12th Army Group

The 12th Army Group was formed in 1944 from the former First United States Army Group. The 12th U.S. Army Group was the largest body of American soldiers ever to serve under one field commander; at its peak it consisted of four field armies, over 39 infantry and airborne divisions and 15 armored divisions. The Headquarters of the Twelfth Army Group was established in London on July 14, 1944, and was given operational control of the United States First and Third Armies on August 1.

      Its commanding general was Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, who was also commanding general of its predecessor, the First United States Army Group. No officer in the U.S. Army had any practical experience with the operations of an army group. On September 5, 1944, the United States Ninth Army was assigned to the Twelfth Army Group. For a short time in late 1944 and early 1945 the First and Ninth Armies were detached for duty with the Twenty-first Army Group. In the midst of the Ardennes counter-offensive the United States Fifteenth Army was assigned to the Twelfth Army Group. It remained with that Group until the end of the combat period.

     Twelfth Army Group Headquarters, also known as the Central Group of Armies, was entirely American in composition. The operations of the 12th Army Group was dominated throughout the fall of 1944 by the necessity of developing a new administrative base in close proximity to the front lines. On the basis of daily maintenance needs of 650 tons a division, the 12th Army Group' requirements totaled 19,000 tons a day during the first half of October 1944, assuming the employment of twenty-two divisions, and 23,000 tons a day by 1 November 1944, when the strength of the army group reached twenty-eight divisions.[1]

What is an Army Group:

    When the forces within a theater of operations consist of several field armies, a headquarters, known as the army group, is formed. An army group is the largest field organization handled by a single commander in modern warfare and usually includes between four hundred thousand and one-and-a-half-million troops. During WWII, only three army groups were formed: the 12th Army Group, commanded by General Omar Nelson Bradley, the Sixth Army Group, under General Jacob L. Devers; and the 15th Army Group, led by General Mark W. Clark.

History of the 12th Army Group Headquarters, WAC Detachment

The 12th Army Group Headquarters, WAC Detachment, had its roots at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia.  It was activated on 1 May 1944 from Company 3 Detachments P, Q and R, and began immediately training for overseas deployment.  On 21 May the company was alerted and arrived at the following day to Camp Shanks, New York.  After a six day training period, the unit was alerted and left Camp Shanks 30 May 1944.  The women boarded the Queen Elizabeth in New York harbor that same evening, and watched the New York skyline disappear on the morning of the 31st

     The detachments disembarked on 6 June, amid excitement occasioned by the news that the invasion had begun.  They proceeded to the 10th Replacement Depot at Lichfield, England, and Captain Alice M. Moroney (later known as Captain Alive M. Masso) was designated as the Commanding Officer of Detachment R, later to become WAC Detachment, 12th Army Group.  On 9 June, the entire detachment assembled in London at 29, 30, and 31 Bryanston Square and the unit was activated.  The 12th Army Group Headquarters received it’s first group of WACs when still identified as the First US Army Group.  WACs were assigned on 12 June 1944.   

     After a three day orientation program, initiated to familiarize the detachment with the work of the Headquarters, First United States Army Group, assignments to staff sections were made and on the morning of 13 June 1944, the women reported for duty.  First Lieutenant Ruth R. Gorton joined on 11 June 1944 as Executive Officer, and at the end of June there were two officers and 89 enlisted women in the detachment.  They were assigned to the various staff sections and fitted into the organization according to their qualifications.  The Adjutant General received a considerable share of them because of his requirements for clerks and typists. 

     The 12th Army Group stood up by General Order 73, Headquarters ETOUSA 14 July 1944 under the command of Lieutenant General Omar Bradley.  The mission of the headquarters was to prepare operational plans and conduct operations in accordance with directives from Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force.  All units and individuals assigned or attached to First US Army Group, “other than those specifically except by separate orders, were correspondingly assigned or attached to Headquarters, 12th Army Group and assigned corresponding assignments, duties and responsibilities.  All units were subsequently reassigned, since this verbiage was part of a military deception plan. 

     A training program in preparation for cross-Channel movement was initiated in July, and continued throughout the month.  In addition, the daily work increased steadily as the war on the continent progressed.  The Headquarters moved to the continent in three increments plus an advance party.  The advance party traveled from 7-10 July, the first increment from 9-14 July, and the Second Increment, which represented the majority of the headquarters, from 16-2 July.  WAC Detachment moved to the continent in the Third increment from 1 Aug to 4 August 1944.  The WAC detachment debarked on Omaha Beach at 1500 hours, 4 August, 1944 across Omaha Beach and was convoyed to Periers.    

     All WACs were moved in the third increment to avoid having the unit broken up into small parcels for movement.  Staff sections in the other echelons, formerly having WAC personnel in London, transferred them to the rear echelon in exchange for enlisted men.  A large portion of WAC personnel of the headquarters found its way into the Adjutant General’s Section.  This resulted in the loss of a large number of trained enlisted men, and required rapid adjustment.  This was accomplished without difficulty.  The WAC personnel assumed their full share of responsibilities and were a dedicated asset.

  On 24 August, the detachment moved with the rear echelon from Periers and proceeded 100 miles east to Laval, living there in the former French military installation.  On 5 September, the detachment moved again with the rear echelon from Laval to Versailles, resuming operation there in a former artillery school situated opposite the Palace of Versailles.  Passes to Paris and conducted tours of the Palace made the stay in Versailles a pleasant one. 

     The third major move of the headquarters and WAC Detachment took place on 18 September to Verdun, France.  Social events of the month included a USO Show, starring Bing Crosby and a dance given for the WACs by the TAC echelon of the headquarters.   During October the WACs attended many dances given in the Town Hall, Verdun, and most of the detachment enjoyed a sightseeing trip to the battlefields and cemeteries of the last war on 15 October. 

     During this October, the 167th Signal Photo Company began filming a movie of the unit, depicting the life of a WAC under field conditions.  Stars of the film were Tec 3 Mary H. Lacour, Tec 4 Frances M. Thorton, Tec 3 Emma Dale Newell, Tec 5 Jane L. Wolford, Tec 5 Joy M. Caldaronello, and Tec 5 Helen E. Sellers.  Tec 4 Patricia V. Coffey assisted in preparation of the script.    

     In November, the WAC TAG Club was officially opened and served as a club room for the women and their friends until the detachment left Verdun.  Christmas was observed with a party given for 400 French children of Verdun by members of the headquarters on 21 December, with parties held by staff sections on the afternoon of the 24th, and open house of the WAC billets on Christmas Eve. 

     Three day passes to Paris were authorized for all members of the detachment in February, 1945, with a quota of 7 women leaving every 4 days.  Seven day furloughs to the UK went into effect during March, with two enlisted women leaving every two weeks, and a quota of two enlisted women per week was set up for 7 day furloughs to the Riviera, with transportation by air furnished both there and back.

     The last major move of the headquarters was accomplished on 1 May 1945 with the first increment following on 4 May.  The Bellevue Hotel on the Wilhelmstrasse, Wiesbaden became the billets for the detachment, and the women, long unaccustomed to hot running water, bathtubs, beds and comfortable chairs, felt at home in a short while.  In order to accommodate the expected increased in detachment strength, the unit moved on 18 May from the Bellevue Hotel to the Metropole Hotel, which in peace time was the luxury hotel of Wiesbaden. 

     Colonel Anna W. Wilson, ETO Staff director, visited the detachment on 7 May, and remained for three days, granting interviews to the women, inspecting the billets and providing information on discharge.

     Detachment strength at the end of May was 3 Officers, and 89 enlisted women.  On 4 June, 1945 a training program including reveille, daily physical training, and formal open ranks inspection was initiated, and two hours of orientation were scheduled.

     The first appointment to Warrant Officer within the detachment was that of Tec 3 Ruth I. Edwins on 16 June 1945.  The Bronze Star Medal, for meritorious service was awarded to Tec 3 Nelli E. Widman, G-1 Section, and Tec 3 Isabel M. Boulter, AG Section in June.

     The break-up of the original detachment began on 11 July 1945, when three members left Wiesbaden for discharge in the United States.  Detachment strength on 11 July 1945 was 3 Officers and 105 enlisted women.


Creation of the 12th Army Group

     A chain of command had been hammered out between the Allied powers, with Eisenhower serving as Supreme Commander.  The idea was that after the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force moved to Normandy; General Eisenhower would become Supreme Commander, and direct the Twelfth U.S. Army Group of the 1st and 3rd U.S. Armies under General Bradley, and the 21st of the 2nd British and 1st Canadian Armies under Montgomery.

     Eisenhower asked General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, who had led the Eighth Army in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, and who had become the commander of the 21st Army Group for the invasion, to serve as pro tem commander of the Allied ground forces coming ashore in France. Montgomery would carry out final planning, and co-ordinate the early phases of the attack. Two commanders would serve under Montgomery: Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley would head the American force, the First U.S. Army; General Sir Miles Dempsey would lead the Second British Army, composed of British, Canadian, and a handful of French troops.
The Third U.S. Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., would enter the battle after the Allies had achieved a secure lodgment on the Continent. It would join the First U.S. Army, now commanded by Lt. Gen. Courtney Hodges, to form the 12th Army Group under Bradley. Lt. Gen. Harry D. G. Crerar's First Canadian Army would join Dempsey under Montgomery.[2]

    The so-called First United States Army Group (FUSAG) supervised the U.S. lodgment area beyond the Normandy beachhead and into Brittany. FUSAG existed as a headquarters only; once the breakout from Normandy actually took place, the U.S. ground forces were placed under the umbrella of Omar Bradley's 12th Army Group.[3]

     25 July 1944 12th Army Group stood up, and replaced the fictional 1st US Army Group.  The command grouped all US Ground forces under Lt Gen Omar Bradley.  The First US Army Group was created in October 1943 and even though it was fighting in Normandy, on paper it was “left” in England to continue to deceive the Germans.  General DeWitt commanded the First US Army Group after Bradley.  Prior to this date, General Montgomery had control over all land forces on the European Continent. 


     31 July 1944 Germans detected the possible standing up of the 12th Army Group.  OB West reports there was a “possibility of a newly organized 12th Army Group containing the Third US Army and three corps was shortly to be sent to Normandy, and that it seemed probably no second landing would be made.”[4]


The most forward and mobile WAC detachment was reported to be the unit with the 12th Army Group, which advanced close behind the fighting lines.[6]

WAC Assignments According to Mattie Treadwell's WAC book, the following statistics give us a good idea of the break down of WAC overseas:

Two thirds of the WAC had administrative jobs, another 10% had technical or professional jobs, and 6% were drivers. The women were channeled into the Medical Department, Transportation Corps, Signal Corps, and the Ordnance Department (5% of enlisted ASF WAC). The AAF was the first to accept and employ the WAC and 50% of the WAC ended up in the AAF. The Army Service Forces received 40% and the rest were assigned to the Army Ground Forces.  The WAC officer / enlisted ratio in December 1944 were: Less than 1% of the WAC personnel ranked Captain or higher, approximately 6% of the WAC was either a 1st or 2nd Lt (3% of the personnel each). In Jan 1944, there were 3,000 enlisted WAC overseas and 150 officers. 78 of those officers were in the ETO, as were the majority of the enlisted personnel. By July 1945, at its maximum buildup, there were 17,000 WAC enlisted personnel and 1,200 officers.  


The Battle of the Bulge

     One unavoidable decision on overall battlefield coordination remained. Not one to move a command post to the rear, General Bradley had kept his 12th Army Group headquarters in the city of Luxembourg, just south of the German attack. Maj. Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg's Ninth Air Force headquarters, which supported Bradley's armies, stayed there also, unwilling to sever its direct ties with the ground forces. But three German armies now separated Bradley's headquarters from both Hodges' First Army and Simpson's Ninth Army in the north, making it difficult for Bradley to supervise a defense in the north while coordinating an attack from the south. Nor would communications for the thousands of messages and orders needed to control and logistically support Bradley's two northern armies and Vandenberg's two northern air commands be guaranteed.[7]

     In fact, at the end of the war Bradley's 12th Army Group was the largest ever commanded by an American general.


 On December 19, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of Allied forces, brought together Gen. Omar N. Bradley, Gen. George S. Patton, British Air Chief Marshal Arthur W. Tedder and Gen. Jacob Devers at the general headquarters of the 12th Army Group in Verdun. He asked Towards to extend his army group northward to release more units to Patton. It would be up to Patton to lead the divisions into the Ardennes in the shortest time possible.

Patton said he would do it in three days, but his plan looked impossible logistically. It seemed truly quixotic to move 800,000 men, weapons and equipment in full winter, by narrow, often clogged roads from Rheims to the Ardennes in three days.[8]


After the Bulge:


    When in the spring of 1945, the First Tactical Air Force and the 12th Army Group headquarters opened in Heidelberg and Wiesbaden, no one debated whether or not to take WACs to Germany; they moved with their headquarters as a matter of course.  After V-E Day, only a handful of WACs were left in England; the majority came to be concentrated at Berlin, Frankfurt, Weisbaden, Heidelberg and other headquarters. … In Wiesbaden, women lived in cold but comfortable apartments and a handsome private home.  In Heidelberg, a comfortable hospital building was used for housing.  Visiting War Department inspectors late in 1945 reported that “with few exceptions; these WACs were living under better conditions and with more comforts than it was possible to have during the war.” [9] 




     The 12th Army Group, commanded by Gen Bradley, was headquartered at Wiesbaden, and commanded the four Armies (First, Third, Ninth and Fifteenth) that comprised the center of the VE-Day battle line (12th Army Group's front was 550 miles long). Composed of the III, V, VII, VIII, XII, XIII, XVI, XIX, XX, XXII, XXIII US corps, this was the largest of the army groups and, with a total of forty-three divisions, probably the most powerful fighting force ever placed in the field by any nation. On 26 July, 12th Army Group became non-operational, with the transfer to US Forces, European Theater (USFET) of the third, Seventh, Ninth and Fifteenth Armies. The personnel of Headquarters, Special Troops, 12th Army Group, were assigned to Headquarters Command, USFET, on 1 August.[10]



[4]  The Supreme Command, p201

[5] Draft of ETO WAC History

[6] Maddie Treadwell p.388.

[8] http://ardennes44.free.fr/page51.html as accessed on 10 Nov 03

[9] Ibid., p 388.