Tag Archives: mortain

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

Missed Opportunities: The Allies in Europe from Mortain to Market Garden

Arnhem Bridge

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 A 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 unit until his death on September 25th 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 was the 68th 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

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

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.

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.

[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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Filed under History, Military, world war two in europe

Padre Steve’s Top 25 Articles of 2010, some Statistics and a Big Thank You to My Readers

Well we are coming to the end of the year here at Padre Steve’s World and as if you didn’t know from my baseball posts I am a fanatic about statistics.  Last year I published my “Top 10” in order to just get an idea about what my readers were reading and to kind of point new readers to articles that might interest them.

Before I delve into this I want to say thank you to all those people that take the time to stop by my little realm of cyber space and to those that take the time to leave comments, positive and even negative. You help me out a lot both in what I write and making me look at different angles on the subjects that I write about. Likewise various reads comments and suggestions have inspired and sometimes provoked me into writing articles that I might not have written otherwise. So thank you for taking the time to look at this site. Unlike the talk radio hosts that as us to give them 3 hours a day 5 days a week I just hope that you stop by once in a while and if you like what you see to come by more often and recommended the site to friends.

What is interesting to me is the way that some of these essays have almost taken on lives of their own and become much more popular than I could have ever imagined.  Who knows maybe I can actually work on finding a publisher this year and get some of this into print and maybe just maybe actually make a little money for my efforts.  I’ve been looking at the 700 plus posts that now are on the site and I can see a few book possibilities and if you have suggestions please let me know.

So as far as statistics go Padre Steve’s World is coming up on 2 Million total views and should go over that mark late today or early tomorrow.  Of those views about 1,280,000 have come this year, I won’t get an exact count until the New Year but then who but me is counting anyway? With those numbers I am averaging about 3500 views a day with the highest today being on June 17th when I had 9647 views.  I have had readers from almost every country or territory in the world from the United States to Togo and almost everywhere in between.  I think that is pretty cool and shows how the internet can reach almost all parts of the globe and I hope that the people in far off lands are getting something positive out of what I write.

This year I have posted 377 articles of which 169 had something to do with Baseball and 70 were about the military and of the military articles 18 dealt with various types of warships and a further dealt with history.  Another 21 articles dealt with Iraq or Afghanistan in one way or another ranging from historical, operational and theoretical articles interspersed with essays about the human cost of war.  Now the categories dealing with religion were harder to quantify as I posted them in several different categories with some articles listed in more than one category. Of these 24 articles dealt with faith, 29 with the Christian life, 49 in the general category of Religion and 53 fit into the rather amorphous category of Philosophy. I also listed 20 in the Pastoral Care section.  Again many of these posts overlapped so depending on the subject an article might be listed under several categories.

I have also more interactive this year with my readers in terms of the comment section and comments listed on my Facebook page for different articles. If you want to subscribe to the site or a single post and its comments feel free to do so and if you want to be a Facebook “friend” just tell me that you read the site when you do the request.

So this year I am posting my top 25 essays of 2010 as I think it gives me and you a better grasp on what people find interesting on this site.  I have also written a little bit of what caused me to write about those subjects.

Music of the 1970s and 1980s topped my list with 3 articles in the top 25 coming it at number 1, 5 and 9

1. I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s I wrote this because I am went to High School and College in the 70s and 80s and like anyone my musical tastes and preferences were set back then. This year the essay which includes a lot of links to music videos has had over 46,000 viewers.

My article about the Rape of Nanking got me some hate mail from Japan

2. “Revisionist” History and the Rape of Nanking 1937 This article grew out of a research paper that I did in one of my classes for my Masters Degree in Military History. I found the subject interesting because I remember some of the Holocaust deniers when I was in college and the fact that people try to expunge the reality of such crimes against humanity is something for which that I have little tolerance. I did get a couple of nasty responses from some Japanese deniers regarding this article. Almost 20,000 people read this article this year.

3. Padre Steve’s World: Top 10 articles of 2009 What can I say? A lot of people, a bit of 13,000 have found my site and other articles through this post.

4. Halloween Book Burning Update: Bring the Marshmallows Please! I wrote this just prior to Halloween of 2009 on a lark. It was fun but serious and deals with a little church near Ashville North Carolina that publicized a book and Bible burning.  About 10,500 folks read this one.

5. More about Why I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s Obviously I wrote this because I didn’t get enough 70s and 80s songs in the first time. Evidently a lot of people like this one as well as about 10,500 folks read it in 2010 and like the first edition it is chocked full of links to music videos.

The Einsatzgrüppen were a key component of Hitler’s racial war in the East

6. The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia This article also came out of a lot of study and thought. I was a history major in college and my concentration area was in modern German History particularly Weimar and the Nazi Era. In the following 28 years or so I have continued to study and I wrote this essay for one of my Masters Degree classes.  About 10,300 people have read this one this year.

7. Reformation Day: How Martin Luther and Hans Kung Brought Me to an Anglo-Catholic Perspective, a Book and Bible Burning Reaches Ludicrous Speed and Yankees take Game Three 8-5 I wrote this during the 2009 World Series and it was kind of a catch all article for that day. The primary focus was Reformation Day and my journey to a Catholic faith.  It also included an update about the previously mentioned book and Bible burning and game three of the 2009 World Series between the Yankees and Phillies. About 7300 people looked at this article since January 1st 2010.

Star Trek is a part of my spiritual journey

8. Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009 This article came out of my spiritual journey and kind of wove my faith with Star Trek.  I grew up with the original series but find Star Trek TNG and DS9 to be my favorites and I loved the new movie.  When I wrote the article back in May of 2009 I was still struggling with faith and in the midst of a spiritual crisis. Even though it is a relatively old article on the site that it had almost 6000 views this year which I attribute to the popularity of Star Trek and not this site or me.

9. Padre Steve’s Favorite Love Songs…Happy Valentine’s Day! Once again I write about music in this post with many love songs from the 1970s and 80s as well as a few from other eras. Close to 6,000 folks have looked at this since I wrote it in February and it too has a lot of music video links.

10. Can Anybody Spare a DIME: A Short Primer on Early Axis Success and How the Allies Won the Second World War This I kind of wrote on the spur of the moment as I was thinking about the concept of the DIME, or the Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military and Economic factors of national power and how it relates to war, in this case World War Two. About 4800 people read this and though it is to me a rather innocuous post it attracted the attention of a Neo-Nazi White Supremacist who didn’t like it.  The guy would bother me a number of other times and even threaten my life on one of my Norfolk Tides Baseball posts.  Such is the danger of putting stuff in public but the Neo-Nazis can pound sand.

11. Oh the Pain…Padre Steve’s Kidney Stone Naming Contest In February I got slammed hard by a nasty 7mm Kidney Stone that lodged at the top of the bladder and would move. I was out of action for over a month and as I waited for my surgery to get the nasty thing out I had a naming contest. So far about 4600 people have read this and I guess that it is one of the more humorous posts on this very painful subject on the internet. By the way I named him Adolf.

12. Background to “The Pacific” Part One: The Guadalcanal Campaign and the Beginning of Joint Operations I had originally written this article for my Master’s Degree program. When the HBO series The Pacific came out I re-wrote it and published it. Almost 4600 people have read this article.

The Landings at D-Day have always been a favorite subject of mine and this article was written in a more reflective moment

13. D-Day- Courage, Sacrifice and Luck, the Costs of War and Reconciliation This article was written in a more reflective moment before the 2009 D-Day anniversary. It has retained its popularity with almost 4500 views this year.

14. 20 Years: The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the End of the Cold War I wrote this around the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since we lived in Germany where I was a Platoon Leader, Company XO and Company Commander in the Cold War and having travelled to East Berlin in November 1986 I couldn’t help but write about it. We cried when the wall came down and I have had the chance to travel in the former East Germany on a number of occasions since the fall of the wall. A bit over 3700 people have read this article.

The loss of shipmates and friends like Senior Chief Pam Branum played a big role in my writing since I started Padre Steve’s World

15. Turning Points: The Battle of Midway, Randy Johnson Gets his 300th Win and Chief Branum Gets Her Star This was a catch-all article when I wrote it back in June of 2009. I was thinking about the Battle of Midway, celebrating Randy Johnson getting his 300th career victory and remembering a shipmate and friend Senior Chief Petty Officer Pamela Branum who was posthumously promoted at her memorial service.  A bit over 3600 people had read this article.

16. Memorable Recruiting Slogans and the All Volunteer Force This was a fun article because it took me back to the days when I first enlisted in the Army national Guard in 1981.  About 3600 folks viewed this article this year.

17. Operation “Dachs” My First Foray into the Genre “Alternative History” I wrote this originally for my Master’s Degree when I asked permission of a professor to do an alternative history of the Battle of Kursk.  I write it using actual sources but altering one key fact which changes the story. What sets it apart is that I get to kill off Hitler before the battle presuming that the anti-Hitler plotters bomb had gone off in his aircraft as he returned to Germany following his visit to Army Group Center.  Almost 3600 people read this in 2010.

The Battle of Stalingrad

18. The Anniversary of Disaster: Stalingrad 67 Years Later This was an article that I modified from a paper that I wrote for my Master’s degree.  I find I have sympathy for the struggle of common soldiers in hopeless causes, even when they fight in causes and under leaders that are unjust or even evil as the Nazis were. Just over 3000 people read this article this year.

The role of Jackie Robinson and other African American Baseball Players in helping end segregation and give added support to the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr Martin Luther King and others

19. Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King they Changed America I find the Civil Rights movement to be one of the most important parts of American history and Jackie Robinson possibly had as much or more impact in the movement as anyone with the exception of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior. I know a number of former Negro League players and I respect their struggle on the diamond and how they helped integrate America.  Almost 3000 people read this article.

20. Laughing to the Music: The Musical Genius of Mel Brooks Mel Brooks is my favorite filmmaker and I probably know almost every song in his films by heart. Most people don’t know that Brooks wrote almost all the music in his films. Just over 2900 folks have read this article which like my other music articles is full of links to videos of Mel Brook’s music.

The Battleships of Pearl Harbor essay focused on what happened to the great ladies of Pearl Harbor like the USS West Virginia above

21. The Battleships of Pearl Harbor This was the first article about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I looked at the Battleships which were present and what happened to each of them. Almost 2900 people took a look at this article which spawned articles about the ships on the far side of Ford Island and one about all the ships present.

22. Padre Steve’s Decade in Review: Up Down Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again I wrote this on New Year’s Eve day in 2009. It was kind of a fun but serious look at some of the events of the first decade of the new millennium. Almost 2800 folks read this one.

23. Why Johnny Can’t Read Maps: NCAA Tournament Geography for Dummies and a Solution I wrote this as the 2010 NCAA Basketball Tournament began. I just hit tilt on way that the NCAA names the brackets by geographic areas that have no connection with some of the cities in them. Like when is Seattle in the Southeast? Give me a break. Evidently almost 2600 people agree with me.

24. Mortain to Market-Garden: A Study in How Armies Improvise in Rapidly Changing Situations I wrote this originally for my Master’s degree program a few years back. I thought about it more and took another crack at it for the website. Almost 2500 folks took a look a this article this year.

The French in Indochina and Algeria and how we can learn from their experience especially on how such campaigns affect the men that fight them

25. Lessons for the Afghan War: The Effects of Counterinsurgency Warfare on the French Army in Indo-China and Algeria and the United States Military in Vietnam I have studied insurgencies since before I went to Iraq when I started my Master’s Degree in Military History program.  As I studied it I began to buy all the books that I could on the subject and with my Iraq experience still resonating in me, I wrote about how counter-insurgency campaigns affect the Armies and Soldiers that wage them.

So my friends thank you for your support over the past year. I pray that you have a wonderful New Year and hope that you keep stopping by.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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The Breakout from Normandy

Map of Normandy Breakout

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

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

US M5 Light Tank advancing through Coutances

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

Tiger Tank in Normandy

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

5th Armored Division Shermans near Argentan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wrecked German vehicles near Mortain

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

12th SS Panzer Division Machine Gun team

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

Canadians advance in Falaise

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

US Infantry advancing near Argentan

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

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

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

Polish Soldiers at the Corridor of Death


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

[ii] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

[vii] Ibid.  p.195

[viii] Ibid. Also

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

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

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

[xii] Ibid. Hastings Overlord p.283

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ibid. Weigley p.199.

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

[xvi] Ibid. Weigley p. 199

[xvii] Ibid. p.200

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

[xix] Ibid. D’Este. p.631

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

[xxi] Ibid. p. 202

[xxii] Ibid. p.204

[xxiii] Ibid.

[xxiv] Ibid.

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

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

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

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

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

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Groundhog Day, Tapping the Keller Heller and Padre Steve’s Top World War Two Articles

Well today is Groundhog Day and Punxatwany Phil has predicted another six weeks of old man winter. This is something that does not surprise me as I expect to be “chilling” at Harbor Park the night of April 8th when the Tides play the Bulls in their home opener.  Back in 2005 the temperature was 38 degrees at game time with winds gusting to 40 mph blowing in over the center field wall.  Since we have already had a massive snowstorm this last weekend and may get another bout of winter weather beginning Friday I know the cuddly furball is right.  Every day I wake up thanking God for global warming as I can’t imagine how cold it would be without it.  So winter is here to stay for a while and I guess my short cargo pants have to wait until opening day to come back out.  Anyway while at back after trudging back to the office after my 0715 meeting I ran into one of our other chaplains in the hallway near our small Navy Exchange.  I went into the exchange to pick up a bottle of water and some apples and after waiting in line left the exchange to head back to the officer where I ran into the same chaplain in almost the same location.  I asked “didn’t I just see you here?” Since I had just passed him and he was going the other way I thought it was déjà vu all over again.  I followed up my question with the comment “well it is Groundhog Day.”  So once again though not waking to the sound of I Got You Babe I was confronted with the reality of Groundhog Day in the flesh several hundred miles from Punxatwany Phil. C’est le guerre.

Not today’s picture but still fun

Tonight was the tapping of the new Gordon Biersch seasonal brew, a “Keller Heller.” The Abbess and I went there with our 80 plus friend Eileen who is here on her annual trip from Brooklyn back to North Carolina.  Eileen is a good Irish Catholic who remembers bar-hopping with her late husband. She had a blast and folks loved her. Some of the regulars were calling the Keller Heller a Heller Keller when we first tried a version of it at our Stein Club Christmas dinner and voted on the next seasonal. When I heard “Heller Keller” I automatically started calling it “Helen Keller” because if you drink too much of it you’ll go blind.  We tasted brew master Allen Young’s version at a Stein Club get-together last week and it is well worth it.   The hops are from Germany and have been used in the making of the Czech Pilsner Urquell for many years.  They are a bit pricy from what I understand and Allen got a metric ton to do the brew so this seasonal should be around for a while. According the Allen only one other American brewery has used them.  I can attest that the “Helen Keller” is great and well worth the effort to get it.  Of course if you don’t live in Hampton Roads or happen to travel here during the time that we have it you will miss a very good beer.  On a side note the Abbess was inducted into the Stein Club and Greg, a recently retired Navy Medical Service Corps Officer and I provided back-up to the back-up singers at the tapping party.  The good thing was that the music was ‘50s retro and “do-wops” and other such lyrics are not hard to do.  The best part was when we helped out with “Jailhouse Rock” and yes we were dancing to the jailhouse rock, actually kind of reminded me of the Blues Brothers. I guess that there is nothing like a couple of old Navy junior officers to have some fun at something like this. So anyway if you are in Hampton Roads and want a great beer come down to Gordon Biersch at Town Center.  Do I get extra Passport Points for the plug?

So anyway, since I am just kind of rambling right now here are links to my “Top 10 World War II Articles.” I have left off articles that are more composite and only included some Second World War material.

The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia

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

Operation “Dachs” My First Foray into the Genre “Alternative History”

Mortain to Market-Garden: A Study in How Armies Improvise in Rapidly Changing Situations

“Revisionist” History and the Rape of Nanking 1937

Unequal Allies: Lessons from The German’s and Their Allies on the Eastern Front for Today

The Paradox of Conflicting Doctrine: The US Campaign in France and Germany 1944-1945

Can Anybody Spare a DIME: A Short Primer on Early Axis Success and How the Allies Won the Second World War

Ein Volk Steht Auf: The German Volksturm, Ideology and late war Nazi Strategy

The Battleships of Pearl Harbor

So as Groundhog Day 2010 ends and we live our own Groundhog Days over the coming year don’t fear, find the humor in it all and remember that somewhere and somehow in this primordial mess that we live in that the Deity Herself still loves you and that God will never leave you or forsake you, even if you seem to be stuck in some hellish place where one day seems just like the last and the last and the last before the last or even the one or one hundred day that was just like it before that. Did that make sense? If not I think what we have is a failure to misunderstand each other.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mortain to Market-Garden: A Study in How Armies Improvise in Rapidly Changing Situations

NOTE: I decided to post an old article from my file which has not been posted here before as I was too emotionally spent to work on anything requiring emotional input. This is a look at the campaign in Western Europe from late July to September 1944.  I wrote this a number of years ago for my Masters in Military History program. Peace, Steve+

September 17th is the 65th 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.

Introduction

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]

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 3rd Army 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

patton montgomery and bradleyPatton Bradley and Montgomery, Time Magazine Photo

The American exploitation of the breakout, notably by elements of Patton’s 3rd Army 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]

panzer111Troops and Tanks of 12th SS Panzer Division in Normandy

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_armoured_forces_race_through_BallonAmerican Armor Advancing

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.

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

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 5th Armored Division.  The delay allowed the Germans to send a battalion into the town which could have “fallen easily a few hours before.”[21] 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.

Bild 101I-587-2253-15Fallschirmjaeger in France

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

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 3rd Infantry 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 19th Army 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.

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 5th Panzer 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]

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 Kampfgrüppe made 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]

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]

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

MarketGarden11Marker Garden, the Largest Airborne Operation

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 1st Allied 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]

market_garden_day_1_3American Troops 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.

MarketGarden06British Parachute Infantry in 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.

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.  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.


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

[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 1st Airborne 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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