Ernest N. Harmon

Last updated
Ernest Nason Harmon
Ernest N. Harmon4.jpg
Nickname(s)"Old Gravel Voice"
Born(1894-02-26)February 26, 1894
Lowell, Massachusetts, United States
DiedNovember 13, 1979(1979-11-13) (aged 85)
White River Junction, Vermont
AllegianceFlag of the United States.svg  United States
Service/branchFlag of the United States Army.svg  United States Army
Years of service1913–1948
Rank US-O8 insignia.svg Major General
Unit ArmyCAVBranchPlaque.gif Cavalry Branch
Commands held 1st Armored Division
2nd Armored Division
XXII Corps
Third Army
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Cross
Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Silver Star
Purple Heart

Major General Ernest Nason Harmon (February 26, 1894 – November 13, 1979) was a senior officer of the United States Army. He served in both World War I and World War II, being best known for his actions in reorganizing the 1st Armored Division after the debacle at the February 1943 Battle of Kasserine Pass during the Tunisia Campaign.

In the United States Army, United States Marine Corps, and United States Air Force, major general is a two-star general officer rank, with the pay grade of O-8. Major general ranks above brigadier general and below lieutenant general. A major general typically commands division-sized units of 10,000 to 15,000 soldiers. Major general is equivalent to the two-star rank of rear admiral in the United States Navy and United States Coast Guard, and is the highest permanent peacetime rank in the uniformed services. Higher ranks are technically temporary and linked to specific positions, although virtually all officers promoted to those ranks are approved to retire at their highest earned rank.

Officer (armed forces) member of an armed force or uniformed service who holds a position of authority

An officer is a member of an armed forces or uniformed service who holds a position of authority.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.


Early life

Ernest Nason Harmon was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, the son of Ernest and Junietta (Spaulding) Harmon. [1] He was orphaned at age ten, and was raised by relatives in the Newbury, Vermont village of West Newbury. [1] He was educated in West Newbury and graduated from the Bradford Academy in 1912. [1] He attended Norwich University for a year, and then, in 1913, received an appointment to the United States Military Academy (USMA) at West Point, New York. [1] While there, he rode horses, played football and hockey, and was a member of the boxing team. [1] Following his graduation on April 20, 1917, exactly two weeks after the American entry into World War I, he was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Cavalry Branch of the United States Army. [1] Among his fellow graduates at West Point were Matthew Ridgway, J. Lawton Collins, Mark W. Clark, William W. Eagles, Norman Cota, Laurence B. Keiser, William C. McMahon, Frederick Augustus Irving, Bryant Moore and William Kelly Harrison, Jr.. Like Harmon, all of these men would later become general officers, with Ridgway and Collins becoming U.S. Army Chief of Staff. In August 1917 Harmon married M. Leona Tuxbury: they had two daughters, Barbara Roll and Jeanne Oliver, and three sons, Halsey, Robert and Ernest Jr. [1]

Lowell, Massachusetts City in Massachusetts, United States

Lowell is a city in the U.S. Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Located in Middlesex County, Lowell was a county seat until Massachusetts disbanded county government in 1999. With an estimated population of 111,640 in 2018, it was the fourth-largest city in Massachusetts as of the last census and is estimated to be the fifth-largest as of 2018, and the second-largest in the Boston metropolitan statistical area. The city is also part of a smaller Massachusetts statistical area called Greater Lowell, as well as New England's Merrimack Valley region.

Newbury (town), Vermont town in Vermont

Newbury is a town in Orange County, Vermont, United States. The population was 2,216 at the 2010 census. Newbury includes the villages of Newbury, Center Newbury, West Newbury, South Newbury, Boltonville, Peach Four Corners, and Wells River. The town maintains a public website that is updated regularly.

Bradford, Vermont Town in Vermont, United States

Bradford is a town in Orange County, Vermont, United States. The population was 2,797 at the 2010 census. Bradford is located on the county's eastern border, bordering both the Connecticut River and New Hampshire, and is a commercial center for some of its surrounding towns.

World War I

Harmon was assigned to the 2nd Cavalry Regiment at Fort Ethan Allen, which was followed by duty at Fort Devens, Massachusetts, and Fort Sill, Oklahoma. [1]

2nd Cavalry Regiment (United States) unit of the U.S. Army

The 2nd Cavalry Regiment, also known as the 2nd Dragoons, is an active Stryker infantry and cavalry regiment of the United States Army. The Second Cavalry Regiment is a unit of the United States Army Europe, with its garrison at the Rose Barracks in Vilseck, Germany. It can trace its lineage back to the early part of the 19th century.

Fort Ethan Allen United States historic place

Fort Ethan Allen was a United States Army installation in Vermont, named for American Revolutionary War figure Ethan Allen. Established as a cavalry post in 1894, today it is the center of a designated national historic district straddling the town line between Colchester and Essex. Locally, it is known simply as "The Fort", and now houses a variety of businesses, academic institutions, and residential areas.

Fort Devens U.S. military installation in Middlesex and Worcester counties, Massachusetts, United States

Fort Devens is an active United States Army military installation in the towns of Ayer and Shirley, in Middlesex County and Harvard in Worcester County in the U.S. state of Massachusetts. It was named after jurist and Civil War general Charles Devens. The nearby Devens Reserve Forces Training Area is located in Lancaster. Although closed in 1996, the fort was reopened the next day as the Devens Reserve Forces Training Area. The name reverted to Fort Devens in May 2007.

In March 1918, Harmon went to France with F Troop, 2nd Cavalry. [1] The 2nd Cavalry was the only Cavalry unit to go overseas during World War I, and B, D, F, and H Troops became the last horse-mounted U.S. Cavalry units to ever engage an enemy in combat. [2] Harmon served in the Baccarat Sector, at Camp du Valdahon, the St. Mihiel Offensive, and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. [1] He served in France and Belgium after the war, and returned to the U.S. in June 1919 to become a student at the Fort Riley, Kansas Cavalry School. [1]

France Republic in Europe with several non-European regions

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.02 million. France is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

World War I 1914–1918 global war starting in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the resulting 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Baccarat Commune in Grand Est, France

Baccarat is a French commune in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department in the Grand Est region of north-eastern France.

Post-World War I

In August 1921, Harmon was assigned to West Point as an instructor in Mechanical Drawing, and his additional duties included backfield coach for the football team, and coach of the school's first lacrosse team. [1] In the summer of 1924 he went to France with three other officers to compete in the modern pentathlon in that year's summer Olympic Games. [1] Harmon placed fifth in shooting, 37th in swimming, 27th in fencing, 32nd in equestrian, and 26th in the cross country run. [3] He finished tied for 31st overall (out of 38 contestants), and athletes from Sweden claimed the first three places. [3]

At the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, a single modern pentathlon event was contested. It was the third appearance of the sport; for the third straight time, Sweden swept the medals.

1924 Summer Olympics games of the VIII Olympiad, celebrated in Paris, France in 1924

The 1924 Summer Olympics, officially known as the Games of the VIII Olympiad, were an international multi-sport event which was celebrated in 1924 in Paris, France.

Sweden constitutional monarchy in Northern Europe

Sweden, officially the Kingdom of Sweden, is a Scandinavian Nordic country in Northern Europe. It borders Norway to the west and north and Finland to the east, and is connected to Denmark in the southwest by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund Strait. At 450,295 square kilometres (173,860 sq mi), Sweden is the largest country in Northern Europe, the third-largest country in the European Union and the fifth largest country in Europe by area. The capital city is Stockholm. Sweden has a total population of 10.3 million of which 2.5 million have a foreign background. It has a low population density of 22 inhabitants per square kilometre (57/sq mi) and the highest urban concentration is in the central and southern half of the country.

Harmon's subsequent assignments included the 6th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia, and four years as Professor of Military Science and Commandant of Cadets at Norwich University. [1]

6th Cavalry Regiment

The 6th Cavalry is a regiment of the United States Army that began as a regiment of cavalry in the American Civil War. It currently is organized into aviation squadrons that are assigned to several different combat aviation brigades.

Fort Oglethorpe, Georgia City in Georgia, United States

Fort Oglethorpe is a city predominantly in Catoosa County with some portions in Walker County in the U.S. state of Georgia. As of the 2010 census, the city had a population of 9,263. It is part of the Chattanooga, TN–GA Metropolitan Statistical Area. It is home to Lakeview – Fort Oglethorpe High School.

In 1933 Harmon graduated from the United States Army Command and General Staff College, and he was a 1934 graduate of the United States Army War College. [4] He then commanded a squadron of the 8th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss, which was followed by four years in the logistics staff directorate (G4) on the War Department General Staff. [1] Harmon was briefly assistant chief of staff for I Armored Corps at Fort Knox, Kentucky, and was then assigned to serve as chief of staff to Adna R. Chaffee Jr. during Chaffee's command of the Army's newly-organized Armored Force. [5]

World War II

The United States entered World War II in December 1941, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. For nine months, from July 1942 until April 1943, Harmon commanded the 2nd Armored Division and trained the division for overseas service.

North Africa

Elements of the 2nd Armored Division began to arrive in Algeria, French North Africa, in November 1942, as part of Operation Torch. Upon landing in Algiers, Harmon was delegated by General Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in North Africa, to travel to the front to report on the deteriorating Allied situation in Tunisia and Algeria, and to assist where needed. [6] His on-site reporting and interventions during the Kasserine Pass battles in February 1943 helped stabilize and reorganize the U.S. II Corps, which had been thrown into disorder after the initial German attack. [7]

During the fighting, Harmon had opportunity to observe Major General Lloyd Fredendall, commander of II Corps, as well as his superior, the British Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson, commander of the British First Army. Anderson was in overall control of the Allied front in eastern Algeria, commanding British, American, and French forces. Harmon noticed that the two generals rarely saw each other, and failed to properly coordinate and integrate forces under their command. Fredendall was barely on speaking terms with his 1st Armored Division commander, Major General Orlando Ward, who had repeatedly complained to his superiors of the dangers of separating his division into weaker combat commands for use in various sectors of the front. Harmon also noticed that Fredendall rarely left his command headquarters, a huge fortified bunker constructed a full 70 miles behind the front lines (the bunker took two hundred Army engineers three weeks to excavate, using hundreds of pounds of explosive to blast rooms out of solid rock). [6] Allied forces were bereft of air support during critical attacks, and were frequently positioned by the senior command in positions where they could not offer mutual support to each other. Subordinates would later recall their utter confusion at being handed conflicting orders, not knowing which general to obeyAnderson, or Fredendall. While interviewing field commanders, Harmon received an earful of criticism over what many Allied officers viewed as a cowardly, confused, and out-of-touch command. Noting that Fredendall seemed out-of-touch (and at one point, intoxicated), he requested and received permission to go to the front and intervene where necessary to shore up Allied defenses. [8]

While Harmon attributed the lion's share of the blame for the catastrophe to Fredendall, he also began to question Anderson's leadership abilities with respect to a large command. Anderson was partly to blame for the weakness of II Corps in southern area of the front. When Fredendall asked to retire to a defensible line after the initial assault in order to regroup his forces, Anderson rejected the request, allowing German panzer forces to overrun many of the American positions in the south. Anderson also weakened II Corps by parceling out portions of the 1st Armored Division into various combat commands sent to other sectors over the vehement objections of its commander, Major General Ward. [9]

Major General Harmon had been in Thala on the Algerian border, witnessing the stubborn resistance of the British Nickforce , which held the vital road leading into the Kasserine Pass against the heavy pressure of the German 10th Panzer Division, which was under Rommel's direct command. [7] Commanding the British Nickforce was Brigadier Cameron Nicholson, an effective combat leader who kept his remaining forces steady under relentless German hammering. When the U.S. 9th Infantry Division's attached artillery arrived in Thala after a four-day, 800-mile march, it seemed like a godsend to Harmon. Inexplicably, the 9th was ordered by Anderson to abandon Thala to the enemy and head for the village of Le Kef, 50 miles away, to defend against an expected German attack. Nicholson pleaded with the American artillery commander, Brigadier General Stafford LeRoy Irwin, to ignore Anderson's order and stay. [7] Harmon agreed with Nicholson and commanded, "Irwin, you stay right here!" [7] The 9th's artillery stayed, and with its 48 guns raining a whole year's worth of a (peacetime) allotment of shells,[ citation needed ] stopped the advancing Germans in their tracks. Unable to retreat under the withering fire, the Afrika Korps finally withdrew after dark. [7] With the defeat at Thala, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel decided to end his offensive.

After Rommel had finally been halted at Thala, Harmon returned to Fredendall's headquarters, and was incredulous to find Fredendall expecting to pick up where he had left off. Harmon's reports on Fredendall's conduct during and after the battle (in an interview with Major General George Patton, Fredendall's replacement, Harmon called Fredendall, "cowardly") played a key role in Fredendall's removal from command of II Corps and reassignment to a training command in the United States. [10] Offered the command of II Corps in Fredendall's place, Harmon declined, as it would appear to others that Harmon was motivated by personal gain. Instead, in March, General Eisenhower appointed Patton, a colleague and friend of Harmon's, to replace Fredendall. Harmon later accepted command of the 1st Armored Division after the relief of Major General Ward in April.

Harmon, pictured here in 1944. Ernest N Harmon.jpg
Harmon, pictured here in 1944.

Harmon led the 1st Armored Division throughout the rest of the Tunisia Campaign, which came to an end in mid-May 1943, with the surrender of almost 250,000 German and Italian soldiers, who subsequently became prisoners of war (POWs).


He went on to lead the 1st Armored Division in the Italian Campaign, leading the division in terrain unsuitable for the employment of armor, until July 1944 when he returned to the United States. During the Italian Campaign he and his division played a significant role in the Battle of Anzio.

Western Europe

In September 1944 Harmon returned to command his old division, the 2nd Armored, and led the division on the Western Front, which played a large role in the Battle of the Bulge. Harmon assumed command of the XXII Corps, in early 1945, and led the corps in the final stages of the war, participating in the Western Allied invasion of Germany. The end of World War II in Europe came soon after, on May 8, 1945, Victory in Europe Day.

Post war

Harmon remained in command of XXII Corps until it was deactivated in January 1946. He helped organize the initial post-war government of Allied-occupied Germany, including organization of the U.S. Constabulary. He then served as deputy commander of Army Ground Forces before retiring from the U.S. Army in 1948.

General Harmon left the United States Army for Norwich University, where he served as president from 1950 to 1965. In 1955, he received an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Saint Michael's College, Colchester, Vermont.

General Harmon died at White River Junction, Vermont, on November 13, 1979.

Career highlights

General Harmon's career highlights include:

Orders, decorations, and medals

Major General Harmon's ribbon bar:

Distinguished Service Cross ribbon.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Distinguished Service Medal ribbon.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Silver Star ribbon.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Bronze oakleaf-3d.svg
Legion of Merit ribbon.svg
Bronze Star ribbon.svg Air Medal ribbon.svg
Army Commendation Medal ribbon.svg Purple Heart ribbon.svg
World War I Victory Medal ribbon.svg
Army of Occupation of Germany ribbon.svg American Defense Service Medal ribbon.svg American Campaign Medal ribbon.svg
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign ribbon.svg
World War II Victory Medal ribbon.svg Army of Occupation ribbon.svg
MAR Order of the Ouissam Alaouite - Grand Officer (1913-1956) BAR.png Order of the Bath (ribbon).svg Legion Honneur Officier ribbon.svg
Croix de guerre 1939-1945 stripe bronsepalme.svg Order of Orange-Nassau ribbon - Grand Officer.svg Commander Ordre de Leopold.png
BEL Croix de Guerre 1944 ribbon.svg Ufficiale SSML Regno BAR.svg Valor militare silver medal BAR.svg
Czechoslovak War Cross 1939-1945 Ribbon.png TCH CS Vojensky Rad Bileho Lva 2st (1945) BAR.svg Order of Red Banner ribbon bar.png

United States decorations and medals

Foreign orders

Foreign decorations


No insignia Cadet United States Military Academy June 14, 1913
US-O1 insignia.svg Second lieutenant Regular Army April 20, 1917
US-O2 insignia.svg First lieutenant Regular ArmyMay 15, 1917
US-O3 insignia.svg Captain TemporaryAugust 5, 1917
US-O2 insignia.svg First lieutenant Regular ArmyOctober 3, 1919
US-O3 insignia.svg Captain Regular ArmyApril 26, 1920
US-O4 insignia.svg Major Regular ArmyNovember 1, 1932
US-O5 insignia.svg Lieutenant colonel Regular ArmyJuly 1, 1940
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel Army of the United States November 4, 1941
US-O7 insignia.svg Brigadier general Army of the United StatesMarch 13, 1942
US-O8 insignia.svg Major general Army of the United StatesAugust 9, 1942
US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel Regular ArmyApril 28, 1945
US-O8 insignia.svg Major general Retired listMarch 31, 1948

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 "Obituary, Ernest N. Harmon 1917". West Point Association of Graduates. Retrieved October 4, 2016.
  2. Strickland, Jeffrey (2015). I Rode with Wallace: My Military Story for Ordinary People. Raleigh, NC: Lulu, Inc. p. 45. ISBN   978-1-329-56566-1.
  3. 1 2 3 "Ernest N. Harmon Olympic Results". Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  4. Matheny, Michael R. (2011). Carrying the War to the Enemy: American Operational Art to 1945. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press. p. 255. ISBN   978-0-8061-4156-5.
  5. Zabecki, David T. (1999). World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Routledge. p. 335. ISBN   978-0-8240-7029-8.
  6. 1 2 Andrews, Peter, A Place to be Lousy In, American Heritage Magazine (December 1991), Volume 42, Issue 8, pp. 100-109
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Murray, Brian J., Facing The Fox, America in World War II, (April 2006), pp. 28-35
  8. D'Este, Carlo, Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life, Orion Publishing Group Ltd. (2003), ISBN   0-304-36658-7, ISBN   0-304-36658-7
  9. Calhoun, Mark T., Defeat at Kasserine: American Armor Doctrine, Training, and Battle Command in Northwest Africa, World War II, Army Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, KS (2003), pp. 73-75
  10. D'Este, Carlo, Patton: A Genius for War, Harper/Collins (1996), ISBN   0-06-092762-3, ISBN   978-0-06-092762-2, p. 460
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 Houterman, Hans. "US Army Officers 1939-1945". unit histories. Retrieved 8 April 2014.
Military offices
Preceded by
Willis D. Crittenberger
Commanding General 2nd Armored Division
Succeeded by
Hugh Joseph Gaffey
Preceded by
Orlando Ward
Commanding General 1st Armored Division
Succeeded by
Vernon Prichard
Preceded by
Edward H. Brooks
Commanding General 2nd Armored Division
Succeeded by
Isaac D. White
Preceded by
Henry Terrell, Jr.
Commanding General XXII Corps
Succeeded by
Post deactivated
Preceded by
Geoffrey Keyes
Commanding General Third Army
January 1947 – March 1947
Succeeded by
Oscar Griswold