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Posted on Jul 24, 2007 in Carlo D'Este, Front Page Features

Training for war in the summer of 1941…and the making of a future Supreme Commander

By Carlo D'Este

During the maneuvers Eisenhower discovered a previously unknown talent for public relations. The press liked his open, easy going manner and his willingness to poke fun at himself and the army. Eisenhower’s risqué side emerged in the company of other men and he entertained them “with unprintable stories about the New Orleans whores with whom some of his troops had consorted.”[xiii]

Eisenhower’s reluctance to add procuring to his professional repertoire notwithstanding, all came away impressed by the balding colonel whose praises they extolled in newspaper columns across the United States, even as many mis-identified him as “Lt. Col. D.D. Ersenbeing.”[xiv] Eisenhower did not mind a bit, pleased that at least the press had managed to get his initials right. Among those who wrote favorably about Eisenhower were syndicated columnists, Robert S. Allen, and Drew Pearson, whose “Washington Merry-Go-Round” column was read by millions. Praising Eisenhower’s performance during the Louisiana maneuvers, they wrote that Colonel Eisenhower, “who conceived and directed the strategy that routed the Second Army has a steel-trap mind plus unusual physical vigor.”[xv]

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When Phase II began a week later, the roles of the two armies were reversed, with the I Armored Corps part of Krueger’s attacking Blue force whose mission was to capture Shreveport and defeat Lear’s Red force defending the city. The original plan called for a Blue force frontal attack, but when Lear declined to do battle, Krueger elected to launch a bold flank attack with the I Armored Corps. It was spearheaded by Patton’s 2d Armored, which initiated a 350-mile end run to outflank the Red force. The journey took his tanks back into Texas, then north and later east, until he had gotten behind Lear’s army and was poised to attack Shreveport from the rear. McNair again decided to prematurely end the final phase of the Louisiana maneuvers after barely five days. With Patton’s spearhead and the Blue force poised to deliver the coup de grâce to Lear, there seemed no reason to continue.

Off the battlefield the primary battle being fought was between the infantry traditionalists, led by McNair, who argued that antitank weapons would render tanks useless on the battlefield. The outmoded concept that tanks were meant only to support advancing infantry proved to be a giant hurdle that was never quite overcome by the new breed of former cavalrymen who were convinced that tanks could play a vital offensive role and that the threat posed by antitank guns could be overcome through the development of new tactics of fire and maneuver. Moreover, the growing autonomy of the newly created Armored Force frightened the traditionalists until McNair’s view that mobility was more important than firepower, a thesis that had already been proved wrong by the father of the German blitzkrieg, Gen. Heinz Guderian, and later by Erwin Rommel in North Africa.

As Eisenhower had predicted, in the wake of the series of maneuvers in 1941 there ensued a ruthless, but necessary housecleaning that, by year’s end, resulted in the forcible retirement of hundreds of senior officers, one of whom was a two-star Missouri National Guard division commander and the first cousin of Senator Harry S. Truman. Thirty-one of the forty-two army, corps and division commanders were either relieved or shunted aside to make way for a new generation of commanders that included the names of: Bradley, Allen, Gerow, Ridgway, Collins, Van Fleet, Simpson and others Marshall had already identified. Twenty of twenty-seven division commanders were replaced in 1942. Only eleven (of forty-two) senior officers achieved higher command, among them Krueger and Lear.[xvi]  Those that survived scrutiny were considered the nucleus of the rejuvenated Army.

The 1941 maneuvers not only purged the overage and the unfit, but just as importantly also identified the army’s most promising leaders who would carry the burden of fighting during the coming war. Three names emerged from the maneuvers of star quality for very different reasons: Eisenhower for his role in devising the Third Army strategy even as he grumbled that he would rather have been commanding a unit of Patton’s tanks; Brig. Gen. Mark Clark, who wrote the maneuver scenario that earned him accolades as the Army’s preeminent planner, and George S. Patton, the epitome of a new breed of aggressive tank commanders whose name alone some said was worth an armored division.

Eisenhower was credited with devising the strategy by which Krueger’s Third Army bested Lear’s Second Army. The praise given Eisenhower for the success of the Third Army has been exaggerated, in part retrospectively after his later rise to supreme command. Krueger and Eisenhower together had formulated a winning strategy that outsmarted the more conservative Lear. Eisenhower’s contribution cannot be minimized, but even as his son John later mused, “Why Dad got so much credit for the Third Army’s performance . . . I do not understand, because he was not the commanding general. But Krueger had a tendency to take a back seat, and I guess Dad had more visibility. Dad was not one that tried to shove himself in front . . . but he received much the credit anyway. It’s a strange thing.”[xvii]

Staff officers do not provide leadership nor do they command; that responsibility belongs solely to the commander. A first-class staff will enhance a commander’s ability to do his job or can ruin him. A general staff is not unlike the interior line of a football team: anonymous, generally underappreciated, hard-working officers who attend to the myriad, usually mind-numbing details of planning and execution, of logistics, intelligence and the thousand other details that require attention. Nevertheless, Eisenhower’s presence and his long experience served to add common sense and stability to the Third Army staff. However improbable the reasons, Eisenhower’s performance was recognized by those who counted. He later proclaimed that the experience gained during the Louisiana Maneuvers was “incalculable.” Less pleased at the acclaim given Eisenhower was Walter Krueger who resented the credit going to his junior chief of staff for a plan he insisted he had conceived. Robert L. Eichelberger, a friend and classmate of Ike’s at Fort Leavenworth in 1926 later served as a corps commander under Krueger in the South Pacific. Eichelberger has written that the two men were not quite the ideal match that has been portrayed. The lavish publicity accorded Eisenhower left lingering resentments in Krueger who felt his chief of staff was taking credit (indeed had stolen) his “brain child,” i.e., his hand-written operations order for the maneuvers which he told Eichelberger, Eisenhower had taken credit for having originated as his own idea.[xviii] Whatever the truth, the only certainty was that each man had an axe to grind with the other.

As Marshall and McNair had envisioned, there were mistakes galore during the various 1941 maneuvers. Troop movements, road discipline, logistics, communications, security, shortages of everything, inferior weaponry and inadequate air-ground communications were all found wanting. During the Tennessee maneuvers, “a ninety-five year-old Confederate veteran looked skeptically at a 37-mm antitank weapon and declared, ‘These little cannons wouldn’t hurt a flea. Why, in my war we had cannons three times that size.’”[xix] The veracity of the old vet’s observation would come horribly true in the barren wastelands of Tunisia little more than a year later.

Despite the complaints of some Congressmen that the army was wasting money conducting such exercises, the Louisiana maneuvers were, as an army historian concludes, “unprecedented in U.S. Army history and have never been duplicated in size or scope since.” Under the tutelage of Marshall and McNair, “the Army was forced to make good two decades of virtual disarmament in two years’ time.” The result was that, “the GHQ maneuvers of 1941 revealed both the penalties of military unpreparedness and the power of American resolve. The war that followed transformed both the Army and the nation forever.”[xx]

McNair’s hearing was seriously impaired and he generally sent Mark Clark to represent him at meetings and to oversee briefings and critiques. Clark conducted the critique of the Louisiana Maneuvers. Near its end, he was handed a telegram from the War Department containing the names of officers being nominated by Roosevelt for promotion to major general and twenty or so from colonel to brigadier general. Clark scanned the list, read their names, then announced, “That’s it.” The group was dismissed and as the fortunate selectees were surrounded and congratulated, Eisenhower, visibly deflated by the omission of his name from the list, had one foot out the door when Clark banged his gavel and intoned, “I forgot one name – Dwight D. Eisenhower.” Amid the throng of people Clark heard Eisenhower laugh and proclaim, “I’ll get you for this, you sonofabitch.”[xxi]

Eisenhower was both modest and genuinely elated at his promotion. The only worrisome aspect was that he had performed so well as Krueger’s chief of staff that he feared having to serve out the war in a succession of staff jobs that would exclude him – as it had since World War I – from obtaining a combat command.

Four days after Eisenhower’s promotion, McNair weighed in with his evaluations to Marshall of those he recommended for higher command. Almost as an afterthought, the last to appear on a list of seven unrated “others” named as potential division commanders was “Eisenhower.” McNair clearly felt no compelling need to rate a career staff officer who had never commanded more than a battalion any higher. Indeed, were it not for his glowing reputation gained during the maneuvers, it is arguable that Eisenhower’s name would not have appeared at all, had it not been for Mark Clark’s persistence in extolling his friend. (In 1989 Patton’s son would tartly observe that, “McNair’s predictions were not too hot. Take notice of Ike at the bottom of the list – ‘an also ran.’ ”) [xxii]

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1 Comment

  1. I have documented in my writings Eisenhower’s comments about his life in his book “Things I Tell My Friends’ about his early career.
    He gave credit to his meteoric rise to a newspaper reporter, Drew Pearson. Eisenhower wrote that Pearson gave him credit that belonged to General Krueger.

    One may note that Eisenhower received 6 promotions from Colonel to 5-star General in 2 years and 4 months. The usual promotion in those years was once in 4 years. But, wars need heroes.

    It is not noticed that both Eisenhower and Kennedy knew that the 1960 election hinged on the lie of the booster gap. (I worked on Minuteman from the start.) This threw the election to Kennedy.

    Did Nixon’s later knowledge of the truth lead to Watergate?
    We will never know.

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