General Omar Nelson Bradley

by Jay Hollister May 3, 2001

During the tumultuous battles of the Second World War many outstanding military leaders possessed both the vitality and the tactical knowledge needed to conquer their adversary and achieve ultimate victory.  One of those leaders was Omar Nelson Bradley - an American general who graduated from West Point in 1915, and rapidly advanced during World War II. For instance, Bradley commanded American soldiers in North Africa and Sicily, while later advancing to command the US Army Group, which consisted of four field Armys, the largest number of soldiers ever to serve under one field commander.

Omar Nelson Bradley was born on February 12, 1893, in Clark, Missouri, to the parents of John Smith Bradley and Sarah Elizabeth Bradley. In fact, the young Bradley remained the couple's only surviving child, after the death of Omar's younger brother, Raymond Bradley, in 1900. His father, John, was a schoolteacher who earned $40 a month - a condition that placed the family near the poverty level. With a schoolteacher for a father, however, Bradley was able to receive a superior education. Throughout primary school Bradley maintained on overall grade average of 98.66 percent, thus encouraging his parents to skip the young Bradley one grade level. The early years of Bradley's life were consumed by hunting and baseball. The former was actually used to supplement the family's merger income. For instance, Bradley "killed and dressed rabbits and sold them for five cents a piece." (1) One need only be presented with this to see that Bradley was an extremely responsible youth.

After the tragic and sudden death of John Bradley of pneumonia in 1908, a deeply depressed Omar Bradley became alienated and withdrawn from his peers. His self-esteem was not helped by a move to Moberly, Missouri, in the middle of his junior year of high school. He was often referred to as a "loner"or "outsider" during his years at Moberly. (2) The young Bradley however, managed to excel both academically as well as athletically. Bradley graduated High School in the class of 1910 with an overall average of 91 percent, while at the same time becoming a star player on the Moberly High School baseball team - a note in his high school yearbook read, "A good ballplayer, if he doesn't look like one." (3) He received employment at the Wabash Railroad after high school with the hopes of earning enough money to attend the University of Missouri. A Sunday school superintendent named John Cruson however, would permanently alter Bradley's plans of higher education. It seems that Cruson, suggested that Bradley apply to West Point because it was free to all military cadets. At last Bradley found a way to achieve a higher education and immediately began to research the requirements needed to attend West Point.

Soon after consulting John Curson, Bradley contacted Missouri Congressman William M. Rucker about obtaining a letter of recommendation. A few weeks later Bradley received a letter from the Congressman, which stated that Dempsey Anderson was his first choice, and that Bradley would be placed as an alternate candidate. On July 4, 1911, Bradley reported to Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis to take a four-day exam in English, algebra, geography, and geometry. On July 7 the young Bradley received a letter stating that he placed first in the competitive exams for his district, and that he, not Dempsey Anderson, was appointed to West Point Military Academy.

In the fall of 1911 Bradley reported to West Point, and found that the Academy had a demanding curriculum and a strict military lifestyle. The 5' 11" 145 pound and prematurely graying Bradley arrived late to the Academy. He along with fourteen others missed the seven weeks of hazing, thus earning the names "Augustines." (4) Soon after his arrival Bradley became consumed by West Point's rigorous daily routine, which consisted of Reveille at 0600, Breakfast at 0630, Class from 0800-Noon, Lunch, Class from 1300-1600, and finally Athletics from 1600-1800. Despite the demanding schedule Bradley began to excel both academically and athletically. For example, Bradley became an alternate on the varsity baseball team as a freshman, and managed to letter one year in football and three years in baseball. Academically, the young cadet excelled in both math and science. On June 12, 1915, he managed to graduate 44 out of a class of 164 with the rank of cadet lieutenant. It should be noted that the class of 1915 became known as "The Class the Stars Fell On" because so many of its members became generals. (5) Among the most prominent graduates were Joseph M. Swing, an airborne pioneer, aviator John T. McNarney, and future general Dwight Eisenhower. Following his graduation, Bradley, on September 12, 1915, was assigned to 14th Infantry Regiment's 3rd battalion at Fort George Wright outside Spokane, Washington. Bradley's first taste of military conflict occurred during the Mexican civil war when Pancho Villa began to raid certain areas of the western United States. In response, the Regular Army, including the 14th Infantry, was moved to various locations in Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico. Although Bradley remained strictly an observer, he gained valuable knowledge about handling troops. Moreover, Congress passed the National Defense Act of 1916, which expanded the Regular Army to 175,000 men, and resulted in the promotion of Bradley to first lieutenant.

During World War I Bradley was quickly promoted to captain. However, he failed to go abroad to war. The closest Bradley and the 14th Infantry would get to conflict would be by both processing new recruits and guarding the copper mines of Butte, Montana. It seems that the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) were staging riots in the area and military force was needed to help keep the peace. After World War I Bradley began a series of four-year tours. His first tour was as an instructor of mathematics at West Point, which was accompanied by a promotion to major in 1923.  On December 3, 1923 Bradley became a father - his daughter named Elizabeth was born at West Point Military hospital. Bradley's time at West Point was consumed by the teaching of mathematics, poker, and his new baby girl.

After West Point Bradley was transfer to the 27th Infantry of the Hawaiian Division. Once again the infantry officer found an agreeable job training troops. In fact, when Colonel Holstead was on temporary leave, Bradley was placed in temporary command of the 27th regiment. It should also be noted that it was at his Hawaii post that Bradley first met George Patton. Bradley found that he had little in common with Patton, except for the mutual love of shooting. The two officers where on the same trapshooting team, and began to develop a mutual respect for one another.

In 1929 he was assigned as an instructor at the Leavenworth Infantry School. It was here, under commandant George C. Marshall, that Bradley learned to creatively simplify tactical procedures, thus making them comprehendible outside the professional army.

Then in 1933 Bradley made his way to the Army War College, which was located at Fort Humphreys. The college had no student housing, thus the Bradley family was forced to live in an apartment. The 84 students at the college were not graded or pressured to receive any class standing. The goal of the college was to promote an understanding of tactical warfare. After being promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in 1936, Bradley was once again transferred to West Point where he was assigned to the tactical department. In 1941 Bradley was promoted to brigadier general, and reassigned to Fort Benning to Command the Infantry School. The newly promoted brigadier general supported the training of tanks forces, like in the 2nd Armored Division, which was commanded by George Patton.

As America entered World War II, Bradley took an active role in the war. This time, he would not be sidelined like World War I. The "soldier's general" was finally able to command American troops in battle. (6) For example, Bradley acted as the II Corps deputy commander, under George Patton, in North Africa, and eventually succeeded in command of the corps. In fact, it was under Bradley that II Corps captured Hill 609 just outside of Bizerte, which ultimately led to the capture of 40,000 German soldiers-an important step for erasing American performance at Kasserine. The Casablanca Conference named Sicily as the next Allied objective, designated Operation HUSKY, and Bradley and his corps were under the command of George Patton. Bradley played a major role in the invasion, but his full command potential would not be realized until the Normandy campaign.

Shortly after the conquest of Sicily, Eisenhower called Bradley into his office and stated, "I've got good news for you Brad.  You've got a fancy new job." (7) The fancy new job was to command the US First Army and the US Army Group, two of the most important jobs of World War II. In other words, Bradley was to command all American ground forces in northern France. Moreover, Operation FORTITUDE was underway with Patton and the fake First Army poised to attack Pas de Calais, thus leaving the Allied commanders time to concentrate on the real invasion, Operation OVERLORD. Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Bradley laid out the plans, while Eisenhower always had the final say. 

British general Frederick Morgan drew the initial plans for Operation OVERLORD. Eisenhower, Bradley, and Monty eventually found that the plans were too conservative, and after the three generals convened, Eisenhower decided to increase the landing force from three divisions to five. Bradley also proposed a night landing, but was overruled by the other generals. Another proposal of Bradley's involved the use of paratroopers, specifically the 82nd and 101st Airborne. The main opponent to his proposal was British air commander Leigh Mollary, who argued that the paratrooper casualty rate could exceed 50 percent. In the end the decision was left to Eisenhower, who sided with Bradley and ordered the use of nearly 25,000 Allied paratroopers.  

Operation OVERLORD was originally scheduled to take place in May, but would be eventually postponed until June 6, 1944. The US First Army was assigned three corps, which consisted of the V Corps commanded by Leonard Gerow, the VII Corps commanded by "Lightning Joe" Collins, and the XIX Corps under command of Charles Corlett. Early on the morning of June 6, 1944 Bradley was at his headquarters, aboard the USS Augusta that escorted 21 convoys for Utah and Omaha beaches. His battle plans remained the same despite learning that the German 352nd Infantry Division was moved in the area. At 0630 Allied troops began to land along the coast of France.  Utah beach was quickly secured with only 200 killed, while Omaha beach remained both unsecured and bloody.

The situation on Omaha beach was something straight out of a horror movie. The German regiment in this area was reinforced by the 352nd and put up a nearly impenetrable defense. American soldiers were being massacred at the Pointe du Hoc, and Bradley briefly considered evacuating the American troops. Suddenly, Gerow's voice rang out over the radio, "Troops formerly pinned down on beaches... advancing up heights behind the beaches." (8) It seems that it was the U.S. Navy destroyers firing at German strongholds that served as the catalyst for the American advancement. By evening the V Corps had around 35,000 soldiers at a cost of roughly 2,500 men. Finally on June 9, Bradley was able to move his headquarters ashore and begin the long journey to Germany.

The first attempts to breakout of Normandy were feeble at best.  Bradley soon developed a plan called Operation COBRA that called for one corps to encircle the Axis powers at Caen. The plan began on July 25 with 1887 bombers dropping bombs on both American and German positions. The VII Corps under Collins broke through German lines in a 35-mile advance and took St. Lo. The Third Army, under the command of George Patton, took full credit for the capture of St. Lo. After the success of Bradley's plan, Courtney Hodges assumed command of First Army, and Bradley assumed command of the 12th Army Group-a group that consisted of 21 divisions and over 900,000 men. In fact, at the end of the war Bradley's 12th Army Group was the largest ever commanded by an American general. Bradley's next obstacle would be the Falaise Gap. With the help of ULTRA, Bradley gained valuable information concerning a possible German attack at Mortain. He quickly reinforced the VII Corps with four additional divisions at Mortain. The four divisions ultimately stopped the German attack. Bradley, however, ordered Patton to halt his closure of the Falaise bottleneck, thus leaving the neck open for hundreds of thousands of Germans to escape. Nonetheless, the battle signaled the end of the fighting in Normandy.

On August 21, 1944 Haislip's XV Corps crossed the Seine at Mantes while Walker's XX Corps and Cook's XII crossed the Seine just south of Paris. Cook however, was suffering from high blood pressure and was relieved of command, and replaced by Manton Eddy. Tactically, Bradley felt that the liberation of Paris was a waste of manpower. The fleeing German army was of greater concern. The French Police however, staged an uprising in Paris, thus forcing Bradley to send Gerow's V Corps and Leclerc's French 2nd Armored Division to accept surrender.

Montgomery's plan called Operation MARKET-GARDEN was soon underway.  The broad plan called for a drop and/or a glider landing of three and a half divisions in and around Arnhem. Immediately, Bradley rejected the idea and filed a formal protest to Ike. Tactically, Bradley felt that the single thrust to Berlin would build a gap between the Allied forces, thus leaving them vulnerable. Moreover, Bradley felt that the paratrooper landing was risky at best. Ike failed to see the validity in Bradley's argument and Operation MARKET-GARDEN proceeded on September 17, 1944. In all the British lost 7,500 out of 10,000 paratroopers.

The next major battle occurred in the Ardennes-a area left completely weak and vulnerable by Bradley. In fact, after a German attack in the Ardennes, it was Eisenhower who recognized its weakness and ordered the 7th and 10th to reinforce the American's soldiers in the Ardennes. As a result the added American force helped smolder the German offensive. Moreover, Patton was directed to reorient his attack to Bastogne. Remarkably, Patton was able to march his troops nearly one hundred miles in two days to relieve the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. It should also be noted that the battle depleted the German force of skilled soldiers as well as enormous amounts of modern warfare equipment. The Battle of the Bulge served as the catalyst for the great military achievements of 1945 and the ultimate Allied victory. 

In the end, General Omar Bradley proved to be a capable American leader that challenged and defeated his adversaries. As a youth he had grown up with few opportunities in life. However he adapted and overcame the odds. Despite being poor and unable to attend College, he used his academic strengths to earn an appointment to West Point Military Academy and managed to excel both academically and athletically. Throughout his military career Bradley managed to advance regularly, while honing his leadership and war fighting skills. For instance, he was able to lead three corps into battle during the invasion of Normandy. Towards the end of his prestigious military career Bradley was promoted to Army Chief of Staff and eventually on August 16, 1949 became the first Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Then on September 22, 1950 Omar Bradley was promoted to General of the Army with five stars. General Omar Bradley died on April 8, 1981, and was later buried at Arlington Cemetery with full military honors.


Blumenson, Martin. "General Bradley's Decision At Argentan (13 August 1944)," in Command Decisions. Center of Military History, United States Army, Washington, D.C., 1990.

Bradley, Omar Nelson and Clay Blair. A General's Life: An Autobiography. NewYork: Simon and Schuster, 1983.

Depickere, Dave. World War II Analyzed. (Jan. 12, 2001)

Pratt, Fletcher. Eleven Generals: Studies in American Command. New York: William Sloane Associates, 1949

Whiting, Charles. Bradley. New York: Ballentine Books, 1971


1 Bradley and Blair. A General's Life, p. 19

2 Ibid. p. 25

3 Ibid. p. 24

4Ibid. p. 30

5 Ibid. p. 31

6 Pratt. Eleven Generals, p. 298

7 Bradley and Blai., A Generals Life, p. 207

8 Ibid. p. 25

revised 4/25/01 by Jay Hollister for the WWII Timeline