20. Patton Squandered Hundreds of GIs Because of Nepotism
General Patton did not learn the lesson about abuse of power. In 1945, he had a worse, but lesser-known scandal, in which he got hundreds of GIs killed, wounded, or captured, for personal reasons. It happened in March 1945, when Patton ordered Task Force Baum, comprised of 314 men, 16 tanks, and dozens of other vehicles, to penetrate 50 miles behind German lines. Their mission: to liberate Hammelburg POW camp, which housed Patton’s son-in-law, John K. Waters. Task Force Baum’s raid ended catastrophically. All tanks and vehicles were lost, and of 314 participants, 32 were killed, and most of the rest were wounded or captured. Only 35 men made it back. The worst part of it was that the mission was totally unnecessary. Patton’s beloved son-in-law, for whom the great general had gotten the beloved sons, brothers, and fathers of many Americans killed or injured, had never been in any danger.
Hammelburg was liberated two weeks after the Task Force Baum fiasco. When Eisenhower found out, he was furious at Patton’s misuse of military personnel and assets for personal reasons, and reprimanded him. In light of his valuable services, however, Eisenhower declined to punish Patton beyond the reprimand. Shortly thereafter, a reporter got wind of the scandal. When the story first broke in a major publication on April 12th, 1945, it would have wrecked Patton under normal circumstances. However, FDR died that same day, and his demise eclipsed all other news. The scandal got little traction, and when Patton died a few months later, the affair was reduced to a mere historic footnote.