Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Retorts and Rebuttals: The Political Whitewashing of Recent History

Dr. Amon Stiels:

The following was a news item via FoxNews that recounted formal protests made by the government of Poland directed at visiting American dignitary James Comey, the director of the FBI, for comments he made alleging Polish complicity in the Holocaust.
FBI Director James Comey wasn't wrong when he said some in Poland were accomplices in the Holocaust, but his remarks -- which angered Poles and resulted in an apology Sunday night from America's top diplomat in Warsaw -- hit a raw nerve in a nation that suffered greatly at the hands of the Nazis, according to experts on the last century's darkest chapter.

U.S. Ambassador Stephen Mull apologized for Comey's comments, in which the lawman told an audience at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, "In their minds, the murderers and accomplices of Germany, and Poland, and Hungary, and so many, many other places didn't do something evil. They convinced themselves it was the right thing to do, the thing they had to do." Mull, who was summoned to meet with Polish officials, emerged from the sit-down and made it clear Comey did not speak for the U.S.

 "I now have a lot of work before me to make things right in this situation."

 - Stephen Mull, US ambassador to Poland

" ... any suggestion that "Poland, or any other countries other than Nazi Germany, bear responsibility for the Holocaust, is a mistake, harmful and insulting," Mull said after attending ceremonies marking the 72nd anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising against the Nazis. "Nazi Germany alone bears responsibility.

"I now have a lot of work before me to make things right in this situation," he said.

COmey's speech made US Ambassador Stephen Mull's job harder. (Reuters)

Polish officials noted that 6 million Poles -- half of them Jews -- died at the hands of Nazis. Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a global human rights organization researching the Holocaust, said he could understand the Poles' umbrage at Comey's remarks, even if they contained truth.

"Poland, the government and the Polish people, have often been upset when people say, in shorthand, 'Polish death camps, or 'Polish concentration camp,'" Cooper said. "What is very important to note is these camps were in occupied Poland. Many Poles took up arms against the Nazis, in the Warsaw uprising and before."

Cooper said the history of Jews in Poland, both before and during the Holocaust, is complicated.

"There are two interesting truths," Cooper said. "The largest number of righteous gentiles honored by Yad Vashem [Israel's Holocaust memorial] came from Poland. Having said that, it is also true that the level of anti-Semitism in Poland on the eve of the war was also extremely high."

The FBI did not return calls for comment.

Comey might not have been wrong in the literal sense, but his comments were "inartful," said Deborah Lipstadt, professor of Modern Jewish and Holocaust Studies at Emory University and author of the landmark 1993 book, "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory."

"His heart was in the right place, but it was a very clumsy way of saying things," Lipstadt said. "Poland did not have its own government that it could be an ally or collaborator of Germany. If I were an advisor to Comey, I would have told him not to use Poland as an example.

"There were many people in Poland who certainly turned Jews in, and Poland was an anti-Semitic regime prior to the war. However, during the war Poland was an occupied country, unlike Hungary and France and others whose governments actively collaborated with the Nazis.”

FBI Director James Comey said he sends every new agent to the Holocaust museum. (Reuters)

President Obama caused similar outrage in 2012 when he referred to a Nazi facility in occupied Poland where Jews were processed for extermination as a "Polish death camp." Obama subsequently apologized.

Nazi Germany brutally occupied Poland from 1939-45, and ran death camps there, killing millions of Jews, Poles and others.

The Associated Press contributed to this report


Director Comey’s only fault here is that he failed to adhere to diplomatic protocol in commenting on a subject that carried a particularly strong sensitivity with his intended audience. But his heart probably was in the right place by pointing out that not all of the Holocaust perpetrators came replete with Nazi insignia on their lapels. The sad fact of the matter was that the Nazi program to exterminate the Jews of Europe was never short of a reliable number of in-house, anti-Semitic, indigenous groups that regularly collaborated with their German masters to ramp up the violence against their Jewish victims. 

Comey should not be faulted for pointing out that not all of the people in Nazi-occupied Europe, especially Eastern Europe were averse to the occupier’s anti-Semitic policies. In this regard Comey could be perfunctorily commended for at least having a more realistic grasp of WWII history than America’s Polish Ambassador Stephen Mull, who seems more concerned with appeasing his Polish guests’ insistence that their country’s wartime record roughly mirrored the plight which had befell the Jews of Europe. 

For the record, Poland’s plight in WWII was one of horrendous tragedy and misfortune, for the Poles’ suffered an equally egregious fate at the hands of both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. No other civilian population in Europe suffered more than the Poles during WWII. They were the victims of the Nazis’ abominable General Plan East policy which resigned the Polish population to a slow and methodical diminution through segregation, enslavement and organized mass murder. As if that wasn’t bad enough, many of the leading mavens in Polish society, especially those in the prewar Polish Army’s ill-fated officer corps were subsequently deported and murdered in Stalin’s Siberian gulags to ensure a more compliant transition to communist rule after the Red Army had liberated the country from Nazism. 

I hardly doubt that Director Comey was deliberately mitigating the extent of the Poles’ suffering but was merely postulating that not all Poles were inflicted with remorse over the plight which had befallen their Jewish brethren. Although the article clearly states the Poles’ generous provision of heroic contributors to the Yad Vashem memorial register of ‘Righteous Among the Nation’ for their gallant exploits to diminish the effects of the Jew’s suffering, there is also a small percentage of the Polish population that wasn’t so accommodating to the Jew’s plight for which the Poles’ themselves are not always so eager or proud to speak about. Comey’s only mistake here is that his poor wording somehow insinuated that the Poles perhaps were the worst offenders of the indigenous groups that ignored the Jewish persecution. 

The worse offender here is probably Ambassador Mull for his confident insistence that Nazi Germany alone bears the responsibility for the Holocaust. Of course the Nazi regime deserves full blame for enacting and carrying out the genocidal policy that launched the Holocaust but the sad truth is that not all of the Holocaust’s perpetrators were Nazis. For this Ambassador Mull is probably equally guilty of having chosen a poor use of words to establish historical fact from fiction or perhaps he is just being more intentional in presenting history with a more political slant. In his case he has a diplomatic incentive to ameliorate the historical record of his host country by portraying all the Polish people as the unwitting victims of Nazi brutality. But not all Poles lamented the plight of their Jewish neighbors just as not all Germans were card-carrying members of the Nazi Party.

The sad truth is that the Nazi SS, the chief perpetrators of the Holocaust, had quite an easy time in filling the rolls of their execution squads from a steady stream of native volunteers from all the occupied nations of Europe. Anti-Semitism was not a distinctly German anomaly in European society and the indigenous groups in Eastern Europe were especially plagued with an abundance of social and political extremist groups that operated on the far fringes of the political spectrum. The members in these groups were only too willing to offer their services to their new political masters for reasons that didn’t always correlate with simple economic motives. And Eastern Europe was full of eager Nazi collaborators who wholeheartedly took up the cause of genocide if it meant ridding their nation of their Jewish minorities.

Comey’s main fault was that his erroneous wording of the argument seems to have singled out the Poles for being the most indifferent when in fact there were probably five or six other nationalities whose collaboration with the Nazis’ could be judged far more vigorous and munificent. However, maybe Ambassador Mull should be asking himself why 20 of the last 25 Nazi war criminals to be brought to justice were not diehard German Nazis’ but rather zealous concentration camp guards hailing from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Croatia. It might also be relevant to point out that not a whole lot of the people in these countries seem to have raised even an eyebrow when the Nazi einsatzgruppen began culling the number of Jews from their towns and villages and executing them in mass burial pits on the outskirts of town.

The bottom line is that Ambassador Mull does history no justice by portraying the Holocaust as a distinctly German injustice when huge swaths of European society chose to look away rather than raise any alarm bells in deference to the Jew’s plight. Then he can ask himself why a majority of the guards at the Nazi-run labor camps and execution centers were Ukrainian “Trawniki” volunteers or Russian “Hiwis” and that most of the firing squads that made up the einsatzgruppen were Latvian and Lithuanian conscripts recruited from the many far-right, anti-Semitic, social groups that abruptly rose up in those societies at the entrance of their Nazi masters. These volunteers were not ignorant of the heinous crimes they were tasked in performing and many of them saw their obligations to the Nazis’ as an opportune way to curry favor with their masters by readily absolving the hard-pressed German war machine of the more mundane tasks associated with the Jewish genocide. 

By no means was this collaboration relegated to the anti-Semitic groups in Eastern Europe only. The Vichy French regime had an equally abhorrent attitude toward their Jewish constituents that swiftly filtered down into all sectors of French society. The one common bond that factored into all these examples of Nazi collaboration was the seemingly indifference that all these countries had for their Jewish kinsfolk. To say that anti-Semitism was not already widely pervasive all across European society is perhaps the best illustration of history being rewritten by the victors since it accentuates the cause for which the whole war was fought against the Axis powers. And had all of Europe been genuinely averse to the Nazis’ macabre racial pursuits than there wouldn’t be so many fugitive accomplices still hiding away among the populations that are said to have resisted the Nazi’s the most vehemently.

The Polish people have a right to protest the comments made by Director Comey but they can’t continue to ignore or downplay the abominable collaborationist record of a good-size section of their community for the virulent anti-Semitic transgressions they committed, not in collaboration with the Nazis’ but more so against their own countrymen simply because they were not Polish. Yes it is true that some 6,339 Polish citizens were duly commemorated by the state of Israel for their selfless assistance to the Jews during the Holocaust but it is probably fair to assume that an equal number of Poles were also extoled by the Nazis’ for having denounced their Jewish neighbors. The Poles can talk all they want about their historical bonds with the Jewish people before 1939 but those same praises ring hollow with the postwar record of Jewish emigration leaving the Polish state in droves because of their most unwelcome status.

Perhaps Director Comey should just concern himself with criminal justice and maybe Ambassador Mull won’t have to spend so much time tending to Polish sensitivities. Then again, isn’t that what ambassadors do fulltime anyways? What he shouldn’t be doing is attempting to rewrite the historical record by overly simplifying the greatest criminal conspiracy in history by relegating its cause to a few bad apples in Berlin. The chief perpetrators may have hailed from the Greater German Reich but many of the Holocaust’s greatest injustices were augmented by the behavior of ordinary civilians in Warsaw, Minsk, Kiev, Kaunas, Vilnius or Riga who readily threw their lot behind their Nazi oppressors in order to certify their own inherent prejudices against their hapless Jewish rivals. Sadly this is something that all of Europe hasn’t quite come to terms with nor does it seem to have the scruples to openly admit or accept. Ultimately everyone in the end is held accountable for their darkest indiscretions, if not by God than by the spirits of all the victims they so blindly ignored.                                 

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The US Army's Most Distinguished WWII Divisional Commanders

Col. Max von Schoppenburg:

In modern warfare the divisional combat command is considered either the lowest level for which military operations can be conducted or the highest level for which tactics can be smoothly implemented. Because the division level of command skirts the margin between the operational and tactical level of warfare it is considered the main cog in the wheel that drives the higher corps and army formation through military operations. During WWII the division formation was the standard unit of transport for all American troops venturing abroad to the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. The division was the main army sub-formation which would give all US Army personnel their distinct numerical identity for the duration of combat service in their selected theater of operations. 
Gen. Leslie J. McNair

General Leslie J. McNair, head of US Army Ground Forces until his accidental death in Normandy on July 25, 1944 was the man ultimately responsible for the organizing and training and eventual transport overseas of the more than three million American GI’s that fought during WWII. McNair put together 92 divisions during the US Army’s four-year involvement in the war, in which 68 were ordinary infantry divisions, 16 were armored, five were airborne, two cavalry and one mountain division. Only three of these divisions; the 98th Infantry, 13th Airborne and 2nd Cavalry Division were never engaged in combat operations. Out of this total force 61 combat divisions were committed to Western Europe, 15 fought in the Mediterranean and 22 saw action in the Pacific theater; with seven divisions alternating between both the Mediterranean and European theaters. 

McNair had no small task ahead of him. Before the first shot of the war was fired the US Army fielded the 23rd biggest army in the world; its 200,000-man ground force contingent rated somewhat larger than the Slovakian Army but slightly smaller than Romania’s. On the day that the German Army’s 130 combat divisions invaded the Soviet Union and crashed headlong into the Red Army’s 280 divisions, the US Army had less than 10 combat divisions still in various stages of training across the USA. Within one year of America’s entrance into WWII McNair’s organization would triple the number of combat divisions in the US Army and then double that number again before the final surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945. In the three years that McNair was at the helm of Army Ground Forces he had overseen a forty-fold increase in the army’s combat ground force wherein they would end the war with the third largest army on the planet.
1st Infantry Div. landing at Omaha Beach

As the main tactical unit of the army and corps formation’s operational command, the division commander might be considered the most important leader on the battlefield. Ultimately on the WWII battlefield, an operation’s success or failure rested with the division commander, whose ability to control the momentum at the decisive point of impact or main line of resistance would either make or break the corps’ attack. Defensively the division commander was even more important because ultimately it was his responsibility to prevent disaster from reaching the higher corps or army commands by controlling the immediate battlefront and mitigating the effects of enemy breakthroughs and counterattacks. Thus it was the division commanders which played the pivotal role in averting the disaster that could have affected the allied lines during the audacious German offensive at the Battle of the Bulge. When disaster did strike it was usually the division commander who was the highest-ranking casualty on the battlefield, as so occurred with the army’s 12th Infantry “Philippine” Division; the only US Army division to be completely destroyed on the field of battle during WWII. 
Gen. George S. Patton, former CG of 2nd Armored Div.

Most of the army’s best battlefield tacticians were the division commanders. Often when the newsreels were hyping the audacious advances of Patton’s 3rd Army or Lightning Joe Collins’ VII Corps, it was usually because one of their division commanders took it upon himself to exploit the enemy’s gravest weakness at the most opportune time and boosted the momentum of every formation around it. They were able to do this frequently by way of the acute tactical advantage in mobility that the US Army had over every army they faced. McNair may not have fielded the largest army in WWII but he definitely made sure that they were the most mobile. While Germany’s predominantly infantry army was still dependent on the horse and carriage for the bulk of its transportation needs, each US Army division was fully reliant on their huge assemblage of GMC and Studebaker trucks for nearly all of their logistical requirements. It wasn’t altogether unheard of to hear of American infantry divisions beating the more mobile, armored units in races for critical bridge-crossings and river lines.
LtGen. Matthew Ridgway

Unlike the tank-dependent German and Soviet armies, both American armored and infantry divisions shared equally in the overall success of the army formation as a whole. Although the armored units might have been called upon to do the army’s heavier and more concentrated penetrations across enemy lines, the infantry units were equally adept at exploiting breakthroughs wherever and whenever they occurred because of their own organic mobility. However, whereas an armored division could rely on its sheer volume of mobile firepower to proceed through the more formidable obstacles, the infantry division relied predominantly on the tactical acuity of its commanding officer and the extent of losses he was prepared to take to further his unit’s advance. This held overwhelmingly true for the airborne divisions, which mostly fought as regular infantry units, albeit with far less mobility and thoroughly inadequate artillery support. But it was precisely these deficiencies which made the airborne soldier more dependent on his crack, combat skills and those of his immediate superiors. At the end of the war the Germans identified the American airborne units as the toughest fighters on the battlefield.  
MGen. William Lee "Father of US Airborne"

When it came to airborne warfare the US Army was head and shoulders above the rest. The US fielded five purely airborne divisions during the war, four of which saw extensive action in both the European and Pacific theaters. In revisiting the illustrious combat record of the US Army’s airborne arm, two officers come to mind as the progenitors of the elite, combat quality that this fraternity has upheld throughout its glorious history on the battlefield. Gen. Matthew Ridgway and MajGen. William Lee were the key pioneers of their nation’s airborne arm, transforming respectively the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions’ from the regular infantry divisions they originated as to the crack, airborne-commando units they are still to this day. Lee is credited with being the “father of US Airborne” although ill-health cut his military career short before he could actually lead the 101st into combat. Nevertheless Lee and Ridgway both planned and oversaw the training of each division for their successful missions in Normandy and Ridgway later went on to lead all American airborne units in the European theater.
MGen. James "Jumping Jim" Gavin, CO 82nd AB Div.

After Ridgway was promoted to corps command the 82nd Airborne Division was turned over to Maj.-Gen. James “Jumping Jim” Gavin, at the age of 37, the youngest division commander in the US Army during WWII. Gavin was an exceptional combat officer who excelled at just about every level of command he was ever posted to. He earned the moniker, “Jumping Jim” for his habit of being the first paratrooper to jump out of the aircraft doors in every airborne drop the 82nd made during WWII. As a colonel under Ridgway, Jumping Jim Gavin led the first regimental paratroop drop in US Army history during the allied invasion of Sicily and then gathered his outgunned units on the top of Biazza Ridge to exert one of the greatest defensive performances by a small unit formation in all of WWII. Gavin jumped with his 505th Paratroop Regiment during D-Day and helped secure the key crossroads town of St. Mere Eglise before he led the whole 82nd Airborne during Operation Market Garden, where he seized the critical bridge over the Waal River at Nijmegen. Gavin ended the war as one of the most decorated combat officers in the US Army and continued to be a leading force in the implementation of paratroop combat doctrine and in the tactical evolution of airborne warfare.
LGen. Alexander Patch, Americal Div.

Of course nothing can compare in its impact upon the battlefield effectiveness of the combat formation more than the time-tested record of its cumulative experience in battle. Most of the highest quality divisions tended to be those that had accrued the longest amount of time in combat. Battlefield experience went a long way in establishing where the unit was positioned on the front and to what type of missions it was to be entrusted with. Out of the top five divisions which logged the longest time in combat, four of them would serve in the Pacific Theater. The Americal Division, an infantry division formed on the island of New Caledonia, was the first US Army division engaged in offensive operations with any enemy combatant in WWII. Gen. Alexander Patch would lead the division during its initial foray on Guadalcanal in relief of the 1st Marine Division. Patch did such a fine job maneuvering the Americal across Guadalcanal that he was swiftly promoted to oversee the whole ground campaign on the strategic island as the commander of the US XIV Corps. His outstanding combat resume in the Pacific made him a consensus choice to lead one of the six army formations that Eisenhower had slated for combat service in the European theater. Gen. Patch would move on to lead the US 7th Army from its amphibious landing in the south of France to its war-ending advance on the Brenner Pass in Austria.
MGen. Terry de la Mesa Allen, CO 1st Infantry Div.

The 1st Infantry Division was one of the most battle-seasoned formations in the European theater. From its original combat posting in Morocco during Operation Torch, the Big Red One would see action in nearly every major combat operation in Europe, Sicily and North Africa. It entered WWII under the command of the flamboyant and aggressive MjGen. Terry de la Mesa Allen and his equally interesting deputy commander, BrGen. Teddy Roosevelt Jr. Both Allen and Roosevelt were widely venerated by the troops that fought under them for their no-nonsense and unconventional approach to warfare. Both Allen and Roosevelt were intensely courageous soldiers who led from the front and went out of their way to endure the same battlefield inconveniences as the combat GI in the field. Of all the original commanders in the army’s originally unexceptional showing in North Africa, Allen stood out as a combat leader with the mettle to master adversity. This endeared him to Gen. Patton, who handpicked him and his division to spearhead the 7th Army’s amphibious assault on Sicily. 
BGen. Teddy Roosevelt Jr.

Unfortunately both Allen and Roosevelt were not particularly admired by Gen. Omar Bradley, who took over for Patton when ‘Ole Blood & Guts’ caught the ire of Ike for slapping an enlisted man. Bradley frowned upon Allen’s often slovenly appearance and his aversion to proper officer etiquette and considered Roosevelt a political gadfly seeking glory on the battlefield. In August of 43’ Bradley separated the two by relieving them both from command of the 1st Infantry Division, sending Allen home to train and lead the newly-formed 104th Infantry Division and dispatching Roosevelt over to the 4th Infantry. MjGen. Clarence Huebner took over the Big Red One and led it with distinction through its harrowing ordeal on Omaha Beach and its eventual breakout from Normandy. As Allen’s old 1st Infantry Division was running into the quagmire of Omaha Beach, Teddy Roosevelt was leading the 4th Infantry Division onto Utah Beach in one of the most heroic performances by a general officer in all of WWII. Several months later Allen took the 104th Infantry into France and once again put in another sterling performance utilizing the same unique and independent style of command that had brought such accolades to the Big Red One. 
MGen. Manton S. Eddy, CO 9th Infantry Div.

Of all the infantry divisions in the European theater the 9th Infantry Division was the most combat accredited, earning some 24 unit citations for battlefield achievements and valor. A lot of that acclaim came while it was under the command of MjGen. Manton Eddy, one of the most successful division and corps commanders in Europe. Eddy’s unit was the first army division to see combat in the European-Mediterranean theater and played a decisive role in the eventual collapse of Axis resistance in North Africa and in Sicily. Eddy led a skillful advance of the 9th “Old Reliables” Division across the Cotentin Peninsula and captured the crucial port of Cherbourg three weeks after D-Day. He then drove the division through the gap at St. Lo during Operation Cobra and eventually closed the trap around German forces at Falaise. Later under MjGen. Louis Craig, the 9th Infantry played a pivotal role in halting the advance of the German Ardennes offensive with their distinguished defensive performance on Elsenborn Ridge during the Battle of the Bulge. 
MGen. Anthony McAuliffe

Many American division commanders would distinguish themselves during the Battle of the Bulge for independent actions that continuously stymied the progression of Germany’s audacious Ardennes offensive. The 9th, 30th and 99th Infantry Divisions, as well as the 7th Armored Division all played pivotal roles in the defense of Elsenborn Ridge along the northern face of the German bulge. These units took the brunt of the German’s elite panzer arm and forced the enemy to shift its axis of advance to the south, where the 101st Airborne Division was holding the critical crossroads town of Bastogne. The airborne forces at Bastogne fell under the temporary command of its deputy commander, BgGen. Anthony McAuliffe, after its CO MjGen. Maxwell Taylor was called to France for a conference with Eisenhower. McAuliffe’s stubborn resolve to defend Bastogne at all costs and his subsequent rebuke to German attempts to cajole a formal surrender by countering with the reply of “Nuts” are now permanent legends etched in American folklore. McAuliffe was later given his own command with the 103rd Infantry Division and finished the war on the Brenner Pass, having conquered the last province in Hitler’s Third Reich.  
LGen. Lucian Truscott, 3rd Infantry Division

The 3rd Infantry Division was another outstanding combat formation that prospered greatly by having an outstanding combat commander at the helm for much of its service in the European theater. The “Rock of the Marne” division would need every bit of help it could get since it was the only American division to see extensive combat action in all three sub-theaters in the ETO; North Africa, the Mediterranean and Western Europe. Its first and foremost combat commander was MjGen. Lucian Truscott, one of the finest American soldiers ever to have fought and led on the WWII battlefield. Truscott’s units were regularly cited for being some of the most highly trained and consistent soldiers in the American order of battle, as their highly accredited performances in Morocco, Sicily, Anzio and along the Vosges Mountains can attest. It was in Sicily where the 3rd Infantry’s amazing speed and endurance in racing to capture the cities of Palermo and Messina sealed the legend of the “Truscott trot” as the pace for which all subsequent infantry advances were measured against for their speed and efficiency.
MGen. John "Iron Mike" O'Daniel

When Truscott was promoted to lead the VI Corps with his beleaguered troops still pinned down on the beaches of Anzio, he confidently passed the torch over to MjGen. John “Iron Mike” O’Daniel, another no-nonsense, take-charge personality perfectly suited to push his infantry over-achievers through and beyond the remaining Axis obstacles in Rome, Southern France, the Rhine River and the formidable Nazi bastion of Nuremburg. Of course it didn’t hurt O’Daniel’s sterling resume` that his division’s performance was reliably bolstered with the greatest number of Medal of Honor recipients than any other combat formation in the US Army; not the least of which was Lt. Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier in all of WWII. The 3rd Infantry’s momentous advance across the Third Reich was one of the quickest and most storied advances by an American infantry division in all of WWII and firmly validated Truscott and O’Daniel’s expert handling of the mechanized infantry in motion. 
MGen. Adna Chaffee Jr. America's tank guru

Yet when it came down to combat mobility nothing could match the speed and flexibility of an American armored division. Although the army’s WWII tank arm was saddled with the outgunned Sherman M4 medium tank for most of the war, the sheer number of them on the battlefield and their speed and maneuverability made them a formidable opponent for Germany’s renowned but dwindling panzer forces. The US Army’s belated entrance into the realm of armored warfare was consummated through the meticulous care and perception of innovators like MjGen. Adna Chaffee Jr. and Gen. George Patton, America’s foremost tank gurus of the interwar years. Because of their persistent warnings to superiors about the army’s debilitating dearth of developmental progress into this new and revolutionary aspect of modern warfare, the US embarked on a crash course in armored doctrine and began a rapid expansion of its tank arm to incorporate five freshly equipped, fully armored, tank divisions to its prewar Order of Battle. By the end of the war the US Army would field sixteen armored divisions and could lay claim to having the second largest tank army in the world behind the Soviet Union.
Gen. Ernest Harmon, 1st Armored

The army’s first acclaimed leader of a tank division was probably Gen. Ernest Harmon, who was one of the main, doctrinal revisionists who brought back the élan and respectability of America’s North African army after their debilitating defeat at the Kasserine Pass. Harmon teamed up with Patton in 1942 to collapse the German position in North Africa as commander of the 1st Armored Division and then partnered with his protégé once again when he led the 2nd Armored Division as part of Patton’s rescue force sent in to counterattack Germany’s southern flank at the Battle of the Bulge. Harmon took over the 2nd Armored from the recently promoted MjGen. Edward Brooks, another outstanding commander in America’s tank fraternity. Brooks spearheaded Patton’s 3rd Army during their unprecedented 400-mile romp across Northern France with the renowned “Hell on Wheels” division; the most traveled and battle-seasoned armored formation in the army’s inventory.
MGen. John S. Wood

Gen. Patton indeed seems to have had a more profound grasp of the distinct possibilities in aggressive, mechanized maneuver warfare than his fellow army commanders in the European theater. Because of this his armored commanders tended to have a far wider freedom to maneuver from which to demonstrate their unique mobility skills. This brought several of them to the fore of the US Army’s tank fraternity and etched forever the combat records of Patton’s glorious armored divisions in the annals of motorized warfare. The 4th Armored Division served as Patton’s main battering ram for much of the 3rd Army’s combat chronicle in Western Europe. In that time two separate commanding officers led the division. The gruff and hard-driving MjGen. John Wood led the 4th Armored from its momentous breakout from the Normandy bocage country and its dynamic advance across Northern France. When it was next pressed into service to come to the relief of American airborne forces trapped in Bastogne, the slick and polished MjGen. Hugh Gaffey led the division. Serving with both commanders was Lt.Col. Creighton “Abe” Abrams, who spearheaded most of the division’s more dynamic advances and would later go on to succeed Patton as the army’s next-generation tank guru. 
MGen. Maurice Rose, 3rd Armored Div.

Eleven of the sixteen American armored divisions in Europe would fight as a part of Patton’s 3rd Army at one time or another. Many of their leaders would be significant contributors to the legend of Gen. Patton’s most celebrated exploits. MjGen. Robert Grow with the 6th Armored and BrGen. Charlie Kilburn with the 11th, stand out as two of the more comparable adherents to Patton’s aggressive style. But not all of the US Army’s outstanding tank commanders were destined for anonymity plying their wares in the shadow of Patton’s imposing legend. MjGen. Maurice Rose was perhaps the most audacious tactician of them all and was widely considered to be the top armored commander in the US Army throughout the Second World War. Fighting under Hodges 1st Army, Rose’s one-hundred-mile advance in just 24 hours with the 3rd Armored Division in Northern France was the single-longest one day advance by an American division throughout the war. Rose was the first Allied commander to breach the German border in September 44’ and played an instrumental part in the reduction of the German salient at the Battle of the Bulge. Sadly, Rose was killed in the line of duty less than a week after his division crossed the Rhine into the heart of Germany. He was the highest ranking American officer to die from enemy fire in the European theater.  
MGen. Robert C. Macon, 83rd Infantry Division

The fact of the matter was that the US Army’s prodigious superiority in motorized infantry and the sheer scope of its mechanized advantage allowed nearly any division to seize the initiative when opportunities arose and to carve out a considerable name for themselves if their commanding general was bold and brave enough. MjGen. Robert C. Macon of the 83rd Infantry Division was one of those seize-the-moment type of guys who never flinched when called upon to partake in an operation which might possibly shorten the war. With just weeks to go before the end of the war in Europe, 9th Army commander Gen. Bill Simpson tasked Macon with seizing a crossing over the Elbe River which could be used as a springboard to Berlin. In one of the more farcical examples of ‘seizing the initiative’, Macon’s 83rd “Thunderbolt” Division commandeered an assortment of German emergency vehicles, horse-carriages, motorbikes, bicycles and other wheeled vehicles and promptly raced the more mobile 2nd Armored Division across the Harz Mountains and beat them to the east bank of the Elbe. Macon’s motley assortment of makeshift, mobile infantry was hailed as the “Rag Tag Circus” for their almost comical romp across Germany. 
MGen. Leland S. Hobbs

Mobility was the key to America’s success in the European theater and Eisenhower’s infantry commanders were equally adept at exploiting its use as the more practiced leaders in the armored corps. Yet mobility was just as important on the defense as it was in exploiting breakthroughs on the offense. MjGen. Leland Hobbs’ 30th Infantry Division made one of the more remarkable defensive showings with their expert use of its dwindling motor vehicle pool in defense of the Belgian town of St. Vith during the Battle of the Bulge. And MjGen. Stafford Leroy Irwin’s 5th Infantry Division could always be counted upon as Patton’s trusted stopgap, defensive wizards for their ability to rush between threatened sectors of the front on barely a moment’s notice. MjGen. Horace McBride’s 80th Infantry, MjGen. Walter Lauer’s 99th Infantry and MjGen. John Dahlquist’s 36th Infantry, a National Guard division hailing from the state of Texas, were three other finely led divisions which had established a worthy name for themselves in defensive warfare.
MGen. John Dahlquist, 36th Infantry Div.

In contrast to Europe’s wide open, mechanized maneuver landscape, the close-quarter, jungle and guerrilla fighting in the Pacific severely curtailed the army’s mechanized and material superiority on the battlefield. Thus there was no need to station sizeable armored units in the Pacific Theater until it was time to tackle the invasion of the Japanese Home Islands. Divisions in the Pacific were more apt to be skeletonized and fought more as brigade-sized elements depending on where they were needed or how quickly they could be assembled for easy transport. The fighting in the Pacific tended to be far more unrewarding for the frontline soldier and the army shared its misery in the field equally with US Marine combat troops during the strenuous island-hopping campaign. As a result it was far more difficult for an army division in the Pacific to make a name for itself when its accomplishments were so slow to materialize or they were quickly glossed over by the success of the navy. 
MGen. William Gill, 32nd Infantry

MjGen. William Gill’s 32nd Infantry Division, another National Guard unit formed from volunteers from the states of Michigan and Wisconsin, had the quiet distinction of having served more days in combat than any other division in the US Army. Its 14 distinguished unit citations made it the most decorated division formation in the Pacific theater. Gill’s unit fought in the unforgiving, jungle battlefields of New Guinea for more than two years before moving on to take part in the re-conquest of the Philippines later in 44’. MjGen. Robert Beightler’s 37th Infantry Division was another distinguished National Guard unit from Ohio that served with quiet distinction during the Solomons Campaign and on the Philippines island of Luzon. These two divisions joined with the 1st Cavalry Division as the three divisions which spent more time in combat than every other American division in the Second World War. Yet very little is celebrated about their distinguished performances nor is too much elaborated on their highly competent commanders.
MGen. Hugh Gaffey

Simply put, there were little similarities between the European and Pacific theaters of war. The general officers in Europe tended to be more acclaimed than their colleagues in the Pacific simply because they were traversing through lands that captivated the American public. Very little was known about the strange foreign lands way out in the far off reaches of the Pacific but nearly every American could trace a connection someway to the lands in Western Europe. American media magnates sent their reporters over to Europe by the boatload but received very little interest from them to visit the malaria-plagued jungles of Asia to report on the taking of some remote island with nary a street laden with modern amenities. The army’s advances in Europe were far more dynamic and popular affairs than the paltry, mile-long, daily advances in the tropical Pacific. Cities and towns all across Europe fell like dominos when the Allies got moving whereas the Pacific armies might not see a city or town for weeks and months at a time.  

The one constant in both theaters was that the US Army adapted very quickly to each and every kind of adversity they faced whether it was attritional jungle or mountain warfare, urban streetfighting, or fast, mobile maneuver warfare across deserts in Africa or vast open fields in Europe. Each and every division commander adapted in his own type of way to the particular challenges he faced every day on the battlefield. Some mastered them in ways that elicited awe and acclamation while others improvised in minute ways to overcome the most menacing obstacles. What distinguished the good ones from the mediocre could be the simplest little adaptation to a threatening event or the simple good fortune of being someplace else when the tide of battle turned. But the really outstanding generals were usually those that were a tad bit bolder when circumstances permitted or were considerably more far-sighted in guessing the enemy’s intent. The most important thing is that the US Army had just enough really good general officers to more than make up for the number of combat leaders that struggled through mediocrity. 
MGen. Horace McBride, 80th Infantry Div.

The US Army’s division commanders of WWII will always be overshadowed by the likes of giants like Eisenhower, Mac Arthur and Patton. For many of those that excelled at the head of their combat formations in Europe and the Pacific, they would represent the next generation of high command that would soon be tackling the strategic challenges of the Korean, Vietnam and Cold Wars. Many would simply fade away into retirement shortly after being released from their obligations on the battlefield. The US Army’s distinguished performance in WWII was primarily achieved through the collective success and skill of the combat division’s subunits. But their individual success meant little without the timely interdiction of the divisional commander. The army’s combat divisions were the backbone of the US Army’s force commitment to the Allied cause in WWII. Thus their long overlooked combat leaders must be recognized more often for providing the ingredient to success that has heaped such glory and acclaim on the names of the army’s more celebrated war heroes. The Army appointed more than 200 commanders to various divisional commands throughout the war. At least twenty of these soldiers were outstanding combat leaders. Another 30-40 could be classified as good albeit unspectacular. The greatest achievement of the army’s divisional command fraternity was that very few of these officers outright failed. That might have been Gen. Leslie McNair’s greatest legacy. 

Honorable Mention

MjGen. Norman Cota: DCO of the 29th Infantry Division and D-Day hero for his resolve in collapsing the German defenses at Omaha Beach.

MjGen. Raymond McLain: CO of the 90th Infantry Division; one of Patton's speedy infantry commanders who raced across Northern France with the armor.

MjGen. John Leonard: CO of the 9th Armored Division; the man who stole the Remagen Bridge from the Germans. First unit over the Rhine River.

MjGen. Raymond O. Barton: CO of the 4th Infantry Division; his unit was the first amphibious assault troops to hit the beach at Normandy.

MjGen. Roderick Allen: CO of the 12th Armored Division; first desegregated unit in the US Army and battering ram of Patch's 7th Army.

LtGen. Charles Corlett: CO of the 7th Infantry Division; one of the outstanding army divisions in the Pacific.

MjGen. John Millikin: CO of 33rd Infantry Division and US III Corps; the great field director of Patton's audacious counterattack at Bastogne.

MjGen. Joseph Swing: CO of 11th Airborne Division; only paratroop unit in the Pacific and liberator of the Philippines capital of Manila.

LtGen. James van Fleet: CO of the 90th Infantry Division and III Corps; one of the unsung heroes at the Battle of the Bulge.

MjGen. Walter Robertson: CO of the 2nd Infantry Division throughout the war, led farthest eastern advance of the US Army by the close of the war.