George Patton was born in San Gabriel, California, on 11th November, 1885. He attended the West Point Military Academy but along with his friend, Courtney Hodges, was forced to leave after a year because of poor test results. Patton restarted the course and graduated in 1909 (46/103) and won a commission in the cavalry.
Patton, a talented sportsman, finished fifth in the modern pentathlon in the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. As well as being a great horseman and sailor, Patton also qualified as a pilot.
During the First World War Patton was sent to the Western Front in France where he served under General John Pershing before being given command of 304th Tank Brigade. Patton, who fought at St Mihiel Offensive was seriously wounded at Meuse Argonne and would have died but for the brave actions of Joe Angelo. During the war won the DSC and DSM in the war.
After the war Patton was assigned to the tank centre at Camp Meade where he met and became close friends with Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1932 Patton joined Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur in dealing with the Bonus Army in Washington. MacArthur, controversially used tanks, four troops of cavalry with drawn sabers, and infantry with fixed bayonets, on the protesters. He justified his attack on former members of the US Army by claiming that the country was on the verge of a communist revolution. One of the leaders of the demonstration was Joe Angelo, the man who had saved Patton's life at Meuse Argonne.
On 1st October 1940 Patton was promoted to brigadier general and given command of the 2nd Armed Division based at Fort Benning. Rated highly by General George Marshall, in January 1942, Patton was placed in charge of the Desert Training Centre at Indio, California. Later that year Patton joined General Dwight D. Eisenhower in organizing Operation Torch.
Patton's troops arrived in North Africa in November 1942. After liberating Morocco he worked on planning the invasion of Sicily with Mark Clark before being sent to Tunisia as head of the 2nd Corps. Patton was a strict disciplinarian and he insisted that his men shaved every day and wore a tie in battle.
At the Casablanca Conference held in January 1943, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt decided to launch an invasion of Sicily. It was hoped that if the island was taken Italy might withdraw from the war. It was also argued that a successful invasion would force Adolf Hitler to send troops from the Eastern Front and help to relieve pressure on the Red Army in the Soviet Union.
The operation was placed under the supreme command of General Dwight D. Eisenhower. General Harold Alexander was commander of ground operations and his 15th Army Group and Patton was placed in charge of the 7th Army.
On 10th July 1943, General Bernard Montgomery and the 8th Army landed at five points on the south-eastern tip of the island and the US 7th Army at three beaches to the west of the British forces. The Allied troops met little opposition and Patton and his troops quickly took Gela, Licata and Vittoria. The British landings were also unopposed and Syracuse was taken on the the same day. This was followed by Palazzolo (11th July), Augusta (13th July) and Vizzini (14th July), whereas the US troops took the Biscani airfield and Niscemi (14th July).
Patton now moved to the west of the island and General Omar Bradley headed north and the German Army was forced to retreat to behind the Simeto River. Patton took Palermo on 22nd July cutting off 50,000 Italian troops in the west of the island. Patton now turned east along the northern coast of the island towards the port of Messina.
Meanwhile General Bernard Montgomery and the 8th Army were being held up by German forces under Field Marshal Albrecht Kesselring. The Allies carried out several amphibious assaults attempted to cut off the Germans but they were unable to stop the evacuation across the Messina Straits to the Italian mainland. This included 40,000 German and 60,000 Italian troops, as well as 10,000 German vehicles and 47 tanks.
On 17th August 1943, Patton and his troops marched into Messina. The capture of the island made it possible to clear the way for Allied shipping in the Mediterranean. It also helped to undermine the power of Benito Mussolini and Victor Emmanuel III forced him to resign.
During the campaign seventy-three Italian prisoners were murdered by soldiers in the 45th Division. General Omar Bradley ordered two men to face a general court-martial for premeditated murder. The men's main defence was that they were obeying orders issued by Patton in a speech he made to his soldiers on 27th June. Several soldiers said they were willing to give evidence that Patton had told then to take no prisoners. One officer claimed that Patton had said: "The more prisoners we took, the more we'd have to feed, and not to fool with prisoners." In order to protect Patton from the charge of war crimes, Bradley decided to drop the investigation into the murder of the Italian soldiers.
Patton also created controversy when he visited the 15th Evacuation Hospital on 3rd August 1943. In the hospital he encountered Private Charles H. Kuhl, who had been admitted suffering from shellshock. When Patton asked him why he had been admitted, Kuhl told him "I guess I can't take it." According to one eyewitness Patton "slapped his face with a glove, raised him to his feet by the collar of his shirt and pushed him out of the tent with a kick in the rear." Kuhl was later to claim that he thought Patton, as well as himself, was suffering from combat fatigue.
Two days after the incident at the 15th Evacuation Hospital Patton sent a memo to all commanders in the 7th Army: "It has come to my attention that a very small number of soldiers are going to the hospital on the pretext that they are nervously incapable of combat. Such men are cowards and bring discredit on the army and disgrace to their comrades, whom they heartlessly leave to endure the dangers of battle while they, themselves, use the hospital as a means of escape. You will take measures to see that such cases are not sent to the hospital but are dealt with in their units. Those who are not willing to fight will be tried by court-martial for cowardice in the face of the enemy."
On 10th August 1943, Patton visited the 93rd Evacuation Hospital to see if there were any soldiers claiming to be suffering from combat fatigue. He found Private Paul G. Bennett, an artilleryman with the 13th Field Artillery Brigade. When asked what the problem was, Bennett replied, "It's my nerves, I can't stand the shelling anymore." Patton exploded: "Your nerves. Hell, you are just a goddamned coward, you yellow son of a bitch. Shut up that goddamned crying. I won't have these brave men here who have been shot seeing a yellow bastard sitting here crying. You're a disgrace to the Army and you're going back to the front to fight, although that's too good for you. You ought to be lined up against a wall and shot. In fact, I ought to shoot you myself right now, God damn you!" With this Patton pulled his pistol from its holster and waved it in front of Bennett's face. After putting his pistol way he hit the man twice in the head with his fist. The hospital commander, Colonel Donald E. Currier, then intervened and got in between the two men.
Colonel Richard T. Arnest, the man's doctor, sent a report of the incident to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. The story was also passed to the four newsmen attached to the Seventh Army. Although Patton had committed a court-martial offence by striking an enlisted man, the reporters agreed not to publish the story. Quentin Reynolds of Collier's Weekly agreed to keep quiet but argued that there were "at least 50,000 American soldiers on Sicily who would shoot Patton if they had the chance."
Eisenhower told one of his senior officers: "If this thing ever gets out, they'll be howling for Patton's scalp, and that will be the end of George's service in this war. I simply cannot let that happen. Patton is indispensable to the war effort - one of the guarantors of our victory." Instead he wrote a letter to Patton demanding that he should apologize or make "personal amends to the individuals concerned as may be within your power."
Eisenhower now had a meeting with the war correspondents who knew about the incident and told them that he hoped they would keep the "matter quiet in the interests of retaining a commander whose leadership he considered vital." The men agreed to do this but Ernest Cuneo, who worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), passed this story to Drew Pearson and in November 1943, he told the story on his weekly syndicated radio program. Some politicians demanded that Patton should be sacked but General George Marshall and Henry L. Stimson supported the way General Eisenhower had dealt with the case.
In January 1944, General Mark Clark replaced Patton as commander of the Seventh Army. Patton was now sent to Britain and succeeded General Courtney Hodges as commander of the Third Army, and to help prepare for the Normandy invasion.
On 25th April Patton created more controversy when he made a speech using obscene language to an audience that included a large number of women. At the meeting he also said it was the destiny of the United States and Britain to rule the world. This remark upset Allied leaders and Karl Mundt in the House of Representatives complained that Patton had "managed to slap the face of every one of the United Nations except Great Britain."
General Dwight D. Eisenhower was furious and cabled General George Marshall that he was "seriously contemplating the most drastic action" in dealing with Patton. Eisenhower initially decided to send Patton home but then changed his mind. He wrote to Patton: "You owe us some victories; pay off and the world will deem me a wise man."
Patton did not arrive in France until 1st August, 1944 but his troops quickly overrun Brittany. While General Bernard Montgomery and his forces drew the main strength of the German Army, Patton made spectacular progress and took Le Mans on 8th August before turning north and heading for Argentan.
Patton now wanted to head to Germany believing the war could be brought to an end in 1944. He was therefore furious when General Omar Bradley ordered him to return to Brittany to mop up the remaining German troops. As soon as this job was completed he raced eastward across France with the rest of the 3rd Army. On 30th August 1944, Patton crossed the Meuse. Metz was well-defended and Patton's troops took heavy casualties and it was not taken until 13th December.
Adolf Hitler now ordered Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt to launch a counter-attack through the Ardennes. On 16th December 25 divisions of the German Army broke through American lines on a 60 mile front from Monschau and Echternach. They were finally halted and Patton's troops began to force the Germans back at what became known as the Battle of the Bulge.
Joining up with Alexander Patch and the 7th Army Patton and his troops crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim on 22nd March 1945. He then sent a task force to liberate the Hammelburg Prison Camp, which included his son-in-law, John K. Waters. Patton continued to advance deep into Nazi Germany and eventually crossed into Czechoslovakia and was forced to withdraw after protests from Joseph Stalin and the Red Army.
After the war Patton was made governor of Bavaria. He was severely criticized for allowing Nazis to remain in office and at a press conference on 22nd September 1945, Patton created outrage when he said: "This Nazi thing. It's just like a Democratic-Republican election fight."
Patton was removed as governor and was given command of the 15th Army. A day before he was due to return to the United States Patton was severely injured in a road accident. Paralyzed from the neck down, George Patton died of an embolism on 21st December 1945.