America’s Forgotten Army: The Story of the U.S. Seventh, by Charles Whiting, Sarpedon, New York, 1999, $24.95.
The Seventh Army landed in Sicily, taking the key cities of Palermo and Messina in 1943. It later landed in southern France in 1944 and raced across the country, liberating towns and villages but never quite catching the retreating Germans. It sacrificed men to Patton’s relief of Bastogne and liberated numerous concentration camps. Finally, it accepted the surrender of the Germans commanded by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. Yet for all its accomplishments, the Seventh was overshadowed by the other Allied armies fighting on the Continent. Charles Whiting’s America’s Forgotten Army: The Story of the U.S. Seventh finally gives the Seventh its due.
Under its first commander, General George S. Patton, the division captured Sicilian villages and American headlines. As the focus of the war shifted to the impending invasion of Western Europe, however, the army began to slip from the public eye. After Patton’s departure it seemed that the Seventh was all but forgotten. But the Seventh fought on under the command of General Alexander “Sandy” Patch.
Patch’s army contained a mix of veteran and replacement divisions as well as the 2nd French Armored Division. Among his most famous commanders were the dynamic Lucian Truscott, who would eventually succeed Patton in command of the Third Army; the daredevil General Robert T. Frederick, who had already proved his mettle as commander of the famed Devil’s Brigade; and the aggressive General “Iron Mike” O’Daniel, who inspired his Third Division GIs by ordering, “Bayonets will be sharpened.”
By far Patch’s most motivated unit was the 2nd French Armored Division, under General Jacques LeClerc. Stirred by LeClerc’s promise to General Charles de Gaulle that “We will not rest until the flag of France also flies over Paris and Strasbourg,” the French 2nd Armored fought with great spirit and dash to take those two cities. Intent on liberating Strasbourg, LeClerc charged recklessly across southern France. Although LeClerc was under orders not to enter Strasbourg ahead of the rest of his army, his sympathetic corps commander, Maj. Gen. Wade Haislip, gave him permission to put out a reconnaissance in force. LeClerc’s “reconnaissance” turned out to be an all-out race for the city.
Included are many interesting and little-known stories about the Seventh, such as the humiliating retreat of the 103rd Division during Germany’s Operation Nordwind and the surrounding of the 10th Armored Division by German forces at Crailsheim during the last month of war. There is also an almost comical description of the French invasion of Germany conducted by a single boat loaned to the 2nd Armored Division by an American division that had already crossed the Rhine River.
America’s Forgotten Army is a quick read–only 200 pages–covering the army’s career from its earliest days in Sicily to its role in the Cold War. All in all, Whiting provides an enjoyable and illuminating account of this relatively forgotten army’s distinguished career. If there is a weakness, it is the book’s reliance on secondary sources.
Any of the book’s shortcomings, however, are more than made up for by Whiting’s flowing prose. He does not bog down in tiresome reports of corps realignments or Army jargon. Instead, he keeps up with the action, making for a fast-reading, enjoyable narrative.
Kevin M. Hymel