General Patton And His M-20 Armored Car
General Patton was a flamboyant Commanding General and one of the most skilled military tacticians the United States has ever produced. General Eisenhower assigned General George S. Patton Jr. to command the Third United States Army in February of 1944, but it was kept secret from everyone but the two of them and General Marshal. That is a whole other story. As Patton assembled his beloved Third Army in England, he also assembled his personal motor pool. In early 1944, Patton had assigned to him two Jeeps, a ¾ ton Dodge Command Car, a Packard, a CCKW Mobile command headquarters van and an M 20 Armored car.
Not long after assuming command, Patton adopted his beloved Willie, an English Bull Terrier, and both Willie and Patton inspected his newly acquired M20 for the first time.
It was in April of 1944 at Peover England, where Patton’s headquarters was located, that this armored car was brought to Patton’s HQ for him to inspect. Patton brought Willie with him to help him inspect it. Lady Leese, wife of General Leese of the British Army, was there as she had helped Patton find Willie and wanted to watch the General and his new companion inspect the M-20. It had an interesting feature not seen any other. Near the front, attached to the outside of the fenders were two long metal feeler gauges, made of metal with a round flat indicator painted white. These were used by a number of countries, including the axis powers, to help judge objects as to their proximity to the fenders and to help center it. With the additions of the 3rd Army flags and rank recognition flag, these become very important visually. The driver needed it to be able to see around them. There is a very narrow line of sight. They were highly valuable to judge the distance the vehicle fenders were from objects. These were not common on US army vehicles but Patton was always experimenting and trying out theories.
The first known writing to reflect Patton’s use of his armored car came in on August 4, 1944. Col. Codman, one of Patton’s aide de camp, wrote home about this day and said, “Al (Major Alexander Stiller Aide de Camp) led off in the armored car and I rode with the General in his peep. For the next three hours we pursued the 6th Armored up the Brest peninsula. Soon we were well ahead of our own Infantry and I found myself sympathizing with the division commander’s concern in regard to his flanks and rear.”
During the time of August 1st through August 8th, General Patton used his M20 to literally race though the different roads to meet with his various commands. The M 20 was powered by a Hercules JXD 6 cylinder engine and had no governor. It was rated as capable of 57 miles per an hour, which was unheard of at the time. Patton would certainly have seen just how fast he could get it to go. Patton’s approach could be heard for miles down those duty August roads. As he did in all of his vehicles, he equipped them with duel air horns made by Buell Air horn company. They were made of brass, but painted OD and the bell was the same as the trombones of the period. The horns, coupled with the siren made an unmistakable announcement that General Patton was coming to the front. In fact, during August 1944, Patton had his Third Army’s three corps attacking in three directions at once. He found the stamina to not only visit the corps headquarters but almost all the front lines, all of this within the first 8 days of August in 1944. In what would develop into the Falaise Pocket, Patton set the stage for the envelopment of a German army. Lt. Col. Jack Widmer, one of Patton’s headquarters staff quoted Patton and wrote, “I ‘ve not much word from higher headquarters, he said but I am not waiting. I’ve ordered the 79th Infantry and the 5th armored to Mantes on the Seine.
This should come close and bottling up an entire German Army…” “The old man, man pulled out of his headquarters in his armored car and went dashing to the Seine.” Patton added a makeshift windshield to allow him to stand in the back and still see out without wearing his googals’ as moving fast down dusty roads can cause the eyes to become irritated.
Patton continued to use his M 20 in combination with his jeep, command car and L5 Reconnaissance plane as the Army’s corps spread out further and further. In November the weather had turn from wet and cooler to mud, freezing rain and some snow.
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November 27 1944 Monday
General Patton received a call from General Eisenhower. He wanted Patton to take the US Ambassador to Russia; Averell Harriman, to the front lines for a few hours. He was accompanied by Col. James F. Gault, SHAEF Staff member. . The weather was cold and wet. Patton had his men fire up his M20 a six wheeled utility scout car. By then, Patton had modified it somewhat. He had the ring mount taken off and a post mount for his .50 added in its place. Patton accompanied them and he had them driven through in mud, rain and snow
to the front lines and to the headquarters command of the 4th Armored Division. The ring mounted M2 caused what little room there was to be very cramped. The ring mount removal offered some valuable space. It also allowed more protection as the ring mount caused the shooter to be exposed more than Patton thought prudent. Still it was crowded but the armor provided some protection.
Patton wrote in his diary
“Averill Harriman, Ambassador to Russia, accompanied by Lt. Colonel Gault, Aide to Eisenhower, arrived at 1010. Eisenhower had called to ask me to see that Harriman saw the worst flood conditions. We crossed four tank ditches and innumerable lines of trenches, all of which had been captured by our men. Arriving at the 4th Armored we crossed the Saar River. The ground was as bad as it could be–practically all the meadows looked like lakes. We then visited the 26th Division and in returning home passed over one of our tank battlefields. At one point we came on a place where on of our M4 had put out five German mark V’s. …Harriman told me that Stalin had praised the Third Army in the highest terms of which he is capable when he said to Harriman in the presence of the chief of staff of the Red Army. “That the Red Army could not have conceived and certainly could not have executed, the advance of Third army across France.”
“Harriman says that Stalin is a strong, ruthless revolutionist and therefore a very potential threat to future world conditions. He says that discipline in the Red Army is the most rigid and ruthless he has ever seen, and that the officer caste is a new nobility. This is a strange result of communism. I think he had a very pleasant time.”
(Patton, George S, George S. Patton Papers; Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Patton Diary 1943-1945 BOX 3 Annotated transcripts Diary entry November 27, 1944.)
Reproducing Patton’s M20 From Our Original
In order to reproduce Patton’s M20 Armored Utility car, Patton’s Third Army Living Historians decided to do photo-shop comparisons to make sure the flags, horn and rank plate was the proper size. When we were almost finished and in order to get it right, we took our M-20, Patton’s and his original M-20 and then put Patton inside of ours. It all had to match in size and scale to be correct.
We took all the known images of his M-20 and photo-shopped them with ours to the correct scale.
The M 20 we restored to Patton’s M20 was manufactured in December of 1944. It saw service but its history is lost until 1988. Now lets go back to 1988.
Gary and Linda Haas are long time members of the MVPA. In 1988, Gary bought a M20 armored car that had seen better days. The previous owner had little or no use for its military history and had cut on it to try and make it some sort of recreational vehicle. This did not sit well with Gary or Linda and he purchased it with the idea of bring it back to the way it once was in WWII. Restoring a M20, seventy plus years after it was manufactured is a tough job. Gary Haas did the really hard work in the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s.
Gary saved it, got it running gear repaired and restored, reworked the engine, brakes and wired the engine. He repaired the armor, and found many of the parts before they dried up.
There was quite a lot of work done and the long process of assembling all the missing parts took place. Twenty five years ago the parts were a little easier to find, well most of them anyway. Time past and Gary’s collection grew. As the years past the M20 was always part of his MV family but like all of us pressing projects were put in front of it. An M 20 has many small spaces and it just got too difficult to maneuver in to work on it like Gary wanted it done. He looked around for a good home. Selling if for profit was not the motivating principal. He was going to sell it to someone who would continue the work and restore it.
Word came to Gary that MVPA member Denny Hair was looking for a M20 to restore back to the way General Patton had his in 1944. A meeting was set up to look at the M 20 and see if it was something we could do. Bill White, new to the MVPA , and part of Patton’s Third Army Living Historians, was excited about getting into a project, Both Bill and Denny, along with an entourage that included Carlos Manning, Claude Vaughn and Ken Stewart proceeded to Burleson Texas. A deal was made. There was a promise made to Gary and Linda Haas. We would not part it out or buy it to sell but buy it to restore. Gary knew of Denny’s intention to restore it into a replica of General Patton’s M20 Armored car. The agreement was made, and the journey began. Bill White and Denny Hair then started the long process of restoring an M 20.
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Better than a year of work lay ahead.
As most everyone knows, Denny portrays General Patton and Gary was very pleased he would continue his work and restore it and use it in our Patton and his Third Army Living Historians as part of our educational program. As such, Bill White and Denny received help, from time to time, as we had many of them to volunteer and give up holidays and weekends to help. When one of our members, Ray Marino, moved to Texas, he became the third part of a work trio to work on the M-20 on a day after day basis to see it done. Along the way, Michael Maloney, Ken Stewart, Will Huntington and Michael Ditto came by and lent a helping hand.
We were very fortunate to have Triple C Industries in Waller, near us. They have a professional fabricating and sandblasting company of the highest order. We manage to get the very heave engine compartment hatches to them. They stopped what they were doing and sandblasted them. This so we could prepare to finish the M-20 and try and get it to the MVPA convention. They did it at an extremely reasonable price as well.
As part of our fun in restoring this, we used the original US Army ½ inch brass stencils. They did it with a brush and dapped the paint on 70 years ago. We used a modelers air brush and compressor and it was still difficult, but worth the effort.
Michael Maloney, who is an expert award winning modeler, used the air brush, to do the stenciling. He sometimes sprayed upside down and on his side to get the stenciled in place and painted.
The long educational process as to what the M20 needed from there began. Photographs had been gathered from the Patton Papers from the Library on Congress and the Patton Museum of Leadership at Fort Knox. These proved invaluable in the restoration. These were studied intently and together with the written research, the project was begun.
We also needed to learn the ends and outs of an M20 Armored car. We were fortunate to be able to visit with Paul Vien, whose M20 won first place at the MVPA Show. He is located about an hour away from us. His is truly a master piece of restoration and may just have one of the very best restored M 20 in the world. Paul was gracious enough to allow us to inspect it and take pictures to help us know what was missing on ours. He also helped us with out many questions.
The MVPA was a tremendous help as the articles in Army Motors and parts list from MVPA venders in Supply Line helped us immensely. We had a whole host of people help us and we have listed them at the end of this article with a special thank you.
If you have ever been down and inside of a M20 driver’s or assistant diver’s compartment you know how truly small it is by today’s standards. If you weigh over 200 pounds and are taller that 5’ 8”, of which most who worked on it were, you know just how hard it is to work on in a small space. You work upside down, on your back with your head is lower than your waist. Welding, wiring, painting, stenciling and getting in an out will wear you out. Once we got near completion and reinstalled the seats, getting stuck between them was no fun either. If you have an M8 or M20, or have driven one, I know you can relate.
Bill White is an electronic engineering designer and today he designs and installs wiring harnesses for a large oil exploration trucks with tires taller than he is. During his time in the service, he worked on Nike Hercules missiles with live nuclear war heads during the cold war. He had little trouble wiring the M20. That is good as it is snaked with wires, through armor, piping and conduits. The dash in itself was a bit challenging, but he overcame it to make a perfect working dash where all the lights and controls work as they once did 70 years ago. There were quite a few bolts missing and finding the needed fine thread nuts, bolts and screws were difficult. We were in luck that an old mom and pop hardware store, Niedick Hardware is located in Tomball, Texas and we could get almost all the sizes needed and put the correct thread and flat head slotted screws and bolts in place.
We want to thank Midwest Militaria who reproduced a compartment door lid so well, you can not tell it from the originals. We did have to make a few parts but they were small enough we could hand make them instead of sending them off to be re-manufactured.
Two of our Third Army Living Historians were in armor and had been deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were given the ordinance and it came out as it should have been,… Roger that!
The images should tell the visual story. The story not understood in the images, unless you have worked on one, is the great camaraderie you have in working on MVs with your friends. You all have a feeling of pride that you did your best and you save a piece of history.
The Finished Restoration
We picked August of 1944 to be our target date to build the Patton’s M20 around. We left the ring mount on it as it was on it at that moment in time. There is some photographic evidence that the ring mount remained on it till late fall, 1944.
Since our M20 was manufactured a little later than General Patton’s, though in the same year of 1944, we felt it better to leave it the way it was manufactured. This was done to keep the historic integrity of the original vehicle and to give us a bases to re-inventory the interior. We used a SCR 508 radio on the passenger side and a SCR 510 on the drivers side.
All of the interior is according to the US Army table of organization of the period. The addition of a Thompson SMG rack holder, and set of horns would have been in keeping with general Patton’s personal taste. Since he was a man that enjoyed the polished look, the seats were left in the raw and not painted but covered in a protective varnish style coating. Every effort was taken to keep the originality of the original M 20 and preserve its unique history under the trapping of Patton’s M-20.
The Military Vehicle Preservation Association National Convention
In February of 2014 we considered the work we had done on the Patton’s M-20 armored car. We felt it was good enough to show but had no idea on what it would take to enter it in competition and place. We were not even sure we could finish it in time. It was certainly a goal we could have to see if we could finish it.
It is a lot different restoring a military vehicle to play with as apposed to showing it in a contest. We decided to register it in the motor pool class and see if we could reach their standards. The convention was to be held in Louisville, Kentucky the last week of June 2014.
By mid June we had finished most of the work and touched it up as best we could.
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We were fortunate to meet Paul Fellencer Sr, retired Lt. Col and Vietnam veteran. He was going to show his 1972 2 ½ ton truck at the show and had found an “Operator” as Cliff Weisinger, prefers to be called at Double CW LLC Specialized Trucking. www.doublecw.com He did an excellent job. He went so far as to cover the vehicles and protect them from the 1000 miles of dirt.
Our two vehicles were loaded up and the long trip, 1000 miles was made to the MVPA Convention.
Beyond our expectations!!!
The MVPA Show!
We arrived on Monday and settled in. on Tuesday we awaited the arrival of our m-20 and upon its arrival, we prepared it to show. Last minute detail work was in order. We spent most of the day unpacking and setting up.
Our First Set Of MVPA Judges
These guys came by and were tough, thorough but pleasant. They checked all the lighting, brakes, dash and went down a long list. They were almost done and asked us to turn on the blackout lights over the front headlights. At that moment, it dawned on us we had tested the bulbs but we could not remember have them on. Bill white it the switch and…. They came on!! When. It was over. All that they ask to work, did work, and well. They said we did well and went off to another vehicle.
Our Second Set Of Judges
On Thursday our next set of judges came by. They both said they owned an M-20. They looked over the outside and then climbed over the top and into the M-20 and disappeared for about an hour. Every once in a while they would ask a question, seem satisfied with the response and continued going down their long check list.
Our Third Set Of Judges
We can’t tell you a whole lot about these guys or guy. I know a fellow came by and asked questions about our display, its history and the history of General Patton’s M-20, which we had on display. He was very knowledgeable about General Patton. We answered all of his questions and then he told us he was one of the display judges. We had no idea they had separate judges for that. He thanked us, and moved on.
Denny Hair had been a member of the MVPA for over 25 years but had never shown a vehicle before. The other three members of our show team we members as well, though not as long. They had never shown one either. After all the judging was done, we looked at each other, compared notes and concluded we did our best. We had no idea how we did, this because we had never done it before.
A Show Winner!
After we finished the meal the awards were given out. They got to the motor pool class and several were mentioned and to our surprise we won the gold Award, the highest offered in the class. We all went to accept the award and thrilled with that we sat down.
The awards went on and they then got to the coveted awards. The 1st Place award for Best Vehicle display is very tough and coveted award. We wanted to know who would get it as it, to us, it was the top of the top. You not only had to do well in your class, get in the top percent but well in the display award, in the top percent.
They announced that the 1rst place Military Vehicle Display award went to the M20. We were blown away. Never had we thought we could place, not only win. We placed Gold in the motor pool class, Display Class and 1st Place in the Military Vehicle Display award. This was out of what we were told were almost 180 entries at the MVPA show. We are most humbled.
A Highlight Of The Show For Us
We met 93 year old Norman Curtis, a WWII Veteran who served in General Patton’s headquarters for a time. On Saturday, we had the honor and the privilege to visit with Norman Curtis. He told us of his experiences in WWII and his chance meeting of General Patton. He had come in after Normandy as part of the signal corps. He had laid com wire across Europe and fought during the Battle of the Bulge. Near the end of the war he helped liberate Dachau, the horrid Nazi extermination camp.
He told also of meeting General Patton. He was ordered to enter the inner office of General Patton to make sure his clocks were in working order and wound properly. There were no battery operated clocks then and the army had to work on Patton’s time and like clock work, so they had to work.
He was told Patton was out of the office We walked into the inner office and started to work. Then all of a sudden, “ The G..Damn Hell is that!! It was the old man himself. What the hell are you doing in my office? Curtis replied, “Sir, I am with your headquarters Signle Corps and ordered to wind your clocks sir.” He looked him up and down, smiled and said “Very Good, carry on.”
We enjoyed our visit with one of the Greatest Generation, Norman Curtis, and to keep our promise we proudly end our article with his image with us.
It does not get any better than this.
Tech info on our m 20. GBK 2937. This M-20 was the 131rd vehicle made in December of 1944. Originally it carried the registration number 60113709
A very special Thank you to Gary and Linda Haas
Thank you’d go to those that made this restoration happen my lending a hand: Carlos Manning, Ken Stewart, Michael Malony, Will Huntington, Ray Marino, Bill White, Denny Hair, Claude Vaughn and Michael Ditto
Venders we are grateful to are:
John Bizal Midwest Militaries, http://www.midwestmilitary.net
Paul Vein TM9 Ordnance Products; https://www.tm9ordnance.com
Gary Healing half track parts, http://www.halftracks.com/index.cfm
Niedick Hardware Tomball Texas, phone 281 351 1683
Brent Mullins Jeep Parts, http://www.mullinsjeepparts.com
Triple C Industries Waller Texas, www.triplecindustries.com
Rick Larsen ‘s Military Stencils, http://www.militarystencils.com
Library of Congress Patton Papers, Pascale Craan, researcher extraordinaire
Patton Museum of Leadership, Fort Knox Kentucky
Thanks to Bill Bauer, Ordinance Collectibles 361 552 8517 P.O. Box 241, Port Lavaca, Texas 77979 who open his M 20 up to help us as well.
Don’s Custom Furniture – Tomball, TX
For restoration of seats.