George Patton - History

George Patton - History


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George Patton

1885- 1945

American General

US General George S. Patton was born on November 11, 1895 in San Gabriel, California. From a young age he knew he wanted a military career. He obtained an appointment to West Point from which he graduated in 1909. During World War I, Patton commanded a tank brigade in France. He remained in the military during the inter-war years.

Patton was a corps commander in the assault on North Africa and Sicily by the Allied forces in World War II, and commanded the US Third Army in its sweep across France and into Germany.

Patton's image was seriously hurt when he slapped a soldier in the hospital for battle weariness. He died in an automobile accident after World War II, ended but his reputation as a larger-than-life military man stands to this day.


George S. Patton

George Smith Patton Jr. (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945) was a general in the United States Army who commanded the Seventh United States Army in the Mediterranean theater of World War II, and the Third United States Army in France and Germany after the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.

Born in 1885, Patton attended the Virginia Military Institute and the United States Military Academy at West Point. He studied fencing and designed the M1913 Cavalry Saber, more commonly known as the "Patton Saber", and competed in modern pentathlon in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, Sweden.

Patton first saw combat during 1916's Pancho Villa Expedition, America's first military action using motor vehicles. He saw action in World War I as part of the new United States Tank Corps of the American Expeditionary Forces: he commanded the U.S. tank school in France, then led tanks into combat and was wounded near the end of the war. In the interwar period, Patton became a central figure in the development of the army's armored warfare doctrine, serving in numerous staff positions throughout the country. At the American entry into World War II, he commanded the 2nd Armored Division.

Patton led U.S. troops into the Mediterranean theater with an invasion of Casablanca during Operation Torch in 1942, and soon established himself as an effective commander by rapidly rehabilitating the demoralized II United States Corps. He commanded the U.S. Seventh Army during the Allied invasion of Sicily, where he was the first Allied commander to reach Messina. There he was embroiled in controversy after he slapped two shell-shocked soldiers, and was temporarily removed from battlefield command. He then was assigned a key role in Operation Fortitude, the Allies' military deception campaign for Operation Overlord. At the start of the Western Allied invasion of France, Patton was given command of the Third Army, which conducted a highly successful rapid armored drive across France. Under his decisive leadership, the Third Army took the lead in relieving beleaguered American troops at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, after which his forces drove deep into Nazi Germany by the end of the war.

During the Allied occupation of Germany, Patton was named military governor of Bavaria, but was relieved for making aggressive statements towards the Soviet Union and trivializing denazification. He commanded the United States Fifteenth Army for slightly more than two months. Severely injured in an auto accident, he died in Germany twelve days later, on December 21, 1945.

Patton's colorful image, hard-driving personality and success as a commander were at times overshadowed by his controversial public statements. His philosophy of leading from the front, and his ability to inspire troops with attention-getting, vulgarity-ridden speeches, such as his famous address to the Third Army, was met favorably by his troops, but much less so by a sharply divided Allied high command. His sending the doomed Task Force Baum to liberate his son-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters from a prisoner of war camp further damaged his standing with his superiors. His emphasis on rapid and aggressive offensive action nonetheless proved effective, and he was regarded highly by his opponents in the German High Command. An award-winning biographical film released in 1970, Patton, helped popularize his image.


“I’ll Bet You Goddam Buzzards are Just Following Me to See if I’ll Slap Another Soldier, Aren’t You? You’re All Hoping I will!”

Along with the faux pas committed during his Boston speech, Patton’s past indiscretions continued to dog him. During a visit to Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, he rounded on the press reporters following him with the words, “I’ll bet you goddam buzzards are just following me to see if I’ll slap another soldier, aren’t you? You’re all hoping I will!” His daughter, who worked in the amputee ward as an occupational therapist, recalled later that when her father saw the soldiers there he burst into tears and exclaimed, “Goddammit, if I had been a better general, most of you would not be here.” The men, who were not looking for sympathy, cheered him as he left.

Patton is said to have predicted his own death to both his daughters, Ruth Ellen and Bee, during a visit to the latter’s home in Washington shortly before his return to Germany. He told them, while his wife was out of the room, that he believed his luck had run out.

General George S. Patton visits his son-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel John Waters, while the latter recuperates in Walter Reed U.S. Army Hospital in Washington, D.C. Waters had been held in a German prison camp for three years. Patton was reported to have attempted a rescue operation at one time.

In early July in Paris, Patton again confided in his close friend Everett Hughes that he was glad to be out of the States and back in Europe. This was despite the fact that an Army order banning dependents had prevented Beatrice from accompanying him. Patton’s morale, however, got a lift when his aircraft was given a fighter escort for its flight to Bavaria and troops and tanks lined the route from the airfield to Bad Tölz. He wrote in his diary, “It gave me a very warm feeling in my heart to be back among soldiers.” Even so, Patton was pessimistic about the future of Europe, reluctant to get involved in the complexities of military government, and, perhaps more importantly, reluctant to purge the Nazis.

In the case of Europe, he was convinced it would soon become Communist, and in the case of the Nazis he saw practical problems. “My soldiers are fighting men and if I dismiss the sewer cleaners and the clerks my soldiers will have to take over those jobs,” he reasoned. “They’d have to run the telephone exchanges, the power facilities, the street cars, and that’s not what soldiers are for.” In short, provided a German had the right qualifications for a particular job, Patton was prepared to ignore his former Nazi background. This was, of course, completely contrary to the political direction he had received from Eisenhower for the denazification of the American zone of Germany. Furthermore, his problems were compounded by the fact that Washington was intent on demobilizing its warrior soldiers as quickly as possible, thus reducing his pool of skilled American manpower.

By his very nature and background, Patton was unsuited to his role as military governor. He was not interested in the details of rebuilding a country. He had little patience with the thousands of displaced persons (DPs), whom he described as “too worthless to even cut wood to keep themselves warm,” and his growing anti-Semitism coupled with despair over the fate of Germany led him to the depths of melancholia. He wrote in his diary, “If we let Germany and the German people be completely disintegrated and starved, they will certainly fall for Communism, and the fall of Germany for Communism will write the epitaph of democracy in the United States. The more I see of people, the more I regret I survived the war.” He even accused the U.S. Treasury Secretary of “Semitic revenge against Germany.”

On July 16, the Potsdam Conference convened, and Patton, resplendent with 20 stars and ivory-handled pistols, was in Berlin to see Truman preside over the raising of the American flag in the U.S. sector of the divided former German capital. The two men did not get on. Truman wrote in his diary, “Don’t see how a country can produce such men as Robert E. Lee, John J. Pershing, Eisenhower and Bradley and at the same time produce Custers, Pattons and MacArthurs.”

Patton did not enjoy his time there and on the 21st wrote to Beatrice, “We have destroyed what could have been a good race and we [are] about to replace them with Mongolian savages. Now the horrors of peace, pacifism and unions will have unlimited sway. I wish I were young enough to fight in the next one [war]. It would be real fun killing Mongols…. It is hell to be old and passé and know it.”

In his despondency, Patton reverted to the things he liked and did best—overseeing the training and discipline of his Army, riding, hunting, and reading‚—and for exercise he added a squash court to his residence. But the end of the war with Japan only added to his low morale on August 10 he wrote in his diary, “Another war has ended and with it my usefulness to the world. It is for me personally another very sad thought. Now all that is left is to sit around and await the arrival of the undertaker and posthumous immortality.”

Patton’s biographer, Carlo D’Este, has suggested that his melancholy and increasingly extraordinary behavior may have been due to brain damage that resulted from a series of head injuries caused by a lifetime of falls from horses and road accidents—the most serious being an accident in Hawaii in 1936 that had resulted in a two-day blackout. He goes on to say, however, that we shall never know, for after his death Beatrice refused to allow an autopsy on the body despite a request from the Army.

General George S. Patton, Jr. (left) strains to smile in company with Marshal Georgi Zhukov during a September 7, 1945, parade in Berlin. The two were present during activities celebrating the Allied victory over Japan.

In September, Patton returned to Berlin for a military review hosted by the legendary Marshal Georgi Zhukov. He had lost none of his quick wit or audacity. When his host pointed out a new, massive, and very advanced Stalin IS-3 tank and mentioned that its cannon had a range of 17,000 meters, Patton is said to have replied, “Indeed? Well, my dear Marshal Zhukov, let me tell you this. If any of my gunners started firing at your people before they had closed to less than 700 yards, I’d have them court-martialed for cowardice.”

Despite Patton’s indiscretions and lack of interest in his overall duties, in August 1945 Bavaria was judged by Secretary of War Stimson to be the best-governed area in the whole U.S. European Theater of Operations (ETO), an opinion apparently shared by his deputy. But any satisfaction Patton might have derived from this report was to be short-lived. In September things began to go terribly wrong for him.

During the early part of that month he decided to visit some of the prison camps in his area holding hardened Nazis and former members of the Waffen SS. Camp 24 at Auerbach, 100 miles northeast of Munich, held former members of the 1st Leibstandarte and 12th Hitlerjugend SS Panzer Divisions, and there had already been complaints by the senior German officer of “unbearable treatment of seriously disabled comrades.”

These had, however, been rejected, and when references had been made to the Geneva Convention, the officer had been told: “What do you mean Geneva Convention? You seem to have forgotten that you lost the war!” However, Hubert Meyer, the ex-Chief of Staff of the Hitlerjugend, recalled that on the occasion of Patton’s visit things had been very different. After satisfying himself about the correctness of the complaints, Patton immediately ordered action to rectify the situation and then went further, ordering that the starvation diet, which was described by one former senior German officer as “not enough to live on, but too much to die on,” should be supplemented by American Army rations.

It was in Camp 8 near Garmisch-Partenkirchen, 60 miles south of Munich, on September 8, 1945, that an incident occurred which was to have severe implications for Patton’s future career. After inspecting the American garrison responsible for administering and guarding the camp, he met the German commander of the prisoners. He complained that some Germans were being interned there as political prisoners without justification. Patton is said to have told the American officers accompanying him that he thought it was “sheer madness to intern these people.”

Not surprisingly, one of the American officers, a Jew, reported the incident to Eisenhower’s headquarters, now housed in the IG Farben building in Frankfurt and known as Headquarters U.S. Forces European Theater (USFET). The complaint landed on the desk of Ike’s civil affairs officer, Brig. Gen. Clarence Adcock. He briefed Ike’s chief of staff, General Walter Bedell Smith, who sent the report of the incident to Eisenhower who was on leave in the South of France. It was accompanied by a cover letter saying Smith thought Patton was out of control in Bavaria and that Ike ought to come back and take the matter in hand before any further damage was done.

Eisenhower returned and went to see Patton at Tegernsee on September 16. They talked until three in the morning, but there is no record of any discussion about Patton’s military governorship. They did, however, discuss Ike’s successor. The former supreme commander was due to return home in November to take over as Army chief of staff at the end of the year. When Patton heard that Ike’s likely successor was to be his deputy, General Joseph McNarney, he said he had no wish to serve under a man who had never heard a gun go off. The only jobs in which he was interested were commandant of the Army War College or commanding general of the Army ground forces. Ike told him they were both already filled. Patton wrote in his diary, “I guess there is nothing left for me but the undertaker.”


Networking at West Point

Patton’s lavish spending and upper-class ties led to other influential relationships. He had no hesitation in using his money or his family to expedite those relationships. While a student at West Point in 1905, he wrote to his father in advance of his parents’ visit to the Academy, asking him to do whatever he could to cultivate the goodwill of the officers. He told his father that if he could get “on their good side” that would increase his chances of promotion.

In 1939, while in command at Fort Myer, Patton invited the newly promoted Army Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall, to stay at his own quarters on the post while Marshall’s house was being renovated. Marshall accepted and, as Patton wrote to Bea, apparently the two men had a good time “batching it.”

Patton bought eight solid silver stars from a prominent New York jeweler and presented them to Marshall as a gift for his promotion to four-star general and frequently took Marshall sailing on his schooner. He knew that Marshall was about to make major changes in the Army officer corps, including forced retirement for most officers of Patton’s age.

Patton was a graduate of the West Point
class of 1909. He struggled in the classroom, particularly due to dyslexia.

On July 27, 1939, during Marshall’s stay at Patton’s quarters, Patton wrote to Bea, who was away with the children, “You had better send me a check for $5000 as I am getting pretty low.” That was a little over three times the average annual salary for a worker in the United States the equivalent today exceeds $71,000.

It is not surprising, then, that George Patton felt a sense of superiority to others, most of whom he considered beneath him socially, mentally, and morally. While still at West Point, he wrote to his father complaining about his fellow cadets, noting, “I am better than they are…. Someday I will show and make them feel how infernally inferior they are.”

In another letter he told his father, “I belong to a different class, a class almost extinct or one which may never have existed yet.” By his behavior he made it clear to the other cadets that none of them measured up to his own sense of self-worth. Not surprisingly, they left him pretty much alone, considering him arrogant and remote.


The Babalas Investigation

Another military officer who was on hand at the scene of the accident was military police officer Lieutenant Peter Babalas of the 818th Military Police Company at Mannheim, Germany. In later life, Babalas was to serve as a state senator in Virginia. Around 11:45 am, he and his partner, Lieutenant John Metz, had passed Patton’s car, going in the opposite direction. After hearing the crash, they turned around to provide whatever aid they could.

Babalas made an official investigation of the circumstances surrounding the accident and found that Patton’s driver, Private Horace Woodring and the driver of the truck that struck Patton, Robert Thompson, were directly responsible for the accident. Almost immediately after the accident, the Army’s Criminal Investigative Division spirited Thompson out of Germany and brought him to England where he stayed for a few days. The reason for his sudden trip to England ostensibly was for his own protection.

In 2008, author Robert Wilcox wrote a sensational book on the circumstances surrounding the accident and later death of Patton called Target Patton: The Plot to Assassinate General George S. Patton. The book, which caused a huge controversy, said that Patton had been assassinated on orders from high-ranking American military leaders.

One person whom author Wilcox interviewed for his book was a distinguished World War II veteran and assassin, Douglas Bazata. In 1979, Bazatta gave a two-part interview to the publication Spotlight, in which he made a sensational claim that Patton had been assassinated. In the first interview, he said that the Russians had the motive to kill Patton because he wanted the United States to go to war with them right after the end of World War II.

In the second installment which was called, “I Was Paid to Kill Patton,” he said that he was asked by none other than William Donovan, the head of the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS) to kill Patton. Bazata said that he did not take part in the Patton assassination because he knew Patton and liked him. He further said that the accident, which took place on December 9, 1945, had been arranged by someone he knew and would not name him. Bazata said that since the general had not died in the accident he was told, “A refined form of cyanide that can cause embolisms, heart failure, and things like that had been used to kill him later in the hospital. It had been made in Czechoslovakia, and, in small amounts, could be timed to kill over a period of 18 to 48 hours.”

Bazata proceeded to lay out his participation in the Patton assassination. In 1945, he was told by Donovan that he had orders from up the chain of command that Patton was considered a threat to the war effort and his actions could no longer be tolerated. Bazata told Patton of the internal threats against him, but the general brushed them aside. For his part, Bazata reluctantly went along with the plot. Bazata went on to say that he met an unidentified man whom he knew only as a “Pole” (Polish extraction), who was also ordered to kill Patton. Both men then began planning the general’s murder.


The Religious Life of George S. Patton

Better known for his profanity than for his prayers, George Patton was actually a devout and religious man. His profanity was merely a device to capture the attention of his soldiers.

Patton’s prayers, however, reflected his deep and sincere faith in God. Throughout his life he prayed daily and attended church almost every Sunday, even in wartime.

One cannot read Patton’s diaries, letters, speeches, and personal papers without being struck by the frequency with which he appeals to God and turns to the Bible for inspiration. Patton prayed to do his best, he prayed for solace in times of trouble, and he prayed for victory in times of war. “No one can live under the awful responsibility that I have without Divine help,” he wrote. In his many trials, Patton turned to God and found remarkable serenity.

The public Patton was brash, self-confident, and boastful. In his private supplications to God, however, a different Patton emerges— humble, uncertain, and seeking guidance. For Patton, God was not a distant and impersonal being but a companion with whom he had a personal relationship. And whenever he achieved anything important, whether it was his admission to West Point or a victory in battle, Pat-ton always gave thanks to God.

For the first twelve years of his life, Patton was educated at home. His aunt read to him three to four hours a day. Her fundamental text-book was the Bible. She also read to him from John Bunyan’s Christian allegory, The Pilgrim’s Progress. He sat beside her in church each Sunday as she recited the liturgical responses from the Book of Com-mon Prayer, and he developed an amazing capacity to repeat passages at length.

Patton’s religious beliefs, like the man himself, were unique and defy easy characterization. He was a communicant of the Episcopal Church, but he studied the Koran and the Bhagavad Gita. He was ecumenical in his beliefs, writing that “God was probably indifferent in the way he was approached,” but he opposed his daughter’s marriage to a Roman Catholic. He was in most respects a traditional Christian, but he had an unshakeable belief in reincarnation and asserted that he had lived former lives throughout history—always as a soldier.

To be successful, Patton believed, a man must plan, work hard, and pray. A man prays to God for assistance in circumstances that he cannot foresee or control. Patton believed that without prayer, his soldiers would “crack up” under the unrelenting pressures of battle. Prayer does not have to take place in church, but can be offered any-where. Praying, he said, is “like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven.” Prayer “completes the circuit. It is power.”

To Patton, prayer was a “force multiplier”—when combined with or employed by a combat force, it substantially increases the effective-ness of human efforts and enhances the odds of victory. In this sense, prayer was no different from training, leadership, technology, or firepower. But Patton’s faith was not a mere contrivance with which he cynically tried to motivate his men. He was a sincere believer. He even directed his chief chaplain to send out a training letter to every unit in the Third Army on the importance of prayer.

Prior to World War II, Patton was posted to Fort Myer in Virginia, near Washington, D.C. A regular churchgoer, he summoned the chaplain and bluntly told him that his sermons were too long. “I don’t yield to any man in my reverence to the Lord, but God damn it, no sermon needs to take longer than ten minutes. I’m sure you can make your point in that time.” The following Sunday Patton sat in the front pew. When the chaplain began his sermon, Patton ostentatiously took out his watch. Not surprisingly, the chaplain concluded his sermon exactly ten minutes later.

Patton made the same point a few years later, after the invasion of Sicily: “I had all the non-Catholic chaplains in the other day and gave them hell for having uninteresting services. . . . I told them that I was going to relieve any preacher who talked more than ten minutes on any subject. I will probably get slapped down by the Church union.”

He would not tolerate defeatism in prayers or sermons. Preachers who committed that particular sin he called “pulpit killers.” Clergy-men who insisted “thou shalt not kill” knew less about the Bible than he did, Patton argued. He insisted it was not a sin to kill if one served on the side of God, citing the Old Testament story of David slaying Goliath. Patton would swiftly communicate his displeasure at ser-mons that dwelt on death or families whose sons would never return home. Instead he demanded sermons and prayers which emphasized courage and victory.

Confident in his own religious convictions and his knowledge of the Bible, Patton did not hesitate publicly to contradict a chaplain’s sermon, as this diary entry for Armistice Day, 1943, reveals:

We went to a Memorial Service at the cemetery at 1100. The Chaplain preached a sermon on sacrifice and the usual bull, so as I put the wreath at the foot of the flagpole, I said, “I consider it no sacrifice to die for my country. In my mind we came here to thank God that men like these have lived rather than to regret that they have died.”

Coy Eklund, an officer on Patton’s staff, confirms a story about Patton’s insistence on inspirational sermons:

It is no myth that one Sunday morning, after attending church services as he always did, he stalked into my office in the Army barracks in Nancy, France, where I was the senior duty officer.

“Eklund,” he demanded, “do you know Chaplain So-and-so?”

“Well get rid of the son of a bitch. He can’t preach!” And we got rid of him.

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the George S. Patton. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to General Patton.

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George S. Patton’s Timeline

1885 November 11 Patton was born in San Gabriel, Los Angeles County, California.

1897–1903 Patton attended Stephen Cutter Clark’s Classical School for Boys, Pasadena, California.

1903–1904 Patton attended Virginia Military Institute, Lexington, Virginia, as Cadet.

1904 June 16 Patton entered U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

1905 June 5 Patton turned back to repeat initial year.

September 1 Patton re-entered as Cadet, U.S. Military Academy.

1909 June 11 Patton was promoted to the rank of second lieutenant, 15th Cavalry.

September 12 Patton joined 15th Cavalry, Fort Sheridan, Illinois, and was assigned to Troop K.

1910 May 26 Patton and Beatrice Banning Ayer were married they would later have three children.

1911 March 19 Patton’s first child, Beatrice Ayer, was born.

1912 June 14 Patton sailed for Europe to participate in the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.

July 7 Patton participated in Modern Pentathlon, Olympic Games.

July–August Patton received individual instruction in fencing at Saumur, France.

1915 February 28 Patton’s second child, Ruth Ellen Patton Totten, was born.

1916 March 13 Patton detached from 8th Cavalry and attached to headquarters, Punitive Expedition, Mexico.

May 14 Patton led soldiers who engaged Pancho Villa’s bodyguard and others at Rubio Ranch.

May 23 Patton was promoted to the rank of first lieutenant.

1917 May 15 Patton was promoted to the rank of captain.

May 18 Patton was ordered to report to General Pershing in Washington, D.C. appointed Commanding Officer, Headquarters Troop, AEF.

November 10 Detailed to the Tank Service.

1918 January 26 Patton was promoted to the temporary rank of major.

March 23 Patton, as commanding officer of the American Tank School in France, received his first 10 light tanks by train.

March 30 Patton was promoted to the temporary rank of lieutenant colonel.

September 15 St. Mihiel Offensive was launched.

September 26 Patton was seriously wounded during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France.

October 17 Patton was promoted to the temporary rank of colonel.

December 16 Patton was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

1920 June 20 Patton reverted to the permanent rank of captain.

July 1 Patton was promoted to the permanent rank of major.

October 3 Patton joined 3d Cavalry at Fort Myer, Virginia, as Commanding Officer, 3d Squadron.

1923 December 24 Patton’s son, George Patton IV, was born.

1924 July 30 Patton was an Honor Graduate, Command and General Staff College.

1925 March 4 Patton sailed from New York to Hawaii on the Army Transport ship Chateau-Thierry going through the Panama Canal.

March 31 Reached Hawaii and was assigned to the G-1 and G-2 Hawaiian Division.

1927 June Patton’s father, George Smith Patton, died.

1928 October 6 Patton’s mother, Ruth Wilson Patton, died.

1932 June 2 Patton was awarded the Purple Heart for a wound sustained in 1918.

June 11 Became Distinguished Graduate, Army War College.

1934 March 1 Patton was promoted to the permanent rank of lieutenant colonel.

1935 May 7 Patton departed Los Angeles for Hawaii.

June 8 Arrived in Honolulu and was assigned to G-2, Hawaiian Department.

1937 June 12 Patton departed Honolulu.

July 12 Arrived in Los Angeles.

July 25 Spent time in Beverly, Massachusetts hospital with a broken leg.

November 14 Discharged from the hospital, sick in quarters.

1938 July 1 Patton was promoted to the permanent rank of colonel.

July 24 Patton served as Commanding Officer, 5th Cavalry, Fort Clark, Texas.

December 10 Patton served as Commanding Officer, 3d Cavalry, Fort Myer, Virginia.

1940 April 1 Served as Umpire, Spring Maneuvers, Fort Benning, Georgia.

May 1 Served as Control Officer, Maneuvers, Fort Beauregard, Louisiana.

October 2 Patton was promoted to the temporary rank of brigadier general.

July 26 Patton served as Commanding Officer, 2d Armored Brigade of 2d Armored Division, Fort Benning.

1941 April 4 Patton was promoted to the temporary rank of major general.

April 11 Patton was made the commanding officer of the 2nd Armored Division.

1943 March 6 Patton was named the commanding officer of the US II Corps.

March 12 Patton was promoted to the temporary rank of lieutenant general.

July 15 Patton formed a provisional corps in western Sicily, Italy.

August 3 Patton visited a field hospital in Sicily, Italy, and slapped Charles Kuhl for what he considered cowardice as Kuhl suffered no physical wounds.

August 10 Patton visited the 93rd Evacuation Hospital in Sicily, Italy, and berated Private Paul Bennett for cowardice.

November 21 Journalist Drew Pearson publicized George Patton’s “slapping incident” of Aug 3, 1943.

1944 March 26 Task Force Baum heads out for Hammelburg to liberate the prisoner of war camp there. One of the prisoners is Patton’s son-in-law, John K. Waters.

July 6 Patton secretly flew into Normandy, France, while the Germans still believed he would lead the main invading force at Pas de Calais.

August 16 Patton was promoted to the permanent rank of major general, bypassing the permanent rank of brigadier general.

December 8 Patton calls Chaplain James H. O’Neill and asks if he has “a good prayer for weather.”

December 12–14 Prayer cards are distributed to Patton’s troops, asking, “Grant us fair weather for battle.”

December 16 Germany launched offensive in the Ardennes known as the Battle of the Bulge.

December 20 Weather in the Ardennes cleared.

1945 March 17 Eisenhower ordered Patton to cease making plans to enter German-occupied Czechoslovakia.

March 24 Patton urinated into the Rhine River. Upon completing his crossing over a pontoon bridge, he took some dirt on the far bank, emulating his favorite historical figure William the Conqueror.

April 14 Patton was promoted to the permanent rank of general.

May 12 Patton launched Operation Cowboy in Hostau, Czechoslovakia, rescuing 1,200 horses, including 375 of the Lipizzan breed, from potential Soviet slaughter.

June 9 Patton and James Doolittle were honored at a parade in Los Angeles, California.

June 10 Patton addressed a crowd of 100,000 civilians in Burbank, California.

September 22 Taken out of context, Patton’s careless comparison of Nazi Party members in Germany to Democratic Party or Republican Party members in the United States stirred much controversy.

October 2 Patton was relieved for statements made to the press about former Nazi Party members.

December 9 Patton sustained spinal cord and neck injuries in an automobile accident near Neckarstadt, Germany.

December 21 Patton passed away from pulmonary embolism as the result of an automobile accident.

1946 March 19 Patton’s remains were moved to a different gravesite within the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Luxembourg.

1953 September 30 Patton’s widow, Beatrice, died of a ruptured aortic aneurysm while horseback riding at Hamilton, Massachusetts. Her ashes were later strewn over her husband’s grave.

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General Patton relieves Allies at Bastogne

On December 26, General George S. Patton employs an audacious strategy to relieve the besieged Allied defenders of Bastogne, Belgium, during the brutal Battle of the Bulge.

The capture of Bastogne was the ultimate goal of the Battle of the Bulge, the German offensive through the Ardennes forest. Bastogne provided a road junction in rough terrain where few roads existed it would open up a valuable pathway further north for German expansion. The Belgian town was defended by the U.S. 101st Airborne Division, which had to be reinforced by troops who straggled in from other battlefields. Food, medical supplies, and other resources eroded as bad weather and relentless German assaults threatened the Americans’ ability to hold out. Nevertheless, Brigadier General Anthony C. MacAuliffe met a German surrender demand with a typewritten response of a single word: “Nuts.”

Enter “Old Blood and Guts,” General Patton. Employing a complex and quick-witted strategy wherein he literally wheeled his 3rd Army a sharp 90 degrees in a counterthrust movement, Patton broke through the German lines and entered Bastogne, relieving the valiant defenders and ultimately pushing the Germans east across the Rhine.


Adolf Hitler's Fear Of U.S. General George Patton Was Not Unfounded

Patton took no great pleasure in the end of the war in Europe.

When Patton Eventually Met Dorn on September 28, He Described Him as a “Smooth, Smart-Ass Academic Type.”

Eisenhower returned to Bavaria a week later following reports of bad conditions in some of the DP camps there. The reports were true. Ike found not only appalling conditions but German guards, some of whom were former SS men. Patton tried to explain that the camp had been fine before the arrival of the present Jewish occupants who were “pissing and crapping all over the place.” Despite being told to “Shut up, George,” he apparently went on to say that there was an empty village nearby which he was planning to turn into a concentration camp for them. Eisenhower’s response is unrecorded.

By now Bedell Smith, Adcock, and others had come to the conclusion that Patton was mentally unbalanced. Adcock’s civilian deputy, Walter Dorn, was a history professor on leave from Ohio State University. Of German origin, he was determined to rid Germany of all vestiges of Nazism. When Patton eventually met him on September 28, he described him as a “smooth, smart-ass academic type.” Academic or not, Dorn soon focused his attention on the success or otherwise of the denazification program in Bavaria. He discovered that the German organization set on behalf of Patton to administer Bavaria was riddled with former Nazis. Patton had taken so little interest in the new administration that he did not even recall meeting its Minister President, a Dr. Fritz Schaeffer.

As a result of Dorn’s discoveries and the PW Camp 8 incident, he and Adcock, presumably with Bedell Smith’s agreement, arranged for a psychiatrist, disguised as a supply officer, to be posted to Patton’s headquarters to study his behavior—and, unbelievably, for Patton’s phones to be tapped and his residence bugged. It is not clear if or what the psychiatrist reported, but needless to say it was not long before the wiretappers heard their subject expressing violently anti-Russian views and even suggesting that ex-members of the Wehrmacht should be rearmed and used to help the U.S. Army force the Red Army “back into Russia.” In one conversation with Ike’s deputy, McNarney, he allegedly went as far as to say, “In ten days I can have enough incidents happen to have us at war with those sons of bitches and make it look like their fault.”

Patton held two disastrous press conferences during the following month. At the first, in Frankfurt on August 27, he “spoke out against the Russians and signed a letter proposing the release of some Nazi internees.” This apparently so angered Eisenhower that he is said to have demanded that Patton carry out the denazification program as ordered “instead of mollycoddling the goddamn Nazis.” But Patton was not going to change two days later he wrote in his diary, “The Germans are the only decent people left in Europe. If it’s a choice between them and the Russians, I prefer the Germans.”

Worse was to follow. On September 22, Patton agreed to answer questions from reporters after his normal morning briefing at Bad Tölz. When asked why Nazis were being retained in governmental positions in Bavaria, he replied, “I despise and abhor Nazis and Hitlerism as much as anyone. My record on that is clear and unchallengeable. It is to be found on battlefields from Morocco to Bad Tölz…. Now, more than half the Germans were Nazis and we would be in a hell of a fix if we removed all Nazi party members from office. The way I see it, this Nazi question is very much like a Democrat and Republican election fight. To get things done in Bavaria, after the complete disorganization and disruption of four years of war, we had to compromise with the devil a little. We had no alternative but to turn to the people who knew what to do and how to do it. So, for the time being we are compromising with the devil…. I don’t like the Nazis any more than you do. I despise them. In the past three years I did my utmost to kill as many of them as possible. Now we are using them for lack of anyone better until we can get better people.”

Needless to say, the press ran with this story, particularly the Democrat versus Republican analogy. When it became clear to Eisenhower that the press reports were basically accurate, he was aghast and ordered Patton to report to him in Frankfurt. The weather was too bad to fly, and when Patton arrived on the 28th, after a seven-hour car journey in heavy rain, he was uncharacteristically dressed in an ordinary khaki jacket and GI trousers. His normal cavalry breeches, swagger stick, and pistols had been left behind.

Patton knew he was in trouble. During their two-hour meeting Eisenhower was “more excited than I have ever seen him,” remembered Patton in his diary. At one stage the officer responsible for USFET Civil Affairs, Clarence Adcock, was summoned and he brought Professor Dorn into the room with him. The latter then skillfully and ruthlessly demonstrated that the Fritz Schaeffer administration in Bavaria was full of former Nazis.

When they were alone again, Patton suggested that he should “be simply relieved,” but Ike said he did not intend to do that and had had no pressure from the States to that effect. “I then said that I should be allowed to continue the command of the Third Army and the government of Bavaria,” remembered Patton. But Eisenhower’s mind was made up. Patton was offered command of the Fifteenth Army— an army in name only since its sole mission was to prepare a history of the war in Europe! The only alternative was resignation.

He accepted the job with the Fifteenth Army, explaining this away in his diary by writing that in resigning “I would save my self-respect at the expense of my reputation but … would become a martyr too soon.” He went on in his diary to justify his acceptance of the Fifteenth Army command as follows: “I was reluctant, in fact unwilling, to be party to the destruction of Germany under the pretense of denazification…. I believe Germany should not be destroyed, but rather rebuilt as a buffer against the real danger which is Bolshevism from Russia.”

Eisenhower ended the meeting by telling Patton that he felt he should get back to Bad Tölz as quickly as possible and that his personal train was ready to take him at 1900 hours. Patton’s diary entry ended with the words, “I took the train.”

The following day Bedell Smith phoned Patton and read a letter to him from Eisenhower. It told him he was to assume his new appointment on October 8. When this was announced on the 2nd, many of the newspaper headlines, including that in Stars and Stripes, read “PATTON FIRED.” Some papers were sympathetic the New York Times wrote: “Patton has passed from current controversy into history. There he will have an honored place…. He was obviously in a post which he was unsuited by temperament, training or experience to fill. It was a mistake to suppose a free-swinging fighter could acquire overnight the capacities of a wise administrator. His removal by General Eisenhower was an acknowledgement of that mistake…. For all his showmanship he was a scientific soldier, a thorough military student…. He reaped no laurels from the peace, but those he won in war will remain green for a long time.”

Patton Did Not Wish to Become the “Executioner to the Best Race in Europe.”

Patton’s letter to Beatrice, written the day after his meeting with Ike, indicates the turmoil in his mind: “The noise against me is the only means by which Jews and Communists are attempting and with good success to implement a further dismemberment of Germany.” He ended it by saying that he had no wish to be “executioner to the best race in Europe.”

With regard to the fateful September 22 press conference, Patton later wrote: “This conference cost me the command of the Third Army, or rather, of a group of soldiers, mostly recruits, who then rejoiced in that historic name, but I was intentionally direct, because I believed that it was then time for people to know what was going on. My language was not particularly politic, but I have yet to find where politic language produces successful government…. My chief interest in establishing order in Germany was to prevent Germany from going communistic. I am afraid that our foolish and utterly stupid policy … will certainly cause them to join the Russians and thereby ensure a communistic state throughout Western Europe. It is rather sad for me to think that my last opportunity for earning my pay has passed. At least, I have done my best as God gave me the chance.”

Patton handed over command of his beloved Third Army to another cavalryman, General Lucian Truscott, on October 7, 1945. It was a wet day, and the ceremony was held, rather inappropriately, inside a gymnasium. Patton made a short farewell speech, which began with the words “All good things must come to an end” and ended with “Goodbye and God bless you.” A band then played “Auld Lang Syne,” the Third Army flag was handed over, and Patton left to the music of the Third Army march and “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” After a luncheon in his honor, he left in the Third Army train for his new headquarters in Bad Nauheim, 20 miles north of Frankfurt.


PATTON IN WORLD WAR 1: THE TANK CORPS

Patton wanted combat and knew he couldn’t find it as a staff officer to Pershing to see action he had to either lead infantry or train to become a tank officer. He chose the latter, thinking it the quickest way to combat and further promotion. He wrote to Pershing, reminding him that he was “the only American who has ever made an attack in a motor vehicle” 8 (he was referring to the motorized ambush he had led in Mexico), that his fluency in French meant he could read French tank manuals and converse with and take instruction from French tank officers, that he was good with engines, and that as tanks were the new cavalry it was an appropriate branch for a cavalry officer like himself. Privately, he noted to his father, “There will be hundred[s] of Majors of Infantry but only one of Light T[anks].” He had his progress mapped out: “1st. I will run the school. 2. then they will organize a battalion and I will command it. 3. Then if I make good and the T. do and the war lasts I will get the first regiment. 4. With the same ‘IF’ as before they will make a brigade and I will get the star” (of a brigadier general).

It worked out more or less that way, with Patton the first officer—or soldier of any rank in the United States Army—assigned to the Tank Corps, where he was charged with establishing the First Army Tank School. Before he did that, Patton gave himself a crash course in French tanks, which included test-driving them, firing their guns, and even walking the assembly line to see how they were made. He used that experience to write a masterly summary of everything one needed to know about tanks.

His new commander in the Tank Corps, as of December 1917, would be Colonel Samuel D. Rockenbach, a VMI graduate with an aristocratic wife, a taskmasterly way with subordinates, and the massive responsibility of creating the Tank Corps from scratch, including acquiring tanks from the French and the British. When it came to men, Patton intended that the Tanks Corps’ standards of discipline and deportment would exceed those of other American units, and he made a special point of looking after his men, ensuring they were given the best food and billets he could muster.

Patton’s efficiency as a tank commander won him promotion to lieutenant colonel, but he worried the war would end before he had a chance to lead his tankers in combat. That chance came at Saint Mihiel on 12 September 1918. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t stay at his command post but roamed the field under fire, directing attacks his tankers did well and showed plenty of fighting spirit.

He had been chastised for leaving his command post during the battle at Saint-Mihiel, but he did the same during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. He followed his tanks into combat, even helping to dig a path for them through two trenches (and whacking a recalcitrant soldier over the head with a shovel). While attempting to lead a unit of pinned-down infantry against the Germans, he was shot through the leg but continued to direct the attack. He wrote to his wife from his hospital bed on 12 October 1918, saying, “Peace looks possible, but I rather hope not for I would like to have a few more fights. They are awfully thrilling like steeple chasing only more so.” He was promoted to colonel. The Armistice came on his thirty-third birthday. All in all, Patton had had a quite satisfactory war.

Peace was another matter. There was no glory in it and no chance for him to achieve the greatness he sought. Polo was his substitute. He studied military history, as well as the last war and current developments. He formulated his own views in articles, including his conclusion that “Tanks are not motorized cavalry they are tanks, a new auxiliary arm whose purpose is ever and always to facilitate the advance of the master arm, the Infantry, on the field of battle.” Before the next great war he amended that view, recognizing that tanks could be an offensive force of their own.

On 1 October 1919, Patton gave a speech to the Tank Corps on “The Obligation of Being an Officer.” It touched on Patton’s grand view of the profession of arms: “Does it not occur to you gentlemen that we . . . are also the modern representatives of the demigods and heroes of antiquity?. . . In the days of chivalry, the golden age of our profession, knights (officers) were noted as well for courtesy and being gentle benefactors of the weak and oppressed. . . . Let us be gentle. That is courteous and considerate for the rights of others. Let us be men. That is fearless and untiring in doing our duty as we see it.” Patton concluded with a list of recommendations for good behavior and decorum, essentially acting as Colonel Manners. Patton could, famously and frequently, swear up a storm. But he was nevertheless punctilious about gentlemanly conduct.

Patton’s exploits in World War II, and his quotable phrases, are legendary. But his World War I career should not be overlooked. The events of the war stayed with him the rest of his life. In 1943, two years before his death, Patton had spoken at an Armistice Day service honoring American dead, saying, “I consider it no sacrifice to die for my country. In my mind we came here to thank God that men like these have lived rather than to regret that they have died.”

These are words that apply most dramatically to the life of General George S. Patton.

This article is part of our extensive collection of articles on the Great War. Click here to see our comprehensive article on World War 1.

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