Over a month after the war had ended in Europe the Supreme Allied Commander finally managed to get home – and was greeted as the conquering hero that he was. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s contribution to steering the Allies to victory had been hugely important, overseeing great military undertakings with many imponderables, not least of all D-Day, and pulling together a team of military leaders that included more than one ‘difficult’ individual, as well as dealing with enormous political pressures from above, both British and American.
Now the wider U.S. military command faced more difficult decisions as they determined how to bring the war with Japan to an end. Not all were privy to the atomic bomb secrets – and in any event the weapon remained untested even now. They had to proceed on the basis that it would eventually be necessary to invade the Japanese mainland, and had to face up to the likely scale of casualties. Admiral Leahy was not alone in thinking that it might be possible to avoid horrendous casualties by now seeking some sort of peace accord:
General of the Army, D. D. Eisenhower, arrived in Washington from Europe and led a parade from Army Headquarters to the Capitol Building. The streets were crowded by a larger number of spectators than has been seen before by anybody now in Washington.
In the Chamber of the House of Representatives, before a joint session of the House and Senate, General Eisenhower made a very well prepared address which was not delivered with particular skill. The galleries were crowded with visitors and on the floor of the Chamber seats were provided for the Supreme Court, Cabinet Officers, Ministers, and Ambassadors from foreign countries, and the American Chiefs of Staff.
Immediate1y following General Eisenhower’s address we proceeded to the Statler Hotel and participated in a luncheon for 1,000 guests given by the City of Washington in honor of the General…
From 3:30 to 5:00 PM. the President conferred with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of War, the Secretary of the Navy; and Assistant Secretary of War McCloy, in regard to the necessity and the practicability of an invasion of Japan. General Marshall and Admiral King both strongly advocated an invasion of Kyushu at the earliest practicable date.
General Marshall is of the opinion that such an effort will not cost us in casualties more than 63,000 of the 190,000 combatant troops estimated as necessary for the operation.
The President approved the Kyushu operation and withheld for later consideration the general occupation of Japan. The Army seems determined to occupy and govern Japan by military government as is being done in Germany.
I am unable to see any justification from a national defense point of view for a prolonged occupation of Japan. The cost of such an occupation will be enormous in both lives and treasure. It is my opinion at the present time that a surrender of Japan can be arranged with terms that can be accepted by Japan and that will make fully satisfactory provision for America’s defense against future trans- Pacific aggression.
Dined with the President at a dinner given in honor of General Eisenhower to a large number of military and political officers. For the first time in my experience cocktails were served to the guests in the East Room of the White House. A number of enlisted men, brought by General Eisenhower from Europe, attended the dinner which was served on small tables filling the State Dining Room.
While the Germans began to surrender in large numbers the overall situation remained very unclear. It was far from inevitable that there would be a complete surrender within days. For a long time there had been a suspicion that Hitler would make a last stand in a mountain redoubt. Even though he was now believed to be dead there was plenty of evidence that some fanatical units would continue to fight on.
In these circumstances there could be no slackening of pressure when identifiable threats emerged. French pilot Pierre Clostermann, who although only a Sous-Lieutenant in the French Air Force was now leading a Wing within RAF Fighter Command, commanding many officers who were technically senior in rank to him.
By the 3rd of May they thought they were on “the last lap” but it appeared that the Germans might be trying to hold out in an area from the Kiel Canal, in northern Germany up to Norway. Luftwaffe aircraft appeared to be massing to support a large convoy to Norway. Late in the evening he was ordered up to attack German transport planes on the ground. Maintenance problems meant he only had twenty-four planes instead of the normal complement of ninety-five:
In front of us, either on the ground or just taking off, were more than 100 enormous transport planes – theoretically my primary objective. In the air, about 100 enemy fighters. One group at 1,500 feet, another at 3,000, a third at 4,500 and two others on a level with us, i.e. at about 10,000 feet. Above us there were certainly one more, perhaps two. And I only had 24 Tempests!
My mind was quickly made up. Filmstar Yellow and Blue Sections would attack the fighters above us, and Pink, Black and White Sections, commanded by MacDonald, would engage the Focke-Wulfs below us.
In the meantime I would try to slip through with my Red Section and shoot-up the airfield. I passed this on over the radio and then, closely followed by the rest of my section, I released my auxiliary tanks and went into a vertical dive, passing like a thunderbolt at 600 m.p.h. through a formation of Focke-Wulfs which scattered about the sky like a flock of swallows.
I straightened out gradually, closing the throttle and following a trajectory designed to bring me over the airfield at ground level, from south-west to north-east. All hell was let loose as we arrived. I was doing more than 500 m.p.h. by the clock when I reached the edge of the field. I was 60 feet from the ground and I opened fire at once.
The mottled surface of the anchorage was covered with moored Dornier 24’s and 18’s. Three lines of white foam marked the wake of three planes which had just taken off. A row of Blohm und Voss’s in wheeled cradles was lined up on the launching ramps. I concentrated my fire on a Bv I38. The moorings of the cradle snapped and I passed over the enormous smoking mass as it tipped up on the slope, fell into the sea and began to sink.
The flak redoubled in fury. A flash on my right, and a disabled Tempest crashed into the sea in a shower of spray. Jesus! The boats anchored off shore were armed, and one of them, a large torpedo boat, was blazing away with all it had. I instinctively withdrew my head into my shoulders and, still flying very low, veered slightly to the left, so fast that I couldn’t fire at the Dorniers, then quickly swung to the right behind an enormous Ju 252 which had just taken off and was already getting alarmingly big in my gunsight. I fired one long continuous burst at him and broke away just before we collided. I turned round to see the Ju 252, with two engines ablaze and the tailplane sheared off by my shells, bounce on the sea and explode.
My speed had swept me far on — straight on to the torpedo boat which was spitting away with all her guns. I passed within ten yards of her narrow bows, just above the water and the thousand spouts raised by the flak. I caught a glimpse of white shapes rushing about on deck and of tongues of fire from her guns. The entire camouflaged superstructure seemed to be alive with them. Tracer shells ricocheted on the water and exploded all round over a radius of 500 yards. Some shrapnel mowed down a flock of seagulls which fell in the sea on all sides, panic-stricken and bleeding. Phew! Out of range at last!
I was sweating all over and my throat was so constricted that I couldn’t articulate one word over the radio. Without realizing it I had held my breath through the whole attack and my heart was thumping fit to burst. I regained height by a wide climbing turn to port. What was happening? The situation looked pretty grim. A terrific dog-fight was going on above the airfield. Three planes were coming down in flames – I was too far to see whether they were friend or foe. Another, pulverized, had left a trail of flaming fragments in the sky and a fifth was coming down in a spin, followed by a white trail of smoke. Yet others were burning on the ground.
The radio was transmitting an incomprehensible chaos of shouts, screams and curses, mingled with the vibrations of cannon firing. Near the torpedo boat, in the middle of a patch of foam, the remains of a plane were burning and heavy black smoke curled up from the sheet of burning petrol.
What had happened to the rest of my section? …
More men had been lost, he returned with just thirteen planes out of twenty-four. It had been his last battle.
The RAF also made a fateful attack in the Baltic on this day, when rockets from Typhoons of 198 Squadron hit the SS Cap Ancona, causing “one of the biggest single-incident maritime losses of life in the Second World War.”
Captain Baldwin then ordered the other four planes from the 198th Squadron to follow him. They dove fast and low on the Cap Arcona. No smoke billowed from its large stacks, indicating it was still at anchor in the bay. The target was locked, and the Typhoons released their rockets on the defenseless liner. All of them found their mark, the first rockets striking the large gray liner directly between the first and second smokestacks atop the ship. The next barrage hit the third funnel and sports deck.
Meanwhile Montgomery received the first German delegation at his HQ but they did not have authority to surrender all the forces facing the British 21st Army Group, and he sent them back to Doenitz to reconsider.
At the same time the Canadians were trying to put emergency measures in place to assist the Dutch population, even though the 117,000 German forces they had cut off in the Netherlands had not yet surrendered.
The German forces in western Germany were now falling back in some disorder. The German High Command struggled to comprehend what was going on and Hitler resorted to re-arranging his generals and armies.
General Blumentritt was commander in Holland, ordered to delay the Allied advance in the north. He would soon be given a much larger role in command of “Army Group Blumentritt”, a miscellaneous collection of German units in northern Germany extending all the way up to the Baltic. It was another consequence of Hitler’s continual re-organisation of his forces that increasingly denied the reality of the situation:
The battles now beginning east of the Rhine were often obscure to us. Without an air force and with only a few tanks, without supplies, we could no longer fight as ably as formerly.
The means of communication failed, there was often no communication with the corps and divisions of the Army, and many units had to act independently. Also communications with the higher echelons of command grew worse and worse. For days no orders came, often the sectors of the Army were suddenly altered, divisions were taken away, new units brought up.
Firm tactical leadership was no longer possible, reconnaissance failed to an increasing extent and we frequently did not know where the enemy was.
General Günther Blumentritt
Field-Marshal Kesselring had taken over command in the west on the 10th March, relieving Field-Marshal von Rundstedt, who once again had fallen out of favour because he spoke the truth. At the time Kesselring gave every impression that he still believed in ‘final victory’, demanding the severest measures to shore up discipline. In his post war memoirs he painted a different picture:
The enormously costly battles of the last half-year and constant retreat and defeat had reduced officers and men to a dangerous state of exhaustion. Many officers were nervous wrecks, others affected in health, others simply incompetent, while there was a dangerous shortage of junior officers.
In the ranks strengths were unsatisfactory, replacements arriving at the front insufficiently trained, with no combat experience, in driblets, and, anyway, too late. They were accordingly no asset in action. Only where an intelligent commander had a full complement of experienced subalterns and a fair nucleus of elder men did units hold together.
… The supply situation was bad; in some areas critical. Complicated by uncertainty as to the arrival of supply trains, it made wrong distributions inevitable. The railway network was badly battered, and if further stretches of line were put out of action, could no longer be reckoned with.
Furthermore, symptoms of disintegration were perceptible behind the from which gave cause for uneasiness. The number of ‘missing’ was a disquieting indication that a rot was setting in.
On the ground the eventual outcome seemed ever more inevitable but pockets of German resistance still had to be overcome. This meant that the death and destruction continued as ever, although increasingly the Germans suffered worst:
The Germans, letting go the Rhine, fell back in retreat, leaving road blocks and detachments of men to engage us in delaying actions. Sometimes during the following week, the enemy dug in to make a desperate stand only to have large numbers of its men throw down their arms and stream towards us in surrender. After a disorganized rout, collapse and retreat, more road blocks were thrown up and the wounded German Army fell back still farther.
One of the delaying actions made by the Germans, though of short duration and of obvious uselessness, stands out as one of the more ghastly episodes of the war.
We were advancing down a road in convoy when a German tank drove out of a grove of trees, fired point-blank, killed two of our men, and then retreated from sight again. The convoy halted and two of our rifle companies went forward and surrounded the little grove that contained, they discovered, a platoon of German soldiers in deep foxholes. The German tank kept swivelling and firing, and after a while four of our own tanks came up. Each from a different direction sprayed the tiny stretch of woods with long streams of flaming gasoline.
Within a few seconds the place became an inferno, and the shrieks and screams of the Germans could be heard through the high curtains of fire. A few, in flames, tried to crawl through, but they were mowed down by our machine- guns.
Within a half hour we went on, and all that was left of the little wood was a deep bed of glowing golden coals, hideous to see and to think about in the spring sunlight.
The countryside grew extremely hilly and wooded; small towns, flying surrender flags, lay hidden in hollows. In the swiftness of pursuit, one company by mistake often seized another company’s town and had to double back to take its own objective. The convoy of trucks rushed into the towns; the infantrymen hopped down, cleared out the snipers, rounded up the prisoners, jumped into the trucks again and set out for the next town. Some days, in this fashion, as many as thirty miles were covered.
In Burma the British 14th Army, (composed of British, Indian and African troops) continued its progress south into Burma after crossing the Irrawaddy. It was now on the outskirts of the first major town they encountered, Meiktila, where they met stiff Japanese resistance. The strike towards Meiktila was a bold strategic move which was to unbalance the Japanese forces in Burma, cutting them off from their main lines of supply.
On 2nd March General Sir William Slim, commanding 14th Army, decided to visit the front line. After meeting the Divisional Commander in charge of the battle, then listening in to the ‘tank net’ – ‘always an interesting and often a worthwhile thing to to do in an action’ – he went to see the fighting himself:
Assured that the battle was in competent hands at the top, I thought I would go a little closer and see how it was being handled lower down. I chose 48 Brigade as, at the moment, they seemed to be cracking a particularly tough nut.
We went by jeep round the north of the town and then moved forward on foot somewhat more cautiously. We had a word with various subordinate commanders on the way; all very busy with their own little battles and all in great heart.
One of them told us the best place from which to see anything was a massive pagoda that crowned a near-by rise. We reached it along a path screened from the enemy by bushes, and crouching below the surrounding wall, crossed a wide terrace, where already in occupation were were some Indian signallers and observation parties.
Peering cautiously over the wall, we found on our right the end of the North Lake, placid and unruffled. To our left front, about a thousand yards away, the main road entered Meiktila between close-built houses, now crumbling in the dust, smoke, and ﬂame of a bombardment. We were, I knew, about to assault here, but it was the scene immediately below and in front of us which gripped the attention.
The southern shore of the lake, for nearly a mile, ran roughly parallel to the northern edge of the town. Between them was a strip about half a mile wide, of rough, undulating country, cut up by ditches and banks, with here and there clumps of trees and bushes.
Three hundred yards from us, scattered along water cuts, peering round mounds, and lying behind bushes, were twenty or thirty Gurkhas, all very close to the ground and evidently, from the spurts around them, under fairly heavy ﬁre.
Well to the left of these Gurkhas and a little farther forward, there was a small spinney. From its edge more Gurkhas were ﬁring Bren-gun bursts. A single Sherman tank, in a scrub-topped hollow, lay between us and the spinney, concealed from the enemy but visible to us. In the intervals of ﬁring, we could hear its engine muttering and grumbling. The dispositions of our forces, two platoons and a tank, were plain enough to us, but I could see no enemy.
Then the tank revved up its engine to a stuttering roar, edged forward a few yards, ﬁred a couple of shots in quick succession, and discreetly withdrew into cover again. I watched the strike of the shot. Through my glasses I coﬁd see, about ﬁve hundred yards away, three low grassy hummocks innocent enough they looked, and little different from half a dozen others.
Yet straining my eyes I spotted a dark loophole in one, around which hung the misty smoke of a hot machine-gun; I could hear the knock-knock-knock, slower than our own, of its ﬁring. Searching carefully, I picked up loopholes in the other mounds. Here were three typical Japanese bunkers, impervious to any but the heaviest shells, sited for all-round defence, and bristling with automatics – tough nuts indeed.
The tank intervened again. Without shifting position it lobbed two or three grenades and a white screen of smoke drifted across the front of the bunkers. One of the Gurkhas below us sprang to his feet, waved an arm, and the whole party, crouch- ing as they went, ran forward.
When the smoke blew clear a minute or two later, they were all down under cover again, but a hundred yards nearer those bunkers. A few small shells burst in the water at the lake’s edge. Whether they were meant for the tank or the Gurkhas, they got neither, and the enemy gunners made no further contribution.
When I looked for it again, the tank had disappeared, but a smoke-screen, this time, I think, from infantry mortars, blinded the bunkers again. The Gurkhas scrambled forward, dodging and twisting over the rough ground, until some of them must have been hardly thirty yards from the enemy. Somewhere behind the spinney, the tank was slowly and methodically ﬁring solid shot at the loopholes. Spurts of dust and debris leapt up at every impact.
As the ﬁght drew to its climax, we moved out of the pagoda enclosure to a spot a little forward and to the right where, from behind a thick cactusihedge, we had a clearer view. The tank reappeared round the spinney’s flank and advanced still shooting.
Gradually it worked round to the rear of the bunkers, and suddenly we were in the line of its ﬁre with overs ricochetting and plunging straight at us.
One army commander, one corps commander, an American general, and several less distinguished individuals adopted the prone position with remarkable unanimity.
In a very similar attack to the one described by Slim, a platoon of the Baluch Regiment, Punjabi Muslims, found themselves without their supporting tank. Naik ( Corporal) Fazal Din was to be awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his extraordinary actions:
In Burma, on 2nd March, 1945, Naik Fazal Din was commanding a section during a Company attack on a Japanese bunkered position. During this attack, the section found itself in an area flanked by three bunkers on one side and a house and one bunker on the other side. This was the key of the enemy position and had held up a Company attack made earlier. Naik Fazal Din’s section was accompanied by a tank but, at the time of entering the area, it had gone on ahead.
On reaching the area, the section was held up by Light Machine Gun fire and grenades from the bunkers. Unhesitatingly Naik Fazal Din personally attacked the nearest bunker with grenades and silenced it. He then led his section under heavy fire against the other bunkers.
Suddenly six Japanese, led by two officers wielding swords, rushed from the house. The Bren gunner shot one officer and a Japanese other rank but by then had expended the magazine of the gun. He was almost simultaneously attacked by the second Japanese officer who killed him with his sword.
Naik Fazal Din went to the Bren gunner’s assistance immediately but, in doing so, was run through the chest by the officer, the sword point appearing through his back. On the Japanese officer withdrawing his sword, Naik Fazal Din, despite his terrible wound, tore the sword from the officer and killed him with it. He then attacked a Japanese other rank and also killed him.
He then went to the assistance of a sepoy of his section who was struggling with another Japanese and killed the latter with the sword. Then, waving the sword, he continued to encourage his men. He staggered to Platoon Headquarters, about 25 yards away, to make a report and collapsed. He died soon after reaching the Regimental Aid Post.
Naik Fazal Din’s action was seen by almost the whole Platoon who, undoubtedly inspired by his gallantry and taking advantage of the bewilderment created amongst the enemy by the loss of its leaders, continued the attack and annihilated the garrison which numbered 55.
Such supreme devotion to duty, even when fatally wounded, presence of mind and outstanding courage, have seldom been equalled and reflect the unquenchable spirit of a singularly brave and gallant N.C.O
It had never been easy for German commanders to argue with Hitler. After the 20th July bomb plot it had become virtually impossible. By the time Hitler had briefed his Generals for the Ardennes offensive the paranoid atmosphere surrounding him meant that anything less than whole hearted support was likely to be interpreted as defeatism, which was now equated with treachery.
Major-General F. W. von Mellenthin had already been pulled out of the line for making an “unauthorised retreat” during the fighting in the Autumn and put in a general reserve of officers on the General Staff. On 28th December he was recalled and given command of 9th Panzer Division. It was his job to retrieve what he could from the situation:
On the 29th I set off for 9 Panzer Division, which was in the wooded hills north-west of Houffalize; the ice-bound roads glittered in the sunshine and I witnessed the uninterrupted air attacks on our traffic routes and supply dumps. Not a single German plane was in the air, innumerable vehicles were shot up and their blackened wrecks littered the roads. When I reached my Headquarters I found that we were holding the most forward positions in the defensive line of 5 Panzer Army.
Looking at the situation map I noted the violent American attacks on both flanks and the grave danger facing the Panzer divisions in the noose of the salient. But we were ordered to stay where we were and so we did, defending ourselves with mobile tactics.
Most of my men were Austrians, and in spite of heavy losses their morale was still high. The Panzer regiment was left with twenty tanks, and the two Panzer Grenadier regiments each had about four hundred men. But the artillery regiment was very strong and of high quality.
We beat off the American attacks until 5 January, when orders were received to get out of this hopeless position and withdraw eastward; I was put in command of the rearguard of 5 Panzer Army.
My experiences in Russia stood me in good stead; I knew all about the problems of moving through snow and ice – a subject in which the Americans still had much to learn. By day our armoured group resisted in chosen positions; all movements were carried out at night to evade the fighter-bombers, but even so concentric artillery fire on our flanks inflicted considerable casualties.
By mid-January 9 Panzer Division had reached the line of the River Our, where we stood firm on the original start line of the offensive.
The results of the Ardennes fighting were more than disappointing; we had suffered excessive losses in men and material and only gained a few weeks’ respite.
It is true that American forces were moved from Lorraine, and the pressure on Army Group G slackened; however, this relief was only temporary (at the beginning of January Army Group G was strong enough to launch an offensive, which had some prospects of recapturing Strasbourg). The same results could have been achieved by a limited attack at Aachen, after which our operational reserves could have been switched to Poland.
The Ardennes battle drives home the lesson that a large-scale offensive by massed armour has no hope of success against an enemy who enjoys supreme command of the air. Our precious reserves had been expended, and nothing was available to ward off the impending catastrophe in the East.
The Ardennes offensive was a last throw of the dice for Hitler. So desperate were the Nazis that they resorted to outright deception in an attempt to sow confusion and alarm amongst the Allies. Hitler had turned to Otto Skorzeny, mastermind of the scheme that released Mussolini from Italian captivity, to head a behind the lines operation with English speaking German troops in American uniforms, driving American jeeps and tanks.
There was not nearly enough American equipment available to supply the force that was originally envisaged. The men involved in Operation Greif then got tangled up with the huge tailbacks of military traffic in the narrow lanes of the Ardennes. The element of surprise was lost before they could they could make much impact.
While they did not achieve the level of confusion amongst the Allies that had been sought, and most of the spies were caught quite quickly, their existence led to many rumors and much alarm within Allied ranks. There were numerous incidents of American servicemen, including many senior officers, being closely questioned about their knowledge of arcane aspects of American sport and geography, in order to test their authenticity.
The alarm even spread to the office of the Supreme Allied commander, General Eisenhower, as described by his Naval Aide, Captain Harry C. Butcher:
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23, 1944
I went out to Versailles and saw Ike today. He is a prisoner of our security police and is thoroughly but helplessly irritated by the restriction on his moves. There are all sorts of guards, some with machine guns, around the house, and he has to travel to and from the office led and at times followed by an armed guard in a jeep.
He got some satisfaction yesterday in slipping out for a walk around the yard in deep snow, in the eyes of the security officers quite the most dangerous thing for him to do, but he had the satisfaction of doing something he wanted to do. I told him he now knows how it must feel to be President and be guarded day and night by ever-watchful secret-service men.
The restriction is caused by information from Intelligence officers of Hodges’ First Army, who cross-examined a German officer captured at Liége the night of December 19. He was one of a group of English-speak ing Krauts [Shows I’ve recently been with GIs who were in Italy and Africa] who had infiltrated through Allied lines in American uniform, driving an American jeep and carrying American identification papers.
The leader of this group, which specializes in kidnaping and assassination of high personages, is a character named Skorzeny, who, reputedly, rescued Mussolini. He is said to have passed through our lines with about sixty of his men and had the mission of killing the Supreme Commander.
One of their rendezvous points is said to be the Café de la Paix in Paris, just around the corner from the Scribe. There German sympathizers and agents are supposed to meet Skorzeny’s gang and to furnish information about General Ike’s abode, movement, and security guard.
The men were described as completely ruthless and prepared to sacrifice their lives to carry out their mission. All personnel speak fluent English. Similar attacks on other high officers have been given to other infiltrators, numbering about 150.
Some units might have with them in their vehicle a German officer in uniform and, if questioned, would tell a false story that they were taking an important German prisoner to higher headquarters in the rear. They carry capsules of acid to be thrown in the faces of MPs or others to facilitate escape. Skorzeny’s group may be in staff cars, civilian cars, command and reconnaissance cars, as well as jeeps.
Already about 150 parachutists wearing American uniforms or civilian clothes have landed in the U. S. First Army’s area. Many of them have been captured, but some are still at large. Those in uniform are not wearing dog tags, but all carry explosives and have a new type of hand grenade discharged from a pistol.
Our security officers are always supercautious, and with this alarming information, I can readily understand why they have thrown a cordon around the Supreme Commander, yet he is thoroughly disgusted at the whole procedure and seemed pleased to have someone to talk with like me, seemingly from the outside World.
Ike was as calm as he ever is, and, except for the irritation caused by his confinement, was cheerful and optimistic.
Over all, he felt that the situation was well in hand; that there was no need for alarm; that he and his senior commanders had taken prompt steps to meet what he figured was the Germans’ dying thrust, and if we would be patient and the Lord would give us some good flying weather, all would be well and we would probably emerge with a tactical victory.
He added that it is easier and less costly to us to kill Germans when they are attacking than when they are holed up in concrete fortifications in the Siegfried Line, and the more we can kill in their present offensive, the fewer we will have to dig out pillbox by pillbox.
After the breakout from Normandy and the swift advance across France the Allies had come to a halt and were ‘bogged down’ on the approach roads to Germany. There were many causes for the frustrating turn of events, not least the difficulty of maintaining the lines of supply. The weather also played its part. The almost incessant rain for the past couple of months was not only making life miserable for everyone on the front but was also contributing to the delays.
One man was frustrated by the rain more than most. General George S. Patton lived for swift advances. He would do anything to challenge the obstacles in his way, including ‘immoderate’ rainfall. On this occasion he turned to God and the power of Prayer.
Monsignor James H. O’Neill, the man responsible for the Prayer, explains how it came about:
The incident of the now famous Patton Prayer commenced with a telephone call to the Third Army Chaplain on the morning of December 8, 1944, when the Third Army Headquarters were located in the Caserne Molifor in Nancy, France:
“This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.”
My reply was that I know where to look for such a prayer, that I would locate, and report within the hour. As I hung up the telephone receiver, about eleven in the morning, I looked out on the steadily falling rain, “immoderate” I would call it – the same rain that had plagued Patton’s Army throughout the Moselle and Saar Campaigns from September until now, December 8.
The few prayer books at hand contained no formal prayer on weather that might prove acceptable to the Army Commander. Keeping his immediate objective in mind, I typed an original and an improved copy on a 5″ x 3″ filing card:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.
I pondered the question, What use would General Patton make of the prayer? Surely not for private devotion. If he intended it for circulation to chaplains or others, with Christmas not far removed, it might he proper to type the Army Commander’s Christmas Greetings on the reverse side. This would please the recipient, and anything that pleased the men I knew would please him:
To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I Wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.
G.S. Patton, Jr,
Lieutenant General, Commanding,
Third United States Army.
This done, I donned my heavy trench coat, crossed the quadrangle of the old French military barracks, and reported to General Patton. He read the prayer copy, returned it to me with a very casual directive, “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.”
The size of the order amazed me; this was certainly doing something about the weather in a big way. But I said nothing but the usual, “Very well, Sir!” Recovering, I invited his attention to the reverse side containing the Christmas Greeting, with his name and rank typed. “Very good,” he said, with a smile of approval.
“If the General would sign the card, it would add a personal touch that I am sure the men would like.” He took his place at his desk, signed the card, returned it to me and then said: “Chaplain, sit down for a moment; I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.”
He rubbed his face in his hands, was silent for a moment, then rose and walked over to the high window, and stood there with his back toward me as he looked out on the falling rain. As usual, he was dressed stunningly, and his six-foot-two powerfully built physique made an unforgettable silhouette against the great window. The General Patton I saw there was the Army Commander to whom the welfare of the men under him was a matter of personal responsibility.
This is part of a longer account which also describes the origins of Training Letter No.5 which Patton sent to Chaplains in the Third Army at the same time, which began:
At this stage of the operations I would call upon the chaplains and the men of the Third United States Army to focus their attention on the importance of prayer.
The cards and the instructions about Prayer arrived with the men on the frontline just before they were called on to intervene in the Battle of the Bulge. Just after the Third Army began their involvement in the battle the weather cleared up and Allied aircraft were able to make their decisive contribution to halting the German advance.
Brigadier General Monsignor James H. O’Neill concludes his account:
It was late in January of 1945 when I saw the Army Commander again. This was in the city of Luxembourg. He stood directly in front of me, smiled: “Well, Padre, our prayers worked. I knew they would.”
Then he cracked me on the side of my steel helmet with his riding crop. That was his way of saying, “Well done.”
George S. Patton had finally returned to the battlefield, formally taking charge of the US 3rd Army on the 1st August. Until then he had headed the fictitious First US Army Group, supposedly waiting in south east England waiting to launch the “second invasion”. The deception had kept large German forces waiting in northern France and Belgium, which only now were being released to travel to Normandy.
It was too late. Patton was a man with pent up energy, driving his army forward in a rapid advance that first took Brittany and then swung round again to begin to encircle the German positions in Normandy. It was a dramatic move, especially after the long time spent bogged down in the Normandy bridgehead, and not everyone was comfortable with it. Colonel Charles R Codman was on his staff and saw how it unfolded:
The General knows exactly what he is doing, and if at times the higher staffs turn green around the gills when across their astonished situation maps flash the prongs of seemingly unprotected spearheads launched deep into enemy territory, it is only because they have yet properly to gauge the man’s resourcefulness.
As for his subordinates, more than one corps and division commander, in the course of a whirlwind visit from the Old Man, has felt a sinking in the pit of his stomach on finding himself and his command catapulted into outer space, but all of them have learned that he never lets them down. They know that if the unexpected happens, he will ﬁnd a solution, and what is more, he will be up front to see that the solution is applied.
Three times in the last few days, in as many tents and wooded ﬁelds, the same dialogue with minor variations: Division commander: ‘But my flanks, General?’ The General: ‘You have nothing to worry about. If anything develops – and it won’t – our tactical Air will know before you do, and will clobber it. That will give me plenty of time to pull something out of the hat.’
A pat on the shoulder.
‘Get going now. Let the enemy worry about his flanks. I’ll see you up there in a couple of days”
The situation maps looked very different for the British (including the Polish Armoured Division) and Canadian forces still locked into battle with the Panzers on the eastern flank of the Normandy battlefield, with very little forward movement apparently being made. The most dedicated Nazi troops were under severe pressure but they were not going be pushed easily. What that actually meant for the men involved can be illustrated by just one incident from this day.
No. 5779898 Corporal Sidney Bates, The Royal Norfolk Regiment
In North-West Europe on 6th August, 1944, the position held by a battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment near Sourdeval was attacked in strength by 10th S.S. Panzer Division. The attack started with a heavy and accurate artillery and mortar programme on the position which the enemy had, by this time, pin-pointed.
Half an hour later the main attack developed and heavy machine-gun and mortar fire was concentrated oh the point of junction of the two forward companies.
Corporal Bates was commanding the right forward section of the left forward company which suffered some, casualties,- so he decided to move the remnants of his section to an alternative position whence he appreciated he could better counter the enemy thrust.
However, the enemy wedge grew still deeper, until there were about 50 to 60 Germans, supported by machine-guns and mortars, in the area occupied by the section.
Seeing that the situation was becoming, desperate, Corporal Bates then seized a light machine-gun and charged the enemy, moving forward through a hail of bullets and spnnters and firing the gun from his hip. He was almost immediately wounded by machine-gun fire and fell to the ground, but recovered himself quickly, got up and continued advancing towards the enemy, spraying bullets from his gun as he went. His action by now was having an effect on the enemy riflemen and machine gunners but mortar bombs continued to fall all around him.
He was then hit for the second time and much more seriously and painfully wounded. However, undaunted, he staggered once more to his feet and continued towards the enemy who were now seemingly nonplussed by their inability to check him.
His constant firing continued until the enemy started to withdraw before him. At this moment, he was hit for the third time by mortar bomb splinters — a wound that was to prove mortal.
He again fell to the ground but continued to fire his weapon until his strength failed him. This was not, however, until the enemy Had withdrawn and the situation in this locality had been restored.
Corporal Bates died shortly afterwards of the wounds he had received, but, by his supreme gallantry and self sacrifice he had personally restored what had been a critical situation.
As if they didn’t have enough to contend with the Allied leaders fought their war under the spotlight of the world’s Press. Remarkably sometimes the criticism was that they were being too cautious in trying to save Allied lives.
General Omar Bradley commanded US Forces in Normandy. He himself had been frustrated by the pace of the advance but readily understood the difficulties that had been encountered in the bocage country. He was already planning the moves that would become Operation Cobra, the attacks that would lead to the final breakout. It was a frustrating time when he could not possibly explain the full strategy to the Press:
By the middle of July we could sense the growing impatience of newsmen who looked critically on the deadlock that seemed to have gripped our beachhead. Middleton’s attack toward Coutances had ballooned their hopes, then flattened them even more abjectly.
Those who had awaited Monty’s assault on Caen as the signal for an Allied breakthrough trooped back disheartened to their gloomy press camps when the British went no farther. Weeks of intermittent rain had shrouded the beachhead with a dismal gray cloud cover, pinning the air forces to the ground while the enemy dragged up reinforcements.
As Corlett’s XIX Corps bellied forward through the hedgerows toward St.-Lo and Collins crawled through the Carentan swamps, more and more newsmen began to ask if the Allies had learned anything since climbing out of the trenches in France 26 years before.
This melancholy mood was best expressed in a newspaper story that appeared just two days before the breakout. It was written by a well-known correspondent who had succumbed to the gloom of the press camps. He attributed our “stalemate” in the beachhead to an overdose of caution.
“The principal point made by critics of the strategy followed by General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery,” he wrote, “is that he is playing safe and in playing safe is turning caution into a vice. The United States Army has consistently followed the policy of doing things the way that costs the least number of lives. This policy has been contagious and has spread to the British command.”
For the moment we could do little but grin and bear it. For although COBRA was rapidly taking form, we dared not yet tell newsmen of it. The enemy had already shown signs of apprehension on the Carentan front and by the middle of July had mustered the remnants of 12 divisions against us. Most alarming was the shift of two panzer divisions from Monty’s sector to ours.
No one disliked more than I did the disagreeable necessity for inching our way through those St. Lo hedgerows and Carentan marshlands. For while we sloughed afoot toward the Périers road, our vastly superior motorized equipment lay wasted under its camouflaged nets. Nevertheless, until We reached the carpet and broke through to the terrain beyond it, we could do nothing but belly ahead and swallow those heavy losses.
While aware of this growing criticism from the newsmen, I did not feel that we owed an apology to anyone for our gains. At the end of one week ashore we had linked the beachheads. During the second we cut the Cotentin. In the third we captured Cherbourg. During the fourth we attacked out of the neck. And when the ﬁfth rolled around, we had put together our COBRA plan and were already edging toward the breakout.
Besides those critics who thought us too timid to risk the fast stakes of mobile warfare, there were others who searched our tactics for signs of a conspiracy against the Reds. A British columnist asked if our “sitdown” were part of a scheme to exhaust the Russians by leaving them to ﬁght the Reich alone. And an American correspondent cautioned me a week before the breakout that if this were indeed our intent we would default in our right to bargain on the shape of the postwar world. I assured him that we were guileless and suggested he withhold his verdict. “Wait a week or so before you go overboard,” I said, wishing it were possible to tell him of COBRA.
The charge that we might have been conspiring against the Soviet was nonsense. I knew no more of the Russian advance than any newspaper reader, indeed probably less, for I saw the news- papers less often. Until we approached the Elbe and came face to face with the problem of joining up with the Red army, I fought the war in total ignorance of Soviet intentions. Even when the Red army had closed to within a hundred miles of ours and the gap between us narrowed daily, we plotted the Soviet advance on our war map from news broadcasts of the BBC. This remained our only pipeline to the Soviet High Command.
After an unfortunate incident during the battle for Sicily General George S. Patton had spent most of his time on the sidelines of the war. Now he was to command the U.S. Third Army in Normandy – but he was not to arrive in France until late in the battle.
His absence made even more credible the existence of the fictitious First United States Army Group, FUSAG. The Germans could not believe that a General of the calibre of Patton would not be taking a leading role in the ‘Second Front’.
Patton failed to appear when the Normandy landings took place – and the Germans were then even more certain that he would be leading the ‘second invasion’ of the Pas de Calais area, probably landing at about the end of June. Hitler would keep his 15th Army waiting on the sidelines as the battle for Normandy unfolded, ready and prepared for this massive new Allied formation to arrive.
Patton was nevertheless preparing to lead the U.S. Third Army, like the other commanders he spent time making himself known to them. When he addressed the men from its different units he had to remind them:
Don’t forget, you don’t know I’m here at all. No word of that fact is to be mentioned in any letters. The world is not supposed to know what the hell they did with me. I’m not supposed to be commanding this army. I’m not even supposed to be in England. Let the first bastards to find out be the goddamned Germans. Some day, I want them to rise up on their piss-soaked hind legs and howl ‘Ach! It’s the goddamned Third Army and that son-of-a-bitch Patton again!’
The 31st May is the day he is believed to have first included the memorable line “no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country”:
Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.
Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of horse dung. Americans traditionally love to fight. All real Americans, love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers … Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.
Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in Hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.
Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The Bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for the Saturday Evening Post, don’t know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating. Now we have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world.
You know … My God, I actually pity those poor bastards we’re going up against. My God, I do. We’re not just going to shoot the bastards, we’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun bastards by the bushel.
Now some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you’ll chicken out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure you that you’ll all do your duty. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood, shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo, that a moment before was your best friends face, you’ll know what to do.
Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We’re not holding anything, we’ll let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly, and we’re not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy.
We’re going to hold onto him by the nose, and we’re going to kick him in the ass. We’re going to kick the hell out of him all the time, and we’re going to go through him like crap through a goose. Now, there’s one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home, and you may thank God for it.
Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you, What did you do in the great World War Two? You won’t have to say, Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana.
Alright now, you sons of bitches, you know how I feel. I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle anytime, anywhere.
Patton gave this speech several times, with slight variations. There was no official version, it was written down by some of the men who heard it. Historians have constructed a longer, more complete version by combining different sources, see “Terry Brighton: Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War”.