U.S. Army’s youngest General, Mark W. Clark, is thought by many to be one of the best U.S. Generals of World War II. His service career started in April of 1917 as a graduate of West Point Academy. He was appointed as a 2nd lieutenant of Infantry but rose quickly in rank with the rapid escalation of the United States involvement in WWI. By August of that same year, he was already a captain.
More Promotions for Clark
During WWI, Clark served in France with the US 11th Infantry. As a result of the serious shrapnel wounds he received, he was transferred General Staff Headquarters of the First US Army and then eventually began serving with the Third Army in Germany.
Following World War I, General Marshall took note of Clark’s capabilities. From 1921 – 24, Clark served in the office of the Secretary of War as an aide. The following year (1925), he finished his professional officer’s course at the Infantry School. From there, Clark began serving as a staff officer with the 30th Infantry in San Francisco. He then went to the Indiana National Guard where he served as a training instructor. It was during this time he received a promotion to Major (January, 1933).
Duties from 1935 through 1940
- 1935-36: Deputy commander of Civilian Conservation Corps in Omaha, NE
- 1935: Tour at Command and General Staff School
- 1937: Tour at Army War College
- 1940: Chosen to instruct at Army War College
While at the Army War College, Clark was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In August of 1941, Clark received a two grade promotion to brigadier general. As the US Army was gearing up for possible entry into WWII, Brigadier General Clark served as Assistant Chief of Staff at General Headquarters for the US Army located in Washington, DC.
Clark in WWII
Clark made significant advances during the early stages of World War II:
- January, 1942: Served as Deputy Chief of Staff Army Ground Forces
- May, 1942: Chief of Staff Army Ground Forces
- June, 1942: Sent to England as command general of II Corps
- July, 1942: Became Commanding General – Army Forces European Theater of Operations
- August 1942: Deputy commander in chief of Allied Forces in N. African Theater
Clark was involved in the planning and directing of Operation Torch – the invasion plan for North Africa. He was taken into N. Africa by a British submarine – the Seraph. He arrived several weeks prior to the invasion in an effort to negotiate the surrender and ask for the cooperation of the Vichy French, which took place in October of 1942.
In November of 1942, shortly after the conclusion of the negotiations, Clark received a promotion to lieutenant general. He was eventually made commanding general of the newly formed overseas field army – the US Fifth Army. His task was to train the unit for
an assault on Italy. The invasion was scheduled for September of 1943 and known as ‘Operation Avalanche’. However, it was reported by some British historians that Clark almost failed when he landed at Salerno, citing poor planning on his part.
Also in question was his bombing of the Abbey of Monte Cassino in February of 1944. Though Clark gave the order, it was in fact based on direct orders he received from his superiors. During the Battle of the Winter Line, Clark’s conduct of operation once again came under scrutiny based on evidence which suggested he was motivated by the fame that would most certainly result from entering Rome as a ‘conqueror’.
Though Rome was liberated, it resulted in Clark failing to exploit a gap in German positions, which allowed a large number of German forces to escape and strengthen the area that was to become known as the Gothic Line. Though thanked by Pope Pius XII, others felt Clark’s action were best described as irresponsible and insubordinate.
Clark: 1944 – 1947
In December of 1944, Clark was given command of the Allied ground troops stationed in Italy. They were given the name - 15th Army Group. And in March of 1945, Clark received his promotion to General. As the war neared an end, Clark found himself as Commander of Allied Forces in Italy and eventually US High Commissioner of Austria. In 1947, Clark would serve as deputy to the US Secretary of State. He assisted in negotiating the Austrian Treaty and upon returning home in June of 1947, he took command of the Sixth Army, whose headquarters were in San Francisco. Two years later, Clark became chief of Army Field Forces.
In May of 1952, Clark succeeded General Ridgway as commander of the United Nations Command. After retiring from the US Army, he served as president of the prestigious military college – the Citadel – from 1954 to 1965. Clark’s military career spanned 24 years, during which time he rose through the ranks rapidly. Some feel it was due in part to his association with General George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower.
Along with his impressive rank at such a young age, Clark accumulated a number of awards and decorations including the Distinguished Service Cross, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, WWI and WWII Victory Medals and the Korean Service Medal, just to name a few.
Though some of his military career may be considered controversial, no doubt, General Clark, the youngest U.S. Army General, and his service left an indelible mark on the history of the United States military.