Patton by Alan Axelrod

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Lessons from Patton

“Patton was…akin to [such] disturbingly complex military characters…as the Bard’s Julius Caesar, Othello and Titus Andronicus – inspired captains all – on whom civilization itself depends in time of war but whom civilization cannot abide in time of peace.”

While General George S. Patton Jr. was America’s greatest military commander of World War II, leading the U.S. Third Army across Germany with the same fury as the Nazi’s own blitzkrieg, his successes on the battlefield were met by controversy in his personal life. With a choleric personality, Patton was both loved and hated by those who met him but most importantly, he frightened the Germans.

Born in 1885 to a family of military leaders, Patton was destined to attend Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and West Point. Before World War II, Patton spent his younger years hunting down the Mexican guerilla leader Poncho Villa and creating the First Tank Brigade during World War I.

Realizing that their first challenge would be fighting the German’s Africa Korps, in 1942 the Army selected Patton to create a desert warfare training center. While his training successfully prepped 60,000 troops, he wanted a combat command more than anything. By July 1942, he was in command of the Western Task Force in North Africa. His swift victories made him a hero back home, but tougher were ahead.

Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, nicknamed the “Desert Fox,” was one of Germany’s greatest commanders. At the Battle of Kasserine Pass, the U.S.’s enthusiastic forces were bitterly defeated. Patton was given temporary command over the U.S. Second Corps. Enforcing stricter rules on his soldiers, while simultaneously building morale, Patton disciplined his troops and used them to beat the Germans at El Guettar.

With his victory in Africa, Patton now had the chance to invade Sicily and work his way up Italy in Operation Husky. While the Army adopted a plan that Patton disagreed with, he took his forces, now renamed the Seventh U.S. Army, like a good soldier and went into the thick of battle. Politics had forced the U.S. command to take a foolish approach to capturing Messina, but Patton was able to improvise on the battlefield and successfully capture his target.

Though Patton was a genius at war, his personality strained relations back home. Slapping two soldiers he accused of “cowardice” could have nearly led to a court martial, but the general apologized to his subordinates while Eisenhower gave him 11 months to stay out of the public’s attention. While the U.S. planned to invade Normandy, America’s greatest general had an unexpected contribution to the attack. Rather than giving Patton an army to command, Eisenhower used the general as a decoy.

Landing with the Third Army following the invasion of Normandy, Patton proved his worth once again. Always a great tactician, General Patton decimated quickly decimated German forces and inspired his soldiers to achieve greatness. While Patton never handled PR very well, we can all learn from his determination and wholehearted confidence in the plans he wrought.

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