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From the book, Crusade in Europe.
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THE LIBERATION OF PARIS on the twenty-fifth of August had a great impact on people everywhere. Even the doubters began to see the end of Hitler. By this time enemy losses were enormous.
Since our landings three of the enemy’s field marshals and one army commander had been dismissed from their posts or incapacitated by wounds. One army commander, three corps commanders, and fifteen division commanders had been killed or captured.
Rommel was badly wounded by one of our strafing planes on July 19. Some months later be committed suicide to escape trial for alleged complicity in the July 20 murder plot against Hitler.
The enemy had lost 400,000 killed, wounded, or captured. Half the total were prisoners of war, and 135,000 of these had been taken in the month subsequent to July 25.
German materiel losses included 1300 tanks, 20,000 other vehicles, 500 assault guns, and 1500 pieces of artillery.
In addition the German air forces had suffered extensively. More than 3500 of his aircraft had been destroyed and this in spite of the fact that the Luftwaffe had been seriously depleted before the invasion began.
There was a definite drop in enemy morale. So far as prisoners were concerned this was more noticeable among the higher officers because they, with professional training, could see the inevitability of final defeat.
But the Army as a whole had clearly not yet reached the stage of mass collapse and there was no question that the German divisions, given decent conditions, were still capable of putting up fierce resistance.
With the capture of Paris we were substantially on the line that had been predicted before D-day as the one we would attain three to four months after our landing.
Thus, in long-term estimate, we were weeks ahead of schedule, but in the important particular of supply capacity we were badly behind. Because almost the entire area had been captured in the swift movements subsequent to August 1, the roads, railway lines, depots, repair shops, and base installations, required for the maintenance of continuous forward movement, were still far to the rear of the front lines.
When the German forces succeeded, in spite of defeat and disorder, in withdrawing significant numbers of their troops across the Seine, there still remained the hope of constructing another trap for them before they could reorganize and present an effective defensive front.
Portions of the German Fifteenth Army still remained in the Calais area, where they would provide a stiffening core for the retreating troops of the First and Seventh Armies. It was considered possible that some resistance would be attempted along one of the natural defenses provided by the waterways of Belgium.
A surprise vertical envelopment by airborne troops appeared to offer the best hope of encirclement if the enemy chose to make a stand.
As quickly as the defeat of the Germans on the Normandy front became certain, airborne forces were directed to prepare plans for drops in a number of successive positions, the appropriate spot to be selected when the developing situation should indicate the one of greatest promise.
The mere paper planning of such operations was, while laborious, a simple matter. However, when actual preparation for a planned drop was undertaken, delicately balanced alternatives presented themselves. Preparation for airborne attack required the withdrawal of transport planes from supply purposes, and it was difficult, at times, to determine whether greater results could not be achieved by continuing the planes in supply activity.
Unfortunately this withdrawal of planes from other work had to precede an airborne operation by several days, to provide time for refitting equipment and for briefing and retraining of crews.
In late August, with our supply situation growing constantly more desperate, and with all of us eagerly following combat progress in the search for another prospect of cutting off great numbers of the enemy, the question of the Transport Command employment came up for daily discussion.
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|Supply of munitions, fuel, food and cigarettes was necessary to sustain advances.|
On the average, allowing for all kinds of weather, our planes could deliver about 2000 tons a day to the front. While this was only a small percentage of our total deliveries, every ton was so valuable that the decision was a serious one.
It appeared to me that a fine chance for launching a profitable airborne attack was developing in the Brussels area, and though there was divided opinion on the wisdom of withdrawing planes from supply work because of the uncertainty of the opportunity, I decided to take the chance.
The Troop Carrier Command, on September 10, was withdrawn temporarily from supply missions to begin intensive preparation for an airborne drop in the Brussels area. But it quickly became clear that the Germans were retreating so fast as to make the effort an abortive one. Except with rear guards, the Germans made no attempt to defend in that region at all.
All along the front we pressed forward in hot pursuit of the fleeing enemy. In four days the British spearheads, paralleled by equally forceful American advances on their right, covered a distance of 195 miles, one of the many fine feats of marching by our formations in the great pursuit across France.
By September 5, Patton’s Third Army reached Nancy and crossed the Moselle River between that city and Metz. Hodges’ First Army came up against the Siegfried defenses by the thirteenth of the month and was shortly thereafter to begin the struggle for Aachen.
Pushed back against the borders of the homeland, the German defenses showed definite signs of stiffening. On September 4, Montgomery’s armies entered Antwerp and we were electrified to learn that the Germans had been so rapidly hustled out of the place that they had had no time to execute extensive demolitions. Marseille had been captured on August 28 and this great port was being rehabilitated.
These developments assured eventual solution of our logistical problem, which meant that within a reasonable time we would be in position to wage on the German border a battle of a scale and intensity that the enemy could not hope to match.
However, there was much to be done before we could be in this fortunate position, and we had little remaining elasticity in our overstrained supply lines. On the south Patch’s and Bradley’s forces had to make a junction, and railway lines up the Rhone would have to be repaired. On the north we were faced by even greater difficulties.
Antwerp is an inland port connected with the sea by the great Scheldt Estuary. The German defenses covering these approaches were still intact and before we could make use of the port we had the job of clearing out those defenses.
The task on the north comprised three parts.
• We had to secure a line far enough to the eastward to cover Antwerp and the roads and railways leading out of it toward the front.
• We had to reduce the German defenses in the areas lying between that city and the sea.
• Finally, I hoped to thrust forward spearheads as far as we could, to include a bridgehead across the Rhine if possible, so as to threaten the Ruhr and facilitate subsequent offensives.
On Montgomery’s flank the question for immediate decision became the priority in which these tasks should be taken up. As a first requisite our lines had to be advanced far enough to the eastward to cover Antwerp securely, else the port and all its facilities would be useless to us. This had to be done without delay; until it was accomplished the other tasks could not even be started.
Equally clear was the fact that, until the approaches to the port were cleared, it was of no value to us. Because the Germans were firmly dug in on the islands of South Beveland and Walcheren, this was going to be a tough and time-consuming operation. The sooner we could set about it the better.
But the question remaining was whether or not it was advantageous, before taking on the arduous task of reducing the Antwerp approaches, to continue our eastward plunge against the still retreating enemy with the idea of securing a possible bridgehead across the Rhine in proximity to the Ruhr.
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|We continue the advance toward Germany.|
While we were examining the various factors of the question, Montgomery suddenly presented the proposition that, if we would support his Twenty-first Army Group with all supply facilities available, he could rush right on into Berlin and, he said, end the war.
I am certain that Field Marshal Montgomery, in the light of later events, would agree that this view was a mistaken one. But at the moment his enthusiasm was fired by the rapid advances of the preceding week and, since he was convinced that the enemy was completely demoralized, he vehemently declared that all he needed was adequate supply in order to go directly into Berlin.
During early September, while returning from a visit to the forward areas, I suffered a minor injury incident to a forced landing on a beach. Caught in a sudden storm, we found it impossible to return to our own little landing strip near headquarters and had no place to land except on a neighboring beach.
It was one of the beaches that the Germans had fortified before D-day, and had at one time been mined. This did not add to the comfort of our position but we tried to pull the plane far enough away from the water’s edge to prevent its inundation by the rising tide. In doing so, I badly wrenched a knee.
My pilot, Lieutenant Underwood, helped me across the beach while I kept an anxious eye on the smooth sand in front of us for any telltale signs of buried explosives. We reached a country road and started the long trek toward headquarters. It was a miserable walk through a driving rain but we had little hope of thumbing a ride because the back road we were traveling was rarely used by our soldiers. However, within a few minutes there came up behind us a jeep into which eight soldiers had managed to crowd.
We flagged them down and the occupants, instantly recognizing me, jumped out to help. They were obviously astounded to see the commanding general in such an out-of-the-way place and limping along, in the rain. I asked them to take me to headquarters and so great was their concern that they practically lifted me into the front seat of the jeep.
Then, careful to avoid crowding against my injured leg, they allowed no one else except the driver to sit in front. I still do not understand how all the rest of them piled in and on the jeep and managed to get my pilot aboard, but this they did.
For two days I was confined to bed and thereafter was forced, for a time, to carry a plaster cast on my leg. Press representatives noted my absence from headquarters and surmised that I was ill, possibly because of overwork. When a story to this effect appeared in the press I had to publish the details of the affair, with the hope that my wife would not magnify the seriousness of the accident pending receipt of my letter of explanation.
Travel was temporarily difficult, but to make sure that Montgomery would be completely informed as to our plans, I met him at Brussels on September 10. Air Chief Marshal Tedder and General Gale were also present.
I explained to Montgomery the condition of our supply system and our need for early use of Antwerp. I pointed out that, without railway bridges over the Rhine and ample stockages of supplies on hand, there was no possibility of maintaining a force in Germany capable of penetrating to its capital.
There was still a considerable reserve in the middle of the enemy country and I knew that any pencil-like thrust into the heart of Germany such as he proposed would meet nothing but certain destruction. This was true, no matter on what part of the front it might be attempted. I would not consider it.
It was possible, and perhaps certain, that had we stopped, in late August, all Allied movements elsewhere on the front he might have succeeded in establishing a strong bridgehead definitely threatening the Ruhr, just as any of the other armies could have gone faster and farther, if allowed to do so at the expense of starvation elsewhere.
However, at no point could decisive success have been attained, and, meanwhile, on the other parts of the front we would have gotten into precarious positions, from which it would have been difficult to recover.
General Montgomery was acquainted only with the situation in his own sector. He understood that to support his proposal would have meant stopping dead for weeks all units except the Twenty-first Army Group. But he did not understand the impossible situation that would have developed along the rest of our great front when he, having outrun the possibility of maintenance, was forced to stop or withdraw.
I instructed him that what I did want in the north was Antwerp working, and I also wanted a line covering that port. Beyond this I believed it possible that we might, with airborne assistance, seize a bridgehead over the Rhine in the Arnhem region, flanking the defenses of the Siegfried Line.
The operation to gain such a bridgehead—it was assigned the code name Market-Garden—would be merely an incident and extension of our eastward rush to the line we needed for temporary security.
On our northern flank that line was the lower Rhine itself. To stop short of that obstacle would have left us in a very exposed position, particularly during the period that Montgomery would have to concentrate large forces on the Walcheren Island operation.
If these things could be done, we would engage in no additional major advances in the north until we had built up our logistics in the rear. But we could and would carry out minor operations all along the great front to facilitate later great offensives.
Montgomery was very anxious to attempt the seizure of the bridgehead.
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|MAP: Operation Market-Garden: Airborne routes from England, airborne landings and planned follow-up by ground forces.|
At the September 10 conference in Brussels, Field Marshal Montgomery was therefore authorized to defer the clearing out of the Antwerp approaches in an effort to seize the bridgehead I wanted. To assist Montgomery I allocated to him the First Allied Airborne Army, which had been recently formed under Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton of the United States Air Forces.
The target date for the attack was tentatively set for September 17, and I promised to do my utmost for him in supply until that operation was completed. After the completion of the bridgehead operation he was to turn instantly and with his whole force to the capture of Walcheren Island and the other areas from which the Germans were defending the approaches to Antwerp. Montgomery set about the task energetically.
With all of our affairs, except supply, in reasonably good order, the Combined Chiefs of Staff, in conference at Quebec, decided that it was no longer necessary for me to retain under my direct and personal command the two bomber forces stationed in Great Britain.
They set up an arrangement whereby the strategic bombers were to be directly subordinate to the Combined Chiefs of Staff through the medium of a combined agency set up in London.
From my own viewpoint, this was a clumsy and inefficient arrangement, but so far as our Operation was concerned it made no difference whatsoever. This was because a paragraph was inserted in the directive which gave the demands of the supreme commander in Europe priority over anything else that the strategic bombers might be required to do.
With this safeguard and unequivocal authority, I had no objection to the new arrangement regardless of my opinion of its awkwardness.
Spaatz protested bitterly at the new command system for the strategic bombers until I showed him that it made no difference to me. Even Harris, who had originally been known as the individual who wanted to win the war with bombing alone and who was supposed to have derided the mobilization of armies and navies, had become exceedingly proud of his membership in the “Allied team.”
Here are extracts of a letter be wrote to me upon receipt of the order returning him to the direct control of the Combined Chiefs of Staff:
"21st September 1944
"My dear Ike:
"Under the new dispensation I and my Command no longer serve directly under you. I take opportunity to assure you, although I feel sure that you will recognize that assurance as superfluous, that our continuing commitment for the support of your forces upon call from you will indeed continue, as before, to be met to the utmost of our skill and the last ounce of our endeavour . . .
"I wish personally and on behalf of my Command to proffer you my thanks and gratitude for your unvarying helpfulness, encouragement and support which has never failed us throughout the good fortunes and occasional emergencies of the campaign.
"We in Bomber Command proffer you not only our congratulations and our thanks, but our utmost service wherever and whenever the need arises. I hope indeed that we may continue the task together to its completion in our respective spheres.
* * *
All along the front we felt increasingly the strangulation on movement imposed by our inadequate lines of communication. The Services of Supply had made heroic and effective effort to keep us going to the last possible minute.
They installed systems of truck transport by taking over main-road routes in France and using most of these for one-way traffic. These were called Red Ball Highways, on which trucks kept running continuously. Every vehicle ran at least twenty hours a day. Relief drivers were scraped up from every unit that could provide them and the vehicles themselves were allowed to halt only for necessary loading, unloading, and servicing.
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|Red Ball Roars Forward. Tank Transporters Rush Armored Supply: On Red Ball Highways "every vehicle ran at least twenty hours a day . . . allowed to halt only for necessary loading, unloading, and servicing."|
Railway engineers worked night and day to repair broken bridges and track and to restore the operational efficiency of rolling stock.
Gasoline and fuel oil were brought onto the Continent by means of flexible pipe lines laid under the English Channel. From the beaches the gas and oil were pumped forward to main distribution points through pipe lines laid on the surface of the ground.
Aviation engineers built landing strips at amazing speed, and throughout the organization there was displayed a morale and devotion to duty equal to that of any fighting Unit in the whole command.
In the months succeeding the conclusion of hostilities I had many opportunities to review various campaigns with the leaders of the Russian Army. Not only did I talk to marshals and generals but on this subject I spent a considerable time with Generalissimo Stalin.
Without exception, these Russian officers made one pressing demand upon me. It was to explain the supply arrangements that enabled us to make the great sweep out of our constricted beachhead in Normandy to cover, in one rush, all of France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, up to the very borders of Germany.
I had to describe to them our systems of railway repairs and construction, truckage, evacuation, and supply by air.
They suggested that of all the spectacular feats of the war, even including their own, the Allied success in the supply of the pursuit across France would go down in history as the most astonishing. Possibly they were only being polite, but I nevertheless wished that they could have been heard by all the men who worked so hard during those hectic weeks to see that the front got every possible pound of ammunition, gasoline, food, clothing, and supplies.
Regardless, however, of the extraordinary efforts of the supply system, this remained our most acute difficulty. All along the front the cry was for more gasoline and more ammunition. Every one of our spearheads could have gone farther and faster than they actually did.
I believed then and believe now that on Patton’s front, the city of Metz could have been captured. Nevertheless, we had to supply each force for its basic missions and for basic missions only.
On our right we connected up near Dijon with Patch’s advancing forces on September 11, just twenty-seven days after the landing in southern France. From that moment onward the only thing standing in the way of the ample supply of all our forces south of Metz was the repair of the railways leading up the Rhone Valley.
As a result of the junction with Patch’s forces, a considerable number of Germans were trapped in southwestern France. These began to give themselves up by driblets except in one instance, when 20,000 Germans surrendered in a single body.
On the extreme left the attack against Arnhem went off as planned on the seventeenth. Three airborne divisions dropped, in column, from north to south. The northernmost one was the British 1st Airborne Division, while farther southward were the American 82d and 101St Airborne Divisions.
The attack began well and unquestionably would have been successful except for the intervention of bad weather. This prevented the adequate reinforcement of the northern spearhead and resulted finally in the decimation of the British airborne division and only a partial success in the entire operation.
We did not get our bridgehead but our lines had been carried well out to defend the Antwerp base.
The progress of the battle gripped the attention of everyone in the theater. We were inordinately proud of our airborne units but the interest in that battle had its roots in something deeper than pride. We felt it would prove whether or not the Germans could succeed in establishing renewed and effective resistance—on the battle’s outcome we would form an estimate of the severity of the fighting still ahead of us.
A general impression grew up that the battle was really a full-out attempt to begin, immediately, a drive into the heart of Germany. This gave a great added interest to a battle in which the circumstances were unusually dramatic.
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|American 82d Airborne Division drops for attack on Arnhem.|
When, in spite of heroic effort, the airborne forces and their supporting ground forces were stopped in their tracks, we had ample evidence that much bitter campaigning was still to come. The British 1st Airborne Division, in the van, fought one of the most gallant actions of the war, and its sturdiness materially assisted the two American divisions behind it, and the supporting ground forces of the Twenty-first Army Group, to take and hold important areas.
But the British 1st Airborne Division itself suffered badly; only some 2400 succeeded in withdrawing across the river to safety.
It was now vital to avoid any further delay in the capture of Antwerp’s approaches. Montgomery’s forces were, at the moment, badly scattered. His front, in an irregular salient, reached to the lower Rhine. He had to concentrate a sizable force in the Scheldt Estuary and still provide investing troops at some of the small ports holding out along the coast.
To insure him opportunity to concentrate for the Scheldt operation we sent him two American divisions, the 7th Armored, commanded by Major General Lindsay McD. Sylvester, and the 104th, commanded by Major General Terry Allen, a veteran of the Tunisian and Sicilian campaigns.
The American First Army, at the end of its brilliant march from the Seine to the German border, almost immediately launched the operations that finally brought about the reduction of Aachen, one of the gateways into Germany. The city was stubbornly and fiercely defended but Collins, with his VII Corps, carried out the attack so skillfully that by October 13 he had surrounded the garrison and entered the city.
The enemy was steadily forced back into his final stronghold, a massive building in the center of the city. This was reduced by the simple expedient of dragging 155-mm. “Long Tom” rifles up to point-blank range—within 200 yards of the building—and methodically blowing the walls to bits.
After a few of these shells had pierced the building from end to end the German commander surrendered on October 21, with the rueful observation, “When the Americans start using 155s as sniper weapons, it is time to give up!”
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|MAP: Plan and Performance: When performance outstripped prediction, Supply lines stretched thin. Predicted line vs. actual line.|
In the south, Devers’ Sixth Army Group became operational and came under my command on September 15. The continuous front under control of SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) now extended from the Mediterranean in the south to the mouth of the Rhine, hundreds of miles to the north.
Devers’ forces included the U. S. Seventh Army under Lieutenant General Patch, and the French First Army under General de Lattre de Tassigny, previously under Patch’s operational control. Bradley’s army group comprised the First, Third, and the newly organized Ninth Army under Lieutenant General William H. Simpson.
Montgomery still had Dempsey’s British Second Army and Crerar’s Canadian First Army. The Allied Airborne Army, temporarily assigned to him, was directly subordinate to SHAEF.
In October we learned that Leigh-Mallory was needed in another theater of war. Although reluctant to lose him, our organization had, by that time, definitely crystallized and teamwork had been perfected to the point that I approved the transfer. He was killed shortly thereafter in an airplane accident, and thus passed one of the intrepid and gallant figures of World War II.
In the late summer SHAEF began moving from Granville, its initial location on the Continent, to Versailles, just outside Paris. In selecting a new location, I desired to find a suitable spot well east of Paris in order to avoid the congested metropolitan area in trips to the front.
However, because of the location of main lines of signal communications and the lack of existing facilities in the areas east of Paris, the staff was forced, originally, to accept Versailles as the most suitable spot from which to operate. I established a forward command post just outside Reims, from which point I could easily reach any portion of the front, even on days when flying was impossible.
During the three months beginning September 1, I spent a great portion of my time in travel. The front was constantly broadening and distances were getting greater, so that every visit was time-consuming.
Nevertheless, they were valuable and always worth the cost in time and effort. By adhering to this practice, I could visit commanders in their own headquarters, keep personal touch with problems as they arose, and, above all, gain a feel of the troops.
Two months later, as winter approached, the winding roads leading into my little camp at Reims at times became impassable. One afternoon I was bogged down for three hours while waiting for a tractor to pull my car out of a ditch. This compelled me to rejoin the main headquarters at Versailles and from that time on travel became more difficult, except when flying conditions were good.
On one trip during the autumn I stopped briefly in a forward location to talk with several hundred men of a battalion of the 29th Infantry Division. We were all standing on a muddy, slippery hillside. After a few minutes’ visit I turned to go and fell flat on my back.
From the shout of laughter that went up I am quite sure that no other meeting I had with soldiers during the war was a greater success than that one. Even the men who rushed forward to help pick me out of the mire could scarcely do so for laughing.
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|20,000 German troops surrender in Southern France.|
At times I received advice from friends, urging me to give up or curtail visits to troops. They correctly stated that, so far as the mass of men was concerned, I could never speak, personally, to more than a tiny percentage. They argued, therefore, that I was merely wearing myself out, without accomplishing anything significant, so far as the whole Army was concerned.
With this I did not agree. In the first place I felt that through constant talking to enlisted men I gained accurate impressions of their state of mind. I talked to them about anything and everything: a favorite question of mine was to inquire whether the particular squad or platoon had figured out any new trick or gadget for use in infantry fighting. I would talk about anything so long as I could get the soldier to talk to me in return.
I knew, of course, that news of a visit with even a few men in a division would soon spread throughout the unit. This, I felt, would encourage men to talk to their superiors, and this habit, I believe, promotes efficiency.
There is, among the mass of individuals who carry the rifles in war, a great amount of ingenuity and initiative. If men can naturally and without restraint talk to their officers, the products of their resourcefulness become available to all.
Moreover, out of the habit grows mutual confidence, a feeling of partnership that is the essence of "esprit de corps." An army fearful of its officers is never as good as one that trusts and confides in its leaders.
There is an old expression, “the nakedness of the battlefield.” It is descriptive and full of meaning for anyone who has seen a battle. Except for unusual concentration of tactical activity, such as at a river crossing or an amphibious assault, the feeling that pervades the forward areas is loneliness.
There is little to be seen; friend and foe, as well as the engines of war, seem to disappear from sight when troops are deployed for a fight. Loss of control and cohesion are easy, because each man feels himself so much alone, and each is prey to the human fear and terror that to move or show himself may result in instant death. Here is where confidence in leaders, a feeling of comradeship with and trust in them, pays off.
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|Nakedness of the Battlefield — German 88 Pounds Paratroopers Near Arnhem: " . . . each man feels himself so much alone, and each is prey to the human fear and terror that to move or show himself may result in instant death."|
My own direct efforts could do little in this direction. But I knew that if men realized they could talk to “the brass” they would be less inclined to be fearful of the lieutenant. Moreover, it was possible that my example might encourage officers to seek information from and comradeship with their men.
In any event I pursued the practice throughout the war, and no talk with a soldier or group of soldiers was ever profitless for me.
All these visits were, in addition, the occasion for serious discussion of problems, involving particularly replacements, ammunition, clothing, and equipment for winter weather and future plans. Staffs of all echelons are, of course, constantly working on these matters and, according to the manuals, all of the needs of troops are automatically supplied through the working of the staff systems.
Nothing, however, can take the place of direct contact between commanders and this is far more valuable when the senior does the traveling, instead of sitting in his headquarters and waiting for subordinates to come back to him with their problems.
Morale of the combat troops had always to be carefully watched. The capacity of soldiers for absorbing punishment and enduring privations is almost inexhaustible so long as they believe they are getting square deal, that their commanders are looking out for them, and that their own accomplishments are understood and appreciated.
Any intimation that they are the victims of unfair treatment understandably arouses their anger and resentment, and the feeling can sweep through a command like wildfire. Once, in Africa, front-line troops complained to me that they could get no chocolate bars or anything to smoke, when they knew that these were plentifully issued to the Services of Supply. I queried the local unit commander, who said he had requisitioned these things time and again, only to be told that no transport was available to bring them to the front.
I merely telephoned to the rear and directed that until every forward airfield and front-line unit was getting its share of these items there would not be another piece of candy or a cigarette or cigar issued to anyone in the supply services. In a surprisingly short time I received a happy report from the front that their requisitions were being promptly filled.
One of these distressing affairs developed in the fall of 1944. The two items in shortest supply on the front seemed to be gasoline and cigarettes.
A true report came out that in Paris there was a flourishing black market in both these articles, conducted by men of the SOS (Services Of Supply). We promptly put a group of inspectors on the job and uncovered all the sordid facts. That some men should give way to the extraordinary temptations of the fabulous prices offered for food and cigarettes was to be expected.
But in this case it appeared that practically an entire unit had organized itself into an efficient gang of racketeers and was selling these articles in truck- and carload lots. Even so, the blackness of the crime consisted more in the robbery of the front lines than it did in the value of the thefts. I was thoroughly angry.
However, I realized that a whole American unit had not suddenly become criminal. It was logical to believe that the sorry business had been started by a few crooks and others had been gradually drawn into it almost without conscious will and, once started, saw no easy way of getting out.
I instructed the law-enforcement staffs to push prosecution of the guilty—fortunately these were not so numerous as first reported—but that no sentence in the case would be finally approved until brought to my personal attention. When this was later done I explained my plan.
This was to offer to each of the convicted men a chance to restore himself to good standing by volunteering for front-line duty. The sentences, which were severe, had already been published to the command, so the forward troops knew that the guilty were not escaping punishment. But now I was determined to give the offenders a chance.
Most of them eagerly seized the opportunity, removed the stigma from their names, and earned honorable discharges.
This same opportunity was not, however, extended to the officers who participated in the affair.
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|Street fighting on the front line.|
Because of the miserable conditions along the front we began to suffer a high percentage of non-battle casualties. Trench foot was one of the principal causes. Cure is difficult, sometimes almost impossible, but the doctors discovered that prevention was a relatively simple matter.
Effective prevention was merely a matter of discipline: making sure that no one neglected the prescribed procedure. This was to remove the shoes and socks at least once daily and massage the feet for five minutes.
To make certain that this was done properly the normal practice was to take the treatment in pairs; each man was to rub the feet of his partner five minutes by the clock. Nothing much; but as soon as we knew the answer and applied it rigorously in all affected areas we reduced the number of serious casualties by thousands per month.
The medical service was efficient; the ratio of fatalities per hundred wounded was, in the American Army of World War II, less than one half the ratio of World War I. For this there were many reasons. Among them were penicillin and the sulfa drugs, early use of blood plasma, and an efficient system of evacuation, a great deal of it by air.
With respect to the wounded, the job of the doctor is to get the man fit again for combat as quickly as possible, and where the wound is permanently disabling to get him quickly, safely, and comfortably to a hospital in the homeland. In both tasks the doctors, the nurse corps, and their associates did a remarkable job.
Some wounded men returned several times from the hospitals to the front in a single year of campaigning. I have seen other men unloaded at base hospitals, hundreds of miles from the front, within hours of receiving a permanently disabling wound.
The soldier’s welfare is always the business of commanders of all grades. But in the fall of 1944 it was of particular importance. The Allied soldier faced all the hardship and danger of ordinary battle, while the elements made his daily life almost unendurable. It was a struggle in housekeeping as well as against the enemy.
Yet my associates and I were convinced of the necessity of maintaining the tempo of operations. The job was to maintain a punishing pace against the enemy, to build up our strength in troops and supplies throughout the fall and winter, and to be ready in the spring to deliver the final killing blows.
Commanders in the American Army were all of my own choosing. Ever since the beginning of the African campaign there had existed between General Marshall and me a fixed understanding on the point.
General Marshall said:
“You do not need to take or keep any commander in whom you do not have full confidence. So long as he holds a command in your theater it is evidence to me of your satisfaction with him. The lives of many are at stake; I will not have you operating under any misunderstanding as to your authority, and your duty, to reject or remove any that fails to satisfy you completely.”
General Marshall never violated this rule, and I, in turn, prescribed the same procedure for my senior subordinates.
Early in the Overlord operation Prime Minister Churchill and Field Marshal Brooke took occasion to inform me that they also were prepared, at any moment I expressed dissatisfaction with any of my principal British subordinates, to replace him instantly. Allied co-operation had come a long way since the first days of Torch!
We had splendid troops and fine commanders, both on the ground and in the air. More were arriving daily from the United States. All we needed, in addition to our growing strength, was supply in the forward areas. We were certain that by the time we could provide this we would have the strength needed to begin the final battles to finish off the enemy in the West.
As we pushed rapidly across western Europe the wildest enthusiasm greeted the advancing Allied soldiers. In France, Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg the story was everywhere the same.
The inhabitants were undernourished and impoverished, but the regaining of their individual liberty, of their right to talk freely with their neighbors and to learn of the outside world, seemed to overshadow, at least for the moment, their hunger and their privation. The people had lived in virtual captivity for more than four years.
During that period their trade with other nations had ceased, their industries were perverted to the use of the Nazis, and their daily lives were never free from fear of imprisonment and worse. Even their news of the outside world was filtered to them through Nazi-controlled newspapers and radios.
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|We free France, Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg.|
On a clandestine basis they did, of course, receive some information from British and American broadcasting stations but such news could not be freely circulated to the whole population and those who listened were, if discovered, subject to stern punishment.
With the coming of the Allies popular exuberance sometimes was so emotional as to embarrass our soldiers, but there was no room left for doubt concerning the people’s great joy in deliverance from the Nazi yoke.
The re-established governments of western Europe co-operated wholeheartedly with the Allied high command. Labor and other assistance were made available to us so far as the capacity of each country would permit.
There were, of course, dissident elements. Men who, with arms in their hands, had long served in the underground, who were accustomed by stealth and violence to accomplish their purposes of sabotage, did not easily adapt themselves again to the requirements of social order.
In some cases they wanted to maintain and magnify their power, to become the dominant and controlling element in the liberated country. While these things caused some local, and at times worrisome, difficulty, they were overshadowed by the eagerness of the population to earn again, under free institutions, their own living.
Because France had been divided into occupied and unoccupied segments by the armistice of 1940 and because the underground in that country was not only strong but very aggressive, more than normal difficulties were encountered in the re-establishment of stability. However, as always, the French peasant was devoted to the soil and continued assiduously to attend his crops.
In the cities there was greater confusion because Communist penetration in trade unions and elsewhere had created sharp political division within the country which was reflected in divided councils and some disunity, even, in the prosecution of the war.
For example, great portions of the former underground, or, as they were called, Maquis, refused to enter the Army except as separate units. They insisted upon forming their own regiments and divisions under their own leaders. Unless their demands were met, it was feared they might even maintain themselves in various parts of the country as armed bands ready to challenge the authority of the Central Provisional Government.
Their plan could not be wholly accepted by the government because the manifest result would have been the establishment of two French armies, one serving under and loyal to the generally recognized government, the other responsible only to itself. However, the government developed a plan to accept the Maquis in units no larger than battalion size.
Thoughtful Frenchmen frequently discussed with me the reasons for their national collapse in 1940. In other countries an opinion prevailed that the French military debacle came about because of an excessive faith in the efficiency of the Maginot Line.
I did not find any Frenchmen who agreed with this. They felt that the fortified line along the eastern border was necessary and served a good purpose in that it should have allowed the French Army to concentrate heavily on the northern flank of the line to oppose any German advances through Belgium.
Militarily, they felt, their difficulties came about because of internal political weaknesses. One French businessman said to me, “We defeated ourselves from within; we tried to oppose a four-day work week against the German’s six- or seven-day week.”
In general, the liberated peoples were startlingly ignorant of America and the American part in the war. Our effort had been so belittled and ridiculed by Nazi propaganda that the obvious strength of the American armies completely amazed and bewildered the populations of Western Europe.
In numerous ways we tried to place before them the facts of the American position prior to our entrance in the war and our contribution thereafter to its waging. But so great was the chasm of ignorance that we were only partly successful. The job is yet far from done.
The war, moreover, did not purge France of its divisive influences. Apparently Communistic doctrines had flourished in great segments of the underground movement and with the coming of liberation the Communists, as a minority but a very aggressive body, began to weaken the national will to regain France’s former position of power and prosperity in western Europe.
This partisan disunity in localities behind us did not affect the Allied military position; whatever their political affiliation, the liberated peoples were friendly to us. But there was a threatening physical weakness in our communications zone, stretching from the French coast to the front, that did endanger our future offensive operations.
The lifeblood of supply was running perilously thin throughout the forward extremities of the Army.
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|Red Ball Highway . . . Keep ’Em Rolling!|