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Relieved of Command Paperback – December, 1996
. . . Relieved of Command is a unique and valuable addition to the military literature of World War II. -- Wisconsin Bookwatch, May 1997
. . . well-researched and balanced account. . .Persons has done an outstanding service in helping separate fact from fiction and putting a human picture to the names of these men. -- Robert A. Lynn, Military, May 1998
Relieved Of Command speaks of little conflicts, small corners of greater wars. The men who are written about were dedicated, loyal, brave, and well-trained. They simply did not achieve what was expected of them. Chance played a great part in their undoing (history will give them only a footnote at best) while chance went on to favor others of equal talent and ability. Relieved Of Command is a monograph telling of several who were discharged from their duty, both as a routine rostering change and (as more commonly thought) a pejorative, disciplinary action. With some the results could have been foreseen; with others, the relief was unexpected. This fragmentary listing of combat-command general officers who were relieved while commanding brigades, combat commands, divisions, or corps will serve to illustrate that relief of a subordinate, though not commonplace, did happen as a fact of war and the battlefield experience. Relieved Of Command is a unique and valuable addition to the military literature of World War II. -- Midwest Book Review
From the Author
From Introduction: Being fired happens all the time and is hardly newsworthy. It is so commonplace in our society that one expects it to happen at least once in a career. Yet, when it happens to a senior military or naval officer during wartime, it is news.
The military Commander who feels the heat from his superior can demonstrate that he is tough and can do something that should please his superior by firing one or several subordinates. Abe Lincoln tried -- God knows he tried -- to find a Commander who could whip Robert E. Lee during the Civil War. Five times he was to drink the bitter tea, going through the aging Winfield Scott, Irvin McDowell (brevet major of the Adjutant General Department), George McClellan (who wouldn't fight but chose to remain in bivouac making plans), A. E. Burnside and George G. Meade (who together deserve no more than a listing), and finally Ulysses S. Grant (who met Lee at Appomattox).
Though Intelligence was probably withheld from Admiral Husband E. Kimmel and General Walter C. Short prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, they were both found to have been negligent in not posting someone or something out there to give a little warning that the "Japs were coming." They were both sacked.
Major General Lloyd R. Fredendall, Commander of the II ("two eye") U.S. Army Corps at the Battle of Kasserine Pass in 1943, was sacked for failure to prepare properly for an attack and for failure to defend adequately the key rear position critical to the safety of a corps on his flank.
Lieutenant General Mark Clark, Commander of the 5th Army in Italy in 1944, "relieved" his close friend, Major General John P. Lucas, the Field Commander at Anzio, ostensibly because Lucas was exhausted. Actually, it was because Winston Churchill, who always had a fondness for "the soft underbelly of Europe," was disappointed in the progress of the war on the Italian peninsula and demanded a head. The choice was Lucas, Clark, or Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the reader could have predicted the result.
Major General Alan W. Jones of the ill-fated 106th Infantry Division, which suffered the greatest defeat of any American military force in history, was "relieved of command" in December 1944 when his command no longer existed -- less than three weeks after he first committed his troops to combat.
General Joseph W. "Joe" Stilwell was sacked because he thought Chiang Kai-shek was "an ass" and publicly said so.
General Douglas MacArthur used every means at his disposal to provoke President Harry Truman to relieve him so that he, MacArthur, would not have to face the indignity of the inevitable stalemate in Korea. Much to his credit, Truman finally obliged.
In this monograph, I have attempted to tell of several who were "relieved of command" -- both a routine rostering change of command or, as more commonly thought, a pejorative action. These stories are all different. In some, the results could have been foreseen; in others, the relief was unexpected.
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Mr. Persons relates short accounts of nine World War II episodes in which U.S. Army commanders, mostly at the division and corps levels, were sacked. They include:
-- MG Edwin F. Harding, 32nd Inf. Div., Buna (New Guinea), Dec. 1942
-- MG Lloyd R. Fredendall, II Corps, Tunisia, March, 1943
-- MG Alfred E. Brown, 7th Inf. Div., Attu (Alaska), May 1943
-- MG Terry Allen and BG Theodore Roosevelt Jr., 1st Inf. Div., Sicily, Aug. 1943
-- MG John P. Lucas, VI Corps, Anzio (Italy), Feb. 1944
-- MG Ralph C. Smith, 27th Inf. Div., Saipan, June 1944
-- BG John J. Bohn, 3rd Arm. Div., Normandy (France), July 1944
-- MG Eugene M. Landrum, 90th Inf. Div., Normandy, July 1944
-- MG Alan W. Jones, 106th Inf. Div., Ardennes (Belgium), Dec. 1944
The circumstances surrounding some of these dismissals -- Harding, Fredendall, Allen and Roosevelt, Lucas, Smith, Jones -- are well-known to World War II specialists and have been subject to much attention in accounts by other historians and participants. (The reliefs of Brown, Bohn and Landrum seem to have been less well-scrutinized.) Persons's book does provide an introduction to them for more casual readers. But his accounts are briefs, not case studies, and even for quick introductions, the flaws of this book are many. The slim bibliography indicates that Persons relied exclusively on published sources - no archival material or interviews are mentioned -- and some rather obvious ones are not listed. There are no footnotes to back up the accounts, though he does cite some books in the text. The structure of some of the chapters is murky and leaves the reader trying to unscramble the paragraphs to discern a logical sequence of events. One wonders if this manuscript ever saw an editor (though one is credited). The prose sometimes leads the reader to re-read and re-read again to make sense of it, and there are some notable factual errors (e.g., "successful [Allied] landings at Tunis" [p.36] in the North African campaign). Although Persons provides brief biographies of the dismissed officers, he makes no real effort to portray them as individuals or to convey the personal costs of command failure.
Persons also injects opinion into the factual accounts that better would have been reserved for his concluding chapter. He tends to hold the "sacker" (particularly army and theater commanders like Omar Bradley, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur) responsible for the dismissals, rather than the "sackee." The higher ranks, he says, usually fired subordinates out of fits of ego or to protect their own reputations, and in some cases interservice rivalries played a large part. These may be valid points of view, but Persons fails to argue his blanket assertions clearly or convincingly. Surely there were at least a few of these cases - Fredendall in Tunisia, Lucas at Anzio, Jones at the Bulge seem especially evident - in which the actions, or inactions, of the commander were at least partially responsible for the command failures that led to their dismissals.
Some of Persons's chapters are padded with background information on campaigns that is often irrelevant to the main subject. (The chapter on Smith's dismissal at Saipan starts with two pages on the American loss of nearby Guam in 1941 and ends with two pages about a Japanese officer holding out after Saipan is secured in 1944.) Indeed, despite the common theme, "Relieved of Command" doesn't stay on point. In the end, what could have been an in-depth study of the responsibility for military success and failure - and responsibility for the thousands of lives that hang on those successes and failures - is a cursory exercise expressing one man's opinions about certain events in World War II. I wish I could say something more complimentary, but that's about it.
Persons' work describes several such from World War II, where fast-moving events and unprecedented demands conspired to undo men with previously unblemished records, generals whose reputations would be forever besmirched with the words "relieved of command". Some were obtuse, some inept, others just plain unlucky enough to be in the wrong place at the wrong time or to meet up with an unforgiving Bradley or Patton. Whatever the circumstances, they were rarely entrusted with combat command again.
The author tells their stories well, with good research, clear narrative, and his engineer's eye for topography. Entertaining for WWII buffs and students of military history.
(The "score" rating is an unfortunately ineradicable feature of the page. This reviewer does not "score" books.)