This letter was submitted to LebTown. Read LebTown’s submission policy here.
As a retired Licensed Battlefield Guide at Gettysburg National Military Park, it saddened me to hear that the school’s old Donaghmore Mansion and former home of Lebanon’s most notable military family may be slated for demolition.
The old Donaghmore Mansion on the campus of the former Lebanon Catholic High School was at one time the home of the Patch family, where General Alexander M. “Sandy” Patch grew up – a son of Captain Alexander M. Patch who retired from the US Army in 1891 and became an executive of the Cornwall Railroad.
Sandy Patch entered the United States Military Academy in 1909, following in the footsteps of his father (an 1877 graduate) and was commissioned in the infantry in 1913. The younger Patch is not exactly a household name today, but he has been called “the most underrated general of World War II,” by Dr. Keith E. Bonn, the author of several books of military topics. That’s quite a strong statement, so I thought that it might be useful to list a few highlights of General Patch’s career, as found in an internet article by Dr. Bonn.
Sandy Patch first saw action against Pancho Villa’s men in Mexico in 1916, commanded a machine gun school in France in 1917, and commanded a battalion of the 18th Infantry Regiment during the final offensive of WWI in October 1918.
During the interwar years, Patch spent 11 years as a teacher at Staunton Military Academy, a private secondary school in Virginia, where he developed skills in training and encouraging young men. His last assignment before WWII was as commander of the 47th US Army Infantry Regiment of the 9th Division. The 9th Division’s commander was another Pennsylvanian, Jacob L. Devers of York, who would later command Patch during WWII.
Patch was promoted to major general not long after Pearl Harbor and by that time had caught the eye of the US Army Chief of Staff, Gen. George C. Marshall, who tasked him with the assignment of defending the French colony of New Caledonia in the Pacific Theater. Patch secured New Caledonia and was next assigned to relieve the 1st Marine Division at Guadalcanal on Dec. 9, 1942. Patch’s US Army command attacked the Japanese on Jan. 10, 1943, and after weeks of horrific jungle fighting, the Japanese were compelled to withdraw their remaining 10,600 men from Guadalcanal over a three-week period called Operation Ke, ending Feb. 8, 1943.
Patch, who had had a serious bout with pneumonia in France during WWI, once again caught the disease while in the South Pacific. General Marshall brought him home to convalesce at Fort Lewis in Washington state, where Patch was able to build a crackerjack staff. By the fall of 1943, Patch was well enough to command the Oregon Maneuver, the largest training exercise of WWII, comprised of 100,000 men.
In March 1944, Patch assumed command of the US Seventh Army in North Africa. The Seventh was tasked with the upcoming Operation ANVIL (later re-named DRAGOON), the invasion of southern France. Patch had the able American general Lucian Truscott at his disposal, along with American and British parachute and glider troops, plus the equivalent of two French army corps. The attack was planned by Patch’s modest headquarters, whose size paled in comparison to the General Eisenhower’s Operation OVERLORD staff.
Operating behind the scenes was Patch’s old commander from his time in the prewar 9th Division – Jacob Devers. Lt. Gen. Devers, senior to Patch, had been appointed by General Marshall with General Eisenhower’s approval as overall commander of a new 6th Army Group on Aug. 1, 1944. Devers used his clout to make sure that the supplies being accumulated for the invasion were not appropriated by other commands. Patch was left to planning the invasion tactics and in using his considerable people skills to gain cooperation of the British and French troops operating with Seventh Army – all under the umbrella of Devers’ new 6th Army Group. Patch would receive his 3rd star on Aug. 7, 1944.
German intelligence was fooled by Patch’s plans of massive deception, and on the day of invasion, Aug. 12, 1944, the Germans were still dithering about whether the invasion would land in Italy or in France. As a result, two major deep-water ports (Marseille and Toulon) were immediately captured by Patch’s forces. By comparison, no major ports were captured during the much more famous Operation OVERLORD invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.
In the subsequent pursuit of the Germans up the Rhône River valley, the US Seventh Army under Patch captured 88,000 prisoners, exceeding the more well-known Falaise encirclement to the north, where 50,000 to 70,000 German prisoners were captured.
Patch remained low-key about the Seventh Army’s successes, totally ignoring his staff officer who showed him the Time magazine cover of Aug. 28, 1944, which featured Patch’s photograph. By mid-September, Devers had taken overall field command of the 6th Army Group, but Patch soldiered on, pushing his Seventh Army into the rugged Vosges Mountains.
The Vosges had never in history been penetrated by an attacking force, but Patch and Devers pushed the Germans to the Saverne Gap by mid-October 1944, inflicting approximately 25 percent more casualties than they sustained themselves. During this action, Patch lost his only son, Captain Alexander M. Patch III. Patch would later write to his wife that they were not alone in their great loss.
By Nov. 23, 1944, the Seventh Army reached the Rhine at Strasbourg. Instead of crossing into Germany, the Seventh was ordered by General Eisenhower to turn 90 degrees to the north to support Patton in the Saar. The Americans would not cross the Rhine until March 1945.
The Seventh was able to breach the formidable German defenses at Bitche in Moselle, France in less than a week – a tremendous accomplishment. However, by New Year’s Eve 1944, the Germans would counterattack with their Operation Nordwind. Fortunately, Patch’s intelligence officer had correctly predicted the attack, and the Seventh was prepared, because Patch had faith in his staff officer. The Seventh Army completely frustrated the German designs on pushing back the American advance. Encumbered with green units, Patch skillfully split them up to combine them with more experienced units, which lessened his losses. The last-ditch German offensive was thwarted.
By March 1945, the Seventh Army started the drive that took it into the heart of Germany, crossing into Swabia and ultimately to Bavaria. They met their allies of the Soviet Red Army in Linz, the capital of Upper Austria, on May 8, 1945 — VE Day.
Patch was well-known for his cooperation; for example, by accepting Third Army objectives within the Seventh’s zone, and saying, “We’re all in the same army.” The objective, after all, was to defeat the Germans.
Unlike some officers, Patch cared deeply about his men. A staff officer recalled: “Patch was compassionate more than any other commander in his love and care of the soldiers … a lovable, kind, and modest man.”
General Eisenhower gave Patch’s men only eight pages of text out of his total of 180 pages of his afterwar report. Some of this may be due to the antipathy between Patch’s boss Devers and General Eisenhower, as noted by Dr. Bonn (PDF).
Patch would go to bat for his men one final time after VE Day, after he had returned to administrative duty at the Pentagon. Credit in the form of a battle star was being given to men who had participated in the Ardennes offensive, but not to Patch’s men who defeated Operation Nordwind. These credits added up to “points” for the veterans, which were good for earlier demobilization and getting back to civilian life. Patch would go over General Eisenhower’s head and convince General Marshall that the Seventh’s defeat of the Germans in the Alsace was just as important as the Ardennes action — and Marshall agreed. Sadly, by the time of Marshall’s decision becoming official, the Seventh’s men ended up mustering out later than the Ardennes veterans.
Two days before his 56th birthday in in November 1945, Patch would succumb to yet another bout with pneumonia. His wife was asked if she wanted a cadets’ honor guard at the funeral and she declined, as her husband had always told her that cadets hated participating in funerals of generals that they didn’t know. Patch was promoted posthumously to full-general in 1954.
It is my hope that if the developer of the Lebanon Catholic site tears down the Patch’s home, he will at least honor General Sandy Patch inside his common area, perhaps with a wayside marker or something similar.
If the developer chooses not to commemorate the legacy of General Patch, perhaps the Lebanon School District or a local Boy Scout troop can do something to honor this honorable man who helped in defeating Nazi Germany.
Robert Kise is a military historian and retired battlefield guide who lives in Lebanon.