Part 45: The many lies of General Patton in France, Germany
From the accounts of Sergeant Marvin A. Palecek as shared by his son, Glen Palecek
All of the men who served under General George Patton will tell you of his nickname, “Old Blood and Guts.” Historians tell us this nickname came from a speech to other officers where Patton told them they would be “up to their necks in blood and guts.” All Patton soldiers I have ever met told me the name really meant, “Our blood, his guts.” Surely, this definition fits him to a tee. Whenever I think of Patton, I think of the blood and guts of his men.
In a paper Dad wrote in 1954, only nine years after the war, Dad tells of many false reports by Old Blood and Guts in France and Germany. The first one Dad mentions was the capture of the city of Argentan. Patton claimed it fell on the 13th and 14th of August, 1944. The city, although surrounded, didn’t actually fall until the 20th. This might not seem like much to a reader of today, but in war such lies are huge as other armies depend on their accuracy.
I already told you about Patton’s lie that his Third Army took the city of Epinal. Dad states in this paper Patton’s false reports were “to be repeated in the case of Strasburg and across the Rhine in Aschaffenburg. In his anxiety to out-distance the left flank of the old Seventh Army, which he had once commanded in Sicily, Patton simply ‘took’ strategic goals on paper.” Dad wrote further that the French citizens had their faith in the truthfulness of Allied broadcasts severely shaken by Patton’s lies. Imagine how devastating it was for French citizens of Epinal and other cities to hear they had been liberated when they were still in the iron grip of the Germans. Dad writes that while the morale of the French was crushed by these reports, it equally raised the spirits of the Nazis.
Patton lovers like to point out that Patton’s Third Army suffered fewer casualties than the other armies in France and Germany, claiming Patton’s “attack” tactics were responsible for saving lives. The truth is Patton’s attack methods were outdated since the invention of the machine gun and downright stupid in this war, causing the unnecessary deaths of many Americans, especially in the initial suicide charges he ordered. Patton’s Army suffered fewer casualties because they fought fewer battles and Patton took credit for battles, like the one for Epinal, which his Army did not fight. While other generals counted their losses, Patton took the glory.
In a past episode, I told you about Patton’s suicide squads Dad witnessed in Sicily, and his speech in North Africa where he ordered prisoners to be shot.
In Germany, Patton learned that his son-in-law had been captured. Patton sent a large force in a vain attempt to rescue him from a German prison camp. Many American soldiers were killed. The brave men who died didn’t mean anything to Patton, only the unsuccessful attempt to rescue his daughter’s husband. (The Germans simply moved the prisoners as Patton’s men approached.)
Before the war, Patton wrote letters to his dad proclaiming he was superior to other officers, yet Patton thought even less of the common soldier and would not allow them to socialize with his officers.
It is impossible for anyone doing extensive research on General Patton to not find example after example of his wrongdoings and quotes by Patton himself about how little he cared about the lives of his men. General Omar Bradley, Paton’s superior since Sicily, was quoted as saying, “. . . unless one values the lives of his soldiers and is tormented by their ordeal, he is unfit to command.” Other generals agreed with Bradley’s quote and felt great sorrow when they toured or learned of a battlefield with dead and dying men strewn about. When Patton heard of one of his army’s victories, he had nothing but joy and excitement in his squeaky, high-pitched voice. Patton explained his gleeful attitude by stating, “It is foolish and wrong to mourn the men who died.” Another time he said, “I don’t care if it takes a bushel-basket full of dog tags” (to cross the Saar River). There are many more quotes like these, and yet Patton lovers dare write he cared about his men. I guess they don’t believe, or simply ignore, Patton’s own words. They point to one of Patton’s quotes, “A good plan now is better than a perfect plan 10 minutes later,” as justification for the suicide charges of his troops. In reality, the situation got so bad General Eisenhower had to make it a standard rule that Army censors must strike any quotations of General Patton.
Then there is the story of another French town, which today has a war memorial and bronze plaque in the middle of the town square that commemorates the town’s liberation by the 45th Division and gives tribute to the soldiers who died there. The last line on the plaque reads as follows: “Passerby take note.” I wonder – who was the “Passerby?”
We all condemn Hitler as one of the greatest mass-murderers of all-time, yet there is no evidence anyone ever died by his own hand. We attribute millions of murders to Hitler because he ordered and approved of them. Patton was actually there when 36 Italian prisoners, including civilians, were lined up and shot in Sicily. (This case is in addition to other murders I told you about in past episodes.) The explanation for these murders was the prisoners didn’t follow an order they were given. How can we condemn Hitler and not Patton when Patton approved of the murder of prisoners? Or, perhaps worse, ordered his own men to charge into certain death? Anyone who thinks Patton was a great man is either ignorant of his many wrongdoings or unwilling to accept the truth.
Knowing well the dark side of Patton, war correspondent and CBS reporter, Andy Rooney, wrote in his book, “My War,” he had “nothing but contempt” for Patton. Rooney went on to say, “He was a loudmouth boor who got too many American soldiers killed for the sake of enhancing his own reputation as a swashbuckling leader in the Napoleonic style.”
I know people across the country are finding articles in this series by googling names I mention. If you found this article by googling “Patton,” and plan to write a paper about him, do you dare write the truth, or are you only interested in the legend? If you want a good grade, print the legend, but understand that each time someone writes of Patton’s greatness, the truth is buried deeper and deeper. Napoleon Bonaparte once asked, “What is history but a fable agreed upon?” Certainly, Napoleon’s quote can be applied to the fable of Patton’s greatness.
General Eisenhower recognized General Courtney Hodges was a far superior general than Patton and required much less supervision. Since the invasion of Normandy, one group of reporters followed Hodge’s First Army while another followed Patton’s Third Army, leaving General Patch’s Seventh Army all but forgotten. Back in the states, readers feasted on the news. There was a competition by those reporters following Hodge’s army and those following Patton’s. By all accounts, Patton was an expert at making his army’s deeds stand out, even though they were most likely exaggerated or, sometimes, didn’t occur at all. Today, you will have little trouble finding a plethora of articles from the war proclaiming Patton’s great feats. Dad was part of the liberation of France and the defeat of Germany. Because he was such a news hound, he knew a lot of what happened as it occurred. If Dad and I haven’t convinced you George Patton was the worst general in the American Army, a dozen more examples won’t make any difference.
I wanted to include in this episode the story of Dad’s friend, Bill Mauldin, and his meeting with Patton, but I ran out of room. As it turned out, it was hard enough to condense examples of Patton’s misdeeds into one episode. Mauldin’s story will come later.
Now that I have told you about World War II’s most unworthy hero, let me tell you about a true hero, movie star and Army pilot, Jimmy Stewart. Look for it in the next episode.