Terrible Terry Allen: Combat General of World War II - the Life of an American Soldier

Terrible Terry Allen: Combat General of World War II - the Life of an American Soldier

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by Gerald Astor

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Terry de la Mesa Allen’s mother was the daughter of a Spanish officer, and his father was a career U.S. Army officer. Despite this impressive martial heritage, success in the military seemed unlikely for Allen as he failed out of West Point—twice—ultimately gaining his commission through Catholic University’s R.O.T.C. program. In World War I,


Terry de la Mesa Allen’s mother was the daughter of a Spanish officer, and his father was a career U.S. Army officer. Despite this impressive martial heritage, success in the military seemed unlikely for Allen as he failed out of West Point—twice—ultimately gaining his commission through Catholic University’s R.O.T.C. program. In World War I, the young officer commanded an infantry battalion and distinguished himself as a fearless combat leader, personally leading patrols into no-man’s-land.

In 1940, with another world war looming, newly appointed army chief of staff Gen. George C. Marshall reached down through the ranks and, ahead of almost a thousand more senior colonels, promoted Patton, Eisenhower, Allen, and other younger officers to brigadier general.

For Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa, Allen, now a two-star general, commanded the Big Red One, the First Infantry Division, spearheading the American attack against the Nazis. Despite a stellar combat record, however, Major General Allen found himself in hot water with the big brass. Allen and his troops had become notorious for their lack of discipline off the battlefield. When Seventh Army commander George Patton was pressed by his deputy Omar Bradley to replace “Terrible Terry” before the invasion of Sicily, he demurred, favoring Allen’s success in combat. At the end of the Sicily campaign, with Allen’s protector Patton out of the way (relieved for slapping a soldier), Omar Bradley fired Allen and sent him packing back to the States, seemingly in terminal disgrace.

Once again, however, George Marshall reached down and in October 1944, Terrible Terry was given command of another infantry division, the 104th Timberwolves and took it into heavy combat in Belgium. Hard fighting continued as Allen’s division spearheaded the U.S. First Army’s advance across Germany. On 26 April 1945, Terrible Terry Allen’s hard-charging Timberwolves became the first American outfit to link up with the Soviet Union’s Red Army.

Terrible Terry Allen was one of the most remarkable American soldiers of World War II or any war. Hard bitten, profane, and combative, Allen disdained the “book,” but he knew how to wage war. He was a master of strategy, tactics, weaponry, and, most importantly, soldiers in combat.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
The son of a West Pointer and the grandson of a Spanish officer, Terry de la Mesa Allen (1888-1969) was admitted to the school only through the intervention of President Teddy Roosevelt. He later flunked out, but eventually managed to get a commission as a reserve officer after graduating from Catholic University. His first active duty was with the cavalry on the Mexican border before World War I. Astor (The Might Eighth) offers a careful resume of the course of WWI up to U. S. entry in 1917, followed by Allen's transfer from cavalry to artillery, where he saw action on various fronts, and was later awarded the Silver Star Medal for heroism. The 20 years of Allen's career between the wars-his marriage; his polo play for the 1920 Olympic team; his different service posts, his troubles with debt, his relations with George Patton and George Marshall-is covered in only one chapter. The latter later promoted Allen to general in 1940; Allen commanded the 1st Division during the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. Thereafter, Astor follows an effective chapter formula: background on the military situation, combat operations, quotes from Allen's letters about the fighting, his relations with other generals and others, as well as some recollections by veterans. Following his relief from command of the 1st Division (criticism of the division by other generals is included), Allen returned to the U.S., but eventually headed up another infantry division, the 104th. In late October 1944, the 104th battled its way through German defenses guarding the Reich, and joined in the invasion of Germany during March and April 1945, capturing Nordhausen concentration camp and reaching the Elbe River, where Soviet forces were met in late April 1945. Astor follows Allen's ups and downs with respectful candor, making this book a treat for WWII buffs in particular. (Apr.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Today, as we lose the veterans of World War II at an alarming rate, we must not lose sight of their sacrifices or of the leaders who took them into battle. Astor, an acclaimed military historian (The Mighty Eighth; A Blood Dimmed Tide), provides an in-depth look at one of the war's most successful division combat commanders, Maj. Gen. Terry Allen. Astor is objective, addressing Allen's problems at West Point, from which he failed to graduate; his financial difficulties; and his fondness for alcohol. Yet, as he demonstrates, Allen possessed a strength of character that finally pushed him to the top. He first earned a reputation as a fighter during World War I, then in World War II successfully led the 1st Division during the landings in North Africa and Sicily before being relieved for lack of discipline. Later, Allen would return to lead the 104th Division in the final push into Germany, where his division was the first to link up with Soviet troops. Astor details Allen's accomplishments and also provides a look at the men he led, who worshiped him. This well-written portrait makes for enjoyable reading. Recommended for all public and military libraries.-Lt. Col. (ret.) Charles M. Minyard, U.S. Army, Mt. Pleasant, MI Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A ripsnortin’ life of an unorthodox--and barely tolerated--American general. Nearly 400 Americans held the rank of brigadier general and above in WWII, but only a few are widely remembered today: Patton, Eisenhower, Bradley, Smith. All figure in the pages of this narrative by popular military historian Astor (The Greatest War, 1999, etc.), which commemorates the life and achievements of one Terry de la Mesa Allen (1888-1969). Though an army brat familiar with the sometimes-impenetrable ways of military culture, Allen was an unlikely success as an officer. He flunked out of West Point twice, yet distinguished himself as a combat commander during WWI, bringing idiosyncratic ways of leadership to bear on the job; when, for instance, a junior officer complained that a planned attack amounted to suicide, Allen shot him in the behind, saying, "There. You’re out. You’re wounded." (The attack was a success, costing only 20 casualties.) Allen rose to command of the 1st Infantry Division, the "Big Red One," but was removed from his post during the Sicilian campaign owing to the riotous habits of his soldiers, which the brass believed Allen encouraged. ("Once we’ve licked the Boche," Allen was alleged to have said to his men in North Africa, "we’ll go back to Oran and beat up every MP in town.") But Allen, admittedly no by-the-book officer, had to sit out only a small portion of the war before returning, this time in command of the tough-as-nails 104th Infantry Division, which distinguished itself in battle after battle across France and into the German homeland, where it eventually linked up with Russian forces on the Elbe River and crushed the final remnants of Nazi resistance. Hard-drinking,hard-fighting, beloved by his troops: Allen has a fine chronicler here--fans of Band of Brothers ought to snap this up.
From the Publisher
“Fans of Band of Brothers ought to snap this up.”
Kirkus Reviews

“RECOMMENDED . . . Today, as we lose the veterans of World War II at an alarming rate, we must not lose sight of their sacrifices or of the leaders who took them into battle. Astor, an acclaimed military historian, provides an in-depth look at one of the war’s most successful division combat commanders . . . This well-written portrait makes for enjoyable reading.”
—Library Journal

Future biographers of Allen and military readers will find this chronicle of considerable value.
—WWII History

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Read an Excerpt

Terrible Terry Allen: Combat General of World War II — The Life of an American Soldier
By Gerald Astor
Chapter 2: Terry Allen’s West Point
Sam Allen settled into the role of a garrison officer without the credentials conferred upon those who actually went to war or commanded troops in the field. After his tour at Fort Monroe during the Spanish-American War, he served at a number of field, and then coast, artillery posts, which became a separate bunch in 1907. He oversaw coast artillery unites in the harbors of Boston, New York, and Pensacola; slowly he rose up in rank. In 1901, the Allens had their third child, Mary Conchita de la Mesa Allen.
Terry Allen’s acquaintance with West Point began with his father’s tour as a teacher. Between the ages of three and seven, he feasted on the panorama of smartly uniformed young men amid a citadel that crowned the scenic splendor of massive fortress-type buildings ensconced on the shores of a magnificent river. There was pomp and circumstance aplenty to seduce the imagination of a boy, and over the years Samuel Allen undoubtedly transmitted to Terry his nostalgic affection for his life as a cadet.
When the family then moved to a series of army posts, the child indulged himself in a passion for riding. As an artillery officer, Samuel Allen frequently pursued his duties while in the saddle, and it was natural for his offspring to emulate his style. In her fading years, his mother, Concepcion Allen, recalled her small boy in the saddle, proudly riding off to accompany his father on maneuvers. By age ten, Terry felt totally comfortable in the saddle.
Sam Allen — the somewhat free-spirited,joking, dancing, gregarious cadet and young officer captured in the memories of Fish and in his own letters — had become a more reserved man with considerable respect for the dignity and discipline of the army. Terry Allen recalled that while his father was a captain he refused to have a telephone installed in his home. “I don’t want to telephone my seniors and I won’t have my junior officers calling me.” But, for all of the parent’s concern for decorum and the code of “an officer and a gentleman,” the enlisted personnel of the day were cut from a different cloth, and their children likewise.
The rough-and-tumble log of youngsters Terry’s age, many of them the spawn of enlisted personnel, were his natural playmates. Even at an early age he showed signs of leadership, coupled with a reputation that was less than salubrious. Allen reported that he once came across a contemporary in tears, and the boy explained that his mother had just spanked him. When Allen inquired why, his companion explained “Because I was playing with you.” According to Liebling, Allen said, ‘My opinion of myself went up like a rocket.” Aside from his adventures with other army brats, Allen spent considerable time with the lesser ranks stationed at the camps, giving him a lifelong empathy toward enlistd men, not to mention a taste for some of their habits. He informed Liebling that along with horsemanship, he had learned at a tender age how to smoke, chew, cuss, and fight. He also surely became aware of how much the soldiers favored drinking.
Terry never doubted the kind of career he would follow. Having lived at West Point for four years and enjoyed his life at army bases, he expected to follow in his father’s footsteps. While he took for granted that as the son of a graduate and a colonel on active duty he would receive an appointment, he apparently had not foreseen that the U.S.M.A. demanded a disciplined behavior and a certain academic proficiency.

Copyright© 2003 by Gerald Astor

Meet the Author

Gerald Astor is a critically acclaimed military historian and author of such books as The Mighty Eighth, A Blood Dimmed Tide, The Right to Fight, The Greatest War, and Bloody Forest. He lives near New York City.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Terrible Terry Allen: Combat General of World War II - the Life of an American Soldier 2.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I assumed by the number of books this author has in print he knew hownto write. I was wrong. While some letters home are fine, basing dialog for your book on them is unacceptable, especially when the letters you chose to use are to the General's son! Replete with out of context timelines, no smooth flow to the story line, hyphenated words that truely are NOT hyphenated, and misspelled words make this an impossible read. I never have stopped reading a book part way in, until now.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago