Just a simple former military officer here to offer his humble opinion...
We all know that a knowledge of supply and logistics seperates the great generals from the merely good ones...
We also know that great generalship is more than strategy, tactics, operational control, ect.. it is also inspiring your men to reach inside themselves and perform at a higher level than they themselves though possible
And finally, great generalship is creating an environment ( and I mean an environment that changes based upon weapons, tactics, time frame, ect.. ) where your army, division, company, whatever where your men can accomplish a mission even without your direct input at all times...
Now - to General Patton and why I think he was a fine and great general....
1. Over time, he did begin to understand the relationship between logistics and strategy and their balance - he never lost focus on movement and risk...
2. Patton came into Africa and rebuilt an army that had not performed as well as was hoped and though force of will, personality, and planning, put into effect that changes neccessary to turn the army around and make it successful in Africa and Sicily - In neither Africa nor Sicily was the outcome so far concluded that a lessor man could have accomplished what he did...
3. His staff learned to plan ahead in a way that most amatures of the time could not do - to plan for other contengincies that may arise ( the Bulge counter-attack ) He forced his people to be better than they thought they could be....
Patton may not have been the best general of all time or even the best general of WWII - but we certianly deserves to be the considered one of the greatest of all time
Thanks for your thoughts.
I think a good General is more than this, though. Your absolutely correct that a good General must understand logistics, no argument. However, I don't think Patton understood them so well it governed his actions like it should have done. In other words, faced with logistics issues in Lorraine, he does well to husband his supplies for the November assaults, proving innovative and open to ideas, but what are we to make of the logistical impossibility that was his desire to drive through the West Wall and take Germany alone?
Whilst Patton never lost focus on movement and risk, I just don't see that focus being all that clever. Much lies in what he wanted to do, as much as what he did, but I see no great encirclements in the dash across France. Germans troops that were encircled were effectively finished the minute they were told to stop and retreat into the ports to deny them to the Allies, not by any move from Patton.
In terms of risk, this is Patton's achilles heel. I think it is wrong to suggest (as his supporters have suggested here, before you intervened) that movement takes care of the flanks, or that tactical air power can protect them for you. This sort of movement only works against beaten and retreating forces. When the forces facing you are still dangerous and well organised, it is foolhardy, (as Von Manstein illustrated at Kharkov) to advance hard and deep with no thought for your flanks. Patton displays this style of manouevre as early as 1941 in field excerises, so it was not merely a case of horses for courses in 1944.
Again, you make very perceptive points about what separates good generals from great ones, but the basics you mention, shared by all the good ones are the bedrock of Command. You mention them yourself, Strategy, tactics, operational control. Faced with fixed defences, Patton had no more idea than any other Allied Commanders about how to concentrate and defeat them. The drive on the Bulge looks to me like a dissipation of force. Three divisions strung out across 25 miles, facing three enemy divisions. 3:1 is an overly simplistic rule of thumb for the attacker, but attacking everywhere not only weakens your assault, but spreads out the supporting assets (air, artillery) that do so much to make the breakthrough possible. This is not a drive that would be taught as an illustration of how to do it.
I generally try and imagine how someone would have fared had you taken him from his command and put him elsewhere, perhaps even in an opposition command. If I can see him performing well, then there is a chance for greatness. Great Generals are also (IM very HO) comfortable with most or all the aspects of command. It is why I would judge Kesselring only good (for example), because whilst clearly very competent defensively, there is little evidence (apart from a brief spell in Africa) to judge him on the attack.
If Patton had changed places with Dempsey, I see nothing to suggest the attacks on Caen would have been any less costly. Patton displayed no talent for breaking fixed defences in depth. Had he changed positions with Bradley, I think the carnage in the Bocage would have been worse, because Patton occasionally displayed a tendancy of persisting in the face of failure, as if effort and will alone would see him home. Tired, demoralised troops losing a man per yard in the drive on St Lo would have been asked to persist longer, and been driven harder, with predictable results.
In Russia, I see no evidence Patton would have possessed the quality of movement in the expanses to perform better than Guderian et al. In the environment of 1941, he might have driven as hard and as far as Guderian (he had the necessary qualities), but his tendancy to attack and drive on a number of differing angles would have left his forces unconcentrated when the time came to close the jaws behind Russian Armies in the field, and seal them off.
On the plus side, he offered things no other Allied Commander could, but I think he needed supervision, because his lust for glory was apt to make him throw Military logic out the window in the rush for action and glory. Palermo is an example for a number of things, but Bradley despaired at this drive, and I think it illustrates why he was perhaps best as a Corp Commander.
Had I been Bradley in Normandy, I'd have taken 2nd Armoured and the Big Red One off Hodges, added
them to the growing performance of Wood and 4th Armoured, and given them all to Patton. I would then have ordered him to attack on as narrow a front as possible towards my key objective. It might sound surprising, but I can see Patton ending the war in 1944, but only had he commanded XXX Corp on the drive to Arnhem. I think he would have been in his element, would have drove the men into the ground to get there in a few days, and would most likely have driven into Arnhem in time to save Frost's command and take the town.
From there, I'd have aimed him at something else...
Many thanks for your intervention. Things were getting a little stale around here. You also remind me that there is more to consider than the books I occasionally get buried in. I have never served, so suspect I lack the insights about reality on the ground and the nature of command that will be second nature to you. That said, I don't doubt you're read plenty yourself as well (which makes you a dangerous opponent )
I thought you were leaving?
Oh, well. . .
Patton didn''t know logistics?
Give me ONE example.
Patton and Third Army has been credited with a brilliant drive through France. NO ONE, except you disputes this.
ONLY Bradley's timidity allowed 100,000 Germans to escape from the Falaise Gap.
In war you take risks. In France Third Army's XIX Tactical Air Command flew 12,000 sorties in August alone covering Patton's flanks. I have produced two very well researched articles that call the coordination between Third Army and its Air Command one of the most perfectly coordinated operations of the war.
4) The rest of your post deals with hypotheticals that have no relevance to the discussion.
5) Speaking of good/bad generals and good/bad operations, I'm STILL waiting to read your analysis of the so-called brilliant German blitzkrieg operations between Sept/39 to Jan/42.
Show us all how Germany won superior victories against little Poland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Denmark, Norway, Fance, etc. . .
You criticize Patton on every tiny detail.
Well, let's see how well you do with the German General who was in command of Army Group Centre when it stalled outside the gates of Moscow in 1941, and how that army was driven back by the Soviet counterattack.
< Message edited by Von Rom -- 7/28/2004 9:55:24 PM >