When George S. Patton died after his neck was broken in what at first appeared to be a minor accident as he was on his way to a pheasant hunt near Manheim, Germany, the loss of the brilliant, hard-driving World War II U.S. Army tank general opened up a can of conspiracy worms.
The rough-edged four-star general was outspoken about his dislike for the Soviet Union, didn’t care much for some of his nation’s other World War II allies and was notorious for crossing verbal swords with America’s leaders in the White House and the Defense Department.
As news spread that the controversial 60-year-old lifelong soldier had died on December 21, 1945, less than 12 full days after his 1939 Cadillac smacked into the side of a U.S. Army 2.5-ton truck that suddenly made a left turn into the sedan’s path, rumors were already making the rounds that the general was murdered.
Struck his skull
Patton’s chief of staff, Major General Hap Gay, who was in the back seat with him, and the driver of the staff car, an Army private first class, were barely shaken up. But the impact reportedly caused Patton to lurch forward and strike his skull on the thick glass partition between the front and back seats, gashing his forehead and apparently causing the fatal injury. The general immediately complained that he couldn’t breathe.
Paralyzed from the neck down, Patton, whose men sometimes fondly referred to him as “Old Blood and Guts,” lingered in great discomfort at the U.S. military hospital in Heidelberg before dying in his sleep. Cause of death was announced as pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure.
There was no autopsy, an omission that was later pounced on by conspiracy theorists as evidence of a cover-up. There was as much speculation about who was behind the cover-up as there was about who put out the hit on Patton and who carried it out.
Joseph Stalin, the bloodthirsty Communist dictator of the Soviet Union, and Lavrenti Beria, the head of Russia’s secret political police the NKVD-KGB, were at the top of the list of suspects. Patton hated communism and was openly urging the United States to declare war against the Soviet Union and fight them while we still had a huge advantage in air power, artillery and tanks.
That of course was embarrassing to official Washington, which favored a softer, less warlike approach to relations with the Soviets.
Some talk circulated that while Patton clung to life for several days following the car-truck collision an NKVD operative sneaked into his room and poisoned him,
In 2008 London’s Sunday Telegraph reported that military historian and author Robert Wilcox charged in his new book, “Target Patton,” that the fractious old soldier’s assassination was ordered by General William “Wild Bill” Donovan, then head of the Office of Strategic Services, which later became the CIA.
According to Wilcox’s account, reportedly written after a 10-year investigation, Donovan ordered a crack marksman to permanently shut Patton up. Citing interviews with the sniper and extracts from his diaries, Wilcox declared that the sharpshooter staged the car-truck crash then followed up by firing a low-velocity object at Patton that broke his neck.
Wilcox later told the Telegraph that the shooter quoted Donovan as telling him Patton was out of control and threatening to ruin everything the Allies had accomplished.