He wanted a modern army, equipped with the best and latest weapons, served by the most modern logistics, aided by the most advanced technology of reconnaissance and communication, but he also sought to inspire his army with his own ancient and even atavistic soul. The modern military calls this command presence. It is the ability of a commander to create a cohesive and highly motivated force in large part through the power of his or her personality. An effective army identifies with its leader, and it is the responsibility of the leader to project a presence most likely to create a victorious force.
Patton demonstrated that the persona of the commander could be among the greatest force multipliers of all. It does mean that each leader must find his own warrior soul and project that onto the force he or she commands. This is a lesson not readily learned at the War College, but it is a lesson embodied in the example of Patton. If all great generals project an effective command presence, most are also significant strategists. This was not the case with George S. Patton, a fact his seniors recognized.
They gave him a subordinate role in planning Operation Torch, the Allied invasion of North Africa, and Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, and they gave him no part in planning Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy. This did not greatly displease Patton, who was usually content to execute the strategy set by others, provided that he was given a free hand in the execution. He believed that brilliant strategy could never compensate for inadequate tactics. A plan was only as good as its execution.
Conversely, he sincerely believed that good tactics, skillfully and violently executed, could even compensate for poor strategy. Under the best of circumstances, when he was able to choose the time and place of an attack, Patton was a peerless tactician. He planned carefully. He gathered intelligence meticulously and believed that the fresher the intelligence, the better.
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But he never adhered slavishly to any plan; once an attack was launched, he kept himself open to opportunity and was always prepared to improvise, if doing so would enlarge the victory. His objective was to create the greatest effect in the least time, so that his forces were exposed to enemy fire as briefly as possible. He understood that advances in mobile warfare—modern tanks and other vehicles—and in air support as well as rapid communications enabled speed of execution.
Patton Operation Cobra and beyond
Whereas the first Gulf War was a dramatic example of the application of speed and coordination of forces, the second war in the Gulf, Operation Iraqi Freedom, demonstrated the limitation of this tactical principle. Employing a Pattonesque ground advance, the invasion of Iraq was accomplished in a remarkably brief period during They are not effective in asymmetrical warfare scenarios, in which time, which a determined insurgency can draw out almost infinitely, becomes for the much larger invading force an enemy rather than an ally. Patton also bequeathed to the American military tradition a new definition of professionalism.
Although he, more than most of his contemporaries, believed that the profession of arms partook of ancient and honorable traditions, he also insisted that the modern military commander place himself squarely in the real world by becoming thoroughly familiar with all the weapons systems at his disposal, including the newest and still-emerging ones.
Patton was not only a master of tank doctrine and tactics, he thoroughly understood the mechanics of his tanks, their armor plating, endurance, fuel demands, speed, and capabilities over various terrain. The nuts and bolts of war were not to be left to noncommissioned technicians. The consequences of failure to understand the capabilities and limitations of battlefield equipment was made embarrassingly evident during the invasion of Grenada in Commanders failed to adequately understand the communications infrastructure of the forces they led.
At one point, officers in the field were compelled to communicate with higher headquarters via private or even pay telephones. In the first Gulf War, an inadequate understanding of weapons capability marred operations, when commanders relied on the Patriot missile system to defend against Iraqi Scud missile attacks. The Patriot had not been designed as an antimissile weapon and proved woefully inadequate in this role, a fact that was not understood until after the war had ended. In pioneering advanced war-fighting doctrine for modern armor, Patton never forgot the traditional lessons he had learned as a cavalryman.
In this sense, he brought cavalry into the twentieth century. As Patton redefined the tactics and doctrine of horse soldiery in terms of the light and medium tank, the mobile weapons par excellence of World War II, so Vietnam-era army tacticians redefined cavalry yet again in terms of the mobile weapon most closely identified with the Vietnam War, the helicopter. Patton loved horses and loved the idea of fighting from the saddle, but, in World War I, he immediately recognized the superiority of the light tank over the horse. Instead of clinging nostalgically to an outmoded weapons system, he salvaged what was best from that system and applied it to a new modality.
Through Patton, the idea of the cavalry survived and was available to a later generation of warriors in Vietnam, who were fighting a very different kind of war with yet another means of armed mobility. Although he loved the cavalry and was a passionate advocate of armor, Patton never limited himself to a single arm. He integrated armor, infantry, artillery, and air in each of his major World War II operations. All played a role, and none was subordinated to any other.
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The doctrine emerged as so central to modern warfare that, in , the War Department was replaced by the Department of Defense, a cabinet-level office charged with coordinating combined arms on the largest scale, bringing together the army, air force, navy, and marines.
Within each of these services, combined arms has also steadily become more important, and all major military operations since World War II have been conceived and executed in terms of combined arms. Patton used the combined arms approach to carry out his favorite tactic, which he frequently described as holding the enemy by the nose while kicking him in the pants.
This involved locating and exploiting enemy weakness, attacking that weakness with great speed and maximum violence, pursuing the enemy to his destruction, then continuing the advance, also with great speed. Typically, Patton used infantry to hold the enemy by the nose, while the tanks swung round, usually covering great distances, to deliver the kick in the pants. This use of masses of tanks to make long, sweeping end runs around the enemy to hit his flank was spectacularly effective in World War II.
Norman Schwarzkopf in the so-called Hail Mary end run into the vulnerable flank of the main Iraqi ground force, thereby bringing the Gulf War of to a speedy and devastating conclusion. Patton brought to a high state of perfection an exceptionally limber version of the blitzkrieg tactics the German army had used so devastatingly against Poland, France, and the Soviets. Conservative war fighting, Patton preached, gave the illusion of safety but ultimately cost more lives.
The first Gulf War applied the Patton principle impressively. A large coalition force was built up over time, then used in a swift, relentless, and highly coordinated manner to minimize duration under fire. The result was massive destruction of the Iraqi army with very minimal coalition casualties. The use of a strong, coordinated force in a bold and violent offensive is most effective against a conventional enemy, as in the first Gulf War. His detractors might be loath to recognize it, but Patton brought a significant measure of humanity to warfare.
This was demonstrated in the air assault against Baghdad during the initial phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom. During the first hours and days of Operation Iraqi Freedom, smart weapons were employed against sites mistakenly believed to harbor Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Intelligence, not the weapons, was at fault when these attacks resulted in high collateral damage and the loss of innocent lives. Patton abhorred the waste of war and, in principle, would have approved of smart weapons technology as a tool capable of reducing that waste; however, he would have condemned the kind of political and military thinking that relies exclusively on air strikes employing such high-tech weaponry.
There is no substitute, he would doubtless point out, for the eyes, ears, brains, and valor of troops on the ground. The tactical triumph of the first Gulf War and of the initial desert combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom were built on foundations Patton laid at Indio training an army to defeat Rommel in the desert of North Africa.
Beyond training troops for a particular environment, Patton elevated training in general to a new status, putting it at the heart of the army. Patton far preferred serving in the heat and danger of combat than he did training troops, but perhaps no commander in the American service since Friedrich von Steuben in the American Revolution accorded training as central a role as Patton did. Today the American military accepts as a given that high-quality training is the most valuable commodity the force possesses.
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He was a master of motivation, and he could motivate the men he commanded to perform beyond what they themselves conceived as their utmost. He had the ability to create the image of victory as well as the capacity to impart to his men the will, the emotions, and the mind-set to realize that image. To the extent that Patton put his technique into words, it can be studied. He instinctively knew what an army could achieve in a given situation and, just as important, what it could not achieve.
Professional historians, soldiers, and military buffs have long speculated on what would have happened had Patton been given a freer hand.
What would have resulted had Patton been allowed to make a deeper penetration beyond the Falaise-Argentan pocket during the culminating phase of Operation Cobra? It is likely that far more of the German army would have been killed or captured much earlier in the European campaign. And what of the Ardennes counteroffensive? To have done so would surely have risked the fall of Bastogne and, ultimately, even Antwerp, but, had such an attack succeeded, the Battle of the Bulge would have been far less costly and even more effective than it was. For that matter, we can only imagine what was lost to the Allied war effort by keeping Patton inactive for some 11 months after the slapping incidents.
Over the years since the end of World War II, many experts, amateurs, generals, and armchair generals have suggested that the war in Europe would have ended in if Patton had been given more of the authority—and the gasoline—he asked for. As it was, Patton accomplished enough to make himself instrumental in winning the war in Europe. Had Eisenhower and Bradley really been the mediocre commanders Patton at times privately thought they were, he would not have been given any of the opportunities he invariably converted into victories.
Excerpted from Patton by Alan Axelrod. For more than sixty years, St. Posted in Modern History. Birth Year 57 if event. First Name. Last Name. Sign up for the The History Reader Newsletter. Privacy Notice. You can withdraw your consent at any time.
Normandy: The Phoenix Rises From Its Ashes
The troops repelled a small German counterattack, and the positions seemed quite stable. Still, efforts to reinforce the bridgehead failed. Because enemy fire prevented engineers from bridging the stream, neither tanks nor tank destroyers could cross. With the descent of darkness, the troops on the island began to experience a sense of insecurity.
Lacking mortars, tanks, and antitank guns, the men withdrew to a defiladed road along the north edge of the island.
In the pitchblack darkness, some of the demoralized troops began furtive movement to the rear.