Book Review: Allied Master Strategists: The Combined Chiefs of Staff in World War II


by David Rigby

Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2012. Pp. xvi, 270. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $29.95. ISBN: 1612510817

After Churchill and Roosevelt, the Anglo-American Combined Chiefs were the most important shapers of Allied victory in the Second World War, yet they have been a curiously neglected body. 

Although several members of this unique body have left memoirs – notably Sir Alan Brooke, Henry Arnold, Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, Sir Andrew Cunningham, William D. Leahy, Ernest King -- and all have been the subject of biographies, which often discuss their role in the Combined Chiefs, Dr. Rigby’s book is the first to examine how these men of different backgrounds and temperaments as a group wielded the might of the “Grand Alliance” against the Axis.

Rigby opens Allied Master Strategists with brief profiles of the principals and some other important leaders.  He then examines the formation of the Combined Chiefs at the Washington conference of December 1941 and the development of their organizational and administration structure.  There follows a discussion of how the CCS shaped the war, with chapters on the Pacific Theatre, the development of a fully mobilized and integrated war effort, the conception and planning of Operation Overlord, coping with the often amateur strategies of their political leaders (at times creating near panic among the senior commanders), and their oversight of operations in the field.  Rigby closes with a the political, diplomatic, and managerial aspects of their work. 

In the course of his treatment Rigby often touches upon how personalities and nationalisties grated and even clashed, with occasional instances in which the “common language” proved mutually incomprehensible, and also provides some useful insights on how many of these men forged close friendships which helped further the Allied cause.  It would have been useful had Rigby ended the book with some general conclusions of the way the CCS operated and whether it has influenced subsequent allied and coalition combined organization and planning,

Anyone interested in how the war was won, coalition warfare, or grand strategy will find Allied Master Strategists important reading.

Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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