Andrew Sangster on Alan Brooke

Andrew Sangster

Andrew Sangster, the author of a new book on Alan Brooke, talks to Rupert Hague-Holmes about his re-appraisal
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Welcome to Aspects of History. You’ve written a fantastic book, Alan Brooke: Churchill’s Right-Hand Critic, but he is not as well-known as he should be, is that why did you decided to write about him?

Having used his diary many times for references and his views it suddenly occurred to me that popular historians rarely mentioned him, thus you are right, and I thought he needed an ‘airing’, and my original title was the Unknown Field Marshal.

Do you think that the personal sensitivities shown in Alanbrooke’s diaries meant that he suffered from what is now described as “imposter syndrome”?

Field Marshal Alan Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke

No, quite the opposite. After the Great War he studied war at an advanced level, not just strategy and tactics, but overall conduct of warfare both in attack and defence. I think he often tended to hold some of his contemporaries as amateurs and often had to bite his tongue but occasionally exploded. In his diary he was contemptuous towards many others, from Pound, to Mountbatten, to Alexander, Eisenhower, Patton, Marshall; he may have liked them at a personal level, (Marshall) but their military views he found appalling.

Do you think that the impact of the road accident that killed his first wife, which Alanbrooke felt very responsible for, made Alan Brooke more of an introvert than he would have otherwise been?

Brooke felt responsible because he drove too fast, erratically, and skidded to avoid a cyclist. This burden of responsibility made him an introvert for a brief time as it would for most of us. When he met Benita, he reverted to normal, not a serious introvert, but appeared to some of his military colleagues probably for the reasons I mentioned above concerning his contempt for their views. His diary reveals he was not an introvert at a personal level with his fishing friends, and especially the bird friends who in their letters and diaries disclose at the personal level Brooke was more of an extrovert.

How do you think AlanBrooke’s diary entries enabled Alan Brooke to reconcile his inner frustrations with those who he felt could not match his strategic intellect?

An interesting question, and as I indicate in the book it was his way of ‘letting off steam’, especially when it came to close associates such as Churchill and Pound.

Why did Alanbrooke “protect” Montgomery, particularly towards the end of the war when Montgomery had such a bad relationship with the Americans?

A question I kept asking myself. In the Battle of France Montgomery was part of his team and he was impressed with the way Montgomery handled his men and ‘got things done’. This never stopped him dressing Montgomery down for silly behaviour like the venereal disease letter, questioning his strategy over Arnhem or Antwerp, his egotistical attitudes towards the Americans behaviour post-Battle of the Bulge and many other occasions. Friendship meant much to Brooke and I was surprised that he was less scathing about Montgomery, but I could only put this down to personal friendship.

Alanbrooke was offered both command of the Eighth Army in North Africa and the role that Eisenhower took as Supreme Commander on D-Day. Why did he decline them?

Smuts may have been behind the North Africa appointment but by this stage there are two overall impressions. The first was Brooke genuinely felt that Churchill needed strong guidance, and secondly, he may later have regretted turning the offer down. Personally, I think he would have done a better job than Montgomery after El-Alamein in pursing the enemy with greater speed along the North African coastline. Also, I cannot think of anyone else who had the strength of character to stand up to Churchill.

It was Churchill who offered him D-Day command, but the Americans insisted on Eisenhower. Brooke was disappointed and I suspect would have accepted the post if offered.

Brooke, Churchill and Montgomery

Alanbrooke was known for his lack of tact and diplomacy, yet his authoritarian style of speaking at the War conferences particularly won over the Americans. Why was this?

At a professional level they recognised that he was experienced and knew his ‘stuff’. They found him austere, lecturing in an authoritarian style, but realised he was no Colonel Blimp but a well-tuned senior officer. In his autobiography Omar Bradley wrote that he was grateful that Normandy D-Day had not been started as early as the Americans demanded because Brooke had advised them to experience German military professionalism in North Africa first, which they did at considerable cost. They did not always like him (some did) but they respected his experience and knowledge.

Which historians did you find particularly useful in writing this book?

No one in particular, thus the ‘unknown aspect’ aspect mentioned above. I found more interesting and valuable insights in autobiographies, and diaries of his contemporaries.

What’s your next subject?

I am working on two books, the first is a study of the Italian leadership called the Futile Pursuit of Power and based on the diaries, diplomatic papers of Galeazzo Ciano Mussolini’s son-in-law and Foreign Minister. It reveals the corruption of politics, underlines the German-Italo relationship problems, and exposes the weakness of Mussolini as a person. It is being looked at by the publishers and I wait in hope.

For years I have also been working on a book called Blind Obedience which is a study of the defendants at Nuremberg; 80 per cent is about the nature of the individuals and raises some serious issues. This wretched Covid era has at least given me time to complete these works!

Rupert Hague-Holmes is an amateur military historian, currently writing a biography about the life and career of Lieutenant General Sir George Lea KCB, DSO, MBE, one of the leading post WW2 British counterinsurgency warfare experts. You can read his review of Alan Brooke here.

Andrew Sangster is the author of Alan Brooke – Churchill’s Right-Hand Critic: A Reappraisal of Lord Alanbrooke, published by Casemate. You can read his piece on Alanbroooke here.