This article is well written and well substantiated with reliable facts and comments that show the friction between General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe in WWII, and the British senior officers, who traditionally looked down on the Americans, regardless of their military merits. Additionally, General Patton was in their way, especially when he was the first to enter liberated German cities, ahead of cocky British Field-Marshal Montgomery, who was the one who did the actual fighting but was outwitted and deprived of the honors he deserved.
The main reasons behind why the British commanders disliked and even resented Eisenhower originated with his stunning promotion from the rank of major (he was a major for 14 years) to one star general in only two years. With no combat experience and no other merits except that he was a team player, meaning he could not do anything alone, “lke” was considered a perfect armchair general. When the United States saved England from losing the air battle with the Luftwaffe and flooded the country with weapons and men, making British soil an “arsenal of democracy” Eisenhower was part of the military superiority of Americans who got along with the Brits “like a bulldog meeting a cat,” as he described it. “Oversexed and overpaid,” Yankee soldiers showed little respect for the stiff and easily-aggravated British officers, who became outranked and dominated by a general who in his entire military career had never heard a shot fired in anger and never saw a front line, never mind that there was a mutiny in his command during the North Africa invasion.
There were many other military reasons (as the article clearly shows) for looking down on the instant Allied Supreme Commander. Truth be told, the British could not stand the way Eisenhower behaved while he conducted the war in Europe, including on D-day. His “deception plan,” Overlord, which was code for the biggest landing armada in history, worked mainly because the adverse weather conditions made a sea invasion unlikely and caught the Germans off guard, while their senior officers were on leave, including Field-Marshall Erwin von Rommel. Hitler’s long sleep that day gave the Allied troops enough time to advance inland, defying the recall orders of their officers. Ike stayed in his base in England, planning how to accept blame if the entire “crusade” turned into a giant failure. Fortunately, the individual heroism of the invaders prevailed, and soon France became another lost battle ground for the Germans. Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, who was the Allied Commander of Ground Forces on D-Day, received partial credit for its success. He resented that Eisenhower was the hero and his boss, just because Americans footed most of the war bill. It led to a lasting clash of personal and military egos between the two commanders.
While his many Allied divisions achieved one victory after another, Eisenhower displayed a narcissism rarely found among military leaders, beginning with attaching his general stars onto his pajama collars and being chauffeured by an Irish woman, Kay Summersby, who became his “war wife.” He was sixty and married; she was twenty-six and divorced. During this time he advanced to a five star general, and she became a captain and an US citizen with his help. His main strength, according to a biographer, was in getting people around a table, and he always kept the Allied leaders in a workable balance.
Eisenhower’s manhood was highly questioned because his bravery as a general at the front existed only in pictures. In photographs of him talking to paratroopers, he can be seen dressed as if he were going to his office. Likewise, in many war pictures, all the other generals can be seen wearing tired combat uniforms, steel helmets and sidearms, while their top commander sports a peaked cap, expensive shoes and a well ironed uniform. While in Paris (where he had been since August 1944), Eisenhower heard that SS commando leader Otto Skorzeny was going to assassinate him, making the mighty general afraid to leave his new headquarters in the well-guarded Versailles palace during Christmas holiday.
Knowing that the war in Europe would be over soon, the victorious Supreme Commander took no chance of being hurt and diligently followed strict orders from Washington on how to please the advancing Soviet army leaders and influence public opinion concerning the unnecessary over-destruction of Germany by making public Nazi atrocities. Repeated conflicts with unruly General Patton showed how Ike carefully stayed away from any damaging controversy and kept his postcard image clean for the presidential election after the war. He had no problem demoting Patton and dissociating himself from Patton’s pro-German outbursts. As “Europe’s liberator,” only his actions and words, always politically correct, were important, and he methodically did everything he could to showcase his commanding role in the victory over the Nazis.
Part of his political correctness demonstration was to deny the Geneva Convention (against Patton’s protests), starving to death hundreds of thousands German war prisoners (mainly SS-men), and compete with the Russians and other Allies in dismantling and removing the Third Reich industry, while hunting Nazi space engineers to be brought to America. Eisenhower thought very little about any German life, agreeing with the Morgenthau Plan to castrate the German people and envisioned post-war Germany as an exclusively agrarian land. He used “Morgenthau boys” to teach the defeated Germans punishing lessons in a draconian occupation. This consisted in supporting malnutrition of the Germans, arbitrary accusations and the destruction of the previous German banking system.
Accepting post-war measures that worked faultlessly for his political image, Eisenhower later won election to President of the United States, serving two terms as a do-nothing president. He was named the first supreme commander of NATO, trying to save the world from former Soviet allies, this time through diplomacy. Not bad achievements for a former undisciplined and academically-poor West Point cadet who later trained volunteers for WWI! As a retired five-star general he felt remorseful: “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”
Famous for his flashing grin, the chain-smoking Eisenhower appreciated a good cigar and above all, he loved golfing. That kind of leisurely attitude made him reflect, “Any man who wants to be president is either an egomaniac or crazy.” He could easily rephrase it: “I owe everything to war and to my ego!”
© Ion Grumeza 2013