11 October 2006
Book review: Alanbrooke’s Diaries
Alanbrooke by Karsh

I read this recently.  General Alan Brooke, later Field Marshal Lord Alanbrooke was Britain’s Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Second World War and Winston Churchill’s most senior military advisor.  He kept a diary (in defiance of King’s Regulations) from almost the beginning of the war.  When the diaries were published in the 1950s he added some extra notes.

A few observations:

  • Diaries aren’t all that informative.  They chronicle what was uppermost in the writer’s mind, not necessarily what was most important.
  • Brooke’s main achievement seems to have been in preventing Churchill from losing the war.  On almost every page (certainly after Brooke became CIGS) Churchill is backing some madcap scheme or other.  Although Brooke stops most of them it was an exhausting business.
  • He spends a lot of time dining out.  At one point in the diary he adds a note explaining that although it sounds as if he was having a whale of time in fact all this time meeting and greeting was extremely useful.  Sadly, he doesn’t explain whether the Chief of the Imperial General Staff was subject to the same wartime restrictions as everyone else.
  • He certainly knows his mind when it comes to strategy: win in North Africa, pin down as many Germans as possible in Italy and then, and only then, invade France.  Much of his thinking on strategy comes down to mundane matters such as shipping, landing craft, railways and spare parts.
  • While he might have been clear in his own mind about strategy he had a devil of a task persuading anyone else.  At least formally, he did, for although no one ever actually agrees with him it’s his plan they (and this includes the Americans) follow.
  • A lot of people (including Churchill) are exhausted and get ill.  It isn’t just the soldiers who don’t get any sleep. A lot of people die.  One of them was his hero, Dill, who is the only foreigner ever to have been given a state funeral by the Americans.

Update This has now been picked up by Samizdata so, hopefully, there’ll be some interesting comments.

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