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This superb fighting general defied the odds by commanding two famed infantry divisions in World War II combat.

Second Chances were extremely rare among U.S. generals who had been “relieved for cause” from battle command during World War II. Regardless of the circumstances behind the sacking, these generals typically spent the rest of the war supervising stateside training units, remaining an ocean away from the fighting fronts. Yet the most notorious example of a World War II American combat general being relieved for cause had an entirely different ending.

Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen, after his controversial 1943 relief from command of the 1st Infantry Division in Sicily, not only defied the odds by receiving a second coveted combat division command, he also made the most of this rare “second chance” by leading the 104th Infantry Division “Timberwolves” on a victorious drive that pierced the heart of Adolf Hitler’s collapsing Third Reich. Although his famous “Terrible Terry” sobriquet was coined by war correspondents – Allen winced every time he read it – the German units that faced his American infantry divisions in North Africa, Sicily, Holland and Germany undoubtedly would have agreed that it was a truly fitting moniker.


All too often, when writing about a military leader, biographers and historians apply the overused cliché “born soldier.” Yet in Allen’s case the phrase is not only absolutely appropriate, it is almost literally true. Terry de la Mesa Allen was born on a frontier Army post (Fort Douglas, Utah Territory) on April Fool’s Day, 1888, into a family with strong military traditions on both sides. His father, Colonel Samuel Allen, was a career Army officer whose service eventually spanned 43 years, while Terry’s mother, Consuelo Alvarez de la Mesa, was the daughter of Colonel Carlos de la Mesa, a Spaniard who served in New York’s famed Garibaldi Guard during the Civil War.

Douglas MacArthur, another famous World War II general who was born and raised on a frontier Army post only a few years before Allen, might have been describing Allen’s early experiences when he recalled his own youth in Reminiscences: “I learned to ride and shoot even before I could read or write – indeed, almost before I could walk or talk.” Yet the similarities between the patrician MacArthur and the earthy Allen stopped there. Young Terry was a wildcat who thrived on all aspects of that era’s rough-and-tumble Army life, reporting that he “learned to ride, smoke, chew, cuss and fight at the earliest possible age.” One revelatory anecdote relates the time Allen came across a playmate who was crying because he had been spanked by his mother. When Terry asked why she had punished him, the youngster lamented, “Because I was playing with you!” Far from chagrined, Allen said, “My opinion of myself went up like a rocket.”

Allen’s youthful exuberance was not dampened by the Spartan environment at the United States Military Academy at West Point, which Terry entered in 1907. Cadet Allen quickly became famous for two skills: superb horsemanship and accumulating demerits. The latter kept him in trouble nearly continuously, and he also stumbled academically. In his second year he flunked math (a subject that also delayed George S. Patton’s graduation one year), and then in 1911 he failed an ordnance and gunnery course. Allen’s brazenly cavalier attitude toward West Point’s strict rules was not helpful in convincing the academic board to give him another chance, and he ultimately was dismissed from the academy. Never a quitter, Allen immediately enrolled in Catholic University of America and graduated in 1912. He quickly enlisted in the Army, passed a competitive exam, and was commissioned a cavalry lieutenant in November 1912, about five months after his former West Point classmates were commissioned.

In one of his early assignments in America’s pre-World War I Army, Allen was sent to the 14th Cavalry Regiment stationed on the troubled U.S.-Mexican border, where in 1913 he got his first taste of combat action skirmishing with smugglers running guns to Mexico’s revolutionary armies. In 1916 Allen graduated from the Mounted Service School at Fort Riley, Kan., and over the next two years he indulged his passion for playing polo, earned a well-deserved reputation as a prodigious drinker and a favorite of the local ladies, and managed to receive two promotions, first lieutenant in 1916 and captain in 1917. By mid-1918, however, he had set his sights on one overriding goal: get overseas to France and fight in World War I.

Although neither of the two officers who would later become Allen’s top-ranking commanders in World War II – Dwight “Ike” Eisenhower and Omar N. Bradley – was able to fulfill his own desperate wish to get into combat in World War I, Terry Allen found a way to make his dream come true. Promoted to temporary major in June 1918, he wangled an assignment later that month to the 315th Ammunition Train (a support unit) as it deployed overseas. That got him to France. His characteristic audacity then got him to a combat infantry unit. Ignoring “official channels,” Allen brazenly showed up at the graduation ceremony for an infantry officers’ combat command course, boldly stood in the line of graduates, and then bluffed his way past the understandably suspicious school commandant handing out completion certificates. The newly “certified” infantry officer was sent to the 90th Infantry Division. Allen made the most of this opportunity, leading a battalion in heavy combat during which his “distinguished and exceptional gallantry” earned him the Silver Star medal and a German bullet through the jaw. The latter actually proved somewhat beneficial; it “cured” the stutter that had afflicted Allen throughout his life until that time (except for a few momentary relapses later during particularly exciting World War II combat).

Like all U.S. officers holding temporary wartime rank, after the war Allen reverted to his permanent rank, which was captain. For the next two decades, he alternated troop assignments with attendance at Army schools. His academic performance was not substantially better than it had been at West Point, but it was good enough for him to pass. In 1925- 26 Allen and Eisenhower were two of the 241 officers in the Army Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Ike graduated first; Allen finished 221st. In 1928 Allen married Mary Frances Robin son, who managed to curb much of his more notorious extracurricular behavior and settle him down into respectable family life.

By 1940 Allen was a lieutenant colonel (promoted in 1935) with an enviable World War I combat record and a well-known reputation for dynamic, can-do leadership. The buoyantly energetic Allen was just the kind of officer Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall was looking for to command combat units in the war that he realized would soon embroil America. Over other more senior officers, Marshall promoted Allen to brigadier general – skipping the rank of colonel – and in 1942, as a temporary major general, Allen received one of the Army’s most coveted commands, the 1st U.S. Infantry Division.


Terry Allen and the men of the 1st Infantry Division hit it off from the start. The personalities of commander and unit meshed perfectly, and under Allen the division’s esprit soared. Proudly calling themselves “the First Team,” Terry’s Soldiers were a cocky, pugnacious, swaggering lot who feared neither their German enemies nor the American military policemen (MPs) whose unenviable task it was to try to maintain order behind the lines. An observer wrote of the 1st Infantry Division’s commander, “Terry de la Mesa Allen – even his name swaggered.”

On November 2, 1942, when Allen’s division landed at Oran in North Africa for its first World War II combat action (Operation Torch), the wiry 54-year-old commander had supreme confidence in himself and his unit. Allen was 5 feet 10 inches tall, but his ramrod straight bearing made him seem like a 6-footer. The adjectives used by veterans of one of the units he commanded in World War II paint a vivid picture of how Allen appeared to his men: confident, cocky, tough, stubborn, friendly, honest, determined, tireless, quick, aggressive, skillful, religious. Devoutly Catholic, Allen prayed for his Soldiers before each battle. His men idolized him, calling him “one of the greatest combat commanders in the history of the U.S. Army.”

After the excitement of the initial landings, the next few months in North Africa were frustrating for a dynamic commander who desperately wanted to lead his division against the German army. Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower had scattered the 1st Division’s combat battalions over a 100-mile defensive sector, assigning the units to other Allied formations and keeping them well back from where U.S. and British spearheads were fighting the main German force. Allen’s solution was predictably audacious: He jumped his chain of command and appealed directly to Eisenhower, demanding, “Is this a private war, or can anybody get in it?” In March 1943 Eisenhower reunited the 1st Division under Allen’s command.

Describing the 1st Infantry Division’s subsequent combat in the Tunisian campaign, Allen wrote: “The division has been fighting hard and has done well. [They] led the American counterattack in the Kasserine Pass, started the American offensive with the seizure of Gafsa, fought through 21 days at the grueling battle of El Guettar, and closed in for ‘the kill’ at the final drive on Tunis. … They managed to knock the hell out of the best units the Germans put against them.” Allen might have added an incident that occurred at his division command post on March 23: When a fierce German panzer counterattack threatened to overrun his headquarters, Allen stoutly refused advice to withdraw, saying, “I will like hell pull out, and I’ll shoot the first bastard who does.”

Allen and the First Team fought hard in the Allies’ Tunisian victory, but the division and its commander ran into serious trouble when they “played hard” in rear echelon rest areas after the fighting in North Africa was over. The 1st Division’s Soldiers literally ran amok, terrorizing locals, attacking rear echelon troops – whom the combat veterans considered “goldbrickers” – and defying the best efforts of MPs to restore order.

When word of the “rioting” reached Eisenhower, he called on the carpet Allen’s boss, II Corps commander Omar Bradley, and gave him “a royal chewing out.” Bradley transferred the blame to Allen for his “utter disregard for discipline, everywhere evident in [Allen’s] cocky division.” Bradley wrote that he “was not certain that Allen … had the inner toughness to impose discipline and training or the willingness to take orders from and play on the same team with higher command.” The 1st Division’s behind-the-lines antics had badly embarrassed Bradley, who, unlike the combat-tested Allen, had finally received his first command of American combat troops after nearly 30 years of Army service.

Bradley would eventually “relieve for cause” more division and regimental commanders than any other senior U.S. general, but at that moment he had set his sights on his first victim: Allen had to go. Yet with the tough Sicily campaign approaching, Bradley was not about to fire his best “fighting general” before the island was conquered. As historian Russell Weigley wrote, “There had never been any question about [Allen’s] competence as a trainer, organizer, and inspirational battle captain.” Unbeknownst to Allen, his days as 1st Division commander were numbered; however, Bradley was determined to squeeze out of him and his unit every ounce of blood, courage and sacrifice he could before he swung the ax.

Allen and his Soldiers saw heavy combat action in Sicily, notably at Gela and Troina, facing some of Germany’s best fighting units. At Gela, where the 1st Division landed, a fierce German counterattack threatened to break through the division’s lines and reach the invasion beaches. In defiance of the enemy advance, Allen quipped, “Hell, we haven’t begun to fight. Our artillery hasn’t been overrun yet.” His men responded by beating back the German attack. An even tougher fight awaited them at Troina; some 1st Division units lost over half their men assaulting the strongly defended mountain town. In the end, Troina fell – but so did Terry Allen. With the Sicily campaign winding down, and Bradley convinced that he had wrung out of the First Team and its commander every measure of courage and sacrifice that he could, he relieved Allen and his assistant division commander, Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr.

Ironically, two days after Allen was sacked, his image graced the cover of Time magazine. The August 9, 1943, cover story extolled the virtues and battlefield accomplishments of Allen and the 1st Division. Yet even as Time readers were being introduced to “a great division commander in the making” who was “gaining a personal luster,” Allen was on his way back to the States. For most sacked commanders this was a one-way trip, but not for Terry Allen. A year after Bradley summarily relieved him of command, he was back in combat action commanding another famed infantry division.


The ill will Bradley felt toward Terry Allen apparently was not shared by Bradley’s boss, Supreme Commander Eisenhower. Seven weeks after Allen was relieved from command of 1st Infantry Division, he received a letter from Ike that stated, “I am certain that after you have had your well-deserved rest from the battlefield, your experience and courage will command your assignment to equally if not more important duty.” Although publicly announcing that a relieved commander had been sent stateside for “rest and recuperation” was usually a face-saving cover for a sacked officer, Ike treated it as the truth in Allen’s case. Even Bradley admitted that when he approached Eisenhower about relieving Allen, Ike’s solution was “to return Allen to the States, without prejudice, [and] recommended as a corps commander.” Since Eisenhower, as theater commander, could refuse to accept any officer’s assignment – even one recommended by Marshall – the fact that Terry Allen returned to command a second combat division under Eisenhower attests to Ike’s high regard for him.

On October 15, 1943, just over two months after Bradley had fired Allen and declared him “not fit to command,” “Terrible Terry” took over leadership of the 104th Infantry Division at its training camp in Bend, Ore. Once again, commander and division meshed perfectly, and Allen set about imbuing the 104th “Timberwolves” with the same high esprit and fighting morale he had inspired in the 1st Infantry Division. Strict discipline was one of the first things on Allen’s agenda for his new command, belying Bradley’s carping comment to General George Patton just prior to the Sicily campaign, in which he complained that Allen was “a very poor disciplinarian.” Allen also vigorously emphasized intense training in night fighting tactics; the division trained for it 30-35 hours a week, which was three to four times what the Army required. Based on his combat experience in Tunisia and Sicily, Allen was convinced that proficiency in night fighting kept casualties low.

To this day, Timberwolf veterans recall Allen’s constant combat training refrain: “Find ’em, fix ’em, fight ’em … take the high ground … inflict maximum damage to the enemy with minimum casualties to ourselves. Night attack! Night attack! Night attack!” Time and again, the famed division’s superb combat performance against Hitler’s legions proved just how well the Timberwolves took Allen’s lessons to heart.

The 104th sailed from New York for Europe on August 27, 1944, arriving in Cherbourg, France, on September 7. Allen’s first stop was the American cemetery in Normandy to visit the grave of his friend and former assistant division commander, Teddy Roosevelt Jr., who had died of a heart attack five weeks after leading troops ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day. Prior to his death, Roosevelt, whom Bradley had relieved as 1st Division assistant commander when he sacked Allen, had been about to receive a rare “second chance” at combat command. Only days before the former president’s son succumbed to heart failure, Eisenhower had signed orders giving him command of the 90th Infantry Division.

On October 23, 1944, the 104th entered combat, initially serving with British and Canadian units. That same day Allen received another vote of confidence from Eisenhower. In reply to a letter that Allen had written to Eisenhower thanking him for the 104th combat assignment, Ike wrote, “I know that you will get along splendidly with your British associates; you are an experienced commander and I expect nothing but the best from you.”

The accolades the Timberwolves received from Canadian General G.G. Simonds after their initial combat proved that Ike was right. Simonds wrote, “Once the Timberwolves got their teeth into the Boche [Germans], they showed great dash, and the British and Canadian troops on their flanks expressed great admiration for their courage and enthusiasm … when they again meet the Boche, all hell cannot stop the Timberwolves.” Like Eisenhower, Simonds was correct in his assumptions about Allen and the Soldiers of the 104th. The Timberwolves sank their teeth into the enemy and did not let go during the next 200 days of combat operations.

Once the Allied offensive into Germany resumed after the Battle of the Bulge (December 1944-January 1945), the 104th conducted a combat crossing of the flooded Roer River on February 23, 1945, as part of the Rhineland campaign to close on the Rhine River, the last natural barrier into the heart of Germany. Night attacks became a specialty of Allen’s well-trained Timberwolves, earning them an additional nickname: the Night Fighters. On March 7 the Timberwolves seized the southern half of Cologne, and on March 22 they crossed the Rhine, attacking east of the Remagen bridgehead. The 104th raced across Germany, posting advances of as much as 140 miles per week. On April 11 the Timberwolves liberated Nordhausen concentration camp, where they witnessed Nazi atrocities firsthand. April 15-19 they captured Halle, a city whose capitulation Allen personally negotiated with Felix Graf von Luckner, Germany’s famed sea raider of World War I, whose intervention prevented the historic city’s destruction. On April 27 East met West when the 104th Division’s patrols made contact with the advancing Red Army’s 118th Division near the Elbe River dividing line.

When the war in Europe ended 11 days later, Terry Allen’s Soldiers had fought for over six months, losing 1,445 men killed in action, 4,801 wounded in action, and 111 missing in action. The Timberwolves returned to the States in July 1945 to prepare for the invasion of Japan – an attack that mercifully was made unnecessary by Japan’s surrender in August. Allen bade an appropriate farewell to the second famed division that he had poured his heart and soul into, saying, “You have lived up to your battle slogan, ‘Nothing in hell can stop the Timberwolves,’ and nothing in hell did stop the Timberwolves.”


The American GIs’ beloved World War II correspondent Ernie Pyle (killed during the fighting on Ie Shima in the Pacific on April 18, 1945) included a description of Allen in his book Here is Your War. It seems an altogether fitting tribute to “Terrible Terry”:

Major General Terry Allen was one of my favorite people. Partly because he didn’t give a damn for hell or high water; partly because he was more colorful than most; and partly because he was the only general outside the Air Forces I could call by his first name. If there was one thing in the world Allen lived and breathed for, it was to fight. He had been shot up in the last war, and he seemed not the least averse to getting shot up again. … His pattern for victory was simple: just wade in and murder the hell out of the low-down, good-for-nothing so-and-so’s.

General Allen retired in 1946 and died September 12, 1969, in El Paso, Texas. He is buried in the National Cemetery at Fort Bliss, Texas, alongside his son, Lieutenant Colonel Terry de la Mesa Allen Jr. The younger Allen, a fighting infantry officer like his dad, was killed in action in Vietnam on October 17, 1967, while leading a battalion from his father’s old outfit, the 1st Infantry Division.


Jerry D. Morelock, PhD, ARMCHAIR GENERAL Editor in Chief.

NOTE: ACG thanks Mr. John Hensel of Sarasota, Fla., and the 104th Infantry Division National Timberwolf Association ( for their assistance in the preparation of this article. The association’s official publication, Timberwolf Howl, is published semi-annually (January and June) by Editor William S. Jackson.