1943 Analysis

1943 (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

John Grigg, an English political journalist, is presently working on a four-volume biography of David Lloyd George, two volumes of which have already appeared. In his latest book, 1943: The Victory That Never Was, Grigg deals with high politics and grand strategy of World War II. He advances the thesis that had the Allied invasion of northwestern Europe taken place in 1943, instead of 1944, the war would have ended that much sooner, many lives would have been saved, and the nature of the ultimate victory would have placed the Allies in a much stronger position relative to the Soviet Union in the postwar era. In discussing the wartime cooperation of the Allied powers, Grigg necessarily gives special attention to their leaders—Winston Churchill, British prime minister; Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States; and Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator.

In its overall scope, the book is divided into three parts. Part One covers the period to 1943—the course of the war from America’s entry at Pearl Harbor in late 1941 to the Allied landings in French North Africa in late 1942. In Part Two, the author analyzes those aspects of 1943 which relate to his central thesis. Part Three is devoted to a discussion of how the war actually ended; a summary of Chester Wilmot’s view of the war’s last stages as set forth in his early Cold War study, The Struggle for Europe; a refutation of the major arguments against a cross-Channel invasion in 1943; and finally some reflections on the victory that might have been if the Western Allies had decided to invade in that year.

Once the United States entered World War II, Winston Churchill immediately sought to influence President Roosevelt as to what the American role in the conflict should be. Accordingly, he presented three major arguments to Roosevelt in their meeting at the White House in December, 1941. First of all, Churchill believed that in 1942 the war in the Western Theater should comprise as its main offensive effort the occupation, by Great Britain and the United States, of the North and West African possessions of France, and the further control by Britain of the whole North African coast from Tunisia to Egypt, so as to secure Allied passage through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. Second, Churchill wanted Great Britain and the United States to reassert their naval supremacy over Japan by mid-1942. The Far Eastern War, however, should not unduly absorb a large proportion of United States forces. Finally, by 1943, he hoped that British and American armies could support uprisings in those Nazi-occupied countries that bordered the sea.

Both Roosevelt and his principal military adviser, United States Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, were in agreement with Churchill that Hitler must be defeated first. Disagreement, however, emerged on the nature of the grand strategy by which this goal was to be accomplished. Marshall, disturbed by Churchill’s call for piecemeal landings in support of local revolts, called for a possible Anglo-American assault across the Channel in the fall of 1942 to shore up the Soviet Union if it seemed in danger of collapsing. The decisive cross-Channel invasion would take place in 1943. Sir Alan Brooke, the British Chief of Army Staff and Churchill’s principal military adviser, emerged as Marshall’s most relentless antagonist on a cross-Channel attack of any kind in 1942 and 1943. As for Roosevelt, he showed an interest in Churchill’s ideas for action in North Africa. He viewed an American landing in North Africa as the best way to counter the inevitable public demand for greater involvement in the Pacific. In addition, he regarded the opening of a front in North Africa as providing some help to the beleaguered Russians. Grigg feels that it was unfortunate that the whole question of a Second Front became entangled with the issue of aid to Russia instead of being judged on its own merits as the strategy for defeating Nazi forces in Western Europe.

The views of Churchill, Brooke, and Roosevelt prevailed, thus setting the stage for Operation TORCH, the Anglo-American invasion of French North Africa late in 1942. Churchill’s opposition, Grigg observes, to any large-scale landing in northern France during 1942 was reinforced by his doubts about the fighting quality of the British Army following its disastrous defeat by the Japanese at Singapore in February, 1942. In May, he dispatched Lord Louis Mountbatten, the Chief of Combined Operations, to Washington to convince Roosevelt that a cross-Channel invasion would certainly fail in 1942 and perhaps even in 1943. In yielding to Mountbatten’s arguments, Roosevelt suggested that American troops might, instead, be sent to North Africa. This fitted in perfectly with Churchill’s plans, especially after the fall of Tobruk to General Rommel’s Africa Korps in June, 1942. Nevertheless, Churchill continued to press the British Chiefs of Staff, in late 1942, to prepare for a cross-Channel assault in 1943.

In brief, the Allies, under the command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower, successfully landed and secured positions in French North Africa in November, 1942. By January, they had linked up with the British Eighth Army driving west from its triumphant victory over Rommel at...

(The entire section is 2160 words.)