GENERAL A.C. WEDEMEYER – A WARRIOR WITH A PLAN

Wall Street Journal on September 10, 2012, reviewed a new biography of General Albert C. Wedemeyer by John J. McLaughlin… The charts—together with such equally mundane cousins as tables, memoranda and staff studies—were the first weapons that America’s high command wielded against the three Axis empires. Through them, men were drafted and trained, uniforms and equipment were procured, and Allied strategy took form amid a vast stew of logistical, political and industrial considerations. Excerpts below:

The generals who ponder these crucial questions have always been less heralded than those who led through smoke and fire. This makes John J. McLaughlin’s study of one of the U.S. Army’s key planners all the more welcome.

Albert Coady Wedemeyer (1897-1989) was from an upper-middle-class family in Omaha, Neb. Fascinated by European history and the grand strategy of empires as a youth, he was inexorably drawn to the life of a soldier and graduated from West Point in 1919. He foresaw another war with Germany and, in the late 1930s, attended the German army’s prestigious general-staff school, the Kriegsakademie. There he learned the art of blitzkrieg alongside his future enemies. He watched Nazi brownshirts strut around Berlin, venting their hatred against Jews. He was in Vienna during the Anschluss, and he saw the Czechoslovakian crisis unfold from the German perspective.

Wedemeyer’s report summarizing German tactics and organization brought him to the attention of George C. Marshall, who in 1939 became the Army’s chief of staff. Marshall assigned Wedemeyer to the War Plans Division and tasked him with reducing America’s mobilization requirements to a single document.

Completed in an astonishing 90 days, this plan laid down all the critical politico-military-industrial assumptions for the looming conflict, correctly identifying America’s adversaries and where the main fighting would take place and estimating the industrial capacity needed to feed the war machines of China, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and the United States and how much war materiel could be spared to allies. Wedemeyer proposed overrunning Germany and Japan with an army of nearly nine million draftees… He also called for an invasion of Europe in 1943, before Germany could strengthen its defenses.

Wedemeyer methodically argued the case for a 1943 invasion at a White House meeting with Roosevelt, Churchill and the Anglo-American chiefs of staff in June 1942, and he offered a direct and unapologetic rebuttal to Churchill’s preferred invasion of North Africa. “Churchill could not have been pleased as the mid-level American officer categorically presented information that undermined his grand scheme,” Mr. McLaughlin writes. “Occasionally stealing a glance in his direction, Wedemeyer thought he detected a faint hint of the famous Churchill scowl.”

The U.S. service chiefs saw no hope of success without wholehearted British support and backed down.

There is little direct evidence that Wedemeyer was sent east at Churchill’s insistence. Marshall continued to hold a high opinion of him, and he was given key commands in Asia: serving as chief of staff to Louis Mountbatten, the China-Burma-India theater commander, and succeeding Joseph Stilwell as chief of staff to the Chinese leader Chiang Kai-shek. The Nebraskan would ride out the war under Chiang, then turn his considerable analytical skills toward the quandaries of postwar China and the 1948 Berlin blockade.

The overriding argument of this biography is that an American visionary was sacrificed on the altar of Allied harmony. Historians such as the late John Keegan have praised Wedemeyer as “one of the most farsighted and intellectual military minds America has ever produced.”

General Albert C. Wedemeyer By John J. McLaughlin (Casemate, 322 pages, $32.95)

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