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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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Twenty-eight days after D-Day, Patton arrived on the shores of France. The Allies were stalled at Caen, just 11 miles south of the easternmost landing beach, but the battle was siphoning Germany's strength. Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, commander of the U.S. First Army, was about to launch a breakout—Operation Cobra—that would punch through the weakened western half of the German line. Patton and Third Army would be ready to storm through the gap at Avranches and help take the entire Brittany Peninsula, firmly establishing the Allied armies on the Continent.

Allied documents captured by the Germans on July 21 appeared to confirm for them the presence of Third Army in Normandy. The first specific report of Patton's arrival reached them on July 22, when the 17th SS Panzergrenadier Division reported a rumor from Allied prisoners that Patton and Third Army were in the area; the prisoners described Patton as "the great tank commander," who had met with success in Africa. The Germans handled the matter routinely. The words "Third Army" and "Patton"—followed by a question mark—first appeared on an Army Group B situation map on July 30. There is no evidence that the information went farther up the chain of command at that time.

The main attack of the Allied breakout began on July 25, immediately west of St. Lô. Patton, who was appointed Bradley's deputy and was responsible for the right wing of the operation, assumed oversight of VIII Corps operations on July 27. The VII Corps had already torn a hole 10 miles wide and 10 miles deep in the German Seventh Army's front. By his fourth day of combat in Western Europe, Patton had an open door to the interior of France. On August 1, Patton and Third Army were officially placed into active duty and began swiftly streaming through the gap into Brittany.

On August 3, Bradley ordered Patton to leave the minimum necessary force in Brittany and to throw the weight of Third Army east toward Le Mans, behind the German Seventh Army. Conditions were perfect: Seventh Army had prepared no security measures in its rear areas, which were covered by under-strength guard troops. The 9th Panzer and 708th Infantry Divisions were supposed to cover Seventh Army's southern wing, but were still en route.

The Germans received only scattered reports of Third Army's activities until August 10, when they first realized that a powerful enemy force was turning north from behind Seventh Army. General Montgomery's troops were simultaneously smashing through the German front to link up with Patton. That morning, Patton, confident Third Army could close the gap and encircle Seventh Army near the town of Falaise, stood on the brink of one of the greatest victories of the war.

Then, at 11:30, Patton had one of the worst breaks of his life. To avoid friendly fire, Bradley ordered the Americans to halt while the British closed the gap. The Germans were able to extract thousands more troops—including a large portion of their staff officers, who were then able to reconstitute the German defensive lines with surprising speed.

Nevertheless, Third Army's breakout and sweep around the German flank established Patton among enemy commanders as a Panzer General, a master of mobile armored warfare in their own style. Whenever tanks were heard in the streets outside the headquarters of Germany's Army Command in the West, Field Marshal Gerd von Runstedt would joke, "Can this be Patton?" Seventh Army's chief of staff, Rudolf Freiherr von Gersdorff, later observed, "The American breakthrough at St. Lô-Avranches, led by General Patton, was carried out with operational genius and unprecedented dash." The earliest recorded enemy conversation in which Patton is clearly identified also occurred during this time. On August 21, the commanding general of the 21st Panzer Division, Edgar Feuchtinger, reported: "The situation is completely out of hand. From Chartres, Patton has turned north with part of his army and is advancing on the Rouen area. No one seems able to stop him."


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9 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… [...]



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