Omar Bradley, the General’s General

Omar Bradley and George S. Patton. National Archives
Omar Bradley and George S. Patton. National Archives

Omar Bradley deserves reconsideration as the commander who put Patton in the right place at the right time

Shortly before the American invasion force embarked for Normandy on June 6, 1944, Gen. Omar Bradley, assigned to command 12th Army Group, convened his corps and division commanders at Bristol for a final review. There, General Bradley, the “old schoolteacher” from West Point and the Infantry School, personally conducted the class of generals. D-Day was full of awful imponderables. Facing the unknown, Bradley fell back upon the familiar—the world of the classroom and of the Missouri schoolteacher father he idolized. One by one, he called each general up to a map of France, proffered a pointer, and asked each to describe in detail his outfit’s scheme of maneuver. Maxwell Taylor, one of the generals present that day, could not help but reflect on a similar scene that had unfolded very differently just a year earlier, when George S. Patton Jr. met with his commanders before the assault on Sicily. For Taylor, the contrast between the two men was stark. Patton had “turned on us with a roar and, waving a menacing swagger stick under our noses, concluded: ‘I never want to see you bastards again unless it’s at your post on the shores of Sicily.’” But when Bradley concluded his lesson, he “folded his hands behind his back, his eyes got a little moist, and in lieu of a speech, he simply said, ‘Good luck, men.’”

Omar Bradley entered World War II as Patton’s junior, but by the critical phase of the European campaign had emerged as Patton’s commanding officer. Nevertheless, throughout the war and in the long popular memory of that war, he found himself unable to emerge from the other man’s shadow. Different from Patton in almost every way—personal background, politics, social class, military philosophy, personality, skill set, appearance—Bradley was inextricably bound to him, both during the war and through history’s perspective. Patton’s partisans sometimes say that it was “conventional” commanders like Bradley who thwarted their idol’s genius, and even some of Bradley’s admirers would not entirely disagree with the opinion of 60 Minutes’ professional curmudgeon, Andy Rooney: “It was because we had so few soldiers like [Bradley] that we won the war.” Yet the strange truth was that these antithetical military leaders catalyzed each other through their very opposition. Bradley didn’t like Patton; Bradley even feared Patton. But Bradley had the courage and intelligence to use Patton as no other commander could have or probably would have, and Patton, for his part, hungered to be so used.

12 Responses

  1. William Weidner

    General Bradley ordered Patton’s XVCorps to sit behind the southern inter-Army Group Boundary at Argentan-St. Leonard-Gace for nearly a week from 12 August to 17 August 1944, leaving critical terrain features in possession of the Germans: like the ridge line at St. Leonard, the high ground northeast of Arhentan and the critical road net at Argentan. This cost a lot of American boys their lives. The GI’s general my foot……..

    Reply
  2. B. Horne

    WW–
    good point–you seem to know your stuff.
    But I’m curious what you and others thought about the real theme of this story–that Bradley’s real genius was in knowing how and when to use Patton, in masterminding Operation Cobra, then throwing
    Patton in to spearhead it?

    Bill Horne, Editor
    World War II Magazine

    Reply
  3. J Kenneday

    A good article on a good General.

    While we needed our Patton’s, Montgomery’s & MacArthur’s it was important that we also needed the good solid Generals to keep them in rein. I believe this was Eisenhower’s, & IMHO Bradley’s place.

    Reply
  4. J Wire

    Omar Bradley is the General that the Army since WWll has tried to use as a poster child more than any other general. He cared about his troops like a father yet always the objective was the mission to be accomplished. His men loved him because they knew he did care about them and knew the best way to end the war was through defeating the enemy. Patton never let up on the enemy and yet he never let any supplies catch up to him either. I knew a man who was in Patton’s unit during the war who said for 6months for breakfast, lunch and supper he ate red beets and peas. This is no lie. He hated beets and peas for the rest of his life. All the people who wern’t there looked at Patton’s sucesses and glorifiy him. He was a pusher who only cared of defeating the Enemy with the most glory for himself possible. Bradly was the man to get your son home and defeat the enemy.

    Reply
  5. W John

    J W- “Bradly was the man to get your son home and defeat the enemy.”

    Do you know how many US soldier dead in Hurtgen Forest under the command of Bradly, do you know Patton’s third army had the lowest causality/kill ratio?

    Reply
  6. Charles Darnay

    General Bradley was a great military teacher- wow look at the impressive students: Creighton W. Abrams Jr., Bruce Palmer Jr., Andrew J. Goodpaster Jr., John L. Throckmorton, and William Westmoreland. WIthout Bradley’s leadership and teachings in the middle to late 1930’s our officer ranks would have been terrible. Thank God General Bradley was available.

    Reply
  7. Larry Burgess

    I have always been a fan of both General Patton and General Bradley. They were very different men when it came to fighting a war but they both got the job done. The line in the movie “Patton” sort of tells the story and points out the difference between the two men.

    Bradley said to Patton some thing along the line of: “George, I fight this war because its my job but you fight this war because you love it…”

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  8. Paul Chacon

    My godfather was General Bradley’s bodyguard during WWII and has a memory that is nothing short of astonishing! His name is Louis Villegos and is living in Colorado Springs CO. He remebers names dates and villages during their movemnts throughout Europe during the war.

    Reply
  9. rsperez

    Games & wars are won by ‘gamebreakers’. If McClellan had remained a the head of the Army of the Potomac, we’d have a divided country today.
    The Real Genius of the War Department & WW 2 was General George C. Marshall. He was the wizard behind the curtain that put it all together & provided advice & counsel to Eisenhower, the President & the general staff.
    Read his biography…you will be amazed. He was a great human being.
    Thanks…Bob P

    Reply

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