 (August 4, 1942).
- John Connell, Auchinleck: A Biography of Field-Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck, pp. 708-709 (Ian Jacob Diary, August 8, 1942).
- John Connell, Auchinleck: A Biography of Field-Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck, pp. 710.
- Richard Langworth, editor, Churchill by Himself, p. 280 (Letter from Winston S. Churchill to Harold Nicolson, November 6, 1942).
- Harold Nicolson, Diaries and Letters, 1930-1964, p. 238.
- Corelli Barnett, The Lords of War: From Lincoln to Churchill, p. 284.
- Joan Bright Astley, The Inner Circle: A View of War at the Top, p. 85.
- John Colville, Footprints in Time: Memories, p. 191.
- John Keegan, Churchill’s General, p. 125.
- Richard Langworth, Churchill by Himself, p. 212 (November 11, 1942).