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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

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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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D-Day at 70 Years and Forever: Courage, Sacrifice and Reconciliation…

d-day-opener1Omaha Beach

“We are on this Earth for only a moment in time.  And fewer of us have parents and grandparents to tell us about what the veterans of D-Day did here 70 years ago.  As I was landing on Marine One, I told my staff, I don’t think there’s a time where I miss my grandfather more, where I’d be more happy to have him here, than this day.  So we have to tell their stories for them.  We have to do our best to uphold in our own lives the values that they were prepared to die for.  We have to honor those who carry forward that legacy, recognizing that people cannot live in freedom unless free people are prepared to die for it.” President Barack Obama at the 70th Anniversary of the D-Day Landings, June 6th 2014

Seventy years ago the liberation of France began on the beaches of Normandy.  Soldiers from 6 Allied Infantry and 3 Airborne Divisions supported by an Armada of over 5000 ships and landing craft and several thousand aircraft braved weather, heavy seas and in places fierce German resistance to gain the foothold on beaches named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno.  Over the next seven weeks the Allied soldiers advanced yard by yard through the hedgerows and villages of Normandy against ferocious German resistance before they were able to break out of the lodgement area and begin the drive across France.

dday371

The fighting was bloody, most American, British and Canadian infantry battalions and regiments suffered nearly 100% casualty rates in Normandy.  Replacements were fed in at a cyclic rate to make up the losses even as fresh divisions flowed ashore, but the losses were terrible.  By the time the landings took place, the British having been at war for nearly five years were bled out.  They had little left to replace their losses.  From Normandy on the British were losing combat power at a rate that they could not make up.

For the Americans there was another problem.  The US High command decided to limit the Army to 90 Divisions.  Many of these were committed to the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters.   Likewise, American Infantry units were generally made up of the lowest caliber of recruits, led often by the poorest officers, the best went to either the Air Corps or technical branches of the Army.

Now this is not to criticize veterans, but it is a factor in the campaign.  Most US Infantry Divisions with the exceptions of those previously blooded in North Africa and Sicily often performed badly in action.  Some, after being manhandled by the Germans had their leadership replaced and became excellent combat units.  However, every new division that arrived in France after D-Day always got the worst of their initial engagement against German forces.

While performance suffered there was another problem for the Americans.  With the limitation in number of divisions, they stopped building infantry divisions, upon whom the bulk of the campaign depended. Thus they had little in the way of trained infantry replacements to make up heavy losses in Normandy.  By late 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge the American infantry crisis was so bad that 30,000 Air Corps candidates were trained as infantry and soldiers support units such as Ant-Aircraft battalions were used to bolster infantry units.

tiger2falaise16hh1

Had the Germans been able to hold out and had they not been bled white by the Red Army on the Easter Front, had they not lost the nearly their entire Army Group Center in the Red Army offensive of 1944 it is conceivable that the British and American offensive in the West would have ground to a halt for lank of infantry in 1945.  In spite of this there was no lack of individual courage among the troops engaged; the courage and sacrifice of all who fought there should not be forgotten.

caen_ruins1The Ruins of Caen

The human toll among the combatants both Allied and German, as well as the local populace was especially traumatic.  While the American, Canadian and British people are keen to remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers we often forget the toll among the French civilian population of Normandy as well as the German soldiers, mostly conscripts, sacrificed by the Nazi regime.  Normandy suffered more than any part of France during the liberation.  In the months leading up to D-Day Allied Air Forces unleashed hell on Normandy to attempt to lessen potential German resistance.  The Allied Naval bombardment added to the carnage ashore and once the campaign began the combined fires of both Allied and German forces devastated the region.  Whole cites such as Caen were destroyed by Allied Air forces and an estimated 30,000 French civilians were killed during the Normandy campaign, 3000 on D-Day alone.  I think it can be said that the blood of the civilians of Normandy was shed for the freedom of all of France.

Normandie, Fallschirmjäger mit MG 42

The campaign in Normandy was one of the most viciously contested in western military history.  German forces, especially Paratroops of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th Fallschirmjager Divisions, German Army Panzer Divisions such as the 2nd, 21st, 116th and Panzer Lehr and those of the Waffen-SS, especially the 1st, 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions held the line against ever increasing Allied forces.  As they sacrificed themselves Hitler refused to commit more forces to Normandy and insisted that his Army contest every meter of ground.  He forbade his commanders to withdraw to more defensible positions along the Seine.

Hitler’s decisions actually shortened the campaign.  Whatever the crimes of the Hitler Regime and Nazism, which were among the most heinous in history, one can never question the valor, courage and sacrifice of ordinary German soldiers.  For those Americans who lump all Germans who fought in World War II with the evil of the Nazi regime, please do not forget this fact:  There are those today, even in this country that make the same charge against Americans who have fought in Iraq and those at home and abroad who have labeled the US as an aggressor nation.  When you judge others, know that the same standard will be applied to you someday. It is as Justice Robert Jackson who served as the Chief Prosecutor at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal wrote:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Normandy was a near run thing for the Allies.  First the weather almost delayed it by 2 to 4 weeks.  Had that happened the Germans might have been even better prepared to meet the invasion.  Likewise, the Red Army’s devastating offensive which annihilated Army Group Center in June kept the Germans from transferring additional forces from the Russian Front to Normandy.  On D-Day itself there were a number of times where Lady Luck, or maybe the Deity Herself, saved the Allies from disaster.

Any person who has seen Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day or Band of Brothers knows a little bit about how close Overlord came to failure.  Allied Airborne units were dispersed throughout the region after they drooped.  Many units were not fully operational for more than a day as they sought to organize themselves and gather their troops.  At Omaha Beach the Americans had not counted on the presence of the first rate German 352nd Infantry Division.  This division, despite being pounded by naval and air forces almost cause General Bradley to withdraw from Omaha.  At Utah the soldiers of the 4th Infantry division escaped a similar mauling by landing on the wrong beach.  Had they landed at the planned beaches they would have ran into the same kind of resistance from well dug in German forces.  At Gold Juno and Sword British forces benefited from confusion in the German command which kept the 21st Panzer Division from descending on the British forces and quite possibly splitting the British zones.

The Allies benefited from the absence of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B who because of the ad weather assumed no invasion was possible and traveled to German to celebrate his wife’s birthday.  Finally, and perhaps most important they benefited by Hitler’s refusal to immediately commit forces, including his Panzer reserve to defeat the invasion at the beachhead.

For those who fought in Normandy and those civilians who lived through it the memories are still vivid. Many suffer the effects of PTSD, grief and other wounds, physical, emotional and spiritual.  When one is exposed to the danger and destruction of war, the smell of death, the sight of burned out cities, vehicles and the suffering of the wounded and dying, it makes for a lifetime of often painful memories.

For some of the German, British and American veterans, the struggle in Normandy has given way to long lasting friendships.  Many of those who fought against the Allied onslaught became fast friends after the war. Those who fought against each other were soon allies as part of NATO and soldiers of nations which were once bitter enemies serve together in harm’s way in Afghanistan.  The generation that fought at Normandy is rapidly passing away, their numbers ever dwindling they remain a witness to courage, sacrifice and reconciliation.

In the end it is reconciliation and healing that matters. Some scars of war never pass away; some memories are far too painful to release.  Yet we strive to reconcile.  In 2002 while deployed at sea for Operation Enduring Freedom I was an advisor to a boarding team from my ship.  It was our job to make sure that impounded ships which were breaking the UN embargo on Iraq were not in danger of sinking, and that their crews had food, water and medical care.  Since many of these ships remained at anchor for 2-4 weeks in the heat of the Arabian Gulf, this was important.

The delays imposed by UN rules sometimes meant that the sailors of these ships grew resentful.  It was my job to spend time with the Master’s of these ships to keep things calm and work out any issues that arose.  On one of these ships I met an Iraqi merchant skipper.  The man was well traveled, educated in the U.K. in the 1960s and in his career a frequent visitor to the US. In 1990 he was the senior captain of the Kuwaiti shipping line.  Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  As a result of this when Kuwait was liberated he lost his job.  His nation was an international pariah.  Since his life was the sea he took up the only job possible to support his family, what he knew best, captaining ships.  He was most apologetic for the trouble that he and others like him caused us.  We shared much during those visits.   One of his daughters was in medical school and other children in university.  He longed for the day when Iraq would be free.  On our last talk before his ship was released he remarked to me “I hope one day we will meet again.  Maybe someday like the American, British and German soldiers after the war, we can meet in a pub, share a drink and be friends.” 

dinner-w-bg-sabah1Me with Iraqi General Sabah in his Quarters in Ramadi 2007

I too pray for that, especially after my tour in Al Anbar five years after I encountered that Iraqi Merchant Captain.  Maybe someday we will. I thought of him almost every day that I was in Iraq. I only hope that he and his family have survived the war, the continuing violence in Iraq and are doing well. There is hardly a day that goes by that I do not think of this man or the Iraqis that I had the honor of serving alongside in Al Anbar in 2007 and 2008.

President Obama remarked in Normandy last week about the veterans of the 9-11 Generation of service members, of which I and so many others like me are part:

“And this generation — this 9/11 Generation of service members — they, too, felt something.  They answered some call; they said “I will go.”  They, too, chose to serve a cause that’s greater than self — many even after they knew they’d be sent into harm’s way.  And for more than a decade, they have endured tour after tour.”

God bless all those who fought at Normandy and give your peace to all who have served since then. Be with our troops as they serve in Afghanistan. Heal the wounds of war and bring your peace to the nations. Amen

Peace, Steve+

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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]

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            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.

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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]

gavin-and-ridgeway

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.

peiper-in-schwimwagen

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.

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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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The Breakout from Normandy

Map of Normandy Breakout

The breakout from Normandy by Bradley’s 12th Army Group at St Lo opened a realm of possibilities for the Allies to defeat the German Army in detail and end the war.  Unfortunately for the Allies the manner that they would exploit their success achieved during Operation COBRA led to their failure to completely destroy the German Army in the west in the late summer of 1944 would ultimately prolong the war.

The Allied and German problem in August 1944 was the sudden change in the nature of the campaign from a nearly static war of attrition in the Norman hedgerows to a campaign of maneuver.  This change brought about a number of opportunities for the Allies to envelope large portions of the German Army in western France as well as in Belgium and southern Holland. Max Hastings notes that the campaign became more of a “commander’s battle” in which it was “the decisions of the generals that determined the manner in which events unfolded in August, their successes and failures which brought about the position that was achieved by September.”[i] This was a major change as Hastings correctly notes in that prior to the breakout success in the hedgerows had been determined on “the ability of British, American and Canadian units to seize ground from their German opponents on the next ridge, the next hedge, beyond the next road.” [ii] In the hedgerows there was not much room for higher level commanders to influence the battle but once the breakout occurred the decisions made by commanders on both sides had greater influence in the following operations. This would become important as the weaknesses in the quality of allied generalship would begin to show, along with logistics management issues and the failure of the Allied High Command to recognize the resiliency of German forces and the resourcefulness of German leaders in their ability to cope with disaster and recover from it.  These were key elements in the campaign that kept the Allies from ending the war by Christmas.[iii]

US M5 Light Tank advancing through Coutances

Early in the campaign it was decided that Bradley’s forces needed to capture the Brittany ports, particularly Brest to alleviate shortages of supplies which all still were being delivered across the beaches.  However, the implications of this decision were strategically short sighted and deprived the Allies of a decisive victory in France.  As Third Army exploited the break out from Normandy into the French interior the preponderance of its forces went west which deprived the Americans of the better part of two army corps as well as the logistical assets needed to trap the major part of the German Army in Normandy.  The campaign in Brittany would prove a diversion which did nothing to help the Allied cause.  The divisions committed, casualties taken and supplies expended in an attempt to capture ports that the Germans destroyed before the Americans could capture them. Russell Weigley points this out as a major mistake by Bradley which did little to help the Allied logistical problems and diverted much needed troops away from the focal point of the action in Normandy.[iv] Max Hastings criticized Bradley’s lack of imagination in the initial stages of the breakout by adhering to the original Overlord plan.[v] This is seconded by Patton’s biographer Carlo D’Este.[vi]

Tiger Tank in Normandy

Patton’s 3rd Army’s weakened eastern push coupled with the continued pressure of the British Army Group toward Falaise put the Germans in a strategic dilemma. With the gate open at Avranches they could attempt to restore the front in Normandy by pinching off the advance or withdraw to the Seine or even further as no “defensive position short of the permanent fortifications of the West Wall on Germany’s frontier offered so many defensive strengths as the Normandy line the Americans had just breached and turned.”[vii] The choice advocated by some senior German commanders was an orderly withdraw to the Seine which would have removed the danger of being enveloped in Normandy as well as make the Allies attack across a major water obstacle defended by still formidable formations.

5th Armored Division Shermans near Argentan

With limited options the Hitler decided on a course of no withdraw and ordered his commanders to marshal their panzer divisions seal the breach and ensnare the allies in the hedgerows.[viii] Hitler and Field Marshal von Kluge disagreed in regard to the offensive which Kluge saw as a limited offensive but which Hitler believed gave the Germans a chance to cut off the American forces in Brittany and possibly even more.  Hitler believed that “once the coast had been reached at Avranches a beginning should be made with rolling up the entire Allied position in Normandy!”[ix] General Eugen Meindl of II Parachute Corps was blunt in his assessment of the attack. Paul Carrel in his book “Invasion! They’re Coming” quotes Meindl speaking with Von Kluge’s son a first lieutenant serving at the front:

“Kindly convey to your father exactly what I’m going to say to you. The time has come when Normandy can no longer be held. It cannot be held because the troops are exhausted. This is the fault mainly of orders to hold out in hopeless positions, but we are still being ordered to hold out even now. The enemy will break through to the west and outflank us. If your father knew what is was to operate against an enemy with downright fabulous command of the air, then he would know that our only hope of doing something useful is by attacking at night. Tomorrow’s tank attack is going to be a failure…and all that’s left for the grenadiers to do is lie down and sacrifice their lives. It’s heartbreaking to have to stand by and watch!”

Grenadiers of the 12th SS Panzer Division “Hitler Jugend”

The German attack, Operation Lüttich was led by XLVII Panzer Corps assisted by elements of 1st SS Panzer Division.  Despite warnings from ULTRA the panzers achieved tactical surprise on the front of the 30th US Division at Mortain on the night of 6-7 August advancing without the customary preparatory artillery bombardment.[x] The Germans initially made progress against the 30th Division which had recently taken over positions at Mortain. However the Americans of the 2nd Battalion 120th Infantry “Old Hickory” Regiment held onto key high ground which enabled them to call artillery fire and air strikes on the German forces attacking toward Avranches which included the elite 2nd, 116th, 2nd SS, and part of the 1st SS Panzer Divisions along with a kampfgruppe cobbled together from the remnants of Panzer Lehr and four battered infantry divisions.[xi] The Americans quickly reinforced 30th Division with elements of 2nd Armored Division, 35th Infantry Division and the veteran 4th Infantry Division to hold the line against the weakened German Panzer divisions.  Bradley and other American commanders viewed Lüttich as “an opportunity, not a threat”[xii] which could enable the Allies to entrap the vast majority of German forces in France.  Bradley was “not merely confident of withstanding them, but expected to destroy them.”[xiii] Bradley attempted to lure more Germans into the potential trap hoping that the Germans would press their attacks around Mortain.[xiv]

On the German side the ground commanders were furious at the failure of the Luftwaffe to shield them from Allied air attacks which devastated the Panzers.  The Luftwaffe and promised that 300 fighters would support the attack to provide protection from Allied close air support.  However the Luftwaffe squadrons were engaged by British and American fighters and so badly mauled that no Luftwaffe units made a appearance over Mortain.[xv] Thus despite their initial success which had promise of cutting off the advancing American spearheads the German Panzers were turned back by the Americans who did not even halt their eastward movement which further imperiled the German forces in Normandy.

With the German Panzer divisions ensnared at Mortain, the 3rd Army drove east while the Canadian army attacked towards Falaise. Bradley suggested that the Allies attempt a short envelopment of German forces at Falaise in which over 100,000 German troops would be trapped between the Patton’s troops advancing north and the Canadians.  The Canadians opened their TOTALIZE offensive from Caen to Falaise on August 8th but as was the case in every part of the campaign against determined German resistance as the XV Corps of 3rd Army advanced east.  Bradley’s plan ended the deep envelopment by XV Corps of 3rd Army designed to entrap the Germans against the Seine crossings, an operation that might promise “still surer results.”[xvi] Bradley told Treasury Henry Morgenthau that he had “an opportunity that comes to a commander not more than once in a century. We’re about to destroy and entire hostile army.”[xvii] Hastings noted that “had the Germans “behaved rationally, recognized the threat of envelopment to their entire front and begun a full-scale retreat east, then Bradley could indeed been accused of losing his armies a great prize.”[xviii]

Wrecked German vehicles near Mortain

The decision by Bradley to turn the better part of 3rd Army west into Brittany had deprived him of forces that could have better accomplished mission of entrapping the Germans.  General Wood of 4th Armored Division to his dying day “remained embittered over the lost opportunity”[xix] when his division was turned back into Brittany rather than being allowed to move east toward the Seine.   Weigley points out an even deeper flaw regarding the Brittany decision.  This was that that the OVERLORD planners “had not thought anything resembling the Avranches breakout and pursuit without pause to the Seine likely… stating that it is among the worst forms of generalship that takes counsel of its fears. Yet that was exactly the condition of OVERLORD logistical planning.”[xx] Weigley’s point is well taken, the Allies had not planned for success nor had they anticipated in the OVERLORD planning the full range of possibilities that might open to them once a breakout had occurred.

12th SS Panzer Division Machine Gun team

The Allies did have a chance to destroy the German 7th Army.  The LXVII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps as well as the remnants of II Parachute Corps and other formations battered in Normandy were attempting to withdraw to the east from Mortain. The remnants of I SS Panzer Corps led by 12 SS Panzer Division and Army Panzer divisions such as the 21st Panzer Division offered determined resistance to the Canadians who were attacking toward Falaise.  To the south only scattered Kampfgruppen of divisions shattered in Normandy opposed Patton’s forces at Argentan. The Germans were aided by a fortuitous decision of the commander of the 2nd French Armored Division to move a combat command along a road needed by the American 5th Armored Division delaying it and allowing the Germans to send a battalion into the Argentan which could have “fallen easily a few hours before.”[xxi] The Allies were bedeviled by several other failures which prevented the short double envelopment from occurring and allowing the remnants of 7th Army to escape to fight again despite grievous losses in men, material, and especially armored fighting vehicles, artillery and motor transport.

Canadians advance in Falaise

The first of these was the Canadian failure to push the Germans out of Falaise despite overwhelming material and air superiority.  The Canadian offensive Operation TOTALIZE was planned by the best of the Canadian generals, General Simonds. Unfortunately Simonds was not in command of the operation.  Totalize was a promising attack but bogged down halfway to Falaise due to a quick counterattack by 12th SS Panzer kampfgruppen, as well as a misguided bombing attack on the attacking forces by Allied air units, and the inexperience of the attacking units.  The Canadian 4th Armored Division and Polish 1st Armored Divisions paused to eliminate strong points rather than bypass them which allowed the Germans to reform their lines.[xxii] The second failure was that of Montgomery who refused to adjust army group boundaries with Americans and instead ordered the Canadians “renew their drive promptly and vigorously.”[xxiii] This refusal held the Americans advance at Argentan while the Canadians battered themselves against far stronger German opposition.  However, General Crerar of Canadian 1st Army was as bad of Army commander as could be found.  Weigley somewhat sarcastically points out that Crerar spent five days “doing what really battlewise generalship could do by regrouping and making diversionary attacks.”[xxiv] It took over 48 hours for Crerar to launch a determined attack to close the gap despite the weakness of German forces. Even a personal phone call by Montgomery to Crerar urging him to “close the gap between First Canadian Army and 3rd U.S. Army” did nothing to move the Canadian general and Crerar’s dawdling allowed many Germans to escape from Normandy to fight again.[xxv] Despite the vice that had closed around them the Germans successfully withdrew experienced battle groups of elite Wermacht and SS Panzer Divisions as well as the Paratroopers of II Parachute Corps to fight again.  General Meindl himself led a battle group of Falschirmjaeger from his Corps during their breakout through the Allied lines.  Despite the loss of 40,000 soldiers in the Falaise Pocket the Germans had saved a substantial part of their Army.

US Infantry advancing near Argentan

General Kurt Meyer of 12th SS Panzer Division faulted the Canadian leadership with a failure to use imaginative planning, and noted that “none of the Canadian attacks showed the genius of a great commander.”[xxvi] American units which Patton had cautiously advanced north of Argentan towards Falaise were recalled after Bradley was unable to convince Montgomery to alter the army-group boundary in light of the new circumstances.[xxvii] Patton recounted that he believed that his units could have “easily entered Falaise and closed the gap” and that the “halt was a great mistake.”[xxviii]

Knocked out Sherman of the Polish Armored Division next to a knocked out Panther

Weigley blames Bradley as much for the halt order as much as Montgomery for “discouraging whatever might have been done to rectify the blunder- even discouraging on August 13th a call from the Supreme Commander to Montgomery about the inter-allied boundary.”[xxix] Thus through a series of Allied mistakes particularly by senior commanders the first opportunity to envelop the Germans passed into history as a great yet incomplete victory.  A victory which though impressive allowed experienced German forces to escape to fight again. As the Germans escaped from Falaise the Allies began a pursuit in conjunction with landings in the south of France that would take them to the borders of Germany.

Polish Soldiers at the Corridor of Death


[i] Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984 p.280

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred a Knopf, New York, 2004 p.37.  Hastings comments that “British planners threw away it had learned since 1939 about the speed of reaction of Hitler’s army, its brilliance at improvisation, its dogged skill in defense, its readiness always to punish allied mistakes.”

[iv] Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981pp.184-186

[v] Ibid. Hastings. Overlord pp.282-283

[vi] D’Este,  Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. Harper Collins Publishers New York, 1995 pp.632-633

[vii] Ibid.  p.195

[viii] Ibid. Also

[ix] Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45 Presidio Press, Novato CA 1964 pp.449-450.

[x] Ibid pp.195-196. Weigley notes that Montgomery and most other Allied commanders  had been optimistic in not anticipating the German counter attack despite the ULTRA warnings, while Bradley and Patton were cautious in making troop deployments.

[xi] Michael Reynolds in Steel Inferno: The 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy notes that the Americans inflicted “astonishing casualties on the northern thrusts of 2nd SS Panzer and remained undefeated when the Germans withdrew 4 days later.”  Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: The 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy Dell Publishing, New York, 1997 p.264

[xii] Ibid. Hastings Overlord p.283

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ibid. Weigley p.199.

[xv] Carrell, Paul. Invasion! They’re Coming!” Trans. E. Osers, Originally published as Sie Kommen! Gerhard Stalling Verlag 1960, Bantam Books New York, 1964, 5th Printing June 1984. p. 249

[xvi] Ibid. Weigley p. 199

[xvii] Ibid. p.200

[xviii] Ibid. Hastings. Overlord. pp.282-283

[xix] Ibid. D’Este. p.631

[xx] Ibid. Weigley. p.286  He also points out that the Brittany diversion could have been “worse had it not been for Montgomery’s influence”  p.288

[xxi] Ibid. p. 202

[xxii] Ibid. p.204

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy Dell Publishing New York, 1997. p.320.

[xxvi] Meyer, Kurt Grenadiers trans. By  Michael Mende and Robert J.  Edwards, J.J. Fedorowicz Publishing, Inc. Winnipeg Manitoba, Canada 2001 p.290.

[xxvii] Ibid. Hastings Overlord pp.288-289.

[xxviii] Patton, George S. War As I Knew It Bantam Books NY  published 1980, originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company 1947. pp.101-102

[xxix] Ibid. Weigley p.209  Weigley quotes Major Hansen, Bradley’s aide in stating that the Falaise halt orde was “the only decision he has ever questioned.”

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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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D-Day- Courage, Sacrifice and Luck, the Costs of War and Reconciliation

d-day-openerOmaha Beach from a Landing Craft

“Long after our time on this Earth has passed, one word will still bring forth the pride and awe of men and women who will never meet the heroes who sit before us: D-Day.” President Barack Obama at Normandy 2009

“Friends and veterans, what we cannot forget — what we must not forget — is that D-Day was a time and a place where the bravery and selflessness of a few was able to change the course of an entire century,” President Barack Obama at Normandy 2009

“The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next. It was the deep knowledge — and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.” President Ronald Reagan at Normandy 1982

Here, in this place where the West held together, let us make a vow to our dead. Let us show them by our actions that we understand what they died for. Let our actions say to them the words for which Matthew Ridgway listened: “I will not fail thee nor forsake thee.” President Ronald Reagan at Normandy 1982

Sixty-five years ago today the liberation of France began on the beaches of Normandy.  Soldiers from 6 Allied Infantry and 3 Airborne Divisions supported by an Armada of over 5000 ships and landing craft and several thousand aircraft braved weather, heavy seas and in places fierce German resistance to gain the foothold on beaches named Omaha, Utah, Gold, Sword and Juno.  Over the next seven weeks the Allied soldiers advanced yard by yard through the hedgerows and villages of Normandy against ferocious German resistance before they were able to break out of the lodgment area and begin the drive across France.  The fighting was bloody, most American, British and Canadian infantry battalions and regiments suffered nearly 100% casualty rates in Normandy.  Replacements were fed in at a cyclic rate to make up the losses even as fresh divisions flowed ashore, but the losses were terrible.  By the time the landings took place, the British having been at war for nearly five years were bled out.  They had little left to replace their losses.  From Normandy on the British were losing combat power at a rate that they could not make up.  For the Americans there was another problem.  The US High command decided to limit the Army to 90 Divisions.  Many of these were committed to the Pacific and Mediterranean theaters.   Likewise, American Infantry units were generally made up of the lowest caliber of recruits, led often by the poorest officers.  Now this is not to criticize veterans, but it is a factor in the campaign.  US Infantry Divisions with the exceptions of those previously blooded in North Africa and Sicily often performed badly in action.  Some, after being manhandled by the Germans had leadership replaced and became excellent combat units.  However, every new division that arrived in France after D-Day always got the worst of their initial engagement against German forces.  While performance suffered there was another problem for the Americans.  With the limitation in number of divisions, they stopped building infantry divisions, upon whom the bulk of the campaign depended and had little in the way of trained infantry replacements to make up heavy losses in Normandy.  By late 1944 during the Battle of the Bulge the American infantry crisis was so bad that 30,000 Air Corps candidates were trained as infantry and soldiers support units such as Ant-Aircraft battalions were used to bolster infantry units.  Had the Germans been able to hold out it is conceivable that the British and Americans would have ground to a halt for lank of infantry in 1945.  In spite of this there was no lack of individual courage among the troops engaged; the courage and sacrifice of all who fought there should not be forgotten.

dday37Soldiers Moving off of Utah

The human toll among the combatants both Allied and German, as well as the local populace was especially traumatic.  While the American, Canadian and British people are keen to remember the sacrifices made by our soldiers we often forget the toll among the French civilian population of Normandy as well as the German soldiers, mostly conscripts, sacrificed by the Nazi regime.  Normandy suffered more than any part of France during the liberation.  In the months leading up to D-Day Allied Air Forces unleashed hell on Normandy to attempt to lessen potential German resistance.  The Allied Naval bombardment added to the carnage ashore and once the campaign began the combined fires of both Allied and German forces devastated the region.  Whole cites such as Caen were destroyed by Allied Air forces and an estimated 30,000 French civilians were killed, 3000 on D-Day alone.  I think it can be said that the blood of the civilians of Normandy was shed for the freedom of all of France.

caen_ruinsThe Ruins of Caen-July 1944

The campaign in Normandy was one of the most viciously contested in western military history.  German forces, especially Paratroops of the 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 6th Fallschirmjager Divisions, German Army Panzer Divisions such as the 2nd, 21st, 116th and Panzer Lehr and those of the Waffen-SS, especially the 1st, 2nd and 12th SS Panzer Divisions held the line against ever increasing Allied forces.  As they sacrificed themselves Hitler refused to commit more forces to Normandy and insisted that his Army contest every meter of ground.  He forbade his commanders to withdraw to more defensible positions along the Seine.   His decisions actually shortened the campaign.  Whatever the crimes of the Hitler Regime and Nazism, which were among the most heinous in history, one can never question the valor, courage and sacrifice of ordinary German soldiers.  For those Americans who lump all Germans who fought in World War II with the evil of the Nazi regime, please do not forget this on fact.  There are those today, even in this country that makes the same charge against Americans who have fought in Iraq and those at home and abroad who have labeled the US as an aggressor nation.  When you judge others, know that the same standard will be applied to you someday.

tiger2falaise16hhGerman Tiger Tank at Falaise

Normandy was a near run thing for the Allies.  First the weather almost delayed it by 2 to 4 weeks.  Had that happened the Germans might have been even better prepared to meet the invasion.  Likewise, the Red Army’s devastating offensive which annihilated Army Group Center in June kept the Germans from transferring additional forces from the Russian Front to Normandy.  On D-Day itself there were a number of times where Lady Luck, or maybe the Deity Herself, saved the Allies from disaster.  Any person who has seen Saving Private Ryan, The Longest Day or Band of Brothers knows a little bit about how close Overlord came to failure.  Allied Airborne units were dispersed throughout the region after they drooped.  Many units were not fully operational for more than a day as they sought to organize themselves and gather their troops.  At Omaha Beach the Americans had not counted on the presence of the first rate German 352nd Infantry Division.  This division, despite being pounded by naval and air forces almost cause General Bradley to withdraw from Omaha.  At Utah the soldiers of the 4th Infantry division escaped a similar mauling by landing on the wrong beach.  Had they landed at the planned beaches they would have ran into the same kind of resistance from well dug in German forces.  At Gold Juno and Sword British forces benefitted from confusion in the German command which kept the 21st Panzer Division from descending on the British forces and quite possibly splitting the British zones.  The Allies benefitted from the absence of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B who because of the ad weather assumed no invasion was possible and travelled to German to celebrate his wife’s birthday.  Finally, and perhaps most important they benefitted by Hitler’s refusal to immediately commit forces, including his Panzer reserve to defeat the invasion at the beach head.

Bild 101I-587-2253-15German Paratroops or Falsschirmjaeger in Normandy

For those who fought in Normandy and those civilians who lived through it the memories are still vivid. Many suffer the effects of PTSD, grief and other wounds, physical, emotional and spiritual.  When one is exposed to the danger and destruction of war, the smell of death, the sight of burned out cities, vehicles and the suffering of the wounded and dying, it makes for a lifetime of often painful memories.

For some of the German, British and American veterans, the struggle in Normandy has given way to long lasting friendships.  Those who fought against each other were soon allies as part of NATO and soldiers of nations which were once bitter enemies serve together in harm’s way in Afghanistan.  The generation that fought at Normandy is rapidly passing away, their numbers ever dwindling they remain a witness to courage, sacrifice and reconciliation.

In the end it is reconciliation and healing that matters. Some scars of war never pass away; some memories are far too painful to release.  Yet we strive to reconcile.  In 2002 while deployed at sea for Operation Enduring Freedom I was an advisor to a boarding team from my ship.  It was our job to make sure that impounded ships which were breaking the UN embargo on Iraq were not in danger of sinking, and that their crews had food, water and medical care.  Since many of these ships remained at anchor for 2- weeks in the heat of the Arabian Gulf, this was important.  The delays imposed by UN rules sometimes meant that the sailors of these ships grew resentful.  It was my job to spend time with the Master’s of these ships to keep things calm and work out any issues that arose.  On one of these ships I met an Iraqi merchant skipper.  The man was well travelled, educated in the U.K. in the 1960s and in his career a frequent visitor to the US. In 1990 he was the senior captain of the Kuwaiti shipping line.  Then Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.  As a result of this when Kuwait was liberated he lost his job.  His nation was an international pariah.  Since his life was the sea he took up the only job possible to support his family, what he knew best, captaining ships.  He was most apologetic for the trouble that he and others like him caused us.  We shared much during those visits.   One of his daughters was in medical school and other children in university.  He longed for the day when Iraq would be free.  On our last talk before his ship was released he remarked to me “I hope one day we will meet again.  Maybe someday like the American, British and German soldiers after the war, we can meet in a pub, share a drink and be friends.”  I too pray for that.  Maybe someday we will.  I only hope that he and his family have survived the war and are doing well.

Dinner w BG SabahBeginnings of Reconciliation: Old Enemies, New Friends General Sabah and Me, Ramadi 2007

God bless all those who fought at Normandy and give your peace to all who have served since then. Be with our troops as they serve in Iraq and Afghanistan. Heal the wounds of war and bring your peace to the nations. Amen

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, world war two in europe