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Patton: The German View

By Harry Yeide 
Originally published by World War II magazine. Published Online: January 30, 2012 
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After gaining a foothold in Italy, Allied commanders needed to keep the Germans guessing about their plans in the Mediterranean. General George C. Marshall wrote to Eisenhower on October 21, 1943: "It seems evident to us that Patton's movements are of great importance to German reactions and therefore should be carefully considered. I had thought and spoke to [Eisenhower's chief of staff, Walter Bedell] Smith about Patton being given a trip to Cairo and Cyprus but the Corsican visit appeals to me as carrying much more of a threat [to northern Italy]." Eisenhower replied, "As it is I am quite sure that we must do everything possible to keep [the Germans] confused and the point you have suggested concerning Patton's movements appeals to me as having a great deal of merit. This possibility had not previously occurred to me." For all Marshall's apparent certainty, however, he was making an assumption, albeit a logical one: besides Patton, the United States had no other seasoned and widely known general other than Eisenhower. But it was an assumption nonetheless, made without any evidence of German opinion.

As a result, Patton made a series of highly visible appearances, beginning with Corsica on October 28 and followed by Malta and Cairo. There is no evidence in German intelligence records that the enemy paid any attention to Patton's movements. Instead they were focused on Allied shipping and ground force capabilities. In February 1944, as planning for D-Day was in full swing, the Allies began an elaborate deception operation, codenamed Fortitude. To give the Normandy landings the best possible chance at success, the Allies wanted the Germans to believe that the main invasion in France would take place at Pas de Calais in July, and that Normandy was a feint to draw German forces south. The fictitious First U.S. Army Group (FUSAG) would conduct the equally fictitious landings; Eisenhower appointed Patton, who had arrived in London on January 26, as the faux commander.

Thanks to false information fed through double agents, by March 23 the Germans began associating Patton with FUSAG. But they had not yet conclusively identified him—or anyone else—as the commanding general. On April 1, Germany's Foreign Armies West noted, "It seems possible that [Patton] has taken command of the First or Ninth Army in England."

Despite the Allies' best efforts, the Germans did not decide until mid-May—months after they concluded that the Allied invasion would land at Pas de Calais or in Belgium—that Patton had indeed taken command of FUSAG. However, his leadership of the supposed landings at Pas de Calais appears to have been incidental to the strategic conclusions the Germans reached regarding the Allied invasion. None of the surviving pre-invasion records from the command of Army Group B, responsible for defending northwestern France, mention Patton outside the FUSAG order of battle. In contrast, the Germans methodically recorded the statements and meetings of Montgomery and Eisenhower, and bombarded their agents with questions about Montgomery's movements.

This attention was not misplaced: Montgomery led the Allied ground forces in the invasion, while Patton was relegated to the sidelines until he was placed in command of Third Army nearly a month after D-Day. Montgomery would show himself to be methodical and cautious in his advance, which the Germans had observed of him in North Africa. But in the weeks to come, Patton's agility and boldness would finally demand attention from some of Germany's finest commanders.


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12 Responses to “Patton: The German View”


  1. 1
  2. 2
    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.

  3. 3
    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.

  4. 4

    [...] 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 [...]

  5. 5
    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.

  6. 6
    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?

  7. 7
    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.

  8. 8
    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?

  9. 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. 10

    [...] 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… [...]

  11. 11
    ASG says:

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

  12. 12
    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.



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