ArtsAutosBooksBusinessEducationEntertainmentFamilyFashionFoodGamesGenderHealthHolidaysHomeHubPagesPersonal FinancePetsPoliticsReligionSportsTechnologyTravel
  • »
  • Education and Science»
  • History & Archaeology»
  • History of the Modern Era»
  • Twentieth Century History

Days of Decision: American Generals of World War II

Updated on November 15, 2017
General Alexander Patch
General Alexander Patch | Source

Forgotten American Generals of World War II

Those with little knowledge of military history or World War II still know the names of Patton, Eisenhower, MacArthur, Bradley and Montgomery. Patton's "blood and guts" reputation lives on today in almost cult-like fashion. Ike became President. MacArthur went on to infamy during the Korean War while the others became respected elder statesman.

But what of those lesser known Army and Corps commanders? There were many unsung commanders who had to step up during the War. What made them a good leader? Are great leaders born or made? Maybe it's a combination of the two. A person may have all the qualities of a great leader but they need to be borne out through nurturing and other challenges.

It takes a combination of factors to determine the success of any military commander. Timing and location were critical. The open terrain of central and northern France aided several of these generals, along with a weakening German Army. Italy provided much tougher terrain in which to traverse. If some of these men had fought in the Pacific, would they have been considered so great? Maybe.

Most of these men had that innate leadership quality and would have made their mark either way. Whenever discussing the merits of field commanders, opinions vary and arguments can get quite heated. As was common during the war, many generals had to deal with troublesome allies, along with other social and political factors that have an effect on decision-making.

Although it’s hard to compare generals at different levels of command (Army, Corps and Division), their decisions have immediate consequences. The purpose of the article is to discuss some of those American commanders in the European Theatre of Operations and the Mediterranean that are lesser known to the general public. Some were natural leaders destined for greatness; others rose to the challenge when the time came. Controversy followed them all.

Please note, the ranks listed were their final ranks at the end of the war.

Mark Clark
Mark Clark
General Clark giving a briefing. Gen. Truscott is in the back, second from the right (leather jacket).
General Clark giving a briefing. Gen. Truscott is in the back, second from the right (leather jacket). | Source
Gen. Clark entering Rome, June 1944.
Gen. Clark entering Rome, June 1944.

Lt. General Mark Clark

Probably the most controversial name on my list, Clark was a commander whose bravery was without question, but whose reputation remains mixed. A veteran of World War I, he became well-known to George Marshall long before World War II. He was groomed for higher command and his appointments prior to the Torch Landings show that.

In October 1942, he was made deputy commander of Allied Forces in the North African Theater. In preparation for the Torch landing in November, he secretly went ashore in Algeria with American Diplomat Robert Murphy to talk with the French command about the intentions of their forces there. After the successful landings, he was promoted to Lieutenant General and made commander of the Fifth Army in preparation for landings on the Italian mainland. Despite a reputation of being an Anglophobe, Clark worked well with his British Allies, initially.

He was eager to see action, pressing Ike and the Allied Forces HQ for a final decision on a landing site. His abilities as a planner and trainer of troops were highly regarded by Eisenhower, but he received the post of 5th Army CO almost out of default. Bradley was Ike’s first choice, but he was busy in Sicily. The Allies wanted to move on the mainland right after Messina. With the Italians on the verge of surrendering, time was of the essence. It was expected that Bradley would move with Ike to plan the cross-channel invasion anyway once Sicily was secure.

The landings at Salerno, codenamed Operation Avalanche, were touch and go that first day. In fact, the Allies seemed surprised. With Italy’s surrender, thoughts of the operation being a cakewalk were prevalent. Air cover was a big problem. German resistance turned out to be much tougher than expected. It would not be a triumphal march up the coast to Naples. The British blamed this on Clark’s poor planning, which was ironic given the fact that he was appointed based on his supposed stringent preparations.

In hindsight, the situation prior to Avalanche was so fluid that Clark’s problems can be somewhat excused. He and his staff had plenty of time to plan the landings, but shortages of landing craft and constant changes in troop dispositions led to delays. Add those to the ongoing efforts to get Italy to surrender throughout August, and you have the usual Army SNAFU. But Clark came ashore while the beach was under fire and impressed those men around him. To men under fire, an officer who puts himself in harm’s way can make up for whatever deficiencies he may later show.

Once Salerno was secure, Clark’s decisions over the next eight months would forever be called into question. The difficulties in crossing the Rapido River (in actuality, the Gari river), bombing of Monte Cassino and the seizure of Rome have been criticisms that will forever linger. The 36th Infantry Division was chewed up in both the Battle of San Pietro and the crossing of the Rapido. Determined opposition was the cause of the San Pietro brutality, but the crossing of the Rapido was poorly conceived and should have been called off after the first attempt. The 36th’s CO, General Walker, eventually got the blame.

At Anzio, a lack of aggressiveness led to the dismissal of Corps commander General Lucas. But it was Clark who told Lucas not to “stick his neck out.” His replacement turned out to be one of Clark’s best choices: Lucian Truscott. Monte Cassino was just a mess and probably could not have been avoided. The Abbey was destroyed, and it took months to clear the valley. Finally, there was the decision to send American troops to seize Rome, which split his forces and led to the failure of the Allies to trap the Germans in southern Italy. That decision completely falls on Clark. On June 4, 1944, newsreels recorded Clark’s entry into Rome after the 1st Armored moved into the City. He was the new Caesar, at least for now. All glory is fleeting. His accomplishment would be eclipsed 48 hours later by the landings at Normandy.


Rough Beginning

American troops landing at Salerno in September 1943.
American troops landing at Salerno in September 1943. | Source
A German anti-tank crew in the hills above Salerno.
A German anti-tank crew in the hills above Salerno. | Source

Controversial Campaigns

The stark landscape of Monte Cassino
The stark landscape of Monte Cassino | Source
Hurry Up and Wait: GIs outside their bunkers near Anzio beach.
Hurry Up and Wait: GIs outside their bunkers near Anzio beach. | Source
Mortar crew from the 36th ID firing in support of the Rapido River crossing.
Mortar crew from the 36th ID firing in support of the Rapido River crossing. | Source
Rapido/Gari River in the distance.
Rapido/Gari River in the distance. | Source

In fairness to Clark, his difficulties were in many ways unique. Tense relationships with his Allies, extremely rugged terrain and conflicting orders were factors in the first year of the Italian campaign. He got along well with General Alexander, who led 15th Army Group and most of the other commanders. Eventually, the soldiers of a dozen nations would serve in Italy at one time or another under Clark.

He was given command of 15th Army Group after Alexander was promoted. Also, according to historian Martin Blumenson, author of Salerno to Cassino (one of the Green Series), Clark was told directly by both Marshall and FDR while they were in North Africa, that taking Rome prior to the cross-channel invasion was a desired goal. He did not know the exact date of the cross-channel invasion, but common sense demanded that a landing in France occur by the late spring of 1944. So everyone knew it was imminent and he may have felt the pressure. The bombing of Monte Cassino was not his decision alone. He pressed Alexander for a final decision and it was carried out. Whether or not he fought hard against it, is up to interpretation.

Vanity is part of everyone’s character. It plays a role in our lives. But not everyone is responsible for the lives of thousands of men. One cannot blame Clark wanting to be the conqueror of Rome. When something can be done to both defeat the enemy and save the lives of men by avoiding a prolonged struggle, it must be done. Clark failed to do this, and the fact that Italy became a backwater in minds of the general public after Normandy was his comeuppance. He was sensitive to the criticism in later life. When he gave an interview for the documentary World at War in the early seventies, you could sense his unease. It appeared that he felt slighted.

Noted author Robert Citino argues that trapping the Germans south of Rome or anywhere else was nearly impossible because of their skill of maneuvering out of encircled positions. He points out further that many other American commanders who are considered great (i.e. Patton) failed to do so as well. I think that argument misses the point. Clark failed to fully exploit his advantage in troop strength. He did not put his army in the best position to cut off the Germans. It is one thing to do your best and fail; it’s quite another to not give yourself the best chance to succeed.

By sending the 1st Armored north, away from the 34th infantry division, he made a mistake. Despite the barbarity of the Germans when dealing with civilians, they had no intention of destroying the ancient city and capital of its former ally. Kesselring would not allow it. They spared Paris later that summer and they would have spared Rome. Only token resistance was put up while the Germans pulled out. The same would be true with Florence two months later. Historic bridges were blown and many art treasures moved, but the City remained relatively unscathed. When the Indian troops of the Eight Army made it into the City, the Germans had gone.

After a year of hard fighting and missed opportunities, the campaign in Italy went relatively well from a military standpoint. It’s just that the press coverage was focused elsewhere. Controversies were gone. Fresh divisions like the 85th, 88th and 91st arrived. Other veteran units, like the 34th and 1st Armored, became well-respected for their fighting abilities after their miscues in North Africa. Although another year of tough mountain fighting remained, the Americans performed well, helping to push the Germans to the Alps by May ’45.

Clark continued his Army career and would eventually earn four stars. He became the last U.N. commander in Korea before the Armistice.

For a more pro-Clark opinion, read Robert Citino’s recent article on the General. http://www.historynet.com/mark-w-clark-a-general-reappraisal.htm.

Martin Blumenson wrote a biography of Clark and also co-authored his autobiography entitled Calculated Risk.

Was It Worth It?

Medics hauling 36th ID casualties from the Rapido River crossing.
Medics hauling 36th ID casualties from the Rapido River crossing. | Source
Two GIs in the Rapido Valley look out upon The Abbey at Monte Cassino. Brutal terrain caused excessive delays and great defensive positions for the Germans.
Two GIs in the Rapido Valley look out upon The Abbey at Monte Cassino. Brutal terrain caused excessive delays and great defensive positions for the Germans. | Source
Gen. Clark inspecting 3rd ID soldiers near the Anzio beachhead. Gen. O'Daniel, 3rd ID CO is next to Clark.
Gen. Clark inspecting 3rd ID soldiers near the Anzio beachhead. Gen. O'Daniel, 3rd ID CO is next to Clark. | Source
Clark riding with Patton and FDR after the North African Campaign.
Clark riding with Patton and FDR after the North African Campaign. | Source
Clark beside his personal plane, 1944. His pilot, Lt. Col. John T. Walker, was killed in Feb. 1945 while flying home in a British transport plane.
Clark beside his personal plane, 1944. His pilot, Lt. Col. John T. Walker, was killed in Feb. 1945 while flying home in a British transport plane. | Source

Lt. General J. Lawton Collins

Collins (right) on New Georgia, 1943
Collins (right) on New Georgia, 1943
Gen. Collins with Omar Bradley, June 1944.
Gen. Collins with Omar Bradley, June 1944.

Nicknamed “Lightening Joe,” Collins was one of Ike’s and Bradley’s chosen. Before coming to Europe, he had served as commander of the 25th Infantry Division on Guadalcanal and New Georgia; then he was transferred to Europe to takeover VII Corps. He became one of the preeminent Corps commanders during the Normandy breakout. His reputation has largely remained intact since the war. Mistakes were made throughout the summer of ’44, but that’s par for the course. Like so many American commanders of the period, he learned on the job, and went on to become a highly respected Chief of Staff after the war.

His battle experience in the Pacific theater was essential in making him a great commander. Despite the differences in climate, terrain and enemy, having been under the stress of a combat command enriched his decision making. And on Guadalcanal, and to a lesser extent on New Georgia, the front line was everywhere. A division commander on a Pacific island could not sit back in a bunker and plan grand strategies. He proved himself and that was why he was sent to Europe.

Although remembered today only as an overwhelming victory, the Normandy campaign and the breakout towards Paris were two months of confusion, delays and bad decisions by the Allies. Commanders were sacked and many others had their reputations downgraded. Through it all, Collins was the steady hand.

Success ran in the family. His older brother, James, was also a West Point graduate, who served during the Philippines insurrection, World War I and World War II. His nephew Michael Collins (James’ son) was the Command Module Capsule during the Apollo 11 Moon landing and also a West Point grad.

Gen. Collins accepting the surrender of Cherbourg from General von Schlieben.
Gen. Collins accepting the surrender of Cherbourg from General von Schlieben. | Source
General Lucian Truscott, 1895-1965.
General Lucian Truscott, 1895-1965.
Clark and Truscott worked closely during the Italian Campaign.
Clark and Truscott worked closely during the Italian Campaign.

Lt. General Lucian Truscott

Right man, right place, right time.

One of the few non-West Pointers discussed here, prior to the war he had no combat experience. But he made the most of his opportunities. As a brigadier general at the start of the war, he was sent to England where he helped develop the Ranger Battalions in time for the raid on Dieppe and later in North Africa. He was then charged with leading two infantry regiments into Morocco during the Torch landings in November 1942. Then he was promoted to command the 3rd Infantry Division and became one of the best division commanders of the war.

Under his leadership, the 3rd ID was of the finest units of the war (albeit with very high casualty rates due more to the fact of the Germans than any particular blunder). When the Anzio landings became bogged down, he took over VI Corps. He was a vital part of Operation Dragoon, the invasion of Southern France. He then went back to Italy to take over 5th Army, where he performed in his usual determined fashion. The man left his mark on every unit he lead, and was equally great at his postwar jobs as well. As a field CO, superior to Clark.

General Truscott visiting soldiers from the 92nd ID in Italy.
General Truscott visiting soldiers from the 92nd ID in Italy. | Source
L-R: Truscott, Patch and Devers in late 1944.
L-R: Truscott, Patch and Devers in late 1944. | Source
Gen. Patch visiting the troops in France, fall 1944.
Gen. Patch visiting the troops in France, fall 1944.

Lt. General Alexander Patch

Patch was one of the most underrated and forgotten commanders of the war. It is a shocking statement in light of the high profile and important command positions he held.

Born in Arizona, the son of a Calvary officer, he graduated West Point in 1909. After a period as an instructor, he was sent to France with the American Expeditionary Force in 1917. This is where Patch's outstanding leadership qualities first caught the eye of George Marshall, who was serving as a planning adjutant on General Pershing's staff.

Promoted by General Marshall personally at the beginning of WWII, he was sent to New Caledonia to organize what became known as the Americal Division (23rd ID), and led it into Guadalcanal in October 1942, taking over from the Marines. He was promoted to Corps commander later, leading it through the remainder of hostilities on the Island. Then he was sent to the Mediterranean where he eventually led the US 7th Army to a remarkable record during and after the invasion of Southern France (Operation Dragoon). There were crises involving the Colmar pocket and Operation Nordwind, but his veteran units weathered the storms.

In November 1945, after a long battle with pneumonia, Patch died and was buried at West Point. The war took a heavy toll on the Patch family. His son, Captain Alexander Patch III, was killed in France in the fall of 1944, where he was serving with the 79th Infantry Division.


For more on General Patch, see the following:

America's Forgotten Army (Charles Whiting)

Sandy Patch - A Biography of Lt. Gen. Alexander Patch (William Wyant)

A Last Meeting

Gen. Patch with his son, Captain Alexander Patch III in 1944. This was taken shortly before the young officer's death in France that fall. In all my years of researching and writing, I found this to be one of the poignant photos I've ever seen.
Gen. Patch with his son, Captain Alexander Patch III in 1944. This was taken shortly before the young officer's death in France that fall. In all my years of researching and writing, I found this to be one of the poignant photos I've ever seen. | Source
Patch's 7th Army crossing the Rhine over "Alexander Patch Bridge." Note the destroyed stone bridge on the other side of the River.
Patch's 7th Army crossing the Rhine over "Alexander Patch Bridge." Note the destroyed stone bridge on the other side of the River. | Source

A Commander In Both Theaters of Operations

1942-Gen. Patch (center w/shades) on Guadalcanal, seated next to Marine General Vandegrift (right) while being briefed by Marine Col. Hall Jeschke.
1942-Gen. Patch (center w/shades) on Guadalcanal, seated next to Marine General Vandegrift (right) while being briefed by Marine Col. Hall Jeschke. | Source
Gen. Patch meeting DeGaulle in 1944.
Gen. Patch meeting DeGaulle in 1944. | Source
Devers (left) and Patch (right) with Ike's Deputy, General Walter Bedell Smith.
Devers (left) and Patch (right) with Ike's Deputy, General Walter Bedell Smith. | Source
Dever and Patch, winter 1945.
Dever and Patch, winter 1945. | Source
6th Army Group shoulder patch
6th Army Group shoulder patch

Lt. General Jacob Devers

Initially an artilleryman, his first contributions to World War II really occurred before the war while at Fort Sill. He was one of the men most responsible for the excellence of American artillery (my selection for most important weapon of WWII). He helped develop many of the artillery practices that became standard during the war, such as time on target raids.


In 1944, he became commander of the 6th Army Group, which included Patch’s 7th Army and the French 1st Army. Critics vary on his performance as a ground commander. I think that has more to do with his personality than anything else. His Army Group was extremely successful. He just lacked the flamboyance of his contemporaries. With Generals Hodges and Patton seeing heavy action to the north, the 7th Army got the short end of the public relations stick and in some cases, supplies.

But history could have been different. After taking Strasbourg, his divisions could have driven across the Rhine. But Ike said no to exploiting the bridgehead. Devers’s supplies and his divisions might be needed elsewhere. Could this have shortened the war? Would we have had a Battle of the Bulge or Operation Nordwind? Nordwind was Hitler’s other surprise attack, occurring right after the Bulge. On New Year’s Day, 1945, Strasbourg nearly fell to the Germans once again. The Germans were able to drive a deep salient into the US line. But Devers’ experienced units held at the cost of almost 30,000 casualties.

Ultimately, Ike’s broad front strategy won out. He disliked the idea of single thrust into the heart of Germany. By putting pressure along a broad front stretching from the Alps to the North Sea, he felt that the Germans would eventually wear out. Montgomery had proposed a “single thrust” strategy earlier in the summer 1944 with the Americans guarding his flanks. It was dismissed by Ike. This difference of opinion would linger for months and cause much antagonism.

Could it have worked? Planning by Hitler for his Ardennes offensive was well underway by November 1944 but I believe a full thrust at Strasbourg would have certainly changed the situation. If Devers had crossed the Rhine and gotten at least 3 to 4 divisions into central Germany, enemy troops would have been diverted to face the threat. 6th Army Group’s flank would have been a concern, but the shock of deep penetration into Germany might have had a demoralizing effect on the German Army. Anything would have been preferable to the complacency that infected the American high command in December 1944. There’s no doubt that it would have been a bloody affair had they made it across the Rhine earlier. But those casualties would have paled in comparison to those suffered later that winter because of Hitler's counteroffensives.

Devers deserves to be remembered for waging one of the most successful efforts of the war and his work at Fort Sill in the 1930s saved countless lives as well.


Further Reading

For a more detailed discussion of the Strasbourg issue, see David P. Colley’s Decision at Strasbourg.

There was also a great assessment of Devers written by an officer at the Army War College:

http://www.dtic.mil/cgi-bin/GetTRDoc?AD=ADA389167. Written by Lt. Col. Matthew J. Brown, USAWC Class of 2001. It offers great insight into the General's early life.

U.S. First Army patch
U.S. First Army patch

Lt. General Courtney Hodges

He rose up through the ranks of the Army after dropping out of West Point. As a World War I veteran, he was part of a select group of prominent American COs who had combat experience. He had won the Distinguished Service Cross and was then appointed an instructor at the Academy; it was a rare honor for the non-graduate.

From June 1944 till the end of the war, he commanded the First Army. The one hiccup in his record is the Hürtgen Forest campaign. He and his staff appeared to ignore the growing problems with the campaign. He put much of the blame of the Hürtgen mess on one of his Corps commanders, General Gerow. His wrath was poorly directed at Gerow, in my opinion. No one could have succeeded in those woods with the limited resources and bad weather. To be fair, Hodges can only share blame for those issues. Collins and Bradley certainly should shoulder some of that. The Allies as a whole glossed over their failure in the Huertgen. It was just one of several strategic and tactical blunders that fall.

Some historians have also criticized Hodges for his slow response in the early days of the Bulge that cost the Allies valuable time. Again, plenty of blame to go around, but he did rise to the occasion later in the battle. Hodges had very good relations with Monty, which was highly unusual for an American general. Although he appeared detached at times, overall he was an excellent field commander.

Mission Accomplished

Gen. Hodges greeting the Russians near the Elbe.
Gen. Hodges greeting the Russians near the Elbe. | Source
L-R: Gen. Miles Dempsey, Hodges, Gen. Montgomery, Gen. Simpson and Gen. Alexander. Simpson commanded the U.S. Ninth Army.
L-R: Gen. Miles Dempsey, Hodges, Gen. Montgomery, Gen. Simpson and Gen. Alexander. Simpson commanded the U.S. Ninth Army. | Source
Gen. Gerow during the Huertgen Campaign
Gen. Gerow during the Huertgen Campaign
Soldiers struggled in the terrain of the Huertgen Forest.
Soldiers struggled in the terrain of the Huertgen Forest. | Source

Lt. General Leonard T. Gerow

Gerow was V Corps commander on June 6, 1944. He is believed to be the first Corps commander ashore on D-Day and the first American Major General to enter Paris after liberation, eventually winning a Silver Star. A veteran of the Mexican Campaign and World War I, his bravery was without question. He was lucky to have two of the best American infantry divisions in his Corps: The 1st Infantry Division and the 29th Infantry Division.

Highly regarded by Bradley, who thought of him as one of the best commanders of the war, he has been criticized heavily in recent years for his plodding in the Hurtgen Forest campaign. The blame for that mess goes to the American command. No one could have saved the morass of bad decision making. Attacking in the Huertgen was ridiculous. Imagine if war planners decided to take Guadalcanal with two armored divisions? We would probably be saying they were crazy and had no knowledge of the terrain. The many reasons given after the war for the campaign, including the need to take the Roer Dams, are dubious at best. Evidence that that was their original intention is still questioned. I think it was complete underestimation of the German Army.

There is one other factor in Gerow’s failure in the Hurtgen: his now infamous trip back to the States in September 1944 that he was forced to make. He was called to testify before the Army Board investigating the events leading up to Pearl Harbor. In December 1941, Gerow was Chief of the Army’s War Plan Division and his messages to Walter Short came under scrutiny during the investigation. The criticism of the General made by the Board was that he did not properly warn Short or anyone else at Pearl that a Japanese attack was imminent. Gerow had been gone almost a month by the time he took back V Corps. By then things were beginning to take a turn for the worse in the Hürtgen. A gnawing feeling of wanting to get back his reputation must have played on his mind and this may have led to needless attacks during that campaign.

He was stung by the Pearl Harbor accusations but after the war he took full responsibility for his department’s failures in warning General Short. The Board had every right to call him to testify, but that should have waited until after the war. This needless trip back to the states may have cost the lives of a lot of GIs.

Marshall, Ike and Bradley never wavered in their praise of him. They knew what he'd been through. In January 1945, he was given command of the 15th Army. After the war, he was appointed head of the Command and General Staff School, finally retiring in 1950. General Gerow died in 1972 at the age of 84.


For more information

Gerald Astor's The Bloody Forest: Battle for the Hurtgen: September 1944 - January 1945

Charles MacDonald's The Battle for the Huertgen Forest

Also see MacDonald's The Siegfried Line Campaign, which became part of the famous Army Green Series.


For more on General Gerow and the Pearl Harbor controversy, you can read his testimony at:

http://www.wwiiarchives.net/servlet/action/doc/phclarkegerow



From The Beginning

Gerow (right) with Eisenhower (center) and Brig. Gen. Crawford (War Plans Division of the War Department).
Gerow (right) with Eisenhower (center) and Brig. Gen. Crawford (War Plans Division of the War Department). | Source
Gen. Gerow (second from left) with Bradley, Ike and Collins. July 1944 in France.
Gen. Gerow (second from left) with Bradley, Ike and Collins. July 1944 in France. | Source

A Green Nightmare - Was He Distracted?

The infamous Kall Trail. American troops battled over this trail for months, even trying to get tanks and tank destroyers through. Note the thrown tracks to the right.
The infamous Kall Trail. American troops battled over this trail for months, even trying to get tanks and tank destroyers through. Note the thrown tracks to the right. | Source

"Victoria Concordia Crescit" - Maybe Not

The Senior American Commanders in the ETO pictured at the end of the War. Gerow is in the first row, far right.
The Senior American Commanders in the ETO pictured at the end of the War. Gerow is in the first row, far right. | Source
Robertson, right, with General Ernest Harmon in 1945.
Robertson, right, with General Ernest Harmon in 1945.
2nd ID soldiers retaking the village of Krinkelt.
2nd ID soldiers retaking the village of Krinkelt. | Source
2nd ID shoulder patch
2nd ID shoulder patch
MacDonald's memoir is one of the best first person accounts of the war ever written.
MacDonald's memoir is one of the best first person accounts of the war ever written.

Major General Walter Robertson

The 2nd Infantry Division, which first saw action in June 1944, became one of the outstanding units of the war, due in large part to General Robertson. A 1912 graduate of West Point, Robertson had a very undistinguished career prior to the war. Although having served for almost 30 years, he had never seen combat. He was in France during the Great War and later during the occupation of Germany. So it came as a great surprise to me during my research, and probably to many others, that his performance during the 2nd’s year in combat was so extraordinary.

The 2nd arrived in Normandy on D-Day plus 1 and eventually cleared Brittany and aided in the breakout at St. Lo. In the Fall of 1944, the Division arrived in the Ardennes Forest of eastern Belgium. They spent almost three months reinforcing the area and patrolling until being ordered to attack the Roer Dams just days before the start of the Battle of the Bulge. When the Germans attacked, the Division was on its way north, readying for the attack. They turned around 180 degrees and proceeded to the Elsenborn Ridge. Robertson’s actions and decision making during the first days of the Battle of the Bulge slowed the Germans down in the northern sector buying time for the counterattack to come. For these actions, he was recognized with both a Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star. He retired in 1950 and passed away prematurely a few years later at the age of 66.

During World War II, the best evidence of a division commander's worth was how the unit performed during their early days in combat. Getting a division full of both old timers and new draftees prepared for war was not easy. Picking the right people was vital. The size of the U.S. Army had to increase dramatically in a very short time. George Marshall and his staff fought a lot of entrenched careerists in picking new commanders. Even in the years before the war, Marshall sheparded many of his proteges into important positions as stepping stones to bigger things, knowing he would need them when war came. Eisenhower and Bradley are excellent examples of that process. He had identified many of these man as early as 1939-40. History has validated his judgement for the most part, and the selection of Robertson was part of that process.

From the moment the 2nd Division hit the beach just after June 6, they fought valiantly. Within a month they helped take the highest point around St. Lo (Hill 192). They were sent west through Brittany to take the fortress at Brest, a major U boat base. It took a month of hard fighting. Robertson was helped enormously by talented regimental commanders, who he helped select. True military skill can sometime lay in picking the right subordinates; in this Robertson was a genius.


Further Reading

  • 2nd ID veteran Charles MacDonald, the well-known author of A Time for Trumpets and Company Commander, spoke glowingly of Robertson. Company Commander is one of the best memoirs to come out of the war and gives a great description of the Division's actions in the early days of the Bulge.


  • The Combat History of the Second Infantry Division in World War II. U.S. Army 1946. This can still be found in print at Battery Press.


  • The Battle East of Elsenborn. William Cavanaugh. Pen & Sword 2012.


The 2nd ID Postwar

The 2nd ID was deployed to Korea in 1950, fighting in the conflict's largest battles. By the time the war ended, the Division had suffered almost 23,000 casualties, of which over 7,000 were killed. There were several Medal of Honor winners as well. It was also one of the first large units to face combat after desegregation. The 2nd went on to garrision South Korea for many years and has participated in the war in Afghanistan as well.


From Brest to the Bulge

Men of the 2nd ID fighting in Brest
Men of the 2nd ID fighting in Brest
General Patton inspecting the 2nd Infantry Division with Robertson in the back. This photo perfectly illustrates how Robertson's understated nature contrasted with that of his more flamboyant contemporaries.
General Patton inspecting the 2nd Infantry Division with Robertson in the back. This photo perfectly illustrates how Robertson's understated nature contrasted with that of his more flamboyant contemporaries.
The Division on the move in the Ardennes
The Division on the move in the Ardennes | Source
2nd ID GIs during the Bulge
2nd ID GIs during the Bulge
Middleton, winter 1945
Middleton, winter 1945
Middleton, pictured when he was CO of the 45th ID.
Middleton, pictured when he was CO of the 45th ID.

Lt. General Troy Middleton

Another non West Pointer, Middlteon had one of the most varied backgrounds of any general officer and ground commander in World War II. He became a key player in the defense of Bastogne. He was a renaissance man in many respects.

Unable to secure an appointment to the West Point, he graduated Mississippi A&M (now Mississippi State University). Still too young to take the officer’s exam, he joined as an enlisted man in 1910, finally getting a commission in 1912. He served on the Mexican border and as a battalion commander in World War I. But in 1937, he abruptly retired from the Army to become Dean of Administration at Louisiana State University (LSU). Eisenhower, then a Lieutenant Colonel, pleaded with him to stay to no avail. After Pearl Harbor, he returned to the Army, and was quickly promoted. By the summer of 1942 became commander of the 45th Infantry Division, leading them through the Sicily invasion and then the landing on the Italian mainland. The 45th came to be regarded as one of the best infantry divisions of the war.

After a brief medical rest in the States, he became commander of VIII Corps, where he would distinguish himself alongside some of the best COs of the war. Throughout the campaign, he was in tremendous pain from an old knee injury. Sports medicine not being what it is today, one can only imagine how agonizing that must have been.

VIII Corps had a mix of veteran and green divisions. It took the brunt of the German assault during the opening stages of the Battle of the Bulge. During the siege of Bastogne, Middleton’s steely resolve helped 101st Airborne temporary commander, General McAuliffe hold the city. McAuliffe originally tried to get permission to fall back, but was denied by Middleton.He was not flashy, but just a steady presence who provided an example to his men.

During his postwar career back at LSU, he led the university into the Civil Rights Era. Despite being a segregationist, he showed that he was a patriot first, quelling many of the staunch opponents of civil rights in Louisiana. By his retirement in 1962, he had laid the groundwork for integration. He eventually chaired the governor’s commission on race relations into the early 1970s. General Middleton passed away in 1976.


Gen. Eddy as commander of XII Corps
Gen. Eddy as commander of XII Corps
Gen. Eddy, 9th Div CO, with German officer after the capture of Cherbourg, June 1944.
Gen. Eddy, 9th Div CO, with German officer after the capture of Cherbourg, June 1944.
9th Infantry Division shoulder patch
9th Infantry Division shoulder patch
XII Corps shoulder patch
XII Corps shoulder patch

Lt. General Manton S. Eddy

Another non-West Pointer, Chicago native Manton Eddy graduated from Shattuck Military Boarding School (Minnesota) in 1916 and promptly enlisted as a private. After distinguished service in World War I, he obtained a commission, attended the various staff schools, and worked his way up the command ladder.

General Eddy began his World War II service as commander of the 9th Infantry Division ("The Old Reliables"), leading them through North Africa, Sicily and Normandy. After the debacle at Kasserine Pass, the Division was one of the units that proved crucial in stabilizing the front line. Ike was impressed with the Division performance. Once Sicily was secured the 9th headed to England to prepare for the invasion. Upon landing on June 12th, the Division helped lead the way in capturing the critical port of Cherbourg. The 9th was eventually regarded as one of the very best units in the ETO.

Subsequently promoted to head XII Corps, Eddy proved an even better Corps commander. XII Corps' speedy actions helped to stabilize the northern sector of the Bulge in those first crucial days. His combat experience in World War I had paid dividends as a division and Corps commander.

His health was a struggle during the last year of the war. A bad heart and other related ailments worried Bradley. He eventually had to come home early in April 1945. Having recovered, his postwar career was highly successful and helped transform the U.S. Army’s role in Europe as the threat from the Soviets emerged. General Eddy passed away in 1962 at the age of 69.


Further Reading

For more on Eddy, see Henry Phillips' biography, The Making of a Professional: General Manton S. Eddy, USA.

For a comprehensive history of the 9th Division's role in WWII, see the official history, Eight Stars to Victory by Joseph Mittelman. Unlike other division histories written right after the war, this one takes a more detailed approach. More than just pointing out great victories, it offers up honest assessments of the 9th's performance throughout its three major campaigns.

Ernie Pyle's Brave Men gives a great account of the 9th ID. Pyle traveled with the Division during the battle for Cherbourg.

The 9th Infantry Division website features a great list of memoirs. See http://9thinfantrydivision.net/books/.

I highly recommend Charles Sheffel's Crack! and Thump. Mr. Sheffel was featured in the History Channel's World War II in HD series. As an infantry officer, he saw action in North Africa, Sicily and all the way to the German border.

Another great work is Victory Road by Robert Baldridge. The author was an Yale grad who became an artillery officer with the 34th Field Artillery Battalion (155mm), joining the Division in England while they were training for Normandy. Although self-published, the book was well done and offers up great insight into the melting pot that was the Army in the 1940s.

The Division also features prominently in many books about the Tunisian Campaign, Huertgen Forest campaign and the Bulge. Rick Atkinson's An Army at Dawn even features men from the 60th IR on the cover. Gerald Astor's The Bloody Forest and Charles Whiting's The Battle of the Hurtgen Forest prominently feature the Division.


Also, there are some great websites about the 9th Division's role in the War:

http://9thinfantrydivision.net/

http://www.60thinfantry.com/

The 60th infantry site features some great after action reports and photos as well. Highly recommended. I have to disclose my bias here. My father, Sgt. John J. Kelly, served in the 1st Battalion, 60th IR, from 1942-45. :)

The Division remained active until the 1990s. It saw extensive combat in Vietnam as well, mostly as part of the Riverine Force. Former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel is a former Old Reliable.





The GI's General

No ivory-handled pistols or necktie - Eddy meeting with his staff in Normandy.
No ivory-handled pistols or necktie - Eddy meeting with his staff in Normandy. | Source
Studying a map in Beauvain, France. This photo is part of the same collection as the one above.
Studying a map in Beauvain, France. This photo is part of the same collection as the one above. | Source
General Eddy as commander of the 7th Army in Europe (1950-1952).
General Eddy as commander of the 7th Army in Europe (1950-1952). | Source

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 16 months ago

      I enjoyed reading this Hub about less well known American WWII generals. You gave detailed information about when things went well and when things didn't go so well.

    • lions44 profile image
      Author

      CJ Kelly 20 months ago from Auburn, WA

      Thx, Bryan. Nice to hear. I try.

    • BryanChaseGentry profile image

      Chase Gentry 20 months ago from Nashville, Tennessee

      Beautifully Written and I enjoyed looking through all the great pictures too.

    • profile image

      walibooks 2 years ago

      Thaks

    • lions44 profile image
      Author

      CJ Kelly 2 years ago from Auburn, WA

      Thx very much Graham and Wayne. Great compliments coming from you both. When I saw the comment notification I was surprised. I'm hoping to another related article but include Brits and Canadians as well.

    • teflindo profile image

      Wayne Duplessis 2 years ago from Surabaya, East Java, Indonesia

      Thank you for this well-researched and compelling history.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 2 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      Hi CJ. This really is a first class hub. I see I am the first to read and comment. I cannot understand this. Your research is so obvious and the presentation and charaters tip top. Well done.

      voted up and all.

      Graham.