Thursday, June 11, 2009

Two Generals, One Warrior

Being a soldier wearing the “Big Red 1” of the First Infantry Division on my left shoulder, I’ve been pleased to get better acquainted over the last couple of weeks with Terry de la Mesa Allen, the Division’s most storied commander. I’ve been getting smart on MG Allen via two books.
The first was in Rick Atkinson’s An Army at Dawn, the first installment of the author’s Liberation Trilogy (which I vowed to complete during the course of this deployment; we’ll see) where the reader first meets Allen at the onset of the Allied landings commencing Operation Torch. Atkinson introduces Allen impatiently awaiting his chance to hit the beach on the weather deck of the S.S. Reina del Pacifico, “…his thick neck and sloping shoulders implied his uncommon strength, fortified with Indian clubs and a medicine ball during the long passage from Britain.” Obviously, Allen was doing crossfit before crossfit was cool.
Atkinson’s book piqued my interest, so I downloaded Gerald Astor’s Terrible Terry Allen, Combat General of World War II. I was actually looking for Astor’s book on Orde Wingate, but that wasn’t digitally available. However, seeing Astor’s biography of Allen so close on the heels of meeting him in Dawn, I figured I’d check it out.
The son of a West Point graduate, who was booted out of the Academy himself, Allen was practically bred in the saddle and was, like his contemporary Patton, an inveterate supporter of combat applications of cavalry up to the dawn of WWII. At one point when stationed with the 2ID in Texas, A rodeo promoter and the Cattlemen’s Association president wanted to sponsor a long-distance riding contest between a cavalryman and a “real horseman,” celebrated cowboy Key Dunne. The competitors were to race 300 miles over five days. Starting from equidistant, opposite directions, the race would terminate at The Alamo. Dunne came in seven hours after Allen. When he enquired as to Allen’s whereabouts so that he could congratulate him, Dunne was informed that Allen was at the Fort Sam Houston officer’s club…playing polo.
As a battalion commander in WWI (with seven years of service under his belt—how do you make that happen?) Allen developed his affinity for night attacks preceded by a detailed reconnaissance. Allen believed that this tactical template accomplished the mission while minimizing casualties. During an operations order for just such an attack, one of his company commanders declared “this is suicide!” Allen pulled his revolver and shot his subordinate in the ass, saying, “There. You’re out.” Allen’s penchant for taking objectives via night attacks continued through WWII, where even his detractors (such as Omar Bradley) conceded that his division (the 104th ID by the time the war moved to Europe proper) was the most proficient in the force at night operations.
Allen was acknowledged at the outset of the war as one of the most pugnacious, battle-loving commanders available, which led to his selection as a division commander before the risky commencement of Operation Torch (the invasion of North Africa). Allen’s warrior ethos, though, was unconstrained by the political tact or calculation that he would need to be promoted (let alone survive) in rank or level of command. While the soldiers of the Big Red 1 acquitted themselves wonderfully on the battlefield, their “indiscipline” gave the higher command everything needed to relieve Allen. He was universally called “Terry” by all the men of the Division. As if this wasn’t enough to prove that Allen was a lackluster commander, they also frequently failed to salute Eisenhower’s four-star-bedecked staff car. Slackers. To give you an idea of the command climate, his Corps commander—George Patton—was relieving officers and administering punishment on soldiers for not wearing their ties into combat. Patton supported Allen’s relief not long after the landings in Africa, but insisted it not happen until after Sicily was taken. After all, there was some tough fighting to be done in Sicily.
A point that I often forget, but am reminded of when reading histories such as Atkinson’s and Astor’s, is what a bevy of careerist sons of bitches the General Officers that comprised our senior leadership in WWII were. Most of the GO’s whose names still retain some semblance of celebrity do not impress when studied with a view toward “selfless service.”
Speaking of which, Patton in particular does not stand up well under scrutiny. I’m not sure that the appellation is in common usage with historians, but the phrase “douche-nozzle sphincter monkey” comes to mind. Patton pretty much decided he would build his own myth regardless of the butcher’s bill. Juxtaposed to the boys of the Big Red 1, who would do anything for their Terry, Patton’s men were known to bitterly quip of Patton’s nickname (selected and introduced to the world by, um, Patton), “yeah, our blood, his guts.”
In order to build his own myth and advance his own career, Patton was willing to fellate whomever he needed. Patton was living in DC when the new CSA, GEN George Marshall, was moving to that city. Patton extended an invitation to Marshall to bunk with him while Marshall’s new homestead was being established. About this Patton wrote his wife
I have just consummated a pretty snappy move. Gen. George C. Marshall is going to live at our house!!! He and I are batch-ing it. I think that once I can get my natural charm working I won’t need any letters from John J. P[ershing] or anyone else. Of course it may cramp my style a little about going out but there are compensations.

Patton’s disdain for anything resembling defense or a regard for survivability is well known. I’d heard this story before (but not quoted from a primary source that had witnessed the event, adding the bit about the bodyguards); at one point Patton visited Allen and his Deputy Division Commander, Teddy Roosevelt Jr. at their position at the front. On noting survivability holes dug into the ground outside Allen’s CP
Patton strode about eyeing these slit trenches with utter contempt, as though they were cowardly retreats. In his squeaky tenor, he said, “Terry, which one is yours?” When Allen pointed out his slit trench, Ptton strode over, unzipped his fly and urinated into the trench. Imperiously rezipping his fly, Patton sneered at Terry, “Now try to use it.” …the burly bodyguards for Allen and Roosevelt, armed with stripped-down Thompson submachine guns, unlocked the safeties on their weapons—making a clearly audible noise. “Had either commander given the order, there is little doubt they would gladly have shot Patton where they stood. Patton got the message and left as quickly as he had come.”

Later Roosevelt wrote his wife about another slit trench incident, with a somewhat different outcome. He related to her that
At el Guettar, I was in a slit trench with Terry Allen, only large enough to hold two. Patton came up. A dive-bombing raid started. I got out & gave Patton my place. He took it.


Don’t mean to harp on Patton, but juxtaposing him with Terry Allen is instructive. Patton was a blowhard megalomaniac who used his various commands to forward his own agenda—the glorification of George S. Patton. Allen, on the other hand, strove mightily to do what was best for his unit, even if it came at his own expense. Make no mistake, Allen was ambitious and always bothered when he was not given credit he thought was due. But Allen prioritized the men under his command over his own gain, while Patton never saw them as anything but props in his own play of self-aggrandizement. One spouted the warrior ethos, one lived it.

1 comment:

  1. Patton would have made a great US Senator or Congressman based on your assessment...the nutt burger.