Childhood & Early Life
George Smith Patton Jr. was born on November 11, 1885, in San Gabriel, California, US, to George Smith Patton Sr. and Ruth Wilson. He had a younger sister named Anne. His family was of Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English descent, with a military background dating back to the ‘Confederate States Army.’ His father graduated from the ‘Virginia Military Institute’ and became a lawyer who rose to be the district attorney of Los Angeles County.
Patton was initially a slow learner but later got over his shortcomings to become an avid reader. He was home-tutored till the age of 11, after which he joined ‘Stephen Clark’s School for Boys’ and excelled in his studies.
He developed a passion for military history during his youth and also picked up horse riding. His mind was set on joining the army. Soon, he joined the ‘Virginia Military Institute,’ from where he was selected for the ‘US Military Academy’ at West Point in 1904.
His academic performance at West Point was below average, due to which he had to repeat his first year. However, he excelled in military subjects and became an ace sword fencer. He was the cadet adjutant in his senior year and got commissioned as a second lieutenant in the cavalry branch.
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On his first assignment with the ‘15th Cavalry’ at ‘Fort Sheridan’ in Illinois, he established himself as a dedicated and dashing junior leader. In 1911, he moved to ‘Fort Myer’ in Virginia, where he served as an aide to Secretary of War Henry L Stimson.
He served a short tenure at the office of the ‘Army Chief of Staff’ (CSA) in 1913 and later joined the ‘Mounted Service School’ at ‘Fort Riley,’ where he was a student and a fencing instructor. He was the first army officer to be designated with the title “Master of the Sword” for his swordsmanship.
During the Pancho Villa Expedition launched in Mexico in 1916, Patton was initially an aide to John J Pershing. Patton imbibed Pershing’s qualities of being bold and decisive and of leading from the front. He was assigned a troop of the ‘13th Cavalry,’ with which he successfully killed the infamous Mexican bandit Julio Cárdenas.
When World War I broke out, Patton initially went to Europe as an aide to Pershing. He trained on tanks and was promoted to the rank of captain in May 1917. He became a major in January 1918 and was given the command of the first ten tanks at the ‘Tank School’ in Bourg, where he was instrumental in improving the tactics of the infantry operating with tanks.
He became a lieutenant colonel in April 1918 and attended the ‘Command and General Staff College’ in Langres. After the course, he was put in charge of the ‘US 1st Provisional Tank Brigade,’ which he led from the front against the Germans in the Battle of Saint-Mihiel and the Meuse–Argonne Offensive. He was wounded during an attack near the town of Cheppy but continued to command his troops for an hour before being evacuated.
In October 1918, he was promoted to the rank of colonel and returned to the front. However, the hostilities ended in November that year. Patton was assigned to Camp Meade, Maryland, in March 1919. He reverted to the rank of captain on June 30, 1920, but was promoted to the rank of major the following day.
During the period between the two World Wars, he served in various command and staff appointments, where he wrote manuals on tank warfare and design. He believed that tanks should not be used as a support to the infantry but should be used as independent arms in mechanised warfare. By December 1940, he rose to the helm of the prestigious ‘1 Armored Corps’ and conducted large-scale exercises to prove his point.
During the North African Campaign of World War II, Patton commanded the ‘Western Task Force’ that landed in Casablanca and defeated the Vichy French forces in November 1942. In March 1943, after the defeat of the US forces by the ‘German Afrika Korps’ under Rommel, Patton took over command of the ‘US II Corps’ and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant general. Under his dynamic leadership, the German and the Italian forces were pushed back in the Battle of El Guettar and in Gabès.
Patton was made commander of the ‘Seventh United States Army’ for ‘Operation Husky,’ or the invasion of Sicily. His forces successfully landed at Gela, Scoglitti, and Licata, in support of the ‘British Eighth Army’ led by Bernard Montgomery, in July 1943.
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In August 1944, Patton’s ‘Third Army’ attacked Brittany and Seine, trapping thousands of German soldiers in the Falaise Pocket. His operations had his trademark of speed and aggression and took the Germans by surprise. He could have made faster progress, but there was shortage of fuel, as Eisenhower favored a “broad front” style of attack to a narrow penetration that could be cut off.
In December 1944, his ‘Third Army’ disengaged from Saarbrucken in record time and redeployed for the Battle of the Bulge. His forces routed the Germans in Bastogne and drove them back to Germany.
By February 1945, the German army was on the run and Patton’s ‘Third Army’ maintained their momentum by crossing the Rhine. He was ordered to turn his offensive toward Czechoslovakia, anticipating a last stand by the Germans. The war in Europe ended in May that year, after which he served as part of the occupation forces.
His final assignment was to be in charge of the ‘Fifteenth US Army’ in Bad Nauheim. His car met with an accident while on a hunting trip. This left him paralysed from the neck down. He passed away 12 days later, on December 21, 1945.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Beatrice Banning Ayer in May 1910, in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts. They had two daughters named Beatrice Smith and Ruth Ellen and a son named Patton IV.
There was a time between World War I and World War II, when he suffered from depression and took to drinking. It is said that he even had an affair with his niece, which almost ruined his marriage. It is believed that after World War II, he went into a second bout of depression and erratic behavior.
He was fond of polo and sailing. He was once kicked by a horse and developed phlebitis, which almost forced him out of the army.
He was selected for the first modern pentathlon at the 1912 ‘Olympic Games,’ where he competed in pistol firing, swimming, fencing, equestrian competition, and footrace. He finished fifth overall.
He formulated a new doctrine for the US cavalry that favored thrusting attacks to standard slashing maneuvers and designed a sword for such attacks.