George S. Patton was a famous soldier who excelled at military matters. He had a forceful personality and was a strong promoter of using the tank in war. He demanded a lot from himself and from the soldiers under his command.
George Patton was born on November 11, 1885. His family had a history of military service and Patton followed their footsteps. He entered the Virginia Military Institute in 1903 and although he had trouble with the academic portion of the program, he did extremely well with the military drills. He remained at the Virginia Military Institute for approximately a year before he was accepted to West Point.
Patton’s academic difficulties continued at West Point and after failing mathematics, he had to repeat the year. Patton focused on his academic studies and the following year showed a marked improvement. Patton graduated from West Point on June 11, 1909 with the commission of second lieutenant in the cavalry.
In 1910, Patton married Beatrice Ayer. He had been dating her while he was attending West Point and married her shortly after his graduation.
In 1912, Patton competed on the U.S. Olympic team for the pentathlon. He came in fifth although he claimed his poor showing in the shooting event (he was docked for missing the target) was because one of his bullets passed through the same hole made by a previous bullet.
Patton was assigned to Brigadier General John Pershing as his personal aide. Pershing had been ordered to hunt for Pancho Villa in Mexico. Patton asked for a command and was given the 13th Cavalry Regiment’s Troop C.
In May of 1916, Patton and the soldiers under his command were attempting to track down either Pancho Villa or his subordinates when he surprised Julio Cardenas (one of Villa’s main generals). During the ensuing battle, Cardenas and two of his bodyguards were killed. Pershing was impressed with Patton’s performance and the killing received a lot of attention from the media. Approximately a week later, Patton was promoted to first lieutenant.
Patton remained in Mexico until the end of 1916 but did not see much action since President Wilson refused to authorize patrols deep into Mexican territory.
World War I
Once the United States entered WWI, Patton requested a transfer to Europe. He wanted to join Pershing who had been given the command of the American Expeditionary Force. Patton was promoted to captain in May, 1917 and was then sent to Europe.
Patton spent the first few months training U.S. troops until he was given a post adjutant position. This was basically an administrative role and Patton did not enjoy it. Patton became interested in tanks during this time but Pershing wanted him to command an infantry unit. Patton decided to stick with tanks and in November 1917, he was ordered to develop a light tank school for the American Expeditionary Force.
After receiving training in France, Patton began training U.S. troops on how to use tanks to support the infantry. He also helped to get the infantry to accept the use of tanks in battle. He had recently been promoted to major and a few months later, in 1918, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.
Patton was given command of the 1st Provisional Tank Brigade where he was involved in a number of tank battles. Patton always led his troops from the front and would often be either sitting on the top of a tank or walking beside it. During a battle in which Patton’s tanks attacked German machine guns, Patton was shot in the leg. He continued to command the battle even though he had to lay in a shell hole. After the battle, he reported to rear command to give his report before going to the hospital.
Patton received another promotion but never saw action again in World War I. The war was over before Patton had fully healed from his wound.
Between the Wars
Patton became a big promoter of tanks after World War I. Patton believed that tanks were the future but the American government was not willing to pay for a large armoured force. Patton continued to write and study tank warfare and worked on methods to improve how tanks communicate with one another. Patton also worked on ways to mount cannons and machine guns on tanks.
Patton held a number of different staff jobs in the years between the two world wars and in 1924, he graduated from the Command and General Staff School. After graduating from the staff school, Patton went on to graduate from the Army War College in 1932.
World War II
World War II broke out in September 1939. The Germans used their tanks to swiftly attack and overrun French defenses. This German attack was known as the Blitzkrieg. Patton was able to use the effectiveness of the German tanks in the opening stages of the war to convince Congress that the United States needed a more powerful tank division. The U.S. Armored Force was created in 1940 and in 1941 Patton was put in command of the Second Armored Division.
The United States entered World War II shortly after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Patton commanded the Western Task Force which was going to take part in Operation Torch—the Allied invasion of North Africa. The Western Task Force was made up of 24, 000 men and 100 ships. They landed at Casablanca and after three days of intense fighting against the Vichy French, Patton forced the French general, Charles Nogues, to negotiate a surrender.
Patton then set about turning Casablanca into a military port and in 1943, he helped organize the Casablanca Conference between the American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the British prime minister, Winston Churchill. Charles de Gaulle was also present.
Patton was then given the command of the US Second Army Corps after the corps had been defeated by the Germans. The soldiers in the corps were tired and suffered from low morale but Patton insisted on some major changes. He set up intense training schedules and demanded that all soldiers follow military protocol. The changes worked and Second Army Corp experienced a number of victories in their next battles.
Once the Second Army Corps was back in shape, Patton turned over command of the corps and returned to Casablanca to assist in the planning for the invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky). It was during this time that there were some concerns over Patton’s conduct. In one incident, Patton slapped two soldiers who were recovering from post-traumatic stress disorder and ordered them back to the front lines. When Dwight Eisenhower, the commander of the Allied forces, heard about his, he ordered Patton to apologize for his behaviour.
Patton, along with the British Eight Army, successfully invaded Sicily in July 1943 and were able to force the Axis forces off the island.
Eisenhower felt that Patton did not have enough self-control which affected Patton’s command options. As a result, instead of Patton, Omar Bradley a general with less experience and rank, was put in charge of the First U.S. Army which was preparing for Operation Overlord—the invasion of Normandy.
Patton was put in charge of the inexperienced Third U.S. Army. Eisenhower thought that the inexperienced troops would do well under Patton during the invasion of Europe.
Once the invasion began, Patton’s forces moved quickly through Europe. He relied on speed and a strong offense. Patton’s advance was forced to a halt when they ran out of fuel for the tanks. As a result, he couldn’t move into Germany and allowed the Germans to fortify their position at Metz.
Battle of Metz
The battle of Metz was Patton’s least successful battle. It was basically a stalemate for the next two months and both sides suffered heavy losses. It took more than two months before Patton’s forces were able to take the city. After the battle, some people criticized Patton for attempting to take the city since he could have gone around it and cut of the German Seventh Army. Other people criticized Patton for not being aggressive enough.
Battle of the Bulge
The Battle of the Bulge was the German counterattack aimed at stopping the Allied advance into Europe. The battle resulted in the heaviest losses experienced by the U.S. Army to date. Patton took his Third Army and turned them towards Bastogne. Patton was able to take the city which opened up the area to receive both relief and supplies. Patton felt that this was his most impressive campaign so far.
Patton quickly pushed his forces into Germany in February, 1945 and by March, he had captured a number of towns. He also captured, killed, or wounded a number of German soldiers (around 200,000).
When Patton neared a POW camp, he tried to free it but did not send enough men. Most of the men and all of the tanks that he sent were lost. When Eisenhower heard about the unapproved raid, he was extremely angry. Patton admitted that this was his only mistake during the war and felt that he should have sent in a larger force.
Patton continued the advance into Germany, capturing territory and German soldiers. He was able to advance all the way to the Elbe River before he halted and the Germans surrendered. Patton’s Third Army had been in continuous combat for 281 days and had captured almost 21,000 square kilometres. It has been estimated by some scholars that Patton’s forces wounded, killed, or captured more that 1.8 million German soldiers.
With the end of the war in Europe and the surrender of Japan, Patton became a bit depressed and felt that there would be no need for a soldier like him in peacetime. Patton was disillusioned with army life in peacetime and was beginning to think about retiring.
Before he could retire, he was killed in a car accident. He broke his neck in the accident and was paralyzed from the neck down. There has been speculation from some people that Patton’s accident was actually a murder attempt. On December 21, 1945, Patton died in his sleep.