Courtney Hicks Hodges (1887-1966) was commander of the US First Army after the breakout from Normandy, and his army was the first into Paris, first into Germany, first across the Rhine, and first to join up with the Soviets.
Hodges was born in Perry, Georgia, in 1887. He attended West Point for two years, but had to leave because he couldn’t cope with the advanced maths that formed a key part of the course. Instead he enlisted as a private in1906, and rose to the rank of 2nd Lieutenant in 1909, only one year later than if he had completed the course.
Early in his career he served with Eisenhower in the Philippines. Hodges took part in Pershing’s ‘Punative Expedition’ into Mexico in 1916, an attempt to capture Pancho Villa after his raid on New Mexico. He served with the infantry in France during the First World War, where he was promoted to lieutenant-commander and won the DSC. He commanded an infantry battalion during the Meuse Argonne campaign.
Between the wars Hodges taught at West Point and assistant commander of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, then Commandant of the school from 7 October 1940 to 3 March 1941, with the rank of brigadier general.
In May 1941 he was promoted to major-general and became chief of infantry from 30 May 1941 to 9 March 1942. In this role he helped introduce the bazooka and the M-1 carbine into service and helped with the development of airborne forces. He was then given command of the Replacement and School Command in Birmingham, Alabama. He took command of the 10th Corps HQ when it was formed at San Antonio on 12 May 1942, and held that post until February 1943. In February 1943 he was promoted to lieutenant-general, and commanded the 3rd Army HQ and the Southern Defense Command at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.
Hodges accompanied the 3rd Army when it moved to Britain at the end of 1943, but was replaced as its commander by Patton in January 1944. Instead he was appointed as Bradley’s deputy. The plan was for Bradley to be the senior US ground forces commander during the invasion of north-western Europe. On D-Day he would command the US 1st Army, but once enough troops had been landed Patton’s 3rd Army would be activated, Bradley would be promoted to command the 12th Army Group, while Hodges would replace him as commander of the 1st Army.
This approach avoided having duplicate army group and army HQs during the early stages of the command, and meant the changeover of command would go fairly smoothly, but it also meant that Hodges would inherit Bradley’s staff rather than being able to select his own. This would cause problems – Bradley’s staff included a number of able but prickly officers, who Bradley could cope with, but who clashed with Hodges.
After taking command of the 1st Army on 1 August 1944, Hodges took part in the advance across northern France to Belgium (with his troops being the first to enter Paris), before reaching the Siegfried Line close to Aachen. His army took part in the capture of Aachen, the first German city to fall into Allied hands. He was also involved in the attack towards the Roer River dams, which took US troops into the Hurtgen Forest, one of the more controversial battles of the war.
Hodges was caught out by the German Ardennes offensive, but responded fairly well. On 17 December he asked for the two airborne divisions to be committed to the battle, and it was the arrival of the 101st Airborne that saved Bastogne. Hodges’s army and the US Ninth Army were both placed under Montgomery’s command on 20 December after they lost touch with Bradley, who’s HQ was probably too close to the front line before the attack. Montgomery and Hodges contribution to the victory has been controversial ever since, with Montgomery claiming that the 1st Army was fighting well, but not as a coherent whole. After taking over Montgomery actually asked for permission to relieve Hodges if required, although Eisenhower did stand up for him, telling Montgomery that ‘Hodges in the quiet reticent type and does not appear as aggressive as hie really is’. In the end Montgomery didn’t need to replace Hodges.
After the battle was over Hodges army crossed the Rhine at Remagen, and advanced to the Elbe, where his men met up with the advancing Soviets in March 1945.
Hodges tends to be underestimated, but his army was perhaps the hardest fighting of any of the US armies after he took command. It suffered more casualties than any other, but also took more prisoners than any other, was the first to enter Paris, the first into Germany, the first across the Rhine and the first to meet up with the Soviets.
Hodges was promoted to full general – the last of thirteen to receive that rank during the war. He was ordered to move east with his HQ to take part in the invasion of Japan, and had actually reached Manila when the war ended. Hodges remained commander of the 1st Army, now based at Fort Sam Houston, Texas, until his retirement in 1949. He died in 1966.