Patton: Legendary World War II Commander by Martin Blumenson and Kevin Hymel. Part of the Military Profile Series published by Potomac Books, 22841 Quicksilver Drive, Dulles, Virginia 20166. 2008, 160 pages.
Potomac Books publishes a series of concise and short biographies of the great military leaders of the world. These are small books designed to introduce readers to individuals who have reshaped military history. Biographies previously published include Ulysses S. Grant, Genghis Khan, French Field Marshal Foch, Admiral Rickover, and many more. Every year the publisher produces a half dozen of these titles, written by preeminent military historians. In October 2008, the biography of General George Patton was released.
This small book also represents one of the final published works of the late Martin Blumenson, who served in World War II Europe in the Third Army Headquarters and became among the most noted scholars of Patton and World War II, until his regrettable passing in 2005. His co-author Kevin Hymel is the Research Director for World War II History and Military Heritage Magazines.
Do not let your time in the United States military pass without immersing yourself in the history and heritage of our armed services. Military history is the history of America, and the biography of military leaders serve as a great starting point to understand leadership, strategy, and the mechanics of military innovation.
After World War II, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the senior German commander who opposed the Allied invasion of France, is reputed to have said, “Patton, he was your best.” He would advance understanding of the use of the tank in rapid maneuver warfare so much that traces of Patton can be found in the armored tank battles of the Arab-Israeli War, Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Born in 1885 to a prominent family, he would struggle academically, yet his determination to excel led him first to the Virginia Military Institute, and then to the United States Military Academy at West Point. At the academy, he had to repeat his freshman year (today, it is likely he would have been dismissed), but his instructors were impressed by his military bearing, understanding of military history and athletic abilities. In 1909, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant.
In 1916, he would participate in the Punitive Expeditions in Mexico, chasing the Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa and his men. This is America’s first use of what today would be called mechanized infantry and it would begin to shape Patton’s thoughts on the future of warfare.
Patton thirsted for battle, and had an eccentric belief that he had fought on the fields of battle of the ancient past. This belief may explain his ability to sense the terrain and ground for which he was expected to fight. In World War I, he would be detached from General Pershing and requested to be assigned to America’s first tank unit that was composed of French Renault Tanks. Before the United States entered World War II, he would be assigned to training the thousands entering the military in preparation for what would evolve into a global conflict.
Patton demanded bearing, but used this demand for discipline to instill pride in the Army, the unit, and the individual soldier. When the United States Army lacked confidence, and was soundly beaten by German forces in Tunisia, Patton was sent in to restore discipline and morale. He did not neglect supply and he soon garnered a reputation for driving hard against the Axis armored and infantry forces. Patton also demonstrates the need for different generals to assume different roles; while Patton was a brilliant field commander, he was inept in building a coalition, and General Eisenhower frequently had to intervene diplomatically to keep the allies on track in Europe.
He also respected the adversary, inspecting the designs of destroyed German Panzer Tanks and sending samples of enemy equipment to Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland. Patton is not without his faults, and his intolerance for combat stress led him to slap two soldiers in an Army Field Hospital. Despite demands to remove him from command, he was instead reprimanded and ordered to apologize to all present and the entire unit from which the solider came and kept. He would become an integral part of the breakout from Normandy in 1944, and his unit would reach Germany and then onto Czechoslovakia.
Critics would find his pushing of soldiers and the need to capture territory before other Allies, mainly the British, troubling. A fictional army would be created around Patton in England, to deceive the Germans, who were focused on him and his command abilities. He died in a car accident near Manheim, Germany months after the end of the war, and was buried in Luxembourg on Christmas Eve, 1945. This short biography then includes other recommended books to continue your exploration of Patton and World War II.
Editor’s Note: CDR Aboul-Enein maintains a regular book column in Military District Washington newspapers. He wrote this review while visiting Fort Dix, New Jersey, and walking the grounds of its Infantry Park that contains open displays of artillery and armor.