George Smith Patton, Jr.
'Old Blood and Guts'
Graduate, U.S. Military Academy, Class of 1909
Engagements: • World War I (1914 - 1918)• World War II (1941 - 1945)
George Smith "Old Blood and Guts" Patton, Jr.
The Early Years & Family
George Smith Patton Jr. was born on 11 November 1885, in San Gabriel Township, CA, (in what is now the city of San Marino), to George Smith Patton Sr. (1856-1927) and Ruth Wilson Patton (1861-1928). Although he was technically the third George Smith Patton, he was given the name Junior. The Pattons were an affluent family of Scottish descent.
[His best-known nickname, "Old Blood and Guts" was pinned on him largely by his men for his bold, sometimes costly, plans: "His Guts and Our Blood." Patton detested the nickname, but his men loved it.]
As a boy, Patton read widely in the classics and military history. Patton's father was an acquaintance of John Singleton Mosby, a noted cavalry leader of the Confederate Army in the American Civil War who served first under J.E.B. Stuart and then as a guerrilla fighter. The younger Patton grew up hearing Mosby's stories of military glory, and from an early age the young Patton sought to become a general and hero in his own right.
Patton came from a long line of soldiers, including General Hugh Mercer of the American Revolution. Waller T. Patton, a great-uncle, died of wounds received in Pickett's Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. John M. Patton and Isaac Patton, two other great-uncles, served as colonels in the Confederate States Army. William T. Glassell, yet another great uncle, was a Confederate States Navy officer. Hugh Weedon Mercer, another relative, was a Confederate general. Additionally, John M. Patton, a great-grandfather, was a Governor of Virginia.
Patton's paternal grandparents were Colonel George Smith Patton and Susan Thornton Glassell. Patton's grandfather, born in Fredericksburg, VA, graduated from Virginia Military Institute (VMI), Class of 1852, second in a class of 24. After graduation, George Smith Patton studied law and practiced in Charleston, VA (now West Virginia). When the American Civil War broke out, he served in the 22nd Virginia Infantry of the Confederate States of America. Colonel George S. Patton, his grandfather, was killed during the Battle of Opequon. The Confederate Congress had promoted Colonel Patton to brigadier general; however, at the time, he had already died of battle wounds, so that promotion was never official.
Patton's grandfather left behind a namesake son, born in Charleston, VA (now West Virginia). The second George Smith Patton (born George William Patton in 1856, changing his name to honor his late father in 1868) was one of four children. Graduating from the Virginia Military Institute in 1877, Patton's father served as Los Angeles County, CA, District Attorney and the first City Attorney for the city of Pasadena, CA, and the first Mayor of San Marino, CA. He was a Wilsonian Democrat.
His maternal grandparents were Benjamin Davis Wilson, (1 December 1811 - 11 March 1878), Mayor of Los Angeles in 1851-1852 and the namesake of Southern California's Mount Wilson, and his second wife, Margaret Hereford. Wilson was a self-made man who was orphaned in Nashville, TN, came to Alta, CA, as a fur trapper and adventurer during the American Indian Wars before marrying Ramona Yorba, the daughter of a California land baron, Bernardo Yorba, and made his fortune through the wedding dowry, receiving Rancho Jurupa, settling what would become California's San Gabriel Valley, after the Mexican American War.
George S. Patton, Jr. attended Virginia Military Institute for one year, where he rushed VMI's chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order. He then left VMI and enrolled in the U.S. Military Academy. The Academy required him to repeat his first "plebe" year because of his poor performance in mathematics. He repeated his plebe year with honors and was appointed Cadet Adjutant (the second highest position for a cadet), eventually graduating in 1909 instead of 1908 and receiving his commission as a Second Lieutenant of Cavalry.
On 26 May 1910, George S. Patton, Jr. married Beatrice Banning Ayer (12 January 1886-30 September 1953), the daughter of wealthy textile baron Frederick Ayer. They had three children, Beatrice Smith (19 March 1911-24 October 1952); Ruth Ellen Patton Totten (28 February 1915-25 November 1993), who wrote The Button Box: A Loving Daughter's Memoir of Mrs. George S. Patton; and George Patton III (although christened George Patton IV) (24 December 1923-27 June 2004), who followed in his father's footsteps, attending West Point and eventually rising to the rank of Major General as an Armor officer in the U.S. Army.
1912 Summer Olympics
Patton participated in the first-ever modern pentathlon at the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm. He finished fifth overall. He placed seventh out of 37 contestants in the 300 meter freestyle swimming. He was fourth out of 29 fencers. In the equestrian cross-country steeplechase, he was among the riders who turned in perfect performances, but he placed sixth because of his time. Patton "hit the wall" 50 yards from the finish line of the four kilometer cross-country footrace, then fainted after crossing the line at a walk; he finished third out of 15 contestants. He made the U.S. Modern Pentathlon team for the 1916 Summer Olympics, scheduled for Berlin, Germany, but the Games were cancelled due to World War I.
Pistol Shooting Controversy
In pistol shooting, Patton placed 20th out of 32 contestants. 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 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. There was much controversy, but the judges' ruling was upheld. Patton neither complained, nor made excuses. Patton's only comment 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."
Master of the Sword and the Patton Saber
Following the 1912 Olympics, Patton traveled with his family to Dresden, Berlin, and Nuremberg. Seeking the greatest swordsman in Europe to study with, Patton was told the "beau sabreur" of the French Army would be the one. Adjutant M. Clèry was a French "master of arms" and instructor of fencing at the Cavalry School at Saumur. Patton went to Saumur for intense study with the master. Upon his return, Patton wrote a report that was revised for the Army and Navy Journal. Patton's first article for the Cavalry Journal appeared in the March 1913 issue. In the summer of 1913, after he advised the Ordnance Department on sword redesign, Patton was allowed to return to Saumur to study once again under Clèry.
Lieutenant Patton was made the Army's youngest-ever "Master of the Sword" at the Mounted Service School at Fort Riley, KS. While Master of the Sword, Patton became an instructor at Fort Riley and improved and modernized the Army's cavalry saber fencing techniques.
Earlier in the year, he assisted in the design of the Model 1913 Cavalry Saber. It had a large, basket-shaped hilt mounting a straight, double-edged, thrusting blade designed for use by light cavalry. Patton's 1914 manual "Saber Exercise" outlined a system of training for both mounted and 'on foot' use of the saber. The weapon came to be known as the "Patton Saber." There is no one sword that this saber was modeled after. Patton suggested the revision from a curved sword and edge and cutting technique to a thrusting style of attack, following his extensive training in France. Patton's thoughts were expressed in his 1913 report "The Form and Use of the Saber":
"In the Peninsula War the English nearly always used the sword for cutting. The French dragoons, on the contrary, used only the point which, with their long straight swords caused almost always a fatal wound. This made the English say that the French did not fight fair. Marshal Saxe wished to arm the French cavalry with a blade of a triangular cross section so as to make the use of the point obligatory. At Wagram, when the cavalry of the guard passed in review before a charge, Napoleon called to them, "Don't cut! The point! The point!""
The weapon was never used as intended. At the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War I, several American cavalry units armed with sabers were sent to the front but they were held back; the nature of war had changed, making horse-mounted troops easy prey for enemy troops equipped with Gewehr 98 rifles and MG08 machine guns. However, Patton took his style of move forward and attack technique to his use of the tank in battle. This became his trademark combat style.
Punitive Expedition of 1916
During the Punitive Expedition of 1916, Patton was assigned to the 8th Cavalry Regiment at Fort Bliss, TX. He served as aide to then-Brigadier General John J. Pershing in his pursuit of Pancho Villa, after Villa's forces had crossed into New Mexico, raided and looted the town of Columbus, and killed several Americans. Patton, accompanied by ten soldiers of the 6th Infantry Regiment, and using three armored cars, conducted the United States' first armored vehicle attack, and in the process killed two Mexican leaders, including "General" Julio Cardenas, commander of Villa's personal bodyguard. The bodies were brought back from San Miguelito to Pershing's headquarters strapped to the hoods of the vehicles in a manner similar to game animals brought back by hunters. For this action, as well as Patton's affinity for the Colt Peacemaker, Pershing titled Patton his "Bandito." Patton's success in this regard gained him a level of fame in the United States, and he was featured in newspapers across the nation.
World War I
At the outset of the U.S. entry into World War I, then-Major General Pershing promoted Patton to the rank of Captain. While in France, Patton requested a combat command. Pershing asked him to undertake the establishment of a Light Tank Training School for U.S. troops, to which he agreed. In November 1917, Patton left Paris and reported to General Garrard of the French Army. At Champlieu, Patton drove a Renault char d'assault tank and tested its trench-crossing ability. Several accounts say that he either led the U.S. tanks or was an observer at the 1917 Battle of Cambrai, where tanks were used in significant numbers for the first time since the use of 132 French tanks at Berry-au-Bac in April of the same year. However, the U.S. Tank Corps did not exist at the time, being established only at the end of 1917, and the AEF had no tanks. In The Patton Papers: 1885-1940, Patton biographer Martin Blumenson makes no mention of Patton being at Cambrai, stating only that on 1 December, Patton went to Albert, 30 miles from Cambrai, to discuss the ongoing battle with the chief of staff of the British Tank Corps, Colonel J. F. C. Fuller. Patton received his first ten tanks on 23 March 1918 at the Tank School and Centre, which he commanded, at Langres, Haute-Marne department. The only one with tank driving experience, Patton himself backed seven of the light, two-man Renault FT tanks off the train.
For his successes and his organization of the training school, Patton was promoted to Major, Lieutenant Colonel and then Colonel, U.S. National Army. In August 1918, he was placed in charge of the 1st Provisional Tank Brigade, redesignated the 304th Tank Brigade on 6 November 1918. Patton's Light Tank Brigade was part of Colonel Samuel Rockenbach's Tank Corps, which was in turn part of the American Expeditionary Force. (Patton was not in charge of the Tank Corps as has often been misreported.) The 304th Tank Brigade fought as part of the First United States Army.
Patton commanded American-crewed French Renault tanks at the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. On 26 September 1918, Patton was wounded in the left leg while leading six men and a tank in an attack on German machine guns near the town of Cheppy during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. The only survivors were the tank crew, Patton and his orderly Private First Class Joe Angelo, who saved Patton and was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. While Patton was recuperating from his wounds, hostilities ended with the armistice of 11 November 1918 (which happened to be Patton's 33rd birthday).
For his service in the Meuse-Argonne Operations, Patton received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal, and was brevetted full Colonel. For his combat wounds, he was presented the Purple Heart.
While on duty in Washington in 1919, Captain (he reverted from his wartime temporary rank of colonel) Patton met Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would play an enormous role in Patton's future career. During their assignment at Fort Riley, KS, Patton and Eisenhower developed the armored doctrine which would be used by the US Army in World War II. In the early 1920s, Patton petitioned the U.S. Congress to appropriate funding for an armored force, but with little success. Patton also wrote professional articles on tank and armored car tactics, suggesting new methods for their use. He also continued working on improvements to tanks, coming up with innovations in radio communication and tank mounts. However, the lack of interest in armor created a poor atmosphere for promotion and career advancement, so Patton transferred back to the horse cavalry.
Patton served in Hawaii before returning to Washington once again to ask Congress for funding for armored units. During his time in Hawaii, Patton was part of the military units responsible for the defense of the islands, and specifically wrote a defense plan anticipating an air raid against Pearl Harbor-10 years before the attack by the Imperial Japanese Navy on 7 December 1941.
At the wedding of Patton's daughter, Ruth Ellen (1940), a couple who knew Patton from Hawaii (Restarick and Eleanor Jones Withington), crashed the wedding. They explained that they were in the area when they saw the wedding announcement and hoped Patton didn't mind them showing up uninvited. To this 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." This humorous encounter reflects the outlandishness and kinship for which Patton was known.
In July 1932, Patton served under Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur as a Major commanding 600 troops, including the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. On 28 July, in Washington, MacArthur ordered these 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 veteran's complaints and had himself earlier refused to issue the order to employ armed force to disperse the veterans.
In the late 1930s, Patton was assigned command of Fort Myer, VA. Shortly after Germany's blitzkrieg attacks in Europe, Major General Adna Chaffee, the first Chief of the U.S. Army's newly-created Armored Force, was finally able to convince Congress of the need for armored divisions. This led to the activation of the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions in 1940. Colonel Patton was given command of the 2nd Armored Brigade, US 2nd Armored Division in July 1940. He became the Assistant Division Commander the following October, and was promoted to Brigadier General on the second day of that month. Patton served as the Acting Division Commander from November 1940 until April 1941. He was promoted to Major General on 4 April and made Commanding General of the 2nd Armored Division seven days later.
World War II
During the buildup of the U.S. Army prior to its entry into World War II, Patton commanded the 2nd Armored Division, which performed with mixed results in 1941 in both the Louisiana Maneuvers and Carolina Maneuvers. The 2nd Armored was stationed at Fort Benning, GA, until the unit, along with its commander, was ordered to the newly-established Desert Training Center in Indio, CA, by the Chief of the Armored Force, Major General Jacob L. Devers. Patton was subsequently appointed Commander of the newly activated I Armored Corps by Devers, and he was in this position when the Corps was assigned to Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa. In preparation, Patton trained his troops in the Imperial Valley. He commenced these exercises in late 1941 and continued them well into the summer of 1942. Patton chose a 10,000-acre expanse of unforgiving desert known for its blistering temperatures, sandy arroyos and absolute desolation. It was a close match for the terrain Patton and his men would encounter during the campaigns in North Africa. Tank tracks, foxholes and spent shell casings can still be found in an area about 50 miles southeast of Palm Springs.
North African Campaign
In November 1942, Major General Patton commanded the Western Task Force of the U.S. Army, which landed on the coast of Vichy French-held Morocco in Operation Torch for the North African Campaign. Patton and his staff arrived in Morocco aboard the heavy cruiser USS Augusta, which came under fire from the Vichy French battleship Jean Bart while entering the harbor of Casablanca. Casablanca fell after four days of fighting. So impressed was the Sultan of Morocco that he presented Patton with the special 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).
Following the defeat of the U.S. II Corps (then part of British 1st Army) in 1943 by the German Afrika Korps, first at the Battle of Sidi Bou Zid and again at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, General Dwight D. Eisenhower sent Major General Ernest Harmon to assess the II Corps.
As a result of Harmon's report, on 6 March 1943 Patton replaced Major General Lloyd Fredendall as Commander of the II Corps with the rank of Lieutenant General. Soon thereafter, Patton had Major General Omar Bradley reassigned to his Corps as Deputy Commander. Thus began a long wartime association between two very different personalities.
It is said that his troops preferred to serve with him rather than his predecessor since they thought their chances of survival were higher under Patton. For instance, Patton required all personnel to wear steel helmets (even physicians in the operating wards) and required his troops to wear neckties and the unpopular lace-up canvas leggings, since the leggings prevented injury from scorpions, spiders and rats which would climb into soldiers' trousers. A system of fines was introduced to ensure all personnel shaved daily and observed other uniform requirements. While these measures may not have made Patton popular, they did tend to restore a sense of discipline and unit-pride that may have been missing when Fredendall was still in command. In a play on his nickname, "Old Blood and Guts," troops joked that it was "our blood and his guts." This nickname however derives not from his casualty figures (which were consistently lower than Bradley's), but from his days as Master of Sword when his colorful language about 'blood and guts' made an impression on junior officers.
The discipline Patton instilled paid off quickly when he found victory at the Battle of El Guettar. By mid-March 1943, the counteroffensive of the II Corps, along with the rest of the British 1st Army, pushed the Germans and Italians eastwards. Meanwhile the British Eighth Army, commanded by General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, simultaneously pushed them westwards, effectively squeezing the Germans and Italians into a smaller and smaller portion of Tunisia and out of North Africa altogether by mid-May.
As a result of his performance in North Africa, Patton received command of the Seventh Army in preparation for the 1943 invasion of Sicily. The Seventh Army's mission was to protect the left (western) flank of the British Eighth Army as both advanced northwards towards Messina.
Officers quoted General Patton's speech to them before the invasion of Sicily, referring to Italians and Germans:
"When we land against the enemy, don't forget to hit him and hit him hard. When we meet the enemy we will kill him. We will show him no mercy. He has killed thousands of your comrades and he must die. If you company officers in leading your men against the enemy find him shooting at you and when you get within two hundred yards of him he wishes to surrender-oh no! That bastard will die! You will kill him. Stick him between the third and fourth ribs. You will tell your men that. They must have the killer instinct. Tell them to stick him. Stick him in the liver. We will get the name of killers and killers are immortal. When word reaches him that he is being faced by a killer battalion he will fight less. We must build up that name as killers."
- George S. Patton
The Seventh Army repulsed several German counterattacks in the beachhead area before beginning its push north. Meanwhile, the Eighth Army stalled south of Mount Etna in the face of strong German defenses. The Army Group commander, Harold Alexander, exercised only the loosest control over his two commanders. Montgomery therefore took the initiative to meet with Patton in an attempt to work out a coordinated campaign.
Patton formed a provisional corps under his Chief of Staff, and quickly pushed through western Sicily, liberating the capital, Palermo, and then swiftly turned east towards Messina. American forces liberated the port city in accordance with the plan jointly devised by Montgomery and Patton. However, the Italians and Germans used their air and naval supremacy to evacuate all of their soldiers and much of their heavy equipment across the Strait of Messina to the Italian mainland.
Slapping Incident and Removal From Command
The "slapping incident" of 3 August 1943 nearly ended Patton's career. The matter became known after newspaper columnist Drew Pearson revealed it on his 21 November radio program, reporting that General Patton had been "severely reprimanded" as a result. Allied Headquarters denied that Patton had been reprimanded, but confirmed that Patton had slapped a soldier. Although the incident received widespread publicity, a second soldier was also slapped under similar circumstances a week later: Private Paul G. Bennett on 10 August at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital.
According to witnesses, in the first incident General Patton was visiting patients at a military hospital in Sicily, and came upon a 27-year-old soldier named Charles Kuhl, who was weeping. Patton asked "What's the matter with you?" and the soldier replied, "It's my nerves, I guess. I can't stand shelling." Patton "thereupon burst into a rage" and "employing much profanity, he called the soldier a 'coward'" and ordered him back to the front. As a crowd gathered, including the hospital's commanding officer, the doctor who had admitted the soldier, and a nurse, Patton then "struck the youth in the rear of the head with the back of his hand." Reportedly, the nurse "made a dive toward Patton, but was pulled back by a doctor" and the commander intervened. Patton went to other patients, then returned and berated the soldier again.
When General Eisenhower learned of the incident, he ordered Patton to make amends, after which, it was reported, "Patton's conduct then became as generous as it had been furious," and he apologized to the soldier "and to all those present at the time." After the film Patton was released in 1970, Charles H. Kuhl recounted the story and said that Patton had slapped him across the face and then kicked him as he walked away. "After he left, they took me in and admitted me in the hospital, and found out I had malaria," Kuhl noted, adding that when Patton apologized personally (at Patton's headquarters) "He said he didn't know that I was as sick as I was." Kuhl, who later worked as a sweeper for Bendix Corporation in Mishawaka, IN, added that Patton was "a great general" and added that "I think at the time it happened, he was pretty well worn out himself." Kuhl died on 24 January 1971.
Kuhl's parents had avoided mention of the matter "because they did not wish to make trouble for General Patton." Eisenhower thought of sending Patton home in disgrace, as many newspapers demanded, but after consulting Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, Eisenhower decided to keep Patton in the European Theater, but without a major command. This decision was not based on the slapping incident alone, but also on confirmed intelligence that the Germans believed Patton would be leading the Allied assault into Nazi-held territory. Patton's "furlough" was used by Eisenhower as a trick to mislead the Germans as to where the next attack would be, since Patton was the general that the German High Command believed would lead the attack. During the ten months Patton was relieved of duty, his prolonged stay in Sicily was interpreted by the Germans as an indication of an upcoming invasion of southern France. Later, a stay in Cairo was viewed as heralding an invasion through the Balkans. German intelligence misinterpreted what happened and made faulty plans as a result.
In the months before the June 1944 Normandy invasion, Patton gave public talks as commander of the fictional First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG), which was supposedly intending to invade France by way of Calais. This was part of a sophisticated Allied campaign of military disinformation: Operation Fortitude. The Germans misallocated their forces as a result, and were slow to respond to the actual landings at Normandy.
In a story recounted by Professor Richard Holmes, just three days before D-Day, during a reception in the London Ritz Hotel, Patton shouted across a crowded reception in the direction of paratroop commander General Jim Gavin, "I'll see you in the Pas De Calais, Gavin!" much to the consternation of all those around him. The ploy appears to have worked as reports of overnight troop movements north from Normandy were detected by Bletchley Park code decrypts.
Following the Normandy invasion, Patton was placed in command of the U.S. Third Army, which was on the extreme right (west) of the Allied land forces. His good friend, Gilbert R. Cook, was his Deputy Commander and Patton had to later relieve him due to an illness; a decision which "shook him to the core." Beginning at noon on 1 August 1944, he led this army during the late stages of Operation Cobra, the breakout from earlier slow-fighting in the Normandy hedgerows. The Third Army simultaneously attacked west (into Brittany), south, east towards the Seine, and north, assisting in trapping several hundred thousand German soldiers in the Chambois pocket, between Falaise and Argentan, Orne.
Patton's units generally took positions by frontal assault with his armor used in the infantry support role. Once the breakthrough was achieved, the armor was used for exploitation in the manner of Civil War Cavalry advancing unopposed over vast distances, covering 60 miles in just two weeks, from Avranches to Argentan. Patton's forces were part of the Allied forces that freed northern France, bypassing Paris. The city itself was liberated by the French 2nd Armored Division under French General Leclerc, insurgents who were fighting in the city, and the US 4th Infantry Division. The French 2nd Armored Division had recently been transferred from the 3rd Army, and many of the unit's soldiers thought they were still part of 3rd Army. These early 3rd Army offensives showed the characteristic high mobility and aggressiveness of Patton's units, which was only possible because of the absence of German heavy armor. Patton demonstrated an understanding of the use of combined arms by using the XIX Tactical Air Command of the Ninth Air Force to protect his right (southern) flank during his advance to the Seine.
However, Patton's offensive came to a screeching halt on 31 August 1944 as the Third Army literally ran out of gas near the Moselle River, just outside of Metz, France. One explanation for this was that Patton's ambition was to conquer Germany, and he refused to recognize that he was engaged in a secondary line of attack. Others suggest that General John C.H. Lee, Commander of the Zone of Communication, chose that time to move his headquarters to the more comfortable environs of Paris. Some 30 truck companies were diverted to that end, rather than providing support to the fighting armies.
Patton expected that the Theater Commander would keep fuel and supplies flowing to support successful advances. However, 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 21st Army Group a strong priority for supplies for Operation Market Garden. The combination of Montgomery being given priority for supplies, and diversion of resources to moving the Communications Zone, resulted in the Third Army running out of gas in Alsace-Lorraine while exploiting German weakness. In late September, a large German panzer counter attack sent expressly to stop the advance of Patton's Third Army was defeated by the 4th Armored Division at the Battle of Arracourt. Despite the victory, the Third Army stayed in place as a result of Eisenhower's order. Ironically, the Germans believed this was because their counterattack had been successful.
General Patton's rapid drive through the Lorraine demonstrated his keen appreciation for the technological advantages of the U.S. Army. The major US 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 high tempo. However, probably the key to Patton's success, compared to all of the other U.S. and British forces (which had similar advantages), was his intensive use of close air support. Third Army had far more G-2 officers at headquarters specifically designated to coordinate air strikes, than any other army. Third Army's attached close air support group was XIX Tactical Air Command, commanded by Gen. Otto P. Weyland. Developed originally by Gen. Elwood Quesada of IX TAC for the First Army at Operation Cobra, the technique of "armored column cover" whereby close air support was directed by an air traffic controller in one of the attacking tanks, was used extensively by the Third Army. In addition, because Patton's rapid drive resulted in a salient that was vulnerable to flanking attacks and getting trapped by the Germans, Weyland and Patton developed the concept of using intensive aerial armed reconnaissance to protect the flanks of this salient. Microwave Early Warning (MEW) radar, another technique pioneered by Quesada, was also used by XIX TAC to both cover against Luftwaffe attacks and to vector flights already in the air to new sites as an air traffic control radar. As a result of the close cooperation between Patton and Weyland, XIX TAC would end up providing far more air sorties for ground support for the Third Army than the other attached Tactical Air Commands would for the First and Ninth Armies. Despite their success, however, Eisenhower had faith only in the traditional method of advancing across a broad front to avoid the problem of flanking attacks, which most account for the decision to halt the Third Army.
The halt of the Third Army during the month of September was enough to allow the Germans to further fortify the fortress of Metz. In October and November, the Third Army was mired in a near-stalemate with the Germans, with heavy casualties on both sides. However, by 23 November Metz had finally fallen to the Americans; the first time the city had been taken since the Franco-Prussian War.
Battle of the Bulge
In late 1944, the German army launched a last-ditch offensive across Belgium, Luxembourg, and northeastern France, nominally led by German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, and popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge. On 16 December 1944, the German Army massed 29 divisions (totaling some 250,000 men) at a weak point in the Allied lines and made massive headway towards the Meuse River during one of the worst winters Europe had seen in years.
Patton disengaged his forward attacking units (engaged in heavy fighting near Saarbrücken at the time) when he became aware of the scope of the attack. He redirected a corps-sized element toward the North before setting out for a strategic meeting with Eisenhower, Bradley and the rest of the allied high command. As a result, he was able to tell Eisenhower that his forces would be in position to counterattack almost immediately.
Needing just 24 hours of good weather, Patton ordered the Third Army chaplain, Colonel James 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.
Third Army turned abruptly north (a notable tactical and logistical achievement), disengaging from the front line to relieve the surrounded and besieged U.S. troops holding the Belgian crossroads town of Bastogne. Many military historians remark that this complicated maneuver was Patton's (and the Third Army's) greatest accomplishment during the war. (John MacDonald, a management consultant specializing in operations and quality control, cites it as one of the greatest examples of logistics, stating, "General Patton is extolled as one of the greatest battlefield commanders and motivators of military troops, yet probably his greatest military achievement, unsurpassed at the time, was the logistic repositioning, within twenty-four hours, of a whole army corps at the Battle of the Bulge.") By February, the Germans were in full retreat and Patton had pushed units into the Saarland. Elements of the Third Army crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim on 22 March 1945.
On 26 March 1945, Patton sent Task Force Baum to liberate his son-in-law from a POW camp OFLAG XIII-B, 50 miles behind the German lines near Hammelburg. Patton later reported it was the only mistake he made during WWII.
Patton's operations staff was drafting plans to take Prague, when Eisenhower, under pressure from the Soviets, ordered American forces in Czechoslovakia to stop short of the city limits. Patton's troops liberated Pilsen and most of western Bohemia on 6 May.
June 1945 Visit to California
Largely overlooked in history is the warm reception that Patton received on 9 June 1945, when he and Army Air Forces Lieutenant General Jimmy Doolittle were honored with a parade through Los Angeles and a reception at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before a crowd of over 100,000 people. The next day, Patton and Doolittle toured the metropolitan Los Angeles area. Patton spoke in front of the Burbank City Hall and at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. He wore his helmet with a straight line of stars, chest full of medals, and two ivory-handled trademark pistols (not pearl, as is often incorrectly asserted). He punctuated his speech with some of the same profanity that he had used with the troops. He spoke about conditions in Europe and the Russian allies to the adoring crowds. This may be the only time in America when civilians, en masse, heard and saw the famous warrior on the podium.
During this visit, Patton quietly donated an original copy of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which he had smuggled out of Germany in violation of JCS 1067, to the Huntington Library, a world-class repository of historical original papers, books, and maps, in San Marino. Patton instructed physicist Robert Millikan, then the chairman of the board of trustees of the Huntington Library, to make no official record of the transaction, and to keep their possession of the materials secret during Patton's lifetime. The Huntington Library retained the Nuremberg Laws in a basement vault in spite of a legal instruction in 1969 by the general's family to turn over all of his papers to the Library of Congress. On 26 June 1999, Robert Skotheim, then the president of the Huntington Library, announced that the Library was to permanently lend the Nuremberg Laws to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles. On 25 August 2010, the National Archives announced that the Nuremberg Laws would be transferred from the Huntington Library to their collection.
Patton's Auto Accident
On 9 December 1945, Patton was severely injured in a road accident. He and his Chief of Staff, Major General Hobart R. "Hap" Gay, were on a day trip to hunt pheasants in the country outside Mannheim, Germany. Their 1938 Cadillac Model 75 was driven by Private First Class Horace L. Woodring (1926-2003), with Patton sitting in the back seat on the right side, and General Gay on his left, as per custom. At 11:45 near Neckarstadt (Mannheim-Käfertal), a 2½ ton GMC truck driven by Technical Sergeant Robert L. Thompson made a left turn in front of Patton's Cadillac. Patton's car hit the front of the truck, at a low speed.
At first the crash seemed minor, the vehicles were hardly damaged, no one in the truck was hurt, and Gay and Woodring were uninjured. However, Patton was leaning back with trouble breathing. The general had been thrown forward causing his head to strike a metal part of the partition between the front and back seats. This impact inflicted a severe cervical spinal cord injury. Paralyzed from the neck down, he was rushed to the military hospital in Heidelberg, where quadraplegia was diagnosed.
This incident was dramatized in the made for TV movie The Last Days of Patton in 1986 with George C. Scott reprising his role as Patton.
Death and Burial
General George Smith Patton, Jr. died of a pulmonary embolism on 21 December 1945. The funeral service was held at the Christ Church (Christuskirche) in Heidelberg-Südstadt.
Patton was buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Luxembourg, along with other members of the Third Army, as per Patton's request to "be buried with my men." On 19 March 1947, his body was moved from the original grave site in the cemetery to its current prominent location at the head of his former troops. A cenotaph was placed at the Wilson-Patton family plot at the San Gabriel Cemetery in San Gabriel, CA, adjacent to the Church of Our Savior (Episcopal), where Patton was baptized and confirmed. In the narthex of the sanctuary of the church is a stained glass window honor which features, among other highlights of Patton's career, a picture of him riding in a tank. A statue of General Patton was placed on the grounds of the church. Patton's car was repaired and used by other officers. The car is now on display with other Patton artifacts at the General George Patton Museum at Fort Knox, KY.
General George Patton Museum at Fort Knox, KY.
Controversies and Criticism
Patton's Problems with Humor, His Image, and the Press
Unlike Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was popular with troops partly for his self-effacing humor, Patton disliked jokes aimed at himself, feeling that accepting such jokes would decrease the respect which he felt that troops should have toward their commanders.
Patton reportedly had the utmost respect for the men serving in his command but had no regard for men who had battle fatigue. The cartoonist Bill Mauldin ridiculed Patton several times in his comics, prompting Patton to summon Sergeant Mauldin to his headquarters for a dressing-down. On the other hand, he was himself capable of the occasional blunt witticism: "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 'em off and round 'em up!" He also suggested facetiously that his Third Army could "drive the British [his allies] back into the sea for another Dunkirk."
His remarks frequently ridiculed General Montgomery and, at times, the Soviet Red Army, contributing to inter-Allied discord. In the context of coalition warfare, these remarks were occasionally harmful. Eisenhower wisely used Patton's high profile with the press to contribute to Operation Fortitude; he knew the press would report on his appearances in Britain and that the Germans would pick up these reports.
Patton has a reputation today as a senior general who was very impatient with the officers under his command, when compared to his most famous colleague, Omar Bradley. But the truth is far more complicated. Patton actually fired only one general during the entire war, Orlando Ward, and only after two warnings; whereas Bradley sacked numerous generals during the war with little provocation, sometimes for the slightest transgression.
In the belief that it would motivate his troops, Patton deliberately cultivated a flashy, distinctive image. He was usually seen wearing a highly polished helmet, riding pants, and high cavalry boots. He carried flashy ivory-handled, nickel-plated revolvers as his most famous sidearms (a Colt Single Action Army .45 "Peacemaker" and later also a S&W Model 27 .357). His vehicles carried oversized rank insignia and loud sirens. His speech was riddled with profanities. The toughness of his image and character appeared well-suited to the conditions of battle. Patton received many eulogies from the reporters who had followed him, including a tribute from a UPI writer who wrote, "Gen. George S. Patton believed he was the greatest soldier who ever lived. He made himself believe he would never falter through doubt. This absolute faith in himself as a strategist and master of daring infected his entire army, until the men of the second American corps in Africa, and later the third army in France, believed they could not be defeated under his leadership."
After the German Surrender
After the surrender of 8 May 1945 eliminated the threat of Nazi Germany, Patton was quick to assert the Soviet Union would cease to be an ally of the United States. He was concerned that some 25,000 American POWs had been liberated from POW camps by the Soviets, but never returned to the US. In fact, he urged his superiors to evict the Soviets from central and eastern Europe. Patton thought that the Red Army was weak, under-supplied, and vulnerable, and the U.S. should act on these weaknesses before the Soviets could consolidate their position. In this regard, he told then-Undersecretary of War Robert P. Patterson that the "point system" being used to demobilize Third Army troops was destroying it and creating a vacuum that the Soviets would exploit. "Mr. Secretary, for God's sake, when you go home, stop this point system; stop breaking up these armies," pleaded the general. "Let's keep our boots polished, bayonets sharpened, and present a picture of force and strength to these people, the Soviets. This is the only language they understand." Asked by Patterson-who became Secretary of War a few months later-what he would do, Patton replied: "I would have you tell the Red Army where their border is, and give them a limited time to get back across. Warn them that if they fail to do so, we will push them back across it."
On a personal level, Patton was disappointed by the Army's refusal to give him a combat command in the Pacific Theater of Operations. Unhappy with his role as the Military Governor of Bavaria, 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, in Patton: A Genius for War, writes 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.
Many of the controversial opinions he expressed were common (if not exactly popular) at the time and his outspoken opposition to post-surrender denazification is still widely debated today. Many still laud his generous treatment of his former German enemies and his early recognition of the Soviet threat, while detractors say his protests reflect the views of a bigoted elitist. Whatever the cause, Patton found himself once again in trouble with his superiors and the American people. While speaking to a group of reporters, he compared the Nazis to losers in American political elections, and that being a Nazi in Germany was, "like being a Democrat in the States." Patton was soon relieved of command of Third Army and transferred to the Fifteenth Army, a paper command preparing a history of the war.
Attitudes on Race and Nationality
Considering the period, Patton's attitude toward minorities was neither negative nor positive. His attitudes were varied depending on time and circumstance, with military necessity being of particular importance.
On black 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."
Patton 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 nigger 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."
Later, Patton addressed a group of African-American tankers, saying:
"Men, you're the first Negro tankers to ever fight in the American Army. I would never have asked for you if you weren't good. I have nothing but the best in my Army. I don't care what color you are as long as you go up there and kill those Kraut sons of bitches. Everyone has their eyes on you and is expecting great things from you. Most of all your race is looking forward to you. Don't let them down and damn you, don't let me down!"
Patton also insisted on the assignment of some black officers as judges in military tribunals involving black defendants, and he spent more time with his African-American aide, Sergeant Meeks, than with nearly anyone else while in Europe, developing a relationship of mutual respect that transcended that of a general with his valet. Patton disliked the British, but appreciated Montgomery's organizational abilities more than either Eisenhower or Bradley did.
Patton was horrified at what he found when his Third Army liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. Local German citizens claimed that they didn't know what was going on, though at least a few admitted to knowing of the atrocities but insisted they had been powerless to stop it. He ordered American troops to round up the approximately 2,000 local Germans and march them through the camps. He wanted them to see the atrocities firsthand.
Though many of his attitudes were common in his day, as with all of his opinions, he was often exceptionally blunt in his expression of them. He once wrote:
"The difficulty in understanding the Russian is that we do not take cognizance of the fact that he is not a European, but an Asiatic, and therefore thinks deviously. We can no more understand a Russian than a Chinese or a Japanese, and from what I have seen of them, I have no particular desire to understand them except to ascertain how much lead or iron it takes to kill them. In addition to his other amiable characteristics, the Russian has no regard for human life and they are all out sons-of-bitches, barbarians, and chronic drunks."
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, wrote knowingly of local architecture, even rated the progress of word-of-mouth rumor in Arab country at 40-60 miles 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."
Task Force Baum
In March 1945, Patton sent Task Force Baum, consisting of 314 men, 16 tanks, and assorted other vehicles, 50 miles behind enemy lines to liberate a prisoner of war camp. One of the inmates was Patton's son-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters. The raid was an utter fiasco. Only 35 men made it back; the rest were either killed or captured, and all 57 vehicles were lost. Waters himself was shot and had to be left at the camp. When Eisenhower learned of the secret mission, he was furious.
Relations with Eisenhower
The relationship between George S. Patton and Dwight Eisenhower has long been of interest to historians in that the onset of World War II completely reversed the roles of the two men in the space of just under two years. When Patton and Eisenhower met in the mid-1920s, Patton was six years Eisenhower's senior in the Army and Eisenhower saw Patton as a leading mind in tank warfare, a subject in which both men had a strong interest. During the interwar period, budget cuts to the U.S. Army caused by the Great Depression resulted in a significant decline of available funding for tank development.
Between 1935-40, Patton and Eisenhower developed a very close friendship to the level where the Patton and Eisenhower families were spending summer vacations together. In 1938, Patton was promoted to full Colonel and Eisenhower, then still a Lieutenant Colonel, openly admitted that he saw Patton as a friend, superior officer, and mentor.
Upon the outbreak of World War II, Patton's expertise in mechanized warfare was recognized by the Army, and he was quickly made a Brigadier General and, less than a year later, a Major General. In 1940, Lieutenant Colonel Eisenhower petitioned Brigadier General Patton, offering to serve under the tank corps commander. Patton accepted readily, stating that he would like nothing better than for Eisenhower to be placed under his command.
George Marshall, recognizing that the coming conflict would require all available military talent, had other plans for Eisenhower. In 1941, after five years as a relatively unknown Lieutenant Colonel, Eisenhower was promoted to Colonel, and then to Brigadier General just 6 months later. Patton was still senior to Eisenhower in the Regular Army, but this was soon not the case in the growing conscript army (known as the Army of the United States). In 1942, Eisenhower was promoted to Major General and, just a few months later, to Lieutenant General-outranking Patton for the first time. When the Allies announced the invasion of North Africa, Major General Patton suddenly found himself under the command of his former subordinate, now one star his superior.
In 1943, Patton became a Lieutenant General one month after Eisenhower was promoted to four-star general. Patton was unusually reserved in never publicly commenting on Eisenhower's rapid rise. Patton also reassured Eisenhower that the two men's professional relationship was unaffected. Privately however, Patton was often quick to remind Eisenhower that his permanent rank in the Regular Army-both men were still Colonels there throughout 1943-predated Eisenhower's.
When Patton came under criticism for the "Sicily slapping incident," Eisenhower met privately with Patton and reprimanded him.
Eisenhower is also credited with giving Patton a command in France, after other powers in the Army had relegated Patton to various unimportant duties in England. It was in France that Patton found himself in the company of another former subordinate, Omar Bradley, who had also become his superior. As with Eisenhower, Patton behaved with professionalism and served under Bradley with distinction.
After the close of World War II, Patton (now a four-star general) became the occupation commander of Bavaria, and made arrangements for saving the world-famous Lipizzaner stallions of Vienna, fearing that the Red Army would slaughter the horses for food. Patton was relieved of duty after openly revolting against the punitive occupation directive JCS 1067. His view of the war was that with Hitler gone, the German army could be rebuilt into an ally in a potential war against the Russians, whom Patton notoriously despised and considered a greater menace than the Germans. During this period, he wrote that the Allied victory would be in vain if it led to a tyrant worse than Hitler and an army of "Mongolian savages" controlling half of Europe. Eisenhower had at last had enough, relieving Patton of all duties and ordering his return to the United States. When Patton openly accused Eisenhower of caring more about a political career than his military duties, their friendship effectively came to an end.
In addition, Patton was highly critical of the victorious Allies use of German forced labor. He commented in his diary "I'm also opposed to sending PW's to work as slaves in foreign lands (in particular, to France) where many will be starved to death." He also noted "It is amusing to recall that we fought the revolution in defense of the rights of man and the civil war to abolish slavery and have now gone back on both principles."
Near the end of the war (February 1945), Eisenhower ranked the capabilities of U.S. generals in Europe. Omar Bradley and Carl Spaatz he rated as the best. Walter Bedell Smith was ranked number 3, and Patton number 4, followed by Mark Clark, and Lucian Truscott.
Bradley himself had been asked by Eisenhower to rank all the generals in December 1945, and he ranked them as follows: Bedell Smith #1, Spaatz #2, Courtney Hodges #3, Elwood Quesada #4, Truscott #5, and Patton #6 (others were also ranked).
However, Patton was a ground commander. Spaatz and Quesada had been air commanders since the 1920s, having spent their military careers through the end of World War II in the Army Air Force, the forerunner of today's U.S. Air Force, which was not separated from the U.S. Army until 1947. It may be impossible today to make a fair comparison of commanders from two such different branches of the U.S. military.
Eisenhower's and Bradley's rankings probably included factors other than Patton's success as a battle leader. As to that, Alan Axelrod in his book Patton (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) quotes German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt as stating "Patton was your best" and, surprisingly, Joseph Stalin as stating that the Red Army could neither have planned nor executed Patton's advance across France. Even Adolf Hitler was impressed by Patton's ability, reportedly calling him "The most dangerous man (the Allies) have."
Patton was the focus of the epic 1970 Academy Award-winning film Patton, with the titular role played by George C. Scott in an iconic, Academy Award-winning performance. Patton has come to symbolize a warrior's ferocity and aggressiveness as a result of the movie and Scott's now-famous opening monologue in front of a gigantic American flag, which is based on portions of speeches that Patton made at different times (including Patton's Speech to the Third Army, made to troops shortly before the Normandy invasion). Historians have stated that the movie's accuracy could be tinged with some bias, noting the heavy influence of Omar Bradley as senior military advisor and writer. Bradley, played in the movie by Karl Malden, had a tumultuous and antagonistic relationship with Patton, though in the film they're portrayed as close friends. However, some see the movie's treatment of Patton as hagiographic. Many Patton contemporaries, including many who knew him personally or served with him, applauded Scott's portrayal as being extremely accurate in capturing the essence of the man. Other historians have praised the film for its generally accurate and balanced portrayal of Patton as a complex and capable leader.
|Origin of Nickname/Handle:|
His best-known nickname,"Old Blood and Guts" was pinned on him largely by his men for his bold, sometimes costly, plans: "His Guts and Our Blood." Patton detested the nickname, but his men loved it.
|Honoree ID: 13||Created by: MHOH|