More Than a Tank General

by Charles M. Province


In the past, it was the accepted belief that George S. Patton, Jr. was qualified to be and effective only as a field commander; that he was unsuited for higher command or for strategic planning. With the passing of time, those incorrect assumptions are being corrected. Patton continues to emerge as the superior leader of the European Theater in World War II. His attitude, opinions, philosophy, and prophesies prove to be more accurate and correct than any of his wartime contemporaries. Had General Patton been listened to, many of the problems faced by the West during the Cold War would not have existed.

The false consensus of Patton's perceived lack of ability was summed up best by Eisenhower who once remarked, "George, you are a great leader, but a poor planner." Patton replied, "Except for [Operation] Torch, which I planned and which was a great success, I have never been given the chance to plan."

During the months following the North African campaigns, Patton was never "officially" queried concerning any Allied operation plans. Private consultations, however, proved to be a different matter entirely. He was frequently invited to share his views and ideas. General Bradley, particularly, would request Patton's opinion about impending operations. As often as not, Bradley would "borrow" Patton's concepts which would surface later as Bradley's ideas. Patton eventually, and rightly, grew weary of his ideas being appropriated. He disliked Bradley not only receiving, but accepting, credit for his ideas. Patton's diary reports, "I do not want any more of my ideas used without credit to me, as happens when I give them orally."

Superficially, this might seem a selfish attitude, but a deeper study and thorough consideration of the situation offers improved cognizance of what was really transpiring. At Patton's expense, others were receiving undue praise, obtaining promotions, and building careers. Patton, kept under wraps, was virtually ignored. Others of lesser ability were promoted over him. His ideas, knowledge, and ability were used to push others up the ladder while he received no credit whatsoever.

Initially Patton rationalized Bradley's theft of his ideas. As a professional soldier, he knew it would help the war effort. As time passed, however, and it became clearly evident that the Allies would, indeed, win the war, Patton felt he had been cheated enough-that he had been taken advantage of excessively. His personally volunteered plans were disdainfully ignored. These same plans, put forth by Bradley as his own, were readily considered.

Operation COBRA, Patton's armored division breakout in Normandy, was a very slightly altered version of one of Patton's plans, but it was fully credited to Bradley. It was the first in a series of bold and brilliant plans devised by Patton during 1944.

Third Army staff never doubted that Bradley was making good in France by expropriating their boss's ideas. Patton's aide, Colonel Charles Codman, wrote to his wife, "As of August 1st, General Bradley has adopted practically all of General Patton's plans."

Patton's August 14, 1944 diary entry, regarding the St. Lo breakthrough, reads, "It is really a great plan, wholly my own, and I made Bradley think that he thought of it." Patton's eventual disgust with higher command's Pecksniffian penchant, its unctuous hypocrisy, caused him to stop telling any of his plans to Bradley.

Contrary to Eisenhower's opinion, Patton was probably the best planner in the European Theater of Operations. His knowledge of strategy and tactics were, to say the least, equal if not superior to anyone in higher commands. He was as qualified and knowledgeable as Eisenhower, Bradley, Devers, Clark, and the British. Without exception, his intuitiveness and perceptiveness was never equaled by any of the SHAEF "masterminds."

Patton was far from an "overnight success." He labored long and hard over the years, determined to become the competent soldier he was. His decades of dedicated reading, study, and application were not in vain. He attended every "command level" service school the Army offered and passed every course with superior grades. He graduated from them with honors.

In 1913 and 1914, while performing the duties of the Army's first Master of the Sword, he graduated from the Mounted Service School's First and Second Year Courses at Fort Riley, Kansas.

In 1917 his 58 page report, "Light Tanks," assimilated his most concise, salient knowledge concerning the new military arm known as the "Tank Corps". His report was the foundation-the entire basis-for the U.S. Army's armored concept.

In 1918, he completed study at the General Staff College at Langres, France and almost single-handedly created the Army's Tank Center and School. Patton was not only the first soldier in the Tank Corps, he was the Tank Corps; personally creating basic training procedures, training instructions, training manuals, regulations, and methods of instruction. He constructed the Tables of Organization and Equipment for the Tank Corps and was responsible for the original Tank Corps patch-the progenitor of today's Armored Division patches.

In 1923, he completed the Field Officers Course at Fort Riley, Kansas.

In 1924, he was an honor graduate of the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. While attending the College, he compiled an extensive notebook which he loaned to Eisenhower when the latter attended the same school in 1926. After Eisenhower graduated first in his class, he wrote to Patton thanking him for the loan of the notebook saying that it [the notebook] made all the difference in his class standing.

In 1928, Patton did a Tables of Organization and Equipment (TO&E) study for an infantry rifle company, infantry battalion, infantry brigade, and infantry division. He followed this with a comparative study of the contemporary division and his proposed division, illustrating that his recommended division would have a total strength of 9,715 men. The contemporary division had 19,417 men. Patton's proposed division generated the firepower of the contemporary organization, yet required 10,000 less men. This was precisely what the triangular division of World War II sought to attain; more bang with less personnel.

In 1932, he was a distinguished graduate of the Army War College at Washington, D.C.

In 1936, while stationed in Hawaii, Patton wrote a paper forecasting a doctrine of amphibious warfare that proved to be highly, and terribly, prophetic. After studying and observing the Japanese in the Pacific, Patton's conclusion was that they could and would utilize an air attack in the near future against Pearl Harbor. He outline matched almost exactly the tactical methods used by the Japanese on 7 December 1941. He wrote, "It is reliably reported that during the last four years three or more Japanese divisions were embarked, moved to the coast of Asia and disembarked without any military attaché, consular agent, foreign press correspondent or any other foreigner living in Japan being aware of the fact until the troops were in action in Asia. Some of the Mandated Islands, about which absolutely nothing is known, are only 2,500 miles distant [from Hawaii], seven days' steaming over the loneliest sea lanes in the world. Who can say that an expeditionary force is not in these islands now?"

After participating in an annual exercise in 1937, which prompted him to investigate Hawaii's vulnerability to attack, he wrote a warning against a surprise attack by the Japanese: "The vital necessity to Japan of a short war and of the possession at it's termination of land areas for bargaining purposes may impel her to take drastic measures. It is the duty of the military to foresee and prepare against the worst possible eventuality." Within four and a half years, Patton's warnings proved to be correct. His shrewd, perceptive estimate of Japanese planning was completely ignored.

Patton was among the first to investigate many new types of equipment. He used a personal command plane for reconnaissance, experimented with radio equipment for "tank to tank" and "tank to command post" communication, and he worked closely with J. Walter Christie in an attempt to create a new and better tank. He continually strove for better ways to accomplish his goal-killing the enemy. His reading, his written papers and magazine articles, official reports, indeed, all his studies reinforced his firm beliefs in the importance of mobility, speed, and surprise. He believed in the importance of the soldier rather than the machine; the importance of command, communications, and supply line; the importance of air warfare and ground mechanization; and the continuing importance of the offensive-the bold and daring attack. He never ceased to believe it was immensely cheaper for a nation to create and keep active a strong military organization than it was to lose, let alone fight, a war.

Had Patton's unique military acumen been used wisely, instead of being wasted by mediocre men of lesser ability-men harboring political aspirations-the war would have ended much sooner that it did with a great savings in lives and materials.

In WWII, alone, many examples exist of Patton's shrewdness, his "sixth sense" of combat situations. Before war and during the war he displayed a great deal of farsightedness. Had his advice been heeded, major errors could have been avoided in the ETO.

In North Africa, the Allies planned to attack the Germans in Tunisia on the 25 December 1943. Patton felt this was, "...unwise, as, unless things have changed at the front, there is not enough force on our side to make a go of it. Nous Verrons [we shall see]." Patton's assessment proved to be correct.

Congested railroads, insufficient trucks, and mud-inducing rains created a lack of Allied strength in personnel and supplies. Eisenhower, forced to admit it was a mistake, finally called off the attack.

By 1943, at the time of the invasion of Sicily, Patton was regarded as one of the leading amphibious experts in the U.S. Army, yet he was purposely excluded from planning of European amphibious operations.

In August, 1943 when General Mark Clark was preparing "Avalanche," the invasion of Salerno, Italy, Patton was ordered to familiarize himself with the plans in case something happened to Clark. His diary of 1 September reports, "I was very tactful [to General Gruenther], but could not help calling his attention to the fact that the plan uses the Sele River as a boundary between the British X Corps and the U.S. VI Corps, with no one actually on, or near the river. I told him that the Germans will attack down that river. He said that their plans provided for ample artillery to be ashore by 0630 on D-Day to stop any German counter-attack. Of course, plans never work out (as expected), especially in a landing. I suggested this, but it did not register. I can't see why people are so foolish. I have yet to be questioned by any planner concerning my experience at Torch, yet Torch was the biggest and most difficult landing operation attempted so far." Patton's prediction could not have been more correct.

The Germans did exactly as he said they would. Neither the Americans nor the British held the Sele River and the Germans counter-attacked down the river with such a strong drive that they came very close to completely dividing the Allied forces. The Allies position was so precarious that it almost caused an evacuation of the beachhead. Luckily, it was curtailed.

It was during this time that Bradley was chosen for command of the 12th Army Group, in spite of the fact that Patton was the only experienced American Army Commander in the ETO and that he had more combat experience as a top field commander than anyone, especially those above him. Bradley was chosen because, in Eisenhower's estimation, he was "balanced", "sound in judgment", and "experienced". It didn't hurt that Bradley was also a favorite of General Marshall.

Eisenhower felt Bradley would be less apt to "make mistakes" than would Patton, although Patton had yet to make a single mistake in military judgment in the field. Eisenhower, unfortunately, was one of those who believed that Patton made "rash" or "spur of the moment" decisions. It was a wholly inaccurate and pernicious assumption on Eisenhower's part. As Patton explained in his diary, "For years, I have been accused of making snap judgments. Honestly, this is not the case because I am a profound military student and the thoughts I express, perhaps too flippantly, are the result of years of thought and study."

The most probable reason for Bradley's placement above Patton was because General Marshall wanted it, and what Marshall wanted, Eisenhower was happy to supply. Eisenhower was invariably concerned about pleasing his superiors. He was continually fearful of losing his lofty position.

In a letter dated 16 September 16, from Eisenhower to Marshall, Eisenhower states, "His intense loyalty to you and to me makes it possible for me to treat him [Patton] much more roughly than I could any other senior commander." This enlightening passage offers an illuminating insight into the personality and ego of both Eisenhower and Marshall. Patton's firm belief in loyalty from the top to the bottom, as well as from the bottom to the top, was virtually wasted on them. To them, loyalty was a commodity-something to be used to attain personal goals. In lieu of appreciating Patton's fealty, they chose to take advantage of him and his great ability. They planned to not only use him, but to abuse his loyalty and friendship.

An entry in Patton's diary dated 12 February states, "Ike said to me, 'You are fundamentally honest on the larger issues, but are too fanatical in your friendships.' " This might appear to be a peculiar thing to say to a friend of almost 20 years, but Eisenhower was much more concerned with his position and personal ambition than he was with loyalty to an old friend.

Patton's diary entry of 8 September predicted another of high command's errors in judgment. He wrote, "[The Italian] armistice was just declared. I fear that as a soldier I have too little faith in political war. Suppose the Italians can't or don't capitulate? It is a great mistake to inform the troops, as has been done, of the signing of an armistice. Should they get resistance [during the landings at Salerno] it would have a very bad effect." Again, Patton's judgment proved to be correct.

The surrender of the Italians was announced on the evening of 8 September as Clark's 5th Army was approaching Salerno Bay. The news was broadcast over all of the ships' speakers. The troops mistakenly assumed there would be no active resistance against them during the landings and there was a letdown of fighting spirit. The officers were ignored when they warned that it would be Germans they faced on the beaches, not Italians. A great many lives were needlessly wasted by this foolish act.

Patton's 15 September diary entry is, "I just saw a dispatch from Navy in which it seems that Clark has re-embarked. I consider this a fatal thing to do. Think of the effect on the troops. A commander, once ashore, must conquer or die." Clark was apparently more concerned about his own high-ranking backside than he was about either his soldiers' lives or their morale. Nor did his actions indicate too great a concern about gaining victory. It was nothing less than an act of pure cowardice.

A diary entry of 20 January mentions the Anzio landings, code named "Operation Shingle." Patton says, "Shingle is pretty dubious as the beaches are bad and largely unknown. It seems inconceivable that the Germans will not guess that we are coming ashore at Anzio, but they have made so many foolish mistakes that we may get ashore unopposed after all." Patton was right again. That's exactly what happened.

In April of 1944, Patton at least had occasion to have a chuckle to himself. One of Patton's soldiers overheard a heated discussion between General Albert C. Wedemeyer and Eisenhower-a discussion about Patton. The final remark of the little talk ended with a caustic remark by General Wedemeyer. He said, "Hell, get onto yourself, Ike. You didn't make Patton, he made you!" One can only imagine the devastating blow that was to Eisenhower's brobdingnagian ego.

Patton entered a comment about the Falaise Gap on 13 August, saying "This [XV] Corps could easily advance to Falaise and completely close the gap, but we have been ordered to halt because the British sowed the area between with a large number of time bombs [dropped from the air]. I am sure that this halt is a great mistake, as I am certain that the British will not close on Falaise."

On 17 September Patton wrote a comment concerning Montgomery and his "Operation Market-Garden." His entry was, "To hell with Monty. I must get so involved that they can't stop me. I told Bradley not to call me until after dark on the 19th. He agreed."

From all appearances, Bradley was finally concurring with and accepting Patton's viewpoint. He, too, had witnessed enough of Eisenhower's two-faced demeanor. In any case of differing viewpoints between Americans and the British, the British invariably won. Eisenhower's continued strategy for getting along with the "Allies" was to acquiesce on every issue, to give into them on every point, even if it meant de-moralizing-and self-defeating humiliation for-his own American soldiers.

Eisenhower, on numerous occasions, exhibited his timidity, inadequacy, and inability to command or control the British. On 3 February 1943, Patton recalled, "Ike talked in glittering generalities and then said as nearly as I can remember, 'George, you are my oldest friend, but if you or anyone else criticizes the British, by God, I will reduce him to his permanent grade and send him home.' " An April 1943 entry in Patton's diary says, "It is noteworthy that had I done what Coningham did, I would have been relieved. Ike told me later that he could not punish Coningham [for calling the Americans cowards] because he was a New Zealander and political reasons forbade it. Unfortunately, I am neither a Democrat nor a Republican-just a soldier."

The slurs didn't stop there. In the same month another "Allied" general repeated the insult. Patton wrote on 16 April that, "Lt. General Cocran, the s.o.b., publicly called our troops cowards. Ike says that since they were serving in his corps, that was O.K. I told him that had I so spoken of the British under me, my head would have come off. He agreed, but does nothing to Cocran. Bradley, Hughes, General Rooks, and I and probably many more, feel that America is being sold out. I have been more than loyal to Ike. I have talked to no one and I have taken things from the British that I would never take from an American. If this trickery to America comes from above, it is utterly damnable. If it emanates from Ike, it is utterly terrible. I seriously talked to Hughes of asking to be relieved as a protest. I feel like Judas. Hughes says that he and I and some others must stick it out to save the pieces." Patton's 27 April 1944 entry is, "None of those at Ike's headquarters ever go to bat for juniors. In any argument between the British and the Americans, they invariably favor the British. Benedict Arnold is a piker compared with them, and that includes General Lee as well as Ike and Beedle Smith."

The predominant reason for Eisenhower's spinelessness was his inordinate fear of Montgomery, or rather, the fear of the "power" he perceived Montgomery to possess. Patton's diary of 4 May 4 1943 states, "Bedell Smith says the reason everyone yields to Monty is because Monty is the National Hero and writes directly to the Prime Minister; and that if Ike crossed him, Ike would get canned."

One monumental error made by Eisenhower was the sequence of events allowing the Germans to initiate the Ardennes Offensive. The term "Battle of the Bulge" was coined by Churchill. As early as 12 December, Patton wrote about the possibility of a developing German salient in the area of Bastogne, "The First Army is making a terrible mistake in leaving the VIII Corps static, as it is highly probable that the Germans are building up east of them."

It seems extraordinary that Hodges and Bradley both received a Distinguished Service Medal for their part in the defense of Bastogne although their laxity in leadership and command greatly assisted in the German offensive. Conversely, and more extraordinary, neither Patton nor his Third Army received as much as a polite thank you for their monumental achievement in coming to their rescue.

On the day Patton's Third Army took the German city of Trier, Bradley sent orders not to attempt to capture it since Patton had only two divisions available for the job. Bradley and his planners said that it would require at least three divisions to capture the historic city. Once again, Patton was right. His reply to Bradley was, "Have taken city with two divisions, shall I give it back?" He also entered in his diary, "I have certainly again proven that my military ideas are correct and I have put them over in spite of opposition from the Americans."

Perhaps the greatest error in Eisenhower's judgment proved to be one of the greatest political blunders in history. Eisenhower refused to take the European capitals of Berlin, Germany and Prague, Czechoslovakia, foolishly believing unfounded rumors about a "redoubt area" in southern Germany. When he secretly explained his plan to advance southeast into the Bavarian area to Soviet Premier Josef Stalin, the communist leader said, "Berlin has lost its former strategic importance. The Soviet High Command therefore plans to allot secondary forces in the direction of Berlin." Within moments of his communication, Stalin ordered five tank armies and 25,000 artillery pieces, all under the command of Marshal G.K. Zhukov, to attack the German capital.

When Winston Churchill discovered the appalling error Eisenhower was making he wired to Franklin Roosevelt, "The Russian armies will no doubt overrun all Austria and enter Vienna. If they also take Berlin, will not their impression that they have been the overwhelming contributor to our common victory be unduly imprinted in their minds, and may this not lead them into a mood which will raise grave and formidable difficulties in the future? I therefore consider that from a political stand point we should march as far east into Germany as possible, and that should be in our grasp we should certainly take it."

On 11 April, the eve of Roosevelt's death, Eisenhower told Patton his plans for the American stop line, and his reasons. Patton replied, "Ike, I don't see how you figure that one. We had better take Berlin and quick, and [then go eastward] on to the Oder [River]." Patton's protests met with indifference. Patton was disgusted with Eisenhower's naive political beliefs and his incompetence. The Americans had promised freedom to Europe yet Eisenhower was carelessly handing half of Europe to a communist regime which cared nothing about freedom. Patton was fully cognizant that Stalin wanted real estate and once he got it he wasn't about to give it up. Although Patton never lived to hear the phrase "cold war" he knew it was coming.

As time passes and more information surfaces, Patton is the singular personality who proves to be consistently correct in his military ideas and political prophesies. He was not only the best combat commander in the ETO; he was one of the best strategic and tactical planners in the ETO. Yet, in spite of that, he was repeatedly ignored, though his record and opinions were continually proven to be right.

According to Patton, the basic, underlying truth in war is that strategy is actually not that important. As he succinctly puts it, "Good tactics can save even the worst strategy. Bad tactics can ruin even the best strategy." That concept, in its simplicity, is perhaps the best strategy of all.

Any adequate general can decide where he wants to fight a battle, but the important thing is to get the needed supplies, men, and proper leadership to the right place at the right time. Then, and only then, can the enemy be destroyed. That is how a battle is won.

It is inconceivable that a man such as Patton, who read, wrote, studied, ate, slept, and lived the histories of war and warriors from Xenophon, Alexander, Scipio, and Napoleon, to Lee and Grant, could not help but be a great strategist as well as a great tactician. It is pure folly and, indeed, absurd to believe that because Patton was never given the chance to plan high level strategy that he should be precluded from the ranks of the great Captains of war.

Perhaps the most unfortunate problem that plagued the Americans during WWII was that the top leadership consisted of men who had never exercised command at any level and had little, if any, actual combat experience.

Lack of command experience was indeed the case with Eisenhower. Conscious of his own lack of front-line fighting experience, Eisenhower was inclined to accept advice rather than make decisions. He ran SHAEF more like corporate boardroom than a military headquarters. A Supreme Commander cannot act like a chairman of the board. He must be absolutely and unconditionally in command. He, and he alone, must make all decisions firmly and decisively. The bitter truth is that Eisenhower never got the feel of what went on at the battlefront of his armies. His lack of personal experience, never being through the rigors of close combat, caused him to delegate far too much authority to others and to take the advice of others unqualified to give such advice. Patton noted the situation in his diary: "Ike is very querulous and keeps saying how hard it is to be so high and never to have heard a hostile shot. He could correct that situation very easily if he wanted to. I also think that he is timid."

When Patton had become thoroughly fed up with Eisenhower and his pomposity, he wrote, "Ike is bitten with the Presidential Bug and is yellow." Patton's appraisal of Eisenhower's coveting of the Presidency was noted as early as 1943, in Africa. In 1945, when Patton was planning his resignation from the Army he wrote, "I shall prove even more conclusively that he lacks moral fortitude. This lack has been evident to me since the first landing in Africa, but now that he has been bitten by the Presidential Bee, it is becoming even more pronounced."

The problem of a High Command with experience other than "theoretical knowledge" as Patton puts it, may be summed up in a further quote from Patton's diary. He says, "In this war, we were also unfortunate in that our High Command in the main consisted of staff officers who, like Marshall, Eisenhower, and McNarny, had practically never exercised command. I think it was this lack of experience which induced them to think of and to treat units such as Divisions, Corps, and Armies as animated "tables of organization" rather than the living entities that they are."

When Patton was promoted to the temporary rank of full General (he died as a permanent Lieutenant General), it was only after every one else in the ETO had been promoted over him. It was purposely done to keep him at a low level of command to preclude him from the possibility of obtaining any position of authority in the United States Army in the post-war era. The reason Patton was not promoted was not because of lack of ability or qualifications-it was because he lacked a politically correct attitude.