“Terrible Terry” Allen

The case of Maj. Gen. Terry de la Mesa Allen represented another challenge to the Marshall system. In this situation, Marshall disagreed with his top men in Europe, Eisenhower and Bradley, over the nature of generalship in the military of the nascent American superpower. The point of disagreement was what to do about Gen. Allen.

“Terrible Terry” Allen was as Old Army as they came, a tough, rumpled, hard-driving, hard-drinking cavalryman who had ridden the dusty trails of the American West. As a young lieutenant in 1913, he led six soldiers on a ride against thirty border-crossing Mexican cattle rustlers and captured or killed all of them. In World War I he achieved some notoriety in the Army for refusing to be medically evacuated after being shot in the face. In 1920, he represented the Army in a three-hundred-mile “cowboy vs. cavalryman” horse race across central Texas, which he won in 101 hours and 56 minutes of riding. Allen was in the same class as Eisenhower at Fort Leavenworth’s Command and General Staff School, but while Eisenhower was ranked first, Allen was a bottom-dweller, placing at 221 out of 241 students. Eisenhower didn’t mind taking a drink—he had made bathtub gin at Fort Meade, Maryland, during Prohibition, and while with the 15th Infantry Regiment at Fort Lewis, Washington, before the war, he had declared “Beer Barrel Polka” to be the regiment’s official marching song. But Ike did not consume alcohol like Allen, who could become so staggering drunk that an aide remembered that after one party he “couldn’t get into his jeep under his own power.”

Marshall was aware of Allen’s excesses but believed that his ability as a combat leader was more important. In a prewar letter, he described Allen as one of the few officers he knew who were “of that unusual type who enthuse all of their subordinates and carry through almost impossible tasks.” This was a trait that Marshall knew was likely to be especially helpful in the early phases of a war, as an unprepared America sent green troops into battle. In October 1940, Marshall made Allen a brigadier general despite the opposition of several subordinates. “Terry Allen, nobody wanted to give a star to and the General [Marshall] insisted on it,” recalled Merrill Pasco, a Marshall aide during World War II. “Terry Allen is one of those I recall General Marshall pushed along over the objection of G-1,” the chief of personnel. Lt. Col. Allen was being chewed out by the commanding colonel of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, and perhaps facing a court-martial, when a telegram arrived notifying Allen that he had been jumped to brigadier general—and so immediately outranked the officer berating him.

Marshall kept a protective eye on Allen. Two years later, while in the midst of overseeing the American entrance into a global war, he took the time to send a personal note to Allen expressing concern about his consumption of alcohol. “I must explain to you that there had come to me from several different sources an indication that you had been drinking,” Marshall wrote. “I don’t mean you were appearing under the influence of liquor, but I do mean drinking in the daytime.” Yet he left Allen in command of the 1st Infantry Division, which Allen loved leading. “It is the most honorable place in the most honorable Army in the world, the commander of the First Division,” he had once told a group of soldiers new to the division.

Marshall’s instincts were correct on both counts. Allen was a rascal, irritating his superiors, but he also would be one of the best combat leaders the U.S. Army had in its first year of operations in Africa and Europe. Early on the morning of March 17, 1943, not long after taking over from the ousted Fredendall, Lt. Gen. George Patton arrived at a frontline position to watch Allen’s 1st Infantry Division launch an attack on the Germans in Tunisia. Seeing no troop movement or other signs of imminent attack, Patton stormed off to find Allen. “What the hell is this?” Patton snarled at him, believing that the lack of perceivable movement meant the assault was proceeding hesitantly. To the contrary, Allen replied to Patton: He had decided to attack earlier than planned. His troops were not only moving out; they already were standing on their first set of objectives. Allen had out-Pattoned Patton and was in the vanguard of the war’s first clear American-led victory over the Germans.

Yet Allen found it difficult to get along with the new Army way of operating. He tried to toe the Marshall-Eisenhower line about being a team player, but his heart was not in it. “I think the division has done fairly well today,” he began in an impromptu post-battle press conference under a Tunisian almond tree. He started by saying the right things: “I want to stress the idea that whatever it did was due to teamwork. Everybody in the division deserves credit. The artillery deserves credit, and so do the engineers, the tank destroyers, and the Ranger battalion—and don’t forget the medics and the birds who drive the trucks.” But he could keep this up for only so long, and soon he veered into finger-pointing sarcasm. “I don’t want anybody to think I’m sore about air support. I guess the Air Force here has a lot of demands on it. I guess maybe there was some other division on the front that was attacked by two or three Panzer divisions and the Air Force had to help them first”—which everyone present knew was not the case. He even took a pop at another Army unit, Orlando Ward’s 1st Armored Division, which held an adjacent sector. “I guess they had motor trouble,” he sneered.

Gen. Allen’s finest day of the war came on July 11, 1943, the day after the Americans landed in Sicily. It was the largest amphibious landing in history—and it was in trouble. The Americans had stormed ashore in south-central Sicily, with paratroopers and British forces to the east, but high winds and heavy seas had impeded the landings. German forces were counterattacking fiercely, rolling down the island ridgelines toward the Americans splashing ashore. Panzer tanks pushed to within two thousand yards of the water’s edge. Allen’s infantrymen had burrowed down as the Panzers passed and then attacked the following German foot soldiers. Most of his artillery had not yet come ashore, so Allen called for naval gunfire. Cruisers and destroyers just beyond the breakers, nearly running aground, began to engage the Panzers. That night, when elements of the division were fighting hard just to hold their positions, Allen surprised them with an aggressive order: “THE DIVISION ATTACKS AT MIDNIGHT.” It was a brilliant move. Allen could issue the order with some confidence because, atypically for the Army, he long had emphasized training in night fighting, reasoning that some soldiers would be lost in the confusion, but ultimately far fewer than would be killed in a prolonged daylight assault. His sense of combat timing was impeccable: The division’s attack surprised German reinforcements, who were marshaling in assembly areas for their own attack, planned for dawn.

Even Allen’s nemesis, Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, was impressed by this surprising rout of the Germans, writing later with evident mixed feelings,

I question whether any other U.S. division could have repelled that charge in time to save the beach from tank penetration. Only the perverse Big Red One with its no less perverse commander was both hard and experienced enough to take that assault in stride. A greener division might easily have panicked and seriously embarrassed the landing.

Bradley only indirectly praised Allen’s leadership. He respected what Allen’s division had done, but never went out of his way to praise the way Allen had led it.

After the beachhead was secure, Allen led the 1st Infantry Division into Sicily’s hot, mountainous interior, ultimately waging a weeklong battle in the island’s center, near Troina, the highest town in Sicily and the anchor point of the German defensive line. It was a difficult encounter with an adversary that launched no fewer than twenty-four counterattacks against Allen’s division. Westmoreland, whose artillery battalion was attached to Allen’s division, was thrown into the air and nearly killed when his jeep ran over a German Teller mine. Allen and the division won the fight, which in Patton’s estimation was “the hardest battle” of the Sicily campaign and, in the opinion of John Lucas, the toughest of the war to that point. Allen later wrote that German prisoners reported “they had been ordered to hold Troina, at all costs.” The week that Troina fell, Allen appeared on the cover of Time magazine.

Then came an astonishing move. As the battle was ending, Bradley removed Allen as commander of the 1st Infantry Division. Allen was replaced by Maj. Gen. Clarence Huebner, a Marshall favorite who was available, having been fired the previous month as deputy chief of staff to Gen. Harold Alexander, apparently as a result of Huebner’s unwillingness to mutely accept the British commander’s persistent disparagement of American troops. Bradley emphasized the point by also relieving Allen’s assistant division commander, Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Adding to the injury, very little explanation was offered to Allen, who was crushed. The division artillery commander recalled that after the relief “it was painful to see Terry break down. Many wondered if he would ever recover.” He had been “shanghaied,” Allen would later bitterly tell an aide. It is heartbreaking to read the puzzled notes Allen wrote in pencil to his wife in the wake of his relief as he tried to figure out what had happened and why. He went to see Patton, who unhelpfully told him that perhaps he was being moved out in preparation for promoting him to corps command.

Why was Terry Allen fired? This is a question that bears some examination. His relief cannot be attributed to battlefield failure, for he was among the most successful field commanders the Army had in the European theater in 1942–43.

Official accounts of why Bradley relieved Allen are unclear, and the reasoning given in Bradley’s two autobiographies are “inconsistent and confusing,” observed Maj. Richard Johnson in a 2009 review of the historical record. In various accounts, it has been explained that Allen was tired (Eisenhower’s version), that his troops were undisciplined (one of Bradley’s versions), or that he was too aggressive against the Germans (another, less credible Bradley version). But the real reason seems to be simply that Bradley and Eisenhower did not like his type. Bradley thought of Allen as the sort of general who should not be tolerated, writing that “Allen had become too much of an individualist to submerge himself without friction in the group undertakings of war.”

But the new men had not read their own boss well. Marshall, as it happened, had visited the 1st Division just before it headed to Sicily and had come away impressed, noting in a letter that it had “won the respect and admiration of all who have seen it in action.” When a despondent Allen arrived in the United States, Marshall effectively overruled Bradley’s decision. By the end of September, Marshall was looking for a division for Allen to command. Ultimately he gave Allen the 104th Infantry Division, then training in the United States. Unlike many other training generals, Allen would be allowed to deploy overseas with the division and take it into combat. This move was not popular with the generals of the new school. “Terry was nothing but a tramp,” said Gen. Wade Haislip, a longtime friend of Eisenhower’s who served as chief of Army personnel early in the war. “He was a classmate of mine, but he was just a tramp. . . . Old Terry Allen got relieved for cause and he [Marshall] brought him back home and gave him another division.”

A year later, Allen led the 104th Division into Normandy and across France into Germany. Joe Collins, his corps commander, considered Allen a “problem child” but came to judge Allen’s new unit, the 104th, as “just as good” as his old one, the 1st Division. True to form, Allen was especially impressive in launching a series of night attacks, breaking through German defenses and demonstrating the sharp training he had given his soldiers. An aide to Gen. Courtney Hodges noted in a headquarters diary, “The whole artillery section functions beautifully according to the book and what the General [Hodges] particularly likes thus far of what he has seen of the 104th is their ability to button up tight and hold the place tight once they have taken it. There is no record yet of the 104th giving ground.”

In the short term, Marshall would prevail, with Allen being back in a combat leadership role. But in the long run, in shaping the future of the U.S. Army, Eisenhower and, even more, Bradley would win this argument. There would be few if any Terry Allen types rising to the top in the Army after World War II. Eisenhower and Bradley wanted cooperative team players, not go-it-alone mavericks. Ike believed that the sprawling nature of modern warfare made such nonconformism dangerous. “Misfits defeat the purpose of the command organization essential to the supply and control of the vast land, air, sea, and logistical forces that must be brought to bear against the enemy,” he later wrote.

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