General George Patton served on behalf of the Allied forces (Allies ) during World War II (1939–45). His leadership was marked by bold and imaginative campaigns through Sicily, France, and Germany. He inspired troops under him to perform with courage that was often repaid with success and victory.
George Smith Patton Jr. was born in San Gabriel, California , on November 11, 1885. His family was one of the wealthiest in the state, and his father was both a lawyer and prominent politician. As a result, the younger Patton enjoyed an education at private schools. Eventually, he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he graduated in 1909. His love of horses led him to enter the cavalry as a second lieutenant.
In May 1910, Patton married Beatrice Ayer, daughter of a wealthy Boston, Massachusetts , textile magnate. They had three children. In 1912, he went to the Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden, where he placed fifth in the military pentathlon, an event consisting of crosscountry riding, marksmanship, fencing, swimming, and a 5,000-meter foot race.
Early military career
Patton quickly became noticed for his eccentric and brave command. He was well known for speaking his mind and leading with shock and finesse. As an unofficial aide to General John J. Pershing (1860–1948) in 1916, he participated in the U.S.-led expedition against revolutionary leader Pancho Villa (1878–1923) in Mexico. Patton was noted for leading the first motorized patrol in combat and killing three of Villa's bodyguards in a gunfight.
In May 1917, Patton sailed to France to learn the skills necessary for using tanks, a newly introduced weapon, in battle. He was the first officer detailed to the Tank Corps in World War I (1914–18) and was responsible for the American organization and leadership of the new 304th Brigade of the Tank Corps. On September 26, 1918, he was wounded in battle and was unable to return to service. He ended the war as a colonel and was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for his contributions to tank warfare. He also earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his courage and presence of mind under the stress of battle and injury.
Patton continued to lead the Tank Brigade, but he was frustrated by the little attention that tanks and armored warfare were given by the army. In 1921, he returned to the cavalry. During the next two decades, he attended several military programs to further his leadership skills. He graduated from the Cavalry School at Fort Riley in 1923, the Command and General Staff College in 1924, and the Army War College in 1932. He also served in Boston, Hawaii , and the office of chief of cavalry in Washington, D.C.
In the early German offensives against Poland and France during World War II, the power of armored vehicles in warfare became clear. The United States began to organize its own armored force in 1940, and Patton returned to the armored division to lead a brigade of the Second Armored Division at Fort Benning, Georgia . He quickly rose through the ranks of leadership. In 1941, he became the division commander, and in January 1942 he rose to commanding general of the First Armored Corps. By the end of 1942, he was in command of the Western Task Force, the equivalent of four divisions built under his First Armored Corps headquarters. In October 1942, Patton sailed from Norfolk, Virginia , to lead his first operations overseas.
During World War II, Patton became widely known for his hard-driving aggressiveness in combat. He led the American forces during the landing at Casablanca, Morocco, in 1942, the invasion of Sicily in 1943, and the drive across northcentral France in 1944. His daring assaults, rapid marches, and imaginative use of armor brought American victories. His personal impulsiveness, however, and overwhelming self assurance embroiled Patton in controversy. In September 1945, these controversies came to a head, and Patton was removed from command of the Third Army, which he had led for over a year.
Patton's new position was as leader of the Fifteenth Army, a largely paper force. Patton had little opportunity to redeem himself. On December 9, 1945, he suffered a broken neck in an automobile accident in Germany. He died on December 21 and was buried in the United States Military Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg.