Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Somervell, Brehon Burke (1892–1955)

U.S. Army general. Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, on 9 May 1892, Brehon Somervell graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1914 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the engineers. He served in the Punitive Expedition into Mexico in 1916 and 1917 and in engineer and staff posts with the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I.

Somervell graduated from the Command and General Staff School in 1923 and from the Army War College in 1926. He directed a comprehensive study of the Turkish economy in 1933 and 1934 and headed the sprawling Works Progress Administration (WPA) in New York City from 1936 to 1940. In 1940, Somervell's army superiors, impressed by the managerial skills Somervell had demonstrated in his engineering assignments with the WPA, named him head of the army's floundering Construction Division, which had fallen behind in the building of training camps and munitions plants as the nation rearmed.

A hard-driving leader who had little tolerance for bureaucratic red tape, Somervell had the building program on schedule within a year, expediting its operation and initiating new projects including the construction of the Pentagon. In March 1942—after briefly serving as G-4, or supply officer, for the War Department General Staff—Somervell was appointed chief of the newly created Services of Supply, later renamed the Army Service Forces, with the rank of lieutenant general.

In this post, Somervell emerged as a major figure in the U.S. Army's conduct of the war, directing the procurement and shipping of supplies and equipment and the administration of the army and serving as the army's top logistics adviser and troubleshooter. Recognizing the importance of logistics to victory, Somervell spared no effort in seeing that the American fighting man had what he needed. As army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall put it, he got things done "in Calcutta as fast as he did in the meadows around the Pentagon."

Following his retirement in April 1946, Somervell became president of Koppers Company, and within five years he turned the struggling company into a highly profitable enterprise. Somervell died in Ocala, Florida, on 13 February 1955.

John Kennedy Ohl


Further Reading
Millett, John D. United States Army in World War II: The Army Service Forces: The Organization and Role of the Army Service Forces. Washington, DC: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1954.; Ohl, John Kennedy. Supplying the Troops: General Somervell and American Logistics in WWII. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1994.; Perret, Geoffrey. There's a War to Be Won: The United States Army in World War II. New York: Random House, 1991.
 

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