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. A great-uncle, Waller T. Patton, perished of wounds received in Pickett's Charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. 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 with a romantic nostalgia for the lost cause of the Confederate States of America, was disgusted by Reconstruction, and publicly advocated the "continued supremacy" of "Aryan civilization." This certainly helped to shape George, Jr.'s attitudes as evidenced when he took his daughter, Ruth Ellen, to see Robert E. Lee's grave, and handing her a small Confederate flag, told her, "You're so unreconstructed."
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.
Patton's mother kept paintings, and statues, of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on the wall in their home. Patton admired them as he knelt to say his prayers, initially thinking that they were portraits of God and Jesus.
Patton, along with many other members of his family, was a staunch believer in reincarnation. He often claimed to behold visions of his ancestors. Anecdotal evidence indicates that he held himself to be the reincarnation of the Carthaginian general Hannibal, or a Roman legionary, or a Napoleonic marshal, etc.
He was married to Beatrice Banning Ayer (January 12, 1886 - September 30, 1953), the daughter of a wealthy textile baron, 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, 1923–June 30, 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.
...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.
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.
At the onset of the USA's entry into 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 to the newly formed United States Tank Corps. Depending on the source, he either led the U.S. Tank Corps or was an observer at the 1917 Battle of Cambrai, where the first tanks were used as a significant force. As the U.S. Tank Corps did not take part in this battle the role of observer is the most likely. From his successes (and his organization of a training school for American tankers in Langres, France), Patton was promoted to major and then 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 Battle of Saint-Mihiel, September 1918, and was wounded by machine gun fire as he sought assistance for tanks that were mired in the mud. The bullet passed through his upper thigh and for years afterwards, when Patton was inebriated at social events, he would drop his pants to show his wound and called himself a "half-assed general." 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.
In July 1932, Patton served under Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur, as a major leading 600 troops, including the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment, in an action to disperse the protesting veterans known as the "Bonus Army" in Washington, D.C.. MacArthur ordered the troops to advance on the protesters with tear gas and bayonets. At one point, when the protesters resisted with bricks and curses, Patton led the last mounted charge of the U.S. Cavalry. One of the veterans rousted by the cavalry was Joe Angelo, who had received the Distinguished Service Cross in 1918 for saving Patton's life.
Patton served in Hawaii before returning to Washington to once again ask Congress for funding for armored units. 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 Asst. 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 7 days later.
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 Division 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 for this invasion, 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 square acre expanse of unforgiving desert known for its blistering temperatures, sandy arroyos and absolute desolation. It was a close match for the terrain Patton and his men would encounter during the campaigns in North Africa. To this day, history buffs can still find tank tracks, foxholes and spent shell casing in an area about southeast of Palm Springs.
On June 3, 1942, Patton believed the Japanese were on a course to invade Mexico. He believed the Japanese would use the beaches of Mexico to move 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 on June 6.
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 defeats of the U.S. II Corps (then part of British 1st Army) by the German Afrika Korps at the Battle of Sidi Bou Zid and again at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass, General Dwight D. "Ike" Eisenhower wanted an assessment of the corps. After Kasserine, Eisenhower sent Major General Omar Bradley to observe the conditions of the II Corps operationally.
On 6 March 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 (with three stars). Soon thereafter, Patton had Bradley reassigned to his Corps Command as deputy commander. Thus began a long wartime association between the two diverse personalities.
Tough in his training, Patton was generally unpopular with his troops. However, they preferred to serve with him because they thought he was their best chance to get home alive. Both British and US 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 earlier. In a play on his nickname, troops joked that it was "his guts and our blood".
The discipline Patton required paid off quickly. By mid-March 1943, the counter-offensive of the U.S. II Corps, along with the rest of 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 accomplishments 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.
The Seventh Army repulsed several German counterattacks in the beachhead area before beginning its push north. Meanwhile, the Eighth Army stalled south of Mount Etna in the face of strong German defenses. The Army Group commander, Harold Alexander, exercised only the loosest control over his two commanders. Montgomery therefore took the initiative to meet with Patton in an attempt to work out a coordinated campaign.
Patton formed a provisional Corps under his Chief of Staff, and quickly pushed through western Sicily, liberating the capital, Palermo, and then swiftly turned east towards Messina. US forces liberated Messina in accordance with the plan jointly created by Montgomery and Patton. However, the Italians and Germans had air and naval supremacy over their withdrawal routes and evacuated all of their soldiers and much of their heavy equipment across the straits of Messina onto the Italian mainland.
Even worse for him was the "slapping incident", which occurred on August 3, 1943 that 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.
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.
As it turned out, Patton had slapped another soldier ten days earlier, though Kuhl's story was the one that received publicity. Other reporters had decided to keep the incident quiet, and 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, but 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 they assumed Patton would lead the attack and he was the general they feared the most. During the 10 months Patton was relieved of duty, his prolonged stay in Sicily was interpreted by the Germans to be indicative of an upcoming invasion of southern France. Later, a stay in Cairo was interpreted 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 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 soldiers of that Division 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 US 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, knowing 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 supply priority to Montgomery, and diversion of resources to moving the Communications Zone, coupled with Patton's refusal to attack slowly, resulted in the 3rd 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.
In late 1944, the German army made a last-ditch offensive across Belgium, Luxembourg, and northeastern France in the Ardennes Offensive (better 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. It was during the midst of this fighting that the weather had become bitterly cold and snowy, which halted tank operations for a time.
Needing just one full day (24 hours) of good weather, Patton ordered the Third Army Chaplain, (COL) James O'Neill, to come up with a prayer beseeching God to grant this. The weather did clear soon after the prayer was recited, and Patton decorated O'Neill with the Bronze Star on the spot. Following this, he continued ahead with dealing with the German offensive and von Rundstedt.
Patton turned the 3rd Army north abruptly (a notable tactical and logistical achievement), disengaging from the front line to relieve the surrounded and besieged 101st Airborne Division pocketed in Bastogne. By February, the Germans were in full retreat and Patton moved into the Saar Basin of Germany. The bulk of 3rd Army completed its crossing of the Rhine at Oppenheim on March 22, 1945.
Prisoners of war taken during or after military engagements can be counted, whereas an opposing military force’s losses in killed and wounded can usually be only estimated, and there has been a tendency in all military forces at all times to exaggerate casualties inflicted on the enemy. The above figures on German troops killed or wounded by Patton’s Third Army seem questionable considering the overall relation between Allied and German casualties during the 1944/45 campaign in northwestern Europe. According to Charles B. MacDonald,
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 Unless the total number of German combat fatalities during this campaign was much higher than stated by MacDonald, this means 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 claim of German combat fatalities inflicted by the Third Army is a considerable exaggeration.
Largely overlooked in history is the warm reception he received on June 9, 1945, when he and Army Air Force Lieutenant General Jimmy Doolittle were honored with a parade through Los Angeles and a reception at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before over 100,000 people that evening. The next day, Patton and Doolittle toured the metropolitan Los Angeles area. Patton spoke in front of the Burbank City Hall and at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. He wore his helmet with a straight line of stars, chest full of medals, and two ivory handle trademark pistols (not pearl, as is often incorrectly asserted). He punctuated his speech with some of the same profanity he had used with the troops. He spoke about conditions in Europe and the Russian allies to the adoring crowds. This may be the only time in America when the civilian people, en masse, heard and saw the famous warrior on the podium.
This was also the time when he quietly turned over an original copy of the 1935 Nuremberg Laws, which he had smuggled out of Germany in violation of JCS 1067, to the Huntington Library, a world-class repository of historical original papers, books, and maps, near Pasadena. He instructed physicist Robert Millikan, then the chairman of the board of trustees of the Huntington Library to make no official record of the transaction, and to not make the materials available for public inspection during Patton's lifetime. The Huntington Library retained the Nuremberg Laws in a basement vault in spite of a legal instruction in 1969 by the general's family to turn over all of his papers to the Library of Congress. On June 26, 1999, Robert Skotheim, then the president of the Huntington Library announced that the Library was to permanently loan the Nuremberg Laws to the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, where they are currently on display.
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.
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.
Patton deliberately cultivated a flashy, distinctive image in the belief that this would motivate his troops. He was usually seen wearing a highly polished helmet, riding pants, and high cavalry boots. He carried flashy ivory-handled, nickel-plated revolvers as his most famous sidearms (a Colt Single Action Army .45 a.k.a. "Peacemaker") and later the addition of a S&W Model 27 .357). His vehicles carried oversized rank insignia and loud sirens. His speech was riddled with profanities. The toughness of his image and character appeared well-suited to the conditions of battle. Patton received many eulogies from the reporters who had followed him, including a tribute from a UPI writer who wrote, "Gen. George S. Patton believed he was the greatest soldier who ever lived. He made himself believe he would never falter through doubt. This absolute faith in himself as a strategist and master of daring infected his entire army, until the men of the second American corps in Africa, and later the third army in France, believed they could not be defeated under his leadership.
The task force, named Task Force Baum (after its leader, Captain Abraham Baum), fought valiantly through significant resistance to liberate the camp, but was too exhausted and reduced in size from 52 hours of continuous fighting to break out of the noose of Wehrmacht reinforcements that rapidly swarmed into the area to surround them. The raid by Task Force Baum was a total failure, and only 35 of the 300 men returned; the rest were captured or killed.
After the news of the operation became public, it was revealed that Patton's motivation for ordering the operation against apparent common sense and the strident objections of his officers was most probably personal: he had been informed on February 9th by General Eisenhower that his son-in-law, Lieutenant Colonel John K. Waters, captured in North Africa in 1943, was being held at Hammelburg. Until this information came out, Patton had always insisted he had no knowledge of the location of Waters. Upon further review, Patton's explanation for insisting that Stiller go along also didn't hold water; as a decorated World War I officer, Stiller had already seen significantly more combat than most of the men in Task Force Baum, and (most importantly) as a personal friend of Patton's family, he had met Waters and would be able to identify him. Furthermore, Patton had always insisted that the operation to liberate the camp at Hammelburg was motivated by a deep concern for the welfare and safety of captured US servicemen, yet in an ironic twist, after Stiller was captured, Patton refused to try to liberate the camp where he and other survivors were being held, even though it was much closer to the 3rd Army line of advance than Hammelburg had been, and contained nearly twice as many troops. Patton's superior, General Omar Bradley, later famously characterized the raid as "a wild goose-chase that ended in a tragedy."
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.
However, like many military officers Patton expressed his doubts about using black men in combat. On returning to headquarters afterwards, he remarked, "They gave a good first impression, but I have no faith in the inherent fighting ability of the race." He only accepted the 761st because he desperately needed all the ground power he could get. Even after the war, Patton was not inclined to reform his perception of black soldiers. In War As I Knew It, he relates the interaction described above, and comments, "Individually they were good soldiers, but I expressed my belief at the time, and have never found the necessity of changing it, that a colored soldier cannot think fast enough to fight in armor.
D'Este explains that "on the one hand he could and did admire the toughness and courage" of some black soldiers but his writings can also be frequently read as "disdaining them and their officers because they were not part of his social order." 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. 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 in fact was more appreciative of Montgomery's organizational abilities than was either Eisenhower or Bradley.
Patton's views on blacks could seem mild, and even generous, compared to some remarks he made about Jews and other ethnic groups he encountered throughout his military career (much less his legendary hatred of the Russians). He generally considered those who were not of Northern European ancestry to be dirty and uncivilized. However, his statements regarding history show this did not amount to lack of respect for the military accomplishments of other races. He expressed his manifestly antisemitic feelings about Jews with his writings:
However, he was nonetheless 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 roughly 2000 local Germans and march them through the camps. He wanted them to see the atrocities firsthand.
Though many of his attitudes were common, as with all of his opinions, he was often exceptionally blunt in his expression of them. He once wrote:
After reading the Koran and observing North Africans, he wrote to his wife "It seems to me a certainty that the fatalistic teachings of Mohammed and the utter degradation of women are the outstanding causes for the arrested development of the Arab. He is exactly as he was around the year 700, while we have kept on developing.
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. Of the two slapped soldiers, one was AWOL from his unit, and reported diarrhea (which could be induced by eating the issue yellow soap). The other had malaria, but had been labeled by the hospital unit as a "battle fatigue" case.
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. In addition, Patton was highly critical of the victorious Allies use of German forced labor. He commented in his diary "I’m also opposed to sending PW’s to work as slaves in foreign lands (in particular, to France) where many will be starved to death." He also noted "It is amusing to recall that we fought the revolution in defence of the rights of man and the civil war to abolish slavery and have now gone back on both principles". (See also Eisenhower and German POWs).
Near the end of the war (February 1945), Eisenhower ranked the capabilities of U.S. generals in Europe. Omar Bradley and Carl Spaatz he rated as the best. Walter Bedell Smith was ranked number 3, and Patton number 4, followed by Mark Clark, and Lucian Truscott.
Bradley himself had been asked by Eisenhower to rank all the generals in December 1945, and he ranked them as follows: Bedell Smith #1, Spaatz #2, Courtney Hodges #3, Elwood Quesada #4, Truscott #5, and Patton #6 (others were also ranked)
However, Patton was a ground commander. Spaatz and Quesada had been air commanders since the 1920s, having spent their military careers through the end of the Second World War in the Army Air Force Corps, the forerunner of today's U.S. Air Force, which was not separated from the U.S. Army until 1947. It may be impossible today to make a fair comparison of commanders from two such different branches of the U.S. military.
Eisenhower's and Bradley's rankings probably included factors other than Patton's success as a battle leader. As to that, Alan Axelrod in his book Patton (Palgrave Macmillan, 2006) quotes German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt as stating "Patton was your best" and, surprisingly, Joseph Stalin as stating that the Red Army could neither have planned nor executed Patton's advance across France. D'Este reports that even Hitler begrudgingly respected Patton, once calling him "that crazy cowboy general."
|Second Lieutenant||June 11, 1909||June 12, 1915||United States Army|
|First Lieutenant||May 23, 1916||July 1, 1916||United States Army|
|Captain||May 15, 1917||May 15, 1917||United States Army|
|major||January 26, 1918||June 17, 1918||National Army|
|Lieutenant Colonel||March 30, 1918||October 14, 1918||National Army|
|Colonel||October 17, 1918||N/A||National Army|
|Captain (Peacetime reversion)||June 30, 1920||June 30, 1920||Regular Army|
|Major||July 1, 1920||July 2, 1920||Regular Army|
|Lieutenant Colonel||March 1, 1934||July 1, 1936||Regular Army|
|Colonel||July 1, 1938||March 11, 1941||Regular Army|
|Brigadier General||October 1, 1940||September 29, 1941||Army of the United States|
|Major General||April 4, 1941||March 27, 1942||Army of the United States|
|Lieutenant General||March 12, 1943||July 7, 1942||Army of the United States|
|Brigadier General||August 16, 1944||N/A||Regular Army|
|Major General||August 16, 1944||N/A||Regular Army|
|General||April 14, 1945||February 11, 1943||Army of the United States|
|General of the Army||N/A||December 20, 1944||Army of the United States|
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, who confidently delivered a finely tuned and concise speech. The movie writers of Patton, Francis Ford Coppola and Edmund H. North, however, changed the wording here and there, often for the sake of toning it down and removing the general's obscenities.
Through the travail of the ages,
Midst the pomp and toil of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished
Countless times upon this star
So as through a glass, and darkly
The age long strife I see
Where I fought in many guises,
Many names, but always me.
So forever in the future,
Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter,
But to die again, once more|10|10
|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|
|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.|
|No pin insignia for 2nd Lts. in 1909||Second Lieutenant, Regular Army: June 11, 1909|
|First Lieutenant, Regular Army: May 23, 1916|
|Captain, Regular Army: May 15, 1917|
|Major, National Army: January 26, 1918|
|Lieutenant Colonel, National Army: March 30, 1918|
|Colonel, National Army: October 17, 1918|
|Reverted to permanent rank of Captain, Regular Army: June 30, 1920|
|Major, Regular Army: July 1, 1920|
|Lieutenant Colonel, Regular Army: March 1, 1934|
|Colonel, Regular Army: July 1, 1938|
|Brigadier General, Army of the United States: October 2, 1940|
|Major General, Army of the United States: April 4, 1941|
|Lieutenant General, Army of the United States: March 12, 1943|
|Brigadier General, Regular Army: August 16, 1944|
|Major General, Regular Army: August 16, 1944|
|General, Army of the United States: April 14, 1945|