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World War Ii General
May/June 2000 | Volume 51, Issue 3
Unlike MacArthur, Patton, and Elsenhower, Omar N. Bradley (1893–1981) escaped searching media analysis during the war and has dodged biographers ever since. His A Soldier’s Story (1951) and A General’s Life (1983) protect his reputation and encourage sympathy for Bradley’s struggles with his detractors. Even the movie Patton serves to keep the Bradley myth alive. How can one possibly dislike Karl Maiden as Bradley in his struggles with the imperious, half-crazed George C. Scott?
Bradley’s energy, intelligence, and determination made him a star pupil at the Infantry School and the Command and General Staff School after World War I and impressed Col. George C. Marshall, who consistently pushed him ahead. As the commander of the U.S. 1st Army and the U.S. 12th Army Group, 1944–45, Bradley reached his natural level of incompetence. A clear-eyed evaluation of his shortcomings begins with the near-defeat at Omaha Beach, where his acceptance of impossible schemes of fire support and operational concepts produced one of the worst bloodlettings for American troops in World War II, casualties so severe (probably twenty-five hundred dead in one long morning) that the Army is still reluctant to admit them. Bradley directed Patton’s 3d Army to head for the Brittany ports and thus slowed the exploitation of Patton’s Operation Cobra breakout. He then misunderstood the Wehrmacht’s vulnerability in the Mortain counteroffensive, failing to close the Falaise-Argentan gap and thereby allowing thousands of crack German troops to escape a trap staunchly set by the 1st Polish Armored Division.
Along the Rhine frontier he directed a series of World War I—style offensives, attritional fighting of the worst sort that reduced much of the 1st Army to demoralized haplessness. His failure to provide reserves behind the V and VIII Corps invited the German counteroffensive through the Ardennes, which he and his staff failed to identify. Eisenhower then gave Montgomery and Patton the key roles in fighting the Battle of the Bulge, much to Bradley’s outrage. While sulking, he failed to support Patton’s plan to cut off the German two-panzer-army salient at the base, again allowing a hardfought American victory to be partial at best. Nevertheless, Bradley ended the war still high in Marshall’s esteem, although Eisenhower had cooled to his generalship.
How did Bradley burnish his postwar reputation until he reached the status of beloved icon? First of all, he benefited by his longevity and perseverance in becoming the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in 1949, and a General of the Army in 1950. During the war he had cultivated his close personal relations with Marshall and Eisenhower, which predisposed them to give him the benefit of the doubt and to send him the Army’s best staff talent. He returned his staff’s loyalty and exemplary ability with equal loyalty and consideration—not necessarily a trait of his contemporaries—and his temperament encouraged a degree of admiration that overlooked his tendency to avoid risk and to blame others for his problems.
Gruff, poised, energetic, deep in soldierly knowledge, balanced in crises, and uninterested in any fame except the respect of his peers and his soldiers, Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. (1895–1965), did not get much attention from the media because he was not in the Ike-Bradley U.S. 12th Army Group clique or the counterclique in the same army led by Patton. Instead he served in the “forgotten” 7th and 5th Armies under Generals Patton and Clark, who dominated their press gangs’ attention, and Gens. Jacob L. Devers and Alexander M. Patch, who were not favored by Marshall or Eisenhower. Yet under Truscott’s command the “Rock of the Marne” Division killed more Germans and suffered more casualties than its more flamboyant and controversial rival, the 1st Infantry. One of Truscott’s contemporaries said that he combined all the best traits of Eisenhower, Bradley, and Patton without any of their flaws; others remembered him as the best division and corps commander in the European theater. Truscott’s superior generalship illuminates his memoir, Command Missions (1954), a self-effacing but very impressive account of his service in World War II. The book is equal to Gen. William Sum’s Defeat Into Victory , the story of another unsung general, but British and now fully appreciated. Truscott deserves the same sort of reputation.