The biographies of World War II Generals have filled the shelves of bookstores for years. What remains to be written are the biographies of men who were the Chief’s of Staff to such generals. The University of Kentucky has released a glorious tribute to Eisenhower’s Chief of Staff General Walter Bedell Smith (1895-1961). General Smith has never received the attention he deserves, he remains perhaps the only unsung hero of this terrible engagement.
Mr. Crosswell’s biography reveals a General with all the charm of a ‘rattlesnake’! This was required because General Eisenhower wanted to be liked by everyone. Consequently, this meant that General Smith was required to manage Diplomatic, political, operational and press related engagements that were simply to difficult for Eisenhower. This was not a soldier that easily shrunk from lengthly or difficult assignments. The impact of Eisenhower’s realization of the pitfalls of becoming Supreme Allied Commander regarding handling of French ‘civil war’ Vichy politics was easily embraced by Smith.
Eisenhower’s failure regarding the Command of North Africa and his weak performance in January of 1943 at the Combined Chiefs of Staff briefing at Casablanca Conference almost lead to Eisenhower’s resignation. It was Walter Bedell Smith’s constant hand that gave Eisenhower needed relief.
Eisenhower’s greatest threat was managing the archaic vision that dominated British Foreign Office: the continuation of the Napoleonic vision that England not engage in a frontal battle on the European Continent. British Foreign Office insisted that the Royal Navy wear down the Axis on the periphery while engaging the Germans in France. Both Eisenhower and Smith insisted on reversing such doctrine in the middle of engagement! The American’s wanted a head on land engagement while Churchill insisted landing on the soft underbelly that was the Northern Mediterranean.
Only the political and cultural prescience that was Churchill saved both Smith and Eisenhower. Churchill wanted to postpone the invasion of France (code named Overlord) to attack and thwart the Soviet advance throughout Eastern Europe beginning with Italy. Roosevelt, General Marshall, Supreme Allied Commander Eisenhower and General Smith all failed to anticipate Stalin’s ambitions. CHURCHILL DID NOT!
But it fell to General Smith to handle and diffuse the inter-Allied political, strategic and tactical implosions that come from Coalitions.
Eisenhower later appointed him Ambassador to Moscow along with the duty of reorganizing the fledgling CIA. On becoming President, Eisenhower appointed General Smith as point-man regarding the American presence with the collapse of French Indochina at the Geneva conference 1954. (Read Vietnam).
On this point of historical interest, no man in the World War II theatre comes close to the stature or character that was General Walter Bedell Smith.