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David Irving - "The War Between the Generals"
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Baltimore, Maryland, Sunday, April 17, 1981 

Monty vs. Patton vs. Ike vs. de Gaulle .. .

The War Between the Generals.
By David Irving. 446 pages. Congdon & Lattes $17.95.

Churchill summed it up quite well: "There is only one thing worse than fighting with allies -- and that is fighting with out them."

Churchill knew what be was talking about. He had his own generals to contend with, to be sure, but he also had the American generals, who were a mixed bag if ever there was one. Then, add to this, the French, especially de Gaulle. Put these generals together -- Americans British and a few French -- and you find brilliance and stupidity, modesty and egoism, immaturity and near-childishness, all in varying amounts. You wonder how they won war.

David Irving, who has been called "one of Britain's foremost historians" by The Times of London, has written here a long, detailed and fascinating account of the preparations for the invasion of the Continent in 1944, the invasion itself and the fight across France into Germany. He has had available to him the diaries, journals and official files of just about every important American and British general who was involved In the European conflict. and he has done a meticulous piece of research, ferreting out many things heretofore not generally known, primarily because until recently some of these papers were kept secret or were difficult to dig into. Among the latter were the diaries of Gen. Everett S. Hughes, assigned by Eisenhower to act as his "eyes and ears," Their 900 pages contain some of the most revealing stories to come out of the war. Hughes was always close to Eisenhower, his Boswell, and his candid accounts and observations helped Irving immeasurably.

The result is one of the most authentic and important books on World War II, a book not only of military history but of the social history of command. And it is sure to bring forth cries of outrage, especially from friends and relatives of many of the generals whose foibles and frailties are vividly described. For all that the author is British, he is conspicuously unbiased; he pulls no punches when discussing the character and activities of the British generals, any more than when discussing those of the Americans.

The foibles and frailties were many. And they were far from being inconsequential, leading to much squabbling over preferences and perks, much bard drink-ing and womanizing. sod far too much lack of coordination between fighting units because of jealousy over command. Because of this, there is little doubt that the war was extended for months and that tens of thousands of lives were needlessly lost.

At the center was Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander (left). Sincere but indecisive. he was desperate to bold the grand alliance together and anxious to have his generals work in harmony as a self-sacrificing, well-coordinated team. but In his efforts to keep from alienating anyone, he often added to his troubles. What was needed was a knocking together of the heads of such as Sir Bernard Montgomery, George Patton and Charles de Gaulle, who continually acted like a spoiled brat. Gen. George C. Marshall, whom Churchill wanted as Supreme Commander, would have knocked the heads together and got on with the war. Marshall had the respect of just about everyone, and he was strong-minded enough not to let petty jealousies and ambitions stand In the way. But Roosevelt needed Marshall at his side in Washington, and that was that.

Churchill called de Gaulle "Joan of Arc." He was every bit as troublesome to the English as the Maid of Orleans had been, despite this time being on the same side. He even refused to broadcast to the French people on D-Day in support of the invasion. and when Eisenhower proposed making the broadcast himself, demanded that one passage be eliminated To which Eisenhower said, "To hell with him. Say that if he doesn't come through, we'll deal with someone else." De Gaulle came through. As Eisenhower said, "I've played some poker myself." Just the same, de Gaulle remained a heavy cross to bear right up to the end of hostilities and beyond.

Montgomery was a cross, too, mainly because of his overweening ambition (be would have joyfully taken over the Supreme Command), but his generalship was needed, and he was humored constantly. So was Patton. Patton was a brilliant field commander, who had little understanding of strategy but who could win battles. His jealousy, ambition and other traits made him difficult to deal with, and Eisenhower, Bradley and Montgomery had their hands full with him, especially Montgomery, whom Patton despised.

The author deals with Patton at some length. His slapping of the two soldiers in a hospital in Sicily, his countenancing the shooting down of German and Italian prisoners of war and his womanizing. He took his "girl friend" from England to France and even into the forward theater of operations. When Patton talked about "gittin' thar fastest with the mostest," a good many WACs and Red Cross girls knew that he was not always referring to military logistics. But in all fairness Patton was not alone among the generals in his extra-military pursuits.

The greatest scandal of them all, however, was military. When Hitler launched his mighty counter-offensive in the Ardennes in December, 1914, the Allied command was caught flatfooted -- "It was hardly on the agenda." Eisenhower and his staff were attending a wedding, Montgomery was playing golf and Bradley and Hodges were being measured by a Belgian gunsmith for custom-made shotguns. They all protested afterward that they had known all along that a German offensive was possible, but it was "Pearl Harbor" all over again.

While this book is concerned with such things as grand strategy, battlefield tactics, the problems of command and the personalities and idiosyncrasies of the generals, the caption on a photograph showing troops in a landing craft approaching the beach on D-Day is pertinent. It says. "At the other end of the chain of command, the ordinary soldiers lived or died according to the wars between the generals." -- JOHN T. STARR

Reviewed by Drew Middleton in The New York Times

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