Patton, General George, 1885-1945

Patton belonged to the small band of American officers who cherished a belief in the future of the tank through the long years of interwar stagnation. He had seen action in the American tank corps in World War I, and distinguished himself. He had also impressed by his ability in the more conventional activities of army life and had been appointed Superintendent of West Point. But Patton was not at heart conventional. His manner was extrovert, his appearance flamboyant and his dealings with people emphatic to the point of theatricality. He was given command of II Corps in the Torch landings in North Africa in 1942 and then promoted to lead the 7th Army in the invasion of Sicily, where he lost patience with EISENHOWER’s plan, which allotted the decisive role to MONTGOMERY, and took over the lead himself. Unfortunately, he also lost patience not once but twice with soldiers whom he found in hospital for ‘combat fatigue’ and on the second occasion was reported in the newspapers for having slapped a man’s face. As a result he was demoted and, when reemployed for the invasion of Europe, had to serve as Commander of the 3rd Army under his old subordinate, Bradley. He nevertheless succeeded in making himself the star of the Breakout of Normandy by the speed and force of his advance to Lorraine and the German frontier in July-September. It was an advance conducted against the background of a bitter strategic debate with Eisenhower over the advisability of allotting Montgomery an equal share of the available supplies. And though it is now thought that Eisenhower’s strategy was broadly correct, Patton remained convinced that he had been robbed of the chance to invade Germany and perhaps end the war in 1944. He spent the winter of that year fighting a bitter battle of attrition on the frontier, interrupted by his decisive intervention in the Battle of the Bulge, conducted a masterly crossing of the Rhine in the spring and repeated his whirl-wind success of the previous summer by the audacity of his advance to Czechoslovakia, from which he withdrew, under political pressure, with the greatest reluctance. He was killed in an accident in December 1945. Patton was no great theorist of tank tactics, but he was the founder of the armored tradition in the American army.

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