Who's Who During Big 4-Occupation of Germany
Chapter section from:
Airbridge to Berlin --- The Berlin Crisis of 1948, its Origins and Aftermath
By D.M. Giangreco and Robert E. Griffin
(Used with permission)
The first military governors of occupied Germany were the three victorious Allied combat commanders, Zhukov, Montgomery, and Eisenhower who all soon left the scene completely or delegated the day to day functions to deputies.
The principal Soviet player at the Allied Control Council in Berlin soon became General Vassily Sokolovsky. The victor of Smolensk was a former school teacher who had joined the Red Army during the civil war of 1918-20 and rose rapidly through the ranks to serve as Zhukov's deputy. Sokolovsky was very intelligent, capable, and "one who could quote the Bible frequently and accurately"(8), a rather unique trait for a dedicated Communist officer. General Sir Brian Robertson represented Great Britain. Robertson is described as "a brilliant officer, who could look back at both a successful army and international business career."(9) The French member was General Pierre Koenig, who gained fame as a brigade commander in Libya in 1942 for the Free France movement (10) and later became one of General Charles de Gaulle's principal lieutenants
during the liberation of France.
The US representative was General Lucius D. Clay. Clay was the son of a former US senator from Georgia, a distant relative to Henry Clay, "the great compromiser," and among his close friends was James Byrnes, Truman's Secretary of State from 1945 to 1947. Although Clay had political connections, he was not a political general, but a professional officer and engineer. He graduated from West Point in 1918 and served in a variety of engineer officer assignments between the wars. Soon after Pearl Harbor, he, as many of his classmates who had languished for 20 years in the peacetime army, was rapidly promoted to brigadier general and became Director of Materiel of the Armed Service Forces. Later he was appointed as Byrnes' deputy at the Office of War Mobilization and Reconversion. Eisenhower, with whom Clay had served in the Philippines, asked for him when the supply bottleneck at Cherbourg, France caused a major problem. Clay quickly resolved it.
Although Clay constantly strove for a combat command, his superiors consistently desired to use his talents in other areas. He was described as "a brilliant administrator and leader, a sparkling, always turned up dynamo who worked incredibly long hours, with a retentive mind and the knack of extracting the essence of a memo at a glance." On the minus side, "he was considered unyielding when opposed and - sometimes to his detriment - given to trigger quick decisions."(11)
When Eisenhower returned to Washington in November 1945, he was succeeded by General Joseph T. McNarney. Eisenhower had delegated responsibility for military government to Clay, but McNarney, who displayed little interest in German affairs, insisted on command prerogatives.(12) Clay requested relief and retirement twice during 1946. However, after visits to Germany by Walter Bedell Smith, then US Ambassador to the Soviet Union and Eisenhower's wartime Chief of Staff, and Eisenhower, then Army Chief of Staff, it was decided McNarney would leave and Clay would get the title along with the responsibilities he had been performing for almost two years. On March 15, 1947, Clay was named Military Governor and US Commander in Chief in Europe. From then until his departure in May 1949, he was America's proconsul in Europe with almost unlimited authority.
Clay was able to exercise this authority because of a power vacuum in Washington. In theory, the State Department was supposed to develop American policy toward Germany and the Department of the Army was supposed to carry it out. In practice, the two departments were often unwilling or unable to make a firm decision so Clay filled in and made them "Like General MacArthur, America's proconsul in Japan, Clay was nearly an independent sovereign in relation to the State Department, which could negotiate with him but was never able to issue orders to him."(13) Clay's admirers commended him for his calm assurance, the marked absence of anxiety, the skill and decisiveness with which he acted. His critics saw him as an imperious and impulsive figure whose overbearing self-confidence led him to make snap decisions and tended to create a climate uncongenial to negotiations.(14)