Famed World War Two general George S. Patton commanded the U.S. Seventh Army in the Mediterranean and European theaters of World War II. General Patton is best known for leading the U.S. Third Army in France and Germany in the wake of the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944.
This article contains stories, quotes, timelines, and other pieces of information on one of the most competent and flamboyant generals in American military history.
General 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.
General Patton in World War I
George S. Patton is a legendary World War II general, but much of his character as a military man was formed in the Great War. His path to the numerous monumental events that he experienced there began after he finished at West Point. Patton benefited from having six years of formal military education. He graduated at twenty-four, accepting a commission in the cavalry and duty at Fort Sheridan, Illinois. He liked the men, considered his commanding officer a true gentleman, but had doubts about some of the other officers, especially those who had come up from the ranks. In 1910, he was married to Beatrice Ayer, a family friend he had long courted. She, though Patton paid scant attention to this, came from a wealthy family. It wasn’t money that mattered to him, but the fact that she was poised, pretty, and polished (she had been educated in Europe, spoke French, as did he, and played the piano). He credited her strength of character with strengthening his own. She also helped his spelling, as he now took to writing articles on military subjects (as well as riding to hounds, playing polo, and other recreational endeavors appropriate for an officer and a gentleman). She bore him two daughters and a son.
At the end of 1911, he was transferred to Fort Myer, Virginia, where many senior officers lived, making it a prime duty post for an ambitious cavalryman. But aside from his ardor for his duties and his active social life with the right sort of people, Patton was starting to make his mark as an athlete—indeed, in 1912 he represented the United States at the Olympics, competing in the modern pentathlon, which tested a competitor’s equestrian skills with a steeplechase, marksmanship with a pistol, fencing, swimming three hundred yards, and running cross country two and a half miles. The event reflected the actions that might be required of an officer delivering military dispatches. He came in fifth.
Back home, he wrote an article that led to the 1913 redesign of the U.S. Cavalry saber. In the fall of 1913, he was sent to the Cavalry School at Fort Riley, Kansas, where he was to be both student and instructor, serving as “Master of the Sword.” At his own expense, he went to France to hone his swordsmanship before taking up his new post. When war erupted in France in 1914, Patton wanted to take up the sword in earnest, fighting in the French army. He wrote to General Leonard Wood asking for his advice and assistance. Wood replied, “We don’t want to waste youngsters of your sort in the service of foreign nations. . . . I know how you feel, but there is nothing to be done.”4 Patton, like a young Napoleon, had ambitiously hoped to be a brigadier general by twenty-seven. At twenty-nine, he was not yet a first lieutenant.
Ambitions thwarted, his thirst for action still would not be denied. In 1915, he was sent to Fort Bliss, Texas, where the cavalry troops were all turned out in “Patton swords”: “It was a fine sight all with sabers drawn and all my sabers. It gives you a thrill and my eyes filled with tears . . . it is the call of ones [sic] ancestors and the glory of combat. It seems to me that at the head of a regiment of cavalry any thing would be possible.”5 What seemed immediately possible, or so Patton hoped, was war in Mexico that would involve the United States. When, in 1916, General Pershing was ordered to lead a punitive expedition into Mexico, Patton’s regiment—and Patton—were to stay behind in Texas. But Patton would have none of this. He convinced General Pershing that he should serve him as his aide. He was zealous in his duties and got the action he sought. Leading an expedition of three cars and ten men whose mission was to buy corn for the soldiers in camp, he organized an impromptu raid that netted him one of Pancho Villa’s officers and two banditos shot down in a gunfight—Patton armed with revolver and rifle. Patton and his men returned to camp with the corpses of the Villaists strapped over the hoods of their cars. He was promoted to first lieutenant.
He came away from his experience in Mexico full of admiration for—and a desire to emulate—Pershing. Under Pershing’s command, “Every horse and man was fit; weaklings had gone; baggage was still at the minimum, and discipline was perfect. . . . By constant study General Pershing knew to the minutest detail each of the subjects in which he demanded practice, and by physical presence and personal example and explanation, insured himself that they were correctly carried out.”6
Patton followed Pershing to France as his aide. It was in this capacity that Patton met Field Marshal Haig. Haig, who didn’t think much of most American officers, liked Patton, calling him “a fireeater” who “longs for the fray.” Patton, in turn, liked Haig, a fellow cavalryman, thinking him a proper polo-playing gentleman and even “more of a charger than I am.”7
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.”
General Patton’s Near-Death Experience in World War One
Patton arrived in Europe in 1917 as a captain. He took an interest in tanks and studied this emerging form of mobile weaponry with intensity. At the end of 1917 he was assigned to establish the American Expeditionary Force Light Tank School.
In August 1918, he was placed in charge of the U.S. 1st Provisional Tank Brigade. Patton personally oversaw the logistics of the tanks in their first combat use by American forces. He valued these machines, ordering that no U.S. be surrendered. He led the tanks from the front during the march to the Battle of Saint-Miheil, and walked in front of the into the German-held village of Essey in order to inspire his men. He personally led a troop of tanks into Germany lines near the town of Cheppy. On September 26, at 10 o’clock, Patton and his men had advanced to a crossroads on the southern edge of Cheppy. A few minutes later, when the fog began to lift, Patton discovered that he had advanced beyond his own tanks, many of which were now entangled in a trench barrier over a hundred yards to his rear. As the protective shield of fog lifted, Patton and his troops were subjected to withering fire from all directions. The defending Germans had pre-positioned at least twenty-five machine gun nests to protect the town.
As fresh gunfire erupted, all the soldiers but Patton leapt back into the security of the trench. The men implored Patton to escape from the Germans’ fire, but he refused to budge. “To hell with them—they can’t hit me!” Several soldiers were struck down, but Patton refused to take cover. When at last the men got five tanks across the breach, Patton exhorted them to advance again, yelling and cursing and waving his walking stick. About a hundred and fifty doughboys followed him, but when they arrived at the crest of the hill, the onslaught of gunfire forced them all to the ground, hugging it for protection.
Suddenly desperation and fear stripped away Patton’s veneer of bravado, and he began to shake with terror. He wanted to run. He lifted his face up from the dirt, gazed out over the German lines, and then lifted his eyes up to the clouds and saw faces. He blinked, then squinted his eyes, but the faces remained. They were faces of his ancestors. There was General Hugh Mercer, mortally wounded at the battle of Princeton in the Revolutionary War. There was his grandfather Colonel George Patton, killed at Winchester in the Civil War; and Colonel Waller Tazewell Patton, who died from wounds received at Gettysburg. There were other faces and different uniforms, dimmer in the distance, but with the same family resemblance. All the faces looked at Patton impersonally, as if waiting for him to join them.
Patton seemed to understand instinctively that the faces were beckoning him to his destiny. He immediately became calm, shaking off his tremors of fear. “It is time for another Patton to die,” he said aloud. He stood up, grabbed his walking stick, and turned to the soldiers behind him. “Who is with me?” he yelled. Patton headed back out into the enemy fire, certain of meeting death. Of the hundred and fifty soldiers, only six followed him, one of whom was his orderly, Private Joseph Angelo. Soon only two men were standing—Patton and Angelo. The others lay dead or wounded. As he charged forward, Patton eerily saw himself as a small, detached figure on the battlefield, watched all the time from a cloud by his Confederate kinsmen and his Virginia grandfather.
As he came closer to the German lines, Patton was hit. He staggered forward a few steps before collapsing. An enemy machine gun bullet had torn through his body, entering his groin and exiting his buttocks, ripping open a wound the size of a teacup. Between the bursts of machine gun fire Patton could hear the excited conversations of German soldiers who had just taken up a position in a trench a mere forty yards away. It was useless to try to move from the relative safety of the small hollow blown in the earth.
Patton was thirty-two years old. As blood poured from his wound, he serenely contemplated his own death. It was not a terrible thing, he thought. In fact, it was surprisingly easy. According to St. Paul, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” More accurately, reflected Patton, the last enemy that shall be destroyed is fear of death.
Lying in a bomb crater, surrounded by the horrors of war, Patton was overwhelmed by a deep feeling of warmth and peace, comfort and love. He realized how profoundly death was related to life, how unimportant the change from life to death really was, how everlasting the soul. He felt that love was all around him, like a subdued light. He had now achieved his destiny, joining the legions of ancestors before him. Blood. He had not failed them; he had shown his courage and faced his fears. Guts. He was dying; but he had no fear of death.
Angelo leaped to Patton’s side to see what was wrong. He dragged his commander to a shallow crater and bandaged his wound, which was bleeding profusely, while the Germans kept firing at their position. Angelo knew that Patton had been gravely wounded and needed medical attention. But the two men were caught in enemy crossfire, and rescuing Patton seemed impossible.
He had now achieved his destiny, Patton thought, joining the warrior kinsmen who had gone before. He had not failed them. He had shown his courage and faced his fears. He was dying, but he had no fear of death. He was comforted by his unshakeable faith, a faith he had held since childhood and that he had carefully nurtured every day since.
As he lay bleeding in a bomb crater, Patton ordered Angelo to return to the tanks and point out the location of the machine gun nests. After two hours, Patton’s tankers and the 138th Regiment of the Thirty-fifth Division subdued the Germans and seized the village of Cheppy. Patton was carried off to an ambulance. Before heading to the field hospital, he insisted that the ambulance driver take him to the headquarters of the Thirty-fifth Division, where he began to dictate a report on the situation at the battle front. In his weakened state, however, the effort proved too strenuous, and Patton lapsed into unconsciousness. Unable to offer further protest, he was taken to an evacuation hospital behind the lines.
Patton and Eisenhower’s Friendship During the Interwar Years
As a young officer in World War One, George S. Patton was part of the newly formed United States Tank Corps of the American Expeditionary Forces. He then commanding the U.S. tank school in France before being wounded while leading tanks into combat near the end of the war. During the interwar period, Patton remained a central figure in the development of armored warfare doctrine in the U.S. Army. He served in numerous staff positions throughout the country. It is here that he struck up a friendship with another young officer, Dwight David Eisenhower. The two men bonded over their shared military enthusiasm and love of strategy. But it was mostly over their love of tanks.
Patton’s return from the conflict in Europe was marked by the “hangover” of war familiar to many veterans. The sudden transition from the highly-charged experience of combat, where one is com-manding men in life-or-death situations, to domestic tranquility can be jarring and difficult. Patton felt the loss of camaraderie and sense of purpose. He also faced uncertainty about his career in peacetime. For a man driven by a belief in his own destiny to lead troops in war-fare, peace was more frightening than war. Making the situation even more painful, it was the practice in the U.S. Army to reduce returning officers to the rank they held before the war. Patton lost his rank of colonel and reverted to captain.
During these interwar years, Patton met another officer whose destiny would be bound up with his own. In the autumn of 1919, he was introduced to Eisenhower, known to his friends as Ike. Both men were commanding tank units. Eisenhower had not been sent off to France during the war but had established and run the largest tank training center in the United States—Camp Colt, at Get-tysburg, Pennsylvania. In many ways Patton and Eisenhower were strikingly different. Patton could be painfully direct. At times he was an insufferable egotist, and he often sought to intimidate with a well-practiced scowl. His wealthy background allowed him to enjoy an upper-crust way of life in a hardscrabble army. Eisenhower was self-effacing and came from dirt-poor beginnings. His disarming smile charmed everyone who met him. Those who knew both men at this early stage of their military careers had the feeling that George Patton would achieve greatness. Eisenhower, on the other hand, was usually underrated, his easygoing manner masking a burning ambition. Few would have predicted that Eisenhower would become the most brilliant star of the West Point class of 1915—the “class the stars fell on.”
While Eisenhower was attending the army’s Command and General Staff College from 1925 to 1926 at Fort Leavenworth, Patton sent him his own very detailed notes from the course. Eisenhower graduated first in his class, presumably with some help from his friend’s insights and notebook. Patton sent Ike a congratulatory note , remarking that while he was pleased to think that his notes had been of some assistance, “I feel sure that you would have done as well without them.” It is likely, though, that Patton felt that his notes were the primary reason for Eisenhower’s success at the college.
Years later, recalling his relationship with Patton, Eisenhower wrote, “From the beginning he and I got along famously. Both of us were students of current military doctrine. Part of our passion was our belief in tanks—a belief derided at the time by others.” The two men shared a detailed knowledge of the mechanical workings of tanks and an appreciation of their potential strategic uses beyond mere assistance to the infantry.
There was a massive and rapid demobilization of the United States Army at the end of the World War I. By June 1920, the regular army was reduced to only 130,000 men. The American public embraced a pacifism inspired by a vision of the future in which war was a relic of the barbaric past. The League of Nations, which emerged from “the war to end all wars,” embodying President Woodrow Wilson’s idealistic hopes for international understanding, would peacefully settle future disputes among nations. America settled into a period of inno-cence and isolation. In 1922 the United States military ranked seventeenth in size among nations with a standing army.
Patton decried this national mood and the dismantling of the army in a letter to his sister dated October 18, 1919:
The United States in general and the army in particular is in a hell of a mess and there seems to be no end to it . . . . We disregard the lessons of History—The red fate of Carthage; the Rome of shame under the Praetorian guard—and we go on regardless of the VITAL necessity of trained patriotism—HIRING an army . . . . Even the most enlightened of our politicians are blind and mad with self delusion. They believe what they wish may occur not what history teaches will happen.
In this eviscerated post-war army, trying to build support for the tank proved an impossible task. The leadership had no interest in making room for a new weapon in the shrunken army. Nor was there any enthusiasm in Congress, given the country’s isolationist mood, for appropriating funds for the military. In 1933 General Douglas MacArthur noted that the few tanks that the army had were “completely useless for employment against any modern unit on the battle-field.”
Like their fellow junior officers, Patton and Eisenhower suffered post-war reductions in rank, deplorable living conditions, and miserable pay. They both contemplated leaving the service, but they both stuck it out, just as a later generation of officers, in the post-Vietnam era—men like Norman Schwarzkopf and Colin Powell—would again rebuild the army into the world’s greatest military force. A passionate belief in the crucial role that tanks could play in the future and the will to make it happen seemed to sustain both men during this period. “George and I and a group of young officers thought . . . [t]anks could have a more valuable and more spectacular role. We believed . . . that they should attack by surprise and mass . . . . We wanted speed, reliability and firepower.”
The two men once took a tank completely apart, down to the nuts and bolts, and reassembled it, apparently to satisfy their curiosity and to understand every detail of its intricate assembly. Over endless dinners and drinks they would debate and discuss tank tactics and strategy, expanding their discussions to include a small but growing circle of like-minded men. Winning converts was not easy, but Patton and Eisenhower were zealots.
Decades later, in a February 1, 1945 memo, Eisenhower ranked the military capabilities of his subordinate American generals in Europe. He ranked Bradley and Army Air Force General Carl Spaatz at number one, with Walter Bedell Smith number two. Patton was number three. Ike revealed his reasoning in a 1946 review of the book Patton and His Third Army: “George Patton was the most brilliant commander of an army in the open field that our or any other service produced. But his army was part of a whole organization and his operations part of a great campaign.”
This quote is a good encapsulation of their friendship that began in the late 1910s. Ike thought Patton to be a leader of men exemplar. But he was only as good as the company in which he fought. Better yet—the tank company in which he fought.
General Patton’s “Blood and Guts” Speech
In April 1941 Patton, who had been acting commander of the Second Armored Division for six months, was given permanent command and promoted to major general. His most important priority was training men for war. One of his first acts as commander had been to build an amphitheater in the wooded hills of Fort Benning that could accommodate the entire division. It was soon known as the “Patton Bowl.” The earliest versions of his soon-to-be-famous “blood and guts” speeches were delivered there. As one soldier recalled:
I am positive the Patton image was born on the first day he spoke in that bowl. Following an old cavalry credo to the effect you should always “Hit ’em where they ain’t,” he said to us: “You have to grab ’em by the[censored] and kick ’em in the [censored] . . . .” At the end of the speech he said, “I am taking this division into Berlin and when I do, I want every one of your tracks to be carrying the stench of German blood and guts.”
But it was not just a speech, it was a performance. General Patton was not blessed with a deep, booming voice. His voice was actually rather high, certainly not the gravelly bass of George C. Scott in the Hollywood movie Patton. But he was a master of the dramatic pause, lowering his voice to great effect, forcing the audience to listen carefully, before bellowing out a line of profanity. With the skill of a method actor, Patton would also strive to achieve an intimidating mien—his “war face”—that would communicate his intensity to his audience.
Many elements of the speech were recycled over and over. Some lines became classic.
Men this stuff that some sources sling around about America wanting out of this war, not wanting to fight, is a crock of bullshit. Americans love to fight. All real Americans love the sting and clash of battle.
Americans love a winner. Americans will not tolerate a loser. Americans despise cowards. Americans play to win all of the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war; for the very idea of losing is hateful to an American.
Death must not be feared. Death, in time, comes to all men. Yes, every man is scared in his first battle. If he says he’s not, he’s a liar. Some men are cowards but they fight the same as the brave men or they get the hell slammed out of them watching other men fight who are just as scared as they are. The real hero is the man who fights even though he is scared . . . . Remember that the enemy is just as frightened as you are, and probably more so.
A man must be alert at all times if he expects to stay alive. If you’re not alert, some time a German son of a bitch is going to sneak up behind you and beat you to death with a sockful of shit!
An Army is a team. It lives, sleeps, eats, and fights as a team. This individual heroic stuff is pure horseshit. The bilious bastards who write that kind of stuff for the Saturday Evening Post don’t know any more about real fighting under fire than they know about f***ing!
We have the finest food, the finest equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world. Why, by God, I actually pity those poor sons of bitches we’re going up against. By God, I do!
I don’t want to hear of any soldier under my command being captured unless he has been hit. Even if you are hit, you can still fight back.
All of the real heroes are not storybook combat fighters, either. Every single man in this Army plays a vital role . . . . Don’t ever think that your job is unimportant. Every man has a job to do and he must do it. Every man is a vital link in the great chain.
Some day I want to see the Germans raise up on their piss-soaked hind legs and howl, “Jesus Christ, it’s that goddamned Third Army again and that son of a bitch Patton.”
Sure we want to go home. We want this war over with. The quickest way to get it over with is to go get the bastards who started it. The quicker they are whipped, the quicker we can go home. The shortest way home is through Berlin and Tokyo. And when we get to Berlin, I am personally going to shoot that paper hanging son of a bitch Hitler, just like I’d shoot a snake!
My men don’t dig foxholes. I don’t want them to. Foxholes only slow up an offensive. Keep moving. And don’t give the enemy time to dig one either.
We’re not just going to shoot the sons of bitches, we’re going to rip out their living goddamned guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun bastards by the bushel-f***ingbasket.
I don’t want to get any messages saying, “I am holding my position.” We are not holding a goddamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and we are not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy’s balls!
There is one great thing you men will be able to say when you go home…. Thirty years from now, when you are sitting around the fireside with your grandson on your knee and he asks what you did in the great World War II, you won’t have to say, “I shoveled shit in Louisiana.”
The vivid and profane inspirational speeches garnered much attention and some detractors, but General Patton also gave countless speeches intended to educate his officers and troops on the topics of strategy, tactics, discipline, and how to conduct the new deadly form of armored warfare:
You men and officers are, in my opinion, magnificently disciplined….You cannotbe disciplinedin great things and undisciplined in small things . . . . Brave, undisciplined men have no chance against the discipline and valor of other men.
An armored division is the most powerful organization ever devised by the mind of men . . . . An armored division is that element of the team which carries out the running plays. We straight-arm, and go around, and dodge, and go around . . . .
People must try to use their imagination and when orders fail to come, must act on their own best judgment. A very safe rule to follow is that in case of doubt, push on just a little further and then keep on pushing
. . . .
There is still a tendency in each separate unit . . . to be a one-handed puncher. By that I mean that the rifleman wants to shoot, the tanker wants to charge, the artilleryman to fire . . . . That is not the way to win battles. If the band played a piece first with the piccolo, then with the brass horn, then with the clarinet, and then with the trumpet, there would be a hell of a lot of noise but no music.
Patton’s speeches typically included humor, almost always profane and often self-deprecatory:
I do not know of a better way to die than to be facing the enemy. I pray that I will fall forward when I am shot. That way I can keep firing my pistols! I was shot in the behind in World War I! I do not want to be hit there again. I got a medal for charging at the enemy, but I have had to spend a lot of time explaining how I got shot in the behind!
Every man is expendable—especially me.
General Patton’s communication was not limited to his speeches; he also projected strength in his demeanor and in his dress. He sought to present the striking image of a leader, an image that demanded attention and inspired his troops by its swagger. In 1941, on the day the men of the Second Armored Division completed their orientation at Fort Benning, Patton appeared wearing a new uniform, which, characteristically, he had designed himself. It was a two-piece dark green corduroy outfit. The jacket was waist length with brass buttons up the right side in the style of an old Confederate officer’s uniform. The trouser legs were skinny and shoved into his black, laced-up field boots. His head was encased in a tight-fitting leather helmet with goggles. A heavy ivory-handled revolver rested in a shoulder holster draped under his left arm. The admiring troops immediately dubbed him the Green Hornet.
The Religious Life of General 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.
General 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?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
“Well get rid of the son of a bitch. He can’t preach!” And we got rid of him.
Patton’s Speech “God of Our Fathers”
From General Patton’s speech to he Second Armored Division, December 1941:
I shall be delighted to lead you against any enemy, confident in the fact that your disciplined valor and high training will bring vic-tory.
Put your heart and soul into being expert killers with your weap-ons. The only good enemy is a dead enemy. Misses do not kill, but a bullet in the heart or a bayonet in the guts do. Let every bullet find its billet—it is the body of your foes. . . . Battle is not a terrifying ordeal to be endured. It is a magnificent experience wherein all the elements that have made man superior to the beasts are present: courage, self-sacrifice, loyalty, help to others, devotion to duty.
Remember that these enemies, whom we shall have the honor to destroy, are good soldiers and stark fighters. To beat such men, you must not despise their ability, but you must be confident in your own superiority. . . . Remember too that your God is with you.
God of our Fathers, known of old,
Lord of our far-flung battle-line,
Beneath whose awful Hand we hold
Dominion over palm and pine
The earth is full of anger,
The seas are dark with wrath,
The Nations in their harness
Go up against our path:
Ere yet we loose the legions—
Ere yet we draw the blade,
Jehovah of the Thunders,
Lord God of Battles, aid!
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
E’en now their vanguard gathers,
E’en now we face the fray—
As Thou didst help our fathers,
Help Thou our host today!
Fulfilled of signs and wonders,
In life, in death made clear—
Jehovah of the Thunders,
Lord God of Battles, hear!
Patton’s Letter to his Troops Before Fighting Rommel in Africa
The inexperienced American army’s first major encounter with the Germans resulted in a resounding defeat at the Kasserine Pass in Tunisia. On February 14, 1943, Rommel’s Tenth and Twenty-first Panzer Divisions of the Afrika Korps launched an attack against the U.S. position. The II Corps, under the command of Major General Lloyd Fredendall, was driven back twenty-one miles in nine days. One hundred ninety-two men were killed, 2,624 wounded, and 2,459 were captured or went missing. The encounter seemed to confirm Hitler’s contempt for the battle-worthiness of American soldiers.
Two weeks later, General Patton took over command of II Corps from Fre-dendall and wrote this letter to the troops now under his command:
All of us have been in battle. But due to circumstances beyond the control of anyone, we have heretofore fought separately. In our next battle we shall, for the first time on this continent, have many thousands of Americans united in one command. . . . In union there is strength!
Our duty . . . is plain. We must utterly defeat the enemy. Fortunately for our fame as soldiers, our enemy is worthy of us. The German is a war-trained veteran—confident, brave, ruthless. We are brave. We are better-equipped, bet-ter fed, and in the place of his blood-gutted Woten, we have with us the God of our fathers known of old. The justice of our cause and not the greatness of our race makes us con-fident. But we are not ruthless, not vicious, not aggressive, therein lies our weakness.
Children of a free and sheltered people who have lived a generous life, we have not the pugnacious disposition of those oppressed beasts our enemies, who must fight or starve. Our bravery is too negative. We talk too much of sacrifice, of the glory of dying that freedom may live. Of course we are willing to die but that is not enough. We must be eager to kill, to inflict on the enemy—the hated enemy— wounds, death and destruction. If we die killing, well and good, but if we fight hard enough, viciously enough, we will kill and live. Live to return to our family and our girl as conquering heroes—men of Mars.
The reputation of our army, the future of our race, your own glory rests in your hands. I know you will be worthy.
One month after the disaster at Kasserine Pass, Patton led the American army at the battle of Gafsa and El Guettar. Patton’s army was victorious at El Guettar, and the Germans learned that the United States Army, led by its new commander, was no longer to be taken lightly.
General Patton in the Holy Land
At the end of 1943, while Patton’s commanders were deciding his fate, the allied leaders—Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin—met in Tehran to discuss strategy for defeating Germany and plans for the postwar world. Uncertain of the role, if any, he might play in the coming invasion of Europe, Patton took a sightseeing trip to the Holy Land and Malta.
The general was as affected by the Crusader sights as he was the Biblical locations. The general considered himself a descendant of the warriors, part of the same lineage of warriors who gladly risked their lives for a noble cause. But as a devout Christian—whatever the profanity in his speeches suggested otherwise—he couldn’t help but be moved by walking in the footsteps of Jesus. Yet he still viewed the Holy Land as a general, viewing the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt and into the Promised Land in terms of logistics, supply chains, and provisions.
December 14, 1943
We took off by plane for Jerusalem at 0700 and crossed the canal just south of Lake Tenes, which is near where the children of Israel crossed.
It never occurred to me until this flight that, at the time the Jews crossed, it was unnecessary for them to ford anything, because there is a stretch of desert from Bitter Lake to the Mediterranean which had no water on it. However, they did get across and Napoleon crossed at about the same place and also lost his baggage when the wind shifted.
From the canal we flew along the line of Allenby’s advance and crossed at Wadi El Arish at the spot where the battle occurred. It is a much less formidable obstacle than I had gathered from the books.
Beersheba and the surrounding country do not look too difficult, but certainly away from the wells the country is an absolute sand sea, and it is difficult to understand how Allenby ever moved a cavalry corps across it.
From Beersheba we flew over Hebron and Bethlehem and turned westward just south of Jerusalem, finally landing at Aqir, near the coast, where we were met with some cars and driven thirty miles to Jerusalem.
The only reason for calling Palestine a “land of milk and honey” is by comparison with the desert immediately surrounding it. It consists of nothing but barren stony hills on which a few olive trees eke out a precarious existence. We did not see a single beehive, although there were quite a number of mimosa trees.
On reaching Jerusalem, we were met by Major General D. F. McConnell, who commands the district. He gave us a British priest, who had lived a long time in Jerusalem, as a guide to see the sights.
We entered the city through the gate which Tancred stormed when the city was first taken (A.D. 1099). The Church of the Holy Sepulchre covers both the Tomb of Christ and also the place where the Cross stood. It is run by a composite group consisting of Catholics, Greeks, and Copts, and by a strange freak of chance, or British political insight, the doorkeeper is a Mohammedan.
It struck me as an anomaly that, during my entire visit to Jerusalem, I was guarded by four secret service men, and the oddest part of it was that, when I entered the Tomb, the secret service men came in with me. People must have very little confidence to fear assassination in such a place.
From the Tomb we went to the Crusaders’ Chapel where those who became Knights of Jerusalem were knighted. In this chapel is the sword which is supposed to have been used on these occasions. In my opinion it is a fake, since the pommel is not of the correct shape, nor has it sufficient weight. The pommels of Crusaders’ swords were usually carved in the form of a stone or a piece of lead, which in an earlier date had actually been tied there. This pommel was in the shape of a blunt acorn. The crossguard and the shape of the blade were correct.
From here we went to the place where the Cross had stood. Most of the mountain was cut away during the Roman occupation, when they filled up the Tomb and erected a Temple of Venus over both the Mount and the Tomb. However, there is an altar which is supposed to be on the exact spot where the Cross was erected.
While I was in this chapel, I secured a rosary for Mary Scally [his childhood nurse] and had it blessed at the altar.
After we had left the church, we followed the Way of the Cross, which is a dirty street, to the point where the Roman Forum had stood. I should think the distance is less than half a mile. In addition to the Stations of the Cross used by the Catholics, the Greeks have a number of extra ones, so that it is practically a day’s trip for a Greek priest to walk down the street, as they have to stop in front of each station.
From the Forum we got into the cars and drove to the Garden of Gethsemane, where there are still olive trees which just possibly may have been in existence at the time of the Crucifixion.
After lunching with the Commanding General, we drove back to the airfield and flew back to Cairo along the coast, passing over Gaza. Although I looked very carefully, I could see no indication of the fighting, but I did recognize the cactus hedge where the tanks got stuck. We reached Cairo just at dark, having completed in one day the trip which took the Children of Israel forty years to accomplish.
After the Holy Land, General Patton headed to the Mediterranean island of Malta. Here he wrote much of the Knights of Malta and the rules of their order. As a career military man, Patton couldn’t help but be fascinated by their customs. He commented at length on the four vows that each knight took upon induction into the order: on poverty, chastity, humility, and obedience.
Patton recorded his thoughts in his journal:
Malta, which we reached at three o’clock, is quite different from the way I had pictured it. It is almost completely covered with villages and the areas between them are crowded with tiny fields. The only place where this crowding does not exist is on the airfields. . . .
The most interesting thing I saw is the library of the Knights of Malta. We were taken through this by the librarian. He speaks and reads in script nine languages, so he is perfectly capable of translating the valuable collection of manuscripts in the library.
One codex dating from 1420 and depicting the life of Saint Anthony, who spent his time being pursued by devils in the form of beautiful women, was particularly interesting to me because in one of the pictures it showed an armorer’s shop in which suits of armor, varying in date from early 1100 to 1400, were hung up for sale just as one hangs up clothes in a pawnshop. The point of interest is that most historians are prone to classify armor by dates, whereas here we have visual proof that as late as 1400 all types of armor, both mail and plate, were still being used.
Another codex which was interesting was one of the original printings of the Bible, using wood type. In this case all the capitals were omitted and subsequently illuminated by hand.
In order to be a Knight of Malta, it was necessary to have sixteen crosses of nobility, so that when anyone came up to be a knight, he had to present his genealogy, which was then studied by a college of heralds, and, if proven correct, permitted to join. Since all these genealogies, covering the knights from sometime in 1100 to date, are preserved in the library, it gives the greatest historical family tree in the world.
In addition to the requirement of sixteen crosses of nobility, a knight had to spend eighteen months at sea on the galleys as a fighter, and then work in a hospital.
The knights also had to take four vows—Poverty, Chastity, Humility, and Obedience. The vow of Poverty required him to give four-fifths of his then estate to the Order. However, if he was a successful knight, he received from the Order more than a hundredfold over what he gave, so that most of them died very rich. This was particularly true before 1800, when the knights had a sort of stranglehold on the privateering business in the Mediterranean and used their hatred for the Turks as a means of veiling their personally conducted piracy against Turks and against anyone else whom they could catch.
The vow of Chastity was not enforced except by one Grand Master, who, in order to discourage the amorous activities of his dependents, required that all the girls live across the harbor from the forts, so that when a knight wanted to see his lady-love, he had to row across and thereby bring great discredit upon himself. Apparently the discredit consisted of other knights cheering him on.
The vow of Humility was got around by the simple expedient of washing a poor man’s feet three times. The vow of Obedience was rigidly enforced.
General Patton’s Role in D-Day
Like the rest of the world, General Patton learned of the Normandy invasion by listening to the BBC at seven o’clock on the morning of June 6, 1944. Though he had been sidelined from the invasion, he played an important role in it by his absence. In February 1944, Overlord planners at Supreme Allied Headquarters had formulated a plan—“Operation Fortitude South”—to deceive the Nazi commanders into thinking that the Norman landings were merely a feint to draw German defenders away from a main Allied invasion at Pas de Calais. The Germans were fed information that when the bridgehead was established by six Allied assault divisions, a huge force of fifty divisions would exploit the opening. As the official British history notes, it was “the most complex and successful deception operation in the entire history of the war.”
A month after the Normandy invasion, secretly landing at an airstrip near Omaha Beach, Patton entered a waiting jeep. When army and navy personnel rushed up to see him, Patton stood and delivered a short impromptu speech: “I’m proud to be here to fight beside you. Now let’s cut the guts out of those Krauts and get the hell on to Berlin. And when we get to Berlin, I am going to personally shoot that paperhanging goddamned son of a bitch just like I would a snake.”
The troops cheered Patton’s remarks. He soon learned that he was to lead the Third Army and that his first responsibility was to clear the Brest peninsula of Germans. Patton’s presence was still a secret to the enemy. He wrote to his wife Beatrice on July 10, 1944, “Sunday I went to a field mass. It was quite impressive. All the men with rifles and helmets, the altar the back of a jeep. Planes on combat missions flying over and the sound of guns all the while. . . . There is nothing to do at the moment but be a secret weapon.”
Eisenhower prepared to leak a story that General Patton had lost his command because of “displeasure at some of his indiscretions” and that the main invasion of the continent was delayed by bad weather. This deception caused the Germans to delay a counter-attack that might have crushed or seriously set back the Allied invasion. By providing a plausible reason for Patton’s removal, the notorious slapping incidents contributed to the success of the deception. It is thus one of history’s ironies that General Patton’s greatest victory might have come in a battle in which he played no active role.
When Patton Enlisted the Entire Third Army to Pray for Fair Weather
On October 22, 1944, Patton met with his commander, General Omar Bradley, and Bradley’s chief of staff to discuss plans for taking the French city of Metz and then pushing east into the Saar River Valley, a center of Germany’s armaments industry. Bradley, believing that a strong push might well end the war, argued for a simultaneous attack by all of the Allied armies in Europe.
Patton pointed out that there was not enough ammunition, food, or gasoline to support all the armies. There were enough supplies, however, for one army. Patton’s Third Army could attack twenty-four hours after getting the signal. After a vigorous debate, Bradley conceded. Patton was told that the attack could take place any time after November 5, and that aerial bombardment would be available before-hand.
The Allies were really fighting three enemies, Patton told Bradley—the Germans, time, and the weather. The weather was the most serious threat. The Third Army’s sick rate equaled its battle casualty rate. Patton was never one to delay an attack, convinced that each day’s delay gave the enemy more time to prepare. “The best is the enemy of the good” was one of his favorite maxims. It would be better to attack as soon as Bradley could provide him with supplies.
But General Patton could not control the weather, which affected weapons, aircraft, and the movement of troops. A student of history, Patton was keenly aware of weather’s role in a major operation or campaign. When Kublai Khan attacked the Japanese island of Kyushu with his fleet of forty-four hundred ships in 1281, he encountered a typhoon that destroyed half his fleet. The Japanese saw the storm as a divine wind sent by the gods to save them. In his invasion of Russia in 1812, Napoleon was unprepared for Russia’s brutal climate, and thousands of his soldiers perished in the severe winter. He lost more men to cold, famine, and disease than to Russian bullets. Napoleon’s defeat confirmed Emperor Nicholas I’s dictum that Russia has two generals in which she can confide: Generals January and February.
But Patton could look to more recent lessons about weather and battle. Only four months earlier the fate of the Allied invasion of Europe hung on the course of a storm in the English Channel. A break in the weather on June 6 allowed the amphibious assault on Normandy to proceed. Two weeks later, one of the most severe storms ever to strike Normandy sank or disabled a number of Allied ships and wiped out the American Mulberry artificial harbor off Omaha Beach. The Allied war effort was virtually shut down for five days.
When Patton had completed all his preparations for battle, he turned to the Bible and entrusted everything, including the weather, to God. His diary entry for November 7, 1944, reads:
Two years ago today we were on the Augusta approaching Africa, and it was blowing hard. Then about 1600 it stopped. It is now 0230 and raining hard. I hope that too stops.
Know of nothing more I can do to prepare for this attack except to read the Bible and pray. The damn clock seems to have stopped. I am sure we will have great success.
At 1900, Eddy and Grow came to the house to beg me to call off the attack due to the bad weather, heavy rains, and swollen rivers. I told them the attack would go on. I am sure it will succeed. On November 7, 1942, there was a storm but it stopped at 1600. All day the 9th of July 1943, there was a storm but it cleared at dark.
I know the Lord will help us again. Either He will give us good weather or the bad weather will hurt the Germans more than it does us. His Will Be Done.
The Saar campaign was launched on November 8, 1944. After one month’s fighting, Patton’s Third Army had liberated 873 towns and 1,600 square miles. In addition, they had killed or wounded an estimated 88,000 enemy soldiers and taken another 30,000 prisoner. Patton next prepared for the breakthrough to the River Rhine, a formidable natural obstacle to the invasion of Germany by the Allies. The attack was set for December 19.
In early December 1944, the headquarters of the Third Army was in the Caserne Molifor, an old French military barracks in Nancy in the region of Lorraine, a ninety-minute train ride from Paris. At eleven o’clock on the morning of December 8, General Patton telephoned the head chaplain, Monsignor James H. O’Neill: “This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.”
One account of what happened after Patton’s telephone call to O’Neill is related by Colonel Paul Harkins, Patton’s deputy chief of staff. It appears as a footnote in War As I Knew It, a book based on Patton’s diaries and published in 1947, after his death.
On or about the fourteenth of December, 1944, General Patton called Chaplain O’Neill, Third Army Chaplain, and myself into his office in Third Headquarters at Nancy. The conversation went something like this:
General Patton: “Chaplain, I want you to publish a prayer for good weather. I’m tired of these soldiers having to fight mud and floods as well as Germans. See if we can’t get God to work on our side.”
Chaplain O’Neill: “Sir, it’s going to take a pretty thick rug for that kind of praying.”
General Patton: “I don’t care if it takes a flying carpet. I want the praying done.”
Chaplain O’Neill: “Yes, sir. May I say, General, that it usually isn’t a customary thing among men of my profession to pray for clear weather to kill fellow men.”
General Patton: “Chaplain, are you trying to teach me theology or are you the Chaplain of the Third Army? I want a prayer.”
Chaplain O’Neill: “Yes, sir.”
Outside, the Chaplain said, “Whew, that’s a tough one! What do you think he wants?” It was perfectly clear to me. The General wanted a prayer—he wanted one right now— and he wanted it published to the Command.
The Army Engineer was called in, and we finally decided that our field topographical company could print the prayer on a small-sized card, making enough copies for distribution to the army. It being near Christmas, we also asked General Patton to include a Christmas greeting to the troops on the same card with the prayer. The General agreed, wrote a short greeting, and the card was made up, published, and distributed to the troops on the twenty-second of December.
The year after the publication of War As I Knew It, Monsignor O’Neill felt compelled to write his own account of the prayer’s origin, which was published in The Military Chaplain magazine as “The True Story of the Patton Prayer.” O’Neill complained that “the footnote on the Prayer by Colonel Paul D. Harkins. . . . while containing the elements of a funny story about the General and his Chaplain, is not the true account of the prayer incident or its sequence.”
O’Neill maintains that he told Patton over the telephone that he would research the topic and report back to him within an hour. After hanging up, O’Neill looked out at the immoderate rains that had plagued the Third Army’s operations for the past three months. As he searched through his prayer books, O’Neill could find no formal prayers pertaining to weather, so he composed an original prayer which he typed on a three-by-five-inch card:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.
“If the general would sign the card, it would add a personal touch that I am sure the men would like,” said the chaplain. So Patton sat down at his desk, signed the card, and returned it to O’Neill.
The general then continued, “Chaplain, sit down for a moment. I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.” Patton rubbed his face in his hands, sat silently for a moment, then rose up and walked to the high window of the office where he stood with his back to O’Neill, watching the falling rain. O’Neill later recalled,
As usual, he was dressed stunningly, and his six-foot-two powerfully built physique made an unforgettable silhouette against the great window. The General Patton I saw there was the Army Commander to whom the welfare of the men under him was a matter of personal responsibility. Even in the heat of combat he could take time out to direct new methods to prevent trench feet, to see to it that dry socks went forward daily with the rations to troops on the line, to kneel in the mud administering morphine and caring for a wounded soldier until the ambulance came. What was coming now?
“Chaplain, how much praying is being done in the Third Army?” inquired the general.
“Does the general mean by chaplains, or by the men?” asked O’Neill.
“By everybody,” Patton replied.
“I am afraid to admit it, but I do not believe that much praying is going on. When there is fighting, everyone prays, but now with this constant rain—when things are quiet, dangerously quiet, men just sit and wait for things to happen. Prayer out here is difficult. Both chaplains and men are removed from a special building with a steeple. Prayer to most of them is a formal, ritualized affair, involving special posture and a liturgical setting. I do not believe that much praying is being done.”
Patton left the window, sat at his desk and leaned back in his swivel chair. Playing with a pencil, he began to speak again.
“Chaplain, I am a strong believer in Prayer. There are three ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and by Praying. Any great military operation takes careful planning, or thinking. Then you must have well-trained troops to carry it out: that’s working. But between the plan and the operation there is always an unknown. That unknown spells defeat or victory, success or failure. It is the reaction of the actors to the ordeal when it actually comes. Some people call that getting the breaks; I call it God. God has His part, or margin, in everything. That’s where prayer comes in. Up to now, in the Third Army, God has been very good to us. We have never retreated; we have suffered no defeats, no famine, no epidemics. This is because a lot of people back home are praying for us. We were lucky in Africa, in Sicily, and in Italy. Simply because people prayed. But we have to pray for ourselves, too. A good soldier is not made merely by making him think and work. There is something in every soldier that goes deeper than thinking or working—it’s his ‘guts.’ It is something that he has built in there: it is a world of truth and power that is higher than himself. Great living is not all output of thought and work. A man has to have intake as well. I don’t know what you call it, but I call it religion, prayer, or God.”
He talked about Gideon in the Bible, said that men should pray no matter where they were, in church or out of it, that if they did not pray, sooner or later they would “crack up.” To all this I commented agreement, that one of the major training objectives of my office was to help soldiers recover and make their lives effective in this third realm, prayer. It would do no harm to reimpress this training on chaplains. We had about 486 chaplains in the Third Army at that time, representing 32 denominations. Once the Third Army had become operational, my mode of contact with the chaplains had been chiefly through Training Letters issued from time to time to the Chaplains in the four corps and the 22 to 26 divisions comprising the Third Army. Each treated of a variety of subjects of corrective or training value to a chaplain working with troops in the field.
“I wish,” said Patton, “you would put out a Training Letter on this subject of Prayer to all the chaplains; write about nothing else, just the importance of prayer. Let me see it before you send it. We’ve got to get not only the chaplains but every man in the Third Army to pray. We must ask God to stop these rains. These rains are that margin that holds defeat or victory. If we all pray, it will be like what Dr. Carrel said, it will be like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven. I believe that prayer completes that circuit. It is power.”
With that the general rose from his chair, indicating that the meeting was concluded, and O’Neill returned to his office to prepare the training letter Patton had requested.
The day after O’Neill had shown Patton the prayer for fair weather for battle and the accompanying Christmas greeting, he presented the general with Training Letter No. 5. Patton read it and directed that it be circulated without change to all of the Third Army’s 486 chaplains, as well as to every organization commander down to and including the regimental level. In total, 3,200 copies were distributed over O’Neill’s signature to every unit in the Third Army. As the chaplain noted, however, strictly speaking it was the Third Army commander’s letter, not O’Neill’s. The order came directly from Patton himself. Distribution was completed on December 11 and 12.
TRAINING LETTER NO. 5
December 14, 1944 Chaplains of the Third Army:
At this stage of the operations I would call upon the chaplains and the men of the Third United States Army to focus their attention on the importance of prayer.
Our glorious march from the Normandy Beach across France to where we stand, before and beyond the Siegfried Line, with the wreckage of the German Army behind us should convince the most skeptical soldier that God has ridden with our banner. Pestilence and famine have not touched us. We have continued in unity of purpose. We have had no quitters; and our leadership has been masterful. The Third Army has no roster of Retreats. None of Defeats. We have no memory of a lost battle to hand on to our children from this great campaign.
But we are not stopping at the Siegfried Line. Tough days may be ahead of us before we eat our rations in the Chancellery of the Deutsches Reich.
As chaplains it is our business to pray. We preach its importance. We urge its practice. But the time is now to intensify our faith in prayer, not alone with ourselves, but with every believing man, Protestant, Catholic, Jew, or Christian in the ranks of the Third United States Army.
Those who pray do more for the world than those who fight; and if the world goes from bad to worse, it is because there are more battles than prayers. “Hands lifted up,” said Bossuet, “smash more battalions than hands that strike.” Gideon of Bible fame was least in his father’s house. He came from Israel’s smallest tribe. But he was a mighty man of valor. His strength lay not in his military might, but in his recognition of God’s proper claims upon his life. He reduced his Army from thirty-two thousand to three hundred men lest the people of Israel would think that their valor had saved them. We have no intention to reduce our vast striking force. But we must urge, instruct, and indoctrinate every fighting man to pray as well as fight. In Gideon’s day, and in our own, spiritually alert minorities carry the burdens and bring the victories.
Urge all of your men to pray, not alone in church, but everywhere. Pray when driving. Pray when fighting. Pray alone. Pray with others. Pray by night and pray by day. Pray for the cessation of immoderate rains, for good weather for Battle. Pray for the defeat of our wicked enemy whose banner is injustice and whose good is oppression. Pray for victory. Pray for our Army, and Pray for Peace.
We must march together, all out for God. The soldier who “cracks up” does not need sympathy or comfort as much as he needs strength. We are not trying to make the best of these days. It is our job to make the most of them. Now is not the time to follow God from “afar off.” This Army needs the assurance and the faith that God is with us. With prayer, we cannot fail.
Be assured that this message on prayer has the approval, the encouragement, and the enthusiastic support of the Third United States Army Commander.
With every good wish to each of you for a very Happy Christmas, and my personal congratulations for your splendid and courageous work since landing on the beach.
The 664th Engineer Topographical Company worked around the clock to reproduce 250,000 cards bearing the prayer for fair weather and General Patton’s Christmas greeting. The cards and Training Letter No. 5 were distributed by December 14. Two days later, the U.S. armies in Europe were engaged in the greatest battle ever fought by American forces. The outcome of that battle, and possibly of the entire Allied war effort in Europe, would turn on the weather.
General Patton’s adjutant, Colonel Harkins, later wrote:
Whether it was the help of the Divine guidance asked for in the prayer or just the normal course of human events, we never knew; at any rate, on the twenty-third, the day after the prayer was issued, the weather cleared and remained perfect for about six days. Enough to allow the Allies to break the backbone of the Von Runstedt offensive and turn a temporary setback into a crushing defeat for the enemy.
General Patton again called me to his office. He wore a smile from ear to ear. He said, “God damn! Look at the weather. That O’Neill sure did some potent praying. Get him up here. I want to pin a medal on him.”
The Chaplain came up the next day. The weather was still clear when we walked into General Patton’s office. The General rose, came from behind his desk with hand out-stretched and said, “Chaplain, you’re the most popular man in this Headquarters. You sure stand in good with the Lord and the soldiers.” The General then pinned a Bronze Star Medal on Chaplain O’Neill.
Everyone offered congratulations and thanks and we got back to the business of killing Germans—with clear weather for battle.
On Christmas Eve, General Patton and Omar Bradley attended a candle-light church service in Luxembourg City, sitting in a box once used by Kaiser Wilhelm II. Patton ordered a hot turkey dinner for every soldier in the Third Army on Christmas Day. To ensure that his order was carried out, he spent the bitterly cold day driving from one unit to another. Sergeant John Mims, Patton’s driver throughout the war, recalled, “We left at six o’clock in the morning. We drove all day long, from one outfit to the other. He’d stop and talk to the troops; ask them did they get their turkey, how was it, and all that.” His diary entry for that day is classic Patton: It was “a clear cold Christmas, lovely weather for killing Germans, which seems a bit queer, seeing Whose birthday it is.” The troops were cheerful but “I am not, because we are not going fast enough.”
In the spring, as the Third Army’s advance continued with clear weather, Patton again thanked the Lord for good weather: “I am very grateful to the Lord for the great blessing he has heaped on me and the Third Army, not only in the success which He has granted us, but in the weather which He is now providing.”
Patton’s Entrance Into Germany in 1945
The final stage of World War II in the European Theatre commenced with the Western Allied invasion of Germany. It began with the crossing of the River Rhine in March 1945, with forces fanning out and overrunning all of Western Germany until their final surrender on May 8, 1945.
General Patton knew his entrance into German-occupied territory was of monumental historical importance. So he decided to imitate William the Conqueror’s entrance into England before leading Norman forces in their heroic conquest of the entire island in 1066.
On the night of March 22, 1945, elements of the Third Army crossed the Rhine at the German town of Oppenheim. To their surprise, they were not opposed by enemy forces. Patton, not wanting to compromise his army’s success with publicity, telephoned Omar Bradley the following morning and uncharacteristically told him to keep it a secret. “Brad, don’t tell anyone, but I’m across.” A surprised Bradley responded, “Well, I’ll be damned. You mean across the Rhine?” “Sure am,” Patton replied, “I sneaked a division over last night. But there are so few Krauts around there they don’t know it yet. So don’t make any announcement—we’ll keep it a secret until we see how it goes.”
By that evening, the Germans had discovered Patton’s forces, and perhaps more important, Patton’s British rival, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, was preparing to cross the Rhine as well. So Patton called Bradley again. “Brad, for God’s sake tell the world we’re across . . . . I want the world to know Third Army made it before Monty starts across,” he shouted.
The following day General Patton arrived at the pontoon bridge his engineers had constructed over the Rhine. He made his way halfway across the bridge before suddenly halting. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Patton said as he unzipped his fly and urinated into the river while an Army photographer recorded the moment for posterity. When he reached the other side of the river, Patton pretended to stumble, imitating William the Conqueror, who famously fell on his face when landing in England but transformed the bad omen into a propitious one by leaping to his feet with a handful of English soil, claiming it portended his complete possession of the country.
Patton similarly arose, clutching two handfuls of German earth in his fingers, and exclaimed, “Thus, William the Conqueror!” That evening Patton sent a communiqué to General Eisenhower: “Dear SHAEF [Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force], I have just pissed into the Rhine River. For God’s sake, send some gasoline.”
On March 23, 1945, Eisenhower wrote a warm letter to General Patton:
I have frequently had occasion to state, publicly, my appreciation of the great accomplishments of this Allied force during the past nine months. The purpose of this note is to express to you personally my deep appreciation of the splendid way in which you have conducted Third Army operations from the moment it entered battle last August 1. You have made your Army a fighting force that is not excelled in effectiveness by any other of equal size in the world, and I am very proud of the fact that you, as one of the fighting commanders who has been with me from the beginning of the African campaign, have performed so brilliantly throughout. We are now fairly started on that phase of the campaign which I hope will be the final one. I know that Third Army will be in at the finish in the same decisive way that it has performed in all the preliminary battles.
A week before the Rhine crossing, General Patton had held a press conference in which he delivered a classic performance, mixing the humorous, provocative, and the profane. He announced that the Third Army would shortly capture its 230,000th prisoner of war. Having previously been denied permission to photograph the face of the 200,000th prisoner (the Geneva Convention required that a prisoner be protected against acts of “public curiosity”), Patton announced that “this time we will take a picture of his ass.” (A week later their POW capture would top 300,000.)
Patton also requested the help of the press corps in informing the Germans that four of his armored divisions were slashing away at them. The publicity was “not for me—God knows I’ve got enough—I could go to heaven and St. Peter would recognize me right away—but it is for the officers and the men.” Patton then complained “that the Marines go to town by reporting the number [of their men] killed, I always try to fight without getting [our] people killed.”
Patton’s Message Marking the End of World War Two
GENERAL ORDERS 9
SOLDIERS OF THE THIRD ARMY, PAST AND PRESENT During the 281 days of incessant and victorious combat, your penetrations have advanced farther in less time than any other army in history. You have fought your way across 24 major rivers and innu-merable lesser streams. You have liberated or conquered more than 82,000 square miles of territory, including 1,500 cities and towns, and some 12,000 inhabited places. Prior to the termination of active hos-tilities, you had captured in battle 956,000 enemy soldiers and killed or wounded at least 500,000 others. France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia bear witness to your exploits.
All men and women of the six corps and thirty-nine divisions that have at different times been members of this Army have done their duty. Each deserves credit. The enduring valor of the combat troops has been paralleled and made possible by the often unpublicized activities of the supply, administrative, and medical services of this Army and of the Communications Zone troops supporting it. Nor should we forget our comrades of the other armies and of the Air Force, particularly of the XIX Tactical Air Command, by whose side or under whose wings we have had the honor to fight.
In proudly contemplating our achievements, let us never forget our heroic dead whose graves mark the course of our victorious advances, nor our wounded whose sacrifices aided so much in our success.
I should be both ungrateful and wanting in candor if I failed to acknowledge the debt we owe to our Chiefs of Staff, Generals Gaffey and Gay, and to the officers and men of the General and Special Staff Sections of Army Headquarters. Without their loyalty, intelligence, and unremitting labors, success would have been impossible.
The termination of fighting in Europe does not remove the oppor-tunities for other outstanding and equally difficult achievements in the days which are to come. In some ways the immediate future will demand of you more fortitude than has the past because, without the inspiration of combat, you must maintain—by your dress, deportment, and efficiency—not only the prestige of the Third Army but also the honor of the United States. I have complete confidence that you will not fail.
During the course of this war I have received promotions and decorations far above and beyond my individual merit. You won them; I as your representative wear them. The one honor which is mine and mine alone is that of having commanded such an incomparable group of Americans, the record of whose fortitude, audacity, and valor will endure as long as history lasts.
G. S. PATTON, JR., General
General Patton’s Death
How did General Patton die? The short story is that he sustained spinal cord and neck injuries in an automobile accident near Neckarstadt, Germany. He passed away from pulmonary embolism as a result of the accident.
The long story
On December 9, 1945, Patton was returning from a pheasant hunt with his chief of staff, Major General Hobart “Hap” Gay. Sergeant Mims, his regular driver, was in the hospital, and a substitute was at the wheel. They were traveling at about thirty-five miles per hour when an army truck turned from a side road into their path. In the glancing collision, Patton was thrown against the roof and fell forward into the glass partition behind the driver’s seat. His neck was broken.
Paralyzed from the neck down, he was taken to a hospital in Heidelberg. “This is a helluva way to die,” General Patton told Gay. In the hospital, Patton’s mood alternated between profanity-laced anger and black humor. “If there’s any doubt in any of your Goddamn minds that I’m going to be paralyzed for the rest of my life, let’s cut out all this horse-shit right now and let me die,” Patton lashed out.
He just as quickly changed moods, joking, “Relax, gentlemen, I’m in no condition to be a terror now.” When he was informed that the hospital chaplain was there to pray by his side, Patton responded, “Well, let him get started. I guess I need it.” The chaplain entered, said a few prayers and Patton thanked him.
Beatrice flew to her husband’s side after ordering that her children remain at home. She seemed to want her husband to herself one final time. As they visited, Patton told his wife, “I guess I wasn’t good enough.” She knew he was referring to his desire to die in battle, as his ancestors had done.
On December 21, Beatrice read to Patton from John Steinbeck’s novel The Red Pony. He asked her what time it was, and when she told him, he said that he was tired and told her she should go eat dinner; they could finish the chapter when she returned. She went to the dining room, leaving her husband with the attending nurse.
Beatrice’s dinner was interrupted when the nurse suddenly noticed that Patton had stopped breathing. When she returned, her husband had already died. The official cause of death was pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure.
General George S. Patton Jr. was buried at mid-morning on December 24, 1945, in a grave dug by German prisoners of war. He was laid next to a Third Army soldier who had been killed in combat during the Battle of the Bulge. A United Press correspondent reported: Patton was buried in what he himself once called “damned poor tank country and damned bad weather.” But he was buried in precision-like military ceremony, touched by pomp and tendered by grief. Big generals and little soldiers were there, as were the royalty and the commoners of this tiny country from which General Patton drove the Germans in that crucial battle last Christmastide.
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