Mark Clark became the youngest American to be promoted to general in 1945. Clark had a distinguished career in World War Two and is primarily linked to Operation Torch (the invasion of French North Africa) and the campaign in Italy.
Mark Clark was born on May 1st, 1896. He went to West Point Military Academy and graduated in time to fight in World War One – he led a company of soldiers in 1917 and was seriously wounded by shrapnel.
After the war, he was promoted to major and held several staff posts before attending the US Army College in Washington. He was given a teaching post at the college after graduating. It was at the US Army College that Clark’s abilities were seen by General George Marshall.
In April 1941, Clark was promoted to brigadier-general and in 1942 he came to Britain to assist General Dwight Eisenhower in planning the invasion of French North Africa. To avoid as much bloodshed as was possible, the Allies senior commanders hoped to persuade the Vichy military in North Africa to not fight. The senior officers in the French army based in places such as Casablanca and Algiers were only willing to discuss this if they could meet face-to-face with a senior American military officer. Mark Clark was chosen for this and covertly went to North Africa to meet the Vichy officers. Clark was transported by submarine and he returned to Gibraltar, where Eisenhower had made his headquarters, with the impression that the French in North Africa would not fight against Allied forces.
Operation Torch was a success. There were instances where the French military did fight back but the Allies had completed what they had set out to do within two days of landing.
On October 13th, 1942, Clark became America’s youngest three-star general and by the end of the year he was given command of the US 5th Army.
In September 1943, Clark commanded the invasion of mainland Italy. Clark did receive criticism in some quarters for his campaign in Italy. The initial landings were met with fierce German resistance but by September 15th, the beachhead had been secured – six days after the initial landings.
The drive north was not easy for the Allies. They met heavy resistance at Monte Cassino and in an effort to split the Germans an amphibious landing was set for Anzio – south of Rome but some way north of Monte Cassino. The landing at Anzio was extremely successful but critics of Clark claim that he failed to successfully follow up on this. Instead the Allies at Anzio got effectively stuck in and around the beachhead while at the same time the Allies made little progress at the Apennines, where the monastery of Monte Cassino was. Instead of a campaign of speed, the Allies got bogged down in what, for a while, became a simple war of attrition. Critics of Clark claim that he was too timid in his approach. However, the terrain in Italy was extremely difficult and perfect for a defensive campaign. The Germans had set-up a number of major defensive barriers and crossing through them was fraught with danger.
By May 1944, Monte Cassino had been taken but the historic monastery was destroyed. When Clark’s forces joined up with the Allied force at Anzio, they were simply too strong for the remaining German forces in Italy and they swiftly moved north. On June 4th, 1944, Clark entered Rome.
In December 1944, Clark succeeded General Harold Alexander as commander of the 15th Army Group and in March 1945, he became America’s youngest full general.
After World War Two ended, Clark commanded US forces in Austria until January 1947, when he was given command of the 6th Army.
In April 1952, Clark replaced Ridgeway as UN Supreme Commander in Korea.
In October 1953, Mark Clark retired from the US Army and spent part of his retirement writing.
Mark Clark died on April 17th, 1984.