Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Patton's Alternative Histories

On December 9, 1945, General George Patton was on his way to a hunting trip when his car had a minor collision with an Army truck. Patton hit his head on the glass divider between the front and rear seats, suffered a broken neck, and died on December 21. Naturally this is too fortuitous not to have been a conspiracy. So what if Patton had gone to war with the Russians, or had not had his accident?

Timeline 1: World War 2.1

As World War II drew to a close, General George Patton grew increasingly frustrated at the lingering tensions left behind. He particularly despised the Russians, felt it was only a matter of time before we were at war with them, and advocated launching an attack on them, remobilizing German soldiers for the purpose. His superiors quashed the plan.

Patton initially drew upon all his military discipline to follow an order he detested, but mulled over ways to violate the order without really violating it. Finally, he formulated a plan. He issued an order to border sentries, under strictest secrecy, with a solemn promise of life in Leavenworth to anyone who even hinted at the order's existence. The order was that sentries who witnessed any Soviet atrocity against civilians were to take unilateral action. Perpetrators were to be taken alive if possible and summarily hung. Sentries had already seen plenty, and many of them were enthusiastic about the chance to do something about it.

It took only eighteen hours. A patrol along the border of Bavaria and Czechoslovakia saw five Russian soldiers rape a Czech woman and, when her father attempted to intervene, they shot him. The patrol took advantage of the Russians' preoccupation to bayonet one and capture the other four. A spool of field telephone wire in the Soviets' truck served in place of rope. Signs were hung on the bodies explaining their crime.

An angry Soviet field marshal berated Patton a few hours later and demanded that the Americans be punished. Patton retorted that the Russians, from the lowest private to the field marshal himself, were all criminals and that he had every intention of hanging every Russian war criminal he saw. The field marshal stormed off.

Next day another U.S. patrol saw a Soviet squad line up and shoot a family on the Soviet side of the cease-fire line in Germany. The Americans charged in and were cut down in a company-scale ambush. Patton ordered a battalion to smash the Soviet company and arrest its officers. The Russians responded with a similar assault on a U.S. unit. It was on.

A blizzard of cables and phone calls began between the President, the Soviet Ambassador in Washington, Allied Headquarters in Europe, and the Kremlin. The Russians insisted the Americans had attacked unilaterally and Patton insisted the Russians had attacked. Patton's plan was to slice up into the soft underbelly of the Soviets. The mountain frontier with Czechoslovakia was easily defensible but the cease-fire line in Germany was little more than an accident. Insisting his forces were under heavy Soviet attack, Patton launched his forces northeast toward Poland. His plan was to cut off the Russians in Berlin, while putting higher command in a position of having to support him. Meanwhile, shooting erupted all along the cease-fire line.

President Truman knew perfectly well that Patton had launched his own private war, but stopping it would be a lot harder than starting it. The Soviets would certainly demand massive concessions as the price for ceasing hostilities, maybe even a complete Western withdrawal from Germany. Recovering any Americans taken prisoner would be all but impossible. Meanwhile, FDR's hard-line opponents on the right were ready to pounce on any indication that Truman was selling out American soldiers to Communism. They would whip the public into a frenzy if American POW's languished in Soviet captivity. They were already mounting a mass public relations assault on Truman's failure to confront Soviet betrayal and demanding reprisals against purported Soviet sympathizers at home. Some were demanding a declaration of war against the Soviet Union.

Truman reluctantly concluded he had no choice but to support Patton, at least as long as it took to achieve some sort of stability. After that he'd have him before a firing squad, but that would have to wait. Truman ordered Allied Headquarters to develop plans to repel Soviet attacks and occupy a stable defensive line. The plans were to stress holding actions or modest advances and preventing Patton's troops from being overwhelmed. He also ordered Patton to halt immediately and withdraw to defensible positions. Patton denied ever receiving any such orders. Truman also realized that this could easily escalate into a protracted conflict. He ordered a halt to outprocessing of troops in Europe, ordered recently returned war materiel shipped back to Europe, and stopped all reassignments to the Pacific. Troops home on leave were ordered to report immediately to embarkation stations for return to Europe.

Patton despised the Russians and derided their primitive supply system. Why, he sneered, they even drove pigs and chickens along to feed themselves. But the Russians had bought back their country with 20 million lives and now here they were at war with their supposed allies. Whatever feelings any Russian had about Stalin or Communism, they were furious at the betrayal. Nobody would need to worry about American POW's. There wouldn't be any.

Patton, meanwhile, was having a romp to rival his rapid advance across France. Within a week he was between Leipzig and Dresden, halfway to the new border of Poland. Elsewhere, the British were slowly falling back under Soviet pressure on the North German Plain and the Russians had punched a large bulge into American lines around the Fulda Gap. Patton, true to form, believed his rapid advance was due to his boldness and strategic genius. Actually, the Russians were letting him extend his lines. On D+10, they sprang their trap. Soviet forces pushed south from Germany and west from Czechoslovakia, threatening to pinch off the base of Patton's advance. Meanwhile Soviet forces poured from Hungary into lightly defended Austria, rapidly overrunning the plains of eastern Austria. Then they sliced north into Bavaria. On D+19 they bypassed Munich and by D+25 the three Soviet counterattacks met near Nurnberg.

Patton suddenly was surrounded. Again, true to form, he decided the best defense was a counterattack of his own. Continuing northeast toward Poland would just put him in more danger. Trying to retreat back to Germany would be an admission of defeat and a sign of weakness. The only way out was northwest to threaten the Soviet lines from the rear and try to hook up with American forces. Meanwhile the Russians were invading Germany by a completely unanticipated route, from the south. Neither side was quite sure what to do, but for the Russians, the default choice was to move forward. Stalin and the General Staff, amazed and delighted by this turn of events, poured a flood of tanks and troops across Hungary to support the new Southern Front.

Patton began to have a bad time of it. The word was out among his troops that the Soviets were not taking prisoners and anyone who somehow defied the odds had life in Siberia - probably short - to look forward to. So his troops fought desperately but they began running low on ammunition, food and fuel. They weren't able to capture enough Soviet supplies to meet their needs and the ammunition they did get was incompatible. Squads, then platoons, and finally companies began to be overrun after desperate hand to hand battles. Commanders began giving their men permission to try to make their way back to friendly lines. The vast majority would not, of course, but it was a chance. Patton was furious and ordered a couple of them shot. Increasingly, Soviet small units penetrated Patton's lines and roamed at will. On D+38 a Soviet company overran Patton's headquarters, taking the top officers captive and shooting everyone else. But not Patton. He had pulled the pin on a grenade and held it to his chest.

Stalin communicated with Truman and Churchill on D+50. His terms: unconditional surrender of all Allied forces in Europe. He pointed out to Churchill that British forces were doomed anyway, but he would stop at the Channel. American lines in Germany, even with reinforcements from the States, were crumbling as commanders shuffled forces to meet attacks from both the east and the south. Truman conferred with Congressional leaders who informed him in no uncertain terms they would seek impeachment and trial for treason if he gave in. By D+60 the Russians held everything east of the Rhine and were advancing through Belgium. Total U.S. losses since the war began exceeded the total for all of World War II in Europe. The Italian Communist Party launched an uprising in Italy, while the Communists in Greece overwhelmed the small British forces there. Meanwhile the war in the Pacific ground to a halt. Japan was eventually able to impose a negotiated cease-fire that left its military junta intact and its forces in China in place.

By now, the Manhattan Project had finished work on three atomic bombs and the first test was set to be held in New Mexico. Truman's advisers pushed him to forego the test and use all three bombs on the Russians. Others pointed out the weaknesses of the plan. The bombs would utterly destroy an area a few miles across but wouldn't have much effect on an advance a hundred miles wide. If used on concentrated targets like cities, the bombs would have to be used on targets in Western Europe. Attacks on Russia itself would require one-way suicide runs with a high probability of being shot down and allowing the Russians to capture and reverse engineer a bomb. And the Russians hadn't been intimidated by the Nazis pushing to the outskirts of Moscow. They wouldn't stop after three atomic bombs, and then it would be obvious that the U.S. had no more. Truman was in the frustrating position of having the world's only nuclear arsenal and being unable to use it effectively.

In the end, Truman opted to use all three bombs on Moscow, hoping to decapitate the Russian political and military leadership. Any independent country that allowed an attack to take off from their territory would surely invite the wrath of the Russians, so that left Britain, occupied Italy or Egypt as the only takeoff points even remotely capable of reaching Moscow. Three B-29's were readied in Italy, modified to carry extra fuel and cargo, and painted and modified to resemble Soviet aircraft. Taking off from Italy ensured the aircraft would not overfly some neutral country that would then be a target for retaliation. The volunteer crews were told only that they were carrying extra-powerful bombs and would attack the Kremlin in Moscow. They were told their chances of survival were nil. They were not told that the bombs had self-destruct devices set to go off if the air speed of the plane dropped below a certain level or if the plane went into a steep dive. The planes took off late in the afternoon of August 5, 1945. The plan was to fly at low altitude at night and hit Moscow on the morning of August 6. One plane exploded in flight near Kiev for unknown reasons. The other two made it to Moscow and dropped their bombs, devastating much of central Moscow and killing Stalin, the Politburo, and most of the General Staff. The planes headed west, hoping to make it at least to Finland or Sweden. They actually ditched in the North Sea and were picked up by the British navy.

The Soviet Army was quite capable of fighting this war without higher leadership. In fact, without micromanagement from above, they fought better. They had been relenting somewhat in their treatment of prisoners, sparing those who were obvious non-combat troops or who fought bravely. The destruction of Moscow ended all that. There would be no more quarter. They crossed the Rhine and drove into France. French civilians fired on retreating U.S. forces, accusing them of saving their own skins while leaving them to face the Russians. A series of pincer movements enabled the Russians to sweep up vast numbers of American prisoners. Soviet planes, surface ships and submarines patrolled the English Channel, sinking everything that tried to cross. They even attacked ships in British ports, strafing and bombing disembarking soldiers. Other Soviet submarines, many recently surrendered by the Germans, prowled the Atlantic, sinking troopships headed to and from France. By September, the war was over. Almost all U.S. forces in Europe had been killed or taken prisoner and the Russians ruled to the Atlantic. Truman was impeached and accused of failing to support Patton's attack properly. The plan would have worked, his accusers said, if Truman had ordered an all-out attack. Truman countered that all the forces in position to support Patton were already commanded by Patton and committed to the attack, and diverting more troops would have left the rest of Germany undefended. Neither the troops nor the supplies were in position to launch an offensive elsewhere in Germany, and had they tried, the outcome would have been the same. Congress convened hearings where almost all top military leaders testified that the U.S. simply did not have enough forces in Germany to stop a Soviet attack. A majority of Congress voted to remove Truman, but well short of the two-thirds required.

Truman may have been acquitted by history, but not by the voters. A furious anti-Communist backlash erupted. College campuses were attacked and leftist professors beaten and killed. Truman announced he would not seek re-election in 1948. Senator Richard Russell of Georgia won the nomination, but lost to the Republican nominee, Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. McCarthy's first offical act was to recommend General Patton for the Medal of Honor.

Timeline 2: The Patton-McCarthy Axis

Despite warning that war with the Soviet Union was inevitable, and even urging a pre-emptive attack using re-armed German troops, General George S. Patton was rebuffed repeatedly. Sensing that he was becoming increasingly marginalized, and his future prospects were nonexistent, he decided to retire from the Army. On December 9, 1945, he was on his way to a hunting trip when his car stopped at a railroad crossing for a train. When the train passed, his driver stepped on the gas and stalled the car. While trying to restart it, the car was passed by an Army truck en route to a supply depot. The truck made an abrupt turn and, had the car not stalled, there might have been a collision (1). Patton had an enjoyable hunt and left the next day for Christmas leave in the U.S. He submitted his resignation on January 2, 1946 and spent the next several months relaxing, speaking, and beginning his memoirs.

In May, Patton was approached by Democratic Party leaders from Maryland with an offer to run for the Senate in the 1946 election. Patton had spent enough time at Fort Meade to pass for a Maryland resident, and the current senator was a weak candidate (2). Patton eagerly accepted, relishing the chance to engage in public life and even more, relishing the idea of a campaign battle. Patton unseated the incumbent, George Radcliffe, and won the election handily. In that same election, in one of the biggest ideological turnarounds in U.S. history, Progressive Senator Robert LaFollette of Wisconsin was upset by Joseph McCarthy (3). Patton quickly saw through McCarthy's tissue of lies about his war service, but McCarthy had served in the Marines and flown combat missions, so Patton regarded McCarthy mostly as a slightly distasteful lightweight. Patton had become wearily familiar with phony war heroes by this time, but at least McCarthy had actually seen service.

A series of high profile espionage cases, the Soviet development of the atomic bomb in 1949, and the fall of Eastern Europe and China to Communism moved Patton to near apoplexy. He began asserting loudly that America had been betrayed from within, and that his plan to attack the Russians after the end of the war had been vindicated. He was initially highly supportive of the conduct of the Korean War, especially MacArthur's counterattack at Inchon and march to the Yalu River. When Chinese forces entered Korea, Patton called loudly for the use of nuclear weapons both against the invaders and against supply centers in China itself. But when McCarthy launched his crusade against internal Communism, Patton became concerned that McCarthy's buffoonery would undermine rather than aid the cause. He warned McCarthy that any actions that discredited the anti-Communist cause would have dire consequences.

The emergence of Dwight Eisenhower as a Presidential contender drove Patton to new heights of anger. He utterly despised Eisenhower for, among other things, being promoted over him. He considered Eisenhower hesitant and ineffective as a commander and blamed him for the Russians reaching Berlin first, and still harbored resentment for being denied the chance to attack the Russians. On the Democratic side, it looked like Adlai Stevenson would get the nomination, an alternative that Patton liked even less. When President Truman sacked General MacArthur in October, 1951, Patton launched a rhetorical blitz in Congress and in public, flatly accusing Truman of selling out U.S. forces in Korea.

Patton began to think the only way to save America was to be President. Patton harbored a deep strain of racism that would play well in the South, but the South by itself couldn't win the White House. His chances of winning  the Democratic nomination were poor. There were too many liberals who would oppose him. A third party campaign? That might act as a spoiler for one side or the other, but wouldn't win the election. A coup? The U.S. wasn't a banana republic where occupying the Presidential palace was enough to topple the government. Eisenhower, George Marshall, maybe even MacArthur would remind the armed forces their Constitutional obligation was to the President. But something had to be done.

Patton's first act was to call MacArthur and urge him - "order" was the word he used - not to resign just yet. He hinted that he was contemplating a Presidential run and that if he succeeded, he would have a job for MacArthur. So Truman was stuck with a cashiered general who refused to resign. He found a paper command for MacArthur, tasked with drafting plans for the land defense of the U.S. in case of a hypothetical Soviet invasion. MacArthur's first report urged adoption of General Pershing's idea from thirty years earlier for a national system of defense highways.

Patton met on numerous occasions with McCarthy, MacArthur, and J. Edgar Hoover regarding the Communist threat to America. He offered McCarthy the vice-presidential slot and told MacArthur he would be much more valuable as Army Chief of Staff, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, or Secretary of Defense. Hoover provided the juicy tidbit that Eisenhower was rumored to have had an affair during the war with his secretary, Kay Summersby. Patton himself had already heard the rumors, which were common knowledge among the high command during the war. Patton changed parties and announced his candidacy for the Republican nomination. McCarthy was given free rein to launch attacks on real, suspected, and imaginary Communists in an effort to swing the hard-right vote to Patton. The Summersby rumors seriously hurt Eisenhower's chances. The much more experienced conservative Robert Taft found himself sandwiched between liberals and hard right wingers, and when the convention deadlocked in a near three-way split, gradually saw his support drain to Patton. He finally released his delegates and Patton won the nomination. Patton picked McCarthy as his running mate. Eisenhower, torn between the choice of supporting Democrat Adlai Stevenson, or the Patton-McCarthy ticket, gave lukewarm support to Patton, gave a few generic speeches that dealt more with the threat of the Soviet Union than the virtues of Patton, and generally sat out the campaign.

Patton postured as a clean campaigner and avoided personal attacks on Stevenson, whom he professed to respect highly, and he kept McCarthy on a short leash. But lower level campaign operatives were under no such restrictions. In the North, they attacked Stevenson as soft on Communism, and the Democrats in general as pushing for many of the goals of Communism. Also, the Korean War had ground to a stalemate and Patton campaigned against what he considered a feckless strategy by the Democrats, arguing that a career military man was needed to bring the war to a successful completion. In the South, Patton's speeches were generic patriotic platitudes but his underlings made it clear that Patton was the only hope for states' rights. Stevenson predictably won the Northeast but Patton pulled off the first Republican sweep of the South as well as carrying the Midwest and West. He carried a solid Republican majority into both houses of Congress.

Patton appointed MacArthur Secretary of Defense, who immediately began planning a counterattack in Korea, involving amphibious landings on both coasts plus an airborne invasion. Hoover was given a free hand to root out Communists and anyone with even a trace of pink in their politics, while McCarthy worked with hard-liners in Congress to draft anti-Communist legislation. One of the first acts was legislation denying the vote to anyone identified as a Communist sympathizer, more or less guaranteeing a permanent far-right majority. Patton, meanwhile, drew up a list of possible Supreme Court nominees he could count on to back his policies.


I don't see any reason to assume Patton's death was anything but an accident. But if it was a conspiracy, it was one of the best things that ever happened to us. If "Wild Bill" Donovan, head of the OSS, had come to me in 1945 and tried to recruit me, I'd have joined in a heartbeat. He'd have lost Europe for us if he'd gone to war with the Russians, and he'd have made the McCarthy Era ten times uglier if he'd lived to go into politics. McCarthy was a stupid, clumsy, venal drunk. Patton was shrewd, intelligent, disciplined, and every bit as vicious as McCarthy, and therefore, ten times as dangerous.


(1) In real life, Patton's vehicle collided with the truck and Patton sustained a broken neck, eventually dying (or being murdered by the OSS and NKVD, if you prefer) on December 21. The OSS needed the NKVD to poison Patton because they hadn't had that class yet at Hogwarts.

(2) In real life, the incumbent Radcliffe was defeated by Herbert O'Conor, who was elected to the Senate.

(3) LaFollette actually served only one term as a Progressive, the rest of the time as a Republican. McCarthy narrowly defeated LaFollette for the Republican nomination, attacking LaFollette for his lack of war service (LaFollette was 46 when the war broke out) and accusing him of war profiteering. Actually, McCarthy made more money from investments during the war than LaFollette. In the supreme irony, McCarthy was backed by a Communist dominated union who resented Lafollette's anti-communist stance.