Eisenhower, Patton and Tank Innovation

“Nobody ever defended anything successfully, there is only attack and attack and attack some more.”

 – George S. Patton

Eisenhower first met George Patton in the summer of 1919 at Camp Meade in Maryland. Five years older than Eisenhower, Patton shared Eisenhower’s interests in horseback riding, pistol shooting, and poker, as well as a passion for the military. They also were both early advocates for the expanded use of tanks in battles.

At Camp Meade they were each responsible for their own tank corps. The military doctrine at the time had tanks supplementing infantry—they were to precede and accompany the troops and destroy enemy machine gun locations. These tanks had to go only as fast as the infantry, about three miles an hour.

Eisenhower and Patton had other ideas. They believed if tanks were fast and reliable and had more firepower, they could be used collectively for surprise attacks, to break down defenses quickly, and spread confusion and fear within the enemy ranks. The two of them spent about a year working through their theories. They designed the ideal tank, describing material to defend against machine guns that wouldn’t inhibit mobility. They learned what made tanks work by taking one apart completely and then putting it back together (and, to their surprise, there were no parts leftover).

They conducted field experiments by simulating battles, using the terrain to conceal and then surprise the imaginary enemy. One day they were working through an attack problem with a tank in a deep, muddy ditch. As the tank strained to come up the side of the ravine, a cable broke, whipping past both their heads at the speed of a bullet, missing both of them by about six inches. That night after dinner, Patton said, “Ike, were you as scared as I was?” Eisenhower responded, “I was afraid to bring the subject up. We were certainly no more than five or six inches from sudden death.”

Bradley, Eisenhower, and Patton

Bradley, Eisenhower, and Patton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Another time they were testing how long the tank gun could fire before it lost its accuracy, caused by the barrel of the gun getting too hot. As they got out of the tank to have a look at the target, the gun started shooting on its own. They scrambled to safety and jammed the gun so it would stop. Embarrassed, they decided they had better not press their luck— they had taken their field experiments about as far as they could.

They documented all their successes and failures and described the exploitation of terrain and every other bit of information to add to World War I’s lessons. They analyzed military problems, modifying the tactics, and in every scenario where tanks were included, the battle was won. They were evangelists, and they worked on converting others.

These ideas were creative, innovative, and extremely compelling. But change doesn’t come easy, and some generals are notorious for always fighting the last war. These ideas were new, they weren’t aligned with existing military doctrines, and Major General Charles S. Farnsworth, the chief of the infantry, was not happy. Eisenhower was summoned to Farnsworths’s office, where he was warned that his “ideas were not only wrong but dangerous,” and that he should keep them to himself. If he “published anything incompatible with solid infantry doctrine,” he would face a court martial. Patton got the same message.

They were stunned. It seemed obvious to them that this was the future. They would commiserate about this strange turn of events over the next few weeks, but they weren’t down for long. They continued to drill at the camp, setting up teams and scenarios to sharpen their battle skills.

They were right about using the tank as a fierce and adaptable weapon, as the Germans proved during the Blitzkriegs of World War II. Eisenhower and Patton displayed admirable foresight into the future of mobile warfare, and Patton would go on to become one of the most celebrated tank commanders in military history.

[1] Eisenhower, At Ease, 169-172
[2] Eisenhower, At Ease, 173

Eisenhower’s Leadership by Walking Around

“In the Army, whenever I became fed up with meetings, protocol, and paperwork, I could rehabilitate myself by a visit with the troops.”                                                                                    

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Perhaps the most important relationship Eisenhower had during his military career was with his troops. ”A human understanding and a natural ability to mingle with all men on a basis of equality are more important than any degree of technical skill,” he wrote in his war memoir. [1]

Eisenhower practiced leadsership by walking around long before it was a trendy management term. He would make many trips to visit the troops, which always lifted his spirits. Among the troops, “talking to each other as individuals, and listening to each other’s stories,” Eisenhower wrote, “ I was refreshed and could return to headquarters reassured that, hidden behind administrative entanglements, the military was an enterprise manned by human beings.” [2]

His easy-going style would allow him to socialize with the men in an informal manner, and he was able to converse with many of the soldiers as they discussed their lives back home and winning the war. Eisenhower sincerely enjoyed being with his troops. He told his wife Mamie, “our soldiers are wonderful. It always seems to me that the closer to the front the better the morale and the less grumbling.  No one knows how I like to roam around among them – I’m always cheered up by a day with the actual fighters.”

Eisenhower visiting with troops

Eisenhower felt he had a special relationship with his troops. Despite numerous informal visits to the field, he always had something new to say to the men – he rarely repeated himself. He had an easy ability to communicate with any soldier, and an intuitive ability to ask just the right questions to create immediate trust and respect, regardless of what they did in the service or civilian life. [3]

D-Day training began in December 1943 with “a series of exercises … held at brigade, divisional, and corps level. Final rehearsals were held in late April and early May [of 1944] in the south of England. Activities included the concentration, marshaling, and embarkation of troops, a short movement by water, disembarkation, variation with naval and air support, each assault using service ammunition, the securing of a beachhead, and a rapid advance inland.” The exercises were meant to closely simulate the beach landings, and Eisenhower would often travel to the training facilities because it gave him an “excellent opportunity to see his troops in action and to find errors which would need elimination before D Day.” [4]

He believed many of the troops possessed “a great amount of ingenuity and initiative.” If they could communicate to their officers without restraint “the products of their resourcefulness become available to all.” This would also lead to “mutual confidence, a feeling of partnership that is the essence of esprit de corps. An army fearful of its officers is never as good as one that trusts and confides in its leaders.”

One afternoon Eisenhower visited with several hundred Infantrymen on the front. He was standing with them on a muddy hillside and when he turned to leave his legs flipped right out from under him and he fell flat on his back. “From the shout of laughter that went up I am quite sure that no other meeting I had with soldiers during the war was a greater success than that one. Even the men who rushed forward to help pick me up out of the” mud could barely contain their laughter. [5]

[1] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 210
[2] Eisenhower, At Ease, 243
[3] D’ Este, Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life, 514
[4] Pogue, Supreme Command, 166
[5] Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, 314

Eisenhower’s Leadership Mantra: Teamwork and Optimism

“A sense of humor is part of the art of leadership, of getting along with people, of getting things done”

– Dwight D. Eisenhower

In November 1945 George Marshall resigned from his position as Army Chief of Staff and President Truman appointed Eisenhower to take his place. In this role Eisenhower reported to the President, and was responsible for the all strategic and tactical operations of the Army. As he assumed his role he held three basic principles based on his experiences before and after the war.

First was he was convinced that the most effective structure to conduct military action was under the unity of command, and that the military institutions and training needed to emphasize coordination and cooperation of activities among the various services, under the direction of a single command.  Second, he believed that the country needed a strong peacetime army to quickly respond to any future emergency and avoid the problems of mobilizing an army in the midst of a crisis.  This required strong leadership throughout the services, with an emphasis on running an efficient organization and a unified program of military training. “Third, if such a crisis was to be avoided, there had to be cooperation among the former wartime allies.  Russia and the United States were the countries whose relations would necessarily be the prime determinants of world peace.” [1]

However, Eisenhower soon found that he had to adjust his thinking to reflect the reality of the times. After four years of war, the country was anxious to reduce military spending and accelerate the de-mobilization process.  There was constant in-fighting between the services for the allocation of scarce resources, and the relationship with Russia quickly deteriorated.

In contrast to his role as Supreme Commander where he could focus primarily on military objectives, Eisenhower now had to engage in political debates in areas he felt were important to national policies.  “He confronted situations that were far more complex and far less malleable than his administrative environment had been during the war and the occupation.” [2]

Eisenhower dealt with the complexity and ambiguity by bringing structure and order to those things he could control, and by persistent follow up and follow through on areas beyond his control, as he tried to influence the outcomes.   Shortly after assuming his new responsibilities Eisenhower held a session with his staff, to give some overall guidance and express his expectations.

He began by empathizing with the difficulty of their roles. “…no one knows better than I what tough jobs you have, how difficult your problems are to solve, and how you get irritated and resentful because of lack of progress due to circumstances over which you have no control whatsoever.”  But he urged his staff not to get down.

“There is one thing in any situation that I believe is always applicable, and that is optimism and a grin.  Long faces are not going to be a bit of help.  Just as in war, we have to keep our heads up. Keep grinning, and keep plugging.”  He expressed his desire to implement a military organization where each of the three services were equal, and under a unified command.

“We want to make certain that in establishing that kind of an organization we do not become guilty of duplications” of facilities or functions. He stressed that “we must have faith in each other. We have to depend each upon the other and believe that the other is going to perform the functions we expect of him and that each will deal with the other on a basis of fairness….So in solving problems….let us proceed on the basis that…cooperation will be as great as possible.”

Eisenhower also knew that one of the best ways to fight through complex issues was by encouraging teamwork, honesty and communication.  “I could never face a body of officers without emphasizing one word – teamwork … Our attitude one toward the other has to be that of a friend expecting assistance and knowing that he will get it. If we will always remember that the other fellow is trying to fulfill our common purpose just as much as each one of us is, I think no more need be said about teamwork.”

Solving difficult problems while under extreme pressure required some finesse and “considerable tact.  Above all it demands integrity and fairness. If we are honest in handling the whole problem we are certainly not going to get the War Department into a jam.”  He felt that everyone needed to “act according to our own good judgment after having examined every aspect involved,” and that “tactfulness, trying to understand the other fellow’s viewpoint, and using salesmanship instead of a club, seems to me to be called for…Patience is something we can’t lose on the job. So we must be fair.”  [3]

[1] Eisenhower Papers (EP), Introduction, xiv
[2] EP, Introduction, xv
[3] EP, No. 533