What if Eisenhower Had Backed Patton’s Tanks in ’44…
…Rather Than Support Monty’s Failed “Market Garden”?
I was shocked to learn that nobody on Medium had ever explored this subject, with all its delicious Cold War and Patton “kick butt” overtones. So here I am, de facto war expert about to cover this, using the things I read and hopefully sensible and impartial judgement.
PROFILE OF PATTON: Let us first profile the main actor in this hypothetical drama, General George Patton. He was arrogant, and a loose-cannon. However he had an uncanny ability to get things done (and we will explore these things later). Before we profile him as a kind of God-Complex General MacArthur with pearl-handled revolvers, know the following:
1) Pretty much ALL Generals tend to be arrogant and sometimes reckless. What separates the good from the bad is logistical sensibilities, the ability to get the best out of their men, find advantages and press them.
2) General Patton had a very good grasp of war history and history in general. He knew the terrain and battles that had been fought on them prior (and the outcomes).
3) My father was a POW in Germany, and actually heard Patton speak when liberated. My father was a normal, intelligent, reasonable guy, not a rah-rah Neanderthal by any means. He told me the Patton could REALLY get you motivated by use of rhetoric, perhaps in a Vince Lombardi way. Conditions were harsh yet Patton made you believe you were going to kick the enemies sorry butts and get home to your loved ones.
4) People forget that Patton had a very good grasp of logistics (like Napoleon and others before him). He REWARDED the support staff, including the cooks and truck drivers, making them feel as important as the soldiers. Most importantly, HE KNEW THE VALUE OF AIR SUPPORT. Strange as it may seem, many Army Generals of the day were in a kind of competition with the Air Force, either not appreciating their value or being jealous. Patton rewarded his air support, and they were always willing to help him out (note to reader: my father was an air force pilot).
5) Patton knew the value of backing up a boast. When Ike asked if anyone could reach and reinforce the “Siege of Bastogne” in 3 days, Patton had done his homework and replied “We’ll do it in two”. This was a strong motivating factor.
6) Yes, Patton was a kind of prima donna prone to creating damaging political sideshows. Yet even Ike admitted privately that Patton’s slap of a cowardly soldier was helpful (parents of other soldiers supported Patton about 4:1…it helped reinforce the idea that “we’re sending our capital over there, let’s not screw around so we can get these boys home”). Patton made a big mistake when he sent troops on an ill-advised attack on a German prison camp to rescue one of his own relatives, yes he was prone to mistakes.
7) Patton was lucky, I suppose, to be commanding the very successful 2nd Amored Division of the Third Army, which had superior tank technology and methods. Patton was smart though, to always take the offensive. Though profiled as a guy that sacrificed his soldier’s lives for personal glory, he actually had a lower fatality rate than General Bradley. He once stated “The Germans don’t shoot as well when they’re running away”. Truly the best defense can be a strong offense.
8) I suppose the Academy Award winning film “Patton” reinforces many of these themes. Was Patton overrated? A bit perhaps, yet the Germans knew he was their most formidable adversary (the ultimate compliment), and couldn’t figure out why the Allies didn’t turn him loose.
PROFILE OF BERNARD MONTGOMERY: The more I read about British General Montgomery, the less I’m impressed.
1) Most favorable assessments of Montgomery come from the British side. His troops were known to be flexible and agile, and of course he commanded the British troops during the successful North African, Italian, and Normandy campaigns, so he’s kind of successful by default.
2) He was known to the American troops as being feisty, arrogant, and slow (even when he had superior troop numbers). He made some big mistakes, including being slow to take Caen after the Normandy invasion (while needlessly killing over 10,000 innocent French civilians in a failed attempt to take out German communications with bombing raids). Of course, his biggest mistake was the ill-advised Market Garden fiasco, which we’ll get to later.
3) For political reasons, Eisenhower many times capitulated to the difficult Montgomery (as he had to give the appearance of a united allied front). Yet even the British Air Marshall Arthur Tedder wanted Monty “sacked”. This may have also spoke to Monty’s tentative tactics (not making best use of air support), overcomplicated and self-aggrandizing strategies. By Sept 1 1944, Eisenhower took over Monty’s role as Allied commander (to Monty’s bitter disappointment), yet by this time the American troops outnumbered the British about 3:1.
OPERATION MARKET GARDEN WHILE PATTON GRINDS TO A HALT: In hindsight, Operation Market Garden was a fiasco (especially since it delayed the taking of Germany, which led to most of Eastern Europe falling under Soviet control)
1) Monty made a big deal out of securing the river leading from the captured deep-water port of Antwerp, for purposes of faster unloading of heavy military equipment. Operation Market Garden was meant to cross the Rhine using paratroopers and capturing 9 enemy bridges, as a prelude to an incursion into the Ruhr (where much of the German industry was located), while supporting this invasion with safe passage of Allied ships from Antwerp.
2) Meanwhile, Patton’s troops were to the south, gobbling up several miles per day with little resistance. They were supplied primarily by the port of Marseilles in the South of France, using the Red Ball Express (truck drivers, often African Americans, ferrying supplies). Though it was true that Antwerp would’ve been a much more efficient supply route than the Red Ball (which was taking 5 gallons of gas to deliver 1 gallon), Operation Market Garden failed and the supply route from Antwerp didn’t open until November of 1944, at the cost of many Canadian Army lives.
3) While Patton was busy using Germany’s own “Blitzkrieg” successfully against them in a devastating counterattack, he ran out of fuel 30 miles from the Moselle (basically, the French-German border SE of Belgium) in Sept. 1944 (the beginning of Market Garden). Eisenhower believed at the time, the quickest way to enter Berlin was through the difficult Ardenne Forest (site of the Dec. ’44 Battle of the Bulge) and across the Rhine (now a slugfest after Market Garden). Critics had said that Patton had overrun his objectives with a kind of showboating, and that he was to blame for his own lack of fuel. Of course later that year, Patton had to essentially “bail out” Eisenhower by coming to the rescue during the Battle of the Bulge.
THE HYPOTHETICAL PATTON TURNED LOOSE SCENARIO:
1) According to a Quora thread, a fully-supported Patton would’ve arrived in Berlin approximately a few weeks before the Soviets, in April of 1945. However, it may not have mattered since the Allies had agreed ahead of time to divide Berlin among themselves.
2) Essentially, the Ardennes and Rhine were a bitch to get through, but once traversed the subsequent German plains were an easy path to Berlin. Patton had the opposite problem…it was easy to get into Germany, but then he would’ve had to deal with the Alps and several river crossings. Nevertheless, Patton was relatively unopposed.
3) It took the Soviets over 300,000 casualties to take Berlin. Estimates for the Allies to have taken Berlin were at 40,000. One general at the time said “that’s a lot of casualties for something that we have to give back”.
4) The next part of the “Patton turned loose” theory, is that Patton wanted to push onward to Moscow after. By several estimates, this would have cost several thousand more casualties, with uncertain results against a battle-hardened Soviet force with some say superior military hardware. The US and Britain were certainly in no mood to prolong the war, although this may have saved us some Cold War grief later.
5) This entire scenario speaks to General Eisenhower’s expertise in managing the War and the need to cooperate with Allies, something at which neither Patton nor Montgomery excelled (politics). Ike was also right that a unilateral front was needed, for fear of flanking or splitting our forces (ie what nearly happened during “the Battle of the Bulge”)
6) Lots of “coulda, woulda, shoulda” here, and Patton deservedly maintains his “kick butt” and “blood and guts” reputation. However, many of his men resented his apparent sacrifice of their lives for his own glory (debatable actually), while Monty comes across the resolute yet tentative and arrogant martinet, Eisenhower the great statesman. Gen. Omar Bradley (a media darling of the day, who also got beat up with mistakes in the Ardennes and elsewhere) was perhaps a bit overrated (a subject for another day).
George S. Patton - Wikipedia
George Smith Patton Jr. (November 11, 1885 - December 21, 1945) was a general in the United States Army who commanded…
Bernard Montgomery - Wikipedia
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, 1st Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, (; 17 November 1887 - 24 March 1976)…
Operation Market Garden - Wikipedia
Operation Market Garden was an Allied military operation during the Second World War fought in the Netherlands from 17…
Battle of Berlin - Wikipedia
Battle of Berlin Part of the Eastern Front of World War II The Brandenburg Gate amid the ruins of Berlin, June 1945…
Red Ball Express - Wikipedia
The Red Ball Express was a famed truck convoy system that supplied Allied forces moving quickly through Europe after…
Dwight D. Eisenhower - Wikipedia
Dwight David " Ike" Eisenhower ( EYE-zən-how-ər ; born David Dwight Eisenhower; October 14, 1890 - March 28, 1969) was…