Then, suddenly, he was on track to lead the Western Allies to victory over Germany.
Lieutenant Colonel Dwight Eisenhower was 51 years old at the start of March 1941. He had served 26 years in the US Army, a long time for an officer not to reach full colonel, and he was suffering personal doubts about his career choice and future. But his 27th year was a big one. He rose four ranks, to lieutenant (three-star) general, in 16 months. Before the war's end he was five-star general of the army, highly respected and recognized worldwide for his leadership, diplomatic, organizational, and planning skills. [paragraph] How did Eisenhower move up the army ladder so quickly? Naturally, America's entry into World War II presented opportunities, but plenty of other officers were competing under the same circumstances. Ike's rise, especially from March 1941 to July 1942, was unique and spectacular.
As US participation in the world war became more and more certain, good things happened quickly for Ike. On March 11, 1941, he was promoted to colonel as new leadership roles opened up in the military. Soon afterward he proved himself as chief of staff of the Third Army during the summertime 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers. His army completely outperformed the Second Army during these large-scale war games, and he received a promotion to brigadier (one-star) general in September.
Three months later, on December 7, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and America was at war. On December 12, US Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall summoned Ike to the War Department. Marshall long knew Ike's reputation as a talented officer. Now he had an important position that desperately needed to be filled.
There was one specific assignment in Ike's resume that brought Marshall calling. From October 1935 to December 1939, Ike had served in the Philippine Islands as General Douglas MacArthur's personal assistant. MacArthur, named military advisor to the Philippine Commonwealth Army by President Franklin Roosevelt and Philippine President Manuel Quezon, was to create a Philippine army that could withstand foreign invasion once the island nation became independent from the United States.
Eisenhower gained extensive knowledge and experience of the Philippines during his assignment. When he left in December 1939 after serving four years and two months, neither MacArthur nor Quezon wanted him to go. But with war having broken out in Europe that September, Ike requested new orders, wanting to command soldiers. Quezon and MacArthur knew his departure was a major loss. He was the driver, planner, organizer, and detail man behind the creation of the Philippines' army, air corps, and navy.
Now, in December 1941, the situation in the Philippines was dire, and the War Department was in crisis mode. Hours after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had attacked American and native forces in the Philippines from air and sea. Land forces would soon join in. The defenders were in trouble. Few capable US Army officers not already stationed in the Philippines had the necessary background and perspective to help. What Marshall needed was a talented officer with extensive and relatively recent experience in the Philippines to provide him with an objective and realistic assessment of the situation. If Marshall decided Ike was that officer, he planned to put him in charge of the War Plans Division for the Philippines and the Far East, based in the War Department in Washington, DC.
Shortly after Marshall's summons, Ike departed Third Army headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, for Washington and arrived at the War Department on the 14th. In talks with Marshall, he remembered all the major American and Filipino entities and bureaucracies on the islands. He showed broad knowledge of the Philippine army and understood the capabilities, strengths, and weakness of the highly respected elite Philippine Scouts. He was fully informed about and had contributed to the Philippines' War Plan Orange, the military contingency plan for Japanese invasion. Even when he left the islands in 1939, there already had been significant concern about Japanese aggression in Southeast Asia. He had received routine intelligence briefings on Japanese forces.
Marshall explained to Ike that the situation in the Philippines and the Far East was urgent. He then provided a briefing on recent events. After that, he asked Ike for a plan of action. Ike had learned from some of the best minds in the US Army during his two decades of service that it was not unreasonable to ask the chief of staff for some time to analyze the problem and formulate a succinct written answer. He told Marshall, "Give me a few hours."
Later that day, Ike returned with his response. He argued that War Plan Orange was contingent upon troop reinforcements and material resupply coming from the US Navy at Pearl Harbor. Because Pearl had suffered significant losses on December 7, Ike pointed out, no large naval armada was available to rescue the Philippines. He said the United States could not abandon the islands, but the present capabilities were not enough to save them. Marshall agreed.
Marshall also appreciated the frankness and incisiveness Ike displayed in his strategic plan for the Far East. Ike said America and its allies could not allow Japan to capture Australia, which meant the limited personnel and supplies in the Pacific needed to be staged there. Resupply routes should be secured by the US Navy, and future operations in the region should be planned and executed from the Allied forces built up there.
Marshall was impressed. Ike passed his test. Marshall said there were many good officers in the War Department, but most of them wanted approval and permission from him before making decisions. He wanted officers who would make their own. A unique set of experiences had prepared Ike for coming to independent conclusions, and Marshall placed him in charge of the War Plans Division for the Philippines and the Far East, which included the Philippine Islands, Hawaii, Australia, China, and the Pacific Islands.
Now that Ike had a prime spot in the War Department, he needed to prove that Marshall had made the right decision. Assuming his new position immediately without returning to San Antonio, he stayed at his brother's house in Falls Church, Virginia. His wife, Mamie, did not join him in Washington until February 7, 1942. Most of Ike's days started at 7:45 A.M. and ended at 11:45 p.m.
The War Department revealed many of its problems to Ike right away. American and Allied "prima donnas" were everywhere. The organizational culture was one of talk not backed up by action. Senior officers chased after small fires instead of concentrating on larger matters. The British weren't cooperating.
Ike went to work on the big picture. He had learned from Generals Fox Conner, John J. Pershing, and Douglas MacArthur about focusing on strategic objectives and common concepts. He made his War Plans Division team move beyond the small and start thinking in larger strategic terms. He chided his former boss, MacArthur, for failing to "look facts in the face." He kept telling MacArthur that no big naval armada would be arriving from Pearl Harbor to rescue the Philippines. He continually had to reiterate to MacArthur that the priority for the limited American assets in the Far East was Australia.
By February 16, 1942, two months into the assignment at the War Department, Ike had proven he was ready for more responsibility. Marshall placed him in charge of the entire War Plans Division. And recent reorganization in the War Department gave war planning more of an operational role.
One of Ike's first tasks in his new position was working with Roosevelt on drafting a message that ordered MacArthur to depart the Philippines for Australia. Ike disagreed with the president on the order, thinking MacArthur should stay in the islands to the end, but he knew public opinion backed saving the general for another fight. Ike sent the order on February 24, 1942, and MacArthur replied, "Not now." MacArthur would not evacuate from the Philippine Islands to Australia until mid-March.
As all this was happening, Ike had to deal with personal tragedy. His father, David Eisenhower, died the morning of March 10, 1942. Ike wanted to go to Abilene, Kansas, to be with his mother, but he understood that the war wouldn't wait for him. He did leave his office at 5:30 p.m. on March 11 to mourn. He also asked his staff for 30 minutes of respectful quiet on March 12, 1942, during the time of his father's funeral.
By late March, Eisenhower had made significant progress on committing supplies and men to Australia. Unfortunately, the situation for American and Filipino forces on Bataan and Corregidor continued to deteriorate. Ike had done his best to resupply them by submarine, but a large-scale rescue was still not feasible.
On March 21, he had a heated argument with Marshall over what type of officer should be promoted. Evidently, Ike won: Marshall promoted him to major (two-star) general on March 27. Eisenhower said he received Marshall's "stamp of approval."
Marshall was in England within a few weeks, visiting London to evaluate American and Allied planning and preparation for operations against German forces. Although the geographical targets of those operations were yet undetermined, Ike was hoping for some decision about the fighting to come. But Marshall did not find much that pleased him. He wanted a second opinion and selected Ike to do an appraisal.
Ike left for England on May 21. There, he quickly became very concerned with the general lack of urgency and the American and Allied commanders' emphasis on creature comforts and pleasure. Long hours at work were the norm in Washington but not in England. Cooperation among allies was minimal, and Ike heard no plans for the fighting to come. He returned to Washington on June 8 and reported his findings to Marshall.
Marshall decided that a change in England was essential. On June 11 he made Ike the new commanding general of the US Army in Europe. Ike left for England on June 23. Two weeks later, on July 7, he was promoted to lieutenant (three-star) general.
Ike's remarkable 16-month climb into the ranks of the US Army brass had reached its end. Just before its start, his career had seemed to be a failure; graduating from West Point in 1915, he'd received only five promotions over 26 years. Then, in 16 months, he earned four.
Ike was not finished yet. Several months into his assignment as commander in Europe, he was promoted to full general (four stars), on February 11, 1943. At the end of the following year, on December 20, he was made five-star general of the army. His only peers then were Marshall, MacArthur, and air forces commander Henry "Hap" Arnold (who was promoted the next day).
Of course rank wasn't everything. When bestowed properly, rank is a symbol of accomplishment, and Ike's accomplishments were difficult to top. Proving himself worthy every time he received a new leadership opportunity during the war, he ultimately led a frequently uncooperative, occasionally combative collection of Western allies to victory over Nazi Germany.
Dennis Edward Flake is a seasonal park ranger at the Eisenhower National Historic Site in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. He consulted Dwight Eisenhower's diary, War Department in Crisis, as a primary resource for this article.
Caption: Dwight Eisenhower's 26-year military career was flat-lining. Then, suddenly, he was on track to lead the Western Allies to victory over Germany.
Caption: Background: Two old-school officers sit at the cusp of a new era. In California in June 1941, Colonel Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower (left), IX Corps chief of staff, and Lieutenant Colonel James J. Bradley, Fourth Army deputy chief of staff, plan for army maneuvers in Louisiana that August. Ike's uniform boots and trousers are made for horseback riding. Soon, he will lead US and Allied forces in a war fought with petroleum-powered machines.
Caption: Above: Lieutenant Eisenhower wed Mamie Doud in 1916 in Texas. While at Fort Sam Houston he coached football at San Antonio's St. Louis College, where this photo was taken. US entry into World War I was imminent. Opposite: The approach of a second war 25 years later advanced Ike to colonel. In summer 1941 he led the Third Army staff of Lieutenant General Walter Krueger (left) for maneuvers in Louisiana.
Caption: Above: Ike is second from left in a photo of the US Army General Staff's War Plans Division. Made a brigadier after the Louisiana Maneuvers, he was put on the War Plans Division to handle the Philippines and Far East. By March 1942 when this photo was taken, he headed the whole division. Opposite: Ike as major general, May 1, 1942. Weeks later he was in England assessing Allied readiness to take on Nazi Germany.
Caption: On hearing Ike's report on London, army Chief of Staff George Marshall sent Ike back to command US forces in Europe as a lieutenant general. Ike was full general when Marshall visited him in North Africa (above) in June 1943. By December he commanded all Allied forces in Europe.
Caption: Congress established a five-star general of the army rank in December 1944, bestowing it on the army's top commanders. Ike was a five-star general in February 1945 when he sat for this portrait as supreme Allied commander in Europe, on the verge of victory. Four years earlier, he was a lieutenant colonel, worried that his career had fizzled.
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|Title Annotation:||Dwight Eisenhower|
|Author:||Flake, Dennis Edward|
|Publication:||America in WWII|
|Date:||Jun 1, 2017|
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