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The Life of General Walter Bedell Smith

D.K.R. Crosswell

Publication Year: 2010

A valued adviser and trusted insider in the highest echelon of U.S. military and political leaders, General Walter Bedell Smith began his public service career of more than forty years at age sixteen, when he joined the Indiana National Guard. His bulldog tenacity earned him an opportunity to work with General George C. Marshall in 1941, playing an essential role in forming the offices of the Combined and Joint Chiefs of Staff; and after his appointment as chief of staff to Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1942, Smith took a central part in planning and orchestrating the major Allied operations of World War II in Europe. Among his many duties, Smith negotiated and signed the surrenders of the Italian and German armed forces on May 7, 1945. Smith’s postwar career included service as the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, director of the Central Intelligence Agency, and undersecretary of state. Despite his contributions to twentieth-century American military and diplomatic history, the life and work of Smith have largely gone unappreciated. In Beetle: The Life of General Walter Bedell Smith, D. K. R. Crosswell offers the first full-length biography of the general, including insights into his close relationships with Marshall and Eisenhower. Meticulously researched and long overdue, Beetle sheds new light on Eisenhower as supreme commander and the campaigns in North Africa, Italy, and Europe. Beetle is the fascinating history of a soldier, diplomat, and intelligence chief who played a central role in many decisions that altered mid-twentieth-century American history.

Published by: The University Press of Kentucky

Series: American Warriors Series

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. ix


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pp. xi-xiii


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pp. xv-xvii

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pp. 1-5

One pitfall in writing a biography is the risk of becoming too immersed in the topic. You spend so much time with the historic figure you begin to feel like you know the person and those in his or her circle. This project has consumed me—with varying degrees of intensity—since 1982. I first encountered Beetle Smith when...

Part One: Epilogue as Prologue—Soldier, Diplomat, Spymaster

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1. Soldier Turned Diplomat

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pp. 9-30

The featured stories in the Washington newspapers on 14 August 1961 dealt with the East Germans sealing the border in Berlin and the latest exploits of Mickey Mantle in his pursuit of Babe Ruth’s home run record. Other than the obligatory obituaries—unimaginative pieces mostly gleaned from Current Biography...

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2. Expecting the Worst

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pp. 31-45

The Truman administration grew increasingly disenchanted with the struggles of the newly formed Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to find its niche in the national security structure. In early 1948 the National Security Council (NSC) commissioned three intelligence veterans—Allen Dulles, William Jackson, and Matias...

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3. Dulles’s Number Two

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pp. 47-69

Eisenhower made it clear that he intended to give Smith an important role in the new administration. At first he toyed with bringing Smith in as his chief of staff but jettisoned the idea for fear that two generals in the White House might awaken antimilitary sentiment. In the period before the election, John Foster Dulles had engaged...

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4. The Geneva Conference

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pp. 71-94

Eisenhower entertained no great expectations for Geneva. He instructed Dulles to “steer a course between the unattainable and the unacceptable.” He considered “a general Asian peace in which the free world could have real confidence” unattainable and said, “any division or partition of Indo-China was not included in what...

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5. “Ike’s Prat Boy”

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pp. 95-106

Geneva provided the final impetus, spurring Smith’s resignation. Never happy serving under Dulles, Smith would have quit long before if not for Geneva. The stress of the first round of the Geneva talks had undermined his health. He joked with journalists he could easily see himself wandering the corridors of the...

Part Two: Officership in the Army of the “Long Generation,” 1917–1939

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6. Born to Be a Soldier

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pp. 109-119

Americans are a paradoxical people: though wary of foreign entanglements, when drawn into hostilities, they are at once strikingly bellicose and peculiarly unmilitary. During the years before the Great War—except for Grand Army of the Republic parades and bursts of patriotism, such as during the war with Spain—Americans...

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7. The Summons to War

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pp. 121-142

The year 1917 proved eventful for both the nation and Walter Bedell Smith. Relations between the United States and Germany worsened, and on 2 April President Wilson asked Congress for a declaration of war. This struggle took on the pattern of previous American wars, as large numbers of citizen-soldiers inundated...

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8. “They Don’t Make ’Em Any Better than Smith”

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pp. 143-162

Junior officers like Smith who stayed in the army did so because they wanted to soldier. Some, perhaps the majority, remained in the army because they enjoyed the undemanding lifestyle. The army provided a haven from social change, and the war unleashed plenty of that. For those officers, ambition counted for little...

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9. “Expunge the Bunk, Complications and Ponderosities”

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pp. 163-174

External historical determinants dictated that the army and navy traveled on different paths toward modernization and professionalization. The army faced an incubus from which the navy was immune. The U.S. Navy could never threaten the constitutional balance and possessed, at least from the late 1880s, a fleet-in-being...

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10. The Other Class Stars Fell On

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pp. 175-189

In his inaugural lecture to the class of 1926 at Leavenworth, Commandant MG Edward King summed up the philosophy behind the army’s schools. The schools’ mission was utilitarian: train the largest possible number of officers for potential command and staff duties in an expansible army, instruct them in accordance...

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11. “No One Ever Graduates”

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pp. 191-201

The year Smith graduated from Leavenworth, the U.S. Army’s downward spiral finally hit bottom. Strapped for money and men, the army could not properly fulfill any of its missions. As Marshall pointed out, “we have fewer Regular troops in the United States today than twenty years ago, and unfortunately most of our...

Part Three: The Towering Figure—George C. Marshall

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12. The Chief’s Apprentice

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pp. 205-228

Marshall never acted unless convinced of the rectitude of his decision, and when he did, he exhibited complete self-assurance in his ideas and actions. He thought long and hard about his experiences in France and the interwar years. Upon becoming acting chief of staff, Marshall possessed a clear conception of the changes...

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13. Forging the Mold

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pp. 229-255

December 1941 marked one of the turning points in the war. A week into December, Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war; four days later, the Axis joined Japan against the Western democracies; eleven days later, Churchill and the British Chiefs of Staff opened talks with their American opposite numbers...

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14. “Exceptionally Qualified for Service as Chief of Staff”

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pp. 257-284

Relationships cannot be reconstructed from official records. Documents obscure unofficial lines of influence derived from close personal connections or confidential collaboration. Unrecorded conversations conducted in corridors or over strawberry shortcake often shape events in more decisive ways than can be gleaned from...

Part Four: The Mediterranean Campaign

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15. “Smith Will Save Ike”

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pp. 287-312

At nine o’clock on the morning on 6 September, Nory and Dykes saw “dear old Beetle” off on his flight. Dykes took Nory back to Fort Myer and stayed for a cup of coffee. “She feels his leaving very much,” Dykes wrote.1 Smith doubtlessly felt it too, but a great deal else occupied his mind. With no time for decompressing...

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16. “We Are on the Threshold of a Magnificent Success”

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pp. 313-331

Leadership and command are not synonymous. Leadership is largely the distillate of character. Command is conferred; legally and professionally, subordinates owe loyalty and obedience to the office, not the incumbent. Preindustrial codes of personalized loyalty retain a powerful resonance in the U.S. Army. War produces...

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17. “Thank God You Are in London”

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pp. 333-354

Holed up in the fetid catacombs inside the Rock of Gibraltar and grousing about the French (but really fuming at the impotence he felt), an idle Eisenhower advised Smith not to worry about “missing out on the show here.”1 Smith was far too busy to give it much thought. All the political and command channels converged...

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18. “We Shall Continue to Flounder”

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pp. 355-386

His time in Washington left Smith disheartened. He found most senior American officers “rather cold” to suggestions about exploiting the possibilities offered in the Mediterranean that so intrigued Churchill and the BCOS. The people he talked to in Washington fixed their attention on Asia and the Pacific region...

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19. “Allies Are Very Difficult People to Fight With”

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pp. 387-411

The logic that dictated the decision to embark on operations in North Africa in 1942 still held for the Mediterranean in 1943. Torch offered the only opportunity to employ Anglo-American power that had any likelihood of producing significant strategic and political gains without hazarding a catastrophic defeat. Hitler’s...

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20. The Many Travails of an Allied Chief of Staff

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pp. 413-439

Before Smith left on 10 May, he and Eisenhower closeted themselves and reviewed the whole range of issues confronting AFHQ. Eisenhower cautioned Smith against adopting a defensive posture in presenting AFHQ’s suit. Ostensibly, Smith went to the conference to report on the state of the French rearmament program and...

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21. The Road to Messina

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pp. 441-467

The British scored a success in the Algiers talks, winning Eisenhower over to the idea of invading Italy. Before Trident he favored the more cautious route of attacking Sardinia and Corsica; immediately following the Algiers conference, Eisenhower informed Patton, who (curiously) had not been present, “It would be impossible...

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22. The Italian Job

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pp. 469-496

Badoglio’s government promised Italy’s “war will go on,” but within a week of Mussolini’s ouster, it was looking for ways to end it. Three options presented themselves, none of them very attractive. First, Italy could end the alliance with Germany and go over to the Allies. Second, Italy could stay in the Axis but seek an accord...

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23. “A Feeling of Restrained Optimism”

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pp. 497-523

Except for its nearly disastrous consequences, the sequel to the Lisbon and Cassibile amateur theatricals took on aspects of an opéra bouffe. Altogether too much wishful thinking egged on all the chief players. Smith went all out for Giant II because without the promised airborne operation, the Italians would not play...

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24. “We Conduct Our Wars in a Most Curious Way”

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pp. 525-547

Smith returned to Algiers on 21 October. As Hughes reported, he “hastened to report to Ike. Wonder if he knows the answer to Ike’s future?”1 Speculation on “Ike’s future” gripped Algiers. All Smith could tell Eisenhower was that nothing had been set in stone. He could forget about a field command in Overlord...

Part Five: France 1944

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25. The Supreme Command

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pp. 551-581

Smith updated Eisenhower on developments in London before he left for the States. He expressed his general satisfaction with the COSSAC staff and assured Eisenhower that, with the “substitution of a few individuals,” it could be made “to conform to the setup you want.” Not wasting any time securing the key players...

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26. “Enough to Drive You Mad”

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pp. 583-606

In the first two and a half months of SHAEF’s existence, problems fell into two distinct categories: those under the purview of the CCS, and those that devolved on Eisenhower’s commands. At the end of March, Eisenhower believed his headquarters was well on the road toward accomplishing its essential...

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27. “It’s a Go”

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pp. 607-626

“Once through the difficult bocage country,” Montgomery predicted, “greater possibilities for manoeuvre and for the use of armour.” The document clearly defined the respective roles of Dempsey’s and Bradley’s forces in the first phase and the American and Anglo-Canadian army groups in the second. “Our aim...

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28. Normandy Deadlock

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pp. 627-666

In August Beetle Smith pronounced the war in the west “militarily” over. In part motivated by hubris—later diagnosed as “victory disease”—his analysis, though badly timed, proved correct. Two days before launching Neptune, Clark’s forces entered Rome. Of far greater significance, the Soviets had completed the destruction of Army Group...

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29. What Has the Supreme Command Amounted To?

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pp. 667-694

Cobra’s success vindicated Montgomery and the plan. Before and during Normandy, Montgomery demonstrated an uncanny ability to see “the other side of the hill.” Originally, Rommel never considered holding Caen. He did not want his armor eaten up in a static defensive role, especially on ground unfavorable...

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30. End the War in ’44

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pp. 695-734

Eisenhower’s conception of the tasks of a supreme commander and his headquarters remained circumspect. He confined “the proper and necessary responsibilities” of SHAEF to establishing “broad strategy, the direction of effort, and the allocation of resources, including supplies, troops, and air.” Always a stickler for...

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31. “The Logistical Bottleneck Now Dictates Strategy”

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pp. 735-769

Three factors explain why the Allies failed in their leap toward the Rhine. Two fall into the category of the imponderables of war: the remarkable German recovery and the weather. The third, the apparent logistical breakdown, was the sole element the Allies, in this case the Americans, exerted any control...

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32. Après le Déluge

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pp. 771-798

November marked the lowest ebb of Allied fortunes in the campaign in northwestern Europe. Montgomery, whatever his shortcomings, could never be faulted on his professional acumen. As he pointed out, Eisenhower’s 28 October outline strategy—it could never claim to be more—amounted to little. Nothing...

Part Six: The Victory Campaign

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33. One Desperate Blow

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pp. 801-828

Anton Graff’s famous portrait of Frederick the Great dominated the Hitler bunker. The Prussian king occupied a prominent position in Hitler’s mythical universe, and as the noose of the coalition’s armies tightened around the Reich, Hitler drew on Frederick for inspiration. Those who dismissed Hitler as an intellectual...

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34. Déjà Vu All over Again

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pp. 829-864

As the end of 1944 approached, prospects brightened. The German attacks in the Ardennes ran out of steam, and Montgomery’s pledge to attack from the north on 3 January raised expectations that the Allies would not only regain the initiative in the west but also inflict a telling if not fatal blow on the Germans. Hitler was far from...

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35. The German Is a Whipped Enemy

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pp. 865-888

Not until 28 January 1945 did Allied forces regain the ground lost in the Ardennes. In both the Ardennes and Alsace, Hitler’s stubborn refusal to yield ground doubled German casualties, according to one estimate. The manpower and materiel losses debilitated German designs for holding the West Wall, but the greatest casualty...

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36. Mission Fulfilled

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pp. 889-924

In early January Churchill, in one of his ebullient moods as the emergency in the Ardennes abated, wrote to Roosevelt claiming that 1944 “yielded us results beyond the dreams of military avarice.” He spoke of his “complete confidence in General Eisenhower” and of the amity binding the supreme commander with Montgomery “and also Bradley...


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pp. 925-929


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pp. 931-1044

Sources and Further Reading

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pp. 1045-1052


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pp. 1053-1070

E-ISBN-13: 9780813126500
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813126494

Page Count: 1088
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: American Warriors Series

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Statesmen -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States -- History, Military -- 20th century.
  • Smith, Walter Bedell, 1895-1961.
  • Generals -- United States -- Biography.
  • United States. Army -- Biography.
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