1: Dwight Eisenhower was furious.
D-Day was only weeks away. As the Supreme Commander of the Allied invasion of Europe, Ike was under tremendous pressure. Daily, he confronted leadership questions of the utmost complexity, write Raymond Kethledge and Michael Erwin in Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership Through Solitude.
And, General George S. Patton had stepped in it. Again.
In a speech to a British social club, Patton had said: “Since it seems to be the destiny of America and Great Britain to rule the world, the better we know each other, the better off we will be.”
Patton’s offense? He left the Soviet Union out of the ruling group.
The press jumped on the statement. Patton’s comments made headlines worldwide and strained relations with a key ally at a critical juncture.
2: This incident was the latest in a string of episodes involving General Patton. The prior year he had slapped one shell-shocked soldier and then another at a field hospital in Sicily. Ike had been irate, writing to his long-time friend: “I must seriously question your good judgment and your self-discipline as to raise serious doubt in my mind about your future usefulness.” He added: “No letter that I have been called upon to write in my military career has caused me the mental anguish of this one.”
Ike had directed Patton to apologize to the two men, which he did.
Now, with D-Day about to happen, Patton had done it again. On April 29, Ike cabled Army Chief of Staff George Marshall regarding Patton: “On all of the evidence now available, I will relieve him from command.” To replace Patton, Ike proposed General Courtney Hodges, who “can do a very fine job as Third Army commander. The big difference is that Patton has proved his ability to conduct a ruthless drive whereas Hodges has not.”
A significant difference indeed.
Ike then wrote a letter to Patton: “I have warned you time and again against your impulsiveness in action and speech and have flatly instructed you to say nothing that could be misinterpreted by either your own subordinates or by the public.”
Then Ike’s criticism of Patton became even more personal: “You first came into my command at my own insistence because I believed in your fighting qualities and your ability to lead troops in battle,” he wrote. “At the same time I have always been fully aware of your habit of dramatizing yourself and committing indiscretions for no other apparent purpose than of calling attention to yourself. I am thoroughly weary of your failure to control your tongue and have begun to doubt your all-round judgment, so essential in high military position.”
What would Ike do?
General Patton was the only American general with experience fighting Rommel, the commander of the German coastal defenses. And, Ike was under immense pressure for the success of the Normandy invasion, code-named Overlord. Just three days before, Marshall had reminded him: “You carry the burden of responsibility as to the success of OVERLORD.”
Ike knew “the persons who would be most happy to see Patton sent home would not be members of Congress or [Omar] Bradley or the Washington Post, but the Germans themselves. They feared Patton as they did no other American general,” the authors note.
3: Marshall’s response to Ike’s April 29 cable was “one of the more consequential of the war,” the authors note. “Now that Eisenhower was proposing to remove Patton outright, Marshall responded with cool, measured indirection.”
On May 2, Marshall wrote: “The decision is exclusively yours. My view, and it is merely that, is that you should not weaken your hand for OVERLORD… Do not consider War Department position in this matter. Consider only OVERLORD and your own heavy burden of responsibility for its success. Everything else is of minor importance.”
Catharsis and cool reflection won out. Two days later, Ike cabled Patton: “I am once more taking the responsibility of retaining you in command in spite of damaging repercussions from a personal indiscretion. I do this solely because of my faith in you as a battle leader and from no other motives.”
History suggests Ike’s decision was the right one, Raymond and Michael write. They note Patton’s “brilliant performance, in contrast to Hodges’s lethargy, during the Allies’ desperate struggle in the Battle of the Bulge.”
Reflection: Consider an important decision I have made. How did I approach the decision? Upon what factors did I rely?
Action: Journal about my answers to the questions above.