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The GI General vs. Old Blood and Guts

Wait a minute, you misprinted the cover line—was it supposed to read “Omar Bradley: Patton’s Secret Weapon” (“The General’s General,” February/March 2009)? Now that I could believe! All Bradley’s successes, Tunisia and Sicily, came when he profited from Patton’s tutelage. On his own, the luster left the rose.

At Normandy he failed to execute his own plan for a swift breakout. Bocage, did I hear you say? You praised Bradley for teaching his students that the key to successful tactics is the ability to appreciate terrain from your opponent’s perspective. The bocage had been there for a millennium or more. Kinda hard to be a surprise.

After the initial success of Cobra, was it a stroke of genius for Bradley to countermand Patton’s specific instructions to ignore the flanks and barrel headlong for Brest, allowing the Germans time to organize a successful blockage of its port? How ironic that the importance of capturing Brest intact was realized not by military masterminds Ike, Monty, or Brad, but by the original wild man, Patton.

How did Bradley use his secret weapon during the Bulge? He didn’t. Whether he was too proud to ask Patton’s assistance, or he simply did not realize the magnitude of the developing dis aster, he did not consult Patton until Ike ordered him to!

Ernie Pyle was a great journalist, granted. But who made him a great evaluator of military talent? Was it great journalism not to look for a motive behind Ike’s suggestion to go dis cover Bradley? Did he do a disservice by perpetuating the stereotype of Patton as a glory hound who valued his men only as a means of accumulating military honors? I do know that any mother whose son served in the European theater and knew the facts would have done anything to get him into Patton’s Third Army and keep him there to give him the best chance of coming back safely.



Mr. Axelrod’s laudatory article over- looked a couple of disastrous decisions Bradley made that cost thousands of lives. He was primarily responsible for the decision to take the Hürtgen Forest by a frontal assault. This heavily wooded forest with rugged terrain and very few roads was an excellent defensive area. It also was part of the Siegfried Line, which had been built in the mid-’30s, and by 1944 the bunkers were well concealed by natural camouflage. Bradley poured 10 divisions into this meat grinder from September until February incurring losses in excess of 30,000 men. The Germans were pleasantly surprised that we attacked through the forest rather than outflanking it.



Bradley is in Patton’s shadow for a reason: he was not the leader Patton was. Yes, Patton did have his faults, but I believe the Germans feared Patton much more than they did Bradley or anyone else. Even Ike was well aware of this.



Alan Axelrod responds: My article was not intended to be “laudatory” of Bradley, but neither was it writ ten as a critique. There is indeed much to criticize Bradley for, and I don’t disagree in any major way with most of what these readers say. But my purpose was not to inventory Bradley’s shortcomings.

My leading theme is that among Bradley’s cardinal strengths as a commander in Europe was his ability to use Patton intelligently, often despite the interference of Eisenhower and virtually always in the face of Montgomery’s monumental egoism and monolithic view of strategy. What I find remarkable is that, despite his failings—including his tendency to embrace excessively conventional prudence—Bradley had the integrity and wit to actively conspire with Patton against both Ike and Monty to allow the Third Army commander to exercise his unprecedented genius in aggressively mobile war fare. I do stand by my perception that Bradley employed Patton as “his” weapon precisely because Bradley was in a position senior to Patton. Patton was Bradley’s to command. Right or wrong, that was the reality of the European campaign.

Artist of War

Your article on Gen. Omar Bradley and mention of the 12th Army Group brought back special memories for my great-uncle Michael Kimmel. When I showed him the picture of General Bradley on the cover, he immediately looked for “his patch” in the article. This is because he had the honor of designing that distinguished unit’s shoulder insignia once it was activated after the invasion of Europe.

As a draftsman assigned to Bradley’s headquarters, one of his duties was to draw the symbols and names of the units on the large tactical battle maps. Whether for this reason or because of his civilian work in commercial art, he was given the task of designing the shoulder insignia.

The final sketch had to be striking, bold, and, of course, one that General Bradley would approve. My uncle started with a firm, flat top line so the patch would look good under the shoulder seam. While sketching some basic designs, he realized that they had evolved into a pentagonal shape. This made sense to him, as it represented the Pentagon in Washington, and if an important symbol of America was going to represent the 12th Army Group, the colors had to be red, white, and blue.

He sketched three designs for the 12th Army Group insignia and General Bradley selected the winner. My uncle tells me with a smile that the general liked the red, white, and blue. Every time the movie Patton is shown, I call my uncle to remind him to look for his patch on the shoulder of Karl Malden, who portrayed Bradley. Thank you for your look at the general and for helping my uncle and me relive fond memories.



Resurrected Heroes of Pearl Harbor

I enjoyed the article about Pearl Harbor I have been studying it since I was 11 years old and have collected numerous articles and books about it. In my collection is a U.S. Navy book that details the attack, fleet salvage, and the battles the repaired ships went on to fight.

We hear about the new class of battle ships that entered the end of the war, but I have not read about how the ships that were sunk at Pearl Harbor were the muscle behind the Pacific theater of operations, and how those ships went on to win many battle stars. It was those battle ships that provided cover for our men at Okinawa and Iwo Jima!

A friend of mine who has since passed away was on the USS Pennsylvania during the attack. It was the “sister” ship to the USS Arizona and the flagship at the time of the attack. It sustained minimal damage and was put into action before most of the other ships. It is too bad that the navy sank the Pennsylvania for testing instead of placing it at Pearl Harbor. I have been there many times and am always very moved by what happened to the Arizona and all of the other battleships that went down that Sunday morning and then went on to fight again.




In the photograph on page 58 of the May 2009 issue, Princess Margarete of Prussia is with her mother and siblings, the Hohenzollerns—not the Hesses.


Originally published in the July 2009 issue of World War II. To subscribe, click here