Eisenhower, General Dwight D, 1890-1969

The son of a poor family from Texas, Eisenhower paved the ground for his military success at West Point where he became a football star and was universally popular. His army career made slow progress between the wars, but he had the good fortune to attract the favorable attention of General MARSHALL, the Chief of Staff, who early in 1942 brought him to head the Operations Branch in Washington. He was then sent to lead the American staff in Britain and was shortly afterwards chosen to command the Allied landings in French North Africa (Operation Torch). In Washington, Eisenhower had been a leading exponent of the policy of opening a second front in Europe in 1942, and he naturally regarded Torch as a diversion. He nevertheless put his heart into making it the spectacular success that it became and at once demonstrated the many qualities—of imperturbability, professional skill, wise judgment, public charm and gentle conciliation—which were to make him the natural choice for Supreme Allied Commander in Europe throughout the war. He was given that title in the North African Theater in February, and during the rest of the year oversaw the final conquest of North Africa and the launching of the invasions of Sicily in July and of Italy in September. In December he was recalled to Britain to assume the Supreme Allied Command of the projected invasion of Europe with MONTGOMERY as his operational Commander. Until 1 September his role was that of strategic overlord, but on that day he assumed direct control of operations and was almost immediately confronted with a major crisis of command decision, perhaps the greatest with which he was faced during the war. The Germans were in full retreat to their own frontiers and PATTON and Montgomery, commanding the right and left flanks respectively of the Allied advance, were each clamoring for a disporportionate share of supplies strictly limited by the destruction of the French railways and the unavailability of ports beyond Normandy. Urged by each to sanction a ‘narrow front’ advance which each claimed would win a speedy final victory, he decided instead to pursue a ‘broad front’ strategy which allowed all armies to advance at a uniformly slower pace. He made to Montgomery, however, the concession of allowing him to mount a risky airborne operation (Market Garden), which Patton was later to claim robbed him of promising opportunities in Lorraine. Market Garden, conceived in a later judgment to have been aimed at capturing ‘a bridge too far,’ failed. Montgomery forever claimed that the failure was the result of Eisenhowever’s ‘broad front’ strategy. This now looks unlikely. German forces were stronger on the ground near home than Montgomery would concede, and Allied supply resources, whether organized on a ‘broad’ or ‘narrow’ basis, too exiguous to have supported any sort of war-winning blow. Eisenhower appears to have realized this and to have decided that his best policy was to support both an American and a British dash to the frontier in the general interest of good inter-Allied relations even though neither General could achieve the success he expected. In that assessment he was certainly accurate for, though his subordinates seethed with frustration, the British and American publics both saw the advance to the German frontier as a triumph of Allied arms. Eisenhower certainly did not undervalue Montgomery’s skill as a battlefield commander and during the crisis of the Battle of the Bulge, judged him the right man to take over direction of the counteroffensive, even at the cost of sore feelings among American commanders. Thereafter the course of Allied strategy, both on the British and American fronts, ran smooth—during the Rhine crossing and in the advance to the Elbe and into Austria. Eisenhower ended the war as much a hero of the British people as of the American, who elected him President in 1952. Though not perhaps a great soldier in the technical sense—it is doubtful if he ever heard a shot fired in anger—he proved himself a genius in the direction of inter-Allied campaigns.

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