“We Are All So Human That It Is Pitiful”

NINE million Allied propaganda leaflets fluttered over Germany every day, one thousand tons of paper each month, six billion sheets by war’s end, all urging insurrection or surrender. In the early days of this “nickeling,” airmen shoveled sheaves of leaflets into the slipstream from B-17 bomb bays thirty thousand feet over Brussels in hopes of littering occupied Paris; many instead drifted as far afield as Italy. Mass production of the T-1 Monroe Leaflet Bomb, beginning in April 1944, greatly improved accuracy: a barometric nose fuze blew open the five-foot-long cylinder two thousand feet above the target, scattering eighty thousand leaflets over one square mile. A single B-24 could sprinkle a million pages over five enemy towns during a single sortie.

Psychological-warfare teams studied previous surrender appeals, such as those used by the Japanese at Corregidor, searching for a key to unlock German intransigence. Many leaflets included a Passierschein, a safe-conduct pass, signed by Eisenhower and stressing the humane treatment accorded prisoners—for example, they would get the same food served “the best fed Army in the world.” Bradley’s army group alone also fired fifteen thousand artillery propaganda shells every month, each packed with five hundred leaflets, and loudspeaker appeals encouraged defection along the front, a practice known as “hog calling.” Radio Luxembourg had begun German-language broadcasts in late September, with airtime devoted to composers banned by the Nazis, information programs such as The Voice of SHAEF, and dire war news, including street-by-street damage reports of recent bombing raids.

Millions of time-fuze incendiaries were dropped with instructions printed in nine languages to encourage sabotage, particularly by non-German slave laborers. OSS “Field Manual No. 3” offered advice to saboteurs on how to insinuate sawdust, hair, sugar, or molasses into German fuel tanks, preferably one hundred grams for each ten gallons of gasoline. A half-pint of urine or salt water would also do the trick. “Try to commit acts for which large numbers of people could be responsible,” the manual advised. “For instance, if you blow out the wiring in a factory at a central fire box, almost anyone could have done it.”

Still Germany fought on. Some Allied strategists believed that the insistence on unconditional surrender, announced by Roosevelt at the Casablanca conference in January 1943, was prolonging the war. Joseph Goebbels and other Nazi propagandists claimed that the demand “means slavery, castration, the end of Germany as a nation.” A U.S. government analysis warned that most Germans felt they had “nothing to lose by continuing the war.” Others argued that the Reich kept fighting out of fear of the Russians and the Gestapo “rather than any phrase coined at a conference,” as John J. McCloy, the assistant secretary of war, put it. Proposals for “conditional unconditional surrender,” similar to the modified terms under which Italy had capitulated, found no favor with Roosevelt. “I want at all costs to prevent it from being said that the unconditional surrender principle has been abandoned,” the president had declared even before OVERLORD. Germans must recognize, he later added, “that the whole nation has been engaged in a lawless conspiracy against the decencies of modern civilization.”

Eventual Allied victory had long been an article of faith, of course. Even before the Normandy landings, SHAEF commissioned seventy-two studies on how to govern postwar Germany, under a plan now code-named ECLIPSE. Yet no consensus existed on the construct of postwar Europe, or the political architecture of a future Germany, or, as the experience in Aachen had revealed, the nuances of occupation. Roosevelt inclined toward a hard peace following the hard war—he proposed feeding the eighty million Germans three bowls of soup a day from U.S. Army vats, a gesture of largesse given that he had at first suggested just one bowl daily. In this the president reflected his people: polls showed that more than four in five Americans supported unconditional surrender and the reduction of Germany to a third-rate power. SHAEF in the summer of 1944 drafted a “Handbook for Military Government in Germany,” recommending enlightened benevolence in rebuilding the postwar economy and administrative apparatus. “This so-called Handbook is pretty bad,” Roosevelt wrote Secretary of War Stimson. “All copies should be withdrawn.” So they were, notwithstanding a SHAEF officer’s lament that “nobody ever reads handbooks anyhow”; no revision was issued until December. Even Eisenhower’s decree that “we come as conquerors, but not as oppressors” proved problematic when translated into German, because Eroberer—conqueror—implied plunder and annexation auf Deutsch. The issue eventually reached the War Department’s top linguist, who substituted ein siegreiches Heer—a victorious army—as less inflammatory.

The victorious Red Army in the east helped focus the Anglo-Americans on postwar matters when Washington and London realized that Soviet troops could soon occupy Germany as far west as the Rhine. A War Department analysis prophesied:

The defeat of Germany will leave Russia in a position of assured military dominance in eastern Europe and in the Middle East, [bringing] a world profoundly changed in respect to relative national military strengths, a change more comparable indeed with that occasioned by the fall of Rome than with any other change occurring during the succeeding fifteen hundred years.… The British Empire will emerge from the war having lost ground both economically and militarily.

Winston Churchill also perceived that his nation’s empire was imperiled and he sought to stave off decline in his own fashion. In mid-October, during a private meeting in Moscow with Stalin, the prime minister had jotted a few notations on a sheet of paper in proposing an allocation of postwar influence between Moscow and London in southeastern Europe. He suggested 90 percent for the Soviets in Romania, a similar British preponderance in Greece, 75 percent for Moscow in Bulgaria, and an even split in Yugoslavia and Hungary. Stalin penciled a blue tick mark on the paper and told Churchill to keep what the prime minister called his “naughty document.” Although the “percentages agreement” had no legal force and proved a poor forecast of subsequent events, the Americans were incensed upon eventually learning of this nefarious sidebar arrangement, which contravened Roosevelt’s antipathy toward spheres of influence in postwar Europe.

That fall, a separate controversy had come to dominate the discussion of Germany’s future. The disavowal by the White House of SHAEF’s handbook emboldened the U.S. treasury secretary, Henry Morgenthau, Jr., to propose that Germany be dismembered and that the constituent pieces be reduced to neutered agricultural states incapable of armed aggression. Roosevelt waxed enthusiastic at this scheme. As the historian Warren F. Kimball later wrote, the president and Morgenthau, “like the two Jeffersonian gentlemen farmers they pretended to be,” proposed scrubbing stains from the German character by “starting them out again as farmers.” Morgenthau’s explanation of his plan at an Anglo-American strategy conference convened in Quebec in mid-September had drawn baleful stares from Churchill, who called it “unnatural, unchristian, and unnecessary.” But when Morgenthau predicted that to eradicate German competition for coal and steel markets would guarantee British prosperity for twenty years, the prime minister changed his tune virtually overnight, endorsing “the re-creation of an agricultural state as had existed in the last quarter of the nineteenth century” by shuttering the Ruhr and the Saar. As for the Germans, Churchill added, “They brought it on themselves.”

Others in the Anglo-American brain trust were appalled. Anthony Eden, the British foreign secretary, “flew into a rage,” while his American counterpart, Cordell Hull, called Morgenthau’s proposal “a plan of blind vengeance.” Stimson warned of “enormous general evils” from such a “Carthaginian peace,” not least because the raw materials for Europe’s antebellum livelihood had derived largely from the Ruhr and the Saar. Plans were also afoot to deed a vast swatch of farmland in eastern Germany to Poland, which left unanswered the question of how the Germans could live as farmers if the land became Polish. Even George Marshall bridled at Morgenthau’s vision, particularly his proposal to summarily shoot Nazi leaders upon capture.

Predictably, the scheme soon leaked. “The papers have taken it up violently,” Stimson noted with satisfaction. An editorial in London called Morgenthau’s Germany “a ruined no-man’s land in which no wheels turn,” and the British cabinet denounced the treasury secretary’s “unwisdom,” adding, “A policy which condones or favors chaos is not hard; it is simply inefficient.” Roosevelt deftly disavowed the plan, telling Stimson with a grin, “Henry Morgenthau pulled a boner.” The German newspapers also took it up violently, warning of “a life and death struggle” against Anglo-American “cannibals,” whose “satanic plan of annihilation” was, needless to say, “inspired by the Jews.” Even six billion leaflets could go only so far to persuade Germans that a tolerable peace would follow from surrender.

This contretemps cooled Roosevelt’s enthusiasm for postwar strategizing. “I dislike making detailed plans for a country which we do not yet occupy,” he told Hull in late October, while publicly assuring the Germans that they would not be enslaved. Precisely how the occupation would be configured was put off until another season, along with ancillary questions of military governance. An early proposal had considered carving the Reich into as many as seven disparate states; a more practical agreement drafted by the British Foreign Office in early 1944 posited three occupation zones, with the Soviet Union given the eastern 40 percent of the country except for Berlin, which would be administered jointly by the Allied victors. Roosevelt for months had resisted a proposed American occupation sector contiguous to France; his distrust of De Gaulle ran very deep. But at Quebec the president at last conceded that the concentration of U.S. forces on the right of Eisenhower’s line argued for an American zone in Bavaria and the German southwest, with guarantees of access to North Sea ports in the British sector.

No formal ratification of this plan, or any other, was forthcoming. Eisenhower initially believed postwar Germany should be administered under a single Allied commander, but more recently he had conceded that “the Russians will … take exclusive responsibility for administering the eastern portion of Germany.” Some U.S. strategists continued to advocate occupation zones converging on Berlin like pie slices, rather than placing the German capital deep within the Soviet sector; the U.S. ambassador to Britain, John G. Winant, denounced such a proposal as “not having any faith in Soviet intentions.”

With postwar politics unresolved, military planners could only continue to sketch big arrows across their maps, aimed at Berlin. Roosevelt had shied away from Morgenthau’s draconian solution, but he remained ardently committed to unconditional surrender. As for the rest, the president had told Churchill: “Something ‘big’ will come out of this war: a new heaven and a new earth.”

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Montgomery’s promise to Eisenhower that “you will hear no more on the subject of command from me” had hardly been made before it was broken. Those big arrows on war room maps may have pointed toward the Ruhr and beyond, but his sharpest darts were aimed at the supreme commander. In private rants to his British colleagues, the field marshal continued to disparage Eisenhower, his plan, and his generalship. “He has never commanded anything before in his whole career,” Montgomery wrote Brooke in mid-November. “Now, for the first time, he has elected to take command of very large-scale operations and he does not know how to do it.” In another note, on November 21, he added, “There is a feeling of optimism at SHAEF. There are no grounds for such optimism.” Brooke, who should have known better, fed these disloyal tantrums, replying to Montgomery on November 24, “You have always told me, and I have agreed with you, that Ike was no commander, that he had no strategic vision, was incapable of making a plan or of running operations when started.” On a visit to London two days later, Montgomery added, “Eisenhower is quite useless.… He is completely and utterly useless.”

On Tuesday afternoon, November 28, the blind, callow, useless Eisenhower arrived for an overnight visit at the 21st Army Group headquarters in the Belgian town of Zonhoven, east of Antwerp. Here he heard more of the same from Montgomery directly, albeit in more diplomatic language. Strutting and frowning amid the wall maps in his office trailer, pinching his cheek between thumb and forefinger, the field marshal for several hours railed about lack of progress on the Western Front and urged that a single commander oversee the Allied main effort against the Ruhr. As Eisenhower, exhausted, prepared for bed, Montgomery’s aide Lieutenant Colonel Christopher C. “Kit” Dawnay brought the supreme commander a whiskey and soda, then repaired to Montgomery’s office, where the field marshal dictated a note to Brooke. “We talked for three hours,” Montgomery reported. “He admitted a grave mistake has been made” and agreed that “I should be in full operational command north of the Ardennes with Bradley under me.”

An astonished Dawnay interjected, “Ike does not agree, sir.”

“Send that message,” Montgomery snapped. The next morning, following more tedious palaver before Eisenhower pressed on to inspect British, Canadian, and Polish troops, Montgomery told Brooke in a postscript, “He thinks Bradley has failed him as an architect of land operations. There is no doubt he is now very anxious to go back to the old set-up we had in Normandy … and to put Bradley under my operational command.”

Montgomery evidently had second thoughts about his interpretation of Eisenhower’s comments, because on Thursday, November 30, he sent him a “personal and confidential” cable “to confirm the main points that were agreed on during the conversations.” Earlier in the fall, he wrote, Eisenhower had consented to place the main Allied weight in the north, to eradicate the enemy west of the Rhine, and to seize bridgeheads across the river.

We have achieved none of this; and we have no hope of doing so. We have therefore failed; and we have suffered a strategic reverse.… We must get away from the doctrine of attacking in so many places that nowhere are we strong enough to get decisive results.

The Belgian Ardennes naturally divided the Western Front, he added; the two sectors, north and south, should each have separate commanding generals.

Bradley and I together are a good team. We worked together in Normandy, under you, and we won a great victory. Things have not been so good since you separated us. I believe [that] to be certain of success you want to bring us together again; and one of us should have the full operational control north of the Ardennes; and if you decide that I should do that work—that is O.K. by me.

On Friday, December 1, Eisenhower’s Cadillac circled south across the Pétrusse River in Luxembourg City, where he found Bradley bedridden with the flu in the Hôtel Alfa, his face badly swollen with hives. Clutching Montgomery’s message in his fist, a scarlet flush creeping up his neck, “Ike was as angry as I had ever seen him,” Bradley later recorded. This missive from the field marshal could only be interpreted as a condemnation of his leadership; Montgomery even had the temerity to propose another strategy session from which all others would be excluded except the two chiefs of staff, Smith and De Guingand, “who must not speak.”

After a splenetic diatribe to which the disfigured Bradley could do little more than sniffle, Eisenhower calmed himself long enough to dictate a fifteen-paragraph reply, again demonstrating his remarkable ability to turn the other cheek with composure and equanimity. “There are certain things in your letter [with] which I do not concur,” he began.

I am not quite sure I know exactly what you mean by strategic reverse.… I do not agree that things have gone badly since Normandy, merely because we have not gained all we had hoped to gain. In fact, the situation is somewhat analogous to that which existed in Normandy for so long.

He reminded Montgomery that British logistics in the north had been so stretched that merely providing five hundred extra tons of supplies each day “cost Bradley three divisions,” by stripping them of motor transport in order to feed and arm 21st Army Group. “Had we not advanced on a relatively broad front we would now have the spectacle of a long narrow line of communication, constantly threatened on the right flank.”

I have no intention of stopping Devers and Patton’s operations as long as they are cleaning up our right flank and giving us capability of concentration.… It is going to be important to us later on to have two strings to our bow.

Only in reply to the suggestion of muzzling the chiefs of staff did Eisenhower offer the back of his hand. “It makes no difference to me whether your chief of staff attends or whether Bradley’s does. Mine will be there unless some unforeseen circumstance prevents.… I will not by any means insult him by telling him that he should remain mute.”

He finished by subtly suggesting that only one of them could see the horizon.

I most definitely appreciate the frankness of your statements, and [the] usual friendly way in which they are stated, but I beg of you not to continue to look upon the past performances of this great fighting force as a failure merely because we have not achieved all that we could have hoped.… We must look at this whole great affair stretching from Marseille to the lower Rhine as one great theater.

As was now amply evident, Montgomery simply could not play the loyal, stalwart lieutenant. Subordination held little appeal for a solipsist. Even the king’s equerry had noted in his diary that “such canalized egotism, though maybe necessary to a successful general … makes a man an exacting companion.… Sometimes I wonder whether Monty’s undoubted genius does not occasionally bring him to the verge of mental unstability.” If that was overdrawn—self-involvement need not imply imbalance—nevertheless Eisenhower’s biographer Stephen E. Ambrose later wrote of Montgomery: “He had no competence in the fine art of persuasion. He was accustomed to working on a problem alone, then handing down a solution.… He could not get his ideas across without appearing either patronizing or offensive, or both.”

A British official who watched Montgomery in a meeting described how he “sat up like a little bird with his head on one side, sharp as a needle, and with very bright eyes.… A most striking man with his bright eyes and long beaky nose [but] a bit naif in political matters.” Brooke confided to his diary that Montgomery “goes on harping over the system of command in France. He has got this on the brain.… He cannot put up with not being the sole controller of land operations.”

But others in the highest British circles took up his twin themes of abject failure in the west and Eisenhower’s manifest deficiencies. “We have of course sustained a strategic reverse on the Western Front,” Churchill told the South African soldier and statesman Jan Smuts on December 3. To Roosevelt, the prime minister cabled three days later, “We have definitely failed to achieve the strategic object which we gave to our armies five weeks ago. We have not yet reached the Rhine in the northern part.” The president replied with sanguine assurances—“a decisive break in our favor is bound to come”—but even Admiral Ramsay, who was among Eisenhower’s staunchest allies, told De Guingand that he saw “no prospect of Ike getting any wiser.”

Some of Montgomery’s partisans were more savage. Brooke noted that during a luncheon at SHAEF’s new forward headquarters in Reims, Kay Summersby had been “promoted to hostess, and sat at the head of the table.… Ike produced a lot of undesirable gossip that did him no good.” In subsequent diary entries, Brooke added, Eisenhower “is detached and by himself with his lady chauffeur on the golf links at Reims.… I think he is incapable of running the war even if he tries.”

The fairways at Reims were in fact carpeted with SHAEF tents, rendering them unfit for sport, and Eisenhower’s British military assistant, Lieutenant Colonel James F. Gault, later attested that during their long wartime association the supreme commander never swung a golf club. Yet the calumny continued. “Eisenhower completely fails as supreme commander.… The war is drifting in a rudderless condition,” Brooke wrote. “We must take the control out of Eisenhower’s hands.”

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At Montgomery’s request, another high-command conclave was scheduled for Thursday morning, December 7, in Maastricht, the first Dutch city to be liberated in September and, it was asserted, the oldest town in the Netherlands, a claim bitterly disputed by Nijmegen. Here the Romans had quarried limestone and bridged the Maas, and here blessed Saint Servatius had placed his bishopric in the fourth century. Here too a four-month siege by Spanish brigands in 1579 ended in plunder and eight thousand locals put to the sword; another siege a century later, under Louis XIV, ended when that ubiquitous French military engineer, Vauban, reduced the Maastricht citadel by digging parallel trenches ever closer to the fortifications, a technique embraced by besiegers for the next two centuries. The Dutch could take solace only in having killed the celebrated French captain of musketeers Charles d’Artagnan, who was felled by a musket ball to the throat and subsequently immortalized in the novels of Alexandre Dumas.

Eisenhower and Tedder spent Wednesday night at the Hôtel Alfa in Luxembourg City with a still-ailing Bradley before the trio drove together to Maastricht. In a conference room at U.S. Ninth Army headquarters, Eisenhower—smartly tailored in the waist-length uniform jacket that came to be named for him—opened the session by applauding the Allied butchery of enemies during the fall, which had inflicted attrition “very much greater than our own.” SHAEF intelligence had estimated that current operations were chewing through twenty German divisions a month, while only a dozen could be newly formed each month, and five eviscerated divisions refitted. Yet with the Rhine in spate from autumn rains, Eisenhower added, “it might not be possible to effect a major crossing until May.” Since the beginning of November, the British Second Army had advanced less than ten miles.

At Eisenhower’s request, Montgomery then took the floor to tender his views. “The master plan,” as the field marshal called it, must cut off the Ruhr and force the enemy into mobile warfare to further strain German supplies of fuel and other matériel. The only suitable region for mobile combat, he believed, lay north of the Ruhr. “We must, therefore, concentrate the whole of our available effort on the drive across the Rhine north of the Ruhr, operations on the rest of the front being purely containing ones.”

Eisenhower agreed, then disagreed. True, it was vital to isolate the Ruhr and force the enemy to move; the crux of his strategy was to provoke the Germans to give battle so they could be decisively defeated. But converging Allied attacks from disparate points would require Rundstedt to shift his forces across a wider front: an invasion avenue from Frankfurt toward Kassel, now in Patton’s sights, appeared “quite practicable.”

Montgomery begged to differ. He could “not agree that a thrust from Frankfurt offered any prospect of success.” This, he added, was a fundamental disagreement between his vision and Eisenhower’s.

Round and round they went, “another long and tedious affair,” in Bradley’s phrase. Montgomery again argued for separate commands north and south of the Ardennes. Eisenhower countered that he intended to make command arrangements based on operations yet to come, “not by geographical factors” already behind the Allied line. The Ruhr, he pointed out, offered an obvious demarcation, with 21st Army Group to the north and 12th Army Group to the south. Again Montgomery disagreed. This, he said, was “a second fundamental difference of view.”

The session ended with the supreme commander attempting to reconcile the irreconcilable. In what Bradley called “a classic Eisenhower compromise,” Montgomery’s drive in the north was affirmed as the main Allied attack; the field marshal would be reinforced, with up to ten divisions from the U.S. Ninth Army placed under his command. Bradley would retain command of Hodges’s First Army and Patton’s Third, respectively north and south of the Ardennes, protected on the right flank by Devers’s army group. The broad-front strategy was upheld once more, with all seven Allied armies in action. The Ruhr would be devoured by a double envelopment from north and south, much as Hannibal had devoured the Romans in 216 B.C. at Cannae, a legendary battle of annihilation that had long kept an excessively powerful grip on Eisenhower’s imagination.

“The meeting was affable on the surface but quite unproductive,” Tedder subsequently wrote Air Marshal Portal. “Monty’s almost contemptuous way of refusing to discuss or hear of anything except only his particular ideas makes real discussion quite impossible.… Ike depressed about it last night and wondered what was the use of having such meetings.”

Others also were disheartened. “Another balls up,” Montgomery told Tedder. “Everything has been a balls up since September 1.” To Brooke on Thursday night he wrote:

I personally regard the whole thing as quite dreadful. We shall split our resources and our strength, and we shall fail.… You have to get Eisenhower’s hand taken off the land battle. I regret to say that in my opinion he just doesn’t know what he is doing. And you will have to see that Bradley’s influence is curbed.

Bradley a few days later wrote of Montgomery, “He refused to admit that there was any merit in anybody else’s views except his own … largely colored by his desire to command the whole show.” Should 12th Army Group ever fall under Montgomery’s command, Bradley told Eisenhower, he would interpret the arrangement as “an indication that I had failed” and would ask to be relieved. Eisenhower’s confidant General Everett Hughes wrote his wife from Paris, “We are all so human that it is pitiful. We never grow up.”

A churlish, dolorous mood had taken hold, belying their station as the winning generals of winning armies in a winning, righteous cause. As so often happens in battle, exhaustion and strain had got the best of them, and a thousand fraught decisions from which dangled lives by the tens of thousands gnawed at every commander with a beating heart. War, that merciless revealer of character, uncloaked these men as precisely as a prism flays open a beam of light to reveal the inner spectrum. Here they were, disclosed, exposed, made known, and if rectitude was to obtain, they would have to fight their way to that high ground just as surely as they would have to fight their way across the Rhine.

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