General Troy Houston Middleton (1889-1976) was one of the most able corps commanders in the US army, taking part in the invasion of Sicily, the landings at Salerno, the Brittany campaign, and most famously the battle of the Bulge, where he played a major role in the successful defence of Bastogne.
Middleton was born on 12 October 1889 on a plantation in Mississippi. He studied for West Point entry, but failed to get into the academy, and so instead joined the army directly in 1910. He served with the American Expeditionary Force during the First World War, becoming its youngest colonel. He remained in the army after the war, but retired in 1937 because of an irregular heartbeat.
After leaving the army he became Dean of Administration at Louisiana State University, where he had been the Professor of Military Science and Tactics for six years while in the army. In June 1939 the University’s president was discovered to have been embezzling the institution. Middleton was appointed as acting vice-president and comptroller and helped steer the university out of the resulting crisis.
By 1941 Middleton was suffering from a number of health problems, including an arthritic knee. As a result he wasn’t recalled to active duty until 20 January 1942, and even then was allocated to training duty. He was rescued from obscurity six months later after George Marshall learnt of his role. Mark Clark soon snapped him up, getting him a promotion and appointing him as deputy commander of the 45th Infantry ‘Thunderbird’ Division. In October 1942 he was promoted to two-star general and given command of the division.
Middleton first led his division in combat on Sicily, landing on D-Day (10 July 1943) on the right of the American zone. His division took part in Patton’s drive to Palermo, in the north-west of the island. During the campaign he clashed with Patton after he was ordered to censor the work of the cartoonist Bill Mauldin, most famous for creating ‘Willie and Joe’, who represented the standard G.I.
Middleton landed on D+1 at Salerno, where the landings had run into serious problems. He took two regiments, and helped plug a gap in the centre of the line around the Sele River, which the Germans were using to attack towards the beach. After helping to restore the line, he also helped convince Mark Clark that the beachhead could be held, and not to abandon all or part of it. Soon after the breakout from Salerno Middleton was hospitalized because of problems with his good knee, but Eisenhower refused to consider invaliding him home.
On 4 March 1944 Middleton arrived in Britain, where he was given command of the 8th Corps. His corps became operational on 15 June 1944, and took part in the campaign in the Cotentin, taking part in the push west to cut off the peninsula. After the breakout produced by Operation Cobra he was allocated to Patton’s newly activated 3rd Army, and given the task of clearing Brittany. At the start of this campaign he suffered from contradictory orders – Bradley, by now commanding the US army group, wanted a methodical advance along the north and south coasts, capturing east port in turn before taking Brest. Patton wanted to ignore the north coast ports and head straight for Brest. In the end both men got their way, with part of Middleton’s corps heading directly to Brest, while other troops besieged St. Malo on the north coast. Brest held out for longer than expected, and by the time it fell on 19 September 1944 the port facilities had been destroyed (as at St. Malo). By this point the Allies had already pushed east across France, and the plans to use the Breton ports were abandoned.
At the end of the Breton campaign Middleton’s corps was moved to a quiet area, in the Schnee Eiffel, with his troops spread out across a wide, thinly defended front, and his HQ in Bastogne. As a result he was right in the path of the German offensive in the Ardennes when it began on 16 December. Middleton was ordered to move his HQ from Bastogne to Neufchateau, seventeen miles further to the south-west, but he decided to wait in Bastogne to meet with General McAuliffe, whose 101st Airborne Division was being rushed to the area. Middleton diverted McAuliffe from his original destination further north at Werbomont, and instead allocated him to the defence of Bastogne.
After the battle of the Bulge Middleton’s corps consisted of the 4th Armoured, 16th and 101st Airborne and 87th Infantry Divisions. It took part in the advance to the Rhine, capturing Koblenz on 16-19 March 1945. Middleton’s corps then crossed the Rhine near the famous rock of Lorelei at St Goar, about half way between Coblenz and Mainz, a position deliberately chosen because it hadn’t been used before. Middleton then took part in the push across southern Germany, finally meeting the Red Army on the Czech border around Chemnitz and Plauen.
Middleton was promoted to three star general on 5 June 1945, but he retired from the army soon afterwards, on 10 August 1945. He returned to Louisiana State University, where he worked as comptroller, and then as president from 1951-62.