General George S Patton inspects US Army Infantry Divisions in Northern Ireland

Between 30th March and 4th April 1944, General George S Patton visited Northern Ireland, inspecting United States Army Infantry Divisions across Ulster.

By 1944, General George S Patton was a well-known, flamboyant, and fiery character in the United States Army. The Spring of 1944, however, saw the American General visit the United Kingdom. There, he would take command of 1st United States Army Group. This fictitious unit existed in name only with the aim of convincing the Nazis of an imminent invasion of Pas De Calais, France.

While in the United Kingdom, he routinely delivered his infamous speeches in his actual role as Commander of the United States 3rd Army. Wearing full dress uniform, helmet, and riding boots, he would arrive by Mercedes car with his “war face” on and ivory-handled pistol by his side. He gave each speech to around 15,000 men from a raised platform with his audience gathered around below. Between 30th March 1944 and 4th April 1944, Northern Ireland was to witness the General, known as “Old Blood and Guts” in action.

There are no transcripts available for Patton’s speeches in Ulster. However, the contents were similar throughout the Spring of 1944. Often, the US Army placed women and children out of earshot due to the colourful language.

Veterans of the third US Army remember this, if you can’t stick the son of a bitch in the ass, shoot him in the ass as he runs away.

General George S Patton, 1944.

While in Northern Ireland, General Patton maintained a low profile and there is no mention of his visit in the newspapers of the time.

Don’t forget, you don’t know I’m here at all. No word of that fact is to be mentioned in any letters. The world is not supposed to know what the hell they did with me. I’m not supposed to be commanding this army. I’m not even supposed to be in England. Let the first bastards to find out be the goddamned Germans. Some day, I want them to rise up on their piss-soaked hind legs and howl ‘Ach! It’s the goddamned Third Army and that son-of-a-bitch Patton again!’

Lieutenant General Patton's Famous Speech

United States Army Photo: Part of the U.S. Army, Fort Knox, Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor (now the General George Patton Museum of Leadership) Collection. Lieutenant General Patton delivers an address, quite possibly his famous speech, to men of the 2nd Infantry Division, US Army at The Mall, Armagh, Northern Ireland on 1st April 1944. Public domain photo with no known copyright restrictions.

Patton’s visit was due to begin on 29th March 1944 but he remained in England with General Everett Strait Hughes waiting for the weather to clear. At 1440hrs on 30th March 1944, the United States Army General and his companion touched down in Northern Ireland. They left England at 1330hrs and may have arrived at Greencastle Airfield, Kilkeel, Co. Down. General Wade Hampton Haislip greeted them in Co. Down and the group drove to the Headquarters of 5th Infantry Division at Bryansford, Co. Down.

Patton met with Division Commander Major General Stafford LeRoy Irwin, Assistant Division Commander Brigadier General Allen D Warnock, and Brigadier General Harnold C Vanderveer. Irwin had served under Patton as an Artillery Officer in 9th Infantry Division in Tunisia.

5th Infantry Division in Northern Ireland

Imperial War Museum Photo: (EA 2304) (Part of the Foreign Office Political Intelligence Department (PID) Second World War Photograph Library: Classified Print Collection). First Sergeant Christopher McGuire (centre) and other men of the US 5th Infantry Division listen to an address by Lieutenant General George S Patton while on manoeuvres in Northern Ireland on 30th March 1944.

The whole division was arranged en masse and looked superior. I have never seen a better turn out and, having done it many times in all grades from Major to Major General, I know the amount of care and effort put into it. The junior officers must be good. My talk was a little too long but I praised them for their two years in Ireland of which they are proud, and on which no one has commended them.

General George S Patton, Diaries 1944.

After addressing the troops, the General watched a simulated attack on a fortified position. The soldiers used various types of live ammunition and the exercise impressed the Commander of 3rd Army. While in Co. Down, he may have spent the night at the Mourne Park Estate, the ancestral home of the Bagnall family.

The following day, 31st March 1944, saw Patton address troops of 8th Infantry Division at an unnamed location. He met with Division Commander Major General William C McMahon, Brigadier General Nelson W Walker, and General JA Pickering, his former Chief of Staff.

The division was massed and looked as well – or better – than the 5th. It was a most inspiring sight. After lunch, they put on a battalion, reinforced, in an attack on a hostilely occupied position. It was the best thing of its sort I have ever seen. They used marching fire and two men were hurt, one in the fleshy part of the right shoulder, the other in the calf of the leg. Nothing serious. The man hit in the shoulder kept on and even threw grenades. It showed a very fine spirit. The man who will do that in maneuvers will go a long way in battle.

General George S Patton, Diaries 1944.

General George S Patton in Armagh

United States Army Photo: Part of the US Army Signal Corps Photograph Collection. Lieutenant General George S Patton with Major General Walter Robertson pass in review of Third Army Troops in Armagh, Northern Ireland on 1st April 1944 prior to the Normandy invasion in June. Public domain photo with no known copyright restrictions.

Patton commented on the battle-readiness of the Battalion and praised the Colonel in command. He was a former football coach named Jones, and Patton noted the similarity in qualities required to coach a sports team and command a Battalion. The General also requested that McMahon put the soldier shot through the arm forward for the Soldier’s Medal.

At 1000hrs on 1st April 1944, General George S Patton arrived in the City of Armagh, Co. Armagh. He travelled standing in the back of a US Army Willy’s Jeep accompanied by Major General Walter M Robertson. The other senior officers of the Division were Brigadier General TL Martin, and Brigadier General GP Hays. Thousands of troops of 2nd Infantry Division lined The Mall in the city centre. “Old Blood and Guts” delivered his rousing oratory outside the Armagh County Museum.

His diary from the time also makes note that it is the anniversary of the death of Patton’s former Aide-de-Camp Major Richard Norman “Dick” Jenson. He died on 1st April 1943 during a bomb attack in Tunisia. Later in the day, Patton watched another simulated attack and commented on how it differed in quality from the others.

General Patton's speech on The Mall, Armagh, Co. Armagh

United States Army Photo: Part of the U.S. Army, Fort Knox, Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor (now the General George Patton Museum of Leadership) Collection. Lieutenant General Patton delivers an address, quite possibly his famous speech, to men of the 2nd Infantry Division, US Army at The Mall, Armagh, Northern Ireland on 1st April 1944. Public domain photo with no known copyright restrictions.

The problem was poor in concept though well executed in technique. The machine guns and mortars were too far back, no marching fire was used, and infantry advancing by rushed when there was no point to it. I was rather too severe in my criticism to Robertson but told the men how good they were. It is a grand division.

General George S Patton, Diaries 1944.

On what was due to be General Patton’s last evening in Ulster, he visited with Lieutenant General Sir Alan Gordon Cunningham. Poor weather dashed the hopes of flying back to England the following day. Along with General Hughes, Patton visited and talked with General Haislip and took a long walk in the Irish countryside. On 3rd April 1944, he inspected Ordnance and Signals Units before accepting the weather was still too bad to fly. Among them were 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, inspected at 0800hrs at Derrygally House, near Dungannon, Co. Tyrone. In the rain, Patton met with Colonel Marz, complimenting him on the appearance of the camp and the battle-readiness of the unit. He shook hands with First Sergeant George Barnausky and First Sergeant Owens before taking his leave.

At 0200hrs on 4th April 1944, he boarded a boat in Belfast, Co. Antrim and departed on a “very quiet” trip to Blackpool, England. Despite his larger than life persona, General George S Patton’s departure from Northern Ireland was as low profile as the rest of the visit.

Map showing Derrygally House, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone

Derrygally House, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone

Derrygally Road, Dungannon, Co. Tyrone

Standing on the banks of the River Blackwater, Co. Tyrone, Derrygally House and the nearby Argory were home to 654th Tank Destroyer Battalion, US Army.

Map showing Greencastle Airfield, Kilkeel, Co. Down

Greencastle Airfield, Kilkeel, Co. Down

Greencastle Pier Road, Kilkeel, Co. Down

Greencastle Airfield opened for use by the Royal Air Force in 1942 but soon passed to the United States Army Air Force as a Combat Crew Replacement Centre.

Map showing The Mall, Armagh, Co. Armagh

The Mall, Armagh, Co. Armagh

Armagh, Co. Armagh

On 1st April 1944, thousands of men from the United States Army 2nd Infantry Division lined The Mall in Armagh to hear the words of General George S Patton.