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The Battle Of Kursk: Nazi Military Operations Cannot be Separated from Hitler’s Genocidal Policies

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am reposting an older article today which was a paper that I wrote for a class as part of my second Masters Degree program.  Tomorrow, July 12th is the anniversary of the one of the largest tank battles in history, The Battle of Prokhorovka, the climax of the Battle Of Kursk, in which nearly 1000 German and Soviet tanks engaged in an often close quarters battle where both suffered staggering casualties, but the Soviets prevented a German breakthrough, and with it a potential German victory. 

The Battle of Kursk was the climactic battle on the Eastern Front from which the Germans never recovered. It was a battle that should not have been fought, at least at the time that it was fought. It was high risk operation with minimal payoff should it succeed. It did not and combined with the Allied landings in Sicily and other setbacks suffered by German forces in 1943 was the battle that doomed Germany to defeat. It was the last time that the German military had a chance to score a major victory against the Soviets and their defeat ensured the defeat of the Third Reich. 

The decision of Hitler and the High Command to launch this offensive is also connected for the need of the Nazis to complete the Final Solution Of the “Jewish Problem,” which was in the process of execution millions of Jews, with an emphasis on the systematic destruction of European Jewry, with the desire to eliminate the Russian Jews who as of yet remained under the protection of the Red Army. The German military campaign in the east can never be disconnected from the genocidal policies of the Nazis, and many of the German troops and commanders involved in Zitadelle were accomplices to Genocide or actively supported it. 

So when you read this article, do not just look at the military dimensions. Remember, that it, like every Nazi military operation was a necessary part of Hitler’s genocidal program. 

Until tomorrow, 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

The German Situation and Dilemma in April 1943

Battle_of_Kursk_(map)

The Germans faced a dilemma in April 1943.  Manstein’s brilliant counter-stroke had turned what could have been disaster into an opportunity to salvage prospects for the Eastern Front. The German action had “repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, and nipped the Russian spearhead.”[i]Unfortunately for the Germans the spring thaw meant that Manstein could not continue immediately and eliminate the Kursk bulge which had been formed by Rokossovky’s offensive and Manstein’s own counter-stroke.  With the Germans stalled by the weather Stavka cancelled “other significant planned offensives to dispatch reinforcements to the Kursk region.”[ii] Despite the weather Manstein pushed Kluge for an immediate attack on both sides of the bulge but was rebuffed by Kluge who “insisted that his troops needed to rest and refit.”[iii] This rebuff combined with the onset of the Russian mud meant that in “March 1943 the war on the ground came to an end….The front was immobilized.”[iv]

manstein with tanks                 Field Marshal Erich von Manstein with Tiger I Tanks

Manstein’s offensive had “enabled the Germans to consolidate a firm position in the East, and build up strength afresh- not to its former level, but sufficient to provide a good prospect of holding the Russians at bay.”[v] As a result German armies in the south “held again nearly the same positions from which the Blau offensive had begun the previous spring.”[vi] Now the Kursk bulge some 250 Kilometers wide and 160 Kilometers deep[vii] protruded menacingly into the German lines and drew the attention of both sides, to the Germans it appeared to be designed for an encirclement battle.[viii] Thus it appeared that the Kursk bulge was the obvious place for the Germans to resume the offensive and maintain the initiative on the Eastern Front.

But was the Kursk necessary?  Was Operation ZITADELLE as obvious as it seemed to be to Hitler, Zeitzler and others?  The battle is the subject of many books and articles which often focus on tactical and operational details of the German offensive, particularly the battle on the southern side of the bulge and the clash of armor at Prokhorovka.  This essay will focus less on the battle and more on the strategic situation faced by the Germans in the spring of 1943. Key to this are the arguments for and against the operation, the operations timing and the option that the Germans had to conduct a mobile defense.   It is the strategic situation that must be looked at to determine whether Operation ZITADELLE was necessary at all. Manstein believed that had the offensive been launched early enough that it might have succeeded provided it “we launched it early enough we could hope to catch them in a state of unpreparedness.”[ix]Williamson Murray and Allan Millett agree with Manstein’s assessment but note that an early offensive was “riskier…but greater the prospect for a major success.”[x] Guderian on the other hand saw that nothing good could come of ZITADELLE and opposed it from the beginning.[xi] Glantz and House in their detailed study argue that “there is absolutely no basis for assuming that Citadel would have succeeded had it been launched in spring 1943.”[xii]

battle_kursk t 34            The Soviets Reinforced and Fortified the Kursk Salient

The Germans faced a number of major problems in early 1943.  First, among them was manpower.  The armed forces had been mauled on the Eastern Front, “after continuous operations from June 1942 to March 1943, most German units were worn out.”[xiii] Many infantry divisions “were reduced to two thirds of their original strength, with declining mobility and anti-tank defenses.”[xiv] Had the Germans only faced the Russians this might have been overcome, however they not only faced a rejuvenated Red Army, but challenges brought about by multi-theater operations and their weak, ineffective and reluctant allies.  The Allied air offensive which though it “did not decisively effect German arms production it nevertheless prevented a great deal of work from being carried on and had profound moral effects which communicated themselves to all the fronts.”[xv] Likewise the U-Boat campaign had been effectively defeated by May 1943 allowing for increasing numbers of American troops and supplies to reach Europe, including significant Lend-Lease aide for the Soviet Union.  Manpower became a major issue for the the German Army and industry.  Both the military and industryhad difficulty in getting the required number of personnel to meet their personnel needs, in January 1943 the German High Command “demanded 800,000 men-but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000” who were lost to the civilian war economy.[xvi] Even the “belated industrial mobilization of Germany, fueled by slave labor and directed by the organizational genius of men like Speer and Guderian, could do little beyond patching together existing units.”[xvii]

Bild 101I-139-1112-17General Heinz Guderian, Inspector of Panzer Troops was one of Few Senior German Officers to Oppose ZITADELLE from the Beginning

There were other challenges. The German and Italian armies in North Africa had surrendered, and about 330,000 Axis soldiers entered captivity.[xviii] Added to the heavy losses on the Eastern Front, the disasters in North Africa and Stalingrad had “effectively destroyed the Axis military alliance, such as it was.”[xix] Italy, Hungary and Romania all began to pull their forces out of the Eastern front after having them shattered by the Soviet Winter offensive.[xx]Italy, shaken by its losses in North Africa and the Russian front was wavering in its support for Germany; Mussolini’s government itself was on the verge of falling.  Likewise the Hungarian government sought contact with the Allies;[xxi]as did the Romanians.[xxii] Finland too was looking for a way out and limiting its participation in German offensive operations.[xxiii] As her allies looked for a way out, the British and Americans were about to open a new front in Southern Europe, while another had effectively been opened by partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece.[xxiv] The crisis in the south was great enough that OKW under General Jodl began to look at ways of shoring up those fronts in case Italy withdrew from the war including the use of units that would have to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front.[xxv] The Balkans drained German reserves such that the number of German divisions deployed there increased from 5 to 15 between July 1942 and July 1943.[xxvi] Additionally many units had to be created by the Replacement Army to build up the Western Front knowing that an Allied strike there would eventually take place, further depriving the Eastern Front of badly needed infantry replacements and divisions.

Benito_Mussolini_and_Adolf_HitlerHitler Felt Regaining the Initiative in the East was Critical to Keeping his Allies in the War

The German Options and Decision

The question for the Germans now was whether they “had any strategic options that would allow them to avoid defeat.”[xxvii] It is from this perspective that the necessity of Kursk must be examined. Most in the German High Command now realized that strategy in the east could no longer be “based on the illusion of conquering the vast Soviet Union.”[xxviii] As such the discussion turned to what direction the new strategy should take.  Political considerations came into play: Since the German allies were looking for ways to exit the war it was felt that “it was politically impossible for Germany to surrender the initiative on the Eastern Front.”[xxix] Realistically there were two options available: Wait and counterattack or launch a limited attack on the Kursk salient. The general impression among many German commanders in the East was that they had ended the last campaign “with a relative advantage over the Reds, an advantage that should be exploited as soon as the rasputitsa ended in April or early May.”[xxx] But the only strategy that looked feasible balancing the political and military goal of maintaining the initiative was what Manstein originally had in mind after Kharkov, to continue on, pinch out the Kursk bulge with the cooperation of Kluge’s Army Group Center.  As noted the opportunity to do so was lost with Kluge’s refusal and the onset of the spring thaw.  Yet this idea captured Zeitzler at OKH and Kluge at Army Group Center, though by April and May Manstein was more inclined toward “the ‘backhand’ stroke, which involved giving up the whole Donetz basin and staging a major Panzer offensive southeast from Kharkov.”[xxxi] However, this was too bold for Hitler who was “unwilling to give up the Donetz Basin with its industrial and mineral resources.”[xxxii]

battle_kursk_tiger advancing     The New Tiger Tanks Were to Play a Critical Role in the Attack

Manstein felt that the “moment of opportunity had passed, but his counterpart at Army Group Center…Kluge, was enthusiastic about the proposal.”[xxxiii]Zeitzler believed that an “attack at Kursk would be less risky”[xxxiv] than Manstein’s “backhand” and pushed the plan to Hitler.  There were advantages to this strategy if it could be carried out successfully. The Germans would encircle and destroy Russian forces in the salient and “shorten their own defensive lines after such an encirclement.”[xxxv] Yet the plan was opposed by others. Jodl at OKW argued against ZITADELLE “because he believed that it was dangerous to empty the strategic reserve when so many new crises threatened to develop in the Mediterranean.”[xxxvi] Zeitzler countered that because of German weakness in the east that they could not “wait to be hit.”[xxxvii] Guderian did not believe that either Army Group could be ready to mount the offensive that Zeitzler envisioned and “declared that the attack was pointless…if we attacked according to the plan of the Chief of the General Staff, we were certain to suffer heavy tank casualties, which we would not be in position to replace in 1943.”[xxxviii]Guderian asked Hitler at a separate conference “why he wanted to attack at all in the East in 1943.” When Keitel expressed that the reasons were political, Guderian asked Hitler “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It’s a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not…”[xxxix] Guderian and Speer both pointed out technical problems in producing the Tigers and Panthers but were overruled.[xl] Hitler himself reportedly had misgivings about the attack at one point reportedly stating that “the thought of the Zitadelle operation ‘made [his] stomach turn over’”[xli] In spite of Jodl and Guderian’s warnings, his own misgivings and those of Manstein and Model in April and May, Hitler “allowed himself to be tempted once more into taking the offensive. The Kursk salient…lured him into mounting his great pincer operation known as Citadel.”[xlii] Glantz and House maintain that he could “see no alternative politically and agreed to the plan.”[xliii]

The Facts on the Ground

Kursk_T34_and_Fieldgun-px800Soviet Forces Expected the Attack and Were well Prepared to Meet it

Once the decision to attack was made the question that remained was the timing of the attack. Manstein had preferred an early attack in May, but the operation was postponed to mid-June and then to July due to the request of Model who believed that his forces were too weak and needed reinforcements.[xliv] The attack was to be one of several “limited offensives designed to consolidate the German defenses while inflicting sufficient damage on the Red Army to delay any Soviet offensive.”[xlv] But the delays insisted on by Model and agreed to by Hitler were a fatal error.  The Germans failed to “factor into their decision was the unpalatable reality that Soviet strength in the Kursk salient was growing much faster than the Wehrmacht could muster forces to attack it.”[xlvi] Not only were the Soviet forces growing they knew about the German plans and could deploy their forces to counter them and for their own offensive.[xlvii] Stalin’s generals were able to convince him not to launch an attack and instead wait on the Germans so they could attack as the Germans exhausted their strength.[xlviii] They knew of it since April and reinforced the flanks of the salient with guns and armor at a faster pace than the Germans opposite them.[xlix] At Kursk “improved intelligence collection and analysis permitted the Red Army to predict almost exactly the strategic focal point of a major German offensive.”[l] Into the bulge “Vatutin and Rokossovsky crammed seven armies.”[li] The Russians deployed in depth in heavy fortified zones and minefields along the very sectors of the bulge that the Germans intended to attack, successfully masking their preparations from the Germans. It was “a measure of Soviet self-confidence that the senior commanders were looking beyond the German attack, beyond its failure, to the first major Soviet summer offensive.”[lii] Had the Germans succeeded in pinching off the salient “they would have faced several additional defensive belts constructed to the east of the salient.”[liii]

Typically when one launches an offensive it is desirable to have numeric advantage over the defender, 3:1 is normally assumed to be sufficient. At Kursk the Germans were outnumbered by the Russians 2.3:1 in men and 1.6:1 in tanks[liv] yet somehow the offensive had now morphed from a spoiling attack into a strategic offensive, albeit with more limited objectives attacking one of the strongest points in the Russian line.  General Raus, commanding a corps in Army Detachment Kempf noted: “Considering Russian dispositions, defenses and terrain, German strength could be considered only minimally sufficient for the assigned mission.”[lv] The Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps called Kursk “the strongest fortress in the world.”[lvi]

Danger Signs: Requests for Cancellation

keitel-jodl-hitlerGeneral Alfred Jodl at OKW Protested the Offensive Verbally and in Writing

As more delays occurred Manstein “came out in the open and protested that the operation was no longer feasible and must be abandoned, but it was too late.  The united stand of orthodox General Staff opinion, Keitel, Zeitzler, Kluge, had persuaded the Führer, whose mind, once made up, was never altered.”[lvii]Manstein felt that the idea had been to “attack the enemy before the enemy had replenished his forces and got over the reverses of the winter.”[lviii] He felt there was great danger to the Mius line and to the northern Orel bulge with each delay; and the felt the threat of an attack by the Allies in Western Europe.[lix] On 18 June Jodl and the OKW Operations Staff “recommended to Hitler that he abandon Operation Citadel in order to free strategic reserves for defense in both East and West.”[lx] Warlimont writes that Jodl “raised empathic objection to the premature commitment of the central reserves to the East; he pointed out both verbally and in writing that a local success was all that could be hoped from Operation Citadel and that it could have no strategic significance for the overall situation.”[lxi] Hitler again refused the request.  “The doubts of certain Chiefs of Staff of the attacking armies were disregarded, and in the case of Colonel von Schleinitz, answered with dismissal.”[lxii]

The Battle

battle_kursk tigersTigers Advancing

The attacking forces for ZITADELLE involved units of Army Group Center and Army Group South.  Spearheading the assault for Army Group Center was Model’s 9th Army.  2nd Army from the same Army Group took a defensive role in the center of the bulge while Army Group South’s 4th Panzer Army under Hoth and Army Detachment Kempf composed the Southern attack force.  Von Mellenthin noted that to muster the necessary divisions for the attacking armies “neighboring fronts were to be thinned out beyond the limits of prudence” and from a strategic point of view likened Citadel “to be a veritable ‘death ride.’”[lxiii]Manstein worried about stripping the Mius-Donetz salient which “had to hand over all their available forces.”[lxiv] The Germans sent 17 panzer divisions against Kursk including the elite 2nd Panzer, Grossdeutschland, Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf. Hoth’s army was the “strongest force ever put under a single commander in the German Army.”[lxv] While the Germans assembled the Russians waited, and beginning on 1 July the “Red Army defenders were on constant alert, waiting in their bunkers for the first sign of attack.”[lxvi]

battle_kursk_0020                                          Panzers on the Advance

ZITADELLE began on 4 July with a reconnaissance in force, the main blow scheduled for 0300 5 July. The Russians learned of the timing from a prisoner and quickly launched an artillery counter-preparation an hour prior to the German attack, disrupting it while air strikes were ordered against Luftwaffe airfields.[lxvii] Model’s 9th Army on the northern flank attacked the Russian “13th and 70th Armies on a frontage of 50 kilometers”[lxviii] with the focus being a 16 kilometer front where he concentrated 6 infantry divisions, a panzer division and all his Tiger and Ferdinand units.[lxix] He intended to break the Soviet defensive system “by constantly feeding in new units to grind down the defenses.”[lxx] The attack stalled by the 9July making minimal progress of “8 to 12 kilometers into the massive Soviet defenses.”[lxxi] A good deal of his problem was due to limited infantry strength which was  “far below established strength….moreover, the Ninth Army’s infantry- even the veterans- lacked experience in conducting set-piece attacks against prepared positions.”[lxxii]The Russians defined the battleground and forced Model into a battle determined by superior firepower on a constricted battlefield, “a game that the Wehrmacht could not win.”[lxxiii] This nullified any advantage the Germans might have had in mobility for their panzer divisions.  In savage battles to take the high ground at Ponyri station and Ol’khovatka Model’s assaults faltered.  9thArmy sacrificed about 50,000 men and 400 tanks to the god of war.”[lxxiv]Model continued to attack until 12 July when the Russians launched their offensive against the Orel bulge forcing him to redeploy to counter the Russian advance.  The battle in the north became “a savage defensive battle in which considerable parts of the offensive wing of Ninth Army were involved.”[lxxv]Model’s defeat made Hoth’s task “much more challenging.”[lxxvi]

battle_kursk_t-34s and infantry                                          Soviet T-34’s and Infantry

The Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf made better progress, nearly breaking through the Russian defenses after hard fighting. They penetrated “into the third Soviet defensive belt, a depth of 35 kilometers, but were stopped by Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.”[lxxvii] The critical point was reached on 11 and 12 July at Prokhorovka station when 5th Tank Army collided with 4thPanzer Army. “Over 1200 tanks from both sides were engaged in this struggle.”[lxxviii] It was the largest tank engagement of the war, over 700 tanks were destroyed and “German losses were too great to allow a decisive breakthrough.”[lxxix] Both sides took heavy casualties but the Germans could not replace theirs while the Russians still had formidable uncommitted reserves.  On 13 July the battle in the south drifted into a stalemate as XLVIII Panzer Corps and Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps failed to break the Soviet line[lxxx] as the Russians “kept on throwing in fresh troops, and their reserves seemed inexhaustible.”[lxxxi] Manstein desired to continue the offensive as he believed that for his Army Group “the battle was now at its culminating point, that to break it off at this moment would be tantamount to throwing victory away.”[lxxxii] Although Manstein and Hoth felt that they could continue on and break the Russian line, they were now not in a position to do so. Model’s forces were in no shape to assist in the north and Manstein and Kluge were called to the Wolfsschanze by Hitler who, now preoccupied with the Allied invasion of Sicily necessitating withdraws of strong panzer forces from the east to face the threat in the west.[lxxxiii] Hitler rejected Manstein’s counsel to continue and ordered him to withdraw II SS Panzer Corps,[lxxxiv] effectively ending the ZITADELLE as the Russians launched their offensive on 17 July.

battle_kursk_destroyed panzers                                               Destroyed Panzers

Analysis of the Decision: Zitadelle Was Not Obvious, Necessary nor Well Executed

To Hitler and the supporters of ZITADELLE the operation seemed obvious.  In the two previous years the Germans had dealt punishing blows against the Red Army and the belief of Zeitzler and others was that the Wehrmacht was still qualitatively superior to the Soviets and that even a limited offensive would succeed in its objectives.  But the conditions on the ground had changed and the Germans failed to take the change into account.  The German Army did not have the resources for an offensive of the scope of Barbarossa or Blau. However this lack of resources did not lessen the optimism of some for ZITADELLE; particularly Zeitzler and Kluge. From their perspective the offensive to pinch out the Kursk salient seemed likely to succeed.  Yet as Clark notes the offensive was defined by a “lack of imagination and adaptability….Where the old Blitzkrieg formula….was fed into the computer, with little regard for the changed conditions….” [lxxxv] Von Mellenthin comments that by attacking Kursk, the “German Army threw away all their advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing.”[lxxxvi] Glantz and House attribute this to the fact that the Germans “clung to outmoded assumptions about their own superiority over their opponents” due to their previous success. They point out that the Red Army had systematically reviewed its performance after every failure,” so that “Soviet doctrine, organization, and expectations were closer to battlefield reality than were those of the senior German leadership.”[lxxxvii] The German intelligence services failed them[lxxxviii] as they failed to detect the large strategic sized force that the Soviets had concentrated in the spring of 1943.  This was a force that Glantz and House believe would have caused ZITADELLE to fail even had it occurred in May, particularly in regard to the comparatively weak German forces fielded by Manstein.[lxxxix]

An offensive with what appeared to be reasonable objectives that were believed to be within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht failed.  Hitler according to Carell “gambled away not only victory but all hope of a draw.”[xc] Manstein categorized the offensive as a “fiasco.”[xci] Guderian called it “a decisive defeat” that made it “problematical” whether the armored formations could be “rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front.”[xcii] Warlimont who served at OKW commented: “Operation Citadel was more than a battle lost; it handed the Russians the initiative and we never recovered it again right up to the end of the war.”[xciii]Guderian’s biographer Kenneth Macksey wrote that “the failure at Kursk was due to the employment of a faulty plan which lacked the element of strategic as well as tactical surprise.”[xciv] Raus lists several factors for this.  However, his argument is summarized: “once we learned in May and June that this was the area in which the Russians were prepared to offer their stiffest resistance, we should have modified our plans.  Either we should have refrained from attacking at all, or the operation should have been carried out to strike the enemy not at his strongest, but at his weakest point.”[xcv]

Hitler felt that a decisive victory was needed for political and propaganda reasons, yet even a significant victory was unlikely to keep Italy in the war, even if it swayed the lesser allies to stay the course.  ZITADELLE was conducted too late to save the Italians, success in May might have given German supporters in Italy some leverage but the invasion of Sicily and the failure at Kursk emboldened Mussolini’s opponents. The Fascist Grand Council “voted to have Mussolini removed as prime minister” and King Vittorio Emmanuaele “dismissed Mussolini” who was then placed under arrest.[xcvi] Finland refused to take offensive action that might have cut the Murmansk railway[xcvii] and engaged the Americans in a round of “abortive negotiation”[xcviii] while the Hungarians and Romanians provided little assistance to the Germans, partially due to the German reluctance to assist in modernizing and rebuilding their armies.[xcix]

Of the German Generals involved it was only Guderian as Inspector of Armored Troops and Jodl at OKW who consistently opposed ZITADELLE, citing realistic assessments of strengths, risks and dangers in other theaters.  Manstein opposed it when he felt the opportunity had passed, though it was unlikely to succeed had it been launched in May as he desired.  Guderian and Jodl’s arguments proved correct in every respect. ZITADELLE engaged German the preponderance of German forces in a battle that had at best chances of local success. The offensive itself weakened and endangered the German position on all fronts.  In the end, despite the belief and decision of Hitler, Zeitzler Kluge and others in the High Command, Operation ZITADELLE was neither obvious nor necessary and played out with the disastrous results expected by those who opposed it.

                                                        Notes


[i] Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. p. 306

[ii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.14

[iii] Ibid. Glantz and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  p.14

[iv] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. p. 335

[v] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. p.212

[vi] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.163

[vii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[ix] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.447

[x] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.295

[xi] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.206

[xii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.261

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.14

[xiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xv] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945.Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.441

[xvi] Ibid. Carell. p.336

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xviii] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.312

[xix] DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005. p.174

[xx] Ibid. DiNardo. p.174. By the summer all Italians units had been withdrawn, all but two Hungarian divisions which were used in anti-partisan operations and nine Romanian divisions.

[xxi] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxiii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.180

[xxiv] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxv] Ibid. Warlimont. pp.317-318

[xxvi] Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003. p.53

[xxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.294

[xxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.339

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxxi] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.280

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[xxxiv] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.157

[xxxvi] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxviii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.245-246

[xxxix] Ibid. Clark. p.325.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157.

[xli] Ibid. Clark. p.325

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.341

[xliii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xliv]Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. pp.218-219

[xlv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.21

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.219

[xlvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.295

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xlix] Ibid. Clark. p.326

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.63

[li] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.200-201

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.159

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kurskp.64

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.65 This reference contains a listing of each sector and the force ratios of men, tanks and guns in each sector.

[lv] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.197

[lvi] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.81

[lvii] Ibid. Clark. p.327

[lviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.447

[lix] Ibid. Manstein. pp.447-448

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.55

[lxi] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[lxii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.445

[lxiii] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p.262

[lxiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.448

[lxv] Ibid. Clark. p.328

[lxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.78

[lxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.81-84

[lxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxix] Ibid. Erickson. P.99

[lxx] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.99

[lxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxii] Ibid. Newton. p.222

[lxxiii] Ibid. Newton. 234

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxix] Ibid. Overy. p.209

[lxxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.215-217

[lxxxi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.274

[lxxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.217-218.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.167

[lxxxv] Ibid. Clark. pp.329-330

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.264

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.269

[lxxxviii] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York,  2006. p.227

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p. 261

[xc] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[xcii] Ibid. Guderian. p.251

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[xciv] Ibid. Macksey. Guderian p.206

[xcv] Ibid. Raus. p.211

[xcvi] Ibid. DiNardo. p.178

[xcvii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.181

[xcviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.91

[xcix] Ibid. DiNardo. pp.182-188

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse.University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005

Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003

Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999.

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart.

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975

Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2006

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000

Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005

Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945.Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986

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Kursk: The Death Ride of the Panzerwaffe

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am reposting an older article today which was a paper that I wrote for a class as part of my second Masters Degree program. 

The Battle of Kursk was the climactic battle on the Eastern Front from which the Germans never recovered. It was a battle that should not have been fought, at least at the time that it was fought. It was high risk operation with minimal payoff should it succeed. It did not and combined with the Allied landings in Sicily and other setbacks suffered by German forces in 1943 was the battle that doomed Germany to defeat. It was the last time that the German military had a chance to score a major victory against the Soviets and their defeat ensured the defeat of the Third Reich. 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

The German Situation and Dilemma in April 1943

Battle_of_Kursk_(map)

The Germans faced a dilemma in April 1943.  Manstein’s brilliant counter-stroke had turned what could have been disaster into an opportunity to salvage prospects for the Eastern Front. The German action had “repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, and nipped the Russian spearhead.”[i]Unfortunately for the Germans the spring thaw meant that Manstein could not continue immediately and eliminate the Kursk bulge which had been formed by Rokossovky’s offensive and Manstein’s own counter-stroke.  With the Germans stalled by the weather Stavka cancelled “other significant planned offensives to dispatch reinforcements to the Kursk region.”[ii] Despite the weather Manstein pushed Kluge for an immediate attack on both sides of the bulge but was rebuffed by Kluge who “insisted that his troops needed to rest and refit.”[iii] This rebuff combined with the onset of the Russian mud meant that in “March 1943 the war on the ground came to an end….The front was immobilized.”[iv]

manstein with tanksField Marshal Erich von Manstein with Tiger I Tanks

Manstein’s offensive had “enabled the Germans to consolidate a firm position in the East, and build up strength afresh- not to its former level, but sufficient to provide a good prospect of holding the Russians at bay.”[v] As a result German armies in the south “held again nearly the same positions from which the Blau offensive had begun the previous spring.”[vi] Now the Kursk bulge some 250 Kilometers wide and 160 Kilometers deep[vii] protruded menacingly into the German lines and drew the attention of both sides, to the Germans it appeared to be designed for an encirclement battle.[viii] Thus it appeared that the Kursk bulge was the obvious place for the Germans to resume the offensive and maintain the initiative on the Eastern Front.

But was the Kursk necessary?  Was Operation ZITADELLE as obvious as it seemed to be to Hitler, Zeitzler and others?  The battle is the subject of many books and articles which often focus on tactical and operational details of the German offensive, particularly the battle on the southern side of the bulge and the clash of armor at Prokhorovka.  This essay will focus less on the battle and more on the strategic situation faced by the Germans in the spring of 1943. Key to this are the arguments for and against the operation, the operations timing and the option that the Germans had to conduct a mobile defense.   It is the strategic situation that must be looked at to determine whether Operation ZITADELLE was necessary at all. Manstein believed that had the offensive been launched early enough that it might have succeeded provided it “we launched it early enough we could hope to catch them in a state of unpreparedness.”[ix]Williamson Murray and Allan Millett agree with Manstein’s assessment but note that an early offensive was “riskier…but greater the prospect for a major success.”[x] Guderian on the other hand saw that nothing good could come of ZITADELLE and opposed it from the beginning.[xi] Glantz and House in their detailed study argue that “there is absolutely no basis for assuming that Citadel would have succeeded had it been launched in spring 1943.”[xii]

battle_kursk t 34The Soviets Reinforced and Fortified the Kursk Salient

The Germans faced a number of major problems in early 1943.  First, among them was manpower.  The armed forces had been mauled on the Eastern Front, “after continuous operations from June 1942 to March 1943, most German units were worn out.”[xiii] Many infantry divisions “were reduced to two thirds of their original strength, with declining mobility and anti-tank defenses.”[xiv] Had the Germans only faced the Russians this might have been overcome, however they not only faced a rejuvenated Red Army, but challenges brought about by multi-theater operations and their weak, ineffective and reluctant allies.  The Allied air offensive which though it “did not decisively effect German arms production it nevertheless prevented a great deal of work from being carried on and had profound moral effects which communicated themselves to all the fronts.”[xv] Likewise the U-Boat campaign had been effectively defeated by May 1943 allowing for increasing numbers of American troops and supplies to reach Europe, including significant Lend-Lease aide for the Soviet Union.  Manpower became a major issue for the the German Army and industry.  Both the military and industryhad difficulty in getting the required number of personnel to meet their personnel needs, in January 1943 the German High Command “demanded 800,000 men-but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000” who were lost to the civilian war economy.[xvi] Even the “belated industrial mobilization of Germany, fueled by slave labor and directed by the organizational genius of men like Speer and Guderian, could do little beyond patching together existing units.”[xvii]

Bild 101I-139-1112-17General Heinz Guderian, Inspector of Panzer Troops was one of Few Senior German Officers to Oppose ZITADELLE from the Beginning

There were other challenges. The German and Italian armies in North Africa had surrendered, and about 330,000 Axis soldiers entered captivity.[xviii] Added to the heavy losses on the Eastern Front, the disasters in North Africa and Stalingrad had “effectively destroyed the Axis military alliance, such as it was.”[xix] Italy, Hungary and Romania all began to pull their forces out of the Eastern front after having them shattered by the Soviet Winter offensive.[xx]Italy, shaken by its losses in North Africa and the Russian front was wavering in its support for Germany; Mussolini’s government itself was on the verge of falling.  Likewise the Hungarian government sought contact with the Allies;[xxi]as did the Romanians.[xxii] Finland too was looking for a way out and limiting its participation in German offensive operations.[xxiii] As her allies looked for a way out, the British and Americans were about to open a new front in Southern Europe, while another had effectively been opened by partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece.[xxiv] The crisis in the south was great enough that OKW under General Jodl began to look at ways of shoring up those fronts in case Italy withdrew from the war including the use of units that would have to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front.[xxv] The Balkans drained German reserves such that the number of German divisions deployed there increased from 5 to 15 between July 1942 and July 1943.[xxvi] Additionally many units had to be created by the Replacement Army to build up the Western Front knowing that an Allied strike there would eventually take place, further depriving the Eastern Front of badly needed infantry replacements and divisions.

Benito_Mussolini_and_Adolf_HitlerHitler Felt Regaining the Initiative in the East was Critical to Keeping his Allies in the War

The German Options and Decision

The question for the Germans now was whether they “had any strategic options that would allow them to avoid defeat.”[xxvii] It is from this perspective that the necessity of Kursk must be examined. Most in the German High Command now realized that strategy in the east could no longer be “based on the illusion of conquering the vast Soviet Union.”[xxviii] As such the discussion turned to what direction the new strategy should take.  Political considerations came into play: Since the German allies were looking for ways to exit the war it was felt that “it was politically impossible for Germany to surrender the initiative on the Eastern Front.”[xxix] Realistically there were two options available: Wait and counterattack or launch a limited attack on the Kursk salient. The general impression among many German commanders in the East was that they had ended the last campaign “with a relative advantage over the Reds, an advantage that should be exploited as soon as the rasputitsa ended in April or early May.”[xxx] But the only strategy that looked feasible balancing the political and military goal of maintaining the initiative was what Manstein originally had in mind after Kharkov, to continue on, pinch out the Kursk bulge with the cooperation of Kluge’s Army Group Center.  As noted the opportunity to do so was lost with Kluge’s refusal and the onset of the spring thaw.  Yet this idea captured Zeitzler at OKH and Kluge at Army Group Center, though by April and May Manstein was more inclined toward “the ‘backhand’ stroke, which involved giving up the whole Donetz basin and staging a major Panzer offensive southeast from Kharkov.”[xxxi] However, this was too bold for Hitler who was “unwilling to give up the Donetz Basin with its industrial and mineral resources.”[xxxii]

battle_kursk_tiger advancingThe New Tiger Tanks Were to Play a Critical Role in the Attack

Manstein felt that the “moment of opportunity had passed, but his counterpart at Army Group Center…Kluge, was enthusiastic about the proposal.”[xxxiii]Zeitzler believed that an “attack at Kursk would be less risky”[xxxiv] than Manstein’s “backhand” and pushed the plan to Hitler.  There were advantages to this strategy if it could be carried out successfully. The Germans would encircle and destroy Russian forces in the salient and “shorten their own defensive lines after such an encirclement.”[xxxv] Yet the plan was opposed by others. Jodl at OKW argued against ZITADELLE “because he believed that it was dangerous to empty the strategic reserve when so many new crises threatened to develop in the Mediterranean.”[xxxvi] Zeitzler countered that because of German weakness in the east that they could not “wait to be hit.”[xxxvii] Guderian did not believe that either Army Group could be ready to mount the offensive that Zeitzler envisioned and “declared that the attack was pointless…if we attacked according to the plan of the Chief of the General Staff, we were certain to suffer heavy tank casualties, which we would not be in position to replace in 1943.”[xxxviii]Guderian asked Hitler at a separate conference “why he wanted to attack at all in the East in 1943.” When Keitel expressed that the reasons were political, Guderian asked Hitler “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It’s a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not…”[xxxix] Guderian and Speer both pointed out technical problems in producing the Tigers and Panthers but were overruled.[xl] Hitler himself reportedly had misgivings about the attack at one point reportedly stating that “the thought of the Zitadelle operation ‘made [his] stomach turn over’”[xli] In spite of Jodl and Guderian’s warnings, his own misgivings and those of Manstein and Model in April and May, Hitler “allowed himself to be tempted once more into taking the offensive. The Kursk salient…lured him into mounting his great pincer operation known as Citadel.”[xlii] Glantz and House maintain that he could “see no alternative politically and agreed to the plan.”[xliii]

The Facts on the Ground

Kursk_T34_and_Fieldgun-px800Soviet Forces Expected the Attack and Were well Prepared to Meet it

Once the decision to attack was made the question that remained was the timing of the attack. Manstein had preferred an early attack in May, but the operation was postponed to mid-June and then to July due to the request of Model who believed that his forces were too weak and needed reinforcements.[xliv] The attack was to be one of several “limited offensives designed to consolidate the German defenses while inflicting sufficient damage on the Red Army to delay any Soviet offensive.”[xlv] But the delays insisted on by Model and agreed to by Hitler were a fatal error.  The Germans failed to “factor into their decision was the unpalatable reality that Soviet strength in the Kursk salient was growing much faster than the Wehrmacht could muster forces to attack it.”[xlvi] Not only were the Soviet forces growing they knew about the German plans and could deploy their forces to counter them and for their own offensive.[xlvii] Stalin’s generals were able to convince him not to launch an attack and instead wait on the Germans so they could attack as the Germans exhausted their strength.[xlviii] They knew of it since April and reinforced the flanks of the salient with guns and armor at a faster pace than the Germans opposite them.[xlix] At Kursk “improved intelligence collection and analysis permitted the Red Army to predict almost exactly the strategic focal point of a major German offensive.”[l] Into the bulge “Vatutin and Rokossovsky crammed seven armies.”[li] The Russians deployed in depth in heavy fortified zones and minefields along the very sectors of the bulge that the Germans intended to attack, successfully masking their preparations from the Germans. It was “a measure of Soviet self-confidence that the senior commanders were looking beyond the German attack, beyond its failure, to the first major Soviet summer offensive.”[lii] Had the Germans succeeded in pinching off the salient “they would have faced several additional defensive belts constructed to the east of the salient.”[liii]

Typically when one launches an offensive it is desirable to have numeric advantage over the defender, 3:1 is normally assumed to be sufficient. At Kursk the Germans were outnumbered by the Russians 2.3:1 in men and 1.6:1 in tanks[liv] yet somehow the offensive had now morphed from a spoiling attack into a strategic offensive, albeit with more limited objectives attacking one of the strongest points in the Russian line.  General Raus, commanding a corps in Army Detachment Kempf noted: “Considering Russian dispositions, defenses and terrain, German strength could be considered only minimally sufficient for the assigned mission.”[lv] The Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps called Kursk “the strongest fortress in the world.”[lvi]

Danger Signs: Requests for Cancellation

keitel-jodl-hitlerGeneral Alfred Jodl at OKW Protested the Offensive Verbally and in Writing

As more delays occurred Manstein “came out in the open and protested that the operation was no longer feasible and must be abandoned, but it was too late.  The united stand of orthodox General Staff opinion, Keitel, Zeitzler, Kluge, had persuaded the Führer, whose mind, once made up, was never altered.”[lvii]Manstein felt that the idea had been to “attack the enemy before the enemy had replenished his forces and got over the reverses of the winter.”[lviii] He felt there was great danger to the Mius line and to the northern Orel bulge with each delay; and the felt the threat of an attack by the Allies in Western Europe.[lix] On 18 June Jodl and the OKW Operations Staff “recommended to Hitler that he abandon Operation Citadel in order to free strategic reserves for defense in both East and West.”[lx] Warlimont writes that Jodl “raised empathic objection to the premature commitment of the central reserves to the East; he pointed out both verbally and in writing that a local success was all that could be hoped from Operation Citadel and that it could have no strategic significance for the overall situation.”[lxi] Hitler again refused the request.  “The doubts of certain Chiefs of Staff of the attacking armies were disregarded, and in the case of Colonel von Schleinitz, answered with dismissal.”[lxii]

The Battle

battle_kursk tigersTigers Advancing

The attacking forces for ZITADELLE involved units of Army Group Center and Army Group South.  Spearheading the assault for Army Group Center was Model’s 9th Army.  2nd Army from the same Army Group took a defensive role in the center of the bulge while Army Group South’s 4th Panzer Army under Hoth and Army Detachment Kempf composed the Southern attack force.  Von Mellenthin noted that to muster the necessary divisions for the attacking armies “neighboring fronts were to be thinned out beyond the limits of prudence” and from a strategic point of view likened Citadel “to be a veritable ‘death ride.’”[lxiii]Manstein worried about stripping the Mius-Donetz salient which “had to hand over all their available forces.”[lxiv] The Germans sent 17 panzer divisions against Kursk including the elite 2nd Panzer, Grossdeutschland, Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf. Hoth’s army was the “strongest force ever put under a single commander in the German Army.”[lxv] While the Germans assembled the Russians waited, and beginning on 1 July the “Red Army defenders were on constant alert, waiting in their bunkers for the first sign of attack.”[lxvi]

battle_kursk_0020Panzers on the Advance

ZITADELLE began on 4 July with a reconnaissance in force, the main blow scheduled for 0300 5 July. The Russians learned of the timing from a prisoner and quickly launched an artillery counter-preparation an hour prior to the German attack, disrupting it while air strikes were ordered against Luftwaffe airfields.[lxvii] Model’s 9th Army on the northern flank attacked the Russian “13th and 70th Armies on a frontage of 50 kilometers”[lxviii] with the focus being a 16 kilometer front where he concentrated 6 infantry divisions, a panzer division and all his Tiger and Ferdinand units.[lxix] He intended to break the Soviet defensive system “by constantly feeding in new units to grind down the defenses.”[lxx] The attack stalled by the 9July making minimal progress of “8 to 12 kilometers into the massive Soviet defenses.”[lxxi] A good deal of his problem was due to limited infantry strength which was  “far below established strength….moreover, the Ninth Army’s infantry- even the veterans- lacked experience in conducting set-piece attacks against prepared positions.”[lxxii]The Russians defined the battleground and forced Model into a battle determined by superior firepower on a constricted battlefield, “a game that the Wehrmacht could not win.”[lxxiii] This nullified any advantage the Germans might have had in mobility for their panzer divisions.  In savage battles to take the high ground at Ponyri station and Ol’khovatka Model’s assaults faltered.  9thArmy sacrificed about 50,000 men and 400 tanks to the god of war.”[lxxiv]Model continued to attack until 12 July when the Russians launched their offensive against the Orel bulge forcing him to redeploy to counter the Russian advance.  The battle in the north became “a savage defensive battle in which considerable parts of the offensive wing of Ninth Army were involved.”[lxxv]Model’s defeat made Hoth’s task “much more challenging.”[lxxvi]

battle_kursk_t-34s and infantryT-34’s and Infantry

The Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf made better progress, nearly breaking through the Russian defenses after hard fighting. They penetrated “into the third Soviet defensive belt, a depth of 35 kilometers, but were stopped by Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.”[lxxvii] The critical point was reached on 11 and 12 July at Prokhorovka station when 5th Tank Army collided with 4thPanzer Army. “Over 1200 tanks from both sides were engaged in this struggle.”[lxxviii] It was the largest tank engagement of the war, over 700 tanks were destroyed and “German losses were too great to allow a decisive breakthrough.”[lxxix] Both sides took heavy casualties but the Germans could not replace theirs while the Russians still had formidable uncommitted reserves.  On 13 July the battle in the south drifted into a stalemate as XLVIII Panzer Corps and Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps failed to break the Soviet line[lxxx] as the Russians “kept on throwing in fresh troops, and their reserves seemed inexhaustible.”[lxxxi] Manstein desired to continue the offensive as he believed that for his Army Group “the battle was now at its culminating point, that to break it off at this moment would be tantamount to throwing victory away.”[lxxxii] Although Manstein and Hoth felt that they could continue on and break the Russian line, they were now not in a position to do so. Model’s forces were in no shape to assist in the north and Manstein and Kluge were called to the Wolfsschanze by Hitler who, now preoccupied with the Allied invasion of Sicily necessitating withdraws of strong panzer forces from the east to face the threat in the west.[lxxxiii] Hitler rejected Manstein’s counsel to continue and ordered him to withdraw II SS Panzer Corps,[lxxxiv] effectively ending the ZITADELLE as the Russians launched their offensive on 17 July.

battle_kursk_destroyed panzersDestroyed Panzers

Analysis of the Decision: Zitadelle Was Not Obvious, Necessary nor Well Executed

To Hitler and the supporters of ZITADELLE the operation seemed obvious.  In the two previous years the Germans had dealt punishing blows against the Red Army and the belief of Zeitzler and others was that the Wehrmacht was still qualitatively superior to the Soviets and that even a limited offensive would succeed in its objectives.  But the conditions on the ground had changed and the Germans failed to take the change into account.  The German Army did not have the resources for an offensive of the scope of Barbarossa or Blau. However this lack of resources did not lessen the optimism of some for ZITADELLE; particularly Zeitzler and Kluge. From their perspective the offensive to pinch out the Kursk salient seemed likely to succeed.  Yet as Clark notes the offensive was defined by a “lack of imagination and adaptability….Where the old Blitzkrieg formula….was fed into the computer, with little regard for the changed conditions….” [lxxxv] Von Mellenthin comments that by attacking Kursk, the “German Army threw away all their advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing.”[lxxxvi] Glantz and House attribute this to the fact that the Germans “clung to outmoded assumptions about their own superiority over their opponents” due to their previous success. They point out that the Red Army had systematically reviewed its performance after every failure,” so that “Soviet doctrine, organization, and expectations were closer to battlefield reality than were those of the senior German leadership.”[lxxxvii] The German intelligence services failed them[lxxxviii] as they failed to detect the large strategic sized force that the Soviets had concentrated in the spring of 1943.  This was a force that Glantz and House believe would have caused ZITADELLE to fail even had it occurred in May, particularly in regard to the comparatively weak German forces fielded by Manstein.[lxxxix]

An offensive with what appeared to be reasonable objectives that were believed to be within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht failed.  Hitler according to Carell “gambled away not only victory but all hope of a draw.”[xc] Manstein categorized the offensive as a “fiasco.”[xci] Guderian called it “a decisive defeat” that made it “problematical” whether the armored formations could be “rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front.”[xcii] Warlimont who served at OKW commented: “Operation Citadel was more than a battle lost; it handed the Russians the initiative and we never recovered it again right up to the end of the war.”[xciii]Guderian’s biographer Kenneth Macksey wrote that “the failure at Kursk was due to the employment of a faulty plan which lacked the element of strategic as well as tactical surprise.”[xciv] Raus lists several factors for this.  However, his argument is summarized: “once we learned in May and June that this was the area in which the Russians were prepared to offer their stiffest resistance, we should have modified our plans.  Either we should have refrained from attacking at all, or the operation should have been carried out to strike the enemy not at his strongest, but at his weakest point.”[xcv]

Hitler felt that a decisive victory was needed for political and propaganda reasons, yet even a significant victory was unlikely to keep Italy in the war, even if it swayed the lesser allies to stay the course.  ZITADELLE was conducted too late to save the Italians, success in May might have given German supporters in Italy some leverage but the invasion of Sicily and the failure at Kursk emboldened Mussolini’s opponents. The Fascist Grand Council “voted to have Mussolini removed as prime minister” and King Vittorio Emmanuaele “dismissed Mussolini” who was then placed under arrest.[xcvi] Finland refused to take offensive action that might have cut the Murmansk railway[xcvii] and engaged the Americans in a round of “abortive negotiation”[xcviii] while the Hungarians and Romanians provided little assistance to the Germans, partially due to the German reluctance to assist in modernizing and rebuilding their armies.[xcix]

Of the German Generals involved it was only Guderian as Inspector of Armored Troops and Jodl at OKW who consistently opposed ZITADELLE, citing realistic assessments of strengths, risks and dangers in other theaters.  Manstein opposed it when he felt the opportunity had passed, though it was unlikely to succeed had it been launched in May as he desired.  Guderian and Jodl’s arguments proved correct in every respect. ZITADELLE engaged German the preponderance of German forces in a battle that had at best chances of local success. The offensive itself weakened and endangered the German position on all fronts.  In the end, despite the belief and decision of Hitler, Zeitzler Kluge and others in the High Command, Operation ZITADELLE was neither obvious nor necessary and played out with the disastrous results expected by those who opposed it.

Notes


[i] Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. p. 306

[ii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.14

[iii] Ibid. Glantz and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  p.14

[iv] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. p. 335

[v] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. p.212

[vi] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.163

[vii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[ix] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.447

[x] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.295

[xi] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.206

[xii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.261

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.14

[xiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xv] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945.Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.441

[xvi] Ibid. Carell. p.336

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xviii] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.312

[xix] DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005. p.174

[xx] Ibid. DiNardo. p.174. By the summer all Italians units had been withdrawn, all but two Hungarian divisions which were used in anti-partisan operations and nine Romanian divisions.

[xxi] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxiii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.180

[xxiv] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxv] Ibid. Warlimont. pp.317-318

[xxvi] Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003. p.53

[xxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.294

[xxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.339

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxxi] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.280

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[xxxiv] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.157

[xxxvi] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxviii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.245-246

[xxxix] Ibid. Clark. p.325.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157.

[xli] Ibid. Clark. p.325

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.341

[xliii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xliv]Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. pp.218-219

[xlv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.21

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.219

[xlvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.295

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xlix] Ibid. Clark. p.326

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.63

[li] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.200-201

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.159

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kurskp.64

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.65 This reference contains a listing of each sector and the force ratios of men, tanks and guns in each sector.

[lv] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.197

[lvi] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.81

[lvii] Ibid. Clark. p.327

[lviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.447

[lix] Ibid. Manstein. pp.447-448

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.55

[lxi] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[lxii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.445

[lxiii] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p.262

[lxiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.448

[lxv] Ibid. Clark. p.328

[lxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.78

[lxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.81-84

[lxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxix] Ibid. Erickson. P.99

[lxx] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.99

[lxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxii] Ibid. Newton. p.222

[lxxiii] Ibid. Newton. 234

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxix] Ibid. Overy. p.209

[lxxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.215-217

[lxxxi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.274

[lxxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.217-218.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.167

[lxxxv] Ibid. Clark. pp.329-330

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.264

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.269

[lxxxviii] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York,  2006. p.227

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p. 261

[xc] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[xcii] Ibid. Guderian. p.251

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[xciv] Ibid. Macksey. Guderian p.206

[xcv] Ibid. Raus. p.211

[xcvi] Ibid. DiNardo. p.178

[xcvii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.181

[xcviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.91

[xcix] Ibid. DiNardo. pp.182-188

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse.University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005

Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003

Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999.

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart.

Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975

Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2006

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000

Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005

Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945.Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986.

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Filed under History, Military, nazi germany, world war two in europe

Manstein’s Counter Stroke: Turning Certain Defeat into Victory

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m pullings something out of my archives today. It’s actually a paper I wrote for one of my Masters Degree Classes back in 2009 that I decided to post on the site. I have been reading Paul Carrell’s Unternehem Barbarossa Im Bild (Operation Barbarossa in Pictures) in German I decided to repost it today.  I could probably do more with it but except for more biographical work on Von Manstein I don’t expect that I will. For me character matters more than battlefield brilliance.

The article deals with the crisis that the German armies faced following Stalingrad and how Field Marshal Erich von Manstein succeeded in talking Adolf Hitler out of certain defeat and inflicting a massive defeat on the now overconfident and over extended Soviet armies.

Von Manstein was a brilliant strategist, his bold plan to conquer France in 1940 was a masterpiece, and his conduct of combat operations on the Eastern Front until his relief in March of 1944 for withdrawing (and saving) his armies from Soviet destruction without Hitler’s approval. Von Manstein was a brilliant commander at the operational level of war, but he also gave his approval and support to war crimes committed by the SS Einsatzgruppen against the Jews and others in his area of operations. He believed that Bolshevism and the Jews were linked, thus in his codicil to Von Reichenau’s Severity Order in November 1941 stated:

“Jewish Bolshevik system must be wiped out once and for all and should never again be allowed to invade our European living space … It is the same Jewish class of beings who have done so much damage to our own Fatherland by virtue of their activities against the nation and civilisation, and who promote anti-German tendencies throughout the world, and who will be the harbingers of revenge. Their extermination is a dictate of our own survival.”

He is a complex character, he defended German Jews in the Reichswehr yet went on to cooperate in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Jews in Russia. There is a decent possibility that he had some Jewish ancestry, he opposed the Aryan Paragraph which banned Jews from serving in the German armed forces telling General Ludwig Beck that anyone who had volunteered to serve had already proved their worth. Though tried and convicted of war crimes he was given an early release from prison at the behest of Winston Churchill, Konrad Adenauer and other notables; and went on to advise the German government on the organization of the new Bundeswehr. His post war writings were highly critical of Hitler and for the most part he succeeded in rehabilitating himself. When he died in 1973 at the age of 85 he was the last surviving German Field Marshal and was buried with full military honors .

He was a brilliant commander and strategist, but he aided and abetted one of the most criminal regimes in history. The German magazine Der Spiegel wrote of him: “He assisted in the march to catastrophe—misled by a blind sense of duty.”

My concern today is if American Generals will be misled by their blind sense of duty and assist in a march to catastrophe.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Introduction

After Stalingrad the Soviets followed up on their success and attempted to entrap the rest of Army Group South. Field Marshall von Manstein attempted to save the Army Group and perhaps prevent the Soviets from collapsing the entire German front.

Bild 101I-209-0086-12Manstein (center) planning at the front

Chaos and Peril in the South

As 6th Army died at Stalingrad field Marshall von Manstein was faced with one of the most challenging situations faced by any commander in modern times.  He faced strategic and operational “problems of a magnitude and complexity seldom paralleled in history.”[i] Manstein had to deal with a complex military situation where he had minimal forces to counter the moves of a superior enemy force that was threatening to entrap all German forces in southern Russia. Additionally Manstein had to deal with the “Hitler’s obstinate opposition to a maneuver defense and a Red Army flushed with the victory of Stalingrad.”[ii]Facing him were the six Russian armies of the Voronezh and Southwestern Front’s led by Mobile Group Popov[iii]. These Armies had broken through the Hungarian and Italian armies “making a breach 200 miles wide between the Donetz and Voronezh, and were sweeping westward past Manstein’s flank.”[iv]

flak in caucasus

The most dangerous threat that Manstein faced was to Army Group A in the Caucasus. This Army Group “found itself in danger of being cut off, forcing an immediate withdraw.”[v] Disaster was averted by the desperate holding actions of Manstein’s meager forces, Army detachment’s Fretter-Pico and Hollidt, and winter conditions that made “offensive operations extraordinarily difficult, even for the hardiest Soviet troops.”[vi] A smart withdraw executed by General von Kleist managed to extricate the Army group “just as the Stalingrad forces collapsed.”[vii] To parry the Soviet thrusts the Germans lacked forces to “establish a deeply echeloned defense” and “instead combined maneuver… with stubborn positional defense to give artificial depth to the battlefield.  In this way the Germans were able to break major Soviet attacks, preventing catastrophic breakthroughs….”[viii] The timely introduction of a battalion of Tiger tanks prevented the Russians from breaking through to Rostov and “cutting the rail and road lines on which First Panzer Army’s retreat depended.”[ix] Even so the escape of the Army Group was narrow. “In terms of time, space, force, and weather conditions it was an astonishing performance-for which Kleist was made a field-marshal.”[x] With the Russians only 70 kilometers from Rostov and his own forces 650 kilometers from that city Kleist executed a withdraw “which had appeared hardly possible to achieve.”[xi] The divisions extricated by Kleist would be instrumental in the coming weeks as Manstein moved to counter the Soviet offensive.

Ostfront, Adolf Hitler, Erich v. Manstein

Hitler and Manstein

Despite the successful withdraw the situation was still precarious in early February, Manstein had no effective contact with his left wing, the bulk of which was tied to Kharkov, The Russians had “virtually complete freedom of action across a fifty-mile stretch of the Donetz on either side of Izyum.”[xii] Manstein was hard pressed to “halt the raids of Mobile Group Popov and other exploiting Soviet tank corps in Operation Gallop.”[xiii] Manstein’s forces in the eastern sector had been divided by Russian penetrations, which threatened 1st Panzer Army’s western flank and blocked the Army Group’s main railway line.[xiv] On 15 February “the SS Panzer Corps withdrew from Kharkov-in spite of orders from Hitler…that the city was to be held to the last.”[xv] SS General Paul Hausser, the corps commander realized that the order to hold Kharkov was impossible and requested permission to withdraw. This was was refused by General Lanz. Under pressure from encircling Russian forces outside and from partisans inside the city, Hausser disobeyed the order and extricated his troops,[xvi] thereby saving thousands of German soldiers and preserved the SS Panzer Corps as a fighting unit.[xvii] Lanz was relieved by Hitler for the loss of Kharkov and although Hausser would escape immediate censure, “Hitler did see it as a black mark against his name.”[xviii] With Kharkov in Soviet hands the gap between Manstein’s army group and Field Marshal von Kluge’s Army Group Center increased to over 100 miles.[xix] It appeared that the entire German southern flank was disintegrating.  Manstein estimated the ratio of German to Soviet forces in his area at 1:8.[xx] He believed that the Soviets could advance and subsequently “block the approaches to the Crimea and the Dnieper crossing at Kherson” which would “result in the encirclement of the entire German southern wing.”[xxi] Popov’s Mobile Group crossed the Donets and reached Krasnoarmeiskaia by 12 February. Vatutin committed two additional fresh tank corps toward Zaporozhe, a critical transport node which was also the location of Manstein’s headquarters.[xxii]

SS-Tiger-LSAH-01Tiger Tanks assigned to 1st SS Panzer Division

Hitler arrived to consult with Manstein on 17 February and remained for three days with Soviet forces perilously close.  Manstein only had some flak units and the Army Group Headquarters Company between him and Popov’s advanced elements. On Hitler’s last day “some T-34’s approached to within gun range of the airfield.”[xxiii]

The conference of Hitler with Manstein at Zaporozhe as well as a previous conference at the Wolfsschanze on 6 February was critical to the development of Manstein’s plan to restore the front. Manstein had now gotten both the 1st and 4th Panzer Armies across the Don, and “with this striking force, he felt confident of smashing the Russian offensive if he was given a free hand to withdraw from the line of the Donetz, evacuate Rostov and take up a much shorter front along the Mius river.”[xxiv] The conference on the 6th was one of the “rare moments in the war where Hitler authorized a strategic withdraw on a major scale.”[xxv] Yet as the Russians continued to advance Hitler became concerned and came to Zaporozhe.  At first Hitler would not concede to Manstein, as he wanted to assemble the SS Panzer Corps for an attack to recapture Kharkov.[xxvi]Manstein explained the need for a counter stroke and through much explanation was able to convince Hitler that the capture of Kharkov was not possible unless “we first removed the danger of the Army Group being cut off from its rear communications.”[xxvii]

T34_Stalingrad-Offensive-px800Soviet formations advance

The Russian aim was now obvious[xxviii] and Manstein had correctly discerned their strategy.  Manstein knew that his Army Group had to hold the line on the Mius and then quickly defeat the enemy between 1st Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf[xxix] in “order to prevent its own isolation from the Dnieper crossings.”[xxx] The Soviets had outrun their logistics support and had suffered heavy losses of their own and had serious equipment shortages.[xxxi] Manstein explained to Hitler the opportunity offered as it was now the Russians who “were worn out” and far from their supply dumps as the Germans had been in November 1942.  Manstein “foresaw an opportunity to seize the operational initiative with a counter offensive of his own.  Manstein’s target was the Soviet armored spearheads, still careening southwestward between Kharkov and Stalino.”[xxxii] Manstein believed that when the Russian “spearhead lunged, as it must toward the crossings on the upper Dnieper,” then Hoth’s Army would be let loose again.  The three SS Panzer divisions could then “play their rightful role as avengers, and strike southeast to meet 4th Panzer Army, catching the Russian armour in a noose.”[xxxiii] Hitler agreed to Manstein’s plan and Manstein shifted 4th Panzer Army to assume control of the SS Panzer Corps, now reinforced by 3rd SS Panzergrenadier Division “Totenkopf.” Hitler reinforced Manstein and released 7 battle worn Panzer and motorized divisions for his attack.[xxxiv]

Soviet Miscalculation

It was now Stalin’s time to miscalculate. He and his subordinates “continued to believe that they were on the verge of a great victory. German defenses in southern Russia appeared to be crumbling and the Stavka sought to expand that victory to include Army Group Center.”[xxxv] To this end they diverted armies to the north and launched attacks in that direction.  However German defenses were stiff and the plan was “predicated on the assumption of continued offensive success further south.”[xxxvi] Reinforcements from Stalingrad failed to deploy and “Army Group Center’s defenses, prepared for the past year and a half proved formidable.”[xxxvii]

In the south Stalin saw the Dnieper and almost “heedlessly drove his armies towards what he thought would be the decisive victory on the banks of this huge Russian river,”[xxxviii] but, Soviet “ambitions exceeded their available resources and the skill of their commanders.”[xxxix] The SS Panzer Corps withdraw from Kharkov “further heightened the Soviet’s intoxication with victory”[xl] and confirmed their beliefs that the Germans were withdrawing.  Stalin believed that “it was inconceivable that Hitler’s Praetorian Guard would abandon Kharkov except as part of a general order to retreat.”[xli] He believed that the encirclement of Army Group South would lead to a chain reaction and quick way to victory over German forces in the east.  Believing that there was no way for the Germans to recover and establish a solid front on the Mius,[xlii] Stalin continued to drive his forces to attack, yet the Russian offensive in the south had reached what Clausewitz had called the “culminating point” and Stalin’s armies were now extremely vulnerable. “The weather, the devastated communications, and their own inexperience in maintaining the traffic density required to support a deep penetration on a narrow front had combined to force a dangerous dispersal of effort on the Russian advance which had broken down into four separate groups.”[xliii]

panzer ivfPanzers assembling to attack

The Soviet forces were now in a dangerous predicament being spread out across the entire south of Russia.  One group, composed of the 69th Army and 3rd Tank Army pushed against Army detachment Kempf west of Kharkov.  To the south the badly depleted 6th Army and 1st Guards Army were now “strung out down a long corridor they had opened between Izyum and Pavlograd,”[xliv] Mobile Group Popov was lagging further east near Krasnoarmeiskaia.   Additional units were isolated behind the front of Army Detachment Fretter-Pico and near Matveyev.  Soviet commanders believed that the Germans were in worse shape and that “the risks of dispersal were justified.”[xlv] They had not anticipated or made allowance for Manstein’s coolness under pressure and actions to preserve his armor while thinning his front “well past the accepted danger limit.”[xlvi]Likewise the Soviets did not know that the Germans had cracked the code used by the Southwest front and from 12 February on “were now privy to Popov’s and Vatutin’s thoughts,” now knowing precisely where the Russians would attack.[xlvii] Manstein had withstood temptation and Hitler’s pressure to use his reserves “for a direct defense of the Dnieper line.”[xlviii] As such he was prepared to launch a devastating counter-stroke against the dispersed and weakened Russian armies which were still advancing into the trap he planned for them. He had managed to “save his counteroffensive plan from Hitler’s shrill demands that the new reserves be thrown into battle piecemeal to prevent further territorial losses.”[xlix] The stage was now set for a two classic mobile operations.[l]

The Destruction of Mobile Group Popov, 6th Army and 1st Guards Army

Manstein launched his counter-stroke on 21 February against Popov’s Mobile Group using XL Panzer Corps under the command of General Henrici composed of the 7th and 11th Panzer Divisions and SS Motorized Division Viking. Popov’s Group was exposed. Popov had “succeed in cutting the railway from Dnepropetrovsk to Stalino and was itching to push further south to Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.”[li] The Soviets once again had failed to discern German intentions, believing that the Germans were retreating.[lii] Likewise the Soviet high command did not fully understand Popov’s situation. His force was weak in tanks and low on fuel and his Mobile Group was defeated in detail by the German Corps.  Popov’s immobilized tank and motorized rifle formations resisted desperately but were bypassed by the panzers.  The 330th Infantry Division mopped up the remnants of these formations.[liii] The key battles took place around the town of Krasnoarmeiskaia and the battle became a running battle between that town and the Donets River.[liv] Popov requested permission to retreat, but still believing the Germans to be retreating Vatutin gave a categorical “no.” The terrain in the area was “almost completely open”[lv] and “Popov’s proud Armoured Group was cut up like a cake.”[lvi] Popov extricated some of his units but “only after serious losses in manpower and equipment.”[lvii] Despite this it would not be until the 24th that Vatutin would order a halt to offensive operations.[lviii]

kharkovSS Panzers in Kharkov

As Popov sought to get his units out of the German scythe Manstein set his sights on 6th Army, 1st Guards Army and 25th Tank Corps which was approaching Zaporozhe.[lix] He assigned the task to Hoth’s 4th Panzer Army and its XLVIII Panzer Corps under General Knobelsdorf composed of the 6th and 17th Panzer Divisions and the SS Panzer Corps comprising SS Divisions LiebstandarteDas Reich and Totenkopf.[lx] Manstein gave Hoth a brief but explicit order: “The Soviet Sixth Army, now racing towards Dnepropetrovsk through the gap between First Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf, is to be eliminated.”[lxi] The XLVIII Panzer Corps and SS Panzer Corps were unleashed against the exposed flank of the 6th Army and 1st Guards Army.   XLVIII Panzer Corps quickly “seized bridgeheads over the Samara River, and prepared to move north into the rear of the exhausted Soviet Sixth Army.”[lxii] The two Panzer Corps then made a coordinated concentric attack northwest which “came as a complete surprise to the Russians.”[lxiii] Das Reich thrust deep into the flank of 6th Army supported by Stukas from Richthofen’s 4th Air Fleet.  This attack dislodged one Soviet Rifle Corps and destroyed another allowing the division to capture Pavlograd while XLVIII Panzer Corps led by 17th Panzer Division pushed from the south linking up with the SS Corps. This cut off the Soviet 25th Tank Corps and threatened 6thArmy.[lxiv] What followed was a disaster for the Russians.        Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary the Stavka and Front commanders still believed that the Germans were retreating.  6th Army was ordered to continue its advance by the front commander who believed that the two German Panzer Corps were withdrawing.[lxv] In a few days the 17th Panzer Division “gained the Izyum-Protoponovka sector on the Donetz River, while the SS Panzer Corps took Losovaya and established contact with Army Detachment Kempf, which had joined the attack from the west.”[lxvi] XL Panzer Corps with the 3rd and 7thPanzer Divisions and 333rd Infantry Division joined in the attack on Popov’s remaining forces completing their destruction.[lxvii] As Hoth and Hausser converged on Pavlograd, Das Reich and Totenkopf “swung left to the east and then wheeled back north again running parallel to the Russian divisions fleeing from Forty-eighth Panzer Corps. What ensured was a turkey shoot.”[lxviii]Fleeing Russian forces on the open steppe were visible and engaged at long range.[lxix] Leibstandarte helped by holding the left flank against Russian counter attacks from the units now isolated in the west,[lxx] and Totenkopf’sgrenadiers fanned out supported by Stukas to “kill or capture as many Russians as possible.”[lxxi] By 1 March the Russian penetrations had been eliminated. Popov’s Mobile Group was smashed, 6th Army and 1st Guards Army badly mauled. 25th Tank Corps and three Rifle divisions had to be completely written off and numerous other corps and divisions took heavy casualties.  Two additional corps, encircled before the offensive began were eliminated by German forces.[lxxii] The Germans counted 23,000 Russian dead on the battlefield, and Manstein noted that “the booty included 615 tanks, 354 field pieces, 69 anti-aircraft guns and large numbers of machine guns and mortars.”[lxxiii] The Germans only took 9,000 prisoners as they were too weak, especially in infantry to seal off the encircled Soviet forces.[lxxiv] Yet the forces that escaped they were in no condition to “block the continued progress of the Panzers and SS.”[lxxv] Now there was a 100 mile gap in the Russian lines with nothing no troops to fill it and only “General Mud” could stop the Germans.[lxxvi] Manstein was not yet finished and the next phase of his operation against the Soviet formations west of Kharkov and that city were about to commence.

The Destruction of 3rd Tank Army

With the immediate threat to his Army Group eliminated and having regained the initiative, Manstein and Army Group South now “proceeded to deliver the stroke against the ‘Voronezh Front’– i.e. the forces located in the Kharkov area.”[lxxvii] But the Russians had not been idle. In order to attempt to assist 6thArmy 3rd Tank Army moved two tank corps and three Rifle divisions south and these ran into Manstein’s advancing panzers.[lxxviii] Manstein’ noted his objective now was “not the possession of Kharkov but the defeat-and if possible the destruction of the enemy units located there.”[lxxix] Between March 1st and 5th his forces advanced on Kharkov. Not knowing the Germans dispositions[lxxx]3rd Tank Army made the mistake of moving between the Leibstandarte’s defensive positions and the attacking divisions of the SS Panzer Corps. Hausser wheeled Totenkopf around and completed an encirclement of these units near Bereka on 3 March.[lxxxi] The Russians made futile attempts to break out but the SS Divisions tightened the noose around them and they were eliminated by the SS Panzer Corps which “engaged in concentric attacks during the three days of hard fighting.”[lxxxii] Even Regimental commanders like Heinz Harmel of Das Reich’s Der Fuhrer regiment became engaged in close combat with the Russians.[lxxxiii] The battle was fought in “snowstorms whose intensity caused the SS severe privations.”[lxxxiv] Totenkopf and Das Reich slammed the Russians “back against the Tiger tanks and assault guns of the Leibstandarte.”[lxxxv] The elimination of these units netted another 12,000 Russians killed,[lxxxvi] knocking “out the last remaining obstacle between the Germans and Kharkov.”[lxxxvii]

Return to Kharkov and Controversy

Manstein turned his attention to Kharkov, supported by Richthofen’s 4th Air Fleet which for the last time in Russia “provided undisputed air superiority for a major German mechanized operation.”[lxxxviii] He decided to “roll up the enemy from the flank and force him away from Kharkov in the process.”[lxxxix]He ordered a “pincer on the town, sending Grossdeutschland around to the north with a reinforced Kempf detachment and the combined force of Hoth and the SS to attack the town from the south and rear.”[xc] Manstein planned to make a wide envelopment to avoid embroiling his panzers in costly urban combat stating “that at all costs the Army Group wished to avoid Kharkov’s becoming a second Stalingrad in which our assault forces might become irretrievably committed.”[xci] To this end he sent Das Reich and Totenkopfapproaching from the south to west of the city[xcii] while XLVIII Panzer Corps swung east toward the Donetz.[xciii] As Hoth’s forces came up from the south to envelope the city, Grossdeutschland and the XI and LI Corps fought the Russians to the north and west,[xciv] eventually moving up to Belgorod.  By 8 March lead elements of the SS Panzer Corps were on the outskirts of the city.

At this point there is some controversy as to German actions. As noted Manstein wished to avoid urban combat and desired to surround the city and force its surrender.  According to one writer Hoth ordered Hausser “to seal off the city from the west and north and to take any opportunity to seize it.”[xcv] Others including Glantz and House and Murray and Millett state that Hausser “ignored a direct order” and attacked into the city.[xcvi] Manstein does not explicitly say that there was a direct order but notes that the Army Group “had to intervene vigorously on more than one occasion to ensure that the corps did not launch a frontal attack on Kharkov.”[xcvii] Sydnor states that Hausser ignored a direct order by Hoth on the 11th by detailing a battalion of Totenkopf to assist Das Reich and Leibstandarte in retaking Kharkov by direct assault. The order entailed pulling Das Reich out of the city and taking it to the east.[xcviii] Lucas adds that this order came in the midst of hard fighting in the city and could not be carried out by the division.[xcix]Carell notes that on 9 March Hoth instructed Hausser that “opportunities to seize the city by a coup are to be utilized,”[c] and goes into detail regarding how Hoth’s 11 March order applied to Das Reich. It was to be pulled out of action and brought east, but division was heavily engaged and in the process of breaking through Soviet defenses “quicker in fact than if he had pulled “Das Reich” out of the operation and led it all the way round the city along those terrible muddy and time wasting roads.”[ci] In the end the SS took Kharkov, Manstein said that the city “fell without difficulty”[cii] while others note the difficulty of the action and the casualties suffered by the SS.  Kharkov’s capture; the defeat of Rokossovsky’s campaign against Orel and the beginning of the spring Rasutitsa ended the winter campaign and stabilized the front.

Analysis

The Russian winter offensive following Stalingrad had great potential.  Manstein said: “the successes attained on the Soviet side, the magnitude of which is incontestable.”[ciii] The greatest Soviet shortcomings were inexperience in conducting deep mobile operations and the inability of their logistics system to keep up with their advance.  Clark notes that this was their “first experience of an offensive war of movement on a large scale.[civ] Glantz and House are not alone in noting that the “Stavka continued to undertake operations that were beyond its resources.”[cv] Murray and Millett state that they “lacked the operational focus that had marked the Stalingrad offensive.”[cvi] Had they had the resources and ability to execute their plans they might have destroyed all German forces in the south.  They misread German intentions based on their own over-optimistic expectations opened their forces to Manstein’s devastating counter stroke.  Von Mellenthin, possibly showing some prejudice commented that the Russian soldier “when confronted by surprise and unforeseen situations he is an easy prey to panic.”[cvii]

The Germans snatched victory out of what appeared to be certain defeat aided by Russian mistakes and operational shortcomings.  Manstein refused to panic and conserved his forces for his counterattack.[cviii] Kleist brought his Army Group out of what might have been encirclement worse than Stalingrad.  Hitler for the most part gave Manstein operational freedom which he had not provided other commanders.  German Panzer forces conducted mobile operations against superior enemy armored forces and bested them.  Landsers held their own in at critical junctures, especially on the Mius and gave Manstein the opportunity to employ the panzers in the mobile defense.[cix] The Luftwaffe recovered its balance and the coordinated operations between it and German ground forces gave them an edge at a point where the Red Air Force was unable to support the Red Army.[cx] Above all the Germans still maintained the edge in both overall quality of generalship, especially that of Manstein and Kleist, but not to exclude Hoth, Hausser and lower level commanders.  Additionally the average German soldier still maintained an edge over his Soviet adversary in the confusion of mobile operations in open terrain.   Manstein and his forces gave Hitler breathing room on the eastern front.[cxi] As Clark notes: “few periods in World War II show a more complete and dramatic reversal of fortune than the fortnight in February and the first in March 1943…it repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, nipped the Russian spearhead. Above all it recovered its moral ascendancy.”[cxii]

Notes 


[i] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p245

[ii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.143

[iii] Ibid. Glantz. P.143. These units include 3rd Tank Army, 1st and 3rd Guards Armies and the 6th, 40th and 69th Armies.

[iv] Liddell-Hart. B.H. Strategy.  A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY 1974, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. London, 1954 and 1967. p.253

[v] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.185

[vi] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA. 2000. pp.291-292

[vii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, New York, NY. 1970  p.478

[viii] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.161

[ix] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[x] Ibid. Liddell-Hart, Second World War. p.479

[xi] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. pp.211-212.

[xii] Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45.Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. pp.299-300

[xiii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.11

[xiv] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.417

[xv] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xvi] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. pp.196-199

[xvii] Lucas, James. Das Reich: The Military History of the 2nd SS Division.Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, UK, 1999. First published by Arms and Armour, 1991. p.91  Glantz and House criticize Hausser saying that the SS Panzer Corps Staff lacked the experience to perform its mission.  (Titans Clashed p.144) Most other commentators agree with the necessity of his withdraw.

[xviii] Messenger, Charles. Sepp Dietrich: Hitler’s Gladiator. Brassey’s Defence Publishers, London, 1988. p.113

[xix] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xx] Ibid. Manstein. p.419

[xxi] Ibid. Manstein. pp.418-419

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.144

[xxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.300

[xxiv] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.251

[xxv] Ibid. Carell. p.191

[xxvi] Ibid. Manstein. p.424.

[xxvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.428

[xxviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. Second World War. p.481

[xxix] This had previously been Army Detachment Lanz, but Lanz had bee relieved over the loss of Kharkov.

[xxx] Ibid. Manstein. p.429

[xxxi] Ibid. Murray and Millet. p.292

[xxxii] Ibid. Wray. p.162

[xxxiii] Ibid. Clark. p.302.

[xxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.145

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed . pp.144-145

[xxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.146

[xxxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[xxxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.191

[xxxix] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[xl] Ibid. Carell. p.199

[xli] Ibid. Carell. p.199

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.193

[xliii] Ibid. Clark. p.303

[xliv] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlv] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlvi] Ibid. Clark. p.304

[xlvii] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[xlviii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart. Strategy p.253

[xlix] Ibid. Wray. p.163

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147. Note comments by Glantz and House in footnote 31 on relative strengths of forces involved, especially the weakness of German forces.

[li] Butler, Rupert. SS Wiking: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45.Casemate, Havertown, PA. 2002. p.93

[lii] Ibid. Carell. p.211

[liii] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lv] Ibid. von Mellenthin. p.253

[lvi] Ibid. Carell. p.210

[lvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[lviii] Ibid. Carell. p.213

[lix] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lx] There is difference in various accounts as to which units composed these Panzer Corps. Von Mellenthin adds 11th Panzer to the XLVIII Panzer Corps and some accounts do not list the Liebstandarte as part of the SS Panzer Corps.

[lxi] Ibid. Carell. p.211

[lxii] Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1977. p.268

[lxiii] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.252

[lxiv] Ibid. Carell. p.212

[lxv] Ibid. Carell. p.212

[lxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.252

[lxvii] Ibid. Carell. p.213

[lxviii] Ibid. Sydnor. pp.268-269

[lxix] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.253

[lxx] Meyer, Kurt. Grenadiers. Translated by Michael Mende and Robert J. Edwards. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. 2001. pp.180-181

[lxxi] Ibid. Sydnor. p.269

[lxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxiii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433. Sydnor lists an addition 600 anti-tank guns and notes that the tanks were almost all T-34s. (Sydnor. p.269)

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.147

[lxxv] Ibid. Clark. p.306

[lxxvi] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[lxxvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.187

[lxxix] Ibid. Manstein. p.433

[lxxx] Ibid. Meyer. p.181

[lxxxi] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[lxxxii] Ibid. Meyer. pp.181-182

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Lucas. p.95

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Lucas. p.95

[lxxxv] Ibid. Sydnor. p.277

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Manstein. p.434

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.277

[lxxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.13

[lxxxix] Ibid. Manstein. p.435

[xc] Ibid. Clark. p.306

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.435

[xcii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.278

[xciii] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.75

[xciv] Ibid. Raus. pp.189-192

[xcv] Ibid. Messenger. p.114

[xcvi] See Glantz and House p.187 and Murray and Millett p.293

[xcvii] Ibid. Manstein. p.436

[xcviii] Ibid. Sydnor. p.278

[xcix] Ibid. Lucas. p.96

[c] Ibid. Carell. p.216

[ci] Ibid. Carell. p.219

[cii] Ibid. Manstein. p.436

[ciii] Ibid. Manstein. p.437

[civ] Ibid. Clark. p.303

[cv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.143

[cvi] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.292

[cvii] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.254

[cviii] A comment by Von Mellenthin commenting on Manstein’s coolness in the conduct of his operations compares him to Robert E. Lee. “To find another example of defensive strategy of this caliber we must go back to Lee’s campaign in Virginia in the summer of 1864. (Von Mellenthin. p.245)

[cix] For some additional comments along these lines see vn Mellenthin who notes four points in regard to the counter stroke: 1. High level commanders did not restrict the moves of armored formations, but gave them long range tasks. 2. Armored formations had no worries about their flanks because the High Command had a moderate infantry force available for counterattacks. 3. All commanders of armored formations, including corps, conducted operations not from the rear, but from the front. 4. The attack came as a surprise regarding the time and place. (Von Mellenthin p.254)

[cx] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.293

[cxi] Despite his success Hitler was not happy with Manstein in regard to giving up ground for operational purposes and Manstein would lose much of the freedom that he enjoyed by March. Wray has a discussion of this.  See Wray. pp.162-163.  The Nazi hierarchy actively promoted the exploits of the SS Panzer Corps and its leaders, especially the commander of the Leibstandarte Sepp Dietrich. (see Weingartner pp. 76-77) The recognition of Hausser would be delayed, some speculate as a result of his disobedience in giving up Kharkov in February.

[cxii] Ibid. Clark. p.306

Bibliography

Butler, Rupert. SS Wiking: The History of the Fifth SS Division 1941-45.Casemate, Havertown, PA. 2002

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Alan. Barbarossa: The Russian-German Conflict, 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart.

Liddell-Hart, B.H. History of the Second World War. G.P. Putnam’s Son’s, New York, NY.

Liddell-Hart. B.H. Strategy.  A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY 1974, first published by Faber and Faber Ltd. London, 1954 and 1967

Lucas, James. Das Reich: The Military History of the 2nd SS Division. Cassell Military Paperbacks, London, UK, 1999. First published by Arms and Armour, 1991

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Messenger, Charles. Sepp Dietrich: Hitler’s Gladiator. Brassey’s Defence Publishers, London, 1988

Meyer, Kurt. Grenadiers. Translated by Michael Mende and Robert J. Edwards. J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing Inc. Winnipeg, Manitoba. Canada. 2001

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Sydnor, Charles W. Soldiers of Destruction: The SS Death’s Head Division 1933-1945. Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ. 1977

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, nazi germany, war crimes, world war two in europe

The Battle of the Bulge: Wacht am Rhein at 73 Years

battle-bulge

Friend’s of Padre Steve’s World,

It has been a busy weekend so I am reposting an article from several years ago dealing with the Battle of the Bulge which began on December 16th 1944. The battle was the final major German offensive on the Western Front. It was costly in manpower to both sides but it helped break the back the German Army. So until tomorrow.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

The Decision 

 

Adolf Hitler gathered with the Chiefs of Oberkommando des Wehrmachton September 16th 1944 at his “Wolf’s Lair” headquarters in East Prussia.  The situation was critical; he had recently survived an assassination attempt by Army officers led by Colonel Klaus Von Staufenberg at his Wolf’s Lair headquarters in East Prussia.  When the assassination attempt took place the German situation in Normandy was critical. The Americans broke out of the Bocage at St. Lo and spread out across Brittany and the interior of France with Patton’s 3rd Army leading the way.  Even as his commanders in the West pleaded for permission to withdraw to the Seine Hitler forbade withdraw and ordered a counter attack at Mortain to try to close the gap in the German line and isolate American forces. When the German offensive failed the German front collapsed. 40,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and thousands of vehicles were eliminated when the Americans and Canadians closed the Falaise pocket. Despite this cadres of decimated divisions including SS Panzer, Army Panzer and elite Paratroops made their way out of Normandy.  With the Germans in full retreat the Allies advanced to the border of the Reich itself. On the Eastern Front as well disaster threatened when the Red Army launched an offensive which annihilated Army Group Center and advanced to the border of Poland before outrunning supply lines and stalling on the Vistula.

Tiger II Advancing in the Ardennes

            Since Normandy Hitler had wanted to counter attack but had neither the forces nor the opportunity to strike the Allied armies. As the Allied offensive ground to a halt due to combat losses, lack of supplies and stiffening German resistance Hitler maintained a close eye on the situation in the West.  He believed that despite their success that the Americans and British alliance was weak and that a decisive blow could cause one or both to drop out of the war. During a briefing an officer noted the events of the day on the Western Front including a minor counterattack by kampfgrüppen of the 2nd SS Panzer and the 2nd Panzer Divisions which had made minor gains in the Ardennes, Hitler rose from his seat ““Stop!” He exclaimed. “I have come to a momentous decision. I shall go over to the counterattack….Out of the Ardennes, with the objective Antwerp.””[i]

            Thus began the planning for the last great German offensive of WWII.  Hitler “believed that sufficient damage could be inflicted to fracture the Anglo-American alliance, buy time to strike anew against the Soviets, and allow his swelling arsenal of V-weapons to change the course of the war.”[ii]  It was a course of born of desperation, even admitted by Hitler in his briefings to assembled commanders in the week prior to the offensive, one officer noted his remarks: “Gentlemen, if our breakthrough via Liege to Antwerp is not successful, we will be approaching an end to the war which will be extremely bloody. Time is not working for us, but against us. This is really the last opportunity to turn the war in our favor.”[iii]

US Soldiers manhandling a 57mm Anti-Tank Gun into Position

            Despite shortages of men and equipment, continuous Allied assaults and over the objections of General Guderian who argued to reinforce the Eastern Front[iv], the OKW staff secretly developed detailed plans. The planning was so secretive that the “Commander in Chief West and the other senior commanders destined to carry out the attack were not informed.”[v] The plans were submitted to Hitler on October 9th [vi] and presented to Field Marshalls Von Rundstedt and Model at the End of October. General Hasso Von Manteuffel, commander of 5th Panzer Army commented that: “The plan for the Ardennes offensive…drawn up completely by O.K.W. and sent to us as a cut and dried “Führer order.”[vii]  Likewise Model and Von Rundstedt objected to the scope of the attack. Von Rundstedt stated: “I was staggered…It was obvious to me that the available forces were way too small for such an extremely ambitious plan. Model took the same view of it as I did….”[viii]  Model reportedly said to General Hans Krebs: “This plan hasn’t got a damned leg to stand on.”[ix] And “you can tell your Führer from me, that Model won’t have any part of it.”[x] Sepp Dietrich, the old SS fighter and commander of 6th Panzer Army expressed similar sentiments.[xi]  Despite the objections by so many senior commanders Hitler scorned Model’s attempt to float a less ambitious plan to reduce the Allied salient at Aachen. Likewise Von Rundstedt’s desire to remain of the defense and wait for the Allies to attack using the armored forces to launch against any breakthrough was rejected.[xii] Hitler’s mind was set and the preparations moved forward.  The plan was complete down to the timing of the artillery bombardment and axes of advance, and “endorsed in the Führer’s own handwriting “not to be altered.””[xiii] Such a plan flew in the face of the well established doctrine of the Auftragstaktik which gave commanders at all levels the freedom of action to develop the battle as the situation allowed and opportunities arose.

SS General Sepp Dietrich Commander of the 6th SS Panzer Army

          The Germans who the Allies presumed to be at the brink of collapse made a miraculous  recovery following their ghastly losses in Normandy. Kampfgrüppen and remnants of divisions bled the Americans White at the Huertgen Forrest and blunted the British attempt to leapfrog the Northern Rhine at Arnhem decimating the British First Airborne division and causing heavy casualties among other British and American units. The German 15th Army avoided disaster when the British failed to close their escape route from Walchern island allowing 60,000 troops and much equipment to escape.   The Germans re-formed and reorganized the front.  They pulled back many units of the 5th and 6th Panzer Armies for re-fitting and diverted nearly all tank, armored fighting vehicle and artillery production to the West at the expense of the Eastern Front.  The Germans called up 17 year olds and transferred young fit personnel from the Navy and Luftwaffe to the Army and Waffen SS.  Here they were trained by experienced NCOs and officers and brought into veteran units alongside hardened veterans who showed taught them the lessons of 5 years of war.[xiv]  However the rapid influx of new personnel meant that they could not be assimilated as quickly as needed and thus many were not as well trained as they might have been with more time.[xv] Many infantry and Parachute units had received inexperienced officers, taken from garrison duty to fill key positions a problem that would show up during the offensive.[xvi]

Panzer IV Ausf H of an SS Panzer Divsion in the Bulge

            The Germans were aided by the caution displayed by the Allies throughout the campaign in France which allowed the Germans to reconstitute formations around veteran headquarters staffs.[xvii]  The Germans built up the 5th and 6thPanzer Armies as the Schwerpunkt of the offensive giving them the lion’s share of reinforcements and pulling them out of the line during the fall battles along the Seigfried line and in the Alsace and Lorraine.  The plan was for the two Panzer armies and 7th Army to punch through the Ardennes, cross the Meuse, drive across Belgium, capture Antwerp and severe the link between the British and the Americans.

The spearhead of the assault was 6th Panzer Army Commanded by SS General Sepp Dietrich. It was composed of 1st and 2nd SS Panzer Corps and Army’s LXVII Corps.  The 6th SS Panzer Army included some of the best formations available to the German Army at this late stage of the war including the 1st  SS Panzer Division, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, the 2nd  SS Panzer Division Das Reich, the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen and the12th  SS Panzer Division Hitler Jügend. It’s ranks were filled out by the 3rd Parachute Division, the 501st SS Heavy Tank Battalion (attached to 1st SS), the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division and the 12th, 246th, 272nd, 277th and 326th Volksgrenadier or Infantry divisions. The 6th Panzer Army would be the northern thrust of the offensive and its ultimate objective was Antwerp.  The 6th Panzer Army would be aided by a hastily organized parachute battalion under Colonel Von Der Heydte[xviii] and the 150th Panzer Brigade under SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny which included teams of American dialect speaking soldiers in American uniforms and equipment that were to spread confusion and panic in American rear areas.[xix]

Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton at Bastogne

       To the south was the 5th Panzer Army commanded by General Hasso Von Manteuffel.  The 5th Panzer Army was to advance alongside of the 6th Panzer Army with Brussels as its objective.  Composed of the XLVII and LVIII Panzer Corps and LXVI Corps the major subordinate commands included the best of the Army Panzer divisions including the 2nd Panzer, Panzer Lehr, 9th and the16thPanzer division. It also had the elite Führer Begleit Brigade composed of troops from Panzer Corps Grossdeutschland and commanded by Otto Remer who had help crush the coup against Hitler in July.  The 5th Panzer Army also included the 18th, 26th, 62nd, 560th and later the 167th Volksgrenadier divisions.

The south flank was guarded by 7th Army commanded by General Erich Brandenburger composed of LIII, LXXX and LXXXV Corps.  It included the Führer Grenadier Brigade and later the 15th Panzergrenadier division.  It was the weakest of the three armies but eventually included 6Volksgrenadierdivisions of varying quality and strength[xx] and the veteran 5th Parachute division.[xxi]  However with only 4 divisions at the start of the offensive the 7th Army was the equivalent of a reinforced corps.

While this force seemed formidable it had a number of weaknesses beginning with tank strength.  The 1st and 12th SS Panzer divisions were only at approximately half their established tank strengths and faced severe shortages in other vehicles.[xxii]  2nd SS and 9th SS of II SS Panzer Corps reported similar shortages.[xxiii]The shortage of other motorized vehicles, even in Panzer divisions was acute.  “Even the best equipped divisions had no more than 80 percent of the vehicles called for under their tables of equipment, and one Panzergrenadier division had sixty different types of motor vehicles, a logistician’s nightmare.[xxiv] Panzer Lehr was so short in armored half tracks that only one battalion of its Panzer Grenadiers could be transported in them while others had to use “trucks or bicycles.”[xxv]

Limitations on equipment as well as fuel were not the only challenges that the Germans faced. The US V Corps launched an attack on the Roer River Dams just before the offensive making it necessary for the Germans to divert 6th SS Panzer Army infantry divisions and Jagdpanzer units to be used by 6th SS Panzer Army.  One regiment of 3rd Parachute Division and over half of a second division could not take part in the initial 6th Panzer Army attack. Likewise some Jagdpanzer and Sturmgeschutzen units did not arrive until three days after the offensive began.[xxvi]

Allied Response: Before the Battle

            While the German commanders sought to implement Hitler’s plan Allied commanders looked only to completing the destruction of Germany not believing the Germans capable of any major operation.  The Allied commanders with the exception of Patton did not believe the Germans capable of any more than local counter attacks.  Patton’s 3rd Army G-2 Colonel Koch was the only intelligence officer to credit the Germans with the ability to attack.[xxvii]  Most allied commanders and intelligence officers discounted the German ability to recover from disastrous losses, something that they should have learned in Holland or learned from the Soviet experiences on the Eastern front.  Bradley noted in his memoirs hat “I had greatly underestimated the enemy’s offensive capabilities.”[xxviii]  Carlo D’Este noted that “there was another basic reason why the Allies were about to be caught with their pants down: “Everyone at SHAEF was thinking offensively, about what they could do to the enemy, and never about what the enemy might do to them.””[xxix]   This mindset was amazing due to the amount of intelligence from Ultra and reports from frontline units that major German forces were no longer in the line.[xxx] Additionally nearly all commentators note that American units in the Ardennes did not conduct aggressive patrols to keep the enemy off balance and obtain intelligence.[xxxi]  One describes the efforts of 106th Division as “lackadaisical” and notes that enemy before the offensive was not the Germans but the cold.[xxxii] Max Hastings noted that: “the Allies’ failure to anticipate Hitler’s assault was the most notorious intelligence disaster of the war.”[xxxiii]

The Allies also were in the midst of a manpower crisis. Eisenhower did not have enough divisions to establish a clear manpower advantage as “there were not enough Anglo-American divisions, or enough replacements for casualties in the existing divisions.”[xxxiv]  No more American Infantry divisions were available as the Army had been capped at 90 divisions and infantry replacements were in short supply.  This shortage meant that Eisenhower could not pull divisions out of line to rest and refit. He could only transfer divisions such as the 4th and 28thInfantry divisions to the relative quiet of the Ardennes. He had no ability to “create a strategic reserve unless he abandoned the broad front strategy.”[xxxv]The Germans knew of the allied weakness and believed that they could achieve local superiority even if they did not believe they could reach Antwerp. Model believed that “he was sure that he would reach the Meuse in strength before the Americans could move sufficient reserves to halt his armies or even head them off.”[xxxvi]

American Response: The Breakthrough

German-Troops-at-the-Battle-of-the-Bulge

The German assault began on December 16th. Some breakthroughs were made especially in the vicinity of the Losheim Gap and the Schnee Eifel by the southern elements of 6th Panzer Army and Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army. However the Germans could not break through around Monschau and Elsenborn Ridge held by the inexperienced but well trained 99th Infantry division and elements of the veteran 2nd “Indianhead” Division.  In the far south near Diekirch the 4th Infantry Division held stubbornly against the attacks of 7thArmy’s Volksgrenadiers. The Germans achieved their greatest success at Losheim where SS Colonel Josef Peiper and his 1st SS Panzer Regiment had driven off the US 14th Cavalry Group and penetrated 6 miles into the American front.  5th Panzer Army made several breakthroughs and isolated two regiments of newly arrived 106th Infantry Division in the Schnee Eifel. Manteufel also pressed the 28th Division hard along the Clerf River, Skyline Ridge and Clairvaux.  Yet at ‘no point on that first day did the Germans gain all of their objectives.”[xxxvii]  The credit goes to US units that stubbornly held on, but also to the poor performance of many German infantry units.  German commanders were frustrated by their infantry’s failure even as the panzers broke through the American lines.  Manteuffel noted his infantry was “incapable of carrying out the attack with the necessary violence.”[xxxviii]

US Airborne Commanders James Gavin (R) and Matthew Ridgeway (L)

            The initial Allied command response to the attack by senior commanders varied.  Bradley believed it was a spoiling attack “to try and force a shift of Patton’s troops from the Saar offensive back to the Ardennes.”[xxxix] Courtney Hodges of 1st Army agreed with Bradley and refused to allow General Gerow, commander of V Corps to call off 2nd Infantry Division’s attack against the Roer dams on the 16th in order to face the German offensive.[xl]  Gerow was one of the first American commanders to recognize the scope of the German attack but Hodges, perhaps the least competent senior American commander in Europe failed to heed Gerow’s advice. Soon after making this decision Hodges “panicked” and evacuated his headquarters at Spa fearing that it would be overrun by the advancing Germans.[xli] Eisenhower when informed of the news realized that something major was occurring and ordered the 7th Armored Division from the 9th Army and 10th Armored Division from 3rd Army into the Ardennes. On the 17th he made other dispositions and released the 82nd and 101stAirborne Divisions from SHAEF reserve at Rheims to the Ardennes under the command of XVIII Airborne Corps.[xlii]  However during this short amount of time Mantueffel’s panzers had advanced 20 miles.

SS Panzer Troops of Kampfgruppe Knittel on the advance.  Photo has often been identified for decades in books and other publications as Waffen-SS Colonel Joachim Peiper the commanding officer of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment and Kampfgruppe Peiper. This has been refuted by recent study.  Peiper is pictured below.

At the command level Eisenhower made a controversial, but correct decsion to divide the command of the Bulge placing on a temporary basis all forces in the northern sector under Montgomery and leaving those to the south under Bradley.  Montgomery according to one commentary initially “had been astonishingly tactful in handing his American subordinates.”[xliii] However he quickly made himself obnoxious to many American commanders.[xliv]Following the battle Montgomery made the situation worse by claiming to have saved the Americans and giving credit to British units which scarcely engaged during the battle.[xlv]  Eisenhower also ordered Patton to launch a counter-attack along the southern flank of the German advance.  However Patton was already working on such an eventuality and promised to be able to launch a counterattack with three divisions by the 22nd.[xlvi]  Bradley praised Patton highly in his memoirs noting: “Patton’s brilliant shift of 3rd Army from its bridgehead in the Saar to the snow-covered Ardennes front became one of the most astonishing feats of generalship of our campaign in the West.”[xlvii]

American Response: the Shoulder’s Hold

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The 99th Division’s position was precarious, its right flank was subject to being turned and it was suffering severely at the hands of 12 SS Panzer and several Volksgrenadier divisions.  Gerow reinforced the 99th with elements of the 2nd Infantry division even before he had the final authorization to end its attack.  The two divisions stubbornly held Elsenborn Ridge and the villages of Rockerath, Krinkelt and Büllingen. By the 20th the 9th and 1st Infantry divisions arrived to strengthen the defense and lengthen the line to prevent it from being rolled up by the Germans.  The stubborn resistance of the Americans and arrival of reinforcements meant line was proof “against anything Sepp Dietrich might hurl against it”[xlviii]  By the 23rd Dietrich and 6th SS Panzer Army conceded defeat at Elsenborn and “turned its offensive attentions to other sectors.”[xlix]  German commanders like General Priess the commander of 1st SS Panzer Corps believed that terrain and road network in this sector was unfavorable to the German offensive and had proposed moving the attack further south.[l]  The Panzers could not deploy properly and the German infantry was not up to the task of driving the Americans out of their positions before the reinforcements arrived.

In the south the 4th Infantry Division held the line though heavily pressed by Brandenburger’s 7th Army.  The division was reinforced by elements of both 9thand 10th Armored divisions on the 17th and generally held its line along the Sauer River around Echternach “largely because the left flank of the enemy assault lacked the power-and particularly the armor-of the thrust farther north.”[li]

Turning Point: The Destruction of Kampfgruppe Peiper

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While V Corps fought the 6th Panzer Army to a standstill, to the south 1stSS Panzer Division led by Kampfgrüppe Peiper split the seam between V Corps and VIII Corps. The Kampfgrüppe moved west leaving a brutal path of destruction in its wake, including massacres of American POWs and Belgian civilians.[lii]  However its advance was marked with difficulty. On the night of the 17th it failed to take Stavelot. After clearing the American defenders from the town after a hard fight on the 19th it failed to capture a major American fuel dump a few miles beyond the town.  When the Germans approached the American commander ordered his troops to pour 124,000 gallons down the road leading to the dump and set it on fire, depriving the Germans of badly needed fuel.[liii]  Combat Engineers from the 291st Engineer Battalion blew a key bridge across the Ambleve at Trois Ponts and another bridge across the Lienne Creek which left the Germans bottled up in the Ambleve River valley.  This bought time for the 30th Infantry Division to set up positions barring Peiper from the Meuse.  The 30th would be joined by Combat Command B of 3rd Armored Division and elements of 82nd Airborne. These units eventually forced Peiper to abandon his equipment and extricate some 800 troops by foot by the 23rd after a hard fight with the Americans who had barred his every effort to break through to the Meuse.

Turning Point: The Crossroads: St Vith & Bastogne

American_7th_Armored_Division_Shermans_taking_up_positions_outside_St._Vith,_1944

 

The battle rapidly became focused on key roads and junctions, in particular St. Vith in the north and Bastogne in the south.  At St. Vith the 7thArmored Division under General Hasbrouck, who Chester Wilmont calls one of the “great men of the Ardennes”[liv] completed a fifty mile road march from Aachen to St. Vith.  On his arrival he deployed his combat commands around the town which was the key to the road network in the north and also to the only rail line running west through the Ardennes.[lv]  Hasbrouck gathered in Colonel Hoge’s Combat Command B of 9th Armored Division and the 424th Infantry Regiment of the 106th Division into his defensive scheme as well as the survivors of the 112th Infantry Regiment of the 28th Infantry Division which had escaped the German onslaught after holding as long as possible along the Clerf River and Skyline Drive.[lvi]  With these units Hasbrouck conducted “an eight-day stand that was as critical and courageous, as the defense of Bastogne.”[lvii]  After holding the Germans at St. Vith the units were withdrawn to another defensive position along the Salm and Ourthe Rivers and the village of Viesalm.  This was done at the behest of Montgomery and General Ridgeway of XVII Airborne Corps whose 82nd Airborne had moved into that area on the 19th.  The arrival of the 82nd greatly assisted Hasbrouck’s force holding St. Vith whose defenders had lost an estimated 5000 casualties.[lviii]

The stand at St. Vith confined the “confined the Sixth Panzer Army’s penetration to a chokingly narrow corridor.”[lix]  It also posed a problem for German command and control which because it was out of the 6th Panzer Army’s area of operations Dietrich was unable to lend his weight into the fight.  “Hitler himself had strictly prohibited deviations from the zonal boundaries”[lx] which left the fight for St. Vith in the hands of 5th Panzer Army who felt the impact of the stand as the Americans “also choked off one of the Fifth Panzer Army’s best routes to Bastogne, almost nullifying the significance of the captured road junction at Houffalize.”[lxi] 

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To the south of St. Vith lay Bastogne, another key road junction needed by 5thPanzer Army for its advance.  On the night of the18th Panzer Lehr division came within two miles of the town before being checked by resistance by units of the 10th Armored division, remnants of 28th Division and misdirection by “friendly” Belgian guides onto a muddy path that helped halt their advance.[lxii]  This gave the 101st Airborne just enough time to get to the town and prevent its capture. The siege of Bastogne and its defense by the 101st elements of 9th and 10thArmored Divisions and 28th Division became an epic stand against Manteuffel’s Panzers which had surged around the town.  Wilmont comments that “had the Germans won the race for Bastogne, Manteuffel’s armor would have had a clear run to Dinant and Namur on December 19th and 20th” [lxiii] when there were only scattered American units between them and the Meuse. Manteuffel b bypassed Bastonge after the failure to capture it and masked it with 26thVolksgrenadier Division and a regiment of Panzer Lehr.  The remainder of Panzer Lehr and the 2nd Panzer Division moved to the west. [lxiv]  The garrison endured numerous attacks and on the 22nd one of the most celebrated incidents of the war took place when Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe responded to a demand for the surrender of the town with the reply; “Nuts.”  The town would continue to hold until relieved by 3rd Army on the afternoon of December 26th.[lxv]

Allied Response: The Counterattack

 

The Allied counterattack began with 3rd Army in the south on 21 December.  Patton’s initially proposed to attack toward the base of the Bulge in order to cut off the largest number of Germans possible.  Eisenhower dictated an attack further west with the goal of relieving Bastogne.  Eisenhower wanted to delay the attack to concentrate combat power while Patton wanted to attack sooner in order to ensure surprise. Patton got his way but attacked on a wide front.  The attack lost its impetus and bogged down into a slugging match with 7th Army’s infantry and paratroops along the southern flank. [lxvi]  Patton’s failure to concentrate his forc forces for the advance to the north diminished his combat power.[lxvii] While Patton attacked from the south the 1st Army dealt with the advanced spearhead of 2nd Panzer Division which had reached the town of Celles and ran out of gas just four miles from Dinant and the Meuse. The 84thInfantry Division stopped the 116th Panzer division from being able to effect a relief of the 2nd Panzer the US 2nd Armored Division and allied fighter bombers chopped up the virtually immobile 2nd Panzer division completing that task by the 26th.[lxviii]  

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To the north Montgomery launched a cautious counterattack which slowly and methodically took back lost ground but allowed many Germans to escape. While Montgomery moved south Patton faced heavy German resistance from elements of 5th Panzer Army, reinforced by 1st SS Panzer Corps and 7th Army.  The rupture in the American front was not repaired until 17 January when the American forces met at Houffalize.[lxix] Bradley took over for Montgomery and the Americans pushed the Germans slowly back across the Clerf River by the 23rd.  The advance was hampered by tough German resistance and terrible weather which forced much of the attack to be made by dismounted troops as the roads had completely frozen over.[lxx]

The Allied counter attack has been criticized for allowing too many Germans to escape what could have been a major encirclement.  Patton recognized the incompleteness of the victory in the Ardennes stating: ““We want to catch as many Germans as possible, but he is pulling out.” The “but” clause, the note of regret, the awareness of the imperfection of his victories typified Patton.””[lxxi]  Patton in his memoirs notes: “In making the attack we were wholly ignorant of what was ahead of us, but we were determined to strike through to Bastogne.”[lxxii] Max Hastings simply said: “the Allies were content with success.”[lxxiii]  Murray and Millett place blame on Bradley and Hodges for choosing “merely to drive the enemy out of the Ardennes rather than destroy him.”[lxxiv]

Analysis: Could Wacht Am Rhein Have Worked?

          Could Wacht am Rhein worked?  If much was different, yes.  If the German had been stronger in tanks and vehicles and had adequate stocks of fuel; if their infantry was better trained, and had the Americans not resisted so stubbornly it might have at least got to the Meuse.  Perhaps if the the bad weather held keeping Allied air forces away from the Germans, or had St. Vith and Bastogne been taken by the 18th or 19th, they might have reached the Meuse.  Had the Germans executed their plan and coordinated their assault better[lxxv] in the 6thPanzer Army sector and had the 7th Army enough strength to conduct offensive operations in depth and secure the left flank the attack might have succeeded.  Because the Americans held the shoulders and road junctions, Manteuffel’s 5thPanzer Army, the only force besides the regimental sized Kampfgrüppe Peiper to actually threaten the Meuse was forced to advance while attempting to take Bastogne and defeat 3rd Army’s counterattack. Whether they could have made Antwerp is another matter.  Nearly all German commanders felt the offensive could not take Antwerp but did believe that they could inflict a defeat on the Allies and destroy a significant amount of allied combat power.

The German offense was a desperate gamble.  Too few divisions, scant supplies of petrol, formations that had recently been rebuilt and not given enough time to train to the standard needed for offensive operations coupled with Hitler’s insistence on an unalterable plan kept them from success.  At the same time the Allies were weak in troops as Eisenhower had no strategic reserve save the two American Airborne Divisions.  All reinforcements to the threatened sector had to come from the flanks and by the middle of the battle the 9th Army was drawn down to two divisions. Russell Weigley notes the constraints imposed by the 90 division Army, and of the limited stocks of artillery ammunition.[lxxvi] If the Germans had more forces they might have inflicted a significant defeat on the Allies had they been able to reinforce their success in depth.  Despite this they still inflicted punishing losses on the Americans though suffering greatly themselves.  Hastings notes that the real beneficiaries of the Ardennes offensive were the Russians.[lxxvii]  It is unlikely that the offensive could have ever achieved Hitler’s goals of taking Antwerp and fracturing the British-American alliance.

A Note About other Parts of the Campaign in France

The Riviera and Rhone

            The campaign in south France was strategically wise although opposed by the British to the last minute because they felt it would take away from Overlord.[lxxviii] Though delayed the campaign was well executed by 7th Army, particularly Lt. General Lucian Truscott’s VI Corps of 3 American divisions. Truscott believed “destroying the enemy army was the goal”[lxxix] managed the battle well and skillfully maneuvered his small forces against Blaskowitz’s 19thArmy inflicting heavy losses, though some German commanders noted the caution of American infantry in the attack.[lxxx]  Only Blaskowitz’s tactical skills and the weakness of the American force prevented the Germans from disaster. The seizure of Marseilles and Toulon provided the allies with sorely needed ports that were invaluable to sustain the campaign.[lxxxi]

The Lorraine Campaign

            Patton attacked in the Lorraine with the goal of crossing the Moselle and attempting to break into Germany. He doing so he ran into some of the strongest German forces on the front and bogged down in the poor terrain and mud of the region.[lxxxii]  Patton was delayed in making his assault due to his place “at the far end of the logistics queue.”[lxxxiii] German forces skillfully defended the ancient fortress of city Metz forcing the Americans into a protracted campaign to clear the area with the last strongpoint surrendering on 13 December.  Patton is criticized for his failure to concentrate his forces[lxxxiv] but American tactics were less to blame than the weather, German resistance and shortages of infantry.[lxxxv] In some cases American infantry units performed admirably, particularly 80th Division’s assault on the Falkenburg Stellung.[lxxxvi]Liddell Hart criticized the Allies for failing to attack through the then weakly defended Ardennes, commenting: “By taking what appeared to be the easier paths into Germany the Allies met greater difficulties.”[lxxxvii]

The Huertgen Forrest

            The Huertgen Forrest was the worst managed American fight Western European campaign. [lxxxviii] General Courtney Hodges leadership was poor.[lxxxix] In the Huertgen he fed division after division into a battle that made no strategic sense.  American infantry performed poorly and took extremely heavy casualties leaving four divisions shattered.[xc]  Poor American tactics demonstrated by attacking into a forest in poor weather without concentration negated all of Hodges’ advantages in tanks, artillery and airpower. The forest contained no significant German forces capable of threatening any American advance[xci] and its gain offered little advantage.[xcii] Hastings noted that the gains the only saving grace was that it made it easier for the northern shoulder of the Bulge to hold[xciii]   General Model and his subordinates expertly handled their handful of excellent but weary divisions in this battle using terrain, weather and prepared defensive positions to contest nearly every yard of the Forrest.[xciv]

Conclusions

            The lessons of the Bulge and the other campaigns on the German-French border are many and can be gleaned from Allied and German mistakes. On the Allied side the most glaring mistakes were assumptions prior to the German attack that the Germans were incapable of any serious offensive and ignoring the fact that the Germans had attacked through the Ardennes in 1940.  Likewise the self limitation of the American Army to 90 divisions for world-wide service meant that there were no more divisions in the pipeline and that worn out divisions would have to be reinforced with inexperienced troops while in the front line which ensured a lack of cohesiveness in many divisions, especially the infantry.  Allied intelligence failures as well as their reliance of forces much smaller than they should have had for such a campaign ensured that they would suffer heavy losses in the Bulge while poor planning and execution by Hodges wasted many good troops in a senseless battle.  The Germans were hamstrung by Hitler’s fantasy that the Western Allies could be forced out of the war or the Alliance split by a defeat in the Ardennes.  Likewise German forces, even those so quickly reconstituted were often short troops, tanks and vehicles.  German commanders were forced by Hitler’s rigid insistence on not altering the plan to not be as flexible as they might have been in earlier offensives to adjust according to the situation on the ground.

Notes


[i] Dupay, Trevor N.  Hitler’s Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge December 1944-January 1945Harper Collins Publishers, New York NY 1994 p.2.

[ii] Hastings, Max. Armageddon:  The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred A Knopf, New York NY 2004 p.197.

[iii] Reynolds, Michael. Sons of the Reich: II SS Panzer Corps; Normandy, Arnhem, Ardennes, and on the Eastern Front.  Casemate Publishing, Havertown PA 2002 p.186

[iv] Ibid. p.198

[v] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 translated by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, San Francisco, CA 1964. p. 480

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Liddell Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Originally published 1948, Quill Publishers Edition, New York 1979 p.274.

[viii] Liddell Hart, B.H. The History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York NY 1970. p.646.

[ix] MacDonald, Charles B. A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge William Morrow and Company, New York, NY 1985 p.35.

[x] [x] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General.DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. p.329

[xi] Ibid. Hastings p.198.  Hastings quotes Dietrich: “All Hitler wants me to do is cross a river, capture Brussels, then go on and take Antwerp. And all this at the worst time of year through the Ardennes when the snow is waist-deep and there isn’t enough room to deploy four tanks abreast let alone armored divisions. When it doesn’t get light until eight and it’s dark again by four and with re-formed divisions made up chiefly of kids and sick old men-and at Christmas.”

[xii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart The German Generals Talk p.276

[xiii] Wilmont, Chester. The Struggle for Europe Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York, NY 1952 p.576

[xiv] Ibid. p.557.

[xv] Ibid. Hastings. p.199. Hastings notes that Manteuffel said: “It was not that his soldiers now lacked determination of drive; what they lacked were weapons and equipment of every sort. Von Manteuffel also considered the German infantry ill trained.”

[xvi] Ibid. Dupay.p.47  Dupay notes that in 3rd Parachute Division that most of the regimental commanders had no combat experience.

[xvii] Weigley, Russell  F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign in France and Germany 1944-1945. Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1981 p.432.  Weigley speaks of Allied caution and predictable strategy, caution in logistical planning which did not allow the Allies to provide the fuel needs for a rapid drive into Germany and caution of operational commanders.

[xviii] Liddell Hart discusses the issue of paratroops at length in discussions with Manteuffel and General Kurt Student. At the time of the operation there were very few jump trained paratroops available for the operation as most of the 6 organized Parachute Divisions were committed to battle as infantry during the 1944 battles in the East, Italy and in the West. German Generals Talk pp.282-285.  Although Liddell Hart makes note of the employment of these troops and talked with Model and student about why they were not used to seize bridges and other critical terrain featured ahead of the Panzers instead of the use as a blocking force, I have found no one who questioned why the Germans did not use small glider detachments for the same purpose.  The Germans had demonstrated with Skorzeny when they rescued Mussolini from his mountain prison that they still retained this capability.  The use of the SS Paratroop battalion which could have been assigned to Skorzeny as a glider borne force could have been decisive in capturing the key bridges and terrain ahead of 6thPanzer Army.

[xix] Skorzeny’s operation was Operation Greif designed to sow confusion in the Allied Ranks.  His brigade numbered about 3500 men and had a good number of captured US vehicles including some tanks and tank-destroyers on hand to confuse American units that they came in contact with.

[xx] Ibid. Hastings.  p. 199.  Hastings quotes the Adjutant of 18th Volksgrenadier Division who “felt confident of his unit’s officers, but not of the men “some were very inexperienced and paid the price.”  MacDonald notes that the division had many Navy and Air Force replacements but was at full strength. p.646.

[xxi] See MacDonland pp. 644-655 for a detailed commentary on the German Order of Battle.

[xxii] Reynolds, Michael. Men of Steel: 1st SS Panzer Corps;  The Ardennes and Eastern Front 1944-1945 Sarpendon Publishers, Rockville Center NY, 1999. pp.36-37.  Reynolds notes that the 1st SS Panzer Regiment only had 36 Panthers and 34 Mark IV Panzers to begin the operation (excluding the attached 501st SS Heavy Tank Battalion).  He also notes that many of the tank crew replacements had no more than 6 weeks of military training and some of the tank crews had never been in a tank.  Similar problems were found in all the Panzer Divisions.  Severe shortages of armored half tracks, reconnaissance vehicles and other vehicles meant that Panzer Grenadier and Motorized battalions lacked the lift needed and some went on foot or on bicycles.

[xxiii] Ibid. Reynolds. Sons of the Reich. P.183

[xxiv] Ibid. MacDonald. p.44.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid. Dupay pp. 27-28.

[xxvii] Ibid. MacDonald. p.52.  MacDonald notes that Koch warned that the Germans were not finished, that “his withdraw, though continuing has not been a rout or mass collapse.” He calls Koch a “lone voice” in the Allied intelligence world.

[xxviii] Bradley, Omar  N. A Soldier’s Story Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 1951. p.459.  Weigley makes some poignant calling Bradley’s comments  “contradictory” and states that: “his apologia is hardly a model of coherence. (p.461)

[xxix]  D’Este, Carlo. Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life Owl Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 2002. p.638

[xxx] Dupay and others talk about this in detail. See Dupay pp. 35-44.

[xxxi] Ibid. p.38.

[xxxii] Ibid. Hastings. p.201

[xxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.199

[xxxiv] Ibid. Weigley. p.464

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Wilmont. P.581.

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.583

[xxxviii] Ibid. Hastings. p.223

[xxxix] Ibid. Weigley. P.457

[xl] Ibid. p.471

[xli] Ibid. Hastings. pp.205-206

[xlii] Ibid. Wilmont. pp.583-584

[xliii] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts and London England, 2000 p.470 The authors must base their conclusion on the fact that Montgomery who mentioned to Eisenhower that Hodges might have to be relieved, did not do so and by the next day told Eisenhower that the action was not needed.  A  few other American commanders in the north were favorable to Montgomery but this appears to be a minority view.

[xliv] Ibid. Weigley. pp.504-506.  Weigley and Wilmont both note the comment of a British Staff Officer the Montgomery “strode into Hodges HQ like Christ come to cleanse the temple.” (Wilmont p.592)

[xlv] Ibid. Hastings. pp.230-232.  Hastings is especially critical of Montgomery.  Weigley, equally critical notes regarding  the January 7th press conference, Montgomery’s “inability to be self critical at any point.” p.566.

[xlvi] Ibid. Weigley. p.500.

[xlvii] Ibid. Bradley. p.472  Other commentators differ in their view of Patton’s movement.  Wilmont notes that Patton had no “equal in the on the Allied side in the rapid deployment of troops. (p.589) Weigley urges readers that “it should be kept in appropriate perspective; it was not a unique stroke of genius.” And he compares it to Guderians disengagement with Panzer Group 4 and 90 degree change of direction and assault against the Kiev pocket in the 1941 Russian campaign (p.500)  Hastings notes that “Patton had shown himself skilled in driving his forces into action and gaining credit for their successes. But he proved less effective in managing a tough, tight battle on the southern flank.” (p.230)  Regardless of the perspective and criticism Patton’s movement was unequaled by any Allied commander in the war and had he not moved so quickly the 101st Airborne might not have held Bastogne. Admittedly his attack north was dispersed along a wide front but part of the blame for this must be assigned to Eisenhower who dictated the attack toward the west vice the base of the Bulge where Patton desired to make it.  A note I would make is that being a cavalryman Patton thought like one and when faced with the tight battles in close quarters was not at his best.  Similar comparisons could be made to J.E.B. Stuart at Chancellorsville when he had to take command of Jackson’s Corps.

[xlviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.475

[xlix] Ibid. p.474

[l] Ibid. Reynolds Men of Steel pp.51-52.

[li] Ibid. Weigley. p.470

[lii] The worst of these took place at the village of Malmedy where Battery B 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion of 7th Armored Division was captured and about 150 soldiers were rounded up and machined gunned in a field with survivors killed with pistol shots in the head.

[liii] Ibid. Weigley. pp.478-479.

[liv] Ibid. Wilmont. p.584

[lv] Ibid. Weigley. p.487

[lvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.486-487

[lvii] Ibid. Hastings. p.215. Hastings gives most of the credit to Brigadier General Bruce Clarke of CCB 7th Armored Division for the stand.

[lviii] Ibid. MacDonald. 481-487.  MacDonald notes that following the war that the commanders of the units involved “would be grateful to Field Marshal Montgomery for getting them out of what they saw as a deathtrap for their commands. (p.487)

[lix] Ibid. Weigley. p.487

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid. Hastings. p.217 Also  MacDonald. p.289 who talks of the confused situation east of Bastogne both for the Americans and Germans.

[lxiii] Ibid. Wilmont. p.598

[lxiv] Ibid. Liddel Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.288

[lxv] The defense of Bastogne would continue until after the 1st of January as Hitler renewed the attempts to secure the town in order to push on to the Meuse. Other German formations including units of 1st SS Panzer Corps shifted south from their original attack would make determined efforts to dislodge the stubborn American defenders.

[lxvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.500-501.  Bradley gives Patton more credit than later commentators. Wilmont notes that the Germans though “amazed at the speed with which Patton had disengaged from the Saar and wheeled them northward…they received due warning of his movement by monitoring the radio net which controlled American traffic, and they were braced to meet his assault. (p.599).

[lxvii] Ibid. Weigely. Pp.520-521

[lxviii] Ibid.  pp.535-537

[lxix] Ibid. pp. 558-561

[lxx] Ibid. pp.563-564

[lxxi] Ibid. p.566.

[lxxii] Patton, George S. War as I Knew It  Originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company NY 1947, Bantam Paperback Edition,  Bantam Books, New York, NY 1980 p.364

[lxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.230

[lxxiv] Ibid. Murray and Millett p.471.

[lxxv] Hastings notes that “Tactically, the Ardennes was one of the worst-conducted German battles of the war, perhaps reflecting that none of the generals giving the orders saw any prospect of success. (p.236)

[lxxvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.567-572

[lxxvii] Ibid. Hastings. p.236-237.  Hastings believes that the employment of the 5th and 6th Panzer Armies in the East “made the task of Zhukov and his colleagues much harder.”

[lxxviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.236. I find it interesting that neither Hastings nor Liddell Hart mention the Riviera and Rhone campaign.

[lxxix] Ibid. Weigley. p.236

[lxxx] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz  Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997. p.328

[lxxxi] Ibid.  Weigley comments on how much the overall supply situation was aided by the operation and capture of the ports and notes that the pace of the Cobra breakout had created a crisis in supply and “without the southern French ports the crisis would have been insurmountable.” (p.237)

[lxxxii] Ibid. p.397.  Weigley notes: “The immobilizing mud and the enemy’s recalcitrant resistance had fragmented the battle into affairs of squads, platoons, companies and battalions….and Patton’s juniors more than he controlled the course of action, to the extent that control was possible.”

[lxxxiii] Ibid. p.384

[lxxxiv] Ibid. p.390 Weigley states: “The American disinclination to concentrate power was rarely more apparent.” comparing the frontages of 1st, 9th and 3rdArmies and notes that Patton attacked along his entire front.”

[lxxxv] Ibid. Weigley. pp.400-401.  Weigley spends a fair amount of time on American infantry shortages in 3rd Army.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Weigly. P.400.  Weigley notes a German General Wellm attributed part of that victory to the “prowess of the American infantry.”

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Liddell Hart. The History of the Second World War p.560

[lxxxviii] Hastings and Weigley both note how many American division and regimental commanders were relieved of command for their failures in the Huertgen.

[lxxxix] Ibid. Hastings. p.179.  Hastings notes that “instead of recognizing the folly of attacking on terrain that suited the Germans so well, Courtney Hodges reinforced failure.”

[xc] Ibid. Weigley. p.420.  Weigley notes the high numbers of ballet and non battle casualties in the 4th, 8th, 9th and 28th Divisions as well as CCR of 5thArmored and 2nd Ranger Battalion.

[xci] Ibid. Hastings. p.275.  Hastings notes that defending 275th Division “were poor grade troops who-like the garrison of Aachen posed no plausible threat to the flanks of an American advance to the Roer.”

[xcii] Weigley compares the battle in its effect on the American army to Grants “destruction of the Confederate army in the Wilderness-Spotsylvania-Cold Harbor campaign expended many proud old Union army formations…” (p.438)

[xciii] Ibid. Hastings. p.215

[xciv] Ibid. Newton. p.324

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Filed under History, Military, nazi germany, world war two in europe

Remembering the Battle of the Bulge and the Campaign in France

Hitler's General Staff Reviews Plans

Adolf Hitler gathered with the Chiefs of Oberkommando des Wehrmachton September 16th 1944 at his “Wolf’s Lair” headquarters in East Prussia.  The situation was critical; he had recently survived an assassination attempt by Army officers led by Colonel Klaus Von Staufenberg at his Wolf’s Lair headquarters in East Prussia.  When the assassination attempt took place the German situation in Normandy was critical. The Americans broke out of the Bocage at St. Lo and spread out across Brittany and the interior of France with Patton’s 3rd Army leading the way.  Even as his commanders in the West pleaded for permission to withdraw to the Seine Hitler forbade withdraw and ordered a counter attack at Mortain to try to close the gap in the German line and isolate American forces. When the German offensive failed the German front collapsed. 40,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and thousands of vehicles were eliminated when the Americans and Canadians closed the Falaise pocket. Despite this cadres of decimated divisions including SS Panzer, Army Panzer and elite Paratroops made their way out of Normandy.  With the Germans in full retreat the Allies advanced to the border of the Reich itself. On the Eastern Front as well disaster threatened when the Red Army launched an offensive which annihilated Army Group Center and advanced to the border of Poland before outrunning supply lines and stalling on the Vistula.

tiger2_in_action-bulge

Tiger II

  Since Normandy Hitler had wanted to counter attack but had neither the forces nor the opportunity to strike the Allied armies. As the Allied offensive ground to a halt due to combat losses, lack of supplies and stiffening German resistance Hitler maintained a close eye on the situation in the West.  He believed that despite their success that the Americans and British alliance was weak and that a decisive blow could cause one or both to drop out of the war. During a briefing an officer noted the events of the day on the Western Front including a minor counterattack by kampfgrüppen of the 2nd SS Panzer and the 2nd Panzer Divisions which had made minor gains in the Ardennes, Hitler rose from his seat ““Stop!” He exclaimed. “I have come to a momentous decision. I shall go over to the counterattack….Out of the Ardennes, with the objective Antwerp.””[i]

indexb_10a

            Thus began the planning for the last great German offensive of WWII.  Hitler “believed that sufficient damage could be inflicted to fracture the Anglo-American alliance, buy time to strike anew against the Soviets, and allow his swelling arsenal of V-weapons to change the course of the war.”[ii]  It was a course of born of desperation, even admitted by Hitler in his briefings to assembled commanders in the week prior to the offensive, one officer noted his remarks: “Gentlemen, if our breakthrough via Liege to Antwerp is not successful, we will be approaching an end to the war which will be extremely bloody. Time is not working for us, but against us. This is really the last opportunity to turn the war in our favor.”[iii]

us-at-gun-bulge

US 57mm Anti-Tank Gun and Crew

             Despite shortages of men and equipment, continuous Allied assaults and over the objections of General Guderian who argued to reinforce the Eastern Front[iv], the OKW staff secretly developed detailed plans. The planning was so secretive that the “Commander in Chief West and the other senior commanders destined to carry out the attack were not informed.”[v] The plans were submitted to Hitler on October 9th [vi] and presented to Field Marshalls Von Rundstedt and Model at the End of October. General Hasso Von Manteuffel, commander of 5th Panzer Army commented that: “The plan for the Ardennes offensive…drawn up completely by O.K.W. and sent to us as a cut and dried “Führer order.”[vii]

24-1

Field Marshal Walter Model Commander Army Group B

          Model and Von Rundstedt also objected to the scope of the attack. Von Rundstedt stated: “I was staggered…It was obvious to me that the available forces were way too small for such an extremely ambitious plan. Model took the same view of it as I did….”[viii]  Model reportedly said to General Hans Krebs: “This plan hasn’t got a damned leg to stand on.”[ix] And “you can tell your Führer from me, that Model won’t have any part of it.”[x] Sepp Dietrich, the old SS fighter and commander of 6th Panzer Army expressed similar sentiments.[xi]  Despite the objections by so many senior commanders Hitler scorned Model’s attempt to float a less ambitious plan to reduce the Allied salient at Aachen. Likewise Von Rundstedt’s desire to remain of the defense and wait for the Allies to attack using the armored forces to launch against any breakthrough was rejected.[xii] Hitler’s mind was set and the preparations moved forward.  The plan was complete down to the timing of the artillery bombardment and axes of advance, and “endorsed in the Führer’s own handwriting “not to be altered.””[xiii] Such a plan flew in the face of the well established doctrine of theAuftragstaktik which gave commanders at all levels the freedom of action to develop the battle as the situation allowed and opportunities arose.

sepp20dietrich

SS General Sepp Dietrich, Commander of 6th Panzer Army 

              The Germans who the Allies presumed to be at the brink of collapse made a miraculous  recovery following their ghastly losses in Normandy. Kampfgrüppenand remnants of divisions bled the Americans White at the Huertgen Forrest and blunted the British attempt to leapfrog the Northern Rhine at Arnhem decimating the British First Airborne division and causing heavy casualties among other British and American units. The German 15th Army avoided disaster when the British failed to close their escape route from Walchern island allowing 60,000 troops and much equipment to escape.   

ManteuffelGeneral Hasso von Manteuffel Commander 5th Panzer Army

         The Germans also re-formed and reorganized the front.  They pulled back many units of the 5th and 6th Panzer Armies for re-fitting and diverted nearly all tank, armored fighting vehicle and artillery production to the West at the expense of the Eastern Front.  The Germans called up 17 year olds and transferred young fit personnel from the Navy and Luftwaffe to the Army and Waffen SS.  Here they were trained by experienced NCOs and officers and brought into veteran units alongside hardened veterans who showed taught them the lessons of 5 years of war.[xiv]  However the rapid influx of new personnel meant that they could not be assimilated as quickly as needed and thus many were not as well trained as they might have been with more time.[xv] Many infantry and Parachute units had received inexperienced officers, taken from garrison duty to fill key positions a problem that would show up during the offensive.[xvi]

pzkw-iv-bulge

Panzer IV Ausf H of an SS Panzer Divsion in the Bulge

The Germans were aided by the caution displayed by the Allies throughout the campaign in France which allowed the Germans to reconstitute formations around veteran headquarters staffs.[xvii]  The Germans built up the 5th and 6thPanzer Armies as the Schwerpunkt of the offensive giving them the lion’s share of reinforcements and pulling them out of the line during the fall battles along the Seigfried line and in the Alsace and Lorraine.  The plan was for the two Panzer armies and 7th Army to punch through the Ardennes, cross the Meuse, drive across Belgium, capture Antwerp and severe the link between the British and the Americans.

The spearhead of the German assault was 6th Panzer Army Commanded by SS General Sepp Dietrich. It was composed of 1st and 2nd SS Panzer Corps and Army’s LXVII Corps.  The 6th SS Panzer Army included some of the best formations available to the German Army at this late stage of the war including the 1st  SS Panzer Division, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, the 2nd  SS Panzer Division Das Reich, the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen and the12th  SS Panzer Division Hitler Jügend. It’s ranks were filled out by the 3rd Parachute Division, the 501st SS Heavy Tank Battalion (attached to 1st SS), the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division and the 12th, 246th, 272nd, 277th and 326th Volksgrenadier or Infantry divisions. The 6th Panzer Army would be the northern thrust of the offensive and its ultimate objective was Antwerp.  The 6th Panzer Army would be aided by a hastily organized parachute battalion under Colonel Von Der Heydte[xviii] and the 150thPanzer Brigade under SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny which included teams of American dialect speaking soldiers in American uniforms and equipment that were to spread confusion and panic in American rear areas.[xix]

bradleyeisenhowerpatton20a20bastogne

Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton at Bastogne

          To the south was the 5th Panzer Army commanded by General Hasso Von Manteuffel.  The 5th Panzer Army was to advance alongside of the 6th Panzer Army with Brussels as its objective.  Composed of the XLVII and LVIII Panzer Corps and LXVI Corps the major subordinate commands included the best of the Army Panzer divisions including the 2nd Panzer, Panzer Lehr, 9th and the16thPanzer division. It also had the elite Führer Begleit Brigade composed of troops from Panzer Corps Grossdeutschland and commanded by Otto Remer who had help crush the coup against Hitler in July.  The 5th Panzer Army also included the 18th, 26th, 62nd, 560th and later the 167th Volksgrenadier divisions.

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German Panzer Grenadier 

The south flank was guarded by 7th Army commanded by General Erich Brandenburger composed of LIII, LXXX and LXXXV Corps.  It included theFührer Grenadier Brigade and later the 15th Panzergrenadier division.  It was the weakest of the three armies but eventually included 6Volksgrenadier divisions of varying quality and strength[xx] and the veteran 5th Parachute division.[xxi]  However with only 4 divisions at the start of the offensive the 7th Army was the equivalent of a reinforced corps.

bulge-jeep

While this force seemed formidable it had a number of weaknesses beginning with tank strength.  The 1st and 12th SS Panzer divisions were only at approximately half their established tank strengths and faced severe shortages in other vehicles.[xxii]  2nd SS and 9th SS of II SS Panzer Corps reported similar shortages.[xxiii]The shortage of other motorized vehicles, even in Panzer divisions was acute.  “Even the best equipped divisions had no more than 80 percent of the vehicles called for under their tables of equipment, and one Panzergrenadier division had sixty different types of motor vehicles, a logistician’s nightmare.[xxiv] Panzer Lehr was so short in armored half tracks that only one battalion of its Panzer Grenadiers could be transported in them while others had to use “trucks or bicycles.”[xxv]

Limitations on equipment as well as fuel were not the only challenges that the Germans faced. The US V Corps launched an attack on the Roer River Dams just before the offensive making it necessary for the Germans to divert 6th SS Panzer Army infantry divisions and Jagdpanzer units to be used by 6th SS Panzer Army.  One regiment of 3rd Parachute Division and over half of a second division could not take part in the initial 6th Panzer Army attack. Likewise some Jagdpanzer andSturmgeschutzen units did not arrive until three days after the offensive began.[xxvi]

The Allies Before the Battle

            While the German commanders sought to implement Hitler’s plan Allied commanders looked only to completing the destruction of Germany not believing the Germans capable of any major operation.  The Allied commanders with the exception of Patton did not believe the Germans capable of any more than local counter attacks.  Patton’s 3rd Army G-2 Colonel Koch was the only intelligence officer to credit the Germans with the ability to attack.[xxvii]  Most allied commanders and intelligence officers discounted the German ability to recover from disastrous losses, something that they should have learned in Holland or learned from the Soviet experiences on the Eastern front.  Bradley noted in his memoirs hat “I had greatly underestimated the enemy’s offensive capabilities.”[xxviii]  Carlo D’Este noted that “there was another basic reason why the Allies were about to be caught with their pants down: “Everyone at SHAEF was thinking offensively, about what they could do to the enemy, and never about what the enemy might do to them.””[xxix]   This mindset was amazing due to the amount of intelligence from Ultra and reports from frontline units that major German forces were no longer in the line.[xxx] Additionally nearly all commentators note that American units in the Ardennes did not conduct aggressive patrols to keep the enemy off balance and obtain intelligence.[xxxi]  One describes the efforts of 106th Division as “lackadaisical” and notes that enemy before the offensive was not the Germans but the cold.[xxxii] Max Hastings noted that: “the Allies’ failure to anticipate Hitler’s assault was the most notorious intelligence disaster of the war.”[xxxiii]

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Tanks of US 7th Armored Division near St Vith

            The Allies also were in the midst of a manpower crisis. Eisenhower did not have enough divisions to establish a clear manpower advantage as “there were not enough Anglo-American divisions, or enough replacements for casualties in the existing divisions.”[xxxiv]  No more American Infantry divisions were available as the Army had been capped at 90 divisions and infantry replacements were in short supply.  This shortage meant that Eisenhower could not pull divisions out of line to rest and refit. He could only transfer divisions such as the 4th and 28thInfantry divisions to the relative quiet of the Ardennes. He had no ability to “create a strategic reserve unless he abandoned the broad front strategy.”[xxxv]The Germans knew of the allied weakness and believed that they could achieve local superiority even if they did not believe they could reach Antwerp. Model believed that “he was sure that he would reach the Meuse in strength before the Americans could move sufficient reserves to halt his armies or even head them off.”[xxxvi]

American Response: The Breakthrough

            The German assault began on December 16th. Some breakthroughs were made especially in the vicinity of the Losheim Gap and the Schnee Eifel by the southern elements of 6th Panzer Army and Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army. However the Germans could not break through around Monschau and Elsenborn Ridge held by the inexperienced but well trained 99th Infantry division and elements of the veteran 2nd “Indianhead” Division.  In the far south near Diekirch the 4th Infantry Division held stubbornly against the attacks of 7th Army’sVolksgrenadiers. The Germans achieved their greatest success at Losheim where SS Colonel Josef Peiper and his 1st SS Panzer Regiment had driven off the US 14thCavalry Group and penetrated 6 miles into the American front.  5th Panzer Army made several breakthroughs and isolated two regiments of newly arrived 106thInfantry Division in the Schnee Eifel. Manteufel also pressed the 28th Division hard along the Clerf River, Skyline Ridge and Clairvaux.  Yet at ‘no point on that first day did the Germans gain all of their objectives.”[xxxvii]  The credit goes to US units that stubbornly held on, but also to the poor performance of many German infantry units.  German commanders were frustrated by their infantry’s failure even as the panzers broke through the American lines.  Manteuffel noted his infantry was “incapable of carrying out the attack with the necessary violence.”[xxxviii]

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US Airborne Commanders James Gavin (R) and Matthew Ridgeway (L)

            The initial Allied command response to the attack by senior commanders varied.  Bradley believed it was a spoiling attack “to try and force a shift of Patton’s troops from the Saar offensive back to the Ardennes.”[xxxix] Courtney Hodges of 1st Army agreed with Bradley and refused to allow General Gerow, commander of V Corps to call off 2nd Infantry Division’s attack against the Roer dams on the 16th in order to face the German offensive.[xl]  Gerow was one of the first American commanders to recognize the scope of the German attack but Hodges, perhaps the least competent senior American commander in Europe failed to heed Gerow’s advice.

Battle of the Bulge - US prisoners on December 22nd 1944

 

        Soldiers of the 106th Infantry Division as POWs

         Soon after making this decision Hodges “panicked” and evacuated his headquarters at Spa fearing that it would be overrun by the advancing Germans.[xli] Eisenhower when informed of the news realized that something major was occurring and ordered the 7th Armored Division from the 9th Army and 10th Armored Division from 3rd Army into the Ardennes. On the 17thhe made other dispositions and released the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions from SHAEF reserve at Rheims to the Ardennes under the command of XVIII Airborne Corps.[xlii]  However during this short amount of time Mantueffel’s panzers had advanced 20 miles.

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SS Panzer Troops of Kampfgruppe Knittel on the advance.  Photo has often been identified for decades in books and other publications as Waffen-SS Colonel Joachim Peiper the commanding officer of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment and Kampfgruppe Peiper. This has been refuted by recent study.  Peiper is pictured below.

peiper

               At the command level Eisenhower made a controversial, but correct decsion to divide the command of the Bulge placing on a temporary basis all forces in the northern sector under Montgomery and leaving those to the south under Bradley.  Montgomery according to one commentary initially “had been astonishingly tactful in handing his American subordinates.”[xliii] However he quickly made himself obnoxious to many American commanders.[xliv] Following the battle Montgomery made the situation worse by claiming to have saved the Americans and giving credit to British units which scarcely engaged during the battle.[xlv]  Eisenhower also ordered Patton to launch a counter-attack along the southern flank of the German advance.  However Patton was already working on such an eventuality and promised to be able to launch a counterattack with three divisions by the 22nd.[xlvi]  Bradley praised Patton highly in his memoirs noting: “Patton’s brilliant shift of 3rd Army from its bridgehead in the Saar to the snow-covered Ardennes front became one of the most astonishing feats of generalship of our campaign in the West.”[xlvii]

American Response: the Shoulder’s Hold

bulge07             Malmedy Massacre 

          The 99th Division’s position was precarious, its right flank was subject to being turned and it was suffering severely at the hands of 12 SS Panzer and several Volksgrenadier divisions.  Gerow reinforced the 99th with elements of the 2nd Infantry division even before he had the final authorization to end its attack.  The two divisions stubbornly held Elsenborn Ridge and the villages of Rockerath, Krinkelt and Büllingen. By the 20th the 9th and 1st Infantry divisions arrived to strengthen the defense and lengthen the line to prevent it from being rolled up by the Germans.  The stubborn resistance of the Americans and arrival of reinforcements meant line was proof “against anything Sepp Dietrich might hurl against it”[xlviii]  By the 23rd Dietrich and 6th SS Panzer Army conceded defeat at Elsenborn and “turned its offensive attentions to other sectors.”[xlix]  German commanders like General Priess the commander of 1st SS Panzer Corps believed that terrain and road network in this sector was unfavorable to the German offensive and had proposed moving the attack further south.[l]  The Panzers could not deploy properly and the German infantry was not up to the task of driving the Americans out of their positions before the reinforcements arrived.

0-5

In the south the 4th Infantry Division held the line though heavily pressed by Brandenburger’s 7th Army.  The division was reinforced by elements of both 9thand 10th Armored divisions on the 17th and generally held its line along the Sauer River around Echternach “largely because the left flank of the enemy assault lacked the power-and particularly the armor-of the thrust farther north.”[li]

Turning Point: The Destruction of Kampfgruppe Peiper

panzeri00265om

            While V Corps fought the 6th Panzer Army to a standstill, to the south 1st SS Panzer Division led by Kampfgrüppe Peiper split the seam between V Corps and VIII Corps. The Kampfgrüppe moved west leaving a brutal path of destruction in its wake, including massacres of American POWs and Belgian civilians.[lii]  However its advance was marked with difficulty. On the night of the 17th it failed to take Stavelot. After clearing the American defenders from the town after a hard fight on the 19th it failed to capture a major American fuel dump a few miles beyond the town.  When the Germans approached the American commander ordered his troops to pour 124,000 gallons down the road leading to the dump and set it on fire, depriving the Germans of badly needed fuel.[liii]  Combat Engineers from the 291st Engineer Battalion blew a key bridge across the Ambleve at Trois Ponts and another bridge across the Lienne Creek which left the Germans bottled up in the Ambleve River valley.  This bought time for the 30th Infantry Division to set up positions barring Peiper from the Meuse.  The 30th would be joined by Combat Command B of 3rd Armored Division and elements of 82nd Airborne. These units eventually forced Peiper to abandon his equipment and extricate some 800 troops by foot by the 23rd after a hard fight with the Americans who had barred his every effort to break through to the Meuse.

Turning Point: The Crossroads: St Vith & Bastogne

            The battle rapidly became focused on key roads and junctions, in particular St. Vith in the north and Bastogne in the south.  At St. Vith the 7th Armored Division under General Hasbrouck, who Chester Wilmont calls one of the “great men of the Ardennes”[liv] completed a fifty mile road march from Aachen to St. Vith.  On his arrival he deployed his combat commands around the town which was the key to the road network in the north and also to the only rail line running west through the Ardennes.[lv]  Hasbrouck gathered in Colonel Hoge’s Combat Command B of 9th Armored Division and the 424th Infantry Regiment of the 106th Division into his defensive scheme as well as the survivors of the 112thInfantry Regiment of the 28th Infantry Division which had escaped the German onslaught after holding as long as possible along the Clerf River and Skyline Drive.[lvi]  With these units Hasbrouck conducted “an eight-day stand that was as critical and courageous, as the defense of Bastogne.”[lvii]  After holding the Germans at St. Vith the units were withdrawn to another defensive position along the Salm and Ourthe Rivers and the village of Viesalm.  This was done at the behest of Montgomery and General Ridgeway of XVII Airborne Corps whose 82nd Airborne had moved into that area on the 19th.  The arrival of the 82ndgreatly assisted Hasbrouck’s force holding St. Vith whose defenders had lost an estimated 5000 casualties.[lviii]

The stand at St. Vith confined the “confined the Sixth Panzer Army’s penetration to a chokingly narrow corridor.”[lix]  It also posed a problem for German command and control which because it was out of the 6th Panzer Army’s area of operations Dietrich was unable to lend his weight into the fight.  “Hitler himself had strictly prohibited deviations from the zonal boundaries”[lx] which left the fight for St. Vith in the hands of 5th Panzer Army who felt the impact of the stand as the Americans “also choked off one of the Fifth Panzer Army’s best routes to Bastogne, almost nullifying the significance of the captured road junction at Houffalize.”[lxi]

American General Anthony McAuliffe commander of the 101st

Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe 

        To the south of St. Vith lay Bastogne, another key road junction needed by 5thPanzer Army for its advance.  On the night of the18th Panzer Lehr division came within two miles of the town before being checked by resistance by units of the 10th Armored division, remnants of 28th Division and misdirection by “friendly” Belgian guides onto a muddy path that helped halt their advance.[lxii]  This gave the 101st Airborne just enough time to get to the town and prevent its capture. The siege of Bastogne and its defense by the 101st elements of 9th and 10thArmored Divisions and 28th Division became an epic stand against Manteuffel’s Panzers which had surged around the town.  Wilmont comments that “had the Germans won the race for Bastogne, Manteuffel’s armor would have had a clear run to Dinant and Namur on December 19th and 20th” [lxiii] when there were only scattered American units between them and the Meuse. Manteuffel b bypassed Bastonge after the failure to capture it and masked it with 26th VolksgrenadierDivision and a regiment of Panzer Lehr.  The remainder of Panzer Lehr and the 2nd Panzer Division moved to the west. [lxiv]  The garrison endured numerous attacks and on the 22nd one of the most celebrated incidents of the war took place when Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe responded to a demand for the surrender of the town with the reply; “Nuts.”  The town would continue to hold until relieved by 3rd Army on the afternoon of December 26th.[lxv]

Allied Response: The Counterattack

sherman-bastogne

            The Allied counterattack began with 3rd Army in the south on 21 December.  Patton’s initially proposed to attack toward the base of the Bulge in order to cut off the largest number of Germans possible.  Eisenhower dictated an attack further west with the goal of relieving Bastogne.  Eisenhower wanted to delay the attack to concentrate combat power while Patton wanted to attack sooner in order to ensure surprise. Patton got his way but attacked on a wide front.  The attack lost its impetus and bogged down into a slugging match with 7thArmy’s infantry and paratroops along the southern flank. [lxvi]  Patton’s failure to concentrate his forces for the advance to the north diminished his combat power.[lxvii] While Patton attacked from the south the 1st Army dealt with the advanced spearhead of 2nd Panzer Division which had reached the town of Celles and ran out of gas just four miles from Dinant and the Meuse. The 84th Infantry Division stopped the 116th Panzer division from being able to effect a relief of the 2nd Panzer the US 2nd Armored Division and allied fighter bombers chopped up the virtually immobile 2nd Panzer division completing that task by the 26th.[lxviii]

To the north Montgomery launched a cautious counterattack which slowly and methodically took back lost ground but allowed many Germans to escape. While Montgomery moved south Patton faced heavy German resistance from elements of 5th Panzer Army, reinforced by 1st SS Panzer Corps and 7th Army.  The rupture in the American front was not repaired until 17 January when the American forces met at Houffalize.[lxix] Bradley took over for Montgomery and the Americans pushed the Germans slowly back across the Clerf River by the 23rd.  The advance was hampered by tough German resistance and terrible weather which forced much of the attack to be made by dismounted troops as the roads had completely frozen over.[lxx]

The Allied counter attack has been criticized for allowing too many Germans to escape what could have been a major encirclement.  Patton recognized the incompleteness of the victory in the Ardennes stating: ““We want to catch as many Germans as possible, but he is pulling out.” The “but” clause, the note of regret, the awareness of the imperfection of his victories typified Patton.””[lxxi]  Patton in his memoirs notes: “In making the attack we were wholly ignorant of what was ahead of us, but we were determined to strike through to Bastogne.”[lxxii] Max Hastings simply said: “the Allies were content with success.”[lxxiii]  Murray and Millett place blame on Bradley and Hodges for choosing “merely to drive the enemy out of the Ardennes rather than destroy him.”[lxxiv]

Analysis: Could Wacht Am Rhein Have Worked?

          Could Wacht am Rhein worked?  If much was different, yes.  If the German had been stronger in tanks and vehicles and had adequate stocks of fuel; if their infantry was better trained, and had the Americans not resisted so stubbornly it might have at least got to the Meuse.  Perhaps if the the bad weather held keeping Allied air forces away from the Germans, or had St. Vith and Bastogne been taken by the 18th or 19th, they might have reached the Meuse.  Had the Germans executed their plan and coordinated their assault better[lxxv] in the 6thPanzer Army sector and had the 7th Army enough strength to conduct offensive operations in depth and secure the left flank the attack might have succeeded.  Because the Americans held the shoulders and road junctions, Manteuffel’s 5thPanzer Army, the only force besides the regimental sized Kampfgrüppe Peiper to actually threaten the Meuse was forced to advance while attempting to take Bastogne and defeat 3rd Army’s counterattack. Whether they could have made Antwerp is another matter.  Nearly all German commanders felt the offensive could not take Antwerp but did believe that they could inflict a defeat on the Allies and destroy a significant amount of allied combat power.

The German offense was a desperate gamble.  Too few divisions, scant supplies of petrol, formations that had recently been rebuilt and not given enough time to train to the standard needed for offensive operations coupled with Hitler’s insistence on an unalterable plan kept them from success.  At the same time the Allies were weak in troops as Eisenhower had no strategic reserve save the two American Airborne Divisions.  All reinforcements to the threatened sector had to come from the flanks and by the middle of the battle the 9th Army was drawn down to two divisions. Russell Weigley notes the constraints imposed by the 90 division Army, and of the limited stocks of artillery ammunition.[lxxvi] If the Germans had more forces they might have inflicted a significant defeat on the Allies had they been able to reinforce their success in depth.  Despite this they still inflicted punishing losses on the Americans though suffering greatly themselves.  Hastings notes that the real beneficiaries of the Ardennes offensive were the Russians.[lxxvii]  It is unlikely that the offensive could have ever achieved Hitler’s goals of taking Antwerp and fracturing the British-American alliance.

A Note About other Parts of the Campaign in France

The Riviera and Rhone

USA-E-Riviera-p193US Soldier Being Greeted as a Liberator 

          The campaign in south France was strategically wise although opposed by the British to the last minute because they felt it would take away from Overlord.[lxxviii] Though delayed the campaign was well executed by 7th Army, particularly Lt. General Lucian Truscott’s VI Corps of 3 American divisions. Truscott believed “destroying the enemy army was the goal”[lxxix] managed the battle well and skillfully maneuvered his small forces against Blaskowitz’s 19thArmy inflicting heavy losses, though some German commanders noted the caution of American infantry in the attack.[lxxx]  Only Blaskowitz’s tactical skills and the weakness of the American force prevented the Germans from disaster. The seizure of Marseilles and Toulon provided the allies with sorely needed ports that were invaluable to sustain the campaign.[lxxxi]

The Lorraine Campaign

            Patton attacked in the Lorraine with the goal of crossing the Moselle and attempting to break into Germany. He doing so he ran into some of the strongest German forces on the front and bogged down in the poor terrain and mud of the region.[lxxxii]  Patton was delayed in making his assault due to his place “at the far end of the logistics queue.”[lxxxiii] German forces skillfully defended the ancient fortress of city Metz forcing the Americans into a protracted campaign to clear the area with the last strongpoint surrendering on 13 December.  Patton is criticized for his failure to concentrate his forces[lxxxiv] but American tactics were less to blame than the weather, German resistance and shortages of infantry.[lxxxv] In some cases American infantry units performed admirably, particularly 80th Division’s assault on the Falkenburg Stellung.[lxxxvi]Liddell Hart criticized the Allies for failing to attack through the then weakly defended Ardennes, commenting: “By taking what appeared to be the easier paths into Germany the Allies met greater difficulties.”[lxxxvii]

The Huertgen Forrest

hurtgen-forest-soldiers

The Huertgen Forrest was the worst managed American fight Western European campaign. [lxxxviii] General Courtney Hodges leadership was poor.[lxxxix] In the Huertgen he fed division after division into a battle that made no strategic sense.  American infantry performed poorly and took extremely heavy casualties leaving four divisions shattered.[xc]  Poor American tactics demonstrated by attacking into a forest in poor weather without concentration negated all of Hodges’ advantages in tanks, artillery and airpower. The forest contained no significant German forces capable of threatening any American advance[xci] and its gain offered little advantage.[xcii] Hastings noted that the gains the only saving grace was that it made it easier for the northern shoulder of the Bulge to hold[xciii]   General Model and his subordinates expertly handled their handful of excellent but weary divisions in this battle using terrain, weather and prepared defensive positions to contest nearly every yard of the Forrest.[xciv]

Conclusions

            The lessons of the Bulge and the other campaigns on the German-French border are many and can be gleaned from Allied and German mistakes. On the Allied side the most glaring mistakes were assumptions prior to the German attack that the Germans were incapable of any serious offensive and ignoring the fact that the Germans had attacked through the Ardennes in 1940.  Likewise the self limitation of the American Army to 90 divisions for world-wide service meant that there were no more divisions in the pipeline and that worn out divisions would have to be reinforced with inexperienced troops while in the front line which ensured a lack of cohesiveness in many divisions, especially the infantry.  Allied intelligence failures as well as their reliance of forces much smaller than they should have had for such a campaign ensured that they would suffer heavy losses in the Bulge while poor planning and execution by Hodges wasted many good troops in a senseless battle.  The Germans were hamstrung by Hitler’s fantasy that the Western Allies could be forced out of the war or the Alliance split by a defeat in the Ardennes.  Likewise German forces, even those so quickly reconstituted were often short troops, tanks and vehicles.  German commanders were forced by Hitler’s rigid insistence on not altering the plan to not be as flexible as they might have been in earlier offensives to adjust according to the situation on the ground.


[i] Dupay, Trevor N.  Hitler’s Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge December 1944-January 1945Harper Collins Publishers, New York NY 1994 p.2.

[ii] Hastings, Max. Armageddon:  The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred A Knopf, New York NY 2004 p.197.

[iii] Reynolds, Michael. Sons of the Reich: II SS Panzer Corps; Normandy, Arnhem, Ardennes, and on the Eastern Front.  Casemate Publishing, Havertown PA 2002 p.186

[iv] Ibid. p.198

[v] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 translated by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, San Francisco, CA 1964. p. 480

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Liddell Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Originally published 1948, Quill Publishers Edition, New York 1979 p.274.

[viii] Liddell Hart, B.H. The History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York NY 1970. p.646.

[ix] MacDonald, Charles B. A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge William Morrow and Company, New York, NY 1985 p.35.

[x] [x] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General.DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. p.329

[xi] Ibid. Hastings p.198.  Hastings quotes Dietrich: “All Hitler wants me to do is cross a river, capture Brussels, then go on and take Antwerp. And all this at the worst time of year through the Ardennes when the snow is waist-deep and there isn’t enough room to deploy four tanks abreast let alone armored divisions. When it doesn’t get light until eight and it’s dark again by four and with re-formed divisions made up chiefly of kids and sick old men-and at Christmas.”

[xii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart The German Generals Talk p.276

[xiii] Wilmont, Chester. The Struggle for Europe Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York, NY 1952 p.576

[xiv] Ibid. p.557.

[xv] Ibid. Hastings. p.199. Hastings notes that Manteuffel said: “It was not that his soldiers now lacked determination of drive; what they lacked were weapons and equipment of every sort. Von Manteuffel also considered the German infantry ill trained.”

[xvi] Ibid. Dupay.p.47  Dupay notes that in 3rd Parachute Division that most of the regimental commanders had no combat experience.

[xvii] Weigley, Russell  F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign in France and Germany 1944-1945. Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1981 p.432.  Weigley speaks of Allied caution and predictable strategy, caution in logistical planning which did not allow the Allies to provide the fuel needs for a rapid drive into Germany and caution of operational commanders.

[xviii] Liddell Hart discusses the issue of paratroops at length in discussions with Manteuffel and General Kurt Student. At the time of the operation there were very few jump trained paratroops available for the operation as most of the 6 organized Parachute Divisions were committed to battle as infantry during the 1944 battles in the East, Italy and in the West. German Generals Talk pp.282-285.  Although Liddell Hart makes note of the employment of these troops and talked with Model and student about why they were not used to seize bridges and other critical terrain featured ahead of the Panzers instead of the use as a blocking force, I have found no one who questioned why the Germans did not use small glider detachments for the same purpose.  The Germans had demonstrated with Skorzeny when they rescued Mussolini from his mountain prison that they still retained this capability.  The use of the SS Paratroop battalion which could have been assigned to Skorzeny as a glider borne force could have been decisive in capturing the key bridges and terrain ahead of 6th Panzer Army.

[xix] Skorzeny’s operation was Operation Greif designed to sow confusion in the Allied Ranks.  His brigade numbered about 3500 men and had a good number of captured US vehicles including some tanks and tank-destroyers on hand to confuse American units that they came in contact with.

[xx] Ibid. Hastings.  p. 199.  Hastings quotes the Adjutant of 18th Volksgrenadier Division who “felt confident of his unit’s officers, but not of the men “some were very inexperienced and paid the price.”  MacDonald notes that the division had many Navy and Air Force replacements but was at full strength. p.646.

[xxi] See MacDonland pp. 644-655 for a detailed commentary on the German Order of Battle.

[xxii] Reynolds, Michael. Men of Steel: 1st SS Panzer Corps;  The Ardennes and Eastern Front 1944-1945 Sarpendon Publishers, Rockville Center NY, 1999. pp.36-37.  Reynolds notes that the 1st SS Panzer Regiment only had 36 Panthers and 34 Mark IV Panzers to begin the operation (excluding the attached 501st SS Heavy Tank Battalion).  He also notes that many of the tank crew replacements had no more than 6 weeks of military training and some of the tank crews had never been in a tank.  Similar problems were found in all the Panzer Divisions.  Severe shortages of armored half tracks, reconnaissance vehicles and other vehicles meant that Panzer Grenadier and Motorized battalions lacked the lift needed and some went on foot or on bicycles.

[xxiii] Ibid. Reynolds. Sons of the Reich. P.183

[xxiv] Ibid. MacDonald. p.44.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid. Dupay pp. 27-28.

[xxvii] Ibid. MacDonald. p.52.  MacDonald notes that Koch warned that the Germans were not finished, that “his withdraw, though continuing has not been a rout or mass collapse.” He calls Koch a “lone voice” in the Allied intelligence world.

[xxviii] Bradley, Omar  N. A Soldier’s Story Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 1951. p.459.  Weigley makes some poignant calling Bradley’s comments  “contradictory” and states that: “his apologia is hardly a model of coherence. (p.461)

[xxix]  D’Este, Carlo. Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life Owl Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 2002. p.638

[xxx] Dupay and others talk about this in detail. See Dupay pp. 35-44.

[xxxi] Ibid. p.38.

[xxxii] Ibid. Hastings. p.201

[xxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.199

[xxxiv] Ibid. Weigley. p.464

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Wilmont. P.581.

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.583

[xxxviii] Ibid. Hastings. p.223

[xxxix] Ibid. Weigley. P.457

[xl] Ibid. p.471

[xli] Ibid. Hastings. pp.205-206

[xlii] Ibid. Wilmont. pp.583-584

[xliii] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts and London England, 2000 p.470 The authors must base their conclusion on the fact that Montgomery who mentioned to Eisenhower that Hodges might have to be relieved, did not do so and by the next day told Eisenhower that the action was not needed.  A  few other American commanders in the north were favorable to Montgomery but this appears to be a minority view.

[xliv] Ibid. Weigley. pp.504-506.  Weigley and Wilmont both note the comment of a British Staff Officer the Montgomery “strode into Hodges HQ like Christ come to cleanse the temple.” (Wilmont p.592)

[xlv] Ibid. Hastings. pp.230-232.  Hastings is especially critical of Montgomery.  Weigley, equally critical notes regarding  the January 7th press conference, Montgomery’s “inability to be self critical at any point.” p.566.

[xlvi] Ibid. Weigley. p.500.

[xlvii] Ibid. Bradley. p.472  Other commentators differ in their view of Patton’s movement.  Wilmont notes that Patton had no “equal in the on the Allied side in the rapid deployment of troops. (p.589) Weigley urges readers that “it should be kept in appropriate perspective; it was not a unique stroke of genius.” And he compares it to Guderians disengagement with Panzer Group 4 and 90 degree change of direction and assault against the Kiev pocket in the 1941 Russian campaign (p.500)  Hastings notes that “Patton had shown himself skilled in driving his forces into action and gaining credit for their successes. But he proved less effective in managing a tough, tight battle on the southern flank.” (p.230)  Regardless of the perspective and criticism Patton’s movement was unequaled by any Allied commander in the war and had he not moved so quickly the 101stAirborne might not have held Bastogne. Admittedly his attack north was dispersed along a wide front but part of the blame for this must be assigned to Eisenhower who dictated the attack toward the west vice the base of the Bulge where Patton desired to make it.  A note I would make is that being a cavalryman Patton thought like one and when faced with the tight battles in close quarters was not at his best.  Similar comparisons could be made to J.E.B. Stuart at Chancellorsville when he had to take command of Jackson’s Corps.

[xlviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.475

[xlix] Ibid. p.474

[l] Ibid. Reynolds Men of Steel pp.51-52.

[li] Ibid. Weigley. p.470

[lii] The worst of these took place at the village of Malmedy where Battery B 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion of 7th Armored Division was captured and about 150 soldiers were rounded up and machined gunned in a field with survivors killed with pistol shots in the head.

[liii] Ibid. Weigley. pp.478-479.

[liv] Ibid. Wilmont. p.584

[lv] Ibid. Weigley. p.487

[lvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.486-487

[lvii] Ibid. Hastings. p.215. Hastings gives most of the credit to Brigadier General Bruce Clarke of CCB 7th Armored Division for the stand.

[lviii] Ibid. MacDonald. 481-487.  MacDonald notes that following the war that the commanders of the units involved “would be grateful to Field Marshal Montgomery for getting them out of what they saw as a deathtrap for their commands. (p.487)

[lix] Ibid. Weigley. p.487

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid. Hastings. p.217 Also  MacDonald. p.289 who talks of the confused situation east of Bastogne both for the Americans and Germans.

[lxiii] Ibid. Wilmont. p.598

[lxiv] Ibid. Liddel Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.288

[lxv] The defense of Bastogne would continue until after the 1st of January as Hitler renewed the attempts to secure the town in order to push on to the Meuse. Other German formations including units of 1st SS Panzer Corps shifted south from their original attack would make determined efforts to dislodge the stubborn American defenders.

[lxvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.500-501.  Bradley gives Patton more credit than later commentators. Wilmont notes that the Germans though “amazed at the speed with which Patton had disengaged from the Saar and wheeled them northward…they received due warning of his movement by monitoring the radio net which controlled American traffic, and they were braced to meet his assault. (p.599).

[lxvii] Ibid. Weigely. Pp.520-521

[lxviii] Ibid.  pp.535-537

[lxix] Ibid. pp. 558-561

[lxx] Ibid. pp.563-564

[lxxi] Ibid. p.566.

[lxxii] Patton, George S. War as I Knew It  Originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company NY 1947, Bantam Paperback Edition,  Bantam Books, New York, NY 1980 p.364

[lxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.230

[lxxiv] Ibid. Murray and Millett p.471.

[lxxv] Hastings notes that “Tactically, the Ardennes was one of the worst-conducted German battles of the war, perhaps reflecting that none of the generals giving the orders saw any prospect of success. (p.236)

[lxxvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.567-572

[lxxvii] Ibid. Hastings. p.236-237.  Hastings believes that the employment of the 5th and 6th Panzer Armies in the East “made the task of Zhukov and his colleagues much harder.”

[lxxviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.236. I find it interesting that neither Hastings nor Liddell Hart mention the Riviera and Rhone campaign.

[lxxix] Ibid. Weigley. p.236

[lxxx] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz  Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997. p.328

[lxxxi] Ibid.  Weigley comments on how much the overall supply situation was aided by the operation and capture of the ports and notes that the pace of the Cobra breakout had created a crisis in supply and “without the southern French ports the crisis would have been insurmountable.” (p.237)

[lxxxii] Ibid. p.397.  Weigley notes: “The immobilizing mud and the enemy’s recalcitrant resistance had fragmented the battle into affairs of squads, platoons, companies and battalions….and Patton’s juniors more than he controlled the course of action, to the extent that control was possible.”

[lxxxiii] Ibid. p.384

[lxxxiv] Ibid. p.390 Weigley states: “The American disinclination to concentrate power was rarely more apparent.” comparing the frontages of 1st, 9th and 3rdArmies and notes that Patton attacked along his entire front.”

[lxxxv] Ibid. Weigley. pp.400-401.  Weigley spends a fair amount of time on American infantry shortages in 3rd Army.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Weigly. P.400.  Weigley notes a German General Wellm attributed part of that victory to the “prowess of the American infantry.”

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Liddell Hart. The History of the Second World War p.560

[lxxxviii] Hastings and Weigley both note how many American division and regimental commanders were relieved of command for their failures in the Huertgen.

[lxxxix] Ibid. Hastings. p.179.  Hastings notes that “instead of recognizing the folly of attacking on terrain that suited the Germans so well, Courtney Hodges reinforced failure.”

[xc] Ibid. Weigley. p.420.  Weigley notes the high numbers of ballet and non battle casualties in the 4th, 8th, 9th and 28th Divisions as well as CCR of 5thArmored and 2nd Ranger Battalion.

[xci] Ibid. Hastings. p.275.  Hastings notes that defending 275th Division “were poor grade troops who-like the garrison of Aachen posed no plausible threat to the flanks of an American advance to the Roer.”

[xcii] Weigley compares the battle in its effect on the American army to Grants “destruction of the Confederate army in the Wilderness-Spotsylvania-Cold Harbor campaign expended many proud old Union army formations…” (p.438)

[xciii] Ibid. Hastings. p.215

[xciv] Ibid. Newton. p.324

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Wacht am Rhein: The Battle of the Bulge

The Decision 

 

            Adolf Hitler gathered with the Chiefs of Oberkommando des Wehrmacht on September 16th 1944 at his “Wolf’s Lair” headquarters in East Prussia.  The situation was critical; he had recently survived an assassination attempt by Army officers led by Colonel Klaus Von Staufenberg at his Wolf’s Lair headquarters in East Prussia.  When the assassination attempt took place the German situation in Normandy was critical. The Americans broke out of the Bocage at St. Lo and spread out across Brittany and the interior of France with Patton’s 3rd Army leading the way.  Even as his commanders in the West pleaded for permission to withdraw to the Seine Hitler forbade withdraw and ordered a counter attack at Mortain to try to close the gap in the German line and isolate American forces. When the German offensive failed the German front collapsed. 40,000 troops, hundreds of tanks and thousands of vehicles were eliminated when the Americans and Canadians closed the Falaise pocket. Despite this cadres of decimated divisions including SS Panzer, Army Panzer and elite Paratroops made their way out of Normandy.  With the Germans in full retreat the Allies advanced to the border of the Reich itself. On the Eastern Front as well disaster threatened when the Red Army launched an offensive which annihilated Army Group Center and advanced to the border of Poland before outrunning supply lines and stalling on the Vistula.

Tiger II Advancing in the Ardennes

            Since Normandy Hitler had wanted to counter attack but had neither the forces nor the opportunity to strike the Allied armies. As the Allied offensive ground to a halt due to combat losses, lack of supplies and stiffening German resistance Hitler maintained a close eye on the situation in the West.  He believed that despite their success that the Americans and British alliance was weak and that a decisive blow could cause one or both to drop out of the war. During a briefing an officer noted the events of the day on the Western Front including a minor counterattack by kampfgrüppen of the 2nd SS Panzer and the 2nd Panzer Divisions which had made minor gains in the Ardennes, Hitler rose from his seat ““Stop!” He exclaimed. “I have come to a momentous decision. I shall go over to the counterattack….Out of the Ardennes, with the objective Antwerp.””[i]

            Thus began the planning for the last great German offensive of WWII.  Hitler “believed that sufficient damage could be inflicted to fracture the Anglo-American alliance, buy time to strike anew against the Soviets, and allow his swelling arsenal of V-weapons to change the course of the war.”[ii]  It was a course of born of desperation, even admitted by Hitler in his briefings to assembled commanders in the week prior to the offensive, one officer noted his remarks: “Gentlemen, if our breakthrough via Liege to Antwerp is not successful, we will be approaching an end to the war which will be extremely bloody. Time is not working for us, but against us. This is really the last opportunity to turn the war in our favor.”[iii]

US Soldiers manhandling a 57mm Anti-Tank Gun into Position

            Despite shortages of men and equipment, continuous Allied assaults and over the objections of General Guderian who argued to reinforce the Eastern Front[iv], the OKW staff secretly developed detailed plans. The planning was so secretive that the “Commander in Chief West and the other senior commanders destined to carry out the attack were not informed.”[v] The plans were submitted to Hitler on October 9th [vi] and presented to Field Marshalls Von Rundstedt and Model at the End of October. General Hasso Von Manteuffel, commander of 5th Panzer Army commented that: “The plan for the Ardennes offensive…drawn up completely by O.K.W. and sent to us as a cut and dried “Führer order.”[vii]  Likewise Model and Von Rundstedt objected to the scope of the attack. Von Rundstedt stated: “I was staggered…It was obvious to me that the available forces were way too small for such an extremely ambitious plan. Model took the same view of it as I did….”[viii]  Model reportedly said to General Hans Krebs: “This plan hasn’t got a damned leg to stand on.”[ix] And “you can tell your Führer from me, that Model won’t have any part of it.”[x] Sepp Dietrich, the old SS fighter and commander of 6th Panzer Army expressed similar sentiments.[xi]  Despite the objections by so many senior commanders Hitler scorned Model’s attempt to float a less ambitious plan to reduce the Allied salient at Aachen. Likewise Von Rundstedt’s desire to remain of the defense and wait for the Allies to attack using the armored forces to launch against any breakthrough was rejected.[xii] Hitler’s mind was set and the preparations moved forward.  The plan was complete down to the timing of the artillery bombardment and axes of advance, and “endorsed in the Führer’s own handwriting “not to be altered.””[xiii] Such a plan flew in the face of the well established doctrine of the Auftragstaktik which gave commanders at all levels the freedom of action to develop the battle as the situation allowed and opportunities arose.

SS General Sepp Dietrich Commander of the 6th SS Panzer Army

          The Germans who the Allies presumed to be at the brink of collapse made a miraculous  recovery following their ghastly losses in Normandy. Kampfgrüppen and remnants of divisions bled the Americans White at the Huertgen Forrest and blunted the British attempt to leapfrog the Northern Rhine at Arnhem decimating the British First Airborne division and causing heavy casualties among other British and American units. The German 15th Army avoided disaster when the British failed to close their escape route from Walchern island allowing 60,000 troops and much equipment to escape.   The Germans re-formed and reorganized the front.  They pulled back many units of the 5th and 6th Panzer Armies for re-fitting and diverted nearly all tank, armored fighting vehicle and artillery production to the West at the expense of the Eastern Front.  The Germans called up 17 year olds and transferred young fit personnel from the Navy and Luftwaffe to the Army and Waffen SS.  Here they were trained by experienced NCOs and officers and brought into veteran units alongside hardened veterans who showed taught them the lessons of 5 years of war.[xiv]  However the rapid influx of new personnel meant that they could not be assimilated as quickly as needed and thus many were not as well trained as they might have been with more time.[xv] Many infantry and Parachute units had received inexperienced officers, taken from garrison duty to fill key positions a problem that would show up during the offensive.[xvi]

Panzer IV Ausf H of an SS Panzer Divsion in the Bulge

            The Germans were aided by the caution displayed by the Allies throughout the campaign in France which allowed the Germans to reconstitute formations around veteran headquarters staffs.[xvii]  The Germans built up the 5th and 6th Panzer Armies as the Schwerpunkt of the offensive giving them the lion’s share of reinforcements and pulling them out of the line during the fall battles along the Seigfried line and in the Alsace and Lorraine.  The plan was for the two Panzer armies and 7th Army to punch through the Ardennes, cross the Meuse, drive across Belgium, capture Antwerp and severe the link between the British and the Americans.

The spearhead of the assault was 6th Panzer Army Commanded by SS General Sepp Dietrich. It was composed of 1st and 2nd SS Panzer Corps and Army’s LXVII Corps.  The 6th SS Panzer Army included some of the best formations available to the German Army at this late stage of the war including the 1st  SS Panzer Division, the Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, the 2nd  SS Panzer Division Das Reich, the 9th SS Panzer Division Hohenstaufen and the12th  SS Panzer Division Hitler Jügend. It’s ranks were filled out by the 3rd Parachute Division, the 501st SS Heavy Tank Battalion (attached to 1st SS), the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division and the 12th, 246th, 272nd, 277th and 326th Volksgrenadier or Infantry divisions. The 6th Panzer Army would be the northern thrust of the offensive and its ultimate objective was Antwerp.  The 6th Panzer Army would be aided by a hastily organized parachute battalion under Colonel Von Der Heydte[xviii] and the 150th Panzer Brigade under SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny which included teams of American dialect speaking soldiers in American uniforms and equipment that were to spread confusion and panic in American rear areas.[xix]

Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton at Bastogne

       To the south was the 5th Panzer Army commanded by General Hasso Von Manteuffel.  The 5th Panzer Army was to advance alongside of the 6th Panzer Army with Brussels as its objective.  Composed of the XLVII and LVIII Panzer Corps and LXVI Corps the major subordinate commands included the best of the Army Panzer divisions including the 2nd Panzer, Panzer Lehr, 9th and the16th Panzer division. It also had the elite Führer Begleit Brigade composed of troops from Panzer Corps Grossdeutschland and commanded by Otto Remer who had help crush the coup against Hitler in July.  The 5th Panzer Army also included the 18th, 26th, 62nd, 560th and later the 167th Volksgrenadier divisions.

The south flank was guarded by 7th Army commanded by General Erich Brandenburger composed of LIII, LXXX and LXXXV Corps.  It included the Führer Grenadier Brigade and later the 15th Panzergrenadier division.  It was the weakest of the three armies but eventually included 6Volksgrenadier divisions of varying quality and strength[xx] and the veteran 5th Parachute division.[xxi]  However with only 4 divisions at the start of the offensive the 7th Army was the equivalent of a reinforced corps.

             While this force seemed formidable it had a number of weaknesses beginning with tank strength.  The 1st and 12th SS Panzer divisions were only at approximately half their established tank strengths and faced severe shortages in other vehicles.[xxii]  2nd SS and 9th SS of II SS Panzer Corps reported similar shortages.[xxiii]The shortage of other motorized vehicles, even in Panzer divisions was acute.  “Even the best equipped divisions had no more than 80 percent of the vehicles called for under their tables of equipment, and one Panzergrenadier division had sixty different types of motor vehicles, a logistician’s nightmare.[xxiv] Panzer Lehr was so short in armored half tracks that only one battalion of its Panzer Grenadiers could be transported in them while others had to use “trucks or bicycles.”[xxv]

Limitations on equipment as well as fuel were not the only challenges that the Germans faced. The US V Corps launched an attack on the Roer River Dams just before the offensive making it necessary for the Germans to divert 6th SS Panzer Army infantry divisions and Jagdpanzer units to be used by 6th SS Panzer Army.  One regiment of 3rd Parachute Division and over half of a second division could not take part in the initial 6th Panzer Army attack. Likewise some Jagdpanzer and Sturmgeschutzen units did not arrive until three days after the offensive began.[xxvi]

Allied Response: Before the Battle

            While the German commanders sought to implement Hitler’s plan Allied commanders looked only to completing the destruction of Germany not believing the Germans capable of any major operation.  The Allied commanders with the exception of Patton did not believe the Germans capable of any more than local counter attacks.  Patton’s 3rd Army G-2 Colonel Koch was the only intelligence officer to credit the Germans with the ability to attack.[xxvii]  Most allied commanders and intelligence officers discounted the German ability to recover from disastrous losses, something that they should have learned in Holland or learned from the Soviet experiences on the Eastern front.  Bradley noted in his memoirs hat “I had greatly underestimated the enemy’s offensive capabilities.”[xxviii]  Carlo D’Este noted that “there was another basic reason why the Allies were about to be caught with their pants down: “Everyone at SHAEF was thinking offensively, about what they could do to the enemy, and never about what the enemy might do to them.””[xxix]   This mindset was amazing due to the amount of intelligence from Ultra and reports from frontline units that major German forces were no longer in the line.[xxx] Additionally nearly all commentators note that American units in the Ardennes did not conduct aggressive patrols to keep the enemy off balance and obtain intelligence.[xxxi]  One describes the efforts of 106th Division as “lackadaisical” and notes that enemy before the offensive was not the Germans but the cold.[xxxii] Max Hastings noted that: “the Allies’ failure to anticipate Hitler’s assault was the most notorious intelligence disaster of the war.”[xxxiii]

The Allies also were in the midst of a manpower crisis. Eisenhower did not have enough divisions to establish a clear manpower advantage as “there were not enough Anglo-American divisions, or enough replacements for casualties in the existing divisions.”[xxxiv]  No more American Infantry divisions were available as the Army had been capped at 90 divisions and infantry replacements were in short supply.  This shortage meant that Eisenhower could not pull divisions out of line to rest and refit. He could only transfer divisions such as the 4th and 28th Infantry divisions to the relative quiet of the Ardennes. He had no ability to “create a strategic reserve unless he abandoned the broad front strategy.”[xxxv] The Germans knew of the allied weakness and believed that they could achieve local superiority even if they did not believe they could reach Antwerp. Model believed that “he was sure that he would reach the Meuse in strength before the Americans could move sufficient reserves to halt his armies or even head them off.”[xxxvi]

American Response: The Breakthrough

            The German assault began on December 16th. Some breakthroughs were made especially in the vicinity of the Losheim Gap and the Schnee Eifel by the southern elements of 6th Panzer Army and Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army. However the Germans could not break through around Monschau and Elsenborn Ridge held by the inexperienced but well trained 99th Infantry division and elements of the veteran 2nd “Indianhead” Division.  In the far south near Diekirch the 4th Infantry Division held stubbornly against the attacks of 7th Army’s Volksgrenadiers. The Germans achieved their greatest success at Losheim where SS Colonel Josef Peiper and his 1st SS Panzer Regiment had driven off the US 14th Cavalry Group and penetrated 6 miles into the American front.  5th Panzer Army made several breakthroughs and isolated two regiments of newly arrived 106th Infantry Division in the Schnee Eifel. Manteufel also pressed the 28th Division hard along the Clerf River, Skyline Ridge and Clairvaux.  Yet at ‘no point on that first day did the Germans gain all of their objectives.”[xxxvii]  The credit goes to US units that stubbornly held on, but also to the poor performance of many German infantry units.  German commanders were frustrated by their infantry’s failure even as the panzers broke through the American lines.  Manteuffel noted his infantry was “incapable of carrying out the attack with the necessary violence.”[xxxviii]

US Airborne Commanders James Gavin (R) and Matthew Ridgeway (L)

            The initial Allied command response to the attack by senior commanders varied.  Bradley believed it was a spoiling attack “to try and force a shift of Patton’s troops from the Saar offensive back to the Ardennes.”[xxxix] Courtney Hodges of 1st Army agreed with Bradley and refused to allow General Gerow, commander of V Corps to call off 2nd Infantry Division’s attack against the Roer dams on the 16th in order to face the German offensive.[xl]  Gerow was one of the first American commanders to recognize the scope of the German attack but Hodges, perhaps the least competent senior American commander in Europe failed to heed Gerow’s advice. Soon after making this decision Hodges “panicked” and evacuated his headquarters at Spa fearing that it would be overrun by the advancing Germans.[xli] Eisenhower when informed of the news realized that something major was occurring and ordered the 7th Armored Division from the 9th Army and 10th Armored Division from 3rd Army into the Ardennes. On the 17th he made other dispositions and released the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions from SHAEF reserve at Rheims to the Ardennes under the command of XVIII Airborne Corps.[xlii]  However during this short amount of time Mantueffel’s panzers had advanced 20 miles.

SS Panzer Troops of Kampfgruppe Knittel on the advance.  Photo has often been identified for decades in books and other publications as Waffen-SS Colonel Joachim Peiper the commanding officer of the 1st SS Panzer Regiment and Kampfgruppe Peiper. This has been refuted by recent study.  Peiper is pictured below.

            At the command level Eisenhower made a controversial, but correct decsion to divide the command of the Bulge placing on a temporary basis all forces in the northern sector under Montgomery and leaving those to the south under Bradley.  Montgomery according to one commentary initially “had been astonishingly tactful in handing his American subordinates.”[xliii] However he quickly made himself obnoxious to many American commanders.[xliv] Following the battle Montgomery made the situation worse by claiming to have saved the Americans and giving credit to British units which scarcely engaged during the battle.[xlv]  Eisenhower also ordered Patton to launch a counter-attack along the southern flank of the German advance.  However Patton was already working on such an eventuality and promised to be able to launch a counterattack with three divisions by the 22nd.[xlvi]  Bradley praised Patton highly in his memoirs noting: “Patton’s brilliant shift of 3rd Army from its bridgehead in the Saar to the snow-covered Ardennes front became one of the most astonishing feats of generalship of our campaign in the West.”[xlvii]

American Response: the Shoulder’s Hold

                The 99th Division’s position was precarious, its right flank was subject to being turned and it was suffering severely at the hands of 12 SS Panzer and several Volksgrenadier divisions.  Gerow reinforced the 99th with elements of the 2nd Infantry division even before he had the final authorization to end its attack.  The two divisions stubbornly held Elsenborn Ridge and the villages of Rockerath, Krinkelt and Büllingen. By the 20th the 9th and 1st Infantry divisions arrived to strengthen the defense and lengthen the line to prevent it from being rolled up by the Germans.  The stubborn resistance of the Americans and arrival of reinforcements meant line was proof “against anything Sepp Dietrich might hurl against it”[xlviii]  By the 23rd Dietrich and 6th SS Panzer Army conceded defeat at Elsenborn and “turned its offensive attentions to other sectors.”[xlix]  German commanders like General Priess the commander of 1st SS Panzer Corps believed that terrain and road network in this sector was unfavorable to the German offensive and had proposed moving the attack further south.[l]  The Panzers could not deploy properly and the German infantry was not up to the task of driving the Americans out of their positions before the reinforcements arrived.

In the south the 4th Infantry Division held the line though heavily pressed by Brandenburger’s 7th Army.  The division was reinforced by elements of both 9th and 10th Armored divisions on the 17th and generally held its line along the Sauer River around Echternach “largely because the left flank of the enemy assault lacked the power-and particularly the armor-of the thrust farther north.”[li]

Turning Point: The Destruction of Kampfgruppe Peiper

            While V Corps fought the 6th Panzer Army to a standstill, to the south 1st SS Panzer Division led by Kampfgrüppe Peiper split the seam between V Corps and VIII Corps. The Kampfgrüppe moved west leaving a brutal path of destruction in its wake, including massacres of American POWs and Belgian civilians.[lii]  However its advance was marked with difficulty. On the night of the 17th it failed to take Stavelot. After clearing the American defenders from the town after a hard fight on the 19th it failed to capture a major American fuel dump a few miles beyond the town.  When the Germans approached the American commander ordered his troops to pour 124,000 gallons down the road leading to the dump and set it on fire, depriving the Germans of badly needed fuel.[liii]  Combat Engineers from the 291st Engineer Battalion blew a key bridge across the Ambleve at Trois Ponts and another bridge across the Lienne Creek which left the Germans bottled up in the Ambleve River valley.  This bought time for the 30th Infantry Division to set up positions barring Peiper from the Meuse.  The 30th would be joined by Combat Command B of 3rd Armored Division and elements of 82nd Airborne. These units eventually forced Peiper to abandon his equipment and extricate some 800 troops by foot by the 23rd after a hard fight with the Americans who had barred his every effort to break through to the Meuse.

Turning Point: The Crossroads: St Vith & Bastogne

            The battle rapidly became focused on key roads and junctions, in particular St. Vith in the north and Bastogne in the south.  At St. Vith the 7th Armored Division under General Hasbrouck, who Chester Wilmont calls one of the “great men of the Ardennes”[liv] completed a fifty mile road march from Aachen to St. Vith.  On his arrival he deployed his combat commands around the town which was the key to the road network in the north and also to the only rail line running west through the Ardennes.[lv]  Hasbrouck gathered in Colonel Hoge’s Combat Command B of 9th Armored Division and the 424th Infantry Regiment of the 106th Division into his defensive scheme as well as the survivors of the 112th Infantry Regiment of the 28th Infantry Division which had escaped the German onslaught after holding as long as possible along the Clerf River and Skyline Drive.[lvi]  With these units Hasbrouck conducted “an eight-day stand that was as critical and courageous, as the defense of Bastogne.”[lvii]  After holding the Germans at St. Vith the units were withdrawn to another defensive position along the Salm and Ourthe Rivers and the village of Viesalm.  This was done at the behest of Montgomery and General Ridgeway of XVII Airborne Corps whose 82nd Airborne had moved into that area on the 19th.  The arrival of the 82nd greatly assisted Hasbrouck’s force holding St. Vith whose defenders had lost an estimated 5000 casualties.[lviii]

The stand at St. Vith confined the “confined the Sixth Panzer Army’s penetration to a chokingly narrow corridor.”[lix]  It also posed a problem for German command and control which because it was out of the 6th Panzer Army’s area of operations Dietrich was unable to lend his weight into the fight.  “Hitler himself had strictly prohibited deviations from the zonal boundaries”[lx] which left the fight for St. Vith in the hands of 5th Panzer Army who felt the impact of the stand as the Americans “also choked off one of the Fifth Panzer Army’s best routes to Bastogne, almost nullifying the significance of the captured road junction at Houffalize.”[lxi]

To the south of St. Vith lay Bastogne, another key road junction needed by 5th Panzer Army for its advance.  On the night of the18th Panzer Lehr division came within two miles of the town before being checked by resistance by units of the 10th Armored division, remnants of 28th Division and misdirection by “friendly” Belgian guides onto a muddy path that helped halt their advance.[lxii]  This gave the 101st Airborne just enough time to get to the town and prevent its capture. The siege of Bastogne and its defense by the 101st elements of 9th and 10th Armored Divisions and 28th Division became an epic stand against Manteuffel’s Panzers which had surged around the town.  Wilmont comments that “had the Germans won the race for Bastogne, Manteuffel’s armor would have had a clear run to Dinant and Namur on December 19th and 20th[lxiii] when there were only scattered American units between them and the Meuse. Manteuffel b bypassed Bastonge after the failure to capture it and masked it with 26th Volksgrenadier Division and a regiment of Panzer Lehr.  The remainder of Panzer Lehr and the 2nd Panzer Division moved to the west. [lxiv]  The garrison endured numerous attacks and on the 22nd one of the most celebrated incidents of the war took place when Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe responded to a demand for the surrender of the town with the reply; “Nuts.”  The town would continue to hold until relieved by 3rd Army on the afternoon of December 26th.[lxv]

Allied Response: The Counterattack

 

            The Allied counterattack began with 3rd Army in the south on 21 December.  Patton’s initially proposed to attack toward the base of the Bulge in order to cut off the largest number of Germans possible.  Eisenhower dictated an attack further west with the goal of relieving Bastogne.  Eisenhower wanted to delay the attack to concentrate combat power while Patton wanted to attack sooner in order to ensure surprise. Patton got his way but attacked on a wide front.  The attack lost its impetus and bogged down into a slugging match with 7th Army’s infantry and paratroops along the southern flank. [lxvi]  Patton’s failure to concentrate his forc forces for the advance to the north diminished his combat power.[lxvii] While Patton attacked from the south the 1st Army dealt with the advanced spearhead of 2nd Panzer Division which had reached the town of Celles and ran out of gas just four miles from Dinant and the Meuse. The 84th Infantry Division stopped the 116th Panzer division from being able to effect a relief of the 2nd Panzer the US 2nd Armored Division and allied fighter bombers chopped up the virtually immobile 2nd Panzer division completing that task by the 26th.[lxviii]

To the north Montgomery launched a cautious counterattack which slowly and methodically took back lost ground but allowed many Germans to escape. While Montgomery moved south Patton faced heavy German resistance from elements of 5th Panzer Army, reinforced by 1st SS Panzer Corps and 7th Army.  The rupture in the American front was not repaired until 17 January when the American forces met at Houffalize.[lxix] Bradley took over for Montgomery and the Americans pushed the Germans slowly back across the Clerf River by the 23rd.  The advance was hampered by tough German resistance and terrible weather which forced much of the attack to be made by dismounted troops as the roads had completely frozen over.[lxx]

The Allied counter attack has been criticized for allowing too many Germans to escape what could have been a major encirclement.  Patton recognized the incompleteness of the victory in the Ardennes stating: ““We want to catch as many Germans as possible, but he is pulling out.” The “but” clause, the note of regret, the awareness of the imperfection of his victories typified Patton.””[lxxi]  Patton in his memoirs notes: “In making the attack we were wholly ignorant of what was ahead of us, but we were determined to strike through to Bastogne.”[lxxii] Max Hastings simply said: “the Allies were content with success.”[lxxiii]  Murray and Millett place blame on Bradley and Hodges for choosing “merely to drive the enemy out of the Ardennes rather than destroy him.”[lxxiv]

Analysis: Could Wacht Am Rhein Have Worked?

          Could Wacht am Rhein worked?  If much was different, yes.  If the German had been stronger in tanks and vehicles and had adequate stocks of fuel; if their infantry was better trained, and had the Americans not resisted so stubbornly it might have at least got to the Meuse.  Perhaps if the the bad weather held keeping Allied air forces away from the Germans, or had St. Vith and Bastogne been taken by the 18th or 19th, they might have reached the Meuse.  Had the Germans executed their plan and coordinated their assault better[lxxv] in the 6th Panzer Army sector and had the 7th Army enough strength to conduct offensive operations in depth and secure the left flank the attack might have succeeded.  Because the Americans held the shoulders and road junctions, Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army, the only force besides the regimental sized Kampfgrüppe Peiper to actually threaten the Meuse was forced to advance while attempting to take Bastogne and defeat 3rd Army’s counterattack. Whether they could have made Antwerp is another matter.  Nearly all German commanders felt the offensive could not take Antwerp but did believe that they could inflict a defeat on the Allies and destroy a significant amount of allied combat power.

The German offense was a desperate gamble.  Too few divisions, scant supplies of petrol, formations that had recently been rebuilt and not given enough time to train to the standard needed for offensive operations coupled with Hitler’s insistence on an unalterable plan kept them from success.  At the same time the Allies were weak in troops as Eisenhower had no strategic reserve save the two American Airborne Divisions.  All reinforcements to the threatened sector had to come from the flanks and by the middle of the battle the 9th Army was drawn down to two divisions. Russell Weigley notes the constraints imposed by the 90 division Army, and of the limited stocks of artillery ammunition.[lxxvi] If the Germans had more forces they might have inflicted a significant defeat on the Allies had they been able to reinforce their success in depth.  Despite this they still inflicted punishing losses on the Americans though suffering greatly themselves.  Hastings notes that the real beneficiaries of the Ardennes offensive were the Russians.[lxxvii]  It is unlikely that the offensive could have ever achieved Hitler’s goals of taking Antwerp and fracturing the British-American alliance.

A Note About other Parts of the Campaign in France

The Riviera and Rhone

            The campaign in south France was strategically wise although opposed by the British to the last minute because they felt it would take away from Overlord.[lxxviii] Though delayed the campaign was well executed by 7th Army, particularly Lt. General Lucian Truscott’s VI Corps of 3 American divisions. Truscott believed “destroying the enemy army was the goal”[lxxix] managed the battle well and skillfully maneuvered his small forces against Blaskowitz’s 19th Army inflicting heavy losses, though some German commanders noted the caution of American infantry in the attack.[lxxx]  Only Blaskowitz’s tactical skills and the weakness of the American force prevented the Germans from disaster. The seizure of Marseilles and Toulon provided the allies with sorely needed ports that were invaluable to sustain the campaign.[lxxxi]

The Lorraine Campaign

            Patton attacked in the Lorraine with the goal of crossing the Moselle and attempting to break into Germany. He doing so he ran into some of the strongest German forces on the front and bogged down in the poor terrain and mud of the region.[lxxxii]  Patton was delayed in making his assault due to his place “at the far end of the logistics queue.”[lxxxiii] German forces skillfully defended the ancient fortress of city Metz forcing the Americans into a protracted campaign to clear the area with the last strongpoint surrendering on 13 December.  Patton is criticized for his failure to concentrate his forces[lxxxiv] but American tactics were less to blame than the weather, German resistance and shortages of infantry.[lxxxv] In some cases American infantry units performed admirably, particularly 80th Division’s assault on the Falkenburg Stellung.[lxxxvi]Liddell Hart criticized the Allies for failing to attack through the then weakly defended Ardennes, commenting: “By taking what appeared to be the easier paths into Germany the Allies met greater difficulties.”[lxxxvii]

The Huertgen Forrest

            The Huertgen Forrest was the worst managed American fight Western European campaign. [lxxxviii] General Courtney Hodges leadership was poor.[lxxxix] In the Huertgen he fed division after division into a battle that made no strategic sense.  American infantry performed poorly and took extremely heavy casualties leaving four divisions shattered.[xc]  Poor American tactics demonstrated by attacking into a forest in poor weather without concentration negated all of Hodges’ advantages in tanks, artillery and airpower. The forest contained no significant German forces capable of threatening any American advance[xci] and its gain offered little advantage.[xcii] Hastings noted that the gains the only saving grace was that it made it easier for the northern shoulder of the Bulge to hold[xciii]   General Model and his subordinates expertly handled their handful of excellent but weary divisions in this battle using terrain, weather and prepared defensive positions to contest nearly every yard of the Forrest.[xciv]

Conclusions

            The lessons of the Bulge and the other campaigns on the German-French border are many and can be gleaned from Allied and German mistakes. On the Allied side the most glaring mistakes were assumptions prior to the German attack that the Germans were incapable of any serious offensive and ignoring the fact that the Germans had attacked through the Ardennes in 1940.  Likewise the self limitation of the American Army to 90 divisions for world-wide service meant that there were no more divisions in the pipeline and that worn out divisions would have to be reinforced with inexperienced troops while in the front line which ensured a lack of cohesiveness in many divisions, especially the infantry.  Allied intelligence failures as well as their reliance of forces much smaller than they should have had for such a campaign ensured that they would suffer heavy losses in the Bulge while poor planning and execution by Hodges wasted many good troops in a senseless battle.  The Germans were hamstrung by Hitler’s fantasy that the Western Allies could be forced out of the war or the Alliance split by a defeat in the Ardennes.  Likewise German forces, even those so quickly reconstituted were often short troops, tanks and vehicles.  German commanders were forced by Hitler’s rigid insistence on not altering the plan to not be as flexible as they might have been in earlier offensives to adjust according to the situation on the ground.


[i] Dupay, Trevor N.  Hitler’s Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge December 1944-January 1945Harper Collins Publishers, New York NY 1994 p.2.

[ii] Hastings, Max. Armageddon:  The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred A Knopf, New York NY 2004 p.197.

[iii] Reynolds, Michael. Sons of the Reich: II SS Panzer Corps; Normandy, Arnhem, Ardennes, and on the Eastern Front.  Casemate Publishing, Havertown PA 2002 p.186

[iv] Ibid. p.198

[v] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-1945 translated by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, San Francisco, CA 1964. p. 480

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Liddell Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Originally published 1948, Quill Publishers Edition, New York 1979 p.274.

[viii] Liddell Hart, B.H. The History of the Second World War G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York NY 1970. p.646.

[ix] MacDonald, Charles B. A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge William Morrow and Company, New York, NY 1985 p.35.

[x] [x] Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General.DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. p.329

[xi] Ibid. Hastings p.198.  Hastings quotes Dietrich: “All Hitler wants me to do is cross a river, capture Brussels, then go on and take Antwerp. And all this at the worst time of year through the Ardennes when the snow is waist-deep and there isn’t enough room to deploy four tanks abreast let alone armored divisions. When it doesn’t get light until eight and it’s dark again by four and with re-formed divisions made up chiefly of kids and sick old men-and at Christmas.”

[xii] Ibid. Liddell-Hart The German Generals Talk p.276

[xiii] Wilmont, Chester. The Struggle for Europe Harper and Brothers Publishers, New York, NY 1952 p.576

[xiv] Ibid. p.557.

[xv] Ibid. Hastings. p.199. Hastings notes that Manteuffel said: “It was not that his soldiers now lacked determination of drive; what they lacked were weapons and equipment of every sort. Von Manteuffel also considered the German infantry ill trained.”

[xvi] Ibid. Dupay.p.47  Dupay notes that in 3rd Parachute Division that most of the regimental commanders had no combat experience.

[xvii] Weigley, Russell  F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign in France and Germany 1944-1945. Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN 1981 p.432.  Weigley speaks of Allied caution and predictable strategy, caution in logistical planning which did not allow the Allies to provide the fuel needs for a rapid drive into Germany and caution of operational commanders.

[xviii] Liddell Hart discusses the issue of paratroops at length in discussions with Manteuffel and General Kurt Student. At the time of the operation there were very few jump trained paratroops available for the operation as most of the 6 organized Parachute Divisions were committed to battle as infantry during the 1944 battles in the East, Italy and in the West. German Generals Talk pp.282-285.  Although Liddell Hart makes note of the employment of these troops and talked with Model and student about why they were not used to seize bridges and other critical terrain featured ahead of the Panzers instead of the use as a blocking force, I have found no one who questioned why the Germans did not use small glider detachments for the same purpose.  The Germans had demonstrated with Skorzeny when they rescued Mussolini from his mountain prison that they still retained this capability.  The use of the SS Paratroop battalion which could have been assigned to Skorzeny as a glider borne force could have been decisive in capturing the key bridges and terrain ahead of 6th Panzer Army.

[xix] Skorzeny’s operation was Operation Greif designed to sow confusion in the Allied Ranks.  His brigade numbered about 3500 men and had a good number of captured US vehicles including some tanks and tank-destroyers on hand to confuse American units that they came in contact with.

[xx] Ibid. Hastings.  p. 199.  Hastings quotes the Adjutant of 18th Volksgrenadier Division who “felt confident of his unit’s officers, but not of the men “some were very inexperienced and paid the price.”  MacDonald notes that the division had many Navy and Air Force replacements but was at full strength. p.646.

[xxi] See MacDonland pp. 644-655 for a detailed commentary on the German Order of Battle.

[xxii] Reynolds, Michael. Men of Steel: 1st SS Panzer Corps;  The Ardennes and Eastern Front 1944-1945 Sarpendon Publishers, Rockville Center NY, 1999. pp.36-37.  Reynolds notes that the 1st SS Panzer Regiment only had 36 Panthers and 34 Mark IV Panzers to begin the operation (excluding the attached 501st SS Heavy Tank Battalion).  He also notes that many of the tank crew replacements had no more than 6 weeks of military training and some of the tank crews had never been in a tank.  Similar problems were found in all the Panzer Divisions.  Severe shortages of armored half tracks, reconnaissance vehicles and other vehicles meant that Panzer Grenadier and Motorized battalions lacked the lift needed and some went on foot or on bicycles.

[xxiii] Ibid. Reynolds. Sons of the Reich. P.183

[xxiv] Ibid. MacDonald. p.44.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid. Dupay pp. 27-28.

[xxvii] Ibid. MacDonald. p.52.  MacDonald notes that Koch warned that the Germans were not finished, that “his withdraw, though continuing has not been a rout or mass collapse.” He calls Koch a “lone voice” in the Allied intelligence world.

[xxviii] Bradley, Omar  N. A Soldier’s Story Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 1951. p.459.  Weigley makes some poignant calling Bradley’s comments  “contradictory” and states that: “his apologia is hardly a model of coherence. (p.461)

[xxix]  D’Este, Carlo. Eisenhower: A Soldier’s Life Owl Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York NY 2002. p.638

[xxx] Dupay and others talk about this in detail. See Dupay pp. 35-44.

[xxxi] Ibid. p.38.

[xxxii] Ibid. Hastings. p.201

[xxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.199

[xxxiv] Ibid. Weigley. p.464

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Wilmont. P.581.

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.583

[xxxviii] Ibid. Hastings. p.223

[xxxix] Ibid. Weigley. P.457

[xl] Ibid. p.471

[xli] Ibid. Hastings. pp.205-206

[xlii] Ibid. Wilmont. pp.583-584

[xliii] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge Massachusetts and London England, 2000 p.470 The authors must base their conclusion on the fact that Montgomery who mentioned to Eisenhower that Hodges might have to be relieved, did not do so and by the next day told Eisenhower that the action was not needed.  A  few other American commanders in the north were favorable to Montgomery but this appears to be a minority view.

[xliv] Ibid. Weigley. pp.504-506.  Weigley and Wilmont both note the comment of a British Staff Officer the Montgomery “strode into Hodges HQ like Christ come to cleanse the temple.” (Wilmont p.592)

[xlv] Ibid. Hastings. pp.230-232.  Hastings is especially critical of Montgomery.  Weigley, equally critical notes regarding  the January 7th press conference, Montgomery’s “inability to be self critical at any point.” p.566.

[xlvi] Ibid. Weigley. p.500.

[xlvii] Ibid. Bradley. p.472  Other commentators differ in their view of Patton’s movement.  Wilmont notes that Patton had no “equal in the on the Allied side in the rapid deployment of troops. (p.589) Weigley urges readers that “it should be kept in appropriate perspective; it was not a unique stroke of genius.” And he compares it to Guderians disengagement with Panzer Group 4 and 90 degree change of direction and assault against the Kiev pocket in the 1941 Russian campaign (p.500)  Hastings notes that “Patton had shown himself skilled in driving his forces into action and gaining credit for their successes. But he proved less effective in managing a tough, tight battle on the southern flank.” (p.230)  Regardless of the perspective and criticism Patton’s movement was unequaled by any Allied commander in the war and had he not moved so quickly the 101st Airborne might not have held Bastogne. Admittedly his attack north was dispersed along a wide front but part of the blame for this must be assigned to Eisenhower who dictated the attack toward the west vice the base of the Bulge where Patton desired to make it.  A note I would make is that being a cavalryman Patton thought like one and when faced with the tight battles in close quarters was not at his best.  Similar comparisons could be made to J.E.B. Stuart at Chancellorsville when he had to take command of Jackson’s Corps.

[xlviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.475

[xlix] Ibid. p.474

[l] Ibid. Reynolds Men of Steel pp.51-52.

[li] Ibid. Weigley. p.470

[lii] The worst of these took place at the village of Malmedy where Battery B 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion of 7th Armored Division was captured and about 150 soldiers were rounded up and machined gunned in a field with survivors killed with pistol shots in the head.

[liii] Ibid. Weigley. pp.478-479.

[liv] Ibid. Wilmont. p.584

[lv] Ibid. Weigley. p.487

[lvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.486-487

[lvii] Ibid. Hastings. p.215. Hastings gives most of the credit to Brigadier General Bruce Clarke of CCB 7th Armored Division for the stand.

[lviii] Ibid. MacDonald. 481-487.  MacDonald notes that following the war that the commanders of the units involved “would be grateful to Field Marshal Montgomery for getting them out of what they saw as a deathtrap for their commands. (p.487)

[lix] Ibid. Weigley. p.487

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

[lxii] Ibid. Hastings. p.217 Also  MacDonald. p.289 who talks of the confused situation east of Bastogne both for the Americans and Germans.

[lxiii] Ibid. Wilmont. p.598

[lxiv] Ibid. Liddel Hart. The German Generals Talk. p.288

[lxv] The defense of Bastogne would continue until after the 1st of January as Hitler renewed the attempts to secure the town in order to push on to the Meuse. Other German formations including units of 1st SS Panzer Corps shifted south from their original attack would make determined efforts to dislodge the stubborn American defenders.

[lxvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.500-501.  Bradley gives Patton more credit than later commentators. Wilmont notes that the Germans though “amazed at the speed with which Patton had disengaged from the Saar and wheeled them northward…they received due warning of his movement by monitoring the radio net which controlled American traffic, and they were braced to meet his assault. (p.599).

[lxvii] Ibid. Weigely. Pp.520-521

[lxviii] Ibid.  pp.535-537

[lxix] Ibid. pp. 558-561

[lxx] Ibid. pp.563-564

[lxxi] Ibid. p.566.

[lxxii] Patton, George S. War as I Knew It  Originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company NY 1947, Bantam Paperback Edition,  Bantam Books, New York, NY 1980 p.364

[lxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.230

[lxxiv] Ibid. Murray and Millett p.471.

[lxxv] Hastings notes that “Tactically, the Ardennes was one of the worst-conducted German battles of the war, perhaps reflecting that none of the generals giving the orders saw any prospect of success. (p.236)

[lxxvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.567-572

[lxxvii] Ibid. Hastings. p.236-237.  Hastings believes that the employment of the 5th and 6th Panzer Armies in the East “made the task of Zhukov and his colleagues much harder.”

[lxxviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.236. I find it interesting that neither Hastings nor Liddell Hart mention the Riviera and Rhone campaign.

[lxxix] Ibid. Weigley. p.236

[lxxx] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz  Hippocrene Books Inc. New York NY, 1997. p.328

[lxxxi] Ibid.  Weigley comments on how much the overall supply situation was aided by the operation and capture of the ports and notes that the pace of the Cobra breakout had created a crisis in supply and “without the southern French ports the crisis would have been insurmountable.” (p.237)

[lxxxii] Ibid. p.397.  Weigley notes: “The immobilizing mud and the enemy’s recalcitrant resistance had fragmented the battle into affairs of squads, platoons, companies and battalions….and Patton’s juniors more than he controlled the course of action, to the extent that control was possible.”

[lxxxiii] Ibid. p.384

[lxxxiv] Ibid. p.390 Weigley states: “The American disinclination to concentrate power was rarely more apparent.” comparing the frontages of 1st, 9th and 3rd Armies and notes that Patton attacked along his entire front.”

[lxxxv] Ibid. Weigley. pp.400-401.  Weigley spends a fair amount of time on American infantry shortages in 3rd Army.

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Weigly. P.400.  Weigley notes a German General Wellm attributed part of that victory to the “prowess of the American infantry.”

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Liddell Hart. The History of the Second World War p.560

[lxxxviii] Hastings and Weigley both note how many American division and regimental commanders were relieved of command for their failures in the Huertgen.

[lxxxix] Ibid. Hastings. p.179.  Hastings notes that “instead of recognizing the folly of attacking on terrain that suited the Germans so well, Courtney Hodges reinforced failure.”

[xc] Ibid. Weigley. p.420.  Weigley notes the high numbers of ballet and non battle casualties in the 4th, 8th, 9th and 28th Divisions as well as CCR of 5th Armored and 2nd Ranger Battalion.

[xci] Ibid. Hastings. p.275.  Hastings notes that defending 275th Division “were poor grade troops who-like the garrison of Aachen posed no plausible threat to the flanks of an American advance to the Roer.”

[xcii] Weigley compares the battle in its effect on the American army to Grants “destruction of the Confederate army in the Wilderness-Spotsylvania-Cold Harbor campaign expended many proud old Union army formations…” (p.438)

[xciii] Ibid. Hastings. p.215

[xciv] Ibid. Newton. p.324

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The Battle that Wasn’t Necessary: Kursk 1943

The Battle of Kursk was the climactic battle on the Eastern Front from which the Germans never recovered. It was a battle that should not have been fought, at least at the time that it was fought. It was high risk operation with minimal payoff should it succeed. A while back I posted an “alternative history” of this entitled “Operation DACHS.” I have also posted articles on events leading up to Kursk, one on Stalingrad and the other on Manstein’s counter-stroke.  In a sense this is a trilogy with an alternative scenario included.

 

The German Situation and Dilemma in April 1943

Battle_of_Kursk_(map)

The Germans faced a dilemma in April 1943.  Manstein’s brilliant counter-stroke had turned what could have been disaster into an opportunity to salvage prospects for the Eastern Front. The German action had “repaired its front, shattered the hopes of the Allies, and nipped the Russian spearhead.”[i] Unfortunately for the Germans the spring thaw meant that Manstein could not continue immediately and eliminate the Kursk bulge which had been formed by Rokossovky’s offensive and Manstein’s own counter-stroke.  With the Germans stalled by the weather Stavka cancelled “other significant planned offensives to dispatch reinforcements to the Kursk region.”[ii] Despite the weather Manstein pushed Kluge for an immediate attack on both sides of the bulge but was rebuffed by Kluge who “insisted that his troops needed to rest and refit.”[iii] This rebuff combined with the onset of the Russian mud meant that in “March 1943 the war on the ground came to an end….The front was immobilized.”[iv]

manstein with tanksManstein with Tiger I Tanks

Manstein’s offensive had “enabled the Germans to consolidate a firm position in the East, and build up strength afresh- not to its former level, but sufficient to provide a good prospect of holding the Russians at bay.”[v] As a result German armies in the south “held again nearly the same positions from which the Blau offensive had begun the previous spring.”[vi] Now the Kursk bulge some 250 Kilometers wide and 160 Kilometers deep[vii] protruded menacingly into the German lines and drew the attention of both sides, to the Germans it appeared to be designed for an encirclement battle.[viii] Thus it appeared that the Kursk bulge was the obvious place for the Germans to resume the offensive and maintain the initiative on the Eastern Front.

But was the Kursk necessary?  Was Operation ZITADELLE as obvious as it seemed to be to Hitler, Zeitzler and others?  The battle is the subject of many books and articles which often focus on tactical and operational details of the German offensive, particularly the battle on the southern side of the bulge and the clash of armor at Prokhorovka.  This essay will focus less on the battle and more on the strategic situation faced by the Germans in the spring of 1943. Key to this are the arguments for and against the operation, the operations timing and the option that the Germans had to conduct a mobile defense.   It is the strategic situation that must be looked at to determine whether Operation ZITADELLE was necessary at all. Manstein believed that had the offensive been launched early enough that it might have succeeded provided it “we launched it early enough we could hope to catch them in a state of unpreparedness.”[ix] Williamson Murray and Allan Millett agree with Manstein’s assessment but note that an early offensive was “riskier…but greater the prospect for a major success.”[x] Guderian on the other hand saw that nothing good could come of ZITADELLE and opposed it from the beginning.[xi] Glantz and House in their detailed study argue that “there is absolutely no basis for assuming that Citadel would have succeeded had it been launched in spring 1943.”[xii]

battle_kursk t 34The Soviets Reinforced and Fortified the Kursk Salient

The Germans faced a number of major problems in early 1943.  First, among them was manpower.  The armed forces had been mauled on the Eastern Front, “after continuous operations from June 1942 to March 1943, most German units were worn out.”[xiii] Many infantry divisions “were reduced to two thirds of their original strength, with declining mobility and anti-tank defenses.”[xiv] Had the Germans only faced the Russians this might have been overcome, however they not only faced a rejuvenated Red Army, but challenges brought about by multi-theater operations and their weak, ineffective and reluctant allies.  The Allied air offensive which though it “did not decisively effect German arms production it nevertheless prevented a great deal of work from being carried on and had profound moral effects which communicated themselves to all the fronts.”[xv] Likewise the U-Boat campaign had been effectively defeated by May 1943 allowing for increasing numbers of American troops and supplies to reach Europe, including significant Lend-Lease aide for the Soviet Union.  Manpower became a major issue for the the German Army and industry.  Both the military and industryhad difficulty in getting the required number of personnel to meet their personnel needs, in January 1943 the German High Command “demanded 800,000 men-but even the most ruthless call-up was able to produce only 400,000” who were lost to the civilian war economy.[xvi] Even the “belated industrial mobilization of Germany, fueled by slave labor and directed by the organizational genius of men like Speer and Guderian, could do little beyond patching together existing units.”[xvii]

Bild 101I-139-1112-17General Heinz Guderian, Inspector of Panzer Troops was one of Few Senior German Officers to Oppose ZITADELLE from the Beginning

There were other challenges. The German and Italian armies in North Africa had surrendered, and about 330,000 Axis soldiers entered captivity.[xviii] Added to the heavy losses on the Eastern Front, the disasters in North Africa and Stalingrad had “effectively destroyed the Axis military alliance, such as it was.”[xix] Italy, Hungary and Romania all began to pull their forces out of the Eastern front after having them shattered by the Soviet Winter offensive.[xx] Italy, shaken by its losses in North Africa and the Russian front was wavering in its support for Germany; Mussolini’s government itself was on the verge of falling.  Likewise the Hungarian government sought contact with the Allies;[xxi] as did the Romanians.[xxii] Finland too was looking for a way out and limiting its participation in German offensive operations.[xxiii] As her allies looked for a way out, the British and Americans were about to open a new front in Southern Europe, while another had effectively been opened by partisans in Yugoslavia and Greece.[xxiv] The crisis in the south was great enough that OKW under General Jodl began to look at ways of shoring up those fronts in case Italy withdrew from the war including the use of units that would have to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front.[xxv] The Balkans drained German reserves such that the number of German divisions deployed there increased from 5 to 15 between July 1942 and July 1943.[xxvi] Additionally many units had to be created by the Replacement Army to build up the Western Front knowing that an Allied strike there would eventually take place, further depriving the Eastern Front of badly needed infantry replacements and divisions.

Benito_Mussolini_and_Adolf_HitlerHitler Felt Regaining the Initiative in the East was Critical to Keeping his Allies in the War

The German Options and Decision

The question for the Germans now was whether they “had any strategic options that would allow them to avoid defeat.”[xxvii] It is from this perspective that the necessity of Kursk must be examined. Most in the German High Command now realized that strategy in the east could no longer be “based on the illusion of conquering the vast Soviet Union.”[xxviii] As such the discussion turned to what direction the new strategy should take.  Political considerations came into play: Since the German allies were looking for ways to exit the war it was felt that “it was politically impossible for Germany to surrender the initiative on the Eastern Front.”[xxix] Realistically there were two options available: Wait and counterattack or launch a limited attack on the Kursk salient. The general impression among many German commanders in the East was that they had ended the last campaign “with a relative advantage over the Reds, an advantage that should be exploited as soon as the rasputitsa ended in April or early May.”[xxx] But the only strategy that looked feasible balancing the political and military goal of maintaining the initiative was what Manstein originally had in mind after Kharkov, to continue on, pinch out the Kursk bulge with the cooperation of Kluge’s Army Group Center.  As noted the opportunity to do so was lost with Kluge’s refusal and the onset of the spring thaw.  Yet this idea captured Zeitzler at OKH and Kluge at Army Group Center, though by April and May Manstein was more inclined toward “the ‘backhand’ stroke, which involved giving up the whole Donetz basin and staging a major Panzer offensive southeast from Kharkov.”[xxxi] However, this was too bold for Hitler who was “unwilling to give up the Donetz Basin with its industrial and mineral resources.”[xxxii]

battle_kursk_tiger advancingThe New Tiger Tanks Were to Play a Critical Role in the Attack

Manstein felt that the “moment of opportunity had passed, but his counterpart at Army Group Center…Kluge, was enthusiastic about the proposal.”[xxxiii] Zeitzler believed that an “attack at Kursk would be less risky”[xxxiv] than Manstein’s “backhand” and pushed the plan to Hitler.  There were advantages to this strategy if it could be carried out successfully. The Germans would encircle and destroy Russian forces in the salient and “shorten their own defensive lines after such an encirclement.”[xxxv] Yet the plan was opposed by others. Jodl at OKW argued against ZITADELLE “because he believed that it was dangerous to empty the strategic reserve when so many new crises threatened to develop in the Mediterranean.”[xxxvi] Zeitzler countered that because of German weakness in the east that they could not “wait to be hit.”[xxxvii] Guderian did not believe that either Army Group could be ready to mount the offensive that Zeitzler envisioned and “declared that the attack was pointless…if we attacked according to the plan of the Chief of the General Staff, we were certain to suffer heavy tank casualties, which we would not be in position to replace in 1943.”[xxxviii] Guderian asked Hitler at a separate conference “why he wanted to attack at all in the East in 1943.” When Keitel expressed that the reasons were political, Guderian asked Hitler “How many people do you think even know where Kursk is? It’s a matter of profound indifference to the world whether we hold Kursk or not…”[xxxix] Guderian and Speer both pointed out technical problems in producing the Tigers and Panthers but were overruled.[xl] Hitler himself reportedly had misgivings about the attack at one point reportedly stating that “the thought of the Zitadelle operation ‘made [his] stomach turn over’”[xli] In spite of Jodl and Guderian’s warnings, his own misgivings and those of Manstein and Model in April and May, Hitler “allowed himself to be tempted once more into taking the offensive. The Kursk salient…lured him into mounting his great pincer operation known as Citadel.”[xlii] Glantz and House maintain that he could “see no alternative politically and agreed to the plan.”[xliii]

The Facts on the Ground

Kursk_T34_and_Fieldgun-px800Soviet Forces Expected the Attack and Were well Prepared to Meet it

Once the decision to attack was made the question that remained was the timing of the attack. Manstein had preferred an early attack in May, but the operation was postponed to mid-June and then to July due to the request of Model who believed that his forces were too weak and needed reinforcements.[xliv] The attack was to be one of several “limited offensives designed to consolidate the German defenses while inflicting sufficient damage on the Red Army to delay any Soviet offensive.”[xlv] But the delays insisted on by Model and agreed to by Hitler were a fatal error.  The Germans failed to “factor into their decision was the unpalatable reality that Soviet strength in the Kursk salient was growing much faster than the Wehrmacht could muster forces to attack it.”[xlvi] Not only were the Soviet forces growing they knew about the German plans and could deploy their forces to counter them and for their own offensive.[xlvii] Stalin’s generals were able to convince him not to launch an attack and instead wait on the Germans so they could attack as the Germans exhausted their strength.[xlviii] They knew of it since April and reinforced the flanks of the salient with guns and armor at a faster pace than the Germans opposite them.[xlix] At Kursk “improved intelligence collection and analysis permitted the Red Army to predict almost exactly the strategic focal point of a major German offensive.”[l] Into the bulge “Vatutin and Rokossovsky crammed seven armies.”[li] The Russians deployed in depth in heavy fortified zones and minefields along the very sectors of the bulge that the Germans intended to attack, successfully masking their preparations from the Germans. It was “a measure of Soviet self-confidence that the senior commanders were looking beyond the German attack, beyond its failure, to the first major Soviet summer offensive.”[lii] Had the Germans succeeded in pinching off the salient “they would have faced several additional defensive belts constructed to the east of the salient.”[liii]

Typically when one launches an offensive it is desirable to have numeric advantage over the defender, 3:1 is normally assumed to be sufficient. At Kursk the Germans were outnumbered by the Russians 2.3:1 in men and 1.6:1 in tanks[liv] yet somehow the offensive had now morphed from a spoiling attack into a strategic offensive, albeit with more limited objectives attacking one of the strongest points in the Russian line.  General Raus, commanding a corps in Army Detachment Kempf noted: “Considering Russian dispositions, defenses and terrain, German strength could be considered only minimally sufficient for the assigned mission.”[lv] The Chief of Staff of XLVIII Panzer Corps called Kursk “the strongest fortress in the world.”[lvi]

Danger Signs: Requests for Cancellation

keitel-jodl-hitlerGeneral Alfred Jodl at OKW Protested the Offensive Verbally and in Writing

As more delays occurred Manstein “came out in the open and protested that the operation was no longer feasible and must be abandoned, but it was too late.  The united stand of orthodox General Staff opinion, Keitel, Zeitzler, Kluge, had persuaded the Führer, whose mind, once made up, was never altered.”[lvii] Manstein felt that the idea had been to “attack the enemy before the enemy had replenished his forces and got over the reverses of the winter.”[lviii] He felt there was great danger to the Mius line and to the northern Orel bulge with each delay; and the felt the threat of an attack by the Allies in Western Europe.[lix] On 18 June Jodl and the OKW Operations Staff “recommended to Hitler that he abandon Operation Citadel in order to free strategic reserves for defense in both East and West.”[lx] Warlimont writes that Jodl “raised empathic objection to the premature commitment of the central reserves to the East; he pointed out both verbally and in writing that a local success was all that could be hoped from Operation Citadel and that it could have no strategic significance for the overall situation.”[lxi] Hitler again refused the request.  “The doubts of certain Chiefs of Staff of the attacking armies were disregarded, and in the case of Colonel von Schleinitz, answered with dismissal.”[lxii]

The Battle

battle_kursk tigersTigers Advancing

The attacking forces for ZITADELLE involved units of Army Group Center and Army Group South.  Spearheading the assault for Army Group Center was Model’s 9th Army.  2nd Army from the same Army Group took a defensive role in the center of the bulge while Army Group South’s 4th Panzer Army under Hoth and Army Detachment Kempf composed the Southern attack force.  Von Mellenthin noted that to muster the necessary divisions for the attacking armies “neighboring fronts were to be thinned out beyond the limits of prudence” and from a strategic point of view likened Citadel “to be a veritable ‘death ride.’”[lxiii] Manstein worried about stripping the Mius-Donetz salient which “had to hand over all their available forces.”[lxiv] The Germans sent 17 panzer divisions against Kursk including the elite 2nd Panzer, Grossdeutschland, Leibstandarte, Das Reich and Totenkopf. Hoth’s army was the “strongest force ever put under a single commander in the German Army.”[lxv] While the Germans assembled the Russians waited, and beginning on 1 July the “Red Army defenders were on constant alert, waiting in their bunkers for the first sign of attack.”[lxvi]

battle_kursk_0020Panzers on the Advance

ZITADELLE began on 4 July with a reconnaissance in force, the main blow scheduled for 0300 5 July. The Russians learned of the timing from a prisoner and quickly launched an artillery counter-preparation an hour prior to the German attack, disrupting it while air strikes were ordered against Luftwaffe airfields.[lxvii] Model’s 9th Army on the northern flank attacked the Russian “13th and 70th Armies on a frontage of 50 kilometers”[lxviii] with the focus being a 16 kilometer front where he concentrated 6 infantry divisions, a panzer division and all his Tiger and Ferdinand units.[lxix] He intended to break the Soviet defensive system “by constantly feeding in new units to grind down the defenses.”[lxx] The attack stalled by the 9July making minimal progress of “8 to 12 kilometers into the massive Soviet defenses.”[lxxi] A good deal of his problem was due to limited infantry strength which was  “far below established strength….moreover, the Ninth Army’s infantry- even the veterans- lacked experience in conducting set-piece attacks against prepared positions.”[lxxii] The Russians defined the battleground and forced Model into a battle determined by superior firepower on a constricted battlefield, “a game that the Wehrmacht could not win.”[lxxiii] This nullified any advantage the Germans might have had in mobility for their panzer divisions.  In savage battles to take the high ground at Ponyri station and Ol’khovatka Model’s assaults faltered.  9th Army sacrificed about 50,000 men and 400 tanks to the god of war.”[lxxiv] Model continued to attack until 12 July when the Russians launched their offensive against the Orel bulge forcing him to redeploy to counter the Russian advance.  The battle in the north became “a savage defensive battle in which considerable parts of the offensive wing of Ninth Army were involved.”[lxxv] Model’s defeat made Hoth’s task “much more challenging.”[lxxvi]

battle_kursk_t-34s and infantryT-34’s and Infantry

The Fourth Panzer Army and Army Detachment Kempf made better progress, nearly breaking through the Russian defenses after hard fighting. They penetrated “into the third Soviet defensive belt, a depth of 35 kilometers, but were stopped by Katukov’s 1st Tank Army.”[lxxvii] The critical point was reached on 11 and 12 July at Prokhorovka station when 5th Tank Army collided with 4th Panzer Army. “Over 1200 tanks from both sides were engaged in this struggle.”[lxxviii] It was the largest tank engagement of the war, over 700 tanks were destroyed and “German losses were too great to allow a decisive breakthrough.”[lxxix] Both sides took heavy casualties but the Germans could not replace theirs while the Russians still had formidable uncommitted reserves.  On 13 July the battle in the south drifted into a stalemate as XLVIII Panzer Corps and Hausser’s II SS Panzer Corps failed to break the Soviet line[lxxx] as the Russians “kept on throwing in fresh troops, and their reserves seemed inexhaustible.”[lxxxi] Manstein desired to continue the offensive as he believed that for his Army Group “the battle was now at its culminating point, that to break it off at this moment would be tantamount to throwing victory away.”[lxxxii] Although Manstein and Hoth felt that they could continue on and break the Russian line, they were now not in a position to do so. Model’s forces were in no shape to assist in the north and Manstein and Kluge were called to the Wolfsschanze by Hitler who, now preoccupied with the Allied invasion of Sicily necessitating withdraws of strong panzer forces from the east to face the threat in the west.[lxxxiii] Hitler rejected Manstein’s counsel to continue and ordered him to withdraw II SS Panzer Corps,[lxxxiv] effectively ending the ZITADELLE as the Russians launched their offensive on 17 July.

battle_kursk_destroyed panzersDestroyed Panzers

Analysis of the Decision: Zitadelle Was Not Obvious, Necessary nor Well Executed

To Hitler and the supporters of ZITADELLE the operation seemed obvious.  In the two previous years the Germans had dealt punishing blows against the Red Army and the belief of Zeitzler and others was that the Wehrmacht was still qualitatively superior to the Soviets and that even a limited offensive would succeed in its objectives.  But the conditions on the ground had changed and the Germans failed to take the change into account.  The German Army did not have the resources for an offensive of the scope of Barbarossa or Blau. However this lack of resources did not lessen the optimism of some for ZITADELLE; particularly Zeitzler and Kluge. From their perspective the offensive to pinch out the Kursk salient seemed likely to succeed.  Yet as Clark notes the offensive was defined by a “lack of imagination and adaptability….Where the old Blitzkrieg formula….was fed into the computer, with little regard for the changed conditions….” [lxxxv] Von Mellenthin comments that by attacking Kursk, the “German Army threw away all their advantages in mobile tactics, and met the Russians on ground of their own choosing.”[lxxxvi] Glantz and House attribute this to the fact that the Germans “clung to outmoded assumptions about their own superiority over their opponents” due to their previous success. They point out that the Red Army had systematically reviewed its performance after every failure,” so that “Soviet doctrine, organization, and expectations were closer to battlefield reality than were those of the senior German leadership.”[lxxxvii] The German intelligence services failed them[lxxxviii] as they failed to detect the large strategic sized force that the Soviets had concentrated in the spring of 1943.  This was a force that Glantz and House believe would have caused ZITADELLE to fail even had it occurred in May, particularly in regard to the comparatively weak German forces fielded by Manstein.[lxxxix]

An offensive with what appeared to be reasonable objectives that were believed to be within the capabilities of the Wehrmacht failed.  Hitler according to Carell “gambled away not only victory but all hope of a draw.”[xc] Manstein categorized the offensive as a “fiasco.”[xci] Guderian called it “a decisive defeat” that made it “problematical” whether the armored formations could be “rehabilitated in time to defend the Eastern Front.”[xcii] Warlimont who served at OKW commented: “Operation Citadel was more than a battle lost; it handed the Russians the initiative and we never recovered it again right up to the end of the war.”[xciii] Guderian’s biographer Kenneth Macksey wrote that “the failure at Kursk was due to the employment of a faulty plan which lacked the element of strategic as well as tactical surprise.”[xciv] Raus lists several factors for this.  However, his argument is summarized: “once we learned in May and June that this was the area in which the Russians were prepared to offer their stiffest resistance, we should have modified our plans.  Either we should have refrained from attacking at all, or the operation should have been carried out to strike the enemy not at his strongest, but at his weakest point.”[xcv]

Hitler felt that a decisive victory was needed for political and propaganda reasons, yet even a significant victory was unlikely to keep Italy in the war, even if it swayed the lesser allies to stay the course.  ZITADELLE was conducted too late to save the Italians, success in May might have given German supporters in Italy some leverage but the invasion of Sicily and the failure at Kursk emboldened Mussolini’s opponents. The Fascist Grand Council “voted to have Mussolini removed as prime minister” and King Vittorio Emmanuaele “dismissed Mussolini” who was then placed under arrest.[xcvi] Finland refused to take offensive action that might have cut the Murmansk railway[xcvii] and engaged the Americans in a round of “abortive negotiation”[xcviii] while the Hungarians and Romanians provided little assistance to the Germans, partially due to the German reluctance to assist in modernizing and rebuilding their armies.[xcix]

Of the German Generals involved it was only Guderian as Inspector of Armored Troops and Jodl at OKW who consistently opposed ZITADELLE, citing realistic assessments of strengths, risks and dangers in other theaters.  Manstein opposed it when he felt the opportunity had passed, though it was unlikely to succeed had it been launched in May as he desired.  Guderian and Jodl’s arguments proved correct in every respect. ZITADELLE engaged German the preponderance of German forces in a battle that had at best chances of local success. The offensive itself weakened and endangered the German position on all fronts.  In the end, despite the belief and decision of Hitler, Zeitzler Kluge and others in the High Command, Operation ZITADELLE was neither obvious nor necessary and played out with the disastrous results expected by those who opposed it.


[i] Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965. p. 306

[ii] Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999. p.14

[iii] Ibid. Glantz and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  p.14

[iv] Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company. p. 335

[v] Liddell-Hart, B.H. The German Generals Talk. Quill Publishing, New York, NY. 1979. Copyright 1948 by B.H. Liddell-Hart. p.212

[vi] Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986. p.163

[vii] Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995. p.157

[viii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[ix] Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958  p.447

[x] Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000. p.295

[xi] Macksey, Kenneth. Guderian: Creator of the Blitzkrieg. Stein and Day Publishing, New York, NY 1975 p.206

[xii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.261

[xiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. The Battle of Kursk. p.14

[xiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xv] Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers. p.441

[xvi] Ibid. Carell. p.336

[xvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Clash of Titans. p.174

[xviii] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964. p.312

[xix] DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005. p.174

[xx] Ibid. DiNardo. p.174. By the summer all Italians units had been withdrawn, all but two Hungarian divisions which were used in anti-partisan operations and nine Romanian divisions.

[xxi] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxiii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.180

[xxiv] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.441

[xxv] Ibid. Warlimont. pp.317-318

[xxvi] Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003. p.53

[xxvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.294

[xxviii] Ibid. Carell. p.339

[xxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.21

[xxxi] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxii] Liddell-Hart, B.H. Strategy. A Signet Book, the New American Library, New York, NY. 1974, Originally Published by Faber and Faber Ltd., London. 1954 & 1967. p.280

[xxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157

[xxxiv] Ibid. Clark. p.322

[xxxv] Ibid. Glantz and House. p.157

[xxxvi] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxvii] Ibid. Clark. p.323

[xxxviii] Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957. pp.245-246

[xxxix] Ibid. Clark. p.325.

[xl] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.157.

[xli] Ibid. Clark. p.325

[xlii] Ibid. Carell. p.341

[xliii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xliv]Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005. pp.218-219

[xlv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.21

[xlvi] Ibid. Newton. p.219

[xlvii] Ibid. Murray and Millett. p.295

[xlviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.158

[xlix] Ibid. Clark. p.326

[l] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.63

[li] Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997. pp.200-201

[lii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.159

[liii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.64

[liv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.65 This reference contains a listing of each sector and the force ratios of men, tanks and guns in each sector.

[lv] Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003. p.197

[lvi] Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)  p.81

[lvii] Ibid. Clark. p.327

[lviii] Ibid. Manstein. p.447

[lix] Ibid. Manstein. pp.447-448

[lx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.55

[lxi] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[lxii] Ibid. Goerlitz. p.445

[lxiii] Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956. p.262

[lxiv] Ibid. Manstein. p.448

[lxv] Ibid. Clark. p.328

[lxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.78

[lxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.81-84

[lxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxix] Ibid. Erickson. P.99

[lxx] Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983. p.99

[lxxi] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxii] Ibid. Newton. p.222

[lxxiii] Ibid. Newton. 234

[lxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxv] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[lxxvi] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.121

[lxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxviii] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.166

[lxxix] Ibid. Overy. p.209

[lxxx] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.215-217

[lxxxi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.274

[lxxxii] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[lxxxiii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. pp.217-218.

[lxxxiv] Ibid. Glantz and House. When Titans Clashed. p.167

[lxxxv] Ibid. Clark. pp.329-330

[lxxxvi] Ibid. Von Mellenthin. p.264

[lxxxvii] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p.269

[lxxxviii] Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York,  2006. p.227

[lxxxix] Ibid. Glantz and House. Kursk. p. 261

[xc] Ibid. Carell. p.342

[xci] Ibid. Manstein. p.449

[xcii] Ibid. Guderian. p.251

[xciii] Ibid. Warlimont. p.334

[xciv] Ibid. Macksey. Guderian p.206

[xcv] Ibid. Raus. p.211

[xcvi] Ibid. DiNardo. p.178

[xcvii] Ibid. DiNardo. p.181

[xcviii] Ibid. Erickson. p.91

[xcix] Ibid. DiNardo. pp.182-188

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. Scorched Earth: The Russian German War 1943-1944. Translated by Ewald Osers, Ballantine Books, New York, NY 1971, published in arrangement with Little-Brown and Company

Clark, Allan. Barbarossa:  The Russian-German Conflict 1941-45. Perennial, an Imprint of Harper Collins Books, New York, NY 2002. Originally published by William Morrow, New York, NY 1965

DiNardo, Richard L. Germany and the Axis Powers: From Coalition to Collapse. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 2005

Dunn, Walter S. Jr. Heroes or Traitors: The German Replacement Arm, the July Plot, and Adolf Hitler. Praeger Publishers, Westport CT and London, 2003

Erickson, John. The Road to Berlin. Cassel Military Paperbacks, London, 2003. First Published by Weidenfeld and Nicholson, 1983

Glantz, David M and House, Jonathan. The Battle of Kursk.  University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1999.

Glantz, David M. and House, Jonathan. When Titans Clashed: How the Red Army Stopped Hitler. University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, KS. 1995

Goerlitz, Walter. History of the German General Staff 1657-1945. Translated by Brian Battershaw. Westview Press. Boulder CO and London. 1985 Originally published as Der Deutsche Generalstab, Verlag der Fankfurter Hefte, Frankfurt am Main.  First U.S. publication in 1953 by Preager Publishers

Guderian, Heinz. Panzer Leader. (abridged) Translated from the German by Constantine Fitzgibbon, Ballantine Books, New York 1957

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Macksey, Kenneth. Why the Germans Lose at War. Greenhill Books 1996, Barnes and Noble, New York, 2006

Manstein, Erich von. Lost Victories. Translated by Anthony G. Powell, Zenith Press, an imprint of MBI Publishing Company, St Paul, MN. 2004. First Published as Verlorene Siege Athenaum-Verlag, Bonn, GE 1955, English edition Methuen & Company Ltd. 1958

Murray, Williamson and Millett, Allan R. A War to Be Won: Fighting the Second World War.  The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, MA. 2000

Newton, Steven H. Hitler’s Commander: Field Marshal Walter Model, Hitler’s Favorite General. DeCapo Press, Cambridge MA 2005

Overy, Richard. Russia’s War: A History of the Soviet War Effort: 1941-1945. Penguin Books, New York NY and London, 1997

Raus, Erhard. Panzer Operation: The Eastern Front Memoir of General Raus, 1941-1945. Compiled and Translated by Steven H Newton. Da Capo Press a member of the Perseus Book Group, Cambridge, MA 2003

Von Mellenthin, F.W. Panzer Battles: A Study of the Employment of Armor in the Second World War. Translated by H. Betzler, Ballantine Books, New York, NY, 1971. Originally Published University of Oklahoma Press, 1956.

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45. Translated by R.H. Berry, Presido Press, Novato CA, 1964

Weingartner, James. J. Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler: A Military History, 1933-45. Battery Press, Nashville, TN.(no publication date listed)

Wray, Timothy A. Standing Fast: German Defensive Doctrine on the Russian Front in World War II, Prewar to March 1943. U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, KS. 1986.

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