One of the most complicated military men of all time, General George Smith Patton, Jr. was born November 11, 1885 in San Gabriel, California. He was known for carrying pistols with ivory handles and his intemperate manner, and is regarded as one of the most successful United States field commanders of any war. He continually strove to train his troops to the highest standard of excellence.
Patton decided during childhood that his goal in life was to become a hero. His ancestors had fought in the Revolutionary War, the Mexican War and the Civil War, and he grew up listening to stories of their brave and successful endeavors. He attended the Virginia Military Institute for one year and went on to graduate from the United States Military Academy at West Point on June 11, 1909.
Patton's first real exposure to battle occurred when he served as a member of legendary General John J. Pershing's staff during the expedition to Mexico.
Impressed by Patton's determination, Pershing promoted him to Captain and asked him to command his Headquarters Troop upon their return from Mexico. With the onset of World War I in 1914, tanks were not being widely used. In 1917, however, Patton became the first member of the newly established United States Tank Corps, where he served until the Corps were abolished in 1920.
After WWI, Patton held a variety of staff jobs in Hawaii and Washington, D.C. He graduated from the Command and General Staff School in 1924, and completed his military schooling as a distinguished graduate of the Army War College in 1932.
When the German Blitzkrieg began on Europe, Patton finally convinced Congress that the United States needed a more powerful armored striking force. With the formation of the Armored Force in 1940, he was transferred to the Second Armored Division at Fort Benning, Georgia and named Commanding General on April 11, 1941. Two months later, Patton appeared on the cover of Life magazine. Also during this time, Patton began giving his famous "Blood and Guts" speeches in an amphitheater he had built to accommodate the entire division.
The United States officially entered World War II in December 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. By November 8, 1942, Patton was commanding the Western Task Force, the only all-American force landing for Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa. After succeeding there, Patton commanded the Seventh Army during the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and in conjunction with the British Eighth Army restored Sicily to its citizens.
Patton commanded the Seventh Army until 1944, when he was given command of the Third Army in France. Patton and his troops dashed across Europe after the battle of Normandy and exploited German weaknesses with great success, covering the 600 miles across France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia. When the Third Army liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp, Patton slowed his pace. He instituted a policy, later adopted by other commanders, of making local German civilians tour the camps. By the time WWII was over, the Third Army had liberated or conquered 81,522 square miles of territory.
In October 1945, Patton assumed command of the Fifteenth Army in American-occupied Germany. On December 9, he suffered injuries as the result of an automobile accident. He died 12 days later, on December 21, 1945 and is buried among the soldiers who died in the Battle of the Bulge in Hamm, Luxembourg.
Remembered for his fierce determination and ability to lead soldiers, Patton is now considered one of the greatest military figures in history. The 1970 film, "Patton," starring George C. Scott in the title role, provoked renewed interest in Patton. The movie won seven Academy Awards, including Best Actor and Best Picture, and immortalized General George Smith Patton, Jr. as one of the world's most intriguing military men.
George Patton, speech to the Third Army (January, 1944)
I have been given command of Third Army. I am here because of the confidence of two men: the President of the United States and the Theater Commander. They have confidence in me because they don't believe a lot of goddamned lies that have been printed about me and also because they know I mean business when I fight. I don't fight for fun and I won't tolerate anyone on my Staff who does. You are here to fight. Ahead of you lies battle. That means just one thing. You can't afford to be a goddamned fool, because in battle fools mean dead men. It is inevitable for men to be killed and wounded in battle. But there is no reason why such losses should be increased because of the incompetence and carelessness of some stupid son-of-a-bitch. I don't tolerate such men on my Staff. Some crazy German bastards decided they were supermen and decided it was their mission to rule the world. They've been pushing people around all over the world, looting, killing, and abusing millions of innocent men, women and children. They were getting set to do the same to us. We are fighting to defeat and wipe out the Nazis who started all this goddamned son-of-a-bitchery.
Patton also created controversy when he visited the 15th Evacuation Hospital on 3rd August 1943. In the hospital he encountered Private Charles H. Kuhl, who had been admitted suffering from shellshock. When Patton asked him why he had been admitted, Kuhl told him "I guess I can't take it." According to one eyewitness Patton "slapped his face with a glove, raised him to his feet by the collar of his shirt and pushed him out of the tent with a kick in the rear." Kuhl was later to claim that he thought Patton, as well as himself, was suffering from combat fatigue.
Two days after the incident at the 15th Evacuation Hospital Patton sent a memo to all commanders in the 7th Army: "It has come to my attention that a very small number of soldiers are going to the hospital on the pretext that they are nervously incapable of combat. Such men are cowards and bring discredit on the army and disgrace to their comrades, whom they heartlessly leave to endure the dangers of battle while they, themselves, use the hospital as a means of escape. You will take measures to see that such cases are not sent to the hospital but are dealt with in their units. Those who are not willing to fight will be tried by court-martial for cowardice in the face of the enemy."
On 10th August 1943, Patton visited the 93rd Evacuation Hospital to see if there were any soldiers claiming to be suffering from combat fatigue. He found Private Paul G. Bennett, an artilleryman with the 13th Field Artillery Brigade. When asked what the problem was, Bennett replied, "It's my nerves, I can't stand the shelling anymore." Patton exploded: "Your nerves. Hell, you are just a goddamned coward, you yellow son of a bitch. Shut up that goddamned crying. I won't have these brave men here who have been shot seeing a yellow bastard sitting here crying. You're a disgrace to the Army and you're going back to the front to fight, although that's too good for you. You ought to be lined up against a wall and shot. In fact, I ought to shoot you myself right now, God damn you!" With this Patton pulled his pistol from its holster and waved it in front of Bennett's face. After putting his pistol way he hit the man twice in the head with his fist. The hospital commander, Colonel Donald E. Currier, then intervened and got in between the two men.
Colonel Richard T. Arnest, the man's doctor, sent a report of the incident to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The story was also passed to the four newsmen attached to the Seventh Army. Although Patton had committed a court-martial offence by striking an enlisted man, the reporters agreed not to publish the story. Quentin Reynolds of Collier's Weekly agreed to keep quiet but argued that there were "at least 50,000 American soldiers on Sicily who would shoot Patton if they had the chance."
Eisenhower told one of his senior officers: "If this thing ever gets out, they'll be howling for Patton's scalp, and that will be the end of George's service in this war. I simply cannot let that happen. Patton is indispensable to the war effort - one of the guarantors of our victory." Instead he wrote a letter to Patton demanding that he should apologize or make "personal amends to the individuals concerned as may be within your power."
Eisenhower now had a meeting with the war correspondents who knew about the incident and told them that he hoped they would keep the "matter quiet in the interests of retaining a commander whose leadership he considered vital." The men agreed to do this but the news of the incident eventually reached Drew Pearson and in November 1943, he told the story on his weekly syndicated radio program. Some politicians demanded that Patton should be sacked but General George Marshall and Henry L. Stimson supported Eisenhower in the way he had dealt with the case.