From Paper army to world-changer
One of the most under-appreciated story lines of the Second world war, The First Army, its formation, and its utility is proof that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction.
Established in 1918 as nothing more than an administrative reconstruction and intended to function as a reorganization of existing troops, the First Army comes from meager beginnings. The structure of the First Army was simply to form three Corps. One located in Boston, Massachusetts; one in Fort Jay, New York; and one in Fort Howard, Maryland.
When Douglas MacArthur ordered the creation of the First army, he did so simply to conform to the newly amended National Defense Act of 1916. In that same process, MacArthur enacted four distinct field armies, or which, the First Army was one.
In it’s first 25 years, the First Army muddled through under the leadership of the very skilled commander General Dennis E. Nolan; followed by General Hugh A. Drum, who was instrumental in increasing the number, experience, and strength of the First Army. As any new organization, working out the kinks, and establishing an identity takes time and effort. Under Drum’s leadership in the late 30’s and early 40’s the First army began to be involved in large-scale military operations
The timing could not have been better. Just as the United States entered the throes of World War II in 1941, the First Army was in earnest, becoming a full-fledged field army. The buildup and operations of the late 30’s and early 40’s would prove invaluable in allowing the First Army to make a meaningful impact towards the end of the Second World War. General Drum’s leadership, though very impactful, was short lived. In 1941 as the US began to be involved in World War II, Drum was assigned to The Eastern Defense command which effectively began the process of his removal as leadership of the First Army. At the time of Drum’s additional assignment as Commander of the Eastern Defense Command, Lieutenant General George Grunert was assigned as deputy commander for both of Drum’s commands: The Eastern Defense Command, and the First Army. This move was strategic preparation for the impending mandatory retirement of General Drum.
In a move that came as no surprise to anyone, Lieutenant General Grunert assumed the interim role of Commander of the First Army in 1944 while General Omar Bradley, his soon-coming successor, prepared new headquarters in Bristol, England for the impending Normandy invasion.
Under Bradley’s leadership, the First Army would prove instrumental in the D-day invasion at Normandy, as well as other maneuvers which brought about the ultimate victory of that fateful war. Some of those maneuvers included Operation Cobra, in which the First Army was able to break through the German lines and allow US soldiers to enter France. The First Army was also instrumental in the capture of the Ludendorff Bridge, and subsequently establishing a secure bridgehead. The bridge allowed safe passage of over 25000 troops and greatly aided the US advance.
So instrumental was the First Army in World War II, that it was a key piece in the battle that never happened. After the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the First Army was included in the plans for Operation Coronet which was a planned invasion of Honshū, which is a major island of Japan. This battle never happened because Japan surrendered in 1945, however, this integral inclusion of the First Army is further proof that the First Army had come a long way. No longer was it a paper army, now it was a world-changing army.