Tuesday
April 23, 2024

Book Review: The Devils Will Get No Rest

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By: Darshan Gajjar, Research Analyst, GSDN

The Devils Will Get No Rest: source Internet

“You were given the choice between war and dishonour. You chose dishonour, and you will have war,” notably remarked Winston Churchill to Neville Chamberlain when he signed the famous Munich Agreement with Hitler’s Nazi Germany on September 30, 1938, to avoid a greater war in Europe. Churchill was soon proven to be right when, on September 1, 1939, a year after signing the Munich Agreement, Hitler invaded Poland and World War II began. Next year, in 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister and led the British war efforts. Britain was soon joined by the United States in the aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, which compelled Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) to take all measures for the defence of America.

Though the allies were together and fought in the theatres in their vicinity, i.e., the US in the Pacific and the UK in Europe, there was a need to have a common strategy in order to defeat advancing Nazi forces. To synergize Allied military strategy and further plans of action vis-à-vis the Third Reich and Imperial Japan, military leaders and politicians from both the UK and US came together in Casablanca, Morocco, and prepared effective military strategies that eventually led to the defeat of both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany.

Noting down the detailed events of what happened between January 14–24, 1943, in Casablanca, award-winning author and Honorary Fellow of the Massachusetts Historical Society James B. Conroy, in a book titled “The Devils Will Get No Rest: FDR, Churchill, and the Plan That Won the War,” published by Simon & Schuster, highlighted the importance of that conference and the role that various military leaders, diplomats, and politicians play in it.

Divided into eighteen chapters, which cover not only the ten days of the conference but also how military personnel prepared for it in addition to covering the aftermath of it.

British Strategic Advantage

After the end of World War II, while it was America that dominated the great power politics, the book argues that, in the initial years of that war, the British and, for that matter, the Soviets had the upper hand in strategy and military planning. Royal British forces not only had a better understanding of strategy but also had battle experience spanning more than a century. By contrast, America, though it had a greater advantage in technological advancements and industrial planning, lacked strategic foresight when it came to warfare.

This was as true at the level of the military as it was at the level of politicians. In contrast to FDR, who had little experience with military planning and strategy, Churchill was heavily involved in British war planning. Highlighting this difference between both personalities, the author writes, “He [FDR] had never worn a uniform, understood naval strategy but had never shaped it, and knew less about ground and air power… He did not pretend to be a serious strategist and seldom took firm positions on military issues, which Churchill did twice before breakfast. Even when he made up his mind, FDR often kept its contents from his Chiefs of Staff, but Churchill’s [chiefs] never had to guess what he was thinking.”

This strategic advantage culminated in the British articulating their point of prioritising Germany in this war while keeping Japan at arm’s length by means of maintaining the status quo and extending the battles of exhaustion.

Initial Planning from Operation Bolero to Sledgehammer

The author accentuates how, while talks of cooperation were ongoing with the allies endorsing the Atlantic Charter on January 1, 1942, these efforts were accelerated after the fall of Singapore, which Churchill called “the worst disaster in British military history” in February 1942. In March of 1942, General George C. Marshall, then Chief of Staff of the US Army, asked then Major General Dwight D. Eisenhower to coordinate with his British counterparts and prepare a plan to be presented to President FDR.

Gen. Eisenhower presented an initial plan of action that FDR approved and which was further explored and discussed with the British in Casablanca. The plan would initiate with Operation Bolero, under which a rapid buildup of U.S. forces would be accumulated in the United Kingdom culminating with Operation Roundup, a full-scale continental invasion of Europe after attaining air superiority in the theatre. As an alternative to the full-scale continental invasion, there would be Operation Sledgehammer, a smaller attack that would pull the Germans off the Red Army if it started to collapse before Operation Roundup was ready.

In addition to attacking Nazi-controlled Europe, two more theatres of operations were Africa and the Pacific. The book explains how the British were keen on securing Northern Africa and southern shores of Italy before going all in with the channel crossing to Europe. Americans, on the other hand, had a twin strategy: Gen. Marshall suggested prioritising channel crossing, while Admiral Ernest J. King demanded more resources and focus in the Pacific theatre to deter Japanese forces.

Gen. Marshall had geopolitical considerations in mind as well when he insisted on crossing the English Channel at the earliest. Russians were fighting hard, and he did not want Russians to feel abandoned by Anglo-Americans in the fight against Hitler.

After the conference, however, the joint allied strategy called for an invasion of Sicily, under Operation Husky, that would secure British maritime communications channels in the Mediterranean and pave the way for further invasion of the continent. Simultaneously, allies will maintain the status quo in the Pacific, making sure Japanese advancements are curtailed.

Individual Conflicts and Collective Cooperation

One of the unique attributes of the book is its coverage of the human aspects of the strategy. With the benefit of hindsight, what we see is the end version of the strategy that helped Allies win the war without realising the discussions, deliberations, and cooperation it takes to delineate such a strategy that can be materialised in due course. Some of the incidents that went from conflict between individuals to collective cooperation deserve to be mentioned here.

Although they were united in presenting an American point of view of the war in front of the British, the American Navy and Army had their own differences. The inter-service rivalry was indeed very new to the British witnesses who were present there, especially during the initial planning.

Mentioning the rift between General Marshall and Admiral King, the author notes, “As a gifted naval strategist, King had no peer in the world, and no senior American officer was more despised. In 1942, Brigadier General Dwight D. Eisenhower shared a fantasy with his diary: “One thing that might help win this war is to get someone to shoot King.””

The author further mentions the frustration of British officers due to this interservice rivalry; quoting the British Army’s Brigadier General Vivian Dykes, he says, “Dykes too was frustrated. The Americans could not have been friendlier, but their interservice conflicts were crippling and their military secretariat useless. “Light relief” was provided by their record of a White House meeting. “It read just like a child’s comic story.””

General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Chairman of the British Chiefs of Staff Committee, and one of the key architects of the allied military strategy at Casablanca, had a particularly hard time convincing his military counterparts from the USA while finalising the operations, for they believed that the British, who had an upper hand in strategy, were prioritising British interest at the expense of the American Pacific campaign. American General Wedemeyer wrote to his fellow General Handy, expressing his contempt as well as appreciation for British strategic foresight “We came, we listened, and we were conquered… The Brits were good enough not only to plan American operations but German operations too… The British planners were just smarter than hell.”

Finally, it’ll be an injustice to this book review if we fail to discuss the two military menaces of General Giraud and Charles de Gaulle, who managed to keep both FDR and Churchill occupied till almost the end of the conference. General Giraud, being the senior of De Gaulle, wanted full control over allied French forces, but De Gaulle, being De Gaulle, refused to yield any powers to Giraud and demanded full autonomy and absolute control over French colonial territories and resources. The author’s articulation of this rivalry gives the book a necessary comical appearance amid all the serious talks of strategy and warfare.

Conclusion

The book, although a very interesting read for any military history enthusiast, due to the inclusion of operational technicalities, prior study of World War II is feasible if one wishes to read it. All the personal anecdotes give the book a human-centric approach, despite primarily focusing on military history and strategy. The book ends with key outcomes of the conference; one of the most important of them was the commitment to unconditional surrender of Axis powers, a bold stance that reaffirmed the Allies’ resolve and unified their objectives despite initial disagreements. Through meticulous research and compelling storytelling, the book not only offers a gripping account of the Casablanca Conference but also provides valuable lessons for leaders in any field.

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