George S. Patton Jr

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Born in San Gabriel, California on 11 November, 1885, there was little doubt that George Smith Patton Jr. would become a soldier. It was in his blood. He came from a family with an extensive military background. Members of his family fought for both the United States Army and Confederate States Amy during the American Civil War.

As a child Patton had difficulty learning to read and write but overcame this. He was described as an intelligent boy who was widely read on classical military history. He attended Virginia Military Institute, which his father and grandfather attended. While at Virginia he was nominated for West Point.

At West Point Patton excelled at military drills though his academic performance was so poor that he was forced to repeat his first year after failing mathematics. When he graduated from West Point on June 11, 1909 his was ranked 46 out of 103. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Cavalry Branch of the United States Army.

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 the Pancho Villa Expedition into Mexico. When Patton discovered that his unit would not participate he managed to get himself assigned as an aide to expedition commander John J. Pershing.

In mid-April Patton asked Pershing for the opportunity to command troops. He initial combat experience came on May 14, 1916 in what would become the first motorised attack in the history of US warfare. A force of 10 men and two civilian guides under Patton’s command in three Dodge touring cars surprised three of Villa’s men, killing all of them. Pershing was impressed and the media dubbed Patton the “bandit killer”. On May 23, 1916 Patton was promoted to first lieutenant.

World War I

After the United States entered World War I, Pershing was named commander of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) on the Western Front. Patton requested to join

his staff and was promoted to captain on May 15, 1917.

Acting as Pershing’s personal aide, Patton oversaw the training of American troops in Paris. Patton was not happy with the post and began to take an interest in tanks. At this time Pershing sought to give Patton command of an infantry battalion. While in hospital for jaundice, Patton met Colonel Fox Conner, who encouraged him to work with tanks instead of 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 where her drove a Renault FT light tank. He was promoted to major on January 26, 1917.

He received the first 10 tanks on March 23, 1918 at the Tank School at Bourg. As he was the only US 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 reluctant infantry officers. He was promoted to lieutenant colonel on April 3, 1918, and attended the Command and General Staff College in Langres.

He commanded American-crewed Renault FT tanks at the Battle of Saint-Mihiel, leading the tanks from the front for much of the attack. 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.

During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive on September 26, Patton was wounded while leading six men and a tank in an attack on German machine guns near the town of Cheppy. He 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.

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.

GOOD LUCK: George S. Patton (right) shakes hands with Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery.  While the fierce rivalry between them is well known, Montgomery actually had a lot of respect for the American.

Between the wars

On his return to the United States on March 2, 1919 Patton was assigned to Camp Meade in Maryland and reverted to his permanent rank of captain on June 30, 1920. The very next day he was promoted to major again. Loathing duty as a peacetime staff officer, he spent much time writing technical papers and giving speeches on his combat experiences at the General Staff College.

Some of the highlights of the inter-war years included his meeting Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would play a major role in his future. The two corresponded frequently and Patton sent Eisenhower notes and assistance to help him graduate from the General Staff College. 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.

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. Patton was promoted to lieutenant colonel in the regular Army on March 1, 1934, andto colonel on July 24, 1938 and given command of the 5th Cavalry at Fort Clark, Texas.

World War II

When the Germans invaded Poland on September 1, 1939 the U.S. military entered a period of mobilization, and Patton sought to build up the power of U.S. armoured forces.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 Commanding General of the 2nd Armoured Division.

 In December 1940, he staged a high-profile mass exercise in which 1,000 tanks and vehicles were driven from Columbus, Georgia, to Panama City, Florida, and back. He repeated the exercise with his entire division of 1,300 vehicles the next month. Patton earned a pilot’s license and, during these manoeuvres, observed the movements of his vehicles from the air to find ways to deploy them effectively in combat.

A reporter, after hearing a speech where Patton said that it took “blood and brains” to win in combat, began calling him “blood and guts”. The nickname would follow him for the rest of his life. Soldiers under his command were known at times to have quipped, “our blood, his guts”. Nonetheless, 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 Africa Campaign

Patton was assigned to help plan the Allied 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 on 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 OuissamAlaouite, with the citation “Les Lions dansleurstanièrestremblenten le voyantapprocher” (The lions in their dens tremble at his approach).

Sicily Campaign

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.

The slapping incidents

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 apologised 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.

Phantom Army

The German High Command 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. Through the British network of double-agents, the Allies fed German intelligence a steady stream of false reports about troops sightings and that Patton had been named commander of the First United States Army Group (FUSAG), all designed to convince the Germans that Patton was preparing this massive command for an invasion at Pas de Calais. FUSAG 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 so as 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.

Battle of the Bulge

Patton played a prominent role in both the Normandy breakout offensive and the Lorraine Campaign. During the Battle of the Bulge Patton was ordered to relieve 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.

The Final Push

By February 1945, the Germans were in full retreat. On February 23the U.S. 94th Infantry Division 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.

Once again, 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?

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 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 totalled 20,100 killed, 47,700 wounded, and 653,140 captured.

The End

After the war Patton was appointed military governor of Bavaria, where he led the Third Army in denazification efforts. Unhappy with his position and depressed by his belief that he would never fight in another war, Patton’s behaviour and statements became increasingly erratic.

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. Observing derelict cars along the side of the road, Patton said, “How awful war is. Think of the waste.” Moments later his car collided with an American army truck at low speed.

Gay and others were only slightly injured, but Patton hit his head on the glass partition in the back seat. Patton was discovered to have a compression fracture and dislocation of the cervical third and fourth vertebrae, resulting in a broken neck and cervical spinal cord injury that rendered him paralyzed from the neck down. He spent most of the next 12 days in spinal traction to decrease spinal pressure. All non-medical visitors, except 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 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 the Hamm district of Luxembourg City, alongside wartime casualties of the Third Army, per his request to “be buried with his men”.

What others said about Patton

 “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.”

Dwight D. Eisenhower

“He is our greatest fighting general, and sheer joy”.

Franklin D. Roosevelt

“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.”

British  Field Marshal Alan Brooke

“That crazy cowboy general”

Adolf Hitler

“Patton was the American Guderian. He was very bold and preferred large movements. He took big risks and won big successes.”

Generaloberst Alfred Jodl

“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.”

Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring

Target Patton

In a book released in 2008, Target Patton, the newly unearthed diaries of a colourful assassin for the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the forerunner of the CIA, reveal that American spy chiefs wanted Patton dead because he was threatening to expose allied collusion with the Russians that cost American lives.

Although he had suffered serious injuries in a car crash in Manheim, Patton was thought to be recovering and was on the verge of flying home.

But after a decade-long investigation, military historian Robert Wilcox claims that OSS head General “Wild Bill” Donovan ordered a highly decorated marksman called Douglas Bazata to silence Patton.

In interviews with Mr Bazata, who died in 1999, and extracts from his diaries, detailing how he staged the car crash by getting a troop truck to plough into Patton’s Cadillac and then shot the general with a low-velocity projectile, which broke his neck while his fellow passengers escaped without a scratch.

Mr Bazata also suggested that when Patton began to recover from his injuries, US officials turned a blind eye as agents of the NKVD, the forerunner of the KGB, poisoned the general.

Quotes by George S. Patton

  1. “A pint of sweat will save a gallon of blood.”
  2. “A good plan, violently executed now, is better than a perfect plan next week.”
  3. “Lead me, follow me, or get the hell out of my way.”
  4. “Do everything you ask of those you command.”
  5.  “Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
  6. “Many soldiers are led to faulty ideas of war by knowing too much about too little.”
  7. “Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity.
  8.  “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
  9. “Do more than is required of you.”
  10. “Moral courage is the most valuable and usually the most absent characteristic in men.”
  11. “I am a soldier, I fight where I am told, and I win where I fight.”

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