Eisenhower Under Fire, 1944-45 | HistoryNet MENU

Eisenhower Under Fire, 1944-45

By Jerry D. Morelock
4/14/2017 • HistoryNet

Ike’s warfighting strategy and his military competence were the targets of savage attacks by America’s British Allies.

REIMS, FRANCE 2:41 A.M., MAY 7, 1945

Eleven months and one day after the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion landed Allied troops in France to begin the liberation of Western Europe and defeat Nazi Germany, the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) commander, General of the Army Dwight David “Ike” Eisenhower, cabled the British-American Combined Chiefs of Staff: “The mission of this Allied Force was fulfilled at 0241, local time, May 7th, 1945.” At that time and under the stern gaze of Ike’s SHAEF chief of staff, Lieutenant General Walter Bedell “Beetle” Smith, German General Alfred Jodl, representing Adolf Hitler’s successor, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, had signed the document surrendering Germany unconditionally to the Allies. One day later, at the insistence of USSR dictator Josef Stalin, the Soviets held a separate surrender ceremony in Berlin, presided over by Marshal Georgi Zhukov.

Although Germany’s surrender ended combat on the fighting fronts, the “battle” for the postwar reputations of the senior Allied commanders was about to begin in earnest. Indeed, Eisenhower’s skill as a strategist and even his basic military competence had already been savagely attacked – not by his German enemies, but by his British colleagues. Despite leading history’s most successful military coalition to a decisive victory over Nazi Germany, Ike was harshly criticized by senior British officers during his tenure as supreme Allied commander. They claimed that Eisenhower knew “little if anything about military matters,” was “quite unsuited to the post of supreme commander,” and that his “ignorance as to how to run a war [was] absolute and complete.”

The fiercest attacks were directed at Eisenhower’s warfighting strategy, which the British derided as an unfocused, unimaginative, “broad front” approach that unnecessarily increased Allied casualties and prolonged the war. This disparaging comment by Britain’s senior military officer in November 1944 is typical: “The American conception of always attacking all along the front, irrespective of strength available, is sheer madness.”

From mid-1944 to early 1945, Ike’s principal British subordinate, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of British-Canadian 21 Army Group, persistently argued for an alternate strategy. Monty proposed a plan in which he would lead a concentrated, single axis thrust on a narrow front that he claimed would quickly punch through Germany’s crumbling defenses, swiftly reach its Ruhr industrial heartland, and win the war in weeks, not months. After World War II ended, as rising tensions with the USSR made Berlin a frequent focus of Cold War conflict, Monty and his supporters even claimed that his narrow front strategy would have allowed him to capture Hitler’s capital ahead of the Soviets.

Yet an examination of the facts reveals Eisenhower’s solid competence and exceptional fitness as an Allied military commander, as well as the effectiveness of his strategy and the egregious inadequacies of Montgomery’s proposed plan.

IKE UNDER ATTACK

During Eisenhower’s 1942-45 tenure as supreme Allied commander, his greatest detractor and harshest critic was Field Marshal Alan Brooke (later Lord Alanbrooke), Britain’s World War II chief of the Imperial General Staff. Although the acerbic Brooke was highly critical of many leading Allied figures, including his own countrymen – in particular, Britain’s Prime Minister Winston Churchill – he confined most of his unflattering remarks about British leaders to the privacy of his wartime diary. He was much less secretive about his disdain for Eisenhower, however, and shared his stinging criticisms of Ike with Churchill, Montgomery and others.

Brooke began criticizing Eisenhower’s leadership during the 1942- 43 North African campaign, when Ike first exercised Allied command. In fairness to Brooke, Ike did make mistakes in his initial effort at coalition command – logistics were a mess, Anglo-American cooperation at the operational level was poor, and Ike failed to exercise firm direction and control of combat operations. The latter failure led to the February 1943 assignment of British General Harold Alexander as Eisenhower’s “ground commander” for the remainder of the campaign, an appointment chiefly engineered by Brooke. Yet Ike learned from his early mistakes, grew as a coalition commander, and in 1944-45 evolved into arguably the most effective allied coalition commander in history.

Brooke, however, continued criticizing Ike throughout the remainder of the war. He and other British generals were particularly critical of Eisenhower’s lack of pre-World War II combat experience, as Ike had not made it overseas to France during World War I. Yet with the notable exception of Montgomery’s decisive November 1942 victory at El Alamein, the battlefield records of the “combat experienced” British commanders prior to mid-1944 featured little to brag about. Brooke, who had been a field grade artillery officer in World War I, and whose service included planning the fire support for the horrifically disastrous 1916 Battle of the Somme, had little personal combat experience in World War II. And what he did have consisted principally of presiding over a series of early war disasters inflicted by the Germans – notably, his corps’ hasty May 1940 retreat to Dunkirk and humiliating evacuations from France in the wake of that retreat.

Although it seems certain that Brooke’s criticism of Eisenhower was at least partly motivated by his disappointment at not receiving the position of supreme Allied commander himself, his jealousy does not necessarily invalidate his complaint that Ike was woefully ignorant of military affairs and how to command an allied coalition. The picture of Ike painted by his critics, led by Brooke and Montgomery, was that of a genial, good-natured “chairman of the board” suddenly snatched from obscurity by Chief of Staff of the Army, General George C. Marshall and placed in a supreme leadership position for which he was ill suited and with duties he was ill prepared to perform.

Putting this unflattering picture into words, Montgomery condescendingly dismissed Ike, saying, “Nice chap. No general.” However, an examination of Eisenhower’s career prior to his assumption of supreme command exposes this characterization as egregiously false.

“THE BEST OFFICER IN THE ARMY”

Dwight D. Eisenhower was, above all, a “team player.” Whether it was the West Point football squad on which he was a star athlete during his years as a cadet (1911-15) or the 1942-45 Anglo-American partnership he led that became history’s most successful allied military coalition, Ike put the team first. Yet, as his best biographer, Carlo D’Este, revealed, “Eisenhower’s easygoing manner and charming smile” was “a disarming façade behind which lay a ruthless, ambitious officer who thirsted to advance his chosen career.” That Ike never permitted his sizable ego to interfere with the success of the team is a testament to his remarkable strength of character. In fact, years after retiring from public life, he explained the secret to his success: “I got where I did by knowing how to hide my ego.”

Ike’s ability to be the consummate team player was greatly facilitated by his congenial personality – even detractors admitted that Eisenhower consistently came across as personable, likeable and modest. His winning personality was exemplified in a charismatic smile that helped him make friends easily and quickly gain the confidence of virtually all with whom he interacted throughout his career. But there was steel behind Ike’s famous ear-to-ear grin.

For all his outward congeniality, Eisenhower proved adept at handling strong-willed subordinates, notably Montgomery and George S. Patton during the 1942-45 campaigns. Both men tried Ike’s patience many times, yet both ended up bending to his will. Although Ike could be ruthless when necessary, while leading the Allied effort in Europe he had an “enforcer” – his chief of staff, “Beetle” Smith, who acted as his attack dog to keep unruly subordinates in line.

Smith’s job was to ruffle feathers when necessary, as his other, more telling nickname “the Barker” attested. But once Smith’s scolding had achieved the desired effect, Ike would flash his famous grin and smooth the ruffled feathers back down. While this seemed like a simplistic “good cop-bad cop” leadership technique, it had the singular virtue that it worked. As Smith’s biographer, D.K.R. Crosswell, wrote, “Smith’s assignment was to get results, not to make friends.” And to Ike’s – and the coalition’s – benefit, that’s exactly what the Barker did.

Eisenhower’s ability to remain above the petty squabbling that inevitably occurs in any large military organization was extremely important to his effectiveness as a coalition commander. He realized that the success of his leadership depended on team building, gaining consensus, forging compromises and achieving agreement rather than merely issuing orders.

Another vital key to Eisenhower’s success was his high intelligence, a trait that Ike admitted he usually “hid,” but which in retrospect is clearly evident in his military and political accomplishments. Although Ike, as D’Este wrote, “possessed a keen intelligence as icy as has ever risen to the higher reaches of American life,” he decided early on that appearing too intelligent might spark jealousy and mistrust among his peers and superiors, which could impede his career. As D’Este noted, “Eisenhower went to great lengths to assume the role he had decided to carve out for himself: that of a solid, dependable officer who performed his duties efficiently but without drawing undue attention to himself.” Yet regardless of Ike’s efforts to appear merely “solid and dependable,” by the eve of America’s entry into World War II his accomplishments and demonstrated ability had drawn the attention of senior U.S. military leaders who were organizing the country’s war effort.

Eisenhower’s rapid rise from seeming obscurity as America entered the war in December 1941 to become supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe within a few short years has often amazed those who have not studied his pre-World War II career. Yet Ike’s supposed prewar anonymity is a myth. Although on the surface his career might seem nearly indistinguishable from those of his contemporaries, Ike in fact had impressed his superiors throughout his service in the World War I and interwar Army. From 1918 to 1941, four assignments in particular showcased his developing skill, competence and intelligence.

First was Eisenhower’s World War I service from March through November 1918 at Camp Colt near Gettysburg, Pa., where Ike – only three years out of West Point – led the effort to create the Army’s tank corps. This task entailed significant responsibility, required Ike to work independently and show self-starting initiative, and gave him his first valuable experience working with America’s “citizen soldiers.” His notable success in this assignment also earned Ike his first of five Distinguished Service Medals.

Second, Eisenhower finished first in his 1925-26 Command and General Staff School class at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. This achievement was not only a tribute to his high intelligence and developing military skills; it also put him on the “radar screen” of senior leaders Army-wide (including George C. Marshall), who began to request that “Ike Eisenhower” be assigned to their units.

Third, as a major and lieutenant colonel in the 1930s, Eisenhower spent seven years working for General Douglas MacArthur in Washington, D.C., and later the Philippines. This put Ike in daily contact with the Army’s top-ranking officers and senior civilian leadership while MacArthur was chief of staff (1930-35). Working for MacArthur not only taught Ike how to deal with difficult, strong-willed personalities, it also led to an officer efficiency report in which MacArthur – the U.S. Army’s ranking officer – called then-Major Eisenhower “the best officer in the Army” and advised “when the next war comes, Eisenhower should go right to the top.” Importantly, during his time in the Philippines under MacArthur, Ike learned valuable lessons about working closely and harmoniously with senior officers and high officials of another country and entirely different culture. He learned the value – often the necessity – of compromise in order to achieve results when working closely with allies.

Fourth, as 3d Army chief of staff under General Walter Krueger – who specifically requested Eisenhower’s assignment by personally appealing to Marshall, who became Army chief of staff in 1939 – Ike ran the historic August through September 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers. From this huge and unprecedented undertaking, Eisenhower gained experience in handling large masses of troops (400,000 took part) and the equally massive logistics requirements necessary to support and sustain them. It firmly cemented his Army-wide reputation, particularly with Marshall, and on September 29, 1941, Ike earned his first general’s star.

When Marshall chose Eisenhower to join his handpicked team on the Army staff in December 1941 the week after the Pearl Harbor attack, he knew well that he was selecting an officer of supreme competence, proven ability and great promise. And after honing his skills and learning his job as an allied coalition commander in North Africa and the Mediterranean in 1942-43, Eisenhower was the best-qualified senior American officer to be supreme Allied commander in Europe. Brooke’s specious claim that “Ike [knew] little if anything about military matters” demonstrably was self-serving nonsense.

But did Eisenhower’s 1944-45 warfighting strategy deserve the harsh criticism it received from Brooke, Montgomery and their supporters?

IKE’S WARFIGHTING STRATEGY, 1944-45

In modern military operations, the genesis of all warfighting strategy and operational plans is a basic mission statement, detailing what the military action is intended to accomplish. Eisenhower’s pre-D-Day mission statement, received from the U.S.-British Combined Chiefs of Staff on February 12, 1944, read: “You will enter the continent of Europe, and in conjunction with the other United Nations, undertake operations aimed at the heart of Germany and the destruction of her armed forces.” Thus Ike’s clearly specified objective was Hitler’s army, not the Nazi dictator’s capital, Berlin. And destroying the German army in the West was exactly what his strategy accomplished.

To ensure the destruction of the enemy forces in France and Germany, Ike needed a military strategy that was logistically supportable, extensively pressed to tie down German units all along the front line to prevent them from massing to defeat Allied breakthroughs, and flexible enough to exploit successes by quickly moving forces to capitalize on fleeting opportunities. Above all, however, Ike sought to achieve an Allied victory, not merely a “British” or “American” triumph.

Eisenhower’s strategy, developed by his SHAEF staff and agreed upon in May 1944 before the D-Day invasion, called for advancing along dual axes, with Montgomery’s 21 Army Group in the north and General Omar N. Bradley’s 12th Army Group farther south. These two spearheads were to encircle Germany’s vital Ruhr industrial region by linking up east of it, and then overrun the country to the Elbe River, where the westward-advancing Soviets would be met. The southern flank of this dual axis advance was to be guarded and supported by General Jacob L. Devers’ U.S.-French 6th Army Group after it landed in southern France in mid-August. Therefore, calling Eisenhower’s strategy a “broad front” approach was actually a misnomer his critics intended as a condescending term of derision and ridicule.

Yet along these dual axes is exactly how Allied armies advanced behind Monty’s British-Canadian army group and Bradley’s American army group. (See Eisenhower’s Dual Axis Strategy map, p. 32.) While the Allies had to maintain a continuous front line to keep German forces in check all along the line, the strategy’s main effort consisted of the dual spearheads’ advances.

Ike’s strategy accomplished its intended purpose of destroying Germany’s armed forces principally because it featured the vital requirements for victory. First, the pace of the advance made it logistically supportable – except for a period in late August-early September 1944 when it outstripped supply capabilities, a situation exacerbated by Montgomery’s failure to clear the Scheldt Estuary quickly enough and open the badly needed major port of Antwerp. (See You Command, July 2013 ACG.)

Second, the dual axis advance continually forced the outnumbered, outgunned and out-supplied German defenders to confront and react to multiple threats. The Germans were not given the opportunity to mass forces against a single thrust offensive that might have resulted in a devastating setback to the overall Allied effort.

And third, the flexibility of Ike’s strategy proved key in defeating the one major counteroffensive Germany did mount, Hitler’s December 1944 Ardennes Offensive. Ike was able to swiftly move divisions from all along the Allied front (totaling 600,000 troops) to the Ardennes to defeat the enemy attack, and in the process destroy Germany’s last remaining major reserves of mobile forces.

The plan’s flexibility was also apparent when the Allies unexpectedly captured an intact bridge across the Rhine River at Remagen on March 7, 1945. (See Battle Studies, March 2013 ACG.) That success was immediately exploited to “jump start” Allied operations to get across the last major barrier to Germany’s heartland, paving the way for the March through May 1945 final advance to victory.

Certainly, Eisenhower’s warfighting strategy was not perfect and was not without flaws in practical implementation. Ironically, its chief virtue, keeping the enemy off balance by advancing along dual axes, also created its principal weakness – it was extremely manpower intensive. The plan depended on a continual superiority in manpower and a constant flow of replacements for the tremendous number of casualties produced by such a strategy. Ike could not attack at multiple locations and at the same time expect to keep losses to a minimum.

Maintaining the Allied advance along dual axes required Ike to utilize all the divisions provided to him to prosecute the war in northwest Europe. And since the U.S. Army made the conscious decision to mobilize only 89 divisions to fight a global war, the 61 American divisions in Ike’s command were stretched dangerously thin along the Allied front, particularly in December 1944 in the 80- mile Ardennes sector, where German armies nearly broke through during the Battle of the Bulge. Additionally, the limited number of American divisions prevented Ike from being able to maintain a strategic reserve – beyond the two U.S. airborne divisions, when they were not committed to combat operations, and arguably the Allied strategic and tactical air forces that might conceivably be considered his “flying reserve” force in lieu of ground units.

The problem with the scarcity of combat divisions was further exacerbated by the fall of 1944 replacement crisis. Casualties from the bitter September through November fighting were replaced only with extreme difficulty and by gutting divisions still undergoing stateside training prior to overseas deployment. Even with these draconian measures, by December 1944 Eisenhower’s combat units were seriously understrength. The day before the German Ardennes Offensive was launched, Bradley’s 12th Army Group was short 30,000 Soldiers, 20,000 of them front-line infantrymen. Likewise, after over five years of war, America’s British and Canadian Allies were scraping the bottom of their countries’ manpower barrels as well.

Yet despite the serious manpower problem Ike’s strategy fostered, the U.S. Army’s 89 division “gamble” succeeded (although whether the policy could have survived an invasion of Japan if America’s atomic bombs had not made that bloody endeavor unnecessary remains a matter of debate). And the flawed replacement system, although stretched to the breaking point by the 89,000 American casualties incurred in the Battle of the Bulge, did not catastrophically collapse before final victory was won in May 1945.

However, would a less manpower intensive strategy – specifically Montgomery’s narrow thrust plan – have won the war quicker and at a lower cost in casualties? Brooke and Monty certainly argued at the time that it would, and their supporters subsequently made the same claim in the postwar “battle” over reputations. Was, as Ike’s critics claimed, Montgomery’s plan a viable alternative that would have shortened the war?

MONTY’S NARROW THRUST STRATEGY

Beginning in mid-1944, Montgomery claimed that he could win the war quickly by advancing in the north over a single axis along a narrow front with a force of 40 divisions that would target Germany’s vital Ruhr industrial heartland. (See Montgomery’s Narrow Thrust Strategy map, p. 32.) Eventually – principally postwar, when Berlin was a Cold War “hot spot” – this narrow thrust strategy was extended to include the claim that Monty’s forces could have moved eastward from the Ruhr and on to Berlin to capture Hitler’s capital ahead of the advancing Soviets. Indeed, on the surface, the narrow thrust strategy does seem to follow the principle of war of “mass,” the synchronized application of superior fighting power at a decisive point to achieve victory (the British call this principle “concentration”). Yet closer examination of Monty’s strategy reveals serious flaws that Ike’s critics have chosen to ignore.

First, as Martin van Creveld calculated in his superb study of logistics, Supplying War: Logistics From Wallenstein to Patton, Monty’s “40 divisions” realistically would have been quickly reduced to a mere 18 when all logistical and operational requirements were considered. Captured ground could not simply be left in a vacuum, but had to be occupied and defended against the inevitable German counterattacks. Supply lines had to be protected and secured, and as a force advanced, those key “sinews of war” extended longer and longer, requiring the diversion of increasing numbers of combat troops to protect them. Moreover, because Monty failed to capture the Scheldt Estuary expeditiously and open the port of Antwerp (closed to Allied shipping until December), Ike’s SHAEF logisticians at the time calculated that only 12 divisions could have been supported in a rapid advance. Van Creveld weighed all the factors in the “broad front” vs. “narrow thrust” strategy debate and concluded, “In the final account, the question as to whether Montgomery’s plan presented a real alternative to Eisenhower’s strategy must be answered in the negative.”

Second, Monty’s single axis strategy would have been highly vulnerable to a strong German riposte, such as the one launched in the December 1944 Battle of the Bulge surprise attack. Although in September 1944, at the time when Montgomery was pushing hard for his strategy, German forces were seriously depleted from the summer breakout and exploitation across France and appeared fatally disorganized, the German army soon demonstrated an almost miraculous capacity to regenerate and quickly reorganize its seemingly “defeated” forces. Indeed, had the panzer and infantry forces Hitler gathered for the Ardennes Offensive been instead thrown against the flank of Monty’s “narrow thrust,” it undoubtedly would have produced such a disastrous setback to the Western Allies’ fortunes that Ike’s armies might have been forced to await the Red Army along the Rhine River, not the Elbe! Countries behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War then would have included all of Germany, not just East Germany, as Stalin would have been unlikely to “give back” to the Western Allies the territory his Red Army soldiers had shed blood to capture, and which they occupied, regardless of any prior agreements among the Allied Big Three leaders (Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin).

Third, Eisenhower actually gave Montgomery a chance to show that his narrow thrust strategy could succeed – and Monty botched it. Ike approved the September 1944 Operation Market-Garden, Monty’s attempt to “jump” the lower Rhine and position his army group to drive on to the Ruhr industrial region. Market-Garden famously and disastrously failed at the “bridge too far” at Arnhem at the same time that German forces supposedly were so depleted and disorganized that Monty’s narrow thrust, it was claimed, would easily slice right through them and capture the Ruhr. Monty’s boast that his single axis advance would quickly win the war was both literally and figuratively “a bridge too far” at that point of the war in Europe.

Fourth, although Ike’s critics have claimed that his multiple offensives along the front line unnecessarily led to the bloody battles of attrition in the fall of 1944 – the Lorraine campaign and the Siegfried Line campaign – the very nature of modern, industrialized warfare made such relentless wearing down of the enemy an inevitable feature of mid-20th-century conflicts. Indeed, these vital, hard-fought, months-long battles positioned Ike’s armies to crack German defenses at last and to overrun Germany to the Elbe River in the spring of 1945. With the notable exception of the September through December 1944 Battle of the Hürtgen Forest that Ike foolishly allowed Bradley to get 12th Army Group enmeshed in, the attrition battles in the fall of 1944 and winter of 1944-45 in effect proved to be a necessary evil – the bloody precursor to the war’s final campaigns that helped set up Allied victory by battering and wearing down the enemy to the breaking point.

Fifth, Monty’s narrow thrust strategy ignored the military truism that regardless of how brilliant a plan might seem, the enemy gets a vote. As Moltke famously warned, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy.” Apparently, Brooke, Monty and other critics of Ike expected the Germans in late 1944 to react with the same stunned “deer in the headlights” operational paralysis that the British and French armies had exhibited in the face of the May 1940 German invasion of France. Yet the German army’s incredible resilience, and its ability to create new fighting forces seemingly out of thin air and launch devastating counterstrokes, had already – and often – been demonstrated on the Eastern Front in the wake of Red Army offensives that were typically much more powerful than the one Monty had planned. Moreover, the ferocity of the Germans in the West in late 1944 was suddenly fueled by the stark knowledge that they were now defending the very borders of their homeland against Allied invaders, not merely fighting to retain conquered territory.

Finally, the ridiculous claim by proponents of Monty’s “narrow thrust” strategy that it could have captured Berlin ahead of the advancing Soviets is simply Cold War-era wishful thinking. In September 1944, Monty’s single axis advance would have been hard-pressed even to have reached the Ruhr industrial area, let alone be powerful enough to quickly conquer that urban jungle. The spearheads of Ike’s dual axis advance captured the Ruhr by surrounding and isolating the immense region, not by invading and assaulting it block by block. Even had Montgomery captured the Ruhr, he hardly would have retained sufficient strength and the logistical wherewithal to drive rapidly on for another 270 miles to get to Berlin – and then win another round of nightmarish urban combat to capture Hitler’s capital. Logistics alone would have defeated any attempt by Monty to seize Berlin, regardless of the purely military challenges his forces faced.

The Cold War-era fantasy that all the Allies had to do was to get to Berlin and they could have taken the 321-square-mile urban tangle without a fight ignores the stark reality that Adolf Hitler (until his April 30, 1945, suicide) was still in charge and would not have permitted his defenders to give up his capital and last refuge to the Soviets or the Western Allies without a bitter fight to the end. The Soviets suffered 350,000 casualties capturing Berlin in some of the worst fighting of the war. The Allies, particularly the Americans with the Pacific War still staring them in the face, could not have afforded to suffer even a tiny fraction of those horrific casualty numbers.

Despite the claims of Monty’s supporters, Ike was certainly correct in not attempting to take Berlin. (See Command Decisions, July 2005 ACG.) Expending 100,000 American casualties (Bradley’s estimate of the cost) to capture a city that had already been given to the Soviets was idiotic. Had Ike tried, as D’Este has insightfully pointed out, “the resulting bloodbath of Allied casualties would have all but ruined [his] reputation.” At the time, Eisenhower remarked in several staff meetings: “Why should we endanger the life of a single American or Briton to capture areas we soon will be handing over to the Russians?” Ike was not only correct in passing on the prize of Berlin; he would have been criminally incompetent in even trying.

In retrospect, Monty’s narrow thrust strategy was indeed “Napoleonic” – but that is not a compliment. It belonged in a bygone era, long since past, when wars could be won in an afternoon through a single stroke of genius by a Napoleon or a Frederick the Great. Montgomery’s plan was woefully unsuited for modern industrialized warfare waged against a skilled, experienced and motivated enemy, as it did not inflict the manpower and materiel attrition necessary to fatally crack the opponent’s still formidable defenses. Eisenhower’s strategy, on the other hand, accomplished that.

IKE’S ALLIED VICTORY

Although Eisenhower’s steady, dual axis strategy was not implemented flawlessly, it proved to be a war winner. It was logistically supportable, flexible enough to allow Allied armies to react to German counterstrokes, and sufficiently robust to attrit German forces in the West to the point where Allied armies could crack the enemy defenses in early 1945, opening the way for the final offensive that overran Germany’s heartland to the Elbe River. Above all, as Ike had planned, his strategy produced an Allied victory, not merely a “British” or “American” triumph.

Far from being militarily incompetent and merely a genial but ineffective “chairman of the board,” as critics such as Brooke and Montgomery had claimed, Eisenhower clearly demonstrated in leading the 1944-45 campaign that he was a highly skilled and extremely effective commander. A consummate “team player,” Ike was superbly suited by training, experience, and, above all, character to be history’s most effective allied coalition commander. Assessing his military prowess, particularly his skill in coalition command, renowned historian Martin Blumenson concluded: “America’s greatest field commander in World War II, Eisenhower represented more than anyone else the new leadership and the new American role in world history. His achievement was great. His military stature assured.”

 

 Jerry D. Morelock, PhD, “Armchair General” Editor in Chief. 

Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Armchair General.

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