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Thursday, July 14, 2016


An Alternative History by Stephen V. Cole
For want of a strap, a stirrup was lost; for want of a stirrup, Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall broke his neck one autumn day in 1943, and died two days later. President Franklin D. Roosevelt (F.D.R.) knew that the Army needed a strong leader, it being the middle of World War II, with US troops just landing in Italy and the Normandy Invasion planned for May of the next year. He needed a leader with stature, experience, and reputation, someone who could instantly gain the respect of the entire military establishment -- and the British.
There was only one choice, that being the Army's senior four-star general, Douglas MacArthur. After all, he had been Chief of Staff when the Army now fighting was built. Summoning him to Washington also solved several problems in the Pacific. Nimitz wanted him gone so he didn't have to compete for resources, and the Australians still hated him even after his decision to put the battle for Australia in New Guinea was proven right.
Arriving in Washington, MacArthur already had a plan. He had been working on it during the long plane ride to California and the subsequent train trip to Washington. MacArthur could have taken a plane from San Francisco, but wanted the time to work on the plan. MacArthur had brought a few officers with him from Australia, and had a selected group meet him at the airport in San Francisco. With these officers sequestered in a closed train car, he had spent the entire two days of the trip across country getting briefed by officers with European experience. Included in the group was Omar Bradley, dispatched by Eisenhower to represent his viewpoint.
But MacArthur had decided what he would do the minute word came to him to report to Washington to replace Marshall. Staying in the capital with a bunch of dusty files and crusty staff officers was not going to be sufficient, not for MacArthur. After all, he had already been Chief of Staff once. The big show was in Europe, and the less time spent in Washington, the happier MacArthur would be. He already knew that Marshall had considered bringing Eisenhower home to be Chief of Staff while Marshall himself flew to England to command Overlord. Exactly why Marshall decided against this move would never be known. That was only one of many secrets that died with him.
MacArthur told F.D.R. his plan, and the president could only agree. He had, after all, allowed Marshall to decide that Eisenhower would stay in Europe. F. D. R.  had always been uncomfortable with Eisenhower's relatively junior status, rapid promotion over the Army's other generals (he had been a lieutenant colonel only two years earlier), and his lack of combat experience in World War I. MacArthur had won a row of silver stars and commanded a division in combat in World War I. The British (shaking their heads at the unknown and very junior Eisenhower) had often asked why MacArthur wasn't picked for command in Europe.
MacArthur did explain to the president, patiently, that his new duties would require the rank of field marshal. That would make him the equal of the top British commanders. The US had been debating the need for a new five-star rank for a year, and George Marshall had vetoed any idea of calling the new rank field marshal. He was not going to be Field Marshal Marshall. It just wasn't going to happen. Marshall had wanted to call the rank Arch-General, but accepted the awkward General of the Army.
But Marshall was no longer a factor; his funeral had been held while MacArthur was on the train. MacArthur had wanted a field marshal's baton since he graduated from West Point and famously bet the entire class that he would become a field marshal before any of them. He had retired from the Army with the highest rank allowed by law (the four stars of a full general) but convinced the president of the Philippines to give him the rank of field marshal of the Philippine army just to win the bet. His classmates rejected the move as a joke and refused to pay the bet. Making MacArthur a field marshal was not a problem for the president. MacArthur had held the Army's top rank for a decade. It was a perfect solution to several problems.
Arriving in England, MacArthur gave Eisenhower a week to fully brief him and then sent him to Washington with a fourth star and public thanks. One reporter imagined their final conversation to be "Go home, son, the grownups are here now." MacArthur had a lot of experience with troop landings in the Pacific, and had been relentlessly briefed for a week about the situation in France. After reviewing the invasion plan for less than an hour he called in the officers who wrote it and told them it wasn't big enough. He needed them to add two more divisions landing over the beaches, and increase the paratroops landing on the flanks to three full divisions. That this was the same conclusion that Eisenhower reached when MacArthur had him independently review the plan was further support. By the time General Montgomery saw the plan (and agreed) MacArthur had already won F.D.R.'s approval. The president ordered American industry to produce more landing craft and transport planes, and MacArthur sent Eisenhower back to the US with orders to speed up the training and shipment of troops and equipment.
MacArthur ordered George Patton taken out of his doghouse (for slapping two soldiers) and flown to England. The two had only met twice (during a single day on a battlefield in World War I where they were famously the only soldiers who remained standing during a German artillery barrage). MacArthur had heard stories of Patton's tendency to exceed orders, but came into their first day-long meeting with an open mind. Patton told MacArthur that the British had little respect for Americans. The British had squeezed the US Second Corps out of the front line in Tunisia until forced to give them another chance by political leaders of both nations. When Montgomery would not attack and advance up the eastern coast of Sicily due to fear of casualties, Patton had broken loose and captured 80% of the island. (MacArthur already knew from reports that this bold move had just forced the Germans to evacuate the island; it had not cut off or trapped any substantial German forces, but the point was made. The British had lost too many men in World War I to accept the kind of casualties a Patton-style high speed attack would involve.)
MacArthur wanted the plan changed, to have the Americans land on the eastern beaches (Gold, Juno, and Sword) and the British-Canadians on the western beaches (which would have become Oxford and Uxbridge under MacArthur's revision of the plan). The British and American officers who had drafted the Overlord plan pointed out the impossibility of this shift. Troops had been garrisoned in England in specific locations that fed directly into their future beaches. To change those now would delay the invasion into August. Reluctantly, MacArthur accepted the situation, but would often publicly regret it in the future.
MacArthur stood up to the British on every other question, who grudgingly respected his ability, seniority, and experience. The embarrassment of Kasserine had, after all, been expunged at Bizerta, Sicily, and Salerno. Overall command of the landings would be held in the hands of MacArthur, not Montgomery as the British wanted. His primary deputies would be American, not British, as the UK had foisted on Eisenhower. MacArthur was not afraid to tell the British that their favorite general had defeated Rommel only after the landings behind him ended the career of the Desert Fox. MacArthur noted the failure of Montgomery to break the Mareth line, as well his slow movements in Sicily and up the Italian coast (where the British general had ordered his Army to take a day off to rest while Americans died).
Patton would command the American contingent of five divisions landing on Utah and Omaha (including two of paratroops). Montgomery would command the fictional First Allied Army Group for the deception operation that convinced the Germans that the real landing would be later and in the Pas de Calais and take over the British-Canadian Army group in August. While the landings were a soldier's battle, MacArthur had made it very clear that if the British did not take Caen on D-Day there would be sudden retirements in their command staff. Spurred on, they did take Caen, but were still stopped by the SS panzers before breaking out. MacArthur was as baffled by the hedgerows as other commanders would have been. He gave Patton plenty of support and the ultimate breakout of Operation Cobra happened (accompanied by the summary firing of two US Air Corps generals who had failed to put their bombs and bombers where MacArthur told them to). When US troops reached Argentan and the British-Canadian forces could not move south from Falaise, MacArthur told Patton to cross the US-UK border and close the gap. The shattered remnants of the 5th Panzer Army marched into prison camps instead of back to Germany to absorb replacements and launch the Battle of the Bulge. The cream of the German panzer corps was gone and nothing could rebuild it.
As the British-Canadian 21st Army group stopped its forward rush without trapping the German 15th Army against the coast, MacArthur told them to keep moving until they did. That Army was forced to surrender, and 50,000 German soldiers who might have continued the war in Holland marched into POW cages. When Montgomery demanded priority of supplies that would have stopped the US 1st Army and 3rd Army (under Patton's 12th Army Group) from reaching the German border, MacArthur refused, pointing out that the British were supposed to have cleared the Scheldt river and opened Antwerp, after which there would be plenty of supplies for everyone. (This was one of those occasions when MacArthur regretted not shifting the British to the western side of the invasion.) When Montgomery wanted to use the First Allied Airborne Army to lay an airborne carpet to the Rhine, MacArthur told him to clear the Scheldt and open Antwerp if he wanted his treasured promotion to Field Marshal. MacArthur refused to give Montgomery American divisions to clear the area, pointing out that with the German 15th Army removed from the board the job was well within the capabilities of the Commonwealth forces. MacArthur also set a specific deadline for Montgomery to get Antwerp open, and made it very clear that he would find a new British general if the job was not done.
Geography is a cruel mistress. Even with adequate supplies, Patton was unable to get past the German border defenses before they could be stiffened with raw recruits and overage soldiers. The supply lines were just too long. The advance had been so fast that railroads and fuel pipelines could not catch up with him until late October. Even when supplies became available, the American sector of the front faced terrain that was not at all suitable for a major advance. The allies continue to grind forward, with the newly promoted Field Marshal Montgomery pushing the Germans out of Holland and back to the Rhine. Patton's 12th Army Group was deployed between the Ardennes forest and the Vosges mountains, a gap that faced the minor industrial region of the Saar but could barely reach the major one of the Ruhr. Once again, MacArthur complained that he should have shifted the troops to put the Americans on the North German Plain. The British responded that he simply wanted the glory, and even MacArthur had to admit that the plodding Montgomery and his casualty-adverse 21st Army Group could never claw their way through the Hurtgen Forest and the Siegfried Line. The day Patton urinated in the Rhine River was the day that F.D.R. promoted him to field marshal.
With too many panzer divisions destroyed at Falaise, Hitler was forced to accept the Jodl plan of a smaller offensive with available troops to trap and destroy some of Patton's troops at Achen. Even had the plan succeeded, it could never have changed the course of the war as the (implausible) goal of Hitler's larger Ardennes plan might have. Patton easily contained the intended double penetration attacks and destroyed the last German reserves. Without the massive "bulge" to reduce before a broad-front offensive could storm into Germany, the Americans reached Berlin in early April 1945 a day ahead of the Russians. The official photograph of the war's final moments showed MacArthur shaking hands with Zhukov while two Russian and two Allied field marshals looked on. A row of German generals hung their heads in defeat.
While new President Truman eventually gave eastern Germany over to Russian occupation as the Eclipse Plan had required, his bargaining position was considerably stronger. The Russians pulled out of Austria in exchange. Japan surrendered when the second atomic bomb destroyed one of their cities, sparing the lives of a million allied soldiers and several million Japanese. Japanese armies in the Philippines surrendered the next day.