By Colonel Wes Martin

General George Patton is best remembered as the American commander who stopped Rommel's forces on the African desert, won the Sicilian race against Montgomery for capturing Messina, dashed his army across France faster than he could be provided maps, broke the Germans at Bastogne, broke the Siegfried line, and was across the Rhine before senior commands of either side we aware of his progress. Twice in Europe, Hitler launched major counter-offenses at the advancing American military. Both times Patton's Third Army hit the attackers on their left flank and turns the assaults into Allied Victories.

Patton pushed his soldiers harder and faster than any other commander of World War II. His speed and audacity were best reflected when Eisenhower's Chief of Staff informed Patton to not attempting the capture of Trier because such action would require four divisions. Patton immediately telegraphed his reply: Have taken Trier with two divisions. What do you want me to do? Give it back!

Patton, the warrior, has provided military scholars a study of combat operations and maneuvers that surpass every other American general. The study of what Patton accomplished all too often shadows the lessons in leadership that he left behind and the example of the leader who achieved successes when others failed. Patton's military successes are complete and part of military history. Studying Patton, how continually pushed himself to achieve greater competencies, his leadership principles, and how he inspired others offers us the opportunity to benefit as individuals and the chance to make a more positive impact as defenders of our nation.

Patton, the soldier and military scholar had built for himself a special bond with warriors of the ages: past, present, and future. This belief was best stated in his poem, "Through a Glass, Darkly."

Through the travail of the ages, Midst the pomp and toil of war,
Have I fought and strove and perished, Countless times upon this star.
In the form of many people, In all panoplies of time,
Have I seen the luring vision, Of the Victory Maid, sublime.

General Omar Bradley attributed Patton's belief in having lived, fought, and ided many times before as having come from Patton's intensive study of history and battles. Bradley flet that Patton studied war so much that this warrior assumed many roles in past ages. As if to support Bradley's statement, Patton did once remark, If a man thinks war long enough, it is bound to have a good effect of him. The nature of the effect it had on Patton can be debated. One thing that is beyond debate is the effect it had on Patton resulted in a very positive effect of Allied success in World War II. The citizens of the allied nations can be thankful that this warrior studied his profession.

Patton expressed the importance of studying in his comment: To be a successful soldier, you must know history. Will Rogers once reflected that The United States is the only nation in world that waits until it is in a war, before it gets ready. Patton did not wait. During World War II his peers and critics tried to fault him for making decisions without taking a great deal of time for research and analysis. Patton responded, For years I have been accused of making snap judgments. Honestly, this is not the case because I am a profound military student and the thought I express... are the result of years of thoughts and study.

Patton knew that delays and indecision translates directly into the deaths of subordinates and the potential for defeat. Beginning with his earliest days as a lieutenant Patton pushed to be assigned to the most demanding positions possible. From 1918 to the mid-1930s there was no assurance that another major war would occur in his lifetime. However, having personally experienced the sting of battle in the First World War, Patton knew the price for not being ready would be too expensive.

The rise of Adolph Hitler and Nazi Germany made it clear the next great war would be fought on the same real-estate as the previous one. Patton was ready. In preparing to deploy into combat, he remarked, I have studied the German all my life. I have read the memoirs of his generals and political leaders…I have studied in detail the accounts of every damned one of his battles. I know exactly how he will react under any given set of circumstances.

This knowledge continued to pay off for Patton and the forces under his command. Having previously destroyed the American forces at Kasserine Pass, Rommel again sent his Africa Corps against the Americans on his western flank. By the time of the second offensive, the same forces had been placed under command of Patton. At El Guettar, Patton applied a lesson written down years earlier by Rommel: Too much spade work is better than too little. Sweat saves blood. Patton had dug his soldiers in, while forming them into a fighting command. He had also formed his infantry, armor, and artillery into one combined combat operation. While in Berlin and waiting for the results of his offensive, Rommel realized one of Patton's principles: To achieve harmony in battle, each weapon must support the other. Team play wins. Patton's victory at El Guettar sealed the fate of Rommel's forces. Never again would the Desert Fox return to Africa. Within months the soldiers of the fabled German Africa Corps were either captured or killed.

Commanders may plan battles, but it is the soldiers who fight, bleed, and die. Patton knew that prolonged conflicts result in unnecessary casualties on both sides. In battle the soldier enters a lottery with death as the stake. The only saving clauses in this gamble lie in time and the demoralizing effect produced on the enemy by the rapid and uninterrupted advance of the attacker. It is hard to capture the enemy when he has time to reload and recover his nerve. Likewise, it is difficult to win a war when a commander wishes to stop prematurely. During his amphibious assault on Morocco, Patton was asked by the defending Vichy French to stop attacking so they could have time to surrender. Patton replied that he would provide no respite and would stop attacking only after they surrendered. With no time to recover, the surrender was quickly provided.

He took the same aggressiveness into Sicily and the European countryside. Following the lessons of Stonewall Jackson and Colonel John Mosby, Patton made a combat career out of being where he was least expected. Concerning the study of Mosby's tactics, Patton did have an advantage. As a young boy, Patton had frequently been in the presence of the retired Confederate warrior. As a General, Patton informed his troops, Success in war depends on the golden rules of war: speed, simplicity, and boldness. A part of the Mosby, the famed Grey Ghost, was still very still very much alive inside Patton. It was this part that helped contribute to destroying the Thousand Year Reich in less than half a decade.

Patton's subordinates knew what to expect from their commander. He made it clear to Never yield ground. It is cheaper to hold what you have than to retake what you have lost. They also knoew to never be satisfied with holding a position and to never stop an attack on the near side of the objective. When Patton's star tank commander, Lieutenant Colonel Creighton Abrams, pulled up to a river, he was asked by another soldier what he intended to do. Abrams pointed across the river into enemy territory and replied, That's the shortest way home. Abrams, who would later become Army Chief of Staff and namesake of the Army's current armored tank, had heard Patton's lesson: Throughout history, campaigns and wars have been lost due to an army stopping on the wrong side of a river.

Abrams knew two more lessons of Patton's: Realize that one makes plans to fit the circumstances, and does not try to create circumstances to fit plans, and The most vital quality a soldier can possesses is self-confidence:…to win in war you must have no doubt about your ability as a soldier. Both were applied to Abrams' relief of Bastogne. Had Abrams strictly followed his division command's original instructions, his column would have bypassed the besieged American perimeter. Abrams and his accompanying infantry battalion commander agreed to on-ground adaptation of their orders, turned there axis, and set out to provide timely relief to their fellow Americans.

Once having locked up with the 101st Airborne Division defenders, Abrams jumped off his tank and asked for another tank of gas so that he could continue on to Berlin. Abrams used these lessons of Patton to bring immediate fighting support to the battle weary soldiers and convince them that their cause was undefeatable. Patton was not upset that Abrams deviated from original orders. In fact, Patton was elated that Abrams had the courage to think on his own and adjust to a fluid battlefield environment.

In addition to Abrams, Patton contributed to the development of many great warriors. The greatest warriors he developed were individual soldiers. He made it clear that The soldier is the Army. No Army is better than its soldiers. The principles of basic soldiering that Patton enforced were best explained in the comment: Discipline is based on pride in the profession of arms, on meticulous attention to detail, and on mutual respect and confidence. Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of battle or the fear of death. As a result of the dedication and energy of one man, an entire Third Army, under the leadership of Patton, became the greatest and most successful combat command of the 20th Century.

Numerous decades have passed since General Patton was placed at the front of his final formation in an American military cemetery in Luxembourg. He did not die by the last bullet of the last battle of the last war as he desired. In his life, he did fulfill his other primary desire of leading a great army in a desperate battle. He left us with many successes to study and many lessons to follow. Perhaps his most applicable lesson was Never stop until you have gained the top or the grave.

In the sense of a true warrior, Patton was right in believing that he had lived and fought before and would live to fight again. Into his life, a true warrior molds the experiences of the great warriors who have already passed through the ranks. In doing so, he assumes part of their identity and he will apply their knowledge as he meets his challenges. As he continues in his quest, a true warrior will pass his knowledge on to those who follow. This is what Patton did for Abrams and millions of others. Patton has long since passed on, but he will never die in the sense of a true warrior.

Warriors of today and tomorrow will continue to study Patton. To varying degrees, through his study, some of their identity will be that of Patton's. As long as there are warriors to benefit from his lessons, he will never completely die. He will again fight future battles and deliver future victories to his nation.

So as through a glass, and darkly: The age-long strife I see,
Where I fought in many guides, Many names-but always me...
So forever in the future, Shall I battle as of yore,
Dying to be born a fighter, But to die again, once more.

©2021 Wes Martin