“Wars may be fought with weapons, but they are won by men. It is the spirit of men who follow and of the man who leads that gains the victory.” — George S. Patton.
On November 20, 2014 I posted a book review of Mark Bowden’s book “The Finish, The Killing of Osama bin Laden.” As I wrote I did not think much of Bowden’s book nor his research. I am always suspicious of books about recent events as too many of those interviewed for the book give self-serving reports and are prone to withhold bits of information that may put them, their colleagues. or bosses in a negative light. They also are guilty of embellishing the roles they may or may not have played in the subject of the book. This is certainly true of the Bowden book.
I have just finished reading Bill O’Reilly’s and Martin Dugard’s book; “Killing Patton – The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General.” It is not only well written and informative, but the descriptions of the combat at the battle for Fort Driant, at Metz, The Battle of the Bulge, and the Crossing of the Rhine are as thrilling and gripping as if written by Tom Clancy or Brad Thor.
O’Reilly and Dugard give us a primer on the characters, strategies, and politics involved in the European Theater during WWII. Characters such as General Patton, General Eisenhower, General Bradley, Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery, Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Presidents Roosevelt and Truman, Winston Churchill, Joseph Stalin, Adolph Hitler, Eva Braun, and “Wild Bill” Donovan are profiled in the book. This gives those readers, who are not familiar with WWII or too young to know much about these major characters, some basis to understand the forces that were hostile to George Patton.
Here is what Senator John McCain had to say in his review of the book on Amazon.com:
“In Killing Patton: The Strange Death of World War II’s Most Audacious General, Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard have written a lively, provocative account of the death of General George S. Patton and the important events in the final year of the Allied victory in Europe, which Patton’s brilliant generalship of the American Third Army did so much to secure.
The fourth book in the bestselling Killing series is rich in fascinating details, and riveting battle scenes. The authors have written vivid descriptions of a compelling cast of characters, major historical figures such as Eisenhower, Churchill, Roosevelt, Stalin, Hitler, and others, as well as more obscure players in the great drama of the Second World War and the life and death of Patton.
O’Reilly and Dugard express doubts about the official explanation for Patton’s demise from injuries he suffered in an automobile accident. They surmise that the General’s outspokenness about his controversial views on postwar security, particularly his animosity toward the Soviets, our erstwhile allies, might have made him a target for assassination. They cast a suspicious eye toward various potential culprits from Josef Stalin to wartime espionage czar “Wild Bill” Donovan and a colorful OSS operative, Douglas Bazata, who claimed later in life to have murdered Patton.
Certainly, there are a number of curious circumstances that invite doubt and speculation, Bazata’s admission for one. Or that the drunken sergeant who drove a likely stolen truck into Patton’s car inexplicably was never prosecuted or even reprimanded. But whether you share their suspicions or not this is popular history at its most engrossing.
From accounts of the terribly costly battle for Fort Driant in the hills near Metz to the Third Army’s crowning achievement, its race to relieve the siege of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge, the reader experiences all the drama of the “great crusade” in its final, thrilling months.
The authors’ profiles of world leaders and Patton’s contemporaries are economic but manage to offer fresh insights into the personalities of well-known men. Just as compelling are the finely wrought sketches of people of less renown but who played important parts in the events.
There is PFC Robert Holmund, who fought and died heroically at Fort Driant having done all he could and then some to take his impossible objective. PFC Horace Woodring, Patton’s driver, who revered the general, went to his grave mystified by the cause and result of the accident that killed his boss. German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel’s young son, Manfred, exchanged a formal farewell handshake with him after learning his father would be dead in a quarter hour, having been made to commit suicide to prevent the death and dishonor of his family.
These and many other captivating accounts of the personal and profound make Killing Patton a pleasure to read. I enjoyed it immensely and highly recommend it to anyone with an interest in World War II history and the extraordinary man who claimed Napoleon’s motto, “audacity, audacity, always audacity,” as his own.”
If anything, the book, as many of O'Reilly's other ones in the Killing series, serves as a general historical overview piece, albeit one with mystery and intrigue laced into it in attempts to keep the reader engaged. Though it is styled to be a work of nonfiction, it sensationalizes a controversial ending of a greater-than-life individual who was both idolized and rankled by the people, military, and government.
No doubt General Patton’s greatest achievement during WWII was his Third Army’s relief of the 101st Airborne who were holding the crucial crossroads town of Bastogne and holding back the Nazi’s winter counteroffensive through Belgium’s Ardennes Forest known as the Battle of the Bulge.
On December 16, 1944 the Germans began a massive armored and infantry attack aimed at splitting the allied lines and driving to retake the port of Antwerp — the only viable port for supplying the allied forces in Europe.
Hitler’s grand plan besides halting Allied transport over the channel to the harbor of Antwerp was also to split the British and American Allied line in half, so the Germans could then proceed to encircle and destroy four Allied armies, forcing the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis Powers' favor. Once that was accomplished, Hitler could fully concentrate on the eastern theatre of war.
Had Hitler’s grand plan worked Western Europe would have looked much different in 1946. Had the Nazi’s been able to negotiate an armistice with the Americans. British, and French they would have still had problems facing the much greater Soviet Army.
No doubt eventually the Red Army would have prevailed and pushed far beyond the Elbe River where they halted per the agreement made by Eisenhower. They would have reached the Rhine and had control of not only Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Hungary and the Baltic States they would have total control of Germany.
Patton knew this was possible as did his intelligence officer. He knew his Third Army was the only tool that could break the German siege at Bastogne. To spearhead this drive he chose the 4th Armored Division with the tip of the spear being led by his favorite tank commander Creighton Abrams. It was Abrams who taking a risk by bypassing German troops on his flanks to drive into Bastogne and relieve the embattled troopers of the 101st on December 26th.
This was no doubt the greatest feat of arms by an American Army. Fighting horrible weather, snow and ice covered roads, rough topography, and Germans Patton saved Eisenhower’s bacon and proved himself once again as America’s best combat general. For this he was rewarded with orders to pull back and tack up defensive positions after the bulge had been cleared on January 25, 1945.
Patton wanted to push forward into Berlin and felt he had the tools to do it. But as was the case in the closing of the Falaise Pocket and capturing thousands of retreating German soldiers Patton was restrained. Instead Eisenhower chose Montgomery to enter into German. Once again Patton was done in by politics. O’Reilly and Dugard detail all of this in the book. As I student of WWII History I know they have their facts correct.
I have always admired George Patton and believed he was very much needed to defeat the Germans from North Africa, through Sicily and France. Through all of this Patton made many enemies in the United States and Soviet Union. Much this was caused by Patton’s own ill-conceived remarks pertaining to the Soviet Union. In fact Josef Stalin wanted him dead. This is all detailed in Killing Patton.
The book is an easy read. It is a page turner. If you’re a fan of military history you will enjoy this book. You will not only learn a few things about Patton and the politics surrounding WWI you will certainly enjoy this book. Yes, I highly recommend this book.
As an aside several years ago I visited the George S. Patton Memorial Museum in Southern California. The museum is located on the grounds of Patton’s desert armor training grounds in eastern San Bernardino County. It is a great place to spend a few hours to learn more about “Ole Blood and Guts.”