NEWS | March 11, 2020

Podcast E16: Connecting the Past to Present: General Petraeus and Admiral Foggo discuss WWII and NATO

By U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet Public Affairs

In the 16th episode of “On the Horizon: Navigating the European and African Theaters,” retired Army Gen. David Petraeus joined Adm. James G. Foggo III, Commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa (CNE-CNA) to discuss their families connection to WWII and how this relates to NATO today. The podcast provided key insights into the joint operations of the Army, Navy, and the United States role within NATO.

The discussion between the two men centered on both of their fathers’ involvements in World War II discussing topics that ranged from transatlantic passages in Nazi U-boat-infested waters to crawling through battlefields fighting for Europe’s survival. 

In addition, the two four-stars discussed the transatlantic bridge and the importance of the United States and its allies ensuring commercial shipping could freely transit the Atlantic Ocean.

They connected the past to the present by discussing Exercise Defender Europe 2020, an Army-led exercise that involves the largest deployment of U.S. troops from the continental United States to Europe. The Navy’s contribution to the exercise was escorting the supply ships while transporting most of the Army equipment and supplies across the Atlantic.

Getting to know the General

Foggo began the podcast by speaking to General Petraeus’ military service and how they knew each other. 

“I was privileged as a Navy Captain, an O-6, to meet you for the first time in Fort Myer, Virginia in 2007,” said Foggo. “And you were the Commander of Multinational Force Iraq at the time, and you lived down the street.”

“I lived in one of the duplex houses and worked for the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs,” said Foggo. “That's when I learned that our fathers had military careers that were connected at that critical period of time in World War II.”

Foggo briefly summed up Petraeus’ service to the nation. Petraeus was a graduate of the United States Military Academy class of 1974 which had three future four-star generals the likes of which include Gen. Martin Dempsey, Gen. Walter Sharp, and Gen. Keith Alexander.   

“General, you've accomplished so much in 37 years of service to the nation, and I just want to highlight some of that for the audience,” said Foggo. “And following your distinguished career in uniform, you returned to service to our country once again, as the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Convoy operations during World War II

Petraeus spoke about his father’s attendance at the Dutch Merchant Marine Academy when the Nazis overran Holland. As a result, his father fled to New York where he decided to join the U.S. Merchant Marine.

During WWII, Petraeus’ father captained multiple Liberty merchant ships that carried essential supplies to the Allied Powers.

“He was on the Liberty Ships that were making the very hazardous runs to Murmansk in Arkhangelsk, Russia,” said Petraeus. “He did runs to the Persian Gulf also to help resupply the Soviet Union.  He did runs in the Pacific and many across the Atlantic to Great Britain and other locations.”

The Liberty Ships were developed to meet British orders to replace the ships that had been lost.  During the war, 18 American shipyards built 2,718 Liberty Ships between 1941–1945, an average of 3 ships every two days.  This was the largest number of ships every produced to a single design. A true example of American grit and ingenuity as these ships could be built in 42 days, from keel to launch.

The convoys across the transatlantic passage were dangerous as Nazi U-boats hunted any merchant vessels that were on their way to Europe.  Liberty Ships were 14,000 tons of water displacement, 140 feet long and slow sailing vessels that traveled at a speed of 11-12 knots. 

Foggo commented on the bravery of the Merchant Marine fleet and men like Petraeus’ father. Before exercise Trident Juncture in 2018, Foggo said that he had the privilege of going out on an Icelandic fleet tug to lay a wreath at a rally point of these historical convoys during the 75th anniversary of World War II.

“What went through my mind at the time was not only the harsh conditions that these heroes of World War II dealt with in delivering the supplies, but also if they were torpedoed, they went down in battle,” said Foggo. “So the risks were high and that must have been incredibly intense for people like you're dad.”

Connection between Foggo and Petraeus

While Petraeus’ father was commanding Liberty Ships across the Atlantic, Foggo’s father was being transported and supplied throughout the war by those same very ships.

“About the time that your dad was making those runs, my father joined the military through the Canadian Armed Forces,” said Foggo. “He fought his way up the beach and it wouldn't have happened without the supplies and the material that men like your father delivered because they needed that bridge of steel, and the gas and the beans and the bullets in order to move forward.”

“So, I think if he were here,” said Foggo. “He’d be very grateful for the sacrifice of your family and I’ll thank you for that here in 2020.”

Petraeus responded with saying, “I thank you for what your dad did during that time and all those who were with him from all the countries that were part of the liberation of Europe, and many of whom actually were also transported across the Atlantic on Liberty Ships.”

Foggo went on to tell a story of a discovery he had made in his father’s belongings during the 75th anniversary of D-Day.

 “He had written in pencil, his script, and I couldn't believe that I'd never seen it before,” said Foggo. “He noted each set of brothers that died during combat, and that was significant to him. I could tell it hurt him.”

It was almost like the story of Saving Private Ryan said Foggo where, in a regiment, if two brothers were killed in combat a whole generation would be lost for that family.

NATO Alliance

The conversation shifted to both men’s NATO experience and how they have seen NATO grow in ability and involvement on the world stage.

Petraeus and Foggo have both served in multiple NATO roles throughout their careers. Both men joined the military during the Cold War era and witnessed the Soviet Union collapse and now the reemergence of Russia in the era of great power competition.

“It’s an extraordinary alliance and I’ve been privileged to serve in it during a number of occasions,” said Petraeus.

Petraeus started the conversation when he said, “I have an enormous respect and abiding admiration for the alliance and for what it has done over the decades. And, frankly, it has been great to watch the Alliance respond to the latest challenge. The first really significant challenge in Europe since the end of the Cold War, and that is, of course, the Russian challenge that has reemerged, if you will, and demonstrated by the invasion of part of Ukraine, threatening the Baltic States that are NATO members.”

Foggo agreed and gave examples of how the U.S. Navy is supporting NATO and the European Union in its safety and security.

“We've got the two new Aegis Ashore facilities in Europe, one in Romania and one in Poland, a Marine Corps rotational force in Norway, and the number of exercises that we are doing now has increased significantly from the past few years,” said Foggo.

He went on to give exercise Trident Juncture as an example where over 50 thousand Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines came together to help showcase the U.S.’s solidarity with the NATO alliance.

“We also have four destroyers forward deployed in Rota, Spain, which is a wonderful place to operate from,” said Foggo. “We are America’s away team. We protect the homeland and we also take care of our allies and partners.”

As the podcast was wrapping up Petraeus said that over the years he has been impressed by watch the evolution of the various NATO capabilities and wanted to add a few last thoughts to the discussion.

“History has taught us that things like that [Ukraine-Russian conflict] have to be dealt with firmly, not provocatively,” said Petraeus. “And the best way to deter is obviously to have the capabilities that are clearly demonstrated through exercises that are backed by a sense of will, that the Alliance would indeed use those capabilities as required.”

Petraeus ended the segment by discussing his hope for the Alliance moving forward.

“It does collectively what obviously no individual country could do,” said Petraeus. “It is very, very important today, and I hope that the support for NATO on your side of the Atlantic and on our side of the Atlantic can be sustained, and indeed, increased in response to the challenges that face our common countries.”

The podcast concluded with Foggo and Petraeus discussing the current dynamic security environment and the challenges that face the world today. But, to truly understand the importance and impact of this conversation, listen to the podcast or read the transcript.

Listen to "Episode 16 On The Horizon" on Spreaker.