Regarded as a brilliant tank commander by his peers, General Creighton Abrams is best known for skilfully presiding over America’s withdrawal from Vietnam. He was the son of a railroad repairman and in 1936 graduated from West Point in the same class as William Westmoreland
In 1940, after four years as a troop officer in the 1st Cavalry Division and several months as a tank company commander with the 1st Armored Division, Abrams joined the new 4th Armored Division for the Allied Operations across Western Europe. He served in all the 4th’s campaigns as a Battalion or Combat Commander, earning a promotion to Lieutenant Colonel in September 1943.
It was Abe's tanks that broke the German encirclement of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne and his Commander, General George S. Pattern Jr., once said: "I'm supposed to be the best tank commander in the Army, but I have one peer – Abe Abrams. He's the World Champion."
Following the war he spent two years as Director of Tactics at the Armored school before returning to Europe in 1949 to command the 63rd Tank Battalion of the 1st Infantry Division.Korean War
After spending a year at the Army War College, Abrams was assigned to Korea and served successively as Chief of Staff of I, X and IX Corps. In 1956, following a year as Chief of Staff of the Armored Center at Fort Knox, he was promoted to Brigadier General and became Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff for Reserve Components. Four years later he was promoted to Major General and appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of U.S Army Europe. Abrams subsequently returned to Washington and after occupying several important positions he was promoted to General in 1964 and was sworn in as Vice Chief of Staff of the Army.Vietnam War
On 1st June 1967 Abrams was appointed Deputy Commander of U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam and was responsible for overseeing the U.S. advisory effort with the Vietnamese Armed Forces (RVNAF
). Thirteen months later, following the Tet Offensive
and General Westmoreland’s promotion to Army Chief of Staff, he became Commander of MACV
Unlike his predecessor, who had favored a division of effort - U.S. units concentrating on the destruction of the enemy's main forces, whilst the RVNAF focused on pacification
(the "other war") - Abrams articulated a "One War" approach. Rather than relying on the body count to gauge the progress of the attrition strategy, the new commander stated that population security would now be the barometer for success.1
In this regard Abrams favored using small unit patrols to deny the Viet Cong
access to the people and to disrupt the movement of Communist forces and their supplies. However, despite advocating the primacy of pacification, large combat operations in remote areas continued, such as the assault on Hamburger Hill
in the A Shau Valley in May 1969.
Beginning in July 1969, Abrams was tasked with implementing President Nixon's Vietnamization policy, which turned responsibility for military operations over to the Vietnamese so that U.S. forces could be withdrawn. In order to achieve this without South Vietnam collapsing the pacification program was accelerated, particularly in the southern provinces. Able to be withdrawn from the pacified areas, the ARVN
replaced the departing American soldiers fighting the enemy's main forces in the northern regions. Abrams' implementation of Vietnamization was portrayed as a success after the ARVN was able to confront the NVA's 1972 Easter Offensive
whilst the territorial forces
simultaneously managed to maintain security in the southern Delta.2
In October 1972, after four years in command of MACV, Abrams became Chief of Staff of the Army, where he continued the Army’s transition to an all-volunteer force and its reorganization in Western Europe. Post Vietnam
General Abrams died of lung cancer on 4th September 1974 aged 59, the first Army Chief of Staff to die in office. He was buried with full military honours in a special plot at Arlington National Cemetery.
1. Krepinevich, The Army and Vietnam, pp 253
2. Colby, Lost Victory, pp 270-271 and 319-320