Patton: The German View | Page 4 of 5 | HistoryNet MENU

Patton: The German View

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

Following this fine performance, German commanders again found Patton’s generalship to be hesitant during the Lorraine Campaign, just as their counterparts had in Tunisia and Sicily. These men included some of Germany’s top armored commanders, Eastern Front veterans who had led troops during such fierce battles as Kharkov and Kursk. As the German armies withdrew east from the invading Allies, these commanders patched together a semblance of the flexible defense they had used against the Soviets, using mobile reserves and trading space for time and survival.

Patton, for his part, fully intended to make an unrelenting push to the Rhine after Normandy. He succeeded for a short time, brazenly gambling that the speed of his advance and Allied air superiority would keep the Germans too off balance to attack his unprotected flank. But Third Army’s advance was soon slowed by gasoline and ammunition shortages as Third Army reached the bank of the Moselle River, giving the Germans time to organize their defenses. Patton finally began receiving adequate supplies on September 4, after a week’s excruciating pause, and Third Army established a bridgehead across the Moselle on September 29—before halting again to wait for supplies. The fortress city of Metz did not fall until December 13, holding up Third Army long enough for the Germans to make an organized withdrawal behind the Saar River, setting the stage for the Battle of the Bulge.

The Germans, unaware of the Allies’ supply issues, credited their counterattacks throughout the withdrawal for Third Army’s seemingly hesitant advance. Lieutenant General Hermann Balck, who took command of Army Group G in September, thus did not think highly of Patton—or any other opposing commanders—during this time. Balck wrote to his commander, Runstedt, on October 10, “I have never been in command of such irregularly assembled and ill-equipped troops. The fact that we have been able to straighten out the situation again…can only be attributed to the bad and hesi­tating command of the Americans and the French, [and that our] troops…have fought beyond praise.” Looking back on his battles against Patton throughout the autumn, in 1979 Balck recalled, “Within my zone, the Americans never once exploited a success. Often [General Friedrich Wilhelm von] Mellenthin, my chief of staff, and I would stand in front of the map and say, ‘Patton is helping us; he failed to exploit another success.’”

On December 16, 1944, Germany launched one of its last massive attempts to reclaim the destiny of the Third Reich. In the same blitzkrieg style that had served so well in France in 1940, the Germans pushed into the heavily forested and mountainous Ardennes region of Belgium, creating the bulge in the front for which the resulting battle would be named. Within days, the Germans realized there was no hope of reaching their objective, Antwerp, back across the Meuse. Additional troops were unable to reach the central thrust and began piling up in the southern flank at the crossroads town of Bastogne, surrounding its American defenders—most famously the 101st Airborne Division.

Patton, in the meantime, had anticipated a German offensive and was prepared to wield his armored forces with the speed and relentlessness he longed for. In just four days, three of his Third Army divisions turned their advance 90 degrees and trekked over 100 miles through ice, snow, and fog—an extraordinary feat for heavy vehicles and exhausted men. Patton’s spearheads arrived at Bastogne on December 26, driving into the flank of the German offensive and reaching the city’s beleaguered defenders. But a lack of cold weather gear and one of the region’s harshest winters hampered subsequent Allied efforts. The German hold on Bastogne finally broke on January 9, 1945; even then, the Germans were not pushed back to their former line until January 30.

Patton’s finest moment was thus lost on the Germans, as the long struggle to reclaim Bastogne overshadowed his lightning-quick arrival. The commander of the Fifth Panzer Army, Hasso von Manteuffel, aimed a dismissive, indirect critique at Patton’s efforts at Bastogne, writing in his memoirs that the Americans did not “strike with full élan.” The commanders who fought against Patton in his last two mobile campaigns in the Saar-Palatinate and east of the Rhine already knew they could not win; their losses from this point forward were inevitable, regardless of the commanding Allied opponent. Still, Patton’s opponents noticed his aggressiveness and speed: Hans-Gustav Felber, the Seventh Army commander during this time, wrote after the war, “The enemy was now willing to take greater chances than up to the present…. The German leadership had encountered a particularly determined and daring opponent in the person of the commander of Third U.S. Army, General Patton.” Once Patton’s spearheads got moving across the open country beyond the Ardennes, Gersdorff recalled, “there was nothing left but to let the armored columns roll and try to cut their lines of communication behind them.”

, , , ,

17 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 […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>