General Patton

Young George didn’t want to be just any soldier; he had his sights fixed on becoming a combat general. He had one major obstacle to overcome, however. Though he was obviously intelligent (his knowledge of classical literature was encyclopaedic and he had learned to read military topographic maps by the age of 7), George didn’t learn to read until he was 12 years old. It was only at age 12 when George was sent off to Stephen Cutter Clark’s Classical School that he began to catch up on his academic skills; he managed to find plenty of time for athletics as well. While at school, the path toward his goal became focused he planned on attending West Point as the next major step in the pursuit of his general’s stars.

When he graduated from high school, however, there were no appointments open to West Point in his home state of California, so he enrolled at his father’s alma mater, Virginia Military Institute. As a first year “rat” at VMI, young Patton did quite well despite his late start at formal learning. However, spelling and punctuation were to give him problems throughout his life. An appointment to West Point opened the next year and George was awarded it. He reported to ”Beast Barracks” in 1904. During his career at the Point, George developed into an expert fencer. His football career suffered due to his aggressiveness he suffered three broken noses and two broken arms playing end.

Due to deficiencies in mathematics, he had to spend an extra year at West Point, but this deficiency was no detriment to his superb military skills which gained him the cadet adjutancy his final year. When he graduated in the class of 1909 he ranked 46th out of a class of 103. As would befit one with a love of heroics, Lieutenant Patton chose the cavalry as his special branch, no doubt picturing himself leading hell-for-leather charges against the enemy. He also married Bee Ayer, whom he met while at the Point, in 1910. The next two years saw the dashing young cavalry of officer become one of the Army’s best polo players.

Patton also represented the United States in the 1912 Olympics at Stockholm in the Modern Pentathlon. This event, which includes five traditional military skills shooting, fencing, swimming, riding, and running was considered a rigorous test of those skills most necessary for an officer. Patton did quite well, but lost points on perhaps his best event shooting. The competitors were allowed to choose whatever pistol they wished, and most used .22 revolvers. Patton, however, felt that he should use a true military weapon, which at that time was a .38 revolver. Consequently, Patton’s handgun punched larger holes in the target, which probably cost him points in the shooting finals since he supposedly missed with one round; in actuality the “missing” round had passed through a cluster of holes he had already put in the target. Still, Patton finished fifth overall, an excellent finish in an event traditionally dominated by European marksmen.

After the Olympics, Patton kept busy by visiting the French cavalry school as an observer and studying French sword drill. The latter studies helped him become the U.S. Army’s Master of the Sword when he was assigned to teach the use of the blade to fellow officers. Patton, also designed a new U. S cavalry saber the M1913 and authored a training manual for its use, the Army’s Saber Regulations 1914. Patton’s future fame as a general was based on his emphasis on aggressive attack. True to that form, the Patton saber was designed to serve better on the offensive. He also eliminated the parry manoeuvre from his manual since he thought it made the user too vulnerable to attack.

These activities kept Patton busy, but he wanted to go to war, so when World War I started in 1914, Patton asked permission to serve with the French cavalry, but the War Department turned him down. In 1915 Lt. Patton was sent to Fort Bliss along the Mexican border where he led routine cavalry patrols until 1916 when he accompanied General Pershing as an aide on his punitive expedition against Pancho Villa into Mexico. While on a foraging mission for the expeditionary force, Patton killed General Cardenas, the head of Villa’s bodyguard, and another Villista using the single-action Colt he had purchased in March, 1915. This revolver would become a Patton trademark during World War II. As a result of this action, Patton was promoted to first lieutenant. He also added two notches to his revolver, notches which he would later show to the King and Queen of Great Britain during World War II while recounting to them his adventures as a young officer.

After the United States declared war on Germany, Gen. Pershing, who had been impressed with Patton in Mexico, promoted him to captain and asked him to command his headquarters troop. When Pershing and his staff arrived in England, Patton and his cavalrymen became the first foreign troops to ever be quartered in the Tower of London. Soon, however, Pershing and Patton were in France, where George requested transfer to a combat command. His request was granted and Patton became the first American assigned to the new U. S Tank Corps. With his usual impetuousness, Patton treaded to victory with the British tankers at Cambrai, the world’s first major tank battle. A short time later he went through the French tank course.

Using his newly acquired knowledge of tanks, Patton organized the American tank school at Langres, France, and trained the first 500 American tankers. During the next few months, Patton received two promotions to lieutenant colonel. Prior to the battle of St.Mihiel, his tankers carried out reconnaissance missions. During the battle itself, Lt. Col. Patton foreshadowed his later armoured thrusts as he pushed deep into enemy territory ahead of the American infantry with his primitive Renault tanks, receiving a Silver Star for his efforts.

During the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Patton led his tankers into battle once again but was wounded by machine gun fire while looking for help to rescue some tanks which were mired in the mud. For the Meuse-Argonne operations, Patton received a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Service Cross and a promotion to colonel. While Col. Patton was recuperating, However, the war ended. He resumed to the U.S. a few months later to command the U.S. Tank Corps.

Although Patton was an outspoken advocate of the tank as a modern combat weapon, he found that Congress was not willing to appropriate funds to build a large armoured force. Still, he carried out experiments to improve radio communications between tanks and helped invent the co-axial tank mount for cannon and machine gun. Despite all of his efforts, however, Patton reverted to his regular rank of captain in 1920. The Tank Corps was dissolved as a separate entity at the same time, with the tanks being assigned to the infantry. Patton was almost immediately promoted to the permanent rank of major and returned to the cavalry and polo.

Finding himself with time on his hands in the early 1920s, Patton decided to acquire another useful military skill he learned to fly. He also displayed his valour off the battlefield in several episodes during these years. Typical of such actions was when he saw three men abducting a woman. Though on his way to a formal dinner and wearing a tuxedo, he leaped out of the car and drew his pistol to rescue her. He carried out another rescue of three boys from a capsized boat in Salem Harbor, which won him the Congressional Life Saving Medal, Second Class.

By 1925, Patton was serving in Hawaii. After Hawaii he finished out the 1920s in Washington, where he pressed for getting increased armour assigned along with horse cavalry the two would complement each other depending on the mission and the terrain. At the time, his arguments made very good sense. He kept fighting for more and better armoured vehicles, too. By 1935 Patton had risen to the permanent rank of lieutenant colonel and had returned to Hawaii, this time sailing all the way there on his own boat. While in Hawaii, Patton warned of possible problems from spies among the civilian Japanese population.

Posted to Fort Clark in Texas, Patton, who believed that the U.S. would be involved in a war before long, rigorously trained the men under his command. As the 1930s drew to a close, Patton took command of Fort Myer. When the German Blitzkrieg was unleashed on Europe, he finally convinced Congress that the U.S. needed a more powerful armoured striking force and Patton finally got his star. He was promoted to brigadier general and put in command of the new armoured brigade, which he had to create by training the men in obsolete tanks.

As Patton’s force expanded, it became the 2nd Armoured Division and Patton earned the rank of major general. Patton’s famous “blood and guts” speeches of World War II began at this time in an amphitheater he had built to accommodate the entire division. His ability to turn up unexpectedly anywhere in the divisional training area became legendary at this time, too, as it would later in the 3rd Army. Using his Stimson Voyager he often commanded on manoeuvre while flying overhead where he could observe the entire area. Much of the credit for light observation planes coming into use in the Army can be attributed to this training technique of Patton’s. He soon turned the 2nd Armoured Division into a formidable fighting implement, at one point keeping them in the field almost constantly for 17 weeks.


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