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Patton: The German View

By Harry Yeide
1/30/2012 • World War II

General George S. Patton Jr. died on December 21, 1945, as a legend, praised even by his defeated opponents. German general Günther Blumentritt, a key planner of the invasions of France and Poland, wrote in a study for the U.S. Army after the war, “We regarded General Patton extremely highly as the most aggressive Panzer General of the Allies, a man of incredible initiative and lightning-like action…. His operations impressed us enormously, probably because he came closest to our own concept of the classical military commander.” Alfred Jodl, who served as Hitler’s chief of operations from 1940 until the end of the war, told American interrogators, “He was the American Guderian. He was very bold and preferred large movements. He took big risks and won big successes.” General Heinz Guderian himself, after Germany’s surrender, told his Allied captors, “From the standpoint of a tank specialist, I must congratulate him for his victory since he acted as I should have done had I been in his place.”

Patton commands attention as a near-mythic figure: He created for himself a larger-than-life persona, earned the admiration of the GIs who served under him, and died relatively young after winning one of the greatest victories of the war. Patton was, deservingly, lauded in the postwar years by his fellow victors; former adversaries contributed their reflections on the man who seemed to have their number during the final months of the war. All this has made Patton one of the most enduringly recognizable American figures of World War II.

One piece of the Patton story, however, is pure myth: that Patton was the subject of close scrutiny by the Germans, who anticipated his attacks in fearful admiration. General Patton was not, as his biographer Martin Blumenson wrote in The Patton Papers: 1885–1940, a “hero even to professional German officers who respected him as the adversary they most feared in battle.” Nor was he, as Ladislas Farago claimed in his book Patton, regarded by the Germans “as their most dangerous adversary in the field…. For a while the Germans watched the comings and goings of Patton like rubbernecked spectators following a tennis ball at Wimbleton.” In fact, for most of the war the Germans barely took notice.

During the Second World War, the Germans first encountered Patton in Tunisia, where he took charge of II Corps on March 6, 1943. The Afrika Korps and the Fifth Panzer Army had given the green Americans a drubbing at the Battle of Kasserine Pass, and Lieutenant General Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, ordered Patton to whip the corps back into fighting shape. Patton’s discipline quickly paid off: after seizing an advantageous position from the Italians, II Corps halted the advancing 10th Panzer Division on March 23 at the Battle of El Guettar—the first American victory against the experienced Germans. Patton’s momentum, however, was short-lived: Axis troops held him to virtually no gain until April 7, when they withdrew under threat from British Lieutenant General Bernard Montgomery’s Eighth Army.

There is no indication in the surviving German military records—which include intelligence reports at the theater, army, and division levels—that Patton’s enemies had any idea who he was at the time. Likewise, the immediate postwar accounts of the German commanders in Tunisia, written for the U.S. Army’s History Division, ignore Patton. Those reports show that ground commanders considered II Corps’s attacks under Patton to have been hesitant, and to have missed great opportunities. For example, in March they failed to seize weakly defended high ground in Southern Tunisia’s mountains, near Maknassy, which would have allowed Patton to threaten the Axis troops fighting Montgomery along the coast.

The first mention of Patton in German documents appears in a mid-May 1943 report by the Detachment Foreign Armies West, which simply noted that Patton had taken command of II Corps. By then, Patton had already left the corps to prepare for the invasion of Sicily. In mid-June, another detachment report described Patton as “an energetic and responsibility-loving command personality”—a passing comment on one of the numerous Allied commanders. Patton simply had not yet done anything particularly noteworthy in their eyes.

Much to Patton’s frustration, his role in the invasion of Sicily on July 10, 1943, was to command Seventh Army in support of Montgomery’s left flank as his Eighth Army thrust up the east coast to Messina to cut off Axis forces attempting to retreat to the Italian mainland. The position would turn to Patton’s advantage—and skyrocket him to fame back in the United States—on July 20, when he launched an unauthorized end run up Sicily’s west coast and captured Palermo. Patton next drove eastward toward Messina and, with Montgomery’s troops bogged down on the east coast by strong opposition, his thrust became the main Allied effort to capture Messina. Nevertheless, the Germans waged a skillful step-by-step defense and, untroubled by any energetic pursuit on the part of the Allies, withdrew to the Italian mainland in good order and with all of their heavy equipment by August 17.

The Axis powers had known before the landings on Sicily that Patton was in command of American ground forces in the western Mediterranean, and knew he led Seventh Army on Sicily. But his race to Palermo through country they had already abandoned left the commanders unimpressed. Major General Eberhard Rodt, who led the 15th Panzergrenadier Division against Patton’s troops during the Allied push toward Messina, thought the American Seventh Army fought hesitantly and predictably. He wrote in an immediate postwar report on Sicily, “The enemy very often conducted his movements systematically, and only attacked after a heavy artillery preparation when he believed he had broken our resistance. This kept him regularly from exploiting the weakness of our situation and gave me the opportunity to consolidate dangerous situations.” Once again, Patton finished a campaign without impressing his opponents.

49 Responses to Patton: The German View

  1. Luke says:

    One point is that the german opinion of patton may of been he was a hesitant commander but the truth is he was commanded by Bradley and Ike who where the ones perhaps causing the slowness in some of pattons assaults. I may be wroung about this but i was under the impression pattons comments about the distance and casualties inflicted by third army where a comment on the entire compaing and not one action.

  2. James says:

    The article left out the slapping incident. This put Patton at the back of line as far as Eisenhower was concerned. So, it wasn’t hard for German strategist to take him out of the equation. A friendly fire/bombing incident also made Patton seem a little loose. It wasn’t just that the Germans ignored him because of past defeats/missteps. The US high command had put him on the back burner until the Bulge, really.

  3. […] I didn't read thru all of the posts but I'm sure someone has said Patton. Patton was sold the the American public as a hero when in actuality, he was a baffoon at best. He used up and destroyed more equipment and had more casualties than any other Allied General. I have a friend that I 4 wheel with and he was with Patton on the run to Bastogne. The men were totally exhausted by the time they got there. They expected a hot meal in the winter cold only to be told there were no supplies. Most all of the armor was either not running or about to run out of fuel because Patton had out run his supplies…..again. My friend was in charge of a mechanized automatic weapons group- half tracks with quad 50's. He said when he went to resupply his group that they handled him his ammo in a paper bag and told him to use it sparingly. He said that had the German mounted any kind of offense, they would have been over run as there was little to no ammo left. The Germans apparently thought Patton would have been smart enough to bring enough supplies with him and it would have energized the US troops, they were wrong. Here's an article written about how the Germans didn't even think about Patton until the very end of the war. He's not even on their radar screen until March 1945. Patton: The German View […]

  4. Patrick Miano says:

    I’m certain many of Patton’s opponents missed opportunities as well. In war the victor is often not the general with the most brilliant strategy, but the one who makes the fewest mistakes.

  5. David says:

    Interesting and informative article. I agree that Patton’s myth in some aspects goes beyond the actual facts. I highly doubt that German commanders held Patton is such awe that the fact alone he opposed them on the battle field caused them to greatly doubt in their chance for success. I also find it quite reasonable to conclude that “The Germans did not track Patton’s movements as the KEY [emphasis added] to Allied intentions” – though that doesn’t necessarily mean that the Germans didn’t view Patton’s command of a particular operation as entirely meaningless either.

    Still, I find it difficult to understand how the author can state “the Germans offered Patton faint praise during and immediately after the war” in light of Jodl’s and Guidarian’s (who I consider one of the, if not the, best armor field commanders and strategist of WWII) comments during US interrogation. Their comments do not strike me as “faint praise”, and I would think that such interrogations would occur at the latest “immediately after the war.” Even if the Germans “just’ considered him a great Panzer General, that’s certainly goes beyond “faint praise” in my opinion.

    The author concludes that “The Germans considered Patton a hesitant commanding general in the scrum of position warfare.” Clearly some did – understandably so during the North African campaign and even later on specific occasion. However, for every Lieutenant General Hermann Balck, there’s a Hans-Gustav Felber or Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff. Patton is widely considered to have been the most aggressive Allied field commander in the ETO. So aggressive that on more than one occasion, he was restrained by Eisenhower and Bradley. Of course, the German’s didn’t know that at the time (as Mr. Yeide notes). Still, I find it difficult to believe that the bulk of German High Command & field commanders considered Patton a “hesitant” commanding general by the end of the war after viewing his command in the aggregate.

    While I think the Mr. Yeide has some valid points and find the article worthwhile reading, I find his conclusions overreaching. Rather than a “hesitant commanding general”, a commanding general “who on occasion was needlessly [uncharacteristically?] hesitant” would be more accurate in my opinion. After all, how can a “Great Panzer” general be hesitant?

    The article raises some interesting questions. If the German viewed Patton as a “hesitant commander”, one can only imagine what they thought of Montgomery (Hemingway’s 15:1 ratio “Monty” martini joke springs to mind). Bradley and Eisenhower were also more cautious or “hesitant” than Patton – though not to the same degree as Monty IMO.

    Perhaps beyond the scope of the article, but I would have found it helpful to have additional information on the German viewpoint of other Allied commanders. If not Patton, then which Allied commander did the German’s respect (or even “fear”) the most? Is it the case that the German’s simply didn’t have much regard for their opponent’s skills (i.e. the Allies won on a material basis rather than superior strategy/tactics), or that the simply saw other as more competent than Patton?

  6. Brian says:

    Nope. You need to read more detailed, collegiate-level history books. Eisenhower wrote to Marshall after the slapping incident on why they needed to keep it quiet, because Patton was absolutely essential to American operational plans for victory. Eisenhower privately reprimanded him, but never, ever had any thoughts whatsoever of removing him. Patton was chosen to lead 3rd Army’s part in COBRA – that was long before the \Bulge.\ There’s been alot of hokum published about Patton, some coming from the historically totally inaccurate but much-watched movie with Mr. Scott.

  7. able34bravo says:

    So I’m confused. In one paragraph this article says that Patton was aggressive and swift, then in the very next paragraph it says that he was sluggish and slow.

    Which is it?

  8. […] The unstoppable quality of Patton and his Third Army as they careened across France in August of 1944 was summed up at the time by one of the German generals opposing him:   On August 21, the commanding general of the 21st Panzer Division, General Edgar Feuchtinger, repo… […]

  9. […] The unstoppable quality of Patton and his Third Army as they careened across France in August of 1944 was summed up at the time by one of the German generals opposing him:   On August 21, the commanding general of the 21st Panzer Division, General Edgar Feuchtinger, repo… […]

  10. ASG says:

    If Patton had deeper fuel and other material reserves, he might not have been regarded as hesitant.

  11. Patrick Miano says:

    That was the fault of the over-cautious Bradley and the demanding Eisenhower (who had never been in battle) who insisted Patton do the near-impossible with what they claimed was all they could give him despite his pleas for more ammunition, shells, and fuel. He had to literally steal what he needed from Allied truck convoys. That said, he did what he needed to do. His futile attempt top rescue his son-in-law from German captivity and slapping a sick man he wrongly thought to be a coward were inexcusable, but neither Bradley nor Eisenhower were without their own mistakes and sins. No one is perfect in his or her private or public life.

    • Michael Wong says:

      Patrick Miano is right. Although Patton was slow sometimes or didn’t take advantage of opportunities it was very often not his fault. In Patton’s autobiography he often mentions how Bradley would force him to stop doing things that resulted in slowing the advance or even letting the enemy escape.

      Also, Patton was the only general who knew and spoke about the need to deal with the Soviet threat before it became big. If the others took him seriously, there might not have been a decades-long cold war and tens of millions of casualties due to faux communism.

      • HenryCT says:

        After the German surrender US troops in Europe were reluctant to attack their Soviet allies and wanted to go home. Given the fact that the Soviets faced and beat 200 German divisions and the British and US no more than 10 divisions at any time, speculation that Patton would have easily moved east seems pretty silly.

  12. Jim Graham says:

    I agree with Patrick and Michael. General Patton was very rough around the edges, but without his command, the West of Europe would of been speaking Russian. If he and his soldiers were allowed to tackle the Germans and cut them off, the Battle of the Bulge would of not happened.
    He died under questionable certcomstances.
    II believe he is the last General to do what they do best… and America has not won a war since.

  13. […] Originally Posted by Drummerboy Minor league? Junior? Patton was a 3-star general. Can you please provide some reasons for your opinion? And what do you think of the fact the Germans said they feared Patton most? Actually, during the war they didn't even notice he existed, pretty much: Patton: The German View […]

  14. Jason Claus says:

    Sounds like YOUR view of Patton

    • Thomas says:

      No, it’s an accurate view of Patton, who received a lot of unjustified hero worship and exagerations of his actions by American nationalists.

      The Race to Palermo for example was purely for Patton’s own ego, and it cost soldiers their lives. Commanders who kill their own soldiers for their ego, like Patton, should of course be relieved of command and dishonorably discharged for conduct unbecoming.

      • Thomas B Day says:

        I disagree with you on this point: General Patton realized that Motgomery would become bogged down in the east coast. He was correct I that regard. Had he not done the end run we could have been defeated in Sicily. As it was, Patton moved when he saw the battlefield advantage and as a result Mussolini was toppled and Italy knocked out of the war.

      • Thomas says:

        What a weird idea. Exactly why would a safer normal approach have resulted in certain defeat? Were there entire German armies heading to Sicily as reinforcements or something? Nothing I know of suggests that was the case.

        It also wasn’t why Patton did it. Patton did the race to Palermo, against his orders, for his own personal glory and because he hated all British and would never allow a British person to take the ‘final’ town in Sicily.

        And that cost a few hundred Americans their lives, oh well, not as if Patton cared about his troops…

        Also, the revolt against Mussolini happened way after Sicily, so that is also wrong.

      • Thomas B Day says:

        Your anti-american bias is showing. Patton rightly knew that Mongomery was all talk and little action. Patton did end runs around resistance including amphibious landing to gain advamtage. He would not sit still.

      • Thomas says:

        Show proof of that nonsense or shut up I’d say. Because I can back up my side, for example by pointing towards the formal gag order that Patton was issued by Eisenhower.

        Why would Eisenhower silence someone who was right and acting normally? He wouldn’t. Patton was gagged because he was rude, agressive, and a liability to command.

        And, no Patton did not achieve any of those things. He did very poorly and constantly misunderstood his logistical position. Americans paid with their lives for his stupidity.

      • Ted Zeiller says:

        Thomas – while I agree with most of what you say, who were these “nationalists” you speak of? It makes you sound very biased . And for the record, my grandfather served under Patton. I didn’t get the impression he liked him very much either

      • Thomas says:

        Patton’s biographer is one example. He invented the myth that Patton was known and feared by the Germans.

        While the first mention of his existance dates untill way after Normandy, and the report just said “This guy is in charge of this and that division”.

        The first and only qualitive mention of Patton, does not mention him by name. It’s from Africa from a German divisional report, and it notes a grave error on the part of the American commander, as they failed to take undefended highground overlooking the German retreat. This allowed the Africa Korps to retreat unscathed.

        Yet his biographer invented the myth that Patton was known and feared in and since Africa.

      • Burns you up that Patton upstaged and was such a better General than that joke of a military commander Montgomery, doesn’t it?

        Plus, your historical “analysis” is based on half-truths and distortions.

      • steghorn21 says:

        Jason, Monty has plenty of weaknesses but how do you explain the historical facts that the author puts forward above? There is no evidence (remember that word?) that says the Germans paid much notice to Patton. His joyride in Sicily grabbed the headlines but failed miserably to carry out the crucial aim of stopping the retreating Germans reach mainland Italy. Thousands of allied troops died because of Patton’s failure. Patton was also only able to make his “tour of France with an army ” (his words) because boring old Monty had destroyed 90% of Hitler’s tank forces in Normandy in a two-month war of attrition. If you want to highlight a fine American leader, stick with Bradley, Truscott, Vandergrift, Nimitz (one of the most under-rated commanders in modern history), not this showboating mediocrity.

      • steghorn21 says:

        Schaffer’s film “Patton” is responsible for most of the modern mythology. A wonderful piece of Hollywood entertainment, but historically very dodgy. I love the scene where Monty arrives in the Sicilian capital to see Patton’s troops already lined up. Pure hokum!

      • steghorn21 says:

        Thomas, yes, as a Brit, a lot of bias does sneak in: Yanks prefer Patton; Limeys prefer Monty. However, if I can admit that Monty was often lumbering and egomanic, I think we have the right to criticise Patton. If Patton was so wonderful, why was he not given initial command in Normandy? Because his superiors knew of his mental instability and that the fact that he couldn’t prevail against dogged opposition. Monty was by no means a faultless general but his tactics and strategy worked brilliantly in Normandy, even if (despite Monty’s own egotistical statements) it didn’t go all according to plan. American have produced some truly great soldiers over the centuries and your great nation saved us feeble old Europeans on 3 occassions in reent history. However, a far better American general was Lucien Truscott – he won the easy Patton-type battles and the ones where the alliest had to dig deep like at Salerno. He also rescued the Korea catastrophe from another fair-weather soldier’s failure (MacArthur). To me, the sign of a truly great general is that he can a) advance quickly a la blitzkrieg b) overcome a strong defensive position and c) most importantly of all, fight a retreat where the odds are against you. Patton only did a), failed at b) and never had a chance to carry out c). I think the author’s evidence above is telling: despite the myths, the Germans were never wowed by Patton or Monty. They had great generals by the hundreds. We allies did the best we could. Regards

      • Gazzara5 says:

        Men would have died if he had followed orders too. Whatever his reasons, he won a great victory and shortened the Sicilian campaign.

      • steghorn21 says:

        Time was not the vital element; stopping the Germans evacuating their troops to the Italian mainland was. That so many first class German troops escaped across the Straits of Messina was a travesty – and one for which Monty was just as much to blame as Patton. Especially bearing in mind the overwhelming allied air power. These troops then held up the allies in Italy for nearly 2 years.

      • Gazzara5 says:

        A lot of Italian troops escaped too, but I wouldn’t call them first class. In any event, you can’t blame Patton or Montgomery for the RAF and USAAF messing up.

      • Thomas says:

        And you think it’s justified for hundreds of soldiers to lose their lives unnecessarily for the personal glory of one deranged officer? You think it’s good for a military officer to disobey his orders?

        Casualties would’ve been much lower if Patton had done his duty.

      • Gazzara5 says:

        Officers have saved lives and been decorated for disobeying orders when the situation called for it. The UCMJ recognizes it. Patton did what he did for victory, not his personal glory. His one mistake was done for family reasons, not personal glory. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

      • Thomas says:

        So what should we do with Patton, who lost hundreds of lives unnecessarily, against orders, purely for his personal glory, while also endangering the military operation as a whole?

        For victory would’ve been the steady simultaneous advance that he had been ordered to.

        And no, I see no connection between Patton’s mistake of not taking high ground along a retreating route of the Africa Korps, and family. Did his dad force him to make such a strategic error and allow the nazis to retreat unhindered?
        Did his mother force him to beat up soldiers under his command who are forbidden from fighting back and are in bad shape?
        Did his parents force him to be a bigoted racist who hates the British and forced him to be a liability within command to the point where Eisenhower issued him with a formal gag order?

      • Gazzara5 says:

        He did nothing for personal glory. He did it to win battles, which he did. Soldiers die in war no matter what you do. Bradley was way too cautious, and caution can kill as surely as recklessness.

      • Thomas says:

        So you deny that Patton disobeyed orders and began racing to Palermo for his own personal glory? You’re saying the British took the city as was originally planned?

        Let’s see some sources for your claim…

      • Gazzara5 says:

        I’m not denying anything except the motives you attribute to him. Montgomery always thought of the Americans as “his Italians,” no matter how well they fought. Patton taught him a lesson. The Americans were not his flunkies.

      • Thomas says:

        Now you’re just hiding behind nonsense that Patton worshippers made up I think.

        Otherwise where are you sources?

      • Dennis Romary says:

        IF YOU DO NOT WHAT GEN PATTON DID……FIND YOUR OWN WAR!

      • Thomas says:

        Butthurt Patton worshipper is butthurt over too much fact… I’d like to point to Sir Basil Lidell Hart’s illustrated history, where it’s explained in detail what Patton did wrong, including assaulting an injured soldier.

      • Dennis Romary says:

        WHY ARE DOWN VOTES NOT REGISTERED HERE?

      • steghorn21 says:

        As in Normandy, the British and Canadians did the unglamorous drudge work and Patton go the glory. Patton was a good cavalry general but failed whenever he met opposition. At Metz, he had no idea at all how to take the city. In Normandy, he faced virtually no opposition. as for the “slow” British, they defeated the mass of the German’s elite panzers and then did the 200 miles to Brussels in 4 days. As ever, the self-publicists like Patton and MacArthur get the most paragraphs in the history books.

  15. Michael Sanches says:

    1. First, it is maxim of war that the sooner a war ends, the fewer casualties there will be (both military and civilian.) Regardless of the cost in lives to end a war (or campaign) two months earlier, there will be fewer deaths due to the shorter war or campaign. Overall, Patton saved lives.

    2. Monty was a great on defense and set piece battles. But, he didn’t know how to follow up a victory and kick the enemy when they were down. After the Falaise Gap victory, we could have taken the Low Countries with 3 boy scouts and a jeep. But, Monty waited a month and we paid heavily for the, by then, heavily defended dike system.

    3. Patton was a cavalry commander, a la Sherman. His creating the Falaise pocket was brilliant, his relief of Bastogne was, perhaps, the greatest manuever in WWII, and his conquest of Czeckoslovakia (which we gave to the Russians) was lightning fast. Patton constantly studied tank warfare in the years between the wars. Without Patton, Bastogne would have been overrun and by the end of the war, Russia would have conquered everything up to the French border (and maybe the north half of Italy.) This would not only have resulted in millions more dead, but would have resulted in a a united communist Germany, A Baltic Sea that was a Communist lake, as well as Communist Greece, Denmark, and maybe the Low Countries and half of Italy. Patton certainly saved the USA and the West from a lot of problems.

    Likewise, without Monty, Rommel would have probably taken Alexandria making the Eastern Med an Italian Lake. This may have resulted in a huge temptation for Turkey and Spain to join the Axis (although I think Attaturk and Franco would have declined to join the war.)

    They were both prima donnas. I think Patton sums it up best in the movie when he said that he knew they were both prima donnas and the problem was that Monty didn’t realize he (Monty) was also a prima donna.

  16. billy bob says:

    so he was used as a diversionary tactic prior to d-day because the germans figured he was ineffective…got it

  17. Poppy says:

    Men who served under Patton were proud of what 3rd Army had accomplished after D-Day. It not only shortened the war, it prevented the USSR from being able to overrun Europe. In Italy, the success of the Italian Campaign established American Bomber groups in Italy where they flew missions every day while the British flew from England every night. This effectively destroyed the German ability to wage war while the American War Industries reached historic output levels in quantity and quality. Additionally, the American casualties were kept low in spite of two theaters to fight in. European casualties were horrific, particularly the USSR. Their death toll accounts for their passionate political insistence to surround themselves with satellite nations. Unfortunately, Russia continues to subscribe to the WW2 mentality of Blood and Soil. This was demonstrated in Czechoslovakia, then Afghanistan, the Ukraine and the Crimea. Let’s not forget Cuba and the nuclear missiles that were being placed there. One party of the Mexican nuclear standoff wants to have better relations with Russia. Sounds a lot like Neville Chamberlain’s diplomacy with Adolph Hitler.

  18. Zorro says:

    He did his job as a soldier.

    Did his duty then went home.

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