Commissioned in the army in 1909, Patton participated in the unsuccessful attempt to capture Pancho Villa in 1916-17. In World War I, he was a senior commander of the new United States Tank Corps and saw action in France. After the war, he was a strong advocate of armored warfare.
It was in World War II that he truly made his mark. Patton commanded both corps and armies as a general in North Africa, Sicily, and the European Theater of Operations. Near the end of the Sicilian campaign, Patton jeopardized his career by slapping a soldier recuperating from "battle fatigue" at a hospital; Patton considered him a coward. The well-publicized incident caused General Eisenhower to relieve him of command. Thus, instead of playing a major part in the invasion of Normandy, he was relegated to being a decoy. However, he was later given command of the U.S. Third Army and ably led it in breaking out of the hedgerows of Normandy and across France. When a surprise major German offensive resulted in American units being surrounded in Bastogne, Patton rapidly disengaged his army from fighting in another sector and moved over 100 miles in order to relieve the key town.
Patton often got into trouble with his outspokenness and strong opinions. In addition to the slapping incident, towards the end of the war, he voiced his detestation and mistrust of the Soviets and his desire to fight them. He has also been criticized for sending an ill-fated rescue mission for his son-in-law, held in a prison camp deep behind enemy lines.
Table of Contents
George Smith Patton was born in San Gabriel Township, California (in what is now the city of San Marino), to George Smith Patton, Sr. (1856 – 1927) and Ruth Wilson (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.
As a boy, Patton read widely in 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. 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. His great grandfather John M. Patton was a governor of Virginia. His grandfather, Col. George S. Patton was killed during the Battle of Opequon. A great-uncle, Waller T. Patton, died of wounds received in Pickett's Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. Two other great-uncles, John M. Patton and Isaac Patton, served as colonels in the Confederate States Army. Another relative, Hugh Weedon Mercer, was a Confederate general.
His 7th great-grandfather was Louis Dubois, a French Huguenot immigrant, who with 11 others founded the town of New Paltz, New York. Another of Patton's ancestors was Francis Gregory, a first cousin of George Washington. Gregory married Francis Thornton III, a first cousin twice removed from James Madison and three times removed from Zachary Taylor.
Patton's paternal grandparents were Colonel George Smith Patton and Susan Thornton Glassell. Patton's grandfather, born in Fredericksburg, 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. When the American Civil War broke out, he served in the 22nd Virginia Infantry of the Confederate States of America.
Dying at the Battle of Opequon (the Third Battle of Winchester), Patton's grandfather left behind a namesake son, born in Charleston, Virginia (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 L.A. County District Attorney and the first City Attorney for the city of Pasadena, California and the first mayor of San Marino, California. He was a Wilsonian Democrat.
His maternal grandparents were Benjamin Davis Wilson, (December 1, 1811 to March 11, 1878), 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, Tennessee, and made his fortune as a fur trapper and adventurer during the Indian Wars and the war against Mexico, before marrying the daughter of a Mexican land baron and settling in what would become California's San Gabriel Valley.
He was married to Beatrice Banning Ayer (January 12, 1886 - September 30, 1953), the daughter of wealthy textile baron Frederick Ayer, on May 26, 1910. Together they had three children, Beatrice Smith (March 19, 1911–October 24, 1952), Ruth Ellen (February 28, 1915–November 25, 1993) and George Patton IV (December 24, 1920–June 27, 2004), who rose to the rank of major general.
Patton attended Virginia Military Institute for one year, where he rushed VMI's chapter of the Kappa Alpha Order. He then transferred to the United States Military Academy. The Academy compelled him to repeat his first "plebe" year after doing poorly 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 and receiving his commission as a cavalry officer.
Patton participated in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm in the first-ever modern pentathlon. He placed sixth out of 37 contestants in 300 meter freestyle swimming. Patton was third out of 29 fencers. In the equestrian cross-country steeplechase, he was among the three riders who turned in perfect performances, but he placed third because of his time. Patton hit the wall 50 yards (46 m) 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 finished fifth overall.
Pistol shooting controversy
In pistol shooting, Patton placed 20th out of 32 contestants. He used a .38 caliber pistol, while most 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 regret to say marred some of the other civilian competitions at the Olympic Games. Each man did his best and took what fortune sent 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.
The Patton Saber
After the Olympics, Lieutenant Patton was made the Army's youngest-ever "Master of the Sword" at the Mounted Service School at Fort Riley, Kansas. While Master of the Sword, Patton improved and modernized the Army's cavalry saber fencing techniques and designed 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 aimed at developing proficiency in the mounted use of the saber. Now known as the “Patton” Saber, it was heavily influenced by the 1908 and 1912 Pattern British Army Cavalry Swords.
These weapons were never used as intended. At the beginning of U.S. involvement in World War I, several American cavalry units armed with sabers were brought 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. The slashing and thrusting saber attacks had become obsolete.
Early military career
During the Mexican Expedition of 1916, Patton was assigned to the 8th Cavalry Regiment in Fort Bliss, Texas. He accompanied then-Brigadier General John J. Pershing as his aide during the Punitive Expedition 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. During his service, Patton, accompanied by ten soldiers of the 6th Infantry Regiment, and using three armored cars, conducted the world's 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 to Pershing's headquarters strapped to the hoods of the vehicles in a manner similar to game animals such as deer brought home 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, General Pershing promoted Patton to the rank of captain. While in France, Patton requested a combat command. Pershing assigned him to the newly formed United States Tank Corps. 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. Depending on the source, he either led the U.S. tanks or was an observer at the 1917 Battle of Cambrai, where tanks were first used in significant numbers. As the U.S. Tank Corps did not take part in this battle, the role of observer is the more likely. However, in The Patton Papers: 1885-1940, author Martin Blumenson makes no mention of Patton being at Cambrai, stating only that on 1 December, Patton went to Albert, not too far 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-17 tanks off the train.
For his successes and his organization of the training school for American light tanks at Langres, 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.
On 26 September, 1918, Patton was wounded in the left leg personally leading six men in an attack on German machine guns during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel. The only survivors were 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.
For his service in the Meuse-Argonne Operations, Patton received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal, and was given a battlefield promotion to a full colonel. For his combat wounds, he was presented the Purple Heart.
The interwar years
While on duty in Washington, D.C. 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, Kansas, Patton and Eisenhower developed the armored doctrine which would be used in by the US Army in World War 2. In the early 1920s, Patton petitioned the U.S. Congress to appropriate funding for an armored force, but had little luck. 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.
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, MacArthur ordered these troops to advance on protesting veterans known as the "Bonus Army" in Washington, D.C. with tear gas and bayonets. Ironically, one of the veterans dispersed by the cavalry was Joe Angelo, who had saved Patton's life in World War I.
Patton served in Hawaii before returning to Washington to once again ask Congress for funding for armored units. During his time in Hawaii, Patton was responsible for the defense of the islands, and specifically wrote a defense plan anticipating an air raid against Pearl Harbor — 10 years before a similar attack was carried out by aircraft carrier strike force of the Imperial Japanese Navy on December 7, 1941.
In the late 1930s, Patton was assigned command of Fort Myer, Virginia. 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 United States Army prior to its entry into World War II, Patton commanded the 2nd Armored Division, which performed with mixed results in both the Louisiana Maneuvers and Carolina Maneuvers in 1941. The 2nd Armored was stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, until the unit, along with its commander, was ordered to the newly established Desert Training Center in Indio, California 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 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 (40 km2) 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. To this day, history buffs can still find tank tracks, foxholes and spent shell casing in an area about 50 miles (80 km) southeast of Palm Springs.
On June 3, 1942, Patton believed the Japanese were planning to invade Mexico as a prelude to striking north into California. For three days, Patton had his troops on high alert to move within minutes to meet the invading Japanese at the tip of the Gulf of California. The Japanese invasion fleet eventually landed on Kiska Island, Alaska on 6 June.
North African campaign
In 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. 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).
In 1943, following the defeat of the U.S. II Corps (then part of British 1st Army) 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 Omar Bradley to assess the II Corps.
On March 6 1943, as a result of Bradley's report, Patton replaced Major General Lloyd Fredendall as commander of the II Corps. Patton was also promoted to lieutenant general. Soon thereafter, Patton had Bradley reassigned to his corps as deputy commander. Thus began a long wartime association between the two different personalities.
His troops preferred to serve with him because they thought he was their best chance to get home alive. Both British and American officers had noted the "softness" and lack of discipline in the II Corps under Fredendall. Patton required all personnel to wear steel helmets, even physicians in the operating wards, and required his troops to wear the unpopular lace-up canvas leggings and neckties (the leggings prevented injury from scorpions, spiders and rats which would climb up under soldiers' trousers). A system of fines was introduced to ensure all personnel shaved daily and observed other uniform requirements. While these measures did not make Patton popular, they did tend to restore a sense of discipline and unit pride that may have been missing. In a play on his nickname, troops joked that it was "his guts and our blood".
The discipline Patton instilled paid off quickly. By mid-March 1943, the counter-offensive of the U.S. 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. This effectively squeezed 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 your 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 killers1.
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,2 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", which occurred on August 3, 1943 nearly ended Patton's career. The matter became known after newspaper columnist Drew Pearson revealed it on his November 21 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. In fact, two soldiers had been assaulted in separate incidents.
According to witnesses, General Patton was visiting patients at a military hospital in Sicily, and came upon a 24-year-old soldier named Charles H. 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, Indiana, 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 January 24, 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 with George Marshall, Eisenhower decided to keep Patton in the European theater, though without a major command. Eisenhower used Patton's "furlough" as a trick to mislead the Germans as to where the next attack would be, since Patton was the general the German High Command feared the most and assumed 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 Eisenhower "I'll see you in Calais!", 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. Beginning at noon on August 1, 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 used Germany's own blitzkrieg tactics against them, covering 60 miles (97 km) 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. 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.
Rather than engage in set-piece slugging matches, Patton preferred to bypass centers of resistance and use the mobility of his units to the fullest, defeating German defensive positions through maneuver, rather than head-on fighting whenever possible. He was able to do this in part because of his systematic exploitation of ULTRA, a highly classified system that was very successful in reading German Enigma machine ciphers. Patton was able to continue these tactics despite German radio silence during preparation for the Ardennes Offensive.
General Patton's offensive, however, came to a screeching halt on August 31, 1944, as the Third Army literally ran out of gas near the Moselle River, just outside of Metz, France. Berragan (2003) argues it was due primarily to Patton's ambitions and his refusal 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.
Patton's experience suggested that a major US and Allied advantage was in mobility. This led to a greater number of US trucks, higher reliability of US tanks, better radio communications, all contributing to superior ability to operate at a high tempo. Slow attacks were wasteful and resulted in high losses; they also permitted the Germans to prepare multiple defensive positions rather than withdraw from one defense to another after inflicting heavy casualties on US and Allied forces. He refused to operate that way.
The time needed to resupply was just 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. By November 23, however, 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, popularly known as the Battle of the Bulge, nominally led by German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. On December 16, 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.
Needing just 24 hours of good weather, Patton ordered the Third Army Chaplain, Colonel James O'Neill, to come up with a prayer beseeching God to grant this. When the weather did clear soon after, Patton awarded O'Neill a Bronze Star on the spot.
Patton turned the 3rd Army abruptly north (a notable tactical and logistical achievement), disengaging from the front line to relieve the surrounded and besieged 101st Airborne Division pocketed in Bastogne. Military historians remark that this was Patton's finest hour. By February, the Germans were in full retreat and Patton moved into the Saar Basin of Germany. Elements of 3rd Army crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim on March 22, 1945.
Patton was planning to take Prague, Czechoslovakia, when the forward movement of American forces was halted. His troops liberated Pilsen, on May 6, 1945, and most of western Bohemia.
U.S. Third Army battle performance
The battle performance of the U.S. Third Army under Patton's command, from the start of its operations in Normandy until V-E Day, is reported to have been outstanding. According to Charles M. Province,
The enemy lost an estimated 1,280,688 captured [including 515,205 captured after the end of combat in the last week of the war - ed.], 144,500 killed, and 386,200 wounded, adding up to 1,811,388. 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.
Total German and Allied losses during the campaign in northwestern Europe in 1944/45, according to Charles B. MacDonald, were the following:
Since D-day in Normandy the Germans in the west alone had lost 263,000 dead, 49,000 permanently disabled, and 8,109,000 captured. Allied casualties were 186,900 dead, 545,700 wounded, and 109,600 missing (some later declared dead and others later repatriated as prisoners of war).
If both Province’s and MacDonald’s figures are accurate, this would mean that Patton’s Third Army inflicted 55% of all German killed in action (KIA) or died of wounds (DOW) during the 1944/45 campaign in northwestern Europe (144,500 out of 263,000), whereas its own losses of these categories were only 9% of the Allies’ total losses (16,596 out of 186,900). While Patton’s Third Army would have inflicted much higher losses on the enemy than it suffered, all other Allied units, on average, would have suffered losses that were considerably higher than those they inflicted on the enemy:
**Overall 1944/45 Campaign **
German KIA/DOW: 263,000;
Allied KIA/DOW: 186,900;
German KIA/DOW per 100 Allied KIA/DOW: 141
Patton’s Third Army
German KIA/DOW: 144,500;
Allied KIA/DOW: 16,596;
German KIA/DOW per 100 Allied KIA/DOW: 871
Other Allied units
German KIA/DOW: 118,500;
Allied KIA/DOW: 170,304;
German KIA/DOW per 100 Allied KIA/DOW: 70
This would mean that either Patton’s Third Army was much superior to other Allied units that took part in the 1944/45 campaign in northwestern Europe, or Province's figures on enemy casualties inflicted by Patton's Third Army are considerably exaggerated.
Accident and death
On December 9, 1945, a day before he was due to return to the United States, 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. Their 1938 Cadillac Model 75 was driven by Private First Class Horace Woodring (1926 - 2003), with Patton sitting in the back seat on the right side, with 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 hit the car containing the general head-on. According to the book Unexplained Mysteries of World War II, as the crash was at a railway crossing and the vehicles were just starting up, this means the crash was at no more than 20 miles per hour (32 km/h).
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 and his head struck a metal part of the partition between the front and back seats. Paralyzed from the neck down, he was rushed to the military hospital in Heidelberg. Patton died of an embolism on December 21, 1945 with his wife present.
Patton was buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Luxembourg along with other members of the Third Army. On March 19, 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, California, adjacent to the Church of Our Saviour (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 is between the church and the family plot. 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, Kentucky.
Controversies and criticism
Patton more than once caused political irritations and was criticized for some controversial faux pas, such as the "Sicily slapping incident" in 1943. Patton, in several reports, insisted on the highest standard of order and grooming within his army's area and imposed fines for anyone who violated his strict guidelines.
Patton has a reputation today as a general who was very impatient with the officers under him, compared to Omar Bradley, his colleague and later superior, but the truth is much more complicated. Patton actually fired only one general during World War II, Orlando Ward, and only after repeated warnings, whereas Bradley sacked more than a dozen generals during the war with little provocation.
After the German surrender
After the surrender of May 8, 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 were 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 United States 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 would become 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. He also made many anti-Russian statements in letters home. 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 just being a member of a political party, "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
The use of black troops during the push to the Siegfried Line offers some insight into Patton's racial attitude. The first black tank unit, the 761st "Black Panther" Tank Battalion, was assigned to Patton in the fall of 1944, at his request. As the 761st was about to enter combat, Patton reviewed the battalion and addressed the men:
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!
Historian Hugh Cole points out that Patton was the first American military leader to integrate the rifle companies "when manpower got tight."
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."
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. He ordered American troops to round up the approximately 2000 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.
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.
Between 1935 and 1940, 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, Lt. Col. 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 again to brigadier general in just 6 months time. 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 full (four-star) general. Patton was unusually reserved in never publicly commenting on Eisenhower's hasty 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, then still a one-star brigadier general, was lower than Patton’s Regular Army commission as a two-star major general.
When Patton came under criticism for the "Sicily slapping incident" (see above), Eisenhower met privately with Patton and reprimanded him, but then reassured Patton that he would not be sent home to the United States for his conduct. Many historians have speculated that, had it been anybody other than Eisenhower, Patton would have been demoted and court-martialed.
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 full general) became the occupation commander of Bavaria, and made arrangements for saving the world-famous Lipizzaner stallions of Vienna. 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.
Patton, the film
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. As a result of the movie and its now-famous opening monologue in front of a gigantic American flag, which is based on portions of speeches he made at different times (Patton's Speech to the Third Army made to troops shortly before the Normandy invasion), Patton has come to symbolize a warrior's ferocity and aggressiveness. Although the movie is based upon Ladislas Farago's Patton: Ordeal and Triumph and Omar Bradley's A Soldier's Story, historians have stated 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 relationship with Patton and the movie's treatment of him could be seen as hagiographic. Still, 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, capable, and flawed leader. Another source used by these and other authors is the "Button Box" manuscript written by Patton's wife, Beatrice Ayer Patton.
The image of Patton in the movie is somewhat misleading since the opening monologue is delivered from a stage in front of what sounds like a very large audience. The real George Patton was not known as a good public speaker. He was very self-conscious and knew that his high-pitched voice risked making him sound less commanding, unlike the gravelly voice of George C. Scott. The movie writers, Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, also changed the wording here and there, often toning it down and removing the general's obscenities.
- General George Patton Museum at Fort Knox, Kentucky.
- A museum dedicated to Patton, and his efforts training thousands of soldiers for African desert combat, is located at the site of the Desert Training Center in Chiriaco Summit, California. A statue of Patton can be seen from nearby Interstate 10.
- Two active United States Army installations are named in memory of General Patton. Patton Barracks in Heidelberg, Germany houses the headquarters for the United States Army Garrison Heidelberg. Patton Army Air Field, located on Camp Arifjan, Kuwait, provides rotary-wing aviation support for Army units in southern Kuwait.
- Patton United States Army Reserve Center, in Bell, California is named for General Patton.
- Patton Junior High School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas is named for him.
- The Patton series of tanks are named for him.
- Hamilton, Massachusetts, where Patton's summer home was located, dedicated its central park to Patton, boasting a World War II-era tank in the center of town, and the town's school sports teams play under the name "Generals". In addition, the French government gave two statues to the town commemorating Patton's service to their nation. They were improved in 2003 and sit at the entrance to Patton Park.
- Patton was named the class exemplar for the United States Air Force Academy's class of 2005, the only non-aviator to receive this honor.
Awards and decorations
At the time of General Patton's death, he was authorized the following awards and decorations.
United States awards
- Distinguished Service Cross with one oak leaf cluster
- Distinguished Service Medal with two oak leaf clusters
- Silver Star with one oak leaf cluster
- Legion of Merit
- Bronze Star
- Purple Heart
- Silver Lifesaving Medal
- Mexican Service Medal
- World War I Victory Medal with five battle clasps
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one silver and two bronze service stars
- American Defense Service Medal
- World War II Victory Medal
- In 1955, the U.S. Army posthumously presented General Patton with the Army of Occupation Medal for service as the first occupation commander of Bavaria.
Foreign and international awards
- Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath
- Officer of the Order of the British Empire
- Belgian Order of Leopold
- Belgian Croix de Guerre
- French Legion of Honor
- French Croix de Guerre
- Luxemburg War Cross
- Grand Luxemburg Cross of the Order of Adolphe of Nassau
- Grand Cross of Ouissam Alaouite of Morocco
- Order of the White Lion of Czechoslovakia
- Czechoslovakian War Cross
- George S. Patton, Jr., "War As I Knew It"; Houghton Mifflin ISBN 0-395-73529-7;(1947/1975);
- George S. Patton, Jr., "The poems of General George S. Patton, Jr.: Lines of fire," edited by Carmine A. Prioli. Edwin Mellen Press, 1991.
- "Patton's photographs: War as he saw it." ed by Kevin Hymel Potomac Books, ISBN 1-57488-871-4 (2006)
- Blumenson, Martin. "The Patton Papers. Vol. 1, 1885-1940."; ISBN 0-395-12706-8 Houghton Mifflin Co., 1972. 996 pp.
- Blumenson, Martin. "The Patton Papers: Vol. 2, 1940-1945."; ISBN 0-306-80717-3 Da Capo Press, 1996. 889 pp.
- Patton, Robert H. "The Pattons: A Personal History of An American Family"; ISBN 1-57488-127-2; Brassey's (1996) 320 pp.
- Platt, Anthony M. with O'Leary, Cecilia E. "Bloodlines: Recovering Hitler's Nuremberg Laws, From Patton's Trophy To Public Memorial."; ISBN 1-59451-140-3; Paradigm Publishers, 2006. 268 pp.
- Sobel, Brian. "The Fighting Pattons" ISBN 0-440-23572-2 Dell Publishing, 1997; Praeger Publishers Reprint, July, 2000.
- Axelrod, Alan. "Patton: A Biography" Palgrave Macmillan, 2006. 205 pp.
- Blumenson, Martin. "The Battle of the Generals: The Untold Story of the Falaise Pocket - the Campaign That Should Have Won World War II" 1993. 288 pp.
- Carlo D'Este. "Patton: A Genius for War" HarperCollins, (1995). 978 pp. ISBN 0-06-016455-7
- Essame, H. "Patton: A Study in Command." 1974. 280 pp.
- Stanley P. Hirshson. "General Patton: A Soldier's Life" (2002) ISBN 0-06-000982-9
- Ladislas Farago. "Patton: Ordeal and Triumph" ISBN 1-59416-011-2
- Nye, Roger H. "The Patton Mind: The Professional Development of an Extraordinary Leader." Avery, 1993. 224 pp.
- Dennis Showalter. "Patton and Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century" (2005). ISBN 978-0-425-20663-8.
- Smith, David Andrew. "George S. Patton: A Biography" Greenwood, 2003. 130 pp.
- Spires, David N. "Patton's Air Force: Forging a Legendary Air-Ground Team" Smithsonian Inst. Pr., 2002. 377 pp.
- Hunnicutt, R. P. "Patton: A History of the American Main Battle Tank." ISBN 0-89141-230-1.
- The Patton Society Homepage
- On Spartacus Schoolnet
- General George Patton Museum
- Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago
- archived version of Patton Uncovered
- Lost Victory - Strasbourg, November 1944
- National Museum of Military History
- Letter by Eisenhower where he comments on Patton's "unpredictable" behavior.