About Alan Francis Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke
Field Marshal Alan Francis Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke, KG, GCB, OM, GCVO, DSO & Bar (23 July 1883 – 17 June 1963), was a senior commander in the British Army. He was the Chief of the Imperial General Staff during the Second World War, and was promoted to Field Marshal in 1944. As chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, Brooke was the foremost military advisor to Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and in the role of co-ordinator of the British military efforts was an important but not always well-known contributor to the Allies' victory in 1945. After retiring from the army, Alanbrooke (as he then was) served as Lord High Constable of England during the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. His war diaries attracted attention for their criticism of Churchill and for Brooke's forthright views on other leading figures of the war.
Background and early life
Alan Brooke was born in 1883 at Bagnères-de-Bigorre, France, to a prominent Anglo-Irish family with a long military tradition. He was the seventh and youngest child of Sir Victor Brooke, 3rd Baronet, of Colebrooke, Brookeborough, County Fermanagh, and the former Alice Bellingham, second daughter of Sir Alan Bellingham, 3rd Baronet, of Castle Bellingham in County Louth. Brooke was educated in Pau, France, where he lived until the age of 16. Thanks to his upbringing in the country he became a fluent French speaker.
After graduation from the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich Brooke was on 24 December 1902 commissioned into the Royal Regiment of Artillery as a Second Lieutenant. During World War I he served with the Royal Artillery in France where he got a reputation as an outstanding planner of operations. At the battle of the Somme in 1916 he introduced the French "creeping barrage" system, thereby helping the protection of the advancing infantry from enemy machinegun fire. Brooke ended the conflict as a Lieutenant-Colonel with two DSOs.
Between the wars he was a lecturer at the Staff College, Camberley and the Imperial Defence College, where Brooke knew most of those who became leading British commanders of the Second World War. From the mid 1930s Brooke held a number of important appointments: Inspector of Artillery, Director of Military Training and then GOC of the Mobile Division. In 1938, on promotion to lieutenant-general he took command of the Anti-Aircraft Corps (renamed Anti-Aircraft Command in April 1939) and built a strong relationship with Air Marshal Hugh Dowding, the AOC-in-C of Fighter Command which laid a vital basis of cooperation between the two arms during the Battle of Britain. In July 1939 Brooke moved to command Southern Command. By the outbreak of the Second World War Brooke was already seen as one of the army's foremost generals.
World War II
Commander in Flanders, France and Britain
Following the outbreak of World War II, Brooke commanded II Corps in the British Expeditionary Force—which included in its subordinate formations the 3rd Division, commanded by the then Major-General Bernard Montgomery. As corps commander Brooke had a pessimistic view of the Allies' chances of countering a German offensive. He was sceptical of the quality and determination of the French Army. He had also little trust in Lord Gort, the commander of the British Expeditionary Force, whom Brooke thought too much interested in details and incapable of taking a broad strategic view. Gort, on the other hand, regarded Brooke as a pessimist who failed to spread confidence, and was thinking of replacing him.
When the German offensive began Brooke distinguished himself in the handling of the British forces in the retreat to Dunkirk. In late May 1940 the Corps held the major German attack on the Ypres-Comine Canal but then found its left flank exposed by the capitulation of the Belgian army. Brooke swiftly ordered 3rd Division to switch from the Corps' right flank to cover the gap. This was accomplished in a complicated night-time manoeuvre. Pushing more troops north to counter the threat to the embarking troops at Dunkirk from German units advancing along the coast, II Corps retreated to Dunkirk where on 29 May Brooke was ordered to return to England, leaving the Corps in Montgomery's hands.
Shortly after the evacuation from Dunkirk he was again sent to France to take command of the remaining British troops in the country. Brooke soon realized that the situation was untenable and in his first conversation with the prime minister Winston Churchill he insisted that all British forces should be withdrawn from France. Churchill initially objected but was soon convinced by Brooke and around 200,000 British and Allied troops were successfully evacuated from ports in northwestern France.
After returning for a very short spell at Southern Command he was appointed in July 1940 to command United Kingdom Home Forces to take charge of anti-invasion preparations. Thus it would have been Brooke's task to direct the land battle in the event of German landings. Contrary to his predecessor General Ironside, who favoured a static coastal defence, Brooke focused on developing a mobile reserve which was to swiftly counter attack the enemy forces before they were established. A light line of defence on the coast was to assure that the landings were delayed as much as possible. Writing after the war, Brooke acknowledged that he also "had every intention of using sprayed mustard gas on the beaches".
Brooke believed that the lack of a unified command of the three services was "a grave danger" to the defence of the country. Despite this, and the fact that the available forces never reached the numbers he thought was required, Brooke considered the situation far from "helpless" in case the Germans invaded. "We should certainly have a desperate struggle and the future might well have hung in the balance, but I certainly felt that given a fair share of the fortunes of war we should certainly succeed in finally defending these shores", he wrote after the war. But in the end, the German invasion plan was never taken beyond the preliminary assembly of forces.
Chief of the Imperial General Staff
In December 1941 Brooke succeeded Field Marshal Sir John Dill as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), the professional head of the British Army, in which appointment he also represented the army on the Chiefs of Staff Committee. In March 1942 he succeeded Admiral of the Fleet Sir Dudley Pound as chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, holding both posts until retirement from active service in 1946.
For the remainder of the Second World War, Brooke was the foremost military adviser to the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill (who was also Minister of Defence), the War Cabinet, and to Britain's allies. As CIGS, Brooke was the functional head of the Army, and as chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, which he dominated by force of intellect and personality, he took the leading military part in the overall strategic direction of the British war effort. In 1942, Brooke joined the Western Allies' ultimate command, the US-British Combined Chiefs of Staff.
Brooke’s focus was primarily on the European theatre of operations. Here, his key issues were to rid North Africa of Axis forces and knock Italy out of the war, thereby opening up the Mediterranean for Allied shipping, and then mount the cross channel invasion when the Allies were ready and the Germans sufficiently weakened.
Brooke’s and the British view of the Mediterranean operations contrasted with the American commitment to an early invasion of western Europe, which led to several heated arguments at the many conferences of the Combined Chiefs of Staff.
During the first years of the alliance it was often the British who got their way. At the London conference in April 1942, Brooke and Churchill seem to have misled George Marshall, the American chief of staff, about the British intentions on an early landing in France. At the Casablanca conference in January 1943 it was decided that the allies should invade Sicily under the command of the American general Dwight D. Eisenhower, a decision that effectively postponed the planned invasion of Western Europe until 1944. The Casablanca agreement was in fact a compromise, much brokered by Brooke’s old friend Field Marshal Sir John Dill, Chief of the British Joint Staff Mission in Washington DC. “I owe him [Dill] an unbounded debt of gratitude for his help on that occasion and in many other similar ones”, Brooke wrote after the war. But many American planners later saw Casablanca as a setback and that they had been outgeneraled by their better prepared British counterparts, with Brooke as chief spokesperson.
However, with a growing American strength it became increasingly harder for Brooke and his staff to influence the western allied grand strategy. In May 1943 a fixed time was set for Operation Overlord, an agreement that Brooke, who insisted on a flexible strategy, continued to have doubts about for many months. And later in 1944 Brooke was overruled when seven American divisions were transferred from Italy to take part in the landings in southern France, an operation about which Brooke and the British were sceptical.
The post of CIGS was less rewarding than command in an important theatre of war but the CIGS chose the generals who commanded those theatres and decided what men and munitions they should have. When it came to finding the right commanders he often complained that many officers who would have been good generals had been killed in World War I and that this was one reason behind the difficulties the British had in the beginning of the war." However, he does not seem to have reflected on the fact that the Germans did not suffer from the same problem, which they must have had to the same extent. When General Sir Claude Auchinleck was to be replaced as the commander of the Eighth Army in 1942, Brooke preferred Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery instead of Lieutenant-General William Gott, who was Churchill's candidate. Soon thereafter Gott was killed in an air crash and Montgomery got the command. Brooke would later reflect upon the tragic event which led to the appointment of Montgomery as an intervention by God. Earlier in 1942 Brooke had been offered the command of British forces in the Middle East. Brooke declined, believing he now knew better than any other general how to deal with Churchill.
A year later, the war had taken a different turn and Brooke no longer believed it necessary to stay at Churchill's side. He therefore looked forward to taking command of the Allied invasion of Western Europe, a post Brooke believed he had been promised by Churchill on three occasions. During the first Quebec conference in August, it was decided that the command would go to US General George C. Marshall. (Although in the event Marshall's work as US Army Chief of Staff was too important for him to leave Washington DC and Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed instead.) Brooke was bitterly disappointed, both at being passed over and of the way the decision was conveyed to him by Churchill, who according to Brooke "dealt with the matter as if it were one of minor importance".
Brooke or “Brookie” as he was often known, is reckoned to be one of the foremost of all the heads of the British Army. He was quick in mind and speech and deeply respected by his military colleagues, both British and Allied, although his uncompromising style could make the Americans wary.
As CIGS, Brooke had a strong influence on the grand strategy of the Western Allies. The war in the west unfolded more or less according to his plans, at least until 1943 when the American forces still were relatively small compared to the British. Among the most crucial of his contributions was his opposition against an early landing in France, which was important for delaying Operation Overlord until 1944.
He was a cautious general with a great respect for the German war machine. Some American planners thought that Brooke’s participation in the campaigns of World War I and in the two evacuations from France in World War II made him lack the aggression they believed necessary for victory According to Max Hastings, Brooke’s reputation as a strategist is “significantly damaged” by his remarks at the Trident conference in Washington in May 1943, where he claimed that no major operations on the continent would be possible until 1945 or 1946.
Relationship with Churchill
During the years as CIGS, Brooke had a stormy relationship with Winston Churchill. Brooke was often frustrated with the Prime Minister’s habits and working methods, his abuse of generals and constant meddling into strategic matters. At the same time Brooke greatly admired Churchill for the way he inspired the Allied cause and for the way he bore the heavy burden of war leadership. In one typical passage in Brooke’s war diaries Churchill is described as a “genius mixed with an astonishing lack of vision -- he is quite the most difficult man to work with that I have ever struck but I should not have missed the chance of working with him for anything on earth!”.
When Churchill’s many fanciful strategic ideas collided with sound military strategy it was only Brooke on the Chiefs of Staff Committee who was able to stand up to the Prime Minister. Churchill said about Brooke: “When I thump the table and push my face towards him what does he do? Thumps the table harder and glares back at me. I know these Brookes – stiff-necked Ulstermen and there's no one worse to deal with than that!” It has been claimed that part of Churchill's greatness was that he appointed Brooke as CIGS and kept him for the whole war.
A general complaint from Brooke was that Churchill often advocated diversion of forces where the CIGS preferred concentration. Brooke was particularly annoyed by Churchill's idea of capturing the northern tip of Sumatra. But in some cases Brooke did not see the political dimension of strategy as the Prime Minister did. The CIGS, for example, was sceptical about the British intervention in Greece in late 1944 (during the Dekemvriana), believing that this was an operation which drained troops from the central front in Germany. But at this stage the war was practically won and Churchill saw the possibility to prevent Greece from becoming a communist state.
The balance of the Chiefs of Staff Committee was tilted in October 1943 when Admiral Sir Dudley Pound, Brooke's predecessor as chairman, retired as a result of poor health and Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham succeeded Pound as First Sea Lord and naval representative on the Chiefs of Staff Committee. Brooke as a consequence got a firm ally in his arguments with Churchill. This was reflected in the most serious clash between the Prime Minister and the Chiefs of Staff, regarding the British preparations for final stages of the Pacific War. Brooke and the rest of the Chiefs of Staff wanted to build up the forces in Australia while Churchill preferred to use India as a base for the British effort. It was an issue over which the Chiefs of Staff were prepared to resign, but in the end a compromise was reached.
Despite their many disagreements Brooke and Churchill held an affection for each other. After one fierce clash Churchill told his chief of staff and military adviser, Sir Hastings Ismay, that he did not think he could continue to work any longer with Brooke because “he hates me. I can see hatred looking from his eyes.” Brooke responded to Ismay: “Hate him? I don't hate him. I love him. But the first time I tell him that I agree with him when I don't will be the time to get rid of me, for then I can be no more use to him." When Churchill was told this he murmured, ”Dear Brooke.”
The partnership between Brooke and Churchill was a very successful one and led Britain to victory in 1945. According to historian Max Hastings, their partnership “created the most efficient machine for the higher direction of the war possessed by any combatant nation, even if its judgments were sometimes flawed and its ability to enforce its wishes increasingly constrained”.
Brooke kept a diary during the whole of World War II. Originally intended for his wife, Benita, the diaries were later expanded on by Brooke in the 1950s. They contain descriptions on the day-to-day running of the British war effort (including some quite indiscreet references to top secret interceptions of German radio traffic), Brooke's thoughts on strategy, as well as frequent anecdotes from the many meetings he had with the Allied leadership during the war.
The diaries have become famous mostly because of the frequent remarks on and criticisms of Churchill. Although the diaries contain passages expressing admiration of Churchill, they also served as a vent for Brooke's frustration with working with the Prime Minister. The diaries also give sharp opinions on several of the top Allied leaders. The American generals Eisenhower and Marshall, for example, are described as poor strategists and the British Field Marshal Lord Alexander as unintelligent. Among the few individuals of whom Brooke seems to have kept consistently positive opinions, from a military standpoint, were General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, Field Marshal Sir John Dill, and Joseph Stalin. Brooke admired Stalin for his quick brain and grasp of military strategy. Otherwise he had no illusions about the man, describing Stalin thus: "He has got an unpleasantly cold, crafty, dead face, and whenever I look at him I can imagine his sending off people to their doom without ever turning a hair."
Edited by the distinguished historian Sir Arthur Bryant, the diaries were first released (in abridged versions) during 1957 (The Turn of the Tide) and 1959 (Triumph in the West). Originally the diaries were never meant to be published. One reason why Alanbrooke (as he had become) changed his mind was the lack of credit to him and the Chiefs of Staff in Churchill's own war memoirs, which essentially presented their ideas and innovations as the Prime Minister's own. Although censorship and libel laws accounted for numerous suppressions of what Alanbrooke had originally written concerning persons who were still alive, the books became controversial even in their truncated state. This was not only as a result of the many comments on Churchill and others, but also because they launched the idea of Brooke as being, ultimately, the sole commander behind the Allies' victory. Churchill himself did not appreciate the books. In 2001 the publication of the uncensored "War Diaries", edited by Alex Danchev and Daniel Todman, again attracted attention to one of the most influential strategists of World War II.
Post war career
Following the second world war and his retirement from the regular Army, Brooke, who could have chosen almost any honorary position he wanted, chose to be the Colonel Commandant of the Honourable Artillery Company. He held this position from 1946 to 1954. In addition, he served on the boards of several companies, both in industry and in banking. He was director of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company, the Midland Bank, the National Discount Company and the Belfast Banking Company. Brooke was particularly fond of being a director of the Hudson's Bay Company where he served for eleven years from 1948.
Private life and ornithology
Alan Brooke was married twice. After six years of engagement he married Jane Richardson in 1914, a neighbour in County Fermanagh in Ulster. Six days into their honeymoon Brooke was recalled to active duty when World War I started. The couple had one daughter and one son, Rosemary and Thomas. Jane Brooke died following a car accident in 1925 in which her husband was at the steering wheel.
He regained happiness when he met Benita Lees, daughter of Sir Harold Pelly, 4th Bt., and the widow of Sir Thomas Lees, 2nd Bt., whom he married in 1929. The marriage was very happy for the uxorious Brooke and resulted in one daughter and one son, Kathleen and Victor. During the war the couple lived in Hartley Wintney, a village in Hampshire. After the war, the Alanbrookes' financial situation forced the couple to move into the gardener's cottage of their former home, where they lived for the rest of their lives. Their last years were darkened by the death of their daughter, Kathleen, in a riding accident in 1961.
Alan Brooke had a love of nature. Hunting and fishing were among his great interests. His foremost passion, however, was birds. Brooke was a noted ornithologist, especially skilled in bird photography. He was president of the Zoological Society of London from 1950 to 1954 and vice-president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. During breaks in the war planning, the CIGS could sometimes be seen in London book shops looking for rare bird books. He bought a precious collection of books by John Gould, but financial reasons forced him to sell these volumes after the war.
After World War II, the citizens of Bagnères-de-Bigorre presented him with a Pyrenean Mountain Dog, "Bédat de Monda". Back in England, Bédat de Monda made a very serious impact on the breed, both from a breeding perspective and a top winning Pyrenean Mountain Dog show perspective.
On 17 June 1963, Alanbrooke suffered a heart attack and died quietly in his bed with his wife beside him. The same day, he had been due to attend the Garter Service in St George's Chapel, Windsor. Nine days later he was given a funeral in Windsor and buried in St Mary's churchyard, near his home in Hartley Wintney, which is where his son, the last heir to the Alanbrooke viscountcy, still lives.
Alan Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke's Timeline
June 17, 1963
July 23, 1883
December 7, 1929
July 28, 1914
St Michael's Church, Trory, Co Fermanagh