Eichelberger was born in 1886 in Urbana, Ohio, the son of a prominent lawyer. After attending Ohio State University, he went to West Point, graduating in 1909 68th in his class of 103.
During the First World War Eichelberger served on the War Department General Staff, working for Major General W. S. Graves, the executive assistant to the Army Chief of Staff. In July 1918 Graves was given command of a division, and Eichelberger became his operations officer (G3).
This division didn’t reach France, and instead Graves was sent to Vladivostok, to command the small American expeditionary force sent to Siberia in September 1918. Eichelberger served as both his intelligence and operations officers (G2 and G3) during this expedition. The American expedition had been sent to Vladivostok to help a 70,000 strong Czech army, one of the stronger forces opposing the Bolshevik government. In 1918 the main objective of the Allied intervention in Russia was to revive the eastern front, or at least prevent the Germans from moving too many troops from east to west, and it was hoped that the Czechs would be able to advance west to directly threaten the Germans.
Amongst the forces sent to Vladivostok was a very large Japanese force, which took control of the Chinese Eastern Railway. By the end of November 1918 the Japanese had 72,400 men in Siberia and northern Manchuria. Eichelberger thus has a good chance to work with his future opponents in the Pacific, and was thus more aware than most Western soldiers of the good discipline and tactical skills of the Japanese soldiers.
Eichelberger emerged from the failure in Russia with the DSC and DSM, both one during fighting around Novitskaya on 2 July 1919. Between the wars he spend most of his time serving in intelligence, the Adjutants General’s Department and in the office of the Secretary of the General Staff (SGS). He was promoted to brigadier general in 1940, became superintendant of West Point in November 1940, and was promoted again to major general in 1941.
In March 1942, after the American entry into the Second World War, Eichelberger was given command of the newly formed 77th Division. On 22 June 1942 he was moved again, this time to command I Corps, which was taking shape in Australia. Eichelberger reached Australia in August, and with Brigadier General Clovis E. Byers, his chief of staff, set up the Corps head quarters at Rockhampton, on the east coast. On 5 September the 32nd and 41st Divisions were allocated to the Corps, and on 15 October Eichelberger was promoted to lieutenant general, his last wartime promotion.
Of his two divisions, the 41st was undergoing training at Rockhampton, but elements of the 32nd had been rushed to New Guinea, with the first elements reaching Port Moresby on 15 September. They had then marched or been flown across Papua, in preparation for an attack on the Japanese strongholds at Buna and Gona, at the northern end of the Kokoda Trail, the route taken by the Japanese in their unsuccessful attempt to capture Port Moresby by land.
The Allied offensive began on 16 November 1942. The Australians were responsible for the attack on Gona, while the US 32nd Division carried out the attack on Buna. This was the 32nd Division’s first combat experience, and it came in some of the most difficult jungle terrain, mixed with waterlogged swamps and more open plantations. The inexperienced American soldiers made very little progress against the well dug-in Japanese defenders of Buna, much to the fury of General MacArthur.
On 29 November he ordered Eichelburger to come to New Guinea, and on 1 December Eichelburger took over command of all troops in the Buna sector. At this stage Eichelburger reported to General Edmund Herring, the Australian commander of Advance New Guinea Force, who in turn reported to General Thomas Blamey, commander-in-chief of the Australian Army and Commander, Allied Ground Forces under MacArthur, who at this point was also commander of New Guinea Force.
On 2 December Eichelburger visited the front line, and in the aftermath of his visit replaced the commanders of both task forces involved (Warren and Urbana forces), and the commander of the 32nd Division (Albert W. Waldron replaced Edwin F. Harding). On 5 December Waldron was wounded while observing the fighting, and replaced by Eichelburger’s Chief of Staff, General Clovis Byers, who was in turn wounded on 16 December, forcing Eichelburger to take direct command of the division. Despite all of these changes progress was still slow, and the Japanese held out until late December. On 31 December the two American task forces finally made contact, and on 2 January Buna mission finally fell.
On 13 January General Herring became commander of New Guinea Force, and Eichelberger replaced him as commander of Advance New Guinea Force. He was thus in overall command on the Buna-Gona front for the final successful assault on the last Japanese strongholds, which ended in success on 22 January 1943.
I Corps and Eighth Army
On 16 February 1943 the American forces in the South West Pacific Area were organised into the US Sixth Army, under the command of General Walter Krueger. Eichelberger returned to his original post, as commander of I Corps within the Sixth Army. Over the next nineteen months I Corps took part in the campaigns on the northern coast of New Guinea as well as on New Britain, the Admiralty Islands, Biak, Numfoor and Morotai. Finally, in May 1944 Eichelberger began the planning for the attack on Hollandia.
On 7 September 1944, three days after the start of the Hollandia offensive, Eichelberger was promoted to command of the US Eighth Army. This new army’s first offensive was an attack on the Mapia Islands, which began on 15 November, followed on 20 November by an attack on the Asia Islands.
The Eighth Army then moved into the Philippines, relieving the Sixth Army in the Leyte-Samar area on 25 December 1944. The clear-up on Leyte lasted until May 1945.
On 31 January 1945 the Eighth Army made its first landing on Luzon, a successful assault on the Nasugbu area that soon turned into a thrust towards Manila. Eichelberger was also responsible for attacks on Palawan, the Zamboanga Peninsula on Mindanao) and in the San Bernardino Strait.
After the end of the war Eichelberger served as commander of the Allied Occupation Forces in Japan, remaining in that post until 3 September 1948. In 1954, after he had retired, Eichelberger was promoted to full general. He died in 1961.
|Place of birth
|Place of death
||Asheville, North Carolina
||United States of America
|Years of service
||1909 – 1948
||77th Infantry Division
Eighth United States Army
US I Corps
United States Military Academy
||World War I:
World War II:
- Battle of Buna-Gona
- Operations Reckless and Persecution
- Battle of Biak
- Battle of Leyte
- Battle of Luzon
- Battle of the Visayas
- Invasion of Palawan
- Battle of Mindanao
||Distinguished Service Cross (2)
Army Distinguished Service Medal (4)
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Imperial Order of Meiji (Japan)
Order of the Sacred Treasure (Japan)
Order of the Rising Sun (Japan)
||Our Jungle Road to Tokyo
Robert Lawrence Eichelberger was a highly popular commander who led many successful operations in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II.
He was the Superintendent of the United States Military Academy at time of the Pearl Harbor attack. He was then appointed Commanding General of the 77th Infantry Division in January 1942, and then commander of the United States First Corps, whose staff he took to General Douglas MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area command in Australia in August of that year with orders to turn back Japanese Papuan offensive.
He was the only senior United States land commander in the Pacific able to maintain good relationships with his Australian colleagues, in contrast to MacArthur. In December was sent to Buna front in Papau, New Guinea, to revitalize the stalled offensive, winning the first small but important victory against Japanese ground forces there before he took the First Corps on through New Guinea to the Huon peninsula and then to American landings at Hollandia in April 1944. Operating as Operation Reckless Task Force, the First Corps Corps began a lightning campaign from Hollandia which secured a major base site for the support of subsequent Allied operations.
He was then Commander of the newly formed Eighth Army from September 1944, and was responsible for all American forces in Dutch New Guinea, for mounting of operations in the southern Philippines and for the cleaning-up operations on Leyte and later Luzon. After fighting in the Philippines ceased, he and his command supervised the surrender of over 50,000 Japanese troops from northern Luzon alone.
He was aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Harbor and attended the Japanese surrender there.
After the Japanese surrender, he commanded the first occupation forces in Japan and retired in 1948 as overall commander of Allied ground forces in the Japanese home islands.
General Eichelberger died at Asheville, North Carolina, on September 26, 1961. He was buried with full military honors in Section 2, Grave 4737, Arlington National Cemetery.
He has been born at Urbana, Ohio, on March 9, 1886. His family had come from Switzerland in 1726 and had members in every war this country fought. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1909.
During his career he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Distinguished Service Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters and the United States Navy Distinguished Service Medal.
His wife, Emmaline Guder Eichelberger (Miss 'Em). August 12, 1888-February 11, 1972, is buried with him.
OUR JUNGLE ROAD TO TOKYO (306 pp.)—Robert L. Eichelberger with Milton MacKaye— Viking
It was the kind of order a second lieutenant sometimes gets, but not a 56-year-old lieutenant general, a corps commander and former superintendent of West Point. General MacArthur stopped pacing up & down his headquarters veranda, turned to General Robert Eichelberger and said: "Bob, I want you to take Buna, or not come back alive."
That was at Port Moresby on the afternoon of Nov. 30, 1942. Bob Eichelberger flew to Buna the next morning and what he found was a jungle Valley Forge. The 32nd Division troops were hungry, ragged, sick and demoralized. Attacks were ordered and never made—in one such "attack" by a regimental combat team, only 150 men got up to the front lines to face the Japanese, while the rest of the 2,000 were allowed to straggle in the rear.
Writes Eichelberger in Our Jungle Road to Tokyo: "When I went to the front on December 2 I couldn't find a front." It didn't take him long to establish one, or to fire the 32nd's commanding general. Eichelberger bucked up morale by getting into the front lines where his riflemen could see him. Officers were shot down at his side (three of his brigadiers were wounded), but he was never hit, even escaped malaria. He lost 30 pounds in 30 days, but on Jan. 3, 1943 the troops had Buna. It was the first Allied ground victory of the Pacific war.
52 D-days. Jungle Road is General Bob's story of the infantry in that war. Coming after such chesty accounts as Seaman "Bull" Halsey's and Airman George Kenney's, it seems almost sober and reflective, but it is a tribute to the embattled foot soldier and a deeply felt one. No army general spent so much time at the front and few appreciated so clearly what they were asking of their men.
Eichelberger was seldom still. During the Philippines campaign, he flew on 70 out of 90 days, once ordered his personal B-17 Miss Em (named for his wife) down to 200 ft. to make strafing runs in support of his troops. If the Sixth Army's General Krueger was MacArthur's power-play fullback, Eichelberger was the team's imaginative, elusive halfback who took daring chances and made touchdowns. From Christmas Day 1944 to the Japanese surrender, his Eighth Army had 52 D-days, used tactics that constantly kept the Japs off balance.
Photo Courtesy of Christopher W. Hart