Through the mud and the blood to the green fields beyond.
Brigadier General Hugh Elles, Commander British Tank Corps, Battle of Cambrai
Captain George S. Patton was not a happy man. A personal aide to General John J. Pershing, and in command of the Headquarters Company of the AEF, he lacked sufficient work for his vigorous mind and nature. Writing to his wife he poured out his frustration: “nothing but [a] hired flunky. I shall be glad to get back to the line again and will try to do so in the spring. These damn French are bothering us with a lot of details which have nothing to do with any- thing. I have a hard time keeping my patience.” Pershing had promised him an eventual command in an infantry unit, but for a cavalry trooper like Patton that was a prospect he met with a decided lack of enthusiasm.
Tanks were a natural option, but surprisingly the tank initially aroused no enthusiasm in Patton. “Tanks aren’t worth a damn” he had written in July 1917, and, indeed, the battlefield record of these primitive first steps in armored warfare were unimpressive. Used in penny packets by commanders with no idea of how to utilize these newfangled gadget, manned by officers and men who did lack courage but did lack knowledge and skill, and suffering the birthing pangs of cutting edge technology in war, tanks had failed to make much impact thus far in the Great War. In the months ahead that would all change at the Battle of Cambrai on November 20, 1917 when the massed use of 437 tanks led to an unprecedented advance on the Western Front and sent the church bells in Britain madly ringing. The Germans counterattacked and took back most of the ground the British had gained before the battle sputtered out on December 7, 1917, but perceptive Germans saw that a new factor had entered into the conflict:
Wherever the ground offers suitable going for tanks, surprise attacks like this may be expected. That being the case, there can be no more mention, therefore, of quiet fronts.
Crown Prince Rupprecht of Bavaria, commander of the German army group opposite the British Expeditionary Force.
Patton, perhaps sensing what was coming, in October 1917 began to seriously consider tanks as the next step in his military career. Once he embraced tanks he did so with the zealous passion of a convert. On November 10, 1917 Pershing assigned him to set up a light tank training school for the US First Army. Patton had joined the modern incarnation of his beloved cavalry.