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Posted on Jan 18, 2006 in Carlo D'Este, Front Page Features

Ike: World War II’s Indispensable General, Part 2

By Carlo D'Este

When spurned, Churchill often became petulant as he did one evening when, miffed that his generals had backed Eisenhower rather than him over an issue then took his theatrical displeasure out on his soup. "His chin [wasn’t] very much above the soup plate. He crouched over the plate, almost had his nose in the soup, and wielded the spoon rapidly. The soup disappeared to the accompaniment of loud gurglings," as Churchill deliberately ignored his table companions.

Temperamentally neither man could stand being bested by another. One night the two dueled each other on the subject of history, "each attempting to outdo the other in his knowledge . . . Beetle said Ike ran rings around the Prime Minister, throwing dates and events around like AA fire in a London blitz." [15]


Like Churchill’s, Eisenhower’s single-mindedness was occasionally cause for concern, such as the day he decided to drive himself alone to Telegraph Cottage [his retreat in a London suburb], "principally to prove to himself he could remember the route, but also to escape routine. That Eisenhower had no driver’s license and was last seen weaving down the middle of the road was hardly reassuring; nevertheless the trip was completed unscathed. It was a measure of his restlessness that Eisenhower was inordinately proud of himself. [16]

Churchill shortly before disembarking in Normandy on 11 June 1944. The Prime Minister crossed the English Channel on the destroyer HMS Kelvin, which was briefly taken under fire by German coast defense artillery.

In his wartime correspondence with Roosevelt, Churchill always referred to himself as the "Former Naval Person," a reference to his service as the First Lord of the Admiralty from 1911 to 1915 and again in 1939-40, when he first began exchanging letters and cables with Roosevelt. Yet, for all his oddities, Churchill had a clear vision of what it would take to win the war and for the uses and lessons of history, particularly that which he had personally experienced during World War I. Above all, he understood the nature of coalition warfare and despite not always getting his way was determined to make the coalition work, once telling Eisenhower if he had any problem with any member of His Majesty’s armed forces, he had merely to inform Churchill, who would personally see to it that the offender was removed or disciplined forthwith. Although Eisenhower never took up the offer, it was a reassuring sign of the prime minister’s trust in the American general.

Eisenhower and Churchill shared a deep hatred of Hitler and his evil German empire. Privately during the war, Churchill looked forward to the day when he could display his contempt by urinating on Nazi soil, a fantasy brought to symbolic fruition on the Siegfried Line in 1945. Although Eisenhower was never known to have expressed such sentiments, his enmity ran no less deep. Together, they would make a grand team.

* * * *

The next article will consider Eisenhower’s early battles – not just with the Germans and Italians, but also to establish himself and his authority as the new allied commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean. For an officer of Ike’s very limited troop experience and command time, to be thrust into such a challenging post that required him to win the respect and support of men far senior to him, in both rank and experience, was one of the greatest challenges he faced. We remember Eisenhower as the confident and successful supreme commander who guided the Allies through the last eighteen months of the war. But first, there were those pesky battles in the Mediterranean against an experienced and determined enemy.

(Portions of this account of the Eisenhower-Churchill relationship are extracted from the author’s Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life (Henry Holt, 2002 and Owl Books, 2003.)

Source Notes

[1] Geoffrey Perret, Eisenhower (New York, 1999), p. 167.

[2] "General Eisenhower on the Military Churchill," 1967 ABC television documentary, Eisenhower General File, George C. Marshall Library, Lexington, VA.)

[3] Robert Rhodes James, Churchill: A Study in Failure, 1900-1939 (London, 1970), pp. 49-50.

[4] William Manchester, The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940 (Boston, 1988), p. 359.

[5] During his first three months in London, Eisenhower met with Churchill on ten occasions, several of them "overnights" at Chequers. Harry Hopkins found Chequers so bone-chillingly cold that he hated the place "more than the devil hates holy water," and wore an overcoat in an attempt to keep warm. (Diary of Captain Harry C. Butcher, Sep. 21, 1942, Butcher Papers, Eisenhower Library.)

[6] Ibid.

[7] Michael J. McKeogh & Richard Lockridge, Sgt. Mickey and General Ike (New York, 1946), p. 44.

[8] Martin Gilbert, Churchill: A Life (New York, 1991), p. 730.

[9] Lord Moran, Winston Churchill: the Struggle for Survival, 1940-1965 (London, 1968 edition), p. 191.

[10] John J. McCloy draft article for Foreign Affairs, McCloy folder, Box 75, Pre-Pres Papers, Eisenhower Library.

[11] Quoted in transcript of Eisenhower’s conversation with Alastair Cooke, "General Eisenhower on the Military Churchill,"

[12] Gerald Pawle, The War and Colonel Warden (London, 1963), pp. 307-8. Churchill overheard Thompson’s remark and groused, "I’m not as old as all that."

[13] Kay Summersby, Eisenhower Was My Boss (New York, 1948), p. 20.

[14] "General Eisenhower on the Military Churchill."

[15] Butcher diary, Oct. 21, 1942. 16. Oct. 24, 1942.

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1 Comment

  1. Why study Hitler as a failure or a success?

    Nothing as monumental as Hitler accomplished by creating WWII can afford to be ignored as lessons in upheaval and social turmoil than WWII, or of Hitler’s role in achieving it. Even with Eisenhower and Churchill, in combining forces, with the consent and encouragement of FDR, it was a massive undertaking to meet might with right to negotiate those challenges.

    If Hitler is an illustration in social cohesion, opponents and their progress are the lesson in how to deal with that popular program when it is used devastingly upon society rather than for social and economic empowerment. While it is traditionally not characterized as political regimes gone awry, it could be, and probably should as it takes its place among others of its ilk in the annals of massive political upheavals and regime effects upon society.

    Some view it as the worst, but that only includes the most modern of the Twenthieth Century. Going further back in history, it takes its place among world conquests that challenges the survival of mankind altogether as a peak period of the threats to mankind that humans must learn not to duplicate because of the devastation caused.

    That is an approach to study that has yet to be recognized by historians but should be.

    Regime changes are not just for armchair generals anymore.

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