ISSN 2330-717X

British Strategic Culture And General Sir Alan Brooke During World War II – Analysis


By Greg Smith*

During the early days of the Second World War, Britain faced the dire threat of invasion from Nazi Germany and the conquest of its global empire. However, such an existential danger to Britain and its colonies was not new in the country’s history. Despite its relatively small geographic size, the island-nation had historically faced and overcame frequent threats from invading great European powers. Due to centuries of surviving existential threats in a dangerous geo-political neighbourhood, along with defending its colonies, Britain developed a pragmatic and experienced strategic culture that would guide its Second World War actions against the Axis powers.

Strategic culture is an important aspect of national security, and it is critical to understanding how nations view, consider, and react to national security threats. Embedded in the national psyche, this broad strategic concept guides the considerations and decisions of national security professionals and senior military officers. This was particularly true of General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) and Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, one of Britain’s foremost military leaders during the Second World War. His decisions during this epic conflict, although shaped by his personal experience and education, were a product of Britain’s strategic culture, and those decisions impacted enormously upon British and Allied actions.

Onboard warship during Crimean conferences at Yalta, Russia, February 4 to 11, 1945, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill is closely observed by Marshal Joseph Stalin (U.S Navy/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Released March 22, 2016)
Onboard warship during Crimean conferences at Yalta, Russia, February 4 to 11, 1945, Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill is closely observed by Marshal Joseph Stalin (U.S Navy/U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Released March 22, 2016)

This article will examine the critical role of Britain’s strategic culture upon the Allied Second World War. Following a short examination of this concept, Britain’s historic strategic culture will be reviewed, including the broad traditions of the “maritime school” and the “continental school.” This analysis will allow the reader to subsequently view General Brooke’s actions during the war as a product of his country’s strategic traditions. Although focused upon Britain’s national strategic culture, ultimately, this examination allows Canadian national security professionals to reflect upon Canada’s own strategic traditions.

Strategic Culture

The term strategic culture and its study originated in the 1970s with American political scientist Jack Snyder of the RAND Corporation attempting to understand and explain Soviet behaviour in comparison with a rational choice theory.1 Researching the differences between Soviet and American security beliefs, practices, and resultant nuclear strategy, Snyder’s efforts intersected with military historians’ earlier research with respect to national ways of warfare.2 Strategic culture studies were born from this complimentary analysis.3

A state’s strategic culture manifests from numerous diverse national characteristics. Although multiple authors describe these components, noted British-American strategic thinker Professor Colin S. Gray illuminates the contributors to strategic culture most logically by organizing them into six categories: nationality; geography; service, branch, weapons, and functions; simplicity-complexity; generation; and grand strategy.4 First, nationality refers to the effect of the distinctive strategic cultural lens created by national historical experience. Second, not dissimilar to a country’s heritage, the physical geography of a state—its size, shape, and natural resources—has an impact upon a security community’s perception.5

Third, and more tactically, within a state’s armed forces, there are distinct cultures based upon service, branch, weapons, and functions, since professional orientation affects cultural perspective.6 Further, strategic cultures may be categorized, based upon a group’s attitude towards simplicity and complexity, whereby some groups embrace holistic analysis, and others more discrete, sequential evaluation.7 Fifth, strategic culture evolves as each generation interprets their context, based upon their historical experience. Thus, to Gray: “… a dominant strategic culture will be reintegrated by each generation in the light of its own distinct experience.”8 Finally, a state’s grand strategic orientation impacts its culture as security communities become habituated to certain policy instruments.9

Based upon such broad and diverse factors contributing to strategic culture, the potential for highly differentiated security world views or Weltanschauung is understandable.10 Indeed, as suggested by Victoria University’s Edward Lock, a community or state “naturally possesses a unique strategic culture.”11 However, before defining this concept, a closer examination of the term culture itself is necessary. MIT’s Edgar Schein, in his seminal work, Organizational Culture and Leadership, defines culture,

… as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to consider valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.12

Therefore, culture can simplistically be understood to refer to the learned norms of a group that are ingrained in thought, emotion, practice, certain collective identities, and world perception. Thus, by extension, strategic culture links culture and a state’s security perceptions. Gray therefore suggests that strategic culture or cultures “… comprise the persisting socially transmitted ideas, attitudes, traditions, habits of mind, and preferred methods of operation that are more or less specific to a particular geographically based security community that has had a unique historical experience.”13 Specifically, strategic culture can be broadly understood to refer to a security community’s common strategic thoughts, understandings, perceptions, beliefs, language, and behavioural defaults, based upon geographic, historic, national, and other experiences. Although somewhat abstract, this concept critically shapes a state’s attitude towards and lens with which it views its national security. For this reason, Professor Theo Farrell of King’s College London notes, “…strategic culture is found in both the thoughts and actions of policy-makers and military officers …,” and its understanding grants an important comprehension of strategic thinking.14 This concept forms a framework for the examination of Britain’s strategic culture, its impact upon the conduct of the Second World War, and ultimately, it enables reflection upon Canada’s contemporary security Weltanschauung.

British National Strategic Culture

Britain’s Second World War strategic culture was a slave to its national experience and characteristics. As a relatively small island nation proximate to larger continental powers, a constitutional monarchy, and a vast maritime-focused trading empire, Britain’s geography, history, political experience, and other national factors shaped its strategic culture. History Professor William S. Maltby of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, summarizes its resultant strategic traditions, and concludes:

Tension between England’s naval and imperial commitments and its periodic need to intervene with land forces on the European continent has characterized the making of strategy from the Elizabethan era to the present. This tension arises naturally from the three primary strategic objectives that the makers of English strategy pursued at the beginning of the early modern period. The most immediate was to prevent invasion by maintaining naval control of the Channel. The second was to protect England’s overseas trade and to encourage the development of colonies, while the third, which sometimes took precedence over the second, was to prevent any European power from achieving hegemony on the continent.15

These conflicting goals resulted in a bifurcated strategic culture that balanced what Churchill scholar Tuvia Ben-Moshe describes as the “maritime school,” which sought naval supremacy to seclude Britain from European calamity, and the “continental school,” which strove to fight alongside its allies in Europe and therefore balance the strongest powers on the continent.16 The examination of these two approaches reveals important aspects of Britain’s strategic culture.

The British “maritime school” aimed to command the sea. Through dominance of the maritime commons, London could protect its own territory, maintain access to foreign commerce and its colonies, and retain the initiative over its rivals.17 Oxford’s Professor Norman Gibbs expressed this predominant strategic view:

… British strategy in modern times … has been to command the sea. The successful establishment of that command rested upon a combination of two main factors: the maintenance of a powerful navy, often conforming to a ‘two-power standard’; and the deployment of that navy in positions to control the sea-ways in and out of Europe …. Thus deployed, the Royal Navy could protect Britain herself from invasion, guard British overseas trade, and also exercise a controlling hand over the use of the seas by her enemies.18

Further, this maritime view emphasized the Royal Navy’s role in economic warfare. The distinguished British military historian Sir Basil Liddell Hart, in particular, recognizes the interconnectedness of the British maritime tradition and the economic aspect of conflict:

Our historic practice … was based on economic pressure exercised through sea power. This naval body had two arms; one financial, which embraced the subsidizing and military provisioning of allies; the other military, which embraced sea-borne expeditions against the enemy’s vulnerable extremities.19

This nuanced, bi-faceted naval-economic strategic view saw maritime power able to maintain sea lines of communication, and thereby, resupply and maintain Britain’s allies, and further financially target and damage its opponents’ merchant fleet, its resource-providing colonies, and thus, its economy.20 This “maritime school,” heavily linked to the existential survival of Britain and its global empire, integrates military and economic strategies, and is deeply ingrained in the British security psyche.

However, this emphasis upon maritime power caused an unbalancing effect upon the Britain’s strategic culture – an anti-Army bias. A young Winston Churchill reflects this prejudice: “Only unsurpassed naval strength could safeguard the world trade vital to Britain’s survival. There was no need for a large regular army to defend the British Isles or to make war on continental or European powers.”21 Despite violating this tenet and suffering horrific casualties on the Western Front during the First World War, this naval strategic tradition remained unchanged, as suggested by Gray: “Maritime Britain functioned as a major continental power from 1916 until 1918, but that brief continental performance did not cancel or deny the contrary character of Britain’s dominant strategic culture.”22 Britain’s pre-Second World War strategic culture therefore portrayed an unnaturally dominant pro-Navy, anti-Army belief.23

With the maritime element dominating Britain’s strategic culture, the land component took a secondary role. Nevertheless, the British Army possessed several traditional tasks which formed its own military strategic culture.24 First, despite London’s desire to avoid “…entanglement in European quarrels,” the British Army was prepared to balance dominant land powers on the continent.25 In pursuit of so-called “balancing,” Britain would combine militarily with a continental ally through diplomatic manoeuvring. A more mature Churchill explains this British tradition:

For four hundred years the foreign policy of England has been to oppose the strongest, the most aggressive the most dominating Power on the Continent …. joined with the less strong Powers, made a combination among them, and thus defeated and frustrated the Continental military tyrant …26

Equally, due to its operational proximity, London particularly sought to maintain control of the English Channel ports and the Low Countries.27

he second aspect of balancing represents a further and important facet of British strategic culture. Lacking sufficient land forces, London needed to practice careful statecraft to create alliances and to counteract the dominant European power.28 Britain’s ultimate strategic end—national survival—required a national interest-focused, cold-blooded calculation of balance of power.29 This mature, non-altruistic strategic culture is displayed in an inter-war cabinet discussion with respect to Britain’s obligation to guarantee the German-Belgian and German-French borders. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS), Sir George Milne, expressed, “For us … it is only incidentally a question of French security; essentially it is a matter of British security …. The true strategic position of Great Britain is on the Rhine.”30 Critical to national survival, alliances management formed an important aspect of Britain’s strategic culture.

This grand strategic outlook extended to Britain’s empire as it searched for allies to balance the rising power of Germany. As Britain’s empire increasingly waned in the early 20th Century, London attempted to balance its national security with its colonial commitments. Demonstrating a sober statecraft based upon national interest, Britain strategically withdrew its imperial commitments and prepared for the coming storm of the First World War by shaping a future ally:

… Britain had a long history of successfully appeasing challengers as a cost-effective strategy to balance multiple security commitments in Europe and the empire… In 1901, the British government effectively ceded its hegemonic role in North America to the rising United States by signing the Hay-Pauncefote Treaty, granting the United States the sole right to build an isthmian canal and negotiating the Venezuelan and Canadian border agreements. Many scholars point to Britain’s success in the two decades prior to the First World War in retrenching from its empire and concentrating its global resources in its home waters against the primary German threat.31

This case exemplifies the maturity of Britain’s imperial strategic culture. Committed to forming a grand alliance capable of balancing the rising continental power of Germany, London carefully disengaged from its declining empire. This aspect of continental commitment required the harmonizing of ends and means, and a sober and nuanced national strategic culture.32

The second strategic task of the British Army was to police its colonies, and if necessary, to participate in ‘small wars.’33 The need for soldiers to conduct what would contemporaneously be entitled ‘asymmetric warfare’ created a further tension in Britain’s strategic culture:

Whilst the majority of other armies are trained essentially for war, the British Army is primarily a force for policing the Empire. And the Briton abroad, more responsive to traditional instinct than to reason, still finds more comfort in the visible presence of khaki-clad guards scattered around the country than in the potential appearance of armour-clad machines …34

Dr. Frank Ledwidge of the Royal Air Force College agrees with this strategic tradition dichotomy in stating:

Equally, there were constant disagreements within the army as to what exactly it was for: Was it a colonial army-intended to fight ‘limited war’-what might now be termed ‘expeditionary warfare’? Or was the army a force for major warfare against ‘conventional’ enemies who threatened the home islands?”35

With a vast empire to maintain, colonial policing remained a significant although neglected and under-resourced task for the British Army.36 As the land forces conducted ‘small wars’ for centuries throughout the British Empire, it formed an important aspect of Britain’s strategic culture.37

Closely tied to the colonial and trade aspect of its maritime traditions, and the balancing aspect of its continental tradition, Britain’s strategic culture embraced financial strength. Indeed, Norman Gibbs emphasizes the importance of Britain’s economy to its overall military power in stating “The country’s fourth arm of defence was its financial stability which depended upon full industrial recovery and the export trade.”38 Stated more simply by Theo Farrell, who equally returns to the traditional importance of its maritime strength, “The United Kingdom’s empire rested on its financial muscle and ‘global-girdling navy.’”39 Although the country’s financial power and stability were critical for its overall strategic strength, London equally understood its importance for potentially financing its allies and thereby balancing continental threats.40

The use of statecraft and integration of the aforementioned strategic tools required careful coordination. This was because, as the noted British military historian Sir Michael Howard suggests, “Command of the seas and the maintenance of a European balance were in fact, not alternative policies … but interdependent …,” Britain formed a tradition of strategic organizational coordination.41 This culture of strategic integration, which balanced shifting alliances, managed a vast empire, and coordinated maritime and continental commitments, is exemplified by Britain’s pre-First World War strategic, joint, and inter-agency coordination body.42 The Committee of Imperial Defence (CID) brought together military, financial, economic, diplomatic, and governmental perspectives to achieve a coherent and coordinated defence policy.43 In examining this aspect of British strategic culture, Salford University’s Professor Aleric Searle recognizes in the inter-war period: “… elements of national strategic culture and service culture combined to generate a new ‘second tier,’ that of joint, inter-service military culture, for the first time involving army, navy, and air force.”44

With a pro-maritime bias, Britain’s strategic culture prior to the Second World War formed a distinctively anti-continental commitment bias. Although capable of militarily balancing dominant powers in Europe with its own land forces, it preferred to form strong coalitions and conduct periphery operations to defeat its enemies while protecting its lines of communication and empire with naval forces. Finally, having balanced continental powers and conducted joint operations for centuries, Britain faced Nazi Germany with a deep tradition of strategic coordination, and joint and inter-agency cooperation.

General Brooke in the Second World War

Brooke (on the left) and Churchill visit Bernard Montgomery's mobile headquarters in Normandy, France, 12 June 1944. Photo by Horton (Capt), War Office official photographer, Wikipedia Commons.
Brooke (on the left) and Churchill visit Bernard Montgomery’s mobile headquarters in Normandy, France, 12 June 1944. Photo by Horton (Capt), War Office official photographer, Wikipedia Commons.

Alan Francis Brooke was born in July 1883 in the French Pyrenees to vacationing parents. Of noble Northern Ireland Protestant stock, and trained as an artillery officer, Brooke served with distinction in the First World War on the Western Front, including acting as the chief artillery staff officer to the Canadian Corps.45 Having begun the Second World War as a corps commander, he participated in the British Expeditionary Force and competently evacuated his formation from Dunkirk. Following duty as Commander-in-Chief Home Defence, Prime Minister Churchill appointed Brooke as Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) on 18 November 1941, and Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CCSC) on 9 March 1942, acknowledging his considerable abilities and strategic mind.46

The foremost illustration of the effect of Britain’s strategic culture upon Brooke was the British resistance to an early direct attack upon continental Europe during the Second World War. With the United States declaring war on the Axis Powers in December 1941, the Americans quickly began planning with Great Britain to reconquer Europe. Following the Arcadia Conference, the British strongly resisted the United States’ desire to commence major military operations via a direct assault on continental Europe, instead, advocating an indirect, peripheral attack against the Axis in the Mediterranean.47

The British opposition to the American approach of assaulting Germany early and directly was multifaceted. First, having fought the Germans in the First World War and again in 1940, the British had great respect for the Wehrmacht’s tactical ability, and they preferred to allow a naval blockade, strategic bombing, and the might of the Soviet military time to attrite the Axis forces.48 Despite American enthusiasm, the British also possessed a mature understanding that U.S. forces would need to be blooded before they faced the battle-hardened Germans on the Northern European Plain.49 Similarly, Professor Steven Lobell of the University of Utah illustrates that the deliberate neglect of the British Army until 1938 soberly resigned London to the limitations of their own land forces.50 Finally, with the military situation hanging in the balance in North Africa in the summer of 1942, London could not condone opening another theatre of war at the time.51

To Brooke, a direct attack on Germany was anathema to the British way of war. Indeed, he advocated a peripheral strategy, stating: “I am positive that our policy for the conduct of the war should be to direct both our military and political efforts towards the early conquest of North Africa. From there we shall be able to reopen the Mediterranean and to stage offensive operations against Italy.”52 Brooke’s sponsorship of this indirect North African campaign was symbolic of the traditional British strategic culture of peripheral attacks:

… Brooke was wedded to the traditional British maritime strategy of weakening Continental powers by blockade and peripheral operations, carried out in areas where the enemy found it most difficult to deploy and support large armies. While he accepted the probable need to cross the Channel in strength one day, his personal experiences in 1940 convinced him that this would not be practicable until German resistance was on the point of collapse.53

Although, as suggested by Professor Keith Neilson of the Royal Military College of Canada, the United States possessed the influence to sway Allied strategy, Britain remained faithful to its strategic culture and the defeat of Nazi Germany through naval blockade and strategic bombardment.54

Thus, as the Allied offensive unfolded, Nazi Germany reacted precisely as Brooke and the peripheral strategy sought to exploit. Looking to draw-away the Wehrmacht from other theatres, Brooke’s concept of assaulting indirectly through the Mediterranean appeared quite successful:

Everywhere on the Continent, the effects were being felt of Hitler’s furious reaction to the British strategy of re-opening the Mediterranean and striking across it in order to draw Germany’s troops from France and Russia into Europe’s mountainous southern perimeter. Since the invasion of Sicily in July, more than forty Axis divisions had had to be withdrawn, or were in the process of being withdrawn from other fronts. Already, the number of German divisions in Italy had risen from six to sixteen, and in the Balkans, from twelve to eighteen … and three-quarters of Germany’s air-fighter force was by now concentrated in Western and Southern Europe…55

Concurrently, with pressure being relieved on the Russians and the attrition of the German war machine taking place, the allied forces gained valuable operational fighting experience and learned to strategically function as a coalition.56

The British military’s sound joint, interagency planning and coordination, grounded in its strategic culture, enabled much of this early-coalition success. During the Arcadia Conference, as the Allies coordinated grand strategic objectives, the less experienced Americans quickly recognized the British military’s rich joint culture.57 To a lead American planner: “We were more or less babes in the wood on this planning and joint business with the British. They’d been doing it for years. They were experts at it, and we were just starting. They’d found a way to get along between the services.”58 This aspect of British strategic culture undoubtedly abetted the American agreement to a peripheral strategy while the emerging superpower’s own joint abilities developed. Concurrently, Brooke enforced the British joint strategic tradition as the head of the British Chiefs of Staff Committee. Leading “…the most perfect machine for the higher organization of the war,”59 Brooke initiated, explained, and defended British military policy:

After 1940, almost every major question affecting Britain’s war effort—not only the movements, supply and reinforcement of her fleets, armies and air forces, but the control of manpower, industry, shipping, agriculture and at times even of imperial and foreign policy—was, if it had any bearing on military operations, referred to the [Chiefs of Staff] Committee.60

Although Brooke’s personal strength as primus inter pares [first among equals, Ed.] greatly enabled this grand strategic decision making body, undoubtedly, the inculcation of the joint spirit, based upon Britain’s strategic culture, was an important factor.61


This article was born out of an interest to better understand British martial culture. The author, having been fortunate enough to work and interact with the British military, found it to possess a mature and scrupulous approach towards the utility of force, the diverse tools of the armed services, and their country’s national interests. This mindset, properly labeled military strategic culture, although instructive, was discovered to be derivative of Britain’s national strategic culture.

More broadly, due to its national characteristics and imperial experiences, Britain possessed a rich and mature understanding of grand strategy and statecraft. A relatively small country proximate to historically powerful hostile states, and also the hub of a vast empire, Britain developed a very pragmatic and sober view of national security, strategic survival, and imperial power. This strategic tradition, which is as complex and nuanced as Britain’s historic security situation, includes the use of economic warfare, and a peripheral, indirect approach to warfare that allowed Britain to survive, thrive, and indeed, to establish one of the world’s greatest empires maintain it for several centuries. Meanwhile, this strategic culture saw military responses as the ken, primarily, of maritime forces, delegating the British Army with the residual task of so-called small wars, and potentially, a continental commitment.

More philosophically, such challenges to national existence and the maintenance of a global empire enabled the development of a very judicious strategic culture. Foremost, this mature strategic tradition could be viewed ‘grand strategically.’ Here, a sober analysis of strategic ends and means enabled a gradual withdrawal from empire that consolidated imperial resources for the approaching world conflicts, and equally, positioned the rising American superpower as a close ally. At a lower level, Britain’s abstemious strategic tradition enabled the integrated interaction of the multiple ministries and tools of state to carefully achieve national interests. To Professor Christopher Coker of the London School of Economics, this scrupulous national security culture reflects a deep strategic tradition: “Strategic cultures tend to think strategically: that is their purpose, or should be. In other words, nations have a pretty clear idea of their national interests and how best to advance them.”62

General Brooke, as a commander at the highest levels of Britain’s war effort, was immersed in this strategic tradition. Although equally shaped by his military experiences, Brooke viewed the British approach to the Axis threat through the lens of its strategic culture. Rather than perceiving the road to Berlin as the most direct route from London, he advocated Britain’s traditional imperial peripheral strategy, and thus, an attritional campaign through the Mediterranean while a naval blockade, strategic bombing, and the Russian juggernaut wore down the German war machine. Equally, he understood the importance of mobilizing and shaping allies to balance Britain’s own inadequate forces. Finally, Brooke, as Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, reflected the well-practiced British strategic tradition of close integration of all arms of government and the military. [Editor’s Note: General Sir Alan Brooke, 1st Viscount Alanbrooke, KG, GCB, OM, GCVO, DSO & Bar, was promoted to Field Marshal in 1944.]

Reflecting upon the strategic culture of one of our mother countries provides an important lens with which to examine our own. Canada, possessing very different geographic characteristics and historical experiences, has therefore developed dissimilar strategic traditions. Nevertheless, the shrewd British understanding of national interests and the alignment of strategic means is a pragmatic principle that should be embraced by Canadian decision makers and military leaders. Similarly, readers, students, and crafters of Canada’s strategic culture would do well to ingrain the traditions of joint, interagency coordination, including a sober appreciation of the importance of economic strength for national security.

About the author:
*Brigadier-General Greg Smith, CD
, is an Infantry Officer with deployments in Croatia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. He possesses Masters of Arts in war studies, defence studies, and public administration from RMC. This article is based upon a paper written for the National Security Program at CFC Toronto.

This article was published by the Canadian Military Journal, Volume 18, Number 1, Page 32.


  1. Rational Choice Theory states broadly that people, groups or states behave so as to maximize their benefit and minimize their cost. See Michael I. Ogu, “Rational Choice Theory: Assumptions, Strengths, and Greatest Weaknesses in Application Outside the Western Milieu Context,” in Arabian Journal of Business and Management Review (Nigerian Chapter), Vol. 1, No. 3 (2013), p. 90, at
  2. Colin S. Gray, Nuclear Strategy and National Style (London: Hamilton Press, 1986), pp. 33-34.
  3. Lawrence Sondhaus, Strategic Culture and Ways of War (London: Routledge, 2006), p. 1.
  4. Gray, Nuclear Strategy, pp. 148-150.
  5. To Murray and Grimsley, the impact of geography upon strategic culture may be illustrated by the proximate and miniscule Israel versus the massive and remote United States. Williamson Murray and Mark Grimsley, “Introduction: On strategy,” in The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War, Williamson Murray, MacGregor Know and Alvin Bernstein, (eds.), pp. 1-23 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994), p. 7.
  6. Many authors would classify this as effecting military strategic culture or service strategic culture.
  7. This abstract concept is summarized more simply by Gray: groups may be categorized based upon holistic, monochromic, one-thing-at-a-time cultures, or polychromic, everything-is-interconnected, Cartesian thinking cultures. See Colin S. Gray, Modern Strategy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 149.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid., p. 150. These grand strategic tools could include overt military power, diplomacy, espionage, and covert action, economic sanctions, etc.
  10. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Weltanschauung as, “…a comprehensive conception or apprehension of the world especially from a specific standpoint.” See Merriam-Webster Dictionary, Weltanschauung, last accessed 19 May 2014, at weltanschauung.
  11. Edward Lock, “Refining strategic culture: return of the second generation,” in Review of International Studies, Vol. 36, Issue 3 (July 2010), pp. 685-708 at
  12. Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, 3rd edition. (San Francisco: Jossy-Bass, 2004), p. 17.
  13. Gray, Modern Strategy, p. 131.
  14. Theo Farrell, “Strategic Culture and American Empire,” The SAIS Review of International Affairs, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Summer-Fall 2005), p. 10.
  15. William S. Maltby, “The Origins of a Global Strategy: England from 1558 to 1713,” in The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War, pp. 151-177.
  16. Tuvia Ben-Moshe, Churchill: Strategy and History (Boulder, CO: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 1992), p. 7.
  17. The famous naval strategist Julian Corbett quotes Francis Bacon in stating, “…he that commands the sea is at great liberty and may take as much or as little of the war as he will …” Julian Stafford Corbett, The Project Gutenberg eBook, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy, last accessed 07 May 2014, at
  18. Norman Gibbs, “British Strategic Doctrine, 1918-1939,” The Theory and Practice of War: Essays Presented to Captain B.H. Liddell Hart, Michael Howard (ed.), pp.185-212, (London: Cassell and Company, 1965), p.188. The ‘two-power standard’ refers to the Royal Navy’s requirement for greater capability than the next two powers.
  19. B.H. Liddell Hart, The British Way in Warfare (London: Faber & Faber, 1932), p. 37. Bryant concurs, stating the British Army developed a corresponding tradition which, “… rested on the history of a sea-based Army which had always had to fight with inadequate resources and which, by using sea-power to hold the enemy with the minimum of force along the widest possible circumference while concentrating striking-strength at the point where it could be most effectively used.” Arthur Bryant, Triumph in the West: Completing the War Diaries of Field Marshal Viscount Alanbrooke (London: The Reprint Society, 1960), p. 32.
  20. Sir Basil H. Liddell Hart labeled this disciplined assault on a country’s commerce by the Royal Navy an “essentially businesslike tradition,” and an ‘economy of force.’ Liddell Hart, pp. 37-41.
  21. Ben-Moshe, p. 9. This anti-Army attitude received considerable political attention in Britain as a result of the devastating British losses on the Western Front in the First World War, and the writings of the very influential thinker Liddell Hart and his book, The British Way in Warfare. His concepts, however, have, in the last eighty-plus years, been heavily criticized.
  22. Of 8,904,467 British Empire soldiers mobilized for “The Great War,” 908,371 were killed, 2,090,212 were wounded and 191 652 became prisoner or were Missing in Action. See PBS, “WWI Casualty and Death Tables,” last accessed 7 May 2014, at Gray, Modern Strategy, p. 150.
  23. Ibid, p. 139. Gray and Hew Strachan agree that resistance to revolutionary change was an element of Britain’s strategic culture or “way of war,” despite the British Army’s struggle to solve the “riddle of the trenches” on the First World War’s Western Front.
  24. Britain’s military strategic culture embraced Intelligence, Deception, Science and Technology, and Innovation. David Jablonsky, Churchill and Hitler: Essays on the Political-Military Direction of Total War (Ilford, UK: Frank Cass&Co, 1994), p. 80.
  25. Gibbs, p. 187. Gibbs subsequently labels this “Britain’s traditional strategy.” Ibid., p. 190.
  26. Steven E. Lobell, “Britain’s Grand Strategy During the 1930s,” in The Challenge of Grand Strategy: The Great Powers and the Broken Balance Between the World Wars, Jeffrey W. Taliaferro, Norrin M. Ripsman and Steven E. Lobell (eds.), pp. 147-170 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012).
  27. Gibbs, p. 189.
  28. Crocker explains that statecraft is, “… the smart application of power: when wits, wallets, and muscle all pull together … [it] uses all of the available assets and resources of a society and assures effective coordination between all the arms of foreign policy.” Chester A. Crocker, “The Place of Grand Strategy, Statecraft, and Power in Conflict Management,” in Leashing the Dogs of War: Conflict Management in a Divided World, Chester A. Crocker, Fen Osler Hampson, and Pamela Aall (eds.), pp. 355-367 (Washington, DC: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2007).
  29. Donald Nuechterlein describes national interest, “…as the aspirations and goals of sovereign entities in the international arena-perceived needs and desires of one sovereign state in relation to the sovereign states comprising its external environment.” See Don Macnamara, “Canada’s National and International Security Interests,” in Canada’s National Security in the Post-9/11 World: Strategy, Interests, and Threats, David S. McDonough (ed.), pp. 45-56 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2011), p. 48.
  30. C.I.D. 195th Meeting, 13th February 1925; 196th Meeting, 19th February 1925; 200th Meeting, 22nd June 1925. Memorandum by CIGS for Cabinet. C.P. 116(25), quoted in Michael Howard, The Continental Commitment: The Dilemma of British Defence Policy in the Era of the Two World Wars (London: The Ashfield Press, 1989), pp. 93-94. This quote reflects Lord Palmerston’s 1848 statement: “We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.” Lobell, p. 147.
  31. Steven E. Lobell, Jeffrey W. Taliaferro and Norrin M. Ripsman, “Grand Strategy Between the World Wars,” in The Challenge of Grand Strategy, pp. 1-36.
  32. Lobell, “Britain’s Grand Strategy during the 1930s,” p. 17.
  33. For an excellent overview of imperial policing and British colonial ‘small wars,’ see Lt. Col. Robert M. Cassidy, The U.S. Army, “The British Army and Counterinsurgency: The Salience of Military Culture,” last accessed 2 May 2014, at
  34. Liddell Hart, p. 127.
  35. Frank Ledwidge, Losing Small Wars: British Military Failure in Iraq and Afghanistan (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), p. 152.
  36. Sinnreich believed the perpetually under-resourced British Army had a tradition of heroism over intellectual innovation, which formed intellectual complacency. See Richard Hart Sinnreich, “About Turn: British Strategic Transformation from Salisbury to Grey,” in The Shaping of Grand Strategy: Policy, Diplomacy, and War, Williamson Murray, Richard Hart Sinnreich and James Lacey (eds.), pp. 111-146 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2011).
  37. Cassidy suggests, “Stability operations have dominated the British Army experience, and it has embraced them as central to the institution.” Cassidy.
  38. Gibbs, p. 205. The economy was referred to as “the fourth arm of defence” as Britain’s strong economy and large war chest gave it a financial advantage over its enemies during a long war. See Lobell, “Britain’s Grand Strategy during the 1930s,” p. 167.
  39. Farrell, p. 4.
  40. Gibbs, p. 191.
  41. Michael Howard, The Continental Commitment: The Dilemma of British Defence Policy in the Era of the Two World Wars (London: The Ashfield Press, 1989), p. 52.
  42. Here the modern lexicon has been employed thus: Joint and Inter-agency.
  43. Williamson Murray, “The Collapse of Empire: British Strategy 1919-1945,” in The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War, Williamson Murray, MacGregor Know and Alvin Bernstein (eds.), pp. 393-427 (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
  44. Alaric Searle, “Inter-service Debate and the Origins of Strategic Culture: The ‘Principles of War’ in the British Armed Forces, 1919-1939,” in War in History, Vol. 21, No. 1 (2013), pp. 30-31.
  45. Andrew Roberts, Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West (London: Allen Lane, 2008), p. 15. Purportedly, Brooke co-invented the ‘creeping barrage.’
  46. Ibid., pp. 56, 102-103. Brooke replaced Admiral Sir Dudley Pound as the Chairman due to the naval fiasco of the escape of the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen on 12 February 1942.
  47. Charles F. Brower, “The Commander-in-Chief and TORCH,” New York: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library, 12 November 2002, last accessed 14 October 2009, at Bower suggests that Britain and America were heavily influenced by their very different Great War experiences.
  48. Leo J. Meyer, “The Decision to Invade North Africa (TORCH),” in Center of Military History Publication 72-7: Command Decisions, Kent Roberts Greenfield (ed.), pp. 173-198 (Washington: US Army Center of Military History, 1960), 175. Indeed, Neilson states Stalin believed that the British would fight to the last drop of Soviet blood. See Keith Neilson, “The British Way in Warfare and Russia,” in The British Way in Warfare: Power and the International System, 1856-1956: Essays in Honour of David French, Keith Neilson and Greg Kennedy (eds.), pp. 7-27 (Farnham, UK: Ashgate, 2010).
  49. The disparity between German and Allied forces in early 1942 was six- to- one, but Britain had a healthy respect for the Wehrmacht’s capabilities. Brower.
  50. Lobell, “Britain’s Grand Strategy during the 1930s,” p. 165.
  51. Meyer, p. 181.
  52. Roberts, p. 57.
  53. W.G.F. Jackson, “Overlord,” Normandy 1944 (London, 1979), p. 46, quoted in Carlo D’Este, Decision in Normandy: The Unwritten Story of Montgomery and the Allied Campaign (London: Pan Books, 1984), p. 25. Meyer agrees that this style of warfare was an element of Britain’s military tradition: “Such a ‘peripheral strategy’ came naturally to British leaders. They had followed it so often in earlier wars against continental powers that it had become deeply imbedded in England’s military tradition.” Meyer, p. 175.
  54. Neilson, p. 23.
  55. Bryant, p. 28.
  56. See Williamson Murray,, “Operation Torch: Allied Invasion of North Africa,” last accessed 28 Feb 2014, at Bryant explains that Brooke, understood the peripheral strategy was not the main effort itself, “Brooke’s view of the Italian campaign remained what it had always been: that it was not an end in itself but a means to an end.” Bryant, p. 203.
  57. Michael Howard, “American and British Strategy. Memorandum by the United States and British Chief of Staff (WWII) at Washington War Conference, December 1941,” Appendix I from Grand Strategy IV August 1942-September 1943, History of the Second World War (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1972), p. 597.
  58. MHI Handy Interview 1974 section 3, page 42, quoted in Roberts, p. 71.
  59. Ibid., p. 104.
  60. Bryant, p. 36.
  61. ALAB 11/64 quoted in Roberts, p. 104.
  62. Christopher Coker, “Between Iraq and a Hard Place: Multinational Co-operation, Afghanistan and Strategic Culture,” in RUSI Journal, Vol. 151, No. 5 (October 2006), p. 18.

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Canadian Military Journal is the official professional journal of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence. It is published quarterly under authority of the Minister of National Defence. Opinions expressed or implied in this publication are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces, Canadian Military Journal, or any agency of the Government of Canada. Crown copyright is retained.

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