My new book Fighting Patton: George S. Patton Jr. and His Battles Through the Eyes of His Enemies just became available today on Amazon. (Marcus--I will send you a review copy if you want.) Here's my pitch:
“Seeing the battle through the opponent’s eyes is the most dramatic way of seeing it. It is different in one important respect from “looking at it through the opposite end of the telescope.” For instead of being minimized, the picture is magnified—with startling vividness.”
B. H. Liddell Hart
Many books have been written about General George S. Patton Jr. This is the book that hasn’t.
I have exploited vast and entirely new resources to reveal Patton’s story through the eyes of his enemies. No history I could find even tells you who the Germans were that fought him in the St. Mihiel Salient and Meuse-Argonne. I tracked down the records, crisp as when they were stored after the Great War, down to the battalion level. I know who commanded the machine guns that shot at Patton at Pannes when he advanced alone on foot with a tank. I have used the diary of the man who commanded the French troops at Port Lyautey who almost defeated Lucian Truscott and the left-most landing of Patton’s Western Task Force in Morocco. I found the reports that prove when the Germans found out Patton was in Normandy and how, and I have tapped the telephone transcripts to put you in the command tent of the German Army in France. I have burrowed through the original battle accounts of Patton’s future enemies to explain why they learned to fight him the way they did. I have exploited hundreds of unpublished accounts by German officers to show you the great American general through their eyes.
Who were the men who waged war against George S. Patton Jr.? What were the military experiences that shaped their methods of war and how they would perceive their enemy, Patton? How did they interpret the quality of his actions on the battlefield? How much did they even know about what he was up to? This work answers these questions.
Patton ended his life on 21 December 1945 as a legend, praised in retrospect as an armored commander even by a defeated enemy. Patton’s daring and leadership had few equals among the Allied warlords, and some of his triumphs were magnificent. He earned his place in military history and popular lore. But was he really, as one of his most knowledgeable biographers, Martin Blumenson, suggested, a “hero even to professional German officers who respected him as the adversary they most feared in battle?” Was it true, as Patton’s World War II G-2 Col. Oscar Koch asserted, that “where Patton was and what he was doing was of constant interest to the enemy high command?” What did his mortal enemies really make of Patton and his skills as a combat commander?
How might an enemy come to know of and judge Patton as a military adversary? A man might meet him personally on the battlefield, close enough to look him in the eyes and see the sweat on his brow. That is rare in modern warfare, yet Julio Cárdenas, the commander of Pancho Villa’s bodyguard, briefly knew Patton in that way, as did a handful of German soldiers in the Great War. Patton believed fervently in leading in combat from the front, and so an enemy might not see him as an individual on a faceless battlefield yet know his hand from the tactical and moral performance of men under his command. Several German field commanders knew Patton this way in the battles of St. Mihiel and the Argonnes in World War I. To the extent that Patton could shape a plan executed by his subordinates, an enemy would learn his ways through the daring and conception of his schemes. Many of Patton’s enemies—including Vichy French, Italian, and German commanders—were able to judge him on these grounds.
Other, less direct considerations might come into play. The quality of soldiers and formations trained by Patton, by comparison with those shaped by other American officers of equivalent station, might say much. So, too, would be the merit as combat leaders of the officers selected by Patton to be his chief subordinates. Patton’s skill at extracting the best from his most competent subordinates and overcoming the weaknesses of those who needed corrective guidance would be particularly well understood by German opponents, because their principle of Auftragstaktik was nearly identical to Patton’s philosophy of giving mission-type orders to subordinates. Both relied on the individual initiative of subordinates, their independent decisionmaking, and thinking leaders responding to their own tactical situations. Patton believed, “a general should command one echelon down and know the position of units two echelons down.” By his own standard, an enemy could judge him by how he handled his immediate subordinate commanders.
Many soldiers who had experienced the fickle fortunes of war might consider Patton’s luck—anathema, perhaps, to modern scholars, but understood to be a decisive force in war by the likes of the ancient Romans and Napoleon Bonaparte (and Eisenhower!). In all these things, an enemy could consider whether Patton won or lost under odds that greatly favored or disfavored him, whether his battles were fierce crucibles of the military art or tests that any moderately competent commander could face and overcome.
German views of Patton as collected in the immediate aftermath of the war indicated some commanders had, indeed, come to consider Patton a respected opponent, largely because of his speed of action, which had surprised German commanders since Tunisia. However, his opponents found him hesitant at key points in the campaigns in Tunisia, Sicily, Lorraine, and the Saar-Palatinate. Moreover, he appeared to play second fiddle in their minds to Montgomery, as he had throughout the war, because they admired the Briton’s well-organized if deliberate approach to victory.
German generals thought of Patton in the narrow context of great armored commanders. One general observed, “We regarded General Patton extremely highly as the most aggressive Panzer-General of the Allies, a man of incredible initiative and lightning-like action. He resembled our own Panzer-General Guderian. His operations impressed us enormously, probably because he came closest to our own concept of the classical military commander. He even improved on Napoleon’s basic tenet—activitée, vitesse—vitesse.” Generaloberst Alfred Jodl likewise opined, “He was the American Guderian. He was very bold and preferred large movements. He took big risks and won big successes.”
Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring picked out Eisenhower and Patton for special praise among American generals. “Patton had developed tank warfare into an art and understood how to handle tanks brilliantly in the field. I feel compelled, therefore, to compare him with Generalfeldmarschall Rommel, who likewise had mastered the art of tank warfare. Both of them had a kind of second sight in regard to this type of warfare.”
The Germans, however, do not appear to have viewed Patton as the multi-faceted strategist that they saw not only in Montgomery. Panzer general Fritz Bayerlein told interrogators, “In the beginning [of the campaign in France], I thought Patton was the best because of his quick and fearless exploitation of opportunities and his breakthroughs with armored forces. From our reports, we later learned to respect Bradley even more as a cool, clear, and determined commander with more directional genius. Hodges also was considered good.”
This specific frame of reference, the Panzer-General, is probably the main reason that the Germans were less impressed by Patton as an overall commander than some American historians would like to believe. Patton was the only American Panzer-General above the division level, whereas among his German contemporaries, Patton would have had a crowd of company; the number of outstanding American armored men at the division level could be counted on one hand. In contrast, 266 German officers, 241 of them from the army, commanded panzer, light, or motorized divisions; panzer corps; and panzer armies. This represented roughly ten percent of the army’s flag-rank officers. Fifty-five of these officers remained with the panzer troops for the duration of the war, most rising to the rank of general der panzertruppe. To these ranks must be added the Waffen SS and Luftwaffe panzer generals. Among this group, Patton probably would have been merely above average.
Although the thrust of this book is the enemy’s perspective on Patton and his battles, Patton had the luxury of fighting most of them under conditions in which his side held the operational initiative. The narrative, therefore, often begins with the world as seen from the American perspective.
Several great Patton myths will tumble in this book. 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 German counterattack in Lorraine was designed to stop Courtney Hodges’s First Army, not Patton; the Germans just lacked the means to do what they wanted.
I intend this work in no way to detract from the achievements of the fighting men in the 1st Tank Brigade, the Western Task Force, II Corps, Seventh Army, and Third Army who fought under Patton and were justifiably proud of their achievements. They won. Their enemies lost. But the enemies’ perspectives on the how and why of those outcomes, influenced as they may be by self-justification and missing information, completes the picture of the events and makes it whole. The reader may be surprised to discover how little he learns about the enemy if he peruses most works on George S. Patton Jr.
Fighting Patton examines the American general and his actions from the perspectives of a host of enemies, including:
Julio Cárdenas fought Patton in close quarters at San Miguelito.
World War I
Otto Freiherr von Diepenbroick-Grüter commanded the 10th Infantry Division at St. Mihiel.
Prince Friedrich Eitel commanded the 1st Guards Division in the Argonne.
Max von Gallwitz’s army group defended the St. Mihiel salient.
Crown Prince Wilhelm commanded the region opposite the Americans.
World War II
Charles Noguès was Commander in Chief in Morocco.
Major General Georges Lascroux commanded Moroccan ground troops.
Jean Petit was the garrison commander at Port Lyautey.
Hans-Jürgen von Arnim commanded Army Group Africa in Tunisia.
Rudolf Bacherer tried to stop Patton at Avranches.
Hermann Balck brought eastern front strategy to Lorraine as commanding general of Army Group G.
Franz Beyer commanded LXXX Corps during the long battle west of the Rhine.
Johannes Blaskowitz conducted Army Group G’s retreat into Lorraine.
Erich Brandenberger led Seventh Army in the Battle of the Bulge.
Fritz von Broich and his 10th Panzer Division battled Patton in Tunisia.
Kurt von der Chevallerie commanded First Army in France.
Dietrich von Choltitz commanded LXXXIV Corps in Normandy
Paul Conrath hit Patton hard with his Hermann Göring Panzer Division on Sicily.
Hans Cramer commanded the sector including El Guettar in Tunisia.
Heinrich “Heinz” Eberbach commanded Panzer Group West in France.
Hans Felber commanded XIII Corps and Seventh Army against Patton.
Edgar Feuchtinger led the 21st Panzer Division in Lorraine.
Hermann Foertsch commanded First Army in the Saar-Palatinate campaign.
Walter Fries led the 29th Panzergrenadier Division on Sicily.
Rudolf-Christoph von Gersdorff participated in the plot to kill Hitler and served as chief of staff of Seventh Army.
Alfredo Guzzoni commanded Italian Sixth Army on Sicily.
Walter Hahm led LXXXII Corps during the collapse in the West.
SS General Paul Hausser was a no-nonsense commander of Seventh Army and Army Group G.
Ludwig Heilmann and his 5th Airborne Division battled Patton in the Ardennes.
Walter Hörnlein commanded the Grossdeutschland Division in the east and LXXXII Corps in Lorraine.
Hans Hube led the XIV Panzer Corps on Sicily.
Albert Kesselring opposed Patton in Tunisia, Sicily, and east of the Rhine.
Günther von Kluge fought Patton in France as commander of Army Group B and Commander-in-Chief West.
Baptiste Kniess battled Patton west and east of the Rhine at the head of LXXXV and XII Corps.
Otto von Knobelsdorff was a skilled panzer general who commanded First Army in Lorraine.
Walter Krüger commanded LVIII Panzer Corps in Normandy and Lorraine.
Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz commanded XLVII Panzer Corps in Lorraine.
Smilo Freiherr von Lüttwitz was the last enemy commander to offer Patton a real fight at the head of LXXXV Corps.
Hasso von Manteuffel commanded Fifth Panzer Army in Lorraine and the Ardennes.
Walter Model led Army Group B after Kluge.
Hans von Obstfelder briefly commanded First Army in Lorraine and Seventh Army during the collapse in the West.
Herbert Osterkamp commanded XII Corps east of the Rhine.
Ralph Oriola led XIII Corps west of the Rhine.
SS General Hermann Priess commanded XIII SS Corps in Lorraine and I SS Panzer Corps in the Ardennes.
Hermann Ramcke defied Patton as commander of Brest.
Eberhard Rodt led the 15th Panzergrenadier Division against Patton on Sicily.
Edwin Graf von Rothkirch und Trach led LIII Corps against Patton.
Gerd von Rundstedt battled Patton as Commander-in-Chief West.
SS General Max Simon was a bloodthirsty killer and seasoned panzer general who commanded XIII SS Corps in Lorraine.
Kurt von Tippelskirch was in temporary command of First Army when Patton launched his November offensive in Lorraine.
Gustav von Vaerst commanded Fifth Panzer Army in Tunisia.
Wend von Wietersheim fought Patton at the head of the 11th Panzer Division.
I hope you’ll take the opportunity to look at Patton from the other side of the hill!