Jacob Loucks Devers, 1887-1979

Jacob Loucks Devers (1887-1979) was the commander of the 6th Army Group during the final battles on the southern front in France and Germany in 1944-45. 

Devers was born in Pennsylvania in 1887. He graduated from West Point in 1909 and joined the Artillery. He didn’t get to France during the First World War, instead serving at the School of Fire at Fort Still.

Like almost every officer of his generation promotion came slowly during the inter-war period. He served at the Field Artillery School in 1925-28, where he developed a better method for getting guns on target. During this period he came to the attention of General Marshall, and when the US army began to expand in 1939 his career rapidly accelerated. In June 1939 (some sources date this to 1 May 1940) he was made chief of staff of the Panama Canal Division, with the rank of brigadier-general (leaping over 474 more senior colonels). In July 1940 he returned to Washington as a senior army member of the board that picked the bases the US wanted as part of the Destroyers for Bases deal. On 9 October 1940 he was given command of the 9th Infantry Division at Fort Bragg, and was in command as the base expanded four-fold. By the end of 1940 he had been promoted to Major General.

Detail from Battle of Scheveningen by Willem van de Velde the Elder
General Devers inspects Punjabi troops, Italy, 1944

In July 1941 Devers was appointed as chief of the Armored Force. He disagreed with the existing American orthodoxy, as laid down by General McNair, which called for a mix of fast medium tanks to exploit gaps in the enemy lines and heavily armed but lightly armoured tank destroyers to defeat German attacks. Devers supported the development of heavier tanks, but his efforts came too late and only a handful of M26 Pershing heavy tanks reached Europe late in the war. He was promoted to lieutenant general in September 1942.

In May 1943 Devers was appointed as overall commander of the European Theatre of Operations, United States Army, and he spent the rest of 1943 preparing for Operation Overlord. However he was denied command of the operation, which went to Eisenhower.

Late in 1943 Devers moved to the Mediterranean to serve as Deputy Supreme Allied Commander to General Henry Wilson, possibly because Eisenhower wanted him out the way. His relationship with Eisenhower never really recovered from this demotion. From January 1944 to October 1944 he was also head of the North African Theatre of Operations, United States Army (NATOUSA).

Alongside these other posts, Devers was also chosen to command the Allied armies that were to invade the south of France. His new 6th Army HQ was formed at Bastia on Corsica on 1 August 1944, giving Devers his first ever combat command. The Army Group was made up of the US 7th Army (Patch) and the French 1st Army (Jean de Lattre de Tassigny), the two units that were to take part in Operation Dragoon. Devers thus officially had an equal rank to Montgomery and Bradley, but he wasn’t one of Eisenhower’s inner circle, and his army group was seen as operating on a subsidiary front. He also suffered from difficult relations with his French subordinates and with de Gaulle, who was prone to issue orders directly to de Lattre.

The actual landings in the south of France were commanded by Patch, with Devers having an over supervisory role. His 6th Army Group became operational on 15 September 1944 at Lyons, after troops advancing from the south met up with Patton’s forces advancing east after the breakout from Normandy. Devers thus took up a position on the far right of the Allied line, eventually facing the German border on the upper Rhine, with Switzerland on his right.

US 4th Armoured Division at Landshut
Devers visits US 4th Armoured Division at Landshut

On 15 September de Lattre’s French forces moved from Patch’s control to Dever’s Army Group. Devers ended up with 750,000 men under his command, of whom 400,000 were French.

From 15 September to 7 November 1944 Devers new command liberated more of France than any other army group, with Patch advancing on the left (next to Patton) and de Lattre advancing on the right. This meant that the French captured the iconic Belfort Gap and Mulhouse, and reached the Swiss frontier. However when the advance ended the German 19th Army (Wiese) held on to the Colmar Pocket, west of the Rhine, and this wasn’t entirely cleared until February 1944.

When Germans attacked in Alsace on 31 December 1944 (Operation Nordwind), he was given orders to hold Strasbourg at all costs.

After the Colmar Pocket was cleared, Devers and Patron coordinated their attacks to clear the Rhineland.

In March 1945 Devers was promoted to full general, at least in part because of Marshall’s support. His promotion was dated to 8 March 1945, two days ahead of Mark Clark and four ahead of Bradley, giving him seniority. His army group attacked across the Rhine on 26 March 1945, and on 5 May he accepted the surrender of Army Group G and all German troops in southern Germany and Austria.

After the war Devers served as command of US Army Ground Forces for four years, retiring in 1949. He was Chairman of the American Battle Monuments Commission from 1959 to 1969, and died in 1979.  

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 December 2020), Jacob Loucks Devers, 1887-1979 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_devers.html

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