Col. Henry Gole, U.S. Army (Ret.)
Defense guest author
Who the hell is Truman Smith?
But for the diagnosis
of diabetes in 1939, Smith's name would probably be as familiar to the public
today as, for example, Bradley, Clark, Stilwell, Collins, Wedemeyer, perhaps,
according to one of them, even Eisenhower. He was a good
soldier, a very good writer, and one of the last of the
"establishment" families, in the Cabot, Roosevelt, Acheson tradition.
When the ink was still drying on my biography of General William E. DePuy, the historians and
archivists at MHI (the Military History Institute, Carlisle, PA) encouraged me
to read the papers of Truman Smith and the unpublished
memoir of his wife, Katharine Alling Hollister Smith, My Life. I did. I was hooked. His writings -- personal, academic,
and official -- are the very model of lucidity. The U.S. Army encourages its
writers to be clear, concise, and complete. He is.
Kay Smith is expansive, colorful, often wrong, but
always fun to read. Here is a sample of how her admiration for all things
French turned to venom. The French "are the most immoral and dirty-minded
lot I ever saw." (She is just warming up.) "Her dress up to her knees
belied her face, which clearly not that of a young woman.... Her brilliantly
painted face beamed coquettishly at the tiny French officer who was nobly
dancing with her. And dancing under difficulties, for that expansive bosom
completely eclipsed his view of the ballroom." That's as irresistible as a
second martini -- about which she also has something to say.
Other sources, few as deliciously presented as
Kay's, also fell in my lap. Perhaps that's why it took me four years to write a
book I told my wife would take a year or a year and a half.
In 1919, Truman Smith saw the future.
1919, Smith conducted negotiations with German civil authorities on behalf of
the Office of Civil Affairs of the Army in Coblenz under Colonel I.L. Hunt. On
one occasion he had a long talk with Konrad Adenauer, mayor of Cologne and
future chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. Smith enjoyed working
with the Germans, but he became increasingly critical of French vindictiveness
in the occupation of Germany. In a May 8, 1919 letter to his wife Kay, he said
of treaty-making: "Evidently some would-be humorist at Paris thought this
war wasn't enough and decided we should enjoy another trip to Europe in fifteen
years or so to help poor embattled France again.... France, that pure savior of
civilization, is certainly a sorry spectacle today." And, in a letter of May
11, after studying the treaty terms: "If Wilson could have prevailed, it
would have been far different.... We have no place here amongst these racial
hatreds. Let us go home.... Certainly Germany will bide her time until the
first dissension appears in the Entente, and then..."
He was the first
American official ever to interview Hitler.
served in the American Embassy in Berlin from 1920 to 1924. Ambassador Alanson
B. Houghton sent him to Munich to talk to Prince Ruprecht to determine the
strength of the separatist movement in Bavaria; to Erich von Ludendorff to
determine his political ambitions; and to Adolf Hitler to get a sense of his
National Socialist Labor Party. On November 20, 1922, Smith became the first
American official to interview Hitler. He met Hitler in a house at Georgen
Strasse 42, Munich, a shabby place. Smith wrote, "A marvelous demagogue. I
have rarely listened to such a logical and fanatical man. His power over the
mob must be immense." Smith said Hitler's party was the Bavarian
counterpart to the Italian Fascisti.
Among the major points Smith reported were: anti-Semitism, parliament must go,
overthrow socialists and communists, win labor to nationalistic ideals,
monarchy is dead, establish national dictatorship.
He used Lindbergh to
gather intelligence on the Luftwaffe.
used Charles Lindbergh to penetrate the Luftwaffe in 1936 and reported detailed
findings to G-2, War Department General Staff. Smith was thoroughly familiar
with the German army but keenly aware of his ignorance regarding the rapidly
improving German air force. Knowing that the Nazis wanted to show the world the
progress made since their assumption of power in 1933, Smith made a deal.
Lindbergh would make an appearance at the Olympic games in Berlin in 1936; in
return, Smith and his assistant attaché for air would accompany Lindbergh on
visits to aviation research, production, test, and operational facilities.
Lindbergh sat in the cockpits or flew all of the aircraft with which Germany
entered WW II. This great intel coup was entirely the result of Smith's
Gen. Marshall stored
Smith's medical file in his own office in order to keep Smith in the Army.
routine physical before Smith's promotion to lieutenant colonel in 1939
revealed diabetes. By Army regulation he should have been medically retired.
But Chief of Staff Marshall retained the officer best informed about Germany --
and a first-rate strategist -- in his G-2 shop. Marshall kept Smith's medical
file in a cabinet in his office. In 1941, when Marshall was clearing leadership
of those who could not keep up in mobile warfare, a general complained that
Marshall was favoring regulars over reservists and National Guard officers,
using Smith as an example. Smith was retired in the autumn of 1941, but
Marshall personally called Smith, then residing in Connecticut, shortly after
the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, asking him to return to active duty in the
G-2 shop. Smith said he never wanted to leave. Smith enjoyed the high opinion
of his peers. General Albert Wedemeyer expressed his gratitude for Smith's
assistance in developing the Victory Plan and said: "Had [diabetes] not
intervened, Smith might have played a role equal in influence to Eisenhower's
in WW II."
He played an
important role in the creation of the post-war Germany army.
fought and respected the German Army of King and Kaiser in 1918. From 1919 to
1924, he served in Germany where he observed the Reichswehr, the German Army of
100,000 well-trained volunteers. While at Fort Benning as one of Marshall's
men, he monitored the German Army and became a close and lifelong friend of
Adolf von Schell, the first German exchange officer after WW I. Schell later
served as a major general in the Wehrmacht. Marshall and Schell also became
friends. As military attaché in Berlin from 1935 to 1939, Smith enjoyed
excellent relations with Wehrmacht officers, some he had known for years, some
in key posts, and some close friends. In Washington from 1939 to 1945, he was a
German specialist and the ETO briefer during WW II. He knew Germany, Germans,
and the German Army very well. In April of 1945, even before the war in Europe
ended, General Hans Speidel sent Smith a letter. The Smith-Speidel
correspondence continued until two weeks before Smith died in 1970. Smith at
first sent food packages to his old friends and reconnected with them. Because
he was so well wired to Germans (among them: Schell, Warlimont, Pappenheim,
Reichenau, Horst Mellenthin) and to Americans in key positions (among them: H.
Hoover, Acheson, Marshall, Wedemeyer, O. Bradley, Joe Collins, both Dulles
brothers, Hanson Baldwin) Smith played an important role as German rearmament
was considered. It can be said that he was midwife at the birth of the
Bundeswehr in 1955. However, in his "Estimate of the German Army," December
15, 1963, he says that army "is unworthy to stand comparison with any
German army of the past two centuries." The reason: "psychological
isolation from the nation."
Henry G. Gole is a retired Special Forces
colonel who began his military career as a BAR man in the Korean War. Among his
four tours in Germany were assignments in infantry, special forces, and as an attaché,
the last in Bonn from 1973 to 1977. Among his three tours in Asia were 5th
Special Forces Group and MACVSOG in Vietnam. He has taught at the United States
Military Academy at West Point and at the Army War College, Carlisle Barracks,
PA. He earned a Ph.D. in history and has written four
books: The Road to Rainbow: Army
Planning for Global War, 1934-1940 (2003); Soldiering: Observations
from Korea, Vietnam, and Safe Places (2005); General William E. DePuy:
Preparing the Army for Modern War (2008); his
most recent book (2013) is Exposing the Third Reich:
Colonel Truman Smith in Hitler's Germany. He resides with his trophy
wife in Mechanicsburg,