The Allied invasion of Sicily had been successfully concluded with Germans and Italians driven off the island. It should have been an auspicious moment for George S. Patton who had not only driven his US Seventh Army unexpectedly quickly up to capture the city of Palermo, cutting off and capturing large numbers of Italian troops. He had demonstrated his flair for masterminding swift movement, as his troops drove east to take the final objective of Messina, just ahead of the British.
Unfortunately the “slapping incident” now cast a shadow over Patton’s achievements. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the situation Patton’s career now hung in the balance. His superiors, recognising his ability, wanted to play the incident down. It remained to be seen whether the matter would become public news.
Patton was forced to make public apologies to his troops, addressing them in massed audience, to try to overcome the rumours. It was a message that contrasted with the inspiring words that he wanted to deliver, contained in this written order, distributed or read to all troops:
Headquarters 7th Army U.S. Army
General Order Number 18
August 22, 1943
Soldiers of the Seventh Army:
Born at sea, baptized in blood, and crowned with victory, in the course of thirty-eight days of incessant battle and unceasing labor, you have added a glorious chapter to the history of war.
Pitted against the best the Germans and Italians could offer, you have been unfailingly successful. The rapidity of your dash, which culminated in the capture of Palermo, was equalled by the dogged tenacity with which; you stormed Troina and captured Messina.
Every man in the Army deserves equal credit. The enduring valor of the Infantry and the impetuous ferocity of the tanks were matched by the tireless clamor of our destroying guns.
The Engineers performed prodigies in the construction and maintenance of impossible roads over impassable country. The Services of Maintenance and Supply performed a miracle. The Signal Corps laid over 10,000 miles of wire, and the Medical Department evacuated and cared for our sick and wounded.
On all occasions the Navy has given generous and gallant support. Throughout the operation, our Air Force has kept the sky clear and tirelessly supported the operation of the ground troops.
As a result of this combined eort, you have killed or captured 113,350 enemy troops. You have destroyed 265 of his tanks, 2324 vehicles, and 1162 large guns, and, in addition, have collected a mass of military booty running into hundreds of tons.
But your victory has a signicance above and beyond its physical aspect – you have destroyed the prestige of the enemy.
The President of the United States, the Secretary of War, the Chief of Staff, General Eisenhower, General Alexander, General Montgomery, have all congratulated you.
Your fame shall never die.
G. S. Patton, Jr.,
Lieut. General, U.S. Army,