Patton: The German View

 


In each of Patton’s operations, the Germans held a high bar for judging success. His 300-mile maneuver from the breakout at Avranches to Verdun in August 1944, was not—as he boasted—the farthest and fastest of any army in history; German panzer groups covered as much as 500 miles in the same amount of time during their invasion of the Soviet Union, without the benefit of passable roads. And his drive to the Moselle with a long, open flank may have been his most daring operation of the war, but such a drive was old hat to the Germans. Panzer Group Kleist and Guderian’s XIX Panzer Corps had done the same along the Somme to the Atlantic in May 1940.

In that context, it’s evident why the Germans offered Patton faint praise during and immediately after the war. But opinions improved over time. Perhaps veteran German commanders, looking back on events with distance and perspective, developed an appreciation for Patton. Hermann Balck, who had expressed thanks for Patton’s mistakes in France, said years later, “Patton was the outstanding tactical genius of World War II. I still consider it a privilege and unforgettable experience to have had the honor of opposing him.” Another likely factor in the reassessment was the growing camaraderie between the United States and Western Germany during the Cold War. Whatever Patton’s enemies thought of him and his battles, in the end he and the other Allied chieftains won and their enemies lost. Field commanders were only one factor in determining that outcome, but they were an important one.

Patton deserves his status as a legendary leader—but posterity deserves fact and not myth. The Germans did not track Patton’s movements as the key to Allied intentions. Hitler does not appear to have thought often of Patton, if at all. The Germans considered Patton a hesitant commanding general in the scrum of position warfare. They never raised his name in the context of worthy strategists. But they respected him in their own demanding terms as a great Panzer General.

It is enough.

Harry Yeide has worked as a foreign affairs analyst with the federal government for nearly 30 years, covering a wide range of issues across the globe. Military history has fascinated him since childhood, an interest he pursues in his writing. His eighth book is the recent Fighting Patton (Zenith Press, 2011). His website is yeide.net.
 

 

16 Responses

  1. Luke

    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.

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  2. James

    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.

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  3. Most Talented Field Commander WW2 - U.S. and World, studying past, wars, presidents, language, economy - Page 6 - City-Data Forum

    […] 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 […]

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  4. Patrick Miano

    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.

    Reply
  5. David

    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?

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  6. Brian

    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.

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  7. able34bravo

    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?

    Reply
  8. Patton Unleashed | The American Catholic

    […] 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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  9. August 1, 1944: Patton Unleashed | Almost Chosen People

    […] 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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  10. ASG

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

    Reply
  11. Patrick Miano

    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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    • Michael Wong

      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.

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      • HenryCT

        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

    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.

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  13. Monty? Or Old "Blood & Guts?" - Historum - History Forums

    […] 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 […]

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