Lt. General Lewis H. Brereton

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Lewis Hyde Brereton

Birthdate: (77)
Birthplace: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Death: August 1, 1967 (77)
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Place of Burial: Section 7-Grave 5717, Arlington Cemetery
Immediate Family:

Son of William Denny Brereton and Helen Brereton

Managed by: Private User
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Immediate Family

About Lt. General Lewis H. Brereton

Lewis Hyde Brereton (June 21, 1890 – July 20, 1967) was a military aviation pioneer and lieutenant general in the United States Air Force. A 1911 graduate of the United States Naval Academy, he began his military career as a United States Army officer in the Coast Artillery Corps prior to World War I, then spent the remainder of his service as a career aviator.

Brereton was one of the few senior U.S. commanders in World War II who served in combat theaters continuously from the attack on Pearl Harbor to the German surrender, and he saw action in more theaters than any other senior officer. He began World War II as a major general commanding the Far East Air Force in the Philippines and concluded it as a lieutenant general in command of the First Allied Airborne Army. Brereton commanded forces in four controversial events of the war: the destruction on the ground of much of the United States Army Air Forces in the Philippines, Operation Tidal Wave; Operation Cobra; and Operation Market-Garden.

Brereton was one of the first military pilots of the United States Army, assigned to the Aeronautical Division, U.S. Signal Corps in September 1912. He was one of five pioneers (the others being General of the Air Force Henry H. Arnold, Major Generals Frank P. Lahm and Benjamin D. Foulois, and Brigadier General Thomas DeW. Milling) who were members of the United States Air Force and all of its progenitors, and the only one to do so on continuous active duty (Arnold, Lahm, Foulois, and Milling were all on the retired list when the USAF came into being).

Early life and career

Family and personality

Brereton was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1890, the second son of William Denny Brereton and Helen (Hyde) Brereton. The family moved to Annapolis, Maryland while Brereton's older brother, William Jr., was a midshipman at the Naval Academy. His father was a successful mining engineer and a 4th-generation Irish-American. His mother was English and Episcopalian by birth. At the age of eight, Brereton suffered a recurring infection of the middle ear, purulent otitis media, which proved impossible to treat in the pre-antibiotics era.

He was physically described early in World War II as "5-06", "stocky build", "brown-eyed", "black-haired", and "raspy-voiced". His personality characteristics were said to be "cool and thoughtful", able to "think rapidly on his feet", with a "quick, analytical mind". However, he was also said to have an "appropriate temper" and "able to swear in three or four languages", a "party-loving streak", and when referring to himself, to use the third person. He had a reputation, especially among critics, for being hedonistic. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, who intensely disliked Brereton, was quoted by a biographer of Dwight D. Eisenhower as saying that Brereton was "marginally competent...(and) more interested in living in the biggest French chateau".

Artillery officer

He attended St. John's College in Annapolis with the intention of entering West Point, but unable to secure an appointment, he followed his older brother into the Naval Academy in 1907, graduating in June 1911, ranked 58th in merit in a class of 194. In March 1911, he submitted a letter of resignation effective on the date of graduation, listing seasickness as a primary reason, and as a result, the Academy's Permanent Medical Examining Board rejected him for active duty. After two days as an ensign, his resignation was accepted. He applied for commissioning in the United States Army and was appointed a second lieutenant in the Coast Artillery Corps on August 17, 1911, and went on active duty September 6 with the 118th Company CAC at Fort Monroe, Virginia. The next year he served in the 17th Company CAC at Fort Washington, Maryland.

In September 1912, he vounteered for detail to the Aeronautical Division, Signal Corps, to undertake flying training at the planned Signal Corps Aviation School at Rockwell Field, San Diego, California. He became the 26th serving officer so detailed. The lack of facilities at Rockwell forced most of his training to take place at the Curtiss Aeroplane Company in Hammondsport, New York during October 1913. Brereton returned to Rockwell in November, and after the school officially opened in December, passed the test qualifying him for a rating of Military Aviator on March 27, 1913, the 10th pilot to earn the rating. He began to train and instruct on float planes but experienced two crashes, the first as pilot of a fatal crash of a Curtiss F on April 8, 1913, and the second as an observer on May 21. At his own request, Brereton was relieved of aviation duties on July 3, 1913. He returned to the Coast Artillery Corps, posted to the 115th Company at Fort Rosecrans, on the Point Loma peninsula across the channel from Rockwell. He met and married Helen Willis while stationed in San Diego, and subsequently had two children.

In July 1916, he was promoted to first lieutenant and sent to the Philippines to join the 1st Company, Fort Mills (138th Company CAC) on Corregidor. Less than two months later he requested to return to the Aviation Section, Signal Corps. Because of the "Manchu Law" (widespread Army colloquialism for the Detached Service provision included in the Army's 1912 appropriations bill to underpin the regulation made in 1911) regulating length of detached service away from an officer's permanent branch, Brereton first transferred to the 17th Field Artillery Regiment to qualify, and was assigned to duty with the 2nd Aero Squadron, also stationed on Corregidor, on January 17, 1917. Returning to the United States in March 1917, he was assigned to duty in Washington, D.C., at the Aviation Section headquarters in the Office of the Chief Signal Officer.

Air Service in World War I

After World War I began, Brereton entered flying training a second time at Hazelhurst Field, Mineola, New York. While in pilot training he was promoted to captain on May 15, 1917, and received a new rating of Junior Military Aviator on June 27. During most of the remainder of 1917, he worked in the Equipment Division at Aviation Section headquarters under Col. Benjamin D. Foulois. In November, when Foulois was promoted to brigadier general and sent to France to command the Air Service of the AEF, he took with him 100 members of his staff, including Brereton. Although initially sent to a Services of Supply unit, Brereton's JMA rating enabled him to enter advanced flying training at Issoudun, which qualified him to take command of the 12th Aero Squadron on March 1, 1918. His unit had no aircraft on his arrival, and he could only procure a dozen obsolete Dorand AR.Is to fly until first-line Salmson 2 A2s became available. The 12th A.S. began combat operations from Ourches airdrome on May 3, patrolling the "Toul Sector" between Flirey and Apremont in support of the U.S. 26th Division Brereton and his pilots moved overland to Vathiménil to receive their Salmsons in the first week of June and carried out extensive operations between Blâmont and Badonviller in the "Baccarat Sector" for three weeks supporting the U.S. 42nd Division.

Brereton left the 12th Aero Squadron on July 1, was promoted to major on July 2 and three days later became Air Service Officer to the I Corps. When the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division attacked Chateau-Thierry in mid-July, Brereton flew the first artillery adjustment mission near Vaux with his old command. Chateau-Thierry brought him to the attention of Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, who assigned him command of the Corps Observation Wing on August 28, supervising the observation groups of three corps, one army, and a French group, in preparation for the St-Mihiel Offensive. On September 12, 1918, while flying a special mission on the first day of the offensive, Brereton became involved in an air-to-air combat over Thiaucourt that earned him the Distinguished Service Cross.

On October 26, 1918, Mitchell, the Chief of Air Service, Group of Armies and de facto commander of all U.S. air combat units, made Brereton his assistant for operations. Brereton received a promotion to temporary lieutenant colonel on November 1, 1918. Less than 3 weeks before the end of the war, he proposed a plan to drop members of the 1st Infantry Division on the German-occupied city of Metz, in what would have been the first airborne assault. While Mitchell supported the plan, General John Pershing shelved it.

After the armistice, he was appointed chief of staff, Third Army Air Service, under Mitchell, on November 19, 1918, for occupation duty in Germany until February 1919.

Inter-war service

Upon his returned to the United States in early 1919, he was assigned to the Office of the Director of Air Service, Major General Charles T. Menoher. When Menoher reorganized the office in March, under an executive order issued by President Woodrow Wilson, and established a "divisional system", Brereton was picked as Chief of the Operations Division, Training and Operations Group, again under Gen. Mitchell. He remained there until December 1919, when he became an assistant military attaché for air at the U.S. Embassy, Paris, France, under Ambassador Myron T. Herrick. Brereton served in Paris until August 1922, where he learned "to speak French with a Parisian accent", and to "appreciate fine wine". On July 1, 1920, the Air Service was given statutory existence as a combatant arm of the line, and Brereton became a member in the permanent rank of major, a rank he held for the next 15 years.

Brereton became commanding officer of the 10th School Group on September 1, 1922 at Kelly Field, Texas, responsible for the advanced flying training of pilot candidates. At Kelly, Brereton successively became Assistant Commandant of the Advanced Flying Training School, Director of Attack Training, and President of the Board of Attack Aviation. On February 5, 1923, while on an inspection tour, Gen. Mitchell relieved the inexperienced commander of the 3rd Attack Group, at that time one of only three combat groups in the Air Service, and replaced him with Brereton. During this period the 3rd Attack Group conducted field tests on the new Boeing GA-1, a heavily armed and armored attack aircraft, ultimately determining it to be unfit for combat service. On September 16, 1924 he transferred to Langley Field as an instructor at the Air Service Tactical School for its 1924-1925 term.

Personal difficulties

On June 4, 1925, Brereton was named commanding officer of the 2nd Bombardment Group at Langley Field, and was summoned to Washington in November as associate counsel for the defense at the court martial of now-Col. Mitchell for insubordination. Subpoenaed as a witness in November 1925, he was not called to testify. In July 1926, the Air Service became the Air Corps in the aftermath of Mitchell's conviction and resignation from the service.

During 1927, Brereton experienced a stressful amount of friction with superiors over his membership on technical boards, which required an inordinate amount of time from his command duties at 2nd BG. His 14-year marriage, never strong, was disintegrating and he developed a negative reputation for drinking. On April 7, the Huff-Daland LB-1 bomber he was flying crash-landed near the Back River after an engine quit during takeoff. Returning to Langley from maneuvers in Texas on May 28, Brereton was the copilot of the XLB-5 when it experienced catastrophic engine failure over Reynoldsburg, Ohio, and crashed, killing a passenger who failed to parachute from the craft. Ten days later Brereton requested a medical leave of two months to deal with an "incipient...fear of flying". Although a preliminary medical leave was granted, his wife left him to file for divorce in June 1927, and he suffered "nervous anxiety, insomnia, and nightmares" from the strain. These culminated in the issuance of a reprimand for being Absent Without Leave for 24 hours in a misunderstanding over an assignment to lead an aerial escort for Charles A. Lindbergh's return from France.

In August 1927, after private treatment for his emotional problems, Brereton was restored to flying status by a flight surgeon, found not to be an alcoholic, and accepted into the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for which he had been rejected in 1919. He did poorly, and although he successfully completed the course, it was recommended that he receive no further advanced training. His post-graduation assignment to headquarters of the First Corps Area in New York City was changed by Maj Gen. Preston Brown, who felt he did not have the requisite social skills. Instead he was assigned to command of the 88th Observation Squadron at Post Field, Oklahoma, as well as instructor at the Field Artillery School, Fort Sill, from July 1928 to August 1931. While stationed in Oklahoma, Brereton remarried, to Icy V. Larkin, and his officer fitness reports, which had fallen to "average" during most of his time in the Air Corps, returned to "excellent".

Restoration of reputation

Between July 7, 1931 and June 20, 1935, Brereton served in the Panama Canal Zone. He concurrently commanded the 6th Composite Group, France Field, and the Panama Air Depot. His superior in Panama was the same Gen. Brown who had rejected him for duty at First Corps Area headquarters, but Brereton's work performance reversed the general's earlier opinions and he received excellent ratings that restored the professional reputation nearly destroyed in 1927. On March 4, 1935, he received promotion to lieutenant colonel and became Air Officer, Panama Canal Department.

Following his duty in Panama, Brereton returned to Fort Leavenworth for a four-year tour as the Chief of the Air Corps Subsection at the Command and General Staff School, for which he received temporary promotion to colonel. Brereton had only a few hours of instruction duty during each year's course, where the curriculum had not changed since 1926 and still emphasized horse cavalry. Nevertheless, Brereton received high ratings for efficiency and was recommended for higher command and staff duty, unlike a number of his Air Corps pupils, including future Air Force Chief of Staff Major Carl Spaatz.

Brereton then began six and one-half years of successive command assignments, including seven tours as a commanding general. He took command of Barksdale Field, Louisiana, in July 1939. His performance during joint maneuvers resulted in increasingly high ratings that led to a promotion to brigadier general on October 1, 1940. He transferred to Savannah Army Air Base on October 25 to organize and command the 17th Bomb Wing (3rd and 27th Bomb Groups), was promoted to major general on July 11, 1941, and took command of the Third Air Force on July 29. That assignment was to have included participation in the Carolina Maneuvers but on October 3, he was called to Washington D.C. to meet with the Chief of the Army Air Forces, Maj. Gen. Henry H. Arnold. There he was informed that he was relieved of command of Third Air Force to go the Philippines to command the Far East Air Force, which would be activated November 16, 1941. With war imminent, the assignment was crucial, and he replaced an aging brigadier general who had a penchant for drinking and suffered frequent bouts of malaria. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commanding in the Philippines, personally picked Brereton from three candidates.

After being briefed on October 15 regarding his new responsibilities by Arnold, his staff, and Gen. George C. Marshall, Brereton left Washington for San Francisco. Delayed by bad weather for 11 days at various points along the way, Brereton and his small staff finally reached Manila on November 4 aboard a Pan American Clipper. He met almost immediately with MacArthur and delivered to him a memorandum revising War Plan Rainbow 5 to authorize more aggressive action in the event of war, including offensive air strikes. He found that despite war warnings, the headquarters he inherited continued to operate under lax, peacetime conditions, in part because MacArthur and his staff did not expect war with Japan before April 1942. Airfield construction was behind schedule, many units were at half strength or less, a significant shortage of .50-caliber ammunition hampered training, and no equipment existed to provide oxygen to interceptor pilots, severely limiting operating ceilings. Brereton immediately instituted a wartime regimen. However, he had been in the Philippines less than two weeks when MacArthur sent him to Australia "for twelve precious days" to finalize plans for use of Australian bases in the event of war, disrupting his attempts to organize an effective air force. On his return, Brereton found the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses based at Clark Field lined up in orderly rows and ordered their immediate dispersal. On December 6, he had sent half of the bomber force 800 miles south to Mindanao, but anticipating the imminent arrival from the United States of a second bombardment group, left the other half at Clark to leave room for the reinforcements on the more distant airfield.

World War II

Far East


Shortly after word of the attack on Pearl Harbor reached the Philippines on December 8, 1941, Brereton urged immediate air attacks against Japanese bases on Formosa in accordance with the Rainbow 5 war plan and Brereton's own aggressive nature. However, Brereton was twice thwarted by General Douglas MacArthur's chief of staff from seeing him about an attack, and sent his bombers and P-40 pursuit planes aloft to prevent them from being destroyed by air attack. Hours later, MacArthur initially denied permission for the attack, but then reversed himself minutes afterwards. Brereton ordered his bombers to return to base to prepare for the mission, and by then all fighters aloft had become short on fuel. While they were being fueled and armed for the afternoon mission, the bombers and many of the pursuit planes were caught on the ground when Japanese air units, whose takeoff from Formosa had been delayed for six hours by fog, attacked shortly after noon. Consequently, FEAF was largely destroyed on the first day of the war.

Multiple Japanese landings on Luzon between December 10 and December 23 forced the defenders to withdraw into Bataan peninsula. After the 14 surviving bombers of the B-17 force escaped to Darwin, Australia just ten days into the war, and with only a handful of fighters remaining, FEAF was broken up as an organization on December 24 and moved by individual units into the peninsula. Brereton and his headquarters were ordered by MacArthur to evacuate south. With only two hours' notice, Brereton left Manila by PBY Catalina for Java, where he was picked up by a B-17 and transported to Batchelor Field, Australia, on December 29. The next day he dispatched 11 of the bombers to Malang on Java to conduct operations.

In early 1942, Brereton was named Deputy Air Commander, under Royal Air Force Air Marshal Sir Richard Peirse, of ABDAIR, a component of the short-lived ABDACOM unified command of Allied forces in Southeast Asia and the Southwest Pacific. He also resumed active command of FEAF. Brereton arrived on Java on January 10, 1942, and except for a nine-day period at the end of January when he acted as commander of United States Army Forces In Australia, remained until February 23, despite requesting relief from command on February 8 over "honest differences" with Peirse and demoralizing criticism from the British commander of ABDACOM, Gen. Sir Archibald Wavell. Brereton received a cable from Gen. George C. Marshall on February 22 giving him complete freedom of action in evacuating himself and his headquarters from Java, including destination, and he left for India via Ceylon on February 24 before orders from Arnold to organize an air force in Australia could reach him. For his performance in commanding the FEAF, Brereton received his first award of the Distinguished Service Medal on February 18, 1943.

On March 5, 1942, in New Delhi, Brereton took command of and began to organize the new Tenth Air Force. In addition to setting up the new air force, Brereton was also ordered to prepare an air route for the resupply of China. On the night of April 2–3, 1942, he participated in the first bombing mission of the Tenth Air Force—an LB-30 and two B-17s, of which he co-piloted one of the latter—in an attack against Japanese warships at Port Blair in the Andaman Islands in support of the British, for which he was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross.

In June 1942, in response to the German threat to the Suez Canal in North Africa, he was transferred to Cairo with the best bomber aircraft and crews then in India.

Middle East

In June 1942, Brereton was appointed commander of United States Army Middle East Air Forces. He formed a provisional bomb group from 19 Consolidated B-24 Liberators of the Halverson Detachment and the nine B-17s he had brought from India. It was forced to fall back to Lydda in Palestine. With the arrival of B-24s of the 98th Bomb Group at the end of July 1942, USAMEAF began to attack depots in Libya, the chief of which was Tobruk, and ship convoys as far away as Navarino Bay in Greece.

His small air force was reinforced by the 57th Fighter Group (P-40s) and 12th Bomb Group (B-25s) in July and August, and Brereton drew heavily on the experiences of the RAF's Western Desert Air Force. While the heavy bombers continued to operate from Palestine, the mediums and fighters moved forward as the battle line advanced. By October 25, the small force under Brereton had flown 743 heavy bomber sorties and 259 medium bomber, dropping 806 tons of bombs. The heavy bombers used the campaign as a proving ground for tactics, particularly pattern bombing against maneuvering ships. From January 31, 1943, he had collateral duty as commanding general of the U.S. Army Forces in the Middle East (USAFIME) when Maj. Gen. Frank M. Andrews was reassigned following the Casablanca Conference.

On October 22, 1942, the U.S. Desert Air Task Force was formed with Brereton in command to support the British offensive at El Alamein and gain experience for arriving USAAF staff officers. When the headquarters of the U.S. Ninth Air Force was activated in Egypt on November 12, 1942, it replaced USAMEAF and all its temporary components, with Brereton still in command, and the heavy bombers returned to bases in Egypt. Beginning November 21, 1942, an advanced landing ground at Gambut was used to stage strategic bombing missions against Tripoli and Naples.

Among the missions undertaken in 1943 by the heavy bomber units under Brereton's command was the minimum-altitude bombing of oil refineries at Ploieşti, Romania. Intelligence estimates predicted a 50% loss among the attacking B-24s, and in fact 30% (54 of the 178) were destroyed or written off. The raid fell short of expectations but the bombing was very accurate and heavy damage (but not decisive) was inflicted that would have been greater had not many bombs failed to explode. Air Force historian Dr. Roger G. Miller wrote:

In August 1943, Operation Tidal Wave took place under Brereton's command. Plans for the low-level bombing raid on the Ploesti oil refineries in Rumania originated in the Air Staff, but Brereton determined that the attack would originate from Libyan rather than Syrian bases, trained the bomber force, and ably defended the controversial low-level concept.

Ninth Air Force

In January 1943, the Combined Bomber Offensive plan was approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, calling for a force of 2,700 heavy bombers and 800 medium bombers, based in England, to attack German targets on the continent around the clock. In April, Maj. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, commanding the Eighth Air Force, submitted a plan to the USAAF requesting creation of a new tactical air force within the Eighth AF of 25 medium and light bomb groups to carry out the medium bomber portion of the CBO plan. His proposal was investigated and endorsed by a committee from Headquarters USAAF under Brig. Gen. Follett Bradley. At the same time but unrelated to the CBO, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower proposed a consolidation of the Ninth and Twelfth Air Forces, and suggested that Brereton be re-assigned as deputy commander of the Allied tactical air force commanded by Air Marshal Arthur Coningham.

Gen. Arnold instead offered Brereton a choice of positions on July 31: a command in the United States, a position of responsibility in the Cairo headquarters of the new combined air force, or command of the new tactical air force to be formed as part of Eighth Air Force. Brereton "with utmost eagerness" chose the new command in England.

The Quadrant Conference in August instead approved a combined tactical air force force, the Allied Expeditionary Air Force (AEAF), to be distinct from strategic bombing and commanded by Air Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory. The Ninth Air Force under Brereton would become the U.S. component of the new force. In October the air units of the Ninth were transferred to other air forces and the several command headquarters of the Ninth sent to England. The Ninth was re-activated on October 16 using the medium bombers of the VIII Air Support Command as its nucleus, and Brereton made his headquarters at Sunninghill Park, Berkshire. A temporary administrative "super-command" under Eaker ("USAAF in the UK", which in January was replaced by the United States Strategic Air Forces) stood up at the same time to coordinate the administrative activities of the Eighth and Ninth, but when the AEAF was activated on November 1, Brereton took his operational orders from it.

The Ninth initially consisted of three combat commands. The IX Fighter Command (envisioned as a training organization to be replaced later by two combat "air support commands") was created from the prior headquarters of the Ninth AF in Africa. Commanded by Brig. Gen. Elwood R. Quesada, it received the "pioneer" P-51 Mustang unit, the 354th Fighter Group, on November 2, 1943. The IX Bomber Command, commanded by Brig. Gen. Samuel E. Anderson, was an amalgamation of three old units: the 3rd Bomb Wing of the Eighth AF (one of the original Air Corps wings) and two headquarters elements from the "old" Ninth, including the previous IX Bomber Command. The IX Troop Carrier Command was activated in England under Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Giles, a caretaker commander who was replaced on 25 February 1944 by the experienced Brig. Gen. Paul L. Williams.[42] His command team was rounded out when Brig. Gen. Otto P. Weyland arrived in February 1944 to take command of XIX Tactical Air Command while Quesada held dual command of IX FC and IX TAC.

During the winter of 1943–44 Ninth Air Force expanded at an extraordinary rate. In six months under Brereton's command, October 16, 1943 to April 16, 1944, the Ninth Air Force expanded from 2,162 to 163,312 men. By the end of May, its complement ran to 45 flying groups operating 5,000 aircraft. Organizationally it had added an Engineer Command, an Air Defense Command, and two Air Support Commands, which were redesignated Tactical Air Commands (TAC) on April 18, 1944, and by D-Day had received and trained 11 medium bomb groups, 19 fighter groups, 14 troop carrier groups, and a photo-reconnaissance group. The total number of personnel assigned to Ninth Air Force was more than 200,000, a total greater than that of the Eighth Air Force.

Operation Overlord


Brereton was promoted to lieutenant general in April 1944 as his units began a campaign of planned attacks against airfields (April 1), railway centers and rolling stock (April 1), coastal batteries (April 13), and bridges (May 7) in France preparatory to Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy by the Western Allies on June 6, 1944.

The American airborne landings in Normandy by IX Troop Carrier Command were the first United States combat operations of Operation Neptune, (the assault operation for Overlord). 13,100 paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne and 101st Airborne Divisions made night parachute drops early on D-Day, followed by nearly 4,000 glider troops flown in by day in six missions. The divisions were assigned to support the U.S. VII Corps in capturing Cherbourg (to provide the Allies with a port of supply) by blocking approaches threatening the amphibious landing at Utah Beach, capturing exits off the beaches, and to establishing crossings over the Douve River to assist the merging the two American beachheads. The assault did not succeed in blocking the approaches to Utah for three days. Numerous factors played a part, most of which dealt with excessive scattering of the drops. Despite this, German forces were unable to exploit the chaos. Many German units made a tenacious defense of their strongpoints, but all were systematically defeated within the week. A followup operation was scheduled in which one wing of IX TCC would deliver the British 1st Airborne Division to Évrecy on June 14 to support a breakout attempt by British armored forces (Operation Wild Oats) but was so perilous that airborne and troop carrier commanders agreed to it only reluctantly. Crews were being briefed on June 13 when a strong German counterattack at Villers Bocage forced cancellation of the drop.

Seven fighter groups moved to the continent shortly after the invasion, and by August all of the Ninth's fighter groups were operational in beachhead. Brereton had learned from the Western Desert Air Force, and made it a slogan of the Ninth, that all units must "Keep Mobile".

Operation Cobra

In mid-July 1944, the First United States Army became stalled in its operations in the Norman bocage. Gen. Omar Bradley implemented Operation Cobra, a plan to end the near-stalemate by using massive air power to punch a hole in the strong German defenses near Saint-Lô, allowing the VII Corps to break through into the French interior. The key to the plan, at the insistence of Leigh-Mallory, was the use of heavy bombers to pattern bomb a small area of the defenses immediately before the start of the offensive, preceded by fighter-bomber attacks of IX TAC, and followed by attacks in the German rear by 11 groups of medium and light bombers of the Ninth Air Force. At a conference at AEAF headquarters at Stanmore on July 19, air commanders expressed serious reservations about the safety of U.S. troops, particularly their proximity to the target area, resulting in tactical compromises that ultimately proved inadequate.

Poor weather delayed the attack until July 24, and a request for postponement another 24 hours was denied. After the aircraft began taking off, Leigh-Mallory vacillated before recalling the mission, and while some fighter-bombers completed their missions, the medium bombers did not take off from their English bases. The heavy bombers, however, were already in the air and did not receive the recall. Finding a severe ground haze over the target, most returned to base as instructed in their field orders, but others attacked, resulting in the bombing of American troops. Brereton and Quesada were near the front with Bradley to observe the results, and were nearly killed by errant bombs.

The next day, July 25, Operation Cobra was finally launched as planned with a "maximum effort" by the air forces that included 559 sorties by fighter-bombers and 480 by medium and light bombers of the Ninth Air Force. Fighter-bomber attacks of the immediate front lines by eight groups of IX TAC, to a depth of 250 yards (230 m), were generally excellent, but as air planners had predicted, created smoke and dust that obscured aiming points for the bombers at higher altitudes. The second day of heavy bomber attacks also resulted in further accidental bombings of American troops, particularly the 47th Infantry of the 9th Infantry Division and the 120th Infantry of the 30th Infantry Division. The latter was also attacked by B-26 bombers of the Ninth that dropped their bombs short of the German lines. In both days of bombing, approximately 3% of bombs fell within American lines, resulting in 111 killed and 490 wounded. Although not apparent at first, the air attacks succeeded in their objective of disrupting German formations and destroying their communications, facilitating the break-through.

Brereton was awarded the Legion of Merit for his performance in commanding the Ninth AF during 1944.

First Allied Airborne Army

In July Gen. Eisenhower decided to implement tentative plans for a unified command of all British and American airborne forces and the troop carrier units needed to deliver them into battle, under an American commander, over the resistance of Leigh-Mallory, who opposed the separation of the troop carrier units from AEAF. Eisenhower nominated Brereton on July 16 to command the organization, based on his extensive and diverse combat command experience at the air force level, over Lt. Gen. Frederick Browning, commanding the British I Airborne Corps, despite Browning being four months senior. After first suggesting (and having rejected) that the airborne troops be made a part of Ninth Air Force, Brereton accepted the command and was appointed August 2, 1944, as commander of the "Combined Airborne Headquarters", reporting directly to SHAEF. He made his headquarters at Sunninghill Park and on August 16 recommended that the organization be called the First Allied Airborne Army. Browning became his deputy, despite personal friction between them, and on August 25 the IX Troop Carrier Command was assigned to the Airborne Army.

Operation Market-Garden

After alerts and cancellations of several airborne drops to cut off retreating German forces, Eisenhower on September 10 approved Montgomery's three-division airborne assault in Holland to be called Operation Market, coordinated with a simultaneous ground offensive called Operation Garden. The objective of the combined Operation Market-Garden was to seize a bridgehead across the Rhine River at Arnhem. The anticipated date of the operation (dependent on good flying weather) was September 14. Because that date was so close at hand, the plans of a large cancelled drop, Operation Linnet, were revived and adapted to Market.

Brereton, however, made key changes to the Linnet plan, first in restricting glider missions to "single-tows", that is, one tug aircraft towing one glider, whereas Linnet had contemplated a double-tow mission. Because a combination of poor weather, extensive resupply missions to the pursuing Allied armies, and anticipation of last-minute airborne drops had virtually cancelled all training for IX TCC, Brereton thought untried and unpracticed double-tows were too hazardous. Brereton also decided that the operation, protected by massive air support from the RAF and the AAF, would take place in daylight, to avoid the dispersion experienced during both the British and American airborne landings in Normandy in June. His decision was finalized when weather and other delays pushed back D-Day for the operation to September 17, which was the dark moon. Finally, the shorter hours of daylight in September caused Brereton to refuse authorization for two lifts per day, and as a result of the limited number of troop carrier aircraft, the air movement of the Army required three consecutive days to complete.

Weather intelligence had indicated four consecutive days of clear weather, but after the first day, operations were delayed or postponed because of fog, low clouds, haze, and other conditions of poor visibility over the bases in England, the planned routes to Holland, and the drop/landing zones. Airborne operations on the first two days had been successful to an unexpected degree, but nevertheless the overall operation had begun to fall seriously behind schedule, and only grew worse as the weather deteriorated. The cancellation of a reinforcement lift of an American glider infantry regiment and a Polish paratrooper brigade on September 19 proved crucial to failure of the operation.

Operation Varsity

On October 17, 1944, after the completion of Market Garden, the staff of the First Allied Airborne Army learned that Gen. Bradley hoped to cross the Rhine at Wesel, Germany, and on November 7 completed a study for an airborne operation by two divisions, Operation Varsity, to support the endeavor. A number of factors delayed the target date to January 1, 1945, and the Battle of the Bulge further disrupted the schedule. After the Allied counter-offensive in January, Eisenhower planned an assault over the Rhine in the same area, and Operation Varsity was revived on February 10 with few changes in the outline plan. Its objective was to seize the low wooded heights overlooking the Rhine to prevent German artillery from disrupting bridging operations.

The British 21st Army Group commanded by Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery would cross the Rhine River in Operation Plunder. Varsity would support the crossing by landing two airborne divisions of the Airborne Army's US XVIII Airborne Corps by parachute and glider behind the Rhine, near Wesel and Hamminkeln. A second U.S. airborne division was added to the original plan, but when it became apparent that the Airborne Army barely had enough troop carriers for two divisions, the third division was placed in reserve and then released altogether from the operation on March 6. The consequences of the poor weather during Operation Market led Brereton to plan for the delivery of both divisions in a single lift. On February 18, to establish a command post for the operation, Brereton moved the headquarters of First Allied Airborne Army to Maisons-Laffitte, near Paris.

In late February Montgomery set the date for Plunder/Varsity as March 24, which SHAEF approved on March 8. On the afternoon of March 23, Brereton and Coningham, commanding all the cooperating air forces, made the final decision to launch Varsity when weather officers predicted clear weather the next day. Although the Germans had anticipated the assault and prepared positions for 10,000 defending troops, the unprecedented size of the airborne operation overwhelmed the defense. Using 300 double-tow glider sorties, a troop carrier group of 72 Curtiss C-46 Commandos, and three parallel ingress lanes, nearly 17,000 troops were concentrated in the objective area in less than four hours, using 540 planeloads of paratroopers and 1,348 gliders.

Post-war career and legacy

Brereton returned to the United States in May 1945 (for the first time since October 1941) for assignment to Headquarters AAF at Washington, and in July 1945 was assigned to command the Third Air Force at MacDill AAB, Florida. In January 1946, he was named commanding general of the First Air Force at Mitchel Field, New York. The following month he was assigned to the Office of the Secretary of War at on the Joint Chiefs of Staff Evaluation Board (observer for Operation Crossroads). From July 1947 to June 1948 Brereton was Chairman of the Military Liaison Committee to the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, then became secretary general of the Air Board to his retirement on September 1, 1948. Brereton retired in the grade of lieutenant general.

He divorced in February 1946 and married a third time. In 1946 William Morrow published his wartime memoirs, The Brereton Diaries, which have been sometimes criticized as allegedly written after-the-fact to absolve Brereton of any blame for controversies, and created further friction with MacArthur and his acolytes. Brereton died on July 20, 1967, of a heart attack while in Walter Reed Army Medical Center recovering from abdominal surgery July 10.

Dr. Miller reviewed both laudatory and condemnatory histories of Brereton and summarized his contribution to World War II:

As in the case of colorful figures ... little room seems to exist for neutral opinions about Brereton's reputation. Second, earlier historians generally have had a more favorable view of his performance; more recent historians have given him less credit for ability. Third, and closely related to the previous point, historians who have tended to give Brereton higher marks for competence, especially concerning the events in the Philippines, have largely been those ... who have written extensively on the history of air power. Fourth, an individual's view about Brereton's actions in the Philippines are generally the reverse of his view of Gen. of the Armies Douglas MacArthur. Pro-MacArthur historians tend to condemn Brereton; anti-MacArthur historians are generally pro-Brereton. Many of the most serious assaults on Brereton's reputation have thus originated from those who have risen to MacArthur's defense.


The evidence examined for this article suggests that Lewis Brereton was a capable commander and effective leader, but not a great general. He was a solid product of the U.S. military system prior to World War II, and as such was neither a star performer nor mediocre failure. He fits into that large middle ground of competent but unspectacular American officers who brought victory in World War II. Brereton had important strengths. In both world wars, he proved himself a brave, aggressive, and candid officer. Gen. Carl Spaatz (in his last Officer Efficiency Report on Brereton in 1946) justly described him as "personally fearless, forthright and given to firm and direct expression of his opinions regardless of the consequences to himself."

Awards and decorations

Distinguished Service Cross citation

General Orders: War Department, General Orders No. 15 (1919)
Action Date: 12 September 1918
Service: Army Air Service
Rank: Major
Unit: Corps Observation Wing, American Expeditionary Forces 


The President of the United States of America, authorized by Act of Congress, July 9, 1918, takes pleasure in presenting the Distinguished Service Cross to Major (Air Service) Lewis Hyde Brereton (ASN: 0-3132), for extraordinary heroism in action while serving with Corps Observation Wing, Air Service, A.E.F., over Thiaucourt, France, 12 September 1918. Major Brereton, together with an observer, voluntarily and pursuant to a request for special mission, left his airdrome, crossed the enemy lines over Lironville, and proceeded to Thiaucourt. In spite of poor visibility, which forced them to fly at a very low altitude, and in spite of intense and accurate anti-aircraft fire they maintained their flight along their course and obtained valuable information. Over Thiaucourt they were suddenly attacked by four enemy monoplane Fokkers. Maneuvering his machine so that is observer could obtain a good field of fire, he entered into combat. His observer's guns becoming jammed, he withdrew until the jam was cleared, when he returned to the combat. His observer then becoming wounded, he coolly made a landing within friendly lines, although followed down by the enemy to within 25 meters of the ground. By this act he made himself an inspiration and example to all the members of his command.

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Lt. General Lewis H. Brereton's Timeline

June 21, 1890
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
August 1, 1967
Age 77
Walter Reed Army Medical Center
Section 7-Grave 5717, Arlington Cemetery