Smith remained in the U.S. Army after the war and proved himself a capable administrator. Assignments included the Bureau of Military Intelligence, the Bureau of the Budget, and the Federal Liquidation Board. He also served as a student or instructor at the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia; the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and the Army War College. His abilities were noted by General George C. Marshall, who became army chief of staff in September 1939. The following month Marshall named Smith assistant secretary of the General Staff and, in August 1941, secretary of the General Staff.
After the United States entered the war, Smith became the U.S. secretary to the Combined Chiefs of Staff in February 1942. Following heavy lobbying from European Theater commander Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Marshall reluctantly ordered Smith to Europe in September 1942 to assume his most recognizable role as Eisenhower's chief of staff. Smith earned Eisenhower's trust to handle staff planning and administration, thus allowing his commander to spend more time on operational matters. In a post far less glamorous than battle command, Smith made decisions beyond staff direction, often issuing orders to field commanders in Eisenhower's name.
Eisenhower rejected any notion that Smith should be assigned anywhere but as his chief of staff. Entrusted by Eisenhower with the job of negotiating with Italian emissaries, Smith, through a combination of bluster and intimidation, accepted the Italian surrender on 3 September 1943. As planning for Operation overlord began in earnest, Smith became chief of staff, Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Forces. His staff direction built the core of Operation overlord. On 5 June 1944, when Eisenhower turned to Smith for advice on whether he should launch the Normandy landings, Smith urged that the attack proceed, calling it, "the best possible gamble." When the Third Reich collapsed, Eisenhower authorized Smith to accept the German surrender at Rheims on 7 May 1945.
In January 1946, Smith returned to Washington to be chief of the Operations and Planning Division of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In March, President Harry S Truman appointed him ambassador to the Soviet Union, where he remained until 1949. Smith was convinced that the United States should take a strong stand against Soviet expansion and that the Soviet Union would back down if confronted by American power. From 1950 to 1953, Smith served as the second director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was advanced to full general in July 1951. Smith also served as undersecretary of state in the Eisenhower administration.
Smith retired from government service in October 1954. He was embittered that he never received either the fifth star or promotion to chief of staff of the army, which he believed he deserved. He then entered private business. Smith died in Washington, D.C., on 9 August 1961.
Thomas D. Veve
Crosswell, D. K. R. The Chief of Staff: The Military Career of General Walter Bedell Smith. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1991.; Mayers, David. The Ambassadors and America's Soviet Policy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.; Montague, Ludwell Lee. General Walter Bedell Smith as Director of Central Intelligence, October 1950–February 1953. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992.; Smith, Walter Bedell. My Three Years in Moscow. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1949.