Allied Master Strategists: The Combined Chiefs of Staff in World War II by David Rigby. Published by Naval Institute Press, 2012. 270 pages.
There are volumes upon volumes about World War II ranging from biographies, battles, theaters, and campaigns to strategic relationships, technology, as well as logistics. Our current world is shaped by the events of World War II; institutions like the United Nations, the World Bank, and the organization of the United States military are the results of this conflict. Editor and adjunct college instructor David Rigby’s first book explores a little appreciated aspect of the Second World War. One of the many reasons the Allies won the conflict was the fact that the United States and Britain integrated their senior military staffs in ways unprecedented in the annals of warfare. Rigby tells the story of how the Combined Chiefs of Staff was created. He examines the senior officers that made up its members and, more importantly, how the British and Americans made it work despite setbacks and bitter disagreements over strategy and the allocation of resources. Imagine being at the conference table during one of several meetings during the day discussing the outlines for Operation TORCH (the Invasion of North Africa) or Operation OVERLORD (D-Day) and integrating these decisions with theater commanders in Europe and Pacific. This is no easy task when your theater commander is Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery or Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The book begins by narrowly defining who made up the Combined Chiefs of Staff, a claim that will undoubtedly be controversial among historians, as even those deeply immersed in the history of World War II cannot agree on this point. Rigby then discusses the short biographies of the nine men he selected as representing the Combined Chiefs of Staff, starting with Gens. George Marshall on the American side, and Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Brooke would manage British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, while Marshall never allowed his Commander in Chief to address him by his first name--such was his conviction of the need to remain Franklin Roosevelt’s chief military advisor. The book also investigates Adm. Andrew Cunningham who commanded Royal Navy warships in battle against the Germans and Italians in the Mediterranean before joining the Combined Chiefs of Staff, as well as U.S. Navy Adms. William Leahy and Ernest King, each with their own biases and agendas. Sir John Dill headed the British Joint Delegation in Washington, D.C., as a result of having been demoted and worn down by Churchill from Chiefs of the Imperial General Staff. His candid assessments, despite Churchill’s occasional exuberance, would be a benefit to Marshall when he died in 1944; Marshall insisted that the British general be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
One chapter covers the organization and daily routine of the Combined Chiefs of Staff from where they worked in an ever increasingly crammed wartime Washington, D.C., to the running of a global war. Rigby highlights the integration of these meetings into the major conferences between Churchill and Roosevelt in Cairo, Casablanca and Tehran. The author reminds us vividly of the nature of the state planned economy that the United States undertook during World War II, whereby the means of production from factories to tools were government owned and corporations provided management and organization to consolidate manufacturing and share profits. This allowed for competitors to share plans and technology and build better bombers, fighters, tanks, and other tools of warfare.
Rigby reminds us that the Axis never similarly coordinated efforts and even deeply distrusted one another, such as when Italy’s Benito Mussolini invaded Greece without even hinting to Hitler of his intentions. The Italian dictator was angry that Hitler did not include him as an ally in war plans like the invasion of France. Only when German U-boats and commerce raiders decimated trade vessels in the Atlantic Ocean and started hunting in the Indian Ocean did the German admiralty coordinate with the Japanese, but it would be minor and would never lead to the kind of geo-strategic planning conducted by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. This is an excellent book and highly recommended for those interested in World War II, combined planning, the logistics and economics of large scale warfare, and inter-allied operations.
Editor’s Note: Cmdr. Aboul-Enein is the author of two books on the Middle East. He teaches part time at the National Defense University’s Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy. Aboul-Enein wishes to thank Ms. Sara Bannach, his teaching assistant, for her edits that enhanced this book column.