Friday, November 9, 2012

Patton Writes About the Bulge - Lieutenant Patton, That Is

I don't normally take up this page with my book reviews. There are plenty of other venues for that and you can find my reviews on and sometimes on my FaceBook pages. I picked up this book because it had a tank on the cover. There are far fewer war novels written in the U.S. about tanks than there are submarines or fighter pilots. The UK does far better by its tankers in the fiction world than we do, I blame that on Tom Clancy. But this book caught my interest because its author, Oliver B. Patton, was a Class of 1944 West Point graduate and career Army officer, retiring with the rank of Brigadier General. During the Battle of the Bulge, he was a lieutenant in command of a rifle platoon in the hard-luck 106th Infantry Division, much of which was overrun and destroyed in the initial German attack of that Battle. Lieutenant Patton was badly wounded and captured by German forces. He spent the rest of the war as a German PoW, in either German hospitals or prisoner-of-war camps.

“The Silent Snow” is the last of five historical novels he wrote after his retirement from the Army, the other four all set on the American frontier. This is not the story of the Battered Bastards of Bastogne or a paean to General George S. Patton’s Third Army tankers. Instead, this is the story of a lieutenant, separated from his unit in the 106th Infantry Division as it is being overrun in the unexpected German assault. As such it draws heavily upon the author’s experiences in the original battle, though his principal character spends much of the book evading capture as the war rages on in the Ardennes Forest battlefield. Patton’s own story is available online for those interested in it at

Patton presents a workmanlike narrative told in a clear readable style. The story told here is not a full-up war novel, but an account of what happens (or happened) to the men and women who experienced this portion of the Second World War. The book benefits greatly as it reflects Patton’s personal experiences, offering the reader both familiar and some surprising aspects of what was one of the greatest battles fought by U.S. forces during the war. Patton also makes clear the degree to which the American forces were a citizen-army made up of average Americans who wanted most of all to go come again but knew that that road ran through Berlin as they said.

Patton would go on to serve in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars and was wounded again in Korea. He served as assistant chief of staff for XXIV Corps in Vietnam and as Assistant Chief of Staff for Army intelligence at the Pentagon in the late 1960s. He received three Purple Hearts and three Bronze stars during his active military service. His writing career began in retirement. Upon his death in 2002 he was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.
There are not that many works of war fiction that can claim to be authored by an actual veteran of the battle or conflict being written about. For that reason alone, The Silent Snow is worth reading for the general reader interested in the stories surrounding the Battle of the Bulge. It should also interest to scholars examining the historiography of the battle and the nature and evolution of its numerous literary offspring.

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