Leonard Townsend Gerow, 1888-1972

Leonard Gerow (1888-1972) was the commander of the US 5th Corps from July 1943 until the start of 1945, and led it from Omaha Beach into Germany. Gerow graduated from the Virginian Military Institute in 1911 and immediately entered the army. He served with the American Expeditionary Force in France in 1918. Between the wars he spent four separate spells working on the War Department General Staff (War Plans and Organisation Section 1923-24, Office of Assistant Secretary of War 1926-29, War Plans Division 1935-1939 and Assistance Chief of Staff with duty in War Plans Division 1940-41).

At the start of 1942 he was nominated as the original US Army representative on the Combined Planners, part of the Combined Chiefs of Staff organisation but on 16 February 1942 he was appointed to command the 29th Infantry Division, two days after being promoted to Major General. In November 1942 he took his division to Britain, where on 15 July 1943 he was appointed to command the 5th Corps, replacing General Russell P. Hartle.

On D-Day 5th Corps, led by the 1st Infantry Division, had the task of landing on Omaha Beach, where they faced the most complete section of the Atlantic Wall and the best natural defences on any of the five D-Day beaches. Gerow spent an anxious morning waiting for reports from Colonel Benjamin B. Talley, his assistant chief of staff, who spent the day watching the landings from a DUKW cruising 500-1000 yards off the beach. Just prior to the landings Gerow changed the assault plans. In the original plans the 115th Infantry had been designated as a floating reserve. Instead he decided to send it in at H plus 4. This decision had mixed results – the 115th Infantry arrived in time to add to both the American strength on the beach and to the confusion. 

After D-Day Gerow's corps became involved in the tough fighting between the hedges of the bocage country. His corps played a minor part in Operation Cobra, launching holding attacks designed to tie down the German forces on his front. His corps attacked the north-western corner of the Falaise pocket, but ran into stiff resistance around Vire.

The end of the battle for the Falais Gap was followed by the virtual collapse of German resistance in France. The original 5th Corps was pinched out when the pocket collapsed, and its divisions redistributed, while Gerow moved his headquarters 100 miles from Mortain to Argentan, where he formed a new 5th Corps with three divisions from General Wade Haislip's 15th Corps (the rest of this corps joined Patton).

The new 5th Corps carried out the liberation of Paris. The 2nd French Armoured division attacked from the west and the American 4th Infantry Division from the south, and by 8.30am on 25 August French tanks were on the Champs Élysées and American troops had reached Notre Dame. Gerow was the first American major general to enter Paris, where he soon clashed with de Gaulle over the administration of the city.

After leaving Paris the 5th Corps advanced into Germany, taking part in the fighting in the Huertgen Forest from 2 November and reaching the Roer River at the start of December. On 16 December, when the Germans launched their Ardennes offensive (battle of the Bulge), Gerow was advancing towards the Roer dams when his corps was attacked by the right wing of the German attack. He was the first senior Allied commander to realise how serious the situation was, and at noon on 16 December asked for permission to abandon the attack on the dams and pull back to the Butgenbach Ridge. General Hodges, who still believed that this was only a minor attack, turned down this request, but once the scale of the crisis became clear Gerow turned south and occupied a position between Malmedy and Butgenbach which put it at the eastern end of the northern shoulder of the 'bulge'.

On 1 January 1945 Gerow was promoted to Lieutenant General, and on 14 December he was given command of the 15th Army, the last American field army to see service in Western Europe. Gerow's main task in this new role was to oversee the recovery of those 12th Army Groups units that had suffered most during the battle of the Bulge, but in April the 15th Army entered combat during the final operations against the Ruhr Pocket, attacking from the west.

After the end of the war Gerow's headquarters established the Theatre General Board, which had the task of evaluating the American army's performance in the European Theatre of Operations. At first the army also had some occupation duties, but by the summer it was focusing almost entirely on historical study. Gerow remained in post until October 1945, when he was replaced by General Patton. Between November 1945 and January 1948 Gerow was commandant of the Army's Command and General Staff School, and from 1948 until his retirement in 1950 he commanded the Second Army. He retired on 31 July 1950 with the rank of full general.

The D-Day Companion, ed. Jane Penrose. A selection of thirteen separate essays on different aspects of the D-Day lands, from the initial planning to post-war memorials; this is an excellent piece of work that sets the D-Day landings firmly in context. An excellent starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about Operation Overlord, but its wide range of topics means it is likely to be of value to anyone with an interest in the subject. [see more]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 May 2009), Leonard Townsend Gerow, 1888-1972 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_gerow_leonard.html

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