George Smith Patton Jr. was born in San Gabriel, California on
November 11, 1885. Although his father, a graduate of VMI, pursued a career in law rather than the military his families military background goes back to the American Revolutionary War.
As a child he was a devoted horseback rider and became an avid reader. He paid particular attention to the exploits of Julius Caesar, Joan of Arc, Napoleon Bonaparte, and Scipio Africanus as well as family friend John Singleton Mosby.
Patton never considered a career other than the military and in 1902 wrote a letter to Sen. Bard for a recommendation to the United States Military Academy. Afraid he would do poorly on the entrance exam, he decided to apply to universities with Reserve Officer’s Training Corps programs. He attended Virginia Military Institute from 1903 to 1904. He excelled in uniform appearance inspection and military drill. In 1904 he passed the entrance exam and Sen. Bard recommended him for West Point.
He fit right into the routine and continued to show exceptional
prowess in military drill. His academic skills were not as well honed however and he had to repeat his first year. He would overcome this and become cadet sergeant major his junior year and cadet adjutant his senior year. He was also a member of the fencing and track and field teams. He graduated ranking 46 of 103 and was commissioned second lieutenant in the cavalry on June 11, 1909.
His first assignment was to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, with the 15th Cavalry, where he established himself as a hard driving dedicated leader. In 1911 he transferred to Fort Myers, Virginia, where he became friends with Sec. of War Stimson and acted as his aide.
The Army entered in the modern pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic Games in Sweden. Of 42 competitors, Patton placed twenty-first on the pistol range, seventh in swimming, fourth in fencing, sixth in the equestrian competition, and third in the footrace, for an overall finish of fifth place, being the top non-Swedish finisher.
In 1915 while serving with the 8th Cavalry he began wearing his Colt .45 service revolver in his belt till it went off in a saloon one night. He then switched to his renowned ivory-handled Colt Single Action Army revolver.
In 1916 Mexican forces, loyal to Pancho Villa, launched a raid on Columbus, New Mexico killing several Americans. Saddened to learn his unit would not be a part of Gen. Pershing’s punitive expedition, he asked and was made Pershing’s personal aide. He would model his leadership style of strong, decisive leadership and command from the front after him.
Patton’s first combat experience was on May 14, 1916 when he led what became the first motorized attack in U.S. warfare. He took 12 men in 3 Dodge touring cars on a raid that surprised 3 of Villa’s men, killing them. He gained wide media attention as a “bandit killer” and was soon promoted to first lieutenant.
World War I
After the Mexican campaign Patton was assigned to Front Royal, Virginia where he oversaw the procurement of horses for the Army. After the start of World War I Pershing was named commander of the American Expeditionary Forces and Patton requested to join his staff. He was promoted to captain and went with Pershing to Chaumont, France where he was post adjutant commanding headquarters company. Dissatisfied with the assignment he developed an interest in tanks. While hospitalized with jaundice he met Col. Conner who encouraged him to work with tanks rather than infantry.
In November 1917 Patton established the AEF Light Tank School. He
was promoted to major in 1918 and received the first 10 tanks for the school. He trained the crews in support operations to support infantry troops and pushed their acceptance among infantry officers. He would also be promoted to lieutenant colonel and attend Army General Staff College.
In August 1918 he was placed in charge of the U.S. 1st Provisional Tank Brigade (re-designated the 304th Tank Brigade). He walked in front of or rode on the tanks he commanded in battle to inspire his troops. He was wounded and directed one battle from a shell hole before being evacuated. While recuperating he was promoted to colonel in the Tank Corps of the U.S. National Army. He also received the Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal. He would see no further action due to the armistice of November 11, 1918. He received a Purple Heart for his wounds in 1932 after the creation of the decoration.
Patton left France in 1919 and was assigned to Camp Meade, Maryland
and then sent to Washington D.C. where he wrote several manuals on Tank Warfare. He along with Dwight D. Eisenhower and Walter Christie, a tank designer, would push for an armored warfare program during the interwar period. The lack of finances however would delay the programs development till 1940.
In 1925 he was reassigned as G-1 and G-2 of the Hawaiian Division at Schofield Barracks in Honolulu. While serving with units responsible for the defense of the islands he wrote plan called “Surprise” anticipating a Pearl Harbor air raid.
In 1932 while, serving as Ex. O. of the 3rd Cavalry in Washington D.C., he was ordered by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Douglas Mac Arthur to lead 600 of his troops in a maneuver to disperse veteran protesters of the “Bonus Army”.
World War II
After the outbreak of World War II in 1939 while serving as umpire for the Third U.S. Army maneuvers, Patton met Gen. Adna R. Chaffee and the two formulated plans for an armored force. In 1940 Chaffee became commander of the force and created the U.S. 1st Armored Division and U.S. 2nd Armored Division and named Patton commander of the 2nd Armored Brigade, 2nd Armored Division. In October 1940 Patton was promoted to brigadier general and in April 1941 he was promoted to major general and given command of the 2nd Armored Division.
North African Campaign
Under Eisenhower Patton helped plan the invasion of French North
Africa in 1942. Following the defeat of the U.S. II Corps by the German Afrika Korps in 1943, Patton replaced Maj. Gen. Fredendall as commander, was promoted to Lt. Gen., and reassigned Maj. Gen. Omar Bradley as deputy commander. The two went on to transform a bunch of rag torn soldiers into crack military units and had several successful campaigns.
Patton’s I armored Corps was re-designated the Seventh Army just
before the Sicily landing in 1943. They were used to support the landing forces of Field Marshall Montgomery’s British Eighth Army. Frustrated by the British lack of advancement and citing messages to halt his advancement as “lost in transmission” he pressed on through Sicily. By the end of the push the Seventh Army, consisting of 700,000 men had suffered 7,500 casualties but had killed or captured 113,000 Axis troops and destroyed 3,500 vehicles.
Slapping incidents and aftermath
Patton was often criticized for his treatment of subordinates who failed
to meet his high standards. Two such incidents involved the slapping of two Privates on two seperate occasions both involving them being at an evacuation hospital suffering from “battle fatigue”. Patton didn’t accept this as a reason for them being in the same company of brave men wounded in battle and ordered both men back to the front lines. He further ordered his commanders to discipline any soldier complaining of similar problems.
As a result of harsh criticism from Eisenhower, congress, and the American people. Patton was relieved of command and would not command another force in combat for 11 months. He was however so highly regarded in the German High Command that he was the focal point of false information leaked about the Allied Invasion of Europe.
Normandy breakout offensive
Patton’s Third Army became operational in August 1944 under Bradley’s Twelfth United States Army Group. They attacked simultaneously west into Brittany, south, east toward the Seine, and north in the Falaise Pocket between Falaise and Argentan.
His strategy involved speed and an aggressive offense. He employed forward scouts, self propelled artillery, and observation aircraft.
Battle of the Bulge
In December 1944 the German Army launched a last-ditch offensive across Belgium, Luxembourg, and northeastern France. They massed 29 divisions totaling 250,000 men across a weak point in allied formations setting the stage for the “Battle of the Bulge”.
Eisenhower called a meeting of his senior commanders on December
19 to plan a response to the assault. Patton, engaged in fighting near Saarbrücken guessed the the reason for the meeting and ordered his staff to prepare three plans for disengaging the Third Army from this fight, move and re-engage the German forces in the bulge area. Eisenhower asked Patton how long it would take for him to mount a counter attack to relieve the U.S. 101st Airborne Division trapped in Bastogne. Patton’s reply was “As soon as you’re through with me.” Eisenhower was extremely doubtful and warned Patton of building false hopes. Patton explained that he already had a plan that would get his 3 divisions in place by the 21st. Eisenhower was still doubtful and ordered him to attack on the 22nd. Patton left the conference room and called his staff simply stating “Play Ball”.
Bad weather hampered their advance at first until a chaplain’s prayer was answered and the clouds cleared. Patton awarded the chaplain a Bronze Star Medal on the spot.
On December 26th spearhead units of the Third Army’s 4th Armored Division arrived in Bastogne breaking the siege and rescuing the 101st Division.
Advance into Germany
By February the German Army was in full retreat and Patton was
moving into Germany. Between January 29 and March 22, 1945 the Third Army took Trier, Coblenz, Bingen, Worms, Mainz, Kaiserslautern, and Ludwigshafen, killing or wounding 99,000 and capturing 140,112 German soldiers.
Between becoming operational in Normandy on August 1, 1944 and the end of hostilities on May 9, 1945, the Third Army was in continuous combat for 281 days. In that time, it crossed 24 major rivers and captured 81,500 square miles (211,000 km2) of territory, including more than 12,000 cities and towns. The Third Army claimed to have killed, wounded, or captured 1,811,388 German soldiers, six times its strength in personnel.
On December 9th 1945 Patton’s staff car was struck by a truck at a railroad crossing in Mannheim-Käfertal. He suffered from a compression fracture and dislocation of the third and fourth vertebrae, resulting in a broken neck and cervical spinal cord injury which rendered him paralyzed from the neck down. When he was told he could never ride a horse or lead a normal life he replied ” This is a hell of a way to die.” He died on December 21st of pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure.
Patton was buried at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial in Hamm, Luxembourg, alongside other wartime casualties of the Third Army, per his request to “be buried with my men.”