A gloomy view from the top in Britain

The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke at his desk at the War Office in London, 1942.

The Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke kept a private diary throughout the war. He was later to describe it as an outlet for his innermost thoughts, often frustrations at being placed at the point where politics met military strategy. Brooke was to play a pivotal role in the development of Allied Military strategy throughout the war, often acting as a moderating influence on the imaginative ventures of others, not least Churchill.

This entry came at a particularly bleak time. The beginning of 1942 had seen the breakout of the Japanese in the Far East, still very far from being contained, whilst in the Mediterranean and the North Africa British forces were under intense pressure. The practical effects of America joining the war seemed a long way off:

31 March 1942

The last day of the first quarter of 1942, fateful year in which we have already lost a large proportion of the British Empire, and are on the high road to lose a great deal more of it!

During the last fortnight I have had for the first time since the war started a growing conviction that we are going to lose this war unless we control it very differently and fight it with more determination.

But to begin with a democracy is at a great disadvantage against a dictatorship when it comes to war. Secondly a govemment with only one big man in it, and that one man a grave danger in many respects, is in a powerless way. Party politics, party interests, still override larger war issues. Petty jealousies colour discussions and influence destinies. Politicians still suffer from that little knowledge of military matters which gives them unwarranted confidence that they are bom strategists! As a result they confuse issues, affect decisions, and convert simple problems and plans into confused tangles and hopeless muddles.

It is all desperately depressing. Furthermore it is made worse by the lack of good military commanders. Half our Corps and Divisional Commanders are totally unfit for their appointments, and yet if I were to sack them I could find no better! They lack character, imagination, drive and power of leadership. The reason for this state of affairs is to be found in the losses we sustained in the last war of all our best officers, who should now be our senior commanders.

I wonder if we shall muddle through this time as we have done in the past?

See Alanbrooke War Diaries 1939-1945: Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke

This was probably one of Brooke’s most pessimistic entries of the whole war, a perspective he never let others see. In his very next entry he comments that he might have been feeling a bit “liverish” when he wrote it and actively seems to have pulled himself out of his gloom.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Conn Nugent April 3, 2017 at 2:16 am

Brooke’s record as critic and oracle is weak. His pessimism and social prejudices were cast into even bolder relief when Eisenhower took over and the Americans carried the brunt of the war in Europe. He rarely found anything good to say about US generals or US fighting men. A sour dude.

Keith McLennan April 1, 2012 at 1:10 am

Another very interesting entry, especially Brooke’s point about the effect of the First World War casualties on the Britain’s leadership capacity in Second. Still, on the face of it, Germany should have suffered an even greater loss of potential leadership capacity, so it would balance out.

But there’s only one ‘l’ in ‘Field Marshal’.

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