World War II: General Omar Bradley

The GI General

Omar Bradley after World War II
General Omar Bradley. Photograph Courtesy of the US Department of Defense

Early Life & Career:

Born at Clark, MO on February 12, 1893, Omar Nelson Bradley was the son of schoolteacher John Smith Bradley and his wife Sarah Elizabeth Bradley. Though from a poor family, Bradley received a quality education at Higbee Elementary School and Moberly High School. After graduation, he began working for the Wabash Railroad to earn money to attend the University of Missouri. During this time, he was advised by his Sunday school teacher to apply to West Point.

Sitting the entry exams at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Bradley placed second but secured the appointment when the first place finisher was unable to accept it. Entering the academy in 1911, he quickly took to the academy's disciplined lifestyle and soon proved gifted at athletics, baseball in particular.

This love of sports interfered with his academics, however he still managed to graduate 44th in a class of 164. A member of the Class of 1915, Bradley was classmates with Dwight D. Eisenhower. Dubbed the "class the stars fell on", 59 of the class' members ultimately became generals. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he was posted to the 14th Infantry and saw service along the US-Mexico border. Here his unit supported Brigadier General John J. Pershing's Punitive Expedition which entered Mexico to subdue Pancho Villa. Promoted to first lieutenant in October 1916, he married Mary Elizabeth Quayle two months later.

With the US entry into World War I in April 1917, the 14th Infantry, then at Yuma, AZ, was moved to the Pacific Northwest. Now a captain, Bradley was tasked with policing copper mines in Montana.

Desperate to be assigned to a combat unit heading to France, Bradley requested a transfer several times but to no avail.

Made a major in August 1918, Bradley was excited to learn that the 14th Infantry was being deployed to Europe. Organizing at Des Moines, IA, as part of the 19th Infantry Division, the regiment remained in the United States as a result of the armistice and an influenza epidemic. With the US Army's postwar demobilization, the 19th Infantry Division was stood down at Camp Dodge, IA in February 1919. Following this, Bradley was detailed to South Dakota State University to teach military science and reverted to the peacetime rank of captain.

Interwar Years:

In 1920, Bradley was posted to West Point for a four-year tour as a mathematics instructor. Serving under then-Superintendent Douglas MacArthur, Bradley devoted his free time to studying military history, with a special interest in the campaigns of William T. Sherman. Impressed with Sherman's campaigns of movement, Bradley concluded that many of the officers who had fought in France had been misled by the experience of static warfare. As a result, Bradley believed that Sherman's Civil War campaigns were more relevant to future warfare than those of World War I.

Promoted to major while at West Point, Bradley was sent to the Infantry School at Fort Benning in 1924.

As the curriculum stressed open warfare, he was able to apply his theories and developed a mastery of tactics, terrain, and fire and movement. Utilizing his prior research, he graduated second in his class and in front of many officers who had served in France. After a brief tour with the 27th Infantry in Hawaii, where he befriended George S. Patton, Bradley was selected to attend the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, KS in 1928. Graduating the following year, he believed the course to be dated and uninspired.

Departing Leavenworth, Bradley was assigned to the Infantry School as an instructor and served under future-General George C. Marshall. While there, Bradley was impressed by Marshall who favored giving his men an assignment and letting them accomplish it with minimal interference.

In describing Bradley, Marshall commented that he was "quiet, unassuming, capable, with sound common sense. Absolute dependability. Give him a job and forget it." Deeply influenced by Marshall's methods, Bradley adopted them for his own use in the field. After attending the Army War College, Bradley returned to West Point as an instructor in the Tactical Department. Among his pupils were the future leaders of the US Army such as William C. Westmoreland and Creighton W. Abrams

North Africa & Sicily:

Promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1936, Bradley was brought to Washington two years later for duty with the War Department. Working for Marshall, who was made Army Chief of Staff in 1939, Bradley served as assistant secretary of the General Staff. In this role, he worked to identify problems and developed solutions for Marshall's approval. In February 1914, he was promoted directly to the temporary rank of brigadier general.  This was done to allow him to assume command of the Infantry School. While there he promoted the formation of armored and airborne forces as well as developed the prototype Officer Candidate School. With the US entry into World War II on December 7, 1941, Marshall asked Bradley to prepare for other duty.

Given command of the reactivated 82nd Division, he oversaw its training before fulfilling a similar role for the 28th Division. In both cases, he utilized Marshall's approach of simplifying military doctrine to make it easier for newly recruited citizen-soldiers. In addition, Bradley utilized a variety of techniques to ease draftees' transition to military life and boost morale while also implementing a rigorous program of physical training. As a result, Bradley's efforts in 1942, produced two fully trained and prepared combat divisions. In February 1943, Bradley was assigned command of X Corps, but before taking the position was ordered to North Africa by Eisenhower to troubleshoot problems with American troops in the wake of the defeat at Kasserine Pass.

Arriving, he recommended that Patton be given command of the US II Corps. This was done and the authoritarian commander soon restored the unit's discipline. Becoming Patton's deputy, Bradley worked to improve the fighting qualities of the corps as the campaign progressed.  As a result of his efforts, he ascended to command of II Corps in April 1943, when Patton departed to aid in planning the invasion of Sicily. For the remainder of the North African Campaign, Bradley ably led the corps and restored its confidence. Serving as part of Patton's Seventh Army, II Corps spearheaded the attack on Sicily in July 1943.

During the campaign in Sicily, Bradley was "discovered" by journalist Ernie Pyle and promoted as the "GI General" for his unprepossessing nature and affinity for wearing a common soldier's uniform in the field. In the wake of the success in the Mediterranean, Bradley was selected by Eisenhower to lead the first American army to land in France and to be prepared to subsequently take over a full army group.

Returning to the United States, he established his headquarters at Governor's Island, NY and began assembling staff to assist him in his new role as commander of the First US Army.  Returning to Britain in October 1943, Bradley took part in the planning for D-Day (Operation Overlord). A believer in employing airborne forces to limit German access to the coast, he lobbied for the use of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions in the operation.

Northwest Europe:

As commander of the US First Army, Bradley oversaw the American landings on Omaha and Utah Beaches from the cruiser USS Augusta on June 6, 1944. Troubled by the stiff resistance at Omaha, he briefly considered evacuating troops from the beach and sending the follow-on waves to Utah. This proved unnecessary and three days later he shifted his headquarters ashore. As Allied forces built up in Normandy, Bradley was elevated to lead the 12th Army Group.

As early attempts to push deeper inland failed, he planned Operation Cobra with the goal of breaking out of the beachhead near St. Lo. Commencing in late July, the operation saw a liberal use of air power before ground forces smashed through the German lines and began a dash across France. As his two armies, the Third under Patton and the First under Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges, advanced towards the German border, Bradley advocated for a thrust into the Saarland.

This was denied in favor of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery's Operation Market-Garden.

While Market-Garden bogged down in September 1944, Bradley's troops, spread thin and short on supplies, fought brutal battles in the Hürtgen Forest, Aachen, and Metz. In December, Bradley's front absorbed the brunt of the German offensive during the Battle of the Bulge. After stopping the German assault, his men played a key role in pushing the enemy back, with Patton's Third Army making an unprecedented turn north to relieve the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. During the fighting, he was angered when Eisenhower temporarily assigned First Army to Montgomery for logistical reasons.

Promoted to general in March 1945, Bradley led 12th Army Group, now four armies strong, through the final offensives of the war and successfully captured a bridge over the Rhine at Remagen. In a final push, his troops formed the southern arm of a massive pincer movement which captured 300,000 German troops in the Ruhr, before meeting up with Soviet forces at the Elbe River.

Postwar:

With the surrender of Germany in May 1945, Bradley was eager for a command in the Pacific. This was not forthcoming as General Douglas MacArthur was not in need of another army group commander.

On August 15, President Harry S. Truman appointed Bradley to the head of the Veterans Administration. While not thrilled with the assignment, Bradley worked diligently to modernize the organization to meet the challenges it would face in the postwar years. Basing his decisions on the needs of veterans rather than political considerations, he built a nationwide system of offices and hospitals as well as revised an updated the GI Bill and arranged for job training.

In February 1948, Bradley was appointed Army Chief of Staff to replace the departing Eisenhower. He remained in this post only eighteen months as he was named the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on August 11, 1949. With this, came a promotion to General of the Army (5-star) the following September. Remaining in this position for four years, he oversaw US operations during the Korean War and was forced to rebuke General Douglas MacArthur for wishing to expand the conflict into Communist China.

Retiring from the military in 1953, Bradley moved into the private sector and served as chairman of the board of the Bulova Watch Company from 1958 until 1973. Following the death of his wife Mary of leukemia in 1965, Bradley married Esther Buhler on September 12, 1966. During the 1960s, he served as a member of President Lyndon Johnson's "Wise Men" think tank and later acted as a technical advisor on the film Patton. Bradley died on April 8, 1981, and was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Selected Sources