George Patton

George Patton Biography

(1885–1945)
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General George Patton led the Third Army in a very successful sweep across France during World War II in 1944. He was skilled at tank warfare.

Who Was George Patton?

Considered one of the most successful combat generals in U.S history, George Patton was the first officer assigned to the Tank Corps in WWI. During WWII, he helped lead the Allies to victory in the invasion of Sicily, and was instrumental to the liberation of Germany from the Nazis. He died on December 21, 1945 in Heidelberg, Germany.

Early Life

Born November 11, 1885, in San Gabriel, California, as a young boy, George Patton set his sights on becoming a war hero. During his childhood, he heard countless stories of his ancestors’ victories in the American Revolution and the Civil War. Striving to follow in their footsteps, he enrolled in Virginia Military Institute in 1904.  A year later, he attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, graduating on June 11, 1909. In 1910, he married Beatrice Ayer, a childhood friend. In 1912, Patton competed in the Pentathlon at the Stockholm Olympics. He did well in the fencing portion and placed fifth overall. In 1913, he was ordered to the post of Master of the Sword at the Mounted Service School in Kansas, where he taught swordsmanship while also attending as a student. Despite his grace with a sword, Patton had a reputation for being an accident prone young man. Some even speculate that his explosive temper and incessant cursing were the result of a skull injury in his 20s.

Military Career

Patton had his first real taste of battle in 1915, when leading cavalry patrols against Pancho Villa at Fort Bliss along the Mexican border. In 1916, he was selected to aide John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces in Mexico. In Mexico, Patton impressed Pershing by personally shooting Mexican leader Julio Cardenas during the Battle of Columbus. Pershing promoted Patton to captain and invited him to lead Pershing’s Headquarters Troop once they left Mexico.

In 1917, during WWI, Patton was the first officer assigned to the new American Expeditionary Force tank corps. Tanks had proven effective in France at the Battle of Cambrai. Patton studied this battle and established himself as one of the leading experts in tank warfare. He organized the American tank school in Bourg, France, and trained American tankers to pilot the French Renault tanks. Patton’s first battle was at St. Mihiel, in September 1918. He was later wounded in the battle of Meuse-Argonne and later earned the Distinguished Service Medal for his leadership of the tank brigade and establishing the tank school. 

It was during WWII that Patton hit the high point of his military career. In 1943, he used daring assault and defense tactics to lead the 7th U.S. army to victory at the invasion of Sicily. On D-Day in 1944, when the allies invaded Normandy, President Franklin D. Roosevelt granted Patton command of the 3rd U.S. Army. Under Patton’s leadership, the 3rd Army swept across France, capturing town after town. "Keep on advancing… whether we go over, under, or through the enemy," Patton told his troops. Nicknamed "Old Blood and Guts" due to his ruthless drive and apparent lust for battle, he wrote home to his wife, "When I’m not attacking, I get bilious."

In 1945, Patton and his army managed to cross the Rhine and charge straight into the heart of Germany, capturing 10,000 square miles of enemy territory along the course of the 10-day march, and liberating Germany from the Nazi’s in the process.

Death and Legacy

In December 1945, General Patton broke his neck in a car crash near Mannheim, Germany. He died at the hospital in Heidelberg 12 days later on December 21, 1945. In 1947, his memoir, War as I Knew It, was published posthumously.

In 1970, the film Patton explored Patton’s complex character, which ran the gamut from seemingly ruthless to surprisingly sentimental. The film garnered seven Academy Awards. To this day, Patton is considered one of the most successful field commanders in U.S history.

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