George Patton: A Study in Leadership

Here is a blog post about George Patton in a general sense:

“No leader should put troops into the field merely to gratify his own spleen; no leader should fight a battle simply out of pique. But a kingdom that has once been destroyed can never come again come into being nor can the dead be brought back to life.” Sun Tzu, The Art of War

I first became aware of George Patton when I was around nine years old. I read about him in my 1985 World Book Encyclopedia set. It was a rather brief article that touched on a few things. Like Tesla (whose own article was not quite 1,000 words), if all a person had to go on was this one entry, we would only get a gist of the person, not their entire life story. I have seen the movie Patton several times once in mid 1990’s and on and off mostly on AMC/TCM over the years. Overall, it is fairly accurate overall portrayal. My main points of contention are the impression that people may have that he was a bombastic, glory-seeking, reckless type whose rash decisions cost unnecessary lives. They point to his slapping of a soldier as “proof” of this. The fact of the matter is that he in a tactical situation never made any major errors that resulted in a delay or loss in a battlefield situation. He understood their hierarchy and how it inter-relates to their overall command structure with total loyalty to the Furher. He understood that ultimately in order to get the Germans to quit was to cut off the head (Hitler) from the body. As long as he was around, they will keep at it. Interestingly enough, about a week after he was dead, most of the Germans laid down their arms. Had Patton’s unique military acumen been used wisely, instead of being wasted by mediocre men of lesser ability-men harboring political aspirations-the war would have ended much sooner that it did with a great savings in lives and materials.

In WWII, alone, many examples exist of Patton’s shrewdness, his “sixth sense” of combat situations. Before war and during the war he displayed a great deal of farsightedness. Had his advice been heeded, major errors could have been avoided in the ETO.Several examples come to mind: During the Third Army initial operations in August, 1944, they advanced around 400 miles in a month and liberated Paris on August 26. At this rate, they could have been in Berlin by October/November. However in order to allocate equipment/supplies for Operation Market Garden, the 140,000 gallons per week was cut to about half that. With only about half of the original fuel supplies combined with developing supply problems overall, to advance a certain number of trucks and tanks without total unit support would cause the forward units to be isolated and overrun by numerically superior German forces.

During 1945, after crossing the Rhine, Allied force deployments were tainted by misplaced priorities, a lack of firm direction from supreme political echelons, and to some extent, by exaggerated fears of German capabilities. When American troops reached the Elbe River in mid-April, Eisenhower unilaterally decided that Berlin was no longer a significant military objective. The official US Army history has defended this decision by stating that Eisenhower knew that Berlin would be within the Soviet zone of post-war Germany and saw no reason to fight for land that would have to be given to the Soviets after the war. Other histories of the campaign have been less generous, assessing that it was a political decision which sacrificed certain military advantages. Eisenhower pointed out to George S. Patton that Berlin was of no military strategic value and would take up a lot of resources to occupy and asked Patton “Who would want it?” Patton replied “I think history will answer that question for you.”

Another example on a tactical level was when he was conducting planning for an operation to cross a creek around September. Paraphrasing the article which was adapted from his diaries and published in Saturday Evening Post in 1947: “I went over to the command headquarters and saw that several members of the planning staff were sitting around the table looking at a map. I asked them what they were doing. We are waiting for the Corp of Engineers to get here so we can work out plans to build a bridge across the river. It shows here we would not be able to get across. I then asked, “Did you actually go down to the river to find out what was going on? I was just down at the river the other day and it wasn’t more than three feet deep.” They looked at each with a dumbfounded look and realized they had made an error in tactical judgment. Often times at the staff level, those in position of leadership can be making big picture decisions without having a clear view of the overall situation. It is easy to look at maps, profit statement and earning statements, sign off on orders, etc… Good effective leaders need to also be grounded in real-life so they can grasp the overall picture before making those big picture decisions.Another example of good leadership is thinking ahead.

During the Battle of the Bulge, he attended a staff meeting with Eisenhower, Bradley and other senior level commanders. The gist of the meeting was to redirect portions of the 3rd Army northwards towards Bastogne. Now the portrayal from the movie has it as if Patton is coming to their rescue. The 101st Airborne Division along with a number of other supporting units were holding its own fairly well and started to recover after airdrops were made.

At the meeting, Eisenhower had asked Patton when he could have three divisions ready to move northward to conduct relief operations. Patton had mentioned several times that they were already on notice once the word was given. The staff had worked out the logistics of moving the divisions north and all was needed now was the go-ahead order from Patton. Still in a state of disbelief that he could have three entire divisions ready when it would take about a week to organize and get the word out, he left the meeting momentarily. He located a field telephone and gave the codeword. Eisenhower and the others could not grasp the idea that he had already anticipated this and planned for it. You can read more about it at this link

There’s a funny story about the capture of Trier that shows the differences between Patton, Eisenhower, Bradley and their ability to judge a military situation. After the battle was already won and the Third Army had taken the city, General Patton received a message from General Bradley. The message said, “Bypass Trier. It would take too many divisions to capture it.” Patton’s humorous reply to Bradley was, “Have already taken city, do you want me to give it back?”

Eisenhower’s attitude towards Patton can be attributed to this: Professional Animosity.

Patton’s style of leadership and personality didn’t sit well with the button-down boardroom style of Eisenhower. When Patton and the 3rd Army was getting great results even without explicit orders from central command, it would create the impression in official reports and in the general opinion of the public that this success was due to Patton instead of Eisenhower and the Board so to speak.

Another interesting example of his leadership was gleaned by looking over the casualty reports for the 3rd Army. The enemy lost an estimated 1,280,688 captured, 144,500 killed, and 386,200 wounded, adding up to 1,811,388. By comparison, the Third Army suffered 16,596 killed, 96,241 wounded, and 26,809 missing in action for a total of 139,646 casualties. Third Army’s losses were only 12.97 percent of the German losses. That is only about 13 American soldiers for every 100 German soldiers.Approximately 60 percent of the Germans surrendered. Even as early as August/September, German commanders were discreetly contacting Patton with offers to surrender realizing the futility of continuing to fight on behalf of that Bohemian corporal. This is a testament to Patton’s thinking on how to win. He recognized that especially in war, relating to Sun Tzu’s Art of War never corner an injured animal. During his report on the Bonus Army marches, he illustrates that when conducting crowd control drills, never try to corner the crowd. Always leave an opening so they can get out and not be possibly crushed. If the crowd fears it will be certainly killed or injured without a better option (withdraw or surrender), it will actually fight back more intensely and this could result in greater number of people on your own side being killed or injured. Pointing out again how Patton’s leadership style differed from what often happens especially in boardroom style leadership combined with big PR that especially happens in business, military, sports, etc…

“During the course of this war I have received promotions and decorations far above and beyond my individual merit. You won them; I as your representative wear them. The one honor which is mine and mine alone is that of having commanded such an incomparable group of Americans, the record of whose fortitude, audacity, and valor will endure as long as history lasts.”

Published by christforliberty

Just a simple man trying to live his life one day at a time.

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