Patton held a lifelong belief that in any moment of danger, whether it be a violent engagement with the enemy on a battlefield or a moment of personal danger in a sailboat, the Lord would protect him. In countless journal entries, personal letters, and conversations, he unfailingly spoke of placing his destiny in the hands of God.
Such an attitude can be seen in his writings up to and durin gthe American and British invasion of French North Africa, known as Operation Torch. It began on November 8, 1942. The Allies’ plan was to invade northwest Africa—Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia—and advance eastward to attack German forces from behind. The invasion was split into three different task forces—Western, Center, and Eastern. Patton headed the Western Task Force, targeting Casablanca. Before the Operation Torch landings in North Africa in 1942, Patton wrote the following in his diary:
In forty hours I shall be in battle, with little information, and on the spur of the moment will have to make most momentous decisions, but I believe that one’s spirit enlarges with responsibility and that, with God’s help, I shall make them and make them right. It seems that my whole life has been pointed to this moment. When this job is done, I pre-sume I will be pointed to the next step in the ladder of destiny. If I do my duty, the rest will take care of itself.
The invasion was a success, and Patton was soon promoted to major general.
Giving thanks to God was also a ritual Patton faithfully observed. After the successful landing of his task force in Morocco in November 1942, Patton wrote that he was forced to believe that his “proverbial luck or more probably the direct intervention of the Lord was responsible.” He then addressed a letter to all of his commanding officers:
It is my firm conviction that the great success attending the hazardous operations carried out on sea and on land by the Western Task Force could only have been possible through the intervention of Divine Providence manifested in many ways. Therefore, I should be pleased if, in so far as circumstances and conditions permit, our grateful thanks be expressed today in appropriate religious services.
In his diary entry for November 22, 1942, Patton noted that he went to church. “Keyes and I went to mass this morning. I at least had reason to take a little time off to thank God. There were quite a lot of widows, made by us, in the church. They cried a good deal but did not glare at us.”
Patton turned to God for help in dealing not only with the enemy but also with his own senior commanders and allies. Patton’s aggres-sive style of warfare sometimes produced friction with his superiors, who often insisted on a slower, more cautious approach. He also fought over allocations of supplies between competing army groups. Before meetings to discuss strategy, Patton would enlist God’s support for his approach. As he wrote to Beatrice on August 21, 1944,
We jumped seventy miles to day and took Sens, Montereau, and Melun so fast the bridges were not blown. If I can keep on the way I want to go I will be quite a fellow. . . .
We are going so fast that I am quite safe. My only worries are my relations and not my enemies.
Well I will stop and read the Bible so as to be ready to have celestial help in my argument tomorrow to keep moving.
On February 4, 1945, he wrote to her, “You may hear that I am on the defensive but it was not the enemy who put me there. I don’t see much future for me in this war. There are too many ‘safety first’ people running it. However, I have felt this way before and something has always turned up. I will go to church and see what can be done. . . .”
Sometimes his superiors’ resistance to his aggressive strategy and the competition from his British allies for supplies seemed to equal what he had to contend with from the enemy. He confided to Beatrice in September 1944, “If I only had the Germans to fight, it would be a cinch. . . . God deliver us from our friends. We can handle the enemy.”
Patton had faith in the comforting power of Scripture. On D-Day, while he waited impatiently for his opportunity to join the action, he wrote to Beatrice,
Ike broadcast to occupied Europe and did it well.
None of the troops of this army are in yet and in fact I doubt if the enemy knows of its existence. We will try to give him quite a surprise. . . .
I can’t tell when I will go in. . . . However I have had my bag packed for some time just in case.
It is Hell to be on the side lines and see all the glory eluding me, but I guess there will be enough for all. . . .
I guess I will read the Bible.
In his own provocative way, Patton once encouraged his friend General Johnny Lucas to read the Bible. Before the landings at Anzio, Italy, in January 1944, which Lucas led, Patton advised him, “John, there is no one in this Army I hate to see killed as much as you, but you can’t get out of this alive. Of course, you might only be wounded. No one ever blames a wounded general for anything.” Patton instructed the worried Lucas to “read the Bible when the going gets tough.” Then Patton took one of his aides aside and said, apparently seriously, “Look here, if things get too bad, shoot the old man in the back end, but don’t you dare kill the old bastard.” After Lucas found out about the remark, he admitted being afraid to turn his back on Patton from D-Day on.
It was impossible, Patton believed, to bear the burden of command and the incomparable stresses of war without divine guidance:
Went to church. . . . [W]e had a new preacher, at my insistence, who was good. He preached on the willingness to accept responsibility, even to your own hurt. That ability is what we need and what Ike lacks. But I do feel that I don’t. I pray daily to do my duty, retain my self-confidence, and accomplish my destiny. No one can live under the awful responsibility that I have without Divine help. Frequently I feel that I don’t rate it.
Though Patton assured his troops that biblical teachings were fully consistent with their mission to kill the enemy, he privately conceded the difficulty of reconciling the essential message of Christianity with the terrible exigencies of warfare. Recalling the first mass he attended in Europe after the D-Day landings, Patton wrote in his diary, “As we knelt in the mud in the slight drizzle, we could distinctly hear the roar of the guns, and the whole sky was filled with airplanes on their missions of destruction . . . quite at variance with the teachings of the religion we were practicing.” The French countryside was dotted with crossroad crucifixes, which the Army Signal Corps found useful as makeshift telephone poles. “While the crosses were in no way injured,” Patton recorded, “I could not help thinking of the incongruity of the lethal messages passing over the wires.”
D’Este has described Patton’s most dreadful challenge:
how to motivate decent young men raised on the precepts of the Bible, the sanctity of human life, and the immorality of killing to become an efficient cog in a gigantic killing machine such as an armored division. While it was enough to make their mothers cringe, the only method whereby a Patton . . . could succeed on a battlefield was to trespass on the inherent decency of Americans by training and motivating their men to survive by killing others whose task was to kill them. Patton did it as well or better than virtually anyone else.
This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the George S. Patton. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to General Patton.