Dwight D. Eisenhower "Ike", graduated from West Point in 1915 ranked 61st in a class of 164 better known for his abilities on the football field than in the classroom. Upon graduation from West Point he seriously considered a civilian life, rather than pursuing a commission. He spent WWI in the United States in a logistics position, and was not sent to Europe. In the interwar period he again considered leaving the military and a career which he considered at a dead end.

At the beginning of WWII his rank was lieutenant colonel. When his friend George Patton was given a field command, Eisenhower asked for a position on Patton's staff which was denied by United States Army Chief of Staff George Marshal.

The position George Marshal ultimately appointed Ike to was Supreme Allied Commander Europe (Eisenhower was appointed December 1943), an advancement over nearly 400 more senior officers.

My question is: Why was Ike, with no combat experience, chosen to lead? How had he transformed his career from logistical support to the fast track during peace time? Were their any specific postings, commanding officers, personal decisions which were instrumental in this transformation? Where had he first come to the attention of George Marshall?

From Jos in the Comments:
The idea that (in the above question) a mediocre ltn-col is told he's in the running for the 5 star general position is preposterous.

There were actually two occasions where Eisenhower was nearly placed on Patton's staff. Both times Marshal interceded. The first time was Sept 1940 the second time was April 1942.

The first occassion, Patton asked Ike if he would be interested in a subordinate command position.

General Ike: A Personal Reminiscence by John Eisenhower page 46-47
Patton had no intention of remaining a brigadier general, however, nor did his friend George Marshal, Chief of Staff, intend that he do so. By Sept of 1940 Patton was daily expecting to take command of the entire 2d Armored Division, not just a single brigade. In the process of finding officers to staff his new command he wrote to Ike, his old friend from twenty years earlier, suggesting that the latter request transfer from the Infantry to the Armored Corps, specifically to Patton's 2d Armored Division.

Ike was pleased and flattered. At the time his sights were set only on commanding a regiment in the coming war, and an armored regiment sounded even more exciting than the 15th Infantry. He responded immediately and enthusiastically. "I suppose it's too much to hope that I could have a regiment in your division," he (Eisenhower) wrote, "because I'm still almost three years away from my colonelcy. But I think I could do a damn good job of commanding a regiment."

two weeks later Patton followed up with word he would request Ike as chief of staff. Patton finishes his letter with the flourish: "Hoping we are together in a long and BLOODY war."

The exchange, of coarse, came to nothing, because Ike's services were considered too important at other, higher echelons--successively as chief of staff at 3d Infantry Division, IX Corps.

The Second Time was in April of 1942

Two Generals Apart: Patton and Eisenhower
Patton and Eisenhower's next meeting came in April of 1942. Prior to this meeting, both men competing for the same position as commander of the European campaign, a position which Eisenhower later received. Before he received this position Eisenhower wanted to do something different. He wanted to join his old friend, who was to go to war while Eisenhower was sitting in a desk job. Eisenhower wrote to Patton, "Maybe I'll finally get out of this slave seat, so I can let loose a little with you. By that time you'll be the ‘black jack' of the damn war." Eisenhower wanted to join Patton on the front lines. He was hoping he would be sent there by Army Chief of Staff, George Marshall (1880-1959), however, he was given the rank of Major General and the position of the United States Commander of the European front (June of 1942).

Eisenhower would be advanced to Supreme Allied Commander Europe Dec 1943.

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    You seem to miss the fact that Ike was number one at the Army Command and Staff College. West Point isn't the end all and be all of officership for the US Army. (Patton had some academic problems, among others ...) Ike is someone who grew in his abilities over the course of his service. Class Standing at West Point (or Annapolis) is hardly a guarantor of high level success. (See Senator McCain as a case in point ...) Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 21:17
  • Yes @KorvinStarmast. That's a piece of it. But between 1918 and 1942 there were 24 people who finished first at the Army Command and Staff College.
    – user27618
    Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 22:08
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    The idea that (in the above question) a mediocre ltn-col is told he's in the running for the 5 star general position is preposterous.
    – Jos
    Commented Jan 4, 2018 at 0:20
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    I had a very mediocre to bad university entrance diploma. I failed my studies in one field. After a stint of stop-gap employment, I finished studies in another field at the top of class, and am working as professional in that field ever since (ca. 20 years). Things happen; vita aren't always arrow-straight, and sometimes one's priorities change.
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 8:38
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    As supreme commander, his job was largely political, not military tactics. He had to keep a coalition together and counterbalance strong and ambitious personalities... Montgomery at one point tried to usurp him. So the lack of combat experience wouldn't have been as much a factor as a reputation for being able to get fractious military personalities to work together.
    – tj1000
    Commented Jan 5, 2018 at 18:44

4 Answers 4


I may be wrong, but I don't think George Marshall ever spoke about his reasons for promoting Eisenhower (although he did prepare a series of biennial reports for the Secretary of War between July 1939 & June 1945.

Holbrook W. Yorke, a librarian at the United States Military Academy Library, compiled a bibliography for Eisenhower in 1990. This was one of a number of commemorative activities carried out for the centenary of Eisenhower's birth.

Another document produced for that anniversary was a biography written for the US Army. Most of what follows has been extracted from this document, supplemented with information from Eric Sixsmith's Eisenhower as Military Commander.

In 1930 Eisenhower was appointed as special assistant to General Douglas MacArthur, who was then Chief of Staff. He wrote MacArthur's speeches, lobbied politicians and prepared a number of studies of military mobilisation, and especially of the development of air power in relation to land battles. Eisenhower accompanied MacArthur to the Philippines from 1935 to 1939, and continued to impress his commander.

On his return to the United States, Eisenhower briefly commanded a battalion of the 15th Infantry and later became Chief of Staff of the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Lewis.

We know Eisenhower was appointed Assistant Chief of Staff in charge of the Operations Division under General George C. Marshall who was Chief of Staff. We know that Marshall explicitly requested Eisenhower for his staff in the immediate aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Eisenhower accompanied Marshall to the Arcadia Conference in Washington from 22 December 1941 to 14 January 1942. At the Arcadia Conference,

"... the United States and Great Britain confirmed their "Germany first" strategy and created the Combined Chiefs of Staff to direct the war. Winston Churchill, who met Eisenhower at the conference, was impressed by his trenchant assessment of the European situation."

Shortly after the Arcadia Conference, Eisenhower was appointed as chief of the War Plans Division (which would become the Operations Division). His role there was to draft the basic strategy for the war against the Axis. He was tasked with producing a memorandum outlining the general strategy that the Allies should pursue, for the benefit of the President and the Combined Chiefs. The document that Eisenhower had produced:

"... was in effect a precis of the next three years of the war."

Although the report contained nothing new,

"The cumulative effect of Eisenhower's staff work in the War Department and his dealings with the British convinced General Marshall that this was the man to take command of American forces in the European Theater. On 25 June 1942, he designated Eisenhower Commanding General, European Theater, with headquarters in London."

However, it's not quite true to say that:

"The position George Marshal had in mind for Ike was Supreme Allied Commander Europe"

since that position didn't actually exist when Eisenhower was posted to London.

Another critical factor was that Eisenhower was also extremely good at working with people. He:

"... persuaded the British to accept it in lieu of the committee system to which they were accustomed. His personal qualities played a large part in gaining acceptance of a much more centralized and powerful Allied command than had existed in World War 1. Men instinctively trusted him, and his measured approach to command reinforced a conviction that he was an honest broker whose central purpose was the defeat of the enemy, rather than the pursuit of any national agenda."

In essence, he had the trust of General Marshall in the United States, and also of Winston Churchill and the senior Britsh military staff. He had the political skills that he had acquired while working for MacArthur in Washington, and a clear understanding of the strategy that should be pursued (after all, he had drafted it!). He was the logical choice for Supreme Allied Commander Europe when the need for that role was recognised.


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    I don't think that "and continued to impress his commander." is quite justified in light of Macarthur's famous disparaging comment about Eisenhower: "Best clerk I ever had" Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 3:43
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    @PieterGeerkens According to Sixsmith, he was kept back during WW1 because of his abilities as an instructor. As for MacArthur's (much later) remark, I suspect that was sour grapes after Eisenhower had been promoted over him. According to the US Army biography, at the time MacArthur considered Eisenhower "the best staff officer in the Army" and said that "his principal strength was an ability to look at problems from the point of view of the high command". Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 11:38
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    @PieterGeerkens Perhaps also worth remembering Eisenhower's response to MacArthur's "Best clerk ..." quote: "I learned dramatics under MacArthur". :) Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 11:39
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    @JMS: In WWII the US entered the war two years after it started in Europe, and didn't employ ground troops there in any significant numbers until well after the high tide of German operations. Just saying...
    – DevSolar
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 8:53
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    @JMS: It was just to point out a single, but notable, exception to the general refusal by Pershing to farm out troops piecemeal to the British and French. That the 93rd also performed admirably, arguably gloriously, north-east of Paris that spring undoubtedly also advanced the slow integration of U.S. military one more tiny step.. Commented Jan 20, 2020 at 23:18

The organizer of the American army was one George C. Marshall, a "civilian" General who was perhaps better known for his diplomatic achievements (e.g. the Marshall Plan as Secretary of State), than for his military prowess.

The one thing that the U.S. Army excelled in was logistics, that is, supplying its troops. That made the U.S. Army very good, even though its soldiers and officers were no better (and possibly worse) than anyone else's. American units won battles because they had more air and artillery support, and ammunition supplies than those of other armies, even though they didn't do that well on the (rare) occasions where they were only "equally" armed.

With the possible exception of George Patton, Marshall's appointments distinguished themselves on the logistical rather than tactical side: Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, Mark Clark, Lloyd Fredenall, and others. The last two proved to be tactically inept commanders, Eisenhower and Bradley were adequate in this regard, and Patton was the standout in this group; his Third Army advanced further and faster than any other American army.

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    George C. Marshal was a career Military officer who graduated from Virginia Military Institute, fought in the Philippines, and WWI. Was mentored by Pershing. Finished first in his class at Army Staff College. Was in instructor at both the War College, and the Infantry College. During WWII he was the highest ranking officer in the United States Army, Army Chief of Staff and achieved the rank of five star general. How do you call him a civilian officer?
    – user27618
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 20:52
  • Also other than his initial posting in 1915, Eisenhower was not in logistics was he?
    – user27618
    Commented Dec 21, 2017 at 21:01
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    @JMS: "Amateur strategists think about tactics; professionals think about logistics." That's ultimately why we beat the Nazis. The interwar German commanders developed tactics, and the interwar American commanders developed logistics. The Germans nearly always had the advantage when they fought "straight up" (roughly equal numbers of men, supplies, equipment, etc.), but they almost never fought "straight up" against the Americans.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 17:46
  • I'm missing your point. logistics are not a synonym for strategy, and tactics are not a focal point for amateurs. They are three different vantages of war which all feed each other. Logistics is a strength of the US army given the US army generally fights thousands of miles from home. The Germans biggest liability in WWII wasn't a lack of strategy, tactics, or logistics; it was they were overmatched, overextended, and had a madman amateur egomaniac dictating all three to their professionals.
    – user27618
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 19:27

Ike was selected because he was a good politician: he could work with the British well.

At the end of December 1941, for example, he accompanied Marshall to the Arcadia Conference at which the United States and Great Britain confirmed their "Germany first" strategy and created the Combined Chiefs of Staff to direct the war. Winston Churchill, who met Eisenhower at the conference, was impressed by his trenchant assessment of the European situation...

The cumulative effect of Eisenhower's staff work in the War Department and his dealings with the British convinced General Marshall that this was the man to take command of American forces in the European Theater. On 25 June 1942, he designated Eisenhower Commanding General, European Theater, with headquarters in London.

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    There's a little more to it than that. As Marshal's deputy, he also wrote "a document that was in effect a precis of the next three years of the war". The biography has a lot more detail. :) Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 20:57
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    You're right than anyone can write a paper. But Ike actually did write it, and he wrote it for the man who would promote him to the post of Supreme Allied Commander Europe. :) Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 21:02
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    @JMS I'm guessing you haven't served in the military. Sidelined ≠ failed. Commented Dec 5, 2017 at 23:54
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    @JMS He contemplated leaving the army because he felt he has "missed the boat" for active service, and also because he had been offered a highly-paid job from an Indiana businessman who had served under him. Not because he considered himself a failure. Read Eisenhower as Military Commander by Sixsmith (link in my answer below). It seems that neither Sixsmith, nor the official US Army biography concur with your assessment. Commented Dec 6, 2017 at 1:30
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    in the last of the allied summits before his appointment, where Roosevelt, Churchill and other dignitaries met with military leaders, it was noted that Roosevelt had spent more time chatting with Ike than it would be expected. One may infer that Roosevelt was trying to personally access if he was the right man for the job. [reference book The European Campain by the Strategic Studies Insitute of the USArmy]
    – Luiz
    Commented Dec 27, 2017 at 16:09

When in the Navy, we were told that up to the rank of Captain (Army Colonel) advancement was because of accomplishment. But once you became an Admiral (Army General) advancement was through politics.

Eisenhower's advancement seems to have been largely political all the way. Impressing Winston Churchill would certainly have been a BIG factor in Ike's promotion to the position. Also, in multinational operations, over-all command has traditionally gone to the country with the largest number of troops, so the Command would have to be an American General.

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