It's Spring of 1945, the Battle of the Bulge is history, and Germany is on its knees, more and more of its front-line troops made up of old men and "kids with guns bigger than them," as one participant puts it.
I'm not sure any incident captures Patton's character better than what takes place once his men have fought their way across the Rhine River, the last great obstacle protecting the German heartland. He has himself driven half way across, gets out of the jeep, pisses into the river while someone takes his photo, then crosses to the German side, falls down and comes up with two handfuls of dirt, in imitation of William the Conqueror landing on English soil.
We can make of that gesture what we will. He's a colorful character for sure but also childish (pissing) and grandiose (imitating William the Consquerer) at the same time.
Patton had made a mistake in Sicily, slapping two men hospitalized with no visible wounds, and he was sent into exile for it. But his mistake here, after crossing the Rhine, was far more serious and cost hundreds of lives. This was his decision to send a secret raid to liberate a prison camp some forty miles from his front -- secret not just to the Nazis but to Eisenhower. It was estimated that 300 prisoners were in the camp. One of them was Patton's son-in-law.
The raid was a disaster. All the vehicles were destroyed and the survivors joined the POWs already in the camp. The raiding party was called Task Force Baum. It isn't mentioned in the feature film, "Patton: Salute To A Rebel." A few days later Patton's forces liberated the camp and the leader of the raid, Abraham Baum, who had been wounded, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Only a decoration could justify such a mess, so there had to be a hero.
After the war, he was governor of Bavaria for a time until his remarks about declaring war on the USSR brought about his retirement. He was severely injured in an auto accident and died in the hospital of heart failure. He's buried now in Luxembourg.
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