On graduating from West Point in 1917, he was posted to the infantry and took part in the fighting during the First World War (Argonne and Vosges, 1918) where he was badly wounded.
Before the Second World War,
he was assistant Chief of Staff to General Marshall.
A Major General in 1942, he then became Chief of Staff, ground forces. He led the famous operation Torch, when American forces landed at Casablanca, in Morocco, and at Oran and Algiers, in Algeria, on 8 November 1942. In talks with Admiral Darlan, who happened to be in Algiers at that time, he negotiated a ceasefire and the maintenance of French sovereignty in Algeria and Morocco alongside the Allies, (the Clark-Darlan agreements). Clark did not take part in the Tunisian campaign, but he already knew the French well.
He subsequently led the landings by the Allied forces in Italy at Salerno (operation Avalanche) on 9 September 1943 at the head of the British-American Fifth Army (the US VI Corps and British X Corps, 9 divisions in all). The Allies took Naples three weeks later after bitter fighting as Kesselring had ordered a slow and gradual withdrawal to the Volturno Line.
In the history of Belvedere, General Mark W. Clark will always be remembered as the man who gave the order to Juin to take the Belvedere massif in order to divert some of the German forces away from the bolt at Cassino. Thus the attack on the Belvedere was conceived by Clark as a diversionary manoeuvre.
On 23 January Clark gave Juin the order to attack the German positions on the Belvedere massif on 25 January, i.e. with only 48 hours’ notice. The confidence shown in the French by the American General did not come about by chance. In December 1943, the 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division under the command of General Dody pulled off a real tour de force by seizing Monte Pantano on 15 December 1943, and the rocky spur in the Mainarde mountain range on 26 December 1943, battles during which the French/Moroccans brilliantly demonstrated their mastery of fighting in mountainous terrain
(see the heading “The American strategy” on this site).
After the Battle of Belvedere,
Clark grew increasingly close to the French and maintained better relations with them than with the British. Indeed Clark never made any secret of his strategic disagreements with General Alexander, particularly over the bombing of the monastery at Monte Cassino, of which he disapproved for strategic as much as spiritual reasons
(see the heading “Monte Cassino” on this site).
After Belvedere, Clark recorded in his diary “that he only wanted to fight with the French from now on“. For the remainder of the Italian campaign, Clark became closer to Juin, the Frenchman, than to Alexander, the Briton, or Freyburg, the New Zealander. On 5 June 1944 Clark entered a liberated Rome in a Jeep with Juin as his passenger, which clearly illustrates the return to favour of the French within the Allied army.
Clark described Juin and the soldiers of the C.E.F. in particularly complimentary terms in a letter reproduced below.
After the war, he took part in the Korean War as commanding officer of the American forces (1952-1953), subsequently serving as president of the Citadel Military College (Charleston) until 1966.
Clark belongs to the elite group of American generals whose name will go down in history alongside Patton, Eisenhower, Bradley and Marshall. His memoirs of the Italian campaign are recorded in his book “Calculated Risk”. He died in 1984. Martin Blumenson’s biography of him was published in 1985.
Letter from Mark W. Clark, commanding officer of the Fifth Army to General Juin, commanding officer of the C.E.F.:
It is extremely difficult for me to find the words I need to express my feelings of sadness and great personal loss at the thought of the departure of the C.E.F. and its great leader. I am losing not only the invaluable support of four of the finest divisions ever to do battle, but also the sound opinions and knowledgeable advice of a sincere and good friend.
For me, it has been a deep source of satisfaction to see how the vital part played by the French troops of the Fifth Army throughout our Italian campaign against the common enemy has been universally acknowledged. During these long months, I have had the real privilege of seeing for myself the evidence of the outstanding calibre of the French soldiers, heirs of the noblest traditions of the French Army. Nevertheless, not satisfied with this, you and all your people have added a new epic chapter to the history of France; you have gladdened the hearts of your compatriots, giving them comfort and hope as they languish under the heavy and humiliating yoke of a hated invader.
The energy and utter disregard for danger consistently shown by all members of the C.E.F., along with the outstanding professional skills of the French army officer, have aroused admiration in your Allies and fear in the enemy. From the banks of the Garigliano where your first successes set the tone which was to characterize the whole offensive, then pushing on to Rome through the mountains, crossing the Tiber and pursuing the enemy relentlessly to Sienna and to the hills dominating the valley of the Arno, France’s soldiers have always accomplished everything that was possible and sometimes even that which was not.
Now, when you are leaving us, I send you my most heartfelt wishes for new successes along the road back to your great and beloved country which shows so much fortitude during these testing times.
With my deepest gratitude for the tremendous contribution that you have made to our joint victories, my dear General,
Yours with the deepest respect
Mark W. Clark