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"Terrible" Terry, the bad boy general

General Terry Allen (Photo: weaponsandwarfare.com)
General Terry Allen (Photo: weaponsandwarfare.com)

Terry de la Mesa Allen (1888-1969) was born into a family with two generations of martial tradition. His father, Colonel Samuel Allen, has served for 43 years; his maternal grandfather, Carlos de la Mesa, served in New York's Garibaldi Guard during the Civil War and fought at Gettysburg.

Allen's grandfather, Captain Carlos de la Mesa (Photo: New York State Military Museum)
Allen's grandfather, Captain Carlos de la Mesa (Photo: New York State Military Museum)

Growing up on various bases as an army brat, young Allen "learned to ride, smoke, chew, cuss and fight at the earliest possible age." On one occasion, he met a crying friend who had just been spanked by his mother. When Terry asked why he had been punished, his friend replied it was for playing with Terry. In Allen's own, later words: "My opinion of myself went up like a rocket."
 
Allen received an appointment to West Point in 1907, but the regimented lifestyle and academic requirements were a bad match for the impulsive man. He fell behind in his classes, developed a stutter, and was eventually kicked out after failing an ordnance and gunnery course. Not one to give up, Allen graduated at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., rejoined the Army, and passed a competitive officer's exam. He got his first taste of combat along the Mexican border, skirmishing with gunrunners who smuggled ammunition to revolutionary groups in Mexico.

Allen (center) and his aide-de-camp Theodore Roosevelt (right) receiving the French Croix de Guerre for bravery during the Tunisian campaign in World War II. (Photo: unknown photographer)
Allen (center) and his aide-de-camp Theodore Roosevelt (right) receiving the French Croix de Guerre for bravery during the Tunisian campaign in World War II. (Photo: unknown photographer)

Allen, a captain by June 1918, wanted nothing more than to go to Europe and fight in the Great War. He managed to score a posting to the 315th Ammunition Train, which was going to be sent over. It was a supply unit with no prospects for combat, but that didn't deter Allen. Once in Europe, he showed up at the graduation ceremony for a group of infantry officers who had just completed a combat command course, an event he had no business being at. Acting with his usual brazen audacity, he simply joined the line of graduates. When he got to the school commandant handing out the certificates, the man said "I don't remember you in this class." Allen replied "I'm Allen. Why don't you?" without missing a beat. The confused commandant handed a certificate over to Allen.
 
Allen threw himself into the fight at the temporary rank of major – quite literally. On one occasion, he was wounded in battle, sent to an aid station, ripped off his wound tag, returned to the battle and was wounded again. Another time, he was shot through the mouth and jaw. The wound miraculously cured him of his stutter, though it sometimes still came back when he was extremely agitated.

Men from Allen's 1st Infantry Division examine a captured German Gewehr 41 semiautomatic rifle in Tunisia in 1942 (Photo: U.S. military)
Men from Allen's 1st Infantry Division examine a captured German Gewehr 41 semiautomatic rifle in Tunisia in 1942 (Photo: U.S. military)

Allen stayed in Europe for a while after the Armistice with the occupation forces. He spent one night in Germany at a party, drinking and exchanging backslaps with a British officer. He only learned in the morning that the man was the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII. Allen felt remorse over the war's end, and said the following at time: "I wish the war hadn't stopped when it did. It's a damn shame—I was just beginning to get good ideas about commanding infantry battalions. I wish I could go back to the front and try them out."
 
In 1942, half a year after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Allen, now a permanent major, was given command of the 1st Infantry Division and sent over first to Britain, then to Africa during Operation Torch. He found a kindred spirit to serve as his aide-de-camp: Theodore Roosevelt Jr. (Read our earlier article - Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt, Jr.) The men were very much alike. Both were aggressive, cared for their men, and had little respect for prim and proper military appearance. They were also both outsiders to the West Point club, as neither of them had graduated from the famous academy.

Historical footage of Allen and Roosevelt Jr. (Video: YouTube).
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Allen and the Big Red One were the perfect match for each other. He neglected drill and military ceremony in favor of realistic training exercises and physical conditioning. He placed great emphasis on keeping all weapons clean and in perfect condition, but couldn't care less about the cleanliness of uniforms or the grooming standards of his men – or even whether they saluted their superiors, which they promptly stopped doing. Allen was the only American general in Africa and Europe who preferred to sleep on the ground over a bed or cot. A devout Catholic, he prayed for his men before every battle.

Allen addressing his troops (Photo: 104infdiv.org)
Allen addressing his troops (Photo: 104infdiv.org)

During the liberation of North Africa, the 1st Infantry Division was quickly relegated to defensive duties, with units attached to other divisions. This displeased Allen, who was keen to get his men into combat. He went behind his superior's back directly to Eisenhower, provocatively asking "Is this a private war, or can anybody get in?" Impressed by his determination, Eisenhower reunited the 1st Division in March 1943. Allen's indomitable fighting spirit quickly asserted itself on the first day of the battle of El Guettar, when a German tank unit threatened to overrun his headquarters. When he was advised to withdraw, he replied in true Allen spirit: "I will like hell pull out, and I’ll shoot the first bastard who does." His fighting spirit and unconventional attitude earned him the nickname "Terrible Terry" with war correspondents, a moniker he personally hated. The famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle would later write: "Major General Terry Allen was one of my favorite people. Partly because he didn't give a damn for hell or high water; partly because he was more colorful than most; and partly because he was the only general outside the Air Forces I could call by his first name. If there was one thing in the world Allen lived and breathed for, it was to fight. He had been all shot up in the last war, and he seemed not the least averse to getting shot up again. This was no intellectual war with him. He hated Germans and Italians like vermin."

Allen (right) with French officers in Tunisia, early 1942 (Photo: liberationtrilogy.com)
Allen (right) with French officers in Tunisia, early 1942 (Photo: liberationtrilogy.com)

The division earned great fame during the Tunisian Campaign, but also much infamy for their actions outside of combat. As the fighting died down, Allen's men sought to play just as hard as they fought. They robbed wine shops, outraged mayors, terrorized the locals and got into brawls with rear echelon troops and MPs. Their antics in the city of Oran after Services of Supply troops closed their clubs to them were bad enough to get Allen in serious disfavor with Omar Bradley, who was well-known for his obsession with discipline and protocol. Allen's other detractors included Eisenhower's chief of staff, General Walter Bedell Smith, who once burst out that "Allen ruined the 1st Division"; and Ike's deputy, General John P. Lucas.

Men from the 1st Division crossing Kasserine Pass after Rommel's withdrawal, February 26, 1943 (Photo: liberationtrilogy.com)
Men from the 1st Division crossing Kasserine Pass after Rommel's withdrawal, February 26, 1943 (Photo: liberationtrilogy.com)

Another superior officer who had a complicated relationship with Allen was George S. Patton. Both Patton and Allen were aggressive leaders, flamboyant personalities, and liked to place their HQ as close to the frontline as possible, but they also had significant differences. Patton, who strictly enforced discipline and a tidy appearance, could never forgive Allen for his laxness in this regard. Some historians also suggest that Patton considered Allen a rival, and resented the man's success. Some correspondence between the two survives to this day and would lend credence to this theory.

Allen (left) in North Africa (Photo: U.S. military)
Allen (left) in North Africa (Photo: U.S. military)

Time magazine published a cover story on Patton in April, 1942 in which the general made some remarks that Allen and other officers took as disparaging to American infantry. Allen wrote a fiery response letter to Patton, taking issue with the insult. Patton's reply to Allen was dismissive and demonstrated Patton's inability to admit being wrong. Another moment that demonstrated the growing rift between the two was during the battle of El Guettar, when a visiting Patton deliberately urinated over Allen's trench (while Allen was not inside).

Left to right: Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Terry Allen and Patton at El Guettar (Photo: Robert Capa)
Left to right: Theodore Roosevelt Jr., Terry Allen and Patton at El Guettar (Photo: Robert Capa)

And yet, despite the acrimony between the two, Patton still acknowledged Allen's prowess as a combat leader. When he learned that Eisenhower was sending the inexperienced 36th Division to the invasion of Sicily, Patton stormed into Ike's headquarters to demand the 1st instead. When Eisenhower refused to change the plans, Patton went over his head to General George C. Marshall and got him to overrule the decision. Despite his disapproval of Allen's methods, Patton still realized the importance of having him and his division present in Sicily.
 
The Sicilian campaign brought Allen both his finest moment, and nearly the end of his career. A German tank force threatened to overrun American troops on the beach on the second day. Allen ordered an attack at midnight, which managed to surprise the German reinforcements just as they were preparing for their own attack at down. Even Bradley had to admit that Allen had done well in his notes: "Only the perverse Big Red One with its no less perverse commander was both hard and experienced enough to take that assault in stride."
 
The First Division was involved in heavy fighting around the town of Troina. The initial assault on the town was performed by the 39th Infantry Regiment, normally a constituent of the 9th Division, but temporarily attached to Allen's 1st Division. Their attempt to take the town was a failure. Bradley finally got his chance to have Allen removed from his position. He went to Eisenhower and squarely put the blame on Allen and the 1st, ignoring the fact that the unit involved the attempt was not actually part of the 1st Division. This, along with repeated claims that Allen "looked tired" (admittedly, Allen's drinking habit might have had something to do with the latter), was enough to convince Eisenhower to remove Allen. Roosevelt, Allen's right-hand-man and a similarly unsavory character in Bradley's eyes, also had to go.

Allen (left) and Bradley studying a map in Sicily (Photo: histomil.com)
Allen (left) and Bradley studying a map in Sicily (Photo: histomil.com)

The sacking was casual and sudden. One day, Allen was giving instructions at his HQ for an upcoming attack, when the mail bag containing the dispatch came into the next room. The officers handling the mail knew that other units would be receiving the news at the same time, and though it best to tell Allen immediately. When shown the notice, Allen looked at it, nodded, said a few quiet and unrecorded words in reply, then carried on with the briefing with tears in his eyes. Ironically, Time magazine published a cover story on Allen, describing him as "a great division commander in the making", only two days after his removal.

Allen studying a map in Sicily (Photo: Robert Capa)
Allen studying a map in Sicily (Photo: Robert Capa)

In World War II, publically proclaiming that a combat officer was sent back to the States for "rest and recuperation" normally meant the man had fallen from favor and was not returning to Europe. Allen and Roosevelt were two of the exceptions who managed to beat the trend. Roosevelt famously got himself sent to Utah Beach with the first wave on D-Day. Allen also managed to get back in the game, because he still had one supporter left: Eisenhower, who sent him a letter in America, stating that he was sure Allen was going to receive a new assignment. Two months after his relief, Allen was given a new posting at the head of the 104th Infantry Division, the Timberwolves, who were preparing to go over to Europe.
 
Allen retained his customary confidence, stubbornness and aggression at the head of the 104th, but this time enforced traditional discipline and a clean appearance to protect his men and himself from criticism. He also emphasized night fighting in his training regiment, dedicating 30-35 hours per week to it, three to four times what the Army required. The Timberwolves became very familiar with Allen's training mottos: "Find ’em, fix ’em, fight ’em … take the high ground … inflict maximum damage to the enemy with minimum casualties to ourselves. Night attack! Night attack! Night attack!"

A sign proudly displaying the 104th motto: "Nothing in hell can stop the Timberwolf Division" (Photo: unknown photographer)
A sign proudly displaying the 104th motto: "Nothing in hell can stop the Timberwolf Division" (Photo: unknown photographer)

The 104th arrived in Europe in early September, 1944. The first thing Allen did was to go to the temporary American cemetery at Omaha Beach and visit the grave of his friend, Teddy Roosevelt Jr., who died of a heart failure five weeks after his historic landing on D-Day. The division first served alongside British and Canadian units, and their accolades validated Eisenhower's trust in Allen. Canadian General G. G. Simonds wrote the following: "Once the Timberwolves got their teeth into the Boche [Germans], they showed great dash, and the British and Canadian troops on their flanks expressed great admiration for their courage and enthusiasm … when they again meet the Boche, all hell cannot stop the Timberwolves."

Two of the Timberwolves in a StuG III captured during the Battle of the Bulge. Note the white star painted on to avoid friendly fire from aircraft, and the StG 44 in the left soldier's hands. (Photo: U.S. Army)
Two of the Timberwolves in a StuG III captured during the Battle of the Bulge. Note the white star painted on to avoid friendly fire from aircraft, and the StG 44 in the left soldier's hands.
(Photo: U.S. Army)

The Timberwolves went on to fight their way through Europe and establish themselves as one of the best assault divisions in the U.S. Army. They participated in the Battle of the Bulge among other operations, participated in the liberation of a large concentration camp at Nordhausen, and were part of the trap that allowed the Allies to encircle and capture 317,000 Germans soldiers in the Ruhr Pocket. They reached the Elbe River and made contact with Soviet troops on April 26, 1945, one day after the first contact between the American and Russian soldiers.

Terry Allen with his son in Colorado Springs, 1945 (Photo: texasmonthly.com)
Terry Allen with his son in Colorado Springs, 1945 (Photo: texasmonthly.com)

Terry Allen gave his all to the Army and the war effort, even after he was unfairly removed from command. And yet, in a sad twist of fate, he would go on to give even more. His son, Lieutenant Colonel Terry de la Mesa Allen Jr., served in the 1st Division, Allen Sr.'s original World War II command, during the Vietnam War. He and other officers were under a lot of pressure from higher-ups to actively seek out and engage the Viet Cong, who preferred ambushes and hit-and-run attacks. On the morning of October 17, 1967, 38-year-old Allen Jr. led his forces on patrol at a stream called Ông Thành to the north of Saigon.  He was ambushed by a superior Viet Cong force, and he was killed by machine gun fire in the last moments of the battle, just before American forces could withdraw.

Terry Allen Jr. (center) in Vietnam (Photo: James Shelton)

For his own part, Terry Allen Sr. retired from the Army in 1946. He worked for various insurance companies in El Paso, Texas, and was also active in civic affairs and veterans' organizations. He died at the age of 81, on September 12, 1969, two years after his son's death. Both father and son are buried at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery along Mary Frances Robinson, Terry Allen Sr.'s wife and Allen Jr.'s mother.

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