Chapter I
Prelude to Victory

Map I
The Western Front
3 January 1945

By the third day of January 1945, the Germans in the snow-covered Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg had shot their bolt. The winter counteroffensive, one of the more dramatic events of World War II in Europe, was not over in the sense that the original front lines had been restored, but the outcome could no longer be questioned. A week earlier the Third U.S. Army had established contact with an embattled American force at the road center of Bastogne, well within the southern shoulder of the German penetration. At this point it could be only a matter of time before the Third Army linked with the First U.S. Army driving down from the northern shoulder. Adolf Hitler, the German Fuehrer, himself admitted on 3 January that the Ardennes operation, under its original concept, was "no longer promising of success."1

On this third day of January the First (1st) Army began its attack to link with the Third Army, to push in what had become known as the "bulge," and to reach the Rhine River. It was an attack destined to secure the tactical initiative that the Allied armies had lost temporarily in the December fighting but which, once regained, they would hold until after Hitler was dead and the German armed forces and nation were prostrate. One day later on the fourth, the Third Army, which had been attacking in the Ardennes since 22 December, was to start a new phase in its campaign to push in the southern portion of the bulge.

On these two days in early January, deep in the Ardennes, the Allies began, in effect, their last great offensive of the war in Europe.

Not that the entire front--stretching some 450 airline miles from the North Sea to the Swiss border--burst immediately into flame. Indeed, the Germans no longer ago than New Year's Eve had launched a second counteroffensive--Operation NORDWIND--near the southern end of the Allied line in Alsace. This would take more than a fortnight to subdue.2 Yet the fighting in Alsace, no matter how real and trying to the men and units involved, was a secondary effort. The true turn the war was taking was more apparent in the north, where the last offensive materialized slowly, even gropingly, as the First and Third Armies sought to eradicate the last vestiges of the enemy's thrust in the Ardennes. One by one the other Allied armies would join the fight.


Allied Strategy

As soon as the Western Allies could repair their ruptured line, they could get back to what they had been about that cold, mist-clad morning of 16 December when the Germans had appeared without warning in the forests of the Ardennes.3 Not only could the attacks and preparations that had been in progress be resumed in somewhat altered form but also a lively debate could be renewed among Allied commanders as to the proper course for Allied strategy. The debate had begun in August after the extent of the enemy's defeat in Normandy had become apparent.

In planning which preceded the invasion of Europe, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, and his advisers had agreed to build up strength in a lodgment area in France, then to launch two major thrusts into Germany. One was to pass north of the Ardennes to seize the Ruhr industrial region, Germany's primary arsenal, the other south of the Ardennes to assist the main drive and at the same time eliminate the lesser Saar industrial area.4

In the event, the extent of German defeat in Normandy had exceeded anything the preinvasion planners had foreseen; the Allies had gained the proposed limits of the lodgment area and had kept going in an uninterrupted drive against a fleeing enemy. When it appeared likely that failing to pause to allow the armies' logistical tails to catch up soon would limit operations, the senior British field commander in the theater, Field Marshal Sir Bernard L. Montgomery, had asked Eisenhower to abandon the secondary thrust. Concentrate everything, Montgomery urged, on one bold, end-the-war offensive north of the Ardennes, to be conducted primarily by Montgomery's command, the 21 Army Group. The commander of the 12th U.S. Army Group, Lt. Gen. Omar N. Bradley, favored instead a thrust by his First and Third U.S. Armies generally south of the Ardennes along the shortest route into Germany. One of Bradley's subordinates, Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., had insisted that his command alone, the Third Army, could do the job.

Unmoved by the arguments, General Eisenhower had continued to favor the preinvasion plan. While granting concessions to the main thrust in the north, including support from the First U.S. Army and the First Allied Airborne Army and a temporary halt in offensive operations by the Third Army, he had held to the design of advancing on a broad front.

As operations developed, the 21 Army Group with the First Canadian and Second British Armies had advanced generally north of the Ardennes through the Belgian plain into the Netherlands, while the First U.S. Army had provided




support with a drive across eastern Belgium into what became known as the Aachen Gap. The Third Army, meanwhile, had moved across northern France into Lorraine. In the south a new Allied force, the 6th Army Group, commanded by Lt. Gen. Jacob L. Devers and composed of the Seventh U.S. and First French Armies, had come ashore in southern France and extended the Allied front into Alsace.

At that point the Germans, strengthened along their frontier by inhospitable terrain and concrete fortifications (the West Wall, or, as Allied troops called it, the Siegfried Line), and by proximity to their sources of supply as opposed to ever-lengthening Allied supply lines, had turned to fight back with surprising effect. Through the fall of 1944 they had limited Allied gains in the south to the German frontier along the Saar River and the upper Rhine. In the north, despite a spectacular airborne assault in the Netherlands by the First Allied Airborne Army, they had held the 21 Army Group generally south and west of the Maas River and the First Army west of the Roer River, less than 23 miles inside Germany.

Through the fall campaign, debate over a concentrated thrust in the north as opposed to Eisenhower's broad-front strategy had continued to arise from time to time in one form or another. Tied in with it was a long-standing tenet of Field Marshal Montgomery's that Eisenhower should designate a single, over-all ground commander, presumably Montgomery himself. To both arguments, Eisenhower had continued to say no. The front was too long, he said, for one man to control it all; that was the reason for having army groups and armies. As to advance on a broad front, he believed it would be "very important to us later on to have two strings to our bow."5

Yet what persuasion could not effect, the enemy counteroffensive in part had wrought. With the German drive threatening to split the 12th Army Group, Eisenhower had given Montgomery temporary command of all forces north of the penetration. Not only was the First Army included but also the Ninth U.S. Army, which had entered the line in October north of Aachen between the First Army and the British.

The debate had arisen again as the year 1944 came to a close. As soon as the Ardennes breach could be repaired, General Eisenhower revealed, he intended to return the First Army to General Bradley's command and to resume operations within the framework of the broad-front strategy. The First and Third Armies were to drive from the Ardennes through the Eifel to reach the Rhine south of the Ruhr, while the 21 Army Group was to retain the Ninth Army and make a major drive to the Rhine north of the Ruhr.6

Even as the fighting to eliminate the enemy in the Ardennes developed momentum, the British Chiefs of Staff emerged in clear disagreement with Eisenhower's views. On 10 January they asked formally for a strategy review by the Combined Chiefs of Staff (U.S. and British), under whose direction General Eisenhower served. In reply to inquiry


from General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army and a member of the Combined Chiefs, Eisenhower insisted that in order to concentrate a powerful force north of the Ruhr for the invasion of Germany, he had to have a firm defensive line (the Rhine) that could be held with minimum forces. Once he had concentrated along the Rhine, the main thrust would be made in the north on the north German plain over terrain conducive to the mobile warfare in which the Allies excelled. A secondary thrust was to be made south of the Ruhr, not in the vicinity of Bonn and Cologne, as the British wanted, because the country east of the Rhine there is tactically unfavorable, but farther south near Frankfurt, where a terrain corridor that runs south of the Ardennes extends across the Rhine through Frankfurt to Kassel.

Stopping off at Malta en route to top-level discussions with the eastern ally, the Soviet Union, the Chiefs of Staff of the British and American services--sitting as the Combined Chiefs of Staff--would on 2 February accept the Supreme Commander's plan. They would do so with the assurance that the main effort would be made north of the Ruhr and that this main thrust would not necessarily await clearing the entire west bank of the Rhine.7

For all its aspects of finality, this decision was not to end the matter. As plans for broadening the last offensive progressed, various ramifications of the controversy would continue to arise. Yet for the moment, at least, the air was clear.

Allied Versus German Strength

In returning to the offensive, General Eisenhower and his Allied command were dealing from overwhelming strength. By 3 January 3,724,927 Allied soldiers had come ashore in western Europe.8 They were disposed tactically in 3 army groups, 9 armies (including one not yet assigned divisions), 20 corps, and 73 divisions. Of the divisions, 49 were infantry, 20 armored, and 4 airborne.9 Six tactical air commands and thousands of medium and heavy bombers backed up the armies. A highly complex, technical, and skilled logistical apparatus, recovered at last from the strain imposed by the pursuit to the German frontier, rendered support; behind the U.S. armies, this went by the name of the Communications Zone. The Allies would be striking with one of the strongest, unquestionably the best-balanced, military forces of all time.

At first glance German ground strength available to the Commander in Chief West (Oberbefehlshaber West),10 Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, appeared equal, even superior, to that of the Allies, for Rundstedt controlled, nominally, eighty divisions. In reality, many of these had been drastically reduced in the fighting. The 26th



Volks Grenadier Division, for example, which had fought in the Ardennes, had a "present for duty" (Tagesstaerke) strength of 5,202 but a "combat effective" (Kampfstaerke) strength of only 1,782; this against a table of organization calling for approximately 10,000 men. Nor did the Germans have the trained replacements to bring units back to full strength.11

By contrast, Allied units, despite losses in the Ardennes and despite a pinch in American infantry replacements, would quickly be reconstituted. The 28th Infantry Division, for example, literally shattered by the opening blows of the enemy thrust in December, would be virtually at full strength again by the end of January, even though Allied tables of organization called for from two to four thousand more men per division than did German tables. Only the 106th Infantry Division, which had had two regiments captured early in the fighting, would not be returned to full strength.

The German forces opposing the Western Allies were organized into four army groups. In the north, Army Group H (Generaloberst Kurt Student) held the line from the Dutch coast to Roermond with the Twenty-fifth and First Parachute Armies, its boundaries roughly coterminous with those of the 21 Army Group's First Canadian and Second British Armies. From Roermond south to the Moselle River near Trier, including the Ardennes bulge, stood Army Group B (Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model), the strongest--by virture of having been beefed up for the Ardennes operation--of the German army groups. Army Group B controlled the Fifth and Sixth Panzer Armies and the Seventh and Fifteenth Armies, generally opposing the First, Third, and Ninth U.S. Armies. Extending the front to the northeast corner of France was Army Group G (Generaloberst Johannes Blaskowitz) with only one army, the First, opposite portions of the Third and Seventh U.S. Armies. Also controlling only one army, the Nineteenth, Army Group Oberrhein (Reichsfuehrer SS Heinrich Himmler) was responsible for holding the sector extending south to the Swiss border and for conducting the other winter counterblow, Operation


NORDWIND. For various reasons, among them the fact that an exalted personage of the Nazi party such as Himmler hardly could submit to the command of an army leader, Army Group Oberrhein was tactically independent, in effect, a separate theater command.12

Unusual command arrangements, which in this particular case would not last beyond mid-January, were nothing new on the German side. The Commander in Chief West himself, for example, never had been a supreme commander in the sense that General Eisenhower was. The real supreme commander was back in Berlin, Adolf Hitler. To reach Hitler, Rundstedt's headquarters, OB WEST, had to go through a central headquarters in Berlin, the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), which was charged with operations in all theaters except the east. (Oberkommando des Heeres--OKH--watched over the Eastern Front.) Jealousies playing among the Army, Navy, Luftwaffe (air force), Waffen-SS (military arm of the Nazi party), and Nazi party political appointees further circumscribed OB WEST's authority.13

There could be no question as to the overwhelming nature of Allied strength as compared with what the Germans, fighting a three-front war, could muster in the west. Allied superiority in the west was at least 2½ to 1 in artillery, roughly 10 to 1 in tanks, more than 3 to 1 in aircraft, and 2½ to 1 in troops. Nor could there be any question that long-range Allied capabilities also were immensely superior, since much of the great natural and industrial potential of the United States was untapped. German resources in January 1945 still were considerable nevertheless. If adroitly handled, some believed, these resources might enable the Germans to prolong the war and--should Hitler's secret weapons materialize--might even reverse the course of the war.

Despite the demands of five years of war and saturation attacks by Allied bombers, German production had reached a peak only in the fall of 1944. During September 1944, for example, Germany had produced 4,103 aircraft of all types. As late as November 1944, the Luftwaffe had more planes than ever before--8,103 (not counting transports), of which 5,317 were operational. On New Year's Day 1,035 planes had taken to the air over the Netherlands, Belgium, and northern France in support of the Ardennes fighting. Some 25 new submarines--most equipped with a snorkel underwater breathing device--had been completed each month through the fall. Tank and assault gun output would stay at a steady monthly level of about 1,600 from November 1944 to February 1945.14 A few newly developed jet-propelled aircraft already had appeared over the Western Front. In light of V-1 flying bombs and V-2 supersonic missiles that had for months been bombarding British and Continental cities, a report that soon


the Germans would possess an intercontinental missile was not lightly dismissed.15

In manpower the Germans still had reserves on which to draw. Of a population within prewar boundaries of some 80 million, close to 13 million had been inducted into the armed forces, of whom 4 million had been killed, wounded, or captured in five years of war. Yet not until January 1945 would Hitler decree that older men up to forty-five years of age be shifted from industry to the armed forces. As late as February, eight new divisions would be created, primarily from youths just turned seventeen. As the roles of the Navy and Luftwaffe declined, substantial numbers of their men could be transferred to the Army.16

To these points on the credit side of the German ledger would have to be added the pertinacity of the German leader, Adolf Hitler. Although shaken by an attempt on his life in the summer of 1944 and sick from overuse of sedatives, Hitler in January 1945 still was a man of dominant personality and undiluted devotion to the belief that even though a German military victory might be impossible, the war somehow could be brought to a favorable end. His distrust of nearly everybody around him had served to feed his conviction that he alone was capable of correctly estimating the future course of the war. He would tolerate no dissenting voices.

To a varying degree, depending on individual insight, the German soldiers and their leaders accepted the promises and assurances of their Fuehrer that, given time, political démarches, dissent among the Allies, even continued conventional military efforts, Germany could anticipate some kind of salvation. Given time alone, the Third Reich could develop new miracle weapons and improve existing weapons so that the enemy, if he could not be beaten, still could be forced to compromise, or else the "Anglo-Saxons," as Hitler called the Western Allies, might be persuaded to join with Germany in the war against bolshevism. The time to achieve all this could be gained only by stubborn combat. If some preferred to give up the fight and surrender, the great majority would continue the battle with determination.17

It is difficult, in retrospect, to comprehend how any thinking German could have believed genuinely in anything other than defeat as 1945 opened, despite the credits on the ledger, for entries on the debit side were almost overwhelming. North Africa, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Crete, Russia, much of the Balkans, much of Italy and Poland, parts of the Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and even East Prussia--all had been lost, together with the Finnish and Italian allies. The nation's three major industrial regions--the Ruhr, Saar, and Silesia--lay almost in the shadow of the guns of either the Western Allies or the Russians. The failure in the Ardennes was all the more disheartening because so much had been expected of the campaign. The impressive numbers of aircraft were almost meaningless when


measured against shortages in trained pilots and aviation fuel, the latter so lacking that few new pilots could be trained. Although Hitler time after time promised to introduce a fleet of jet-propelled fighters to set matters right in the skies, his insistence back in 1943 that the jet be developed not as a fighter but as a bomber in order to wreak revenge on the British had assured such a delay in jet fighter production that jets would play only a peripheral role in the war.

Tank and assault gun production figures also had to be considered against the background of fuel shortages and a crippled transportation system that made it increasingly difficult to get the weapons from assembly line to front line. An Allied air offensive against oil and transportation, for example, begun during the summer of 1944, had had severe repercussions in more than one segment of the war economy. Shipment of coal by water and by rail (normally 40 percent of traffic) had fallen from 7.4 million tons in August to 2.7 million tons in December. Production in synthetic fuel plants, responsible for 90 percent of Germany's aviation gasoline and 30 percent of the nation's motor gasoline, had dropped from an average of 359,000 tons in the four months preceding the attacks to 24,000 tons in September.18 The atmosphere of impending doom was further heightened by knowledge that even if the Ardennes fighting did delay another major Allied offensive for a month or so, the Russians were readying an all-out strike that was sure to come, if not in days then in weeks.

Nor was the German Army that stood in the east, in Italy, and in the west in any way comparable to the conquering legions of the early months of the war. The long, brutal campaign against the Russians had crippled the Army even before Allied troops had forced their way ashore in Normandy. Units that at one time had boasted of their all-German "racial purity" were now laced with Volksdeutsche ("racial Germans" from border areas of adjacent countries), and Hilfswillige (auxiliaries recruited from among Russian prisoners of war), and physical standards for front-line service had been sharply relaxed. Many of the German divisions had only two infantry regiments of two battalions each, and some had only two light artillery battalions of two batteries each and one medium battalion.

The Army faced a further handicap in the stultifying effect of a long-standing order from Hitler forbidding any voluntary withdrawal. Having apparently forestalled a disastrous retreat before the Russian counteroffensive in front of Moscow in the winter of 1941-42 by ordering that positions be held even when bypassed or surrounded, Hitler saw a policy of "hold at all costs" as a panacea for every tactical situation. Not a single concrete pillbox or bunker of the western border fortifications, the West Wall, was to be relinquished voluntarily. Hitler also constantly delayed granting authority for preparing rear defensive positions lest these serve as a magnet pulling the troops back.

For all these negative factors, many Germans continued to believe if not in victory, then in a kind of nihilistic syllogism which said: Quit now, and all is lost; hold on, and maybe something will


happen to help--a process of inductive reasoning that Allied insistence on unconditional surrender may not have promoted but did nothing to dissuade. Already the Germans had demonstrated amply an ability to absorb punishment, to improvise, block, mend, feint, delay.

Weapons and Equipment

Making up approximately three-fourths of the total Allied force engaged in the last offensive, the American soldier was perhaps the best-paid and best-fed soldier of any army up to that time. Except for a few items of winter clothing, he was also as well or better clothed than any of his allies or his enemy. In the matter of armament and combat equipment, American research and production had served him well. On the other hand, his adversary possessed, qualitatively at least, battle-worthy equipment and an impressive arsenal.19

The basic shoulder weapon of the U.S. soldier was the .30-caliber M1 (Garand) rifle, a semiautomatic piece, while the German soldier employed a 7.92-mm. (Mauser) bolt-action rifle. Two favorite weapons of the American were outgrowths of World War I, the .30-caliber Browning automatic rifle (BAR) and the .30-caliber Browning machine gun in both light (air-cooled) and heavy (water-cooled) models. The German soldier had no widely used equivalent of the BAR, depending instead on a machine pistol that the Americans called, from an emetic sound attributable to a high cyclic rate of fire, a "burp gun." The burp gun was similar, in some respects, to the U.S. Thompson submachine gun. The standard German machine gun was the M1942, which had a similarly high cyclic rate of fire.

In the two arsenals of antitank weapons, the most effective close-range weapons were the German one-shot, shaped-charge piece called a Panzerfaust, and the American 2.36-inch rocket launcher, the bazooka. Late in the campaign the Americans would introduce a new antitank weapon, the recoilless rifle in 57- and 75-mm. models, but the war would end before more than a hundred reached the European theater. The conventional towed 57-mm. antitank gun most American units at this stage of the war had come to view as excess baggage; but in the defensive role in which the Germans would find themselves, towed pieces still would be used. In general, the basic antitank weapon was the tank itself or a self-propelled gun, called by the Americans a tank destroyer, by the Germans an assault gun. German assault guns usually were either 76- or 88-mm. Most American tank destroyers were M10's with 3-inch guns, though by November substantial numbers of M36's mounting a high-velocity 90-mm. piece had begun to arrive. Because the tank destroyer looked much like a tank, many commanders tried to employ it as a tank, but since it lacked heavy armor plate, the practice often was fatal.

The standard American tank, the M4 Sherman, a 33-ton medium, was relatively obsolescent. Most of the Shermans still mounted a short-barreled 75-mm. gun, which repeatedly had proved incapable



of fighting German armor on equal terms. They plainly were outgunned, not necessarily by the enemy's medium (Mark IV) tank but unquestionably by the 50-ton Mark V (Panther) and the 54-ton Mark VI (Tiger), the latter mounting a high-velocity 88-mm. gun.20 The Panther and Tiger also surpassed the Sherman in thickness of armor and width of tracks.

Although modifications of the M4 had begun to reach the theater in some quantity in late fall and early winter, most equipped with a 76-mm. gun, some with increased armor plate, the old Sherman remained the basic tank. As late as the last week of February 1945, for example, less than one-third of the mediums in the Ninth Army were equipped with a 76-mm. piece. The best of the modifications of the M4 to reach the theater in any quantity was the M4A3, 76-mm. gun, Wet Series, familiarly known as the "Jumbo." Its high-velocity gun had a muzzle brake, and the tank had a new suspension system and 23-inch steel tracks in place of the old 16 9/16-inch rubber block tracks. Neither a radically designed medium tank (the M26, mounting a 90-mm. gun) nor a heavy tank would reach the theater before the


end of hostilities in other than experimental numbers.21

The basic German mortars were of 50- and 81-mm. caliber, comparable to the American 60- and 81-mm., but the little 50 had fallen into disfavor as too small to be effective. Unlike the Americans, the Germans also employed heavier mortars, some up to 380-mm. The Nebelwerfer, or "Screaming Meemie," as the U.S. soldier called it, was a multiple-barrel 150-mm. mortar or rocket launcher mounted on wheels and fired electrically. The Americans had a similar weapon in the 4.5-inch rocket launcher.

The most widely used artillery pieces of both combatants were light and medium howitzers, German and American models of which were roughly comparable in caliber and performance. The German pieces were gun-howitzers (105-mm. light and 150-mm. medium); the American pieces, howitzers (105- and 155-mm.). The German infantry division, like the American, was supposed to have four artillery battalions, three light and one medium. As was standard practice in the U.S. Army, additional artillery, some of it of larger caliber, operated under corps and army control.

German artillery doctrine and organization for the control and delivery of fire differed materially from the American only in that the German organic divisional artillery was less well equipped for communication. Excellent American communications facilities down to battery


level and effective operation of fire direction centers permitted more accurate fire and greater concentration in a shorter time. Yet the shortcomings of the enemy in the matter of effective concentrations were attributable less to deficiencies of doctrine and organization than to shortages of ammunition and other ravages of war. Except that of the panzer and panzer grenadier divisions, almost all German artillery, for example, was at this stage horse-drawn.22

Controlling the air, the Americans could employ with tremendous effect artillery spotter planes which greatly extended the effective visual distance of artillery observers. A simple little monoplane (L-4 or L-5), known variously as


a Piper Cub, cub, liaison plane, grasshopper, or observation plane, it had more than proved its worth--particularly in counterbattery fires--long before the last offensive began. Although the Germans had a similar plane--the Storck--overwhelming Allied air superiority had practically driven it from the skies.

American artillery also gained a slight advantage from a supersecret fuze, called variously the VT (variable time), POZIT, or proximity fuze, by means of which artillery shells exploded from external influences in the air close to the target, an improvement on time fire. Long employed in antiaircraft fire but first used by ground artillery during the defensive phase of the Ardennes fighting, the fuze was undoubtedly effective, though the limited extent of its use could hardly justify extravagant claims made for it by enthusiastic scientists.23

Other than tanks, the German weapon which most impressed the American soldier was the "88," an 88-mm. high-velocity, dual-purpose antiaircraft and antitank piece. So imbued with respect for the 88 had the American become from the fighting in North Africa onward that a shell from almost any high-velocity German weapon he attributed to the 88.

In the vital field of signal communications, the Americans held an advantage at tactical levels because of the inroads battle losses and substitute materials had made in the German system and because of widespread American use of frequency modulation (FM) in radio communications. Both armies operated on the same theory of two networks of radio and two of telephone communications within the division, one for infantry or armor, one for artillery; but at this stage of the war the German system often failed to reach as low as company level. By use of sound-powered telephone, the Americans gained telephonic communication down to platoons and even squads. They also had a good intracompany radio system with the use of an amplitude modulated (AM) set, the SCR-536, or handie-talkie.

In the offensive, radio usually served as the communications workhorse in forward areas. Here the Americans held advantages with the handie-talkie and with FM. One of the communications standbys of the war was the SCR-300, the walkie-talkie, an FM set of commendable performance, used primarily at company and battalion levels. German sets, all of which were AM, were subject to interference by the sheer volume of their own and Allied traffic. Perhaps because of the lack of intracompany wire or radio, the Germans used visual signals such as colored lights and pyrotechnics more often than did the Americans.24

The air support which stood behind the Allied armies was tremendously powerful. In close support of the ground troops were six tactical air commands, but also available for tactical support were eleven groups of medium and light bombers (B-26 Marauders, A-20 Havocs, and A-26 Invaders) of the IX U.S. Bomber Command and other mediums under British


control. On occasion, the devastating heavy bombers of the U.S. Eighth Air Force and the Royal Air Force Bomber Command were called in. Not counting Allied aircraft based in Italy, the Allies could muster more than 17,500 first-line combat aircraft, including approximately 5,000 British aircraft of all types, 6,881 U.S. bombers, and 5,002 U.S. fighters, plus hundreds of miscellaneous types for reconnaissance, liaison, and transport.25

The tactical air commands were the British Second Tactical Air Force, in support of the Second British and First Canadian Armies; the First French Air Corps, in support of the First French Army; and four American forces, the IX, XI, XIX, and XXIX Tactical Air Commands, in support, respectively, of the First, Seventh, Third, and Ninth Armies. All American tactical support aircraft--mediums and fighter-bombers--were a part of the Ninth Air Force (Maj. Gen. Hoyt Vandenberg).

Like divisions attached to ground corps and armies, the number of fighter-bomber groups assigned to tactical air commands often varied, though the usual number was six. A group normally had three squadrons of twenty-five planes each: P-38's (Lightnings), P47's (Thunderbolts), P-51's (Mustangs), or, in the case of night fighter groups, P-61's (Black Widows). The French used American planes, while the basic British tactical fighters were rocket-firing Hurricanes and Typhoons.

Requests for air support passed from the air support officer at division headquarters to the G-3 Air Section at army headquarters for transmission to the tactical air command, with an air support officer at corps merely monitoring the request. Usually set up close to the army headquarters, the air headquarters ruled on the feasibility of a mission and assigned the proper number of aircraft to it. Since air targets could not always be anticipated, most divisions had come to prefer a system of "armed reconnaissance flights" in which a group assigned to the division or corps for the day checked in by radio directly with the appropriate air support officer. Thus the planes could be called in as soon as a target appeared without the delay involved in forwarding a request through channels. Requests for support from mediums had to be approved by the G-3 Air Section at army group headquarters and took appreciably longer.26

In the matter of logistics, the pendulum had swung heavily to the Allied side. Although logistical difficulties had contributed in large measure to the Allied bog-down along the German border in the fall of 1944, opening of the great port of Antwerp in late November, plus the use of major ports in southern France, had speeded recovery of the logistical apparatus. Supply losses in the early Ardennes fighting, while locally painful, were no problem in the long run. The Germans, for their part, had expended carefully hoarded reserves in the Ardennes. Although they still derived some benefit from proximity to their sources of supply, they would find that the traditional advantage


of inner lines had lost some of its effect in the air age.27

Organization and Command

With the exception of a few new divisions, the American force participating in the last offensive was experienced in the ways of battle, a thoroughly professional force scarcely comparable to the unseasoned soldiery that had taken the field even such a short time before as D-day in Normandy. That the Americans had come fully of age had been amply demonstrated in the stalwart defense of the American soldier against the surprise onslaught in the Ardennes and in the swift reaction of the American command.

Having moved three months before from England, General Eisenhower's Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF Main) was established in Versailles with adequate radio and telephone communications to all major commands. A small tent and trailer camp at Gueux, near Reims, served the Supreme Commander as a forward headquarters. In addition to the three Allied army groups--6th, 12th, and 21--General Eisenhower exercised direct command over the First Allied Airborne Army (Lt. Gen. Lewis H. Brereton), U.S. and British tactical air forces, and the Communications Zone (Lt. Gen. John C. H. Lee). Although the Allied strategic air forces operated directly under the Combined Chiefs of Staff rather than under Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander had first call upon them when he required their direct support for ground operations.

The two American army groups represented, in effect, a new departure in American military experience in that the only previous U.S. army group had existed only briefly near the end of World War I when General John J. Pershing had grouped two American armies under his own command. With little precedent as a guide, the way the two army group commanders, Generals Bradley and Devers, organized their headquarters and exercised command reflected much of their own individual concepts. Although both retained the usual "G" and Special Staff organization, Devers ran his army group with a staff of only about 600 officers and men, while Bradley employed double that number. The numbers told much about the way each interpreted the role of the army group commander: Devers played it loosely, leaving planning mainly to his army commanders and authorizing his staff to seek information at lower levels and make changes on the spot. Much as when he had commanded the First Army, Bradley exercised much closer control over his army commanders and employed his staff in intricate, detailed planning. General Bradley after the war liked to point out that he had intimate foreknowledge of every move of his armies except in one case when General Patton set out on an operation that he came to rue.28

Under the American system, both army group and army exercised command and logistical functions, while at


the level of corps the commander was free of the latter. This system afforded the corps commander time to concentrate on tactical matters and established the corps as a strong component in the command structure. Equipped with modern means of communication and transportation, the corps commander had regained a measure of the control and influence over the actions of his divisions that the advent of mass armies and rapid-fire weapons had originally taken away.

The American division in World War II reflected an early decision to keep the army in the field lean, to avoid duplicating the powerful but ponderous 28,000-man division that had fought in the trenches with Pershing. The theory was that if all the engineer, medical, transport, quartermaster, and other support troops that were needed to meet any contingency were an integral part of the division, not only would the division be difficult to control and maneuver but many of the troops would often be idle while awaiting a call on the specialties for which they were trained. Better to let infantrymen themselves double as drivers, radio operators, mechanics, and the like, while specialized units of heavy artillery, transport, construction engineers, signalmen, tank destroyers, tanks, and other support could be attached as required. The method had the added virtue of eliminating the need for a variety of specialized divisions since infantry divisions could be tailored by attachments to fit various requirements.

Because the fighting in Europe posed an almost constant demand for close-support firepower and antitank defense, attachment of a tank and a tank destroyer battalion to the infantry division became customary, bringing the size of the division to about 16,000 men. Similarly, a separate tank destroyer battalion was nearly always attached to the armored division.

After a first rush to create a "heavy" armored division comparable to the early German panzer division, the U.S. Army had scaled down the medium tank strength of the armored division from 250 to 154 and added more infantry to provide staying power. The new organization had dispensed with armored and armored infantry regiments, providing instead battalions that could be grouped in various "mixes" under combat commands. While lacking some of the shock power of the old heavy division, the new formation had proven flexible, maneuverable, and fully capable of meeting the German panzer division of 1944-45 on at least equal terms. Three of the heavy armored divisions remained--the 1st in Italy and the 2d and 3d in Eisenhower's command.

The armored division usually operated in three combat commands, A, B, and R (Reserve), each built around a battalion of medium tanks and a battalion of armored infantry, with added increments of engineers, tank destroyers, medics, and other services plus artillery support commensurate with the combat command's assignment. Thus each combat command was approximately equal in power and interchangeable in terms of combat mission, while in the old heavy division Combat Commands A and B almost always bore the major assignments since the reserve consisted usually of some contingent pulled from either or both of the larger


commands to afford the commander a maneuver or reinforcing element. In both type divisions combat commands usually operated under an arrangement of two or more "task forces."

Much like armor with its combat commands, infantry divisions almost always employed regimental combat teams. Each of the division's three infantry regiments was supported by a 105-mm. howitzer battalion and increments of divisional support troops while the division's 155-mm. howitzer battalion was available for reinforcing fires as needed.

The corps usually consisted of a minimum of three divisions--two infantry, one armored. Never did the U.S. Army employ an armored corps of the type the Germans used in early breakthroughs in Poland and on the Western Front, partly because of the antipathy toward specialization and partly because the American infantry division with a high mobility and with attached tanks and tank destroyers was essentially the equivalent to the German panzer grenadier division. Thus a regular corps was considerably heavier in armor than the presence of one armored and two infantry divisions might otherwise indicate. The only specialized U.S. corps was the XVIII Airborne Corps, which like U.S. airborne divisions was destined to spend more time in straight ground combat than in its specialized role.

Heading this American force in Europe was a group of senior commanders who had come to know each other intimately during the lean years of the small peacetime Army and who all had absorbed the same doctrinal concepts from the service schools and the Command and General Staff College. General Eisenhower and two of his top American subordinates, Bradley and Patton, had been closely associated in battle since the campaign in North Africa, and Lt. Gen. Courtney H. Hodges of the First Army, who had come to France as Bradley's deputy in the First Army, and Lt. Gen. William H. Simpson of the Ninth Army had developed a close command association with the others through the fighting of the fall and early winter. General Devers and his one American army commander, Lt. Gen. Alexander M. Patch of the Seventh Army, were less fully integrated in the command team, partly because they had entered the fight separately by way of southern France rather than Normandy, partly because they functioned in a supporting role on a flank and thus commanded less direct attention from the Supreme Commander, and partly because General Devers had not been Eisenhower's selection but that of the Chief of Staff, General Marshall, and Patch had been Dever's choice. Yet the military schooling and experience of these two was much the same as that of the others, and the fall and early winter campaigns had already produced a strong measure of understanding.

A potentially divisive element was present in the American command in the person of the Third Army commander, General Patton. A charismatic leader, Patton was also impetuous and had come close on several occasions to summary relief. While General Eisenhower had in each case decided finally against that discipline, Patton had sorely tried his patience, and as a result of slapping incidents involving two hospitalized soldiers in Sicily, he had


vowed never to elevate Patton above army command. Respecting Bradley, Patton had agreed without rancor to serve under Bradley, one who in North Africa and Sicily had been his subordinate. Aware that Patton was impetuous and that grim, slugging warfare tried his thin patience, Eisenhower and Bradley kept a close rein on the Third Army commander but so unobtrusively that Patton himself often thought he was putting things over on his superiors when actually they were fully informed. Aware also of Patton's superior abilities in more fluid warfare, Eisenhower and Bradley consciously loosened their hold on the rein when breakthrough and pursuit were the order of the day.29

In the over-all command structure, two other potentially abrasive elements were present in the persons of the 21 Army Group commander, Field Marshal Montgomery, and the First French Army commander, General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. Although Montgomery and de Lattre commanded forces considerably smaller than those fielded by the Americans, each was a dominant personality and as the senior field representative of one of the major allies sought a strong voice in command deliberations. Nor was either reluctant in the face of controversy to call in the persuasive force of his head of state.

Terrain and the Front Line

At the closest point, the Allied front line in early January was some twenty-five miles from the Ruhr industrial area. Although Berlin, the political heart of Germany, might constitute the final objective of the Allied armies, the Ruhr with its coal mines, blast furnaces, and factories, the muscle with which Germany waged war, was the more vital objective. Without the Ruhr, Germany's case would fast become hopeless; taking Berlin and all other objectives then would be but a matter of time.30

No political or geographical entity, the Ruhr can be fairly accurately described as a triangle with its base along the east bank of the Rhine River from Cologne northward to Duisburg, a distance of some thirty-five miles. One side of the triangle extends eastward from Duisburg along the Lippe River to Dortmund, for thirty-five to forty miles; the other side about the same distance southwestward from Dortmund to the vicinity of Cologne along the Ruhr River. The region embraces major cities such as Essen, Duesseldorf, and Wuppertal.

The trace of the front line in early January clearly reflected Allied preoccupation with the Ruhr as an objective and General Eisenhower's broad-front strategy, plus the accident of the Ardennes counteroffensive. Starting at the Dutch islands of Noord Beveland and Tholen, the line followed the Maas and Waal Rivers eastward to Nijmegen, where the Allies maintained a small bridgehead north of the Waal, thence southward along the west bank of the Maas to Maeseyck. There the line turned southeastward across the Maas to reach the Roer River near Heinsberg, thence south and southwestward to the headwaters of the Roer at Monschau. The sector along the Roer--some forty


miles long--represented the only major breach of the West Wall fortifications.

At Monschau began what was left of the Ardennes bulge. The line ran sharply southwest as far as Marche, some forty miles west of the German frontier, thence southeast to rejoin the frontier a few miles northwest of Trier. It then followed the Moselle River to the southern border of Luxembourg, there to swing east and parallel the Franco-German border to the vicinity of Sarreguemines. From there to Gambsheim on the west bank of the Rhine a few miles north of Strasbourg the front was in a state of flux as a result of the NORDWIND counteroffensive. A few miles south of Strasbourg, it again veered west to encompass a portion of Alsace still held by the Germans, called by Allied soldiers the Colmar pocket. The front line reached the Rhine again east of Mulhouse and followed the river to the Swiss border.

The terrain immediately in front of the Allied positions could be divided into four general classifications: the flatlands of the Netherlands and the Cologne plain, crisscrossed by waterways and studded with towns and villages; the Ardennes-Eifel, a high plateau so deeply cut by erosion that it appears mountainous; the Saar-Palatinate, another plateau, sprinkled with coal mines and steel processing plants, separated from the Ardennes-Eifel by the trench of the Moselle; and the Vosges Mountains-Black Forest massif, two sharply defined mountain regions belonging to the same geological age but separated by the trench of the Rhine.

The flatlands in the north were the responsibility of the First Canadian Army (Lt. Gen. Henry D. G. Crerar), the Second British Army (Lt. Gen. Sir Miles C. Dempsey), and the Ninth U.S. Army (General Simpson). Soon after the Germans had struck in the Ardennes, the Ninth Army had extended its boundary southward to encompass much of the area originally held by the First U.S. Army, so that the boundary ran in the vicinity of Monschau. With the exception of the western portion of the Netherlands, where canals, rivers, dikes, and deep drainage ditches sharply compartment the land, this region offered the best route to the primary Allied objective, the Ruhr. The Ninth Army might strike directly toward the western base of the Ruhr, while the British and Canadians crossed the Rhine and gained access to the north German plain, thereby outflanking the Ruhr and at the same time opening a way toward Berlin.

The Ardennes-Eifel, with its high ridges, deep-cut, serpentine streams, and dense forests, had never been tested by an army moving against opposition from west to east except during September 1944, when an American corps had pushed as far as the German frontier. Even should the Allies elect to avoid the Eifel as a route of major advance, that portion of the high plateau known as the Ardennes still would have to be cleared of the enemy. The responsibility belonged to General Hodges' First Army, operating temporarily under the 21 Army Group, and the Third Army (General Patton).

The Third Army's sector, some of which upon the start of the Ardennes counteroffensive had been relinquished to the adjacent Seventh U.S. Army (General Patch), included, in addition to the Ardennes, a small portion of the line facing the Saar-Palatinate. This


included the trough of the Moselle, a poor route of advance because it is narrow and meandering. That part of the Saar-Palatinate most open to attack lay opposite the Seventh Army from Saarlautern southeastward to the Rhine and encompassed two corridors leading northeast that have seen frequent use in wartime. Separated by a minor mountain chain called the Haardt, these are known usually as the Kaiserslautern and Wissembourg Gaps. Both lead to the Rhine near Mainz, where, after converging, they continue as one past Frankfurt to Kassel.

That part of the Allied line touching the Rhine--from Gambsheim to a point above Strasbourg--was the responsibility of the First French Army (General de Lattre). From the vicinity of Strasbourg the French line swung southwest into the most rugged terrain on the Western Front, the high Vosges Mountains. Rising almost like a wall from the Alsatian Plain, the Vosges reach a height of almost 5,000 feet and in winter are covered with deep snows. In the Vosges and on the plain, the German-held Colmar pocket measured on its periphery about 130 miles. Even after clearing this pocket, the French would face terrain hardly less formidable; just across the Rhine stands the Schwarzwald, or Black Forest, which guards Germany much as the Vosges protect France.

All along the front, with the exception of the Maas-Waal line in the Netherlands and the 40-mile gap along the Roer, the Germans drew strength from their concrete border fortifications, the West Wall. Construction of this fortified line had begun in 1936, first to counter France's Maginot Line opposite the Saar, subsequently to protect almost the full length of Germany's western frontier. No thin line of elaborate, self-contained forts like the Maginot Line, the West Wall was a series of more than 3,000 relatively small, mutually supporting pillboxes or blockhouses arranged in one or two bands, depending on the critical nature of the terrain. Either natural antitank obstacles such as rivers or monolithic concrete projections called dragon's teeth ran in front of the pillboxes. The strongest sectors of the line were around Aachen--already breached--and in front of the Saar. Based on the principle of delaying an attacker, then ejecting him with mobile reserves, the West Wall by 1945 had lost much of its effectiveness, both from a lack of reserves and from the fact that many of the emplacements could not accommodate contemporary weapons. Yet as many an Allied soldier already had learned, concrete in almost any form can lend real substance to a defense.31

Before the entire Allied front would rest on reasonably economical natural obstacles, and thus before the last offensive could develop in full force, four matters of unfinished business in addition to reconquest of the Ardennes remained to be dealt with. First, the enemy's second winter counteroffensive, which had started on New Year's Eve in Alsace, would have to be contained and any gains wiped out. Second, the enemy's hold-out position around Colmar would have to be erased. Third, the Germans would have to be driven from an angle formed by confluence of the Saar and Moselle Rivers, known as the Saar-Moselle triangle. And fourth, another


hold-out position in the north in an angle formed by juncture of the Roer and Maas Rivers, a so-called Heinsberg pocket, would have to be eliminated.

Execution of the first two tasks, both in Alsace, would so occupy the Seventh U.S. and First French Armies, operating under General Devers's 6th Army Group, all through January and February that only in March would these two armies be able to join the final drive.32 Elimination of the Saar-Moselle triangle, on the other hand, the Third Army would accomplish as a logical expansion of its developing role in the last offensive. Meanwhile, the British would eliminate the Heinsberg pocket before their assignment in the last offensive came due.

Thus the birth of the last offensive occurred in January in the Ardennes. There the First Army at last could strike back at the forces that had hit without warning in December, and there the Third Army might reorient its operations away from the local objective of succoring Bastogne to the broader assignment of pushing in the bulge and driving to the Rhine.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (Foreword/Preface) * Next Chapter (2)


1. Magna E. Bauer, MS # R-15, Key Dates During the Ardennes Offensive 1944, Part 1, annotated copy in OCMH.

2. Robert Ross Smith, The Riviera to the Rhine, a volume in preparation for the series UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.

3. Hugh M. Cole, The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1965).

4. SHAEF Planning Staff draft, Post-NEPTUNE Courses of Action After Capture of the Lodgment Area, Main Objectives and Axis of Advance, I, 3 May 1944, SHAEF SGS 381, Post-OVERLORD Planning, I. The preinvasion plan and the debate are discussed in some detail in four volumes of the European theater subseries of the UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II: Hugh M. Cole, The Lorraine Campaign (Washington, 1950); Forrest C. Pogue, The Supreme Command (Washington, 1954); Martin Blumenson, Breakout and Pursuit (Washington, 1961); and Charles B. MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Campaign (Washington, 1963).

5. Ltrs, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 10 and 13 Oct 44 and 1 Dec 44, as cited in Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 297, 314.

6. Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 31 Dec 44, as cited in Pogue, The Supreme Command, p. 409.

7. For a full discussion of this subject, see Pogue, The Supreme Command, pp. 409-16.

8. SHAEF G-3 War Room Daily Summaries, 21418. Casualties through 3 January totaled 516,244, though many of these men had returned to duty. U.S. forces had incurred 335,090 casualties, including 55,184 killed.

9. Twelve divisions were British, 3 Canadian, 1 Polish, 8 French, and 49 American. There were, in addition, a Polish brigade and contingents of Dutch, Belgian, and Czechoslovakian troops.

10. Oberbefehlshaber West means either the Commander in Chief West or his headquarters. In this volume, the abbreviated form, OB WEST, will be used to refer to the headquarters.

11. OB WEST Wochenmeldungen, 1944-45, # H 22/287. Volks Grenadier was an honorific, selected to appeal to the pride of the German people, das Volk which Hitler accorded to certain infantry divisions.

12. Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW) Wehrmachtfuehrungsstab (WFSt) situation maps for the period; Magna E. Bauer, MS # R-64, The Western Front in Mid-January 1945, prepared in OCMH to complement this volume, copy in OCMH.

13. MSS # T-121, T-122, and T-123, OB WEST, A Study in Command (Generalleutnant Bodo Zimmerman, G-3, OB WEST, and other officers).

14. Magna E. Bauer, MS # R-61, Effects of the Ardennes Offensive: Germany's Remaining War Potential, prepared to complement this volume, annotated copy in OCMH.

15. Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate, eds., "The Army Air Forces in World War II," III, Europe: Argument to V-E Day (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1951) (Hereafter cited as AAF III), 84, 545, and 659.

16. MS # R-61 (Bauer).

17. Ibid.

18. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Report 3, European War, The Effects of Strategic Bombing on the German War Economy, 31 October 1945, pp. 12-13.

19. A comprehensive study and comparison of American and German weapons and equipment will be found in Lida Mayo, The Ordnance Department: On Beachhead and Battlefront, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1968).

20. A souped-up version of the Tiger, called the King Tiger or Tiger Royal, appeared in small numbers.

21. Cole, in The Lorraine Campaign, pages 603-04, and The Ardennes, pages 651-52, compares characteristics of German and U.S. tanks. See also Constance McLaughlin Green, Harry C. Thomson, and Peter C. Roots, The Ordnance Department: Planning Munitions for War, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1955), ch. X.

22. Charles V. P. von Luttichau, Notes on German and U.S. Artillery, MS in OCMH; Gen. Hasso von Manteuffel, comments on draft MS for this volume.

23. Cole, The Ardennes, pp. 655-56.

24. For detailed discussion of American and German communications, see two volumes in the series, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II: George R. Thompson, Dixie R. Harris, Pauline M. Oakes, and Dulany Terrett, The Signal Corps: The Test (Washington, 1957), and George R. Thompson and Dixie R. Harris, The Signal Corps: The Outcome (Washington, 1966).

25. Army Air Forces Statistical Digest, World War II, with supplement, p. 156.

26. Craven and Cate, AAF III, pp. 107-37; The Ninth Air Force and Its Principal Commands in the ETO, vol. I, ch. VII, and vol. II, part 1.

27. A detailed account of logistics in the European theater may be found in Roland G. Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of the Armies, I, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1955), and II (Washington, 1959).

28. Interviews, author with Bradley, 30 Jun 67, and Devers, 7 Dec 67.

29. Interviews, author with Eisenhower, 23 Jun 67; Bradley, 30 Jun 67; and Devers, 7 Dec 67.

30. SHAEF Planning Staff, Post-NEPTUNE Courses of Action After Capture of Lodgment Area, SHAEF SGS file, 381, I.

31. For a detailed description of the West Wall, see MacDonald, The Siegfried Line Campaign.

32. Smith, The Riviera to the Rhine.

Transcribed and formatted by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation