Continuing our series on important military leaders from the 1939-1945 war, we briefly examine the careers of two very well-known names from North America – Marshall and Patton. Actors played them both in many Hollywood films. General Marshall appears in an opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan (q.v.), and George C. Scott memorably portrayed Patton in the film of that name (1970).
George Catlett Marshall was born in 1880. He managed to become not only a distinguished soldier, but combined his military experience with that of a statesman, by no means an easy task. He had no career other than a soldier’s, rising rapidly through the ranks after West Point to become US Chief of Staff in 1939. In fact he stayed in that post until 1945.
Marshall was responsible for enlargement and re-equipping of the army in the short time he had before the United States entered the war (under congressional and senatorial protest) in 1941. In 1939 he found the army in disarray and weak. It was almost entirely due to him that when at last the States went to war in Europe against Hitler and Mussolini, the armed forces were ready and raring to go.
When the Second War was safely won, he led a mission trying in vain to arrange a settlement with the Kuomintang (q.v.) and the communists in China. By 1947 he had entered his statesman phase, organising aid to Greece and Turkey, and fathering the European Recovery Program – the Marshall Plan of happy memory in Spain. In that country they even made a film called Bienvenido Mr. Marshal spelled wrongly on the placards.
Next Marshall tried to bring economic aid to Eastern Europe, but failed because Eastern Europe was almost entirely Soviet thanks to agreements made with Stalin by Roosevelt and Churchill at various summit meetings after the war. The Soviets did not want economic aid, or rather they did – very much, but would not admit to their parlous economic state – as they did not wish to appear weak. Marshall went on to create almost single-handedly the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). This was a defence system for Western Europe, but Stalin saw it as a direct threat to Soviet hegemony. From this moment the ‘Cold War’ grew colder and more ominous, and the spying industry became of paramount importance.
When the Soviets blocked roads and railways to Berlin, Marshall strongly supported the firm line taken by the Western Powers in the so-called ‘Berlin Airlift’. George Marshall was US Secretary of Defense in 1950 and 51. He died at the age of seventy-nine in 1959.
George Smith Patton was born in 1885. Another career soldier from youth, he was commanding a corps in World War II. This was in North Africa, but he made the right moves and was soon in command of the US 7th Army in Sicily.
Unfortunately for America and the conduct of the war, Patton struck a soldier suffering from battle fatigue in a military hospital in 1944. This was considered reprehensible by the President of the United States; the general was relieved of his command.
Back as a military leader rather more quickly than his enemies could believe, Patton became rightly famous for his tendency to make extremely quick advances, not necessarily bothering to consult either supporting units or allies. Nevertheless he made a terrific sweep through France, across the River Rhine and into Czechoslovakia.
Despite opposition from other men of very high rank, who always found Patton ‘Custerish’ and pushy, he became military governor of Bavaria. Now the odd thing is that this great American soldier, never known for leniency towards his own officers and men, was now criticised forwhat was seen as excessive leniency towards Nazis.
While commanding the US 15th Army in Europe, he was killed in a traffic accident. He was just sixty years old.