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Patton Prayer

Patton Prayer

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Published by Robert Hays
A commentary on the Battle of the Bulge and the famous "Patton prayer" published in the Champaign, Illinois, News-Gazette Dec. 11, 2011.
A commentary on the Battle of the Bulge and the famous "Patton prayer" published in the Champaign, Illinois, News-Gazette Dec. 11, 2011.

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Published by: Robert Hays on Dec 14, 2011
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12/14/2011

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The News-Gazette
Dec. 11, 2011
All rights reservedGuest Commentary
The Battle of the Bulge—and Patton’s Prayer
Robert HaysIn mid-December, 1944, Americans reacted with stunned disbelief as their newspapers brought the unexpected news that Hitler’s armies, despite disastrous losses at the hands of Alliedforces throughout the autumn, had broken out in a desperate counter-offensive in the Ardennes.It was the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge, one of the darkest points of World War II.German panzer divisions crept out of the black forests under cover of drenching rains,near-impenetrable fog and swirling ground mists which muffled sounds of their movement, blotted out the sun and reduced visibility to near zero. Allied troops on the Luxembourg frontier were quickly overrun, their food and ammunition rapidly depleted. It appeared for a time that theenemy attack might be successful and even reverse the course of the war.We know now that this didn’t happen, of course, but there still are issues surrounding theBulge that always seem worth revisiting.One is the question of whether the German advance, which left some 77,000 Americansoldiers dead, wounded or captured and delayed the end of combat in Europe, might not have been prevented. Intelligence information was at hand that could have let the Allies set a trap anddestroy the enemy forces.
 
Another is the intriguing story of the famous “Patton prayer.” The prayer for goodweather that Gen. George S. Patton Jr. ordered to be distributed to a quarter-million troops seemsto have been answered, just in time to turn the tide and spare even more disastrous Allied losses.The German action began Dec. 16, and on the night of Dec. 20 the enemy forces cut thelast route into the little Belgian town of Bastogne and surrounded troops of the 101
st
AirborneDivision and 10
th
Armored Division who had fought desperately to hold this criticaltransportation crossroads. The Allied decision to hold Bastogne at virtually all costs had been asevere blow to the German plans, but now the encircled troops were quickly falling into direstraits.Although historians consistently have called the Germans’ advantage of surprise anAllied intelligence failure, the enemy action was not entirely unexpected in Patton’s U.S. ThirdArmy headquarters in Nancy, France. As early as Dec. 9, Patton’s chief intelligence officer, Col.Oscar Koch, had briefed Patton and his staff in detail on the possibility of a German attack.Hard-pressed as Hitler’s forces were, Koch pointed out, the Germans were gathering aformidable number of panzers, panzer grenadiers, paratroops and elite SS troops in the SchneeEifel Forest opposite an under-strength U.S. First Army. And although the enemy desperatelyneeded infantry units at the front, Koch said 13 divisions were being held in reserve and the buildup was continuing.In short, Koch reported, the enemy had gained an approximate two-to-one numericaladvantage in the Ardennes area. In his view, all the ingredients of an attempted German breakoutwere in place. The heart of the threatened area lay some hundred miles north of Third Army, butthe threat clearly was important in terms of the Third Army left flank.
 
At the end of Koch’s briefing, Patton stood and told his staff, “We’ll be in a position tomeet whatever happens.” They were to begin making plans accordingly.Koch’s intelligence reports were sent to the higher headquarters of Gen. Omar Bradleyand Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, of course, but essentially ignored. The enemy attack came a week later.Meanwhile, a day before the Dec. 9 briefing, Patton had asked the Third Army chaplainnot only for a weather prayer, but also for a training letter on the importance of prayer to be sentto all the chaplains and unit commanders down to battalion level. Writing four years later abouthis meeting with Patton, the chaplain, Col. James H. O’Neill, recalled that the commander expressed a strong belief in the power of prayer.Patton told him, the chaplain wrote, “We’ve got to get not only the chaplains but everyman in the Third Army to pray. We must ask God to stop these rains.”On Dec. 11 and 12, more than 3,000 copies of the chaplain’s Training Letter No. 5 weredistributed. It advised that “This Army needs the assurance and the faith that God is with us.With prayer, we cannot fail.” In case there was any doubt, O’Neill added his pledge that theletter had “the approval, the encouragement, and the enthusiastic support of the Third UnitedStates Army Commander.”The prayer for good weather, printed on the back of a small card that carried Patton’sChristmas greetings to the troops, also was distributed at this time. It was supposed to be in thehands of every Third Army soldier by Dec. 14. The text read:“Almighty and merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, torestrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that armed with Thy power, we

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