Lee on Allen, 'Forward with Patton: The World War II Diary of Colonel Robert S. Allen'

Robert S. Allen. Forward with Patton: The World War II Diary of Colonel Robert S. Allen. Edited by John Nelson Ricakard. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2017. 338 pp. $50.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8131-6913-2.

Reviewed by Carrie A. Lee (Air University, Air War College)
Published on H-War (October, 2018)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey (Air War College)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=50871

With the publication of Forward with Patton, John Nelson Rickard has released new primary source material that reveals unique insights into life on the front lines of Patton’s Third Army. It is a firsthand account of the day-to-day experiences of a staff officer in Patton’s Third Army—an interesting and relatively novel perspective in a genre that is largely composed of infantry battle memoirs. However, while it is billed as a fresh look into Patton’s outfit and the man himself, the diary in reality provides little by way of insight that we did not already know (or strongly suspect) about Patton. The strength of the book instead lies in its comparative advantage: the insights that Allen as an intelligence officer on the front lines provides into the nature and chaos of war. It is here that the most interesting revelations appear, and reaffirm in detail that Clausewitz’s observations about military genius, friction, and the fog of war remain just as relevant in the modern era as they were in the nineteenth century.

Forward with Patton is the personal diary of Colonel Robert Allen, an intelligence officer with Patton’s Third Army. In the preface, Rickard describes the diary as containing “insightful observations on Patton’s operational and command techniques and his interactions with the staff” (p. ix). And for good reason: the diary begins in March 1944, just a couple of months before the start of Operation Overlord, when Patton takes command of the Third Army and soldiers begin to make the trip overseas to Europe. It then continues through the end of the war, covering major battles such as the Normandy Invasion, Battle of the Bulge, and race for Berlin. Allen—the Washington bureau chief for the Christian Science Monitor who volunteered for service when the war broke out—served as Patton’s primary intelligence office, running the G2 shop and briefing Patton with regular intelligence updates. Allen’s observations reveal a great reverence for Patton, a chip on his shoulder about the army’s preferences for so-called regulars (career military officers), and great skepticism about the abilities and capacity of other general officers, including but not limited to Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley, George Marshall, and Bernard Montgomery.

The diary therefore provides an unvarnished look at life as a staff officer on the front lines in the most demanding American force of the Second World War. Rickard’s editing style preserves the raw nature of Allen’s observations: while the diary is edited lightly for clarity, and to correct for wrong or incomplete information, Allen’s style and shorthand is generally preserved throughout, thereby giving the reader a sense both of Allen’s personality and character but also the insular nature of military affairs, as almost everything is referred to by acronym, nickname, or abbreviation. In this sense, the diary is much more a primary source for historians than a read for the general public.

And yet, it reveals little about Patton that has not already been established by the historical literature. Patton is aggressive in battle, a “go-getter” who prefers to advance at all costs. His style of command, while effective and relentless on the battlefield, also comes with significant costs to his force: attrition rates in the Third Army were the highest of any American unit throughout the war, and Patton was heavily reliant upon a stream of reinforcements from the United States to continue his war of attrition against the Germans. Allen mentions on several occasions Patton’s reluctance to take prisoners of war, particularly among units he considered especially offensive, such as the SS and Panzer units. But even these potentially explosive comments—which if accurate as reported would implicate Patton as complicit in war crimes—reflect a posture that was documented at Biscari during the Sicilian campaign, and as a result they are less shocking than they might have been.

Instead, the diary’s true contribution is the insights that it provides into the fog of war, and the deluge of misinformation, rumor, and speculation that runs through the front lines of the battlefield. Allen is an intelligence officer, responsible for putting together briefs for Patton about German forces, troop movements, terrain, and other information relevant to Patton’s war plans. However, his diary is littered with wrong accounts and incomplete information, particularly with regard to command posts, unit locations, and personnel decision. Rickard regularly intervenes throughout the text to correct sections where Allen relayed rumor, misstated troop locations and/or movements, and mis-identified even friendly units. This does not appear to be a reflection on Allen’s competence—he is by all accounts a good intelligence officer and develops a good rapport with the typically no-nonsense Patton—but rather is an important window into the fog of war. Even in the era of modern warfare, intelligence is difficult to come by, rumors abound, and very little is reliable at first. Even after being read into Ultra (the British operation that broke German codes and provided unprecedented levels of intelligence to Allied forces during the war), Allen continues to make mistakes throughout his personal diary. (As would be expected, the intelligence improves considerably as Patton’s Third Army gets deeper into Germany and captures more German officers as prisoners of war. Allen’s information—both in his briefs and in his diary—becomes significantly more reliable, and the final pages of the book require almost no corrections.)

Perhaps the greatest irony, given Allen’s background and training as a reporter, is that Allen himself does not seem to recognize the inherent difficulties with intelligence on the battlefield, or even acknowledge his own mistakes. He is exceptionally critical of other intelligence officers and their generals in the aftermath of the Battle of the Bulge; in entry after entry he expresses disbelief that Montgomery and Bradley had not seen the German offensive coming. And yet, it is likely that Allen received the same intelligence reports and also failed to recognize an impending operation. Nowhere in the diary before the battle does he indicate that there will be a major German push; similarly missing is any reference to previous warnings after the battle has begun. It would appear that, despite his bitterness toward the other Allied commanders, Allen also missed the signs leading up to the Ardennes offensive.

Overall, the diary is a fascinating account by a staff officer who finds himself leading the march in Germany at the end of the Second World War. However, while many of his experiences may be generalizable, Allen is just one man, with his own troubles and flaws. He is deeply prejudiced in favor of Patton, carries an innate distrust of “regular” soldiers, is not terribly self-reflective, and espouses many of the social views regarding women and race that were commonly accepted at the time. But his view of the battlefield—from the command post rather than the front line—provides an important perspective that we do not often see. As such, the staff perspective is a welcome addition to the canon of literature and memoirs about World War Two. Historians looking for first-rate anecdotes and day-to-day discussions of operations and activities will find this a useful and insightful read.


Citation: Carrie A. Lee. Review of Allen, Robert S., Forward with Patton: The World War II Diary of Colonel Robert S. Allen. H-War, H-Net Reviews. October, 2018.
URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=50871

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


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Fine review of what looks like an interesting book. Re. the German Ardennes offensive, Patton himself, in his diary, famously speculated about the German buildup opposite the southern flank of the First Army and wondered if his boss, Gen. Bradley, was alert to that development.

So, where did Patton get his information about this German buildup, if his own G-2 said little or nothing about it? Apparently ULTRA was no help on this issue, as I understand the German deployment orders were sent over landline.


the G-2 of First Army, "Monk" Dickson, not only alerted his superiors to be build up, but predicted a German offensive in his famous Intel report 37 nearly to the exact date. His report was partly suppressed by the CoS of First Army as no one wanted to hear about a German comeback when supposedly they were on the ropes.

Oscar Koch, Patton's G-2, had come to similar conclusions and shared them with Patton. He latter wrote a book about his work for Patton.

Well, whatever Col Allen thought, it's clear that 3rd Army G-2 General Koch had it figured out, for which see this link:


Nor was General Koch the only Army level G-2 in General Bradley's 12th Army Group to figure out that the impending German Ardennes offensive was coming.

The G-2 in Simpson's Ninth Army not only figured it out, he got Gen Simpson to request jamming support from Eighth Air Force's 36th Squadron which was equipped with jammers on German tank frequencies.


"In December 1944, and prior to the German winter offensive (Battle of the Bulge), Ninth Army requested airborne jamming of 6th Army Panzer radio nets. With 6th Panzer Army suspected in the zone between British forces and First Army, Ninth Army sought to break up a potential panzer attack. Ninth Army's request was rejected by Eighth Air Force because in order to effectively jam these signals, the aircraft would have to be flown in an area of heavy flak and known heavy fighter aircraft concentration.25 However, from December 29, 1944 to January 7, 1945, Third Army received airborne jamming support at the Battle of the Bulge. Twelfth Army Group reported inconclusive findings on the effectiveness of this jamming 26, but German prisoners of war in another report indicate that but German prisoners of war in another report indicate that the jamming was very effective.27 "

25. 12th Army Group. Report of
Operations, p. 232.
27. Thompson and Harris, p. 324.

Passage regards the Ninth Army Jammer request comes from a short history article on the US Army Signal Corp jamming units supporting 12th Army Group n NW Europe in WW2. The article citation is as follows:

Maj. Richard Riccardelli, "Electronic Warfare in WWII", Army Communicator, Winter 1985, pages 40 - 49

The tank radio jammer on the 36th Squadron aircraft is the one mentioned in Aileen Clayton's "THE ENEMY IS LISTENING" as being used on Wellington bombers to jam Africa Corps tanks for a short time. The RAF gave it up after the Wellingtons involved kept getting homed upon and shot to pieces by German fighters.

I don't know if this book can cast any light on the strategic/logistical questions raised by these postings, but I can assure you that it is well worth a read (and makes a great gift to anyone interested in military history):

Patton's Lucky Scout
The Adventures of a World War II Forward Observer (memoir by Frank Wayne Martin)
Crickhollow Books
Paperback • 308 pages • 6” x 9”
2009 • ISBN 978-1-933987-10-1

The website --
-- mounted by Nancy Hill, Frank Wayne Martin's daughter-in-law, who also edited the memoir -- gives some excerpts from the book and elaborates on them a bit.

I read the book aloud to my own father-in-law, a WWII veteran. It was a complete pleasure for both of us! Jim had great trouble speaking but was able to chuckle at situations he could recall as a GI.

Karen Reeds