Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2160
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...
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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 El Alamein. The Germans were now reduced to a bridgehead in Tunisia which they held until May, 1943.
Early in January, 1943, Churchill and Roosevelt met in Casablanca to discuss the future of the war. Grigg decries what he regards as a series of blunders that were made at Casablanca. Overall, Churchill and Roosevelt accepted Brooke’s scheme for the adoption of a succession of operations in the Mediterranean, including the elimination of the Tunisian bridgehead, the conquest of Sicily, and the invasion of Italy with the hope of knocking that country out of the war. This plan was tantamount to postponing the cross-Channel invasion until 1944. Grigg takes Churchill and Roosevelt to task for giving in too easily to Brooke’s scheme. Roosevelt, according to the author, had no coherent plan for winning the war in Europe that would match his stated policy of defeating Hitler first. Instead, he insisted on Germany’s unconditional surrender. Grigg condemns Roosevelt for advancing this idea and Churchill for accepting it. Finally, the author deplores the failure of both leaders to support General Charles de Gaulle, leader of the Free French, and thus take advantage of the Free French movement that was growing inside France and in large parts of the French Empire. Casablanca, thus, set the tone for military operations in 1943 which altered the entire course of the war.
Grigg offers some views on the scope of the ultimate victory in 1945 and the victory that might have been, had the Allies undertaken a cross-Channel invasion during 1943. As events turned out, the invasion, Operation OVERLOAD, under the command of General Eisenhower, took place on June 6, 1944. Germany surrendered in May, 1945, followed by Japan four months later. In surveying the fighting in Western Europe during 1944, Grigg joins a large number of writers who have criticized the failure of the Allies to drive into Germany in September when Nazi defenses were in such disarray. Operation ANVIL, the landing in the south of France in mid-August, only had the effect, in Grigg’s view, of pushing a German Army, that might have been trapped in France, back into Germany. Japan’s defeat, he writes, was assured once the United States recovered its naval supremacy in the Western Pacific. Great Britain and France emerged from the war weaker than when they had entered it, the United States and the Soviet Union stronger.
In speculating on the victory that might have been, Grigg of course begins with the Allies agreeing in 1942 that their big operation in 1943 would be the cross-Channel invasion of Europe. The adoption of such a strategy meant that the Allies also agreed that it was far more important to bring France back into the war than to knock Italy out of it, and that de Gaulle was the French leader who deserved their greatest support. The TORCH operation would have been undertaken only on the strict understanding that it would lead to no further commitments in the Mediterranean prejudicial to the main plan in 1943. At Casablanca, Roosevelt and Churchill would have developed plans that would keep the enemy guessing about Allied intentions in the Mediterranean area. One guarantee for the success of the invasion in 1943, in Grigg’s opinion, was that the two fronts on which Germany would be obliged to fight were much further apart than in 1944. The summer of 1943 found the Eastern Front well inside Russia; thus German east-west communications would have been overtaxed. Final victory, Grigg speculates would have found the Russians still approaching the main centers of Eastern Europe. The Western Allies would thus have been in a much stronger position to deal with Russia than as events actually turned out. Finally, an invasion in 1943 would have spared literally hundreds of thousands of European Jews from being exterminated by the Nazis.
Grigg compares his ideas on the grand strategy of World War II with the position advanced by Chester Wilmot in his book The Struggle for the Mastery of Europe published in 1952. Wilmot wrote his book against the backdrop of the Cold War when critics were condemning the failure of the Western Allies to capture Berlin in 1945 instead of leaving it to the Russians. According to Grigg, the fundamental flaw in the Wilmot thesis is that it deals with criticism of Allied strategy in the last year of the war, when the Russians had already pushed so far into Eastern Europe that the Western Allies’ chances of meeting them at some point east of Berlin were rather slim. Given Wilmot’s concern about the position of the Allies at war’s end, Grigg states that he should have addressed himself to the question of a landing in France in 1943. Wilmot, however, the author notes, like other writers, takes the case against 1943 for granted.
In order to strengthen his case for a cross-Channel invasion in 1943, Grigg seeks to refute the three standard arguments against such an attempt in that year. These arguments stated that in 1943 Hitler’s Atlantic Wall was too strong, the Allies lacked sufficient numbers of landing craft, and technical resources were inadequate. Grigg rejects the first argument by observing that the defensive fortifications that comprised the Atlantic Wall were much weaker in 1943 than after they were strengthened early in 1944. German manpower in the West was about the same in both years. As to the alleged shortage of landing craft, Grigg points to the large number available for the invasion of Sicily and for the Pacific Theater. Once the Allies decided to postpone the landing in France from 1943 to 1944, more landing craft were sent to the Pacific and their production was even scaled back in the United States. Finally, Grigg dismisses the argument about the inadequacy of technical resources, such as the artificial “Mulberry” harbor, by stating that, if necessary devices did not exist in 1943, it was because there was no pressure to produce them at that time.
Grigg summarizes his rejection of the view, that it was impossible to land in France in 1943, by asserting that there were four vital preconditions for invasion. These preconditions, all of which existed or could have been made to exist in 1943, included overwhelming Allied air superiority, sufficient numbers of Allied troops, adequate means to transport them, and preventing the enemy from concentrating its forces against the Allied bridgehead before it could be secured. The Allies, according to Grigg, had the ability to establish air control over northern France in 1943. By that year there was no shortage of Allied troops ready and trained for combat. The bulk of the German Army was pinned down on the Russian Front. Had the Allies decided to launch the invasion in 1943, the technical aids for landing and supplying men would have been rushed into production just as rapidly as they were in 1944. In Grigg’s opinion, then, there was no genuine excuse, where men and matériel were concerned, for postponing the invasion from 1943 to 1944.
John Grigg’s central thesis that the Allies should have launched the cross-Channel invasion in 1943 will always remain controversial. Wars, more than any other events in history, lend themselves to much soul-searching and speculation after the fact. Where World War II is concerned, Grigg acknowledges and refutes to his own satisfaction the arguments, advanced during and after the war, that appalling risks would have confronted any cross-Channel invasion attempted before 1944. Grigg stresses that little consideration, then or since, has been given to the equally appalling risks of delaying the invasion. These risks lay in allowing Hitler to perpetuate his tyranny and genocidal policies any longer than necessary. There was, in Grigg’s opinion, not a moment to lose.
Readers will find Grigg’s 1943: The Victory That Never Was a stimulating account that provides some good insights on grand strategy in World War II. In addition, his study sheds light on the increasing friction between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union that was perpetuated in the Cold War.