France: October 22, 1944
"Lieutenant General George Patton met with his commander, General Omar Bradley, and Bradley’s chief of staff to discuss plans for taking the French city of Metz and then pushing east into the Saar River Valley, a center of Germany’s armaments industry. Bradley, believing that a strong push might well end the war, argued for a simultaneous attack by all of the Allied armies in Europe. Patton pointed out that there was not enough ammunition, food, or gasoline to support all the armies. There were enough supplies, however, for one army. Patton’s Third Army could attack twenty-four hours after getting the signal. After a vigorous debate, Bradley conceded. Patton was told that the attack could take place any time after November 5, and that aerial bombardment would be available before-hand.
The Allies were really fighting three enemies, Patton told Bradley—the Germans, time, and the weather. The weather was the most serious threat. The Third Army’s sick rate equaled its battle casualty rate. Patton was never one to delay an attack, convinced that each day’s delay gave the enemy more time to prepare. “The best is the enemy of the good” was one of his favorite maxims. It would be better to attack as soon as Bradley could provide him with supplies.
But Patton could not control the weather, which affected weapons, aircraft, and the movement of troops… Only four months earlier the fate of the Allied invasion of Europe hung on the course of a storm in the English Channel. A break in the weather on June 6 allowed the amphibious assault on Normandy to proceed. Two weeks later, one of the most severe storms ever to strike Normandy sank or disabled a number of Allied ships and wiped out the American Mulberry artificial harbor off Omaha Beach. The Allied war effort was virtually shut down for five days.
When Patton had completed all his preparations for battle, he turned to the Bible and entrusted everything, including the weather, to God. His diary entry for November 7, 1944, reads: “Two years ago today we were on the Augusta approaching Africa, and it was blowing hard. Then about 1600 it stopped. It is now 0230 and raining hard. I hope that too stops. Know of nothing more I can do to prepare for this attack except to read the Bible and pray.”
The Saar campaign was launched on November 8, 1944. After one month’s fighting, Patton’s Third Army had liberated 873 towns and 1,600 square miles. In addition, they had killed or wounded an estimated 88,000 enemy soldiers and taken another 30,000 prisoner. Patton next prepared for the breakthrough to the River Rhine, a formidable natural obstacle to the invasion of Germany by the Allies. The attack was set for December 19th. In early December 1944, the headquarters of the Third Army was in the Caserne Molifor, an old French military barracks in Nancy in the region of Lorraine, a ninety-minute train ride from Paris. At eleven o’clock on the morning of December 8, Patton telephoned the head chaplain, Monsignor James H. O’Neill: “This is General Patton; do you have a good prayer for weather? We must do something about those rains if we are to win the war.”
O’Neill later recounted what Patton said to him:
Chaplain, I am a strong believer in Prayer. There are three ways that men get what they want; by planning, by working, and by Praying. Any great military operation takes careful planning, or thinking. Then you must have well-trained troops to carry it out: that’s working. But between the plan and the operation there is always an unknown. That unknown spells defeat or victory, success or failure. It is the reaction of the actors to the ordeal when it actually comes. Some people call that getting the breaks; I call it God. God has His part, or margin, in everything. That’s where prayer comes in. Up to now, in the Third Army, God has been very good to us. We have never retreated; we have suffered no defeats, no famine, no epidemics. This is because a lot of people back home are praying for us. We were lucky in Africa, in Sicily, and in Italy. Simply because people prayed. But we have to pray for ourselves, too. A good soldier is not made merely by making him think and work. There is something in every soldier that goes deeper than thinking or working—it’s his ‘guts.’ It is something that he has built in there: it is a world of truth and power that is higher than himself. Great living is not all output of thought and work. A man has to have intake as well. I don’t know what you call it, but I call it religion, prayer, or God.
O’Neill could find no formal prayers pertaining to weather, so he composed an original prayer which he typed on a three-by-five-inch card. Speaking again to O’Neill, “I wish,” said Patton, “you would put out a Training Letter on this subject of Prayer to all the chaplains; write about nothing else, just the importance of prayer. Let me see it before you send it. We’ve got to get not only the chaplains but every man in the Third Army to pray. We must ask God to stop these rains. These rains are that margin that holds defeat or victory. If we all pray, it will be like what Dr. Carrel said, it will be like plugging in on a current whose source is in Heaven. I believe that prayer completes that circuit. It is power.”
The 664th Engineer Topographical Company worked around the clock to reproduce 250,000 cards bearing the prayer for fair weather and Patton’s Christmas greeting. The cards and Training Letter No. 5 were distributed to the entire Third Army by December 14th, as follows:
Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call upon Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies and establish Thy justice among men and nations.
To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. May God’s blessing rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day.
G. S. Patton, Jr.
Lieutenant General Commanding,
Third United States Army
Two days later, the U.S. armies in Europe were engaged in the greatest battle ever fought by American forces. The outcome of that battle, the Battle of the Bulge, and possibly of the entire Allied war effort in Europe, would turn on the weather...
Patton’s adjutant, Colonel Harkins, later wrote: “Whether it was the help of the Divine guidance asked for in the prayer or just the normal course of human events, we never knew; at any rate, on the twenty-third, the day after the prayer was issued, the weather cleared and remained perfect for about six days. Enough to allow the Allies to break the backbone of the Von Runstedt offensive and turn a temporary setback into a crushing defeat for the enemy.”