Omar Nelson Bradley

Omar Nelson Bradley

Bradley, Omar Nelson, 1893-1981, U.S. general, b. Clark, Mo. A graduate of West Point, he served in World War I and filled various army administrative and academic posts before assuming (1943) command of the 2d Corps in World War II. Bradley was active (1943) in the N African and Sicilian campaigns and led (1944) the U.S. 1st Army in the invasion of Normandy. Later he commanded the U.S. 12th Army Group in the battle for Germany. Bradley acted (1945-47) as administrator of veterans' affairs, was appointed (1948) chief of staff of the U.S. army, and served (1949-53) as first permanent chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. Promoted to general of the army in 1950, he retired in 1953 to become a business executive.

See his Soldier's Story (1951) and Collected Writings (4 vol., 1967).

Omar Nelson Bradley KCB (February 12, 1893April 8, 1981) was one of the main U.S. Army field commanders in North Africa and Europe during World War II and a General of the Army in the United States Army. He was the last surviving five-star commissioned officer of the United States. He was the first officer assigned to the post of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Early life and career

Bradley, the son of a schoolteacher, was born into a poor family near Clark, Missouri. He attended Higbee Elementary School and graduated from Moberly High School. Bradley intended to enter the University of Missouri. Instead, he was advised to try for West Point. He placed first in his district placement exams and entered the academy in 1911.

Bradley lettered in baseball three times, including on the 1914 team, where every player remaining in the army became a general. He graduated from West Point in 1915 as part of a class that contained many future generals, and which military historians have called, "The class the stars fell on". There were ultimately 59 generals in the graduating class, with Bradley and Dwight Eisenhower attaining the rank of General of the Army.

Bradley was commissioned into the 14th Infantry Regiment, but like many of his peers, did not see action in Europe. Instead, he held a variety of stateside assignments. He served on the U.S.-Mexico border in 1915. When war was declared, he was promoted to captain, but was posted to the Butte, Montana copper mines. He courted and later married Mary Elizabeth Quayle on December 28, 1916. Bradley joined the 19th Infantry Division in August 1918, which was scheduled for European deployment, but the influenza pandemic and the armistice prevented it.

Between the wars, he taught and studied. From 1920–24, he taught mathematics at West Point. He was promoted to major in 1924 and took the advanced infantry course at Fort Benning, Georgia. After a brief service in Hawaii he studied at the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth in 1928–29. From 1929, he taught at West Point again, taking a break to study at the Army War College in 1934. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel in 1936 and worked at the War Department directly under Army Chief of Staff George Marshall from 1938. In February 1941, he was promoted to brigadier general (bypassing the rank of colonel) and sent to command Fort Benning (the first from his class to become a general officer). In February 1942, he took command of the 82nd Infantry Division before being switched to the 28th Infantry Division in June.

World War II

Bradley did not receive a frontline command until early 1943 after Operation Torch. He had been given VIII Corps but instead was sent to North Africa to be Eisenhower's front-line troubleshooter. At Bradley's suggestion, II Corps, which had just suffered the devastating loss at the Kasserine Pass, was overhauled from top to bottom, and Eisenhower installed George S. Patton as Corps Commander. Patton requested Bradley as his deputy, but Bradley retained the right to represent Eisenhower as well.

Bradley succeeded Patton as head of II Corps in April and directed it in the final Tunisian battles of April and May. He then led his corps, by then the only corps in Patton's Seventh Army, on to Sicily in July.

In the approach to Normandy Bradley was chosen to command the substantial US First Army, which alongside the British Second Army made up General Montgomery's 21st Army Group. Bradley undertook detail planning for Omaha Beach at his headquarters at Clifton College, Bristol, England. He embarked for Normandy from Portsmouth aboard the heavy cruiser USS Augusta (CA-31). During the bombardment on D-day Bradley positioned himself at a steel command cabin built for him on the deck of the Augusta, 20 feet by 10 feet, the walls dominated by Michelin motoring maps of France, a few pin-ups and large scale maps of Normandy. A row of clerks sat at typewriters along one wall, while Bradley and his personal staff clustered around the large plotting table in the center. Much of that morning, however, Bradley stood on the bridge standing next to Task Force Commander Admiral Alan G. Kirk observing the landings through binoculars, his ears plugged with cotton to muffle the blast of Augusta's guns.

Bradley has been criticized for his insistence on foregoing a longer and heavier naval bombardment of the American beaches in order to achieve surprise. Some say that this lack of support contributed to the heavy casualties accrued by the US assault forces at Omaha Beach.

On 10 June General Bradley and his staff left the Augusta to establish headquarters ashore. During Operation Overlord he commanded three corps directed at the two American invasion targets, Utah Beach and Omaha Beach. Later in July he planned Operation Cobra, the beginning of the breakout from the Normandy beachhead. As the build-up continued in Normandy, the US Third Army was formed under Patton, Bradley's former commander, while General Hodges succeeded Bradley in command of the US First Army; together they made up Bradley's new command, the 12th Army Group. By August, the 12th Army Group had swollen to over 900,000 men and ultimately consisted of four field armies. It was the largest group of American soldiers to ever serve under one field commander.

Unlike some of the more colorful generals of World War II, Bradley was a polite and courteous man. First favorably brought to public attention by correspondent Ernie Pyle, he was informally known as "the soldier's general." Will Lang Jr. of Life magazine said "The thing I most admire about Omar Bradley is his gentleness. He was never known to issue an order to anybody of any rank without saying 'Please' first."

After the German attempt to split the US armies at Mortain, Operation Lüttich, Bradley's Army Group formed the southern pincer in the forming Falaise pocket trapping the German Seventh Army and Fifth Panzer Army in Normandy. Although only partially successful, the German forces still suffered huge losses during their retreat.

The American forces reached the 'Siegfried Line' or 'Westwall' in late September. The sheer scale of the advance had taken the Allied high command by surprise. They had expected the German Wehrmacht to make stands on the natural defensive lines provided by the French rivers, and consequently, logistics had become a severe issue as well.

At this time, the Allied high command under Eisenhower faced a decision on strategy. Bradley favored a strategy consisting of an advance into the Saarland, or possibly a two-thrust assault on both the Saarland and the Ruhr Area. Newly promoted to Field Marshal, Bernard Montgomery (British Army) argued for a narrow thrust across the Lower Rhine, preferably with all Allied ground forces under his personal command as they had been in the early months of the Normandy campaign, into the open country beyond and then to the northern flank into the Ruhr, thus avoiding the Siegfried Line. Although Montgomery was not permitted to launch an offensive on the scale he had wanted, George Marshall and Henry Arnold were eager to use the First Allied Airborne Army to cross the Rhine, so Eisenhower agreed to Operation Market-Garden. The debate, while not fissuring the Allied command, nevertheless led to a serious rift between the two Army group commanders of the European Theater of Operations. Bradley bitterly protested to Eisenhower the priority of supplies given to Montgomery, but Eisenhower, mindful of British public opinion, held Bradley's protests in check.

Bradley's Army Group now covered a very wide front in hilly country, from the Netherlands to Lorraine and, despite his being the largest Allied Army Group, there were difficulties in prosecuting a successful broad-front offensive in difficult country with a skilled enemy that was recovering his balance. Courtney Hodges' 1st Army hit difficulties in the Aachen Gap and the Battle of Hurtgen Forest cost 24,000 casualties. Further south, George Patton's 3rd Army lost momentum as German resistance stiffened around Metz's extensive defences. While Bradley focused on these two campaigns, the Germans had assembled troops and materiel for a surprise offensive.

Bradley's command took the initial brunt of what would become the Battle of the Bulge. Over Bradley's protests, for logistical reasons the 1st Army was once again placed under the temporary command of Field-Marshal Montgomery's Twenty-First Army Group. In a move without precedent in modern warfare, the US 3rd Army under George Patton disengaged from their combat in the Saarland, moved 90 miles to the battlefront, and attacked the Germans' southern flank to break the encirclement at Bastogne (although clearing weather allowed air superiority to relieve Bastogne and break the German offensive). In his 2003 biography of Eisenhower, Carlo d'Este implies that Bradley's subsequent promotion to full general was to compensate him for the way in which he had been sidelined during the Battle of the Bulge.

Bradley used the advantage gained in March 1945—after Eisenhower authorized a difficult but successful Allied offensive (Operation Veritable and Operation Grenade) in February 1945—to break the German defenses and cross the Rhine into the industrial heartland of the Ruhr. Aggressive pursuit of the disintegrating German troops by Bradley's forces resulted in the capture of a bridge across the River Rhine at Remagen. Bradley and his subordinates quickly exploited the crossing, forming the southern arm of an enormous pincer movement encircling the German forces in the Ruhr from the north and south. Over 300,000 prisoners were taken. American forces then met up with the Soviet forces near the River Elbe in mid-April. By V-E Day, the 12th Army Group was a force of four armies (1st, 3rd, 9th, and 15th) that numbered over 1.3 million men.


Bradley headed the Veterans Administration for two years after the war. He is credited with doing much to improve its health care system and with helping veterans receive their educational benefits under the G. I. Bill of Rights.

Gen. Bradley served as the army chief of staff in 1948. On August 11, 1949 President Harry S. Truman appointed Gen. Bradley the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. On September 22, 1950 he was promoted to the rank of General of the Army, the fifth—and last—man in the 20th century to achieve that rank.

Also in 1950 he was made the first Chairman of the NATO Committee. He remained on the committee until August 1953 when he left active duty to take a number of positions in commercial life. One of those positions was Chairman of the Board of the Bulova Watch Company from 1958 to 1973.

As Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Bradley strongly rebuked General Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the U.N. forces in Korea, for his desire to expand the Korean War into China. Soon after Truman relieved MacArthur of command in April 1951, Bradley said in Congressional testimony, "Red China is not the powerful nation seeking to dominate the world. Frankly, in the opinion of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this strategy would involve us in the wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy."

He published his memoirs in 1951 as A Soldier's Story (ISBN 0-375-75421-0) and took the opportunity to attack Field Marshal Montgomery's 1945 claims to have won the Battle of the Bulge. Bradley spent his last years at a special residence on the grounds of the William Beaumont Army Medical Center, part of the complex which supports Fort Bliss, Texas.

On December 1, 1965, Bradley's wife Mary died of leukemia. He met Esther Dora "Kitty" Buhler while doing business for Bulova, and married her on September 12, 1966; they were married until his death.

In 1970 Bradley also served as a consultant during the making of the film Patton. The film, in which Bradley is portrayed by actor Karl Malden, is very much seen through Bradley's eyes: whilst admiring of Patton's aggression and will to victory, the film is also implicitly critical of Patton's egoism (particularly his alleged indifference to casualties during the Sicilian campaign) and love of war for its own sake. Bradley is shown being praised by a German intelligence officer for his lack of pretentiousness, "unusual in a general".

His posthumous autobiography, A General's Life, was published in 1983 and ghostwritten by Clay Blair.

One of his last public appearances was in connection with the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan on January 20, 1981. Upon Bradley's death on 8 April 1981, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery. He is buried next to his two wives.

Bradley is known for saying, "Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

The U.S. Army's M2 Bradley infantry fighting vehicle and M3 Bradley cavalry fighting vehicle are named after General Bradley.

On May 5 2000, the United States Postal Service issued Distinguished Soldiers stamps in which Bradley was honored.

Bradley also served as a member of President Lyndon Johnson's Wise Men, a think-tank composed of well-known Americans considered experts in their fields. Their main purpose was to recommend strategies for dealing with the nation's problems, including the Vietnam War. While agreeing with the war in principle, Bradley believed it was being micromanaged by politicians and Pentagon bureaucrats.

Summary of service

Dates of rank

Primary decorations

Army Distinguished Service Medal (With three oak leaf clusters)
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit (w/oak leaf cluster)
Bronze Star
Mexican Border Service Medal
World War I Victory Medal
American Defense Service Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal
World War II Victory Medal
Army of Occupation Medal
National Defense Service Medal
British Order of the Bath
Order of Polonia Restituta
French Croix de guerre with palm
Luxembourg War Cross

Assignment history

  • 1911: Cadet, United States Military Academy
  • 1915: 14th Infantry Regiment
  • 1919: ROTC professor, South Dakota State College
  • 1920: Instructor, United States Military Academy (West Point)
  • 1924: Infantry School Student, Fort Benning, Georgia
  • 1925: Commanding Officer, 19th and 27th Infantry Regiments
  • 1927: Office of National Guard and Reserve Affairs, Hawaiian Department
  • 1928: Student, Command and General Staff School
  • 1929: Instructor, Fort Benning, Infantry School
  • 1934: Plans and Training Office, USMA West Point
  • 1938: War Department General Staff, G-1 Chief of Operations Branch and Assistant Secretary of the General Staff
  • 1941: Commandant, Infantry School Fort Benning
  • 1942: Commanding General, 82nd Infantry Division and 28th Infantry Division
  • 1943: Commanding General, II Corps, North Africa and Sicily
  • 1943: Commanding General, Field Forces European Theater

  • 1944: Commanding General, First Army (Later 1st and 12th U.S. Army Groups)
  • 1945: Administrator of Veterans Affairs, Veterans Administration
  • 1948: United States Army Chief of Staff
  • 1949: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • 1953: Retired from active service




Russell F. Weigley Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany 1944-1945 Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1981. ISBN 0-253-20608-1

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