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Summary Article: Patton, George S. Jr. (1885–1945) from 500 Great Military Leaders

U.S. Army general. Born on November 11, 1885, in San Gabriel, California, George S. Patton Jr. attended the Virginia Military Institute for a year before graduating from the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, in 1909. An accomplished horseman, he competed in the 1912 Stockholm Olympic Games. Patton also participated in the 1916–1917 Punitive Expedition into Mexico.

On U.S. entry into World War I, Patton deployed to France as an aide to American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) commander General John J. Pershing but transferred to the Tank Corps and, as a major, commanded the first U.S. Army tank school at Langres, France. Patton then commanded the 304th Tank Brigade as a lieutenant colonel. Wounded in the Saint-Mihiel Offensive (September 12–16, 1918), he was promoted to colonel and took part in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive (September 26–November 11).

After the war, Patton remained an ardent champion of tank warfare. He graduated from the Cavalry School in 1923, the Command and General Staff School in 1924, and the Army War College in 1932. Returning to armor, Patton was promoted to brigadier general in October 1940 and to major general in April 1941, when he took command of the newly formed 2nd Armored Division. Known as “Old Blood and Guts” for the colorful speeches he gave to inspire the men, Patton had charge of I Corps and the Desert Training Center, where he prepared U.S. forces for the invasion of North Africa.

George S. Patton, Jr. was one of the more controversial generals in American history. Flamboyant and swaggering, he was also a hard-driving professional whose 1944 campaign across France remains one of the most brilliant in U.S. military annals. (Library of Congress)

In November 1942, Patton commanded the Western Task Force in the landing at Casablanca, Morocco, in Operation torch. Following the U.S. defeat in the Battle of the Kasserine Pass (February 19–25, 1943), in March 1943 he was promoted to lieutenant general and assumed command of II Corps. Patton quickly restored order and morale and then took the offensive against the Axis forces.

In April, Patton received command of the Seventh Army for the invasion of Sicily (July 9–August 17, 1943). He employed a series of costly flanking maneuvers along the northern coast of the island to reach Messina just ahead of the British Eighth Army on the eastern side. Patton, however, ran afoul of the press and his superiors when he struck two soldiers suffering from battle fatigue. Relieved of his command, Patton was then used to disguise the location of the attack of Operation overlord, the cross-channel invasion of France. The Germans assumed that Patton would command any such invasion, but he actually remained in Britain in command of the Third Army, the fictional 1st U.S. Army Group, in a successful ruse to deceive the Germans into believing that the invasion would occur in the Pas-de-Calais area. Simultaneously, he commanded and trained the U.S. Third Army, scheduled to land in France after the initial invasion had established the beachhead.

The Third Army became operational on August 1, 1944. Patton's forces poured through the gap created by the Saint-Lô breakout (July 25–31) and then turned west to clear the Brittany peninsula. The Third Army then swung back to the east toward Le Mans and Orleans. During the drive across France, Patton was frustrated by the refusal of General Omar Bradley and supreme Allied commander General Dwight D. Eisenhower to recognize the importance of sealing the Falaise-Argentan gap. Patton's forces crossed the Meuse River in late August to confront German defenses at Metz, where they were held until December. During the German Ardennes Offensive (Battle of the Bulge, December 16, 1944–January 16, 1945), Patton executed a brilliant 90-degree turn and counterattack into the German southern flank to relieve the hard-pressed American forces defending Bastogne.

By the end of January, Patton began another offensive. The Third Army pierced the Siegfried Line between Saarlautern and St. Vith and crossed the Rhine at Oppenheim (March 22). Patton continued his drive into Germany and by the end of the war had entered Czechoslovakia. His men had covered more ground (600 miles) and liberated more territory (nearly 82,000 square miles) than any other Allied force.

Promoted to temporary general in April 1945, Patton became military governor of Bavaria. He soon found himself again in trouble for remarks in which he criticized the denazification program and argued that the Soviet Union was the real enemy. Relieved of command of the Third Army, Patton assumed command of the Fifteenth Army, a headquarters that existed mostly on paper with the mission of writing the official U.S. Army history of the war. Patton suffered a broken neck in an automobile accident near Mannheim and died at Heidelberg on December 21, 1945.

A brilliant field commander who drove his men hard, Patton was also flamboyant, outspoken, and a difficult subordinate with a penchant for getting into trouble.

Further Reading
  • Blumenson, Martin. Patton: The Man behind the Legend, 1885-1945. William Morrow New York, 1985.
  • D'Este, Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. HarperCollins New York, 1995.
  • Hirshson, Stanley P. General Patton: A Soldier's Life. HarperCollins New York, 2002.
  • Hogg, Ian V. The Biography of General George S. Patton. Hamlyn London, 1982.
  • Spencer C. Tucker
    Copyright 2014 by Spencer C. Tucker

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