GIs and Tommies
Winston Churchill once observed that 'there is only one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is fighting without them'.1 The history of warfare is replete with examples of his maxim, from the days of the Athenian League, through the wars of Marlborough and the coalitions against Napoleon. The Anglo-American alliance of 1941–45 provides particularly rich evidence of the difficulty of harmonizing the interests, objectives, and methods of two sovereign states. Numerous military historians have examined the debates over grand strategy, the rivalries between senior commanders, the painstaking creation of combined staffs in the Mediterranean and north-west Europe and the divergent national military doctrines and traditions which impeded combined operations. Less attention, however, has been paid to the problem of interAllied military cooperation at the grass roots—the need to promote understanding between the ordinary fighting men. This became a serious concern of British and American planners in 1943–44 as they prepared for the combined invasion of Europe, because relations between soldiers of the two nations were not only bad but were also deteriorating. To improve matters they devised a series of exchanges between the two armies, which was an immense success, but which has attracted little attention from historians. The origins and execution of this programme of 'inter-attachment' are the main subjects of this chapter, but we shall also see that the reports by British and US participants about their experiences provide interesting insights into the characteristics of the two armies. More generally, this programme, taken in conjunction with earlier precedents in both world wars, illuminates more recent discussion about 'inter-operability' in NATO.
This chapter appears as first published in the Journal of Strategic Studies, 7 (1984), 406–22, except
for a few cuts to eliminate overlap with Chapter 11. It was originally presented to the London
University seminar in military history. Brian Bond, Robert K. Griffith, Hew Strachan, and John
A. Thompson kindly commented on a draft version.
1 Quoted in David Reynolds, The Creation of the Anglo-American Alliance, 1937–1941: A Study
in Competitive Cooperation (London, 1981), 283.