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From the book, Crusade in Europe.
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ON DECEMBER 16, 1944, GENERAL BRADLEY CAME to my headquarters to discuss ways and means of overcoming our acute shortages in infantry replacements.
Just as he entered my office a staff officer came in to report slight penetrations of our lines in the front of General Middleton’s VIII Corps and the right of General Gerow’s V Corps in the Ardennes region. The staff officer located the points on my battle map, and Bradley and I discussed the probable meaning.
I was immediately convinced that this was no local attack; it was not logical for the enemy to attempt merely a minor offensive in the Ardennes, unless of course it should be a feint to attract our attention while he launched a major effort elsewhere.
This possibility we ruled out. On other portions of the front either we were so strong that the Germans could not hope to attack successfully, or there was a lack of major objectives that he could reasonably hope to attain. Moreover, we knew that for a number of days German troop strength in the Ardennes area had been gradually increasing.
It was through this same region that the Germans launched their great attack of 1940 which drove the British forces from the Continent, and France out of the war. That first attack was led by the same commander we were now facing, Von Rundstedt. It was possible that he hoped to repeat his successes of more than four years earlier.
We had always been convinced that before the Germans acknowledged final defeat in the West they would attempt one desperate counteroffensive. It seemed likely to Bradley and me that they were now starting this kind of attack.
On the north of the critical region General Hodges’ First Army, in its attack against the Roer dams, had as yet engaged only four divisions. On the south of the Ardennes front General Patton was still concentrating and preparing for the renewed attack against the Saar which was to begin December 19.
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|MAP: The Ardennes - December 16, 1944. Hodges’ First Army front vs. German Panzer and Army Divisions.|
Bradley and I were sufficiently convinced that a major attack was developing against the center of the Twelfth Army Group to agree to begin shifting some strength from both flanks toward the Ardennes sector. This was a preliminary move—rather a precaution—made in order to support the seventy-five mile length of the VIII Corps front, providing our calculations as to German intentions should prove correct.
We called a number of the SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force) staff into our conference room; among them were Air Chief Marshal Tedder, and Generals Smith, Bull, and Strong.
The operational maps before us showed that on each flank of the Ardennes the bulk of a United States armored division was out of the front lines and could be moved quickly. On the north was the 7th Armored Division commanded by Major General Robert W. Hasbrouck. In Patton’s army on the south was the 10th Armored under Major General William H. Morris, Jr.
We agreed that these two divisions should immediately begin to close in toward the threatened area, the exact destination of each to be determined later by Bradley. This meant postponement of preparations for the attack in the Saar and we knew that General Patton would protest. His heart was set on the new offensive, which he thought would gain great results.
But to Bradley and me there now appeared to be developing the very situation that we had felt justified in challenging because of the location of our concentrations on the flank of the weak Ardennes front. We had always felt the risk to be justified by the conviction that in emergency we could react swiftly.
The critical moment, in our judgment, was now upon us. In addition to directing these preliminary moves Bradley alerted all army commanders in his group to be ready to provide additional units for the battle that he expected to develop.
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|". . . Bradley alerted all army commanders in his group to be ready to provide additional units for the battle that he expected to develop."|
With the staff we carefully went over the list of reserves then available to us. Among those most readily accessible was the XVIII Airborne Corps under General Ridgway, located near Reims. It included the 82d and the 101st Airborne Divisions, both battle-tested formations of the highest caliber.
The Airborne Divisions had shortly before been heavily engaged in the fighting in Holland, and were not yet fully rehabilitated. Moreover, they were relatively weak in heavy supporting weapons, but these Bradley felt he could supply from the unthreatened portion of his long line.
The U. S. 11th Armored Division had recently arrived and the 17th Airborne Division was in the United Kingdom ready to come to the Continent. The 87th Infantry Division could also be brought into the area within a reasonable time.
In the British sector, far to the north, Montgomery was preparing for a new offensive. At the moment he had one complete corps, the 30, out of the line. With the resources available to us, we were confident that any attack the German might launch could eventually be effectively countered.
But we were under no illusions concerning the weakness of the VIII Corps line or the ability of any strong attack to make deep penetrations through it.
We agreed, therefore, that in the event the German advance should prove to be an all-out assault we would avoid piecemeal commitment of reserves.
The temptation in such circumstances is always to hurl each individual reinforcement into the battle as rapidly as it can be brought up to the line. This habit was a weakness of Rommel’s. In the face of a great attack it merely assures that each reinforcing unit is overwhelmed by the strength of the advance.
We knew that even if we should finally succeed in this fashion in stopping the advance there would be nothing available for a decisive counterstroke. On the other hand, it would be necessary to assist the VIII Corps rapidly with sufficient forces so that it could withdraw its lines in orderly fashion and save the bulk of its own strength.
We went over, again, the limit of the penetration that we could, if necessary, permit in that region without irretrievable damage to ourselves. This line covered the cities of Luxembourg and Sedan on the south, followed the Meuse River on the west, and covered Liege on the north.
Farther back than this we would not go, and we would of course stop the enemy earlier if possible.
One factor that caused us a special concern, even anxiety, was the weather. For some days our great air force had been grounded because of clouds and impenetrable fog. The air force was one of our greatest assets, and now, until the weather improved, it was practically useless. As long as the weather kept our planes on the ground it would be an ally of the enemy worth many additional divisions.
Following the conference, Bradley returned to his own headquarters in the city of Luxembourg, whence he kept in almost hourly contact with me by telephone during the next few critical days.
Bradley’s first task was to bring up reinforcements to help in the withdrawal of the VIII Corps. In the meantime both Bradley’s headquarters and my own would begin to gather up and assemble reserves for whatever action might be indicated as more exact information became available to us.
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|Tanks in a German Panzer unit under review.|
Middleton’s divisions, employed along the front of the VIII Corps from north to south, were the 106th Division under Major General Alan W. Jones, the 28th Division under Major General Norman D. Cota, and the 4th Division under Major General Raymond O. Barton. The 9th Armored Division, under Major General John W. Leonard, was also part of Middleton’s corps.
The morning of December 17 it became clear that the German attack was in great strength. Two gaps were torn through our line, one on the front of the 106th Division, the other on the front of the 28th.
Reports were confusing and exact information was meager, but it was clear that the enemy was employing considerable armor and was progressing rapidly to the westward. All Intelligence agencies of course worked tirelessly and we soon had a very good picture of the general strength of the German attack.
For the assault Von Rundstedt concentrated three armies. These were the Fifth and Sixth Panzer Armies and the Seventh Army. Included were ten Panzer and Panzer Grenadier divisions and the whole force totaled twenty-four divisions with their supporting troops. Some of this information did not become available until later in the battle, but by the evening of the seventeenth Intelligence agencies had identified seventeen divisions and were certain that at least twenty were involved in the operation.
In two important points the enemy had gained definite surprise.
The first of these was in timing. In view of the terrible defeats we had inflicted upon him during the late summer and fall, and of the extraordinary measures he had been compelled to undertake in raising new forces, we had believed that he could not be ready for a major assault as early as he was.
The other point in which he surprised us was the strength of the attack. The Sixth Panzer Army was the mobile reserve we had lost track of earlier, a fresh and strong unit only recently arrived on our front from Germany, but we had already badly mauled the Seventh Army and the Fifth Panzer.
In gaining this degree of surprise the enemy was favored by the weather. For some days aerial reconnaissance had been impossible, and without aerial reconnaissance we could not determine the locations and movements of major reserves in the rear of his lines.
The strong artificial defenses of the Siegfried Line assisted the enemy to achieve strength in the attack. The obstacles, pillboxes, and fixed guns of that line so greatly multiplied the defensive power of the garrison that the German could afford to weaken long stretches of his front in order to gather forces for a counterblow.
Although with regard to the strength of the forces engaged on both sides the Kasserine affair was a mere skirmish in proportion to the Ardennes battle, yet there were points of similarity between the two. Each was an attack of desperation; each took advantage of extraordinary strength in a defensive barrier to concentrate forces for a blow at Allied communications and in the hope of inducing the Allied high command to give up over-all plans for relentless offensives.
Surprised as we were by the timing and the strength of the attack, we were not wrong in its location, nor in the conviction that it would eventually occur. Moreover, so far as the general nature of our reaction was concerned, General Bradley and I had long since agreed on plans.
To carry out our general scheme successfully it was vitally necessary that the shoulders of our defenses bordering upon the German penetration be held securely. In the north the critical region was near Monschau, an area over which Gerow’s American V Corps of the First Army was attacking toward the Roer dams at the moment the German offensive began. In Gerow’s corps the veteran 2d Division under General Robertson and the new 99th Division under Major General Walter E. Lauer were initially struck by the German attack.
Our lines were forced back by superior numbers. The 2d Division and portions of the 99th met the issue with great skill and during the ensuing three days fought one of the brilliant actions of the war in Europe.
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|MAP: The Ardennes - December 19, 1944. Initial German drive showing the points of German attacks and the American lines.|
The attack caught the divisions while they were advancing toward the Roer dams. General Hodges, First Army commander, at first did not sense the extent of the threat and directed the American attacks to continue. But General Robertson, on the spot, soon sized up the situation and acted decisively.
Robertson had first to select a line on which his division could conduct an effective defense. The troops then had to occupy the line while under pressure, and ready themselves to receive heavy assaults. All this the division succeeded in doing, in the meantime gaining some added strength from portions of neighboring units, which were partially assimilated within the ranks of the 2d.
The German threw heavy attacks against the division but the Americans stubbornly refused to give way. It is doubtful, however, that the 2d Division could have held out alone throughout the thirty-six hours before reinforcements reached its vicinity except for the courageous action of the 7th Armored Division at St. Vith.
When the 7th Armored Division came down from the northern flank on December 17 the situation was still far from clear. It pushed forward with the purpose of supporting the left of the VIII Corps and finally became semi-isolated in St. Vith, some fifteen miles south of Monschau.
St. Vith was an important point on the road net of that area and necessary to the German spearheads attempting to push to the west. Joined there by remnants of the 106th and 28th Divisions, the 7th Armored hung grimly on in the face of repeated attacks. Its battle at St. Vith not only divided the German effort in the north but prevented quick encirclement of the Monschau position.
Finally the continued and heavy pressure of the Germans tended further to isolate the 7th Armored. A concentrated attack by several divisions on December 20 drove it to the west, in the area north of St. Vith. Consequently it was ordered to withdraw the next day to join the Allied lines which were now building up on the north flank of the German salient.
But the great stand of the division had not only badly upset the timetable of the German spearheads: its gallant action had been most helpful to the 2d Division at the vitally important Monschau shoulder until the 1st Division, under Brigadier General Clift Andrus, and the 9th, under Major General Louis A. Craig, came up to its support. Thereafter, with these three proved and battle-tested units holding the position, the safety of our northern shoulder was practically a certainty.
As early as December 17 the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions were released from SHAEF Reserve to General Bradley. Immediately arrangements were made to utilize the 11th Armored Division, just arrived, and to begin the transfer to France of the 17th Airborne Division.
General Lee, commanding the great Services of Supply organization (SOS), was directed, with available engineers and other detachments, to prepare to defend the crossings of the Meuse, including the blowing up of bridges if this should be necessary. The reason for this order was that the task was largely a precautionary and static one and I did not want to employ mobile divisions for this kind of work.
The SOS responded promptly and within the American area began the work of providing strong defenses for the Meuse line.
General Montgomery, in the British area, also took this early precaution to protect the dumps and depots in the rear.
The German’s advance, in spite of his failure at Monschau, was very rapid through the center of the break-through. As the advance continued it gradually began swinging to the north and northwest, and it was evident that the enemy’s objective lay in that direction.
We believed that his first purpose would be the capture of Liege. We reasoned that even if he had the more ambitious objective of Antwerp he would have to depend partially upon supplies he might capture at Liege.
We arrived at this conclusion because from the beginning we had counted upon the German deficiency in supplies, particularly the difficulties he was certain to encounter in transporting them to the front. Consequently we believed that his continued advance would depend, almost regardless of countermeasures of our own, upon the capture of one of our great supply depots.
Even if the German had possessed as efficient a supply system as we—which he did not—he would still have found tremendous difficulty in supplying his spearheads over the miserable roads available, which were at the same time, of course, crowded with his reinforcements pushing to the front.
So we were particularly careful about Liege, where there were vast quantities of every kind of vital supplies, including fuel and food.
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|We had the advantage of supply and would defend it.|
However, we were determined that the enemy would be stopped short of that point, and in the outcome he never got close to Liege. Subsequently we learned that Brussels and Antwerp were designated by the Germans as the principal objectives for the assaulting troops.
Nevertheless, our reasoning was correct because lack of supply did become one of Von Rundstedt’s major difficulties in the prosecution of the offensive.
On the seventeenth Bradley ordered the XVIII Airborne Corps from reserve to the front with Bastogne its original destination. General Middleton, then in Bastogne, saw the great importance of the spot and urged preparation to hold it.
General Middleton conferred with Bradley by telephone, and although he stated that the place could soon be surrounded, recommended that it be held. It became necessary to divert the 82d Airborne Division to the north toward Stavelot, so the 101st, with detachments of the VIII Corps, became the defenders of Bastogne.
Developments were closely examined and analyzed all during December 17 and 18. By the night of the eighteenth I felt we had sufficient information of the enemy’s strength, intentions, and situation, and of our own capabilities, to lay down a specific plan for our counteraction.
On the early morning of December 19, accompanied by Air Chief Marshal Tedder and a small group of staff officers, I went to Verdun, where Generals Bradley, Patton, and Devers had been ordered to meet me. As the conference started, with everyone around a long table, I remarked: “The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster. There will be only cheerful faces at this conference table.”
True to his impulsive nature, General Patton broke out with, “Hell, let’s have the guts to let the —— — —— go all the way to Paris. Then we’ll really cut ‘em off and chew ‘em up.” Everyone, including Patton, smiled at this one, but I replied that the enemy would never be allowed to cross the Meuse.
The situation was carefully reviewed and it was gratifying to find that every man present, whether a commander or staff officer, was cool and confident. I did not hear any remark that indicated hysteria or excessive fear.
In a situation of this kind there are normally two feasible lines of reaction for the defending forces, assuming that the high command does not become so frightened as to order a general retreat along the whole front.
One is merely to build up a safe defensive line around the general area under attack, choosing some strong feature, such as a river, on which to make the stand.
The other is for the defender to begin attacking as soon as he can assemble the necessary troops.
I chose the second, not only because in the strategic sense we were on the offensive, but because I firmly believed that by coming out of the Siegfried the enemy had given us a great opportunity which we should seize as soon as possible.
This was in my mind when I radioed Montgomery on the nineteenth, saying: “Our weakest spot is in direction of Namur. The general plan is to plug the holes in the north and launch co-ordinated attack from the south.
The following day I was more specific in another message to him: “Please let me have your personal appreciation of the situation on the north flank with reference to the possibility of giving up, if necessary, some ground in order to shorten our line and collect a strong reserve for the purpose of destroying the enemy in Belgium.
I had already determined that it was not essential for our counter-attack to begin on both flanks simultaneously. In the north, where the weight of the German attack was falling, we would be on the defensive for some days.
But on the south we could help the situation by beginning a northward advance at the earliest possible moment. My immediate purpose at the Verdun meeting on the nineteenth was to make arrangements for the beginning of the southern assault.
It was Bradley’s responsibility to outline the exact unit sectors, together with other local details of direction and co-operation. But because Devers’ forces would have to extend their left in order to take over a part of Bradley’s front and therefore allow him a greater opportunity for concentration, I had to make appropriate decisions, including those of general strength and timing.
We first determined the point to which we believed Devers could stretch his left without exposing the southern flank injudiciously.
The next problem was to determine the amount of force Patton could gather up for a counterattack and the approximate time that it could begin. I did not want him to start until he was in sufficient force so that, once committed, he could continue gradually to crush in the southern flank of the developing salient. Once this was done, the German troops west of our point of attack would be effectively stopped, because east-west communications through the region were relatively meager.
We estimated that Patton could begin a three-division attack by the morning of December 23, possibly by the twenty-second.
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|General Bradley confers with Patton.|
I issued verbal orders for these arrangements to be undertaken instantly, with the understanding that Patton’s attack, under Bradley, was to begin no earlier than the twenty-second and no later than the twenty-third.
It was agreed further that when Patton’s forces had reached the Bastogne area they would continue on, probably in the general direction of Houffalize. Ample air support was promised the instant flying conditions should improve so that planes could take the air.
Moreover, I informed the meeting that I would begin an arrangement for offensive action on the northern flank as quickly as the force of the German blow in that sector had spent itself.
It was arranged for Patton to concentrate his attacking corps of at least three divisions in the general vicinity of Arlon and from that point to begin the advance toward Bastogne. I personally cautioned him against piecemeal attack and gave directions that the advance was to be methodical and sure.
Patton at first did not seem to comprehend the strength of the German assault and spoke so lightly of the task assigned him that I felt it necessary to impress upon him the need of strength and cohesion in his own advance.
We discussed the advisability of attempting to organize a simultaneous attack somewhat farther to the east, against the southern shoulder of the salient. It was concluded that future events might indicate the desirability of such a move but that for the moment we should, in that locality, merely insure the safety of the shoulder and confine our attacks to the sector indicated.
The directive issued at Verdun on December 19 established the outline of the plan for counteraction on the southern flank and was not thereafter varied. When Patton issued his own attack order, he, as was customary with him, set an impossibly distant objective for his forces. However, this hurt nothing because both Bradley and I were concerned only with a methodical advance to the Bastogne area, after which Bradley would determine the particular moves to follow.
The Colmar pocket had a definite and restrictive influence on the plans made that morning. Had that pocket not existed, the French Army could easily have held the line of the Rhine from the Swiss border northward to the Saar region, which would have released all of the American Seventh Army for employment northward of that point and so provided much greater strength for Patton’s attack.
However, the Colmar pocket stood as a threat to our forces in the Rhine plain east of the Vosges and it was consequently unwise and dangerous to take from that area all the troops that otherwise could have been spared.
Devers was instructed to give up any forward salient in his area that would permit saving troops and in case of an attack to give ground slowly on his northern flank, even if he had to move completely back to the Vosges. The northern Alsatian plain was of no immediate value to us. I was at that time quite willing to withdraw on Devers’ front, if necessary, all the way to the eastern edge of the Vosges.
But I would not allow the Germans to re-enter those mountains, and this line was definitely laid down as the one that must be held on Devers’ front.
These instructions were of course communicated to the French Army, since they implied the possibility of retrograde movement, and if this became extensive, even the city of Strasbourg might have to be temporarily abandoned.
The French commander eventually relayed this information to Paris, where it caused great concern in military and governmental circles. General Juin, Chief of Staff of the French Army, came to see me and urged all-out defense of Strasbourg. I told him that at that moment I could not guarantee the city’s security but would not give it up unnecessarily. The Strasbourg question was, however, to plague me throughout the duration of the Ardennes battle.
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|The Germans were advancing quickly. "General Juin, Chief of Staff of the French Army, came to see me and urged all-out defense of Strasbourg . . . I could not guarantee the city’s security . . ."|
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By the night of the nineteenth, at headquarters at Versailles, reports showed that the German attack was making rapid progress through the center of the salient and that the spearheads of the attack continued to swing to the northwest. The direction of the attack seemed more and more to indicate that the German plan was to cross the Meuse somewhere west of Liege and from there—we thought after surrounding Liege—to continue northwestward to get on the main line of communications of all our forces north of the breakthrough.
The northern flank was obviously the dangerous one and the fighting continued to mount in intensity. Moreover, it appeared likely that the German might attempt secondary and supporting attacks still farther to the north in an effort to disperse our forces and accomplish a double envelopment of our entire northern wing. The Intelligence Division had some evidence that such supporting attacks were planned by the enemy.
The German attack had quickly gained the popular name of “Battle of the Bulge,” because of the rapid initial progress made by the heavy assault against our weakly held lines, with a resulting penetration into our front that reached a maximum depth of some fifty miles.
This kind of battle places maximum strain upon an army in the field, from the highest general to the last private in the ranks. Its destructive moral effect falls most heavily, of course, upon the troop units that are struck by the attack. Confronted by overwhelming power, and unaware of the measures that their commanders have in mind for moving to their support, the soldiers in the front lines, suffering all the dangers and risks of actual contact, inevitably experience confusion, bewilderment, and discouragement.
In a different way, the pressure upon higher commanders is equally great. No matter how confident they may be of their ultimate ability to foil the enemy and even to turn the situation into a favorable one, there always exists the danger, when the enemy has the initiative, of something going wrong.
The history of War is replete with instances where a sudden panic, an unexpected change of weather, or some other unforeseen circumstance has defeated the best-laid plans and brought reverse rather than victory. It would be idle and false to pretend that the Allied forces, in all echelons, did not suffer strain and worry throughout the first week of the Ardennes attack. It would be equally false to overemphasize the extent and the effect.
No responsible individual in war is ever free of mental strain; in battles such as the one initiated by the German attack in the Ardennes, this reaches a peak. But in a well-trained combat force, everyone has been schooled to accept it. Hysteria, born of excessive fear, is encountered only in exceptional cases.
In battles of this kind it is more than ever necessary that responsible commanders exhibit the firmness, the calmness, the optimism that can pierce through the web of conflicting reports, doubts, and uncertainty and by taking advantage of every enemy weakness win through to victory. The American commanders reacted in just this fashion.
Early in the battle, on December 22, I issued one of the few “Orders of the Day” I wrote during the war. In it I said:
"By rushing out from his fixed defenses the enemy may give us the chance to turn his great gamble into his worst defeat. So I call upon every man, of all the Allies, to rise now to new heights of courage, of resolution and of effort.
"Let everyone hold before him a single thought—to destroy the enemy on the ground, in the air, everywhere—destroy him! United in this determination and with unshakable faith in the cause for which we fight, we will, with God’s help, go forward to our greatest victory."
North of the break-through three Allied armies and part of another occupied a great salient, extending in a rough semicircle over 250 miles of front. In the extreme north was the Twenty-first Army Group, facing northward and eastward along the lower Rhine and the Maas River. Next to the south was the U. S. Ninth Army, facing east. Next in line was that part of the U. S. First Army, now facing southward, which remained north of the penetration.
All the troops that could be spared from the First and Ninth Army fronts were being assembled to build up an east-west defensive line against the German assault. These two armies could, at that moment, provide no mobile reserve whatsoever.
There was, however, an available reserve in Montgomery’s Twenty-first Army Group. It was the British 30 Corps, then out of the line and available for duty anywhere on our great semicircular line in the north, any part of which might be attacked by the enemy. Very definitely that salient had become one battle front, with a single reserve which might be called upon to operate in support either of the British and Canadian armies or of the American Ninth and First Armies.
The depth of the German advances on the eighteenth and nineteenth had broken all normal communications between Bradley’s headquarters at Luxembourg and the headquarters of the Ninth and First Armies For this reason it was completely impossible for Bradley to give to the attack on the southern shoulder the attention that I desired and at the same time keep properly in touch with the troops in the north who were called upon to meet the heaviest German blows.
To this whole situation only one solution seemed applicable. This was to place all troops in our northern salient under one commander.
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|"The only way of achieving the necessary unity was to place Montgomery temporarily in command of all the northern forces . . ."|
The only way of achieving the necessary unity was to place Montgomery temporarily in command of all the northern forces and direct Bradley to give his full attention to affairs on the south. Because of my faith in the soundness of the teamwork that we had built up, I had no hesitancy in adopting this solution. I telephoned Bradley to inform him of this decision and then called Field Marshal Montgomery and gave him his orders.
Late that evening Mr. Churchill telephoned to ask how the battle was going. I gave him the outline of the countermeasures already directed and informed him of the temporary command setup.
Churchill remarked that my plan would make the British reserve instantly available for use wherever needed, regardless of previously defined zones, and said, “I assure you that British troops will always deem it an honor to enter the same battle as their American friends."
The command plan worked and there was generally universal acceptance of its necessity at the time.
Unfortunately, after the battle was over a press conference held by Montgomery, supplemented by a number of press stories written by reporters attached to the Twenty-first Army Group, created the unfortunate impression among Americans that Montgomery was claiming he had moved in as the savior of the Americans. I do not believe that Montgomery meant his words as they sounded, but the mischief was not lessened thereby.
This incident caused me more distress and worry than did any similar one of the war. I doubt that Montgomery ever came to realize how deeply resentful some American commanders were. They believed that he had deliberately belittled them—and they were not slow to voice reciprocal scorn and contempt.
However, the accusations and recriminations that flew about the command for a period were directed not at the military soundness of the original decision but at the interpretations the Americans placed upon Montgomery’s press conference and the news stories out of his headquarters. It was a pity that such an incident had to mar the universal satisfaction in final success.
At the same time a portion of the British press revived the old question of a single ground commander. Field Marshal Montgomery believed in this as a matter of principle; he even offered to serve under Bradley if I would approve. I was opposed as a matter of principle and continued to reject the proposition. Even General Marshall, on December 30, telegraphed me on this point, saying:
"They may or may not have brought to your attention articles in certain London papers proposing a British deputy commander for all your ground forces and implying that you have undertaken too much of a task yourself.
"My feeling is this: under no circumstances make any concessions of any kind whatsoever. I am not assuming that you had in mind such a concession. I just wish you to be certain of our attitude. You are doing a grand job, and go on and give them hell."
On New Year’s Day, I replied:
"You need have no fear as to my contemplating the establishment of a ground deputy. Since receipt of your telegram I have looked up the articles in the British papers to which you refer. Our present difficulties are being used by a certain group of papers and their correspondents to advocate something that they have always wanted but which is not in fact a sound organization.
"In the present case the German attack did not involve an army group boundary but came exactly in the center of a single group command. The emergency change in command arrangements, that is, the placing of one man in charge of each flank, was brought about by the situation, since the penetration was of such depth that Bradley could no longer command both flanks, while the only reserves that could be gathered on the north flank had to be largely British. Consequently single control had to be exercised on the north and on the south."
The defense of Bastogne was not only a spectacular feat of arms but had a great effect upon the outcome of the battle.
Bastogne lay in the general path of the sector of advance of the German Fifth Panzer Army. The orders of that army, we later found, directed that Bastogne be by-passed if defended and that the leading troops rush on to the west and then swing north to join in the major attack.
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|"Bastogne lay in the general path of the sector of advance of the German Fifth Panzer Army."|
When on December 17 the XVIII Airborne Corps with its two divisions had been released to General Bradley and directed toward Bastogne, it was not in anticipation of the battle that developed in that area but merely because Bastogne was such an excellent road center. Troops directed there could later be dispatched by the commander on the spot to any region he found desirable.
These troops were pushing toward the front on the eighteenth when the situation became so serious on the northern front that General Bradley diverted the leading division, the 82d, toward the left, but the 101st continued on to its original destination in Bastogne.
It began closing in there on the night of December 18. During that night and on the nineteenth, while the Germans were occupying themselves with isolated detachments of the troops that manned the original defensive line, the division prepared to defend Bastogne.
At the time of the Verdun conference on the morning of the nineteenth we did not know whether Bastogne was yet surrounded, but the strength and direction of advance of German troops in that area indicated that it quickly would be.
Consequently the 101st Division prepared for all-round defense, and although the assaulting armored divisions of the Germans by passed it to participate in the attack to the northwest, the division was under constant pressure from other German units from that moment onward until relieved.
The situation on the northern front of the German attack remained critical for some days. On December 21 the remnants of the 7th Armored Division and its supporting detachments were withdrawn from their exposed position near St. Vith after they had withstood the day before a terrific assault from overwhelming forces.
Fighting on the northern flank continued desperate on the succeeding days. As soon as Montgomery took charge he began to organize an American force to lead a later counteroffensive on that flank.
General Collins, with his VII Corps, was selected for this task but, for some days, as rapidly as divisions could be assigned to him they were sucked into the battle to prevent enemy advances at critical points.
Fighting kept up on this scale until the twenty-sixth, and from all available evidence it appeared that the German was going to make at least one more great effort to break through our lines in that region.
On the south Bradley had gotten off his attack on the morning of December 22. Progress was extremely slow and because of the snow-choked roads and fields, maneuvers were difficult. The initial attack was made by the III Corps, in which were the 4th Armored Division with the 80th and 26th Divisions.
It was the kind of fighting that General Patton distinctly disliked. It was slow, laborious going, with a sudden break-through an impossibility. Several times during the course of this attack General Patton called me to express his disappointment because he could go no faster; at the Verdun conference on the morning of the nineteenth he had implied, or even predicted, that he would get into Bastogne in his first rush.
I replied that as long as he was advancing I was quite satisfied. He was doing exactly what I expected, and although I knew that his early attacks were meeting only the defensive divisions of the German Seventh Army, terrain and climatic conditions were so bad that a faster advance could not be expected.
One of the breaks in our favor occurred December 23. This was a sudden, temporary clearing of the weather in the forward areas which released our air forces to plunge into the battle. From that moment onward, with some interruptions owing to bad weather, our battle-tested ground-air tactical team began again to function with its accustomed efficiency.
The air forces bombed sensitive spots in the German communications system, attacked columns on the road, and sought out and reported to us every significant move of the hostile forces. German prisoners taken thereafter invariably complained bitterly about the failure of their Luftwaffe and the terror and destruction caused by the Allied air forces.
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|With the break in the weather, supplies arrive Bastogne by parachute.|
On the twenty-sixth Patton at last succeeded in getting a small column into Bastogne but he did so by a narrow neck along his left flank that gave us only precarious connection with the beleaguered garrison. It was after that date that the really hard fighting developed around Bastogne, both for the garrison itself and for the relieving troops.
I had planned to go to see Montgomery on the twenty-third but air travel in the rear areas was still not advisable and travel by road was slow and uncertain. It was unwise for me to leave headquarters on a trip that might keep me absent for several days. Fortunately telephone and radio communications with both him and Bradley remained satisfactory and I was able to keep in close touch with the situation.
Nevertheless, I decided to make a night run by railway to Brussels to see Montgomery and to return immediately upon completion of the conference. The train I expected to use was bombed by the Germans on the night of the twenty-sixth, but another was hurriedly made up and I got away on the twenty-seventh.
The trip was further complicated by the extraordinary fears entertained by the Security Corps that enemy murderers were circulating in the area with the hope of killing Montgomery, Bradley, and me, and possibly others. The report was astonishing. For several months I had been driving everywhere around France with no more protection than that provided by an orderly and an aide who habitually rode in the car with me.
The story was brought to me on December 20 by a very agitated American colonel who was certain that he had complete and positive proof of the existence of such a plot. He outlined it in great detail and his conclusions were supported by other members of the Security Staff.
I discounted the murder theory but agreed to move my quarters closer to headquarters. I had been living in the town of St. Germain, in a house which Von Rundstedt had previously occupied. I was convinced that the Germans had too much need of their men to use them in roaming over a wide area in search of their intended victims, each of whom could presumably be replaced.
I was irritated at the insistence of the Security Corps that I definitely circumscribe my freedom of movement, but I found that unless I conformed reasonably to their desires they merely used more men for protective measures.
Consequently I promised to move out of headquarters only when necessary, provided they would cut down protective detachments to the utmost, so that soldiers could be used on the battle line and not in trailing me around.
They promised that this period of watchfulness would terminate December 23, but when I started to Brussels on December 27, I found the railway station swarming with Military Police and armed sentries. I sharply queried the security officers about this use of men but they assured me that they had merely assembled in the station individuals who were normally on duty in that vicinity.
However, after we were well started on our journey I found that a squad of soldiers was accompanying me. At every stop—and these were frequent because of difficulties with ice and snowbanks—these men would jump out of the train and take up an alert position to protect us.
I remarked to the junior officer in charge of the detail that I would consider it miraculous if any ambitious German murderer could determine in advance that he would find his prospective victim on a particular railway train, at a given moment, at a given spot in Europe. I told him to keep his men inside and to avoid exposing them to the bitter cold. He agreed in principle but so greatly impressed was he by the strictness of the orders he had received that I doubt that I saved any of the men from useless and futile activity.
It was almost noon on the twenty-eighth before I made contact with Montgomery. Roads were so bad that automobile travel was impossible and our train had to proceed by a long, roundabout, secondary line all the way to Hasselt, where I met Montgomery.
Montgomery gave me the details of the recent attacks against the northern line, showed me the position of his general reserve, and said that he was again beginning to assemble Collins’ corps, with which to initiate the Allied offensive from the northern flank. He intended to drive in the general direction of Houffalize.
At that meeting we had no positive information that indicated a German intention to cease his attacks in the north. Montgomery was certain from information available to him—and this information was correct at the time it was received—that the German intended to make at least one more full-blooded attack against the northern line.
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|MAP: The Ardennes. Maximum German Penetration.|
Montgomery was confident of beating off this attack and he wanted to get his reserve ready to follow in on the heels of the Germans as they were repulsed. This plan, of course, would seize the best possible conditions under which to initiate a great counter-blow, the only difficulty with it being that its timing depended upon the action of the enemy.
I discussed with him the possibility that the German might not attack again in the north but he felt that this was a practical certainty. If the enemy should not renew the assault, Montgomery said, he could use the time in reorganizing, re-equipping, and refreshing his troops.
At that time the first task was to make sure of the integrity of our northern lines. The German was still far south of any area in which he could cause us major damage and the only thing we had to fear was a clean break-through by fresh troops arriving on that front.
We agreed that the best thing to do in this situation was to strengthen the front, reorganize units, and get thoroughly ready for a strong counterblow, in the meantime constantly preparing to beat off any German attack that might be launched. We agreed also that if no such German attack was launched Montgomery would begin his own offensive on the morning of January 3.
In the outcome there was no further German attack because of a change in enemy plans which concentrated his troops in the Bastogne area. The Allied troops on the northern flank used the intervening time to good advantage and on the morning of January 3 passed over to the offensive, in accordance with the plan adopted December 28.
I returned to my own headquarters on the twenty-ninth. By that time the security people were beginning to believe that their fear of the murder scheme had been exaggerated. While they continued to surround me with greater security measures than they had employed before the beginning of the offensive, I could at least now depart from my headquarters without a whole platoon of MPs riding in accompanying jeeps and scout cars.
On December 26, Patton had established tenuous contact with the garrison of Bastogne, while on the north the Germans had just been repulsed from a very determined, and what proved to be their final, major attack on that flank.
By this time the garrison at Bastogne was proving to be a serious thorn in the side of the German high command. As long as it was in our hands, the German corridor to the westward was cut down to the narrow neck lying between Bastogne on the south and Stavelot on the north. Through this neck there was only one east-west road that was worthy of the name.
On the twenty-sixth the German began to concentrate strong forces for an attack upon the Bastogne area. Enemy troops were shifted from the northern front and additional strength was brought up from his rear areas.
In the meantime, however, we had brought up the 11th Armored Division and moved the 17th Airborne Division to the Continent. These, with the 87th Division, were stationed close to the Meuse and held in position to determine their area of greatest usefulness.
Because of the continued attacks of the Germans on the northern flank between December 20 and 26 it appeared possible that our new formations would be best used on that flank.
However, during the twenty-seventh it became clear that the German was now throwing his principal effort against Bastogne, and on the twenty-eighth I released the new divisions for Bradley’s use. The 11th and 87th were used to support Patton’s left flank just to the westward of Bastogne, but so difficult were the icy, snowy roads that these new troops accomplished little.
By the end of the month Middleton’s VIII Corps was reconstituted and back in the fight, joining in the northward attacks toward Bastogne. The Germans persisted in their attacks against the Bastogne area from the north and never ceased their assaults until the night of January 3.
During the progress of the December fighting there was no letup in our planning for the resumption of the general offensive. On December 31, I forwarded to Montgomery and Bradley an outline plan to cover operations until we should reach the Rhine all along the front from Bonn to the northward.
As the Battle of the Ardennes wore on the Germans began diversionary attacks in Alsace. They were not in great strength but because we had weakened ourselves in that area the situation had to be carefully watched. I told Devers he must on no account permit sizable formations to be cut off and surrounded.
The French continued to worry about the safety of Strasbourg. On January 3, De Gaulle came to see me. I explained the situation to him and he agreed that my plan to save troops in that region was militarily correct. However, he pointed out that ever since the war of 1870 Strasbourg had been a symbol to the French people; he believed that even its temporary loss might result in complete national discouragement and possibly in open revolt.
De Gaulle was very earnest about the matter, saying that in extremity he would consider it better to put the whole French force around Strasbourg, even at the risk of losing the entire Army, than to give up the city without a fight. He brought a letter saying that he would have to act independently unless I made disposition for last-ditch defense of Strasbourg.
I reminded him that the French Army would get no ammunition, supplies, or food unless it obeyed my orders, and pointedly told him that if the French Army had eliminated the Colmar pocket this situation would not have arisen.
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|French Army on the streets of France. ". . . pointedly told him that if the French Army had eliminated the Colmar pocket this situation would not have arisen."|
At first glance De Gaulle’s argument seemed to be based upon political considerations, founded more on emotion than on logic and common sense. However, to me it became a military matter because of the possible effect on our lines of communication and supply, which stretched completely across France, from two directions.
Unrest, trouble, or revolt along these lines of communication would defeat us on the front. Moreover, by the date of this conference the crisis in the Ardennes was well past. We were now on the offensive within the salient, and while I wanted to send to Bradley’s front all the troops we could spare elsewhere, the motive was now to increase the decisiveness of victory, not to stave off defeat.
I decided to modify my orders to Devers. I told General de Gaulle that I would immediately instruct Devers to withdraw only from the salients in the northern end of his line and to make disposition in the center to hold Strasbourg firmly. No more troops would be taken away from the Sixth Army Group. This modification pleased De Gaulle very much, and he left in a good humor, alleging unlimited faith in my military judgment.
Mr. Churchill was, by chance, in my headquarters when De Gaulle came to see me. He sat in with us as we talked but offered no word of comment. After De Gaulle left he quietly remarked to me, “I think you’ve done the wise and proper thing.”
During the battle the Luftwaffe attempted to operate on a more intensive scale than at any time since the early days of the campaign.
On January 1 the German Air Force came out in the strongest attack it had attempted against us in months. Its principal targets were Allied airfields, particularly those lying near the Bulge and to the northward thereof.
During the course of the day the Germans destroyed many of our planes, most of them on the ground. Reaction of our own fighter planes was swift, and although we took quite a severe, and partially needless loss, the enemy paid with almost half of his entire attacking force.
Two days later, January 3, the First Army, spearheaded by the VII Corps, began its attacks on the northern flank and all danger from the great German thrust had disappeared. From that moment on it was merely a question of whether we could make sufficient progress through his defenses and through the snowbanks of the Ardennes to capture or destroy significant portions of his forces.
From both flanks we continued attacks in the direction of Houffalize, where we joined up January 16. However, the advance had been so slow and so intensely opposed by the enemy that most of the enemy troops to the westward of the closing gap had succeeded in withdrawing. Upon arrival at Houffalize both armies turned generally eastward to drive the Germans beyond their initial lines.
At this time the First Army again came under General Bradley’s command.
The U. S. Ninth Army on the left flank of the American forces I assigned temporarily to Twenty-first Army Group because of a plan we were developing for the crossing of the Roer and for a converging operation against the Rhine crossing in the northern sector. I hoped to launch this assault by February 8-10, and since Montgomery’s forces were still stretched back along the line to the vicinity of Antwerp the only way I could provide the necessary two armies for the assault was to employ the U. S. Ninth Army.
The losses on both sides in the Battle of the Ardennes were considerable. Field commanders estimated that in the month ending January 16 the enemy suffered 120,000 serious casualties. In view of the fact that after the war German commanders admitted a loss of about 90,000, this estimate of our own would seem to be fairly accurate.
In addition to personnel losses the enemy suffered serious casualties in tanks, assault guns, planes, and motor transport These we estimated at the time as 600 tanks and assault guns, 1600 planes, and 6000 other vehicles.
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|German Focke-Wulf Fw 190 is hit and in a fiery explosion, sheds it’s left wing.|
|MAP: The Ardennes. Allied Offensive-January 1945 showing maximum German penetration from the December offensive and the from as of January 18, 1945.|
In the Ardennes battle our ground forces employed, for the first time in land battles, the new “proximity fuse.” It was an invention that added immensely to the effectiveness of our artillery.
Our own losses were high, with the 106th Infantry Division suffering the worst. Because of its exposed position it was not only in the fight from the start, but many men were isolated and captured. The 28th Division was likewise roughly handled and the 7th Armored took serious losses during its gallant defense of St. Vith. Altogether, we calculated our losses at a total of 77,000 men, of whom about 8000 were killed, 48,000 wounded, and 21,000 captured or missing. Our tank and tank destroyer losses were 733.
The projected attack for February 8-10 was to be merely the beginning of a series of blows that we were planning to complete the destruction of the Germans west of the Rhine. I wanted to pass to the general offensive as quickly as possible because I was convinced that in the Battle of the Bulge the enemy had committed all of his remaining reserves.
I counted on a greatly weakened resistance from that moment onward, both because of losses suffered by the Germans and because of the widespread discouragement that I felt sure would overtake his armies.
Moreover—and this was very important—the Russians had opened their long-awaited and powerful winter offensive on January 12. Already we had reports that it was making great progress and it was obvious that the quicker we could attack the more certain we would be that the German could not again reinforce his west front in an effort to avoid defeat.