DWIGHT ‘IKE’ EISENHOWER (1890–1969)
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Born in Texas into a family of German immigrant pacifists, Dwight Eisenhower, the third of seven boys, was brought up in Kansas. He attended the West Point Military Academy, graduating in 1915. Although he rose to the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel during the First World War, he never saw any action; a drawback, as he saw it, that caused him embarrassment and was later used against him as an example of his lack of frontline experience.
Eisenhower married his wife, Mamie Geneva Doud, in 1916. (But during the Second World War he became very close to his driver, Kay Summersby. When Eisenhower visited US troops on the eve of D-Day, Summersby accompanied him. Whether they had an affair is open to speculation, although Summersby clearly said so. In 1975, after the death of Eisenhower, Summersby wrote her autobiography entitled Past Forgetting: My Love Affair with Dwight D. Eisenhower.)
During the interwar years, while stationed in France, he wrote a guide to the battlefields of the Great War, as it was still known.
In 1939, Eisenhower, or Ike, was a 49-year-old lieutenant colonel (now no longer temporary). Yet, within three years, he had been appointed ahead of 366 more senior officers to take command of US forces in Europe. Based in Britain, he commanded Operation Torch, the Allied landing in North Africa; and, in 1943, oversaw the invasion of Italy. As Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, appointed in December 1943, he masterminded the D-Day landings, the Battle of Normandy and the subsequent push into Germany.
Despite his lack of combat experience, Eisenhower was known for his diplomacy, bringing together a sense of collaboration between the British and Americans, and his ability to cope with conflicting egos, especially with the likes of Montgomery and Patton.
Following the liberation of Nazi-occupied France, Eisenhower favoured a ‘broad thrust’ into Germany rather than the quicker but riskier narrow front favoured by Bernard Montgomery.
He served briefly as Governor of the US Zone in post-war Germany, before returning to the USA and becoming Army Chief of Staff. He was courted by both the Republican and Democrat parties ahead of the 1948 presidential election, but refused to be drawn in. Instead, Eisenhower became President of Columbia University and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which time he wrote his bestselling Crusade in Europe. In 1951, he was appointed the Supreme Commander of the newly created North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), serving for just fifteen months.
In 1953, standing as a Republican, Eisenhower became the thirty-fourth US President, serving two terms. The first Republican president for twenty years, he oversaw the ending of the Korean War, sent the first US troops to South Vietnam and, in 1956, stopped the Anglo-French invasion of Suez. Although he had a serious heart attack in 1955, and a series of minor ones throughout his time as president, he fought and won a second term the following year. As president, Eisenhower was much criticized for allowing Senator Joseph McCarthy, with Vice-President Richard Nixon’s backing, too much of a free hand in exposing supposed communists within American society. It was only as McCarthy started to attack the military, most famously, George C. Marshall, Eisenhower’s old mentor, that Eisenhower finally and rather belatedly intervened.
Eisenhower refused to stand behind Nixon during the 1960 presidential election. Nixon narrowly lost to Democrat, John F. Kennedy.
Dwight D. Eisenhower died, aged 78, on 28 March 1969.
OMAR BRADLEY (1893–1981)
Born in 1893 in Missouri, Omar Nelson Bradley fought on the Western Front during the last months of the First World War. His father, a schoolteacher who had married one of his pupils, died in 1906 while Omar was still only thirteen.
In 1943, during the Second World War, Bradley led US troops on to Sicily. The following year, based in London, he was given command of American troops assigned to the Normandy landings. His immediate commander was Bernard Montgomery. After a battle of attrition, he led the capture of Cherbourg, then the advance into the town of Avranches. On 1 August 1944, Bradley was given command of the US Twelfth Army Group, consisting of one and a quarter million troops, the largest US army ever assigned to a single general. Bradley’s army fought in the Ardennes, during the Battle of the Bulge, December 1944–January 1945, and his soldiers were among the Allied troops who shook hands with their Soviet counterparts on the River Elbe in April 1945.
Post-war, Bradley served on the US Joint Chiefs of Staff and in 1950 was appointed ‘General of the Army’, the highest rank in the US army. He oversaw US strategy during the Korean War and retired in 1953, a month after the end of the war. Although retired, he advised President Lyndon Johnson on military policy during the Vietnam War.
His memoirs, A Soldier’s Story, were published in 1951.
Omar Bradley died on 8 April 1981, aged 88, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
ROBERT CAPA (1913–54)
‘If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.’
Considered one of the greatest war photographers, Robert Capa’s images, especially those taken during the Spanish Civil War and the D-Day landings, are among the iconic images of the twentieth century.
Born Andre Friedmann in Budapest in 1913, he had, by the age of 18, turned into a political radical, opposed to the authoritarian rule of Hungarian regent, Miklós Horthy. In 1931, Friedmann was arrested and imprisoned by Hungary’s secret police. On his release, after only a few months, he moved to Berlin where he studied journalism and political science while working part-time as a darkroom apprentice. In 1933, alarmed by the rise of Nazism, Friedmann, who was Jewish, moved to Paris.
Two years later, while in Paris, Friedmann met Gerta Pohorylle, a German Jew who had also fled Hitler’s Germany. Together they worked as photojournalists, fell in love and, in an attempt to make their work more commercially appealing, pretended they both worked for the famous American photographer, Robert Capa. Friedmann took the photos, Pohorylle hawked them to the news agencies and credit was given to the fictional Robert Capa. (The name ‘Capa’ was chosen as homage to the American film director, Frank Capra.)
In 1936, Friedmann, having now assumed the name Robert Capa, and Pohorylle, who had also changed her name, becoming Gerda Taro, travelled to Spain to cover the Civil War, which had erupted in July that year. It was in Spain that Capa took the photo, first published in September 1936 by French magazine Vu, and later in Life magazine, that made him a household name – The Falling Soldier, a photograph of a Republican soldier supposedly at the moment of death from a sniper’s bullet. The photo has been the subject of much debate. While Capa’s defenders, particularly his brother, maintain its authenticity, others accuse Capa of having staged the scene. Research shows that the photograph was taken some thirty-five miles away from where Capa said it had been, in an area that saw no fighting on the day the shot was taken. Perhaps more damning is that the photo bears no evidence of a bullet wound.
On 25 July 1937, while Capa was away in Paris, Taro was injured in Spain, crushed by a reversing Republican tank. She died the following day, a week short of her twenty-seventh birthday. Grief-stricken, Capa travelled to China to document the Sino-Japanese War.
With the outbreak of war in 1941, following Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Capa was in New York, and started working for various magazines, including Life and Time. Sent to Europe, he accompanied American troops during the 1943 advance through German-held Sicily, and, in October, the battle for Naples.
In April 1944, he transferred to London ahead of the planned invasion of Normandy. He landed with the second wave of troops on Omaha beach on 6 June, D-Day. Sheltering from German gunfire and shaking with fear ‘from toe to hair’, Capa managed, over the course of two hours, to take 106 shots of American soldiers fighting and struggling on the beach. He quickly returned to London to have the four rolls of film developed. Unfortunately, a laboratory assistant dried the pictures too quickly, thereby melting three rolls and half the fourth. The only surviving eleven photographs were, as a result of the blunder, blurred. Since dubbed the ‘Magnificent Eleven’, part of the set was originally published in Life on 11 June.
Following the war, Capa became an American citizen and, in 1947, founded Magnum Photos in Paris with French photographer, Henri Cartier-Bresson. He continued his travels, working in Israel and the Soviet Union, where he took photos for the novelist John Steinbeck on his tour of the country.
Although Capa had decided not to work in any more war zones, in 1954 he accepted Time’s request to cover the war in French Indochina, modern-day Vietnam. On 25 May, in the city of Thái Bình, Capa stepped on a mine and was killed. He was 40.
JUAN PUJOL GARCIA (1912–88)
Juan Pujol Garcia
Juan Pujol Garcia was unique among Second World War agents – he was the only one to offer his services as a double agent as opposed to all others who had been captured and ‘turned’. Bespectacled, balding and timid, Pujol was not the image usually associated with a double agent, let alone Britain’s most effective one.
Born in Barcelona in February 1912, Pujol was working on a chicken farm when, in 1936, the Spanish Civil War broke out. He managed to fight for both the Republican side and the Nationalists. He was committed to neither and hated the extreme views they each represented. By the end of the war, he was able to claim that he had served in both armies without firing a single bullet for either.
He emerged from the experience with an intense dislike for extreme ideologies and, for the ‘good of humanity’, sought to help achieve a more moderate system. Three times he approached British services in Lisbon and Madrid, offering to spy for them, only to be turned away without an interview. Undeterred, Pujol decided to become a double agent. He offered his services to the German Abwehr service based also in Lisbon, proposing to spy on the English, claiming that as a diplomat working in London, he knew England well. His audacity was certainly impressive – he had never visited England nor could he speak the language, and he had forged a British passport without ever having seen a real one. Incredibly, the Germans fell for the story, put him through an intensive training course, and supplied him with the tools of the trade – invisible ink, cash, and a codename, Arabel – and sent him on assignment to England with instructions to build a network of spies.
This Pujol did. Soon, he had a team of agents working for him. They included disillusioned men and women, disaffected English nationals, and people prepared to betray Britain in return for wine. Between them, they supplied Pujol a steady stream of information which, in turn, he passed on to the Abwehr.
But it was all false. Pujol never went to England. Instead, he ensconced himself in Lisbon and armed with a Blue Guide to England and various books he found in the library, made everything up. He reported on non-existent troops, and routinely mixed up his pounds, shillings and pence. The Germans seemed not to notice. He even had the nerve to post his reports from Lisbon letterboxes, telling his German paymasters that among his agents was a pilot who regularly flew to Portugal, posting his correspondence locally.
Soon, the British were intercepting his messages and were delighted at the amount of false information being fed to the enemy. They determined to track him down. But in April 1942, Pujol approached them. This time, not surprisingly, they took his offer more seriously. Given the codename Garbo, Pujol began working with a Spanish- and German-speaking Security Service officer, Tomás (Tommy) Harris.
The Germans were so impressed with the work of their Arabel and his network of agents that they rarely bothered to recruit further agents. For the British, it was imperative that the Abwehr continued to trust Arabel. Thus, the information Pujol and Harris fed them was often accurate but of low importance, or of high value but timed so that by the time the Germans received it, it was too late to do anything.
Soon, Pujol’s team of fictional agents numbered twenty-seven, each with their own backstory, supposedly based across Britain. Some were caught, imprisoned or, as Arabel told the Germans, had become untrustworthy. On one notorious occasion, a Liverpool-based agent had died. The Secret Service even had his obituary published in the local newspaper, and Arabel got the Abwehr to pay the agent’s ‘widow’ an annual pension.
Pujol played a major role in keeping much of German strength focused on a possible invasion at the Pas-de-Calais. The difficulties the Allies had landing on Normandy, particularly via Omaha beach, would have been that much greater if it had not been for the efforts of Britain’s Spanish double agent.
Such was Pujol’s success, he was awarded an MBE by Britain’s King George VI and an Iron Cross, personally authorized by Hitler (a rare event for a foreigner of the Reich). Pujol was perhaps the only individual to be so highly decorated by both sides.
Following the war, Pujol faked his death in Angola, and settled to a quiet life with his family in Venezuela. Pujol died in Caracas on 10 October 1988, aged 76.
BERNARD MONTGOMERY (1887–1976)
The son of a bishop, Bernard Montgomery, or ‘Monty’, was born in London but spent his early years in Tasmania. He fought during much of the First World War, and was twice badly wounded. An obstinate individual, he fell out with his mother to such an extent that when she died in 1949, he refused to attend her funeral. Training to be an army officer at Sandhurst, he was demoted for having set a fellow student on fire, and during the First World War he allegedly caught a German by kneeing him in the testicles.
The early death of his wife in 1937 from septicaemia, caused by an insect bite, devastated Monty and from then on, he devoted himself entirely to his career.
Self-confident in the extreme, prone to odd headwear, Montgomery was adored by his men, especially during the desert campaigns in North Africa during which he made his name by defeating Erwin Rommel at El Alamein. But he frequently clashed with his American counterparts and, because of his immense self-pride, took offence easily. Having planned the successful invasion of Sicily, he believed himself worthy of being in overall command of the Italian campaign, and took great umbrage at having to work under Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In December 1943, Montgomery was appointed land commander, again under Eisenhower, for Operation Overlord, the planned invasion of France. His D-Day objectives included the capture of Caen within the first twenty-four hours. In the event, it took several weeks and proved costly, for which he was heavily criticized. During the chaotic days of mid-June, his American counterparts felt that Montgomery’s strategy was too cautious and hoped to have him replaced, a view endorsed by Churchill. But Montgomery held on to his post and his tactics did draw much enemy attention to the east of the Allies’ bridgehead, allowing the Americans to successfully break out from the west.
He clashed with Eisenhower again over how to proceed through Germany. Montgomery energetically advocated a narrow push, a ‘pencil-thrust’, but Eisenhower’s preference for a broad thrust prevailed. Montgomery’s carefully planned airborne assault on Arnhem in 1944 ended disastrously, and was again costly, but his efforts in relieving the beleaguered Americans during the Battle of the Bulge helped restore his reputation.
Montgomery resented Eisenhower being given the responsibility of land operations for the push into Germany. He believed Eisenhower’s ‘ignorance as to how to run a war is absolute and complete’. On 4 May 1945, at Lüneburg Heath in Lower Saxony, Montgomery formally accepted the surrender of all German forces in North-western Europe.
Post-war, Montgomery worked as Chief of the Imperial General Staff until, in 1951, he joined the newly formed NATO, becoming Deputy Supreme Commander, a post he retained until his retirement seven years later.
When, during his retirement, he was asked to name the three greatest generals in history, he replied, ‘The other two were Alexander the Great and Napoleon.’ He wrote his memoirs in which he criticized many of his former colleagues and commanders.
Bernard Montgomery died on 24 March 1976, aged 88.
ERWIN ROMMEL (1891–1944)
‘We have a very daring and skilful opponent against us, and, may I say across the havoc of war, a great general.’ Winston Churchill on Erwin Rommel.
Born on 15 November 1891, Erwin Rommel was, among the Nazi High Command, one of the few deemed worthy of some admiration. As Churchill suggests, he was respected as a master tactician; the supreme strategist who, in 1940, helped defeat France and the Low Countries and then found lasting fame when sent by Hitler to North Africa where, commanding the Afrika Korps, he earned the sobriquet ‘the Desert Fox’. Germany, his nation, adored him, his troops loved him, Hitler treasured him and his enemies respected him. His Afrika Korps was never charged with any war crimes and prisoners-of-war were treated humanely. When his only son, Manfred, proposed joining the Waffen SS, Rommel forbade it.
In June 1944, Rommel was sent to northern France to help co-ordinate defences against the expected Allied Normandy invasion but was wounded a month later when one of the RAF planes strafed his car. Rommel returned home to Germany to convalesce.
On 20 July 1944, Hitler survived the ‘July Bomb Plot’, the attempt on his life by disaffected Nazi officers. Rommel, although not involved and actively against any plan to assassinate Hitler, did support the idea of having him removed from power. Once his association with the plotters, however tenuous, came to light, his downfall was inevitable and swift.
On 14 October 1944, Hitler dispatched two generals to Rommel’s home to offer the fallen field marshal a bleak choice. Manfred, aged 15, was at home with his mother when the call came. He waited nervously as the three men talked in private, and then as his father went upstairs to speak to his mother. Finally Rommel spoke to his son and told him of Hitler’s deal.
Writing after the war, Manfred, who died in November 2013, described the scene as his father said,
‘I have just had to tell your mother that I shall be dead in a quarter of an hour… The house is surrounded and Hitler is charging me with high treason. In view of my services in Africa I am to have the chance of dying by poison. The two generals have brought it with them. It’s fatal in three seconds. If I accept, none of the usual steps will be taken against my family, that is against you.’
‘Do you believe it?’ asked Manfred.
‘Yes, I believe it. It is very much in their interest to see that the affair does not come out into the open. By the way, I have been charged to put you under a promise of the strictest silence. If a single word of this comes out, they will no longer feel themselves bound by the agreement.’
‘The car stood ready. The SS driver swung the door open and stood to attention. My father pushed his Marshal’s baton under his left arm, and with his face calm, gave Aldinger (Rommel’s aide) and me his hand once more before getting in the car… My father did not turn again as the car drove quickly off up the hill and disappeared round a bend in the road. When it had gone Aldinger and I turned and walked silently back into the house.
‘Twenty minutes later the telephone rang. Aldinger lifted the receiver and my father’s death was duly reported.’
Having died from ‘the injuries sustained during the RAF attack in France’, Erwin Rommel was, as promised, buried with full military honours, accorded an official day of mourning, and his family pensioned off.
Writing after the war, Churchill wrote that Rommel was deserving of ‘our respect, because, although a loyal German soldier, he came to hate Hitler and all his works, and took part in the conspiracy to rescue Germany by displacing the maniac and tyrant. For this, he paid the forfeit of his life.’
CHARLES DE GAULLE (1890–1970)
Charles de Gaulle
Charles de Gaulle fought with great distinction during the First World War, and was thrice wounded. At the Battle of Verdun he served under Philippe Pétain, whom he greatly admired and who was to become his mentor. During the battle, on 2 March 1916, de Gaulle was taken prisoner by the Germans. He tried unsuccessfully to escape five times and was only released following the armistice in November 1918.
Following the First World War, he served in Poland, Germany and the Middle East. He became convinced that future wars should rely on tanks and aircraft, thus avoiding the static stalemate of the previous war. Indeed, de Gaulle’s belief in mobile warfare, which he espoused in a number of books, won him many enemies within the French High Command, not least from his old friend, Pétain, and may have been the cause for the lack of further promotion within the army.
With the German invasion of France in 1940, the prime minister, Paul Reynard, appointed de Gaulle to the ministry of war, thus de Gaulle’s military career abruptly gave way to politics.
Having served just ten days in Reynard’s government, de Gaulle fled to England shortly before his country’s surrender to Germany. On his arrival in London, Churchill recognized him as the ‘leader of all free Frenchmen, wherever they may be’.
On 17 June, Reynard was replaced by the 88-year-old Philippe Pétain. Pétain immediately sought an armistice with the Germans, labelled de Gaulle a traitor, had him stripped of his rank and ordered him executed in absentia.
On 18 June, in a broadcast from London, de Gaulle extolled his countrymen to continue the fight, asserting that France was not alone. ‘The flame of the French resistance must not be extinguished and will not be extinguished.’ His words soon spread and became the battle cry of the Free French movement.
De Gaulle became the self-appointed leader of the ‘Free French’. In May 1943, de Gaulle moved to Algiers, a French colony, and there established the French Committee for National Liberation (FCNL). A year later, the ever-confident de Gaulle renamed the FCNL the Provisional Government of the French Republic with him as its president.
Churchill considered de Gaulle a ‘man of destiny’ but their relationship was never an easy one. De Gaulle’s relationship with US president Franklin D. Roosevelt was even worse, the president refusing to acknowledge de Gaulle’s self-appointed political title.
Roosevelt had instructed Churchill to exclude de Gaulle from having any input into the planned invasion of France. On the eve of the invasion, however, Churchill decided that de Gaulle had to be informed. De Gaulle had been angered by Roosevelt’s insistence that come liberation, he planned to install, not a provisional government headed by de Gaulle, but a provisional Allied military government. When Churchill urged de Gaulle to seek a rapprochement with Roosevelt, de Gaulle responded angrily, ‘Why should I lodge my candidacy for power in France with Roosevelt? The French government already exists.’
De Gaulle was asked to broadcast a message to the Free French. But on reading Eisenhower’s speech, due to be delivered before his, de Gaulle was furious that the American made no mention of him or the Free French. Finally, however, de Gaulle made his speech.
De Gaulle wanted to return to France at the first possible opportunity. Churchill refused permission until a week after D-Day. On 14 June, almost four years to the day since leaving, de Gaulle set foot on French soil, and, visiting the recently liberated town of Bayeux, was greeted with much enthusiasm.
Two months later, on 25 August, Paris was liberated. The following day, de Gaulle made his triumphant return. In his speech, he proclaimed, ‘Paris outraged, Paris broken, Paris martyred, but Paris liberated! By herself, liberated by her own people, with the help of the whole of France!’
On 10 September 1944, the Provisional Government of the French Republic was formed. At its head as prime minister was Charles de Gaulle. In October, his administration was finally officially recognized by the Allies but de Gaulle was deeply offended that France was not invited to the ‘Big Three’ conferences at Yalta and Potsdam with Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin.
On 13 November 1945, following elections, de Gaulle was confirmed in his post as provisional head. However, he didn’t last long. Disillusioned with coalition politics, de Gaulle resigned in January 1946.
Later, in 1958, de Gaulle was elected president and served until his resignation in April 1969.
He died of a heart attack on 9 November 1970, two weeks short of his eightieth birthday. Upon his decease, Georges Pompidou, the new president, announced his predecessor’s death with the words, ‘General de Gaulle is dead. France is a widow.’