The Mantle of Command: FDR at War, 1941-1942; by Nigel Hamilton

In his new biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Nigel Hamilton shows how the supreme commander of the Allies overcame adversity from his counterparts, mainly British prime minister Winston Churchill, and from within his own ranks.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the 32nd president of the United States, was a born leader. Although he didn’t want the US to enter the Second World War, he knew his country would have to get involved sooner or later.

The Mantle of Command is a fascinating book that takes us into the corridors of power in London and Washington during a pivotal period of the global conflict: August 1941 to November 1942. Seasoned biographer Nigel Hamilton sets the stage for this lesser-known period, highlighting the great leadership demonstrated by president Roosevelt. As supreme commander of the Allies, he overcame adversity from his counterparts, mainly British prime minister Winston Churchill, and from within his own ranks.

Drawing on archival research and diaries of the era’s political leaders and high-ranking US and British military officials, Hamilton meticulously recounts the stages leading up to the US’s involvement in the conflict.

Besides being a strong leader, Roosevelt was a keen observer of human nature and a powerful orator (his famous radio fireside chats struck a chord with Americans). Unlike Churchill, Roosevelt was described as a very good listener who could discern key facts in order to strategize effectively, and he never interfered in the operations of his field commanders.

The president was also proactive. He began secretly corresponding with Churchill in 1939, and more than a year before Operation Torch, during which more than 100,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches of Morocco and Algeria, he asked his field commanders to identify the best places for troops to land in North Africa.

Endowed with a robust character, strengthened by his daily struggle against polio, Roosevelt was forced to change his isolationist strategy following the attack on Pearl Harbor, which delivered a mighty blow to the US. The tragedy was even more painful for the president, who had once served as assistant navy secretary.

Disappointed by Churchill’s conduct and the actions of British troops in conflict zones, Roosevelt decided to centralize Allied operations in Washington as early as December 1941, reducing Churchill’s role to that of junior partner.

The spring and summer of 1942 marked the inevitable collapse of British imperialism. Supported by an inner circle he could trust, and despite criticism from his field commanders, the president successfully moved forward with Operation Torch.

This year, Europe commemorates the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. For history and political-science enthusiasts who want to better understand this event and its genesis, The Mantle of Command is a must-read.