BOOK REVIEW: 'Omar Bradley': At Last -- a Comprehensive Biography of One of the Nation's Greatest -- and Most Neglected -- World War II Commanders

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Omar Bradley': At Last -- a Comprehensive Biography of One of the Nation's Greatest -- and Most Neglected -- World War II Commanders
It's possible to be too modest, to lack the ability to make one's case with the news media, a characteristic that ill served Gen. Omar N. Bradley (1893-1981), an outstanding World War II commander who finally gets a biography that he deserves with Jim DeFelice's "Omar Bradley: General At War" (Regnery History, 451 pages, illustrations, notes, maps, bibliography, index, $29.95). 

Fully annotated and documented, while being very readable in its non-academic writing style, DeFelice's work should remedy the biography gap that has existed for so long with the Missouri-born  general whose modesty was the real kind, not the false variety. His ease with the fighting men -- the "dogfaces" and "grunts" --  led him to be dubbed the "G.I. General" because of his accessibility. 

No ivory-grip revolvers for Bradley, like those sported by Gen. George S. Patton  -- once Bradley's commanding officer and later his subordinate.  Bradley carried the same .30 calibre M-1 Carbine that rear echelon troops were issued in lieu of the heavier and more powerful M-1 Garand rifle that front-line troops used. (Patton said that reporters who described Patton's handguns as having pearl grips were seriously in error: "only a New Orleans pimp would have pearl handles on his guns," the outspoken Patton said.) Most officers preferred the Gov. Model 1911 .45 caliber autoloading pistol,  but Bradley liked the carbine (I like mine, too, a Plainfield civilian model that's just like the military issue one).
Jim DeFelice
Jim DeFelice

Patton, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bernard Montgomery -- these are the generals that military historians and popular biographers have focused on since the end of World War II. Add in Douglas MacArthur from the Pacific Theatre of war, and otherwise worthy subjects like Bradley, Lucian Truscott, Courtney Hodges, James Gavin, Mark Clark, J. Lawton "Lightning Joe" Collins, and William Darby (of Darby's Rangers) have faded into the background.

 Consider the portrayal of Omar Bradley in the 1970 movie "Patton" starring George C. Scott in the title role, DeFelice says. Karl Malden's portrayal of Bradley was way off. Malden played the Missourian, a graduate of the West Point class of 1915 -- the same class as Eisenhower -- as a "middle-aged, bespectacled milquetoast who couldn't organize a pickup softball game on his own," DeFelice writers. Both Bradley and Eisenhower were athletes and friends at West Point, but they could hardly have been more different, the author says. "Ike" was a talker and "Brad" -- their Point nicknames -- was  "hardly loquacious."  Ike was a rule breaker -- except in the honesty category --  while Brad was a rule follower at the Point.

Bradley was a master of logistics and tactics who, even more than Patton, DeFelice says,  was responsible for the American Army's success in North Africa -- after the disaster at Kasserine Pass -- and in the Sicily campaign. He was the general in charge of the June 6, 1944 Normandy invasion and he organized Cobra, the campaign that used carpet bombing to turn the German army into "dust" and break out of the invasion area. DeFelice devotes a whole chapter -- Chapter 6  "Breakthrough" -- showing how Bradley devised  "Cobra" --  to punch a hole in the German line just west of St.-Lo, and "pour as much of the five divisions as would fit." The bombing resulted in "collateral damage" or "friendly fire" to the allied troops -- mostly due to errors by the bombers -- but it achieved the goal in a brilliant display of Bradley's command of tactics and logistics.

DeFelice says it was the unassuming Bradley who actually developed the strategy and the tactics that won the war in Europe. He says that Bradley's understanding of tactics, which rarely failed him, proves that Bradley, not Patton, deserves most of the credit for America's victories in North Africa.

DeFelice says that Bradley, first his subordinate, then his superior, defended his friend Patton and tried to cover up the famous soldier slapping incident portrayed in the movie. A friendship as unusual as this is well covered by the author, proving the cliche that opposites can get along provided they understand each other's strengths and weaknesses.
DeFelice devotes a great deal of  space to the Battle of the Bulge of December 1944-January 1945, including how Bradley remained calm while Eisenhower panicked. Bradley understood that the German offensive in the frozen Ardennes, commanded by Field Marshall Gerd Von Rundstedt, was doomed to fail because the Germans didn't have the gasoline and supplies to succeed.

In his command of logistics, Bradley reminds me of Union Gen. George H. Thomas, the "Rock of Chickamauga," a Virginian who stayed loyal to the Union and who was a master of logistics and tactics. Thomas (1816-1870) was a deliberate general who was derided by some as "Old Slow Trot" but who excelled as a tactician and whose defense at the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863 saved the  Union army from destruction, earning him his nickname. Despite a formidable record in the Civil War, including the breakthrough on Missionary Ridge in the Battle of Chattanooga and his defeat of Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood at the Battle of Nashville, Thomas didn't get the acclaim other generals received, much like Bradley. Why Fort Hood in Texas is named for a defeated Confederate general rather than a winning Union leader is beyond comprehension to me!

DeFelice is pretty hard on Eisenhower in this book, especially where he devotes a lot of words to  Ike's decision to give the command of the First and Ninth Armies to Montgomery.  It was "a direct slap at Bradley," DeFelice says (Page 304), adding that Ike must have realized this because immediately after the action, he got Bradley his fourth star, making him the equal of Montgomery in rank. In addition to being a "slap" at Bradley, taking away Bradley's command of the armies was a slap at Gen. Courtney Hodges, commander of the First Army, William Simpson, commander of the Ninth Army and J. Lawton Collins, commander of VII Corps. Collins later led the forces fighting the North Korean and Chinese in the Korean War.

 After the war, Bradley became Army Chief of Staff and later chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, receiving his fifth star -- he was the last five-star general -- in September 1949. Immediately after the war, Bradley was chosen by President Harry Truman to investigate and repair the damage after scandals roiled the Veterans Administration. He did the job with his usual quiet aplomb.

DeFelice has done something that should have been done decades ago: Write a biography that's accessible to the general reader giving Omar Nelson Bradley the respect and admiration he deserves. He was truly a member of an earlier "Greatest Generation" that included Patton, Eisenhower and the other generals who commanded the largest armies in American history.

About the Author

Jim DeFelice is an award-winning writer, former political columnist, and prolific, bestselling author of more than three dozen military books and spy thrillers. His previous works explore the effects of war, politics, terrorism, and technology on soldiers and civilians. DeFelice lives with his family in Warwick, New York. His website:

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