Omar Bradley, the General’s General

Bradley saw Patton as the very man he needed to ensure that Cobra would be expanded as much as it possibly could. Patton did “transform” Cobra, but it was Bradley who deliberately employed him to do so. It was the beginning of a partnership of oil and water personalities that somehow worked. Ernie Pyle’s anti-Patton had decided to exploit Patton, and, for his part, Patton was only too happy to be exploited.

From the breakout through the rest of the war, the relationship between Bradley and his Third Army commander, though hardly untroubled, was extraordinarily effective. The pair actively conspired to circumvent Bernard Montgomery’s imperious demands to shift the offensive—and substantial resources—northward, for his exclusive use. Against Eisenhower’s directions, if not explicit orders, Bradley allowed Patton to maintain the offensive in the south. By the summer and fall of 1944, Bradley’s view of Patton had matured. He had come to regard him as a powerful weapon. Like all powerful weapons, he was dangerous to use, but what else is the profession of a soldier than the business of using powerful, dangerous weapons?

It is no affront to Bradley to suggest that his signal contribution to victory in Europe was his bold yet sensitive exploitation of a great commander who excelled at making life miserable for those above him. In that way, the GI General became the general’s general. It was a role that not only survived the end of World War II, but became increasingly important in the postwar environment. In his exquisitely uneasy but prodigiously productive relationship with Patton, Bradley fashioned himself into the prototype of a new kind of officer: a military executive operating in a middle realm between tactics and strategy and between combat and politics.

After the war, Bradley served successively as the vigorously reform-minded director of the Veterans Administration, and then as army chief of staff. Next, he was appointed the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

It would be far too much to claim that this military executive shaped American cold war policy, but he did advise on it, and, more importantly, he directed much of the military implementation of that policy. The poor Missouri boy who had enrolled at West Point for the sake of a free education became the first in a new line of American commanders, called upon to remain masters of military strategy, tactics, and technology—an arsenal of dangerous, powerful weapons—even as they made themselves masters of politics and diplomacy.

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……..

  2. B. Horne

    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

  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.

  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.

  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?

  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.

  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…”

  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.

  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


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