On March 22nd, 1945, elements of the United States’ Third Army, under the command of Lieutenant General George S. Patton, crossed the Rhine River at Oppenheim, south of Mainz. Weeks ahead of his rival, British Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, Patton fought his own higher command structure nearly as hard as he did the Germans, making impolitic comments in public, moving farther and more aggressively than ordered, and even having his troops pose as First Army soldiers in order to steal fuel from that unit’s stores in order to maintain their own advance to the east.
Patton would be promoted to General (four stars) in April, 1945, after his troops liberated some of the worst concentration camps in Germany, and was fighting toward the Czech border by the time VE Day was declared on 8 May 1945.
Love him or hate him, Patton cuts a singular figure in military history, and left a long, complicated legacy for historians, soldiers, and history buffs to consider. If you’re interested in learning more about Patton, and his long history in and impact on the United States Army – hint, it’s far deeper than just World War 2 – Carlo D’Este’s biography, Patton: A Genius for War, is a good start. D’Este begins with Patton’s early life and family and moves through his decades at a pace that makes this long book seem far shorter. Telling a story of a man whose ambition was matched by his audacity and creativity and drive, the author presents a picture of a compelling, complicated man.