George S. Patton, Jr. (1885-1945) was a celebrated and controversial American general in World War II, famed for his successes in armored warfare against the Germans in 1944-45. His public image of tough-minded courage in battle remains fixed in the popular image of the war.
Patton was born in San Gabriel, Calif. into a wealthy family of southern origins with a strong military heritage. He attended Virginia Military Institute and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, receiving his commission in the cavalry in 1909.
He was a member of a family of senior military officers. His namesake was a Confederate colonel killed at the Third Battle of Winchester in the American Civil War. His son, George S. Patton III, was an armored commander in the Vietnam War and eventually rose to major general.
World War I
Patton served with General John J. Pershing in Mexico and accompanied him to France upon American entry into World War I in 1917. There he showed interest in the mobility and firepower of a new invention, tank, capable of crossing trenches, pushing through barbed wire, and shielding soldiers inside from machine gun bullets and (some) artillery fragments. He established a tank training school (the couterpart of a traininbg center run by Dwight D. Eisenhower in the States). Patton organized the First Tank Brigade, which he commanded in the St. Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne offensives. Wounded during the latter action, he saw no further active service in World War I.
Between the wars, Patton recognized the advantages of the tank but his superiors did not; the tank units were disbanded and he was reassigned to the cavalry.
World War II
At the outbreak of World War II, as commander of the Second Armored Division and the First Armored Corps, he oversaw the training of the Armored Force. In November 1942 he led the Western Task Force in the Allied landings (Operation Torch) in North Africa; later he commanded the Second Corps in Tunisia. In July 1943 he led the newly formed Seventh United States Army in the attack on Sicily. His name became a byword for aggressive fighting and unexpected maneuvers.
In Italy, although Patton had seen many cases of shell-shock, he was disgusted when one healthy-looking soldier was hospitalized, struck him, called him a coward, and talked of shooting him. News reporters, who admired Patton, covered up the story but the hospital doctors complained to his superior, Eisenhower. Eisenhower almost sent Patton home in disgrace and when the news broke the Army was embarrassed to be associated with brutality. Patton was made commander of a fake army operating in England that fooled the Germans into deciding the Allied invasion would come at Calais, far east of the actual landing point in Normandy. After the landings succeeded, Eisenhower gave Patton command of the Third United States Army, reporting to Patton's former subordinate Omar Bradley.
On August 1 his Third Army poured through the breach in the German lines made by the First Army near St. Lô. The ensuing rapid sweep through Brittany and across northern France often defied logistic difficulties, especially the constant shortage of diesel fuel for tanks and trucks. The Third Army continued to play a major role in the winter fighting, helping stem the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes called the "Battle of the Bulge.". In the final offensive Patton struck boldly and suddenly across the Rhine after a blitz encirclement of the Saar Basin and advanced across central Germany. He secretly sent a rescue mission to liberate a POW camp that contained a relative of his; the raid was a total failure.
He attained four-star rank shortly before the end of the war. He died Dec. 21, 1945, after an automobile accident, and was buried in the U.S. military cemetery at Hamm, Luxembourg.
Patton's public fame derives primarily from his record as an outstanding practitioner of mobile armored warfare. Within the military profession, while he was usually well-regarded, he was seen as far more complex. He wrote extensively on military theory in professional journals such as Infantry and Cavalry. An Olympic competitor in the pentathlon, he was the last official Master of the Sword of the United States Army. He believed in reincarnation and having been a general in earlier lives; he wrote poetry about the battlefield.
Of independent financial means, although the greatest financial resources came from his wife, he did not hide his wealth, but also would use informal means for getting things done. For example, he personally bought tools and parts, from the commercial Sears-Roebuck mail order catalog, to get the 2nd Armored Division (U.S.) to operational status.
Quick-tempered and bluff in speech, he was frequently involved in political controversy, not least because of his propensity to racist and anti-Semitic remarks. He was nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts" by his men, who disliked his minute attention to dress codes even in battle zones. Patton's war diary was published posthumously in 1947 under the title "War As I Knew It." Several serious biographies have been written by researchers with access to his papers, family, and colleagues.
Patton became famous to new generations through by the Oscar-winning 1970 movie, which sanitized it slightly. Actor George C. Scott captured Patton's mannerisms and style exactly in the movie, except for Patton's squeaky high-pitched voice. The famous opening scene portrays Patton's actual speech of March 1945, sanitizing away the obscenities. Patton used harsh and foul language and castigated cowards, or "psychoneurotics," and those who used self-inflicted wounds to get out of combat. The basic message was "shoot and keep shooting."
- Pullen (2005)