General George S. Patton Jr.
November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945
The life and career of General Patton would in the least be called colorful. “Old Blood and Guts” as he was known by his troops was first and foremost a man with a deep belief in God and was well read in the Bible. He was also a great student of history, especially military history, and used the history of ancient battles and battlefields in his encounters with the Germans during WW2 and in particular with Field Marshall Erwin Rommel. A look at Patton’s life will show he was destined from birth to become the man he was. Most people are familiar with General Patton from the movie by the same name “Patton”. George C. Scott played the controversial General and the opening speech in front of a huge American flag gives the viewer a good idea of the General’s personality.
Early pre-military life:
“I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom.” George S. Patton
George Smith Patton Jr., Born November 11, 1885 in San Gabriel Township, California to parents George S. Patton Sr. and Ruth Wilson Patton. As a young boy George was constantly immersing himself in the study of the Revolutionary War and the Civil War in which several of his ancestors fought. During the Civil War George had many uncles that fought for the Confederacy thus sparking his keen interest in the battle tactics of Gen. Robert E. Lee widely believed to be one of Americas best Generals and tacticians. George’s favorite General while growing up was Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. As he grew older his interests progressed to ancient battles fought in early Europe. This knowledge would in the future serve him well when engaged in battle with famed German General Erwin Rommel. Patton also was a believer in reincarnation and envisioned himself as having lived as former warriors and a quote that is credited to him reads; ”So as through a glass and darkly, the age long strife I see, Where I fought in many guises, many names, but always me.” Some of the people Patton thought he had been in a former life were;
A prehistoric mammoth hunter
A Greek hoplite who fought the Persians
A soldier of Alexander the Great who fought at the siege of Tyre
A Roman legionary under Julius Caesar
An English knight during the Hundred Years War
A Napoleonic marshal
General Patton’s early military career:
“May God have mercy upon my enemies, because I won’t.” George S. Patton
In 1902 Patton enrolled at VMI (Virginia Military Institute) and within one year got an appointment to West Point that he gladly accepted because upon graduation he would receive an officer’s commission. Although not passing his first year at West Point because of failing grades in math he was allowed to take the year over again. Patton had suffered for years of the undiagnosed affliction of Dyslexia that plagued him throughout his life. During the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm Sweden Patton entered into the first Military Pentathlon where he placed 5th out of 46 who had entered. It was felt he should have won the event but scored poorly in the pistol shooting because of over training that had caused him to lose 30 pounds and had left him weak. Patton was firm believer in physical conditioning and had over trained.
In 1916 Patton accompanied Brigadier General John J Pershing as his aide during the Mexican Border War and the Mexican Expedition looking for Pancho Villa. Patton along with 10 soldiers from the 6th Infantry Regiment under orders to find and kill or capture General Julio Cardenas (Pancho Villa’s head of security). The General was found and killed and this action was to make Patton well known in the military ranks as a up and comer and someone to watch. Using automobiles for this action Patton liked to call it the Army’s first Mechanized Action. Patton was always one to make his adventures stand out from those of others.
“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.” George S. Patton
WW1 found recently promoted Capt. Patton accompanying General Pershing to France in command of Gen. Pershing’s Headquarters Troop that was part of the first contingent of the U.S. Army to sail to Europe. Capt. Patton petitioned Gen. Pershing for a combat command and was rewarded with command of the newly formed Army Tank Corps along with a promotion to Major. While he was observing the first large scale British tank battle at the Battle of Cambrai, Patton saw the terror and mass surrender of German troops as British tanks won the day and felt it was the most significant event to take place in history. He instinctively knew the face of war had changed forever. Newly promoted Lt. Col. Patton was wounded by machine gun fire at the Battle of St. Mihiel and often would drop his trousers to proudly show off his wound calling himself a “Half Assed General”. After the war Patton set up a school for tankers and trained the first 500 tankers
“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.” George S. Patton
After the war Patton was stationed at Ft. Myers, Va. in 1919 and met and became great friends with Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower who was also a great believer in Armored Warfare and the two of them spent many hours planning both offensive and defensive battle strategies for what both men thought would be another war in Europe. The two men would remain friends through many troubled times until Patton’s death on Dec. 9, 1945 due to a traffic accident.
“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.” George S. Patton
In Oct. of 1942 Patton was sent to North Africa as part of Operation Torch.
It was on Nov. 8, 1942 that Operation Torch was put into action with the landing being made at 3 different points in Morocco. The Western Force was made up of 3 American units, the U.S. Second Armored Division, the U.S. Third Infantry Division and the U.S. 9th Infantry Division and were commanded by Major General George S. Patton. There were 3 landing points in Morocco, Safi (Operation Blackstone), Fedala (Operation Brushwood) and Mehdiya (Operation Goalpost). There wasn’t the usual preliminary bombardment of the landing zones because it was thought that the French would not resist. This error in judgement and intelligence would cause many American casualties. “A side note was that one of the air units to provide air cover and ground support was the newly formed and deployed Tuskegee Airmen, the first all African American Army Air Corps unit to see battle and Operation Torch was their first enemy engagement. The Tuskegee Airmen also flew fighter escort for many American Bomber formations and one of their claims to fame was they lost only 25 bombers they escorted to attacking enemy aircraft.”
Operation Torch and the North African Campaign lasted from June 10, 1940 to May 13, 1943 with the German Army being driven out of North Africa. Patton spent a great deal of time analyzing the American and British battle with the Germans at the Kasserine Pass. Patton determined that the battle plan was riddled with flaws ranging from poor attack and defense plans to timid and indecisive leadership by both the American and British. Patton would use these lessons learned in his own battles with the Germans and specifically Field Marshal Rommel. General Eisenhower also came to the same conclusion and reassigned the American commanders to other assignments. On March 6 Eisenhower placed Major General George S, Patton in command of ll corps with orders to restructure and reorganize the ineffective and demoralized unit. Patton was the complete opposite of the previous commanders and was a hands on commander demanding only the best from his officers as well as the troops under their command. Patton was well known for his habit of not only promoting on the spot those in his commands who showed bravery and leadership in training and battle but also the other side of the coin by demoting and transferring out those who did not. Patton’s style of leadership caused him to be both loved and hated by his troops but his orders were also followed without hesitation. Patton also did not go unnoticed by the Germans who considered him the Americans best General and the one they feared the most.
In July of 1943 General Patton along with General Sir Bernard Montgomery launched Operation Husky. Patton and Montgomery differed greatly in their styles of engaging the enemy with Montgomery being more deliberate and cautious and taking his time while Patton was quick to attack and once he had the Germans retreating maintaining contact with them to either destroy them or drive them back even farther. Patton was assigned to cover Montgomeries Left Flank but was frustrated when Montgomery got bogged down fighting his way to Messina. Patton took the initiative on his own and moved swiftly to capture Palermo and then moved against Messina. This forced Montgomery to speed his attack up so as not to be overshadowed by his arch rival Patton. It was during this time period that Patton made his famous visit to a Field Hospital where he visited his wounded troops and while there was involved in his famous “Slapping Incident” of a soldier who was suffering from battle fatigue also calling him a coward. This action was to cause outrage stateside with the Senate calling for Patton’s removal from command. Subsequently General Eisenhower was forced to remove Patton from his command but did not send him home. Rather than that, Patton was put in command of the phantom 1st Army Group to fool the Germans into thinking the expected invasion would be led by Patton at the Pas-de-Calais. As mentioned previously the Germans considered Patton the Allies greatest General and diverted many of their reserve assets to deal with the intended invasion. (A short Editor’s note here: Although Patton should have not slapped these soldiers one should realize this was not done haphazardly or callously. Patton had a deep belief in Honor and Bravery and thought cowardice was infectious to unit integrity and moral. He also thought that this soldier who he thought a coward did not deserve to be with men who had been wounded in combat. Although his actions were seen as abusive by others Patton though it was a way to honor those whom he thought were brave men. There is still controversy among many as to his actions. )
“Men are at war with each other because each man is at war with himself.” George S Patton
In July of 1944 Patton was sent to Normandy after the D Day Invasion had been made and was put in command of 3rd Army. After the initial stalemate Patton’s 3rd Army advanced rapidly through a hole opened up in the German lines. Patton’s usual aggressiveness led to quick advances against a now desperate German Army. The desperate German operation to split the allies and capture the port of Antwerp was to go through the Ardennes. The attack was initially successful resulting in a bulge in the allied lines and was thus named the Battle of the Bulge. The city of Bastogne was under siege and was being held by the 101 Airborne and had been completely surrounded and cut off from reinforcements and resupply. The 101st was short of everything needed to fight a war. They were short of ammunition, food, clothing, medical supplies and men. The weather was cold and snowy with a thick cloud cover that grounded both air support and supply planes and it was feared by the Allied Command that the German army would over run it at any time. Patton’s 3rd Army was tasked with breaking through German lines to support and relieve the beleaguered 101st. Patton would later say that his advance to Bastogne was the greatest event in his life.
Patton and Montgomery would continue to race each other to see who could gain the most ground and who would reach the German heartland first. Patton’s 3rd Army was to finish the war by taking more enemy territory and causing more enemy casualties than any other army in American history while suffering amazingly few casualties as compared to other commands. The war ended but not the controversy that continued to surround Patton. Patton believed the the Soviets were a country and army that America would someday have to fight and thought it best to fight them then when they had the manpower in Europe. That opinion was not shared by the allies and Patton was eventually relieved of command of 3rd Army on December 7th 1945. On December 9th 1945 Patton was involved in a traffic accident with a truck while riding in his Limousine and later died of his injuries on December 21st 1945. Many people then as well as now think he had been murdered because of his continued condemnation of the Soviets but officially his death was listed as accidental.
General George S. Patton has gone down in history as both a brilliant and a controversial Commander. From his birth to his death he was a man of great ambition and dedication. One of his own quotes describes him best and he will be remembered as one of America’s greatest Generals.
“It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died. Rather we should thank God that such men lived.” General George S. Patton