Thread: World War II: General George S. Patton's Race to Capture Messina

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  1. #1 World War II: General George S. Patton's Race to Capture Messina 
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    Inside Seventh Army headquarters on the southern coast of Sicily, a scowling Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., greeted Lieutenant General Omar Bradley with bad news. 'We've received a directive from Army Group, Brad,' Patton said between puffs on a cigar. 'Monty's to get the Vizzini-Caltagirone road in his drive to flank Catania and Mount Etna by going up through Enna. This means you'll have to side-slip to the west with your 45th Division.'

    'My God,' Bradley replied angrily, 'you can't allow him to do that!'

    But Patton had nothing else to say on the subject. 'Sorry Brad,' he said evenly, 'but the changeover takes place immediately. Monty wants the road right away.'

    To Patton, Bradley, and just about every other senior United States Army officer, British General Sir Bernard Montgomery got his way entirely too often. This time, just four days into Operation HUSKY (the code name for the Allied Invasion of Sicily), Montgomery had convinced 15th Army Group Commander General Sir Harold Alexander to grant his Eighth Army exclusive use of a highway previously promised to the Americans. Patton and Bradley considered the decision an insult to American military prestige.

    On July 10, 1943, Allied ships had deposited Patton's Seventh U.S. Army on the beaches along the Gulf of Gela, on Sicily's southwest coast. Montgomery's British Eighth Army went ashore to the east, south of Syracuse. The Allies targeted the city of Messina, at the northeast tip of the triangular island. Capturing Sicily would eliminate persistent Axis attacks on nearby Mediterranean supply routes, and if Messina could be taken quickly, the invaders would snare thousands of Axis prisoners and gain a convenient jump-off spot for the upcoming invasion of Italy.

    By July 13, Bradley's II Corps had advanced inland to within 1,000 yards of the Vizzini-Caltagirone road (Route 124)–a major transport route that cut east to west across the center of the island. Meanwhile, dug-in German troops had blunted Montgomery's advance up the island's east coast, hemming Eighth Army in on the plain of Catania between towering Mount Etna and the sea. In a sudden change of plan, Montgomery decided to send a flanking force west around Etna. To do so he needed Route 124, and Alexander, who had overall command of HUSKY's ground forces, gave it to him. The Americans, one of Patton's frustrated staff officers said, were left to'sit comfortably on our prats while Montgomery finishes the goddam war!'

    The British generals thought little of American fighting ability. In February, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps had thrust across the hot sands of North Africa and smashed through inexperienced and poorly led U.S. troops at Tunisia's Kasserine Pass. The unfortunate performance of the young Americans–many of whom had never before seen battle–distressed the British commanders. Alexander declared, 'they lack the will to fight.' Montgomery believed 'they have no confidence in their Generals.'

    In the wake of the disaster at Kasserine Pass, the Allied Commander in the Mediterranean, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, sent Patton to Tunisia to take over U.S. II Corps. Patton quickly injected discipline and his fighting spirit into the corps and led it to victories at Gafsa and El Guettar. In mid-April as the Tunisian Campaign neared its end, Patton left the corps in Bradley's hands and returned to French Morocco to take part in planning for the Sicily operation.

    Despite the Americans' improvement on the battlefield, Alexander and Montgomery remained unimpressed. For their part, Patton and many of his colleagues resented British impertinence, especially on the part of Montgomery. Arrogant, self-centered, and pushy, the 56-year-old general in the natty black beret irked his colleagues with outlandish statements and demands. In many ways he was not unlike Patton. At the age of 58, Patton was deeply religious, swashbuckling, 'human dynamo' who strutted around in a polished steel helmet with a pair of ivory-handled revolvers strapped to his waist. 'His vigor was always infectious, his wit barbed, his conversation a mixture of obscenity and good humor,' Bradley wrote. 'He was at once stimulating and overbearing. George was a magnificent soldier.' By the time he waded ashore on Sicily, Patton's antipathy toward his British counterparts had also come to affect his relationship with his boss, Eisenhower. Patton's long-time friend had the difficult job of holding together the young Anglo-American alliance. But Patton felt that American interests and honor too often took a back seat to British demands. 'God damn all British and all so-called Americans who have their legs pulled by them,' Patton wrote in his diary in Tunisia. 'Ike is more British than the British and is putty in their hands . . . .'

    For the first invasion of the Axis' home turf, Patton commanded the new Seventh U.S. Army, including Bradley's II Corps. Patton welcomed the chance to assert U.S. military might. Initially scheduled to land on the island's northern coast and capture Sicily's capital Palermo, American troops expected to go on the offensive in Sicily. But Montgomery favored a less dispersed landing to the south and in the end, his plan won out. Patton still expected Seventh Army to make its mark. But to Alexander, it was clear that 'Eighth Army would have the glory of capturing the more obviously attractive objectives of Syracuse, Catania, and Messina . . . .'

    From the outset Eighth Army strategy left little room for Patton to operate, and Montgomery essentially imposed his will on Alexander. Montgomery reasoned that if the Americans could simply 'hold firm against any action from the west I could then swing hard with my right with an easier mind. If they draw enemy attacks on them my swing north will cut off enemy completely.' Two days later, Alexander transferred use of Highway 124 to Montgomery. 'They gave us the future plan of operations,' Patton wrote bitterly, 'which cuts us off from any possibility of taking Messina.'

    Patton considered himself, with good reason, 'the best damn ass-kicker in the U.S. Army,' but he accepted this outrageous decision without a protest. This was not the time to raise a fuss. For the moment he saved his invective for his diary. 'Ike has never been subjected to air attack or any other form of death. However, he is such a straw man that his future is secure. The British will never let him go.'

    Yet Patton did not simply give up Highway 124 with a smile. He slyly secured authorization to expand the American perimeter west. Patton had his eyes set on Palermo, and, ultimately, Messina. The next day Patton and Major General Lucien K. Truscott, who headed up the 3rd Infantry Division, discussed a westward reconnaissance in force toward Agrigento and Porto Empedocle. Truscott felt that Alexander would not object to such a move, and Patton, Truscott wrote, 'with something of the air of the cat that had swallowed the canary, agreed . . . .' Patton had his foot in the door and he meant to swing it open.

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  2. #2  
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    Evidently it helps to be a little crazy if your job is to lead armies in battle.

    McArthur, Patton and Montgomery are shinning examples of how 'crazy' sometimes helps. But men like Eisenhower, Clark (WWII Mark Clark, not Wesley...) and Bradley balanced the teeter totter enough to get the job done.

    God Bless Them All....
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starbuck View Post
    Evidently it helps to be a little crazy if your job is to lead armies in battle.

    McArthur, Patton and Montgomery are shinning examples of how 'crazy' sometimes helps. But men like Eisenhower, Clark (WWII Mark Clark, not Wesley...) and Bradley balanced the teeter totter enough to get the job done.

    God Bless Them All....
    Montgomery wasn't crazy, or much more than competent on his best days, and they were few and far between. At Dunkirk, he demonstrated that he could retreat well. At el Alamein, he managed to hold a line that Auchinleck had established following the debacle at Gazala Bir Hacheim. The British under GEN Sir Niel Ritchie had been routed by inferior German forces (Rommel was outnumbered and outgunned by the British) and were in a complete panic. Auchinleck relieved Ritchie, took command, halted the retreat, rallied the force, established a defensive position between two unturnable flanks and stopped Rommel's advance. At this point, Rommel's forces were badly depleted. He was out of fuel and ammunition and had only a few dozen operational tanks, but his request to withdraw to a secure line was refused by Hitler. Meanwhile, Auchinleck was preparing to counterattack when he was relieved by Churchill, whose one blind spot was Montgomery. When Montgomery took over Eighth Army, the British had Broken the German codes by capturing an Enigma machine, and were in possession of Rommel's OPORD for the second assault on the British line. With an overwhelming superiority in troops and vehicles, a prepared defensive position and Rommel's battle plans, Monty still only managed to keep Rommel from advancing, failed to follow up and let him escape. In Europe, Montgomery routinely proposed complex plans that invarabily failed, the most glaring example of which was Operation Market Garden.

    Clark and Bradley were not particularly great generals, either. Bradley hemmed Patton in and prevented him from exploiting the surprise that he achieved against the Germans in Normandy, permitting the escape of the forces that eventually came back against the US in the Battle of the Bulge. He and the rest of the US leadership were caught completely unprepared by the German Ardennes offensive (as was Monty), but Patton was not, and he had prepared the contingency plans that resulted in the relief of Bastogne and the destruction of the German forces west of the Rhein.
    --Odysseus
    Sic Hacer Pace, Para Bellum.

    Before you can do things for people, you must be the kind of man who can get things done. But to get things done, you must love the doing, not the people!
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    You may enjoy this article:
    http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-worst-...in-history.php

    It lists the top 10 worst Generals in history and places Montgomery at #10.

    Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Custer, Santa Anna, a couple of guys I am not familiar with; but also Douglas McArthur is on the list and I know that would generate lots of argument, but I'll have to leave that up to people who know a lot more history than I do.
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    I know hindsight is 20/20 but we should have gone after the Soviets like Patton wanted us too. It might have have spared us not only from the cold war but a few proxy wars.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bailey View Post
    I know hindsight is 20/20 but we should have gone after the Soviets like Patton wanted us too. It might have have spared us not only from the cold war but a few proxy wars.
    Did Patton really want that, or did George C Scott?
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starbuck View Post
    Did Patton really want that, or did George C Scott?
    No Patton really did not like the soviets
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bailey View Post
    No Patton really did not like the soviets
    Yeah, I'm sure that's correct. It's just that sometimes, without our being aware, we substitute fiction for fact. Look at all the people who believe that Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from her back yard. So it is possible - and I don't know the answer - that we all believe the Patton wanted to pursue the Russians even though it was George C Scott who said so.

    That substitution factor is one reason I am a little careful about watching movies that portray history. It's sometimes hard to tell when someone is bullshitin' you.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starbuck View Post
    You may enjoy this article:
    http://www.toptenz.net/top-10-worst-...in-history.php

    It lists the top 10 worst Generals in history and places Montgomery at #10.

    Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Custer, Santa Anna, a couple of guys I am not familiar with; but also Douglas McArthur is on the list and I know that would generate lots of argument, but I'll have to leave that up to people who know a lot more history than I do.
    That list has a few doozies. First, putting Rommel on the list is absurd. He was tactically and technically brilliant, and the defeats that were cited were beyond Rommel's control. The first, the battle of el Alamein, in which Auchinleck set up a defensive line and checked Rommel's advance, wasn't so much a defeat as the end of Rommel's momentum. He had routed a superior British force at the battle of Gazala Bir Hacheim and pursued them until he ran out of fuel and ammunition. Auchinleck's stand marked the end of his advance. At that point, Rommel began to withdraw with the intent of consolidating his position, but Hitler ordered him to hold his position and plan for an immediate resumption of the offensive, despite his logistics situation. Rommel did as ordered, and ended up walking into a nightmare scenario, as the British code breakers had intercepted and decrypted his OPORD for the attack, the Brits had a reinforced defensive position that was constantly being beefed up through resupply from Alexandria, which was just behind their lines, and the position was unassailable from the flanks, which could not be navigated. Rommel's options were a frontal assault against a hasty version of the Maginot Line, or withdrawal against orders. And even then, Rommel almost pulled it off.

    The second glaring error was putting MacArthur on the list. Blaming MacArthur for the Philippines debacle ignores the fact that he his defenses didn't start to fail until the supply situation became intolerable. Roosevelt decided to abandon the Philippines, and no resupply was attempted during the defense. MacArthur held out for months, with starving troops, antiquated equipment, no air capabilities and dwindling stocks of ammunition. The Japanese established air supremacy early on in the campaign, when they destroyed most of the US aircraft on the ground in a repeat of their Pearl Harbor raid. They were constantly pouring men and material into the islands, but it took them far longer to take the Philippines than they (or us) estimated. MacArthur's defense bought the US time to rebuild the Pacific fleet and begin the slow, vicious task of eliminating the Japanese from the Pacific, one island at a time. The writer's description of the Inchon landing ignores the fact that the landing site, while not heavily defended, was also one of the most physically treacherous landing locations in Korea, and that this was why it was lightly garrisoned. Nobody expected that a landing could be made there, which was why MacArthur chose it, and the result was brilliant. MacArthur's landing cut off the North Korean troops in the south and led to a route, which would have resulted in the end of the war if the Chinese had not invaded, and that invasion came because of a failure of US diplomacy, not MacArthur's tactics.

    By way of comparison, the allies in Italy, faced with a similar situation, opted to land at Anzio, instead of further north, where they could have cut off the German retreat and forced a surrender. Kesselring actually expected this, and had prepared a fast retreat for his staff in the event that the allies landed north of Rome, where he didn't have the resources to repulse a landing. Instead, the allies landed at Anzio and sat on the beach, giving the Germans plenty of time to set up defenses. The result was that the allied forces had to fight over mountainous terrain against troops in prepared defenses, which ended up prolonging the war by months.

    I could go on, but this dip has zero credibility. Just reading his byline should have set off alarms:


    Jeff Danelek is a Denver, Colorado author who writes on many subjects having to do with history, politics, the paranormal, spirituality and religion.



    As a general rule, I avoid the military opinions of flaky new age hacks. I'm sure that he has lots to say about crystals, pyramid power, crop circles and UFO conspiracies, but he should leave the military analysis to someone with a bit more standing.
    --Odysseus
    Sic Hacer Pace, Para Bellum.

    Before you can do things for people, you must be the kind of man who can get things done. But to get things done, you must love the doing, not the people!
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  10. #10  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Starbuck View Post
    Yeah, I'm sure that's correct. It's just that sometimes, without our being aware, we substitute fiction for fact. Look at all the people who believe that Sarah Palin said she could see Russia from her back yard. So it is possible - and I don't know the answer - that we all believe the Patton wanted to pursue the Russians even though it was George C Scott who said so.

    That substitution factor is one reason I am a little careful about watching movies that portray history. It's sometimes hard to tell when someone is bullshitin' you.
    No I have looked it up, he really believed we were going to fight them one day and thought since we had the army there....
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