Spilling the Secrets of War; United: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta in 1945

Daily Mail (London), October 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

Spilling the Secrets of War; United: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin at Yalta in 1945


Byline: JOHN CROSSLAND

MASTERS AND COMMANDERS by Andrew Roberts (Allen Lane, ?25)

HE WAS an amanuensis to the titans of 20th-century history at the key moments they were making it.

He should have burnt his verbatim notes at the end of each day's top-secret deliberations, and the fact that he kept his own copies could have led to his prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

We are fortunate then that Laurence 'Thrushy' Burgis a Cabinet Office secretary who had been the platonic lover of Viscount Esher, a key member of the Committee of Imperial Defence disregarded the Civil Service code, in the knowledge, as he said, 'that to sit at the Cabinet table at No. 10 with Churchill in the chair was something worth living for'.

And doubly fortunate that Andrew Roberts discovered the notes in the Churchill Archive at Cambridge, forming, together with the Cabinet Secretary Norman Brook's verbatim reports of Cabinet meetings (released only last year at the National Archives), a rich lode from which the author has crafted an elegant and masterly fresh interpretation of the grand strategy of World War II.

Roberts' pen portraits, with their wealth of amusing and often acerbic anecdotes, reveal the evolution of that strategy by the master statesmen, Churchill and Roosevelt meeting after risky voyages or flights through enemy-dominated seas and airspace and its implementation by their commanders, General George Marshall and Field Marshal Alan Brooke.

The famous special relationship that developed between Churchill and Roosevelt survived the stresses and strains inevitable in such a wide-ranging conflict with so much at stake.

But, as the author shrewdly puts it: 'When their countries' interests required Roosevelt and Churchill to be friends, they genuinely became so; when they needed to clash, they no less genuinely did that too.

' Yet unity of action was too great a prize to be jeopardised by lack of charm, especially from two of the most naturally engaging politicians of their era.' M ARSHALL and Brooke could not afford such a luxury when on their decisions rested the fate of thousands of men and the success or failure of an assault on some bastion of Hitler's Festung Europa [Fortress Europe].

Marshall was essentially an organisation man, responsible for the deployment of the powerful American juggernaut, and like his subordinate Eisenhower a soft-spoken diplomat.

But he was also stubborn to a degree, and yoked in tandem with the ferociously egocentric Ulsterman Brooke there could be some spectacular rows. …

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