Ernest N. Harmon

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, and is best known for his actions in reorganizing the 1st Armored Division after the debacle in February 1943 at Battle of Kasserine Pass during the Tunisian campaign.

Ernest N. 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, United States
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service1913–1948
RankUS-O8 insignia.svg Major General
Service number0-5282
UnitArmyCAVBranchPlaque.gif Cavalry Branch
Commands heldUnited States Third Army
XXII Corps
2nd Armored Division
1st Armored Division
Battles/warsWorld War I
World War II
AwardsDistinguished Service Cross
Army Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Silver Star (2)
Legion of Merit (3)
Bronze Star
Purple Heart

Early lifeEdit

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, Robert W. Hasbrouck, Laurence B. Keiser, Charles H. Gerhardt, George H. Weems, William C. McMahon, Frederick Augustus Irving, Theodore Leslie Futch, John M. Devine, Raymond E. S. Williamson, 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]

World War IEdit

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]

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]

Between the warsEdit

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.[4]

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] 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.[5] 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.[6]

World War IIEdit

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 AfricaEdit

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.[7] 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.[8]

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).[7] 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 obey–Anderson, 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.[9]

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.[10]

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.[8] 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.[8] Harmon agreed with Nicholson and commanded, "Irwin, you stay right here!"[8] 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.[8] 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 S. 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.[11] 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.

Major General Ernest N. Harmon, pictured here sometime in 1944.

Harmon led the 1st Armored Division throughout the rest of the Tunisian campaign, which eventually 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).


The division did not participate in the Allied invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky), although his old command, the 2nd Armored Division, now led by Major General Hugh Gaffey, did.

Harmon 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 EuropeEdit

On 12 September 1944 Harmon returned to command his old division, the 2nd Armored, in succession to Major General Edward H. Brooks, who was promoted to command VI Corps. Harmon led the division on the Western Front, which played a large role in the Battle of the Bulge at the end of 1944. Harmon then assumed command of the XXII Corps, on 14 January 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.

During World War II Harmon participated in a total of nine campaigns – two in North Africa, three in Italy, and four in France and Germany.

Post warEdit

Harmon remained in command of XXII Corps until it was deactivated in January 1946 when he took command of VI Corps. He helped organize the initial post-war government of Allied-occupied Germany, including the organization of the U.S. Constabulary which was formed from the units of VI Corps.

He was interim commander of the Third United States Army from January to March 1947. He then served as deputy commander of Army Ground Forces before retiring from the U.S. Army in 1948.

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.

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

Orders, decorations, and medalsEdit

Major General Harmon's ribbon bar:


United States decorations and medals

Foreign orders

Foreign decorations


Insignia Rank Component Date
No insignia Cadet United States Military Academy June 14, 1913
  Second lieutenant Regular Army April 20, 1917
  First lieutenant Regular Army May 15, 1917
  Captain Temporary August 5, 1917
  First lieutenant Regular Army October 3, 1919
  Captain Regular Army April 26, 1920
  Major Regular Army November 1, 1932
  Lieutenant colonel Regular Army July 1, 1940
  Colonel Army of the United States November 4, 1941
  Brigadier general Army of the United States March 13, 1942
  Major general Army of the United States August 9, 1942
  Colonel Regular Army April 28, 1945
  Major general Retired list March 31, 1948


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "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. ^ "Ernest N. Harmon Olympic Results". Archived from the original on 2020-04-18. Retrieved 2012-06-22.
  4. ^ "Ernest N. Harmon". Olympedia. Retrieved 28 October 2021.
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ Zabecki, David T. (1999). World War II in Europe: An Encyclopedia. New York, NY: Routledge. p. 335. ISBN 978-0-8240-7029-8.
  7. ^ a b Andrews, Peter, A Place to be Lousy In, American Heritage Magazine (December 1991), Volume 42, Issue 8, pp. 100–109
  8. ^ a b c d e Murray, Brian J., Facing The Fox, America in World War II, (April 2006), pp. 28–35
  9. ^ D'Este, Carlo, Eisenhower: A Soldier's Life, Orion Publishing Group Ltd. (2003), ISBN 0-304-36658-7, ISBN 0-304-36658-7
  10. ^ 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
  11. ^ D'Este, Carlo, Patton: A Genius for War, Harper/Collins (1996), ISBN 0-06-092762-3, ISBN 978-0-06-092762-2, p. 460
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u Houterman, Hans. "US Army Officers 1939–1945". unit histories. Retrieved 8 April 2014.

External linksEdit

Military offices
Preceded by Commanding General 2nd Armored Division
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commanding General 1st Armored Division
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commanding General 2nd Armored Division
Succeeded by
Preceded by Commanding General XXII Corps
Post deactivated
Preceded by Commanding General Third Army
January–March 1947
Succeeded by