By Chet Yarbrough
Narrated by Christian Rodska
History shows Churchill to be one of the greatest orators of war since Abraham Lincoln. He is also a fine writer. “…The Grand Alliance” is a fascinating first-hand account of an English Prime Minister/First Lord of the Admiralty’s perception of the great events of World War II. During the war years, Winston Churchill became the equivalent of a U. S. President and Secretary of Defense rolled into one. Winston Churchill, like Julius Caesar, William Shakespeare, Abraham Lincoln, and Franklin Roosevelt join a list of extraordinary men.
This is the third of five books on WWII written by Winston Churchill. It is interesting because it covers the war years just before and after “the day that lives in infamy”.
Churchill’s perceptions of Franklin Roosevelt, Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, General Rommel, Charles de Gaulle, General Eisenhower, General Montgomery and many of the great events of WWII are a glimpse of power, prestige, and bravery in a time that demanded all.
Churchill’s humanness is projected in his writing; his history of, and participation in WWII is verified and vivified by William Manchester’s biography, “The Last Lion” (published in 2011). What Churchill recounts tells a great deal about Churchill, the man and the leader; his strengths and his weaknesses. He was neither perfect nor infallible but he was a great man; a great leader.
Churchill recounts and regrets the loss of life at Pearl Harbor but reports a sense of relief because U.S. entry into the war in 1941 means victory, with 4/5s of the world joined as an Allied Power to destroy Hitler’s Germany. Churchill boards ship to arrive at the President’s door within 20 days of Pearl Harbor. He reviews strategy with Roosevelt for a month and returns to England by sea plane when flying across the Atlantic was in its infancy. Roosevelt warmly receives Churchill and acknowledges the preeminent importance of defeating Hitler to end the war in spite of the horrible tragedy of Pearl Harbor. Churchill offers all that England is capable of offering to repair the huge loss of American’ sea power in the Pacific but little can be done to protect sea lanes until mid-1942. German submarine attacks devastate cargo transport in both Pacific and Atlantic sea lanes. In this strife, respect and appreciation between Roosevelt and Churchill is forged by England’s perseverance and America’s great human and material resource.
When Stalin changes sides, after Hitler’s betrayal and his invasion of the USSR, Churchill flies to Moscow to meet with Stalin to discuss Allied plans for the war. Churchill offers a chilling picture of the great Stalin. After several days of discussion, Churchill reports on Stalin’s warm and cold face that reflects an intelligent Machiavellian understanding of peace and war. Stalin wants an Allied invasion on the French coast in 1942 to divert some of the German forces wreaking havoc on the Eastern Front. Churchill advises Stalin that America is not ready. Stalin says that an army is made ready when it is “blooded” by conflict. Churchill stands his ground and seems to mollify Stalin when he explains operation “Torch” to liberate North Africa. At a second meeting Stalin uses his cold face and loudly challenges the Allied Forces’ plan and demands a 1942 landing in France. Churchill writes that Stalin must have been berated by his own military staff after the first meeting and had to appear belligerent in the second meeting. Stalin, again becomes somewhat mollified, and shows his warm face by inviting Churchill to an evening dinner. The chill one feels comes from the history one knows of Stalin’s purges and the way he handled disagreement among his own people. One wonders how many of the generals that argued with him in 1942 were still around after the post-war Russian’ purges.
Churchill’s political vulnerability and immense political skill is recorded in this history. He acknowledges mistakes in his political career but fights off any Parliamentary action that might diminish his dictatorial power during the war. His extraordinary intelligence is evident in “The Grand Alliance”; and that assessment is backed up by Manchester’s 2011 biography of Churchill. Churchill had an extraordinary memory; probably photographic, and he could use that prodigious skill to out maneuver political machinations that interfered with his plans.
Charles de Gaulle comes off as a French patriot but not as a reliable ally. General Eisenhower is characterized as a strong but “behind the scenes” commander that placed generals in the right position to accomplish his own ends. General Rommel kicks England’s ass in north Africa and the Middle East until General Montgomery defeats him in 1942 at El Alamein (Egypt).
Churchill felt that Alamein was the turning point of the war; i.e. Churchill writes, “England never lost a battle after that victory”.
This is an extraordinary history of WWII because it is written by a principal participant. Subsequent historians have clarified and expanded Churchill’s observations. The perspective of time seems to have been kind to Churchill’s memory of events.