Matthew Ridgway

Matthew Ridgway

Matthew Ridgway, the son of Colonel Thomas Ridgway, an artillery officer, was born in Virginia, United States on 3rd March, 1895. He attended the West Point Military Academy and graduated in 1917 (56/139) and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army.

In 1918 he returned to West Point as an instructor in Spanish. After completing the officers course at the Infantry School at Fort Benning he was given command of the 15th Infantry in China. This was followed by a posting to Nicaragua where he helped supervise free elections in 1927.

Considered to be an expert on foreign affairs, Ridgway sat on a commission that adjudicated on Bolivia and Paraguay before becoming a military adviser to the Governor General of the Philippines in 1930. He also attended the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas (1935-37).

General George Marshall was impressed with Ridgway and took him to Brazil on a special assignment and soon after the outbreak of the Second World War he was sent to the War Plans Division in Washington.

In August 1942 Ridgway was promoted to brigadier general and given command of the 82nd Infantry Division, one of the Army's two parachute divisions. In the spring of 1943 Ridgway helped to plan the airborne operation that was part of the invasion of Sicily that began on 10th July, 1943. This was the first time in history that the US Army had used paratroopers in battle.

Ridgeway was also responsible for planning the airborne operation during the D-Day landings on 6th June 1944. This time Ridgeway jumped with his troops. The 82nd fought for 33 days in advancing to St-Sauveur-le-Vicomte.

In September 1944 Ridgway took command of the 18th Airborne Corps. He led his troops during the invasion of the Rhineland and Ardennes-Alsace and on 2nd May his troops joined up with the Red Army on the Baltic. On 4th June 1945 he was promoted to lieutenant general.

After the war Ridgway was Commander in Chief of the Caribbean Command (1948-49) before becoming Chief of Staff to Joe L. Collins. In 1950 he was given command of the 8th Army in Korea. He launched the counter-offensive on 25th January 1951 and when General Douglas MacArthur was recalled in April he was promoted to full general and became Commander in Chief of the Far East Command.

Ridgway replaced General Dwight D. Eisenhower as the Supreme Allied Commander of Europe on 30th May 1952. His decision to surround himself with American personal staff upset other European military leaders and he was brought back to the United States in July 1953 to replace General Joe L. Collins as chief of staff of the United States Army.

After retiring from the US Army in June 1955 he published his autobiography, The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway (1956). Matthew Ridgway died in March 1993.

Primary Sources

(1) Matthew Ridgway wrote about parachuting into France during Operation Overlord in his autobiography, The Memoirs of Matthew B. Ridgway (1956)

I was lucky. There was no wind and I came down straight, into a nice, soft, grassy field. I recognized in the dim moonlight the bulky outline of a cow. I could have kissed her. The presence of a cow meant the field was not mined.

(2) Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences (1964)

On December 23rd, General Walker was killed in a freak jeep accident. It was a great personal loss to me. It had been "Johnny" Walker who had held the line, with courage and brilliant generalship, at the very bottom of Korea, until we could save him by slicing behind the enemy's lines at Inchon. It had been Walker who, even in the darkest hours, had always radiated cheerful confidence and rugged determination.

It was a difficult time to change field commanders, but I acquired one of the best in General Matthew Ridgway. An experienced leader with aggressive and fighting qualities, he took command of the Eighth Army at its position near the 38th parallel. After inspecting his new command, he felt he could repulse any enemy attempt to dislodge it. On New Year's Day, however, the Reds launched a general offensive in tremendous force, making penetrations of up to 12 miles. It forced the Eighth Army into further withdrawal. By January 4th, the enemy had recaptured Seoul, and by January 7th, the Eighth Army had retired to new positions roughly 70 miles south of the 38th parallel.

(3) Murray Kempton, Newsday (28th July, 1993)

In his autobiography, Ridgway recalls a 1950 meeting where the Joint Chiefs of Staff wondered what they could do to restrain General Douglas MacArthur from his head-over-heels plunge toward the Chinese border and disaster in Korea. The chiefs could already look at the map and recognize that MacArthur had arrayed his troops as for a parade, divided their columns and left between them the mountain where enemies could assemble in peace and await the securest chance for war. The chiefs had passed the hours helplessly struggling between their awe of a commander who had been riding with the Cavalry when they were in rompers and their awareness of his terminal folly. Ridgway was then only deputy Chief of Staff and forbidden to speak up in the company of his superiors. Crisis compelled him to break the laws of silence at last. "We owe it to ourselves," he said, to call MacArthur to halt; and it must be done now because even tomorrow could be too late. The chiefs sustained the shock of this breach of Old Army custom and continued to sit inert until what they knew might happen did and all too soon.

After the meeting, Air Force Chief of Staff Hoyt Vandenberg congratulated him for his courage. His answer was not thanks for the compliment but renewed urgings that MacArthur be curbed. "Oh, what's the use," Vandenberg replied. "He won't listen." And, thereafter of course, it would be for Ridgway to restore the ruin of the Korean campaign.

(4) Bernard Montgomery, Memoirs of Field Marshal Montgomery (1958)

General Ridgway arrived in Paris on the 27th May 1952, and took over from Elsenhower on the 30th May. He was a fine battlefield general and had done magnificently with the U.S. Eighth Army in Korea at a most critical time. I knew him well; he had served under me as a Divisional and Corps Commander in the campaign in North-West Europe from Normandy to Berlin. I knew he was not the right man to succeed Elsenhower and I opposed the appointment, both to members of the NATO Council and to the British Chiefs of Staff.

I wanted Al Gruenther to succeed Elsenhower; so did most others. But the British Chiefs of Staff said Gruenther had never commanded anything in his life, and they asked for Ridgway. The United States Chiefs of Staff agreed. Ridgway didn't fit into the set-up; his merits as a fine battlefield commander were wasted in a role which didn't suit his temperament. He surrounded himself with an all-American personal staff; we got the feeling that there was too much " United States Eyes Only " in the headquarters. Morale began to decline. The crusading spirit disappeared. There was the sensation, difficult to describe, of a machine which was running down.

(5) In 1979 Matthew Ridgway gave an interview where he criticized changes that had been made in the US Army.

I publicly protested the adoption of the volunteer army, now a demonstrated failure and perhaps a disaster. I publicly deplored the dismantling of Selective Service and the admission of women into our service academies. Every one of those actions is now looming as potentially detrimental to the espirit and effectiveness of our armed forces - a blow at discipline, without which no military unit is worth its keep.