Nearly 70 years after Gen. George S. Patton’s death, he remains one of America’s most popular military figures. Why? The answer is simple: Patton was a winner who knew how to convince his soldiers that they were winners too.
The Germans tested Patton’s leadership early in his World War II command. He had taken over the U.S. Army’s II Corps after its disastrous performance at the Battle of the Kasserine Pass in February 1943. He was in charge less than a month when the Deutsches Afrika Korps challenged his command at El Guettar. Patton’s soldiers whipped the panzers, and it was the U.S. Army’s first major victory against the German Army in Europe.
Patton’s success continued. During the summer of 1943, leading the Seventh Army during the invasion of Sicily, his soldiers captured or killed more than 13,000 enemy soldiers while sustaining a fraction of those casualties in return. After Sicily, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Patton to lead the Third Army in northwest Europe.
On Aug. 1, 1944, Patton’s Third Army rocketed out of Normandy and raced across France in record time, crippling the German Army. In late September, his divisions crushed the German Fifth Panzer Army at the Battle of Arracourt. In December, while the rest of the Allied armies reeled from the Battle of the Bulge, the Third Army was counterattacking. Asked how long it would take his soldiers to relieve Bastogne, Patton promised that his men would be ready to move in fewer than 48 hours. Senior leaders scoffed, but he proved them wrong, and his men relieved the 101st Airborne the day after Christmas.
Everywhere Patton went, he won. The men who served under him loved him, while his enemies respected and feared him. After the war, many German generals claimed he was the best Allied general. They were right.