George Smith Patton, Jr. (November 11, 1885 - December 21, 1945), was a leading American general in World War II.
Patton's grandfather was a Confederate soldier in the American Civil War. Born in San Gabriel, California Patton was educated at the Virginia Military Institute and at the West Point Military Academy.
From an early age, the young Patton had a specific desire to become a general and hero. Patton was an intelligent child, studying classical literature and military history at a young age, but had difficulty with basic academic skills, a problem that would haunt him throughout his schooling. He learned to read at a very late age as a child, and never learned basic skills such as proper spelling.
After graduating from West Point, Patton participated in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, representing the United States in the Pentathlon. Patton finished fifth in the event, traditionally dominated by Europeans.
Patton was a staunch believer in reincarnation, and much anecdotal evidence indicates that he held himself to be the reincarnation of the Carthaginian General Hannibal; a Roman legionnaire; a Napoleonic field marshal; and various other historic military figures.
Early Military Career
During the Mexican Border Campaign of 1916, Patton, while assigned to the 13th Cavalry Regiment in Texas, accompanied then-Brigadier General John Pershing as his aide during the Punitive Expedition into Mexico in his pursuit of Pancho Villa. During his service, Patton, accompanied by ten soldiers of the 6th Infantry Regiment, killed General Julio Cardenas, commander of Villa's personal bodyguard. Patton's success in this regard gained him a level of notoriety back in the United States.
World War I
At the onset of the Americans joining the fighting of World War I, General Pershing promoted Patton to the rank of Captain. While in France, Patton requested that he be given a combat command and Pershing assigned him command within the U.S. Tank Corps, where he led the victory for the British tanks at the Battle of Cambrai, the first battle where tanks were used in a significant force. From his successes (and the organization of a training school for American tankers in Langres, France), Patton was promoted twice to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was placed in charge of the U.S. Tank Corps, which was part of the American Expeditionary Force and then the First U.S. Army. He took part in the St. Mihiel offensive of September 1918 and was wounded by machine gun fire as he sought assistance for tanks that were mired in the mud.
For his service in the Meuse-Argonne operations, Patton received a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Service Cross and was given a battlefield promotion to a full colonel. While Patton was recuperating from his wounds, hostilities ended.
The Interwar Years
In the early 1920s, Patton petitioned the U.S. Congress to appropriate funding for an armored force, but had little luck doing so. Patton also wrote professional articles on tank and armored car tactics, suggesting new methods to use these weapons. He also continued working on improvements to tanks, coming up with innovations in radio communication and tank mounts.
Patton served in Hawaii before returning to Washington to once again ask Congress to allocate funding for armored units. In the late 1930s, Patton was assigned command of Fort Myer, Virginia. Shortly after Germany's blitzkrieg attacks in Europe, Patton was able to finally convince Congress of the need for Armored Divisions. Shortly after its approval, Patton was promoted to brigadier general and put in command of the armored brigade.
The brigade eventually grew into the US 2nd Armored Division and Patton was promoted to major general.
World War II
During the buildup of the American Army prior to its entry into World War II, Patton established the Desert Training Center in Indio, California. He also commanded one of the two wargaming armies in the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941. Fort Benning, Georgia is well known for General Patton's presence.
North African Campaign
In 1942, Major General Patton commanded the 1st U.S. Armored Corps of the U.S. Army, which landed on the coast of Morocco in Operation Torch. Following the defeat of the U.S. Army by the German Afrika Korps at the Battle of Kasserine Pass in 1943, Patton was made lieutenant general and placed in command of II Corps. Although tough in his training, he was generally considered fair and very well-liked by his troops. The discipline paid off, however, as by March, the counteroffensive was pushing the Germans east while British troops commanded by Gen. Bernard Montgomery in Egypt were simultaneously pushing the Germans west, effectively squeezing the Germans out of North Africa.
As a result of his accomplishments in North Africa, Patton was given command of the Seventh Army in preparation for the 1943 invasion of Sicily. Patton was charged with liberating the western half of the island, while Gen. Montgomery's 8th British Army was to liberate the east.
Never one to allow his rival Montgomery to get the glory, Patton quickly pushed through western Sicily, liberating Palermo and then swiftly driving on east to Messina ahead of Montgomery.
Patton's bloodthirsty speeches resulted in controversy when it was claimed one inspired the Biscari Massacre in which American troops killed seventy-three Prisoners of War. Patton's career nearly ended in August of 1943. While visiting hospitals and commending wounded soldiers, he slapped and verbally abused Pvts. Paul G. Bennet and Charles H. Kuhl, who he thought were exhibiting cowardly behavior. The soldiers were suffering from various forms of battle fatigue or shell-shock, and had no visible wounds (though one was subsequently found to have dysentery). Because of this action, Patton was kept out of public view for some time and secretly ordered to apologize to the soldiers. Patton also was relieved of command of the Seventh Army prior to its operations in Italy.
However, while Patton was temporarily relieved of his duty, the Germans continued to fear him more than any other Allied general. Patton's prolonged stay in Sicily was interpreted by the Germans to be indicative of an upcoming invasion of southern France and later, a stay in Cairo was interpreted as an upcoming invasion through the Balkans. The fear of General Patton helped to tie up many German troops and would be an important factor in the months to come.
In the period leading to the 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 deception, Operation Fortitude.
Following the Normandy invasion, Patton was placed in command of the US Third Army, which was on the extreme right (west) of the Allied land forces. He led this army during Operation Cobra, the breakout from earlier slow fighting in the Norman system of planting hedgerows, besieged Cherbourg, and then moved south and east, assisting in trapping several hundred thousand German soldiers in Falaise. Patton used Germany's own blitzkrieg tactics against them, transiting 600 miles in just two weeks.
Patton's offensive, however, came to a screeching halt on September 1, 1944 as the army simply ran out of gasoline on the Meuse river just outside of Metz, France. The time needed to resupply was just enough to give the Germans the time they needed to further fortify the fortress of Metz. In October and November, the Third Army was mired in a near-stalemate with the Germans, inflicting heavy casualties on one another. By November 23, however, Metz had finally fallen to the Americans, the first time the city had fallen since the Franco-Prussian War.
By late 1944, the German army made a last-ditch offensive across the Netherlands, Luxembourg and northeastern France. The Ardennes Offensive (better known as the Battle of the Bulge), was the final offensive of the German army in World War II. On December 16, 1944, the German army threw 29 divisions (totalling some 600,000 men) at a weak point in the Allied lines and made massive headway towards the Meuse river during one of the worst winters in Europe in years.
Patton abruptly turned the Third Army north (a considerable tactical and logistical achievement), disengaging from the front line to relieve the surrounded and besieged 101st Airborne Division trapped in Bastogne. By February, the Germans were once again in full retreat and Patton moved into the Saar Basin of Germany. Patton was planning to take Prague, Czechoslovakia, when the forward movement of American forces was halted. Nevertheless, his troops liberated Pilsen and most of West Bohemia.
In October 1945 General Patton assumed control of the Fifteenth Army, a paper army, in American-occupied Germany. He died from injuries suffered in an auto accident and was buried in American War Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg.
George Patton was the focus of the 1970 Academy Award winning movie Patton, Patton being played to fame by George C. Scott. As a result of the movie and its now-famous opening monologue, in popular culture Patton has come to symbolize a warrior's fierceness and aggressiveness.
Patton the legend and Patton the man
The fame which came from the movie is quite ironic since the monologue in it is delivered from a stage in front of what sounds like a very large audience. General 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 like an old grandmother. He was fascinated with military history and loved to expound on it, regaling those who were amateurs in the subject but boring all others. This is in sharp contrast to the gravelly voice of George C. Scott, and his confident delivery of a finely tuned and concise speech.
Even more ironic was his coming to symbolize a fierce and aggressive warrior. George Patton was certainly a very persistent individual who reached his goal of becoming a great general after having overcome disabilities which are often overlooked by some of his more flattering biographers. Contrary to popular belief, Patton was a career officer and a team player who supported and was supported by his brother officers, within the context of a large military bureaucracy.
From an early age George Patton dreamt of becoming a great general, and did everything necessary to become one. His focus made him ignore civilian life to the point where, in World War II, he did not realize that he was commanding an army of civilians who would be returning to civilian life after the war, and who did not see Army life exactly as he did. His brother officers, who were by then his brother generals, were more astute about such problems and managed to keep him out of trouble, most of the time. The soldier-slapping incident of August 1943, which is described above, was one instance where they were unable to manage things in time. They were more successful in keeping him from throwing corporal Bill Mauldin in jail since they realized that his sometimes sarcastic cartoons were good for morale. They also kept their brother general from outlawing the Stars and Stripes, the newspaper of the U.S. soldiers, when its editorial policy and reporting did not suit him.
One of his highly known expressions was:
"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what you want to achieve and they'll surprise you with their ingenuity."