Patton's prayer A true story of courage, faith, and victory in World War II

Alex Kershaw

Large print - 2024

"From Alex Kershaw, author of the New York Times bestseller Against All Odds, comes an epic story of courage, resilience, and faith during the Second World War General George Patton needed a miracle. In December 1944, the Allies found themselves stuck. Rain had plagued the troops daily since September, turning roads into rivers of muck, slowing trucks and tanks to a crawl. A thick ceiling of clouds had grounded American warplanes, allowing the Germans to reinforce. The sprint to Berlin had become a muddy, bloody stalemate, costing thousands of American lives. Patton seethed, desperate for some change, any change, in the weather. A devout Christian, he telephoned his head chaplain. "Do you have a good prayer for the weather?" ...he asked. The resulting prayer was soon printed and distributed to the 250,000 men under Patton's command. "Pray when driving," the men were told. "Pray when fighting. Pray alone. Pray with others. Pray by night and pray by day. Pray for the cessation of immoderate rains, for good weather for Battle. . . . Pray for victory. . . . Pray for Peace." Then came the Battle of the Bulge. Amid frigid temperatures and heavy snow, 200,000 German troops overwhelmed the meager American lines in Belgium's Ardennes Forest, massacring thousands of soldiers as the attack converged on a vital crossroads town called Bastogne. There, the 101st Airborne was dug in, but the enemy were lurking, hidden in the thick blanket of fog that seemed to never dissipate. A hundred miles of frozen roads to the south, Patton needed an answer to his prayer, fast, before it was too late"--

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Large print books
[New York] : Random House Large Print [2024]
Main Author
Alex Kershaw (author)
First large print edition
Physical Description
411 pages (large print), 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 24 cm
Includes bibliographical references and index.
  • Introduction
  • Part 1. Watch on the Rhine
  • Chapter 1. Stuck in the Mud
  • Chapter 2. Dark December
  • Chapter 3. Blitzkrieg
  • Chapter 4. Blood and Iron
  • Chapter 5. Crisis at Verdun
  • Part 2. Days of Thunder
  • Chapter 6. "Drive like Hell"
  • Chapter 7. The Hole in the Doughnut
  • Chapter 8. Blue Skies
  • Chapter 9. Manna from Heaven
  • Chapter 10. Christmas Eve
  • Chapter 11. Christ's Birthday
  • Part 3. Salvation
  • Chapter 12. "Let 'er Roll!"
  • Chapter 13. His Finest Hours
  • Chapter 14. Bloodred Snow
  • Chapter 15. Houffalize
  • Chapter 16. Battered Bastards
  • Part 4. Victory in Europe
  • Chapter 17. To the Rhine
  • Chapter 18. The Crossing
  • Chapter 19. Hubris
  • Chapter 20. The Final Straight
  • Chapter 21. The End
  • Part 5. A Warlord No More
  • Chapter 22. Peace Breaks Out
  • Chapter 23. The Last Days
  • Acknowledgments
  • Selected Bibliography
  • Notes
  • Index
Review by Booklist Review

Kershaw follows his chronicle of the WWII Third Infantry Division, Against All Odds (2022), with the tale of the Third Army's heroic actions, starting with the Battle of the Bulge, including the siege of Bastogne in Belgium, on to the ultimate surrender of the Third Reich. This is also an in-depth look at George "Old Blood and Guts" Patton and his spiritual journey as a hard-charging warrior, leader, and devout Christian. Kershaw details the relationship between the aggressive general and the chaplains who provided solace and support to the soldiers of the Third Army. The story of Patton calling upon James O'Neil, the head chaplain, to find the best prayers for good weather, victory, peace, and the strength to persevere and then to print a prayer and distribute it to a quarter-of-a-million troops illuminates a rarely considered, more humane side of the general. Kershaw's always excellent action writing combined with incisive accounts of faith in battle makes for a new, dramatic, and noteworthy addition to his already extensive oeuvre and to all of WWII history.

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

George Patton was "an unusual mixture of a profane and highly religious man," writes bestseller Kershaw (Against All Odds) in this perceptive biography, which focuses on the general's leadership during the Battle of the Bulge in 1944. With nearly three months of rainy weather hindering his eastward advancement, Patton, better known among his soldiers for his wisecracks and vulgarity than for his faith, ordered his chaplain to write a special prayer for the troops that requested clear skies ("We humbly beseech Thee... to restrain these immoderate rains"). Two days before Christmas, after 250,000 copies had been printed and dispersed, the weather lifted ("What a glorious day for killing Germans!" Patton noted in his diary), allowing the Americans to drive their armored battalions into Belgium and, over the coming months, onward into Germany. Kershaw presents the prayer as a skeleton key to Patton's mercurial personality, going on to trace how he was ruled by a profound sense of honor complemented by a rough pragmatism. For example, Patton went from having "enormous contempt" for Nazis to publicly opposing Eisenhower's de-Nazification plans, arguing that most former Nazis weren't genuine party extremists. Such character analysis is undertaken with a light touch; for the most part, Kershaw's novelistic rendering of Patton's exploits amuses with its punchy dialogue and propulsive action. WWII buffs will want to check this out. (May)

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

In early December 1944, the efforts of the U.S. Third Army, led by Gen. George S. Patton, ground to a halt due to a seemingly endless inundation of rain and mud. Desperate to get his army moving, Patton asked chaplain James Hugh O'Neill, a Catholic priest, to compose a prayer for good weather. Patton liked the prayer so much that he ordered 250,000 copies printed and distributed to his troops. The inclement weather gave Hitler cover to assemble his forces and attack in Belgium, but fair weather returned in time for Patton's army to spearhead the relief of the surrounded American forces in Bastogne. Journalist Kershaw (Against All Odds) highlights the seemingly contradictory personality of Patton, portrayed as equal parts vain, pompous, and vulgar but with a trust in God and belief in the power of prayer. Kershaw also follows the Third Army's actions from the Battle of the Bulge up to the end of the war. VERDICT This concise account of Patton and the Third Army is based on a wide array of primary and secondary sources, including Patton's own writings and military records. Readers interested in World War II history, and Patton specifically, will enjoy.--Chad E. Statler

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A detailed study of the critical role of Gen. George Patton and his Third Army in World War II. Of the many colorful figures to emerge from WWII, Patton is one of the most remarkable and notorious. Pugnacious, ruthless, and impetuous, he was a skilled battlefield tactician and always had one eye on history--especially his own. The problem faced by Kershaw--a journalist who has written a number of books about the war, including The Liberator, The Longest Winter, and The First Wave--is that there is already a shelf of volumes on Patton. The author tries to get around this issue by combining an analysis of Patton as a person and military leader with an account of the Third Army, which Patton commanded in the final stretch of the war. When Patton's troops were bogged down in the winter mud and rain, he asked the senior chaplain to come up with an inspirational message mixed with a prayer. He did, and Patton was so pleased with it that he ordered 250,000 copies printed and distributed. The tactic worked because most of the American soldiers fought hard to delay and frustrate the German Ardennes counteroffensive. Patton often made a point of visiting the front line, and he had a secret wish to die a warrior's death in battle. However, he died due to complications following a car accident shortly after the end of the conflict. Kershaw handles all the material with authority, and even if there is not much new to say, he lets the charisma and mercurial nature of Patton shine through. Readers unfamiliar with Patton will find this book to be a solid, unadorned account, which is, perhaps, what Patton would have appreciated. With careful research, Kershaw tells an engaging story, blending Patton's virtues and flaws into a well-drawn portrait. Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

CHAPTER 1 Stuck in the Mud Metz, France November 25, 1944 The weather was atrocious. Valleys were flooded and roads were coated in cloying mud. Every day it rained. But he knew his troops had to keep advancing, whatever the conditions. Berlin was still a long way away. The poor, sodden bastards under his command had to push on as winter closed in and the days grew shorter. Dead Germans lay piled neatly along the rain-lashed road as a mud-splattered dark green jeep drove past. A white-haired man in the jeep, face reddened from cold and wind, had an ivory-handled pistol strapped to his waist. Three stars were emblazoned on the side of the vehicle and on his polished helmet. Just a couple of weeks ago, on Armistice Day, November 11, he had marked his fifty-ninth birthday. He was the most controversial American general of World War II, George S. Patton, known to some of his more than two hundred fifty thousand men in the Third Army as "Old Blood and Guts." A quarter of a century before, he'd spent his thirty-third birthday in France, at the very end of the war to end all wars, as the Great War had been described. He had earned the Distinguished Service Cross and a Purple Heart while leading the US 1st Provisional Tank Brigade as a lieutenant colonel. "Peace looks possible," he had written to his wife, Beatrice, toward the end of hostilities, "but I rather hope not for I would like to have a few more fights. They are awfully thrilling like steeple chasing only more so." Patton had courted Beatrice throughout his time at the US Military Academy at West Point, New York, where he'd had to repeat a year after failing in mathematics. Their marriage in 1910 had drawn high society from across her native Massachusetts and beyond. She would remain utterly devoted to her husband, despite rumors of him having an affair with the daughter of Beatrice's half sister, let alone the considerable challenges of being married to such a mercurial, hard-driving man. Now George S. Patton-born into privilege and wealth, a superb fencer, the designer of his very own saber, a 1912 Olympics athlete, and a believer in reincarnation-was a three-star general with an entire army and several hundred tanks at his disposal. And he was in a grim mood indeed, that November 25, 1944, as he was driven in his jeep past dead Germans toward the city of Metz. He wanted his troops to see him. He "got out where it is unhealthy oftener than any other general," as he put it, but not too frequently lest he became a nuisance. Patton knew it was important to be seen heading toward the sound of the guns. George S. Patton had never been considered a shirker from any danger. Ever since he'd first seen action, chasing after the revolutionary Pancho Villa in Mexico in 1916, he'd always been up for the fight. The current Lorraine campaign had been his least successful, bringing heartache and frustration. The Germans themselves would later criticize his tactics, arguing that attacking forts in Lorraine and the city of Metz had been too costly. He should have bypassed them and headed straight for Luxembourg. He was, after all, a master of mobile armored warfare. But the terrain and weather had not permitted it. Above all, Patton cursed the weather. It explained all of his problems. He was convinced of it. That was why he was "stuck in the mud." If it only won't rain we will go places. That was what he'd written to his dear wife, Beatrice. If it only won't rain we will go places. Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower had expected Patton to "carry the ball all the way" and push through Lorraine to Germany. Patton had hoped to declare victory by his birthday, but that had not happened. There had been a desultory party and his staff had presented him with "field expedient" Armored Diesels, cocktails usually containing bourbon or rye but now spiked with any liquor that could be found. And still the rain poured down. Trench foot was rampant. In one division, Patton recalled, there were an extraordinary three thousand cases. It could hardly be avoided when men had to wade across flooded fields up to their waists in muddy water. It didn't matter how much a soldier dubbed his boots or how many pairs of dry socks he hoarded; everything that dismal November got wet. Lieutenant Colonel Albin F. Irzyk, one of Patton's most able tank officers, recalled how Patton's 4th Armored Division, to which Irzyk belonged, had finally gotten bogged down after thundering across France. "We had traveled 328 miles . . . in twelve days. . . . We were sixty miles from the German border and another eighty miles to the Rhine River. We'd already gone 328 in twelve days." According to Irzyk, Patton had declared: "We'll be at the Rhine in ten days." Twenty-seven-year-old Irzyk, commander of the 8th Tank Battalion, was a slim and handsome graduate of the University of Massachusetts and the proud son of Polish immigrants. He had had no reason to disbelieve Patton, given the 4th Armored's rapid progress. But then Irzyk recalled, "Patton ran out of gasoline." Or rather it had been taken from him, Patton believed. Eisenhower, Irzyk claimed, had given the British "priority supplies," which were used for Operation Market Garden, an attempt to cross the Rhine in Holland in September, which had ended in disaster. In any case, that fall of 1944, the Third Army had stalled. "Patton, the great offensive weapon," remembered Irzyk, "sat for five weeks as it rained and rained and rained." Patton's men had slogged on. His tanks had crawled forward, tracks caked in mud. The air support had done its best. But the Germans had fought hard in retreat, even though "motley and badly equipped"; they had been helped above all by the appalling weather: the heavy fogs, the flooding downpours, the thick blankets of gray cloud cover. Patton's commanders were now tired, nervy, pushed to the breaking point. Some were doing nothing but fighting the weather. It was one thing to storm across the flat, lush farmland between Brittany and Paris, but quite another to fight through the forests and rugged, hilly countryside of Lorraine and then conduct siege warfare as worn-out units seized the series of thirty-five forts that protected Metz. The rain kept falling. A few days earlier, sodden soldiers from Patton's Third Army had finally managed to capture some four thousand enemy soldiers, the last holdouts in the city of Metz itself. It was a bitter victory. The defenders had fought tenaciously from underground chambers and tunnels, and the combat had been up close and costly. Now a dejected Patton arrived in a hospital near the shattered city. Inside the hospital, Patton went over to a soldier, one of the hundreds from his Third Army who had been wounded each day that dark November in the depressing and gruesome fighting, described by Omar Bradley, Patton's immediate superior, as "a ghastly war of attrition." Had the soldier heard that Metz had finally been taken? The soldier said he had and smiled. Patton, white bushy brows above piercing eyes, smiled back. "Tomorrow, son," said Patton in his high-pitched voice, "the headlines will read, 'Patton Took Metz,' which you know is a goddam lie. You and your buddies are the ones who actually took Metz." Patton left the hospital and then went to question a captured SS major general, 39-year-old Anton Dunckern, a dedicated Nazi who'd taken part in the infamous Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 in Munich. Captured by Patton's troops on November 19, he was the highest-ranking member of the SS to have been seized in Patton's area of command since November 1942, two long years earlier, when Patton's war had begun in North Africa. Sentries stood watch over Dunckern. An interpreter was close by. "You can tell this man," the thin-lipped Patton told the interpreter, "that naturally in my position I cannot demean myself to question him, but I can say this, that I have captured a great many German generals, and this is the first one who has been wholly untrue to everything; because he has not only been a Nazi but he is untrue to the Nazis by surrendering." Patton had enormous contempt for members of the SS. He'd fought the Germans in the First World War, in the deserts of North Africa, the mountains of Sicily, and all across France in the second. They were often a formidable enemy. They'd killed nearly ten thousand of his men in the Third Army since August. He'd kept a careful count. But Hitler's most fanatical supporters, the SS, notorious for killing civilians and unarmed prisoners and committing other atrocities, were "special sons-of-bitches," as Patton called them. "If he wants to say anything, he can," said Patton, "and I will say that unless he talks pretty well, I will turn him over to the French. They know how to make people talk." Dunckern most likely did not want to be handed over to the French. "I received orders to go in the Metz sector," the German said, "and defend a certain sector there, and the reason I did not perish was that I could not reach my weapons and fight back." Patton was not buying that. "He is a liar!" "There was no possibility to continue fighting," said Dunckern. "The door was opened and they put a gun on me." Patton was disgusted. "If he wanted to be a good Nazi," said Patton, "he could have died then and there. It would have been a pleasanter death than what he will get now." "It was useless to do anything about it under the circumstances. . . . I consider myself a prisoner of war of the American forces, and I have not been captured by the French forces." Patton pointed out that Dunckern had belonged to the Gestapo, Nazi Germany's feared secret police, known for torture and murder. Dunckern protested that he had not done "anything against the rules of humanity or human treatment." Patton was done with him. "Have the guards take him outside and have his picture taken," ordered Patton, "and then we'll see what we will do with him. Also tell him that those bayonets on the guards' guns are very sharp." Patton later described Dunckern, a "Gestapo General," as "the most vicious looking human being I have ever seen, and who, after I got through talking to him, was unquestionably one of the most scared. He is the first man I have ever brow-beaten, and I must admit I took real pleasure in doing it." Soon after, Patton finally stood before the troops who had suffered most to take the city. They belonged to the 5th Division. "I am very proud of you," declared Patton. "Your country is proud of you. You are magnificent fighting men. Your deeds in the battle of Metz will fill the pages of history for a thousand years." The lorraine campaign had unnerved Patton. The attrition that November left him wondering whether he had lost his touch. More than ever, he knew, he would have to "push people beyond endurance to bring this war to an end." Patton's Third Army was thinly spread across a wide area. Many more divisions were needed to adequately man the front lines. His own force of three armored and six infantry divisions needed more than ten thousand replacements. Patton's rifle companies were at two-thirds strength or less. "We are having one hell of a war," he wrote to an old friend, Major General Alexander Surles, "and the lack of ammunition and replacements is getting more and more serious. I don't know what the young manhood of America is doing, but they're certainly not appearing over here." The Germans were far from a spent force. Patton wrote in his diary that it was "highly probable that the Germans [were] building up" east of American forces in the Ardennes, the mountainous, thickly forested area in Belgium through which Hitler had launched his Blitzkrieg in 1940. Patton's unease was based on intelligence reports provided by his staff, namely forty-seven-year-old Colonel Oscar W. Koch, who had served with Patton in the European Theater since the invasion of North Africa in 1942. He'd actually been Patton's G-2, his primary intelligence officer, since Patton had commanded the 2nd Armored Division in 1940. Koch was indispensable after more than four years of close collaboration. Rarely did Patton make a move without involving Koch and his crack team of intelligence gatherers. "In Patton's commands," Koch recalled, "intelligence was always viewed as big business and treated accordingly." The soft-spoken Koch had noted suspicious movement of German troops. What was more, along the Third Army's front, there was a notable absence of German armored divisions. Koch knew that the Germans were stockpiling gasoline and ammunition. From air reconnaissance, he had learned that trains loaded with tanks were moving west. Why? Koch believed a "powerful striking force, with an estimated 500 tanks" could be deployed against US forces, and he duly informed Patton. This troubling information did not interrupt Patton's current plans for a decisive strike across the Rhine, which would begin on December 19, with the primary target being Frankfurt. In the coming offensive, he instructed his commanders, "there is no purpose in capturing these manure-filled, water-logged villages. The purpose of our operations is to kill or capture the German personnel and vehicles . . . so they cannot retreat and repeat their opposition." Patton still had a war he wanted to win, and he was eager to get his Third Army moving again after the depressing debacle in Lorraine, which had resulted in the Third Army's greatest losses. In the last three months, his men had moved just fifty miles and incurred fifty thousand casualties-a third of the total the Third Army would suffer during the whole war. CHAPTER 2 Dark December Nancy, France December 8, 1944 early that december, as Patton regrouped his Third Army, the weather worsened. "There is about four inches of liquid mud over everything," he wrote to Beatrice, "and it rains all the time, not hard but steadily." It was high time, he decided, to muster some divine intervention. Around eleven o'clock on December 8, Patton picked up the telephone in his office in the Caserne Molifor, an old French Army barracks in the city of Nancy that was being used as Third Army headquarters. Patton called the chief chaplain of the Third Army, James H. O'Neill. Fifty-two-year-old O'Neill hailed from Chicago. He had attended Loyola University in Chicago, gaining a Master of Arts degree before being ordained a Roman Catholic priest in 1915. He had then become a priest in the Diocese of Helena, Montana, where he had also worked as a college physics professor before entering the US Army Chaplain Corps in 1926. Before joining Patton's staff earlier in 1944, he had served in positions around the United States, in the Philippines, and with the Sixth Army in the European Theater. He would end the war having served Patton in five campaigns. Excerpted from Patton's Prayer: A True Story of Courage, Faith, and Victory in World War II by Alex Kershaw All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.