I enjoyed the first two books of Nigel Hamilton’s series on FDR as a war leader so much on Audible and Kindle that I have been looking for hardback copies in used bookstores. I found both, and recently reread Mantle of Command in a week. That got me interested in the North Africa campaign, so I started Ric Atkinson’s Army at Dawn, another I got in hardback after enjoying the Kindle versions. Then I happened to see that the third volume, War and Peace was coming out May 7. Oh crap – have to get Commander in Chief down before then. I think I finished it in less than a week.
These are just great books, written from FDR’s perspective as a war leader, and telling the complete story of Churchill’s bad military strategizing and backsliding – all of which he deleted when he wrote his war memoirs, making himself look like the architect of the war-winning strategy when in fact it was FDR.
It was FDR that refused to send US troops into battle against the far superior Wehrmacht on the coast of France in 1942, instead sending them into North Africa where they could learn how to fight. That continued into 1943 when he again demurred on opening a second front in France, but authorized the invasions of Sicily and later Italy, but of which materially aided the Russians. It was at this point that he insisted on an invasion in May (eventually June) 1944 over the objections and Churchill and his military chiefs, who were more interested in peripheral operations.
Here’s the concern I began having on rereading them. We know from Hamilton’s use of the Elliott Roosevelt and Mackenzie King papers that Churchill’s memoirs are deliberately false in places, and that FDR has an overarching set of goals for the postwar order – goals which clashed with Churchill’s goal of preserving Britain’s colonial empire.
We also know generally that it was FDR that insisted on Torch, and that his chiefs of staff didn’t want it and were hell-bent on a cross-channel invasion six months after Pearl Harbor. Hamilton repeatedly explains this as FDR’s wisdom in knowing that American troops would not be ready to fight the experienced Germans without experience of their own. But I don’t see a lot of evidence for that, and Hamilton repeatedly says things like “FDR shook his head – how could his chiefs not see” or things to that effect which are simply fiction. I don’t doubt that they are likely true, but he doesn’t know that what he says actually happened, and it has the effect of making both books a constant string of Roosevelt being right all the time, while his chiefs were wrong in 1942 and 1943, but then right in 1944.
Put another way, its easy to show that the parts of history that Churchill omitted make clear that FDR must have made these decisions, but I think the story is a bit overwritten when it would be more accurate to say that “This probably irritated FDR because it didn’t take into account” or something like this.
But town points here. Hamilton has nailed his colors to the mast that these are the war memoirs FDR didn't live to write, and had he, and had he not had to remain concerned that his words would be hurtful to his service chiefs, this probably is exactly what he would have written. And for that reason I don’t mind the light fiction touches.
Besides, you don’t really want to nitpick how Batman couldn’t really have done that because of the laws of physics. It’s way too much fun to just enjoy the story.
I look forward to the next volume, which is now only five days away.