|Norman Cota, Sr.|
Major General Norman Cota, Sr., United States Army
May 30, 1893|
|Died||October 4, 1971
|Allegiance||United States of America|
|Service/branch||United States Army|
|Years of service||1917–1946|
|Commands held||28th Infantry Division|
|Awards||Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit (2)
Bronze Star (2)
Norman Daniel "Dutch" Cota, Sr. (May 30, 1893 – October 4, 1971) was a United States Army general during World War II. Cota was heavily involved in the planning and execution of the invasion of France, codenamed Operation Neptune, and the subsequent Battle of Normandy. He is famous for rallying demoralized troops on Omaha Beach, by engaging in combat with them and personally leading their first successful breakout.
Cota was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the son of George William Cota, a former railroad telegrapher (later a merchant), and Jessie H. Mason, a school teacher who came from Croatia. He attended Worcester Academy for three years beginning in the fall of 1910. While playing football there, his teammates nicknamed him "Dutch," and the name stuck with him, although its origins remained unclear.
In June 1913, he was accepted to the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. He and the rest of his class graduated two months ahead of schedule in April 1917 because of America's entry into World War I.
Cota (class of 1917) and Dwight D. Eisenhower (class of 1915) got to know one another while playing football at West Point. They became and remained good friends.
World War I
Commissioned a second lieutenant of infantry, Cota was quickly promoted to first lieutenant, then captain after only a few months. By the time he had accumulated 18 months of active duty, he was a major. He was assigned to become an instructor at West Point shortly before the end of the war in 1918, serving there until 1920.
In 1919, the now peacetime army underwent "massive downsizing" and he was reduced in rank to captain. While Post Financial Officer at Langley Field, Virginia, in 1922, he was held personally responsible when the post was robbed of $43,000. It took an appeal to Congress for him to be absolved of having to make good the loss.
He later served in Hawaii (1924–28) and graduated from the United States Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC) at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas in June 1931. He was an instructor at the Infantry School (1932–33) and graduated from the Army War College in 1936. He was an instructor at the Command and General Staff School (July 1938-November 1940). He then became the executive officer for the 1st Infantry Division's 16th Infantry Regiment at Fort Jay, Governors Island, New York.
World War II
At the outbreak of World War II, he was the G-2 Officer (Intelligence) and then G-3 Officer (Plans and Training) of the 1st Infantry Division from March 1941 until June 1942. In June, he was promoted to Chief of Staff of the division, a position he held until February 1943. In February 1943, right after his involvement in the invasion of North Africa, under the command of Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen, Sr., he prepared a report which included suggested revisions to the task organization of assault divisions, and his recommendations were adopted during preparations for Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. He was promoted to the rank of brigadier general and was quickly sent to the United Kingdom, where he served as the United States advisor to the Combined Operations Division of the European Theater of Operations. In that capacity, he helped supervise the training for landing operations.
As a major advisor in Operation Overlord, he was made Assistant Division Commander of the 29th Infantry Division, which was designated to land at Omaha Beach during the Battle of Normandy. During D-Day planning, he opposed daylight landings, believing a pre-dawn assault would stand a better chance of success. A year before the invasion, at the Conference on Landing Assaults, Cota had argued in favor of striving for tactical surprise:
. . . It is granted that strategical surprise will be impossible to attain. Tactical surprise is another thing however... . tactical surprise is one of the most powerful factors in determining success. I therefore, favor the night landing. I do not believe the daylight assault can succeed.
Cota was not alone in his opposition. General Leonard T. Gerow, commander of V Corps, and Admiral John L. Hall, Jr., commander of Amphibious Force "O" (the naval force responsible for delivery of the US 1st Infantry Division to the beach), both fought to change the Operation Overlord plan, pleading for a nighttime assault.
However, the high command decided otherwise, concluding that naval and air bombardment would hopefully neutralize, or in the best case, eradicate, enemy opposition. The plan for Omaha essentially called for hurling infantry directly at a prepared enemy position, a position that was enhanced by the concave shape of the beach (effectively promoting enemy crossfire into the "basin" of the concavity), natural and man-made obstacles, bad weather and other factors.
Most D-Day commanders assured their men that the Germans would be annihilated by the Allies' pre-invasion firepower, and that the defenders were, in any case, outnumbered, inexperienced and demoralized. All of these beliefs were to be proved woefully inaccurate. On the afternoon of June 5, Cota gave an accurate assessment to the staff of the 29th Infantry Division:
This is different from any of the other exercises that you’ve had so far. The little discrepancies that we tried to correct on Slapton Sands are going to be magnified and are going to give way to incidents that you might at first view as chaotic . . . You're going to find confusion. The landing craft aren't going in on schedule and people are going to be landed in the wrong place. Some won't be landed at all . . . We must improvise, carry on, not lose our heads.
While Cota had a far less optimistic view of the plan than the high command, even he underrated the extent of the near-catastrophe that awaited V Corps (composed of the 29th Infantry Division and the famous "Big Red One" 1st Infantry Division) on Omaha beach and the 4th Infantry Division on Utah beach.
Cota landed with a part of the 116th Infantry Regiment, 29th Division, in the second wave, approximately one hour after H-Hour on the Omaha sector known as Dog White. His LCVP landing craft came under heavy machine gun fire as well as mortar and light artillery fire; three soldiers (including most likely at least one officer) were killed immediately upon leading the disembarkation.
Cota was one of the highest-ranking officers on the beach that day. He is famous for personally rallying the shell-shocked, pinned-down survivors and opening one of the first vehicle exits off the beach. Two famous quotes are attributed to him during this time:
- In a meeting with Max Schneider, commander of the 5th Ranger Battalion, Cota asked "What outfit is this?" Someone yelled "5th Rangers!" To this, Cota replied "Well, God damn it then, Rangers, lead the way!" "Rangers lead the way" became the motto of the Rangers.
- He is also quoted as saying to his troops, "Gentlemen, we are being killed on the beaches. Let us go inland and be killed." In the film The Longest Day, actor Robert Mitchum, portraying Cota, delivers another famous quotation attributed to Colonel George A. Taylor: "There are only two kinds of people who are staying on this beach: those who are already dead and those that are gonna die. Now get off your butts, you're the fightin' 29th."
Liberation of Paris
With the coast of Normandy eventually secured, Allied forces advanced toward Paris. Cota was given command of the 28th Infantry Division on August 14, 1944, succeeding James Edward Wharton, who had been killed in action. After attempting to trap the retreating Germans at Le Neubourg and Elbeuf on the Seine River, Cota and the 28th Division were assigned to represent the U.S. Army in the parade celebrating the liberation of Paris. Later that year, while in the field, he was promoted to major general.
As the commander of the 28th Infantry Division, Major General Cota was involved in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, conceived by General Omar Bradley as a direct assault on established German positions in the heavily forested region, positions which significantly favored the defenders. Cota was not pleased with the operations order he was given. It required him to send three regiments on diverging paths to three different objectives. Further, his division would be the only unit attacking on a 150-mile (240 km) front. His complaints were given little weight by his immediate superior, V Corps commander Major General Leonard Gerow.
The northern and southern thrusts achieved little. The center regiment, the 112th, captured two villages and a town, but was eventually driven back by German counterattacks. In an article written for the United States Army Combined Arms Center, Lieutenant Colonel (ret) Thomas Bradbeer identified "three crucial mistakes" that Cota made. First, neither he nor his staff ordered reconnaissance patrols. Second, he selected, sight unseen, an extremely narrow trail as the division's main supply route. Finally, he chose not to employ the extra armor units he was given in support of his infantry, believing the terrain and road system to be unsuitable for their use, whereas much of the forest was in fact accessible. Instead, the tanks were used as supplementary artillery. Further, Bradley criticized Cota for remaining in his command post, visiting the front only once late in the fighting, by which time he had already lost control of the situation.
Cota's "Pennsylvania's Bloody Bucket" Division sustained heavy losses and failed to secure its objectives. The 28th Division and its attached units suffered an appalling 6184 casualties; the 112th Infantry Regiment alone had 2316 casualties out of a total strength of 3100. While Cota retained command of the division to the end of the war, he had lost his sterling military reputation and the confidence of his superiors, despite the fact that before commencement of operations, he had voiced concerns regarding the plan to those same superiors.
Court martial and execution of Eddie Slovik
Cota also reviewed and approved the death sentence handed down by a court martial on Eddie Slovik. Cota said that the execution, the only U.S. soldier to be executed for desertion since the American Civil War, was the "toughest 15 minutes of my life".
Cota retired from the army on 30 June 1946 as a major general.
Awards and decorations
Cota was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC), Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Silver Star for his heroism on Omaha Beach. Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery pinned the DSO on Cota. He received a Purple Heart and a second Silver Star in the attack at Saint-Lô.
Here is the list of his decorations:
Cota married Constance Martha "Connie" Alexander, at the Episcopal Church of the Incarnation (Madison Avenue and 35th Street) in New York City, on November 1, 1919. She was a writer-teacher and distant cousin of Eleanore Butler Alexander, the wife of Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.. Both Cota and Roosevelt were also distantly related, and interacted with one another during World War II during the 1st Infantry Division's operations in North Africa, when Roosevelt served as Assistant Division Commander and Cota served on the Division staff.
Norman and Connie had two children, Ann (23 October 1920 – 31 August 1996, the first girl born at the cadet hospital at West Point) and Norman Daniel "Dan" Cota, Jr. (15 December 1921 – 18 March 1988.
After the death of Connie in May 1969, he married Alice Weeks-McCutcheon, a widow, in October 1970.
Cota's son, U.S. Army Air Corps fighter pilot Lieutenant Colonel Norman Cota, Jr., provided reconnaissance for his father's division at Huertgen Forest.
- Miller, Robert A. (1989). Division Commander: A Biography of Major General Norman D. Cota. Reprint Company. ISBN 0-87152-438-4.
- Miller. - p.12.
- Miller. - p.12-13.
- Miller. - p.14.
- Bradbeer, Thomas G.; Lieutenant Colonel (ret). "Major General Cota and the Battle of the Huertgen Forest: A Failure of Battle Command?". United States Army Combined Arms Center. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- "Cota, Norman D.: Papers, 1912-1961". Dwight D. Eisenhower Library. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- "To Try Two Soldiers as Payroll Bandits". The New York Times. February 1, 1923.
- Miller. - p.32-33.
- Eisenhower Archives, Description, Jacob Devers Papers on Operation Husky, Box 2, Reel 8, Proposed Organization of an Assault Division -- Report by Norman Cota, retrieved March 4, 2014
- McGeorge, Major Stephen C.; U.S. Army. "Seeing the Battlefield: Brigadier General Norman D. Cota's "Bastard Brigade" at Omaha Beach". combatleadership.com. Retrieved May 16, 2011.
- Server, Lee (2002), Robert Mitchum: "Baby I Don't Care", Macmillan, ISBN 978-0312285432
- Miller. - p.161.
- Miller. - p.160.
- Greenwood, John T., ed. (2008), Normandy to Victory: The War Diary of General Courtney H. Hodges and the First U.S. Army, University Press of Kentucky, p. 409, ISBN 978-0813125251
- Ryan, Cornelius (1994), The Longest Day, Simon and Schuster, p. 286, ISBN 978-0671890919
- Miller. - p.193.
- Norman Cota at Find a Grave
- Irving. - p.172.
- Miller. - p.1.
- Whiting, Charles (2000). Battle Of Hurtgen Forest. Da Capo Press. p. 60. ISBN 978-1580970556.
- The Royalty, Peerage and Aristocracy of the World 90, Annuaire de France, 1967, p. 667
- Miller. - p.23.
- Social Security Death Index
- Miller, p. 24