George Patton is among the most famous American generals of all time. Known as “Old Blood and Guts,” he made a name for himself during the Second World War as someone his troops could get behind, and always made a point of leading by example. His legacy has continued to live on, with many military enthusiasts in admiration of his talent and skill.
What specifically has Americans so enamored with him? Keep on reading to find out.
George Patton was destined for the military
Before we can go into why George Patton is such a large part of US military legend and folklore, an overview of his service is required. From a young age, he was interested in serving his country, attending both the Virginia Military Institute and the US Military Academy at West Point, from which he graduated 46 out of 103 cadets.
His first taste of combat was during the Pancho Villa Expedition – now known as the Mexican Expedition – of 1916, and he later fought for the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. Not only did he help build the newly-formed US Tank Corps, he commanded troops, most notably during the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
When the US entered World War II following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Patton was given command of the 2nd Armored Division. He was then placed in control of the US Seventh Army in the Mediterranean Theater. He was involved in the invasion of Casablanca during Operation Torch and, later, the invasion of Sicily. It was during these two missions that he established himself as one of the Allied forces’ best commanders.
In the lead up to the D-Day landings, Patton was given a key role in Operation Fortitude, the Allied deception plan to mislead the German High Command. He was also given command of the US Third Army, which he led through the Allied invasion of France. During the Battle of the Bulge, his men relieved American troops at Bastogne, and embarked on a charge across the Rhine and into Germany, capturing 10,000 square miles.
Patton passed away on December 21, 1945, after suffering injuries from a car accident while stationed in Germany.
He led by example… From the front!
One of George Patton’s primarily philosophies when it came to leadership was to lead by example – and that’s exactly what he did while serving in Europe during WWII. He always led his men into battle, exemplifying the values and determination he expected from them.
As author Alan Axelrod once wrote, “[Patton’s] message was never we must succeed but always we will succeed.” This inspired many military officers who came after him and influenced US strategy following his death.
“Patton epitomized the fighting soldier in World War II. He exercised unique leadership by his ability to obtain the utmost – some would say more than the maximum – response from American combat troops. Through his charisma, exemplified by a flamboyant and well-publicized image, he stimulated, better than any other high-ranking U.S. army commander, American troops to an aggressive desire to close with and destroy the enemy.
“He personified the offensive spirit, the ruthless drive, and the will for victory in battle.”
George Patton had an incredible ability to inspire his men
If there’s one thing George Patton was, it’s controversial. He was known for his attention-grabbing, vulgar speeches, which were received well by his troops, but less so by the higher ups in the Allied command. This didn’t matter to the American general, who knew he needed to inspire his men if he expected them to follow him into battle – and follow him they did.
Not only were troops a fan of Patton’s loyalty over brilliance motto, they were enamored by his philosophy of battle: “We shall attack and attack until we are exhausted, and then we shall attack again.”
Patton gave a number of speeches during the Second World War, the most famous of which is the one he gave to the US Third Army prior to the Allied invasion of France in 1944. Considered by many historians to be one of the greatest motivational speeches of all time, Patton used his oratory skills to urge his soliders to perform their duty in the face of danger and to push forward in an aggressive manner.
He personally purchased supplies for his men
George Patton was born into a wealthy family with an impressive lineage. Not only did he have an indirect connection to George Washington, his ancestry included Welsh aristocrats and ties to the British monarchy. That’s all to say he had a lot of extra funds at his disposal, for both pleasure and work.
Following the First World War, Patton pushed for the US military to increase its investment in armored warfare, (correctly) believing it was where combat was heading. However, his efforts were in vain, as a lack of interest from officials and budget constraints meant little could be done to equip the American Armed Forces for this inevitability.
Sure enough, when the US entered the Second World War following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the country was ill-prepared. Upon being assigned to the 2nd Armored Division, Patton took it upon himself to purchase tools, supplies and other necessities for his troops – from the Sears Roebuck catalog, of all places!
George Patton helped develop modern tank warfare
As aforementioned, George Patton played a role in the development of the US Army’s Tank Corps during the First World War. He spoke with experts about design, repair and operation, and even observed the British Army’s first large-scale use of tanks during the Battle of Cambrai in late 1917.
All this led him to establish the American Expeditionary Forces’ Light Tank School in Langres, France. Following this, he led America’s first use of tanks in combat at the Battle of Saint-Miheil, which resulted in a victory over the German forces.
Following the war, Patton was given command of a cavalry squadron. During this time, he advocated for the continued switch from horses to tanks, and urged the US Army to adapt cavalry shock tactics. He even went so far as to write his own manual on tank operations, to make the transition process even more smooth.
Throughout WWII, Patton was often found leading his men from a tank, and his involvement in the development of modern tank warfare is arguably his most enduring legacy. In fact, he had such an impact on US military strategy when it came to tanks that a number were named for him following his death.
The first tank to be given the Patton name was the M46, an M26 Pershing that was equipped with an improved transmission and engine, as well as a new gun. It saw action during the Korean War, where it held its own against the North Korean-manned T-34. This was followed by the M47, which was essentially an M46 with a new turret. Classified as a main battle tank (MBT), it saw service with the US Army, the US Marine Corps, NATO and SEATO.
The M48 was the first Patton tank to be built from the ground up, improving upon the M47’s defense capabilities, fuel efficiency and mobility. It served with the US during the Vietnam War, acting in an infantry support role, before being replaced by the M60. Never officially given the Patton name, the tank featured explosive reactive armor, which helped its success during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Operation Urgent Fury and the Gulf War.