Many people in their late thirties or older know of Omar Bradley from Karl Malden’s portrayal of him in the movie Patton. He was portrayed as a bland, risk-averse character who was overshadowed by the flamboyant Patton (played by George C. Scott). Jim DeFelice tries to dispel this image of Bradley in Omar Bradley: General at War.
DeFelice discusses Bradley’s rise in rank before World War II. Although never serving in combat, he gained valuable leadership experience in various postings, such as two stints at West Point and one at the Infantry School. According to DeFelice, this leadership experience served him well when Bradley did first see combat in North Africa in World War II.
I have read more than a few books on the European Theater in World War II and most of them either ignore Bradley (focusing more on the common soldier or Patton) or paint him in a less than flattering light. For instance, many of the books blame Bradley for ignoring the warning signs prior to the German attack in the Ardennes. The arguments supporting this viewpoint are quite convincing and DeFelice does begrudgingly admit that Bradley was slow on the uptake in discerning Germany’s actions in the Ardennes.
However, DeFelice convincingly argues that once the initial shock wore off, Bradley quickly adapted to the new reality and ordered Patton to shift the direction of his attack. He ordered Patton to slice into the base of the German bulge. This action helped to put pressure on the German rear, which slowed the advance on the front lines.
DeFelice’s description and analysis of Bradley’s experiences in North Africa and Sicily are good, but I think his writing on Bradley in Normandyis excellent. Particularly, I like DeFelice’s analysis of Operation Cobra. Rightfully so, DeFelice claims that Bradley has never been given enough credit for the innovative use of bombers on a tactical level. The use of the bombers blew a hole in the German lines and Bradley’s aggressiveness pushed more than five divisions into the gap to start the break out of Normandy and the race across France.
I have one point of criticism – DeFelice puts all of the maps at the back of the book. There are plenty of them, but they should have been put in amongst the text so that the reader can better understand the context of the situation that is being discussed.
This book is well-written and a great tribute to one of America’s unsung heroes in World War II.