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233 CHAPTER 8 “The greatest war machine in the history of American arms” Don’t go forward of Army, Boy. There’s a spot for you at the Group. You’ll soon wear red Have sheets in bed And start your dinner with soup. Don’t go forward of Group, Boy Your proper place is SHAEF. Don’t mind a bit If you’re called a shit Just say, Thank God I’m safe.1 Activation, 12th Army Group, Saint Sauveur de Lendelin, France, 1 August 1944 A few months after the Normandy Campaign and with other fronts competing for the American public’s attention, Lt. Col. S. L. A. “Slam” Marshall, Chicago newspaperman and WWI veteran, now deputy chief historian in the European Theater of Operations (ETO), hand-­ carried the first of the War Department campaign publications, “Omaha Beachhead,” to Omar Bradley. The general told him that the First Army, which planned and carried out the operation, would have to review the draft. Screwing his courage to the wall, Slam confronted the three-­ star commanding general: “Then will you instruct that they should question errors in fact but not delete an interpretation simply because it is disagreeable?”2 In Slam’s view, “Omaha had not been a glittering triumph for our forces. There are few more brutal battles in the annals of America at war. Mistakes 234 Part II The Liberation of Europe had been made and disaster had been narrowly averted.” Six weeks later, the report was back at the War Department, accuracy improved but otherwise untouched . It was a model and honest attempt at an objective analysis and paved the way for publication of “a more candid official history than has been written of the armies and generals heretofore.”3 As tame as official histories sometimes appear now, for the historians writing the first drafts of WWII history this was an exhilarating moment. At 0900 on 1 August 1944, three days after the previous German occupants vacated the premises in haste, Omar Bradley bid farewell to the staff at First Army and at noon the 12th Army Group became operational at Saint Sauveur de Lendelin. To the relief of Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges and most others at First Army, Bradley took no staff except for his official family (two aides, driver, cook, pilot, valet) and Red O’Hare, the G-­ 1 (Personnel), an aggressive outsider who joined the US First Army after Sicily from Governor’s Island and who had never been popular among the other staff. All of the uncertainty about who would command the American armies was over for the moment—­ except in Montgomery’s mind. The 12th Army Group Letter of Instruction number 1 activated the US Third Army with Middleton’s VIII Corps in place and another corps in transit, and ordered Lt. Gen. George Patton to swing southwest through the Avranches gap, opened by Joe Collins’s VII Corps on 31 July 1944. Unleashing his mechanized cavalry and armor, Patton would secure the Brittany ports, especially Brest, and scour the peninsula for enemy forces before turning eastward along figure 8.1. Brad’s official family, including pilot, crew, aides, drivers, and cooks (USAHEC). Chapter 8 “The greatest war machine in the history of American arms” 235 the Loire River. The First Army, under Bradley’s deputy commander and longtime understudy, Courtney Hodges, would pivot to the left driving back the Germans to the city of Vire with Hodges’s three corps already on the line.4 Bradley knew Hodges well, going back to the days when they served together under George Marshall at the Infantry School. They were longtime hunting and fishing buddies, were both crack rifle shots, and knew the terrain and game around Ft. Benning as well as anyone. Each played at or under par on most army golf courses, many of which they played together. A West Point dropout from the class of 1908 (the year before Patton, Bill Simpson, and Jake Devers), Hodges caught up quickly, rising from prewar private to lieutenant colonel in World War I and wearing a DSC earned as a battalion commander in the 6th Infantry Regiment in the Meuse-­ Argonne in November 1918. Everyone described him as “courtly” (pun intended), a gentleman; serious, reserved, and very quiet, at age fifty-­ seven he looked and spoke like a small-­ town accountant, unimpressive in a cast of fascinating military celebrities. Bradley had a real blind spot about Hodges that went way back, based on their...


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