Eisenhower's Lieutenants

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 14)

In this lengthy volume, Russell F. Weigley, who is best known for his important History of the United States Army (1967), continues his contribution to the writing of military history. Consciously modeled after D. S. Freeman’s three-volume Lee’s Lieutenants: A Study in Command (1942-1944), both in title and in approach, it is a worthy successor. Where Freeman studied the diligence and fair-mindedness of Robert E. Lee and his search for competent executive officers at the corps, division, and brigade level of the Army of Northern Virginia, Weigley looks at Dwight Eisenhower in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) during 1944-1945 and his army group, field army, and corps commanders.

This is, however, more than a multiple biography of the leading figures in the ETO. Holding it together is Weigley’s analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of the Army, its planners and its organizers. The author believes that the U.S. Army of World War II was conditioned by two legacies, closely related in time but vastly different in implication. One old army, tiny in size and quick in its movements, had fought the Indians on the frontier and the Mexican irregulars with a doctrine that had stressed mobility as a primary virtue. The other old army was Ulysses S. Grant’s, which, by a willingness to trade casualty for casualty with the Confederates, gradually wore down its enemy through the imposition of raw power all along a broad front. To reconcile these two legacies in World War II would be extremely difficult at best.

The reconciliation was made more awkward by a series of decisions, some by the military and some by civilians. The American Army of World War II, with its many trucks, its thinly armored and undergunned light and medium tanks, its too-small anti-tank guns and bazookas, was designed for quickness and mobility. This structure was not wedded, however, to its logical concomitant, a doctrine of concentration of all available power at the crucial point. Rather, this flexible weapon was, in Weigley’s view, all too often applied like a club in a grinding strategy of attrition for which it was ill-equipped. This was an especially serious problem since no adequate plans had been made either in the War Department or in the ETO to replace effectively the infantry riflemen who bore something near ninety percent of the losses in combat. The lack of heavy firepower in the infantry platoons was partially ameliorated by excellent artillery and fire direction control, but chronic shortages of ammunition, especially in the larger calibers because of poor planning in the War Department and a lack of ports and transportation, meant that commanders had to ration out the artillery support with a tight fist. Finally, the ninety-division concept, necessary because of American civilian manpower needs on the farm and in the factory for war production, meant an inadequate total number of divisions to implement the broad front strategy. The end result was that “victory in Europe in World War II was more expensive and more often postponed than it might have been.”

Weigley does not, however, write a generally negative book. Deficiencies in the design of the army were compensated for, if not overcome, by individual bravery and stubborness in the line, creative use of the materials at hand by some of the commanders, the high-level code breaking of Ultra, frequently excellent tactical air support, and the ability to profit from the experience that the Germans were more than willing to provide.

Weigley views the war primarily from the top down. He looks especially at Eisenhower’s primary subordinates, the Twenty-First, Twelfth, and Sixth Army Group commanders, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and Generals Omar Bradley and Jacob Devers, as well as the commanders of the U.S. First, Third, Seventh, and Ninth Armies, Courtney Hodges, George Patton, Alexander Patch, and William Simpson. His...

(The entire section is 1606 words.)