A World in Flames: A Short History of the Second World War in Europe and Asia, 1939-1945

By Martin Kitchen | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER THIRTEEN
From Normandy to The Elbe
(June 1944-May 1945)

Churchill began to think about an invasion of northern France at the time of Dunkirk. He appointed a Combined Operations Staff under Admiral Sir Roger Keyes, who had led the raid on Zeebrugge in 1918, to investigate all the problems of large-scale amphibious warfare. Keyes was soon to fall out with the Prime Minister and with the inflexible bureaucracy of Whitehall. In October 1941 Captain Lord Louis Mountbatten, whose swashbuckling and opinionated style was more to Churchill's taste, replaced Keyes and was ordered, in characteristically exaggerated terms, to turn the whole of southern England into a springboard for the invasion of the Continent. Mountbatten was a very junior officer whose undoubted talents were more suited to diplomacy and politics than to complex military operations. He was largely ignored by the Chiefs of Staff, to whose committee he was appointed in spite of his modest rank, and Churchill came to believe that Germany could be crushed in an anaconda strategy -- blockaded by the Royal Navy, flattened by Bomber Command and riven by internal dissent -- that would obviate the need for invasion.

It was the Americans who now insisted on the priority of a cross- Channel invasion. At the ' Arcadia' conference in Washington in January 1942 General Marshall argued for an early invasion, 'Operation Sledgehammer', a small-scale operation to secure a bridgehead in France in 1942 and to case the pressure on the Russian front, but Churchill urged caution and delay. Plans for an invasion were drawn up by a relatively unknown officer, Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower, but with the 'Torch' landings in north Africa these had to be shelved. Mountbatten's appalling mishandling of the Dieppe raid on 19 August 1942, which was perhaps

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