Victor Davis Hanson

Naturally rambunctious American GIs fought best, Patton insisted, when "rolling" forward, especially in summertime. Only then, for a brief moment, might the clear skies facilitate overwhelming American air support. In August his soldiers could camp outside, while his speeding tanks still had dry roads.

In just 30 days, Patton finished his sweep across France and neared Germany. The Third Army had exhausted its fuel supplies and ground to a halt near the border in early September.

Allied supplies had been redirected northward for the normally cautious Gen. Montgomery's reckless Market Garden gambit. That proved a harebrained scheme to leapfrog over the bridges of the Rhine River that would devour Allied blood and treasure, and accomplish almost nothing in return.

Meanwhile, the cutoff of Patton's supplies would prove disastrous. Scattered and fleeing German forces regrouped. Their resistance stiffened as the weather grew worse and as shortened supply lines began to favor the defense.

Historians still argue over Patton's August miracle. Could a racing Third Army really have burst into Germany so far ahead of Allied lines? Could the Allies ever have adequately supplied Patton's charging columns given the growing distance from the Normandy ports? How could a supreme commander like Eisenhower handle Patton, who at any given moment could -- and would -- let loose with politically incorrect bombast?

We do not know the answers to all those questions. Nor do we quite know the full price that America had paid for having a profane Patton stewing in exile for nearly a year rather than exercising his leadership in Italy or Normandy.

We only know that 70 years ago, an authentic American genius thought he could win the war in Europe -- and almost did. When his Third Army stalled, so did the Allied effort.

What lay ahead in winter were the Battle of the Bulge and the nightmare fighting of the Hürtgen Forest -- followed by a half-year slog into Germany.

Patton would die tragically from injuries sustained in a freak car accident not long after the German surrender. He soon became the stuff of legend but was too often remembered for his theatrics rather than his authentic genius that saved thousands of American lives.

Seventy years ago this August, George S. Patton showed America how a democracy's conscripted soldiers could arise out of nowhere to beat the deadly professionals of an authoritarian regime at their own game.

Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.