Ernest N. Harmon

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Ernest Nason Harmon
Ernest N. Harmon4.jpg
Ernest Nason Harmon
Nickname(s) Old Gravel Voice
Born (1894-02-26)February 26, 1894
Lowell, Massachusetts
Died November 13, 1979(1979-11-13) (aged 85)
White River Junction, Vermont
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch United States Department of the Army Seal.svg United States Army
Years of service 1913-1948
Rank US-O8 insignia.svg Major General
Commands held XXII Corps
2nd Armored Division
1st Armored Division
Battles/wars

World War I
World War II

Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Army Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Silver Star
Purple Heart

Ernest Nason Harmon (February 26, 1894 – November 13, 1979) was a United States Army general. He is best known for his actions in reorganizing U.S. II Corps after the debacle at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass in North Africa during World War II.

Early life and career[edit]

Ernest Nason Harmon was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, and grew up in West Newbury, Vermont. He attended Norwich University, the "Birthplace of ROTC," for a year prior to entering the United States Military Academy. Following his graduation from West Point in 1917, he was commissioned in the cavalry.

World War II[edit]

From July 1942 until April 6, 1943, Harmon commanded the 2nd Armored Division, whose elements had begun to arrive in Algeria. Upon landing in Algiers, Harmon was delegated by General Dwight D. Eisenhower to travel to the front to report on the deteriorating Allied situation in Tunisia and Algeria, and to assist where needed.[1] His on-site reporting and interventions during the Kasserine Pass battles helped stabilize and reorganize the U.S. Army II Corps, which had been thrown into disorder after the initial German attack.[2]

During the fighting, Harmon had opportunity to observe General Lloyd Fredendall, commander of the US Army's II Corps, as well as his superior, the British General Kenneth Anderson. Anderson was in overall control of the Allied front in eastern Algeria, commanding British Commonwealth, American, and French forces. Harmon noticed that the two generals rarely saw each other, and failed to properly coordinate and integrate forces under their command. Fredendall was barely on speaking terms with his 1st Armored Division commander, Orlando Ward, who had repeatedly complained to his superiors of the dangers of separating his division into weaker combat commands for use in various sectors of the front. Harmon also noticed that Fredendall rarely left his command headquarters, a huge fortified bunker constructed a full 70 miles behind the front lines (the bunker took two hundred Army engineers three weeks to excavate, using hundreds of pounds of explosive to blast rooms out of solid rock).[1] Allied forces were bereft of air support during critical attacks, and were frequently positioned by the senior command in positions where they could not offer mutual support to each other. Subordinates would later recall their utter confusion at being handed conflicting orders, not knowing which general to obey - Anderson, or Fredendall. While interviewing field commanders, Harmon received an earful of criticism over what many Allied officers viewed as a cowardly, confused, and out-of-touch command. Noting that Fredendall seemed out-of-touch (and at one point, intoxicated), he requested and received permission to go to the front and intervene where necessary to shore up Allied defenses.[3]

While Harmon attributed the lion's share of the blame for the catastrophe to Fredendall, he also began to question General Anderson's leadership abilities with respect to a large command. Anderson was partly to blame for the weakness of II Corps in southern area of the front. When Fredendall asked to retire to a defensible line after the initial assault in order to regroup his forces, Anderson rejected the request, allowing German panzer forces to overrun many of the American positions in the south. Anderson also weakened II Corps by parceling out portions of the U.S. 1st Armored Division into various combat commands sent to other sectors over the vehement objections of its commander, General Ward.[4]

Major-General Harmon had been in Thala on the Algerian border, witnessing the stubborn resistance of the British Nickforce, which held the vital road leading into the Kasserine Pass against the heavy pressure of the German 10th Panzer Division, which was under Rommel's direct command.[2] Commanding the British Nickforce was Brigadier Cameron Nicholson, an effective combat leader who kept his remaining forces steady under relentless German hammering. When the U.S. 9th Infantry Division's attached artillery arrived in Thala after a four-day, 800-mile march, it seemed like a godsend to Harmon. Inexplicably, the 9th was ordered by Anderson to abandon Thala to the enemy and head for the village of Le Kef, 50 miles away, to defend against an expected German attack. Nicholson pleaded with the American artillery commander, Brigadier General S. Leroy Irwin, to ignore Anderson’s order and stay.[2] Harmon agreed with Nicholson and commanded, "Irwin, you stay right here!"[2] The 9th's artillery did stay, and with its 48 guns raining a whole year's worth of a (peacetime) allotment of shells, stopped the advancing Germans in their tracks. Unable to retreat under the withering fire, the Afrika Corps finally withdrew after dark.[2] With the defeat at Thala, Rommel decided to end his offensive.

After Rommel had finally been halted at Thala, Harmon returned to Fredendall's headquarters, and was incredulous to find Fredendall expecting to pick up where he had left off. Harmon's reports on General Fredendall's conduct during and after the battle (in an interview with Patton, Harmon called him a cowardly "son-of-a-bitch") played a key role in the latter's removal from command of II Corps and reassignment to a training command.[5] Offered the command of II Corps in Fredendall's place, Harmon declined, as it would appear to others that Harmon was motivated by personal gain. Instead, General Eisenhower appointed George S. Patton, a colleague and friend of Harmon, to replace Fredendall. He later accepted command of the 1st Armored Division after the relief of General Orlando Ward. Later, he was appointed to lead the U.S. Army's XXII Corps.

Career highlights[edit]

General Harmon's career highlights include:

  • Participant in the modern pentathlon at the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris.[6]
  • During World War II, General Harmon served as Commanding General of the 1st Armored Division in Tunisia and Italy. After the capture of Rome, he returned to the United States as a corps commander. He returned to command the 2nd Armored Division in 1944 before being named XXII Corps Commander. Among his soldiers, he was known as "Old Gravel Voice."
  • In May 1945, he liberated Plzeň, the largest town in the West of Czechoslovakia. After the war, he would live in the Continental Hotel.
  • In January 1946 he took command of the VI Corps, which became the U.S. Constabulary.
  • He served as Commanding General of the Third United States Army from January 10, 1947, to March 14, 1947.
  • He served as Deputy Commanding General, Army Ground Forces, from March 1947, until his retirement in March 1948.

Post-army life[edit]

General Harmon left the Army for Norwich University, where he served as President of that institution from 1950 to 1965. In 1955, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Saint Michael's College, Colchester, Vermont. General Harmon died at White River Junction, Vermont, on 13 November 1979. Married M. Leona Tuxbury in August 1917.

Orders, Decorations and Medals[edit]

Major General Harmon´s ribbon bar:[8]

Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Andrews, Peter, A Place to be Lousy In, American Heritage Magazine (December 1991), Volume 42, Issue 8, pp. 100-109
  2. ^ a b c d e Murray, Brian J., Facing The Fox, America in World War II, (April 2006), pp. 28-35
  3. ^ D'Este, Carlo, Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life, Orion Publishing Group Ltd. (2003), ISBN 0-304-36658-7, ISBN 0-304-36658-7
  4. ^ Calhoun, Mark T., Defeat at Kasserine: American Armor Doctrine, Training, and Battle Command in Northwest Africa, World War II, Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, KS (2003), pp. 73-75
  5. ^ D'Este, Carlo, Patton: A Genius for War, Harper/Collins (1996), ISBN 0-06-092762-3, ISBN 978-0-06-092762-2, p. 460
  6. ^ "Ernest N. Harmon Olympic Results". sports-reference.com. Retrieved 2012-06-22. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Houterman, Hans. "US Army Officers 1939-1945". unit histories. Retrieved 8 April 2014. 
  8. ^ http://www.techetoday.com/view/full_story/16342329/article-Gen--Maraist-also-fought-Cold-War?instance=Lifestyle%20Home%20Page
Military offices
Preceded by
Geoffrey Keyes
Commanding General of the Third United States Army
10 Jan 1947 to 14 Mar 1947
Succeeded by
Oscar Griswold