The George S. Patton Jr. Museum

Home of American Armor Training

Ft. Knox, KY

May 20th, 2005

In Kentucky, nestled on the south side of the Ohio River, lies one of America's most enduring curiosities: Ft. Knox. The gold vault sits in the middle of a huge field surrounded by a handful of armed guards, a few dogs and the entire 101st Air Calvary, Division.  The building is locked and no one has reportedly been inside in decades.  Inside resided only one thing: the entire gold supply backing up the U.S. dollar, melted into bricks weighing around 20 lbs each.  At $500 dollars an ounce, each 20 lb. brick would be worth around $160,000.  Everything about the building and those who guard it from the outside remains a mystery.  The total amount of gold available is not reported.  Security is tight.  If the entire 101st Division  should be insufficient, there are also several hundred battle tanks of various type available, as Fort Knox, the home of the gold vault, is also the Army armor training grounds.  It was this armor and the man who made it famous during WWII that has brought us to the Fort.  The George Patton museum is open to the general public.  Here we were able to see many of the artifacts that have made the man a legend. George Patton was a truly gifted military tactician, who's name ranks right up there with Napoleon and Julius Cesar for military prowess. Born in California, he graduated from West Point in 1909. In 1912 he entered the Olympics in Stockholm where he competed in the Pentathlon event (in the Olympic games the Pentathlon is a contest consisting of 5 events.  1: a 3 mile cross-country horseback race, 2: a 4,333 ft cross country run, 3: a 1000 ft swim, 4: foil fencing and 5: marksmanship with pistols) where he placed 5th. He spent his early years on General John Pershing's staff through WWI then joined the newly formed Tank Corp until it was disbanded in 1920. His interest stayed with armor and he was instrumental in evaluating its development prior to WWII.  The war brought rapid changes to the Army and the creation of Armored Divisions gave Patton his first command, as the Commanding General of the 2nd Armored Division.  His success continued as he changed commands and rose in rank.  In 1944 he was given command of 3rd Army which fought its way across France.  In October 1945, he assumed command of the 15th Army in American occupied Germany.  On December 21, 1945, General Patton died in Germany in an auto accident. The Patton Museum is broken down into two parts: those vehicles and artifacts inside the museum building and the tanks on the surrounding grounds.  Make no mistake, this is a tank museum, so it's tanks I'm going to talk about.  On the inside we learned that a British inventor Ernest Swinton (1868 - 1951) is credited with creating the first battle tank. After seeing the American Holt caterpillar tracker being used to haul artillery pieces, he developed the concept of a "Land Battleship."  The concept was too extreme for the British War Ministry, who rejected Swinton's ideas.  One minister, however, saw a future in what Swinton was proposing.  Young Winston Churchill took it upon himself to develop the concept under the Admiralty.  Of interest to me, was the the manner in which these bulky  machines got their common name. Again it was Swinton who called them "Tanks" as part of the disguise for the large parts being made in various plants.  The first tanks were truly small battlewagons brisling with cannons and machine guns.  One of the largest tanks ever built came from Britain. This behemoth was the Mark 5 stretched version.  Introduced in 1918, near the end of WWI, it weighed in at around 32 tons, traveled a whopping 4 miles an hour, and took a crew of 8.  Of the 500-some produced it is believed that the only remaining one is in this museum. Not everything in the museum is a tank. While wandering through the wonderful displays I found a gun worthy of being with tanks. The WWII German 88 mm anti-aircraft/anti-tank gun made infamous in North Africa by its remarkable speed and accuracy.  The extra long barrel, designed for flak shells, made it recognizable by just about every soldier on both sides of the war.  There were also many artifacts from Patton himself.  He was a flamboyant character who believed in playing to the audience or press corp or just to his own men.  From his dog to those famous pearl handled pistols he wore, he was a showman to be sure.   One of the pistols was on display.  His favorite I would assume was the Colt 45, as it seems that it was the one he was most frequently photographed with.  There is an actual size diorama of him and his limousine as well as a diagram and description of the fatal auto accident that took his life.  It has been said that great men are produced by tragic times.  It is unknown what history would have recorded about him had it not been for the greatest war every fought by man. Outside, we wandered through Keyes park, where 20 armored vehicles and tanks are on display covering the full spectrum of armor, from 1917 to present.  We again learned that WWI saw the beginning of the use of the tank as we know it.  As the Americans entered the war, two Captains were selected to organize and train tankers for the Corps.  Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Captain George Patton.  Only Patton would spend the rest of his life with the tanks.  The tank Corps would be dissolved in 1920 as an unnecessary expense for there could never be another war such as was fought prior to 1920.  1940 changed opinions when the Nazi Panzer Tank Corps ripped across France with little resistance.  The American Army was back in the tank business and George Patton was leading the way.  In every conflict since then American Infantry has been supported by the rumbling mega-monsters with their rapid firing cannons and machine guns.  Many models came and went as inventors and military men tried to combine necessity with ability, hoping for the perfect killing machine. Nothing has come closer than the M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank.  First delivered for combat in 1980, this tank and its variations and upgrades has been the backbone of American Armor ever since.  When you see films from Iraq depicting lumbering heavy tanks, you can bet it's an Abrams Main Battle Tank of some kind.  We ended up our tour with a stop by the Armor Memorial Park which is dedicated  to the soldiers who fought with Armor.  This would be of interest to any war buff, but for old WWII Armor guys, it's a must. 

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