General Patton's War Letters: From Luxembourg and Germany

When GEORGE S. PATTON, JR., graduated from West Point in 1909, he was Adjutant of his class and a fine horseman, swimmer, and marksman. He teas our tank expert in 1917-1910 and despite a serious mound prated the leadership which was to make him the most feared army commander in the Second World War. These letters, written to Frederick Ayer, are the affectionate record of a commander who was eager, audacious, proud of his men, wryly humorous, and implacable towards the enemy. This is the last of three installments.

From Luxembourg and Germany

[Headquarters 3d U.S. Army,
Office of Commanding General]

January 5, 1945

Your letter of December 21 was written just the day before I changed ends, so to speak. I really believe that the said change of ends was the most brilliant operation ever performed, and was due wholly to my staff and to the tremendous efficiency of the veteran American soldiers who now compose our armies.
At the present time the fighting is very hot, but we are retaining the initiative and killing more Germans than I have ever previously accounted for.
I met Alex Standish, who is Assistant G-2 in the Twelfth Army Group, and who is doing a very fine job. His ability to forecast money trends helps him to forecast what the enemy is going to do.
I really feel that, although the German breakthrough was regrettable, it may terminate the war sooner than if they had not broken through because, when they fail, as they will (or as they have) there will be nothing to look forward to. Of course they have an uncanny method of pulling new troops out of the hat, but at the moment it seems to me that they have everything in they can possibly put in, while we still have a few cards up our sleeve.
The weather here would be very enjoyable to you, as you can ski over the entire country. I have never seen so much snow and ice in my life, and never want to see any more. It is a continuous source of wonder to me that soldiers can fight under such conditions.

[Headquarters 3d U.S. Army,
Office of Commanding General]

January 24, 1945

Replying to your letter of the 28th, our bag of 29,000 was simply captured and buried Germans for the ten days’ operation from November 8 to November 18. Our total bag for the 3d Army since August 1 amounts to 490,500, and our total bag from December 22 till January 18 aggregates 106,500, so we have not done too badly. On the other hand, we have had considerable losses ourselves, which I am not at liberty to state. Above is 3d Army only.
At the present moment, we are pursuing the Germans quite rapidly, and it is possible, although not better than that, that our efforts, combined with those of the Russians, may terminate this show sooner than is now anticipated, unless for reasons beyond our control we stop what we are doing now and do something else. On several occasions we have followed this unfortunate policy — or at least it seems so from my worm’s-eye view.

[Headquarters 3d U.S. Army,
Office of Commanding General]

February 6, 1945

We are having a very funny battle right now. I am taking one of the longest chances of my chancy career; in fact, almost disobeying orders in order to attack, my theory being that if I win nobody will say anything, and I am sure I will win; in which case it may well be that I can turn loose armored divisions and re-enact the Brest Peninsula show - of course not quite so fast as the weather is abominable, but still to a degree.
There is no violation of security in telling you this, because long before you get the letter the ex ent will be history, or it may not even appear in the papers if it fails.

[Headquarters 3d U.S. Army,
Officc of Commanding General]

February 21, 1945

Yesterday, I was on a trip which you would have enjoyed a great deal.
First, I visited the place where we crossed the Sauer and Our Rivers. It was really an incredible feat of arms. The river at the time of crossing was about 200 yards wide and running about 9 miles an hour through a gorge which could be only approached down four gullies.
The Germans were on the far side where they had been constructing pillboxes since 1939. We were on this side.
We attacked with two divisions. The one on the right, the 5th, elected to go by surprise; the one on the left, the 80th, decided on a preparation. The results seemed to show that either system is all right if there are stouthearted men making the attack.
The chief losses, aside from enemy fire, came from the water. One day we lost 139 assault boats. Of course, we did not lose the crews of all of them.
These assault boats would be ideal for coot shooting, but are very poor for river crossings. They hold six men and are practically square and work by paddles, which practically no one knows how to work.
The first time I visited this spot the enemy was still shelling it, and we had to keep up a smoke screen so that he could not see whether he hit the bridges. There were a bunch of engineers building a bridge, and I remarked that I had never seen so many small men working so hard; apparently they overheard my remark. When I was there yesterday, things were somewhat quieter, and they had finished the bridge and had a large sign on it, “The General Patton bridge, built by the Mighty Midgets.” It was really quite a thing to do.
Some of the pillboxes covering the bridge were fantastic in their efficiency. There was one at the end of the Midget bridge which was constructed out of the hardest concrete I have ever seen, because our 90 mm.’s firing at 400 yards bounced off. However, we got a direct hit through the embrasure and cleaned out everyone inside.
Another one was built inside of a stone house. What I believe the Germans did was to take the house, remove the inside, and then build the pillbox. When the fight started, they simply pushed out or shot out the walls in front of the embrasures and opened fire.
Another pillbox was camouflaged to look like a wooden barn and was perfectly harmless unless you opened the barn door, in which case an 88 mm. gun stuck out through 10 feet of concrete.
However, the whole thing proves that people who build walls or ditches or pillboxes, or think that the ocean can defend them are gullible fools. No form of defense is worth a damn.
We took in this particular place some 200 pillboxes by storm according to the following principles: —
You first locate the pillbox by being shot at from it. You then locate at least three others covering the one you are working on, usually by the same method of being shot at.
You then detail men to shoot at the eye slits of the pillbox, and as soon as you have discouraged the Germans, which is not difficult, because the eye slit or embrasure is sort of a bull’s-eye at which anyone can shoot, you then have a soldier go up with about ten pounds of TNT, fastened to a thing which looks very much like a for-sale sign, except with a longer stick. This he pushes up against the two-inch steel door of the back of the pillbox, lights a short piece of fuse, and crawls around the corner, putting his fingers in his ears.
When the explosion takes place, the people inside are either killed or stunned, which in a good many cases means the same thing because soldiers are not too gentle removing people who have been shooting at them.
We next visited the Corps to the north where the roads are terrible. I drove for about five hours along troughs of what looked like rather rich cocoa. However, the American soldier and the American equipment have conquered them. We have cut down whole forests with electric saws and built a corduroy road which we have covered with rock with our bulldozers.
Yesterday we had a very lucky attack and finally succeeded in capturing the so-called triangle between the Moselle and Saar Rivers.

[Headquarters 3d U.S. Army,
Office of Commanding General]

Idar-Oberstein (Germany)
March 29, 1945

I don’t know what the people at home are saying about it, but the operations of the 3d Army, which culminated on the 22d of March with the complete destruction of the 7th and 1st German Armies — in which operations we took 6000-odd square miles of Germany, liberated or captured 3000 towns, including Trier, Coblenz, Worms, etc., and captured over 140,000 prisoners and killed or wounded over 90,000 Germans — are probably the greatest defeat ever suffered by an enemy in the history of war and executed at the lowest cost to us.
General Giraud of the French Army was visiting me yesterday, and I told him that I thought our success had been chiefly due to luck. He replied, “No, to audacity,” and I believe he was right.
Since crossing the Rhine on the 22d of March (thirty-six hours before the British did and thereby stealing their show) we have advanced about 65 miles and took an additional 8000 prisoners today.
Some days ago I heard of an American prisoner of war camp about [60 miles to my east, so I sent an armored expedition to get it. So far I have not been able to hear what they did.
We have gone back to living in our trucks as we move pretty often now. The next move will be across the Rhine.

[Headquarters 3d U.S. Army,
Office of Commanding General]

April 10, 1945

Replying to your letter, the current was actually 9 m.p.h. Of course the boats landed further downstream from where they took off, which enhanced the complications of the operation.
By the time your letter reached me, my letter on the superiority of the American tank had already been published. It was not requested. I simply heard a lot of loose talk about the inferiority of the American tank and corrected it on my own initiative.
With respect to prisoners of war, we have taken 420,511 and buried 25,691 to date. Of course the estimated German casualties are much higher. They bury over 80 per cent.
I know nothing about the union activities at home, but I can say that at the moment we have all the ammunition we need.
The Ludendorff Bridge was captured after an attempt had been made to destroy it. It fell on account of the excessively heavy traffic to which the weaker part was subjected and not as the result of enemy action. But before it fell, we had two bridges in.
We are moving our Command Post again tomorrow.

[Headquarters 3d U.S. Army,
Office of Commanding Ceneral]

May 1, 1945

The war is sort of dragging itself out to a nonspectacular termination. There is still a possibility that I will run into the Sixth German Panzer Army, but in my opinion, the total strength of that Army does not exceed that of one American armored division, and since I have four armored divisions and thirteen infantry divisions, the Sixth Panzer Army will be in a bad way.
Judging from the last war, when one gets to the point where the enemy starts making rumors of peace, his fighting value completely disappears. We have been taking tremendous numbers of prisoners.
In the last nine days, for example, we have taken 129,000-odd. During the same period, the battle losses of this Army have aggregated 1767, the nonbattle, 2686, or a total of 4453, so that you can see we are trading pretty well when you consider that the strength of the 3d Army at the present time is slightly in excess of 426,000 men.
Of course the figures I am giving with reference to our own casualties are not for publication. There is no objection to telling people how many of the enemy we are catching. In this connection, our total official bag of enemy prisoners since the first of August, 1944, is 688,984, and we estimate that we have killed and wounded an additional 500,000. In tanks, we are still trading better than two to one; that is, two Germans for one American tank.
Major Stiller, my Aide, who was captured by the Germans a month ago, was yesterday liberated and we are all very glad to have him back.
I believe that John Waters [his son-in-law, who had been a prisoner] left for America by air today or yesterday.

[Headquarters 3d U.S. Army,
Office of Commanding General]

Bad Tölz
May 24, 1945

We have just moved into our 23d CP, which is situated in the city of Bad Tölz. The Headquarters is in a Nazi Youth school building which is the best laid out building I have ever seen. If I were planning a Headquarters building for an Army, I would copy it.
We live in a house about fifteen minutes from here on a lake. It belonged to the No. 3 Public Enemy, Mr. Emman, who is alleged to have been Hitler’s First Sergeant in the last war and who made his money by publishing Mein Kampf. Also, Hitler confiscated a Jewish newspaper and sold it to Emman for 100,000 marks when it was worth about a million marks. As a result he has one of the best houses I have ever seen. It has a bowling alley, a swimming pool, a large number of rooms, a boathouse and two boats — the latter are not very good. If one has to occupy Germany, this is a good place to do it from.
We are in the foothills of the Alps and consequently it is quite chilly in the morning.
I agree with you with respect to de Gaulle and Giraud, but unfortunately Giraud is not fast enough on his feet. In my opinion, France is about shot. Any country in which the women rule has always been on the way out. The middle-class women of France have ruled it for years, but the rule is becoming more obvious.
We had a little excitement with Tito in the hills south of here, but nothing came of it except that I had to move five divisions. Some of the passes still had 15 feet, of snow in them.
Germany is really a very depressing place. It is said that there are 31/2 women to every man. Certainly in the parts I have seen that isn’t an adequate proportion. I think that this non-fraternization is very stupid. If we are going to keep American soldiers in a country, they have to have some civilians to talk to; furthermore, I think we could do a lot for the German civilians by letting our soldiers talk to their young people.
I will probably see you before you get this letter.

[Headquarters 3d U.S. Army,
Office of Commanding General]

Bad Tölz
August 6, 1945

The article you gave me on British economy as the result of the election is no more depressing than what all the people over here, with whom I have discussed it, have said. There are, practically, in the world 31/2 nations who can manufacture; namely, the United States, England, Russia, and half of France, but of this group of four nations, there is only one that can buy; namely, us. Of course, South America is a market, but to what extent I do not know. Many of us, including British, view the destruction of Germany with great alarm. I have always viewed it that way, but the others only since they have become better acquainted with the Mongolians. However, I do not believe that Germany, as a manufacturing nation, can come into effect for two or three years, and then only the part in the hands of the British and Americans. As usual, we have sold our birthright and have given up all the coal and iron regions to the French and English. Some people, who claim to be politicians, express the belief that the present government in England will not last very long. I do not know on just what they base this, except that after the last war, something similar happened.

[Headquarters 3d U.S. Army,
Office of Commanding General]

Bad Tölz
August 21, 1945

So far as the atomic bomb is concerned, I think that its advent was most unfortunate because now it will give the pacifists a chance to state that there can be no more wars, which has been their favorite thesis and chief means of producing wars for the last 6000 years. Actually, the advent of the atomic bomb was no more startling than was the act of the first man who picked up a rock and bashed out the brains of another man, thereby spoiling the age-old method of fighting with teeth and toenails. Certainly the atomic bomb was not as startling as the first cannon or the first gasoline motor or the first submarine. I am not decrying the intelligence of those who devised it, but I am decrying the lack of intelligence of those who will use it as a means of making our country defenseless. The only way to stop atomic bombing of a country by self-propelled bombs, which is what we will get at the beginning of the next war, is to be able to invade the country sending the bombs and destroy their place of construction. We have proved definitely that you cannot put factories out from the air.


July 13, 1945


You men have just won a great war. You won it because you were better trained, better equipped, better clothed, and better fed than any soldiers in the history of the world. I sometimes wonder if you fully realize how very great you are.
During combat, I talked to every unit which it was possible to reach, and I told you what to expect in battle and the best methods of rapidly, cheaply, and decidedly defeating the enemy. The record of your achievement speaks for itself. As a moderate estimate, we killed, wounded, or captured ten Germans for every American we lost, killed or wounded.
Now that all or nearly all of you are returning to civil life, I believe that I should continue to do my best to instruct you how to save your lives and the lives of your children. I realize that in doing this I shall be criticized, but my conscience will be much clearer in the knowledge that I have done my duty as I see it, and have evoked criticism, than it would be if I avoided criticism and left my duty unperformed.
It is certain that the two World Wars in which I have participated would not have occurred had we been prepared. It is my belief that adequate preparation on our part would have prevented or materially shortened all our other wars beginning with that of 1812. Yet, after each of our wars, there has always been a great hue and cry to the effect that there will be no more wars; that disarmament is the sure road to health, happiness, and peace; and that by removing the fire department, we will remove fires. These ideas spring from wishful thinking and from the erroneous belief that wars result from logical processes. There is no logic in wars. They are produced by madmen. No man can say when future madmen will reappear. I do not say that there will be more wars; I devoutly hope that there will not, but I do say that the chances of avoiding future wars will be greatly enhanced if we are ready.
At school, the big strong boy seldom gets in fights. His companions know his capacity, and he respects their weakness. A prepared America is a big strong boy; but a big or little boy who is not physically strong, and particularly one who indulges in unsolicited advice, gets into many fights until at last he is so badly mauled that he loses his manhood. Remember this, and remember further that preparedness must be both physical, mental, and spiritual. If we have, as we could have, the greatest Army, Navy, and Air Force in the world, and yet are not mentally and spiritually prepared to do our duty as men, our efforts will be only partially successful. Many of you know by personal experience how difficult it was to adjust yourselves to the brutal realities of battle after a lifetime of being told that there would be no more wars. If we produce another generation similarly indoctrinated, we may not be able to win the battles.
Twice in my lifetime, America, the Arsenal of Democracy, has come from behind to ensure victory. Is it not evident that should another war arise, those producing it will make every effort to see that the Arsenal of Democracy is knocked out in the first round? How this can be done I do not know, but I do know that the progress made in airplanes and self-propelled missiles is such that the possibility of an early knockout cannot be discounted.
Perhaps a good illustration of what I am trying to put across to you is this: when I went to school, and I presume it is the same now, all the children were taught how to form in column and march out of the building in an orderly manner in case of fire.

This instruction did not, so far as I know, produce fires, but when fires occurred, the lives of the majority of the children were saved. If we go to the extreme of saying that preparedness produces wars, then the instruction in fire drill would produce fires. Therefore, we should not teach children that a fire may come, that the building may burn; and as a result, have the sad duty of removing the charred little bodies from the ruined schoolhouse.
You men are all American citizens, and in your generation you will have a very large voice in determining the election of our public servants and the enforcement of our laws. I am sure that you have found out that discipline, self-reliance, and mutual respect and faith are necessary in the Army. These traits are just as necessary in civil life. Laws which are not enforced had better not be promulgated.
Referring again to the fire department aspect of the prevention of war, a very large proportion of the duties of the fire departments in large cities is not the extinguishing of fires, but their prevention through advice and supervision. You men are all potential firemen. You have put out the fire by your heroic efforts. It is now your duty as citizens to see that other fires do not occur, and that you and your children are not again called upon to extinguish them.
I have been speaking to you not as your Commanding General, but rather as an old man to young men. I am in no way trying to propagandize you, but as I said before, it is my considered opinion that my duty demands that I should explain to you things as I see them.
In closing, let me say that it is my profound hope that we shall never again be engaged in war, but also let me remind you of the words attributed to George Washington: “In time of peace, prepare for war.” That advice is still good. G. S. PATTON, JR.General