George Smith Patton, Jr. (November 11, 1885 – December 21, 1945) was a general in the United States Army, best known for his command of the Seventh United States Army, and later the Third United States Army, in the European Theater of World War II.
Born in 1885 to a privileged family with an extensive military background, Patton attended the Virginia Military Institute, and later the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He participated in the 1912 Olympic Modern Pentathlon, and was instrumental in designing the M1913 "Patton Saber". Patton first saw combat during the Pancho Villa Expedition in 1916, taking part in America's first military action using motor vehicles. He later joined the newly formed United States Tank Corps of the American Expeditionary Forces and saw action in World War I, first commanding the U.S. tank school in France before being wounded near the end of the war. In the interwar period, Patton remained a central figure in the development of armored warfare doctrine in the U.S. Army, serving on numerous staff positions throughout the country. Rising through the ranks, he commanded the U.S. 2nd Armored Division at the time of the U.S. entry into World War II.
Patton led U.S. troops into the Mediterranean theater with an invasion of Casablanca during Operation Torch in 1942, where he later established himself as an effective commander through his rapid rehabilitation of the demoralized U.S. II Corps. He commanded the Seventh Army during the Invasion of Sicily, where he was the first allied commander to reach Messina. There he was embroiled in controversy after he slapped two shell-shocked soldiers under his command, and was temporarily removed from battlefield command for other duties such as participating in Operation Fortitude's disinformation campaign for Operation Overlord. Patton returned to command the Third Army following the invasion of Normandy in 1944, where he led a highly successful, rapid armored drive across France. He led the relief of beleaguered U.S. troops at Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge, and advanced his army into Nazi Germany by the end of the war.
After the war, Patton became the military governor of Bavaria, but he was relieved of this post because of his statements on denazification. He commanded the Fifteenth United States Army for slightly more than two months. Patton died following an automobile accident in Europe on December 21, 1945.
Patton's colorful image, hard-driving personality and success as a commander were at times overshadowed by his controversial public statements regarding the Soviet Union which were out of accord with American foreign policy. But his philosophy of leading from the front and his ability to inspire his troops with vulgarity-ridden speeches, such as a famous address to the Third Army, attracted favorable attention. His strong emphasis on rapid and aggressive offensive action proved effective. While Allied leaders held sharply differing opinions on Patton, he was regarded highly by his opponents in the German High Command. A popular, award-winning biographical film released in 1970 helped transform Patton into an American folk hero.