George Patton: The Final Days of One of America's Greatest Generals

George Patton: The Final Days of One of America's Greatest Generals

Following his campaign in Western Europe, George S. Patton had difficulty adjusting to peacetime and was fatally injured in an automobile accident.

When Patton Eventually Met Dorn on September 28, He Described Him as a “Smooth, Smart-Ass Academic Type.”

Eisenhower returned to Bavaria a week later following reports of bad conditions in some of the DP camps there. The reports were true. Ike found not only appalling conditions but German guards, some of whom were former SS men. Patton tried to explain that the camp had been fine before the arrival of the present Jewish occupants who were “pissing and crapping all over the place.” Despite being told to “Shut up, George,” he apparently went on to say that there was an empty village nearby which he was planning to turn into a concentration camp for them. Eisenhower’s response is unrecorded.

By now Bedell Smith, Adcock, and others had come to the conclusion that Patton was mentally unbalanced. Adcock’s civilian deputy, Walter Dorn, was a history professor on leave from Ohio State University. Of German origin, he was determined to rid Germany of all vestiges of Nazism. When Patton eventually met him on September 28, he described him as a “smooth, smart-ass academic type.” Academic or not, Dorn soon focused his attention on the success or otherwise of the denazification program in Bavaria. He discovered that the German organization set on behalf of Patton to administer Bavaria was riddled with former Nazis. Patton had taken so little interest in the new administration that he did not even recall meeting its Minister President, a Dr. Fritz Schaeffer.

As a result of Dorn’s discoveries and the PW Camp 8 incident, he and Adcock, presumably with Bedell Smith’s agreement, arranged for a psychiatrist, disguised as a supply officer, to be posted to Patton’s headquarters to study his behavior—and, unbelievably, for Patton’s phones to be tapped and his residence bugged. It is not clear if or what the psychiatrist reported, but needless to say it was not long before the wiretappers heard their subject expressing violently anti-Russian views and even suggesting that ex-members of the Wehrmacht should be rearmed and used to help the U.S. Army force the Red Army “back into Russia.” In one conversation with Ike’s deputy, McNarney, he allegedly went as far as to say, “In ten days I can have enough incidents happen to have us at war with those sons of bitches and make it look like their fault.”

Patton held two disastrous press conferences during the following month. At the first, in Frankfurt on August 27, he “spoke out against the Russians and signed a letter proposing the release of some Nazi internees.” This apparently so angered Eisenhower that he is said to have demanded that Patton carry out the denazification program as ordered “instead of mollycoddling the goddamn Nazis.” But Patton was not going to change; two days later he wrote in his diary, “The Germans are the only decent people left in Europe. If it’s a choice between them and the Russians, I prefer the Germans.”

Worse was to follow. On September 22, Patton agreed to answer questions from reporters after his normal morning briefing at Bad Tölz. When asked why Nazis were being retained in governmental positions in Bavaria, he replied, “I despise and abhor Nazis and Hitlerism as much as anyone. My record on that is clear and unchallengeable. It is to be found on battlefields from Morocco to Bad Tölz…. Now, more than half the Germans were Nazis and we would be in a hell of a fix if we removed all Nazi party members from office. The way I see it, this Nazi question is very much like a Democrat and Republican election fight. To get things done in Bavaria, after the complete disorganization and disruption of four years of war, we had to compromise with the devil a little. We had no alternative but to turn to the people who knew what to do and how to do it. So, for the time being we are compromising with the devil…. I don’t like the Nazis any more than you do. I despise them. In the past three years I did my utmost to kill as many of them as possible. Now we are using them for lack of anyone better until we can get better people.”

Needless to say, the press ran with this story, particularly the Democrat versus Republican analogy. When it became clear to Eisenhower that the press reports were basically accurate, he was aghast and ordered Patton to report to him in Frankfurt. The weather was too bad to fly, and when Patton arrived on the 28th, after a seven-hour car journey in heavy rain, he was uncharacteristically dressed in an ordinary khaki jacket and GI trousers. His normal cavalry breeches, swagger stick, and pistols had been left behind.

Patton knew he was in trouble. During their two-hour meeting Eisenhower was “more excited than I have ever seen him,” remembered Patton in his diary. At one stage the officer responsible for USFET Civil Affairs, Clarence Adcock, was summoned and he brought Professor Dorn into the room with him. The latter then skillfully and ruthlessly demonstrated that the Fritz Schaeffer administration in Bavaria was full of former Nazis.

When they were alone again, Patton suggested that he should “be simply relieved,” but Ike said he did not intend to do that and had had no pressure from the States to that effect. “I then said that I should be allowed to continue the command of the Third Army and the government of Bavaria,” remembered Patton. But Eisenhower’s mind was made up. Patton was offered command of the Fifteenth Army— an army in name only since its sole mission was to prepare a history of the war in Europe! The only alternative was resignation.

He accepted the job with the Fifteenth Army, explaining this away in his diary by writing that in resigning “I would save my self-respect at the expense of my reputation but … would become a martyr too soon.” He went on in his diary to justify his acceptance of the Fifteenth Army command as follows: “I was reluctant, in fact unwilling, to be party to the destruction of Germany under the pretense of denazification…. I believe Germany should not be destroyed, but rather rebuilt as a buffer against the real danger which is Bolshevism from Russia.”

Eisenhower ended the meeting by telling Patton that he felt he should get back to Bad Tölz as quickly as possible and that his personal train was ready to take him at 1900 hours. Patton’s diary entry ended with the words, “I took the train.”

The following day Bedell Smith phoned Patton and read a letter to him from Eisenhower. It told him he was to assume his new appointment on October 8. When this was announced on the 2nd, many of the newspaper headlines, including that in Stars and Stripes, read “PATTON FIRED.” Some papers were sympathetic; the New York Times wrote: “Patton has passed from current controversy into history. There he will have an honored place…. He was obviously in a post which he was unsuited by temperament, training or experience to fill. It was a mistake to suppose a free-swinging fighter could acquire overnight the capacities of a wise administrator. His removal by General Eisenhower was an acknowledgement of that mistake…. For all his showmanship he was a scientific soldier, a thorough military student…. He reaped no laurels from the peace, but those he won in war will remain green for a long time.”

Patton Did Not Wish to Become the “Executioner to the Best Race in Europe.”

Patton’s letter to Beatrice, written the day after his meeting with Ike, indicates the turmoil in his mind: “The noise against me is the only means by which Jews and Communists are attempting and with good success to implement a further dismemberment of Germany.” He ended it by saying that he had no wish to be “executioner to the best race in Europe.”

With regard to the fateful September 22 press conference, Patton later wrote: “This conference cost me the command of the Third Army, or rather, of a group of soldiers, mostly recruits, who then rejoiced in that historic name, but I was intentionally direct, because I believed that it was then time for people to know what was going on. My language was not particularly politic, but I have yet to find where politic language produces successful government…. My chief interest in establishing order in Germany was to prevent Germany from going communistic. I am afraid that our foolish and utterly stupid policy … will certainly cause them to join the Russians and thereby ensure a communistic state throughout Western Europe. It is rather sad for me to think that my last opportunity for earning my pay has passed. At least, I have done my best as God gave me the chance.”

Patton handed over command of his beloved Third Army to another cavalryman, General Lucian Truscott, on October 7, 1945. It was a wet day, and the ceremony was held, rather inappropriately, inside a gymnasium. Patton made a short farewell speech, which began with the words “All good things must come to an end” and ended with “Goodbye and God bless you.” A band then played “Auld Lang Syne,” the Third Army flag was handed over, and Patton left to the music of the Third Army march and “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow.” After a luncheon in his honor, he left in the Third Army train for his new headquarters in Bad Nauheim, 20 miles north of Frankfurt.