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Norman Daniel "Dutch" Cota, Sr. (May 30, 1893 - October 4, 1971) was a U.S. General during World War II. Cota was heavily involved in the planning and execution of the invasion of France, codenamed Operation Neptune, and the subsequent Battle of Normandy.
Cota was born in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the Son of George Willianm Cota, a former Railroad Telegrapher (later a local store merchant), and Jessie H. Mason, a local New England School Teacher. Working at his father's store in Chelsea, he got the name "Dutch" from his gang friends from Chelsea Square. This nickname would stay with him for the rest of his life.
In the fall of 1910, he first attended Worcester Academy. In June 1913 he was accepted and graduated from the United States Military Academy, at West Point, New York, in 1917.
Because of the country’s entrance into the First World War, Cota’s class graduated two months early in April 1917. Commissioned in the Infantry, he was assigned to A Company, 22d Infantry Regiment, then stationed at Fort Jay, New York Harbor. A month later he was promoted to first lieutenant and became the commander of A Company. His unit served out the war supervising a Basic Training course and then sending their graduates to France. Three months after graduating from West Point Cota was a captain and a year later he was promoted to major, after only eighteen months on active duty.
Just before the war ended Cota was assigned back to West Point where he served as a Tactics instructor. In 1919 he was reduced in rank to captain as the army went through a massive downsizing.
Married in November 1919 to Connie Alexander of Manhattan, New York and their first child, Ann was born a year later with son Norman Daniel Cota, Junior, born in 1921.
Cota spent the next four years detached from the Infantry and assigned to the Army’s Finance Department. While stationed at Langley Field, Virginia in 1922 and serving as the Post Financial Officer, a serious incident occurred which placed a black mark in Cota’s file. The post was robbed of more than $40,000 and Cota was held personally responsible. It would take many years and finally a successful appeal to Congress to clear Cota of having to repay the loss.
Cota returned to the Infantry in 1924 when he received orders to attend the Infantry School’s Company Officer Course at Fort Benning. While there he was reunited with Matthew Ridgway and Mark Clark. Upon graduation he was assigned to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii where he became a company commander with the 35th Infantry Regiment. He later came intocontact with Major George Patton, Jr. who was the Chief Intelligence Officer, Hawaii Division.
After this tour he spent the next four years attending army schools (Infantry Officer Advanced Course, where he was the Honor Graduate, attending the two-year Command and General Staff School) before returning to Fort Benning to teach in the Weapons Department under COL Omar Bradley. It was during this tour that he would earn Bradley’s respect and admiration.
Promoted to major in 1935 having spent thirteen years as a captain. He then attended the Army War College, spent two years with the 26th Infantry Regiment in Plattsburg, New York where he was the Regimental S4 and then Plans and Training Officer. He then was transferred to Fort Leavenworth where he was an instructor at the Command and General Staff School. While there the Second World War began and Cota along with most of the officer corps realized it would only be a matter of time before the United States became involved. In the fall of 1940 Cota became the Executive Officer for the 16th Infantry Regiment, 1st Infantry Division, the ‘Big Red One’ at Fort Jay, New York. Four months later he became the division’s Assistant G2 (Intelligence) when the unit moved to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. After only four months he became the Assistant G3 (Operations) where his focus was primarily on preparing the division for amphibious operations
Less than a week after the Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor, Cota was promoted to colonel.
The 1stst Infantry Division spent the winter and spring of 1942 preparing and training for combat but it was in June when the new command team was formed that the division found its true war-fighting identity. Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen, was a legend in the army for his fearless courage demonstrated repeatedly during the First World War.vi He assumed command with Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., his Assistant Division Commander and then selected Colonel Norman Cota to be the division chief of staff. Whereas Allen was aggressive, impulsive and used a very personal and charismatic leadership style, Cota offset this with a steadfast emphasis on discipline, common sense, and adherence to regulations.vii They would prove to be an excellent leader team. Just days after becoming the division chief of staff, Cota was supervising the division’s move from Indiantown Gap, PA to New York City where it would sail for the United Kingdom.
In February, 1943 Cota was selected to be the Chief of the American section within the Combined Operations Headquarters (COHQ) in London and promoted to brigadier general. Major General Allen was not at all pleased to be losing his chief of staff as he considered Cota to have been instrumental in the success of the 1st Infantry Division but he realized it was for the good of the army and that Cota would be heavily involved in planning future operations that would include the ‘Big Red One’.
The division arrived in Scotland on 8 August and then entrained for England where it spent the rest of the summer and most of the fall training for the invasion of North Africa. On 8 November 1942 the 1st Infantry Division landed at Arzeu, Oran and after limited fighting, captured the city of Oran two days later.
Arriving in England, Cota worked directly for Lord Louis Mountbatten, the commander of COHQ, a proven war hero with a forceful personality. Cota was charged with developing doctrine and training for U.S. amphibious operations. Attending the Assault Training Center Conference in June, Cota was able to present his ideas.
He stated that there were three essential phases for amphibious landings: 1) Secure the beachhead, 2)Exploitation of the landing, and 3) Beach maintenance, which included the safe transit of follow-on forces to expand the exploitation.
With his wealth of knowledge on amphibious operations, Cota was in high demand by several division commanders whose unit were preparing for the largest amphibious assault in history. In October 1943, Cota was selected by Major General Charles Gerhardt to be the assistant division commander for the 29th Infantry ‘Blue & Grey’ Division. Gerhardt appreciated Cota’s no-nonsense approach to training and upon his arrival at division headquarters, the division commander placed Cota in charge of all division training exercises in preparation for their role in the forthcoming assault on Normandy.
You must all try to alleviate confusion, but in doing so be careful not to create more. Ours is not the job of actually commanding, but of assisting. If possible always work through the commander of a group. This is necessary to avoid conflicts-duplications of both orders and efforts.
He also briefed in detail the units required to form the assault divisions, which included the use of well trained regimental combat teams and a Ranger type battalion in each regiment.x He also stressed that all beach landings should be made under cover of darkness as he believed daylight assaults would have little chance for success. Although his ideas for the training and organization of assault divisions would be adopted, his tenet for night time assaults fell on deaf ears.To maintain command and control in the early phases of the assault he decided to form a Provisional Brigade and made Cota the ‘brigade’ commander. Known as the ‘Bastard Brigade’, Cota had a staff of about twenty-five officers culled from the 116th Infantry, the 29th and 1st Infantry Divisions. The last week before embarkation he and his staff war-gamed a variety of contingencies once the units assaulted the beach. At 1400 5 June, Cota briefed his officers closing with:
Cota and his ‘Bastard Brigade’ landed at Omaha Beach at H+1 (0730) on 6 June, 1944. He was 51years old, had just completed his twenty-seventh year in the Army, and he was the author of the most current amphibious doctrine in the U.S. Army. For the next twelve hours ‘Dutch’ Cota would traverse the beach a dozen times, leading, directing, and encouraging the hundreds of American soldiers he found cowering behind beach obstacles, disabled Sherman tanks, and the shingle wall below the German pillboxes. After directing a group of engineers to use Bangalore torpedoes to blow one of the first breeches in the German obstacle belt just southwest of Vierville sur Mer, he then led a platoon of soldiers through the gap and into open country. It was 0830 and American forces began flowing through the breech and off Omaha Beach. He would spend the rest of the daylight hours of June 6 coordinating activities on and around the beach landings. He also found, briefed, and coordinated with both the 29th and 1st
Infantry Division commanders and their staffs. As his biographer Robert Miller wrote, D-Day for Cota “had been the culmination of a lifetime of military training and discipline”.
He was commissioned a Second Lieutenant of Infantry, and later return remaining at the Academy as an Instructor (1918-20). He later had duty in Hawaii (1924-28) and graduated from the Command and General Staff School, at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1931. He was an Instructor at the Infantry School (1932-33) and went on to graduate from the Army War College in 1936.
He was an Instructor at the Command and General Staff School (July 1938-Nov.1940).
World War II
At the outbreak of World War II, he was the G-2 Officer (Intelligence) and then G-3 Officer (Plans and Training) of the 1st Infantry Division, in which he served from March 1941 until June 1942. In June, he was promoted to the division's Chief of Staff, a role he held until February 1943. In February 1943, right after his involvement and success in The North African Invasion Operation Torch, under the command of Major General, Terry de la Mesa Allen, Sr., he proposed a report of an assault division on what would become part of Operation Husky, the allied invasion of Sicily. Having the leadership needed for the moment, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General and was quickly sent to the United Kingdom where he served as the United States adviser to the Combined Operations Division of the European Theater of Operations. As an advisor, he helped to observe and supervise in the training of landing operations.
Preparing to invade France
As a major advisor in Operation Overlord, he was made Assistant Division commander of the 29th Infantry Division designated to land at Omaha Beach during the Battle of Normandy. During D-Day planning, he was opposed to daylight landings, believing pre-dawn landings would stand a better chance of success; he did not get his way.
Cota was not alone in his opposition to daylight landings. General Leonard T. Gerow, commander of the entire V Corps, and Admiral John L. Hall, Jr., commander of Amphibious Force "O" (the naval force responsible for delivery of the US 1st Infantry Division to the beach), both fought to change the Operation Overlord plan, pleading for a night time assault. In spite his suggestions, with time running out and bad weather conditions at the designated invasion sites, prompt the high command little choice.
A year before the invasion, at the Conference on Landing Assaults, Cota made his argument in favor of striving for tactical surprise:
. . . It is granted that strategical surprise will be impossible to attain. Tactical surprise is another thing however... . tactical surprise is one of the most powerful factors in determining success. I therefore, favor the night landing. I do not believe the daylight assault can succeed.
However, the high command concluded that naval and air bombardment would effectively neutralize (at least) or eradicate (at best) the enemy opposition. This reliance on technology, rather than maneuver and surprise, was a salient characteristic of the American approach to amphibious operations. By contrast the British historically had relied on surprise and flanking maneuver. The plan for Omaha, however, essentially called for hurling infantry directly into a prepared enemy position — a position that was enhanced by the concave shape of the beach (effectively promoting enemy crossfire into the "basin" of the concavity), by natural and man-made articles, by bad weather and other factors. The assumption was effectively that American technology would vitiate the need for surprise.
Most D-Day commanders assured their men that the Germans would be annihilated by the Allies' (principally American airpower) pre-invasion firepower, and that the defenders were in any case outnumbered, inexperienced and demoralized. All of these assessments were revoltingly inaccurate. On the afternoon of June 5 Cota gave one of the few accurate assessments to the soldiers of the 29th Infantry Division:
. . . The little discrepancies that we tried to correct [in the amphibious training center] are going to be magnified and are going to give way to incidents that you might at first view as chaotic. The air and naval bombardment and the artillery support are reassuring. But you're going to find confusion. The landing craft aren't going in on schedule and people are going to be landed in the wrong place. Some won't be landed at all. The enemy will [to some degree prevent] our gaining "lodgement." But we must improvise, carry on, not lose our heads.
While Cota had a far less sanguine view of the plan than did the higher command, even he underrated the extent of the near-catastrophe that awaited V Corps (commanded by General Gerow and composed of the 29th Infantry Division and the famous "Big Red One" 1st Infantry Division) on Omaha and Utah beachheads.
Cota landed with a part of the 116th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Division, in the second wave, approximately one hour after H-Hour, on the Omaha sector known as Dog White. His boat (an LCVP) was under heavy machine gun fire as well as mortar and light artillery fire; three soldiers (including most likely at least one officer) were killed immediately upon leading the disembarkation.
Cota was one of the highest ranking officers on the beach that day. He is famous for personally directing the attack, motivating the shell-shocked, pinned-down survivors into action, and opening one of the first vehicle exits off the beach. Two famous quotes are attributed to him during this time.
- In a meeting with Max Schneider, commander of the 5th Ranger Battalion, Cota asked “What outfit is this?” Someone yelled "5th Rangers!". To this, Cota replied “Well, goddamn it then, Rangers, lead the way!”. "Rangers lead the way" became the motto of the Rangers.
- He is also quoted as saying to his troops, "Gentlemen, we are being killed on the beaches. Let us go inland and be killed." Interestingly, in The Longest Day, Cota renders the similar encouragement that was, as the evidence best suggests, actually delivered by Colonel George A. Taylor: "There are only two kinds of people on this beach: those who are already dead and those who are going to die. Now let's get the hell out of here."
Liberation of Paris
With the coast of Normandy eventually secured, the allied forces began to make momentum toward Paris, France. Cota would be given command of the 28th Infantry Division. It was during this time, that most main U.S. Army units, except the 28th. infantry division, were in the field of action. About to receive their field orders, at the last minute, Cota and the 28th Division were requested to march and represent the U.S. Army in the celebration of the liberation of the City of Paris. It was a shining moment for him and his division. Later that year, while on the field, he would be promoted to the rank of Major General.
As the commander of the 28th Infantry Division, Major General Cota was involved in the Battle of Hurtgen Forest. Known as "The Battle of the Bulge", Gen. Cota's 28th. "Pennsylvania's Bloody Bucket" Division, sustained heavy losses. He and his men did all they could to slow or hold off the direct German assault.
During this battle it is documented that even Gen. Cota's Son, U.S. Army Air Corps Fighter Pilot, Leut.Col. Norman Cota, Jr. had provided some overhead army aircorps RECON assistance on behalf of his father's challenged and beleaguered division.
It has been first suggested by some historians, that military error of blame between him and the allied high command occurred regarding an incident of stolen intelligence equipment, thus underestimating the German assault plan on the battleline and towards his division, but decades later, Cota's then superior officer, General Omar Bradley said that the missing intelligence equipment in question was not the cause at all, later it was found undisturbed, safe and sound.
Cota would remain in command of the 28th until the war ended. His division would suffer heavy casualties for a third time when it received the brunt of the German attack through the Ardennes on 16-17 December. In a chaotic but well fought defensive withdrawal, the 28th was largely responsible for providing the required time needed for the American forces to establish their defense. In January-February 1945, the division assisted in the elimination of the ‘Colmar pocket’ in the Vosges Mountain region. The last three months of the war found the 28th pursuing retreating German forces east of the Rhine. When the war in Europe ended, Cota and the 28th were assigned occupation duties in the Cologne area. Three months later the division redeployed by ship and landed at Boston Harbor four days before the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima. A week later the war in the Pacific was over. The 28th assembled at Camp Shelby, Mississippi where the unit was inactivated on 13 December 1945.
Court martial and execution of Slovik
He also reviewed and approved the death sentence handed down by a court martial on Eddie Slovik, the only U.S. soldier to be executed for desertion since the American Civil War. Cota is said to have approved the sentence because he was (moved and) appalled by the bluntness of Slovik's confession.
Cota received the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism on Omaha Beach. In 2004 a movement arose to have the Army reconsider upgrading Cota's decoration to the nation's highest award for bravery, the Medal of Honor.
Both Gen. Cota and his high commanding officer, Dwight D. Eisenhower knew one another from early West Point Days while playing football. They would become and remain good friends with one another.
Cota hoped to remain on active duty and perhaps be promoted to Lieutenant General. He had sent several letters to the Army G1 requesting a variety of duty assignments but none of the letters were answered. With the war over and the army about to go through an enormous draw-down he was ordered to take a physical. The writing was on the wall. Aged fifty- two and found to have a mild form of diabetes, he was directed to retire. With some regret, Cota became a civilian after twenty-eight years military service. Postwar, he would become heavily involved in civil-defense work for the city of Philadelphia and was very active in a variety of veteran’s activities. He died on 4 October 1971, age seventy-eight. He was buried alongside his wife Connie, at West Point.
Today the hero of Omaha Beach and St. Lo is largely forgotten. The ‘Fighting General’, whose division fought for eleven vicious months from Normandy to the Rhine and beyond, can teach us much about organizational leadership and leadership in combat. Though his division was destroyed in two weeks of the most difficult combat conditions imaginable, it was rebuilt, only to continue fighting until final victory was achieved. Major General Norman ‘Dutch’ Cota should be remembered for his heroic leadership, the example he set for others to emulate, and the lessons that can be learned when things don’t go right in combat. There are many lessons to be learned from this case study about Major General Cota and the 28h Infantry Division’s experiences during the battle of the Huertgen Forest which encompass the art and science of battle command, its elements and components for future leaders and commanders to analyze and consider.
Cota retired from the Army in 1946 at the official rank of Major General. He died in Wichita, Kansas, on October 4, 1971 and is buried in the post cemetery at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York.
Courtship and marriage
He courted and later married first in 1919, Constance Martha Alexander in New York City, who was a writer-teacher and distant cousin to Eleanore Butler Alexander, the spouse of Theodore Roosevelt Jr.. Both Cota and Roosevelt were also distantly related and directly interacted with one another during WWII. He would marry second around 1964, Alice Weeks-McCutcheon.
The character of General Cota is played by the actor Robert Mitchum in the movie The Longest Day. Mitchum delivers the famous last line of the film, as Zanuck has Cota order a young soldier driving a jeep to "run me up that hill, son."
Actor Robert Ryan, who played in the movie "The Longest Day", would return in the movie "Battle of the Bulge". He (Cota) was under the fiction name of "General Grey".
In the movie "Saving Private Ryan", though not officially mentioned, he is mistakenly portrayed by the actor Ted Danson, when he (Cota) appears to his company men during a German sniper incident, where he gives them advice and instructions. This idea/portion was 'borrowed' from "Citizen Soldier" by Stephen Ambrose, who served as film consultant for the film.
Medal Of Honor consideration
Though he was given many medal commendations during his career in the U.S. Army, especially during his heroic involvement at "Omaha Beach" during D-Day, he was not given The Medal Of Honor. Over the years, many war historians, and former world war II veterans have thought otherwise. Recently, a petition was filed on behalf of various former veterans and friends to the U.S. Army to re-consider granting him that highest honor. At present, the granting upgrade posthumous, of The Medal of Honor for Major General Cota is "Pending", and under review.