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Nations at war
Rickard, John Nelson. Patton at Bay: The Lorraine Campaign, September to December 1944. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers, 1999
Foreword (by Carlo D'Este); Preface; Map symbols; maps; photos; charts; tables; Selected Bibliography; Index
Appendices: Third Army Order of Battle; German Order of Battle; Casualties and Replacements; Material Losses; Third Army Operational Directives
For most students of World War II, General George S. Patton, Jr. holds a special place among US Army generals as the master of the American version of blitzkrieg. This reputationearned largely by his conduct of operations on Sicily in 1943 and in the pursuit from Normandy in 1944was popularized in the mass market with the eponymously titled, and not always wholly accurate, film of the 1970's (starring George C. Scott) and solidified in more scholarly fashion by Carlo D'Este's 1995 biography.
Author John Nelson Rickard points out in his new book that previous treatments of Patton's military career have tended to ignore or minimize Third Army's bloody head-butting campaign in Lorraine from September to December 1944. In those months, after Patton's headlong pursuit of shattered German formations had outrun the Allied supply pipelineand the critical gasoline spigot in particularand reached a halt at Metz and Nancy, the series of frontal assaults and battles of attrition no more resembled Patton's preferred strategy of mobile warfare than the Battle of Stalingrad resembled the classic German blitz.
The book commences with a review of Patton's philosophy of battle, notes about his tactics in the Louisiana maneuvers of 1941, a brief comparison of the opposing armies of 1944, and a synopsis of the events leading up to the Lorraine campaign, notably the "cavalry-like" exploitation of Patton's Third Army following the breakout at St. Lo which Rickard praises but places in perspective.
It has also been suggested that Patton's opportunistic operational method did not prevent him from "meticulously" planning anticipated campaigns. Yet there was nothing "meticulous" about Patton's preparations for operations in Lorraine. In the fall of 1944 he was exuberant about his August successes where his tactical formula had worked to perfection. He would never cease in his attempt to impose the notions of the old cavalryman on the battlefield in Lorraine even when the circumstances demanded new methods.
Rickard examines with heavily footnoted detail the action in Lorraine mostly from the perspective of Patton's conduct of operations and carefully analyzeswithin the framework of friendly forces and capabilities, enemy forces and capabilities, terrain, weather conditions, logistics, and orders and limitations imposed by higher headquartershow Patton performed in an unfamiliar environment.
Indeed, the book is less an account of what happened, and more an analysis of Patton's role in making it happen, with an emphasis on evaluatingalmost second-guessinghis options and decisions. Readers looking for a comprehensive account of the campaign itself might be somewhat disappointed as Rickard seems to assume that his audience will be familiar with earlier works (such as Hugh Cole's The Lorraine Campaign from the US Army official history series) which focus on the nitty-gritty of maneuver and combat.
Rickard quotes Cole liberally as well as presenting information and opinion from authors (such as Kemp, D'Este, Wilmot, Blumenson, Gabel, Nye, Weigley, and others) who have plowed the same ground, even if not so deeply or carefully. In that respect, Patton at Bay, in its attention to previous works and its constant measuring and weighing of the opinions and conclusions of other writers, sometimes seems more like a doctoral thesis (or even a "compare and contrast" assignment) than a piece of original scholarship. In the end, though, Rickard's approach proves thorough and satisfactory and he is not shy about offering his own point of view.
On the 17th, Patton sent his Chief of Staff, Major General Hugh J. Gaffey, to hurry Eddy in his preparations. Though Gaffey was a highly capable officer and enjoyed the full confidence of the army commander, it was Patton who needed to be at the front with Eddy, pushing him to make sure that XII Corps attacked on schedule. Patton justified his decision to send Gaffey by stating "I have been going to the front so much and kicking so much about delay that I have the generals jittery so I am spending a Sunday in the truck with Willie." This may not have been the best time to play with his pet dog.
Although this might sound a little catty, Rickard's thoroughness pays off with, for example, tables listing all visits by Patton and his senior staff officers to subordinate headquarters.
Rickard acknowledges Patton's strengths and often highlights occasions on which Patton's perception of the larger campaignand his plans for exploiting the situationmade more sense than the plans of superiors. Still, in what is mostly a fair and balanced analysis, Patton receives considerable criticism for his handling of the Lorraine campaign and the costly, clumsy initial attacks against Metz in particular. Among Rickard's verdicts:
- Patton failed to heed intelligence warnings of enemy capabilities
- He continued to rely on failed plans after they had proved unworkable
- On a number of occasions he failed to clearly state his intentions and coordinate his subordinates
- He neglected to take into account his own shortages of manpower, equipment, and air support
- He incorrectly maintained his focus on assaulting Metz rather than masking it
Patton was still on probation [after the slapping incidents in Sicily] when he entered Lorraine... Eisenhower still deemed it essential that he be kept under control. Bradley was Patton's greatest restraint....
The result was caution on Patton's part....
Although he regained some of his swagger after the success of the Normandy campaign, Patton certainly never brought his full improvisational style to bear in Lorraine. But excuses cannot be made for his failure to make sound tactical decisions. His difficulties were produced by a failure to sometimes face the obvious but also due to the incompatibility of his established battle philosophy with battle conditions in Lorraine, particularly his concepts of minimal interference and utilization of speed. However, had he not abandoned his most cherished concept, that of avoiding the enemy's main strength, his operations might have been far more successful.
Rickard's is a very analytical, somewhat dry account of Patton's decision-making in Lorraine. Some readers who consider Patton a genius and a hero might feel he is unfairly tarnished here, but most students of the war will welcome this detailed re-evaluation of a less spectacular aspect of the general's career. Also features some very comprehensive order of battle information plus data on casualties, replacements, and equipment losses in the appendices.
Available from online booksellers, local bookshops, or directly from Praeger.
Thanks to Praeger for providing this review copy.
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Reviewed 30 May 1999
Copyright © 1999 by Bill Stone
May not be reproduced in any form without written permission of Stone & Stone