A burning desire to go forth and reach personal conquests exists inside every man. This passion often navigates the would-be hero into a state of tragedy involving pain and suffering for those around. One individual, in particular, inflicted strain and duress on others with a harsh, and often criticized unorthodox style of leading when he took his campaign across Europe and into Germany. General George Smith Patton, Jr. led an expedition across a continent to rid the world of its Nazi powers. This journey marked the conquest of perhaps the world’s greatest war general and his reputable demeanor.
Patton experienced respect and admiration throughout his life, starting very early when he was just an infant. He was born into a highly respected and extremely wealthy family in San Gabriel, California. It was this early taste of good fortune that allowed Patton to develop a taste for fine things such as horses. Growing up he was an avid polo player and became very good especially in college. After attending exquisite private schools, Patton left and attended the U.S. Military Academy and graduated in 1909. (WB 140) After his graduation, Patton joined the cavalry and eventually served in World War I. Patton was an excellent physical specimen and a strong addition to any early fighting battalion. Along to go with his sleek build was a strong mentality of perseverance and excellence, which he drilled into his life everyday. “From his earliest years, he believed himself destined to be a soldier. Much of his life was spent in the limelight. As a young cavalry officer and well-rounded athlete, he competed in five events during the 1912 Olympic games held in Stockholm, Sweden. He placed fifth in the pentathlon”(Bio 1).This established athlete took his physical attributes to war with him, especially as a mental addition. He believed in hard work and a tough mental state of mind from his men. He expected them to be physically fit and be able to handle themselves through the most rigorous conditions. Patton got his first tastes of action in pursuit of Mexico’s legendary Pancho Villa in 1916 with the U.S. Cavalry. He was later transferred to the new Armored branch as the first U.S. Commander of Armor. During World War I, Patton was struck by machine gun fire and was seriously wounded, narrowly escaping a possible death. (1).After being wounded, Patton stayed in the armed forces and continued to head the Armored division during the time of peace. Soon enough Patton’s expertise and services would be requested once again in a mere twenty years.
On September 1, 1939, a Nazi leader named Adolph Hitler ordered his German troops to invade and take over Poland. It was this day that marked the beginning of the tumultuous World War II. The United States didn’t declare any involvement in this European campaign until December 15, 1941, more than two years later. This war was fought in Europe, against Germany, to oppose Germany’s rapid march toward a militaristic society. An opposition standing in the Nazi’s way was none other than the most feared general in any army, George Patton.
Patton’s first great contributions to the war effort started on November 7, 1942, when he led his armored units into Morocco and removed the German presence. Assisted by Britain, Patton and his men efficiently removed the German command out of Africa and established it as an allied area once again. Patton was praised for this impressive and swift performance and gained great recognition. This recognition from French and Britain quickly plummeted by February 1943 and Patton and America had lost this prestige. (Essame 47-48, 64).
This first assignment allowed Patton to establish an early name for himself in the war. Many of the other allied leaders found him to be repulsive, eccentric, rude, and did not want to associate themselves with him. (61). It was this reputation of a hardened man that stayed with General Patton throughout the rest of his life. “He had a reputation-they called him “Old-Blood-and-Guts” –but we weren’t prepared for what he’d be like in person, especially his richly profane vocabulary”(Stillman 1). Although in 1970 George C. Scott displayed an accurate portrayal of Patton, in the self-titled film, Patton’s true voice was very high pitched; not the low deep voice of Scott’s. (1).
The Morocco attention he received quickly put Patton in the American eye and began his ascension in U.S. admiration. Citizens had started to hear about him and who he was and were beginning to watch for his results in the paper. After conquering his mission of regaining control of North Africa, Patton was then instructed to try and regain control of Italy. This would be no easy task as both the German’s and the Italian’s had heavy presence in this area. General Patton gathered his troops together and began instruction on the U.S. 7th Army. It was this campaign that would bring Patton his most fame and have his militaristic characteristics and brilliance shine. This invasion of Sicily showed Patton’s ability to overcome odds with advanced and often brave military tactics. He used daring assaults, rapid marches across Europe with exhausted men, and strategic use of armor with his barrage of tanks. (Bio 1).
About the same time, Patton also started receiving negative criticism for his harsh leadership ways involving his troops. Not only were some of these tasks rigorous and inhumane, such as days without sleep or food, the more cruel ones were the true facts that he implanted in the men’s head causing mental agony. “‘Look to your right. Now look to your left. One of you won’t be around at the end of the war’”(Qtd Stillman 1). Patton also said, “‘Remember, there’s a short distance between a pat on the back and a kick in the ass. As officers, you want to use them both liberally. I do.’” These were just few of his many famous quotes and tactics he used in order to mentally prepare and control his troops.
The most controversial thing that Patton ever did to anger the American citizens was when he struck a hospitalized enlisted man, accusing him of cowardice. The man had been diagnosed and suffering from shell shock. Patton’s immediate superior, who was also his good friend, General Dwight D. Eisenhower refused to succumb to the public’s demand and dismiss Patton. Instead he ordered Patton to remain in the Sicily headquarters until the media attention on him died down. (Bio 1). One claim to the reason that Patton acted this way was due to the “subdural hematoma Patton acquired from too many knocks on the head from polo and various horseback-riding and automobile accidents. He specifically attributes the general’s moodiness and at times volcanic anger—namely, the famous incidents in which he slapped GIs he thought were malingering in hospitals—to this blood on his brain”(Mysak 2).
Throughout his career Patton was plagued with bad media attention with his unorthodox tactics and styles he displayed on all fronts. Many people feel that he used this as a type of motivation to push his men and get them to succeed. Many of the men would stand in awe, fully impressed, as Patton would give one of his famous speeches. (Stillman 1). Patton used to make two versions of each of his speeches. One would be full of profanity for the enlisted men, and the other a little more elegant for the officers. (Mysak 2).
Many thought Patton to be a mastermind. His lightning quick attacks caught a great many of the opposition off-guard. This left him with a superior advantage to take control and manipulate situations to be in his favor. A great deal of these strategies stemmed from his early involvement in the United States Cavalry. As a leader in the cavalry, he believed that speed and mobility were the keys to war. He would often use lighter and less effective armament as long as its speed was enhanced. (2).
A lot of skeptics believed Patton to be in the least eccentric and closer to crazy. They couldn’t understand what would possess a man to be as vulgar, crude, harsh, and heartless with life as Patton was. Patton was a man who got the job done no matter the cost. If his orders were to take out a village, as soon as possible, he would take his troops and march straight until they got there. Then he would proceed to take out the village at any cost of life. He believed that every man wanted to fight; at least every real American. (2). In reality, the thing that drove Patton to success and perfection was a childhood disease in which he suffered from. Many are unaware that Patton suffered from dyslexia as a boy. “‘The seeming confidence of his actions and supreme rightness of his decisions emerged, paradoxically, from his own sense of dyslexic inadequacy. Succeeding in his endeavors at a terrible cost to himself, Patton sought perfection and was never satisfied with his performance’” (Qtd. 2). This old childhood nemesis, that Patton could not avoid or beat, gave him the courage and mind-set to always achieve a goal, and destroy the enemy. He could never settle for anything less than perfection, and when the United States asked him to complete a mission, he would do it, in the most effective and efficient way possible no matter what the cost. Eventually Patton would see action again after his Sicily episode. In August of 1944 Eisenhower gave Patton control of the U.S. 3rd Army. His directions were to drive the German’s out of France after the Allies had advanced through the Normandy beachhead. He pursued the enemy until September, pausing only when his tanks ran dry on fuel, and cleared the rest of France of German presence. (Bio 1).
This strong show of leadership gave Patton some good press once again. “Patton’s flamboyant character, his caustic remarks to his troops, the pearl-handled pistols he wore on his hips, and most of all his performance combined to make him a national hero”(1). Patton liked being an American icon and in the spotlight, so he was disappointed when Eisenhower gave Britain General Montgomery full control of the scarce supplies. These supplies were crucial in the transportation of troops across Europe, in order to advance and drive the enemy out. Patton overcame the odds and drove the 3rd Army over the Rhine River and through Germany before Montgomery could even assemble his men across the river. (1). After this impressive embarkment of crossing the Rhine, Patton was asked to cut the ceremonial ribbon at the inauguration of the Rhine Bridge, which was built by the Allies. When Major General Ewart G. Plank offered him the scissors for the ritual, Patton responded “‘What are you taking me for, Plank,’ he grunted, ‘a tailor? Goddamnit, General, give me a bayonet’”(Farago 49). The response from a true soldier at heart.
In his final months, Patton received his most negative criticism. This was because after the German’s had surrendered, he continued to use former Nazi’s as his chief advisors while he continued his stay in Germany. This was actually an intelligent move, as they were used to dealing with their own people and knew how to handle domestic German situations. The citizens back home though did not agree with his decision and Eisenhower was forced to relieve him of duties until his untimely death. (Bio 1).
Another reason that he was relieved of his duties was because of his vocal opinion about the Russians. He wanted to immediately turn on them, as they were our Allies during the war, and began a feud with them. He despised Communists’ and Democrats’ and thought that they should be out of society. (Mysak 2).
After nothing short of a stellar military career and an astounding European campaign in World War II, Patton was ordered to silence in Germany by his superiors and forced to serve the rest of his career confined in a German headquarters. It wasn’t until shortly before he was scheduled to return home to the United States that he was tragically killed in a car accident. To this day, some conspiracy still lingers around this event that happened. Some think that he was purposely killed by the United States in order to keep him quiet and to not start another war, this time with the Russians. “‘He died at just the right time, while his triumphs in the war remained fresh’”(Mysak 2). This statement is very accurate, as Patton was best known for being nothing short of a hard-nosed soldier, wanting to do everything the best and doing it the soldier way. Eisenhower said that Patton was “‘indispensable to the war effort—one of the guarantors of our victory’, and later by German Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, what said, ‘Patton was your best’”(2). Everyone involved in the war knew that Patton was the greatest leader in the whole effort. The opposition quivered hearing his name, knowing his swift advancements and harsh fighting styles. Perhaps it was his persona that drove him to be so successful. He led one of the greatest expeditions ever assembled, across Europe in just a short amount of time. He completed all of his jobs to the fullest and executed every order. He motivated and got the absolute most out of every man he ever took under command. It was his style, charisma, and character that made him such a success. His phrases and quotes are some of the simplest and most universally understandable around. To leave with one of his greatest quotes, “untutored courage is useless in the face of educated bullets”(ANS 1).
Bibliography:Sources CitedEssame, H. Patton: A Study in Command. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons. 1974. Farago, Ladislas. The Last Days of Patton. New York: McGraw Hill Book Company. 1981.
Mysak, Joe. “Patton: The Man Behind the Legend 1885-1945.” National Review. 38 (April 25, 1994): 52-53.
“An Educated Army.” Africe News Service. 11 Feb. 2000: 179.
Patton. Dir. Franklin J. Schaffner. 20th Century Fox, 1970. New Line Home Video, 1985.
“Patton.” Encyclopedia of World Biography. Second Edition. 12. Orozco-Radisson. Cole. Detroit. 1998.
“Patton’s Plan for Winning the War.” Newsweek. 8 Mar. 1999: 48.
“General George S. Patton, Jr. Biography.” 2000 WriteForCash.com. http://www.allsands.com/generalgeorgep_ra_gn.htm.
“George Smith Patton, Jr.” GSP. 1 Jun. 1998.