The Man Who Planned The Victory

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In 1936 the Germans permitted a captain of the U.S. Army to attend their War College as an exchange student. What he learned there helped him develop the master strategy with which the Allies won the war. At eighty-six, one of the last of the commanders looks back.

 

GEN. ALBERT C. Wedemeyer, a native of Omaha, Nebraska, graduated from West Point in 1919. In 1936 the Army sent Wedemeyer, then a captain, to Berlin as an exchange student at the German War College. The information he brought back from Berlin soon proved useful to our own government. Assigned to the War Department at the request of the Chief of Staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, Wedemeyer was given the task of preparing what came to be known as the Victory Plan. That 1941 document established the strategic framework for American participation in a global war and laid the foundation for war mobilization.

Early in 1942 Wedemeyer, by then a lieutenant colonel, helped develop an American plan for the defeat of the Axis in Europe. The U.S. strategy called for a rapid buildup of Allied air and ground strength in the British Isles, a progressively intensified campaign of attrition by air, against the Continent, a cross-Channel invasion of France in the summer of 1943, and a final drive into the heartland of Central Europe.

In 1943 Wedemeyer, now a major general, was sent to New Delhi as a Deputy Chief of Staff in the Allied Command in Southeast Asia under Mountbatten. He helped plan and coordinate Allied efforts against the Japanese in India and Burma. Late in 1944 Wedemeyer left India for China, where he succeeded Gen. “Vinegar Joe” Stilwell in the dual role of commander of U.S. forces and Chief of Staff to Chiang Kai-shek. During the final year of the war he worked hard to ensure that all Allied forces in China exerted utmost pressure against the Japanese.

After the war Wedemeyer returned to the Far East as a special fact-finding ambassador for President Truman in 1947. The long-unpublished report of his 1947 mission subsequently became a major focus of controversy in the bitter foreign policy debates of the 1950s.

Wedemeyer requested retirement from active service in 1951. He then pursued a career in industrial management in New York City and in 1958 published a memoir of his career. For the past twenty years he and Mrs. Wedemeyer have lived at Friends Advice—a country estate some thirty miles from Washington, D.C.—where this interview took place.

How did it happen that you became a soldier?

Well, for a long time in my youth I planned to become a doctor. Surgery interested me, and in high school I studied chemistry, biology, Latin, German, and all those subjects one needed for a career in medicine. Then the World War came along, and the Mexican border affair in 1916, and like most of the young men of the time, I became rather concerned about military affairs. I wanted to do my part like the older boys, including my brother who had joined the Nebraska National Guard. So when Sen. George Norris gave me a chance to compete for West Point, I jumped at it.

Life in the Army of the 1920s and 1980s is often depicted as rather dull. Did you find it so?

On the whole I did not. Although I was a lieutenant for seventeen years, there was more than enough to do. I enjoyed training and working with the men on post or in bivouac. I liked marksmanship and riding. There were opportunities for considerable travel at home and abroad. All in all, I look back on those years as a happy and rewarding time.

I must confess that I got off to a questionable start as an officer, however, down at Fort Benning, Georgia, right after graduation from West Point. Although I had seldom, if ever, touched a drop of alcoholic beverages at the time, I returned one night to camp quite intoxicated and very boisterous. The noise and high spirits disturbed a stuffy senior officer, and he brought charges against me. A court-martial in those days was a very serious matter, and I was sure my career in the Army was ruined.

What happened?

I was punished with six months of restriction to the limits of the post plus deduction from pay for a like period. My superiors apparently thought that enough of a lesson. It was!

Duty tours in the Far East and other faraway places must have been alluring.

Yes indeed. And on my first voyage to the Far East, in 1923,1 met an attractive young lady, a so-called Army brat. She was traveling with her parents to the Philippines, where her father—a colonel (an exalted rank in the old Army)—was to take command of a regiment on Corregidor. It did not take Elizabeth Dade Embick and myself long to arrange for our future together on a permanent basis, but it did take a year and three anxious visits to her home on Corregidor—I was stationed on the mainland near Manila—before I mustered the courage to approach her father. Getting a prospective father-in-law’s permission to marry his daughter was still the expected practice.