America's Greatest Maverick Leader
George Patton and his sublime moment
May 11, 2006: Vol. 2, Issue No. 37
IN THE NEWS
One Man's Crusade
Stan Wojtusik's tireless effort has paved the way for Battle of the Bulge veterans to be honored.
ARLINGTON, Va. — As a 19-year-old in World War II, Stan Wojtusik was forced to surrender to the Germans along with his entire regiment. That might have been the last time he ever gave up in anything. The former private first class, now 80, has been on a personal mission for years to build monuments—here, there and, it seems, everywhere—to the Battle of the Bulge, the greatest conflict in U.S. military history.
—Tom Infield, The Philadelphia Inquirer, May 9, 2006
To the huge majority of today's young and middle-aged, fitness-obsessed Americans, the Battle of the Bulge brings a smirk at images of outsized tummies, dimpled thighs and love handles.
Sixty-two years ago, the Battle of the Bulge was one of the three defining events of World War II, along with the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
In December 1944, the Allied armies were slogging their way through Europe toward Berlin. It was the coldest, snowiest winter in memory.
On December 16, 1944, Generals Eisenhower and Bradley were meeting at their headquarters in Versailles outside Paris when word reached them of German attacks in Belgium and Luxembourg. It was not taken seriously at first. But the commanders quickly discovered that Hitler had secretly massed three German armies and 10 corps—a total of 500,000 men, 600 tanks and 1,900 heavy guns—in one last great Hail Mary attack that penetrated 65 miles into the Allied territory and threatened the entire war effort.
By December 18, 1944, a vastly outnumbered contingent of America's 101st Airborne troops was surrounded in the Belgian hub town of Bastogne. At one point, two German officers and two enlisted men bearing a white flag arrived at American headquarters with a letter from the German commander demanding an "honorable surrender." Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe's response was to scrawl on a scrap of paper one word that electrified the world: "Nuts!"
Probably in the entire history of warfare only one man had the leadership skills, the armies and the know-how to save the beleaguered Yanks from being massacred at Bastogne and turn back the German charge.
That man was 70 miles away.
His name was Lt. General George S. Patton Jr.
A Leader Like No Other
George Patton's family owned many thousands of acres in Southern California, making him one of the richest officers in the United States Army. It took him five years to graduate from West Point, because he was so severely dyslexic that he often could not read orders on the bulletin board.
A brilliant horseman, Patton competed in the 1912 Olympics in Stockholm. His event was the pentathlon—swimming, riding, shooting, fencing and running.
In 1916 he went into Mexico with General John J. Pershing to pursue the notorious bandit Pancho Villa. The following year he was aide-de-camp to General Pershing in France where he was wounded and awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Between the wars he wrote a book on tank warfare. In World War II—as a prelude to the Battle of the Bulge—Patton served in North Africa and Sicily and came close to being sent home in disgrace for slapping a couple of GIs who had battle fatigue.
My father once asked Eisenhower why he saved Patton's bacon. "I needed him," the former Supreme Commander replied. "What was Patton's greatest strength my father asked." The general replied, "Patton was the best in the world on a wheeling flank."
When Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton met in an unheated French barrack in Verdun on December 19, 1944, the mood was grim. Unless relief was sent immediately, the "Battling Bastards of Bastogne"—the 101st Airborne under McAuliffe—would be wiped out and war effort would suffer a huge setback.
After the assembled company dithered, they turned to Patton and asked what he could do. His response was that he could attack with three divisions in 72 hours. It would mean disengaging 250,000 men from a pitched battle, turning them 90 degrees for a march through frigid, nasty weather and, in an exhausted state, attack a superior enemy force.
Bradley, Eisenhower and the others did not take him seriously, assuming it was typical Patton bravado. What the generals didn't realize was that prior to the Verdun conference, Patton had foreseen the problem and ordered his commanders to have plans in place for a march on Bastogne. If that were to be the decision, he would call them with a coded message just as soon as the meeting broke up.
Patton finally got the okay and made the coded phone call. The plan was being executed even before Patton arrived back at his headquarters and the rest is history. Patton's biographer, Martin Blumenson, described it as "the sublime moment of his career."
The Ardennes campaign—popularly called the Battle of the Bulge because of the geography—morphed into one of the biggest, bloodiest battles in history. Taking part were 500,000 Germans vs. 600,000 Americans and 55,000 British. When it was over on January 25, 1945, 100,000 Germans had been killed, wounded or captured and the Americans suffered 19,000 killed, 40,000 wounded and 20,000 taken prisoner. The British casualties totaled 1,400 including 200 killed. In addition, each side lost 800 tanks and 1,000 German aircraft were destroyed.
The term "take no prisoners" took on special poignancy, because it was at Malmédy that 86 captured GIs were lined up and shot in what was the worst atrocity of the European War. The Japanese were more cruel in the Bataan Death March, where 10,000 of 75,000 American POWs died of beatings, executions and starvation.
Three Keys to Patton's Maverick Leadership
I. Be Profane
Patton's modus operandi would never fly in today's politically correct public arena. First and foremost, the phrase, "He swore like a trooper," meant Patton. His everyday discourse was laced with four-letter words that were uttered as frequently and casually as today's teens and tweens use "like." As Charles M. Province, founder and proprietor of The Patton Society wrote in his fascinating book, "The Unknown Patton":
He could, when necessary, open up with both barrels and let forth such blue-flamed phrases that they seemed almost eloquent in their delivery. When asked by his nephew about his profanity, Patton remarked, "When I want my men to remember something important, to really make it stick, I give it to them double dirty. It may not sound nice to some bunch of little old ladies at an afternoon tea party, but it helps my soldiers to remember. You can't run an army without profanity; and it has to be eloquent profanity. An army without profanity couldn't fight it's way out of a piss-soaked paper bag."
If you have seen the magnificent film "Patton," you will remember the opening where George C. Scott, in full dress regalia that included riding breeches and pearl-handled revolvers, stands in front a huge American flag and delivers "The Speech." It was powerful, yet sanitized by Hollywood. For the real thing, visit www.pattonhq.com/unknown/chap04.html.
If the gentlemen generals of today—John Abizaid, Peter Pace, Richard Myers or Colin Powell—delivered such a pep talk, the liberal media would call for a congressional investigation. (A corporate executive who used such language would be summarily fired.)
But Patton's men loved him. During World War II, if a newspaper reporter asked a soldier what unit he was in the response would be to name the army or corps. Ask a member of Third Army and he would say, "I'm with Patton."
II. Know History
Patton studied history—particularly military history—from Darius the Great to Frederick the Great and beyond. If something worked 1000 years ago, Patton could make it work in modern warfare.
For example, in the 1920s Patton and his wife, Beatrice, took a motor trip through France and followed the route of William the Conqueror in the 11th century. He kept track of his journey on a Michelin tourist map. Fast forward to 1944 and Third Army's legendary dash through France. The Germans didn't have a clue what Patton was doing or where he would turn up next.
Instead of relying on recently constructed highways, Patton dusted off his old Michelin map and lead his armies along the route that he took in the 1920s. He figured that if these back roads were still around after 800 years they would stand up under his heavy armor and wouldn't wash out in the spring rains. He wrote:
I have studied the German all of my life. I have read the memoirs of his generals and political leaders. I have even read his philosophers and listened to his music. 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. He hasn't the slightest idea of what I'm going to do Therefore, when the time comes, I 'm going to whip the Hell out of him.
III. Be Seen
"The more senior the officer," Patton wrote, "the more time he has to go to the front." Patton reveled in being out with the troops. In his splendid biography, "PATTON: A Genius for War," Carlo D'Este described the general's leadership strategy during the the Battle of the Bulge:
More than ever, Patton made it a point to be seen during the Bulge, always riding in an open armored jeep. The cold was so intense that most soldiers dressed in as many layers of clothing as they could manage, but Patton's only concession to the glacial temperatures was a heavy winter parka or an overcoat. He spent little time in his headquarters and most of each day on the road to see and be seen by his troops, and to endure the same wretched conditions. Daily he prowled the roads of the Ardennes, sitting ramrod stiff, often with his arms folded, his face unsmiling. More than once his face froze. Word of his presence managed to filter through the amazing GI grapevine with astonishing rapidity, as did his words of praise for his troops, which were invariably reported down through the chain of command: "The Old Man says ... " or "Georgie says ... " However, Patton could not indulge in his long-standing habit of driving to the front and flying home, out of sight of the troops, and one cold, dark, miserable afternoon he encountered a column of the 4th Armored moving toward Bastogne. Tanks and vehicles were sliding off the road in the thick ice. Someone recognized Patton and let out a shout that began to roll down the column as soldiers in trucks and tanks began cheering. After the war a GI told Beatrice: "Oh, yes, I knew him, though I only saw him once. We was stuck in the snow and he came by in a jeep. His face was awful red and he must have been about froze riding in that open jeep. He yelled to us to get out and push, and first I knew, there was General Patton pushing right alongside of me. Sure, I knew him; he never asked a man to do what he wouldn't do himself."
By the time of the German surrender, Third Army had killed, wounded or captured 1,443,888 of the enemy and liberated 81,522 square miles of territory.
When German Field Marshall Gerd von Runstedt surrendered, he told his American captors, "Patton was your best."
Takeaway Points to Consider
Patton Quotations for Business People to Live By
- "If everyone is thinking alike, someone isn't thinking."
- "Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way."
- "Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."
- "You're never beaten until you admit it."
- "A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week."
- "Always do everything you ask of those you command."
- "I don't measure a man's success by how high he climbs but how high he bounces when he hits bottom."
- "Take calculated risks. That is quite different from being rash. My personal belief is that if you have a 50% chance, take it!"
- "People who are not themselves are nobody."
- "You need to overcome the tug of people against you as you reach for high goals."
- "If a man does his best, what else is there?"
Web Sites Related to Today's Edition
The Battle of the Bulge on the Web
Bulge Memorial at Arlington
The Patton Society
Patton National Museum of Cavalry and Armor
General George S. Patton Jr.
The Patton Speech Unexpurgated
General Patton Memorial Museum in Ettelbruck, Luxembourg
Patton's Funeral and Burial Site
Charter General Patton's Yacht