BOOK NOTES: Death of Patton Probed on Brad Meltzer’s ‘Decoded’: Patton Expert Robert K. Wilcox Not Impressed

By David M. Kinchen

BOOK NOTES: Death of Gen. George S. Patton Probed on Brad Melter's  Decoded on History Channel;  Author and Patton Expert Robert K. Wilcox Interviewed for the Episode Not Impressed with Meltzer's Techniques
Almost three years ago — on Dec. 18, 2008 — I reviewed a book by  Robert K. Wilcox called “Target: Patton: The Plot to Assassinate General George S. Patton” (see complete review below).

Thus, when I was surfing the channels Wednesday Nov. 2 and saw a program on the History Channel about the death of Patton, I had to watch. Sure enough, one of the first people to be interviewed on Brad Meltzer’s  Decoded  show was none other than Robert Wilcox. As I watched the hour-long show, which probably will be repeated on the channel, I wondered if the producers of the show had read the book.

I e-mailed Wilcox and got a lengthy reply, which follows my 2008 review. Wilcox has no issue with “Decoded’s”  answer to the question of whether Patton died as a result of the accident or was assassinated. He DOES have questions of how the show came to its conclusion.

First my review:

Dec. 18, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Target: Patton’ Explores the Suspicious Car Crash That Led to Controversial General’s Death

By David M. Kinchen
Huntingtonnews.net Book Critic 

On Sunday, Dec. 9, 1945, a day before he was to return to the U.S., Gen. George S. Patton Jr., the highest ranking American general in occupied Germany, went on his last hunting trip. On the way to hunt birds with another American general, Patton’s 1938 Cadillac Fleetwood limousine plowed into an army truck that had suddenly turned in front of them.

Robert K. Wilcox explores the accident and the widely held theory that the controversial general was assassinated in “Target: Patton: The Plot to Assassinate General George S. Patton” (Regnery, 444 pages, $27.95).

It’s a thoroughly researched book that raises many questions about a general that many people are familiar with through the 1970 multiple Oscar-winning movie “Patton” starring George C. Scott as “Old Blood and Guts.”

“Patton” the film was based in part by a book by Ladislas Farago, Wilcox tells us, one of the many writers who delved into the accident which left Patton with a broken neck and partial paralysis, although no one else in the big Caddy received more than a few scratches and bruises.

What was the driver of the 2 1/2-ton GMC Army truck, Specialist Robert L. Thompson, doing out on aSunday morning and what happened to the two men who were in the truck’s cab with him — in violation of a regulation that limited the cab to a driver and a passenger?

Among the issues Wilcox raises are:

* What happened to the five known accident reports on the Dec. 9, 1945 crash involving a four-star general? The reports are nowhere to be found.

* Patton was making a remarkable recovery in a German hospital when he suddenly had a relapse and diedon Dec. 21, 1945. The death certificate lists “pulmonary edema & congestive heart failure” as the cause of death. Why was there no autopsy?

* Patton’s life had been threatened earlier in several odd incidents, including a fender bender and a road incident with a farmer’s cart. Patton had been warned that he was on a hit list and he told his family that he didn’t expect to leave Europe alive.

* What happened to the Cadillac that Patton was riding in? The car in the Patton Museum at Fort Knox, Kentucky, is a 1939 export model that is made to look like the ’38 Caddy that Patton used, according to a Cadillac expert Wilcox employed to examine the museum car. The museum car has a “Body by Fisher” emblem — but the Series 75 car Patton used was built by Fleetwood.

* Why was Patton the only one injured in the crash? The driver of the Cadillac, Horace L. “Woody” Woodring, wasn’t injured in those pre-seat belt, air bag days, nor was Gen. Hobart Gay, Patton’s hunting companion.

* Why was truck driver Thompson spirited out of Germany?

Patton was 60 when he died, five years older than the Supreme Commander in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and — in Wilcox’s opinion, a far more experienced and talented leader. Unlike Eisenhower, he had been in combat in World War I and was the logical leader in the European theater since he was far and away the best general and the one most feared by the Germans, Wilcox writes.

But, as any viewer of the excellent film knows, Patton was a controversial leader, a loose cannon who pretty much said what he was thinking. He hated the Russians, the allies of the Americans, British, Canadians, Australians and free French armies, calling them the “degenerate spawn of Genghis Khan.” He even suggested using SS troops to fight the Russians and was widely believed to be an anti-Semite, despite the fact that his intelligence chief, Col. Oscar Koch, was Jewish, as was his authorized biographer, Martin Blumenson.

Wilcox explores the relationship of Patton with his commanding officers, Presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry Truman, Gen. George C. Marshall, the commanding general of the U.S. Army and William “Wild Bill” Donovan, head of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the Central Intelligence Agency.

One of the theories Wilcox examines is singles out Donovan, a friend of FDR and an advocate of friendship with the Russians, as the one who ordered an assassination of Patton before he left Germany.

Patton had telegraphed his plans to resign from the Army, rather than retire — he was independently wealthy — allowing him to speak freely about the war and the mistakes he believed Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and other generals had made, Wilcox writes.

Despite the controversial soldier slapping incidents that many writers — including Wilcox — have said were blown out of proportion by reporters, Patton was extremely popular back in the States. His brilliant moves with the Third Army to resolve the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944–January 1945 had been well publicized and his drive across Germany had also been praised by many.

Wilcox is a harsh critic of Eisenhower, blaming him for allowing the Germans to put the ArdennesOffensive — the Battle of the Bulge — into play. He also faults Eisenhower’s reliance on British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, not a friend of Patton’s, and the man whose failure to secure the port ofAntwerp, Belgium is cited by Wilcox as one of the reasons for the failure of Operation Market Garden, the largest airborne effort in military history, which was dramatized in the 1977 film “A Bridge Too Far.”

A central figure in the book is Douglas Bazata, an OSS operative who specialized in “wet work”, who said he had been asked by Donovan to assassinate Patton. Bazata said he didn’t do the deed, saying the “accident” in Bad Nauheim near Germany’s Black Forest had been staged by an acquaintance whom he did not or would not name. Since Patton didn’t die in the crash, Bazata said the death of the general was caused by a “refined form of cyanide that can cause embolisms, heart failure and things like that.”

Bazata himself is worthy of a movie with his background of decorated war hero, artist, and mercenary who said he was ordered by U.S. intelligence to assassinate Patton.

Wilcox says that Patton could have been killed by the Soviet equivalent of the OSS, the NKVD (later renamed KGB and now known as the FSB in post-Soviet Russia), an organization that specialized in both deadly car crashes and poisonings. Wilcox cites several Ukrainian operatives and others who said the Soviets had Patton on their hit list.

Investigative and military reporter Wilcox, author of “Black Aces High: and “Wings of Fury,” has spent more than ten years investigating these mysteries, and in his new book he draws on the famous declassified Venona documents to probe the death of Patton.

“Target: Patton” is a book that anyone who is interested in World War II history should put on his or her must-read list. It reads like a spy thriller.

* * *
Publisher’s web site: www.Regnery.com

Author’s web site: www.robertkwilcox.com

* * * 
Here is Wilcox’s e-mail, followed by his critique of the Decoded episode:

Hey Dave. Thanks for writing. You did a great job with the story. They did not. They didn’t even read the book!  I’m sure you could tell that from their emphasis solely on Bazata and saying repeatedly I thought Ike gave the order which I do not. No mention of Skubik, the fake car, and passing over the fact that all the reports are gone — among other problems with the show. The rifle demonstration had hardly any relevance. Bazata was a world class marksman and his forte was quick action. They left out a lot of the mystery and went with the same old story. Charles Province who they quoted at the end wrote the introduction to my book! Never said that to me. They were very deceptive telling me they couldn’t tell me their take because they needed to keep it secret so the show would be fresh. I was naive enough to believe them. But the old saying that any publicity is good publicity is true. Amazon numbers jumped. Hope you are happy and well – and thanks again for the great review. Here’s my response to the show. It’s up on my site, www.robertkwilcox.com

By Robert K. Wilcox

It bothered me when I was interviewed by Decoded that I wasn’t asked about some of the evidence I considered most important in my book, “Target: Patton.” They had what they wanted me to talk about and I did as they directed. But after watching the episode, I don’t think those responsible for its content read my book. Crucial facts in the Patton mystery were omitted. Discussions of the case for assassination were highly simplistic and, in the case of the rifle demonstration, largely irrelevant. And at the start of the episode I was repeatedly said to believe Gen. Eisenhower was responsible for Patton’s death which I do not. I think Eisenhower might have been involved because of motive but was probably just an underling doing what higher ups wanted. Anyone who read the book would know that.

The most crucial omission was that of Stephen Skubik. He was a highly credible intelligence officer, formerly connected to Patton’s forces, and an investigator of the Soviets when Patton died in 1945. He tried to stop the assassination. He corroborated key points of decorated OSS operative Douglas Bazata’s claim that he staged Patton’s accident. But Skubik is never mentioned in Decoded.

Skubik learned from three highly credible Russian-connected sources that Patton was on Stalin’s hit list. Patton wanted to fight the Russians. Skubik tried to warn authorities but was thrown in jail by OSS head, Gen. [William] “Wild Bill” Donovan, who, at the time, had a joint intelligence program with the Soviets, also omitted by Decoded. Bazata, an OSS assassin and much more credible than Decoded portrayed, said he had staged Patton’s accident at Donovan’s order. Each witness alone would not have been enough for me to make the case. But together, their testimony makes a much stronger statement. Decoded consistently made it seem that I had based my case solely on Bazata’s testimony. Bazata accused Donovan, not Eisenhower. And Donovan is the highest ranking American strongly accused in the book – not Eisenhower.

Decoded made no issue of missing reports – a key point in my book and in the mystery. It mentioned the “Babalas” report, named for the military officer who made it, as if it existed. But it too is missing. Babalas was the first to recognize this when, years after the accident, he requested a copy and was told it didn’t exist. There are at least 5 reports and/or investigations known to have been made about the accident. We know this because there are fragments or mentionings of them. All have vanished. One or two missing could be coincidence. Five? That’s a coverup. And I believe there were more purged documents. This was the highest ranking general at the time in Europe, a legend, and no reports or investigations of his accident exist?

Here’s what was left out of the puzzling rifle demonstration in the episode:

Bazata was a world class marksman. As a young Marine he made big news by shooting the best score ever for a recruit in training. It made the local papers. He starred on championship Marine rifle teams and taught weaponry in World War II. The shot he described was an easy one for him – perhaps 30 feet. Oswald, not near as good, made his shot on JFK in a moving target from 10 times as far and at a harder angle.

Bazata was not aiming for the neck, as seemed important in Decoded’s rifle demonstration. He told me he shot Patton in the face. Patton, hospital records prove, had a vicious gash in the middle of his face when he was admitted. And such a hit easily could have broken his neck. He need not have shot only on the back of the neck to do so. He also didn’t use “pellets” as Decoded theorized. He used a rubber bullet (or other similarly unusual material) shaped like a bolt so it would not penetrate but look like part of the wreck scene if found.
Contrary to what Decoded indicated, assassination by vehicle accident was a preferred method of intelligence organizations then, especially Stalin himself. It looked like an accident, which was important, and gave the assassins a second chance in the hospital if the victim wasn’t killed in the street. Again, contrary to the Decoded portrayal, once at the hospital, it was relatively easy to disguise as a nurse or doctor and finish off the victim, either by painless injection into an IV, or a spray. Nurses or guards could easily be ordered out by a doctor impersonator. I wrote several chapters specifically on what happened in the hospital, much of it contrary to what Decoded portrayed by talking to the current administrator, who is 60 years removed from the 1945 event.

Patton’s wife did say no autopsy. But the reason wasn’t because she didn’t want her husband cut up, which we can all understand. The reason was she was told by a doctor — who was strangely and clandestinely reporting back to Gen. Marshall – that they couldn’t do it there. The doctor told her they didn’t’ have the facilities. But I was told by a medical worker who was there in 1945 that they did.  It was peculiar that this doctor, a chief one on Patton’s case, was making daily reports to Marshall who earlier had tried to have Patton committed as a mental case. Why private reports? The press was already covering him like a glove? And Mrs. Patton herself was suspicious because she soon hired detectives to investigate. The scene Decoded painted was simplistic and incomplete.

Another surprising omission was the Patton accident car, a 1938 Cadillac limousine, which supposedly is at the Patton Museum at Ft. Knox, Ky. I had regarded it as my only chance to investigate the scene of the crime, so to speak. I brought a Cadillac expert referred to me by Cadillac in Detroit. But what happened is he identified the supposed repaired car as a fake. It’s a 1939 and that’s not just a mistake. The VIN number, which is stamped in all cars, has clearly been scraped off. The vehicle has fake decals affixed, and other indications of fraud. The car is important because there is much speculation about how Patton was injured. He flew up and hit his head or flew forward and hit the barrier between the back and front. I thought I could examine for traces of the injuries. But the accident car has disappeared. Why? This certainly seems to me to be a key part of the investigation. But no mention in Decoded.

Decoded implied Bazata did not have the time to mount the accident. The facts show that he had 12 to 24 hours to do so. He was a man of quick action. That was his forte, his preference. He had spies in Patton’s camp who told him the trip was coming. He easily could have mounted the operation in the time frames possible.

There was no examination of the physics of the accident, which gives a clearer picture of what might have happened inside the Cadillac because of the forces exerted and angles of collision; no mention of the strange happenings at the accident scene, like the truck apparently waiting for the Cadillac in order to hit it, and the sergeant leading the Patton car who disappeared. There was no mention of what appear to be previous attempts on Patton’s life.

I have no problem with Decoded deciding they don’t think Patton was murdered. They have a right. And I don’t say he was. I say there is compelling evidence that he might have been. I believe I could take the evidence to a grand jury and get an indictment. What the subsequent trial would reveal remains to be seen. The book has the evidence and it is considerable. Decoded omitted much of it and attributed beliefs to me that had they read the book, they never would have attributed. If they did read the book, that is worse. Fortunately, a lot of people have read it. Check Amazon for the reviews. They are overwhelmingly on the side of believing that Patton was probably murdered. I, myself, despite Decoded’s investigation, tend that way. I spent 10 years researching this. Decoded’s decision makers should have read the book. They would have had a much better program.

Editor’s Note (David M. Kinchen): To borrow a phrase from another TV network: “We report, you decide.” Link to my review of Wilcox’s book about the Shroud of Turin: 
www.huntingtonnews.net/…/100330-kinchen-columnsbookreview.ht..

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