Tag Archives: general john pershing

Marshall, Eisenhower and Senior Military Leadership

Great military leaders are the products of the militaries in which they serve.  This begins in their early career and includes their education, training, assignments as well as the men that they serve under in their formative years.  They are shaped by the character, doctrine and organization of the military that they serve and are products of the times that they live and serve. Even the difference of a few years can make a major difference in the career path and development of a leader.  Such was the case with two of the great figures of the US Army in World War Two Generals of the Army George Marshall and Dwight David Eisenhower.

George Marshall

The careers of Marshall and Eisenhower prior to the Second World War were somewhat similar but also included major differences that would shape them for their roles in the war.  Marshall was commissioned 13 years prior to Eisenhower in 1902.  As a result he served his early years in a peacetime army marked by slow promotion.  Marshall was promoted to Captain in 1916 after serving 14 years as a Lieutenant despite attendance at the Army Staff College then called the Infantry and Cavalry School.  As an infantry officer he served in the Philippines for 2 years and served in various battalion and regimental level staff positions. Marshall’s career also included as assignments working with the National Guard and State militias.   His skills as a planner brought him to France as Assistant Chief of Staff for the 1st Infantry Division and later the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) under General Pershing.

While serving in these positions he was promoted rapidly to Major, Lieutenant Colonel and Colonel. In France he worked with the training, supply and operations of the American Forces as well as coordination with the French and British. His skills were invaluable and he played a major role in the rapid transition of the AEF from the St Michel salient to the Meuse-Argonne and though he reduced in rank when the war ended he was appointed aide-de-camp to Pershing in 1919.

During the 1920 Marshall served as Executive officer of the 15th Infantry Regiment in China and on his return to the United States he was assigned to the Army War College during which time his first wife died.  Following her death he would become Director of the Academic Department of the Infantry School.  His tenure at the War College was marked by his training numerous officers who would later become generals, including Eisenhower. He played a key role in the Preparation of the book “Infantry in Battle” which became a standard textbook for Army infantry officers.  He then served as senior instructor for the Illinois National Guard from 1933-1936 and was promoted to Brigadier General in 1936. After his promotion he worked to improve the Civilian Conservation Corps.  His organizational talents were recognized by President Franklin D Roosevelt and he was appointed Chief of Staff of the Army in 1939.  Marshall’s career is unique; he never served in command of anything more than a company. His positions above the company level were all in staff or instructor duty. In our current military an infantry officer or other combat arms officer who never commanded a maneuver unit at battalion, regiment or division level would never become a General and certainly never become Chief of Staff of the Army or Commandant of the Marine Corps.  Marshall was a brilliant organizer, leader, judge of men and visionary in understanding the necessity of coalitions and inter-dependence of nations in the modern world.  His organizational leadership skills, ability to pick the right officers for key positions and his political and diplomatic acumen made him one of the foremost military leaders in US Military history.

Dwight D Eisenhower

Eisenhower was commissioned in 1915 less than two years prior to the entry of the US into the First World War. Like Marshall was commissioned as an Infantry officer and his career progressed in normal fashion until the entry of the United States into the war.  Though Eisenhower never served in France, he was assigned to training troops and became one of the early leaders of the Armored Forces until they were disbanded after the war.  In the rapidly expanded wartime army Eisenhower was promoted from 2nd Lieutenant to Lieutenant Colonel in less time than Marshall spent as a 2nd Lieutenant.

During his tenure in the Tank Corps he served with George Patton, commanded a tank battalion and was executive officer of an armored brigade.  Following the disestablishment of the Tank Corps Eisenhower served as an infantry regiment executive officer in Panama.  In this position he was schooled by General Fox Conner in classic military theory.   It was fortunate for Eisenhower in that he was able to serve with and was able to gain seasoning and education under an excellent officer. Eisenhower returned to the United States and commanded an infantry battalion at Fort Benning and following this served on the faculty of the Infantry School under Marshall who would remember him at the beginning of World SWar Two.

His subsequent career was somewhat mundane. He served on the Battle Monument’s Commission under Pershing and then on the staff of the Assistant Secretary of War.  However both of these assignments put him in the eye of other important officers and officials.  Eisenhower was then transferred to the Philippines where he served as Chief of Staff to Douglas MacArthur from 1935-39. He returned to the US to serve concurrently as the regimental Executive Officer and a battalion commander in the 15th Infantry regiment and later Chief of Staff to the Commander of 3rd Army.  Through his excellent work in every assignment he gained the attention of Conner, Pershing and eventually Marshall. While at the Infantry school he helped prepare Pershing’s memoirs.  His experience with MacArthur in Washington and the Philippines helped prepare him for the myriad of difficult personalities with which he would deal with as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe. In 1941 he came to Washington to serve under Marshall at the WPA.

As far as who was the better officer, opinions vary; there are arguments to be made for both yet Eisenhower himself seemed to subordinate himself to Marshall.  Omar Bradley says of Marshall “if there ever was an indispensable man in time of national crisis, he was that man.” (A Soldier’s Story p.205) However both Marshall and Eisenhower were excellent officers and each played a vital role in the Allied victory.   However their careers were markedly different. In fact one could say that they were “apples and oranges.” Marshall served entirely as a staff officer and instructor after his service as a company officer.  Eisenhower served in numerous command positions as well as staff jobs. Their careers would intersect and had commonalities but each was shaped by their different experiences in the Army.

In World War Two Marshall seems to have fewer critics.  However this seems to more a result of Eisenhower’s exposed position in Europe where he was comparatively junior to many of the officers that that he would command.  He also had to deal with the competing interests of such strong personalities as Marshall, Patton, Roosevelt, Churchill, DeGaulle and Montgomery while fighting the Germans. This has lent him to criticism from both British and American officers as well as various historians.  But these observations are based on wartime experience and not their early careers.   Field Marshall Alan Brooke seems to have had more respect for Marshall and many in the British high command showed little respect toward Eisenhower.

“Better” in the military is in the eye of the beholder and often dependant on assignments as well as the superiors that one works for.  From a traditional point of view Eisenhower had the better career path with command at battalion and executive officer at regiment levels. However Marshall’s career provided him with a wider spectrum in dealing with senior staff, school, reserve component, government civilian agencies and Washington bureaucracy and politics that Eisenhower did not experience until Marshall tapped him in 1941 to work with the WPA. Their personalities were different and they dealt with subordinates in different manners, but both successfully managed their subordinates. Eisenhower was able to manage Patton and Montgomery while working in Churchill’s back yard, while others such as DeGaulle walking through his door.  Both men were uniquely suited to work with each other and in the positions that they found themselves during the war and one has a hard time imagining a better partnership in command.

The interesting thing to me is Marshall’s career.  In the current era he would never rise to the heights that he served.  Since the Second World War no officer who has not served command in major combat arms units at all levels has risen to be Chief of Staff of the Army, Air Force, Commandant of the Marine Corps or Chief of Naval Operations.  Nor has any risen to the Chairmanship of the Joint Chiefs of Staff or major Combatant Command such as EUCOM, CENTCOM or PACOM.  Of we look at Marshall and his impact one has to ask if “punching tickets”in the combat arms  is necessarily optimal  when it comes to managing the organization at the service level.  While it is proven that command is a great asset to senior command in combatant commands it may not be as necessary for the chief of a service.  One can ask if an officer who has served in staff and instructor positions, especially those where they have to deal with politicians, civilian agencies, as well as active and reserve component forces as well as an instructor and writer of doctrine could not serve as successfully in a position such as the Army Chief of Staff or the Commandant of the Marine Corps as an officer who has had the “well rounded career.”

In the light of George Marshall these are valid questions to ask. Might someone who has had the ability to step back and examine the personnel, logistics and training of a force as well as having experience with reserve component and civilian agencies could conceivably serve as effectively as an officer who has served rotating between command and staff positions.  In today’s world the staff oriented officer would also have experience dealing with industry and intelligence.  While I do not advocate such a change I think it would be wise to consider officers such as Marshall for these service level positions.

Following the war Marshall would become Secretary of State and help rebuild Europe while serving under Eisenhower how had become President of the United States.


Padre Steve{


Filed under History, leadership, Military, national security, world war two in europe

The Paradox of Conflicting Doctrine: The US Campaign in France and Germany 1944-1945

The Paradox

The paradox of the American Army’s training in speed and mobility and the strategic tradition of U.S. Grant influenced the final campaign in Germany just as they had the campaign in France.  This is one of the Russell Weigley in Eisenhower’s Lieutenants asserts that the American strategic tradition of U.S. Grant emphasized direct confrontation and defeat of the enemy’s major forces.  He asserts the development of this tradition by officers assigned to the Leavenworth schools was influenced by the Civil War and World War One and the Army’s experience as a frontier constabulary force.  He develops this theory alongside his discussion of the formation of the highly mobile and less powerful forces that the Army would deploy in World War Two and how this paradoxical combination of doctrine and force determined by conflicting legacies “put the army at cross purposes with itself…as it began to prepare for European War.”[i]

Crossing the Siegfried Line

The dogma of the Leavenworth School emphasized that “victory in large-scale war depends on a strategy of direct confrontation with the enemy’s main forces in order to destroy them.”[ii] This was not in itself different than the thought of contemporary European armies influenced by Clausewitz; but the Americans differed from the Europeans “in the extent to which they expected overwhelming power alone, without subtleties of maneuver, to achieve the objective.”[iii] The tradition developed from an emphasis on Ulysses S. Grant’s campaign in Virginia which understood that Grant had “defeated the armies of the Confederacy through head on assault by overwhelming strength to destroy them, so that in any future great war the United States would seek the destruction of the enemy armed forces by similar means.”[iv] It is perplexing that the Army failed to truly appreciate William Tecumseh Sherman’s use of strategic maneuver on the offense with the goal of destroying the enemy’s army. The fact that the Army failed to incorporate those lessons into its strategic thought, even as it built forces that were better suited to Sherman’s campaign is one of the contradictions of American military thought.[v]

Grant’s tradition was put into practice by Pershing in World War One to the extent that he could influence allied strategy, with mixed results.[vi] The reduction of the St Michel Salient and Meuse-Argonne offensive, though aided by German withdraws and achieved with high casualties, helped convince the Germans that the war was lost.[vii] “Only in late 1918 did the veteran American divisions show the same degree of tactical skill as their Allied and German counterparts, and the lessons came by bloody experience.”[viii] Pershing’s campaigns were bloody, but they came at a when maneuver had again become part of the war, and at the point where the Germans were beginning to collapse.  George Marshall warned about “generalizing about modern warfare from their 1918 experiences against a German army already stumbling into exhaustion.”[ix] Yet for “the American military, the First World War confirmed the doctrines of concentration and of fighting for complete victory, and out of the battlefields of Europe came the foundations of strategic faith….”[x] Weigley notes that: “In strategy, most American soldiers believed, the modern mass army left frontal assault as the only recourse.”[xi]

While Grant’s tradition remained a dominant feature of American strategic thought, the Army was becoming a mobile army whose divisions were to be “tough and lean.”[xii] General Leslie McNair reorganized the structure of the infantry division and later that of the armored divisions.  The heavy “square” infantry division of the First World War was reorganized with three infantry regiments and supporting elements and was characterized by its mobility than its sustained combat power.  McNair reorganized the armored divisions into lighter, though extremely flexible organizations built around the “Combat Command” and the tank was viewed as viewed as an instrument of exploitation, not a means to defeat enemy armor.  The result was an army formed “upon the principle of mobility and its lack of sustained combat power…did not serve it so well when it faced resolute and skillful enemies in strong defensive positions….”[xiii]

The new divisional structures were both mobile and flexible but in the context of the European campaign were wanting in sustained combat power.  Peter Mansoor comments that divisions “literally fought themselves out in constant operations.”[xiv] At the same time he takes issue with Weigley on the staying power of U.S. divisions commenting on the efficiency of the American individual replacement system.[xv] A U.S. Army study commented that in direct assaults against a emplaced enemy that “heavy casualties in such operations were more than the triangular division could sustain, with the result that the entire division was often rendered combat ineffective….”[xvi] McNair’s reorganization ignored General Chaffee’s 1941 admonition that armor must be organized into corps and employed in mass using not “hundreds but thousands of tanks…” calling the failure to train and organize “an adequate number of command echelons and corps troops to ensure proper employment and timely supply for these larger armored formations in active operation is indefensible.”[xvii]

To further complicate the American situation, the application of Grant’s tradition failed to take into account the principle of mass or concentration, which was vital to the success of a strategy of direct confrontation.  The theory demanded that the Americans have enough troops divisions to keep up pressure everywhere. Grant had such power at his disposal, Eisenhower did not.  The thought that “if the United States applied its superior power everywhere it must be able to rupture the defenses somewhere,”[xviii] was dominant.  But to be successful it required overwhelming superiority in numbers and firepower.  This strategy was in conflict with the Army that the Americans built to pursue the war, and in conflict with one of the more influential prewar American thesis on the subject, Infantry in Battle. This treatise stated:

“Generalship consists at being stronger at the decisive point-having three men there to attack one.  If we attempt to spread out so as to be strong everywhere, we shall end up being weak everywhere.  To have real main effort-and every attack and attack unit should have one- we must be prepared to risk extreme weakness elsewhere.”[xix]

It was an army designed for Sherman’s campaigns in Georgia and the Carolina’s, not Grant’s Virginia campaign. It was best suited to campaigns of strategic maneuver and concentration rather than frontal assaults along a broad front.  Its organization called for this and this fact was recognized before the war.[xx] Weigley notes that the “paradoxical commitment to a power drive strategy of head-on assault in an army shaped for mobility further contributed to the prolonging of the war by undermining the possible uses of mobility itself.”[xxi]

The theory of Grant, espoused by the Leavenworth school is fine there are sufficient forces to make it work. General McNair and Army planners initially planned for an Army of over 200 divisions.  Such an army would have been able to execute the strategy without the problems experienced by the Allies in 1944 and 1945.  Unfortunately the American Army was afflicted by the War Department’s decision in 1943 to limit the Army to 90 divisions.[xxii] The limitation on the number of divisions ensured that it would be “difficult or impossible once the battle of France was launched to rotate them out of line for rest or refitting.”[xxiii] This became a key consideration of allied planning by late 1944 because once the existing divisions were deployed to Europe or the Pacific there were no more to replace them.  Drastic measures were taken to increase the number of infantry troops by speeding up the movement of the last available divisions to Europe and by combing troops out of the COMMZ and from the Army Air Force.[xxiv] Training programs were put in place to train tank crews and junior officers.  Yet, these programs did not begin to put significant numbers of replacements into the line until March 1945.[xxv] Mansoor, a critic of Weigley, agrees with him on many points and notes that the “90 division gamble was a decision that cost the lives of numerous servicemen-primarily infantry replacements-in Europe in 1944 and 1945.”[xxvi] The decision to limit the number of divisions forced Eisenhower into a position where he frequently faced an equivalent number of German divisions to those that he could employ.  This would be the case in at the beginning of 1945 despite the steady erosion of the German forces arrayed before him.

Leadership, Strategy and Tactics and the Performance of the Army

The Germans Employed the Jagdtiger in Small Numbers Against the American Onslaught

After the Bulge the Allies began their push to the Rhine.  Eisenhower “interpreted the Ardennes as confirming the necessity for his broad front strategy, particularly in closing up to the Rhine all the way to Switzerland.”[xxvii] Hastings notes that the Wehrmacht “retained psychological dominance on the battlefield,”[xxviii] and that “Allied commanders remained fearful about exposing their flanks in attack, even when the Germans no longer possessed the resources or mobility to intervene with conviction.”[xxix] In many places GIs and their British counterparts in Montgomery’s 21st Army Group failed to take the initiative and often the Allied commanders “expressed dismay about the lack of aggression shown by their troops.”[xxx] Gavin noted in his diary that: “With better troops, I see no reason why we could not run all over them…Our American army means well and tries hard, but….it is untrained and inefficient… certainly our infantry lacks courage and élan.”[xxxi] Despite this the Allied armies, in particular the Americans, made headway and in many places when well led performed admirably.

The Eifel

Following the reduction of the Bulge Eisenhower allowed Bradley to begin to break the West Wall in the Eifel. After the attack began Eisenhower stopped Bradley short of a breakthrough in order to shift weight of the offensive to Montgomery in the north ordering 12th Army Group to revert to the defensive.  Yet, Eisenhower allowed Bradley a “measure of freedom for limited attacks,”[xxxii] and Patton termed his “operations in the Eifel an “aggressive defense.””[xxxiii] The campaign was primary conducted against oddments of a number of Volksgrenadier divisions of 7th Army.

First Army was diverted on February 1st after making good progress in the Eifel to safeguard the right flank of 9th Army by capturing the Roer dams.  Hastings notes that a “more flexible and imaginative commander-or one unconstrained by the demands of inter-allied relations-would have allowed Hodges forces to keep going to the river and delayed Montgomery for the necessary few days.”[xxxiv] However Bradley felt that Eisenhower “had little choice but to accede to Montgomery’s demand.”[xxxv] Bradley allowed 3rd Army to continue “probing attacks,” and 3rd Army advanced across the Eifel breaking through the West Wall at Prüm and Bitburg.  For the first time the enemy showed “cracks in the admirable cohesion and discipline of the German army.”[xxxvi] Aggressive units of Patton’s 3rd Army were rewarded with dramatic advances. 4th Armored Division in “one bound covered 25 miles, taking 5,000 prisoners and killing several hundred Germans for the loss of 111 of its own men,”[xxxvii] and 10th Armored took Trier on 14 March.  Patton called the campaign “a long hard fought fight with many river crossings, much bad weather, and a great deal of luck.”[xxxviii] Despite this there were problems in some formations.  Hastings recounts how a platoon leader in a VII Corps unit told his commander during a crossing of the Sauer River that “These men have had it sir! They won’t budge for me or anybody else….”[xxxix]The G-3 of 6th Armored division noted that “some of our divisions are too sensitive to their flanks…the result of this is timidity…”[xl]

The Roer Dams, Grenade and Lumberjack

1st Army supported 9th Army by capturing the Roer river dams in preparation of Grenade.  The inexperienced 78th Division was able to secure the dams with help from the veteran 9th Division, though not before the Germans had destroyed the release valves to “flood the Roer valley for about two weeks.”[xli] This delayed the start of Grenade but the Americans finally captured a prize that had eluded them the previous fall.  The one truly notable aspect of this campaign was the continued erratic leadership of Hodges.  Gavin called it “impatient” and it nearly cost the Commanding General of 78th division his command.  Bradley’s aide, Major Hanson remarked that Hodges “was near exhaustion.”[xlii]

9th Army’s attack was conducted in concert with Operation Veritable of 2nd Canadian Army.  The plan was that the two armies would clear the area west of the Rhine destroying as much of the enemy as possible in preparation for the crossing of the river.  As such 9th Army remained under the operational control of Montgomery’s 21st Army Group.  9th Army crossed the Roer, hampered by the high waters and German resistance but captured Düren and München-Gladbach and closed up to the Rhine.  The “rapid build-up enabled Simpson to maintain intense pressure and on the last Day of February his armor broke away.”[xliii] 9th Army met up with the Canadians eliminated elements of the German Army that remained west of the river.  9th Army took over 30,000 prisoners and killed an estimated 6,000, but substantial numbers were evacuated by skillful German commanders.[xliv] The greatest disappointment was that Grenade failed to capture any bridges over the Rhine.   Montgomery turned down Simpson’s request to make a fast crossing of the Rhine at Urdingen, where there were few German troops.[xlv]

South of 9th Army the 1st and 3rd Armies launched Operation Lumberjack to attempt to envelope the German forces west of the Rhine in its sector in similar fashion to Grenade-Veritable. Facing weak German forces 1st Army made good progress capturing Cologne on March 5th.   3rd Army’s advance was exceptional.  Its plan to cut off the Germans on the west bank worked almost to perfection despite poor roads, snow and the opposition of the 2nd Panzer Division.[xlvi] General Gaffney’s 4th Armored division, drove 40 air miles, captured 5,000 prisoners killed another 700 Germans, capturing much equipment with the loss of only 29 men killed.[xlvii] Bradley called the division’s performance “the most insolent armored blitz of the Western war.”[xlviii] Patton’s armor covered “56 miles in three days to reach the Rhine near its confluence with the Moselle.”[xlix] For the first time “senior officers and headquarters fell into the American bag,”[l] including the command post of LXVI Corps and the commander of LIII Corps. In these operations the bold use of maneuver and concentration by Simpson, Hodges and especially Patton exploited the natural strengths of their formations to achieve their objectives.


Remagen Bridge

1st Army’s swift advance and the chaos wreaked by Patton’s army led to the only instance in the campaign where the Allies captured a bridge over the Rhine intact.  The Ludendorff railway bridge at Remagen remained and on 7 March 9th Armored division detached a task force from CCB to take the bridge before it could be blown.   This force surprised the Germans and reached Remagen by 1300. General Hoge, hero of St. Vith, arrived quickly and ordered the capture the bridge as quickly as possible.[li] Hoge ignored orders to divert most of his troops to another crossing of the Ahr River and without orders “threw the rest of his armored infantry across the Rhine….”[lii] “In spite of the threat of the bridge being blown by the fleeing Germans, bold action by American infantry and engineers captured the bridge and established a bridgehead over the Rhine by 1630.  III Corps ordered 9th Armored division to “exploit the opportunity,”[liii] and “within 24 hours they had 8,000 men across.”[liv] Hodges exploited the opportunity and pushed the 9th, 78th and 99th divisions across the river where they continued to enlarge the bridgehead while fighting off fierce German counter-attacks.  By 24 March 1st Army had “three corps, six infantry divisions, and three armored divisions across the Rhine River.”[lv] The best German formations “arrived piecemeal and spent themselves in the same way, mustering only limited, scattered counterattacks instead of any major blow.”[lvi]

The Remagen crossing was not welcomed by all and restrictions were placed on 1st Army as it enlarged the bridgehead.  Carlo D’ Este saw Remagen as “typical of the lack of connection between SHAEF and its subordinate elements.”[lvii] “Pinky” Bull, the SHAEF G-3 was at Bradley’s headquarters when the Bradley was informed of the crossing.  Bull told Bradley that the Remagen crossing “just doesn’t fit in with the plan.”[lviii] Bradley recalled telling Bull: “What the hell do you want us to do,” I asked him, “pull back and blow it up?”[lix] During the next few days however “Bull’s unbending skepticism infected Eisenhower himself.”[lx] And by March 9th Bull informed Bradley that Eisenhower “did not want the Remagen bridgehead expanded beyond the ability of five divisions to defend it.”[lxi] The decision to favor Montgomery’s crossing of the Rhine by detaching divisions from 12th Army Group to support it caused consternation among Bradley and his commanders who feared that Montgomery would “use most of the divisions on the Western Front, British and American, for an attack on the Rhine plains…and the First and Third Armies be left out on a limb.”[lxii] Liddell-Hart noted that the order was “all the more resented because the U.S. Ninth Army…four days earlier, had been stopped by Montgomery from trying to cross the river immediately, as its commander, Simpson, desired and urged.”[lxiii]

Patton’s 3rd Army Crossed the Rhine on the Fly at Oppenheim

Remagen’s aftermath showed Eisenhower’s continued commitment to the broad front, to closing up to the Rhine along its entire length, and his inordinate fear of German counter-stokes.  He remained “fearful that, as long as some German forces survived on the Western side of the Rhine, the potential existed for another potential unpleasant surprise, a counter-attack across an exposed American flank.”[lxiv] The facts belied the situation and Model, commander of Army Group B “had not only given up on trying to eliminate the American bridgehead at Remagen but had covertly begun ordering large elements of Army Group B to evacuate the Rhine and cross the river.”[lxv] This decision resulted “in a lost opportunity to have established a larger bridgehead across the Rhine.”[lxvi] It was another example of Eisenhower’s failure to exploit opportunity when it presented itself and of a desire more to not lose the war than to win it. Despite this “Remagen bridge was one of the great sagas of the war and an example of inspired leadership.”[lxvii] Wilmont called it “a brilliant coup,”[lxviii] a thought echoed by Liddell-Hart.[lxix] The German response to rush numerous units to contain the bridgehead made the Allies task when they crossed the Rhine at other points “much easier than they had anticipated.”[lxx]

Patton’s Saar-Palatinate Campaign

Patton’s 3rd Army attacked the Saar-Palatinate in concert with the 7th Army with the intent of assailing the West Wall from the rear and trapping the remnant of the German Seventh Army and the German First Army.  7th Army assaulted the West Wall while Patton’s army began its assault on 13 March with the XII and XX Corps attacking into scattered German resistance.  With the infantry making the breakthrough both corps unleashed their armored divisions in an exploitation role.  Patton’s attack was so successful that he was allowed to adjust his assault to carry it into 7th Army’s zone to encircle the collapsing German Army.  In an unusual command and control move Devers of the 6th Army Group gave Patch and Patton “the authority to communicate directly with each other, bypassing their different army group headquarters.”[lxxi] Large scale surrenders began to take place for the first time, including that of 3 Volksgrenadier divisions and the remnants of 2nd Panzer division.[lxxii]

US Soldier Standing Watch over Disabled Jagdtiger

Patton was urged on by Bradley, who warned him about “the danger of losing his divisions to Montgomery if he did not secure a Rhine crossing.”[lxxiii] Patton got his engineers and bridging equipment up quickly and Bradley ordered him to “take the Rhine on the run.”[lxxiv] On March 19th alone the Third Army overran more than 950 square miles of territory.”[lxxv] Third Army “cleaned up the west bank of the Rhine all the way south to Worms and Speyer; Third and Seventh Armies claimed well over 100,000 German prisoners in the victory.”[lxxvi] On the 22nd Third Army launched the 5th Infantry division across the Rhine at Nierstein and Oppenheim, surprising the Germans and beating Montgomery across the Rhine. Patton called Bradley: “Brad, for God’s sake tell the world we’re across…I want the world to know that Third Army made it before Monty.”[lxxvii] Weigley notes in this campaign “the American army’s sharpening instinct for the jugular,” and that it was a model “of not only how to gain ground of not only how to gain ground but to destroy enemy forces.”[lxxviii]


9th Army and Allied Airborne forces participated in 21st Army Group’s grand set-piece crossing of the Rhine on 23 March.  The attack had been prepared for weeks by Montgomery and more resembled an amphibious operation than a river crossing. The attack employed 25 divisions supported by 3,000 guns with maximum air support and naval amphibious units.   Opposing the Army group were “five weak and exhausted German divisions”[lxxix] of 1st Parachute Army.  The assault cost 9th Army thirty casualties.  Montgomery also employed the American 17th and 6th British Airborne divisions in Operation Varsity which was the largest single day airborne operation of the war. Over 21,000 paratroops were dropped or air-landed in gliders into the face of heavy flak. Numerous troop transport planes and gliders were lost.  The operation was of doubtful utility, ground forces were already well on their way to the objective the paratroops were landed on and the operation had a heavy cost, 17th Airborne took “some 1500 casualties, including 159 killed.” And 6th Airborne lost another 1400.[lxxx]

The Ruhr Pocket and the Decision to Stop on the Elbe

The last major operation in the West following the breakouts from the bridgeheads over the Rhine was the encirclement and reduction of the Ruhr pocket.  This operation involved the 9th Army and 1st Army. The 3rd Army continued its operations east and south toward Nurnberg.   Bradley, his blood stirred by the large numbers of prisoners taken in the Saar, Palatinate and Rhineland now became addicted by the completion of envelopments and he told his staff as “he shifted Hodges’ direction toward a meeting with Simpson encircling the Ruhr: “I’ve got bags on my mind.””[lxxxi] The Army Group completed the encirclement and reduced the pocket by April 18th. Two Army commanders, Von Zangen of 15th Army and Harpe of 5th Panzer Army as well as 25 other Generals and Admirals were caught in the American net.  Vaunted formations such as Panzer Lehr and 116th Panzer were among the 317,000 German prisoners taken by the Army Group. XVII Corps alone captured 160,000 prisoners.[lxxxii] Field Marshal Model, the commander of Army Group B took his own life on the 21st. The one setback during the battle was during the spirited advance of the 3rd Armored division to Paderborn a task force ran into a Kampfgrüppe of King Tigers manned by Waffen SS Panzer training students stopped them with heavy losses.[lxxxiii] To make matters worse the 3rd Armored Division Commanding General, Maurice Rose was killed when his jeep encountered Tigers and a jittery German Panzertroop shot him when he removed his pistol attempting to surrender.[lxxxiv]

Despite the great number of prisoners taken and the elimination of the bulk of the Wehrmacht in the West the battle detracted from what had been hereto the overriding goal of the campaign, the capture of Berlin.[lxxxv] The reasons for this were twofold.  At the Army Group level Bradley was determined to engage as many of his troops as possible so they would not be sucked into any offensive commanded by Montgomery who continued to clamor for control of American troops to make the final drive for Berlin.   Eisenhower supported Bradley’s decision as he believed “that the Western Allies no longer had much chance of capturing “the main prize,” Berlin, anyway.”[lxxxvi] Weigley suggests that a better purpose for the troops that Bradley used to reduce the Ruhr pocket would have been to us them to aid 9th Army’s drive toward Berlin which was already closing on the Elbe.  With the reuniting of the 1st and 9th Armies Bradley was poised to begin his drive to Berlin with the largest field command in American history.[lxxxvii]

US Vehicles Driving Towards Kassel

The second reason was that Eisenhower had made a decision based on political and tactical considerations to shift the focus of the Allied effort from Berlin to Dresden and Leipzig yet not completely ruling out an advance toward Berlin.[lxxxviii] Attempts by 9th Army to drive toward Berlin were frustrated by unexpected German resistance to its bridgeheads over the Elbe. On the 15th of April Simpson flew to Bradley’s headquarters to propose an attack on Berlin.  Bradley called Eisenhower who on hearing Bradley’s estimate of 100,000 casualties to take the city elected not to continue the attack towards Berlin.[lxxxix] Eisenhower had now concluded “that the National Redoubt was now over more importance than Berlin,”[xc] and directed Patton and Devers to secure it.  Patton and Simpson were both incredulous at the decision and felt that it was “a terrible mistake.” Patton felt 9th Army could take Berlin in 48 hours.[xci] In a similar vein Patton’s move into Czechoslovakia was halted before Prague.

Overage German Recruits Captured by US Forces

Eisenhower’s decision was political and tactical and was supported by the U.S. Chiefs of Staff;[xcii] Berlin would be in the Soviet zone even if he took it.  Hastings sates the decision was “surely the correct one” noting that nothing could change the post-war settlement.[xciii] Murray and Millett agree.[xciv]Others such as J.F.C. Fuller felt that the political decisions had turned the fruits of victory “into the apples of Sodom, which turned to ashes as soon as they were plucked,”[xcv] leaving Eastern and Central Europe under the control of the Soviets.  D’ Este notes that no matter what was decided that Eisenhower’s “hands were already tied by the agreement of the Big Three agreement over the division of occupied Germany.”[xcvi] In the end there may have been a political advantage to taking Berlin before the Soviets, but as Hastings notes: “It is hard to see how this could have been prevented, given the Western Allies sluggish conduct of the war.”[xcvii] This was the fault of both the British and Americans and this was in fact as much a part of the final settlement in Europe as any decision made in the final weeks of the war.

In retrospect one can see the historical consequences of Eisenhower’s decision, but how much that decision was influenced by the way the American Army’s organization and conduct for war is seldom mentioned. Perhaps had Eisenhower had the 200 plus divisions envisioned by the Victory plan, or had he been bolder and abandoned the broad front strategy inherited from Grant, history might be different today.  There are always results.  One should not devise strategies for the conduct of war that do not match up with the forces that you plan to employ.  Organization, training and equipment must be designed for the type of war one intends to fight and are just as important as a grand strategy.   This was the lesson of the American involvement in the European campaign.  The American Army succeed in spite of the restraints that its leadership and saddled it with.  The final campaign in Germany showed that at least parts of it had learned the hard lessons of war and could conduct a highly successful campaign.

Handshake on the Elbe: US and  Red Army Troops Meeting

[i] Weigley, Russell  F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign in France and Germany 1944-1945. Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1981. p.2.

[ii] Ibid.  p.728

[iii] Ibid. p.4.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] See Weigley’s article American Strategy, in Peter Paret’s Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Paret, Peter, editor.  Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1986 pp.434-436.

[vi] See Keene, Jennifer D. Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America. The John’s Hopkins University Press. Baltimore,MD. 2001. pp.42-44.  Keene notes the results of the AEF’s training and Pershing’s organization and employment of the Army in WWI.  The similarities to the American experience in WWII are startling.  A comment of George Marshall after the war that: “Officers leading their men into battle, abandoned tactical maneuvering in favor of “steamroller operations” that forced men to keep going until exhaustion stopped them…” reminds one of the Huertgen Forrest.  Likewise a similar situation arose in regard to training.  Other comments are that the infantry was not well trained and that “many troops resisted advancing without artillery support….”

[vii] Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold a Member of the Hodder Headline Group, London England 1998. p.424.

[viii] Millett, Allen R. and Maslowski, Peter. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. The Free Press, New York 1984. p.349.

[ix] Ibid. Weigley. p.25

[x] Matloff, Maurice Allied Strategy in Europe in Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Paret, Peter, editor.  Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1986 p.696.

[xi] Ibid. Weigley. p.5

[xii] Ibid. Weigley. p.23

[xiii] Ibid. p.728

[xiv] Mansoor, Peter R. The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divsions 1941-1945. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS. 1999 p.31.

[xv] Ibid. pp.253-254.  Mansoor is the only historian that I have ever seen defend this system.  Even Stephan Ambrose who generally leads the cheering section for the American Army in WWII condemned the system, which Mansoor admits in his account.

[xvi] Gabel, Christopher R. The Lorraine Campaign: An Overview September-December 1944. U.S. Army Command and Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth KS 1985.  pp.34-35.

[xvii] Chaffee, Adna R. Mechanization in the Army, Statement to Congress, April 1941. p.19.  Combined Arms Research Library, Digital Library http://cgsc.leavenworth.army.mil/carl/contentdm/home.htm

[xviii] Ibid. p.6.

[xix] _________Infantry in Battle 2nd Edition The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC 1939. p.68

[xx] See Chaffee and Infantry in Battle. Likewise this was echoed in S.L.A. Marshall’s book Armies on Wheels, William and Morrow Company, New York, NY 1941.

[xxi] Ibid. p.729.

[xxii] Ibid. p.14

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid. p.662-663. Initially, 21,000 troops were taken from the COMMZ and 10,000 were directed to be transferred from the AAF.  Additionally 2,253 black troops were formed into 37 platoons and distributed among the divisions of 12th and 6th Army Groups.

[xxv] Ibid. p.664.  The efforts were successful and by April there was a surplus of 50,000 infantry soldiers beyond reported shortages, despite the fact that no more American or British divisions were available for deployment to the continent.

[xxvi] Ibid. Mansoor,

[xxvii] Ibid. Weigley. p.578

[xxviii] Hastings, Max. Armageddon:  The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred A Knopf, New York NY 2004 p.340.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] Ibid. Hastings. p.340

[xxxi] Ibid. p.341

[xxxii] Ibid. Weigley. p.583

[xxxiii] Bradley, Omar  N. A Soldier’s Story Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 1951. p.501

[xxxiv] Ibid. Hastings. p.348

[xxxv] Ibid. Bradley. p.497

[xxxvi] Ibid. p.589.

[xxxvii] Ibid. Hastings. p.348.

[xxxviii] Patton, George S. War as I Knew It Originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company NY 1947, Bantam Paperback Edition,  Bantam Books, New York, NY 1980 p.242

[xxxix] Ibid. Hastings. p.345

[xl] Ibid.

[xli] Ibid. Weigley. p.603

[xlii] Ibid. p.602

[xliii] Wilmont, Chester. The Struggle for Europe Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York, NY 1952 p.673

[xliv] Ibid. p.616

[xlv] Ibid. Hastings. p.365

[xlvi] Ibid. Weigley. p.621

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] Ibid. Bradley. p.509

[xlix] Ibid. Wilmont. p.674

[l] Ibid. Weigley. p.622.

[li] Ibid. 627

[lii] Ibid. Hastings. p.365

[liii] Ibid.

[liv] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts and London England, 2000 p.478

[lv] Ibid. Mansoor. P.244.

[lvi] Ibid. Weigley. p.632

[lvii] D’Este, Carlo. Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life Owl Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 2002. p.681

[lviii] Ibid. p.682

[lix] Ibid. Bradley. p.511

[lx] Ibid. Weigley. p.629.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid. Wilmont. p.676

[lxiii] Liddell Hart, B.H. The History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York NY 1970. p.678.

[lxiv] Ibid. Hastings. p.366.

[lxv] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. p.351.

[lxvi] Ibid. D’Este. Eisenhower p.682

[lxvii] Ibid.  By this D’Este is obviously not referring to Bull and Eisenhower.

[lxviii] Ibid. Wilmont. p.677.

[lxix] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.677

[lxx] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 translated by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, San Francisco, CA 1964. p. 506.

[lxxi] Ibid. Weigly. p.635.

[lxxii] Ibid. p.638

[lxxiii] Ibid. Wilmont. p.678.

[lxxiv] Ibid.

[lxxv] D’Este, Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. Harper Collins Publishers New York, 1995  p.711

[lxxvi] Ibid.  Murray and Millet. p.479.

[lxxvii] Ibid. D’Este Eisenhower p.683

[lxxviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.639

[lxxix] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. p.678.

[lxxx] Ibid. Hastings. p.369.

[lxxxi] Ibid. Weigley. p.673.

[lxxxii] Ibid. p.680

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.377.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. p.675.

[lxxxv] Ibid. Weigley. p.674.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. p.684.

[lxxxvii] Ibid.

[lxxxviii] Ibid. p.688.

[lxxxix] Ibid. pp.698-699.  Weigley believes that neither Eisenhower nor Bradley wanted to continue to Berlin; Bradley for the reason that Montgomery would steal the credit and Eisenhower because it was a “prestige objective” that would remain in the Soviet zone no matter who captured it.

[xc] Ibid. Wilmont. p.690.

[xci] Ibid. D’Este Patton. P.721

[xcii] Ryan, Cornelius. The Last Battle The Fawcett Popular Library, New York NY.1966.  p.240.

[xciii] Ibid. Hastings. p.425

[xciv] Ibid. Murray and Millett. P.480

[xcv] Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 DaCapo Press edition, San Francisco, CA 1992. p.296.

[xcvi] Ibid. D’Este. Eisenhower. P.694.

[xcvii] Ibid. Hastings. p.512.


Bradley, Omar  N. A Soldier’s Story Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 1951.

Chaffee, Adna R. Mechanization in the Army, Statement to Congress, April 1941.  Combined Arms Research Library, Digital Library http://cgsc.leavenworth.army.mil/carl/contentdm/home.htm

D’Este, Carlo. Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life Owl Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 2002.

D’Este,  Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. Harper Collins Publishers New York, 1995

Fuller, J.F.C. The Conduct of War 1789-1961 DaCapo Press edition, San Francisco, CA 1992.

Gabel, Christopher R. The Lorraine Campaign: An Overview September-December 1944. U.S. Army Command and Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth KS 1985.

Hastings, Max. Armageddon:  The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred A Knopf, New York NY

Herwig, Holger H. The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918. Arnold a Member of the Hodder Headline Group, London England 1998

Keene, Jennifer D. Doughboys, the Great War, and the Remaking of America. The John’s Hopkins University Press. Baltimore, MD. 2001.

Liddell Hart, B.H. The History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York NY 1970

Mansoor, Peter R. The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divsions 1941-1945. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence KS. 1999

Millett, Allen R. and Maslowski, Peter. For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America. The Free Press, New York 1984

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts and London England, 2000

Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005

Paret, Peter, editor.  Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ 1986

Patton, George S. War as I Knew It Originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company NY 1947, Bantam Paperback Edition,  Bantam Books, New York, NY 1980

Ryan, Cornelius. The Last Battle The Fawcett Popular Library, New York NY.1966

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 translated by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, San Francisco, CA 1964

Weigley, Russell  F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign in France and Germany 1944-1945. Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1981.

Wilmont, Chester. The Struggle for Europe Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York, NY 1952

_________Infantry in Battle 2nd Edition The Infantry Journal Incorporated, Washington DC 1939


Filed under History, Military, world war two in europe

A Weird Day, a Great Team and Some Fractured History

Today was one of those weird days for me, very busy, pretty good work and good intellectual stimulation n an ethics committee meeting.  I’m also still pretty tired from the past few weeks, not feeling bad but I know that I need to pace myself while we are short staffed in our department this summer.  It is a good thing that I have the boss that I have as he is making sure that I am okay on a pretty regular basis.  He knows that I will push myself hard until I hit the wall, which I did about a week and a half ago.  The thing is it is not just me that is feeling the strain. All of us on our staff have been pushed hard caring for folks during the recent deaths of two military staff members, regular work on our wards, administrative tasks as well as the extra load imposed by being short staffed.  But this is what we do as chaplains.  The good thing is that we are doing our best not just to look after our flock, but to look after each other.  We have a great team which I am proud to be a part.

Thus today my mind was a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.  In fact it was awash in so much that I should have written them down.  The mind is like a sieve sometimes.  Since it is late I am going to stick with a few observations from this day in history which seems to still have significance today June 17th.

On this day in 1579 Sir Francis Drake sailed his ship the Golden Hind into San Francisco Bay.  Immediately he was picketed by anti-imperialist and environmentalist protesters who had come down from Haight Ashbury in their Birkenstocks.  Ignoring them Drake’s crew hit on women and some men in Golden Gate Park, had lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf and took in a Giants game.  At least that’s what they wanted to do, but they were 400 years or so too early.  Instead they sat around wondering why it was so cold in the middle of summer as they repaired their ships, had the chaplain celebrate Eucharist and then claimed everything in sight for England calling it New Albion.  The Spanish realtors in the area took umbrage to this and never recognized the claim.

On this day in 1775 was fought the battle of Bunker Hill or more appropriately Breed’s Hill.  The American soldiers defending the hill gave a good account of themselves against the British who were trying to drive them off of the hill.  An American commander on the front line uttered the cry which did not become in military history “Don’t fire until you can smell the Redcoat bastards.”  The insensitivity of the comment regarding the Colonial’s British Cousins body odor, which wafted over the battlefield, offended some of in the snior commanders who had a hard time smelling the gunpowder over their own body odor.  When the Pentagon heard about it the offending officer was sent to Ft Polk Louisiana and the utterance was officially changed to “Don’t fire until you see the whites of their eyes.”  After the clash the surviving unwounded opponents gathered at Sam Adams pub where they consumed vast amounts of his original Boston Lager beer as they played darts and argued the merits of English versus American Football.  Some went to the Yankees Red Sox game at Fenway later in the evening.

On this day in 1815 Commodore Stephen Decatur commanding a Task force from the 6th Feet conquered the Algerian frigate Mashouda in an action that finally helped bring an end to the Barbary Wars and drove the Barbary Pirates from the Mediterranean.  Within 48 hours of defeating the Mashouda he was in Algiers harbor exacting peace on the Dey of Algiers.  This ended the period of where  Barabry Pirates excercised domain over the Mediterranean. Getting with British sailors on liberty in town with which they had recently been at war, the Americans and Brits spent the evenings at Murphy’s Irish pub drinking Guinness and Kilkenney with Irish and other expats while watching Arsenal play Bayern München on pay per view.

On this day in 1856 Republican Party opened its 1st national convention in Philadelphia.  Immediately Randall Terry demanded equal time to speakers demanding the end of slavery while Ron Paul was ignored.  Others lobbied for the Flat Tax until they discovered that there was not yet an income tax.  Up and coming Illinois legislator Abraham Lincoln gave the keynote address recommending a bigger Federal role in solving disputes between states while Newt Gingrich presented a “Contract with the Union” to deal with the various tensions.  Fox News covered the event

On this day in 1916 US troops under General John Pershing marched into Mexico to bring Pancho Villa and others into custody.  The expedition was not successful as many troops were inflicted with Montazuma’s revenge while KBR failed to get the porta-poties in place in a timely manner.  The Easern European sub-contractor walked out and KBR replaced them with men from the Indian Subcontinent area who had each paid $4000 to an agent for the job and recived $300 a month working 16 hour days 6 days a week.  However the campaign  did give US troops experience operating in harsh climates which would serve them well when stationed in Texas over the next century.  General Phil Sheridan had once said of Texas that “If I owned Hell and Texas I would live in Hell and rent out Texas.”

On this day in 1938 after conducting military operations against the Chinese for over 5 years the Japanese declared war on China.  Chinese leaders Chaing Kai Shek and Mao Tse Tung issued a joint statement agreeing to work together and declaring “It’s about damned time they admitted that they are at war with us.”

On this day in 1940 the French after having their asses handed to them by the Germans yet again asked for surrender terms.  General Charles DeGaulle immediately departed for England to continue the war against both the Germans and his fellow Frenchmen.   Upon his arrival DeGaulle immediately complained about the bad food, plain women and miserable weather.  He was embraced by Winston Churchill who got him drunk, left him passed out in a brothel and blamed the Vichy government for it. Churchill wrote afterward, “that man is a pain in the ass.”  DeGaulle always doubted Churchill’s version of events every time he looked at the tatoo of a German tank on his ass.

On this day in 1944 Iceland declared independence from Denmark.  No one noticed until 1953.

Most importantly on this day in 1960 Ted Williams hit his 500th home run. and today the Nationals beat the Yankees and the Orioles beat the Mets.

Peace, Steve+

Leave a comment

Filed under Baseball, beer, History, Loose thoughts and musings