George Patton Facts
The American Army officer George Smith Patton, Ir. (1885-1945), was one of the outstanding tactical commanders of World War II. His campaigns in Sicily, France, and Germany were distinguished by boldness and an imaginative use of armor.
George Patton was born on Nov. 11, 1885, in San Gabriel, Calif. His family was one of the wealthiest in the state. After attending private schools, he went to the U.S. Military Academy, graduating in 1909 and joining the cavalry. He loved horses and was one of the Army's best polo players. He was an eccentric, both at the academy and later in the Army, noted for speaking his mind and for his steady stream of curse words.
Despite his mannerisms—which most of his contemporaries found offensive—Patton was hardworking, intelligent, and courageous. He moved ahead rapidly in the Army. He was the first officer detailed to the Tank Corps in World War I, and he led tanks in action. In 1921 Patton returned to the cavalry. He went back to the armored branch in 1940 and quickly rose to division command.
During World War II, in November 1942, Patton led the American forces landing at Casablanca, Morocco. His first real opportunity to shine came in July 1943, when he led the U.S. 7th Army in the invasion of Sicily. He soon became famous for his daring assaults, rapid marches, and use of armor. He also, however, slapped a hospitalized enlisted man suffering from shell shock (Patton accused him of cowardice). His immediate superior, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, refused to bow to popular pressure and dismiss Patton but did order him to stay quietly in his headquarters in occupied Sicily.
In spring 1944 Eisenhower brought Patton to England and gave him command of the U.S. 3d Army, which had the task of driving the Germans out of north-central France after the Allies broke out of the Normandy beachhead. Patton activitated the 3d Army early in August 1944 and started it across France, pausing only when his tanks ran out of fuel. By then (late September) he had cleared most of France of the enemy.
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. He enjoyed this role, which made it difficult for him to accept Eisenhower's decision to give priority in scarce supplies to the forces of British general Bernard Montgomery. In March 1945 Patton regained the headlines, as he drove the 3rd Army over the Rhine River before Montgomery could get his troops across. Patton then drove through Germany and by the end of the war had his troops in Austria.
Placed in charge of the occupation forces in Bavaria, Patton was soon in trouble. His use of former Nazi officials to help administer the area ran counter to official American policy and made him a target for liberal criticism. He made matters worse when he argued the point to the press. Eisenhower removed him from command. Patton died on Dec. 21, 1945, as a result of an automobile accident in Germany.
Further Reading on George Smith Patton Jr
Patton's family gathered his diary and other notes and published them as War as I Knew It (1947). Probably the most objective biography of the controversial Patton is the study by Ladislas Farago, Patton: Ordeal and Triumph (1963), which makes judicious use of the Army's official histories of World War II. Robert S. Allen, Lucky Forward: The History of Patton's Third U.S. Army (1947), is a highly laudatory account. Patton's nephew, Fred Ayer, Jr., wrote Before the Colors Fade: Portrait of a Soldier, George S. Patton, Jr. (1964), a sympathetic view by one closely associated with Patton. See also Harry Hodges Semmes, Portrait of Patton (1955), and Charles R. Codman, Drive (1957).