George S. Patton

General George Smith Patton Jr. (pictured before his promotion to full General)
General George Smith Patton Jr. (pictured before his promotion to full General)

George Smith Patton, Jr. (November 11, 1885December 21, 1945), was a leading American general in World War II. Known as "Old Blood and Guts", the vast majority of his soldiers loved him for what he was—a pure and ferocious warrior.



Patton was born in San Gabriel, California, to George Smith Patton (September 30, 1856June, 1927) and Ruth Wilson. The Pattons were an affluent family.

Patton came from a long line of soldiers who fought and often died in many conflicts, including the American Revolution and, in particular, the Confederate side of the American Civil War. His paternal grandparents were Brigadier General George Smith Patton (June 26, 1833September 19, 1864) and Susan Thornton Glassell. The brigadier general was born in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and later served in the 22nd Virginia Infantry of the Confederate States of America during the American Civil War (18611865). He was among the casualties of the Battle of Opequon (the Third Battle of Winchester).

He left behind a namesake son who was born in Charleston, West Virginia, when that state was still part of Virginia. The second George Smith Patton was only a child during the American Civil War. He graduated from the Virginia Military Institute in 1877. He started a career as an attorney. He later notably served as the first city level District attorney of Pasadena, California and the first mayor of San Marino, California. He was opposed to the women's suffrage movement. He died in Los Angeles, California.

The future general was introduced by his father to the reading of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey, the Bible, and the works of William Shakespeare. The father was also a friend of John Singleton Mosby, a cavalry hero of the Confederate States of America, serving first under J.E.B. Stuart and then as a guerrilla fighter. The younger Patton grew up hearing Mosby's stories of military glory. Apparently inspired by them, from an early age the young Patton sought to become a general and hero in his own right.


Patton attended Virginia Military Institute for one year, then transferred to and graduated from the U.S. Military Academy.

Patton was an intelligent child, intensively studying classical literature and military history from a young age, but likely suffered from an undiagnosed case of dyslexia, the consequences of which would haunt him throughout his schooling. He learned to read at a very late age as a child, and never learned basic skills such as proper spelling. Because of these difficulties, it took him five years to graduate from West Point, although he did rise to become Adjutant of the Corps of Cadets.

While at West Point, Patton renewed his acquaintance with childhood friend Beatrice Ayer, the daughter of a wealthy textile baron. The two were married shortly after Patton's graduation.

After graduating from West Point, Patton participated in the 1912 Summer Olympics in Stockholm, representing the United States in the first-ever Modern Pentathlon. Patton finished fifth in the event. He was leading before the shooting competition, in which his second shot appeared to miss the target. He claimed his second bullet went through the hole made by his first.

Patton, along with many other members of his family, often claimed to have seen vivid, lifelike visions of his ancestors. He was a staunch believer in reincarnation, and much anecdotal evidence indicates that he held himself to be the reincarnation of the Carthaginian General Hannibal, a Roman legionnaire, a Napoleonic field marshal, and various other historic military figures.

Early military career

During the Mexican Border Campaign of 1916, Patton, while assigned to the 13th Cavalry Regiment in Texas, accompanied then-Brigadier General John J. Pershing as his aide during the Punitive Expedition into Mexico in his pursuit of Pancho Villa. During his service, Patton, accompanied by ten soldiers of the 6th Infantry Regiment, killed General Julio Cardenas, commander of Villa's personal bodyguard. For this action, Pershing called him his "Bandito". Patton's success in this regard gained him a level of notoriety back in the United States.

World War I

At the onset of the Americans joining the fighting of World War I, General Pershing promoted Patton to the rank of Captain. While in France under the Third Republic, Patton requested that he be given a combat command and Pershing assigned him command within the newly formed U.S. Tank Corps. Depending on the source, he either led the U.S. Tank Corps., led the British, or was an observer at the Battle of Cambrai, the first battle where tanks were used as a significant force. As the U.S. Tank Corps did not take part in this battle and it is extremely unlikely that a U.S. officer would have commanded British troops, the role of observer is the most likely. From his successes (and the organization of a training school for American tankers in Langres, France), Patton was promoted twice to the rank of lieutenant colonel and was placed in charge of the U.S. Tank Corps, which was part of the American Expeditionary Force and then the First U.S. Army. He took part in the St. Mihiel offensive of September 1918 and was wounded by machine gun fire as he sought assistance for tanks that were mired in the mud.

For his service in the Meuse-Argonne operations, Patton received a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Service Cross, and was given a battlefield promotion to a full colonel. While Patton was recuperating from his wounds, hostilities ended.

The interwar years

While on duty in Washington, D.C. in 1919, Patton met and became close friends with Dwight D. Eisenhower, who would play an enormous role in Patton's future career. In the early 1920s, Patton petitioned the U.S. Congress to appropriate funding for an armored force, but had little luck doing so. Patton also wrote professional articles on tank and armored car tactics, suggesting new methods to use these weapons. He also continued working on improvements to tanks, coming up with innovations in radio communication and tank mounts. However, with little money in the peacetime military for innovation, Patton eventually transferred back to the cavalry—still a horse-borne force—for career advancement.

In July 1932, Patton served under Army Chief of Staff General Douglas MacArthur as a major leading the cavalry against the Bonus Army.

Patton served in Hawaii before returning to Washington to once again ask Congress to allocate funding for armored units. In the late 1930s, Patton was assigned command of Fort Myer, Virginia. Shortly after Germany's blitzkrieg attacks in Europe, Patton was finally able to convince Congress of the need for armored divisions. Shortly after its approval, Patton was promoted to brigadier general and put in command of the armored brigade. The brigade eventually grew into the US 2nd Armored Division and Patton was promoted to major general.

World War II

During the buildup of the U.S. Army prior to its entry into World War II, Patton established the Desert Training Center in Indio, California. He also commanded one of the two wargaming armies in the Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941. Fort Benning, Georgia, is well known for General Patton's presence.

North African campaign

In 1942, Major General Patton commanded the 1st U.S. Armored Corps of the U.S. Army, which landed on the coast of Morocco in Operation Torch. Patton and his staff arrived in Morocco aboard the heavy cruiser USS Augusta (CA-31) which came under fire from the French battleship Jean Bart while entering the harbor of Casablanca.

Following the defeat of the U.S. Army by the German Afrika Corps at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass in 1943, Patton was made lieutenant general and placed in command of II Corps. Although tough in his training, he was generally considered fair and very well-liked by his troops. The discipline paid off as, by March, the counteroffensive was pushing the Germans east while the British Eighth Army commanded by Gen. Bernard Montgomery in Egypt was simultaneously pushing them west, effectively squeezing the Germans out of North Africa.

Italian campaign

As a result of his accomplishments in North Africa, Patton was given command of the Seventh Army in preparation for the 1943 invasion of Sicily. He was charged with liberating the western half of the island, while Gen. Montgomery's Eighth British Army was to liberate the east.

Never one to allow his rival Montgomery to get the glory, Patton quickly pushed through western Sicily, liberating Palermo and then swiftly driving on east to Messina ahead of Montgomery.

Patton's bloodthirsty speeches resulted in controversy when it was claimed one inspired the Biscari Massacre in which American troops killed seventy-six Prisoners of War. Patton's career nearly ended in August of 1943. While visiting hospitals and commending wounded soldiers, he slapped and verbally abused Privates Paul G. Bennet and Charles H. Kuhl, who he thought were exhibiting cowardly behavior. The soldiers were suffering from various forms of battle fatigue or shell-shock, and had no visible wounds (though one was subsequently found to have dysentery). Because of this action, Patton was kept out of public view for some time and secretly ordered to apologize to the soldiers. When news of Patton's acts was made public, there were calls from some that he should either resign or be fired from his position. Patton also was relieved of command of the Seventh Army prior to its operations in Italy.

However, while Patton was temporarily relieved of his duty, his prolonged stay in Sicily was interpreted by the Germans to be indicative of an upcoming invasion of southern France and later, a stay in Cairo was interpreted as an upcoming invasion through the Balkans. The fear of General Patton helped to tie up many German troops and would be an important factor in the months to come.


In the period leading to the Normandy invasion, Patton gave public talks as commander of the fictional First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG), which was supposedly intending to invade France by way of Calais. This was part of a sophisticated Allied campaign of military deception, Operation Fortitude.

Following the Normandy invasion, Patton was placed in command of the U.S. Third Army, which was on the extreme right (west) of the Allied land forces. He led this army during Operation Cobra, the breakout from earlier slow fighting in the Norman system of planting hedgerows, besieged Cherbourg, and then moved south and east, assisting in trapping several hundred thousand German soldiers in the Chambois pocket, near Falaise. Patton used Germany's own blitzkrieg tactics against them, covering 600 miles in just two weeks. Patton's forces freed the bulk of northern France and circled Paris while French Marshal Philippe de Hauteclocque ("Leclerc") assisted the insurgents who were fighting in the city, liberating it.


Patton's offensive, however, came to a screeching halt on August 31, 1944, as the army simply ran out of gasoline near the Meuse river, just outside of Metz, France. The time needed to resupply was just enough to give the Germans the time they needed to further fortify the fortress of Metz. In October and November, the Third Army was mired in a near-stalemate with the Germans, inflicting heavy casualties on one another. By November 23, however, Metz had finally fallen to the Americans, the first time the city had fallen since the Franco-Prussian War.

Ardennes offensive

Missing image
Bradley, Eisenhower, and Patton

By late 1944, the German army made a last-ditch offensive across the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and northeastern France. The Ardennes Offensive (better known as the Battle of the Bulge), was the final offensive of the German army in World War II. On December 16, 1944, the German army threw 29 divisions (totaling some 250,000 men) at a weak point in the Allied lines and made massive headway towards the Meuse River during one of the worst winters in Europe in years.

Patton abruptly turned the Third Army north (a considerable tactical and logistical achievement), disengaging from the front line to relieve the surrounded and besieged 101st Airborne Division trapped in Bastogne. It is believed by many that no other general and no other army in history could have performed this feat. By February, the Germans were once again in full retreat and Patton moved into the Saar Basin of Germany. Patton was planning to take Prague, Czechoslovakia, when the forward movement of American forces was halted. Nevertheless, his troops liberated Pilsen (May 6, 1945) and most of West Bohemia.

After the German Surrender

In the aftermath of the victory in Europe, Patton was disappointed by the Army's refusal to give him another combat command in the Pacific. Unhappy in his role as the military governor of Bavaria and depressed by his belief that he would never fight in another war, Patton's behavior and statements became increasingly erratic.

Carlo D'Este, in Patton: A Genius for War, writes that "it seems virtually inevitable ... that Patton experienced some type of brain damage from too many head injuries" from a lifetime of numerous auto- and horse-related accidents, especially one suffered while playing polo in 1936.

Whatever the cause, Patton found himself once again in trouble with his superiors and the American people. While speaking to a group of reporters, he compared the Nazis to losers in American political elections. Patton was soon relieved of his Third Army command and transferred to the Fifteenth Army, a paper command preparing a history of the war.

Bitter and intending to soon resign from the Army, in October 1945 General Patton assumed control of the Fifteenth Army. However, on December 9 he suffered serious injuries from an auto accident. Many conspiracy theorists believe that the drivers that were operating the car were ordered to hit him because of the belief that he was going to run for President when he came back to the United States, or because of his quarrels with occupation policies such as the Morgenthau Plan.[1] ( Patton died on December 21, 1945, and was buried in the Americano War symetery in Hamm, Luxembourg.

Dates of rank

The following is the promotion history of General Patton:

  • Second Lieutenant, United States Army: June 11, 1909
  • First Lieutenant,United States Army: May 23, 1916
  • Captain, United States Army: May 15, 1917
  • Major, National Army: January 26, 1918
  • Lieutenant Colonel, National Army: March 30, 1918
  • Colonel, National Army: October 17, 1918
  • Captain, Regular Army : June 30, 1920 (reverted to permanent rank)
  • Major, Regular Army: July 1, 1920
  • Lieutenant Colonel, Regular Army: March 1, 1934
  • Colonel, Regular Army: July 1, 1938
  • Brigadier General, Regular Army: October 1, 1940 (made permanent September 1, 1943)
  • Major General, Regular Army: April 4, 1941 (made permanent September 2, 1943)
  • Lieutenant General, Army of the United States: March 12, 1943
  • General, Army of the United States: April 14, 1945

Notes regarding components:

  • United States Army: U.S. Army components prior to World War I
  • National Army: Combined conscript and regular forces during World War I
  • Regular Army: Peacetime forces prior to World War II. During World War II, considered the "career" soldiers.
  • Army of the United States: Combined draft and regular forces during World War II. AUS officers held temporary rank for the duration of the conflict.

Awards and decorations

At the time of General Patton's death, he was authorized the following awards and decorations.

In 1955, the U.S. Army posthumously presented General Patton with the Army of Occupation Medal for service as the first occupation commander of Bavaria. He was also awarded numerous commemorative medals, badges, and pins that were not meant for display on a military uniform or were not considered official military decorations.

The movie

George Patton was the focus of the 1970 Academy Award-winning movie Patton, with the title role played by George C. Scott. As a result of the movie and its now-famous opening monologue (based on a real speech he often made to Third Army troops before the Normandy invasion), in popular culture Patton has come to symbolize a warrior's ferocity and aggressiveness. Historians, however, have often disparaged the movie's accuracy, noting the heavy influence of Omar Bradley as senior military advisor and writer. Bradley, played in the movie by Karl Malden, had a tumultuous relationship with Patton and the movie's treatment of him is blatantly hagiographic.

The image of Patton in the movie is somewhat misleading since the opening monologue is delivered from a stage in front of what sounds like a very large audience. The real George Patton was not known as a good public speaker. He was very self-conscious and knew that his high-pitched voice risked making him sound like an old grandmother, unlike the gravelly voice of George C. Scott, who confidently delivered a finely tuned and concise speech.

An ironic aspect of the movie was Patton's depiction as a fierce and aggressive warrior. George Patton was certainly a very persistent individual who reached his goal of becoming a great general after having overcome disabilities that are often overlooked by some of his more flattering biographers. Contrary to popular belief, Patton was a career officer and a team player who supported and was supported by his fellow officers, within the context of a large military bureaucracy.

From an early age George Patton dreamt of becoming a great general, and did everything necessary to become one. He was fascinated with military history and loved to expound on it, regaling those who were amateurs in the subject but boring all others. His focus made him ignore civilian life to the point where, in World War II, he did not realize that he was commanding an army of civilians who would be returning to civilian life after the war, and who did not see Army life exactly as he did. Other American general officers in the European theater were more astute about such problems and managed to keep him out of trouble most of the time. The soldier-slapping incident of August 1943 was one instance where they were unable to manage things in time. They were more successful in keeping him from throwing corporal Bill Mauldin in jail since they realized that his sometimes-sarcastic cartoons were good for morale. They also kept Patton from outlawing the Stars and Stripes (the newspaper of the U.S. military) when its editorial policy and reporting did not suit him.

External links


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