Gen.George Patton


Patton, George Smith, Jr. (1885-1945), was one of the most colorful American generals of World War II. His dramatic manner, outspoken comments on military and political affairs, and reckless behavior won him both applause and criticism. His toughness and rough speech earned him the nickname "Old Blood and Guts."

African invasion. In November 1942, Patton led the Western Task Force ashore in Morocco in the Allied invasion of North Africa. In March 1943, he took command of the Second U.S. Army Corps and won one of the first major U.S. victories of the war at El Guettar. Before the Tunisian campaign ended, Patton took command of the Seventh Army for the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. In 39 days, his army and the British Eighth Army captured the island. But an event soon after that nearly wrecked Patton's career. While inspecting army hospitals, he slapped two soldiers who were suffering from battle neurosis. One of the soldiers also had malaria. Patton explained that he thought the soldiers were only pretending. General Dwight D. Eisenhower forced Patton to apologize, and Congress temporarily held up his permanent promotion to major general. Patton's usefulness was seriously harmed for several months.

Victory in France. In January 1944, Patton became commander of the Third Army for the French campaign. When the First Army broke through at St. Lo, Patton's forces poured through in the first of an amazing series of advances. They went so far ahead of their supplies that they had to be provisioned by plane. His forces crossed France, reaching Metz by autumn, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge near Bastogne, Belgium, in December 1944.

As Germany collapsed, the Third Army drove across southwestern Germany into Czechoslovakia and Austria. When the Germans surrendered, Patton's army held a large part of what became the American occupation zone. Patton became a full general. After May 1945, he took command of the occupation troops in the American zone. But, in talking with reporters, he compared the Nazis to the losers in an American political election. These comments got him in trouble again with the press and his superior officers. Eisenhower transferred him to the command of the Fifteenth Army, a headquarters set up to interview captured German generals and prepare materials for the official history of the war. In December 1945, Patton died of injuries from a car accident. He was buried in a Third Army cemetery in Luxembourg.

Early life. Patton was born on Nov. 11, 1885, in San Gabriel, Calif. He was graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1909. An excellent athlete, he placed fifth in the 1912 Olympic pentathlon. Patton entered the cavalry after graduation, and served in the 1916 Mexican expedition. In World War I, he commanded a tank brigade in France.

Contributor: James L. Stokesbury, Ph.D., Prof. of History, Acadia Univ.; Author, Navy and Empire and A Short History of Air Power.