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Omar Bradley: General At War by Jim DeFelice

November 3, 2011 by  

Casual students of World War II may be familiar with names like Marshall, Eisenhower and Patton — maybe even Montgomery — and the roles they played in the European theater of the war. But only the more ardent history buffs have probably ever heard more than a passing mention of Gen. Omar Bradley.

The view most hold of Bradley probably comes from his portrayal by Karl Malden in the 1970 movie “Patton” with George C. Scott in the title role. In it, he was typically seen as Patton’s underling, even after Bradley was promoted over Patton as allied forces moved into Sicily.

But such portrayals, and in fact most histories of World War II, don’t do Bradley justice. He was far more involved than most realize in the planning and execution of the war as the battlefield moved from Africa and into Europe, especially the D-Day invasion of Normandy. Jim DeFelice seeks to burnish Bradley’s image in his new book, Omar Bradley: General At War.

Born to poor parents in rural Missouri in 1893, Bradley developed a love for mathematics and logic. It probably stemmed from his school teacher father, who regularly quizzed Bradley on math problems before bed time.

His mathematical abilities — and a little luck — earned Bradley an appointment to West Point. His luck turned on a change in the rules that allowed Congressmen to make two appointments, as opposed to one, the year Bradley applied.

But even that almost didn’t help him. DeFelice writes that Bradley became stumped on the qualifying exam’s algebra section. Normally a Bradley strong suit, for some reason his mind was blank that day. Formulas were lost to him, and the calculations were giving him trouble. Two hours into the test, he gave up, rose from his desk and approached the proctor. But the proctor, engrossed in a book, didn’t notice — or pretended not to notice — and Bradley tried again. Suddenly, the formulas returned to his memory and the calculations that had always come easily to him once again became easy. He passed the exam, though by Bradley’s recollection, just barely.

Bradley’s reaction to the news that he passed probably explains in part why his role in the war is often overlooked or even discounted. When he learned he had gained his appointment, but the first choice of his appointing Congressman had not, Bradley offered to decline the appointment in deference to the other candidate.

DeFelice writes: “I felt a twinge of guilt about Dempsey Anderson [the other candidate, whom he had met while taking the tests], as though I had taken away something that was his,” Bradley says in A General’s Life (Bradley’s autobiography). “I offered to decline the appointment, thinking he might somehow regain it, but he said, ‘Indeed not. You have won.’”

Such an attitude was typical of Bradley, who was raised to be humble, DeFelice writes. Indeed, Bradley’s actions during the American Army’s successes all through the European theater of war illustrate his humility and deference. Whenever a new town or village was liberated by allied forces under his command and as a result of his strategies, Bradley would let the field commanders enter first and receive the accolades of the townspeople, unlike Gen. George S. Patton, who would enter with sirens blaring and a band playing.

Throughout the war, like a good football coach, Bradley would seek the input and advice of his field generals before settling on his battle plans. Then, when successes were achieved, he credited the field generals and the soldiers. But during failures, he accepted the blame himself. It was practices like this, plus his habit of visiting the front line soldiers, that earned Bradley the nickname, GI General.

DeFelice does a good job of introducing Bradley the man and describing the upbringing and characteristics that explains Bradley’s behavior during the war, particularly as it relates to the idea that Bradley was a minor player and subordinate to Patton and England’s Gen. Bernard Montgomery.

But in truth, Bradley was a major player in the planning and provided strategies that were far more successful than the self-promoting but often dismal strategies of Montgomery.

DeFelice provides snippets of major operations under Bradley’s command and describes some of Bradley’s innovations in the conduct of warfare, like the union of massive air power and carpet bombing and ground forces in an operation termed “Cobra” that helped the allies break through the German forces defending behind hedgerows in France. And though the plan didn’t work exactly as Bradley had hoped because the air commanders changed their approach without getting Bradley’s approval, it nevertheless was successful enough that it came to be used in the push across Europe.

DeFelice does a good job of describing the interesting dynamic between Bradley and Patton. Eisenhower was at one time ready to give up on Patton, and the issue came to a head during the famous incident when Patton slapped a soldier who was in a field hospital suffering from what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome, or battle fatigue. But Bradley was able to reign in Patton in a way that others were not. And he learned how to use Patton’s strengths and aggressiveness to maximum effect.

Likewise, DeFelice is not afraid to detail Bradley’s faults. He covers adequately the fact that Bradley was caught by surprise when the Germans massed their counterattack in the Hürtgen Forest in what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge.

But what DeFelice fails to do is provide much new information about Bradley’s strategies. There is not a lot of depth in his descriptions of the planning sessions or discussions that led Bradley to make the decisions and plans he did. About all you get is that Bradley stayed up nights studying his maps, had to sell Eisenhower on his plans and often lost portions of his Army to Montgomery due to Eisenhower’s playing politics to keep the British general happy.

For the casual student of World War II, this is certainly an interesting read, and you’re bound to learn things about all the players you didn’t already know. But if you’re looking for a serious study of Bradley or the war, look elsewhere.

Bob Livingston

is an ultra-conservative American and author of The Bob Livingston Letter™, founded in 1969. Bob has devoted much of his life to research and the quest for truth on a variety of subjects. Bob specializes in health issues such as nutritional supplements and alternatives to drugs, as well as issues of privacy (both personal and financial), asset protection and the preservation of freedom.

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  • http://na Jim

    Maybe thats why they named a tank after him and not Patton. Say what you will about Patton what ever his faults/motivations he got things done. I’ve known many behind the scenes players in uniform that took no credit but got things done. This looks like another one of those. Would of liked to have met him.

  • Billy Cooper

    We know that during World War II, The Generals who we heard the most about were General Patton and Ike. And Patton was especially a colorful Genera, and made the news a lot. But General Omar Bradley just went about business. He didnt try to gain a lot of publicity. In my estimation, He was one of the Greatest Generals to have ever served in our Military. Although I was not old enough to serve in World War II, I had family and friends, who told me after the war, what a great General bradley was.

    • JERRY BORIS

      GEORGE PATTON WAS THE GREATEST GENERAL WHO EVER LIVED.
      BRADLEY WAS A SO-SO MILITARY GUY.
      E.G., DURING THE BATTLE OF FALAISE, PATTON SAID, ‘WRAP THEM UP” AS THE NAZIS WERE CORNERED. BUT BRADLEY SAID, ‘WAIT, I’M THINKING.”
      SO WE LOST THE CHANCE TO END THE WAR FASTER, AS OVER 100,000 NAZIS WEHRMACHT FLED, OWING TO BRADLEY’S DELAY.TO FIGHT AGAIN. AND KILL MORE OF OUR GUYS.
      AND…
      BRADLEY SAID TO PATTON, “IKE WOULD HAVE SENT YOU HOME.”
      IKE ALSO WAS WRONG, PLAYING DIPLOMAT TO PLEASE THE BRITS,
      THE MEDIA BLEW UP THE SLAPPING INCIDENT. DREW PEARSON, THE QUAKER, ET AL. IKE COULD HAVE TALKED WITH PATTON PRIVATELY, BUT HE WENT OVERBOARD TO KEEP THE BRITS HAPPY, FOR MONTY, THE LOUSIEST GENERAL.
      CHEERS TO GEORGIE PATTON, THE GREATEST EVER.
      MAY HE REST IN HOLY PEACE.

  • Julian

    There is (was) a Patton tank. The M48, in service during Korea and a few years after. The Bradley “tank” is, in fact, the Bradley Fighting Vehicle. An upgrade to the old M-113 and armored/armed to boot. It is fast, but vulnerable. The current standard infantry vehicle in upgraded versions. Bradley was the last 5-star Army general and Chairman of the JCS.

  • Cep.

    I wonder where our Nation would be,without such great men ????????

  • David P.

    The only thing that was bad about Patton,was his uncontrolled mouth.I had a uncle that served as one of Pattons scouts,He told me,the picture about Patton,was very close to what he(Patton)was really like.Just think of the wars ,we as a Nation would’ve not fought if ,our leaders at that time would ‘ve listen to his advice.

  • s c

    General Bradley was known as ‘the soldier’s general.’ That is, if there was a superior officer in the Army who was going to take good care of his own soldiers (instead of pretending), it was Bradley. Being known as ‘a soldier’s general’ is a lofty compliment that is rarely extended to any high-ranking brass.
    I can’t say that Bradley was the Army version of Chesty Puller (USMC), but among older Marines Puller was revered (and still is). I hope we still have true leaders in the military who inspire their ‘troops’ and are res[ected in the same ways as Bradley and Puller.
    It’s obvious that true civilian leaders are hard to find, and things have changed so much in the last 30 years or so that the White House poser is the worst C-i-C we’ve ever had (even worse than Peanuts Carter).
    I thought LBJ and RMN were quirky, but Obummer makes J and N look like first-rate boy scouts. I’m SO glad not to be in uniform while the current W H useful idiot sends me all over the globe. Obummer, like Bubba Clinton, never served one day in the military, and it shows 24/7.
    Respect the office of the President, but under no circumstances is anyone obligated to respect that individual in the W H.

  • Julian

    As to the movie “Patton”. I saw it before its US release with BG G. S. Patton III and his family in Germany. GSPIII was my boss in the 4th Armored Division at the time. He said after the showing that George C. Scott nailed his “Old Man” to a tee (GSPIII’s words) except for one thing. Scott’s voice didn’t mimic Old Blood and Guts high squeaky voice. (again, GSPIII’s description). A few years later while visiting the Patton museum in Ft. Knox, I heard a newsreel clip of Patton speaking. His voice WAS high and squeaky. But he was magnificant as a motivator.

    • JERRY BORIS

      THE MOVIE WAS TAKEN FROM BRADLEY’S, RPT BRADLEY’S BOOK, NOT NEUTRAL. NATURALLY, BRADLEY, WHO RESENTED PATTON, WAS NOT COMPLIMENTARY TO GEORGIE, BUT TO HIMSELF AND TO IKE, WHO HAD HIS FAULTS., NEVERTHELESS. TO HAVE SENT PATTON HOME, AS BRADLEY SAID ABOUT IKE, WAS AN EGO TRIP, NOT MILITARY.
      IKE EVEN HAD TO USE GEORGIE PATTON TO FOOL THE NAZIS INTO THINKING WE WOULD LAUNCH AT CALAIS, NOT WHERE WE DID, AT NORMANDY. HOW WOULD IKE AND BRADLEY HAVE PULLED THAT LIFESAVER OFF, WITHOUT PATTON BEING THERE?

  • Chris

    The book on Pattons life was very Intresting ,It was a great ensight into one of the Greatest Generals in United States Histroy.(If not the Greatest).Its kind of funny,that som times,big things come in small(Size) Packages.Omar too,was a Great General.

  • Paul

    The author is not an historian, and it shows in his analysis of Bradley. To put it simply, Bradley got to be one of Marshall’s boys while the two served together at the Infantry School in the late 1920 and early 30s. Bradley had no imagination what so ever. His so-called break out plan from the Bocage was very short sighted. It took “Lighting Joe” Collins to give it some punch, and of course, it took Patton’s boldness to make it a success. Finally, Bradley was absolutely over his head when he was appointed the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. His actions in the first weeks of the Korean War point this out most clearly.

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