Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Guest Post: December 16th, 1944 - George Marshall dispels the "Victory Disease"

On this day, General George C. Marshall was appointed to the newly created position of Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers Europe, Middle East And Africa (EMEA) Area.

Twelve months earlier, Dwight D. Eisenhower had been officially designated as the Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF). However both Eisenhower and his primary sub-ordinate Omar Bradley had allegedly mishandled operations during the fall. Like the Japanese senior commanders in mid-1942, they had allegedly lapsed into a condition known as "victory disease" mistakenly believing the German Army to be a push over.

Accordingly, President Roosevelt thanked Eisenhower and Bradley for their leadership of the Allied Expeditionary Force, announcing that the fullness of the troop build-up now required a freshening up of the top-level organization. And to support and expand the SHAEF command structure built by Eisenhower and Bradley, the on-the-ground presence of Marshall would be greatly advantageous to the careful navigation of the closing stages of the war.

Within Army circles, the decision was understood for what it was: the Battle of the Bulge had swept away the delusion that the troops would be home for Christmas. To broaden the scope of the changes outside the two personalities in question, Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges was relieved as the commander of the First Army. Prior to Marshall's arrival in Europe, it was alleged that he had continued ill-conceived offense operations that were basic head-on, World War I-style attacks into the teeth of well-planned and well-defended German defensive positions.

On December 18th, Eisenhower was recalled Stateside to be appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the Army. As the second-highest-ranking officer on active duty in the Department of the Army, he would handle the day-to-day administration of the Army Staff bureaucracy, freeing the Chief of Staff to attend to the inter-service responsibilities of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Grudgingly admired by Douglas MacArthur as "the best clerk I ever had", Ike would keeping the supplies going out to the troops from the manufacturers. This vital responsibility had previously rested with George C. Marshall, however an even more urgent priority had arisen - stopping the alleged wasting of American lives. This human tragedy had resulted from the alleged mishandling of operations during the fall of 1944. The Battle of the Bulge demonstrated that the defeat of Nazi Germany was far from over and Marshall's presence was very much needed on the ground in Europe for the closing phase of the war.
Addendum (by Jeff Provine). With Marshall's meticulous planning, the front gradually pushed toward Germany at minimal cost to American lives following the Battle of the Bulge. General Patton was removed and dispatched to the Pacific, arguably to bury notions that war with the Soviets would follow next. In 1945, the Americans produced the first atomic bombs with one dropped on each of the remaining Axis powers, Germany and Japan. Germany folded with German citizens rebelling while Japan held strong, eventually collapsing after two more atomic strikes and the declaration of war by the USSR in 1946.


This fictional item is based upon a reader's letter in the MHQ Autumn 2013 Edition and re-purposes significant amount of content from that article.


  1. The idea of appointing Marshall as head of SHAEF instead of Eisenhower was seriously considered in early 1944. And its plausible that something like this would have happened in December 1944 if the Germans had been more successful than they were historically in the Battle of the Bulge. Actually Eisenhower took effective steps to ensure the gap was plugged.

    During the American Civil War, when Grant supplanted Halleck, the latter was retained in a position similar to that described for Eisenhower so that part is plausible as well.

    The idea that Eisenhower, who is usually criticized as too cautious, was wasteful with the lives of his soldiers is a bit odd, however. The American offensive against Germany in 1944-5 is usually criticized as proceeding too slowly, though most if not all of this was due to logistics, the terrain, and the worse than usual winter weather that year.

    An alternate history with Marshall at SHAEF is an interesting idea, though early 1944 is a more likely point of departure, and Marshall's command philosophy needs to be fleshed out.

    The senior American commander most likely to have been replaced, unless you count Stillwell who actually was replaced, was probably MacArthur, and that would also make for an interesting alternative history.

  2. Great idea on a more disastrous POD! I do wonder how Stillwell would've managed the occupation of Japan and whether he could garner the respect MacArthur did.


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