World War 2 was the bloodiest, largest, and most costly war the world had ever seen. But it had to be. It was basically a quasi re-match of World War 1 but the stakes had been raised significantly. This wasn’t a severely overblown land dispute/revenge mission. The Axis was looking to literally conquer the world, comic book villain style, and liquidate a large amount of the planet’s civilian population. The world was faced with the very real possibility of fascist rule by an oligarchy of clinically insane individuals. Times like these called for men of certain character. A warrior and a strategist who could make the Germans shake in their boots. We got better than that. We got Patton.
George Smith Patton Jr., was born on November 11, 1885 to George Patton Sr. and Ruth Wilson in San Gabriel Township, California. Patton came from a military family , with many distinguished ancestors, who had risen to some affluence in America. Patton spent much of his time as a child reading. He poured through volumes on various subjects from military strategy and history to classic literature and Shakespeare. Patton’s father was a friend of former Confederate Army cavalry commander John S. Mosby, and Patton spent many days listening to his war stories and dreaming of becoming an Army commander himself. Patton maintained fairly good grades all through out school and eventually enrolled at the prestigious Virginia Military Institute. But after only a year of enrollment he left for West Point. Due to poor grades in math from his first year at VMI, he was forced to repeat his previous “plebe” year. He did so with honors and was promoted to Cadet: Adjutant, the second highest position for any cadet. Patton graduated in 1909 and was commissioned as a cavalry officer into the United States Army.
1912 must have been a down year for the military because, that summer, Patton participated in the first ever modern Olympic pentathlon and actually finished in 5th place. Patton being Patton though, he had to stir up a bit of controversy. During the pistol shooting event Patton opted to use a higher caliber gun than the other competitors, a .38 caliber to the other participants standard .22. Patton claimed that he got a low score in the event, 20th out of 32, because his earlier shots tore huge holes in the target and some of his later shots passed through those holes and still should have counted. The judges denied his appeal and the incident was resolved amicably. He did so well overall though that he qualified for the 1916 Olympic games but WW 1 intervened, which we’ll get to shortly. But first, swordplay!
Following the 1912 Olympics, Patton began a tour of Europe looking for the land’s greatest swordsman. You’re reading that right. Patton was that badass. In Germany he was directed to Adjutant M. Clèry, master at arms of the French Army. Patton met Clery in Saumur, France and began an intense training period with the revered swordsman. In the Spring of 1913, Patton returned to America and wrote an article for the Cavalry Journal detailing what he had learned in France. He was then allowed to return to France to finish his training. Like any good Jedi does. That same year he assisted in the design of the cavalry’s new Saber, the Model 1913 Cavalry Saber. Having a unique design, it was later renamed the Patton Saber in his honor. Patton became the youngest person to ever receive the title “Master of the Sword” at the Mounted Service school at Fort Riley, Kansas. As “Master of the Sword”(by the way, I wish to be referred to from now on as “Master of the Sword”) Patton became a top instructor at the school and helped improve Army saber fencing technique. War was changing though and Patton’s new saber would never get a chance to prove itself as tanks and new gun technology made cavalry conflict almost obsolete. But Patton was starting to take a liking to these “armored horses”. After a quick trip into Mexico to fuck up some of Pancho Villa’s men, World War 1 was upon Patton and the rest of America.
When Patton arrived in France at the beginning of the war he was anxious to dive into the fight. After receiving a promotion to captain, Patton asked to be given a combat command. Patton was asked to take charge of the brand new United States Tank Corp, a task he gladly accepted, becoming the first officer assigned to the division. All throughout 1917, Patton toured the Allied posts instructing soldiers on tank driving and maneuvers. A student of cavalry technique, Patton saw that many of those principles could be worked to fit his tank corp. During this time Patton rose quickly to the rank of colonel. His quick, thorough construction and commencement of his tank training school had won him the admiration of his superiors, and his hands on motivational leadership had won him the loyalty of those who served under him. In March of 1918, Patton received his first ten tanks for combat and that fall was placed in charge of the 1st Provisional Tank Brigade under Colonel Samuel Rockenbach. Patton’s unit immediately saw combat in the final great battles of the war, Battle of Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. In September of that year, Patton was wounded in the right leg by German machine gun(MG) fire while under orders to lead an assault on the MG emplacement. 6 soldiers accompanied the tank,all of whom were killed. A fact Patton would never forget. Patton would have surely been killed too if he were not dragged to safety by his orderly, Private First ClassJoe Angelo. WW 1 ended on November 11, 1918 while Patton was still being treated in a hospital for his wounds. Joe Angelo would receive a Distinguished Service Cross for his heroic action in saving Patton’s life(and possibly, the world). Patton would receive the same honor for his exemplary service in Meuse-Argonne , as well as a Distinguished Service Medal, and a full promotion to colonel. Patton was one step closer to becoming the general he had dreamed of being as a child.
If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.
After the war Patton returned stateside to Washington D.C. and was given an assignment at Fort Riley, Kansas after he resumed his non wartime rank of captain. During his time in Washington Patton met and became friends with fellow captain, Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower shared Patton’s fascination with the tank corp and wanted to pick the brains of the best authorities on the subject. The two shared an assignment at Fort Riley and spent many hours going over theory and execution for tank combat. The two wrote a basic guidebook for armored combat that would go on to be used by the United States Army during WW 2. Patton wrote many articles detailing improvements he had in mind for tanks and worked feverishly to see them implemented. Patton believed in preparation above all else and he found the current tank corp sorely lacking. But his immediate superiors and the Congress had ignored he and Eisenhower’s plans and ideas for tank combat. Eisenhower pissed off more than a few superiors with his tenacity regarding the project. The MIC basically ignored the armored corp and Patton was beginning to see little future in it. In the early 1920’s Patton transferred back to the horse cavalry.
During this time Patton served in Hawaii and set about working on the island’s air defenses. Since WW 1 air combat had been moving forward by leaps and bounds and Patton saw Hawaii as a prime target. He even wrote a defense plan detailing a possible sneak attack by the Japanese Imperial Army a full decade before Pearl Harbor. So when I say master strategist, I mean master strategist. He wasn’t always right but, when he was, which was often, it was fucking brilliant. Patton had developed to a point where he simply thought 5 moves ahead of everyone else. One reason he was one of the most successful generals in US history.
Quick Patton anecdote: During his daughters wedding(1940), a couple who knew Patton from Hawaii(Restarick and Eleanor Jones Withington) decided to show up unannounced to the wedding. When they asked Patton if he was o.k. with them coming in uninvited, Patton unsheathed his sword and replied,”Restarick, if I’d found out you were within a hundred miles and NOT come, I’d have shoved this sword up your behind.” How can you not love this guy?
Let’s back up to the early 1930’s, since Wikipedia and Patton’s very short bio page seem to enjoy jumping around from date to date. In July of 1932, under command from Army Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur , then Major Patton led 600 troops including the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, into a confrontation with protesting veterans in Washington D.C., known as the“Bonus Army.
The Bonus Army was a collection of veteran’s, along with friends and family, who were advocating the immediate payment of their service certificates. Ironically, one of the protesting soldiers was the officer who had saved Patton’s life in France during WW 1, Joe Angelo. Patton did nto agree with MacArthur’s orders and had actually previously refused an order to advance on the protesters with armed force. Patton felt the veteran’s had legitimate complaints and were exercising their right as Americans. MacArthur disagreed. Not the first or last time they butted heads. But a huge shift in Europe was around the corner and, with it, the start of war.
Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.
On September 1, 1939 Germany invaded Poland and began what would be known as World War 2. America would not officially enter the war for 2 more years, and during this time Patton was building up his armored corp. The U.S. Army had taken a renewed interest in Patton and his tanks. Mostly because of Germany’s deadly efficient tank based blitzkrieg, which had cut across large chunks of Europe in a matter of months. In December of 1940 the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions were created. Patton was given command of 2nd Brigade in the 2nd Armored Division in July of 1940. He was quickly rose to assistant division commander. By April of 1941 he was promoted to major general and named commanding general of 2nd Division. Patton’s unit began training and provided “mixed results”. In 1941 Patton’s Division was transferred to to the newly established Desert Training Center in Indio, California, by the Chief of the Armored Force, Major General Jacob L. Devers. Patton was abruptly named commander of the newly formed 1st Armored Corp. Patton’s group would be part of Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. Patton trained his troops in Imperial Valley in southern California. Patton drove his men up and dopwn a 10,000 acre desert expanse that very much mirrored the desert terrain they would encounter in Africa. The exercises lasted the rest of the year and well into 1942.
In November of 1942, Patton achieved what he had been working for since he was but a little boy. He was leading men into an epic battle during a great war. Unlike WW 1, this was truly Patton’s command. Patton’s Western Task Force landed in Morocco and 2 days later had taken Casablanca. The Sultan of Morocco was so impressed that he presented Patton with one of Morocco’s highest military decorations, the Order of Ouissam Alaouite, with a citation reading, “Les Lions dans leurs tanières tremblent en le voyant approcher”. The lions in their dens tremble at his approach. During this time Patton was one of the first American commanders to realize the value of American observation aircraft and make full use of them to inspect friendly headquarters and recon enemy positions. He would often fly with an Army pilot to inspect troop positions and recon eventual deployment. he was able to cover far more ground each day than with his normal routine.
In 1943, the US 2nd Corps was suffering major defeats across Northern Africa at the hands of Erwin Rommel’sAfrica Korps. Rommel, like Patton, was a brilliant strategist and fierce commander. Though he ably served Hitler, Rommel garnered some respect among the Allied Forces he fought. He was never found to have committed war crimes, he treated POWs humanely, and often refused orders to execute civilian and Jewish captors. In North Africa, America faced a true warrior and man of integrity. Both bad things for the Allies. On March 6, 1943, after a report detailing the readiness(or apparent lack there of) of 2nd Corps, Patton was named the new commander of the unit and promoted to lieutenant general. Patton also requested Omar Bradley be assigned to his unit, beginning an odd couple like war time relation. Patton immediately set about turning 2nd Corps into a military machine. He enforced strict discipline under his command. Helmets were worn at all times by all personnel while on base. Unpopular leggings and neck ties were made mandatory to prevent scorpion and other insect stings. Fines began to be issued for anyone not properly shaved and uniformed. For a short time he was very unpopular but soldiers began to see his side of it. Many soldiers actually preferred to be assigned to Patton, as they believed his strict discipline increased their chances of survival. Patton is often referred to by an old nickname during this time by his soldiers, “Old Blood and Guts”. Many soldiers joked that it meant “our blood and his guts.” Apparently though, the nickname goes back to this time as “Master of the Sword”(seriously. My new name), where his colorful talk of blood and guts made an impression on his officers.
A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
Patton’s discipline paid early dividends as 2nd Corps began scoring major victories that same month. Along side British general Sir Bernard Montgomery, Patton pushed back the Italian and German forces in Northern Africa into an ever decreasing area in Tunisia. News of Patton quickly reached German headquarters and Patton became public enemy number one for much of the German Army. Even Hitler himself reportedly acknowledged Patton as “the most dangerous man the Allies have.” Patton’s successes in Africa had not gone unnoticed by his superiors either. In the summer of 1943, Patton was named commander of the Seventh Army in preparation for the Allied Invasion of Sicily. Patton’s Seventh Army was to cover general Montgomery’s flank as his British Eight Army advanced toward Messina. Patton was not amused. Contrary to the movie, Patton did not engage in too much one upping of Montgomery. The two did meet to discuss a coordinated front but Patton was determined to keep moving, and when Montgomery stalled, Patton simply moved forward without him. In an unprecedented string of victories, Patton moved up Western Sicily liberating several cities, including the capital city, Palermo, then turning east toward Messina. Patton, now joined by Montgomery liberated the city but by the time they brought full force to bear, German and Italian forces had already retreated back to the Italian mainland. Obviously aware of the ass kicking that was coming. But even with all these victories and countless commendations, Patton’s career was almost ended later that fall without a single shot being fired.
On August 3, 1943, Patton was visiting patients at a military hospital in Sicily when he came upon Charles H. Kuhl weeping in a bed. Patton asked him what was wrong and Kuhl told him his nerves were shot and he couldn’t take the shelling anymore. Witnesses say Patton immediately flew into a rage and began profanely insulting the soldier and calling him a coward, then ordering him to return to the front. Patton then reportedly struck Kuhl in the back of the head with the back of his hand. Reports continue that Patton wen tot visit other soldiers before returning to further berate the soldier. The story became an instant firestorm. The number of witnesses involved made this something that would not just go away. Lost in all the commotion is the fact that Patton bitch slapped another officer only a week later under similar circumstances. No one seemed to care.
When news of the incident reached General Eisenhower he ordered Patton to apologize, which he did. Reporters later approached Eisenhower demanding that he remove Patton from command or they would go public with the story. Eisenhower, of course, refused. Ike and Patton were friends. And Eisenhower, more than anyone, recognized Patton’s value to the Allied war effort. They needed him. Even Kuhl’s parents had not mentioned the incident as they did not want to “make trouble for General Patton”. On November 21, muckraking journalist Drew Pearson “broke” the story on his radio program and stated that Patton had been “severely reprimanded”. The Army acknowledged that Patton has slapped the soldier but not that he had been reprimanded. But, apparently, this Pearson guy didn’t value facts. Outcry wen tout from all across the nation and many called for Patton’s removal. Eisenhower refused to remove Patton from the war entirely. He kept Patton in the European theater, but removed him from any major command. Instead, Omar Bradley received the job that was rightfully Patton’s, Commander in Chief of the Allied Invasion of France. It is worth noting that years later, looking back on the event, Kuhl showed regret for what happened. Not too long after the incident, Kuhl was diagnosed with malaria. Patton would later bring him to his headquarters and apologize again and that he didn’t realize how sick Kuhl actually was. Kuhl also remarked that he thought Patton was a “great general” and, referring ot the slapping incident,”I think at the time it happened, he was pretty well worn out himself.”
Patton’s incident was not without it’s advantages for the Allies. As i mentioned earlier, Patton was feared and respected by German military command. They were certain that Patton would be leading the Allies invasion of France. Eisenhower kept Patton in Sicily as a decoy. The Germans would see Patton’s continued stay in Sicily as a sign that the Allies would invade France from the south. When Patton went to Cairo, the Germans took it as a sign they would come though the Balkans. As Patton was moved, so were German forces. This constant confusion is credited with the early successes following D-Day, as German forces were rushed to make up for their failed guess on the Allied Invasion. But Patton was restless. The war he had been born to fight was going on all around him and he was wasting away in a lush Cairo palace. No place for a soldier. Eisenhower was finally able to convince concerned parties that Patton had paid for his crime and following the invasion of Normandy, Patton was given a command.
Patton was given command of the Third Army stationed on the far right(west) Allied flank on August 1, 1943. Patton’s unit was tasked with making ground out of the French hedgerows and he did just that. Attacking on 4 different fronts, Patton routed several German units and began advancing the Allied front line. A task made all the easier by the almost complete absence of German heavy armor. They were making it too easy for him. Patton’s charge came to an abrupt halt on August 31, when his corp literally ran out of gas. Patton, unsurprisingly, was pissed. Some say Patton had thoughts of “conquering Germany” and strayed too far from regular supply lines. That is very believable. Another likely explanation is that the Allied Comm headquarters decided to take the opportunity to move to Paris and most supply trucks were redirected to this effort. Either way, Patton was a sitting duck. Eisenhower eventually prioritized supplies to Omar Bradley’s command and, through him, Patton. He still cautioned Patton to slow his advance as he believed in a unified front and not individual pushes. All Patton heard was someone telling him he was winning the wrong way and that sounded silly. Patton’s stall in France allowed German forces to further fortify their stronghold in the fortress of Metz. When Patton finally arrived a long costly battle ensued but Allied forces eventually prevailed.
France was quickly coming under Allied control and they had their eyes set on Berlin. Germany began to organize one last offensive that would be known as The Battle of the Bulge. A huge offensive across Luxembourg, Belgium, and Northern France. Germany amassed several divisions along a weak point in the Allied front lines and began making serious inroads. Eisenhower called a meeting of the Allied command and discussed strategies to counter the German offensive. Patton had him covered. He had guessed what the meeting would be about and had already drawn up 3 separate contingency orders to address it, cause that’s how Patton rolls. During the meeting Ike asked Patton how long it would take him to divert resources from his 3rd Army toward relieving Airborne units in the north. Patton said, “As soon as you’re through with me.” Patton revealed his already drawn up an operational order to commence a 3 division attack in 2 days. Eisenhower balked at the proposal. He felt Patton didn’t have the time to organize and accomplish such a thing. Patton pressed the point that he had already drawn up and organized the plan, and given it to his officers. Ike still didn’t go for it. Patton left the meeting, found a filed telephone, contacted his officers and said, “play ball”. With that, 3 divisions began immediately moving north toward Bastogne and the German front line offensive. In all, Patton would completely transfer 6 entire divisions across France in a matter of days. On December 21, Patton met with General Bradley to discuss the advance. Patton wanted to sweep across the heart of Germany’s front line and end their advance, trapping the bulk of the German offensive. Bradley considered it for a moment but was more concerned with relieving Bastogne before it was overrun. Patton went along.
Patton wanted clear good weather for his advance so he could make the best use of his air support. He asked Army Chaplain Colonel James O’Neil to say a suitable prayer before the advance. This was that 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.”
The weather cleared soon after and Patton awarded O’Neil a Bronze Star on the spot. On December 26, the first units from the Allied advance reached Bastogne and provided relief to the city. This was the culmination of what is widely considered one of the greatest examples of mastering military logistics in history. In the dead of winter Patton had moved from fighting intense battles in the South of France to almost immediately converging on the Northern front line with the relief of Bastogne. Within 24 hours he had strategically placed and replaced 6 full divisions along the front lines and made them effective. Even Patton himself called it his greatest achievement of the war. And the folks in Bastogne were hard pressed to disagree. Patton had thrown the German offensive into disarray and by February they were in full retreat.
On March 22, 1945, Patton crossed the Rhine and within a day had made a 6 mile deep bridgehead into German territory. But he once again let his ego get the better of him. 4 days later Patton sent a small force to liberate a POW camp behind enemy lines. It ended in abysmal failure. A majority of the unit was killed or captured and Eisenhower became furious upon learning of it. Patton admitted it was the greatest mistake of the war. He said he should have sent a Combat Command three times the size. It as one of the rare occasions he misjudged his enemy and it had cost many lives. On April 14 Patton was given a long overdue promotion to a 4 star general. Patton’s last operations of the war involved the liberation of Pilsen in the Czech Republic(after being ordered to stop at the city limits) and most of western Bohemia. This ended the most successful military campaign of any American general ever.
“In its advance from the Rhine to the Elbe, Patton’s Third Army captured 32,763 square miles of enemy territory. Its losses were by far the lightest of any Third Army operation: 2,102 killed, 7,954 wounded, and 1,591 missing. Enemy losses in the campaign totaled 20,100 killed, 47,700 wounded, and 653,140 captured.
Since becoming operational in Normandy on 1 August 1944 until 8 May 1945, the Third Army was in continuous combat for 281 days. It had advanced farther and faster than any army in military history, crossing 24 major rivers and capturing 81,500 square miles of territory, including more than 12,000 cities and towns. With a normal strength of around 250,00-300,000 men, the Third had killed, wounded, or captured some 1,810,388 enemy soldiers, six times its strength in personnel. By comparison, the Third Army suffered 16,596 killed, 96,241 wounded, and 26,809 missing in action for a total of 139,646 casualties, a ratio of enemy to U.S. casualties of nearly thirteen to one.”
Patton was greeted as a conquering hero upon his arrival back stateside. In June of 1945 ,in California, they thew him a parade and he gave a speech at the L.A. Coliseum in front of 100,000 people. He donated a book he had illegally smuggled out of Germany, The Nuremberg Laws, to the Huntington Library in San Marino. Patton would never really have the time he deserved to accept the praise of a grateful nation. On December 9 of that year, while pheasant hunting in Germany, Patton was involved in a a car accident. A seemingly minor accident at first with no injuries, Patton was not to fair so well. The wreck had violently forced Patton’s head into a collision with the metal partition separating the front and back seats of the car causing a severe spinal injury. Patton was paralyzed from the neck down. Less than 2 weeks later, on December 21, Patton would die at the hospital from a pulmonary embolism, most likely brought on by conditions stemming from the car accident. Patton would not be buried in Arlington like so many war heroes before him. Patton had requested, upon his death, to be “buried with my men”. He was laid to rest at Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, in Hamm Luxembourg along with other members of Third Army. 2 years later he was moved to the head of his soldiers graves. An empty casket was laid in his families plot in San Gabriel California along with a stained glass mural of the general’s life. A Patton museum was later dedicated in Fort Knox ,Kentucky.
It doesn’t seem like a soldier’s death. But Patton was never about how one dies. He was about how one lived, and Patton lived. A controversial figure, Patton had as many detractors as admirers. He was accused of racism despite never showing favoritism and advancing black soldiers as commonly as white soldiers. Many had a problem with this prima donna attitude but Patton felt it was essential to carry oneself in a way that motivates their troops. Often overlooked were his supreme charity and kindness toward the enlisted man. He often sent captured food and alcohol to the front lines to reward his troops, covered medical expenses for injured men in his unit, and treated every man with a respect some were probably unaccustomed to. To me he is the single greatest figure in American military history. Could we have won WW 2 without him? Possibly. But damn would it have been so much harder. He put fear in the enemy without even being present on the battlefield.
I hope you enjoyed this look at General George S. Patton and, as always, learned something you didn’t know. I end now with the General’s own words. An exert from his poem, Through a Glass Darkly.