Michigan War Studies Review
Reviews, surveys, original essays, and commentary in the field of military studies.
6 September 2012
Review by Adam J. Rinkleff, The University of North Texas
Fighting Patton: George S. Patton Jr. through the Eyes of His Enemies
By Harry Yeide
Minneapolis: Zenith Press, 2011. Pp. xiii, 514. ISBN 978–0–7603–4128–5.
Descriptors: Volume 2012, 20th Century, World War II, Biography Print Version

Harry Yeide, a government foreign affairs analyst, has written several works on armored warfare during World War II.[1] In Fighting Patton, he seeks to provide a biographical account of George Patton's combat career in a balanced narrative using German sources. He states his thesis in the words of Basil Liddell Hart: "Seeing the battle through the opponent's eyes is the most dramatic way of seeing it" (ix). Well and good, but Yeide fails to uncover sufficient material to justify his approach. Indeed, the earliest direct German mention of Patton cited here is merely a paraphrased comment by a junior officer who refers inaccurately to the situation in late August 1944. Instead of awkwardly stretching such sparse material across four hundred pages, Yeide should have written a focused article.

Even more problematic than the lack of documentary evidence is Yeide's continual digressions. We read, for example, about combat operations in France in early July 1944—before Patton took command of Third Army. Yeide offers one quotation about the tenacious defense by British infantry forces, another on the strength of Allied artillery and airpower, another regarding the effectiveness of combined-arms operations, and finally a discussion of Hitler's decision to mobilize the Volksgrenadiers. Then comes an outline of the July 20th assassination plot, which "set off a metaphorical bomb in the German officer corps, much as if a military cabal had nearly killed President Franklin Roosevelt and Eisenhower" (226–28). None of this belongs in a book about George Patton.

Yeide strays so far afield as to include statistical studies of German and Soviet forces during the battle of Kursk. The German advance toward Belgorod and the Soviet advance toward Kiev consume an entire chapter. Far more germane would have been a statistical analysis of forces in Sicily and fuller detail about combat operations in Tunisia and France. It is certainly true, as Yeide writes, that Patton faced German generals who had previously fought in Russia, but it is simply unreasonable in a biography of the American general to discuss such events in so much detail.

Considerable space is also dedicated to the German invasion of Russia in 1941 and the subsequent Stalingrad campaign, which had nothing to do with Patton. The following excerpt is typical.

Hausser nearly reached Moscow and fought to break through the capital's defenses at Borodino, some seventy miles from the capital, where Napoleon had defeated the tsar's army in September 1812. Stalin had built an eight-mile deep, layered defensive line, featuring, in order, automatic flame throwers, zigzag antitank trenches, a small river bordered by barbed wire entanglements, a large antitank ditch, steel antitank barriers, bunkers and field trenches, and heavy-gun batteries. The fresh 32nd Infantry Division from Siberia, backed by two brigades of T34 tanks, held the field. (84–85)

Although Yeide's convoluted approach is frustrating and inelegant, his work should not be ignored. To his credit, he has made use of several German sources that will inform future biographies of Patton. For example, in his discussion of the events of 16 September 1918, Yeide adduces a German source that may describe Patton: "The 1st Battalion men could plainly see the officer.… The tall officer [Patton?] stood on the edge of the trench ... gesticulating ... waving a walking stick in the air.... German gunners watched across their sights as the officer and six men rose and came on ... until only the officer and another man were left" (36). Unfortunately, Yeide neither clearly cites his source nor even directly quotes it, instead devoting space to a speech by Pericles (414)! Has he, then, actually uncovered a source that refers to a tall officer with a walking stick, or does his paraphrase merely reflect what he presumes the Germans were witnessing?

Yeide later makes several points about Patton's leadership that merit careful consideration, because they challenge received opinion. With regard to the fighting in Morocco during 1942, he asserts that Patton had "no control" over events, thus contradicting claims that the campaign "confirmed Patton's military brilliance" (146)[2]. Yeide maintains that the Germans were "not overly impressed" by American leadership during the Tunisian campaign of 1943 and that Patton did nothing to change that assessment (164–76). He dismisses the victorious Sicilian campaign that same year as "empty glory," noting that Patton made his famous advance through territory the Germans had already abandoned (193–214). As for the French campaign of 1944, Yeide disputes the traditional notion that Patton could have advanced deep into Germany, if only Third Army had been allotted sufficient fuel, and he labels the Lorraine campaign a German victory (276–358). He also argues that Patton's intervention during the German offensive of December 1944 was not decisive—he merely accomplished what might reasonably be expected of any competent commander. Indeed, from the perspective of Gen. Hasso von Manteuffel, credit for the Allied victory belonged to Generals Eisenhower and Montgomery (379). Finally, Yeide contends that Patton commanded only a tertiary section of the front during the campaign of 1945, engaging remnants of an already defeated enemy army (381). In short, Yeide's Patton never displayed any genuine brilliance.

Unfortunately, given its purported subject, the book barely discusses the German opinion of Patton's martial ability. We get many outlines of German combat deployments and detailed biographies of various commanders, but precious little discussion of actual perceptions of George Patton. Lacking adequate material to support his original research goal, Yeide concentrates instead on the German troops that faced Patton, not their opinions of the man himself. Of course, such silence does give the overall impression that the Germans did not think very much of the American general.

To be sure, the Germans were not wholly unaware of Patton. For example, Field Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt believed Patton was one of the best Allied commanders, but he also felt Montgomery deserved such praise (415). Insightfully, Gen. Fritz Bayerlein judged Patton preeminent during the beginning of the 1944 campaign, but the Germans later developed more respect for Generals Omar Bradley and Courtney Hodges (417). Yeide astutely concludes from such gleanings of the sparse source material that "The Germans were less impressed by Patton ... than some American historians would like to believe" (420). Further, he suggests that the high praise for Patton in the postwar reminiscences of some German commanders (notably, Hermann Balck) do not accurately reflect wartime realities. The Germans never saw Patton as a "worthy strategist," only as one competent commander among many (420)

Ultimately, this book, despite many acute observations, is fundamentally flawed and cannot be considered a definitive biography of its subject.[3] Although I agree that Patton's genius has been exaggerated, Yeide's argument rests upon a superficial examination of the few available German source materials. Indeed, it is perplexing that the author makes such extensive use of German sources, many of them irrelevant to Patton, while neglecting pertinent American records. We can only hope someone will write an objective account of Patton's career that provides as much discussion of the American army as of its German adversary.

[1] Including Steeds of Steel: A History of American Mechanized Cavalry in World War II (Minneapolis: Zenith Pr, 2008), The Infantry's Armor: The U.S. Army's Separate Tank Battalions in World War II (Mechanicsburg, VA: Stackpole, 2010), and The Longest Battle: September 1944–February 1945: From Aachen to the Roer and Across (Minneapolis: Zenith Pr, 2005).

[2] See, e.g., Martin Blumenson, Patton: The Man behind the Legend, 1885–1945 (NY: William Morrow, 1985) 179.

[3] That distinction belongs to Carlo D'Este's Patton: A Genius for War (NY: HarperCollins, 1995).

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