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EISENHOWER: AT WAR, 1943-1945 by David Eisenhower (Random House: $29.95; 1,024 pp., illustrated)

September 21, 1986|W. W. Rostow | Rostow, professor of political economy at the University of Texas at Austin, worked in London as a strategic target planner in 1942-1945 and has written, among others, "Pre-Invasion Bombing Strategy" and "The Division of Europe: 1946" (University of Texas Press).

The author of this book is the son of John Eisenhower, soldier-diplomat and military historian; grandson of the soldier-President; and son-in-law of Richard Nixon. The author turned to his grandfather's career as "a kind of refuge" when the Watergate crisis came to its climax in 1974. Twelve years later, this book emerges as the first of three volumes on "The Eisenhower Years." The author concluded that he could not understand Eisenhower as President without coming to terms with his intense experience as Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

The book's more than 1,000 pages cover just about 18 months: from the opening of the first meeting between Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin at Tehran, on Nov. 29, 1943, to the Guildhall address in London, on June 12, 1945, in which Eisenhower defined his posture as a statesman as well as a victorious general. It was at Tehran that the Western leaders committed themselves to Stalin to invade the Continent in mid-1944 (OVERLORD) and to land in the south of France (ANVIL); and, in the wake of the meeting, Roosevelt appointed Eisenhower rather than George C. Marshall to command the invading forces.

The story of the 18 months that followed has assumed the status of a tribal saga in the Anglo-American world. It is clearly one of the great military-political sequences in modern history; it cast a long shadow down to the present, stretching as far into the future as any of us can perceive; it has been told from the perspectives of virtually all the major participants. Their conflicting views are reflected in the more than 100 volumes cited by the author in his Select Bibliography, as well as in the oral histories, diaries, letters and other records he brings to bear. And as this book and the controversy around it attest, the conflicts are destined to be carried forward into the next generation.

David Eisenhower has faithfully absorbed most of the vast literature now available, and he interviewed a long list of those who observed Eisenhower at the time. The author's purpose is to evoke how the flow of events and options were perceived by Eisenhower; the rationale for his decisions; and then to address directly the major persistent controversies centered on a few of those decisions. Stripped of their details, they reduce to these two questions: Could a different, less compromised military strategy in the wake of D-Day have brought about a German defeat in 1944, leaving the U.S. and British governments in a much stronger position vis-a-vis the Soviet Union in shaping postwar Europe and avoiding the Cold War? Could the Western Allies have captured Berlin before the Soviets in 1945, and would that event have strengthened significantly the hand of Anglo-American diplomacy?

The author gets at these and a great many other matters by breaking the story into three parts:

--The period of preparations for the invasion and of military operations down to the breakout of Allied forces from the Normandy bridgehead (August, 1944).

--The period down to the end of the German last gasp offensive in the Ardennes (January, 1945).--The Allied offensive down to the link-up with Soviet forces in Central Germany, the Soviet capture of Berlin, and the German surrender (May, 1945).

From beginning to end, Eisenhower was at the center of a formidable array of politico-military controversies. In fact, he was atarget; for the major protagonists understood that his views would greatly influence the decisions of the two men in the background who quietly held the whip-hand: Gen. George C. Marshall, without whose assent the Combined Chiefs of Staff could not agree on an order to Eisenhower; and Roosevelt, ultimately the senior partner in the post-Tehran period, weakening physically and greatly reliant on Marshall.

In the first period, Eisenhower had to deal with major controversies on command arrangements and the use of air power before and immediately after D-Day; a shortage of landing craft; whether the ANVIL decision should be reversed in favor of a more decisive campaign in Italy and Southeast Europe; how to deal with Charles de Gaulle and the French. In addition, there was much ignorance and debate over what Soviet military intentions were in general and, quite specifically, with respect to parallel offensive operations timed to the Allied invasion of Normandy. Tactically, there was no agreement on how to deal with a Soviet government increasingly confident and assertive after the victory at Stalingrad.

In the second period, British Field Marshal Montgomery became Eisenhower's central problem: Montgomery's tactics before the breakout from Normandy; his failure promptly to clear the port of Antwerp; his claim to lead an Anglo-American single thrust across the plains of northern Germany to Berlin; his combination of posturing and sluggishness as commander of the northern flank defending against the German thrust through the Ardennes.

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