How Patton Saw the War—In His Own Photographs
General George S. Patton Jr. (November 11, 1885—December 21, 1945), America’s best-known World War II battle commander, was famously nicknamed “Old Blood and Guts” for his aggressive and daring leadership style—an image deliberately cultivated through ostentatious uniforms and profanity-laced “motivational” speeches to his troops. Patton led American soldiers to victory in campaigns from November 1942 to May 1945 in North Africa, Sicily, France, Belgium, and Germany.
However, to gain some insight into how Patton himself viewed the war, the Library of Congress’s Patton Papers includes six boxes of photos and negatives that Patton personally took during the war and sent home to his wife, Beatrice.
The 11 “coffee table-sized” photograph albums Beatrice created and donated to the library provide a fascinating snapshot of what caught Patton’s eye as images worthy of capturing in personal photographs. Here’s a look at how George Patton saw World War II.
On his 59th birthday, November 11, 1944, Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr. photographed this German Jagdpanzer IV tank destroyer knocked out in France by his Third Army forces. That’s his shadow in the foreground. Writing in his diary that the November 11, 1942, capture of Casablanca was “a nice birthday present,” Patton snapped this photo of U.S. soldiers marching through the city during the Operation Torch invasion of North Africa. While serving as military governor in North Africa, Patton hunted wild boars, bagging “my biggest pig” and strapping it and two smaller ones to his half-track’s hood. He sent Beatrice the boars’ tusks. Patton was fascinated by ancient ruins (particularly Greek and Roman sites in North Africa and Sicily), visiting and taking tourist-style photos as often as he could. This ancient Doric temple on a hilltop at Segesta on Sicily’s northwest coast is believed to be one built circa 420 BC by indigenous Elymians. “Another good Hun” is how Patton referred to this jackbooted German soldier’s corpse. After crossing the Moselle River near Nancy, France, in mid-September 1944, Patton visited this division observation post. Patton witnessed a “lovely” tank battle, as two German tanks burned and four American tanks attacked into a wooded area. He claimed he could hear machine gun fire and wrote that he could tell the difference between U.S. and German machine guns—which is very believable given the German machine guns’ much more rapid rate of fire. “It was all very merry,” he wrote. Captured German and Italian weapons and armored vehicles collected in Sicily await shipment to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, where U.S. specialists will examine them. For this photo, Patton apparently used his Leica’s wide-angle lens attachment. During the September 1944 capture of Nancy, France, Patton observed his XII Corps pummeling the city with artillery fire and aerial bombing. Pilots reported that this smoke column rose 4,000 feet. Patton marked some of his photographs to identify enemy positions or terrain features. These indicate German outposts at Nancy. Third Army spearheads rolling into Germany in 1945 often came upon their tank gunners’ mouth-watering “target-rich” environments—roads packed with enemy vehicles. Patton called this sight a “tanker’s dream come true.” Reportedly, targets were engaged at ranges as close as 10 feet. The main prize of the Soviet Battle of Berlin (April 20-May 2, 1945) was the German Reichstag building. Patton photographed its battered and burned façade in July 1945, its columns defaced by Russian soldiers’ graffiti. Most of the legible inscriptions read as soldiers’ names and hometowns—several translate to “Baku,” capital city of the Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic. Third Army’s combat engineers provided vital mobility—such as this pontoon footbridge—which propelled the army’s incredibly rapid gains. Mounting Patton’s three-star placard and claxon horns, his Third Army command jeep (bumper-marked “3A” and “HQ 1”) crosses the Moselle River in France in September 1944. After being owned by a downed RAF pilot, the white bull terrier, Willie, was bought by Patton in 1944. When Patton visited Valhalla Memorial, a Neoclassical building containing a Hall of Fame for well-known “Germanics” above the Danube River at Donaustauf near Regensburg, Bavaria, Willie got a celebrity-worthy seat.