The Third Army swept across Northern France light lightening crackling across the sky. Since the invasion of Normandy on 6 June, the Allies had been bogged down on this narrow strip of land on the French coast. Behind schedule, the Allied commanders understood that something had to give to push the German war machine east. General Omar Bradley gave the allies their opening with the commencement of Operation COBRA. The operation opened up a gap for one of the most daring commanders of American military history to exploit, General George Patton. The disintegration of the German defenses allowed Patton and his Third Army to launch their daring march east in a lightening sweep across Northern France. The exploits of the Third Army would propel Patton into the history books and their feats would only be matched again decades later during the kinetic conflict of the first Gulf War.
George S. Patton was the epitome of a military leader. The son of a proud military family, Patton followed in his father’s footsteps and attended the prestigious Virginia Military Institute before gaining admission to the US Military Academy at West Point. Graduating in 1909, Patton was commissioned into the cavalry, a branch that was quickly becoming outdated with the advent of new weaponry on the battlefield. In 1912 Patton represented the United States in the Olympics held in Stockholm, taking part in the modern pentathlon. Out of 42 participants, Patton took 5th overall in the event. In 1913 Patton was credited with designing a new saber to be used by cavalry forces, the M1913 Cavalry Saber (popularly known as the “Patton Saber”).
While Europe was embroiled in the First World War, the United States had its own share of troubles on the home front. Pancho Villa, a Mexican revolutionary, was causing quite a disturbance on the southern border of the United States. During his time with the expedition, Patton was given his first taste of combat and commanding troops in a fight. On one raid, Patton and troops of the 6th Infantry regiment ambushed a Villista outpost and killed Julio Carednas and two of his guards. Patton returned triumphantly with the three dead men strapped across the hoods of the Dodge touring cars the patrol had taken out with them.
When the United States entered the First World War, Patton found himself deployed along with the American Expeditionary Force under the command of General John “Black Jack” Pershing, whom Patton had served under in the Pancho Villa Expedition. On the western front Patton was one of the first American leaders to understand the importance of armored warfare, a military strategy that would follow him through his military career. Following the end of the First World War Patton continued to press for innovation in armored warfare, and when the United States entered the Second World War in 1941, Patton was given the opportunity to exploit his expertise once again on the battlefield.
Look for more information regarding the history of General George S. Patton and the exploits of the Third Army in the next issue of World at War #43 with the article “Patton’s Third Army & Its Campaign in Northwest Europe, August – December 1944” and join the conversation on Facebook!