Tag Archives: George Patton

“The Most Appalling Site Imaginable” George Patton’s Experience at the Ohrdorf Subcamp of Buchenwald

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In our day there are fewer and fewer people who lived through or personal saw or documented the evils of the Nazi Concentration Camps. Likewise, there are a host of Holocaust deniers who produce a plethora of pseudo-scholarly articles claiming to be legitimate historians. Even more frighteningly the rise of apologists for the Nazi regime including those who are active members of allegedly conservative parties in the United States and the European Union is beginning to influence politics. The abject racism, rejection of anyone considered racially inferior, and quite often their unhidden anti-Semitism show that what lies in the dark heart of Naziism is not dead and in fact is rising.

In the United States its rise is being fueled and legitimized by the Presidency of Donald Trump who has referred to American Nazis and White Supremacists as “very good people” after one of their protests where an anti-Nazi demonstrator was murdered and others brutally attacked. In the same time frame a good number of Republican candidates have exposed themselves as White Supremacists and actual Nazis while running for office. A host of new-Nazi and White supremacist organizations openly meet and flood the internet with their race hatred.

The fact is that anyone who denies the Holocaust, attempts to minimize it, or advocates the same policies of race hatred and violence against political, religious, or other opponents is no better than the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Likewise, those who stand by and say nothing are worse. As Yehuda Bauer wrote:

“The horror of the Holocaust is not that it deviated from human norms; the horror is that it didn’t. What happened may happen again, to others not necessarily Jews, perpetrated by others, not necessarily Germans. We are all possible victims, possible perpetrators, possible bystanders.”

The good thing is that there were people who took the time to record what they saw in the Nazi Concentration Camps and exposed those deeds to the world in such a way that only perverted and evil people could brazenly deny those facts.

One of the most detailed descriptions of a liberated Concentration Camp was written by General George Patton in his memoirs entitled War as I Knew It.

… we drove to Ohrdruf and visited the first horror camp any of us had ever seen. It was the most appalling sight imaginable.

A man who said he was one of the former inmates acted as impresario and showed us first the gallows, where men were hanged for attempting to escape. The drop board was about two feet from the ground, and the cord used was piano wire which had an adjustment so that when the man dropped, his toes would just reach the ground and it would take about fifteen minutes for him to choke to death, since the fall was not sufficient to break his neck. The next two men to die had to kick the board out from under him. It was stated by some of the Germans present that the generals who were executed after the Hitler bomb incident were hanged in this manner.

Our guide then took us to the whipping table, which was about the height of the average man’s crotch. The feet were placed in stocks on the ground and the man was pulled over the table, which was slightly hollowed, and held by two guards, while he was beaten across the back and loins. The stick which they said had been used, and which had some blood on it, was bigger than the handle of a pick.

Our guide claimed that he himself had received twenty-five blows with this tool. It later developed that he was not a prisoner at all, but one of the executioners. General Eisenhower must have suspected it, because he asked the man very pointedly how he could be so fat. He was found dead next morning, killed by some of the inmates.

Just beyond the whipping table there was a pile of forty bodies, more or less naked. All of these had been shot in the back of the head at short range, and the blood was still cooling on the ground.

In a shed near-by was a pile of forty completely naked bodies in the last stages of emaciation. These bodies were lightly sprinkled with lime – not, apparently, for the purpose of destroying them, but to reduce the smell. As a reducer of smell, lime is a very inefficient medium.

The total capacity of the shed looked to me to be about two hundred bodies. It was stated that bodies were left until the shed was full and then they were taken out and buried. The inmates said some three thousand people had been buried from this shed since January 1, 1945.

When our troops began to draw near, the Germans thought it expedient to remove the evidence of their crimes. They therefore used the inmates to exhume the recently buried bodies and to build a sort of mammoth griddle of 60 cm. railway tracks laid on a brick foundation. The bodies were piled on this and they attempted to burn them. The attempt was a bad failure. Actually, one could not help but think of some gigantic cannibalistic barbecue. In the pit itself were arms and legs and portions of bodies sticking out of the green water which partially filled it.

General Walker and General Middleton had wisely decided to have as many soldiers as possible visit the scene. This gave me the idea of having the inhabitants themselves visit the camp. I suggested this to Walker, and found that he had already had the mayor and his wife take a look at it. On going home those two committed suicide. We later used the same system in having the inhabitants of Weimar go through the even larger slave camp (Buchenwald) north of that town. (Excerpted for G. Patton War as I Knew It)

Dwight D. Eisenhower wrote after seeing the camp:

The same day [April 12, 1945] I saw my first horror camp. It was near the town of Gotha. I have never felt able to describe my emotional reactions when I first came face to face with indisputable evidence of Nazi brutality and ruthless disregard of every shred of decency. Up to that time I had known about it only generally or through secondary sources. I am certain, however that I have never at any other time experienced an equal sense of shock.

Eisenhower was so moved that he ordered that the best reporters and newsmen come and record what he had seen. He did not want the horrors to be denied by history. He wrote:

I visited every nook and cranny of the camp because I felt it my duty to be in a position from then on to testify at first hand about these things in case there ever grew up at home the belief or assumption that `the stories of Nazi brutality were just propaganda.’ Some members of the visiting party were unable to through the ordeal. I not only did so but as soon as I returned to Patton’s headquarters that evening I sent communications to both Washington and London, urging the two governments to send instantly to Germany a random group of newspaper editors and representative groups from the national legislatures. I felt that the evidence should be immediately placed before the American and British publics in a fashion that would leave no room for cynical doubt.

The fact is that as much as we want to pretend that what happened a Buchenwald, Flossenbürg, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Auschwitz, Soribor, Belzec, and Treblinka are images from history that cannot happen again, however, they are an ever present reality and they cannot be ignored. Sadly, I cannot help but to imagine that this can and will happen again in my lifetime.

I go to a quote from one of my favorite episodes of Star Trek the Next Generation called The Drumhead uttered by Jean Luc Picard:

We think we’ve come so far. Torture of heretics, burning of witches it’s all ancient history. Then – before you can blink an eye – suddenly it threatens to start all over again.

That is our reality. There are people, even neighbors and those that we think are friends who would be perpetrators or bystanders when those that transgress the way of Trump are take us from our homes and families because of our beliefs. I would love to be wrong about this, but I am a historian and a theologian and I know the human condition far too well to sit back and remain silent, no matter what the cost.

I had a Facebook exchange with a friend who is a retired Navy Chaplain. He is very much a Trump supporter and apologist. He is very happy about Justice Kavanaugh being in the Supreme Court. The stories of the victims and their claims did not matter to him. Despite that I do not believe that he is a bad man or an evil person. I simply believe that like Martin Niemöller that he has made a bad choice in the man and party that he currently supports and that he will eventually regret it. I could be wrong, he might not turn out to be a Niemöller, but a Reichsbishof Müller. Sincerely hope that he does not become the latter.

I keep quoting historian Timothy Snyder, but he was all too correct when he wrote these words less than two years ago:

The European history of the twentieth century shows us that societies can break, democracies can fall, ethics can collapse, and ordinary men can find themselves standing over death pits with guns in their hands. It would serve us well today to understand why.

If you don’t believe me read the words of the President, his closest supporters, the prominent political preachers of the Christian Right, and any number of Trump leaning columnists, pundits, and politicians. There are some who are so far gone that they will accuse any opponent of being disloyal, not the the Constitution or the law but to President Trump. One of those people tried to get my commanding officer to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon in which he lied about what I said. I had to spend my money to hire a lawyer to defend me from the false charges and have them dismissed during the preliminary investigation.

Trust me, I know what resistance will mean if this President and his cult like followers are not stopped. Our fate will be worse than that of Nazi Germany because we should have known better. We should have learned from Dwight Eisenhower and George Patton. We should have learned fro Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Niemöller, we should have learned from the Nuremberg trials, but we have not.

For the next four months, and maybe more should the Democrats fail to gain a majority in the House or Senate, President Trump will have all the branches of the Federal government in his power. With the laws already enacted in the Patriot Act and numerous executive orders there is little to stop a President who has no respect for the law or the Constitution from declaring full emergency powers should any war, terrorist act, or natural disaster be declared.

So with all of that happy commentary I will leave you until tomorrow when, God willing, I will be back in the United States.

Until then have a good night, and please, never forget.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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France 1944: Missed Opportunities from Mortain to Market Garden

Arnhem Bridge

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In 1985 Judy and I visited her cousin and her family in the Netherlands when I was an Army Lieutenant in Germany. Since I was a history major in college and had done a lot of reading and study about Operation Market Garden, which most people associate with the movie Bridge Too Far I decided that on our way back to Germany that we needed to stop by Arnhem and Oosterbeek to visit the battlefield and the British Airborne Museum. It was one of those places that even today evokes poignant memories. When we walked through the British cemetery across from the museum which is in the former British headquarters, the Hartenstein Hotel I saw a grave marker. It read Capt. J.S. (James Strathern) Dundas, 7th KOSB (7th King’s Own Scottish Borderers) of the British 1st Airborne Division. He was the 2IC, or Executive Officer of Company B of that Regiment. He assumed command of the company on the 19th after its commander was reported missing in action. He commanded the company until his death on September 25th 1944 when commanding the rearguard of the battalion as it and the remnants of the 1st Airborne Division evacuated the bridgehead over the Rhine. It was a sobering reminder of the cost of war. 

Grave marker of Captain J.S. Dundas at the British Cemetery at Oosterbeek

September 17th 2018 will be the 74th anniversary of the Allied attempt to liberate the Netherlands, secure a crossing across the Rhine and plunge into the heart of German industry and war making capacity the Ruhr basin. The plan is better known as Operation “Market-Garden” and was the first major use of Airborne Divisions in a strategic jump versus a tactical or operational mode.  What made this operation different was the distance that the Airborne would be dropped from the front lines and the number of obstacles that the ground troops would have to cross to get to them.  It was a high risk strategic plan to end the war early.  However this operation did not occur in a vacuum and was the product of operational and strategic decisions that the Allies made from the time of the Normandy breakout.  Each decision was made on the fly as the situation rapidly developed from a static slugfest in the hedgerows to the pursuit of a broken enemy.  As the Allies advanced across France decisions had to be made of how the advance would be made which became a major bone of contention between Eisenhower and his subordinates.  To understand how the Allies got to the point of launching Market-Garden one has to look back at the events leading up to it beginning with the Allied decisions made shortly after the breakout.  The actual campaign does not always correlate to popular myths nor does it allow for a uncritical analysis or generalization of the events which made up this part of the campaign in Western Europe.

It is a campaign that teaches us even today that mundane things such as logistics, weather and the failure to recognize moments of opportunity and times for caution matter in a military campaign. The campaign is a reminder that every military campaign has risks and that even crippled enemy can inflict costly defeats on superior forces and regain lost initiative. 

 

Introduction 

Patton Bradley and Montgomery, Time Magazine Photo

Lieutenant General Omar Bradley’s 12th Army Group breakout from Normandy opened a realm of possibilities for the Allies to defeat the German Army in detail and end the war.  The manner in which the Allies exploited their success and their failure to destroy the German Army in the west in the late summer of 1944 was a key factor in prolonging the war.  Both the Allies and the Germans faced challenges due to the change in the nature of the campaign. For nearly two months they had waged a nearly static war of attrition in the Norman hedgerows.  The breakout changed the dynamic of the campaign to one of maneuver.  In the post-breakout period the Allies had several opportunities to envelope large portions of the German Army in western France, Belgium and southern Holland.  The campaign became one of maneuver and 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.”[1] Prior to the breakout success in the hedgerows was 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.” [2]The change would expose the weaknesses in the quality of allied generalship and logistics management.  The Allies failure to recognize the ability of the Germans to recover from disaster conspired with key elements in the campaign to end the war by Christmas.[3]

Grenadiers and Tanks of 12th SS Panzer Division (Hitler Jugend) in Normandy

A key decision reached early in the campaign was for Bradley’s XII Army Group to capture Brest and other Brittany ports.  This decision meant that when 3rdArmy exploited the break out the preponderance of its forces went west, the opposite way that the battle was developing.  This deprived the Americans of forces and logistical assets that could have supported the envelopment of the major part of the German Army still engaged in Normandy. Russell Weigley lays the blame for this decision on Bradley.  The dash into Brittany did little to help the Allied logistical problems and diverted much needed troops away from the focal point of the action in Normandy.[4] Hastings criticizes Bradley’s lack of imagination in the initial stages of the breakout in adhering to the original OVERLORD exploitation plan[5] rather than adapting to the situation on the ground. Patton’s biographer Carlo D’Este seconds this opinion and it makes sense from an operational standpoint.[6] Why send significant forces to an area far away from the critical part of the battle for little practical gain?  In the end German forces held out, in some cases to the end of the war, denying the Americans the use of the ports either by just holding out or by demolishing the port facilities.

Mortain: German Counter Attack and the Short Envelopment

The American exploitation of the breakout, notably by elements of Patton’s 3rdArmy pushing east combined with the continued pressure of the British Army Group toward Falaise. The breakout forced forced the Germans into a strategic decision to attempt to restore the front in Normandy or withdraw to the Seine or further east as there was 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.”[7]

With limited options Hitler determined that German forces again needed to ensnare the allies in the hedgerows.[8] There was disagreement between Hitler and Field Marshal von Kluge regarding the offensive while von Kluge opposed it.  Hitler believed that the American breakout gave the Germans a chance to cut off the American forces in Brittany and possibly more believing that “once the coast had been reached at Avranches a beginning should be made with rolling up the entire Allied position in Normandy!”[9]

The German attack named 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 when the Germans attacked without the customary preparatory artillery bombardment.[10] The Germans made initial progress against the 30th Division which had recently taken over positions at Mortain.  However the 2nd Battalion 120th Infantry “Old Hickory” Regiment held key ground which enabled them to call artillery fire and air strikes on German forces attempting to advance on Avranches.[11] 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.”[12] Bradley was “not merely confident of withstanding them, but expected to destroy them.”[13] Bradley attempted to lure more Germans into the potential trap by radio transmissions hoping that the Germans to persist in their attacks around Mortain.[14]

American Armor Advancing in Normandy

The German plan included the use of a significant number of aircraft to support the attack.  However this did not happen and German troops were furious at the failure of the Luftwaffe to shield them from Allied air attacks which devastated the Panzers.  The 300 fighters promised by the commander of Luftwaffe forces were engaged by British and American fighters and savaged so badly that no Luftwaffe units made an appearance over Mortain.[15] Despite some local success the German ground forces were turned back by the Americans who did not even halt their eastward movement further imperiling the German forces in Normandy.

Knocked out Panzer V Panther Tank at Mortain

With the Germans ensnared at Mortain, the 3rd Army driving east and the Canadians advancing on towards Falaise, Bradley suggested a short envelopment in which over 100,000 German troops would be trapped between the Patton’s troops and the Canadians who had opened their TOTALIZE offensive from Caen to Falaise on August 8th.  This modified plans for a deep envelopment by XV Corps of 3rd Army to entrap the Germans against the Seine crossings with an operation that might promise “still surer results.”[16] Speaking to Secretary of the Treasury Henry Mongenthau Bradley said that “he told the Cabinet officer 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.”[17] However the short envelopment was predicated on the Germans continuing their advance, had they as Hastings notes “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.”[18]

The decision to turn the better part of 3rd Army west into Brittany deprived Bradley of forces that could have better accomplished the mission of enveloping the German 7th Army.  General Wood of 4th Armored Division to his dying day “remained embittered over the lost opportunity”[19] lost 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 that was that OVERLORD planners “had not thought anything resembling the Avranches breakout and pursuit without pause to the Seine likely…” Weigley critically stated 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.”[20]

The Falaise Pocket

Luftwaffe Fallschirmjaeger in France

The Allies did have a chance to destroy the German 7th Army.  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 move east from Mortain following the failure to break through.  The remnants of I SS Panzer Corps led by 12 SS Panzer Division Hitlerjügend and various battle groups of other decimated divisions and Army units such as 21st Panzer Division offered determined resistance to the Canadians toward Falaise.  In the south only scattered Kampfgruppen of divisions shattered in Normandy opposed Patton’s forces at Avranches.  These German units, outnumbered and without air support 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 5thArmored Division.  The delay allowed the Germans to send a battalion into the town which could have “fallen easily a few hours before.”[21]

Grenadiers of the 12th SS at Falaise

At this point the Allies were bedeviled by several failures which prevented the short double envelopment from occurring and allowed the remnants of 7th Army to escape to fight again. The Germans suffered grievous losses in men, material, and especially armored fighting vehicles, artillery and motor transport but more often than not their units retained their cohesion and ability to operate.

Carnage in the Falaise Pocket

The first failure belonged to the Canadians who failed to push the Germans out of Falaise despite overwhelming material and air superiority.  The Canadian attack Operation TOTALIZE was planned by the best of the Canadian generals, Simonds.  The operation began on a promising note but bogged down halfway to Falaise due to a quick counterattack by 12th SS Panzer kampfgruppen. The Canadians were not helped when a misguided bombing attack by “friendly” air units hit them rather than the Germans.  Likewise the inexperience of the Canadian 4th and Polish 1st Armored Divisions showed when they paused to eliminate strong points rather than bypassing them and advancing to disrupt the Germans.  As such they gave the Germans the opportunity to reform their lines.[22] The second failure was that of Montgomery who had refused to adjust army group boundaries with Americans which put more pressure on the Canadians to “renew their drive promptly and vigorously.”[23] Rather than pushing on General Crerar of Canadian 1st Army spent five days “doing what really battlewise generalship could do by regrouping and making diversionary attacks.”[24] It took Crerar over 48 hours to launch a determined attack to close the gap despite the weakness of German forces that opposed him despite the fact that even Montgomery personally called him urging him to “Close the gap between First Canadian Army and 3rd U.S. Army.”[25] General Kurt Meyer of 12th SS 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.”[26] 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.[27] Patton recounts that he believed that his units could have “easily entered Falaise and closed the gap” and that the “halt was a great mistake.”[28] Weigley blames Bradley as much for the halt order as much he does 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.”[29] 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.

Opportunities in South France: Operations ANVIL and DRAGOON

The invasion of South France Operations ANVIL and DRAGOON[30] had been debated by the Allies as early as April 1943.  The British resisted ANVIL from the beginning with Winston Churchill not yielding “his struggle until five days before the eventual D-Day of August 15th.”[31] American planners saw the need for the operation and had never given up on it despite its postponement due to a shortage of amphibious lift at the time of OVERLORD.  Following the invasion the perilous logistic situation created by the lack of operational major ports in Normandy and Brittany caused American planners to “believe that ANVIL was virtually imperative.”[32] Landings in the south offered significant advantages to the logistical needs of the Allies.  The major seaports and naval bases at Marseilles and Toulon were both closer to Germany than Cherbourg.  Both offered major modern port facilities and the south included rail nets that had not suffered significant damage from Allied air attacks. Likewise the presence of a major navigable river, the Rhone, made it possible to move supplies into the heart of France by water.  From a strategic point of view the move into southern France would “help Eisenhower form a front along the whole German border from the North Sea to Switzerland, to stretch the German army as perilously thin as possible for its defense of the Fatherland.”[33] ANVIL also offered the opportunity to bring more trained American divisions into the fight which could not otherwise come ashore in Normandy due to the port and supply problems.[34]

The Allies initially allotted three American divisions of 7th Army and VI Corps as well as units of the French Army based in the Mediterranean to the invasion.  Commanding VI Corps and its three veteran Divisions, the Regular Army 3rdInfantry Division, the “Rock of the Marne”, the 36th “Texas” Division and 45th“Thunderbird” Division of the National Guard was Lieutenant General Lucian Truscott.  Truscott was of the best American Corps commanders. Early in the war he had created the Rangers and had distinguished himself in Italy commanding 3rd Infantry Division.  He followed this by taking over to rescue the unhappy Anzio campaign from utter fiasco.[35] A hard driving officer and prewar friend of Patton Truscott was the ideal commander for the operation.[36]

Truscott’s forces were opposed by the weak and widely scattered German 19thArmy of General Blaskowitz’s Army Group G.  The landings were highly successful and the Americans made rapid progress inflicting heavy casualties and capturing large numbers of Germans with relatively low American casualties.  However in Blaskowitz the Americans faced a skilled commander who managed to extricate the bulk of his forces and form a continuous front with the remnants of Army Group B by mid September.  Hitler had recognized the necessity of this link up but held Blaskowitz in low regard due to his resistance to Nazi policy while Military Governor of Poland in 1939, said to Field Marshall von Rundstedt of Blaskowitz: “If he contrives to do that (i.e. join up 19th Army rapidly with the main body) then I will make him a solemn apology for everything.”[37]

Truscott made the German army his objective. Truscott pushed his units hard but was hampered by his meager forces and his tendency to outrun his supplies.  German delaying actions hampered the American advance and prevented the Americans from utterly destroying the 19th Army.   Despite this the campaign in the south prevented the Allied logistical situation in France from becoming “insurmountable” in the fall of 1944 and “contributed directly and mightily to bringing the bulk of the American Army to grips with the German army in the West, to defeat and destroy it.”[38] Had Truscott had more forces and adequate supplies he may have achieved even more than he did. One can only imagine the “what if” scenarios that could have developed in the West with the application of more force to this option rather than feed the limited number of American divisions into the cauldron of the hedgerow country.

To the Seine and Beyond

With the closing of the Falaise pocket too late to catch most of the German forces the next opportunity for the now postponed “long envelopment” was now staring the Allies in the face.  The Seine beckoned.  Could the Allies prevent the fleeing remnants of the 7th Army and Panzer Group West, soon to be renamed the 5thPanzer Army from escaping across the Seine?   Bradley’s belated decision to restart the drive to the Seine on 14 August was beset with the problem of the logistical sustainment.  The logistics problem was not limited to port facilities.  The Allies had moved well past the eastern edge of the Normandy lodgment area over two weeks before planners anticipated. Fuel to propel the Allied armies forward became a critical consideration. Despite this the Allied high command saw the opportunity to complete the destruction of the German forces fleeing Normandy and Montgomery “anticipated for weeks the possibility of the long envelopment at the Seine.”[39] Adjustments were made on the fly. The plan to pause at the Seine dictated by OVERLORD was discarded in favor of trying to cross it on the run.  XV Corps of 3rd Army had reached Mantes crossing into the British 21st Army Group zone.  Montgomery refused an American offer of trucks to assist the British and Canadians to Mantes to complete the envelopment from the west. However he gave permission for XV Corps to continue its advance into the British zone in the hopes of completing the encirclement of the estimated 75,000 German troops west of the Seine.[40]

American Soldiers Cross the Seine

Yet again the Allied hopes for the encirclement of German forces west of the Seine were dashed.  XIX Corps came up to assist XV Corps in its advance into the German rear on the 24th of August at Elbeuf.  However a scratch Kampfgrüppemade up of elements of eight panzer divisions made a stand that delayed the American forces five days.[41] The British and Canadian forces did not push hard.  The determined resistance of the panzer battle group and the failure of the British and Canadians to push harder enabled Army Group B to evacuate many of its troops, 25,000 vehicles and most of its higher headquarters across the Seine before the Canadians and XIX Corps linked up on 26 August.[42] [43] While the envelopment attempt ran its course the Americans pushed across the Seine. The Americans allowed the French 2nd Armored division to liberate Paris on August 25th and rapidly began to move east in pursuit of the German forces.

Despite horrendous losses in men and material including all but about 100 of the 2300 tanks and assault guns committed to Normandy[44] the German command rapidly organized the survivors into Kampfgrüppen.  These battle groups though hastily organized were well led and usually comprised of hardened veterans skilled in the active defense.  Field Marshall Model “Hitler’s Fireman” took command of Army Group B after Von Kluge committed suicide when returning to Germany after being implicated in the attempt on Hitler’s life.  Hitler gave the western front priority on tank replacements. Likewise reinforcements of newly formed Panzer Brigades flowed into France even as the Americans advanced east fighting not only the Germans but the gasoline shortage.[45] Patton’s army reached the Moselle but by September 2nd its tanks had run dry.  “Third Army received just 25,390 gallons, when its divisions needed at least 450,000 gallons to resume their advance.”[46] Patton continued by scavenging fuel wherever he could get it whether captured German stocks or by various creative means. Patton had his logistics officers divert fuel or send raiding parties into 1st Army’s depots. His agents bartered for fuel at port facilities and depots by offering captured souvenirs to those running those facilities in exchange for gas.[47]

American M-8 Armored Car at the Arch d’Triumph during the Liberation of Paris

The Allied shortage of gasoline, a product of both the lack of ports, damage to the French rail system and the unexpected rate of advance[48] ultimately forced Eisenhower to make the decision to halt Patton’s advance in favor of a push by Montgomery in the north. Now complicating Eisenhower’s situation the Germans Likewise the ability of the Germans to join Army Group B with Army Group G’s 1st and 19th Armies from Army Group G further assisted the German defense.  The German army’s self preservation in late August and early September became known to them as the “Miracle of the West.”[49] A successful envelopment of German forces took place at Mons just south of the Belgium border where 1st Army captured over 25,000 prisoners from units that had escaped from Normandy.[50] Throughout the campaign in France the Allies were beset by logistical problems and sometimes by bad generalship as they attempted to change the campaign plan on the fly.[51]

Antwerp and the Scheldt: Missed Opportunity

While Bradley and Patton’s American units sped across France “advancing faster and further than any Army in history,” Montgomery’s 21st Army Group crossed the Seine and began a drive that rivaled the Americans in speed.  XXX Corps under the recently appointed General Horrocks attacked out of the Seine bridgehead on 29 August.  After overcoming initial stiff resistance from the German Kampfgrüppen defending the area XXX Corps advanced with great speed capturing Brussels and Antwerp by 4 September.  Logistics also tied Montgomery’s hands just as it had Patton in the south.[52] He was forced to immobilize 8th Corps to supply XXX Corps which advanced north as 1st Canadian Army attempted to capture the channel ports.[53]

Canadian Soldiers during the Battle of the Scheldt

The quickness of the advance and erroneous decision making kept the XXX Corps attack from complete success.  This caused serious complications to further operations and which gave the Germans the break that they needed to stabilize the front.  General “Pip” Roberts commander of 11th Armored division which had just liberated Antwerp assumed that the British drive would turn east toward the Ruhr industrial area of Germany. In doing so he failed to capture the crossings over the Albert Canal.[54] Additionally he failed to advance the few miles needed to cut off the German 15th Army on the Scheldt thus missing the opportunity to trap an entire German Army against the sea.  Hastings lays the blame for this not entirely on the Division and Corps Commanders, Roberts and XXX Corps commander Horrocks, but on those responsible for the overall strategy, Eisenhower, Montgomery and Dempsey who should have realized this and especially that Montgomery “might have been expected to see for himself the pivotal importance of the Antwerp approaches.”[55] While the British rested in Antwerp the Germans blew the bridges over the Albert Canal. General Von Zangen of 15th Army took the opportunity to extricate his Army using any vessel available to cross the Scheldt. He occupied the strategic island of Walchern on the Antwerp approaches and placed his troops in position to assist in the defense of Holland and northern Germany.  Due to British inaction and his own creativity Von Zangen evacuated 65,000 troops, 225 guns, 750 vehicles and over 1000 horses across the waterway in 16 days to fight again.[56]

North of the Albert General Kurt Chill in the typical fashion of so many German commanders in a crisis situation took charge and halted the panicked retreat of German forces into Holland. Chill organized personnel from all branches of the German military into something resembling an Army.[57] Likewise Generals Bittrich of II SS Panzer Corps and Harmel of 10th SS Panzer Division salvaged “vehicles abandoned by other groups and weapons from deserted army depots” including 12 brand new howitzers on abandoned train.  The improvisation of the German commanders in these few days would be of decisive importance in the coming days.[58]

While the British paused to regroup in Belgium the Germans took the opportunity to form a new Army, the 1st Parachute Army under the Luftwaffe paratroop expert, General Kurt Student. 1st Parachute Army was hardly an army at all, barely the size of a fully manned allied division.  Made up of battle groups formed around remnants of the elite 6th Parachute regiment, assorted parachute training battalions, Flak units, a hodge-podge of Army Kampfgrüppen, General Chill’s units and divisions evacuated from the Scheldt, Student laid out a defensive line along the Albert Canal.[59] Student expected the British to attack when he was so terribly weak. He could not believe that he was not attacked when his line was most vulnerable to a determined assault that much of the German command believed would cause the front in Belgium to collapse.  The British Guards Armored division slowly advanced from the Albert to the Meuse-Escaut canal but the German defense had assured that any further advance to the north would be on a narrow front with a vulnerable left flank.[60] Von Rundstedt’s new Chief of staff at OB West Siegfried Westphal noted that “the situation was desperate. A major defeat anywhere along the front-which was so full of gaps that it did not deserve that name would lead to catastrophe if the enemy were to fully exploit the opportunities.”[61] Hastings and Weigley both note that the British failure to close the gap were of decisive importance to the coming campaign in Holland.[62]

Arnhem: The Failed Vertical Envelopment

Operation Market Garden, the Largest Airborne Operation in History

The Allies still believed there was the chance to break into Germany in 1944.  Lacking the logistical base to sustain a wide front advance Eisenhower opted to make Montgomery the primary effort. Montgomery planned to utilize the 1stAllied Airborne Army in a bold and “in the context of Anglo-American generalship in France, refreshingly daring”[63] operation.[64] The concept of “vertical envelopment” had been advocated by General Marshall and General H.H. Arnold and throughout the campaign 18 airborne exploitation operations had been planned “each of them cancelled by the rapidity of the advance of the ground forces.”[65] Eisenhower made Montgomery the primary effort on September 10th and Montgomery “immediately detailed planning …for an idea he had already conceived to use the airborne reserve.”[66]

American Paratroops in Holland

The plan was Operation MARKET-GARDEN and to be successful Montgomery’s forces would have to cross 8 water obstacles including 3 major rivers.[67] He had to use one two lane highway bordered by soft Dutch podder, thick woods and drainage ditches that restricted armor and mechanized forces to the road itself.[68] The was for three Allied airborne divisions, the American 82nd and 101st, the British 1st Airborne and the Polish 1st Parachute Brigade to secure the bridges over the waterways between the front and Arnhem 65 miles north of the front.  The goal was to establish a bridgehead over the Rhine for the British Second Army to advance deep into the German heartland.  XXX Corps was to advance up this “corridor of death” and link up with each of the airborne divisions with the goal of breaking the German defense in the west.

British Paras in the ruins of Arnhem

Nearly all the writers agree that had the offensive been launched 7-10 days earlier when the Germans were in complete disarray it might have succeeded in its objective of crossing the Rhine and getting into Germany.  Hastings and Weigley both believe that the axis of the offensive was wrong and that the attack should have been made further south using 21st Army Group and 1st Army to drive to the Rhine.[69] All believe that an attack by Patton’s 3rd Army would not have achieved significant strategic gain as he now faced the bulk of the Wehrmacht’s strength and that there was little of strategic value in the part of Germany he could attack.

German Sturmgeschutz III in Arnhem 

The attack was made on 17 September.   The shortcomings of the plan became rapidly apparent.[70] German resistance in South Holland was much stronger than expected, the Son bridge was demolished by the Germans which created a major delay as bridging equipment had to be found and brought forward.  Due to the presence of battle groups from the 10th SS Panzer Division and other units dug in the city around the bridge the 82nd could not secure the Nijmegen Bridge until XXX Corps arrived.  The 1st Airborne was landed too far away from Arnhem Bridge to secure it in the face of the 9th and 10th SS Panzer Divisions of II SS Panzer Corps.  Due to a shortage of aircraft and refusal of the air transport command to make two drops on the first day the drops took 3 days to get all the airborne units into the fight.  The single road ensured that the spearhead of the XXX Corps advance was limited to a squadron of tanks and supporting infantry on a front two tanks wide.[71] The flanks were weakly held and German units salvaged from the Scheldt attacked the west and units from the Germany proper attacked the 82nd’s lodgment area.  Communications problems in the 1st Airborne Division prevented it from communicating with its own units as well as higher headquarters leaving everyone wondering what was happening.[72] The advance of XXX Corps was often both before Eindhoven and after Nijmegen lacking in urgency.[73] When all was said and done 1st Airborne Division was all but destroyed and had to be evacuated from its bridgehead and the operation ended in failure.[74] Numerous events contributed to the failure of the operation, many of which occurred before it was planned.  The German ability to make an army out of nothing coupled with planning which was based more on assumptions about what the Germans were incapable of doing rather than what was happening on the ground was a major fact. Likewise the British command discounted intelligence reports of Panzers in or near the drop the drop zones.

SS Panzer Grenadiers in Arnhem

The plan itself left much to chance and was built around the assumption that the Germans lacked the ability to stop them, neglecting the restrictions in which the Allied forces would have to execute the plan. If things could go wrong they did, especially in the 1st Airborne area of operations. Critical equipment failed to arrive, communications broke down, 2 of 3 battalions detailed to seize the Arnhem Bridge were stopped by a mixed bag of German forces including Panzers, an SS training battalion and various Army units and only one battalion reached the bridge. The failure to plan for and establish a landing zone on the south side of the Rhine kept them from being able to take the bridge, which became a key factor in the German ability to move troops from Arnhem to Njimegen. General Urquart was trapped in a house by German units which posted themselves around it and the commander of 1st Airborne Brigade was wounded.  The Germans succeeded in over running the drop zones and without communications British Airborne could not let the air transport know that supplies were not getting to them.

Summary

This phase of the French campaign exhibited the best and the worst of Allied generalship. The reasons; generally inexperienced American leadership at this level of warfare and poor leadership by the more experienced British command.  The key failures were logistics management and the strategic focus following the breakout which changed the nature of the planned campaign. The Allies were running at the limit of their capacity, shortages of fuel and other supplies and heavy casualties incurred in Normandy weakened the Allied advance demonstrating von Clausewitz’s understanding of what happens when a offensive reaches its culminating point. The drive into Brittany, the failure at the Falaise gap, the failure to close the door at the Seine, the failure to trap the 15th Army at the Scheldt and its failure to cross the Albert Canal, as well as the Market-Garden fiasco can all be directly attributed to Allied leadership at high levels.  Likewise the extraordinary ability of German commanders to restore seemingly hopeless situations all demonstrated how Clausewitz’s understood “genius” in war.

The campaign from the Normandy to Arnhem was one of spotty performance by the Allies especially in terms of generalship and logistics planning and the ability to improvise.  The Germans suffered from Hitler’s interference, especially at Mortain where he insisted on counterattack versus withdraw. Likewise they suffered from a critical lack of air support.  However German commanders were masters of improvisation taking advantage of Allied errors and confusion to recover the situation time and time again.

Notes

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

[2] Ibid.

[3] 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.”

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

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

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

[7] Ibid.  p.195

[8] Ibid. Also

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

[10] 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.

[11] Michael Reynolds in Steel Inferno: The 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandynotes 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 NormandyDell Publishing, New York, 1997 p.264

[12] Ibid. Hastings Overlord p.283

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid. Weigley p.199.

[15] 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

[16] Ibid. Weigley p. 199

[17] Ibid. p.200

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

[19] Ibid. D’Este. p.631

[20] 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

[21] Ibid. p. 202

[22] Ibid. p.204

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

[29] 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.”

[30] DRAGOON was the airborne component of he south France operation.

[31] Ibid. p.218

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid.

[35] Ibid. pp.222-224

[36] Patton and Truscott had a clash during the Sicilian campaign over Patton’s push for an amphibious operation accusing him of being “afraid to fight” and threatening to relieve him but then throwing his arm around him and offering him a drink. See D’Este pp.526-528  This incident was made famous in the movie “Patton.”

[37] Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hippocrene Books, New York 1997 p.338

[38] Ibid. Weigley

[39] Ibid. p.241

[40] Ibid.

[41] Ibid. p.243

[42] Ibid. p.246

[43] Hans Von Luck, the commanding a Kampfgrüppe of 21st Panzer Division describes how he and his troops camouflaged his “Schwimmwagen” with bushes to cross the Seine successfully disguising the vehicle to avoid persistant Allied air attacks. VonLuck, Hans Panzer Commander Dell Publishing New York 1989. p.209

[44] Ibid. Weigley. p.255

[45] Weigley, Hastings and D’Este all place a fair amount of blame for the logistical crisis on the commander of the COMMZ, General John C.H. Lee.

[46] Ibid. Hastings, Armageddon p.24

[47] Ibid D’Este pp.647-652

[48] Weigley notes that OVERLORD plans had not envision support American divisions for offensive operations across the Seine until D+120, yet by “D+90, sixteen United States divisions were already 200 kilometers beyond the Seine.” p.268.  Hastings and Weigley also note the waste in the American supply system noting that of “twenty-two million fuel jerrycans shipped to France since D-Day, half had vanished since September.” Hastings. Armageddon p.23.

[49] Ibid. Weigley

[50] Ibid. p.275-276

[51] Both Weigley and Hastings note the logistical problems of the British which not only included the problems that beset the Americans but problems of their own making including poor trucks of numerous makes rather than the standardized American trucks.  Hastings notes that for a time around Antwerp that “Montgomery’s armies were obliged for a time to commandeer thousands of horse-drawn wagons abandoned by the Wehrmacht, to make good its shortage of vehicles for the haulage of supplies.” Hastings. Armageddon p.23

[52] Weigley notes that Montgomery had a fiasco of British logistics in which some “1,400 British three-ton lorries, plus all the replacement engines for this model, had been discovered to have faulty pistons rendering them useless.” p.281.

[53] Ibid. Hastings. Armageddon. p.20

[54] Ryan in A BridgeToo Far quotes the XXX Corps Commander Horrocks who said in his memoirs “My excuse is that my eyes were entirely fixed on the Rhine and everything else seemed of subsidiary importance.” Ryan, Corrnelius. A Bridge Too Far Fawcett Popular Library by Arrangement with Simon and Schuster Publishing, New York, 1974  p.60

[55] Ibid.

[56] Ibid. Hastings p.20.  Weigley on p.293 gives a higher figure of 86,000 troops, 600 artillery pieces, 6,000 vehicles and 6,000 horses.

[57] Ibid. Ryan. p.49

[58] Reynolds, Michael Sons of the Reich Casemate, Havertown PA 2002 p.98

[59] A significant unit that was to plan a key role in the German defense against XXX Corps was Kampfgrüppe Walter formed around the 6th Parachute Regiment and other assorted units.  It is noted in almost every volume devoted to the campaign.

[60] Ibid. Weigley. p.294

[61] Ibid. Ryan. p.52

[62] See Hastings p.22 “The fumbled handling of Antwerp was among the principal causes of Allied failure to break into Germany in 1944.  It was not merely that the port was unavailable for the shipment of supplies; through two months that followed, a large part of Montgomery’s forces had to be employed upon a task that could have been accomplished in days if the necessary energy and “grip” been exercised at the beginning of September, when the enemy was incapable of resistance.”  and Weigley pp.293-294

[63] Ibid. Weigley p.288

[64] Hastings notes that since the Airborne Army had been created that “the apostles of the new art of envelopment from the sky were determined that it should be used.” Armageddon p.35

[65] Ibid. p.289

[66] Ibid.

[67] Ibid. Weigley. p.291

[68] Ibid. p.295

[69] Also see Ryan. p.81 Ryan notes that in the planning General Dempsey because of his doubts about the ability of 2nd Army suggested an attack “seizing the Rhine crossing at Wesel….” as “it would be better, he believed to advance in conjunction with the U.S. First Army northward toward Wesel.”

[70] All the commentators make reference too the misgivings voiced at the final planning conference. Hastings comments on Gavin who believed that “If I get through this one, I will be very lucky.”

[71] Ibid. Weigley. p.295

[72] Hastings comments “It was a scandal-for which in the Russian or German armies some signals officers would have been shot-that the communications of 1stAirborne Division remained almost non-existent from 17 September onwards.Armaggedon p.58

[73] Ibid. p.293

[74] Casualties in 1st Airborne were high, of “the original 10,005 man force only 2,163 troopers, along with 160 Poles and 75 Dorsets, came back across the Rhine. After nine days the division had approximately 1,200 dead and 6,642 missing, wounded or captured.” Ryan p.509.

Bibliography

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

D’Este,  Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War. Harper Collins Publishers New York, 1995

Giziowski, Richard. The Enigma of General Blaskowitz. Hippocrene Books, New York 1997

Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany 1944-1945 Alfred a Knopf, New York, 2004

Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984

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

Patton, George S. War As I Knew It Bantam Books NY  published 1980, originally published by Houghton Mifflin Company 1947.

Reynolds, Michael Sons of the Reich Casemate, Havertown PA 2002

Reynolds, Michael Steel Inferno: 1st SS Panzer Corps in Normandy Dell Publishing New York, 1997

Ryan, Corrnelius. A Bridge Too Far Fawcett Popular Library by Arrangement with Simon and Schuster Publishing, New York, 1974

Von Luck, Hans Panzer Commander Dell Publishing New York 1989

Warlimont, Walter. Inside Hitler’s Headquarters 1939-45 Presidio Press, Novato CA 1964

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

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The Son of the Rough Rider: Theodore Roosevelt III at Normandy

Theodore Roosevelt Jr4

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote: “Courage, above all things, is the first quality of a warrior.”

By the standards of military service on the front line the man was ancient. He was 56 years old, a year younger than I am now. He had arthritis and a history of heart problems, but he was his father’s son and he put himself in harm’s way in the greatest invasion in history. .

The oldest man to land on the beaches of Normandy was the son of a President. His father was Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt who had taken leave of his office as Assistant Secretary of the Navy at the outset of the Spanish-American War to go into harm’s way. With the help of his friend Colonel Leonard Wood, Roosevelt formed the legendary First U.S. Volunteer Cavalry Regiment, the “Rough Riders” and led them in the fight at the Battle of San Juan Hill.

The son of the President entered the business world and then served as a Reserve officer. When the United States entered the First World War he was commissioned as a Major.  He volunteered for overseas service and served as a battalion commander and later as commander of the 26th Infantry Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division. Leading from the front he was wounded and gassed at Soissons in 1918. For his service he was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross and the French Chevalier Légion d’honneur.

After the war he helped found the American Legion and entered politics and was elected to the New York State Assembly. However while serving as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in the Harding Administration he was linked to the Teapot Dome Scandal and though he was cleared of any wrongdoing his name was tarnished. He was opposed by his cousin Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his political fortunes in elections plummeted. However, he was appointed as Governor of Puerto Rico and later Governor-General of the Philippines a post that he served at until 1935.  He returned to the United States and went back into business world with American Express.

Between the wars he continued his Army Reserve service. Like most reservists he attended his annual training periods, but he also took it upon himself to attending the Infantry Officer Basic and Officer Advanced Courses as well as the Command and General Staff College. When war broke out in Europe and the United States began to mobilize for war he again volunteered for active service. He attended a refresher course and was promoted to Colonel in the Army Reserve. He was mobilized in April 1940 and was given command of his old 26th Infantry Regiment assigned to the First Infantry Division. He was promoted to Brigadier General in late 1941 and became the the Assistant Division Commander.

Ted_Cane_France

He served well in that role in North Africa and Sicily and earned citations for bravery being constantly on the front lines with his soldiers. However his association with the Division Commander, the unorthodox Terry Allen earned the enmity of George Patton and Omar Bradley. Patton disliked Allen and hated the way both Allen and Roosevelt eschewed “spit and polish” and “dressed down,” often wearing unauthorized uniform items. After Bradley assumed command of 7th Army he relieved both officers, believing that they were guilty of “loving their division too much.” Bradley later admitted was one of the hardest decisions that he made in the war. Roosevelt then served as a liaison officer with the Free French Forces in Italy before returning to England to assume duties as Assistant Division Commander of the 4th Infantry Division. His superior, Terry Allen would go on to command the 104th Infantry Division in an exemplary manner in France and Germany in 1944-45. Bradley praised him and his new division as one of the best in Europe.

TeddyJr5-530x414

Roosevelt constantly trained with the troops and asked his commander, Major General Raymond “Tubby” Barton for permission to land with the first wave in the invasion. After being denied twice Roosevelt put his request to Barton in writing:

“The force and skill with which the first elements hit the beach and proceed may determine the ultimate success of the operation…. With troops engaged for the first time, the behavior pattern of all is apt to be set by those first engagements. [It is] considered that accurate information of the existing situation should be available for each succeeding element as it lands. You should have when you get to shore an overall picture in which you can place confidence. I believe I can contribute materially on all of the above by going in with the assault companies. Furthermore I personally know both officers and men of these advance units and believe that it will steady them to know that I am with them.”

Barton reluctantly approved the request not expecting Roosevelt to survive the landings. Roosevelt was in the first wave of assault troops at Utah Beach. On landing he discovered that the first wave was about a mile off course and in an area where the German defenses were not strong.

Armed with a pistol and supported by a cane Roosevelt led a reconnaissance to find the causeways off the beach. He briefed the battalion commanders and then ordered an attack from where the troops had landed telling his officers “We’ll start the war from right here!” It was a moment immortalized in the film The Longest Day in which Henry Fonda played Roosevelt.

fon2

Henry Fonda Portrays Brigadier General Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt III in “The Longest Day”

His actions were key in the success of the Utah Beach landings and he was recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross by General Barton. Just over a month after the invasion after continuously leading his troops in Normandy Roosevelt died of a heart attack on July 12th 1944, the very day he had been selected for his second star and promotion to Major General with orders to take command of the 90th Infantry Division. His award was upgraded to the Congressional Medal of Honor which was posthumously awarded on September 28th 1944. He was buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy. The remains of his younger brother Quentin who had been killed in the First World War were exhumed and interred next to his in 1955.

The Medal of Honor citation reads:

For gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty on 6 June 1944, in France. After 2 verbal requests to accompany the leading assault elements in the Normandy invasion had been denied, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt’s written request for this mission was approved and he landed with the first wave of the forces assaulting the enemy-held beaches. He repeatedly led groups from the beach, over the seawall and established them inland. His valor, courage, and presence in the very front of the attack and his complete unconcern at being under heavy fire inspired the troops to heights of enthusiasm and self-sacrifice. Although the enemy had the beach under constant direct fire, Brig. Gen. Roosevelt moved from one locality to another, rallying men around him, directed and personally led them against the enemy. Under his seasoned, precise, calm, and unfaltering leadership, assault troops reduced beach strong points and rapidly moved inland with minimum casualties. He thus contributed substantially to the successful establishment of the beachhead in France.

Roosevelt’s story is quite amazing. In the modern wars of the late 20th and early 21st Centuries few commanders as senior as Roosevelt would ever be in the first wave of an invasion or offensive operation. The personal courage and example set by Roosevelt in both World Wars, leading from the front and maintaining relationships with the troops that he commanded in combat is something that is unusual today. We in the military talk about a lot in various military leadership classes but often seems to be smothered by business models promoted by think tanks and others with money to be made.

Likewise, a commander suffering from Roosevelt’s infirmities would not be allowed to command troops in combat today. But in the Second World War when many other American Generals failed miserably and often could not be found near the front and were relieved of command for incompetence and cowardice the old, crippled and infirm Roosevelt led from the front. He made decisions on Utah Beach on D-Day that helped ensure that the landings were a success. Bradley, who had fired Roosevelt after the Sicilian Campaign with Allen said that the most heroic act that he had seen in combat was “Ted Roosevelt on Utah Beach.”

Roosevelt was an exception to Clausewitz’s axiom that “boldness becomes rarer, the higher the rank.” I think that even if a General wanted to lead in the manner of Roosevelt today that he would be punished by the institution for risking himself regardless of his success, it would make others look bad.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Longest Day and Afterwards: D-Day and the Normandy Campaign, an Introduction

The author with Marines at Point du Hoc, Normandy in 2004

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every year about this time I try to write about D-Day.  This year I spent more time on the Battle of Midway writing or rewriting a total of five articles.

Since we are now about to begin a time of major repairs to our home due to flooding from an plugged air conditioning condensation drains I have decided to do is to re-post a short research paper that I did for one of my Master’s degree courses tonight, actually posting it on Sunday night for publication today, and hope to follow it up with some more articles over the week on specific aspects and personalities of the campaign.  What I hope is that people that are not familiar with the campaign as well as those that are can use this as a portal to other resources on the web and in print.

I have visited Normandy once in 2004 on a trip with the Marines of the Marine Security Force Company Europe that took me to Belleau Wood as well as Normandy.  In both places I had the good fortune to be able to explain aspects of both battles, at Normandy discussing the invasion from the German side of the fence.  The Normandy battlefields are well worth visiting.  Hopefully in the next few years I will get a chance to go back and do some serious exploring.

Introduction

General Dwight D Eisenhower Commander in Chief Allied Forces Europe

The American landings on Omaha Beach were critical to the success of the Allied invasion northwestern Europe in the overall Overlord plan.  Without success at Omaha there would have been a strong chance that the German 7th Army and Panzer Group West could have isolated the remaining beachheads, and even if unsuccessful at throwing the Allies into the sea could have produced a stalemate that would have bled the Allies white.  This quite possibly could have led to a political and military debacle for the western allies which would have certainly changed the course of World War II and maybe the course of history.[i] This is not to say the Germans would have won the war, but merely to state that a defeat on Omaha could have changed the outcomes of the war significantly.   Subsequent to the successful landing there were opportunities both for the Allies and the Germans to change the way that the campaign unfolded, thus the battles leading up to the breakout at Avranches are critical to its development and the subsequent campaign in France.

OVERLORD: The Preparations

Eisenhower’s Key Lieutenants: Patton, Bradley and Montgomery

The planning for the Normandy invasion began in earnest after the QUADRANT conference in Quebec in August 1943.  The timetable for the operation was established at the Tehran conference where Stalin sided with the Americans on the need for an invasion of France in the spring of 1944.[ii] Prior to this there had been some planning by both the British and Americans for the eventual invasion initially named ROUNDUP.  These preparations and plans included a large scale raid at Dieppe in 1942 which ended in disaster but which provided needed experience in what not to do in an amphibious assault on a heavily defended beach.        The failure at Dieppe also darkened the mood of the Allies, the British in particular to the success of such operations, bringing to mind the failed Gallipoli campaign of 1915 as well as the opposed landings at Salerno and the USMC experience at Tarawa.[iii] Despite this the Americans led by General Marshall pushed for an early invasion of northwest Europe. Churchill and the British due to their weakness in land power pushed for land operations in the Mediterranean, and even in Norway as an option to the assault in France. The conflicted mindset of the Allies left them in the position of planning almost exclusively for the success of the initial landings and build up to the near exclusion of planning for the subsequent campaign once they landed. This especially included what one writer described as “the maze of troubles awaiting behind the French shore.”[iv]

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Commander of Army Group B

Despite conflicts between the Americans and British political and military leadership the planning for the Normandy landings detailed in NEPTUNE and OVERLORD moved ahead.  General Dwight Eisenhower was appointed as the commander of SHAEF with his major subordinates for Land, Air and Sea which caused consternation on both sides of the Atlantic.[v] [vi] The planned operation was expanded from the initial 3 division assault on a narrow front to a minimum 5 division assault on a broad front across Normandy[vii]supplemented by a strong airborne force.[viii] Overall the plan as it developed reflected a distinctly “American willingness to confront the enemy head-on in a collision which Britain’s leaders had sought for so long to defer.”[ix] It is ironic in a sense that the British avoidance of the head on attack was based on their known lack of manpower.  Britain had few infantry reserves to sustain the war effort and the Americans only late recognized their own deficiency in both quantity and quality of infantry forces on which their strategy depended.  That the western allies, so rich in material and natural resources would be so deficient in infantry manpower was a key constraint on the subsequent campaign in France and Germany.  The shortage of infantry forces would cause great consternation among the Allies as the campaign in France wore on.

German Beach Obstacles

The Germans too faced manpower shortages due to the immense losses sustained on the Eastern front, those lost in Africa and those tied down in Italy, the Balkans and Norway as well as the drain caused by Luftwaffe Field Divisions and troops diverted into the Waffen-SS.   The German Army resorted to smaller divisions and the created many “static” divisions manned by elderly or invalid Germans to plug the gaps along the Atlantic wall. The Germans were also forced to recruit “Volksdeutsch” and foreign “volunteers” to fill out both Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS formations.

German fortifications at the Pas de Calais

Prior to the final decision to mount an invasion the Allied planners had contended with the location of the assault in northwestern France.  The Pas de Calais provided a direct route was rejected because it was where the Germans would expect the strike to occur and because it was where the German defenses were strongest.  The fiasco at Dieppe had provided ample proof of what could happen when making an assault into a heavily fortified port.  Likewise the mouth of the Seine near Le Harve was rejected because of the few beaches suitable for landing and because the forces would be split on both sides of the river.  Brittany was excluded due to its distance from the campaigns objectives in Germany.[x]This left Normandy which offered access to a sufficient number of ports and offered some protection from the weather. Normandy offered options to advance the campaign toward the “Breton ports or Le Harve as might be convenient.”[xi] Omaha beach, situated on the center right of the strike would be crucial to the success of the assault situated to the left of UTAH and the right of the British beaches.

Rommel inspecting beach obstacles

Once Normandy was selected as the location for the strike by the Allies, the planning sessions remained contentious.  This was especially true when the Allies debated the amount and type of amphibious lift that could be provided for the landings, particularly the larger types of landing ships and craft to support the Normandy invasion and the planned invasion of southern France, Operation ANVIL.  The increase in OVERLORD requirements for landing craft had an impact in the Mediterranean and resulted in ANVIL being postponed until later in the summer.

“Dummy” Sherman Tank: The Allies created a fictional Army Group to deceive German planners

As part of their preparations the Allies launched a massive deception campaign, Operation FORTITUDE.  This operation utilized the fictitious First Army Group under the “command” of General George Patton. Patton was still smarting from his relief of command of 7th Army following slapping commanded an “Army Group” which incorporated the use of dummy camp sites, dummy tanks, aircraft and vehicles, falsified orders of battle and communications to deceive German intelligence.[xii] The success of this effort was heightened by the fact that all German intelligence agents in the U.K. had been neutralized or turned by the British secret service.  Additionally the Luftwaffe’s limited air reconnaissance could only confirm the pre-invasion build ups throughout England without determining the target of the invasion.[xiii] The German intelligence chief in the west, Colonel Baron von Roenne “was deceived by FORTITUDE’s fantasy invasion force for the Pas de Calais.”[xiv] Despite this Commander of the 7thArmy recognized by 1943 that Normandy was a likely Allied target and efforts were made to shift 7th Army’s center of gravity from Brittany to Normandy.  The one potential German success in getting wind of when the Allied landings would occur was lost when German intelligence discovered two lines of Verlaine’s “Chason d’ Automme” in June 1944 which were to alert the French Resistance of the invasion.  The security section of 15th Army heard them transmitted on the afternoon of 5 June and notified General Jodl at OKW, but no action was taken to alert forces on the coast.[xv] Allied intelligence was aided by ULTRA intercepts of coded German wireless transmissions. However this was less of a factor than during the African and Italian campaigns as more German communications were sent via secure telephone and telegraph lines vice wireless.[xvi] Allied deception efforts were for the most part successful in identifying German forces deployed in Normandy. However they were uncertain about the location of the 352nd Infantry Division which had been deployed along OMAHA and taken units of the 709th Infantry Division under its command when it moved to the coast.[xvii]

USAAF B-17 Bombers and others helped isolate German forces in Normandy by bombing railroads, bridges, and supply lines

The Allied air campaign leading up to the invasion was based on attempting to isolate the invasion site from German reinforcements. Leigh-Mallory the Air Chief developed the “TRANSPORTATION PLAN” which focused efforts on destroying the French railroad infrastructure.[xviii] A more effective effort was led by General Brereton and his Ninth Air Force which was composed of medium bombers and fighters.  Brereton’s aircraft attacked bridges and rapidly achieved success in crippling German efforts to reinforce Normandy.[xix] Max Hastings gives more credit to the American bombing campaign in Germany to crippling the German defense in the west. General Spaatz and the 8th Air Force destroyed German production capacity in oil and petroleum as well as the degraded the German fighter force.  The American daylight raids so seriously degraded the German fighter force that it could not mount effective resistance to the invasion.[xx] Russell Weigley also notes that Albert Speer the Reich Armaments Minister said that “it was the oil raids of 1944 that decided the war.”[xxi]

 

US Navy LST’s being loaded for the invasion

Planning and preparations for OMAHA were based around getting the 1st and 29th Infantry Divisions ashore and them securing a beachhead “twenty-five kilometers wide and eight or nine kilometers deep.”[xxii] American preparations were thorough and ambitious, but the American assault would go through the most heavily defended sector of German defenses in Normandy.  The landing beaches were wide and bordered by dunes which were nearly impassable to vehicles and “scrub covered bluffs thirty to fifty meters high…rough and impassable to vehicles even to tracked vehicles except at a few places.  The exits were unimproved roads running through four or five draws that cut the bluffs.”[xxiii] Dug in along those bluffs was the better part of the 352nd Division. The Americans compounded their selection of a difficult and heavily defended landing zone the Americans failed to take advantage of many of the “gadgets” that were offered by the British which in hindsight could have aided the Americans greatly.  The Americans made use of two battalions of DD (Dual Drive) tanks but turned down the offer of flail tanks, flamethrower tanks, and engineer tanks, the “funnies” developed by General Hobart and the British 79th Armored Division.[xxiv]

Dual Drive amphibious tanks were included as part of the US invasion package

Weigley believes that the American view of “tanks as instruments of mobility rather than of breakthrough power.” Likewise the Americans victories in the First World War were won by infantry with little tank support.[xxv] In this aspect the Americans were less receptive to utilizing all available technology to support their landings, something that when considering the fact that Americans were great lovers of gadgets and technology. The British use of the Armor, including the “Funnies” on the beaches to provide direct fire into German strong points lessened their infantry casualties on D-Day. Due to this lack of armor support on the beach American forces on OMAHA had little opportunity to exercise true combined arms operations during the initial landings.[xxvi]

 

Rommel with Artillerymen of the 21st Panzer Division in Normandy

German preparations for an Allied landing in Normandy were less advanced than the Pas de Calais.  However they had made great strides since late 1943. Field Marshal Rommel greatly increased defensive preparations along the front, including the Normandy beaches.  One of Rommel’s initiatives was to deploy Panzer Divisions near the coast where they could rapidly respond to an invasion.  However Rommel did not get everything that he wanted.  The OKW only allotted him two Panzer Divisions to be deployed near the Normandy beaches.  Only one of these the 21st Panzer Division was deployed near Caen in the British sector.  One wonders the result had the 12th SS Panzer Division been deployed behind OMAHA. [xxvii]

OMAHA: The Landings

The venerable USS Nevada, resurrected from the mud of Pearl Harbor bombarding German positions at Utah Beach

Like the rest of the Allied invasion forces the 1st and 29th U.S. Infantry Divisions set sail from their embarkation ports with the intent of landing on June 5th.  General Bradley, commanding the First Army until the American XII Army Group would be activated accompanied the invasion force.  The OMAHA landing was under the command of General Gerow and his V Corps while VII Corps led by the 4th Infantry Division landed at Utah supported by airdrops of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions inland.  American command and control during the invasion was exercised from sea as in the Pacific, although General Officers were to go ashore with each of the American divisions.  A severe channel storm disrupted the plan to land on the 5th and Eisenhower delayed the invasion one day catching a break in the weather and electing to go on the 6th.[xxviii] This delay while uncomfortable for the embarked troops caused the Germans to believe that no invasion would take place until the next favorable tide and moon cycle later in the month.[xxix] The assumption that no invasion was possible ensured that a number of key senior German leaders, including Rommel were absent from the invasion front when the Allies landed.[xxx]

US Troops ride a LCVP toward Omaha 

The landing beaches at OMAHA stretched about 6500 meters from Colleville-Sur-Mer to Vierville-Sur-Mere in the west.  The beaches are wide with bluffs overlooking them and a seawall between the beaches and the bluffs.  Additionally several small towns dot the beach. To the west of the town of Vierville, a prominent height overlooked the entire beachhead.  Named Pont du Hoc, it was believed to house a 150mm battery sighted where it could enfilade the OMAHA landing zones.  The Americans assigned to the 2nd Ranger Battalion to make a seaborne assault to land, scale the cliffs and take the battery.  Companies from this battalion made a heroic landing and scaled the cliffs to capture the strongpoint only to discover that the guns had not been emplaced.  The Rangers took heavy casualties and held their isolated beachhead against German counterattacks until relieved by the 29th Division on the morning of June 8th.[xxxi]

Landing craft passing the USS Augusta in heavy seas heading toward Omaha Beach

H-Hour for OMAHA was 0630.  Unfortunately the assault troops were transferred to their LCVP landing craft 16-20 kilometers from the beach.  The result was a long and dangerous ride in the small craft for the infantry.  Most of the infantry were completely soaked in sea spay and seasick before going ashore and they carried loads far above what they normally would carry into battle.[xxxii] The Armor support was one battalion of DD tanks, the 741stArmored Battalion, supporting the 16th Infantry Regiment of 1st Infantry Division. These were also launched too far out and nearly all of the tanks were swamped and lost before firing a shot in anger.[xxxiii] Other American support units needed to provide firepower on the beach were equally unfortunate. Weigley notes that at OMAHA “at least 10 of the LCVPs sank” as did “the craft carrying almost all of the 105mm howitzers that were to be the first artillery ashore after the tanks.”[xxxiv] The losses would cripple the assault on OMAHA and nearly cause its abandonment.

Bloody Omaha

As the soldiers of the American divisions on OMAHA came ashore they faced German defenders of the 352nd, 716th and a regiment of the 709th Infantry Division, the latter under the tactical command of the 352nd.   Without the bulk of their tanks artillery and lacking close air support the Americans struggled across the beaches and were cut down in large numbers before being pinned down behind the sea wall.[xxxv] With the Americans pinned down on the beach unable to advance, the time tables for the reinforcing waves became snarled amid the German beach obstacles which had not been cleared.  This was in large part due to 40% casualties among the Combat Engineers and the loss of all but five bulldozers.[xxxvi] Naval officers were frustrated in their attempts to provide naval gunfire support by the lack of identifiable targets on the beaches.  Yet German strongpoint’s were “knocked out by either by superbly directed vigorous gunfire from destroyers steaming as close as 800 yards offshore, or by determined action from Rangers or infantry.[xxxvii]

 

US Infantry struggles ashore at Omaha

Soldiers ashore discovered that they were not facing the static 716th Division but the veteran 352nd Division as well.[xxxviii] Only the leadership and actions of Brigadier General Norman Cota the 29th Division’s Deputy Commander and Colonel Charles Canham of the 116th Infantry kept the situation from complete collapse.  They were able to rally their troops. Under their leadership small units from the 116th which had its linage back to the “Stonewall Brigade” as well as elements of the 16th and 18th Infantry Regiments began to move forward.  Surviving junior leaders began to lead survivors through the dunes and up the bluffs to attack German defenders of the roads leading up from the beach from the flank and rear.  A mid-day break in the weather allowed some close tactical air support giving the troops badly needed support.

US 1st Infantry Division Troops at the Omaha sea wall

With the situation desperate General Bradley considered the evacuation of OMAHA.  At sea events were as confused as Bradley and his staff attempted to make sense of what was going on.  Even later in the evening there was discussion of diverting all further reinforcements from OMAHA to the British beaches.[xxxix]At 1330 hours “Gerow signaled Bradley: “Troops formerly pinned down on beaches…advancing up heights behind beaches.”[xl] By the end of the day Bradley’s aid Major Hansen noted Bradley’s comments to Collins: “They are digging in on Omaha beach with their fingernails. I hope they can push in and get some stuff ashore.”  And Montgomery: “Someday I’ll tell Gen[eral] Eisenhower just how close it was for a few hours.”[xli]

German Fallschirmjaeger Trüppen in Normandy, the German Parachute forces fighting in an infantry role were very effective in the Normandy campaign

The landings at OMAHA succeeded at a cost of over 2000 casualties.  Critical to the success of the landings were the German inability to reinforce their defending troops on the beach.  Likewise the weakness of the units available to mount the standard counterattack that was critical to German defensive plans on D-Day itself kept the Germans from driving the Americans back into the Channel. The 352nd Division fought superbly under the full weight of V Corps and the British XXX Corps on its right suffering heavy casualties as they contested every inch of ground.  The 716th Division composed of second rate troops melted under the onslaught.  Allied air supremacy played a key role as sorties by the 8th and 9th Air Forces helped keep German reinforcements from arriving and interdicted counter attacks inland.  Weigley credits the Allied air superiority with the success of the landings and with limiting casualties.[xlii]Von Rundstedt and other German commanders in France were limited by the delay and refusal of Hitler and OKW to release Panzer reserves when needed most early on June 6th.  By the close of D-Day allied forces had secured the five invasion beaches but not achieved their objectives of taking Caen and Bayuex.  Since the forces on the various beachheads had not linked up the beaches would have been extremely vulnerable had the Germans been able to mount a rapid counterattack by Panzers and strong infantry formations as they had at Salerno.

Major Battles to the Breakout at Avranches

Securing the Beachheads

It took the V and VII Corps nearly a week to secure the beachheads. German forces including the stalwart 352nd Division resisted stubbornly and mounted sharp local counterattacks which kept the Americans off balance.  Elements of the 29th Division and the 90th Division began to push inland and to expand the beachhead toward UTAH. Opposed by the 352nd Division and elements of the 91st Airlanding Division and other non-divisional units the fighting revealed the inexperience of the American infantry formations and the uneven quality of their leadership.  As the Americans tackled the Germans in the labyrinth of the Bocage country the defensive skill of the Germans cost many American lives and delayed the joining of the beachheads. On the 13th the link up was solid enough to enabling the Americans to conduct the follow up operations needed to expand the beachhead, secure Cherbourg and clear the Cotentin.

A Panther tank of the Panzer Lehr Division in Normandy

In some American divisions the hard fighting triggered a leadership crisis.  The lack of success of the 90th Division led General “Lightening Joe” Collins of VII Corps relieve the division commander and two regimental commanders of command, a portent of things to come with other American units.[xliii] As the V and VII corps pushed into the “Bocage” they were followed by a massive build up of troops and equipment delivered to the beaches and to the artificial “Mulberry” harbors.  Despite their numeric superiority, air supremacy and massive Naval gunfire support and facing the weakened 352nd, 91st and the 6thParachute Regiment and other less than quality formations, survivors of the static divisions, the Americans made painfully slow progress as they moved off the beachhead and into the Bocage.[xliv]

The Capture of Cherbourg

US Soldiers of the 29th Division surrender to German Fallschirmjaeger in Normandy

Once the beachheads had been consolidated the Americans turned their attention toward Cherbourg. Cherbourg was the major naval port at the far northwest tip of the Cotentin.  D-Day planners counted on its swift capture and rehabilitation to serve as a supply port for the Allied forces. The 9th Division drove south to the coast near Barneville on the 18th of June cutting off the German forces covering the approaches to Cherbourg.[xlv] This put the Germans in a bind as the 7th Army “had to split its forces in the peninsula in order to hold the fortress a little longer and thus to gain time for the establishment of the southern front on the Cotentin peninsula.[xlvi] The German forces arrayed before Cherbourg waged a desperate defense centered around the 243rd Infantry Division and other assorted battle groups of LXXXIV Corps, whose commander General Marcks one of the best German Generals was killed in action on 12 June.[xlvii] The U.S. VII Corps under Collins with the 9th, 4th and 79th Divisions pushed up the peninsula capturing Cherbourg on June 29th.  Bradley pushed hard for the capture of the port as the Mulberries had been ravaged by a severe Channel storm the week prior. The port of Cherbourg was thoroughly demolished by German engineers and would not be fully operational for months. The loss of the Mulberries and delay in Cherbourg’s availability meant that few supplies were landed on the beaches would “hinder the escape from the constricting land of the hedgerows into which the Americans had come in search of a port.[xlviii]

The Battle of Caumont Gap

Panzer IV Tank in Normandy

V Corps under Gerow made a cautious advance by phase lines toward Caumont, St Lo and Carentan.  The deliberate advance by the Corps toward a line weakly held by the Reconnaissance battalion of the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier Division was directed by Bradley who did not want to divert attention from the effort against Cherbourg.   After capturing Caumont V Corps halted and continued aggressive patrolling to deceive the Germans while digging in.[xlix] The possibility existed that a strong push against the weak German line could have led to an opportunity to envelope the German line west of Caen. This was a missed opportunity that in part led to the bloody and controversial campaign to capture Caen.[l]

British efforts around Caen

German Panzer Ace Waffen SS Captain Michale Wittman single handedly destroyed a British Battalion at Villers Bocage in his Tiger Tank

Montgomery had ambitious plans to break out of Normandy by capturing Caen on D-Day and driving toward Falaise and Argentan.  The British plans for this were frustrated by the rapid reinforcement of the sector by the Germans and the activities of 21st Panzer, Panzer Lehr, and the 12th SS Panzer Divisions.  A flanking maneuver at Villers-Bocage was frustrated by a few Tiger tanks led by the legendary Waffen SS Panzer commander Captain Michael Wittman whose tanks devastated a British Armored battalion.[li]

Wreckage of a British Battalion at Villers Bocage

A series of disastrous attacks toward Caen (EPSOM, CHARNWOOD and GOODWOOD) strongly supported by air strikes and Naval gunfire finally succeeded in taking that unfortunate city on July 18th but failed to take the heights beyond the town.[lii]

British operations like Operation Epsom met setback after setback against dug in German forces outside of Caen

Against crack well dug in German forces the British took heavy casualties in tanks and infantry seriously straining their ability to conduct high intensity combat operations in the future.[liii] The one benefit, which Montgomery would claim after the war as his original plan was that German forces were fixed before Caen and ground down so they could not be used against Bradley’s breakout in the west at St Lo.[liv]

Clearing the Bocage: The Battle of the Cotentin Plain

US M-5 Light Tank in Normandy

Other German forces arrived, and reinforced the Caumont gap which no longer “yawned invitingly in front of V Corps.” [lv] Bradley wished to push forward rapidly to achieve a breakthrough in the American sector.[lvi] Facing the most difficult terrain in France amid the Bocage and swamps that limited avenues of approach to the American divisions committed to the offensive.  The Americans now faced their old foe the 352nd division as well various elements of II Parachute Corps, the 17th SS Panzer Grenadier and Panzer Lehr Divisions.  American tanks and infantry made slow progress and incurred high losses as they dueled the Germans at close range.  In the VIII Corps sector alone the attack “consumed twelve days and 10,000 casualties to cross eleven kilometers of the Bocage…the achievements of the VII and XIX Corps were no better than comparable.[lvii]

St. Lo

US Tanks advancing with German prisoners moving back to US lines at St Lo

St. Lo was a key to Bradley’s breakout efforts.  His Army had to capture it and the roads leading out of it to launch Operation COBRA along the coast.  The task of capturing St. Lo was assigned to GEROW’S V Corps and Corlett’s XIX Corps.  They faced opposition from the tough paratroops of the German 3rd Parachute Division of II Parachute Corps.  The 2nd, 29th, 30th and 83rd Divisions fought a tough battle advancing eleven kilometers again with high numbers of casualties especially among the infantry to secure St. Lo on 18 July.[lviii] They finally had cleared the hedgerows.  St Lo epitomized the struggle that the American Army had to overcome in the Bocage.  Hard fighting but outnumbered German troops in excellent defensive country exacted a terrible price in American blood despite the Allied control of the skies.[lix]

Operation COBRA

US 155mm Howitzers in Normandy, the Germans had profound respect for American Artillery, a respect that they did not share for American Infantry or Armor forces

With the Bocage behind him Bradley desired to push the Germans hard.  COBRA was his plan to break out of Normandy.  Bradley ably assisted by Collins they realized that the better terrain, road networks favored a breakout.  American preparations included a technical advance that allowed tanks to plow through hedgerows. This was the “Rhino” device fashioned by American troops which was installed on 3 of every 5 First Army Tanks for the operation.[lx] VII Corps was to lead the attack which was to begin on July 24th. American planning was more advanced than in past operations.  Collins and Bradley planned for exploitation operations once the breakthrough had been made. A massive air bombardment would precede the attack along with an artillery barrage by Collins corps artillery which was reinforced by additional battalions.   A mistake by the heavy bombers in the 24th resulted in the American troops being hit with heavy casualties and a postponement of the attack until the 25th.[lxi] The following day the attack commenced.  Another mistake by the bombers led to more American casualties[lxii] but VII Corps units pressed forward against the determined resistance of the survivors of Panzer Lehr and the remnants of units that had fought the Americans since the invasion began.  Although it was a “slow go” on the 25th Bradley and his commanders were already planning for and beginning to execute the breakout before the Germans could move up reinforcements.  The 26th of June brought renewed attacks accompanied by massive air strikes.

The Devastated town of St Lo 

While not much progress was made on the 26th, the Americans discovered on the 27th that the German forces were retreating.  The capture of Marigny allowed VIII Corps to begin exploitation down the coastal highway to Coutances.  On the 27th General Patton was authorized to take immediate command of VIII Corps a precursor to the activation of his 3rdArmy.  COBRA ripped a hole in the German line and inflicted such heavy casualties on the German 7th Army that it could do little to stop the American push.[lxiii] As the American forces pushed forward they reinforced their left flank absorbing the local German counterattacks which were hampered by the Allied close air support.

Avranches and Beyond

US Forces advance through the ruins of St Lo

As the breakthrough was exploited the command of the forces leading it shifted to Patton and the newly activated 3rd Army. By the 28th VIII Corps led by the 4th and 6th Armored Divisions had reached Avranches and established bridgeheads over the See River with additional bridges being captured intact on the 30th.[lxiv] The capture of Avranches allowed the Americans to begin exploitation operations into Brittany and east toward the Seine. Weigley notes that for the first time in the campaign that in Patton the Americans finally had a commander who understood strategic maneuver and would use it to great effect.[lxv]

Conclusion

The American campaign in Normandy cost the U.S. Army a great deal. It revealed weaknesses in the infantry, the inferiority of the M4 Sherman tank to most German types, problems in tank-infantry cooperation and also deficiencies in leadership at senior, mid-grade and junior levels. Heavy casualties among infantry formations would lead to problems later in the campaign. Numerous officers were relieved including Division and Regimental commanders.  Nonetheless during the campaign the Americans grew in their ability to coordinate air and ground forces and adapt to the conditions imposed on them by their placement in the Cotentin.  The deficiencies would show up in later battles but the American Army learned its trade even impressing some German commanders on the ground in Normandy.[lxvi]

[i] See the alternative history of by Peter Tsouras Disaster at D-Day: The Germans Defeat the Allies, June 1944, Greenhill Books, London 1994. Tsouras describes the defeat of the Omaha landings and the effect on the course of the campaign leading to the overthrow of Hitler and a negotiated armistice in the west.  While this outcome could be rigorously debated other outcomes could have led to the fall of the Roosevelt and Churchill governments and their replacement by those not committed to unconditional surrender or a continuation of the war that brought about more German missile attacks on the U.K. and the introduction of other advanced German weapons that could have forced such a settlement. Another option could have led to the dropping of the Atomic Bomb on a German city vice Hiroshima.

Notes 

[ii] Weigley, Russell F. Eisenhower’s Lieutenants: The Campaign of France and Germany, 1944-1945, Indiana University Press, Bloomington IN, 1981 p.33

[iii] Ibid pp. 34-35

[iv] Ibid p.35

[v] General Montgomery 21st Army group and Land Forces, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey as Allied Naval Expeditionary Force and Air Marshall Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory as Commander in Chief Allied Expeditionary Air Force. Weigley p.43

[vi] Max Hastings in Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984, comments that many in Britain wondered if Eisenhower with the lack of actual battle experience could be a effective commander and that Eisenhower was disappointed in the appointment of Leigh-Mallory and Ramsey, and had preferred Alexander over Montgomery, pp. 28-29.

[vii] Ibid. Weigley p.40.  Montgomery was the first to object to the 3 division narrow front invasion rightly recognizing that seizing Caen with its road junctions could provide a springboard for the campaign into open country.

[viii] Ibid. p.37

[ix] Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984 p.29  Hastings finds the irony in the selection of the British officers to execute the plan that reflected the American way of thinking.

[x] The Germans agreed with this in their planning leaving Brittany very lightly defended.  See  Isby, David C. Ed. “The German Army at D-Day: Fighting the Invasion.” p.27 The report of General Blumentritt, Chief of Staff OB West noted that only 3 divisions were assigned to Brittany.

[xi] Ibid. Weigley, pp. 39-40

[xii] Ibid. p.73

[xiii] See Isby p. 69.  General Max Pemsel of 7th Army noted that “During  the spring of 1944, Seventh Army received only tow good photographs of British southern ports, which showed large concentrations of landing craft.”

[xiv] Ibid. Hastings p.63.  Hastings comments also about the success of using the turned Abwehr agents.

[xv] Warlimont, Walter. “Inside Hitler’s Headquarters: 1939-1945.” Translated from theGerman by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, Novao CA, English Edition Copyright 1964 Wiedenfeld and Nicholson Ltd. Pp.422-423

[xvi] Ibid. Weigley pp. 53-54

[xvii] Ibid. p. 67

[xviii] Ibid. pp.57-64  Weigley spends a great deal of time on the wrangling between Eisenhower, Leigh Mallory and Spaatz on the nature of the plan, the allocation of forces both strategic and tactical assigned to carry it out and its success, or in the light of postwar analysis the lack of effect that it had on German operations.

[xix] Ibid. p.67-68.

[xx] Ibid. Hastings pp. 43-44 In large part due to the long range P-51 Mustang which accompanied the American bombing raids beginning in 1943.  Another comment is that the campaign drew the German fighters home to defend Germany proper and prevented their use in any appreciable numbers over the invasion beaches.

[xxi] Ibid. Weigley p.69

[xxii] Ibid. p.89

[xxiii] Ibid. pp. 88-89

[xxiv] Ibid. p.87

[xxv] Ibid. Weigley also talks about the rejection of General Corlett’s ideas to use Amtracks used by the Marines in the Pacific to land on less desirable, but less defended beaches to lessen casualties on the beaches and the need for additional support equipment even on smooth beaches.  One of Corlett’s criticisms was that too little ammunition was allotted to supporting the landings and not enough supporting equipment was provided. pp. 46-47

[xxvi] Hastings notes that with the strength and firepower of the German forces on OMAHA that many of these vehicles had they been employed would like have ended up destroyed further cluttering the beachhead. “Overlord” p.102

[xxvii] The battle over the deployment of the Panzer Divisions is covered by numerous historians.  The source of the conflict was between Rommel who desired to place the Panzer Divisions on the Coast under his command due to the fear that Allied air superiority would prevent the traditional Panzer counterthrust, General Gyer von Schweppenburg commander of Panzer Group West (Later the 5th Panzer Army) and Field Marshal Von Rundstedt who desired to deploy the divisions order the command of Rundstedt for a counter attack once the invasion had been launched, a strategy which was standard on the Eastern Front, and Hitler who held most of the Panzer reserve including the SS Panzer Divisions under his control at OKW.  Hitler would negotiate a compromise that gave Rommel the satisfaction of having three Panzer Divisions deployed behind coast areas in the Army Group B area of responsibility.  21stPanzer had those duties in Normandy.

[xxviii] Ibid. p.74-75

[xxix] Von Luck, Hans.  “Panzer Commander“ Dell Publishing, New York, 1989 pp. 169-170.  Von Luck a regiment commander in 21st Panzer noted that General Marcks of 84th Corps had predicted a 5 June invasion at a conference May 30th.

[xxx] Almost every D-Day historian talks about the weather factor and its effect on the German high command’s reaction to the invasion.  Rommel was visiting his wife for her birthday and planned to make a call on Hitler. Others including commanders of key divisions such as the 91st Airlanding Division were off to a war game in Rennes and the 21st Panzer Division to Paris.

[xxxi] Ibid. Weigley p. 96

[xxxii] See Cornelius Ryan, “The Longest Day” Popular Library Edition, New York 1959. pp. 189-193 for a vivid description of the challenges faced by soldiers going from ship to landing craft and their ride in to the beaches.

[xxxiii] Ibid. Weigley. p.78 Weigley talks about the order for the tanks to be carried ashore on their LCTs that did not get transmitted to the 741st.

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Ibid. Weigley  p. 87 The weather prevented the aerial bombardment from being effective. Because the bombers could not see their targets they dropped their bomb loads further inland, depriving the infantry of support that they were expecting.  Naval gunfire support had some effect but had to be lifted as the troops hit the beach leaving much of that support to come from Destroyers and specially equipped landing craft which mounted rockets and guns.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Hastings. pp. 90-91.

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.99

[xxxviii] Ibid. Weigley p.80

[xxxix] Ibid. p.101  Also see Weigley p.80

[xl] Ibid. p.99

[xli] Ibid. Weigleyp.95

[xlii] Ibid. p.94

[xliii] Ibid. p.99 Both Weigley and Hastings make note of the failure of both the Americans and British to train their troops to fight in the bocage once they had left the beaches.

[xliv] Ibid. Hastings. pp.152-153

[xlv] Ibid. Weigley p.101

[xlvi] Isby, David C., Ed. “Fighting in Normandy: The German Army from D-Day to Villers-Bocage.” Greenhill Books, London,  2001.  p.143

[xlvii] Ibid. Hastings p.173 Allied fighter bombers exacted a fearful toll among German commanders. The Commanders of the 243rd and 77th Divisions fighting in the Cotentin were also killed by air attacks on the 17th and 18th.   Further east facing the British the commander of the 12th SS Panzer Division, Fritz Witt on the 17th.

[xlviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.108

[xlix] Ibid. p.111-112.

[l] Ibid.

[li] The efforts of the 51st Highland Division and 7th Armored Division were turned aside by the Germans in the area and were dramatized by the destruction of  a British armored battalion by SS Captain Michael Wittman and his platoon of Tiger tanks.  See Hastings pp.131-135.

[lii] The British 8th Corps under General O’Connor lost 270 tanks and 1,500 men on 18 July attempting to crack the German gun line on the ridge beyond Caen. Weigley, pp.145-146.

[liii] Hastings comments about the critical British manpower shortage and the pressures on Montgomery to not take heavy casualties that could not be replaced. Overlord. pp.241-242.

[liv] Ibid. Weigley pp.116-120

[lv] Ibid. p.122

[lvi] Ibid. p121 Bradley told Eisenhower “when we hit the enemy this time we will hit him with such power that we can keep going and cause a major disaster.”

[lvii] Ibid. 134

[lviii] Ibid. Weigley. pp. 138-143.  Weigley notes of 40,000 U.S. casualties in Normandy up to the capture of St. Lo that 90% were concentrated among the infantry.

[lix] Weigley quotes the 329th Regiment, 83rd Division historian “We won the battle of Normandy, [but] considering the high price in American lives we lost. P.143. This is actually a provocative statement that reflects America’s aversion to massive casualties in any war.

[lx] Ibid. p.149

[lxi] Ibid. p. 152

[lxii] Ibid. pp. 152-153.  Among the casualties were the command group of the 9th Division’s 3rd Battalion 47th Infantry and General Leslie McNair who had come to observe the assault.

[lxiii] Ibid. pp.161-169. Weigley notes the advances in U.S. tactical air support, the employment of massive numbers of U.S. divisions against the depleted German LXXXIV Corps, and the advantage that the “Rhino” device gave to American tanks by giving them the ability to maneuver off the roads for the first time.

[lxiv] Ibid. pp.172-173.

[lxv] Ibid. p.172

[lxvi] Ibid. Isby, David C. “Fighting in Normandy,” p.184, an officer of the 352nd Division referred to the American soldier “was to prove himself a in this terrain an agile and superior fighter.”

Bibliography

Carell, Paul. “Invasion: They’re Coming!” Translated from the German by E. Osers, Bantam, New York 1964.

Hastings, Max. Overlord: D-Day and the Battle for Normandy Vintage Books, New York, 1984

Isby, David C. Ed. “The German Army at D-Day: Fighting the Invasion.” Greenhill Books, London 2004

Isby, David C., Ed. “Fighting in Normandy: The German Army from D-Day to Villers-Bocage.” Greenhill Books, London, 2001.

Ryan, Cornelius, “The Longest Day” Popular Library Edition, New York 1959

Tsouras, Peter. “Disaster at D-Day: The Germans Defeat the Allies, June 1944,”Greenhill Books, London 1994.

Von Luck, Hans.  “Panzer Commander“ Dell Publishing, New York, 1989

Warlimont, Walter. “Inside Hitler’s Headquarters: 1939-1945.” Translated from theGerman by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, Novao CA, English Edition Copyright 1964 Wiedenfeld and Nicholson Ltd. Warlimont, Walter. “Inside Hitler’s Headquarters: 1939-1945.” Translated from theGerman by R.H. Barry. Presidio Press, Novao CA, English Edition Copyright 1964 Wiedenfeld and Nicholson Ltd.

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

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, nazi germany, us army, US Army Air Corps, world war two in europe

Uncertain Times: Ushering out the Old Year and Thinking about the New Year

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Well finally we come to the end of the year 2017.  That being said we can say that it was definitely a year.  It was a year that filled the hearts of many with fear and unease.  At the same time it is now in the past. It cannot be relieved or changed but we can take the time to learn from it and hopefully build a better future. In fact, building a better future and fighting against the forces that threaten freedom and democracy, including those in the highest reaches of government.

2017 like all of the past will be remembered and written about by historians, theologians journalists and philosophers and most will place their own interpretation on it and then go on to prognosticate about the future.  However the future is unknown and even Jesus warned us “that we do not know what tomorrow brings.”

I am a historian. For me history is not just something dead in the past but a living reality that influences us in everything we do. As such I thing we need to learn lessons from history and apply that knowledge to what we do now. We do not live in a vacuum, if we did we would be very dusty and always spinning around, but I digress.

340702.full-2

Uncertain Times 

I think that we have to learn from the past in order to be ready for the future. But the future is unknown and often uncharted.  Thus we should as George Patton said  “Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” That really is the reason I study history, not so we have a laundry list of facts events and dates that I can use to prove my point but rather to see how people and nations dealt with things that they either could not or did not foresee. Human nature doesn’t change and while circumstances and technology may change the way people deal with unforeseeable events can help us navigate future difficulties. It is not a guarantee but it is a help.

Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban wrote that “None of us are born into the world we live in.”  That is so true because we are all born at a moment in time and the world is always changing and changing is ways that will always surprise us. Maybe not some of the events themselves, but the players that make things happen, the places that they happen and the speed of which they happen.  Time stands still for no person.

Though the future is yet to be written people of faith place the future in the hands of God. Yet that being said we cannot erase the past and go back to some point in time where our interpretation of history says that things were better. Such thinking is pure fantasy and is  quite delusional. Golda Meir said “One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.” 

Unfortunately it seems that the American President, many of his supporters, pundits, politicians, and people alike do not understand this; nor do many of their opponents.  George Orwell so poignantly noted “All political thinking for years past has been vitiated in the same way. People can foresee the future only when it coincides with their own wishes, and the most grossly obvious facts can be ignored when they are unwelcome.”

I think that is a large part of why we are in the political mess we have been in for so long in this country and why I don’t expect things to get better anytime soon.

For me 2017 was a year of growth and learning as I transitioned from full time academia to dealing with the problems and challenges of managing a large Navy chapel program.

In 2017 I made plenty of mistakes and really haven’t deviated too much off of the Mendoza Line, I still am battling about 200 in the game of life and as long as I keep doing that I figure I’m doing okay.  But hopefully have learned from those mistakes. I’m not going to make any resolutions for the new year because no-matter what I resolve to do it will simply be a repeat of something that I have resolved to do at least once if not several times during previous new years times and I don’t want to have to give myself “resolution absolution” yet again. I figure that there is no way that I could make it through New Year’s Day if without totally screwing them up so why bother.

However that being said I do resolve this year is to go out every day, do my best and try not to screw things up too badly.  It is the same attitude that I have playing baseball or softball, so why not apply it to the rest of my life?

English poet Thomas Hood penned this:

And ye, who have met with Adversity’s blast,
And been bow’d to the earth by its fury;
To whom the Twelve Months, that have recently pass’d
Were as harsh as a prejudiced jury –
Still, fill to the Future! and join in our chime,
The regrets of remembrance to cozen,
And having obtained a New Trial of Time,
Shout in hopes of a kindlier dozen.

All this being said I think that the wisest thing ever said about the future was by Yogi Berra who wisely remarked “The future ain’t what it used to be.” But then was it ever what it used to be?

Tonight I will usher in the New Eve with Judy, our friend Patty, and our Papillons Minnie, Izzy, and Pierre. Right now we’re watching a movie that has been a long standing tradition for Judy and I, “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.”

So tonight to all of my friends I wish you the best, and in the words of Auld Lang Syne:

And surely you’ll buy your pint cup !
and surely I’ll buy mine !
And we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.

Blessings my friends, Happy end of the Old Year and all the best for the New Year!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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

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

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

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

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

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

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

American Response: the Shoulder’s Hold

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

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

Turning Point: The Destruction of Kampfgruppe Peiper

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

Turning Point: The Crossroads: St Vith & Bastogne

American_7th_Armored_Division_Shermans_taking_up_positions_outside_St._Vith,_1944

 

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

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

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

Allied Response: The Counterattack

 

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

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

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

Analysis: Could Wacht Am Rhein Have Worked?

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

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

A Note About other Parts of the Campaign in France

The Riviera and Rhone

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

The Lorraine Campaign

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

The Huertgen Forrest

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

Conclusions

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

Notes


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

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

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

[iv] Ibid. p.198

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

[vi] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xiv] Ibid. p.557.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xxiv] Ibid. MacDonald. p.44.

[xxv] Ibid.

[xxvi] Ibid. Dupay pp. 27-28.

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

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

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

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

[xxxi] Ibid. p.38.

[xxxii] Ibid. Hastings. p.201

[xxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.199

[xxxiv] Ibid. Weigley. p.464

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Ibid. Wilmont. P.581.

[xxxvii] Ibid. p.583

[xxxviii] Ibid. Hastings. p.223

[xxxix] Ibid. Weigley. P.457

[xl] Ibid. p.471

[xli] Ibid. Hastings. pp.205-206

[xlii] Ibid. Wilmont. pp.583-584

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

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

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

[xlvi] Ibid. Weigley. p.500.

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

[xlviii] Ibid. Weigley. p.475

[xlix] Ibid. p.474

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

[li] Ibid. Weigley. p.470

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

[liii] Ibid. Weigley. pp.478-479.

[liv] Ibid. Wilmont. p.584

[lv] Ibid. Weigley. p.487

[lvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.486-487

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

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

[lix] Ibid. Weigley. p.487

[lx] Ibid.

[lxi] Ibid.

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

[lxiii] Ibid. Wilmont. p.598

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

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

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

[lxvii] Ibid. Weigely. Pp.520-521

[lxviii] Ibid.  pp.535-537

[lxix] Ibid. pp. 558-561

[lxx] Ibid. pp.563-564

[lxxi] Ibid. p.566.

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

[lxxiii] Ibid. Hastings. p.230

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

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

[lxxvi] Ibid. Weigley. pp.567-572

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

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

[lxxix] Ibid. Weigley. p.236

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

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

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

[lxxxiii] Ibid. p.384

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[xciii] Ibid. Hastings. p.215

[xciv] Ibid. Newton. p.324

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2016 Will Come a Day at a Time

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Abraham Lincoln once said “The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time,” and that my friends is a good thing, for 2016 promises to be an eventful year. There are so many things happening that can totally upend the world and our way of life going on that if we just tried to think about them all at once they could be overwhelming. Lincoln himself lived in such a time, and I think that his perspective is good to remember. 2015 was a year of triumph and tragedy that filled the hearts of many with fear and unease.  At the same time it is now in the past. It cannot be relieved or changed but we can take the time to learn from it and hopefully build a better future.

I am a historian. For me history is not just something dead in the past but a living reality that influences us in everything we do. As such I thing we need to learn lessons from history and apply that knowledge to what we do now. We do not live in a vacuum, if we did we would be very dusty and always spinning around, but I digress…

I think that we have to learn from the past in order to be ready for the future. But the future is unknown and often uncharted.  Thus we should as George Patton said  “Prepare for the unknown by studying how others in the past have coped with the unforeseeable and the unpredictable.” That really is the reason I study history, not so we have a laundry list of facts events and dates that I can use to prove my point but rather to see how people and nations dealt with things that they either could not or did not foresee. Human nature doesn’t change and while circumstances and technology may change the way people deal with unforeseeable events can help us navigate future difficulties. It is not a guarantee but it is helpful when we face uncertain times.

Dallas Maverick’s owner Mark Cuban wrote, “None of us are born into the world we live in.”  That is so true because we are all born at a moment in time and the world is always changing and changing is ways that will always surprise us. Maybe not some of the events themselves, but the players that make things happen, the places that they happen and the speed of which they happen.  Time stands still for no person. The world that I was born into in 1960 is far different than the one that I live in today, and the one that will most likely exist if I live into my eighties, though I want to live to be at least 105 in order to lead a staff ride at the bicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg.

Though the future is yet to be written, some people want to go back to some point in time where their myth of history tells them that things were better, and they want to attempt to recreate such times. We see this with the Taliban, the self-proclaimed Islamic State, various Christian groups, and even in the various factions of American political life, especially the Tea Party. But such thinking, while often comforting, is pure fantasy and is quite delusional. Golda Meir was quite right when she observed, “One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.”

Of course Mrs. Meir was correct, and in a similar manner attempts to recreate the past in the present as are the groups that I mentioned are trying to do are chimeras, for then we would be trying to erase the present because it does not fit in with a past that only exists in history, and the future is yet to be written. As a historian I believe that the past is amazingly helpful in helping to guide us in the present, but we cannot mythologize that past and attempt to impose it on the present, nor the future.

2016 will be an eventful year and maybe even a crucial year for the United States and the world, and we do not know how it will unfold. So it is left for us to stop living in the past, fully embrace the present and take the future as it comes. We certainly must look to the past to see how others dealt with the unforeseen, for as Gabe Paul said about baseball, “there’s a crisis everyday.,” Of that fact we can be certain, there will be a crisis of some kind every day this year and we will have to deal with them. How we do so will be what counts.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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