The military career of Omar Bradley – one of the top US Generals of World War II – began in 1915. Born in 1875, Bradley was encouraged by his Sunday school teacher to take the entrance exams for the US Military Academy at West Point. He placed second in scoring, but received the Congressional appointment when the first place scorer could not accept it. Initially, Bradley’s academics suffered due to his interest in sports. He excelled in baseball.
Entrance Into the Army
Bradley played varsity baseball for three years at West Point. He was a member of the 1914 team, in which every player who remained in the army from this team became a general. In 1915, Bradley graduated from West Point in a class that would eventually boast a total of 59 generals, including Dwight Eisenhower. Bradley was first commissioned into the infantry and assigned to the 14th Infantry Regiment, serving on the US/Mexico border. At the start of World War I, he was promoted to a captain and transferred to Butte, Montana where he guarded the copper mines. In August of 1918, Omar Bradley joined the 19th Infantry Division. Their initial deployment to Europe was prevented by a flu pandemic and the armistice.
After the war, Bradley taught and furthered his own studies. In 1924, he was promoted to major and then sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia for the advanced infantry course. After a brief assignment in Hawaii, Bradley went to Ft. Leavenworth and studied at the Command & General Staff School from 1928-29. After graduation, he became an instructor in tactics at the Infantry School.
While at the Infantry School, then Lt. Col. George C. Marshall lauded Bradley as being “quiet, unassuming and capable with sound common sense”. In 1936, Bradley was promoted to Lt. Col and assigned a position at the War Department. He eventually would serve directly under George Marshall, Army Chief of Staff.
In February of 1941, Omar Bradley was promoted to the temporary (wartime) rank of brigadier general, a position by-passing colonel, and made permanent in September of 1943. This temporary promotion to brigadier general permitted him to command at Ft. Benning.
Just one year later, in February of 1942, he once again received a temporary promotion, this time to major general (a rank which became permanent in September of 1944). At this time, he assumed command of the 82nd Infantry Division and in June, Bradley transferred to the 28th Infantry Division.
Bradley’s Early Duties in WWII
It wasn’t until early in 1943 that Bradley received a front-line command. He was assigned as Eisenhower’s front-line trouble-shooter in North Africa. On Bradley’s recommendation, the II Corps, which suffered devastating losses at Kasserine Pass, was completely revamped and George Patton was assigned as the corps commander. At Patton’s request, Bradley became his deputy, with Bradley retaining the right to still represent Ike. Once Bradley became active in front-line command, he was given another temporary promotion to lieutenant general (March of 1943). In April of that same year, Omar Bradley became head of the II Corps. He commanded it in the final battles of Tunisia and on into the invasion of Sicily.
In 1944, in preparation for the invasion of France on D-Day, Bradley moved to London. He was the commander in chief of the American ground forces which were being prepped for the invasion. For the invasion itself, Bradley was given command of the US First Army. On June 10, Bradley, along with his staff, landed on-shore where they set up headquarters. Bradley commanded three corps – directed towards Utah and Omaha Beaches – during Operation Overlord.
In July of that year, he was placed in charge of planning Operation Cobra. This operation involved the initial breakouts from the Normandy beachhead. The plan called for strategic bombers to attack the German defensive lines using an enormous number of bombs. Though weather initially postponed this mission, on July 25, 1944 Operation Cobra commenced. The mission used lighter explosives so resulting rubble would not impede the Allies progress. However, when 77 of the planes from the mission fell short of their target, they unintentionally dropped their bombs short of the intended targets and on their own troops. General McNair was among the deceased.
Despite this travesty, the mission was considered a success as it managed to knock out the communication system used by the Germans. As a result, they became confused and ineffective which allowed for a ground offensive attack on the infantry. Once the infantry was able to crack the German defenses, Patton was able to sweep his armored forces around the German lines. By August, the buildup in Normandy had grown to more than 900,000 men – consisting of four field armies – under the command of Bradley. This group was the single largest group to ever serve under a single field commander.
An Error in France
Even with the encroaching Allied movement, Hitler refused to give permission for his army to flee. Bradley and his Army Group and the XV Corps formed the southern pincer and were responsible for forming the Falaise Pocket resulting in the trapping of both the German Seventh Army as well as the Fifth Panzer Army in Normandy. Canadian forces formed the northern pincer. The attempt to surround the German Armies was thwarted when Bradley issued orders (overriding Patton’s), which resulted in a gap. Bradley was fearful the northern and southern pincer groups would clash. Leaving behind their heavier materials, an estimated 20 to 50,000 German troops were able to escape though the gap created by Bradley’s change in orders. They otherwise, would have met certain destruction. The group instead had enough time to reorganize and slow the advancement of the Allied troops into Germany and Holland. The majority of the blame was placed on Bradley (who admitted his mistake) which he had made based on some incorrect assumptions. However, Bradley in turn blamed Gen. Montgomery stating he had moved his Commonwealth troops at an incredibly slow pace.
By late September, American forces had surprised the high commanders of the Allies when they managed to reach the Siegfried Line (or Westwall). Logistics were not prepared for such a deep advancement which resulted in short fuel supplies.
Eisenhower had to decide from two strategies – one presented by Bradley and one from Montgomery. Eisenhower decided to launch Operation Market-Garden, which was opposed by Bradley who was against Montgomery receiving priority on supplies. Eisenhower, however, did not budge from his decision.
Bradley and his men were spread over a wide front which consisted of hilly country. Their large concentration of army forces still faced a number of difficulties which would result in the loss of some 33,000 American lives with the Germans still in control of one of the intended Allied targets – the Roer Dams.
Further to the south, the advancement of Patton and his Third Army was greatly hampered due to their low priority for supplies. Meanwhile, the Germans were assembling troops and necessary supplies in preparation for a surprise offensive that winter.
Battle of the Bulge
Bradley’s men took the main impact of what would become known as the Battle of the Bulge. Based on logistics and command, Eisenhower assigned two of Bradley’s armies (the First and the Ninth) under the temporary command of Field-Marshal Montgomery and his 21st Army Group. The move enraged Bradley who almost resigned as a result. In one of his last moves (April of 1945), Bradley would be part of an Allied group who would successfully take more than 300,000 prisoners.
Assessments of Bradley’s Command Style
During World War II, Bradley’s command style was publicly more polite and courteous than some of the more colorful generals of the era. Through the publications of correspondent Ernie Pyle, Bradley would become known as the GI’s general – a title that would remain with him throughout the balance of his career. He was reported to have never issued an order to anyone of any rank without first saying ‘please’. Marshall – it is believed – felt this was a misrepresentation hyped up by Pyle. Several of Bradley’s contemporaries criticized various aspects of Bradley and his leadership. Despite all this, Bradley replaced more generals and senior commanders then Patton, who – though sometimes viewed as the ‘prototype of the intolerant and impulsive commander’ – only replaced one general from his command.
Post- World War II
After the war, Bradley was appointed by President Truman as head of the Veterans Administration. He served in this position for two years after the war and was
responsible for a number of positive changes in the health care system and education benefits received by the veterans under the GI Bill of Rights. He is credited with having a large influence on shaping the current day agency.
In 1948, Bradley was appointed as Army Chief of Staff; and in 1949, Truman appointed him as the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Bradley was gravely disappointed though in the post war budget cuts in the defense department. Though he voiced his opposition, he reports in his second memoirs that not fighting harder for a more sufficient defense department budget was probably the greatest mistake he made during his postwar years in Washington.
In September of 1950, Bradley was promoted to General of the Army. He was the fifth, as well as the last, man to achieve this rank. Before the end of 1950, he became first Chairman of the NATO Military Committee, a position he remained in until August of 1953 when he left active duty.
Prior to his 1953 retirement, Bradley, as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was the senior military commander at the start of the war in Korea. He was also the chief military policy maker. He was in support of Truman’s initial plan to roll back Communist aggression by taking all of North Korea. In the late 1950, after the Chinese Communists invaded North Korea, Bradley realized the rollback had to be replaced in favor of a containment strategy of North Korea. Bradley would convince Truman to relieve MacArthur of his command of the Korean theater as MacArthur was resisting administrative attempts to scale back strategic objectives. In April of 1951 in his testimony to Congress, Bradley is reported as noting that Red China was not a powerful
nation seeking to dominate the world. He said MacArthur’s strategy would have involved the United States in the ‘wrong war, at the wrong place, with the wrong enemy’.
General Omar Bradley retired from active military duty in August of 1953. He held a number of positions in civilian life. During the Vietnam War (1967-68), he was part of President Johnson’s Wise Men – a group of high-level advisories working on policies for the war. General Omar Bradley’s long military history, though sometimes controversial, is still considered by some to be one of the greatest Generals of World War II.