General George S Patton Jr Essay
General George S Patton Jr
Some men are born and made for war. They relish the challenge it provides and yearn for the glory it brings. Such a man was General George S. Patton Jr. who distinguished himself in several wars and is famed for being one of the best tank commanders of World War II. Born on November 11, 1885 in California, Patton Jr. (technically is the 3rd to carry the name George) was the son of George S. Patton Sr. a lawyer and Ruth Wilson, a daughter of a California rancher. The Patton family was no stranger to political or military leadership.
Patton Jr’s great-grandfather was John Mercer Patton who was also a lawyer and served as a Congressman and Governor of Virginia. His grandfather, the first George Smith Patton, was one of six sons who fought for the Confederates in the Civil War. When his grandfather was killed in 1862, his grandmother married one of her husband’s friends, Colonel George Hugh Smith, a cavalry officer. The young Patton grew up in what could be described as a happy, tranquil and affluent home. Living on a 1,800 acre ranch “Georgie” could have everything a young boy could want including ponies, guns, fishing tackle and boats.
But given his family’s military background, Patton grew up constantly exposed to military culture. His grandfather Smith would regale him with tales of the exploits of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Smith would even invite old comrades to the home. Sometimes while reminiscing they would conduct mock Civil War battles in which they had the young George pose as General Robert E. Lee. Other times, George’s father brought him on visits to old Civil War battlefields. Patton was steeped in the history and lore of Western Civilization. His heroes included Robert E.
Lee and Stonewall Jackson, and Patton knew the stories of outstanding Confederates not only from hearing them second-hand, but also from listening to veterans of the butternut and gray. When the storied Rebel cavalry commander John Singleton Mosby visited Patton’s home in California, Patton sat at his knee while Mosby regaled him with tales of derringdo during the War Between the States. Because George’s father did not believe much in formal schooling, he himself saw to George’s education, indoctrinating him with the classics with concentration on Homer, the Bible Shakespeare, Sir Walter Scott and Rudyard Kipling.
It is not surprising then that George could recite long passages from them by memory. But the lack of formal schooling also took its toll as he could not read or write until he was almost 12 when he was finally enrolled in a private school. It is not clear whether George’s father wanted him to be a soldier but he was definitely instrumental in the forming of such an ambition. Raised on stories of Confederate glory, Napoleon Bonaparte and the Greek siege of Troy, war would have been exciting and romantic for the young Patton.
In later years Patton confirmed this when he said that “Battle is the most magnificent competition in which a human being can indulge. ” At his young age, Patton had set his mind on becoming a great general and even went so far as to ready himself emotionally. Concerned with being tenderhearted he at one time forced himself to eat an orange while staring at a decaying frog. Patton entered the Virginia Military Institute in 1903 but after a year transferred to the U. S. Military Academy at West Point, New York where he repeated his freshman year after flunking math.
At West Point he threw himself into sports but is said to have played football with more “zeal than skill. ” He excelled better in track even earning his letter after beating an Academy record. In academics, Patton excelled in “Drill Regulations” so much that he was made Corps Adjutant in his senior year. The post was normally given to the cadet with the best military bearing and discipline. Since it became his job to impose discipline on other cadets, he gained few friends among his classmates. His brash and boastful nature didn’t help either.
Patton graduated from the Academy in 1909 and soon married his sweetheart Beatrice Ayer who he first met as a 15-year-old in 1902. Bea’s father was a rich and aristocratic New England businessman. The newlyweds settled in Fort Sheridan Illinois, Patton’s first army post where he was part of Troop K, 15th cavalry Regiment. The Patton’s soon discovered that Army life was far from glamorous. Since it was peacetime, the congressional budget for the armed forces was very small. The pay of both officers and enlisted men were extremely low and career advancements were slow.
At the time it was not unlikely to take 15 years for an officer to be promoted from second to first lieutenant. Despite living in comparatively poor conditions from the life they were used to, the Pattons did the best they could. They dressed for dinner every night and Patton bought the fastest cars he could buy. Being independently wealthy, they were later able to rent fairly huge homes in residential neighborhoods with George reporting for work everyday in his sports cars. This high style of living however drew the ire of other officers and wives who had to subsist on army pay. Being part of the cavalry also had its perks.
At the time it was considered the most glamorous branch of military service, permitting its officers like Patton to participate in exclusive sports such as polo, cross-country riding, foxhunting and horse shows. Patton himself had his own stable of polo ponies and other horses, which he took with him from one post to the next. In 1912, Patton on his own expense competed in the Modern Pentathlon event of the Olympic Games in Stockholm Sweden, which was open to military athletes. He finished at a respectable fourth position after taking first place in fencing and finishing third in swimming, riding and running.
Patton was to reach the peak of his early military career some four years later in 1916 when Mexican bandits led by Pancho Villa killed 16 Americans in a border town shootout in New Mexico. President Wilson ordered General John J. Pershing to pursue the bandits and capture Villa. Patton was not about to miss what could be his chance for some real military action. For two days he pleaded with Pershing to take him on the mission to Mexico. After initial refusals the General agreed and took on Patton as his aide and scout. The expedition to Mexico was a failure as Villa managed to always stay one step ahead.
But Patton did take part in one shoot out that was not unlike those portrayed in films. While on a trip to find corn, Patton and his men came upon Villa’s chief bodyguard Julio Cardenas. A gunfight ensued where three bandits including Cardenas was killed. Patton then strung up the bodies of the bandits on the hood of his car before driving back to base. An extremely impressed Pershing promoted Patton to first lieutenant after this. In 1917 when the United States was drawn into the First World War, Pershing who was commander of the American forces in France handpicked Patton to be his junior aide and commandant of his headquarters.
Patton was tasked with the organization of training facilities and he administered his duties with zeal. His enthusiasm however was short-lived. For someone who wanted to be a combat commander, administrative work was painfully unexciting. After four months Patton talked to Pershing, and the General gave him a choice. He could command either an infantry brigade or take an assignment in the Tank Corps. Despite the choice, Patton was in a dilemma. He was not interested with the infantry for he found the service dull and colorless while the Tank Corps at the time was virtually non-existent and was only on paper.
The United States only had one crude experimental tank while the tanks developed by the British and the French were proven unreliable in battle. Unable to make a decision Patton asked his father-in-law Frederick Ayer for advice. The businessman’s answer was short and succinct but it would lead Patton to make the decision which would make him famous later in life: I know nothing of war. But my advice to you would be to choose the weapon with which you believe you can inflict the most punshisment on the enemy while at the same time suffering the fewest casualties yourself. – Frederick Ayer
Upon making his decision, Patton was promptly assigned to the Tank Corps where he was tasked to train and command two battalions of tanks. Knowing nothing about tanks Patton trained with the British and French. On his recommendation, the United States adopted the use of the two man six-ton French Renault tank which was more maneuverable than the 30-ton behemoths the British were using. Despite its maneuverability the tanks were clumsy at best. With a top speed of only 5 miles an hour, it often could not keep up with the infantry it was supposed to protect. Patton whipped his men into shape.
He soon gained a reputation as a tough disciplinarian. Patton believed that better discipline made better soldiers, which in turn saved lives. Patton was said to have summed it up by saying: “A pint of sweat saves a gallon of blood. ” On September 12, 1918 Patton and his tanks got their first taste of action in the St. Mihiel Offensive in France. Initial results however of this foray was disappointing for Patton. Due to heavy rain in the area, the battlefield was reduced to a muddy landscape and the tanks soon began to bog down. Those that escaped the mud got stuck in the huge German trenches.
The operation started at around 5 in the morning with 174 tanks. By daylight only 70 were left operational. Doing his best, Patton ran all over the muddy fields urging his tanks to move forward. Radio communication was still unheard of in tanks then and commanders had to lead on foot with only a pistol in hand. Despite the hurdles, Patton and his remaining tanks managed to help the infantry in capturing the town of Essey, Pannes and Nonard. Despite his bravery, Patton received a severe reprimand from his commanding officer General Samuel Rockenbach.
Patton was accused of unnecessarily exposing himself to danger while trying to single-handedly win the war. Under the threat of being relieved of his command, Patton promised to be more careful. But despite his promise, Patton on the very next day set out on an unauthorized mission to probe the Hindenburg line, the defensive position where the Germans from St. Mihiel had retreated. After the St. Mihiel offensive, Patton and his men next saw battle in the September 25 offensive in the Argonne-Meuse sector, which was heavily fortified.
Leading his 135 tanks once again on foot, Patton’s tank brigade didn’t fare much better than their St. Mihiel experience. While leading an infantry group in a charge against a German trench, Patton got hit by a machine gun bullet in the leg and despite his objections was forced to sit out the remainder of the war in the hospital. At the end of World War I, Patton was devastated. In the spirit of world peace, disarmament was the key word. From being a full colonel in command of a tank brigade, his rank was reduced to that of major and the tank brigade was in essence decommissioned. Patton also was an ambitious, first-class careerist.
As a contemporary noted,”No American officer ever did more to advance his career – letters of petition; dinner parties in honor of the secretary of war, vice president and visiting generals; telephone calls; publicity releases; even keeping a string of horses in central Washington for Henry Stimson [World War II secretary of war] – than did George Patton. ” In 1938, the 53-year-old Patton was promoted back to full colonel and was assigned to a quiet cavalry post in Fort Clark, Texas. But this was not a positive thing since it was well known that over-aged officers were usually sent to the fort to wait out their retirement.
Patton would have faded into oblivion had it not been for the outbreak of the Second World War. The U. S. Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall was among the first to spot the gathering war clouds. Learning from the German Army’s new strategy hinging on mechanization, mobility and speed (would later be known as blitzkrieg), Marshall decided that tanks were to play an important role in the new war. Having helped plan the St. Mihiel and Argonne offensives, Marshall remembered Patton as the aggressive tank commander who led his men despite the odds.
On Marshall’s orders Patton was then transferred to Fort Myer in Virginia which was nearer Washington. At first Patton’s life didn’t change much, even despite the start of Germany’s offensive against Poland in 1939. For many in the U. S. the war in Europe was far and removed. By 1940 however Germany’s intentions were clear and Marshall ordered Patton to command a Brigade of the 2nd armored division at Fort Benning, Georgia. Along with his command, Patton was soon promoted to Brigadier General. Patton did his best in reconditioning his aging tanks, most of which were antiques from the First World War.
Patton was also faced with the problem of his new recruits which unlike the career soldiers of World War I were civilians plucked out by the draft. It was here that Patton began to come up with his famous trash talking speeches, which were meant to instill to the men some of his warrior spirit. Sgt. Joe Rosevich, Patton’s secretary during the war recounted how Patton would calmly dictate the obscenity-strewn speech, then rehearse it afterwards working himself up into a fury. Patton believed that it was impossible to change the mental habits of citizens overnight, so it was necessary to shock them into it.
Patton’s first foray in World War II was in North Africa where the United States was set to oppose the Axis powers there (Germany and Italy). On October 24, 1942 Patton’s Task Force of 34,000 troops set out from Norfolk Virginia to French Morocco. After a short naval battle with German and German allied French Vichy forces, Patton finally landed his troops and proceeded to take control of French Morocco in just over 3 days. Following his victory, Patton was given command of the II Corps which was suffering from low morale and discipline after losses from German Panzer units led by General Erwin Rommel.
In his characteristic hard-as-nails fashion, Patton shocked the troops of the II corps into shaping up. He instituted a system of fines of up to $25 for enlisted men and $50 for officers. Even mechanics were required to wear helmets, leggings and neckties at all times. General Omar Bradley who was in Tunisia at the time as General Eisenhower’s representative noted that Patton had the corps fighting mad at him, not the Germans by the third day: “Patton chose to drive his subordinates by bombast and by threats. Those mannerisms achieved spectacular results, but they were not calculated to win affection among his officers or men. “
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 12 October 2017
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