Dwight Eisenhower was Supreme Commander of Allied Forces during the Allied invasion of occupied Western Europe. He became President of the United States in 1953.
Texan born Dwight Eisenhower was a star baseball player and American football player at school. In 1911, he passed the entrance exams for West Point, America’s leading military academy. He had no particular desire to become a soldier at this point, but he could not afford an ordinary college education: West Point was free. His military beginnings at West Point were inauspicious: he was an average student who almost gave up his course because of a sports injury. He graduated in 1915 and was ranked 61st out of a total 164 men.
At the time America came into World War One, Eisenhower was promoted to captain in 1917. Since he was very organised, this resulted in his being posted to Camp Colt, Gettysburg, where he was tasked with training one of America’s first tank units. He made such an impression that he received the Distinguished Service Medal, despite not seeing active combat in Western Europe.
After World War One, Eisenhower stayed in the army. In 1932, he became aide to General Douglas MacArthur, chief of staff. Eisenhower joined MacArthur in the Philippines in 1935 with a rank of major, where he stayed until 1939. He then went back to America (with the rank of lieutenant colonel) to accept a staff role.
In 1941, as America prepared for the possibility of war, Eisenhower was promoted to the rank of brigadier-general. On 7 December 1941, Pearl Harbour was attacked; and America declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy the next day. General George Marshall, the army’s chief of staff, appointed Eisenhower as head of the War Plans Division based in Washington DC. Eisenhower was now effectively the American Army’s senior war planner.
America faced war on two fronts: in Europe and in the Far East. Eisenhower wanted to prioritise the war in Europe. He planned to defeat Germany and Italy first, then utilise the full might of Allied forces against Japan. General Marshall was impressed by Eisenhower’s justifications for this plan and in March 1942 promoted Eisenhower to major general. In June 1942, Marshall promoted Eisenhower to lieutenant General and made him head of the US Army’s European Theatre of Operations which was based in London.
Eisenhower wanted to attack occupied Europe in 1943, but the American army was not yet prepared for this and Churchill convinced Marshall that a North African victory in would help turn the tide against the Germans. In November 1942, Eisenhower was appointed head of Allied forces in North Africa. Despite initial setbacks, Eisenhower and Bernard Montgomery had pushed the Afrika Corps out of North Africa by May 1943.
Eisenhower then commanded Allied forces in Sicily and mainland Italy. The Sicilian campaign linked Eisenhower with the controversial American army officer George Patton. The Allies initially struggled in Italy, but by June 1944 they occupied Rome.
Meanwhile, in December 1943, Eisenhower was appointed in charge of ‘Operation Overlord’, the long expected attack on mainland Europe, for which he was given the title of Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. Eisenhower was picked because the attack required detailed and meticulous planning. He said to the combined chiefs of staff "we cannot afford to fail".
Eisenhower decided to land Allied troops in Normandy, not in the Pays de Calais region. He ordered the destruction of all railheads and rail lines in northern France so that the Germans could not strengthen their men during the initial landings. Bomber Command wanted to concentrate on bombing German cities and industrial plants, and initially protested about their planes being used for this reason. However, Eisenhower threatened to resign if they did not fall in line with what he wanted, so Bomber Command gave in.
The Allies faced 50 German divisions on D-Day. Eisenhower’s plan to isolate Northern France was important because the Allies were only able to land 8 divisions at a time. There were 150,000 soldiers crossing the English Channel who set up a large beachhead in Normandy. The Allies’ meticulous planning paid off, and there were relatively few Allied casualties.
The Allies then pushed out from Normandy and Paris was set free in August.
On 15 December 1944, Eisenhower received a promotion of the highest rank in the American army - General of the Army. Only a few days later, Eisenhower had to repel the German counterattack in the Ardennes at the Battle of the Bulge. Though there were a high rate of casualties, the Allies pushed back the counter-attack. However, there were signs of discord between American and British leaders: senior American commanders accused Montgomery, commander of the British land forces in Europe, of employing overly cautious tactics. Patton demanded a more aggressive approach. Montgomery in turn insisted Eisenhower favoured Patton with more supplies and British forces were not getting equal treatment.
Eisenhower and Montgomery came to a head for a final time as the end of the war drew closer. Eisenhower wanted the Allies to focus on Germany’s industrial heartland and leave Berlin to the Russians; Montgomery preferred the Allies to arrive at Berlin before the Russians. Eisenhower believed that as the Allies neared Berlin, the fighting would grow more aggressive with more casualties. This turned out to be true: the Russians lost 100,000 men in the battle to take Berlin.
The Germans finally surrendered on 7 May 1945.
Eisenhower served as chief of staff to the American army once the war was over. He retired from the American army in 1948 and in 1950 became the head of NATO. He won the 1952 election and was sworn in as president in 1953, serving two terms.
Dwight Eisenhower died aged 78 on 28 March 1969.
See also: Vice Admiral Frank Fletcher
"Dwight Eisenhower". HistoryLearning.com. 2024. Web.
|14 October 1890, Denison, Texas, U.S.
|28 March 1969 (aged 78), Washington, D.C., U.S.
|United States of America