Skip to main content
Select Source:

George Smith Patton Jr

George Smith Patton Jr.

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

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). □

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"George Smith Patton Jr." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"George Smith Patton Jr." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-smith-patton-jr

"George Smith Patton Jr." Encyclopedia of World Biography. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/george-smith-patton-jr

Patton, George S.

Patton, George S. (1885–1945), U.S. Army general.A charismatic and flamboyant aristocrat, Patton excelled in training and leading soldiers into battle, obtaining the utmost from them, and employing them with audacity and speed against the enemy.

Descended from an old Virginia family and a pioneer Californian, Patton was born in San Gabriel, California. Afflicted with dyslexia as a child, he struggled to read and write and overcome his own feelings of worthlessness. After a year at the Virginia Military Academy, he graduated from West Point as a cavalry lieutenant in 1909. In 1910, he married Beatrice Ayer, daughter of a wealthy Boston family.

Patton was highly athletic as well as an outstanding fencer and horseman. In the Mexican Punitive Expedition in 1916, Patton served as an aide to John J. Pershing, upon whom he modeled himself. In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, Patton accompanied Pershing to France, took command of the U.S. Army's light tank brigade, and led it at St. Mihiel and the Meuse‐Argonne offensive, where he was wounded.

During World War II, Patton headed the I Armored Corps in the successful invasion of North Africa in November 1942. After the American defeat at Kasserine Pass, Patton was given command of the II Corps in Tunisia in March 1943. He quickly restored morale and won the Battle of E1 Guettar.

Patton's Seventh U.S. Army and Sir Bernard Law Montgomery's Eighth British Army undertook the invasion of Sicily in July 1943. Despite a subsidiary mission, Patton dashed to Palermo, then seized Messina ahead of Montgomery. Competition between the two generals then and later was largely inspired by the media, which contrasted Montgomery's caution with Patton's aggressiveness, backed by his ivory‐handled pistols and scowling face.

In Sicily, Patton physically abused two sick soldiers he mistakenly believed were malingering. For his loss of personal control, he was reprimanded by Dwight D. Eisenhower, who subsequently elevated Omar N. Bradley, Patton's immediate subordinate, to be Patton's immediate superior in command of the 12th U.S. Army Group for the invasion of Normandy.

Patton was used in England to deceive Adolf Hitler about the place of the cross‐Channel invasion. After the American breakthrough at St. Lô, Patton's Third U.S. Army became operational on the Continent on 1 August 1944, and drove rapidly eastward and then north seeking to encircle most of the German troops in Normandy. Stopped from closing the Falaise pocket, Patton's forces swept across the Seine River and northeastern France.

Reacting to the German counterattack at the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, Patton pivoted the Third Army 90 degrees to the north, an extraordinary maneuver, and relieved the surrounded American forces at Bastogne. In March 1945, Patton crossed the Rhine and headed across southern Germany. When the war ended, his advance units were in Pilsen, Czechoslovakia, and he was a full, four‐star general.

An outspoken critic of the Soviets and of postwar U.S. policies toward Germany, Patton failed as head of the occupation of Bavaria and was reassigned to command the Fifteenth U.S. Army. On 9 December 1945, near Mannheim, he was fatally injured in an automobile accident. He was the most aggressive senior American military commander in World War II and respected by the Germans as the best.
[See also France, Liberation of; Germany, Battle for; World War I: Military and Diplomatic Course; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

Martin Blumenson , The Patton Papers, 2 vols., 1972, 1974.
Martin Blumenson , Patton: The Man Behind the Legend, 1985.
Carlo D'Este , Patton: A Genius for War, 1995.

Martin Blumenson

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Patton, George S.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Patton, George S.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/patton-george-s

"Patton, George S.." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/patton-george-s

Patton, George Smith, Jr.

George Smith Patton, Jr., 1885–1945, American general, b. San Gabriel, Calif. A graduate of West Point (1909), he served in World War I and was wounded while commanding a tank brigade in France. Subsequently he served in the cavalry and the tank corps. In World War II he commanded (1942–43) a corps in North Africa and the 7th Army in Sicily. Despite a brilliant record, a much-publicized incident (Patton slapped a soldier suffering from battle fatigue) cost him his command and delayed until Aug., 1944, promotion to the permanent rank of major general. Patton was a particularly skilled at the rapid advance of his forces as well as the surprise flanking attack. Early in 1944 he was given command of the 3d Army, which spearheaded the spectacular sweep of U.S. forces from Normandy through Brittany and N France, relieved Bastogne in Dec., 1944 (see Battle of the Bulge), crossed the Rhine (Mar., 1945), and raced across S Germany into Czechoslovakia. As military governor of Bavaria, he was criticized for leniency to Nazis and was removed (Oct., 1945) to take charge of the U.S. 15th Army. Patton was fatally injured in an automobile accident in Germany.

See his autobiography (1947); M. Blumenson, ed., The Patton Papers (2 vol., 1972–74); biographies by F. Ayer, Jr. (1971), C. Peifer, Jr. (1988), and C. D'Este (1995); studies by H. Essame (1974), Z. Favago (1986), M. Blumenson (1985), and J. W. Jordan (2011).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Patton, George Smith, Jr.." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Patton, George Smith, Jr.." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/patton-george-smith-jr

"Patton, George Smith, Jr.." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/patton-george-smith-jr

Patton, George Smith, Jr.

Patton, George Smith, Jr. (1885–1945) US general. In World War I, he served with the American Expeditionary Force (AEF) in France. During World War II, Patton commanded a tank corps in North Africa, and the 7th Army in Sicily. After the D-Day invasion in 1944, he commanded the 3rd Army in its dash across France and into Germany. As military governor of Bavaria after the war, he was criticized for leniency to Nazis and was removed to command the US 15th Army.

http://www.pattonhq.com/homeghq.html

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Patton, George Smith, Jr.." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Patton, George Smith, Jr.." World Encyclopedia. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/patton-george-smith-jr

"Patton, George Smith, Jr.." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/patton-george-smith-jr