George Smith Patton, Jr. (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945) was a general in the United States Army best known for his command of the Seventh United States Army, and later the Third United States Army, in the European Theater of World War II.
Born in 1885 to a privileged family with an extensive military background, Patton attended the Virginia Military Institute, and later the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He participated in the 1912 Olympic pentathlon and was instrumental in designing the M1913 "Patton Saber". Patton first saw combat during the Pancho Villa Expedition in one of the earliest instances of mechanized combat. He later joined the newly formed United States Tank Corps of the American Expeditionary Force and saw action in World War I, first commanding the U.S. tank school in France before being wounded near the end of the war. In the interwar period, Patton remained a central figure in the development of armored warfare doctrine in the U.S. Army, serving on numerous staff positions throughout the country. Rising through the ranks, he commanded the U.S. 2nd Armored Division at the time of the U.S. entry into World War II.
Patton led U.S. troops into the Mediterranean theater with an invasion of Casablanca during the North African Campaign in 1942, where he later established himself as an effective commander through his rapid rehabilitation of the demoralized U.S. II Corps. He commanded the Seventh Army during the Invasion of Sicily, where he beat British General Bernard Law Montgomery to Messina but was embroiled in controversy after he slapped two soldiers under his command. Patton returned to command the Third Army following the Invasion of Normandy in 1944, where he led a highly successful, rapid drive across France. He led the relief of beleaguered U.S. troops at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, and advanced his army into Nazi Germany by the end of the war.
After the war Patton became the military governor of Bavaria, but he was relieved of this post because of his statements on denazification. He commanded the Fifteenth United States Army for slightly more than two months. Patton died following an automobile accident in Europe on December 21, 1945.
Patton's colorful image, hard-driving personality and success as a commander were at times overshadowed by his controversial public statements regarding the Soviet Union which were out of accord with American foreign policy. But his philosophy of leading from the front and his ability to inspire his troops with vulgarity-ridden speeches, such as a famous address to the Third Army, attracted favorable attention. His strong emphasis on rapid and aggressive offensive action proved effective. While Allied leaders held sharply differing opinions on Patton, he was regarded highly by his opponents in the German High Command. A popular, award-winning biographical film released in 1970 helped transform Patton into an American folk hero.
Early life and education
George Smith Patton Jr. was born on November 11, 1885 on his family's ranch in what is now San Marino, California, to Ruth Patton (née Wilson) and George Smith Patton Sr. Patton had one sibling; a younger sister, Anne. The family was of Irish Scotch-Irish and English descent. Patton's family had an extensive military background. His paternal grandfather was George Smith Patton who commanded the 22nd Virginia Infantry in the American Civil War and was killed in the Third Battle of Winchester, while his great uncle Waller Tazewell Patton was killed in Pickett's Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. Patton also descended from Hugh Mercer, who had been killed in the Battle of Princeton during the American Revolution. Patton's father graduated from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI), but did not pursue a military career, instead becoming a lawyer and later the district attorney of Los Angeles County. Patton's maternal family included Benjamin Davis Wilson, who had been Mayor of Los Angeles and a successful merchant. The Patton family was prosperous, and Patton lived a privileged childhood on the family's 2,000-acre (810 ha) estate.
In his youth, Patton had difficulty learning to read and write, but eventually overcame this and was known in his adult life to be an avid reader.[Note 1] He was tutored from home until the age of eleven, when he was enrolled in Stephen Clark's School for Boys, a private school in Pasadena, for six years. Patton was described as an intelligent boy and was widely read on classical military history, particularly the exploits of Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Scipio Africanus as well as family friend John Singleton Mosby. He was also a devoted horseback rider. During a family summer trip to Catalina Island in 1902, Patton met Beatrice Banning Ayer, the daughter of Boston industrialist Frederick Ayer. The two wed on May 26, 1910, in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. They had three children, Beatrice Smith (born March 1911), Ruth Ellen (born February 1915), and George Patton IV (born December 1923).[Note 2]
Patton never seriously considered a career other than the military, so in 1902, he wrote a letter to Senator Thomas R. Bard seeking an appointment to the United States Military Academy. Bard required Patton to complete an entrance exam. Fearing that he would perform poorly in this exam, Patton and his father applied to several universities with Reserve Officer's Training Corps programs. Patton was accepted to Princeton University but eventually decided on the Virginia Military Institute. He attended VMI from 1903 to 1904 and struggled with reading and writing but performed exceptionally in uniform and appearance inspection as well as military drill, earning the admiration of fellow cadets and the respect of upperclassmen. On March 3, 1904, after Patton continued letter-writing and good performance in the entrance exam, Bard recommended him for West Point.
In his plebe year at West Point, Patton adjusted easily to the routine. Still, his academic performance was so poor that he was forced to repeat his first year after failing mathematics. Studying throughout his summer break, Patton returned and showed substantial academic improvement. For the remainder of his career at the academy, Patton excelled at military drills though his academic performance remained average. He was cadet sergeant major his junior year, and cadet adjutant his senior year. He also joined the football team but injuring his arm and ceased playing on several occasions, instead trying out for the Sword Team and track and field, quickly becoming one of the best swordsmen at the academy. Patton graduated from the academy ranked 46 out of 103. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the cavalry on 11 June 1909.
Patton's first posting was with the 15th Cavalry at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, where he established himself as a hard-driving leader who impressed superiors with his dedication. In late 1911, Patton and his family transferred to Fort Myer, Virginia, where many of the Army's senior leaders were stationed. Befriending Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Patton served as his aide at social functions on top of his regular duties as quartermaster for his troop.
For his skill with running and fencing, Patton was selected as the Army's entry for the first-ever modern pentathlon for the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden. Of 42 competitors, Patton placed twenty-first on the pistol range, seventh in swimming, fourth in fencing, sixth in the equestrian competition, and third in the footrace, for an overall finish of fifth place, being the top non-Swedish finisher. There was some controversy concerning Patton's performance in the pistol shooting competition. He used a .38 caliber pistol, while most of the other competitors chose .22 caliber firearms. He claimed that the holes in the paper from his early shots were so large that some of his later bullets passed through them, but the judges decided he missed the target completely once. Modern competitions on this level frequently now employ a moving background to specifically track multiple shots through the same hole. If his assertion was correct, Patton would likely have won an Olympic medal in the event. The judges' ruling was upheld. Patton's only comment on the matter was:
The high spirit of sportsmanship and generosity manifested throughout speaks volumes for the character of the officers of the present day. There was not a single incident of a protest or any unsportsmanlike quibbling or fighting for points which I may say, marred some of the other civilian competitions at the Olympic Games. Each man did his best and took what fortune sent them like a true soldier, and at the end we all felt more like good friends and comrades than rivals in a severe competition, yet this spirit of friendship in no manner detracted from the zeal with which all strove for success.
Following the 1912 Olympics, Patton traveled to Saumur, France, where he learned fencing techniques from Adjutant Charles Cléry, a French "master of arms" and instructor of fencing at the cavalry school there. Bringing these lessons back to Fort Meyer with him, Patton redesigned saber combat doctrine for the U.S. cavalry, favoring thrusting attacks with the sword over the standard slashing maneuver and designing a new sword for such attacks. Patton was temporarily assigned to the Office of the Army Chief of Staff, and in 1913, the first 20,000 of the Model 1913 Cavalry Saber—popularly known as the "Patton sword"—were ordered. Patton then returned to Saumur to learn advanced techniques before bringing his skills to the Mounted Service School at Fort Riley, Kansas, where he would be both a student and a fencing instructor. He was the first Army officer to be designated "Master of the Sword," a title denoting the school's top instructor in swordsmanship. Arriving in September 1913, he taught fencing to other cavalry officers, many of whom were senior to him in rank. Patton graduated from this school in June 1915. He was originally intended to return to the 15th Cavalry, which was bound for the Philippines. Fearing this assignment would dead-end his career, Patton traveled to Washington, D.C. during 11 days of leave and convinced influential friends to arrange a reassignment for him to the 8th Cavalry at Fort Bliss, Texas, anticipating that instability in Mexico might boil over into a full-scale civil war. In the meantime, Patton was selected to participate in the 1916 Summer Olympics, but that event was cancelled due to World War I.
Pancho Villa Expedition
In 1915 Patton was assigned to border patrol duty with A Company of the 8th Cavalry, based in Sierra Blanca. During his time in this rough border town, Patton took to wearing his Colt .45 in his belt rather than a holster, emulating a cowboy image. This firearm discharged one night in a saloon, so he swapped it for an ivory-handled Colt Single Action Army revolver, a weapon that would later become an icon of Patton's image. He transferred to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, for a brief time later in 1915.
In March 1916 Mexican forces loyal to Pancho Villa crossed into New Mexico and raided the border town of Columbus. The violence in Columbus killed several Americans. In response, the U.S. launched a punitive expedition into Mexico against Villa. Chagrined to discover that his unit would not participate, Patton appealed to expedition commander John J. Pershing, and was named as personal aide to Pershing for the expedition. This meant Patton would have some role in organizing the effort, and his eagerness and dedication to the task impressed Pershing. Patton modeled much of his leadership style after Pershing, who favored strong, decisive leadership and commanding from the front. As an aide, Patton oversaw the logistics of Pershing's transportation and acted as his personal courier.
In mid-April, Patton asked Pershing for the opportunity to command troops, and was attached to Troop C of the U.S. 13th Cavalry Regiment to assist in the manhunt for Villa and his subordinates. Patton's first experience with combat came on May 14, 1916, in what would become the first motorized attack in the history of U.S. warfare. Patton, leading a force of ten soldiers and two civilian guides with the U.S. 6th Infantry Regiment in three Dodge touring cars, surprised three of Villa's men during a foraging expedition, killing Julio Cárdenas and two of his guards. It was not clear if Patton personally killed any of the three men, but he was known to have wounded all three. The incident garnered Patton both Pershing's good favor and widespread media attention as a "bandit killer." Shortly after, he was promoted to first lieutenant while a part of the 10th Cavalry on May 23, 1916. Patton remained in Mexico until the end of the year. President Woodrow Wilson forbade the expedition from conducting aggressive patrols deeper into Mexico, so they remained encamped for much of that time. In October Patton briefly returned to California after being burned by an exploding gas lamp. He returned from the expedition permanently in February 1917.
World War I
Following the expedition, Patton was initially detailed to Front Royal, Virginia, to oversee horse procurement for the Army, but Pershing intervened on his behalf. After the U.S. entered World War I, and Pershing was named commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), Patton requested to join his staff. Patton was promoted to captain on May 15, 1917, and left for Europe, among the 180 men of Pershing's advance party which departed May 28 and arrived in Liverpool on 8 June. Taken as Pershing's personal aide, Patton oversaw the training of American troops in Paris until September, then moved to Chaumont and assigned as a post adjutant, commanding the headquarters company overseeing the base. Patton was dissatisfied with the post and began to take an interest in tanks, as Pershing sought to give him command of an infantry battalion. While in a hospital for jaundice, Patton met Colonel Fox Conner, who encouraged him to work with tanks over infantry.
On November 10, 1917, Patton was assigned to establish the AEF Light Tank School. He left Paris and reported to the French Army's tank training school at Champlieu near Orrouy, where he drove a Renault FT char d'assaut light tank, testing its trench-crossing ability. He also visited a Renault factory to observe the tanks being manufactured. On November 20, at Cambrai, the British launched what was then the largest tank battle of the war. At the conclusion of his tour on December 1, Patton went to Albert, 30 miles (48 km) from Cambrai, to be briefed on the results of this attack by the chief of staff of the British Tank Corps, Colonel J. F. C. Fuller. Patton was promoted to major on January 26, 1918. He received the first ten tanks on March 23, 1918, at the Tank School at Langres, Haute-Marne département. The only soldier with tank-driving experience, Patton personally backed seven of the tanks off the train. In the post, Patton trained tank crews to operate in support of infantry, and promoted its acceptance among reticent infantry officers. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on April 3, 1918, and attended the Army General Staff College in Langres.
In August 1918, he was placed in charge of the U.S. 1st Provisional Tank Brigade (re-designated the 304th Tank Brigade on November 6, 1918). Patton's Light Tank Brigade was part of Colonel Samuel Rockenbach's Tank Corps, part of the First United States Army. Personally overseeing the logistics of the tanks in their first combat use by U.S. forces, and reconnoitering the target area for their first attack himself, Patton ordered that no U.S. tank be surrendered. Patton commanded American-crewed Renault FT tanks at the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, leading the tanks from the front for much of their attack, which began on September 12. He walked in front of the tanks into the German-held village of Essey, and rode on top of a tank during the attack into Pannes, seeking to inspire his men.
Patton's brigade was then moved to support U.S. I Corps in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on September 26. He personally led a troop of tanks through thick fog as they advanced 5 miles (8 km) into German lines. Around 09:00, Patton was wounded in the left thigh while leading six men and a tank in an attack on German machine guns near the town of Cheppy. His orderly, Private First Class Joe Angelo, saved Patton for which he was later awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Patton commanded the battle from a shell hole for another hour before being evacuated. He stopped at a rear command post to submit his report before heading to a hospital. Sereno E. Brett, commander of the U.S. 326th Tank Battalion, took command of the brigade in Patton's absence. While recuperating from his wound, Patton was promoted to colonel in the Tank Corps of the U.S. National Army on October 17. He returned to duty on October 28 but saw no further action before hostilities ended with the armistice of November 11, 1918. For his actions in Cheppy, Patton received the Distinguished Service Cross. For his leadership of the brigade and tank school, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He was also awarded the Purple Heart for his combat wounds after the decoration was created in 1932.
Patton left France for New York City on March 2, 1919. After the war he was assigned to Camp Meade, Maryland, and reverted to his permanent rank of captain on June 30, 1920, though he was promoted to major again the next day. Patton was given temporary duty in Washington D.C. that year to serve on a committee writing a manual on tank operations. In this time he developed a belief that tanks should not be used as infantry support, but rather as an independent fighting force. Patton supported the M1919 tank design created by J. Walter Christie, a project which was shelved due to financial considerations. While on duty in Washington, D.C., in 1919, Patton met Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would play an enormous role in Patton's future career. During and following Patton's assignment in Hawaii, he and Eisenhower corresponded frequently. Patton sent Eisenhower notes and assistance to help him graduate from the General Staff College. With Christie, Eisenhower, and a handful of other officers, Patton pushed for more development of armored warfare in the interwar era. These thoughts resonated with Secretary of War Dwight Davis, but the limited military budget and prevalence of already-established Infantry and Cavalry branches meant the U.S. would not develop its armored corps much until 1940.
On September 30, 1920, he relinquished command of the 304th Tank Brigade and was reassigned to Fort Myer as commander of 3rd Squadron, 3rd Cavalry. Patton, loathing duty as a peacetime staff officer, spent much time writing technical papers and giving speeches on his combat experiences at the General Staff College. From 1922 to mid-1923 he attended the Field Officer's Course at the Cavalry School at Fort Riley, then he attended the Command and General Staff College from mid-1923 to mid-1924, graduating 25th out of 248. In August 1923, Patton saved several children from drowning when they fell off a yacht during a boating trip off Salem, Massachusetts. He was awarded the Silver Lifesaving Medal for this action. He was temporarily appointed to the General Staff Corps in Boston, Massachusetts, before being reassigned as G-1 and G-2 of the Hawaiian Division at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu in March 1925. During his time in Hawaii, Patton was part of the military units responsible for the defense of the islands, and wrote a defense plan, called "Surprise," which anticipated an air raid against Pearl Harbor, ten years before the attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on December 7, 1941.
Patton was made G-3 of the Hawaiian Division for several months, before being transferred in May 1927 to the Office of the Chief of Cavalry in Washington, D.C., where he began to develop the concepts of mechanized warfare. A short-lived experiment to merge infantry, cavalry and artillery into a combined arms force was cancelled after U.S. Congress removed funding. Patton left this office in 1931, returned to Massachusetts and attended the Army War College, becoming a "Distinguished Graduate" in June 1932.
In July 1932, Patton was executive officer of the 3rd Cavalry, which was ordered to Washington by Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur. Patton took command of the 600 troops of the 3rd Cavalry, and on July 28, MacArthur ordered Patton's troops to advance on protesting veterans known as the "Bonus Army" with tear gas and bayonets. One of the veterans dispersed by the cavalry was Joe Angelo, who had saved Patton's life in World War I. Patton was dissatisfied with MacArthur's conduct as he recognized the legitimacy of the veterans' complaints and had himself earlier refused to issue the order to employ armed force to disperse the veterans. Patton later stated that, though he found the duty "most distasteful," he also felt that putting the marchers down prevented an insurrection and saved lives and property. He personally led the 3rd Cavalry down Pennsylvania Avenue dispersing the protesters.
Patton was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the regular Army on March 1, 1934, and was transferred to the Hawaiian Division in early 1935 to serve as G-2. Depressed at the lack of prospects for new conflict, Patton took to drinking heavily and began several extra-marital affairs, including one with his 21-year-old niece by marriage, Jean Gordon.
Patton continued playing polo and sailing in this time. After sailing back to Los Angeles for extended leave in 1937, he was kicked by a horse and fractured his leg. Patton developed phlebitis from the injury, which nearly killed him. The incident almost forced Patton out of active service, but a six-month administrative assignment in the Academic Department at the Cavalry School at Fort Riley helped him to recover. Patton was promoted to colonel on July 24, 1938, and given command of the 5th Cavalry at Fort Clark, Texas, for six months, a post he relished, but he was reassigned to Fort Myer again in December as commander of the 3rd Cavalry. There, he met Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, who was so impressed with him that Marshall considered Patton a prime candidate for flag officer rank in the armed forces. Still, in peacetime, he would remain a colonel to stay eligible for command of a regiment.
World War II
Following the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War II in Europe in 1939, the U.S. military entered a period of mobilization, and Patton sought to build up the power of U.S. armored forces. During maneuvers the Third United States Army conducted in 1940, Patton served as an umpire, where he met Adna R. Chaffee, Jr. and the two formulated recommendations to develop an armored force. Chaffee was named commander of this force, and created the U.S. 1st Armored Division and U.S. 2nd Armored Division as well as the first combined arms doctrine. He named Patton commander of the 2nd Armored Brigade, 2nd Armored Division. The division was one of few organized as a heavy formation with a large number of tanks, and Patton was in charge of its training. Patton was promoted to brigadier general on October 2, made acting division commander in November, and on April 4, 1941, was promoted again to major general and made division commander of the 2nd Armored Division. As Chaffee stepped down from command of the U.S. I Armored Corps, Patton became the most prominent figure in U.S. armor doctrine, staging a high-profile mass exercise driving 1,000 tanks and vehicles from Columbus, Georgia, to Panama City, Florida, and back in December 1940, and again with his entire division of 1,300 vehicles the next month. Patton earned a pilot's license and during these maneuvers he observed the movements of his vehicles from the air to find ways to deploy them effectively in combat. His exploits earned him a spot on the cover of Life Magazine that year.
Patton led the division during the Tennessee Maneuvers in June 1941, and was lauded for his leadership, executing 48 hours' worth of planned objectives in only nine. During the September Louisiana Maneuvers, his division was part of the losing Red Army in Phase I, but in Phase II was assigned to the Blue Army. His division executed a 400-mile (640 km) end run around the Red Army and "captured" Shreveport, Louisiana. During the October–November Carolina Maneuvers, Patton's division captured Hugh Drum, commander of the opposing army. On January 15, 1942, he was given command of I Armored Corps, and the next month established the Desert Training Center in the Imperial Valley to run training exercises. He commenced these exercises in late 1941 and continued them into the summer of 1942. Patton chose a 10,000-acre (40 km2) expanse of desert area about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Palm Springs. From his first days as a commander, Patton strongly emphasized the need for armored forces to stay in constant contact with opposing forces. His instinctive preference for offensive movement was typified by an answer Patton gave to war correspondents in a 1944 press conference. In response to a question on whether the Third Army's rapid offensive across France should be slowed to reduce the number of U.S. casualties, Patton replied, "Whenever you slow anything down, you waste human lives." During the war, Patton acquired the nickname "Old Blood and Guts," because of his enthusiasm for battle; soldiers under his command at times quipped, "our blood, his guts". Still, he was known to be admired widely by the men under his charge. Patton was also known simply as "The Old Man" among his troops.
North African Campaign
Under Eisenhower, Patton was assigned to help plan the invasion of French North Africa as part of Operation Torch in the summer of 1942. Patton commanded the Western Task Force, consisting of 33,000 men in 100 ships, in landings centered around Casablanca, Morocco. The landings, which took place on November 8, 1942, were opposed by Vichy French forces, but Patton's men quickly gained a beachhead. and pushed through fierce resistance. Casablanca fell on November 11 and Patton negotiated an armistice with French General Charles Noguès. The Sultan of Morocco was so impressed that he presented Patton with the Order of Ouissam Alaouite, with the citation "Les Lions dans leurs tanières tremblent en le voyant approcher" (The lions in their dens tremble at his approach). Patton oversaw the conversion of Casablanca into a military port and hosted the Casablanca Conference in January 1943.
On March 6, 1943, following the defeat of the U.S. II Corps by the German Afrika Korps at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, Patton replaced Major General Lloyd Fredendall as commander of the II Corps and was promoted to lieutenant general. Soon thereafter, he had Omar Bradley reassigned to his corps as its deputy commander. With orders to take the battered and demoralized formation into action in 10 days' time, Patton immediately introduced sweeping changes, ordering all soldiers to wear clean, pressed and complete uniforms, establishing rigorous schedules, and requiring strict adherence to military protocol. He continuously moved throughout the command talking with men, seeking to shape them into effective soldiers. He pushed them hard, and sought to reward them well for their accomplishments. His uncompromising leadership style is evidenced by his orders for an attack on a hill position near Gafsa which are reported to have ended "I expect to see such casualties among officers, particularly staff officers, as will convince me that a serious effort has been made to capture this objective".
Patton's training was effective, and on March 17, the U.S. 1st Infantry Division took Gafsa, winning the Battle of El Guettar, and pushing a German and Italian armored force back twice. In the meantime, on April 5, he removed Major General Orlando Ward, the commander of the 1st Armored Division, after its lackluster performance at Maknassy against numerically inferior German forces. Advancing on Gabès, Patton's corps pressured the Mareth Line. During this time, he reported to British Army commander Harold Alexander, and came into conflict with Air Vice Marshal Arthur Coningham about the lack of close air support being provided for his troops. When Coningham dispatched three officers to Patton's headquarters to persuade him that the British were providing ample air support, they came under German air attack mid-meeting, and part of the ceiling of Patton's office collapsed around them. Speaking later of the German pilots who had struck, Patton remarked, "if I could find the sons of bitches who flew those planes, I'd mail each of them a medal." By the time his force reached Gabès, the Germans had abandoned it. He then relinquished command of II Corps to Bradley, and returned to the I Armored Corps in Casablanca to help plan Operation Husky. Fearing U.S. troops would be sidelined, he convinced British commanders to allow them to continue fighting through to the end of the Tunisia Campaign before leaving on this new assignment.
For Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, Patton was to command the Seventh United States Army, dubbed the Western Task Force, in landings at Gela, Scoglitti and Licata to support landings by Bernard Montgomery's British Eighth Army. Patton's I Armored Corps was officially redesignated the Seventh Army just before his force of 90,000 landed before dawn on D-Day, July 10, 1943, on beaches near the town of Licata. The armada was hampered by wind and weather, but despite this the three U.S. infantry divisions involved, the 3rd, 1st, and 45th, secured their respective beaches. They then repulsed counterattacks at Gela, where Patton personally led his troops against German reinforcements from the Hermann Göring Division.
Initially ordered to protect the British forces' left flank, Patton was granted permission by Alexander to take Palermo after Montgomery's forces became bogged down on the road to Messina. As part of a provisional corps under Major General Geoffrey Keyes, the 3rd Infantry Division under Major General Lucian Truscott covered 100 miles (160 km) in 72 hours, arriving at Palermo on July 21. He then set his sights on Messina. He sought an amphibious assault, but it was delayed by lack of landing craft, and his troops did not land at Santo Stefano until August 8, by which time the Germans and Italians had already evacuated the bulk of their troops to mainland Italy. He ordered more landings on August 10 by the 3rd Infantry Division, which took heavy casualties but pushed the German forces back, and hastened the advance on Messina. A third landing was completed on August 16, and by 22:00 that day Messina fell to his forces. By the end of the battle, the 200,000-man Seventh Army had suffered 7,500 casualties, and killed or captured 113,000 Axis troops and destroyed 3,500 vehicles. Still, 40,000 German and 70,000 Italian troops escaped to Italy with 10,000 vehicles.
Patton's conduct in this campaign met with several controversies. When Alexander sent a transmission on July 19 limiting Patton's attack on Messina, his chief of staff, Brigadier General Hobart Gay, claimed the message was "lost in transmission" until Messina had fallen. On July 22 he shot and killed a pair of mules that had stopped while pulling a cart across a bridge. The cart was blocking the way of a U.S. armored column which was under attack from German aircraft. When their Sicilian owner protested, Patton attacked him with a walking stick and pushed the two mules off of the bridge. When informed of the massacre of Italian prisoners at Biscari by troops under his command, Patton wrote in his diary, "I told Bradley that it was probably an exaggeration, but in any case to tell the officer to certify that the dead men were snipers or had attempted to escape or something, as it would make a stink in the press and also would make the civilians mad. Anyhow, they are dead, so nothing can be done about it." Patton also came into frequent disagreements with Terry de la Mesa Allen, Sr., and Theodore Roosevelt Jr., and acquiesced to their relief by Bradley.
Slapping incidents and aftermath
Two high-profile incidents of Patton striking subordinates during the Sicily campaign attracted national controversy following the end of the campaign. On August 3, 1943, Patton slapped and verbally abused Private Charles H. Kuhl at an evacuation hospital in Nicosia after he had been found to suffer from "battle fatigue." On August 10, Patton slapped Private Paul G. Bennett under similar circumstances. Ordering both soldiers back to the front lines, Patton railed against cowardice and issued orders to his commanders to discipline any soldier making similar complaints.
Word of the incident reached Eisenhower, who privately reprimanded Patton and insisted he apologize. Patton apologized to both soldiers individually, as well as to doctors who witnessed the incidents, and later to all of the soldiers under his command in several speeches. Eisenhower suppressed the incident in the media, but in November journalist Drew Pearson revealed it on his radio program. Criticism of Patton in the United States was harsh, and included members of Congress and former generals, Pershing among them. The views of the general public remained mixed on the matter, and eventually Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson stated that Patton must be retained as a commander because of the need for his "aggressive, winning leadership in the bitter battles which are to come before final victory."
Patton did not command a force in combat for 11 months. In September, Bradley, who was Patton's junior in both rank and experience, was selected to command the First United States Army forming in England to prepare for Operation Overlord. This decision had been made before the slapping incidents were made public, but Patton blamed them for his being denied the command. Eisenhower felt the invasion of Europe was too important to risk any uncertainty, and the slapping incidents had been an example of Patton's inability to exercise discipline and self-control. While Eisenhower and Marshall both felt Patton's skill as a combat commander was invaluable, they felt Bradley was less impulsive and prone to making mistakes. On January 26, 1944, Patton was formally given command of the Third United States Army in England, a newly arrived unit, and assigned to prepare its inexperienced soldiers for combat in Europe. This duty kept Patton busy in early 1944 preparing for the pending invasion.
The German High Command still had more respect for Patton than for any other Allied commander and considered him central to any plan to invade Europe from the United Kingdom. Because of this, Patton was made a prominent figure in the deception operation, Fortitude, in early 1944. The Allies fed German spies a steady stream of false intelligence that Patton had been named commander of the First United States Army Group (FUSAG) and was preparing this command for an invasion of Pas de Calais. The FUSAG command was in reality an intricately constructed "phantom" army of decoys, props, and fake signals traffic based around Dover to mislead German aircraft and to make Axis leaders believe a large force was massing there to mask the real location of the invasion in Normandy. Patton was ordered to keep a low profile to deceive the Germans into thinking he was in Dover throughout early 1944, when he was actually training the Third Army. As a result of Operation Fortitude, the German 15th Army remained at Pas de Calais to defend against Patton's supposed attack. This formation held its position even after the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. Patton flew into France a month later and returned to combat duty.
Normandy breakout offensive
Sailing to Normandy throughout July, Patton's Third Army formed on the extreme right (west) of the Allied land forces.[Note 3] Patton's Third Army became operational at noon on August 1, 1944, under Bradley's Twelfth United States Army Group. The Third Army simultaneously attacked west into Brittany, south, east toward the Seine, and north, assisting in trapping several hundred thousand German soldiers in the Falaise Pocket between Falaise and Argentan.
Patton's strategy with his army favored speed and aggressive offensive action, though his forces saw less opposition than did the other three Allied field armies in the initial weeks of its advance. The Third Army typically employed forward scout units to determine enemy strength and positions. Self-propelled artillery moved with the spearhead units and was sited well forward, ready to engage protected German positions with indirect fire. Light aircraft such as the Piper L-4 Cub served as artillery spotters and provided airborne reconnaissance. Once located, the armored infantry would attack using tanks as infantry support. Other armored units would then break through enemy lines and exploit any subsequent breach, constantly pressuring withdrawing German forces to prevent them from regrouping and reforming a cohesive defensive line. The U.S. armor advanced using reconnaissance by fire, and the .50 caliber M2 Browning heavy machine gun proved effective in this duty, often flushing out and killing German panzerfaust teams waiting in ambush as well as breaking up German infantry assaults against the armored infantry.
The speed of the advance forced Patton's units to rely heavily on air reconnaissance and tactical air support. The Third Army had by far more military intelligence (G-2) officers at headquarters specifically designated to coordinate air strikes than any other army. Its attached close air support group was XIX Tactical Air Command, commanded by Brigadier General Otto P. Weyland. Developed originally by General Elwood Quesada of IX Tactical Air Command for the First Army in Operation Cobra, the technique of "armored column cover", in which close air support was directed by an air traffic controller in one of the attacking tanks, was used extensively by the Third Army. Each column was protected by a standing patrol of three to four P-47 and P-51 fighter-bombers as a combat air patrol (CAP).
In its advance from Avranches to Argentan, the Third Army traversed 60 miles (97 km) in just two weeks. Patton's force was supplemented by Ultra intelligence for which he was briefed daily by his G-2, Colonel Oscar W. Koch, who apprised him of German counterattacks, and where to concentrate his forces. Equally important to the advance of Third Army columns in northern France was the rapid advance of the supply echelons. Third Army logistics were overseen by Colonel Walter J. Muller, Patton's G-4, who emphasized flexibility, improvisation, and adaptation for Third Army supply echelons so forward units could rapidly exploit a breakthrough. Patton's rapid drive to Lorraine demonstrated his keen appreciation for the technological advantages of the U.S. Army. The major U.S. and Allied advantages were in mobility and air superiority. The U.S. Army had a greater number of trucks, more reliable tanks, and better radio communications, which all contributed to a superior ability to operate at a rapid offensive pace.
Patton's offensive came to a halt on August 31, 1944, as the Third Army ran out of fuel near the Moselle River, just outside of Metz. Patton expected that the theater commander would keep fuel and supplies flowing to support successful advances, but Eisenhower favored a "broad front" approach to the ground-war effort, believing that a single thrust would have to drop off flank protection, and would quickly lose its punch. Still within the constraints of a very large effort overall, Eisenhower gave Montgomery and his Twenty First Army Group a higher priority for supplies for Operation Market Garden. Combined with other demands on the limited resource pool, this resulted in the Third Army exhausting its fuel supplies. Patton believed his forces were close enough to the Siegfried Line that he remarked to Bradley that with 400,000 gallons of gasoline he could be in Germany within two days. In late September, a large German Panzer counterattack sent expressly to stop the advance of Patton's Third Army was defeated by the U.S. 4th Armored Division at the Battle of Arracourt. Despite the victory, the Third Army stayed in place as a result of Eisenhower's order. The German commanders believed this was because their counterattack had been successful.
The halt of the Third Army during the month of September was enough to allow the Germans to strengthen the fortress of Metz. In October and November, the Third Army was mired in a near-stalemate with the Germans during the Battle of Metz, with heavy casualties on both sides. By mid-November, however, Metz had fallen to the Americans. Patton's decisions in taking this city were criticized. German commanders interviewed after the war noted he could have bypassed the city and moved north to Luxembourg where he would have been able to cut off the German Seventh Army. The German commander of Metz, General Hermann Balck, also noted that a more direct attack would have resulted in a more decisive Allied victory in the city. Historian Carlo D'Este later wrote that the Lorraine Campaign was one of Patton's least successful, faulting him for not deploying his divisions more aggressively and decisively. With supplies low and priority given to Montgomery until the port of Antwerp could be opened, Patton remained frustrated at the lack of progress of his forces. From November 8 to December 15, his army advanced no more than 40 miles (64 km).
Battle of the Bulge
In December 1944, the German army, under the command of German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, launched a last-ditch offensive across Belgium, Luxembourg, and northeastern France. On December 16, 1944, it massed 29 divisions totaling 250,000 men at a weak point in the Allied lines, and during the early stages of the ensuing Battle of the Bulge, made significant headway towards the Meuse River during one of the worst winters Europe had seen in years. Eisenhower called a meeting of all senior Allied commanders on the Western Front to a headquarters near Verdun on the morning of December 19 to plan strategy and a response to the German assault.
At the time, Patton's Third Army was engaged in heavy fighting near Saarbrücken. Guessing the intent of the Allied command meeting, Patton ordered his staff to make three separate operational contingency orders to disengage elements of the Third Army from its present position and begin offensive operations toward several objectives in the area of the bulge occupied by German forces. At the Supreme Command conference, Eisenhower led the meeting, which was attended by Patton, Bradley, General Jacob Devers, Major General Kenneth Strong, Deputy Supreme Commander Air Chief Marshal Arthur Tedder, and a large number of staff officers. When Eisenhower asked Patton how long it would take him to disengage six divisions of his Third Army and commence a counterattack north to relieve the U.S. 101st Airborne Division which had been trapped at Bastogne, Patton replied, "As soon as you're through with me." Patton then clarified that he had already worked up an operational order for a counterattack by three full divisions on December 21, then only 48 hours away. Eisenhower was incredulous: "Don't be fatuous, George. If you try to go that early you won't have all three divisions ready and you'll go piecemeal." Patton replied that his staff already had a contingency operations order ready to go. Still unconvinced, Eisenhower ordered Patton to attack the morning of December 22, using at least three divisions.
Patton left the conference room, phoned his command, and uttered two words: "Play ball." This code phrase initiated a prearranged operational order with Patton's staff, mobilizing three divisions – the 4th Armored Division, the U.S. 80th Infantry Division, and the U.S. 26th Infantry Division – from the Third Army and moving them north toward Bastogne. In all, Patton would reposition six full divisions, U.S. III Corps and U.S. XII Corps, from their positions on the Saar River front along a line stretching from Bastogne to Diekirch and to Echternach. Within a few days, more than 133,000 Third Army vehicles were re-routed into an offensive that covered a combined distance of 1,500,000 miles (2,400,000 km), followed by support echelons carrying 62,000 tonnes (61,000 long tons; 68,000 short tons) of supplies.
On December 21 Patton met with Bradley to review the impending advance, starting the meeting by remarking, "Brad, this time the Kraut's stuck his head in the meat grinder, and I've got hold of the handle." Patton then argued that his Third Army should attack toward Koblenz, cutting off the bulge at the base and trap the entirety of the German armies involved in the offensive. After briefly considering this, Bradley vetoed this proposal, as he was less concerned about killing large numbers of Germans than he was in arranging for the relief of Bastogne before it was overrun. Desiring good weather for his advance, which would permit close ground support by U.S. Army Air Forces tactical aircraft, Patton ordered the Third Army chaplain, Colonel James Hugh O'Neill, to compose a suitable prayer: "Almighty and most 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 hearken 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." When the weather cleared soon after, Patton awarded O'Neill a Bronze Star Medal on the spot.
On December 26, 1944, the first spearhead units of the Third Army's 4th Armored Division reached Bastogne, opening a corridor for relief and resupply of the besieged forces. Patton's ability to disengage six divisions from front line combat during the middle of winter, then wheel north to relieve Bastogne was one of his most remarkable achievements during the war. He later wrote that the relief of Bastogne was "the most brilliant operation we have thus far performed, and it is in my opinion the outstanding achievement of the war. This is my biggest battle."
Advance into Germany
By February, the Germans were in full retreat. On February 23, 1945, the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Army's 94th Infantry Division (United States) under command of Lt. Col. William A. McNulty crossed the Saar and established a vital bridgehead at Serrig through which Patton pushed units into the Saarland. Patton had insisted upon an immediate crossing of the Saar River against the advice of his officers. Despite McNulty's diligent preparation at considerable personal risk, the crossing was difficult. Two points of attempted fording had to be abandoned. Historians argue that Patton allowed his personal ambition to compromise his command decision. Once again, however, Patton found other commands given priority on gasoline and supplies. To obtain these, Third Army ordnance units passed themselves off as First Army personnel and in one incident they secured thousands of gallons of gasoline from a First Army dump. Between January 29 and March 22, the Third Army took Trier, Coblenz, Bingen, Worms, Mainz, Kaiserslautern, and Ludwigshafen, killing or wounding 99,000 and capturing 140,112 German soldiers, which represented virtually all of the remnants of the German First and Seventh Armies. An example of Patton's sarcastic wit was broadcast when he received orders to by-pass Trier, as it had been decided that four divisions would be needed to capture it. When the message arrived, Trier had already fallen. Patton rather caustically replied: "Have taken Trier with two divisions. Do you want me to give it back?"
The Third Army began crossing the Rhine River after constructing a bridge on March 22, and he slipped a division across the river that evening. Patton later boasted he had urinated into the river as he crossed.
On March 26, 1945, Patton sent Task Force Baum, consisting of 314 men, 16 tanks, and assorted other vehicles, 50 miles (80 km) behind German lines to liberate a prisoner of war camp, OFLAG XIII-B near Hammelburg. One of the inmates was Patton's son-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters, who had been captured in North Africa. The raid was a failure, and only 35 men made it back; the rest were either killed or captured, and all 57 vehicles were lost. Major General Gunther von Goeckel, the camp commandant, called for Waters to try to arrange a truce. He agreed to act as intermediary and along with several men, including one German officer, volunteered to exit the camp to meet with the Americans. Before the German officer could explain the situation to his countrymen, Waters was shot in the buttocks by an uninformed German soldier as he approached the American column. He was taken back and treated for his wounds by Serbian doctors interned in the camp. When Eisenhower learned of the secret mission, he was furious. Patton later reported it was the only mistake he made during the war. He felt the correct decision would have been to send a Combat Command, a force about three times larger.
By April, resistance against the Third Army was tapering off, and the forces' main efforts turned to managing some 400,000 German prisoners of war. On April 14, 1945, Patton was promoted to general, a promotion long advocated by Stimson in recognition of Patton's battle accomplishments during 1944. Later that month, Patton, Bradley and Eisenhower toured the Merkers salt mine as well as the Ohrdruf concentration camp, and seeing the conditions of the camp firsthand caused Patton great disgust. Third Army was ordered toward Bavaria and Czechoslovakia, anticipating a last stand by Nazi German forces there. He was reportedly appalled to learn the Red Army would take Berlin, feeling the Soviet Union was a threat to the U.S. Patton's army advanced to Pilsen, but was stopped by Eisenhower from reaching Prague before V-E Day and the end of the war in Europe.
In its advance from the Rhine to the Elbe, Patton's Third Army, which numbered between 250,000 and 300,000 men at any given time, captured 32,763 square miles (84,860 km2) of German territory. Its losses were 2,102 killed, 7,954 wounded, and 1,591 missing. German losses in the fighting against the Third Army totaled 20,100 killed, 47,700 wounded, and 653,140 captured.
Between becoming operational in Normandy on August 1, 1944, and the end of hostilities on May 9, 1945, the Third Army was in continuous combat for 281 days. In that time, it crossed 24 major rivers and captured 81,500 square miles (211,000 km2) of territory, including more than 12,000 cities and towns. The Third Army claimed to have killed, wounded, or captured 1,811,388 German soldiers, six times its strength in personnel. Fuller's review of Third Army records differs only in the number of enemy killed and wounded, stating that between August 1, 1944, and May 9, 1945, 47,500 of the enemy were killed, 115,700 wounded, and 1,280,688 captured, for a total of 1,443,888.
Patton asked for a command in the Pacific Theater of Operations, begging Marshall to bring him to that war in any way possible, and Marshall said he would be able to do so only if the Chinese secured a major port for his entry, an unlikely scenario. In mid-May, Patton flew to Paris, then London for rest. On June 7, he arrived in Bedford, Massachusetts, for extended leave with his family, and was greeted by thousands of spectators. Patton then drove to Hatch Memorial Shell and spoke to some 20,000, including a crowd of 400 wounded Third Army veterans. In this speech he aroused some controversy among the Gold Star Mothers when he insinuated that men who die in battle are "fools" and that the real war heroes are the wounded. Patton spent time in Boston before visiting and speaking in Denver and visiting Los Angeles, where he spoke to a crowd of 100,000 at the Memorial Coliseum. Patton made a final stop in Washington, D.C. before returning to Europe in July to serve in the occupation forces.
Patton was appointed military governor of Bavaria, where he led the Third Army in denazification efforts. Patton was particularly upset when learning of the end of the war against Japan, writing in his diary, "Yet another war has come to an end, and with it my usefulness to the world." Unhappy with his position and depressed by his belief that he would never fight in another war, Patton's behavior and statements became increasingly erratic. Various explanations beyond his disappointments have been proposed for Patton's behavior at this point. Carlo D'Este wrote that "it seems virtually inevitable ... that Patton experienced some type of brain damage from too many head injuries" from a lifetime of numerous auto- and horse-related accidents, especially one suffered while playing polo in 1936. Patton's niece appeared again; they spent some time together in London in 1944, and again in Bavaria in 1945. Gordon actually loved a young married captain who left her despondent when he went home to his wife in September 1945. Patton repeatedly boasted of his sexual success with this young woman but his biographers are skeptical. Hirshson says the relationship was casual. Showalter believes that Patton, under severe physical and psychological stress, made up claims of sexual conquest to prove his virility. D'Este agrees, saying, "His behavior suggests that in both 1936 [in Hawaii] and 1944–45, the presence of the young and attractive Jean was a means of assuaging the anxieties of a middle-aged man troubled over his virility and a fear of aging."
Patton attracted controversy as military governor when it was noted that several former Nazi Party members continued to hold political posts in the region. When responding to the press about the subject, Patton repeatedly compared Nazis to Democrats and Republicans in noting that most of the people with experience in infrastructure management had been compelled to join the party in the war, causing negative press stateside and angering Eisenhower. On September 28, 1945, after a heated exchange with Eisenhower over his statements, Patton was relieved of his military governorship. He was relieved of command of the Third Army on 7 October, and in a somber change of command ceremony, Patton concluded his farewell remarks, "All good things must come to an end. The best thing that has ever happened to me thus far is the honor and privilege of having commanded the Third Army."
Patton's final assignment was to command the Fifteenth United States Army based in Bad Nauheim. The Fifteenth Army at this point consisted only of a small headquarters staff tasked to compile a history of the war in Europe. Patton had accepted the post because of his love of history, but quickly lost interest in the duty. He began traveling, visiting Paris, Rennes, Chartres, Brussels, Metz, Reims, Luxembourg, and Verdun, as well as Stockholm where he reunited with other athletes from the 1912 Olympics. Patton decided he would leave his post at the Fifteenth Army and not return to Europe once he left on December 10 for Christmas leave. He intended to discuss with his wife whether he would continue in a stateside post or retire.
On December 8, 1945, Patton's chief of staff, Major General Hobart Gay, invited him on a pheasant hunting trip near Speyer to lift his spirits. At 11:45 on December 9, Patton and Gay were riding in Patton's 1938 Cadillac Model 75 staff car driven by Private First Class Horace L. Woodring when they stopped at a railroad intersection to allow a train to pass. Patton, observing derelict cars along the side of the road, spoke as the car crossed the railroad track, "How awful war is. Think of the waste." Woodring glanced away from the road when a 2½ ton GMC truck driven by Technical Sergeant Robert L. Thompson, who was en route to a quartermaster depot, suddenly made a left turn in front of the car. Woodring slammed the brakes and turned sharply to the left, colliding with the truck at a low speed.
Woodring, Thompson, and Gay were only slightly injured in the crash, but Patton had not been able to brace in time and hit his head on the glass partition in the back seat of the car. He began bleeding from a gash to the head and complained to Gay and Woodring that he was paralyzed and was having trouble breathing. Taken to a hospital in Heidelberg, Patton was discovered to have a compression fracture and dislocation of the third and fourth vertebrae, resulting in a broken neck and cervical spinal cord injury which rendered him paralyzed from the neck down. He spent most of the next 12 days in spinal traction to decrease spinal pressure. Although in some pain from this procedure, he reportedly never complained about it. All non-medical visitors, save for Patton's wife, who had flown from the U.S., were forbidden. Patton, who had been told he had no chance to ever again ride a horse or resume normal life, at one point commented, "This is a hell of a way to die." He died in his sleep of a pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure at about 18:00 on December 21, 1945. Patton was buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Luxembourg alongside other wartime casualties of the Third Army, per his request to "be buried with my men."
Patton's colorful personality, hard-driving leadership style and success as a commander, combined with his frequent political missteps, produced a mixed and often contradictory image. Patton's great oratory skill is seen as integral to his ability to inspire troops under his command. Historian Terry Brighton concluded that Patton was "arrogant, publicity-seeking and personally flawed, but ... among the greatest generals of the war." Still, Patton's impact on armored warfare and leadership were substantial, with the U.S. Army adopting many of Patton's aggressive strategies for its training programs following his death. Many military officers claim inspiration from his legacy. The first U.S. tank designed after the war became the M46 Patton.
Several actors have portrayed Patton on screen, the most famous being George C. Scott in the 1970 film Patton. He reprised the role in 1986 for the television miniseries The Last Days of Patton. Scott's iconic depiction of Patton, particularly of his famous speech to the Third Army, earned him an Academy Award, and was instrumental in bringing Patton into popular culture as a folk hero. Other actors who have portrayed Patton include Stephen McNally in the 1957 episode "The Patton Prayer" of the ABC religion anthology series, Crossroads, John Larch in the 1963 film Miracle of the White Stallions, Kirk Douglas in the 1966 film Is Paris Burning?, George Kennedy in the 1978 film Brass Target, Darren McGavin in the 1979 miniseries Ike, Robert Prentiss in the 1988 film Pancho Barnes, Mitchell Ryan in the 1989 film Double Exposure: The Story of Margaret Bourke-White, Lawrence Dobkin in a 1989 episode of the miniseries War and Remembrance, Edward Asner in the 1997 film The Long Way Home, Dan Higgins in a 2006 episode of the miniseries Man, Moment, Machine, and Kelsey Grammer in the 2008 film An American Carol.
Patton deliberately cultivated a flashy, distinctive image in the belief that this would inspire his troops. He carried an ivory-handled, Smith & Wesson Model 27 .357 Magnum. He was usually seen wearing a highly polished helmet, riding pants, and high cavalry boots. He was known to oversee training maneuvers from atop a tank painted red, white and blue. His jeep bore oversized rank placards on the front and back, as well as a klaxon horn which would loudly announce his approach from afar. He proposed a new uniform for the emerging Tank Corps, featuring polished buttons, a gold helmet, and thick, dark padded suits; the proposal was derided in the media as "the Green Hornet," and was rejected by the Army. Historian Alan Axelrod wrote that "for Patton, leadership was never simply about making plans and giving orders, it was about transforming oneself into a symbol." Patton intentionally expressed a conspicuous desire for glory, atypical of the officer corps of the day which emphasized blending in with troops on the battlefield. He was an admirer of Admiral Horatio Nelson for his actions in leading the Battle of Trafalgar in a full dress uniform. Patton had a preoccupation with bravery, wearing his rank insignia conspicuously in combat, and at one point during World War I rode atop a tank into a German-controlled village seeking to inspire courage in his men. He was also a staunch fatalist, and was unabashed in his belief in reincarnation, specifically that he may have been a military leader killed in action in Napoleon's army in a previous life, or a Roman legionary.
Patton developed an ability to deliver charismatic speeches, in part because he had trouble with reading. He used profanity heavily in his speech, which generally was enjoyed by troops under his command but offended other generals, including Bradley. The most famous of his speeches were a series he delivered to the Third Army prior to Operation Overlord. When speaking, he was known for his bluntness and witticism; he once said, "The two most dangerous weapons the Germans have are our own armored halftrack and jeep. The halftrack because the boys in it go all heroic, thinking they are in a tank. The jeep because we have so many God-awful drivers." During the Battle of the Bulge, he famously remarked that the Allies should "let the sons-of-bitches [Germans] go all the way to Paris, then we'll cut them off and round them up." He also suggested facetiously that his Third Army could "drive the British back into the sea for another Dunkirk." As media scrutiny on Patton increased, his bluntness stirred a number of controversies, including when he was quoted in 1945 comparing Nazis to Democrats and Republicans, and again later that year when he attempted to honor several wounded veterans in a speech by calling them "the real heroes" of the war, unintentionally offending parents of soldiers who had been killed in action. His largest controversy came prior to Operation Overlord when he implied to reporters that the British and Americans, and not the Soviet Union, would dominate the post-war world, stirring tension among the already delicate alliance. Eisenhower stated that his lack of tact was a flaw which limited his leadership potential, in spite of his many accomplishments.
As a leader, Patton was known to be highly critical, correcting subordinates mercilessly for the slightest infractions, but also being quick to praise their accomplishments. While he garnered a reputation as a general who was both impatient and impulsive and had little tolerance for officers who had failed to succeed, he fired only one general during World War II, Orlando Ward, and only after two warnings, whereas Bradley sacked numerous generals during the war. Patton reportedly had the utmost respect for the men serving in his command, particularly the wounded, although he tended to classify cases of psychological battlefield breakdown, today identified as post-traumatic stress disorder, as "malingering." Many of his directives showed special trouble to care for the enlisted men under his command, and he was well known for arranging extra supplies for battlefield soldiers, including blankets and extra socks, galoshes, and other items normally in short supply at the front.
Patton remained outspoken but unabashed in his feelings of racism throughout his life. His attitudes were likely cultivated from his privileged upbringing and family roots in the Confederate South. Privately he wrote of African American soldiers: "Individually they were good soldiers, but I expressed my belief at the time, and have never found the necessity of changing it, that a colored soldier cannot think fast enough to fight in armor." However, he also stated that performance was more important than race or religious affiliation: "I don't give a damn who the man is. He can be a n***** or a Jew, but if he has the stuff and does his duty, he can have anything I've got. By God! I love him." In spite of these views, Patton called heavily on the African American troops under his command. After reading the Koran and observing North Africans, he wrote to his wife, "Just finished reading the Koran – a good book and interesting." Patton had a keen eye for native customs and methods and wrote knowingly of local architecture; he once rated the progress of word-of-mouth rumor in Arab country at 40–60 miles (64–97 km) a day. In spite of his regard for the Koran, he concluded, "To me it seems certain that the fatalistic teachings of Mohammad and the utter degradation of women is the outstanding cause for the arrested development of the Arab ... Here, I think, is a text for some eloquent sermon on the virtues of Christianity." Patton was impressed with the Soviet Union but was disdainful of Russians as "drunks" with "no regard for human life." Later in life he also began to express growing feelings of antisemitism and anticommunism, as a result of his frequent controversies in the press.
As viewed by Allied and Axis leaders
On February 1, 1945, Eisenhower wrote a memo ranking the military capabilities of his subordinate American generals in Europe. Bradley and Army Air Force General Carl Spaatz shared the number one position, while Walter Bedell Smith was ranked number two, and Patton number three. Eisenhower revealed his reasoning in a 1946 review of the book Patton and his Third Army: "George Patton was the most brilliant commander of an army in the open field that our or any other service produced. But his army was part of a whole organization and his operations part of a great campaign." Eisenhower believed that other generals such as Bradley should be given the credit for planning the successful Allied campaigns across Europe in which Patton was merely "a brilliant executor". Notwithstanding Eisenhower's estimation of Patton's abilities as a strategic planner, his overall view of Patton's military value in achieving Allied victory in Europe can best be seen in Eisenhower's refusal to even consider sending Patton home after the slapping incidents of 1943, after which he privately remarked, "Patton is indispensable to the war effort – one of the guarantors of our victory." As Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy told Eisenhower: "Lincoln's remark after they got after Grant comes to mind when I think of Patton – 'I can't spare this man, he fights'." After Patton's death, Eisenhower would write his own tribute: "He was one of those men born to be a soldier, an ideal combat leader ... It is no exaggeration to say that Patton's name struck terror at the hearts of the enemy."
Bradley's view of Patton was decidedly negative. Patton received scant praise in Bradley's memoirs, in which the latter made it clear that had he been Patton's superior in Sicily in 1943, he not only would have relieved Patton of command immediately but "would have had nothing more to do with him". The two men were polar opposites in personality, and there is considerable evidence that Bradley disliked Patton both personally and professionally. President Franklin D. Roosevelt appeared to greatly esteem Patton and his abilities, stating "he is our greatest fighting general, and sheer joy." On the other hand, Roosevelt's successor, Harry S. Truman, appears to have taken an instant dislike to Patton, at one point comparing both him and Douglas MacArthur to George Armstrong Custer.
For the most part, British commanders did not hold Patton in high regard. Field Marshal Alan Brooke noted in January 1943 that "I had heard of him, but I must confess that his swashbuckling personality exceeded my expectation. I did not form any high opinion of him, nor had I any reason to alter this view at any later date. A dashing, courageous, wild and unbalanced leader, good for operations requiring thrust and push but at a loss in any operation requiring skill and judgment." One possible exception was Montgomery. Although the latter's rivalry with Patton was well known, Montgomery appears to have admired Patton's ability to command troops in the field, if not his strategic judgment. Other Allied commanders were more impressed, the Free French in particular. General Henri Giraud was incredulous when he heard of Patton's dismissal by Eisenhower in late 1945, and invited him to Paris to be decorated by President Charles de Gaulle at a state banquet. At the banquet, President de Gaulle gave a speech placing Patton's achievements alongside those of Napoleon. Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was apparently an admirer, stating that the Red Army could neither have planned nor executed Patton's rapid armored advance across France.
While Allied leaders expressed mixed feelings on Patton's capabilities, the German High Command was noted to have more respect for him than for any Allied commander after 1943. Adolf Hitler reportedly called him "that crazy cowboy general." Many German field commanders were generous in their praise of Patton's leadership following the war,[Note 4] and many of its highest commanders also held his abilities in high regard. Erwin Rommel credited Patton with executing "the most astonishing achievement in mobile warfare." Generaloberst Alfred Jodl, chief of staff of the German Army, stated that Patton "was the American Guderian. He was very bold and preferred large movements. He took big risks and won big successes." Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring noted that "Patton had developed tank warfare into an art, and understood how to handle tanks brilliantly in the field. I feel compelled, therefore, to compare him with Generalfeldmarschall Rommel, who likewise had mastered the art of tank warfare. Both of them had a kind of second sight in regard to this type of warfare." Referring to the escape of the Afrika Korps after the Battle of El Alamein, Fritz Bayerlein opined that "I do not think that General Patton would let us get away so easily." In an interview conducted for Stars and Stripes just after his capture, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt stated simply of Patton, "He is your best."
- Historians Carlo D'Este and Alan Axelrod note in their biographies of Patton that these difficulties were likely the result of undiagnosed dyslexia.
- George S. Patton Jr. considered his son to be the fourth generation to carry the name, following George Hugh Smith and George Smith Patton Sr.
- Patton's friend Gilbert R. Cook was his deputy commander, whom Patton later had to relieve due to illness, a decision which "shook him to the core."
- Among the opinions of Patton's abilities, Oberstleutnant Horst Freiherr von Wangenheim, operations officer of the 277th Volksgrenadier Division, stated that "General Patton is the most feared general on all fronts. [His] tactics are daring and unpredictable ... He is the most modern general and the best commander of [combined] armored and infantry forces." General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel, who had fought both Soviet and Anglo-American tank commanders, agreed: "Patton! No doubt about this. He was a brilliant Panzer army commander."
- D'Este 1995, p. 29.
- Brighton 2009, p. 17.
- Axelrod 2006, p. 13. Cite error: Invalid
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- Axelrod 2006, pp. 9–10.
- Zaloga 2010, p. 6.
- Axelrod 2006, pp. 11–12.
- Axelrod 2006, pp. 14–15.
- Axelrod 2006, pp. 28–29.
- Axelrod 2006, p. 35.
- Axelrod 2006, p. 65–66. Cite error: Invalid
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- Blumenson 1972, p. 92.
- Axelrod 2006, pp. 20.
- Zaloga 2010, p. 7.
- Axelrod 2006, pp. 21–23.
- Brighton 2009, p. 19.
- Axelrod 2006, p. 24.
- D'Este 1995, pp. 58, 131.
- Brighton 2009, p. 20.
- Axelrod 2006, pp. 26–27.
- Zaloga 2010, p. 8.
- Axelrod 2006, p. 30.
- Blumenson 1972, pp. 231–234.
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- Farago 1964, p. 790.
- Blumenson 1974, p. 655.
- Axelrod 2006, pp. 160–162. Cite error: Invalid
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- Wallace 1946, pp. 194–195.
- Fuller 2004, p. 254.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to George S. Patton.|
|Wikiquote has media related to: George S. Patton|
- Cadet Patton at VMI Virginia Military Institute Archives
- General George Patton Museum
- archived version of Patton Uncovered
- Lost Victory – Strasbourg, November 1944
- National Museum of Military History
- The General George S. Patton Story, United States Army, from The Big Picture, narrated by Ronald Reagan
- Booknotes interview with Carlo D'Este on Patton: A Genius for War, January 28, 1996.
- The short film The General George S. Patton Story is available for free download at the Internet Archive [more]
|Awards and achievements|
Sir Thomas Beecham
Walter F. George
|Cover of Time Magazine
April 12, 1943
July 26, 1943
April 9, 1945
Manuel Ávila Camacho
Simon Bolivar Buckner, Jr.
|Commanding General of the Third United States Army
Lucian K. Truscott
|Commanding General of the Seventh United States Army
July 10, 1943 – January 1, 1944
Mark Wayne Clark
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