A German commander’s view of the Ardennes

A German Sturmgeschütz assault gun during the Ardenne offensive.
A German Sturmgeschütz assault gun during the Ardenne offensive.

It had never been easy for German commanders to argue with Hitler. After the 20th July bomb plot it had become virtually impossible. By the time Hitler had briefed his Generals for the Ardennes offensive the paranoid atmosphere surrounding him meant that anything less than whole hearted support was likely to be interpreted as defeatism, which was now equated with treachery.

Major-General F. W. von Mellenthin had already been pulled out of the line for making an “unauthorised retreat” during the fighting in the Autumn and put in a general reserve of officers on the General Staff. On 28th December he was recalled and given command of 9th Panzer Division. It was his job to retrieve what he could from the situation:

On the 29th I set off for 9 Panzer Division, which was in the wooded hills north-west of Houffalize; the ice-bound roads glittered in the sunshine and I witnessed the uninterrupted air attacks on our traffic routes and supply dumps. Not a single German plane was in the air, innumerable vehicles were shot up and their blackened wrecks littered the roads. When I reached my Headquarters I found that we were holding the most forward positions in the defensive line of 5 Panzer Army.

Looking at the situation map I noted the violent American attacks on both flanks and the grave danger facing the Panzer divisions in the noose of the salient. But we were ordered to stay where we were and so we did, defending ourselves with mobile tactics.

Most of my men were Austrians, and in spite of heavy losses their morale was still high. The Panzer regiment was left with twenty tanks, and the two Panzer Grenadier regiments each had about four hundred men. But the artillery regiment was very strong and of high quality.

We beat off the American attacks until 5 January, when orders were received to get out of this hopeless position and withdraw eastward; I was put in command of the rearguard of 5 Panzer Army.

My experiences in Russia stood me in good stead; I knew all about the problems of moving through snow and ice – a subject in which the Americans still had much to learn. By day our armoured group resisted in chosen positions; all movements were carried out at night to evade the fighter-bombers, but even so concentric artillery fire on our flanks inflicted considerable casualties.

By mid-January 9 Panzer Division had reached the line of the River Our, where we stood firm on the original start line of the offensive.

The results of the Ardennes fighting were more than disappointing; we had suffered excessive losses in men and material and only gained a few weeks’ respite.

It is true that American forces were moved from Lorraine, and the pressure on Army Group G slackened; however, this relief was only temporary (at the beginning of January Army Group G was strong enough to launch an offensive, which had some prospects of recapturing Strasbourg). The same results could have been achieved by a limited attack at Aachen, after which our operational reserves could have been switched to Poland.

The Ardennes battle drives home the lesson that a large-scale offensive by massed armour has no hope of success against an enemy who enjoys supreme command of the air. Our precious reserves had been expended, and nothing was available to ward off the impending catastrophe in the East.

See Major-General F. W. von Mellenthin: Panzer Battles

German SS troops double across a road in a staged photo after the destruction of an American convoy of jeeps and half-tracks in the Ardennes, 16 December 1944.
German SS troops double across a road in a staged photo after the destruction of an American convoy of jeeps and half-tracks in the Ardennes, 16 December 1944.

Eisenhower closely guarded against Nazi infiltrators

An American Dodge WC ambulance passes abandoned German Tiger II '204' from schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501, Kampfgruppe Peiper, I. SS-Panzerkorps, near La Gleize, Belgium, December 1944.
An American Dodge WC ambulance passes abandoned German Tiger II ‘204’ from schwere SS-Panzer-Abteilung 501, Kampfgruppe Peiper, I. SS-Panzerkorps, near La Gleize, Belgium, December 1944.
Skorzeny in Pomerania visiting the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, February 1945.
Skorzeny in Pomerania visiting the 500th SS Parachute Battalion, February 1945.

The Ardennes offensive was a last throw of the dice for Hitler. So desperate were the Nazis that they resorted to outright deception in an attempt to sow confusion and alarm amongst the Allies. Hitler had turned to Otto Skorzeny, mastermind of the scheme that released Mussolini from Italian captivity, to head a behind the lines operation with English speaking German troops in American uniforms, driving American jeeps and tanks.

There was not nearly enough American equipment available to supply the force that was originally envisaged. The men involved in Operation Greif then got tangled up with the huge tailbacks of military traffic in the narrow lanes of the Ardennes. The element of surprise was lost before they could they could make much impact.

While they did not achieve the level of confusion amongst the Allies that had been sought, and most of the spies were caught quite quickly, their existence led to many rumors and much alarm within Allied ranks. There were numerous incidents of American servicemen, including many senior officers, being closely questioned about their knowledge of arcane aspects of American sport and geography, in order to test their authenticity.

The alarm even spread to the office of the Supreme Allied commander, General Eisenhower, as described by his Naval Aide, Captain Harry C. Butcher:

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23, 1944

I went out to Versailles and saw Ike today. He is a prisoner of our security police and is thoroughly but helplessly irritated by the restriction on his moves. There are all sorts of guards, some with machine guns, around the house, and he has to travel to and from the office led and at times followed by an armed guard in a jeep.

He got some satisfaction yesterday in slipping out for a walk around the yard in deep snow, in the eyes of the security officers quite the most dangerous thing for him to do, but he had the satisfaction of doing something he wanted to do. I told him he now knows how it must feel to be President and be guarded day and night by ever-watchful secret-service men.

The restriction is caused by information from Intelligence officers of Hodges’ First Army, who cross-examined a German officer captured at Liége the night of December 19. He was one of a group of English-speak ing Krauts [Shows I’ve recently been with GIs who were in Italy and Africa] who had infiltrated through Allied lines in American uniform, driving an American jeep and carrying American identification papers.

The leader of this group, which specializes in kidnaping and assassination of high personages, is a character named Skorzeny, who, reputedly, rescued Mussolini. He is said to have passed through our lines with about sixty of his men and had the mission of killing the Supreme Commander.

One of their rendezvous points is said to be the Café de la Paix in Paris, just around the corner from the Scribe. There German sympathizers and agents are supposed to meet Skorzeny’s gang and to furnish information about General Ike’s abode, movement, and security guard.

The men were described as completely ruthless and prepared to sacrifice their lives to carry out their mission. All personnel speak fluent English. Similar attacks on other high officers have been given to other infiltrators, numbering about 150.

Some units might have with them in their vehicle a German officer in uniform and, if questioned, would tell a false story that they were taking an important German prisoner to higher headquarters in the rear. They carry capsules of acid to be thrown in the faces of MPs or others to facilitate escape. Skorzeny’s group may be in staff cars, civilian cars, command and reconnaissance cars, as well as jeeps.

Already about 150 parachutists wearing American uniforms or civilian clothes have landed in the U. S. First Army’s area. Many of them have been captured, but some are still at large. Those in uniform are not wearing dog tags, but all carry explosives and have a new type of hand grenade discharged from a pistol.

Our security officers are always supercautious, and with this alarming information, I can readily understand why they have thrown a cordon around the Supreme Commander, yet he is thoroughly disgusted at the whole procedure and seemed pleased to have someone to talk with like me, seemingly from the outside World.

Ike was as calm as he ever is, and, except for the irritation caused by his confinement, was cheerful and optimistic.

Over all, he felt that the situation was well in hand; that there was no need for alarm; that he and his senior commanders had taken prompt steps to meet what he figured was the Germans’ dying thrust, and if we would be patient and the Lord would give us some good flying weather, all would be well and we would probably emerge with a tactical victory.

He added that it is easier and less costly to us to kill Germans when they are attacking than when they are holed up in concrete fortifications in the Siegfried Line, and the more we can kill in their present offensive, the fewer we will have to dig out pillbox by pillbox.

See My Three Years With Eisenhower: The Personal Diary of Captain Harry C. Butcher, USNR, Naval Aide to General Eisenhower, 1942 to 1945

There is an account of capturing some of the spies on the 19th December by Tom Bailey of the 82nd Airborne.

Germans who were tried and convicted as spies during the Battle of the Bulge, are bound to stakes by MPs before their execution, December 23, 1944]
Germans who were tried and convicted as spies during the Battle of the Bulge, are bound to stakes by MPs before their execution, December 23, 1944]
Butcher had accompanied Eisenhower when he visited  airborne troops on the eve of D-Day.
Butcher had accompanied Eisenhower when he visited airborne troops on the eve of D-Day.

General George S. Patton on the importance of Prayer

A Sherman tank crewman finds the mud heavy going in Germany, 24 November 1944.
A Sherman tank crewman finds the mud heavy going in Germany, 24 November 1944.
Two armourers of No 440 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, trudge through the mud of an airfield near Eindhoven to re-arm a Hawker Typhoon fighter-bomber.
Two armourers of No 440 Squadron, Royal Canadian Air Force, trudge through the mud of an airfield near Eindhoven to re-arm a Hawker Typhoon fighter-bomber.

After the breakout from Normandy and the swift advance across France the Allies had come to a halt and were ‘bogged down’ on the approach roads to Germany. There were many causes for the frustrating turn of events, not least the difficulty of maintaining the lines of supply. The weather also played its part. The almost incessant rain for the past couple of months was not only making life miserable for everyone on the front but was also contributing to the delays.

One man was frustrated by the rain more than most. General George S. Patton lived for swift advances. He would do anything to challenge the obstacles in his way, including ‘immoderate’ rainfall. On this occasion he turned to God and the power of Prayer.

Monsignor James H. O’Neill, the man responsible for the Prayer, explains how it came about:

The incident of the now famous Patton Prayer commenced with a telephone call to the Third Army Chaplain on the morning of December 8, 1944, when the Third Army Headquarters were located in the Caserne Molifor in Nancy, France:

“This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.”

My reply was that I know where to look for such a prayer, that I would locate, and report within the hour. As I hung up the telephone receiver, about eleven in the morning, I looked out on the steadily falling rain, “immoderate” I would call it – the same rain that had plagued Patton’s Army throughout the Moselle and Saar Campaigns from September until now, December 8.

The few prayer books at hand contained no formal prayer on weather that might prove acceptable to the Army Commander. Keeping his immediate objective in mind, I typed an original and an improved copy on a 5″ x 3″ filing card:

Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.

I pondered the question, What use would General Patton make of the prayer? Surely not for private devotion. If he intended it for circulation to chaplains or others, with Christmas not far removed, it might he proper to type the Army Commander’s Christmas Greetings on the reverse side. This would please the recipient, and anything that pleased the men I knew would please him:

To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I Wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.

G.S. Patton, Jr,
Lieutenant General, Commanding,
Third United States Army.

This done, I donned my heavy trench coat, crossed the quadrangle of the old French military barracks, and reported to General Patton. He read the prayer copy, returned it to me with a very casual directive, “Have 250,000 copies printed and see to it that every man in the Third Army gets one.”

pattonprayer2

The size of the order amazed me; this was certainly doing something about the weather in a big way. But I said nothing but the usual, “Very well, Sir!” Recovering, I invited his attention to the reverse side containing the Christmas Greeting, with his name and rank typed. “Very good,” he said, with a smile of approval.

pattonprayer1

“If the General would sign the card, it would add a personal touch that I am sure the men would like.” He took his place at his desk, signed the card, returned it to me and then said: “Chaplain, sit down for a moment; I want to talk to you about this business of prayer.”

He rubbed his face in his hands, was silent for a moment, then rose and walked over to the high window, and stood there with his back toward me as he looked out on the falling rain. As usual, he was dressed stunningly, and his six-foot-two powerfully built physique made an unforgettable silhouette against the great window. The General Patton I saw there was the Army Commander to whom the welfare of the men under him was a matter of personal responsibility.

This is part of a longer account which also describes the origins of Training Letter No.5 which Patton sent to Chaplains in the Third Army at the same time, which began:

At this stage of the operations I would call upon the chaplains and the men of the Third United States Army to focus their attention on the importance of prayer.

The original story appeared in the US Government publication Review of the News and is now available at Patton HQ.

The cards and the instructions about Prayer arrived with the men on the frontline just before they were called on to intervene in the Battle of the Bulge. Just after the Third Army began their involvement in the battle the weather cleared up and Allied aircraft were able to make their decisive contribution to halting the German advance.

Brigadier General Monsignor James H. O’Neill concludes his account:

It was late in January of 1945 when I saw the Army Commander again. This was in the city of Luxembourg. He stood directly in front of me, smiled: “Well, Padre, our prayers worked. I knew they would.”

Then he cracked me on the side of my steel helmet with his riding crop. That was his way of saying, “Well done.”

Patton pins a Silver Star Medal on Private Ernest A. Jenkins, a soldier under his command, October 1944
Patton pins a Silver Star Medal on Private Ernest A. Jenkins, a soldier under his command, October 1944

US breakout continues, British locked in combat

Personalities: Lieutenant General George S Patton, commander of the US 3rd Army which became operational in Normandy in July 1944, part of the 12th Army Group.
Personalities: Lieutenant General George S Patton, commander of the US 3rd Army which became operational in Normandy in July 1944, part of the 12th Army Group.

George S. Patton had finally returned to the battlefield, formally taking charge of the US 3rd Army on the 1st August. Until then he had headed the fictitious First US Army Group, supposedly waiting in south east England waiting to launch the “second invasion”. The deception had kept large German forces waiting in northern France and Belgium, which only now were being released to travel to Normandy.

It was too late. Patton was a man with pent up energy, driving his army forward in a rapid advance that first took Brittany and then swung round again to begin to encircle the German positions in Normandy. It was a dramatic move, especially after the long time spent bogged down in the Normandy bridgehead, and not everyone was comfortable with it. Colonel Charles R Codman was on his staff and saw how it unfolded:

The General knows exactly what he is doing, and if at times the higher staffs turn green around the gills when across their astonished situation maps flash the prongs of seemingly unprotected spearheads launched deep into enemy territory, it is only because they have yet properly to gauge the man’s resourcefulness.

As for his subordinates, more than one corps and division commander, in the course of a whirlwind visit from the Old Man, has felt a sinking in the pit of his stomach on finding himself and his command catapulted into outer space, but all of them have learned that he never lets them down. They know that if the unexpected happens, he will find a solution, and what is more, he will be up front to see that the solution is applied.

Three times in the last few days, in as many tents and wooded fields, the same dialogue with minor variations: Division commander: ‘But my flanks, General?’ The General: ‘You have nothing to worry about. If anything develops – and it won’t – our tactical Air will know before you do, and will clobber it. That will give me plenty of time to pull something out of the hat.’

A pat on the shoulder.

‘Get going now. Let the enemy worry about his flanks. I’ll see you up there in a couple of days”

Charles R Codman: Drive; A Chronicle of Patton’s Army

General de Gaulle saluting as he left the Town Hall in Lavel after addressing the people who had turned out to welcome him. Lavel was liberated by United States troops driving through Normandy on 6 August 1944.
General de Gaulle saluting as he left the Town Hall in Lavel after addressing the people who had turned out to welcome him. Lavel was liberated by United States troops driving through Normandy on 6 August 1944.
Major George E. Preddy Jr. of the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group, hold up hands for six enemy aircraft he shot down on 6 August 1944 mission. This was a record number of victories for a single pilot in one mission.
Major George E. Preddy Jr. of the 487th Fighter Squadron, 352nd Fighter Group, hold up hands for six enemy aircraft he shot down on 6 August 1944 mission. This was a record number of victories for a single pilot in one mission.
Men of an RAF airfield construction wing finish off the 5,000ft runway at Lingevres (B-19), 6 August 1944. Iron stakes are being driven in to secure the metal SMT (square-meshed track) surface, which was stored in rolls and had to be correctly tensioned to prevent it flexing in use. The airstrip took a mere six days to complete, and was the first to be constructed in Normandy by RAF manpower alone.
Men of an RAF airfield construction wing finish off the 5,000ft runway at Lingevres (B-19), 6 August 1944. Iron stakes are being driven in to secure the metal SMT (square-meshed track) surface, which was stored in rolls and had to be correctly tensioned to prevent it flexing in use. The airstrip took a mere six days to complete, and was the first to be constructed in Normandy by RAF manpower alone.

The situation maps looked very different for the British (including the Polish Armoured Division) and Canadian forces still locked into battle with the Panzers on the eastern flank of the Normandy battlefield, with very little forward movement apparently being made. The most dedicated Nazi troops were under severe pressure but they were not going be pushed easily. What that actually meant for the men involved can be illustrated by just one incident from this day.

No. 5779898 Corporal Sidney Bates, The Royal Norfolk Regiment

In North-West Europe on 6th August, 1944, the position held by a battalion of the Royal Norfolk Regiment near Sourdeval was attacked in strength by 10th S.S. Panzer Division. The attack started with a heavy and accurate artillery and mortar programme on the position which the enemy had, by this time, pin-pointed.

Half an hour later the main attack developed and heavy machine-gun and mortar fire was concentrated oh the point of junction of the two forward companies.

Corporal Bates was commanding the right forward section of the left forward company which suffered some, casualties,- so he decided to move the remnants of his section to an alternative position whence he appreciated he could better counter the enemy thrust.

However, the enemy wedge grew still deeper, until there were about 50 to 60 Germans, supported by machine-guns and mortars, in the area occupied by the section.

Seeing that the situation was becoming, desperate, Corporal Bates then seized a light machine-gun and charged the enemy, moving forward through a hail of bullets and spnnters and firing the gun from his hip. He was almost immediately wounded by machine-gun fire and fell to the ground, but recovered himself quickly, got up and continued advancing towards the enemy, spraying bullets from his gun as he went. His action by now was having an effect on the enemy riflemen and machine gunners but mortar bombs continued to fall all around him.

He was then hit for the second time and much more seriously and painfully wounded. However, undaunted, he staggered once more to his feet and continued towards the enemy who were now seemingly nonplussed by their inability to check him.

His constant firing continued until the enemy started to withdraw before him. At this moment, he was hit for the third time by mortar bomb splinters — a wound that was to prove mortal.

He again fell to the ground but continued to fire his weapon until his strength failed him. This was not, however, until the enemy Had withdrawn and the situation in this locality had been restored.

Corporal Bates died shortly afterwards of the wounds he had received, but, by his supreme gallantry and self sacrifice he had personally restored what had been a critical situation.

See also ‘Normandy: The Search For Sidney’

Sidney Bates, awarded Victoria Cross for determined single handed attack.
Sidney Bates, awarded Victoria Cross for determined single handed attack.

Bradley faces criticisms of ‘slow’ Allied advance

Omar Bradley fires a 155mm artillery piece in a publicity shot for the 4th July.
Omar Bradley fires a 155mm artillery piece in a publicity shot for the 4th July.
A Stuart light tank,  fitted with a hedge cute and heavily sandbagged against 'panzerfausts', supports US infantry in the bocage.
A Stuart light tank, fitted with a hedge cute and heavily sandbagged against ‘panzerfausts’, supports US infantry in the bocage.

As if they didn’t have enough to contend with the Allied leaders fought their war under the spotlight of the world’s Press. Remarkably sometimes the criticism was that they were being too cautious in trying to save Allied lives.

General Omar Bradley commanded US Forces in Normandy. He himself had been frustrated by the pace of the advance but readily understood the difficulties that had been encountered in the bocage country. He was already planning the moves that would become Operation Cobra, the attacks that would lead to the final breakout. It was a frustrating time when he could not possibly explain the full strategy to the Press:

By the middle of July we could sense the growing impatience of newsmen who looked critically on the deadlock that seemed to have gripped our beachhead. Middleton’s attack toward Coutances had ballooned their hopes, then flattened them even more abjectly.

Those who had awaited Monty’s assault on Caen as the signal for an Allied breakthrough trooped back disheartened to their gloomy press camps when the British went no farther. Weeks of intermittent rain had shrouded the beachhead with a dismal gray cloud cover, pinning the air forces to the ground while the enemy dragged up reinforcements.

As Corlett’s XIX Corps bellied forward through the hedgerows toward St.-Lo and Collins crawled through the Carentan swamps, more and more newsmen began to ask if the Allies had learned anything since climbing out of the trenches in France 26 years before.

This melancholy mood was best expressed in a newspaper story that appeared just two days before the breakout. It was written by a well-known correspondent who had succumbed to the gloom of the press camps. He attributed our “stalemate” in the beachhead to an overdose of caution.

“The principal point made by critics of the strategy followed by General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery,” he wrote, “is that he is playing safe and in playing safe is turning caution into a vice. The United States Army has consistently followed the policy of doing things the way that costs the least number of lives. This policy has been contagious and has spread to the British command.”

For the moment we could do little but grin and bear it. For although COBRA was rapidly taking form, we dared not yet tell newsmen of it. The enemy had already shown signs of apprehension on the Carentan front and by the middle of July had mustered the remnants of 12 divisions against us. Most alarming was the shift of two panzer divisions from Monty’s sector to ours.

No one disliked more than I did the disagreeable necessity for inching our way through those St. Lo hedgerows and Carentan marshlands. For while we sloughed afoot toward the Périers road, our vastly superior motorized equipment lay wasted under its camouflaged nets. Nevertheless, until We reached the carpet and broke through to the terrain beyond it, we could do nothing but belly ahead and swallow those heavy losses.

While aware of this growing criticism from the newsmen, I did not feel that we owed an apology to anyone for our gains. At the end of one week ashore we had linked the beachheads. During the second we cut the Cotentin. In the third we captured Cherbourg. During the fourth we attacked out of the neck. And when the fifth rolled around, we had put together our COBRA plan and were already edging toward the breakout.

Besides those critics who thought us too timid to risk the fast stakes of mobile warfare, there were others who searched our tactics for signs of a conspiracy against the Reds. A British columnist asked if our “sitdown” were part of a scheme to exhaust the Russians by leaving them to fight the Reich alone. And an American correspondent cautioned me a week before the breakout that if this were indeed our intent we would default in our right to bargain on the shape of the postwar world. I assured him that we were guileless and suggested he withhold his verdict. “Wait a week or so before you go overboard,” I said, wishing it were possible to tell him of COBRA.

The charge that we might have been conspiring against the Soviet was nonsense. I knew no more of the Russian advance than any newspaper reader, indeed probably less, for I saw the news- papers less often. Until we approached the Elbe and came face to face with the problem of joining up with the Red army, I fought the war in total ignorance of Soviet intentions. Even when the Red army had closed to within a hundred miles of ours and the gap between us narrowed daily, we plotted the Soviet advance on our war map from news broadcasts of the BBC. This remained our only pipeline to the Soviet High Command.

See Omar N. Bradley: A Soldier’s Story.

A GI surveys the body of a German soldier, the boots already removed, probably by French civilians, many of whom were reduced to wearing wooden clogs after the years of occupation.
A GI surveys the body of a German soldier, the boots already removed, probably by French civilians, many of whom were reduced to wearing wooden clogs after the years of occupation.
US Soldiers in the 'bocage' hedgerow country , armed with a 'Grease Gun' automatic and a Browning water cooled machine gun.
US Soldiers in the ‘bocage’ hedgerow country , armed with a ‘Grease Gun’ automatic and a Browning water cooled machine gun.

‘No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country’

Men of a US Army infantry division file into a briefing tent in one of the sealed-off and closely guarded assembly areas near the south coast of England, May 1944.
Men of a US Army infantry division file into a briefing tent in one of the sealed-off and closely guarded assembly areas near the south coast of England, May 1944.
 Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr., 1943. (pictured before his promotion to full General). U.S. Army Signal Corps. "George Patton as Lt. General." March 30, 1943.
Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr., 1943. (pictured before his promotion to full General). U.S. Army Signal Corps. “George Patton as Lt. General.” March 30, 1943.

After an unfortunate incident during the battle for Sicily General George S. Patton had spent most of his time on the sidelines of the war. Now he was to command the U.S. Third Army in Normandy – but he was not to arrive in France until late in the battle.

His absence made even more credible the existence of the fictitious First United States Army Group, FUSAG. The Germans could not believe that a General of the calibre of Patton would not be taking a leading role in the ‘Second Front’.

Patton failed to appear when the Normandy landings took place – and the Germans were then even more certain that he would be leading the ‘second invasion’ of the Pas de Calais area, probably landing at about the end of June. Hitler would keep his 15th Army waiting on the sidelines as the battle for Normandy unfolded, ready and prepared for this massive new Allied formation to arrive.

Patton was nevertheless preparing to lead the U.S. Third Army, like the other commanders he spent time making himself known to them. When he addressed the men from its different units he had to remind them:

Don’t forget, you don’t know I’m here at all. No word of that fact is to be mentioned in any letters. The world is not supposed to know what the hell they did with me. I’m not supposed to be commanding this army. I’m not even supposed to be in England. Let the first bastards to find out be the goddamned Germans. Some day, I want them to rise up on their piss-soaked hind legs and howl ‘Ach! It’s the goddamned Third Army and that son-of-a-bitch Patton again!’

The 31st May is the day he is believed to have first included the memorable line “no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country”:

Now I want you to remember that no bastard ever won a war by dying for his country. You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.

Men, all this stuff you’ve heard about America not wanting to fight, wanting to stay out of the war, is a lot of horse dung. Americans traditionally love to fight. All real Americans, love the sting of battle. When you were kids, you all admired the champion marble shooter, the fastest runner, the big league ball players, the toughest boxers … Americans love a winner and will not tolerate a loser.

Americans play to win all the time. I wouldn’t give a hoot in Hell for a man who lost and laughed. That’s why Americans have never lost and will never lose a war. Because the very thought of losing is hateful to Americans.

Now, an army is a team. It lives, eats, sleeps, fights as a team. This individuality stuff is a bunch of crap. The Bilious bastards who wrote that stuff about individuality for the Saturday Evening Post, don’t know anything more about real battle than they do about fornicating. Now we have the finest food and equipment, the best spirit, and the best men in the world.

You know … My God, I actually pity those poor bastards we’re going up against. My God, I do. We’re not just going to shoot the bastards, we’re going to cut out their living guts and use them to grease the treads of our tanks. We’re going to murder those lousy Hun bastards by the bushel.

Now some of you boys, I know, are wondering whether or not you’ll chicken out under fire. Don’t worry about it. I can assure you that you’ll all do your duty. The Nazis are the enemy. Wade into them. Spill their blood, shoot them in the belly. When you put your hand into a bunch of goo, that a moment before was your best friends face, you’ll know what to do.

Now there’s another thing I want you to remember. I don’t want to get any messages saying that we are holding our position. We’re not holding anything, we’ll let the Hun do that. We are advancing constantly, and we’re not interested in holding onto anything except the enemy.

We’re going to hold onto him by the nose, and we’re going to kick him in the ass. We’re going to kick the hell out of him all the time, and we’re going to go through him like crap through a goose. Now, there’s one thing that you men will be able to say when you get back home, and you may thank God for it.

Thirty years from now when you’re sitting around your fireside with your grandson on your knee, and he asks you, What did you do in the great World War Two? You won’t have to say, Well, I shoveled shit in Louisiana.

Alright now, you sons of bitches, you know how I feel. I will be proud to lead you wonderful guys into battle anytime, anywhere.

That’s all.

Patton gave this speech several times, with slight variations. There was no official version, it was written down by some of the men who heard it. Historians have constructed a longer, more complete version by combining different sources, see “Terry Brighton: Patton, Montgomery, Rommel: Masters of War”.

US Engineers are briefed on their objectives for the forthcoming invasion, May 1944. Left to right: Private Albert V Ottolino; PFC (Private First Class) Howard D Kraut; Private J H James.
US Engineers are briefed on their objectives for the forthcoming invasion, May 1944. Left to right: Private Albert V Ottolino; PFC (Private First Class) Howard D Kraut; Private J H James.
US Army Lieutenant Ralph Vernon and men of his unit study a map of their objective in a briefing tent in one of the assembly areas on the south coast of England, May 1944.
US Army Lieutenant Ralph Vernon and men of his unit study a map of their objective in a briefing tent in one of the assembly areas on the south coast of England, May 1944.

Breakout from Anzio

Troops of the Green Howards advance through enemy minefields at dawn during the start of the final breakout attack.
Troops of the Green Howards advance through enemy minefields at dawn during the start of the final breakout attack.
Men of 'D' Company, 1st Battalion The Green Howards, 5th Infantry Division, occupy a captured German communications trench during the offensive at Anzio, 22 May 1944.
Men of ‘D’ Company, 1st Battalion The Green Howards, 5th Infantry Division, occupy a captured German communications trench during the offensive at Anzio, 22 May 1944.

Sidestepping the Germans at Cassino by landing at Anzio had seemed such a simple concept when Churchill met the Allied commanders at Christmas. It proved to be quite easy to organise an amphibious landing at short notice – but quite another to breakout of the small bridgehead that was then established.

Now that the Gustav line had broken and the Germans were falling back, the Anzio positions offered the Allies another opportunity. If they could break out from the beachhead in sufficient strength they would be able head directly inland and cut off the Germans retreating from Cassino. The German forces would be squeezed between the two Allied attacks and would potentially suffer a great defeat.

Overseeing all on the ground was General Mark Clark:

On 22 May I moved permanently into the forward echelon of my headquarters at Anzio in preparation for the break-out. . . . Almost every inch of space at Anzio was crowded with men, guns and ammunition in preparation for the attack. Any time the enemy fired a shell in our direction it was almost certain to hit something, but we had taken what precautions were possible, and most of our supplies were protected by mounds of earth.

Before dawn on the morning of 23 May I went with Truscott to a forward observation post on the Anzio front, where just before six o’clock some five thousand pieces of artillery opened up on the enemy, whose positions were concealed by a morning haze.

The smoke and haze hid our movements, but in the next hour or so we could hear our tanks moving forward to the attack, and there was a dull rumble of aircraft overhead as bombers began to pour their bombs on the German positions. The beleaguered Anzio garrison was about to break out, with the town of Cisterna their first objective.

The timing of the attack from Anzio again caught the enemy off-guard. As the artillery fire suddenly ended our tanks drove through the smoke, followed by swarms of infantry that caught the enemy outposts unprepared. Some of the Germans in dugouts had to be dragged out with only part of their clothes on, completely unready for battle.

Our artillery had previously been aimed at specific enemy centres, which were heavily shelled, but the morning haze interfered with the German artillery observation and gave us an opportunity of making considerable progress before meeting firm resistance. The Germans were never able to recover from this initial setback, and their later counter-attacks were weak and poorly organized.

See General Mark W. Clark: Calculated Risk

British soldiers take cover from German shelling in a shallow trench during the breakout. The trench is similar to many which were dug along the opposing front lines during the lifetime of the bridgehead.
British soldiers take cover from German shelling in a shallow trench during the breakout. The trench is similar to many which were dug along the opposing front lines during the lifetime of the bridgehead.

The Italian front opens at Salerno

In the distance landing ship tanks waiting to go inshore at Salerno while destroyers make smoke to cover them near the beaches. Photograph taken from the British minesweeper CIRCE.
In the distance landing ship tanks waiting to go inshore at Salerno while destroyers make smoke to cover them near the beaches. Photograph taken from the British minesweeper CIRCE.
(Operation Avalanche): The British destroyer HMS TARTAR puts up an anti-aircraft barrage with her 4.5 inch AA guns to protect the invasion force from attack by enemy aircraft.
(Operation Avalanche): The British destroyer HMS TARTAR puts up an anti-aircraft barrage with her 4.5 inch AA guns to protect the invasion force from attack by enemy aircraft.

It had been debatable whether the landings at Reggio would achieve much. The landings further up the coast at Salerno were thought very much more likely to provoke German opposition.

This time it was a combined operation with British and U.S. forces. The British went in under the cover of strong bombardment from the offshore battleships and cruisers. The US forces, landing on beaches further south, attempted an element of surprise and did without the preliminary bombardment.

Clark on board USS Ancon during the landings at Salerno, Italy, 12 September 1943.
Clark on board USS Ancon during the landings at Salerno, Italy, 12 September 1943.

Off shore General Mark Clark, commanding the US Fifth Army was watching from the USS Ancon. There were early signs from activity and flares on the beaches that surprise had not been achieved:

Then, to end any doubt about surprise, a loudspeaker voice on the shore roared out in English, “Come on in and give up. You’re covered.” Flares shot high into the air to illuminate the beaches, and German guns previously sited on the beaches opened up with a roar.

The assault forces came on in, but not to give up.

There was resistance on every beach, and within a short time the defenders were strengthened by artillery and planes, so that our opposition increased steadily as dawn approached. Some boats in the first assault wave were unable to reach their designated beaches and had to shift to other sectors, especially Red Beach, where opposition was lighter; while many of the second-wave boats were badly damaged or had to turn back on their first attempt to get ashore.

Men were separated from weapons in the confusion or when their boats sank. Radio communication was difficult in most instances because of loss of equipment and the intense enemy fire.

But owing to sound basic training and countless instances of personal bravery the assault forces not only held on, but slowly advanced inland. Men squirmed through barbed wire, round mines, and behind enemy machine—guns and the tanks that soon made their appearance, working their way inland and knocking our German strongpoints wherever possible as they headed for their assembly-point on a railway that ran roughly parallel to the beach about two miles away.

Singly and in small groups, they reached their first objective by devious means.

Under great difficulties heavy weapons were being landed by dawn. Ducks brought in 105-mm. howitzers of the 133rd Field Artillery Battalion, and the 151st Field Artillery Battalion landed at 6 A.M., just in time to beat off a dangerous German tank assault on the beachhead. The veteran 531st Shore Engineers began organizing the communication and supply lines, and bulldozer men, ignoring a steady fire which inflicted many casualties among them, built exit routes for vehicles to move from the beaches through the sand-dunes.

In this manner our toehold on Fortress Europa was gained, and no soldiers ever fought more bravely than the men of the 36th Division. I have spoken of their landing in detail both because it was the most diicult, since they were untested troops, and because they were among the first Americans to put foot on Hitler – held Continental Europe; but I do not want to seem to overlook the tremendous job that the rest of the Fifth Army was doing at the same time. The British veterans performed in splendid fashion.

See Mark W. Clark: Calculated Risk: The Memoirs of a Great Commanding General of WWII

(Operation Avalanche): A landing craft ablaze offshore after receiving a direct hit. In the foreground on the beach are troops and casualties from the boat.
(Operation Avalanche): A landing craft ablaze offshore after receiving a direct hit. In the foreground on the beach are troops and casualties from the boat.

It was a bloody business for all too many that day. Here is just one of the official post action reports from amongst thousands :

Report of Action in the Gulf of Salerno 9/9/43 from O.C.R.M H.M.L.C.G. (L) 8

[Officer Commanding Royal Marines, His Majesty’s Landing Craft Gun (Large)]

In the absence of the Commanding Officer who was injured, I am rendering a provisional report on the above action.

At 03.24 hours on the 9th September 1943, fire was opened on the beaches and ceased at 03.25, five rounds being fired. It was impossible to open fire at the pre-arranged time of 03.20 owing to destroyers masking fire.

We then proceeded to patrol the coast to the South of Beach 29. At 06.45 fire was opened at the C/D Battery 788130, eight rounds being fired, six for effect. There was however, no counter-fire.

We continued to patrol the coast and at 10.30 observing LCG 2 closing the beach we followed at approx 1 mile on her port quarter.

Fire was opened on the two craft from a coastal position at approx 78815 at 11.05 with heavy M.G’s and what is believed to be 76mm D/P guns. A direct hit on the Bridge of this craft was scored by the enemy almost immediately, with an A/P shell of about 76mm calibre, killing instantaneously the R.A. Officer attached to the craft and causing seven other casualties including the C.O. and the 1st Lieut.

Both 4.7 guns counter-fired at once, being controlled from the Bridge direct by telephone. Hits were observed in the target area after the third salvo and fire continued until 11.14, 67 rounds having been fired, of which 64 were for effect. The initial range was 2200+ and enemy fire heavy until it finally ceased.

Shortly after, the Minesweeper J230 was contacted, which took off all casualties and subsequently transferred them all to H.M.H.S. St David. Until transferred to J230 the C.O. maintained command of his ship in spite of his injury.

I then proceeded to close H.M.S. Hilary in order to obtain instructions and relief Naval Officers for the C.O. and 1st Lieut.

For the majority of the crew it was the first time they had been under heavy enemy fire and their conduct throughout the whole of the action and subsequently was exemplary.

R C Lane Lt. R.M.

Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): Distant view of British warships bombarding enemy positions during the fighting on Salerno beaches. The naval bombardment broke up an attack by German tanks.
Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): Distant view of British warships bombarding enemy positions during the fighting on Salerno beaches. The naval bombardment broke up an attack by German tanks.
Operation Avalanche): British troops and vehicles from 128 Brigade, 46th Division are unloaded from LST 383 onto the beaches.
Operation Avalanche): British troops and vehicles from 128 Brigade, 46th Division are unloaded from LST 383 onto the beaches.
Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): American troops place one of their first casualties on board a landing craft.
Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): American troops place one of their first casualties on board a landing craft.
Taranto, 9 September 1943 (Operation Slapstick): Italian lighters and tugs help to unload Allied ships in Taranto harbour.
Taranto, 9 September 1943 (Operation Slapstick): Italian lighters and tugs help to unload Allied ships in Taranto harbour.
British soldiers man a machine gun post on the beach at Salerno, Italy, while a column of smoke rises from a transport ship in the background, 9 September 1943.
British soldiers man a machine gun post on the beach at Salerno, Italy, while a column of smoke rises from a transport ship in the background, 9 September 1943.

Patton congratulates his troops for success in Sicily

General George S. Patton in command of US forces on Sicily.
General George S. Patton in command of US forces on Sicily.
The Drive for Messina 10 July - 17 August 1943: The successful German rear guard action towards the end of the campaign enabled over 100,00 Axis troops and a large quantity of equipment to be evacuated to Italy from Messina. An aerial photograph shows one of the last German ships to leave Messina on fire after being bombed by the Royal Air Force off the Sicilian coast.
The Drive for Messina 10 July – 17 August 1943: The successful German rear guard action towards the end of the campaign enabled over 100,00 Axis troops and a large quantity of equipment to be evacuated to Italy from Messina. An aerial photograph shows one of the last German ships to leave Messina on fire after being bombed by the Royal Air Force off the Sicilian coast.

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,
Commanding

British and American troops meet at a road junction outside Randazzo. Randazzo was the last strong defensive position available to the Axis forces. After its fall on 14 August, the campaign developed into an unofficial race between the Americans and British for Messina.
British and American troops meet at a road junction outside Randazzo. Randazzo was the last strong defensive position available to the Axis forces. After its fall on 14 August, the campaign developed into an unofficial race between the Americans and British for Messina.
The Drive for Messina 10 July - 17 August 1943: A British Sherman tank in the streets of Francofonte. During 13 - 14 July, XIII Corps, Eighth Army began a major effort to reach Catania. Their efforts were resisted by German paratroops in and around Francofonte who delayed the British advance for two days.
The Drive for Messina 10 July – 17 August 1943: A British Sherman tank in the streets of Francofonte. During 13 – 14 July, XIII Corps, Eighth Army began a major effort to reach Catania. Their efforts were resisted by German paratroops in and around Francofonte who delayed the British advance for two days.
General Montgomery stops his car to talk to Royal Engineers working on a road near Catania, 2 August 1943.
General Montgomery stops his car to talk to Royal Engineers working on a road near Catania, 2 August 1943.

Patton marches into Palermo, Sicily

Lt. Col. Lyle Bernard, CO, 30th Inf. Regt., a prominent figure in the second daring amphibious landing behind enemy lines on Sicily's north coast, discusses military strategy with Lt. Gen. George S. Patton. Near Brolo. 1943. (Army ) Exact Date Shot Unknown
Lt. Col. Lyle Bernard, CO, 30th Inf. Regt., a prominent figure in the second daring amphibious landing behind enemy lines on Sicily’s north coast, discusses military strategy with Lt. Gen. George S. Patton. Near Brolo. 1943. (Army ) Exact Date Shot Unknown

In Sicily the tremendous rivalry between two of the Allied commanders had very nearly broken out into the open and demonstrated weaknesses in the Alliance. Montgomery was commanding British forces driving out from the south east of Sicily for an assault on the main German forces in the east. He prevailed upon the Allied Commanders to be given two of the roads heading east upon which to base his attacks.

It left little room for his American ally George S. Patton to pursue the Germans as well. It also looked suspiciously like a British stitch up – as the decision had been made by the British Deputy Allied Commander, General Harold Alexander.

Patton was at first extremely frustrated but then diverted his energies to marching north to capture the first major Italian town of the campaign. In a spectacularly swift move he arrived in Palermo on the 23rd July, his troops urged on by their commander:

July 23, 1943

On the afternoon of the twenty-first, we secured a position northeast of Castelvetrano from which to launch the 2nd Armored Division, which heretofore had been held back near the middle of the island so that the enemy could not tell which way it was going.

The troops moved into position, beginning at 4 p.m., and were all set by dark. In the morning they started their relentless advance.

The first act was to break through the enemy on his immediate front. This was done by the 41st Infantry supported by a battalion of medium tanks from the 66th. This started the enemy rolling back. From then on, it was a question of attacking him with converging tanks whenever he tried to stop us, which he attempted on three occasions.

In one case a ’75 mm. assault howitzer in a half-track engaged a German 105 at five hundred yards and destroyed him. This act was as lucky as it was heroic. The last stand was made in the mountains southwest of Palermo, which was a most difficult nut to crack, but was finally done with artillery fire and tanks.

We met some of the most ingenious tank traps I have ever seen. The Germans would dig a hole about eighteen feet long and ten feet deep halfway across the right side of the road and cover it with chicken wire and dust to make it look like the road. Then, about thirty feet beyond, on the left-hand side of the road, they would make a similar pit. In front of each pit they would put a wire entanglement with the hope that our tanks would disregard the wire and crash into the holes. Fortunately we did not do so.

In other places they tank traps about twenty feet wide and fifteen feet deep for distances of several miles, but by sticking to the roads and blasting our way through, we had no trouble with them.

I drove up through the column and received a very warm reception from the 2nd Armored, all of whom seemed to know me, and all of whom first saluted and then waved.

As we neared the city, it was dark, so I picked up Colonel R. F. Perry, Chief of Staff of the division, to act as a guide. He stated he believed the town had fallen, and we therefore decided to go in and see.

As we approached, the hills on each side were burning. We then started down a long road out out of the side of a cliff which went through an almost continuous village. The street was full of people shouting, “Down with Mussolini!” and “Long Live America!”

When we got into the town, the same thing went on. Those who arrived before dark, among them General Keyes, had flowers thrown on the road in front of them, and lemons and watermelons given them in such profusion that they almost became lethal weapons.

The Governor had left, but we captured the two Generals, both of whom said that they were glad to be captured because the Sicilians were not human beings, but animals. The bag in prisoners for the day must have been close to ten thousand. On the morning of the twenty-third, when I was inspecting the harbor, I passed a group of prisoners, all of whom stood up, saluted, and then cheered.

See George S. Patton: War As I Knew It

All smiles for the camera, Montgomery and Patton drive through Palermo.
All smiles for the camera, Montgomery and Patton drive through Palermo.

Meanwhile Montgomery’s forces, even with their room to manoeuvre, were getting bogged down as the German resistance stiffened.