“Play ball!” General George S. Patton said, over the phone.
Play ball? On the phone?
“Play ball” were the code words he had pre-planned so that when he got his plan approved he could call back to the Third Army staff and they would enact his plan on how to react to the German offensive of the 6th Panzer Army into the Belgian Ardennes. General Patton’s divisions were in the south, pushing ahead towards the Rhine and fighting in the hills around Saarbrucken against well-hidden German infantry and anti-tank units. He was not involved in the fighting for the lower, flatter terrain around Belgium. But, Patton knew as Hitler counter-attacked, the Germans were putting their best Panzer divisions in a run into the heart of the allied lines. Patton knew that if the Germans broke through to the allied rear area within northern France, they could create chaos with the allied logistics, which is what Hitler hoped for… General Patton wanted to be included in the counter-attack.
But, to obtain approval and fight north, General Patton had to show his old friend, General Dwight Eisenhower, nick-named “Ike”, that he had a course of action that was possible in terms of logistics, movement and time. General Patton developed his plan and was able to prove that he could turn and drive his tanks that far north in time to make an impact. General Eisenhower made General Patton walk through the pains-taking details of food, fuel, water, and parts consumption for a given march of tanks through the relatively rugged terrain. Of highest concern were fuel and re-fueling. Patton had to show on paper with extensive calculations that he could make the rate-of-march needed to get to the battle and impact the southern flank of the “bulge” given the constraints on fuel, and logistics. Patton wanted to be the anvil to crush the German offensive.
General George Patton had left his position on the front lines to meet with Generals Bradley and Eisenhower, along with the British Generals. He took with him three courses of action, all of which he could show were feasible in terms of logistics: bullets, food, travel distance, bullets and fuel. General Eisenhower and General Patton jointly decided on which was the best option, and Eisenhower approved the plan.
General Patton had taken his commission in the United States Army before General Eisenhower and had been senior to Ike during most of his career. They had known one another since they were both Captains, and Patton turned Eisenhower on to the value of the tank as a fighting vehicle. In fact, Lieutenant Colonel Patton had sent notes to Major Eisenhower on how to pass General Command and Staff College during the 1930s. And they were both fans of logical, formal decision making processes that used the slow, methodical processes that moved decision-making out of the “gut feel” and onto decision matrices, charts, graphs and equations. Generals Eisenhower and Patton turned the “art of war” into the “science of shoot, move, communicate to dominate the terrain and the enemy”. At heart, they were engineers and accountants, designers of human conflict.
You can learn from these men the science of gaining control over your decisions and how to out-maneuver your opponents. It’s not an art, it’s a science and thus any person who puts enough effort into the process, can master it. We need to use the tools of logic and decision that have been developed, such as the military decision making process.
Oh, and the ending? General Patton drove his Third Army hard to the north, and closed in on the Germans as the southern flank of the pincers that squeezed the Germans and killed their offensive. But, ironically, it was the Germans own lack of planning that stopped them “in their tracks” as the slang saying goes from WWII. The Panzer divisions stopped in their tracks because they ran out of fuel. And a tank without fuel is about as useful as a guard dog tied to a stake. The allies crushed the last German units and most of the Germans surrendered, clearing the way for the final assault into Germany.
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