Articles/Biographies/Military Leaders/Patton, George S.by Frank Stroupe
George S. Patton III was one of the most colorful American military leaders of the 20th century. He may possibly be the most written about American general. He remains to this day a much loved and discussed figure from American history.His Early Life
"A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week."
Patton, known throughout his life as "Georgie" was born Nov 11, 1885 in San Gabriel, CA, to George Smith Patton Jr, and Ruth Wilson. Both of his parents came from wealthy and influential families, and were well educated. From an early age, Patton was educated by his father, an influential attorney, in classical literature and history, notably the Illiad, Macaulay's Lays of Ancient Rome, and Kipling. He knew most of the Bible by heart before he could read. Though extremely intelligent, George didn't learn to read and write until a late age, he didn't start school until he was 11, and had problems in mathematics and spelling. Patton probably suffered from dyslexia, an ailment that had not been diagnosed by that time.
Georgie spent his childhood listening to stories of military heroes. Both his father and grandfather, Col. George S. Patton, had attended Virginia Military Institute, where Patton's favorite hero, Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson had taught. The elder Patton had been a colonel in the Confederacy in the War Between the States, and had been killed at the front of his brigade, the 22nd Virginia Infantry, at the Battle of Cedar Creek in 1864. Actually, George Jr. had no less than 7 uncles that fought for the Confederacy. Various Confederate heroes had befriended the family after the war, namely John Singleton Mosby, the partisan cavalry leader. Patton had sat on Mosby's knee, listening to stories of daring and heroism by Mosby, and Mosby's close friend, General J.E.B. Stuart.
Though he had relocated to California and owned an over 1000 acre ranch, Patton's father still considered himself to be a Virginia landowner, and father and son made many trips to Virginia, visiting Civil War battlefields. Patton had much respect and love for his father, and even after all of his personal accomplishments as a general, Patton still came to his feet when his father entered the room. Patton even signed his name as "George S. Patton, Jr.", probably out of respect for his father. Years later, Patton carried his own family to visit the same battlefields, reenacting the battles with his wife and children.
Georgie decided when he was 10 years old that he wanted to grow up to be a famous general. He spent most of the remainder of his childhood teaching himself things that he felt a general needed to know. This drive towards a goal, very evident during his childhood, would continue throughout his life.Military Education
"I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom."
In 1902, Patton entered VMI. After his first year there, he got an appointment to West Point. He accepted the appointment and left VMI due to the fact that he would automatically get a commission in the army upon his graduation. Patton did not pass West Point the first year due to deficiencies in math, but he was allowed to repeat the first year.
Patton was generally disliked by the other cadets in the academy. He had spent most of the previous years learning military things, and the other cadets were jealous of what he knew. Also, he believed very much that rules should be followed to the letter, and reported other cadets for breaking rules. Of course, on occasion, he also broke rules, but felt that if caught, he should be punished.
Even though he had a very hard time due to his learning disability, he graduated in the class of 1909, 46th in a class of 103. Patton held the ranks of Cadet Corporal, Cadet Sergeant Major, and the position of Cadet Adjutant, the highest position a cadet can hold. Although Patton had broken both of his arms playing football, and was on the "scrub team", he won his coveted school letter by breaking a West Point record in the hurdles. Upon graduation, he was given a commission in the Cavalry.
While at West Point, he renewed his acquaintance with his childhood friend, Beatrice Ayer, daughter of a wealthy textile baron. While they were children, though they had known each other for only one summer, and though neither had mentioned it, they knew that they would get married someday. They were married one year after his graduation from the Academy.The 1912 Olympics
"May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won't."
Patton competed in the 1912 Olympics at Stockholm, his event was the first Military Pentathlon. He placed 5th in the event, out of 46, but would have placed first...he had problems in the pistol shooting part of the event, having the same problem that he had had while training for football at West Point...he had trained too hard, having lost nearly 30 pounds in preparation for the Olympics. Patton firmly believed in physical competition, forming football, fencing, and polo teams at whatever post he happened to be assigned to at the time.
While in Europe, Patton attended the French Cavalry School at Saumur to study fencing, at his own expense. After his return to the states, Patton was assigned to the US Army Cavalry School, and was made the army's first "Master of the Sword". He redesigned the army cavalry sabre, creating the M-1913 Cavalry Sabre.Early Military Career
"Fixed fortifications are a monument to the stupidity of man. Anything built by man, can be destroyed by him."
During the Mexican border campaign of 1916, Patton, while assigned to the 13th Cavalry Regiment in Fort Bliss, TX, accompanied then BG John J. Pershing, as his aide during the Mexican Expedition in his pursuit of Pancho Villa. Patton had sat outside of Pershing's home for 37 straight hours waiting for an opportunity to speak to the General to ask to accompany him. During his service, Patton, accompanied by ten soldiers of the 6th Infantry Regiment, tracked down and killed "General" Julio Cardenas, commander of Villa's personal bodyguard. For this action, as well as Patton's affinity for the Colt Peacemaker, Pershing titled Patton his "Bandito". Patton's success in this regard gained him a level of notoriety back in the United States. As they were in automobiles instead of cars when they persued Cardenas, Patton called it the Army's first mechanized action.WWI
"You can't run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn't fight its way out of a piss-soaked paper bag. ...As for the types of comments I make, sometimes I just, By God, get carried away with my own eloquence."
At the beginning of WWI, Patton was promoted to Captain, and accompanied Gen Pershing to France as commander of Pershing's Headquarters Troop, the first contingent of the American Army to sail to Europe. He requested a command, and was temporarily promoted to major and given command of the newly formed Army Tank Corps. Soon thereafter, as an observer, he was present at the Battle of Cambrai, the first battle using a significant number of tanks. After seeing the sheer terror on the faces of the enemy, and watching them surrender by the hundreds, or throw away their weapons and flee, he felt that he had observed the most epochal moment in warfare since the first cannon breached a castle wall. From that moment on, he loved tanks. He created a school for tankers, and trained the first 500 tankers.
He was wounded by machine gun fire at the St. Mihiel offensive, while personally directing tank movements. As the bullet had passed through his upper thigh, Patton, for years, would gleefully drop his trousers at social events to show his wound, exclaiming that he was "a half-assed general". The Armistice was signed the same day that he snuck out of the hospital to return to his unit.
Between the Wars
"You are here today for three reasons. First, because you are here to defend your homes and your loved ones. Second, you are here for your own self respect, because you would not want to be anywhere else. Third, you are here because you are real men and all real men like to fight."
In the years after WWI, Patton held various command and staff positions. In 1919, at Ft Myers, VA, the US Army headquarters, he worked with a young Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower. Both men immediately recognized the brilliant military mind of the other, and they spent literally hundreds of hours planning the armored warfare that would be used in the next war...both men realizing that eventually, another war would be fought on the plains of France. Their close friendship would last for the next 25 years.
Patton remained a proponent for tank warfare after the Army Tank Corps was dissolved, lobbying congress several times for the creation of a tank army. He helped invent the coaxial mounted cannon/machine gun, wrote articles on tank and armored car warfare, and worked on innovations in radio communications. He actually worked with a mechanical engineer named Walter Christie who had invented the tank chassis with sprocket wheels and removable tracks. He demonstrated it for seven generals, during the demonstration, Mrs Patton drove the tank. The Ordinance department turned down this particular tank, but used the sprocket wheels and tracks invented by Christie.
Though Patton did much lobbying and writing about armored combat between the wars, development of armor has been credited to Gen Adna R. Chaffee rather than Patton. As assistant commander of Ft. Knox, KY, Chaffee had access to the few tanks left in the army, and spent much time experimenting with the use of tanks in a cavalry mode. Generally, he and Patton were the only officers that considered the tank to be of any other use than infantry support. Later, when it became obvious that America would take part in the next war, Patton was afraid he would be passed over for tank command due to his advancing age. Chaffee assured him that he would be recommended as a tank brigade commander.
The army sent Patton back to France to complete his studies at the Cavalry school. While he was there, he and Beatrice toured various parts of the countryside, including Normandy and Brittany. Patton made a study of the terrain of Normandy, reasoning that he may fight there someday...this study remained lost in the mass of War Department paperwork until it was desperately needed in 1944.
In the years between the wars, Patton was one of the most wealthy officers in the army. He carried a fine stable of thoroughbreds and polo horses from post to post, He, his wife, and three children were all excellent riders, and often rode in horse shows, played polo, or participated in fox hunting. He could often could be found on weekends, zipping around the countryside with his family in one expensive automobile or another, including a Dusenburg, or flying in his personal airplane. When assigned to Hawaii in the mid-1930's, he purchased a sailing yacht to use for the trip there and back. Though he had sailing experience, he had never had to navigate by the stars, and reasoned that the ability to do so might come in handy in trying to lead an army across the vast French plains. His wealth and eccentricities created much jealousy and dislike from other officers, who usually survived on a meager soldier's salary.
Though belied by his rough language, peppered generously with four-letter expletives, Patton was an extremely religious man. He prayed in earnest every morning, night, and anytime that he felt he needed divine assistance in his performance or making decisions. For a time, Beatrice, though also receiving a Christian upbringing, really didn't understand George's constant praying. Once, before a polo match, she found Patton in the bedroom, polo mallet and helmet laying on the bed, on his knees praying. When he stood up, she asked him if he was praying for victory. Patton exclaimed, "Hell no, I'm praying that I do my best." Knowing that Patton felt that performing your best was always the most important thing, she then understood.
Patton was a family man, spending most of his free time with his family. He personally trained all of his children in horsemanship...and personally trained the horses they rode. Though fox hunting was always considered a man's sport, he encouraged Beatrice to participate, which she thoroughly enjoyed.
Patton never voted during his life, he felt to do so would contravene his code of honor. "I am in the pay of the government. If I vote against the administration, I am voting against my commander-in-chief, if I vote for it, I am merely bought."
Patton spent much time between the wars studying the historical art of war. His personal library consisted of more than 500 books, and he had read each of them...as many of these histories were written in French, he studied the language himself, previously Beatrice, who spoke fluent French had translated for him. He lived in these histories...he could visualize himself marching with the great legions of Rome and the armies of Napoleon. He knew like the back of his hand the topography of Europe, why armies followed the routes they actually took, why armies had stood and fought where they did. He understood why a particular army wore a particular type of uniform. He understood the problems of food, logistics, footware, and health. He understood every weapon used in battle throughout history, up to the present. He studied so well that he could often be heard claiming that he was present for some battle or another in history.
He was very interested in the actions of individual soldiers, particularly morale. He felt that historians had generally tended to overstress the importance of the intellectual capacity of great leaders. He felt that battles throughout history had been won or lost because of the morale of the soldiers fighting them, and that the great leaders had played a part in that morale. He reasoned that in the next war, the US Armies must consist not of seasoned regulars, but of young men fresh from civil life, little more than boys. Therefore, Patton argued, that the leader must appeal to the vanity of the youthful male...flamboyant uniforms, high visibility, and a variety of decorations and awards readily available for prompt reward and display. It was clear to Patton that the performance of troops in battle ultimately depended on the quality of leadership given to them.
After serving in Hawaii, Patton returned to Washington, to lobby congress for funding for Armored units. In the late 1930's, he was given command of Ft. Myers, VA. After Germany's blitzkrieg overthrow of Europe, Patton finally convinced congress of the need for an Armored force, in 1940 he was promoted to Major General and given command of the first American armored brigade, which eventually became the 2nd Armored Division.
Patton firmly believed in hard training for soldiers. He carried his brigade all over the country, from the California desert, the Louisiana swamps, and the Georgia mountains. He felt that hard training would save lives in combat. "A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood." was one of the many quotes attributed to him. Patton was ordered by Secretary of War Stimson to pick a place to train soldiers in preparation of an invasion of North Africa. Patton had planned no farewell to his brigade, as he knew they hated him for the hard life they had during their training, so he planned to slip quietly away at noontime, while the men were at mess. But, as his car was riding through Ft. Benning during his departure, the men poured out of the barracks and mess halls and lined the streets, shouting, cheering, and removing their shirts to swing them in the air, to say farewell to their commander. The car passed by so quickly, that no one noticed the general was openly weeping.
Patton then went to the Mohave desert near Indio, California, creating his own Desert Training center, some 162,000 square miles, to begin training the army he would carry to North Africa. The men trained all day every day...marching, maneuvering, handling weapons, etc, in the hot desert sun. The temperature reached 120 degrees in the summer, there was no water, there were no civilians there to worry about practice with live ammunition, actually, there were no living things present except for coyotes and rattlesnakes. The men learned how to sleep with their vehicles, how to treat heat exhaustion, how to go without sleep for up to 36 hours, how to navigate by the sun and stars.
Patton had kept a book since leaving West Point, of officers that he would want commanding his troops when he received his army...they joined him for this training, and would make the core commanders of his future army. Patton trained his officers harder than he trained the men...at the conclusion of each day, every officer had to run one mile...Patton ran a mile-and-a-quarter.
He did this not because he was a sadist, but, from his own experience, he knew the shock the men would face when they came to grips with Hitler's well trained, tough, fanatical army...it was the best way he could reproduce the horrors of war without the killing.
After many months of training, Patton felt that he had the well trained, highly disciplined army, that he could proudly take to war and win battles.North Africa
"I wonder if I could have been here before as I drive up the Roman road the Theater seems familiar, perhaps I headed a legion up that same white road... I passed a chateau in ruins which I possibly helped escalade in the middle ages. There is no proof nor yet any denial. We were, We are, and we will be."
On October 24, 1942, Patton finally got his lifelong wish, 102 ships left the American coast, carrying Patton's 24,000 troops. It was called Operation Torch, Patton's army would sail to Morocco to capture Casablanca, 18,500 American troops would land at Algiers under General Fredenhall, with 29,000 British troops under Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Gen Dwight Eisenhower and Field Marshall Harold Alexander would co-command the entire operation. Prior to the launch, none of Patton's soldiers were told where they were bound and what they were going to do, for security reasons. After they were underway, they were given this message:
We are now on our way to force a landing on the coast of North West Africa. We are to be congratulated because we have been chosen as the units of the United States' Army to take part in this great American effort.
Our mission is threefold. First to capture a beach-head, second to capture the city of Casablanca, third to move against the German wherever he may be and destroy him...
We may be opposed by a limited number of Germans. It is not known whether the French Army will contest our landing...When the great day of battle comes, remember your training and remember that speed and vigor of attack are the sure roads to success... During the first days and nights after you get ashore you must work unceasingly, regardless of sleep, regardless of food. A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.
The eyes of the world are watching us...God is with us...We will surely win.
Upon landing at Morocco, there was resistance from the French Army and small navy, the fighting went on for over a week. As always, there was much confusion during the landing. Patton found it necessary to personally direct troops to get off of the beaches, where the movement onshore would not be bogged down. As he walked along the beach, forcing himself to appear calm, he faced his greatest fear (besides failure) in combat...Patton had a huge fear of being strafed by an airplane, and there were many German (and British) airplanes about, strafing the beaches.
Patton hesitated to order an all-out assault, he knew that it would result in the needless loss of American and French lives. On Nov 10, with the remainder of Operation Torch successful, Eisenhower, commander of the operation, ordered Patton to take Casablanca. On Nov 11, Armistice Day, and Patton's 57th birthday, Patton's army was in position for an assault on Casablanca. Fortunately, minutes before the attack was to begin, a courier from the French commander came to the American lines with an offer to sign an Armistice.
Patton's forces remained at Casablanca for several weeks. During that time, there was a conference held there that President Roosevelt attended, and upon arrival, he reviewed the troops. It was the first time since the Civil War had a president reviewed a large American force fresh from battle...he was visibly moved...as was Patton.
In Morocco, the French lost approximately 3000 men, the Americans lost around 700. The French, now allies, felt that they had retained their honor by putting up such a stiff resistance.
In mid-February, II Corps under General Fredenhall, suffered a horrible defeat by Field Marshall Erwin Rommell's German forces at the Kaserine Pass. Patton was given his third star, and given command of all American forces in North Africa. II Corps men were demoralized and beaten, and Patton "whipped them into shape". One month later, they soundly defeated Rommel's army in battle after battle moving across Tunisia. Though, by that time, Patton had been given command of Seventh Army, to prepare them for the invasion of Sicily.
Patton took his new command with a rather heavy heart. His daughter Bea's husband, Col Johnny Waters, was listed among the missing in Tunisia. Patton himself searched in the hills of Sidi-Bou-Sid for a grave, and since he found none, he hoped his son-in-law was among the men that had escaped the Germans. Waters had formed a rear guard along with five of his men holding a hilltop against an overwhelming Nazi attack allowing the remainder of his men to escape. Waters later turned up in a German POW camp.
An even greater blow was the loss of his personal aide, Dick Jensen, who Patton had recently promoted to Captain. When Patton heard of Jensen's death, he stood immobile in his tent, tears streaming down his face. He loved Jensen nearly as his own son.
Now, Patton began seeing the beginning of his future problems as commander. In an allied army, diplomacy is required to allow the different forces opportunities for "glory". Patton was forced to make his plans under the constraints that Montgomery would be allowed to take certain cities, etc. Patton had serious problems with this, and much of the diplomacy was taken care of by Patton's assistant, Omar Bradley. In the end, Bradley received much of the credit for Patton's successes. Patton really didn't care, he didn't cross the ocean to fight Germany's second string army, and set his sites on future battles.
Throughout the operation, Patton felt it necessary that he be visible to his men, and he was all over the area, visiting troops. Often, he would drive out towards the front lines, and then fly back to his headquarters, as he really didn't want his men seeing him headed towards the rear area. He continued this throughout the war.
No general in history understood the dilemma that all great military leaders face more than George S. Patton...success involves the expenditure of the lives of one's fellow man. Patton, like his contemporaries Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery and General Omar Bradley, or his American predecessors, Gens George Washington, Robert E. Lee, and Ulysses S. Grant, loved his soldiers, and personally mourned the loss of every one killed in battle. Patton constantly could be found touring the field hospitals, which he considered places of honor. With reverence, he would speak and encourage the men, personally hand out medals, usually with tears in his eyes. He also continued this throughout the war.Sicily
"Each man must not think only of himself, but also of his buddy fighting beside him. We don't want yellow cowards in this Army. They should be killed off like rats. If not, they will go home after this war and breed more cowards. The brave men will breed more brave men. Kill off the Goddamned cowards and we will have a nation of brave men."
The next campaign was the invasion of Sicily, Operation Husky. It was the first allied combined arms operation using amphibious assault, gliders, paratroopers, with air support and ship bombardment. The allies were facing some 200,000 Italian soldiers, and 30,000 Germans. The assault was successful, though the fighting was very fierce, and lasted 38 days. Patton, once again facing diplomacy in battle, sent his army on a route different from the one planned, and raced and beat Montgomery's forces in taking Palermo and Messina.
Patton averaged about 4 hours of sleep a night, spending around 20 hours a day racing around Sicily in jeeps, scout cars, tanks, and planes. He visited nearly every one of the units in his army, and every field hospital. These hospital visits were the greatest strain that he had to bear. He would walk through the aisles, tears in his eyes, hardly able to speak in his emotion. It was on one of these hospital visits that he nearly ended his career.
On August 3, he drove down from the mountains where the 1st Division was fighting the last and bloodiest battle of the campaign. Though he looked as ever the immaculate soldier, he was totally exhausted, and sick of blood, despite that, he had his driver take him to the 15th Evacuation Hospital at Sant' Agata. He entered the ward tent, and walked slowly between the rows of cots. He answered one dying boy's unspoken wish, holding his hand for a moment, then lit a cigarette and placed it in the soldier's lips. Patton continued on through the tents, and came upon a young man sitting on a cot, fully dressed, with his helmet liner on. "What's wrong with you?" Patton asked. The boy looked up with tired, frightened eyes, "I guess I just can't take it any more."
Those words, to Patton, were unforgivable-the final betrayal of his Spartan creed, which utterly condemned the weakling who "can't take it", and thus throws a double burden on the man who must now fight for two. The exhaustion, the killing and dying, the impact of the wounded men he had just passed, burst loose in a terrible rage against this boy who had seemingly lost his manhood. The General's high-pitched voice rose to a scream as he cursed the soldier with all of his famous fluency. When his command of language failed to express his loathing, he slashed his gloves across the soldier's face, and knocked his helmet liner off. Doctors and nurses rushed up and somewhat calmed the General, who walked off muttering something about "yellow-bellied cowards". The soldier dropped his head in his hands and began crying.
Patton regretted his outburst, because it endangered the career he passionately loved. He felt that he had never been unjust, there had been such malingering throughout Sicily, and he could see his army melting away, for such behavior spreads through troops like wildfire. It was true that the soldier unbeknowingly by himself or the doctors had malaria, but in Patton's book, no man could say "I can't take it"...especially in a hospital where the men around him-men with shattered limbs, or bellies packed with dressings, could laugh and joke. Patton himself was not a fearless man...but he held that "the strength of the soldier is fear of fear." Beatrice exclaimed after hearing of the incident, that had she or any other member of the family behaved like Private Kuhl, he would have given them the same treatment-"and rightly so!"
Eisenhower took the view that Patton's conduct was unjustified and morally wrong. He spent sleepless nights wondering what he should do...he loved Georgie Patton, but he was determined that friendship should not influence justice...a more compelling reason forced his decision..."I can't afford to lose my best General!" Eisenhower exclaimed. He wrote the sharpest letter of his life to Patton, and ordered him to apologize personally to Kuhl, to the nurses and doctors of the hospital, and to the whole Seventh Army, or as much of it as could be reached.
Patton humbled himself before his soldiers. The apology was freely given-and freely accepted. He added, in his apology to the doctors, nurses, and enlisted men of the 93rd Evacuation Hospital, a story of a friend of his during WWI, who in a fit of depression, had committed suicide. He felt that "If someone had been rough with him and slapped some sense into him his life might have been spared." He toured each division of his army and delivered an address to each.
He actually gained popularity after the incident, both in his army, and back in America...though the press made front page news of the incident, Patton received much personal mail from parents of soldiers in his army, expressing the thoughts that they were proud of their son being under his command, and that the coward soldier deserved what he had gotten.
The incident had one beneficial effect that is generally unknown. Patton became conscious of the real danger of battle fatigue. He made a study of it, and as a result, when he commanded the Third Army, he saw to it that men showing signs of the strain of combat were given instant and effective treatment. There were rest centers throughout Third Army territory, places where a man could stay safe and warm, and rest until his courage was restored.
After the end of the Sicilian campaign, the Seventh army was disbanded, and various parts of it were sent to reinforce the Fifth Army, or sent to England to prepare for the invasion of the European continent. Patton called his staff together, and told them, "Gentlemen, I feel that you have hitched your wagons to a falling star. However, I still have some influence left, and I will see to it that anyone who wants to leave me will get a good job suitable to his rank and merits. I am not being relieved in this theater, but am being sent on another mission. If any of you feel so inclined, I'd like to have you with me." Out of 24 men in the room, 24 said they would go with him. When he heard their reply, the General wept.
(Author's note: I have personally known a gentleman that was one of Patton's several personal drivers. He said that though the above meeting was with Patton's staff officers, Patton personally requested that each of the enlisted men that worked for his headquarters...drivers, clerks, mechanics, etc, remain with him if they so wished. They, to a man, accompanied him to England, and most of them stayed with him to the end of the war. He said that he himself, personally really liked Patton, but his decision was as much influenced as much by the fact that he was an infantryman, and that leaving Patton would likely make him a front line soldier, as his wanting to stay with Patton. He said he really didn't have a fear of dying...that was as likely to happen driving Patton as it was being on the front lines... his main fear was of having to walk everywhere.)Fortitude
"Men are at war with each other because each man is at war with himself."
Patton arrived in England in Jan, 1944, to take charge of the Third Army, just beginning to arrive from its initial training in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. It had initially been under the command of General Walter Krueger, who, like Patton, believed in hard training and strict discipline. At first, Patton was devastated to find that he would not be part of the initial assault on the European continent, but was later pleased to find out his army's mission was to spearhead an inward assault after the initial beachhead was established, especially since he would not be bogged down with the preparations for the assault itself. Part of Operation Overlord, the codeword for the invasion, was Operation Fortitude, an immense deception operation intended to deceive the Germans into thinking that the initial invasion would take place at southern Norway, and the main invasion would be at Pas de Calais, where the English Channel is most narrow, instead of Normandy. The buildup and training of the Third Army, which in the deception plan was actually known as "FUSAG" (First US Army Group), was very important to the plan. A key part of the deception was Patton's presence...the Germans would readily believe that Patton would command the initial assault, and since he, and a building-up army, were located near the narrow part of the Channel, it was likely that he would be leading that army into the Pas de Calais area. Though, officially, it was never announced that Patton was even in England...letting the Germans think that their spies, many who were double agents supporting Fortitude, were collecting valuable intelligence. FUSAG would eventually consist of 50 divisions, the Third Army would be the initial 12. Decoy bases, vehicles, etc, were eventually placed all around the area, giving the impression that the army was much larger than it was.
Patton, traveled throughout the Third Army, in his typical style. During this period, another incident happened that once again nearly ended Patton's career. Very important to the war effort in England, the Women's Volunteer Service, an organization consisting mainly of middle-aged English women, worked very hard to help the war effort. At Knutsford, they had opened a club for the American soldiers nearby, and Patton was asked to speak at its opening, with the feelings that someone so important would better express the appreciation of the members of the organization. There were only about 60 people present, and Patton was insured that no reporters were present, and the regional administrator of the organization, Mrs. Constantine Smith, when introducing the General, made it quite clear that what he said must not be reported in the press. There are several versions of what Patton actually said, he was speaking impromptu of the need for understanding between the British and Americans. He made the jocular remark, "Since it seems to be the destiny of America, Great Britain, and Russia to rule the world, the better off we know each other, the better off we will be."
Some British newspapers the next day on their account committed any reference to the Russians, despite the assurance to Patton that his remarks would not be reported. It is not known whether Patton actually omitted mention of the Russians, nor if the omissions in the newspapers were accidental. American Press reaction was immediate, volcanic, and acid. Many papers, especially the Washington Post, were particularly hostile, saying that his remarks were "a general's intrusion into the political sphere on the side of Roosevelt", it was generally known that Roosevelt did not particularly trust the Russians. For days, Eisenhower and General of the Army Marshall, debated by wire on what to do. Finally, Eisenhower issued a former admonition to Patton...Marshall, and Secretary of War Stimson left it up to Eisenhower to make the decision whether or not to relieve Patton. All three men believed that the incident was not as serious as the press had made it, but they were pressured by the politicians to take action against Patton. "I am once more taking responsibility of retaining you from a personal indiscretion. I do this solely because of my faith in you as a battle leader and from no other motive."
This cut Patton to the core, personal relations between him and Eisenhower were never quite the same after that. Patton wrote in his diary: "My final thought on the matter is that I am destined to achieve some great thing-what I don't know, but this last incident was so trivial in its nature, but so terrible in its effect, that it is not the result of an accident but the work of God. His will be done."Normandy
"Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of the men who follow and of the man who leads that gains that victory."
The Normandy invasion, though difficult and costly, had been successful...very much in part to Operation Fortitude. Over a week later, Hitler was still not convinced that the actual invasion had taken place. And that pretty much was all that was keeping the operation from turning into a disaster...the American forces were bogged down in the bocage, the massive hedgerows that continued for miles inland, the very hedgerows that Patton had written about 20 years earlier. The British were stopped at Caen, having contained four Panzer divisions and fighting it out with them ...fortunately for the Americans, if one of these divisions had been able to move to the hedgerows, it would have been disastrous. Patton was back in England, fretting about nothing happening in Normandy, waiting to get into the fray. At one point he exclaimed "Don't forget, you men don't know that I'm here. No mention of that fact is to be made in any letters. The world is not supposed to know what the hell happened to me. I'm not supposed to be commanding this Army. I'm not even supposed to be here in England. Let the first bastards to find out be the Goddamned Germans. Some day I want to see them raise up on their piss-soaked hind legs and howl, "Jesus Christ, it's the Goddamned Third Army again and that son-of-a-fucking-bitch Patton". " Patton mostly (mistakenly) blamed Montgomery for the hold up. Patton never tried to conceal his dislike for Montgomery, though the two men were very much alike, only their methods were different. Both men were loved by their soldiers, both men were military geniuses, both men knew well the problems that armies faced.
Finally, on July 6, Patton boarded a C-47 and flew to Normandy. He landed near Omaha Beach, where the wreckage of the initial assault appalled him, though he wrote "it demonstrates that good troops can land anywhere." His command post was set up in an apple orchard, and the weeks he spent there while the Americans were slugging it out in the hedgerows was a miserable time for him. He was obsessed with the idea that the war might end before he ever got into it, and it seemed to him that he spent most of his time attending the funerals of his friends. Finally, after a long wait for favorable weather, the breakout from the bocage came on July 25, and the First Army opened up a small corridor between the Germans and the sea. Finally, Eisenhower gave the order that launched the Third Army though the hole. He took a great chance...a successful counterattack by the Nazis would leave the Third Army defenseless, and totally surrounded. A traffic jam in that narrow gateway to France would have meant a massacre. Patton said, "It was one of those things that could not be done, but was. I had to say to myself, Do not take counsel of your fears." Somehow, the Third Army roared through, with 2-and even 3-star generals getting off their command cars and personally directing traffic like policemen. Patton was everywhere, screaming "Hurry, Hurry."
Once out of the corridor, Patton's army really began to roll. They were moving so fast that at one point, Patton had lost touch with the 4th Armored Division. The only way he could visit his forward-most units was in a Piper Cub. The front lines were often only yards from the German lines. He admitted that skimming the treetops in Brittany made him nervous, "feeling like a clay bird in front of a crack trapshooter." Many people criticized his constant appearance at the front as showing off, but Patton felt that it was essential. "An army is like a piece of cooked spaghetti-you can't push it; you have to pull it after you."
By August 16, much of the Third Army was making its historic dash through France. They raced through country that was thick with Nazi troops that were too demoralized to stop them. It was the epitome of the tactics Patton had long planned, his racing columns followed the roads used by Caesar's legions. "If Caesar chose those routes, they must be good. And the roads he built are still there." The army spearheads were often fifty miles or more ahead of the main body...depending on surprise, they cut right through the enemy held territory. Patton's tankers boasted, "We hold the roads, they hold the shoulders." The tactics were similar to those used by J.E.B. Stuart's cavalry. But, Stuart didn't have the 19th Tactical Air Command, a squadron of fighter-bombers attached to Third Army, that gave air reconnaissance, strafed, and bombed the enemy. When their bullets and bombs were gone, they dropped their belly tanks on German convoys. The entire countryside from Brittany to Paris was marked by thick black columns of smoke from burning armor and transports. Sometimes the roads were so choked by ruined German vehicles that bulldozers had to be sent ahead to clear the way. On August 25, almost incidentally to the tremendous victories of the Third Army, Paris was liberated. By this time, the Third Army had long outrun the supply lines of ordinance, supplies, and gasoline coming from the coast. Patton had run out of gas.Battle of the Bulge
"We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way."
Patton was frantic. The German army was now defeated, and he wasn't able to follow through with the victory. The available gasoline was given to Montgomery, for his push to Antwerp, to open another port to receive supplies. Patton believed until his death that politics played a part in his failure to be able to follow through his victory.
Finally, in November, the Third Army was able to move forward. The weather was horrible, and the roads were like soup. Sickness in the army was rampant...one division had over 3000 cases of trenchfoot. Patton spent much of his time personally supervising the training of junior officers how to take care of their men, "This is more important for young officers to know than military tactics."
Patton realized that the Allied forces had spread themselves too thin along the front. He had realized that the Germans were revitalized, and must be planning some kind of counterattack. He was correct. He knew that in the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg, only three divisions of First Army were holding a line 75 miles long, and that the Germans were massing armor opposite of that region. Patton began planning possible movements towards that area when the Germans attacked. The desperately outnumbered Americans managed to slow the Germans enough to channel their movement in one small area...now called "the bulge". Eisenhower called his commanders together to decide on how to counterattack. He asked Patton if he could move his forces 90 degrees and attack the Germans' south side towards Bastogne, though he really didn't think that Patton could accomplish the task. He didn't know that Patton had already made plans to do so, had alerted his commanders of the move, and within three hours of Ike's orders, units of the Third Army were already racing north, to rescue the American units at Bastogne, desperately outnumbered three-to-one. Despite the incredible speed Patton's army made, when they met the Germans, they hardly made a dent...the weather was horrible, and the going was slow, clouds were on the ground spewing rain, vehicles were bogged down, and planes were grounded. Patton noted the un-Pattonlike notation in his diary, "This war can still be lost." Each night, Patton asked Eisenhower if he was going to fire him, but Ike replied that things were going as planned. Before the Germans attacked, Patton had asked his chaplin to write a prayer for clear weather. Patton now had it printed, and sent out to his army...450,000 of them on post cards. Chaplin Codman objected, "But that prayer was for our offensive." Patton replied, "The Lord won't mind."
Almighty and merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee of Thy great goodness to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for battle. Graciously harken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee, that armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.
The German and American meteorologists agreed that there would be three weeks of rain...so, it seemed a miracle when the sun rose to a cloudless sky on the morning of December 23. Patton, listening to the roar of motors as bright wings glittered in the sky and the supply parachutes bloomed over Bastogne, said joyously, "That chaplin of mine makes a powerful prayer." The Third Army opened a narrow corridor through the panzer to Bastogne on Dec 26. Though the surrounded men were saved, the battle raged on for the next four weeks. The weather was miserable, cold and snowing.To the end
"Son, your Granddaddy rode with the Great Third Army and a Son-of-a-Goddamned-Bitch named Georgie Patton!"
Patton was then ordered to go on the defensive. His reply was "Nobody ever successfully defended anything...It's ignominious for the Americans to be on the defensive when the war ends." He was told he could continue probing attacks while on the defensive. These probing attacks much resembled his army in the offensive...he called it a "creeping defensive"...and continued it right up to the Rhine River. Patton's army surrounded Nazi corps after corps by double envelopment, like a series of Hannibal's victory over the Romans at Cannae. During this time, Patton was very aware of the historical parallels of his movements in this area, he loved to follow in the footsteps of the Roman conquerors. He drove his armor up the old Roman road to Trier. "I entered by the same gate Lobienus used." In 10 days the Third Army surrounded and destroyed two German Army Groups, captured 60,000 prisoners, and 10,000 square miles of territory, with minimum losses. Patton said "I'm going to be an awful irritation to the military historians, because I do things by a sixth sense...They won't understand.
During this time, Patton basically raced Montgomery up to the Rhine. While Monte was carefully preparing his amphibious assault across, Patton's units had already crossed. When Patton crossed the river himself, he deliberately tripped and fell-in imitation of William the Conqueror landing in England. He jumped up holding a handful of German soil.
Though the fighting went on for a few more months, and many men died as the result of Hitler's refusal to surrender, the war was basically over, the German army was fighting as a series of separate groups instead of an army with a coordinated plan. The greatest danger was from the Hitler Youth...10 year old boys with abandoned weapons of the retreating Wehrmacht...who shot up isolated groups of Americans.
When the Third Army captured the horrible Nazi concentration camps, Patton ordered the German citizens living nearby to be sent to them to see the horror. When the Nazi mayor of Ohrdruf and his wife were shown the inside of the camp for the first time, they were so stricken with guilt that they went home and killed themselves.
And then finally it was done. The Germans signed an unconditional surrender. There was no celebration at Third Army headquarters, they were too tired. Patton felt let down...the job for which he had been born, toward which he had trained himself for fifty years, was completed. The Third Army had taken more enemy territory and caused more enemy casualties than any American army in history, with losses held to an amazing minimum. That, to Georgie, was the test of generalship. He knew he had passed it. He knew he had passed another test as well...he had won the affection and loyalty of his army. Somewhere along that long road from Normandy to Lenz, the sentiment of the men had changed. They might still curse his discipline and make fun of theatrics...but they trusted him and would follow him wherever he led...because he led. They were inordinately proud of him, and jealous of his reputation. And, at the end, it was much more than that. With all his faults they loved him.The war is over
"It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived."
Patton returned to the US on June 8, to a hero's welcome. He spent that first evening in his home in Bedford, MA, with the entire family. His son, future General George S. Patton IV, was allowed 24 hours leave from West Point...that would be the last time he saw his father. Patton was given a hero's welcome in Boston...but that would be nothing compared to the greeting he would receive in Los Angeles. 100,000 people came to the Coliseum to greet him.
While in California, Patton spent a few days in his childhood home, he attended the church he went to as a child.
Patton returned to Germany, as commander of the 15th Army of the Occupation Troops. Of course, he required the same discipline as ever, all American troops were required to look and act their best. He was proud of the victorious American troops. When reviewing the 82nd Airborne Division in Berlin, he was especially impressed with their professionalism, and called them the name that they still proudly bear, "America's Guard of Honor."
On December 9th, Patton, and his friend General Gay, were traveling along the road near Bad Nauheim, to a pheasant shoot at Mannheim. Patton had recently been given his orders-he was about to return home, and he looked forward to a pleasant future. A truck coming from the opposite direction turned in front of them towards a parking place. Patton's driver tried to swerve, but his timing was off, and the limo hit the truck almost head-on. The driver and General Gay were unhurt, but Patton was in a heap on the floor, perfectly conscious, he had been thrown against the front seat, and had felt his neck snap...it was broken. Casually, he spoke to Gay "This is a hell of a way to die." 12 days later, Bea at his side, after putting up the last fight...and the only one he had lost in his life, Patton died of an embolism.
Patton firmly believed that a soldier should be buried where he falls...so he lies in the military cemetery at Hamm in Luxembourg, among 30,000 men that fought for him during the Battle of the Bulge.
Patton was loved by many, and hated by many, and usually misunderstood by all. Eisenhower, one of the few men that really understood Patton, knew that tough shell was really a bluff, and said of him, "Patton's besetting sin was softheartedness."
As his reputation as a soldier, the fitting epitaph comes from one that could speak without prejudice...Field Marshall Karl Gerd von Rundstedt, Commander in Chief of all of the German Armies during the Battle of the Bulge, during an interview for Stars and Stripes magazine said of Patton, "Patton, he iss your best!"Bibliography:
Hatch, Alden; "George Patton, A General in Spurs" Julian Messner Press, New York, 1950
Essame, Hubert; "Patton, A Study in Command" Charles Scribner's Sons, New York, 1974
Farago, Ladislas; "Patton, Ordeal and Triumph" Dell Publishing Co, New York, 1970
Semmes, Harry H.; "Portrait of Patton" Paperback Library, New York, 1971