Those who are familiar with the Army's records of World War II speak not in terms of file cabinets or linear feet but of mountains. The sheer bulk of these records and their generally high value are astounding. Yet one major element often is missing: the "why" behind a commander's decision. Indeed, it is difficult in many instances to determine even who made the decision, for the Army has a disturbing habit of speaking in the passive voice behind the anonymity of an impersonal pronoun--"it was decided," "it was ordered." Compound this practice by giving a commander a jeep and a liaison plane, not to mention an effective system of telephone and radio communications, and it is a wonder that any record of his decisions and the reasons for them survives.
From this situation has arisen perhaps the most serious research problem encountered in preparing The Siegfried Line Campaign. It will remain a problem to anyone who attempts further research in this period of combat operations; for the relatively static nature of the warfare gave rise to frequent informal conferences between commanders, from which a written record rarely emerged. The worst offender in this regard was the First Army. Indeed, the First Army's records are below average, a fact that is hard to reconcile with the First Army's reputation as the most meticulous and most concerned with detail of any American army in Europe during World War II.
A solution to this problem might be expected to be found in the hundreds of so-called combat interviews conducted by historians in uniform soon after most major actions; but in an attempt to fill a recognized gap at the fighting, small-unit level, the historians failed to pay sufficient attention to the command level.
Postwar interviews and comments by participants on early drafts of the manuscript thus have represented the only approach to a genuine solution of this problem. More than fifty officers who participated in the campaign either were interviewed by the author or commented on all or parts of the manuscript. These include both the First and Ninth Army commanders. The immense value of their contributions can be fully apparent only to the author. On the other hand, memories have a way of failing the most co-operative of witnesses, so that command decisions and the "why" behind them remains a lacuna of serious proportions.
This would not be the case had the Army offered more encouragement to the kind of service performed by Maj. William C. Sylvan, senior aide to the First Army commander, General Hodges. With the approval of his commander, Major Sylvan kept a day-by-day diary dealing with General Hodges' activities. He has kindly made it available to the Office of the Chief of Military History. Not in all cases was Major Sylvan, in his position as aide-de-camp, privy to the discussions and
decisions at the First Army level; but in those instances where he was present or aware of the events, his diary is invaluable.
By far the most useful documentary sources for this, as for all operational volumes, are the official records of US. Army units in the theater. Each headquarters, from army down through regiment and separate battalion, submitted a monthly narrative after action report, accompanied by supporting journals, periodic reports, messages, staff section reports, and overlays. Though these records vary in quantity and quality, they are essential to any detailed study of operations. Those most valuable to the historian of combat operations are housed in the historical reports files in the World War II Records Division, National Archives. Other records of organizational elements are in the Federal Records Center Annex, Kansas City, Missouri. Almost none now carry security classification.
The after action reports are in effect monthly compendiums of all the other documents, but the chance of error or the introduction of a commander's hindsight makes it imperative that these be checked carefully against the supporting documents. Where close attention was paid to preparation of journals, these are invaluable. In the manner of a ship's log, they of all the documents most nearly reflect the events and thinking in the headquarters at the time. Neither First nor Ninth Army journals, unfortunately, were prepared with care; they are virtually worthless to the historian. The same is true of almost all the corps journals for this period, with the exception of those of the XIX Corps, which sometimes include telephone conversations. Fortunately, most of the division journals are better, particularly those of the 1st, 2d, 2d Armored, 28th, 29th, 30th, and 83d Divisions. Particularly valuable telephone journals are to be found in 30th Division records. Indeed, had all divisions kept the kind of records preserved by the 30th Division, the value of the history of World War II would be markedly increased.
Basically the same pattern of official records was followed at headquarters of the 12th Army Group, with the addition of a planning file. The file is cited in this volume as 12th Army Group, Military Objectives, 371.3, Volumes I and II.
In keeping with the theory of presenting the story of higher headquarters only as it affected tactical operations, no attempt has been made to study all SHAEF records. The basic SHAEF file used for this volume was the richest of the official SHAEF collection, that of the Secretary of the General Staff (SHAEF SGS, 381, Volumes I and II). In addition, the author has drawn on the definitive experience with the SHAEF records of Dr. Forrest C. Pogue, author of The Supreme Command. While preparing his volume, Dr. Pogue collected a vast amount of material, much of it transcripts or photostats of documents from General Eisenhower's wartime personal file. This material, cited as the Pogue files, is located in OCMH. Also falling under the category of SHAEF records are those of the airborne units. They are housed in World War II Records Division under the heading, SHAEF FAAA files.
Though both British and Canadian army historical sections have co-operated extensively with the UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II series,
their official wartime files are not immediately accessible to the American historian. Those official records of their armies used in preparation of this volume are copies found in American files, notably in the SHAEF SGS records. Where American units operated under British or Canadian command, copies of Allied documents applicable to U.S. operations are usually to be found in the records of the U.S. units.
Three of the U.S. headquarters published official consolidated versions of their after action reports for limited distribution. Two of these--the 12th Army Group Report of Operations and V Corps Operations in the ETO--provide in addition to the narrative report a convenient assimilation of pertinent orders, periodic reports, and other documents. The First Army Report of Operations, 1 August 1944-22 February 1945, is more strictly narrative. In the case of the 12th Army Group and the First Army, the original after action reports should be consulted for material not included in the published versions.
The Department of the Air Force Historical Section co-operated closely with the author in his exploitation of records of U.S. air units. All air records used are located at the Research Studies Institute, Maxwell Air Force Base, Montgomery, Alabama.
Most records falling in the category of unofficial records are combat interviews conducted by teams of historical officers working under the European Theater Historical Section. In addition, there are narratives written by the field historians to accompany the interviews and occasionally field notes and important documents collected by the historical officers. In the case of units operating under the Ninth Army, combat interview material was arranged in narrative form in four mimeographed volumes. While little reason exists to question the general accuracy of these volumes, it is lamentable that the original combat interview material from which the volumes were written was destroyed. The footnotes in this volume should provide an adequate guide to the available combat interview material. The interviews and the four Ninth Army volumes are housed in the historical reports files in World War II Records Division.
Soon after the end of the war in Europe, the historians in the theater wrote a preliminary narrative history of the Siegfried Line Campaign. Though these officers did not have access to much high level material or to official German records, their work provides a convenient check on documentary sources and has helped the author of this volume considerably in organizational matters. The manuscript is filed in OCMH.
Since the end of the war, almost every division and some regiments have published unofficial unit histories. In many cases, these works are heavy on the side of unit pride, but some are genuinely useful. A brief analysis of each is included in this volume in the footnote where the work is first cited. In a special class is Conquer--The Story of Ninth Army (Washington: Infantry Journal Press, 1947), a sober and invaluable volume.
The account of German operations has been based primarily on the eight monographs prepared in OCMH specifically to complement this volume by Mr. Lucian Heichler, plus three monographs prepared by Mr. Charles V. P. von Luttichau to complement a forthcoming volume in the World War II series on the Ardennes campaign. These monographs were based on two principal types of material: official German records captured or seized by the U.S. Army during and immediately after the war and a series of manuscripts prepared after the war by former German commanders working under the auspices of the U.S. Army.
The contemporary German records are in the custody of World War II Records Division. There are numerous gaps attributable to wartime destruction and to the fact that many records fell into the hands of the Soviet Union. Yet enough remain to provide a remarkably clear picture of the operations, particularly when supplemented by the German officers' manuscripts.
The most important of the official records are the daily war diaries of operations, Kriegstagebuecher (KTB), maintained by the forward echelons of all commands, together with supporting documents in annexes (Anlagen). The most complete records to be found of any headquarters involved in the Siegfried Line Campaign are those of the LXXXI Corps, which fought in the Aachen area.
The German manuscripts, numbering more than two thousand, are filed in OCMH and have been adequately catalogued and indexed in Guide to Foreign Military Studies 1945-54, published in 1954. The quality of the manuscripts varies, reflecting the fact that almost all are based only on the memories of the writers. Yet when used with caution and when checked against the official records, these postwar accounts make a considerable contribution to knowledge of the German side of the combat.
In addition to the previously published volumes in the series UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II and unofficial unit histories, those published works of particular value in preparation of this volume are as follows:
Bradley, Omar N. A Soldier's Story. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1951.
Brereton, Lt. Gen. Lewis H. The Brereton Diaries. New York: William Morrow and Co., 1946.
de Guingand, Maj. Gen. Sir Francis. Operation Victory. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947.
Eisenhower, Dwight D. Crusade in Europe. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1948.
Montgomery, Field Marshal the Viscount of Alamein. Normandy to the Baltic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1948.
Patton, George S. War As I Knew It. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1947.
Stacey, Charles P. The Canadian Army, 1939-1945. Ottawa: E. Cloutier, King's Printer, 1948.
------The Victory Campaign. Vol. III of the "Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War." Ottawa : E. Cloutier, Queen's Printer, 1960.