Command Failures

By Ossad, Steven L. | Army, March 2003 | Go to article overview

Command Failures


Ossad, Steven L., Army


Lessons Learned from Lloyd R. Fredendall

In war, as in most human endeavors, historians are concerned mostly with winners, and so biographers usually catalog their deeds and analyze their performance. The lessons learned from defeat and failure on the battlefield, field, however, may be even more striking and important, especially when all the evidence suggests that the subject should have been a hero and his early record was a harbinger of success.

In such cases, where the judgment of history has placed a promising commander among the ranks of the losers and the forgotten, it behooves us to understand the reasons.

Lt. Gen. Lloyd R. Fredendall, one of America's first heroes of World War II-who ended up in obscurity-is just such an example. His story can serve as both a warning and a guide.

Lloyd Ralston Fredendall was born on December 28, 1883, in Cheyenne, Wyo. His father, Ira Livingston Fredendall, was a settler from New York who became sheriff of Laramie before receiving a commission in the Quartermaster Corps during the Spanish-American War. He remained in the service and through his political connections secured an appointment from Sen. Joseph Warren for his son to enter the class of 1905 at the U.S. Military Academy. As in the more famous case of Douglas MacArthur, Fredendall's mother, a domineering and strong-willed woman, accompanied the plebe to Highland Falls. Described by a classmate as "a very soldierly little fellow, but extremely goaty in mathematics," Lloyd performed so poorly in trigonometry and analytic geometry and behaved so badly that he was dismissed after just one semester.

His mother was furious and successfully pressed Sen. Warren to appoint him the next year, but he dropped out a second time. Although the senator was still willing to nominate him again, this time the senator's offer was declined by the Academy. Undaunted, however, and displaying determination and stubborn pride in the face of failure, Fredendall took the officer's qualifying exam in 1906 while attending the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scoring first out of 70 applicants. On February 13, 1907, just one and a half years after his West Point classmates, he received a commission in the Regular Army as a second lieutenant of Infantry.

After service in the Philippines and other overseas and stateside assignments, he shipped out to France with the 28th Infantry Regiment in August of 1917, where he held a succession of assignments in the Army's overseas schools. He soon built a record as an excellent teacher, trainer and administrator of troops, ending the war as a temporary lieutenant colonel, although like other men who later gained prominence in World War II-Marshall, Eisenhower, Bradley and Collins, for example-he had never seen action.

The end of the Great War did not mark any significant change in the pattern of his assignments, and he continued to draw mostly staff and training duties. He was both instructor and student at the Infantry School (1922), was a 1923 "distinguished" graduate (placing 31 out of 151) of the Command and General Staff School (CGSS) and attended the Army War College (1925). His stints in Washington at the Statistics Branch, the Inspector General's Department and as Executive Officer, Office of the Chief of Infantry (1938-39), led to important contacts that would later greatly affect his career.

The most important of these were his relationships with George C. Marshall and Lesley J. McNair. The latter-who was severely wounded while visiting North Africa in April 1943 and killed during the St. Lo Breakout in July 1944became head of ground forces and probably the most respected training officer in the U.S. Army. He had a natural affinity and very high regard for Fredendall and included him on a list of three men he thought capable of commanding American forces in Britain.

In the years just before World War II, Fredendall filled the gaps in his line experience by successively commanding the 57th Infantry Regiment (Philippine Scouts), the 4th Infantry Division (the Army's first large fully motorized unit) and II Corps.

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