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George S. Patton, Jr.

George S. Patton, Jr., (1885-1945), American general and tank commander, whose bold armored advance across France and Germany in 1944 and 1945 made a significant contribution to Allied victory in World War II . He was born in San Gabriel, Calif., on Nov. 11, 1885, into a family with a long tradition of military service. He attended the Virginia Military Institute and graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1909, when he was commissioned a 2d lieutenant in the 15th Cavalry. He graduated from the Mounted Service School, Fort Riley, Kans., in 1913, and a year later from the Advanced Course at the Cavalry School, Fort Riley. In 1916 he went as acting aide to Gen. John J. Pershing in the Mexican expedition, and in 1917 Pershing took him to France as commander of his headquarters troops.

In November 1917, Patton was one of the first men detailed to the newly established Tank Corps of the United States Army and was assigned the task of organizing and training the 1st Tank Brigade near Langres, France. He led this unit in the St. Mihiel drive in mid-September 1918 and was wounded later in the month at the opening of the Meuse-Argonne offensive. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the Distinguished Service Medal and promoted temporarily to the rank of colonel.

Between the two world wars Patton graduated from the Command and General Staff School in 1924 and from the Army War College in 1932. His assignments during this period included two tours in Hawaii, a tour in the office of the Chief of Cavalry, War Department, and three tours with the 3d Cavalry at Fort Myer, Va.

In July 1940, Patton was appointed to the command of a brigade of the 2d Armored Division at Fort Benning, Ga. Less than a year later he was given command of the division and promoted temporarily to the rank of major general. Early in 1942 he became commander of the 1st Armored Corps, which he trained at the Desert Training Center, near Indio, Calif.

Patton played a leading role in the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942, commanding the ground elements of the western task forces that entered Casablanca and soon occupied French Morocco. When in March 1943 the United States 2d Corps in Tunisia was reorganized following an earlier rebuff at Kasserine Pass by Gen. Erwin Rommel's forces, Patton became its commander. Within a month he was promoted temporarily to the rank of lieutenant general and put in charge of American preparations for the invasion of Sicily. On July 10 he commanded the U.S. Seventh Army in its assault on that island. In conjunction with the British Eighth Army, he cleared Sicily of the enemy in 38 days. His victory was marred by an incident in which he struck an Army hospital patient being treated for shell shock--an action for which he later made a public apology.

In March 1944, Patton assumed command of the Third Army in Britain and began to plan future operations in northwest Europe. Shortly before the invasion he was reprimanded by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower for indiscreet political statements. On August 1 his army became operational in France, and he began the exploitation of the breakthrough near Avranches made by the First Army a few days before. He thrust one corps westward into Brittany toward Brest, while his other three corps pushed southward toward the Loire and then swung eastward in a series of broad sweeps toward the Seine. In one of the most spectacular actions of the campaign in northern France, he drove toward Paris, bypassed it, and reached the area near Metz and Nancy before being stopped by dwindling supplies and stiffening enemy resistance.

While Patton was preparing an attack eastward into the Saar area, in conjunction with the Seventh Army, the Germans launched their Ardennes counteroffensive of December 16. In an action characterized by Gen. Omar N. Bradley as "one of the most astonishing feats of generalship of our campaign in the west, Patton turned his forces quickly northward against the southern flank of the bulge and helped contain the enemy.

By the end of January 1945, the Third Army was ready to drive against the Siegfried Line between Saarlautern (now Saarlouis) north to St. Vith. Patton's four corps had pierced these defenses by the end of February, and by mid-March had pushed forward through the Eifel to gain control of the Moselle from the Saar River to Coblenz and of the Rhine from Andernach to Coblenz. In the following week his forces raced through the Palatinate region to the Rhine south of Coblenz. On the evening of March 22/23, units crossed the river near Oppenheim. Frankfurt am Main fell three days later. By the third week in April his forces had driven across southern Germany to the Czechoslovak border, and some of his units were in Austria before the month's end. During the first week in May, Third Army columns pushed into Czechoslovakia, and (Pilsen) was freed just before the armistice.

Patton was promoted to temporary four-star rank in mid-April. Shortly after the end of the war he entered on his duties as military governor of Bavaria. His outspoken criticisms of denazification policies led to an outcry in the United States, followed in October 1945 by his relief as Third Army commander and assignment to the Fifteenth Army, then a small headquarters engaged in studying miliary operations in northwestern Europe. Near the end of the year Patton was seriously injured in an automobile accident near Mannheim. He died in a nearby hospital in Heidelberg on Dec. 21, 1945.

Profane, impetuous, and flamboyant, Patton was easily the most colorful of the United States Army's commanders in the west, and its leading genius in tank warfare. Behind his showmanship and audacity lay the imaginative planning and shrewd judgment that made him one of the great combat commanders of World War II.

Forrest C. Pogue
Author of The Supreme Command

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