The Generals

14 Jul

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During the Second World War, there were myriad generals. In the early years, many came and go as the Allies perfected themselves to overcome the well-trained and experienced armies of Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan. Each general possessed different qualities, and many, like Charles de Gaulle and Henri Giraud or George Patton and Bernard Montgomery, despised one another and attempted to outmaneuver their rival, on and off the battlefield. Who is your favorite general of the war and why?

Dwight Eisenhower: a lieutenant colonel before the outbreak of the war, he had never commanded troops in the field until the Second World War, having been placed in a training capacity during the First World War. In North Africa, he proved easily overwhelmed and spent a great deal of his time tending to political matters, namely attempting to appease both sides of the French military, Free and Vichy. Yet the ice water bath that had been the failure to take Tunis in November 1942 and the defeat at Kasserine in February 1943 had been a drastic wake up call, summoning Eisenhower to delegate lesser matters to lesser generals. Total war had initially overwhelmed Eisenhower, yet North Africa had, just like it had been for the entire U.S. Army and for the British earlier in the war, been an exercise in tuning one’s mind to the necessities of defeating the German military. Eisenhower had fallen, but picked himself up and dusted himself off and made himself capable of winning the bloodiest war in world history. 

Bernard Montgomery: a desk jockey whose first taste of combat had been the disastrous reversal at Dunkirk when he had assumed command of the 3rd Infantry Division, Montgomery became an asset to the Allies as the war progressed. When Rommel lunged at Kasserine in early 1943, Montgomery had been the only Allied general to defeat the seemingly invincible, indefatigable Desert Fox, a reputation he would milk throughout the war. Eisenhower stated he could stand any Allied general but Montgomery, and although the British juggernaut proved in several scenarios an occasional tactical ineptitude, namely in proposing the suicidal Operation Market Garden, he also proved time and again his ability to overwhelm and overcome German defenders. Montgomery skyrocketed through the ranks, moving from the 3rd Infantry to assume command of the 8th Army in Egypt in August 1942, and later the 21st Army Group the next year. His campaigns in North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany gained him fame in the newspapers and respect amongst the German camp, although his overcautious attitude and meticulousness gained him the hatred of American generals and infamy among American troops.

George Patton: an old warhorse with cavalry and armored combat deeply ingrained in his military doctrine, Patton’s unorthodox style of fighting mixed with severe discipline, which earned him the abhorrence of his men when he assumed command of the II Corps in Tunisia in March 1943, earned the general renown during the war. Although his style of combat often encompassed a large amount of casualties, he soon earned the respect and admiration of his men, and his reputation among the German High Command earned him both respect and fear. From the landings in North Africa in 1942 to his steamroll across southern Germany in 1945, Patton demonstrated an obsessive need to destroy any German military unit he came across, yet could this passion be hatred for the Germans or it could be fuel for his reputation? Throughout the war, Patton proved time and again his willingness to stray from carefully laid plans in order to gain fame, and this willingness often manifested himself in a rivalry with Montgomery. In one of the war’s most interesting chapters, Patton split his troops off from Montgomery’s during the landings in Sicily and raced across the island to Palermo before spinning around and taking Messina before the British victor of El Alamein could reach it. In another turn of events, Patton crossed the Rhine into southern Germany the night before Montgomery launched Operation Plunder, making Patton the first Allied general to set foot in the Third Reich.

Omar Bradley: a cunning, quiet, severe Missourian with a careful eye and an unbiased tongue, Bradley had arrived in the spring of 1943 to North Africa as an observer to help Eisenhower overhaul the convoluted and awkward command structure in Tunisia. Bradley would go on to serve under Patton before taking over his command in 1943 after Patton struck two shell-shocked soldiers in Sicily. Bradley’s cunning and tactical ability aided in the drafting of Operation Overlord, and by the end of the war the quiet observer of North Africa had become a quiet, reasoned, and logical commander of the 12th Army Group, poised to throw itself across the Rhine into Germany. Although not quite as fierce as Patton’s, Bradley too had a rivalry with Montgomery, more playful than serious, and Bradley’s rivalry aided in allowing Patton to cross the Rhine first. Bradley would continue on as a career general, rising to the rank of General of the Armies, possessing five stars on his shoulders, a rank achieved only by five others. 

Harold Alexander: a British nobleman and gentleman who had arrived to succeed Claude Auchinleck as commander, Middle East Command, in August 1942, Alexander became acquainted with the beleaguered, flustered, and disorganized Americans in February 1943, entering their camp in a flurry of confusion due to awkward command structures and the German counterattack at Kasserine. Having aided in Montgomery’s victory at El Alamein, Alexander took command of the 18th Army Group, assuming command of all Allied troops in Tunisia, turning around their failures and seizing Tunis in May 1943. Alexander aided in the planning of Operations Husky and Avalanche, and in 1944 rose to become commander-in-chief of all Allied troops in the Mediterranean theater, a position he would hold until the end of the war. His tactical brilliance and ability, although not entirely on par with other generals such as Patton, Harmon, Rommel, von Manstein, Hodges, Devers, or Bradley, should not be underwritten. His ability to command aided in the June 1944 fall of Rome, although Mark Clark’s 5th Army had the opportunity to destroy the German 10th Army and did not take it. Alexander helped push the German military ever north, and although by 1944 the Italian campaign had almost garnered the reputation of a sideshow in comparison to the Allied landings in Normandy, Alexander’s campaign pinned down massive amounts of German troops in heavy fighting, allowing for the Allied armies to reach the Rhine.

There are numerous other Allied generals, including John Lucas, Lloyd Fredendall, Lucian Truscott, Henri Giraud, Charles de Gaulle, Alphonse Juin, Courtney Hodges, Jacob Devers, Alexander Patch, Kenneth Anderson, Vyvyan Evelegh, Frederick Browning, Matthew Ridgeway, Miles Dempsey, Harry Crerar, Louis-Maria Koeltz, Neil Ritchie, Brian Horrocks, and William Simpson among copious others. So, the question remains, who is your favorite general of the Second World War and why? 

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