Friday, June 13, 2014

Marshall and His Generals - Stephen R. Taaffe

Marshall and His Generals is a book along the same lines as Weigley's Eisenhower's Lieutenants. It's not identical. It's 300 pages shorter, for one thing. Taaffe's book covers the entirety of the United States Army's involvement in World War II, rather than focusing strictly on the European Theater from Normandy onward. He's less concerned with describing specific tactical deployments and maneuvers, except when discussing a particular general's ability or lack thereof in that area. He sticks strictly to American generals, as those are people under Marhsall's command. So very little mention of Montgomery.

Taaffe is more interested in trying to determine what Marshall (and to a lesser extent, Eisenhower and MacArthur) looked for in a general, where there any common threads, and how successful were those selections. Marshall wanted younger men (meaning below 60) believing older fellows didn't have the physical vitality necessary to lead in combat. He wanted them to have a clear head, and he wanted them to be aggressive. That last one is the area where most American generals fell short, that or tactical creativity. Taaffe argues that's not a huge deal because the Army was working from a numerical advantage and as part of a combined effort with air and artillery, so they needed calm and competence first and foremost. And in those areas, most American generals did well. They didn't lose their heads if things went badly, or got bogged down, and they mostly kept their objectives clear in their minds. They just weren't typically innovative in how they accomplished them.

So it's an interesting book. Taaffe gets into personalities a lot, and for all that the guys at the top might claim they made their decisions on who to promote or assign on the basis of merit, there's a lot of cronyism. People are frequently requested for commands by those the came up the ranks with, or people they like, even if they aren't very good. Courtney Hodges certainly comes off as someone getting by because Eisenhower and Marshall think he's better than he is, while Taaffe takes Ike to task for constantly belittling Jacob Devers, who did quite well, especially considering he was at the end of the line for supplies (as far as the European Theater went, anyway. Still probably ahead of the guys in the Pacific).

That was one thing I learned in the book I appreciated. Weigley had made mention that Ike didn't like Devers, but didn't expand on it. Turns out that when Ike was in charge during the Sicily and Italy invasions, he asked for some bomber squadrons from England, and Devers turned him down. Which was enough to get him on Ike's shit list, apparently. So he denigrated him at every turn, and criticized him quiet unfairly. Which is why it's kind of funny Devers outmaneuvers Ike bureaucratically again later in the war. Maybe the problem isn't Devers, Ike. It's disappointing considering Devers did a good job working with the Free French forces, which required the sort of deft touch Ike should have appreciated, both from dealing with DeGaulle, and having to pull a similar juggling act between American and British forces (though of course, Ike felt Devers wasn't doing a good enough job of it). Devers may end up being my American version of Auchinleck.

Marshall's better, but even he has his favorites - Joe Stilwell among them - and there are times he seems too hands off. Marhsall's policy was to not try and force commanders on generals, because he wanted them to work with people they trusted and felt comfortable with. But that means you have Ike giving certain people much too long of a leash, or MacArthur selecting people based on whether they'll rob him of any spotlight. OK, that's unfair to MacArthur. A lot of times he simply prefers to go with men he trusts because he's seen them in action as commanders. But he does like Walter Krueger in part because Krueger hates the spotlight, which means Mac doesn't have to share.

The one other thing Taaffe brought up that was new to me was the idea that Patton's time spent in exile in Sicily (after some ill-advised comments at a dinner) had a positive effect on him. He used it for self-reflection, and when he gained the Third Army in France, handled his subordinates much better. He would still get impatient and yell, but he had a better grasp of which ones needed prodding and which needing supportive words. That isn't something I'd read about in any of the other books which have discussed that I've read this spring.

'Marshall looked for officers with integrity, initiative, a sense of duty, a can-do attitude, aggressiveness, and drive, which was a big reason why so many combat leaders shared so many of these traits - they were all cut from the same Marshall cloth.'

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind words.

Steve Taaffe