In 1943, this day could have marked the end of General George Patton's career. He was having a fit at a "cowardly" enlisted man in a military hospital in Sicily when his chief of staff, Brigadeer General Gay grabbed his arm before he could strike the man. Gay then shouted down his commander until a military doctor could explain that the man actually had malaria rather than "battle fatigue". Gay then proceeded to risk his military career by physically restraining Patton and getting him out of the tent. Gay had other officers find a senior physican to brief the enraged Patton on shell shock as an actual disease with physical symptoms distinct from cowardice. By this time Patton had demoted all his attending officers to privates and threatened them with court martials.
Written by Scott PalterHowever the physican proved to have a louder shouting voice than Patton and was even more stubborn. When the tantrum worse off, Patton insisted the physican start again from the beginning. When the docotor was done and had answered all of Patton's questions Patton appologized to the physician, saluted, did an about face, marched himself back into the tent and appologized to the soldier. [His appology to Gay and his staff officers took some further hours but did happen].
Gay was allowed to use good staff work for Patton's following hospital visits [Patton was a rarity among WW2 US senior officers in regarded hospital visits as part of his job]. The tents Patton visited contained only wounded, not sick or shocked. So when the story of the original incident broke in Drew Pearson's radio news show there was no followup to ruin Patton's career. The original soldier was interviewed at length by newspeople but his story never changed. The general made a mistake, appologized for it and never touched him. The soldier and hospital staff were actually quite moved by a general who actually seemed to care about enlisted personnel or the wounded. The more prevailing army ethos was to treat personnel as interchangeable and replaceable parts.
Patton was still used as a decoy against the Germans, first of mythic other Meditteranean landings and then of the even more mythic First Army Group that was supposed to land at Calais. However Patton was able to secure a place on a warship to observe the Normandy landings. The rest is history, or fate if you believe in such. With the Omaha Beach landings a seeming failure General Bradley sat on his command ship and surveyed the wreckage. Patton acted. He browbeat the commander of his ship to make a ship's boat available and then landed on Omaha with himself, Gay and a handful of aides. He sorted out the confusion under continual enemy fire and personally led the attack that cleared the main beach exit. Patton would claim afterwards that he had been the highest paid major in the US Army for that day. In a sense this was correct. He was doing work many levels below his pay grade. However while Bradley respected the chain of command and sat on a ship, Patton had seemingly won the day on his own [historians afterwards would claim this was lucky timing - the weight of US troops would eventually have found exits up the cliffs and cleared the beach exits from behind].
Needless to say Bradley had a total fit. Eisenhower was not impressed. Yes Patton had violated all the rules. He had also won while Bradley seemed about to fail. A quick substitution was made and the US landing force was now Patton's Third Army instead of Bradley's. First [to maintain the deception operation against the Germans General Walker, was announced as army commander to the press].
So nominally it was Walker not Patton who by constantly going forwards to see what the holdup in the bocage operations was was able to greenlight the special plow tanks that solved the problem. This in turn led to Patton being given 12th Army Group command when the US contingent on the continent was upped from one army to two. Walker now had Third Army in fact and Bradley was informed he would not be bumped up from First Army command.
Under Patton's command the Falaise Pocket was closed by a sweeping maneuver that carried Walker's Third Army totally across the path of the British 21st Army Group to the mouth of the Seine. What followed was classic Patton. Leaving Bradley to manage digesting the pocket with Montgomery, Patton pushed spearheads of the Third Army straight north. Ike's logistics people kept trying to slow him down and get him back in his proper zone. Patton and Walker were moving so fast they kept overruning the orders [they would be ordered to hold at place X to reorganize after they were 50-75 miles north of X]. At heart Patton was an old time cavalryman and a pursuit such as this is what a cavalryman dreams of. Third Army blew through Brussels to Antwerp taking the port intact. Patton was personally up with the lead division. He recognized that with an inland port such as Antwerp the key was the islands in the Scheldt Estuary that were Antwerp's route to open sea. By throwing all of the army's shrinking fuel reserves at the two lead divisions he blizted through the Scheldt with one division while the other moved due north to take Rotterdam and Amsterdam.
This advance prompted a complete reorganization of the European campaign. Patton was given the newly arriving US Ninth Army and became the Allied left wing. Montgomery took the center. Bradley whose slow advance to link up with the Allied forces moving up from Provence had not managed to bag the retreating German troops from southwest France was left at the army level and put under General Devers Sixth Army Group.
With Patton on the left and supplies pouring in through Antwerp and Rotterdam, Eisenhower was able to keep hammering the Germans all through the autumn and winter. Indeed analysts credit these offensives with shortening the war in Europe by months. But for Patton the Americans and Russians would not have met at Torgau in late February of 1945 and the German surrender would not have come on the ides of March.