George Smith Patton, Jr. (November 11, 1885 December 21, 1945) is one of America's most celebrated military officers and most notable of World War II, along with one of the most controversial.
Born in California, Patton came from a military family, with his grandfather having served for the Confederates during the American Civil War. He attended the Virginia Military Academy and West Point, Patton's first taste of fighting came during The Hunt for Pancho Villa, where he participated in America's first ever military action that used motor vehicles, and shot down three of Villa's men with his custom made ivory handled revolvers (it's not known if he got the kills as several other soldiers were firing as well, but he did definitely hit and wound all three of them). Afterwards, he served with the American Expeditionary Force in World War I as a tank officer.
Patton was also an Olympian Athlete who finished fifth place in the modern pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics in Sweden. Possibly he should have finished higher, as he ranked near the top in four of the five events but did poorly in target shooting which was expected to be his best activity. With five shots, only three bullet holes were made in the target - all three near the center and tightly clustered. He claimed, and may have been right, that his other two shots passed exactly through the holes from previous shots. Several competitors agreed, but there was no way to verify it either way (high-speed cameras were not yet a thing), so the results stood. He also participated in swimming, shooting, fencing, and cross country riding.
When World War II started with the German invasion of Poland, the United States declared neutrality, but began a program of mobilization. Patton was placed in a position to oversee the strengthening of America's armor forces. Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor, which forced America to enter the war. It was decided that America would focus on Europe first, and the first step for that strategy was to help eliminate the North Africa front, which was in the midst of back-and-forth battles between Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps, and Bernard Law Montgomery and his 8th Army.
The US Army landed in Morocco as part of Operation Torch, which Patton helped plan. While the American 1st Infantry Division "The Big Red One" achieved early successes against Vichy French forces in Morocco, the combat debut of America's armored forces was abysmal: their first major battle against the Germans at Kasserine Pass was a complete disaster, as the poorly equipped, poorly trained, and untested forces were routed by the Germans' superior tactics, technology, and experience. As a result, the US Army enacted a complete top-down reorganization of their forces, with Patton being placed in charge of II Corps, to which he put forth sweeping changes and instilling discipline in the exhausted and demoralized corps, shaping them into a disciplined fighting machine. It was here that Patton also saw the importance of the tank, and the role it could play in the American Army realized, and began enacting sweeping measures to integrate it into practically every part of ground-based warfare, essentially writing the book on American armored tactics; in his vision, Patton saw the tanks as highly mobile, heavily armed, and working independent of infantry, rather than in direct support of them, allowing for rapid, hard-hitting attacks that overwhelmed the enemy's defenses before they even knew who was attacking them, not unlike certain Blitzkreig tactics utilized by the Germans in the early stages of the war. The Battle of El Guettar was much more in America's favor, and less than a month later, the North Africa Campaign concluded with the surrender of remaining Axis forces in Tunisia.
The next objective for the Allies was Sicily, as a stepping ground for invading Italy, during which he was placed in a supporting role to Montgomery thanks to the latter's machinations. The British 8th Army got bogged down, while Patton's 7th Army maneuvered across western Sicily through Palermo and then took Messina, the primary objective of the entire invasion. He was eventually sidelined by General Dwight D. Eisenhower for nearly a year however, due to losing his cool and slapping a pair of soldiers he accused of cowardice, who were suffering from what was then known as "Battle Fatigue", but would would later be understood as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Despite Patton issuing a formal apology to the soldiers and doctors involved both in person and in speech, these "Slapping Incidents" as they would come to be called ended up leaking to the American homefront, which resulted in harsh criticisms and many questioning whether he should be sent back to the United States. Ultimately, it was decided he would remain, due to his "aggressive, winning leadership in the bitter battles which are to come before final victory" meaning he would be better off on the front lines than any role he could serve at home. However, the incident did cost him a leading role in the upcoming Operation Overlord (At least according to Patton; Eisenhower claims the decision for who would lead Overlord was made long before the "Slapping Incidents" were made public), as Allied command felt they needed a commander with a level head and more control over his impulses to lead such a delicate and pivotal operation; thus, General Omar Bradley was named commander of Overlord's forces. Still, Patton still served a crucial role in command of the U.S. Third Army, training the inexperienced unit in preparation for the fighting on the European mainland in the months leading up to the invasion.
The Germans had gained a great deal of respect for Patton as a battle commander and considered him to be a crucial element to the eventual invasion of France. By 1944, it was clear that the Allies were going to attempt a return to the continent; it was simply a question of where. The Allied Supreme Command, aware of this, made Patton a prominent figure in their "Fortitude" deception campaign, sending the Germans false report after false report of Patton's supposed location, troop movements, and activities, going so far as to place him in "command" of the fictitious First United States Army Group. As a result, as Patton trained with the Third Army, the Germans were utterly convinced that he was going to be at the tip of the Allies' spear, supposedly landing in Calais instead of Normandy. So convinced they were at this, even, that, even as the real invasion was well underway, the German army units sent to Calais refused to budge, believing that the initial landing were just a diversion and Patton was still on his way to face them. Once the landing and breakout at Normandy was a success, Patton and his Third Army transferred to France and began a relentless drive across the country, striking too rapidly for the Germans to organize any defenses.
By the autumn of 1944, supply problems caught up with the Allies. They were advancing too rapidly and far ahead of their schedule; in September, they found themselves liberating towns they had not expected to reach until spring 1945. Faced with pressure from civilian leaders to end the war quickly, Eisenhower had a choice to make: Patton, ever straightforward, proposed pushing through the German Siegfried line directly east of Berlin, then making a mad dash across Germany to seize the capitol before defenses could be mounted, similar to how he operated in France. While this plan was more likely to succeed due to sheer attrition and numbers, both of which the Allies had a surplus of and Germany was running out of fast, it was unknown how long such an operation it would take...and how many lives it would cost, and the word "attrition" tended to make the Allied civilian leaders a bit squirrely, likely evoking images of the horrendously bloody and slogging trench warfare of World War I...which probably explains why they weren't completely on board with Patton's idea. Montgomery on the other hand proposed an ambitious airborne assault in the Netherlands called Operation Market Garden, which would involve seizing a bridge across the Rhine River into Germany, and taking the Ruhr Valley, the industrial heart of Germany, cutting the Wehrmacht off from its only real supply line. While the operation was a huge gamble, it held the prospect of ending the war by December 1944, and with much fewer projected losses than Patton's plan. Tempted by the idea of getting his men Home by Christmas, Eisenhower went with Monty's plan, ordering Patton to stay put and wait to support him. Unfortunately, poor logistics, heavy delays, and a refusal to believe credible intelligence reports of strong German forces on the British drop zones led to Market Garden failing miserably, and Allied priorities shifted to the Scheldt Estuary.
Recognizing that they were no longer defending all of Western Europe, and that the Allied supply train was currently beleaguered with its own problems, even before the abortive Operation Market Garden threw everything up in the air,* the Germans attempted to launch an offensive in December 1944 through the Ardennes Forest, the exact same invasion route they took in 1940. At first, they were incredibly successful, routing newly arrived American G.I.'s. However, at Bastogne, one of the major towns to the German objective of Antwerp, they ended up facing elite American airborne divisions, including the 101st "Screaming Eagles," which were resting in the area. Patton saw immediately what was happening and took his Third Army, which was already heavily engaged 100 miles to the south, to relieve the paratroopers at Bastogne. Disengaging the majority of his force and reorienting it for a forced march over what could only be called "roads" in the most generous sense of the word amid one of the harshest winters in Europe's history, while still keeping the Germans to his front tied up and unable to move, attacking the main German force in their flank, and relieving Bastogne before the 101st Airborne and remnants of the 10th Armored Division were overwhelmed is rightly considered Patton's greatest achievement and one of the most brilliantly-executed operations in history. This ended up tapping the Germans of their remaining reserves and in May 1945, Berlin fell to the Russians. The war in Europe was over.
After the fighting, Patton was appointed to be military governor of Bavaria, which was within the American occupation zone. Throughout his career, he was a staunch anti-communist and believed that a war against the Russians would be inevitable. He famously made comments that he would rearm the defeated Germans in order to fight their "true enemy." Naturally, none of the Allied Supreme Command had any stomach for starting World War III when World War II was still settling down, and so he was relieved of his current posting and placed in command of the Fifteenth Army, who sought to compile a complete history of the war.
While he took the command due to his love of history, he soon grew dissatisfied with it. He decided that upon taking his Christmas leave, he would not return to Europe again. He intended to either seek a command stateside, or retire from the army altogether. Unfortunately, this posting would be Patton's last.
On December 8, 1945, only eight months after the end of the war in Europe and two days before he was due to go home on leave, Patton was involved in an automobile accident while travelling with another general. Despite the crash being very low speed and the other occupants of the crash getting out unharmed, Patton complained of paralysis and trouble breathing; It would later be revealed he suffered a serious compression fracture and injuries to his spinal cord that left him paralyzed from the neck down. He would die 12 days later of heart failure, his last words often attributed as being, "Hell of a way to die." Rather than being returned to the U.S. for burial, he was buried with the wartime casualties of the Third Army at the Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, per his request to be buried with his men.
One famous anecdote from his son, George Patton IV, posthumously involving his father comes from when the younger was serving as an Army officer in Vietnam. He and his unit were pinned down by enemy fire during a daylight action. At one point, he happened to look in the sky and saw his father there, larger than life, glaring down at him and saying, "Get up and get across the goddamn road!". He did so in a hail of bullets and managed to cross the road without injury. For his actions in the battle, he would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and would retire as a Major General.
Much is often made of the supposed rivalry between Patton and the commander of German troops in North Africa, Erwin Rommel. In truth, Patton and Rommel were never opposing commanders in battle in either Tunisia or France,note not to mention Rommel was always at least one rank above Patton. The same is true for Montgomery; after Sicily, Montgomery was the equivalent of a 4-star general in command of all land forces in Normandy. In September 1944 Montgomery was promoted to 5-star rank, but relinquished overall land forces to Eisenhower - but remained an army group commander while Patton was one level below, a 3-star general (until April 1945) in command of a single army. Compounding this is that the Allies and Axis didn't exactly trade intelligence about their leading generals like postcards; Rommel was an exception due to his "poster boy" status among the Third Reich, making him a well-known name, as was Montgomery to a lesser extent; contrarily, Patton remained relatively low-key (even moreso after his soldier-slapping incident) and as such his name was recognized only by those in the higher ranks of the German military, though many were aware of the "crazy American cowboy" general among the Allies' ranks from his exploits alone. Their respective sons Manfred Rommel and George Patton IV had a much-publicized friendship which also included David Montgomery, son of Bernard Law Montgomery.
Like many historical figures, Patton has received criticism in recent years for his racism. Among other comments, he often doubted the fighting abilities of Black soldiers and used racial slurs in conversation; he also once referred to Jewish Holocaust survivors as "the greatest stinking mass of humanity."note It's fair to say that Patton, while hardly progressive on race, was probably no more or less racist than most Army officers of his era. And if Patton was privately prejudiced, he had no problem serving alongside nonwhite soldiers. He organized the Army's first Black tank unit, the 761st Tank Battalion, and even introduced racially integrated rifle companies into the Third Army at a time when segregation remained the norm. His views are best summed up by his inelegant but forceful praise of his soldiers that "I don't give a damn who the man is. He can be a Nigger or a Jew, but if he has the stuff and does his duty, he can have anything I've got."
On a side note, Patton was a literal example of a Warrior Poet, and has written more than 80 poems between the years 1903 and 1945.
- Played by Kirk Douglas in Is Paris Burning?.
- Famously played by George C. Scott in the 1970 film Patton. Of note, while Scott nailed Patton's personality, his gravely rasp is nothing like Patton's actual voice.
- Played by Kelsey Grammer in the American conservative comedy An American Carol.
- Patton has a short appearance in Resistance, played by Ed Harris.
- Strike Witches:
- Patton first appeared in semi-canonical doujinshi set around North African Campaign, Witches of Africa where he led a personal unit of Liberion Army's land battle witches dubbed as "Patton's Girls", working side-by-side with many other famous African campaign generals from both sides such as Bernard Montgomery and even the Magnificent Bastard Erwin Rommel himself.
- While George S. Patton doesn't appear in the proper continuity, Geraldo S. Patton shows up in Road to Berlin, taking part in the campaign to liberate Berlin from the Neuroi. This eventually leads to an interesting image of Patton piloting the Landkreuzer P. 1000 Ratte to claim back Berlin.
- An alternate version of him appears in Harry Turtledove's Timeline-191 novel series, an Alternate History where the Confederacy won the Civil War, where he leads Confederate troops in an invasion of the U.S. as part of that world's version of World War II.
- A young Patton, played by Stuart Milligan, appears in an episode of The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles set in 1916.