December 22, 1945
Patton's Career A Brilliant One
By THE NEW YORK TIMES
Gen. George Smith Patton Jr. was one of the most brilliant soldiers in American history. Audacious, unorthodox and inspiring, he led his troops to great victories in North Africa, Sicily and on the Western Front. Nazi generals admitted that of all American field commanders he was the one they most feared. To Americans he was a worthy successor of such hardbitten cavalrymen as Philip Sheridan, J. E. B. Stuart and Nathan Bedford Forrest.
His great soldierly qualities were matched by one of the most colorful personalities of his period. About him countless legends clustered--some true, some untrue, but all testifying to the firm hold he had upon the imaginations of his men. He went into action with two pearl- handled revolvers in holsters on his hips. He was the master of an unprintable brand of eloquence, yet at times he coined phrases that will live in the American Army's traditions.
"We shall attack and attack until we are exhausted, and then we shall attack again," he told his troops before the initial landings in North Africa, thereby summarizing the military creed that won victory after victory along the long road that led from Casablanca to the heart of Germany.
At El Guettar in March of 1943 he won the first major American victory over Nazi arms. In July of that year he leaped from a landing barge and waded ashore to the beachhead at Gela, Sicily, thus beginning a campaign that, as he himself observed, out-blitzed the inventors of Blitzkreig. In just thirty-eight days the American Seventh Army, under his leadership, and the British Eighth Army, under Gen. Sir Bernard Montgomery, conquered all of Sicily.
But it was as the leader of his beloved Third Army on the Western Front that General Patton staked out his strongest claims to military greatness. In ten months his armor and infantry roared through six countries--France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Austria. It crossed the Seine, the Loire, the Moselle, the Saar, the Rhine, the Danube and a score of lesser rivers; captured more than 750,000 Nazis, and killed or disabled 500,000 others.
There were times, in those great days when the tank spearheads of the Third were racing across France with almost unbelievable speed and again when they were cutting the dying Nazi armies to pieces in the final spring of the war, that not even Supreme Headquarters itself knew where his vanguards were. Driven by his iron will, his advanced units had to be supplied with gasoline and maps dropped by air.
About such a leader it was inevitable that heroic myths grew up. One eager war correspondent wrote that he jumped onto the Normandy beachhead waving a $1,000 bill and offering to bet it that he would beat Marshal Montgomery to Berlin. When the tale caught up with him, he pithily remarked that he had never seen a bill of that denomination.
One of his men brought back the story that he swam the icy, 150-foot Sauer River in January, 1945, under machine gun and artillery fire, to inspire the men of the Third to follow him. That, too, General Patton denied, but the extent to which the story was believed was eloquent testimony to General Patton's habit of being where the fighting was fiercest.
Called "Old Blood and Guts"
His best-known nickname--"Old Blood and Guts"--was one that he detested, but his men loved. "His guts and my blood," his wounded veterans used to say when they were flown back here for hospitalization. His explosive wrath and lurid vocabulary became legendary wherever American soldiers fought.
General Patton had a softer side to his nature, too. He composed two volumes of poetry, which he stipulated were not to be published until after his death. He was an intensely religious man, who liked to sing in church and who knew the Episcopal Order of Morning Prayer by heart.
He seemed fated to be the center of controversy. Again and again, when his fame and popularity were at their height, some rash statement or ill-considered deed precipitated a storm about his head. The most celebrated of these incidents, of course, was the slapping of a soldier whom he took to be a malingerer but who was actually suffering from battle fatigue in a hospital during the Sicilian campaign.
This episode resulted in widespread demands for his removal from the command of American soldiers, in Congress and in the press, and caused the Senate to delay his confirmation to the permanent rank of major general for almost a year. General Eisenhower sharply rebuked him, but insisted that his military qualifications, loyalty and tenacity made him invaluable in the field.
The turmoil over this incident had hardly died away when he caused another stir by a speech at the opening of a club for American soldiers in London. The original version of his remarks there quoted him as saying that the British and American peoples were destined to rule the world, but after this had evoked an outburst of criticism Army press relations officers insisted that he had actually said, "we British, American and, of course, the Russian people" were destined to rule.
He raised another brief teapot tempest when he came home in June, 1945, and told a Sunday school class that its members would be the officers and nurses of the next war. But this was nothing compared to the furore he caused by an interview he granted American correspondents after his return to Germany. Discussing conditions in Bavaria, where the military government was under his command, he asserted that too much fuss was being made over denazification and compared the Nazi party to the losers in an election between Democrats and Republicans back home.
General Eisenhower promptly called him on the carpet for these remarks. General Patton promised that he would be loyal to General Eisenhower's orders and to the Potsdam agreements prescribing the complete and ruthless elimination of all elements of Nazism from German life, but ten days later, on Oct. 2, 1945, he was removed from the command of his beloved Third Army.
Although reports were current that he might retire, General Patton took his transfer in soldierly silence. He assumed command of the American Fifteenth Army, a paper organization devoted to a study of the tactical lessons to be learned from the war just completed, and told friends that this was in line with what had been his favorite mental occupation since he was 7 years old: the study of war.
Although he customarily signed himself George Smith Patton Jr., General Patton was actually the third in line of his family to bear that name. The original George Smith Patton, his grandfather, was a graduate of Virginia Military Institute, and became a colonel in the Confederate Army. He was killed in action at the battle of Cedar Creek.
Expert Horseman From Childhood
General Patton's father went through V.M.I., then studied law, and moved west. He married a daughter of Benjamin Wilson, who was the first Mayor of Los Angeles, and for whom Mount Wilson was named. The future general was born on the family ranch at San Gabriel, Calif., on Nov. 11, 1885, and from childhood was an expert horseman.
At the age of 18 he came east and entered V.M.I., but after a year there he entered West Point with the class of 1909. There is a legend at the academy that he boasted at his entrance that he would be cadet captain, the highest post in the cadet corps, and that he would also be the first member of his class to become a general. Actually, he was cadet adjutant, the second highest post, and was the second member of the class to become a general.
He was a poor student--throughout his life he remained remarkably deficient in spelling--but an outstanding athlete at the Point. He excelled as a sprinter on the track team, and was also an expert fencer, swimmer, rider and shot. He continued his interest in sports and athletics after his graduation as a second lieutenant of cavalry.
In 1912 he represented the United States at the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, competing in the modern pentathlon, a contest which up to that time had been almost monopolized by Swedish Army officers. He finished fifth among more than thirty contestant, immediately after four Swedes. Of the five events, swimming, riding, fencing, running and shooting, he made his poorest showing in the pistol marksmanship competition, but he subsequently practiced until he overcame this weakness.
Early in his Army career he established himself as a hell-for-leather cavalry man. His first post was at Fort Sheridan, Ill., but in December, 1911, he was transferred to Fort Myer, Va., where he was detailed to design a new cavalry saber. In 1913 he went to France to study French saber methods, and on his return was made Master of the Sword at the Mounted Service School, Fort Riley, Kan.
He accompanied Gen. John J. Pershing as his aide on the punitive expedition into Mexico after the bandit, Pancho Villa, in 1916, and the next year he went to France with the general as a member of his staff. He attended the French Tank School and then saw action at the battle of Cambrai, where the British first used tanks on a large scale.
The new weapon was one to gladden the heart of a cavalryman, and from that time on his service was closely connected with tanks. He was assigned to organize and direct the American Tank Center at Langres. For his service in that capacity he was subsequently awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. But he was not satisfied with a training command, and sought action.
He took command of the 304th Brigade of the Tank Corps and distinguished himself by his leadership of it in the St. Mihiel offensive in September, 1918. Later that autumn, during the Meuse-Argonne offensive, he was severely wounded in the left leg while charging a pillbox, after 40 percent of the tanks in his command had been disabled.
His life was saved by Pvt. Joseph T. Angelo of Camden, N.J., who dragged him to safety in a shell hole.
After the first World War he served with tank units and then with the cavalry at various posts in the United States. He was graduated from the Cavalry School, the Command and General Staff School and the Army War College. While on duty in the office of the Chief of Cavalry in Washington, he was detailed as aide to the Prince of Wales on one of his visits to this country. He told the Prince that a game called "craps" was very popular in this country, and taught him to play it.
A Colonel in 1940
When this country began to rearm in the summer of 1940 Patton was a colonel. He was sent to Fort Benning, Ga., for duty as commander of a brigade of the Second Armored Division, then being formed. In April, 1941, he became its commanding officer and made the division famous as a tough and rough-and-ready outfit. Promoted to corps commander, he organized the Desert Training Center in California.
When the North African invasion was planned, General Patton was placed in command of the American forces scheduled to land on the Atlantic coast of Morocco. One of the closest of the many narrow escapes for which he was noted came when a landing boat into which he was about to step was sunk. But he got ashore and after a brief but fierce fight took his objectives.
During the Tunisian campaign that followed, General Patton became celebrated for the strictness of his discipline. He punished men who failed to wear their helmets, even in back areas.
After the American reverse at Kasserine Pass in February, General Patton took command of the Second United States Corps, which forced the Nazis back into a narrow corridor between the mountains and the sea, up which the British Eighth Army under General Montgomery pursued them. He won the battle of El Guettar in march, but not long thereafter disappeared from the public eye. On April 16 Gen. Omar Bradley succeeded him in command of the Second Corps.
The reason for the shift was not made known at the time and there were rumors that General Patton had fallen into disfavor. Actually, General Eisenhower had withdrawn him from action in order to prepare the American Seventh Army for the invasion of Sicily in July. The invasion was brilliantly successful, and General Patton's troops cut clear across the island to Palermo; then fought their way along the north coast to Messina.
This magnificent feat of arms was marred, however, by the slapping episode, which did not become generally known to the public until the following November. General Patton, who drove himself as hard as he drove his men, visited a hospital not far from the front lines at a time when he had been under prolonged strain and was in an overwrought condition.
There he encountered two men who showed no signs of visible wounds, but who had been diagnosed by medical authorities as suffering from battle neurosis. Losing his temper, General Patton called them "yellow bellies" and other unprintable epithets, and struck one of them so that his helmet liner flew off and rolled on the ground.
General Eisenhower made an investigation and sharply castigated General Patton, although he did not formally reprimand him. General Patton made personal apologies to all those present at the time of the episode, and later sent public apologies to each division of the Seventh Army.
General Patton did not appear during the campaign on the Italian mainland that followed, and some observers thought he had been relegated to a secondary role because of the storm of criticism that his action had caused in this country. Actually, however, General Eisenhower had picked him for a key role in the invasion of Western Europe, and he was then in England preparing for it.
Whereabouts a Mystery
For almost two months after D-Day, June 6, 1944, General Patton's whereabouts remained a mystery. The fact that he was in England, at the head of an army, was well known, and the inability of the Nazi intelligence to locate him forced their High Command to retain the German Fifteenth Army in the Pas de Calais area, far from the Normandy beachhead, lest he head a landing there.
Instead, the Third Army landed on the beachhead in great secrecy, and deployed behind the First Army. When the First Army broke the German lines between St. Lo and the sea on July 25, the Third Army poured through the breach to exploit it. The opportunity was ideal for a dashing, driving leader of General Patton's talents. His spearheads roared clear across the base of the Breton Peninsula, then turned east toward Parish.
While the Nineteenth Tactical Air Command of the Ninth Air Force protected the right flank along the Loire Valley, General Patton's armor and motorized infantry forced the line of the Seine and smashed clear across France after the badly disorganized Nazis. The pursuit went all the way to the Moselle, with planes dropping supplies to the leading units, before lack of gasoline finally halted the chase and gave the Nazis a chance to make a stand.
In the bitter autumn that followed, General Patton's men made slow but steady headway against the entrenched Nazis. For almost two months--from Oct. 3 to Nov. 22--they carried on a sanguinary attack against Metz, which in 1,500 years of history had never before been taken by assault. They had to fight their way in, fort by fort and street by street, but they eventually took the city.
Early in December the Third Army began an attack on the Saar Basin, but the unexpected success of von Rundstedt's offensive against the First Army's lines to the north forced a swift change. General Patton was ordered to go to the rescue of the crumbling American positions on the south side of the "bulge." He broke off his attack and redeployed his forces with astonishing speed.
Within three days the Third Army had begun to pound at the southern flank of the Nazi wedge. Some of its divisions had traveled 150 miles in open trucks in freezing weather, but they were still full of fight. By Dec. 28 they had fought their way to the relief of Bastogne, and the worst of the danger was over. For another month they hammered away at the bulge, until it was no more.
In February the Third Army broke through the Siegfried Line between Pruem and Echternach and then crossed the Moselle into the triangle bounded by that river, the Rhine and the Saar. Working in perfect cooperation with Lieut. Gen. Alexander M. Patch's American Seventh Army, the Third cut to pieces the Nazi forces in the Saar-Palatinate region. On March 17 it seized Coblenz.
The Third seemed headed for Leipzig when it was diverted to the south toward the so-called Alpine redoubt, where, it had been rumored, the Nazis planned their last stand. On April 18 the Third crossed the border of Czechoslovakia and nine days later it passed the Austrian frontier. Its advance units were in the vicinity of Linz when the cease-firing order came.
On May 26, 1910, General Patton married Miss Beatrice Ayer of Boston. They had two daughters and a son.
In a characteristically brilliant operation, General Patton led the Third Army across the Rhine north of Ludwigshafen on March 22. Attacking without air or artillery preparation at 10:30 P. M., the Third took the Nazis completely by surprise and landed on the east bank without the loss of a single man.
Click to view image: 'GENERAL GEORGE S. PATTON, JR. 11 NOV 1885--21 DEC '
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