The Battles of Attrition, September-December 1944

While the 21 Army Group, aided by the First Allied Airborne Army and elements of the First U.S. Army, carried out the attack on Arnhem and operations around Antwerp, the 12th (less First Army) and 6th Army Groups probed at German weakness and sought to wear down the enemy in the area between Belgium and the Swiss border. (Map IV). Campaigns in late September and early October were based on the belief that Hitler's forces were still disintegrating and that some lucky push might find a soft spot in the opposing lines which would permit the Allies to advance to the Rhine before the dead of winter. Later, when it became evident that the Germans had reorganized their forces and had succeeded in manning the West Wall fortifications against the Allied offensive, General Eisenhower refused to accept a static policy for the winter, feeling that even minor advances were better than completely defensive tactics. "We were certain," he wrote after the war, "that by continuing an unremitting offensive we would, in spite of hardship and privation, gain additional advantages over the enemy. Specifically we were convinced that this policy would result in shortening the war and therefore in the saving of thousands of Allied lives."1

The Enemy Regroups

The enemy by mid-September had performed amazing feats in improvising units to hold the West Wall defenses and in creating an opposition which was often formidable. It is possible, as British and U.S. proponents of the single thrust to the Rhine argue, that these efforts were impressive only because the attempt to advance on a broad front enabled small groups of second and third-rate troops to hold up the Allied advance. A complex of varying factors, however, as already indicated, entered into the Supreme Commander's decisions on these points. Whether the efforts of Field Marshal Model or General Blaskowitz or the so-called caution of the Allied command was responsible, it is clear that by the time of the Arnhem attack the Germans were in a position to meet with considerable force either a single or a double thrust by the Allies.

Three moves ordered by Hitler before the drive across northern France affected the Allied attacks of fall and early winter. By late July, the German leader had directed that eighteen divisions be formed for use against the Russians and the Western


Allies. Two of these were sent to the west by 1 September. In midsummer approximately one hundred fortress infantry battalions, formerly used in the rear areas, were made available for battle. About four fifths of these were ultimately sent to the west. Some were in action by mid-September. More important still were twenty-five Volks Grenadier divisions, which Hitler had ordered organized in mid-August as a general reserve. These began to come into the line at the beginning of October and were supposed to be completely organized by 1 December. By 5 November eight of them had been sent to Field Marshal Rundstedt's forces, two were in the east, and the remaining fifteen in the Replacement Army.2

In actions that exerted pressure on the Germans south of the MARKET-GARDEN area in September, the First U.S. Army sent one corps across the Meuse above Liege to gain contact with the British at Maeseyck and start a drive toward Geilenkirchen. Another corps forced the Germans back into West Wall defenses southeast of Aachen before settling down to meager gains for the remainder of the month. The southernmost corps crossed into Germany, but made little progress. Even though the period was rather unproductive in results, it cost the First Army nearly 10,000 casualties.

The Third Army at the beginning of September was extended along a 450-mile (air-line) front from Brest to the Moselle. In order to leave the army free for activities toward the east, General Bradley on 5 September gave its missions of clearing the Brest peninsula and protecting the southern flank of the 12th Army Group to General Simpson's newly arrived Ninth Army. The VIII Corps, already engaged in the Brest peninsula, was transferred from the Third to the Ninth Army and continued its attack under the new command. Three days later, General Simpson opened a three-divisional attack against Brest which cleared the city on 18 September. The last resistance in the Brest peninsula ceased on 21 September. In the course of fighting for the area, the Third and Ninth Armies took more than 37,000 prisoners and killed an estimated 4,000 Germans. The Ninth Army suffered approximately 3,000 casualties in the campaign. The port of Brest was too badly wrecked to be of any immediate value. Its port facilities, however, once considered vital to any Allied advance into Germany, were no longer essential to the Allies

On the surrender of the Brest peninsula, the Ninth Army invested German-held ports on the Atlantic Coast, which were estimated to hold some 25,000 enemy troops. The task of besieging the cities was handed over to the 94th Division. This unit, with French Forces of the Interior elements, French naval units, and a French bomber squadron, undertook the containment of enemy forces spread along the southwest coast of France. At the close of September, the Ninth Army, which had also been receiving and processing divisions as they arrived on the Continent, was ordered into the line between the First and Third Armies, roughly in the area running from St. Vith to Bollendorf. U.S. activities in western France were then brought directly under 12th Army Group; the job of handling newly arrived troops was given to Communications Zone.


The Third Army, almost completely halted at the end of August by gasoline shortages and increasing enemy opposition, resumed its advance on 4 September with the mission of crossing the Moselle and moving to positions on the Rhine. Preparations, unknown to the Third Army, had been initiated by Hitler and OB WEST. as early as 28 August for a counterattack against the southern flank of the Allied forces. The initial proposal, which envisaged a blow in the Troyes sector and a penetration northward between the Seine and the Marne, was given up when General Patton's forces reached the Meuse on 3 September. Hitler on that day gave instructions to OB WEST. for a different plan. This scheme, "the most ambitious to be advanced during the months between the Mortain counterattack and the Ardennes offensive," provided for the left wing of Hitler's forces (Army Group G) to cover the German retreat from southern and southwestern France and to strike against the extended south flank of the Third Army. Had the attack been effective, it could have prevented the junction of the Third and Seventh Armies and rolled up the right flank of the OVERLORD forces, pushing the Third Army back toward Reims and exposing the U.S. lines of communications.3

Hitler's deep interest in the proposed counterattack was shown by his promise of additional armored elements and by his personal selection of General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel as head of the Fifth Panzer Army, which was to make the attack. Unfortunately for the enemy, the promised reinforcements were not delivered in sufficient quantities to influence the battle. Units were committed piecemeal, and the Americans were able to deal with them separately. On 13 September, before the German offensive could be mounted in the Neufchateau-Mirecourt area, the 2d French Armored Division supported by the XIX Tactical Air Command inflicted a loss of sixty tanks on the enemy--one of the heaviest armored losses suffered by the Germans in northwest Europe in a single day. Five days later the enemy reluctantly undertook the task of eliminating the Third Army's bridgehead at Pont-a-Mousson and restoring the Moselle line north of Nancy. The reverses they suffered in that area were used by Hitler on 21 September as grounds for replacing Blaskowitz, the Army Group G. commander, with General Balck. For ten days, in the face of recommendations from field commanders that the attack be stopped, Hitler ordered that it be continued. By the end of September the German threat to the Allied flank had been ended. Von Rundstedt now asked in vain for reinforcements to meet expected Third Army attacks. Instead, Hitler shifted forces northward to meet the Second British Army attack. On 1 October, the Fifth Panzer Army. and the Third U.S. Army were both on the defensive.

The 6th Army Group forces, which had driven more than 400 miles in scarcely a month, came to an almost complete standstill in mid-September, although the Seventh Army, after regrouping, was able to send three divisions across the Moselle by the end of the month. Supply difficulties kept the First French Army virtually idle.

October Battles

The month of October, outside the 21 Army Group zone, was marked by two major actions by U.S. forces--the taking


of Aachen and the attack on Metz. The First Army on 29 September ordered its forces to conduct limited operations from the vicinity of Deurne, north of Maastricht, to protect the right flank of 21 Army Group, and to make a co-ordinated attack about 1 October with the mission of taking Dueren and Cologne. The two northern corps were directed to surround and capture Aachen and then push toward the Rhine. They attacked on 2 October, but met stubborn resistance from an enemy reinforced by units from the Arnhem area and other sectors of the Western Front and encouraged by Hitler's pleas for a last-ditch fight. A heavy bombardment by the IX Tactical Air Command between 11 and 13 October softened opposition, and the U.S. forces began house-to-house fighting inside Aachen on the 14th. Two days later the city was encircled and attempts to relieve it were beaten back. Continual daily poundings by Allied artillery and methodical clean-up operations in various parts of the city by U.S. infantry forced the garrison to surrender on 21 October.

To the south of General Hodges' forces, the Third Army on 2 October had launched an attack on the Metz fortifications. Part of Fort Driant was occupied after bitter fighting, but extremely heavy enemy resistance led the American forces to withdraw on 19 October. Reduced ammunition supplies at this point required postponement of a new offensive until November. An attack for Maizieres-les-Metz, some six miles north of Metz, was carried on against stubborn opposition until the month's end, but for the most part the Third Army's activities during the last half of October were summarized under the head of "aggressive patrolling."

Supply difficulties and bad weather harassed 6th Army Group throughout the month of October. In addition to these problems, the First French Army had the tasks of integrating French Forces of the Interior into the Regular Army, and of "whitening"4 the African divisions whose native members were unable to endure the cold of the Vosges. General Patch's forces during the month seized the high ground dominating the Meurthe valley in the St. Die area and took nearly 6,000 prisoners. In the first half of October, General de Lattre attempted to advance north of the Vosges toward Colmar, but the increasing severity of the weather soon made it necessary to abandon this effort. General de Lattre so notified his commanders on 17 October and turned to the task of getting more men and supplies for his army.

As the weather grew progressively worse, General Eisenhower saw his forces at the West Wall slowed to advances of a few yards a day. Deprived of air and, sometimes, of armored support, the Allies endured severe hardship but produced little that was tangible in the way of ground won. No period saw more dogged fighting or required more stamina and physical tenacity on the part of the soldiers than that between late October and the end of December. It was a time of stockpiling supplies, of digging in, and of battling painfully to straighten the lines. This period more than any other of the war in northern Europe belonged to the foot soldiers. The high-level communiques which day after day spoke of "actions confined to aggressive patrolling" were insufficient tributes to the fighting qualities of men who managed to exist and even advance a little in areas plagued with freezing rain, driving snow, record floods, endless stretches of mud, and biting cold. Until more supplies could be brought up,


strategic decisions were of little importance. At best there was talk of what could be done later. Meanwhile, trenchfoot and respiratory diseases took their toll of men who came to understand more fully what soldiers in the Russian and Italian theaters had undergone in the winter battles of the preceding years.

Before the difficulties of the campaign became so thoroughly apparent, General Eisenhower had been hopeful of pressing a successful attack along the entire line. In mid-October, as the British pressed their battle to clear the approaches to Antwerp, he anticipated a great increase in supplies for November which would make it possible to push his offensive. His chief of intelligence, General Strong, saw November as the month Hitler dreaded most. While he believed that the German leader hoped to launch some counterstroke about that time, Strong concluded that attrition was slowly reducing the enemy's power to attack. His policy of switching armor back and forth between Aachen and Nijmegen indicated that he had barely one hundred tanks or just enough to deal with one penetration at a time. SHAEF estimated that on the relatively stable front between Venlo and Nancy the Allies had taken an average of 1,300 prisoners a day during the period 10 September to 9 October. This meant, if other casualties were set at a normal proportion, that the enemy had a casualty rate of 4,000 a day, "or one 'division' on his new standard every day or two, through simple attrition in the line." The result, the SHAEF G-2 believed, was that the enemy was getting into the same dangerous situation that had prevailed in Normandy. "The dwindling fire brigade is switched with increasing rapidity and increasing wear and tear from one fire to another."5

A number of considerations influenced General Eisenhower to press his offensive in late October. Not only did he desire to continue to drain enemy manpower, but he wanted to make certain that the Germans had no chance to move into better positions and to build up their forces. He was aware of many difficulties which lay in his way, and the many different demands for men and supplies. The Schelde estuary was still not open; Allied forces were getting farther away from air bases in the United Kingdom; and transportation problems were increasing as the winter approached. Despite the repair and improvement of rail systems, the matter of transport remained critical. Two other problems loomed increasingly larger. In a series of inspection trips which he made to most of the Allied units down to divisional level during October, General Eisenhower heard continually of shortages in ammunition and the lack of riflemen replacements. The ammunition shortage was not merely one of port capacity and distributional facilities, but also one of inadequate production in the United States.6 The manpower problem had arisen for several reasons, but prominent among them was the fact that planners in the United States had misjudged the role which riflemen were going to play in the war and had put too many men in branches other than the Infantry. Because of the time factor, the only solution was a rigid comb-out of men in the communications zone and the zone of interior who might be readily reconverted into foot soldiers. By the end of October a study of such plans was under way in the


zone of interior and in the European Theater of Operations.7

Plans To End the War Quickly

On 20 October the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington decided to study the possibility of an all-out offensive that could conceivably end the war before the close of 1944. In the course of discussing with the Combined Chiefs the advisability of releasing the heretofore-secret proximity fuze for use in battle, General Marshall indicated that the release of secret weapons was bound up with their use to end the war speedily. In the light of an apparent agreement that the matter was the proper subject of a directive to the Supreme Commander, General Marshall instructed his staff to draft a memorandum on the subject to General Eisenhower. His advisers proposed that the Allies should make an all-out effort to defeat the German armies before 1 January 1945. This effort, they thought, would require release of weapons whose use had hitherto been restricted for security reasons and elimination of those strategic air force operations which did not effect an immediate reduction in German capabilities. It would also require commitment of strategic reserves and theater stockpiles without regard to their position by the end of the year, and would have a bearing on the continuation in action of units which otherwise would be withdrawn for rehabilitation and training for 1945 operations. General Eisenhower was informed that this draft was under consideration and was based on the assumption that Germany could be defeated in 1944 if the utmost use was made of all Allied resources. General Marshall added, "Be frank with me. I will accept your decision." General Eisenhower replied that he was as anxious as the Combined Chiefs of Staff to wind up the operation as quickly as possible. His logistical problems had become so acute, however, that all his plans had made the clearing of the approaches to Antwerp a sine qua non. to the waging of the final all-out battle. He agreed that, with the divisions in the European theater and those on their way, there was a possibility that they might achieve the desired break.8

Changes were made in the original draft to emphasize that the Supreme Commander, Allied Expeditionary Force, and the Supreme Commander, Mediterranean, would consult together as to the way the latter could best aid the defeat of Germany by 1 January 1945. This referred in particular to the possible transfer of troops to France. The revised version was then submitted to the British Chiefs of Staff for their comments.9

On 29 October, the Joint Planning Staff of the British Chiefs of Staff Committee replied


to the U.S. proposals. The planners concluded that the earliest date that could be suggested for the war's end was 31 January 1945, and the latest was 15 May 1945. Analyzing the proposed directive, they held that General Eisenhower's future actions were governed by the date Antwerp could be opened to shipping. To launch an all-out offensive before its opening, they added, "would be to court failure, and would probably have the effect of prolonging the war well into 1945." As to the means suggested by General Marshall to shorten the war, the members of the Joint Planning Staff had some reservations. They were inclined to question his proposal for changing the main air effort, feeling that the strategic air forces should continue to give top priority to oil targets. As a result of previous bombings, they pointed out, oil production had been reduced in September to about 23 percent of its pre-attack (April) level. If the attacks were suspended, the Joint Planning Staff believed, the enemy would be able to raise production to 50 percent of the pre-attack level within one month. The planners, noting that these targets would not absorb all the available strategic bomber forces, suggested the value of a series of heavy attacks on selected areas of the Ruhr. This effort could also be aided by attacks on the German transportation system, with especial emphasis on barges and vulnerable points on canals. They added that General Eisenhower retained the right to call for direct bomber support of his land forces, but that he had agreed to reduce these demands as far as practicable. As for operations in the Mediterranean, the British felt that maximum pressure should be continued in that theater until the launching of the offensive in the west. They had already recommended release of the proximity fuze for use against the enemy, and they welcomed the use of various psychological warfare and diversionary activities that would aid the Supreme Commander's battle.

The British Chiefs of Staff accepted these views of their planners and requested the U.S. Chiefs of Staff to withhold the proposed directive for the time being. General Marshall, therefore, on 1 November directed that nothing be done about the matter until further notice.10

While these plans were being discussed by the Combined Chiefs of Staff, the Allied air planners were discussing various campaigns for shortening the war by intensified air action. Under directives of September 1944, the strategic air forces had given first priority to the German oil industry and had placed enemy ordnance depots, armored fighting vehicle assembly plants, and motor vehicle assembly plants in the second priority list. At this time the German oil situation was believed to be desperate, but the Allied airmen feared that a few weeks of respite from Allied bomber attacks would permit the Germans to restore their oil production to 60 percent of the normal output. U.S. bomber experts considered this view confirmed in October when bad weather and commitments to support of land operations cut Eighth Air Force missions against


oil targets. They estimated that the enemy oil output for October rose seven points or 30 percent of the pre-attack level. Meanwhile, discouraging results were coming in about the attacks on ordnance depots and assembly plants. Bad weather and the priority of oil targets left few days for attacks on the second-priority targets. As a result the airmen concluded in October that their attacks were clearly not having a decisive influence on the enemy's efforts to re-equip his armies. They were, therefore, aware of the inconclusiveness of these attacks when, in late October, General Marshall spoke of throwing all Allied efforts into an offensive to end the war against Germany by the end of the year.11

Against this background of somewhat disappointing results, Air Chief Marshal Tedder and the Air Ministry reopened the possibility of using the strategic air forces for attacks on railway centers and marshaling yards. Tedder had advocated this project successfully in the spring of 1944 and believed it to have been mainly responsible for paralyzing the rail system in northern France. He asked that the strategic air forces concentrate their principal attacks on the Ruhr with bombings of the rail centers, oil targets, canal systems, and centers of population. The SHAEF intelligence division gave the plan only qualified approval. Its chief, General Strong, agreed that the air and ground battle against Germany should be co-ordinated and felt that an attack on transport would probably give the best over-all effect. He believed, however, that oil targets should continue to have top priority and added that recent reports as to the decreased importance of the Ruhr in Germany's economy probably would require a reassessment of its worth. He thought that a future air offensive should probably be extended to the whole enemy transportation system.12

Despite doubts among railway and intelligence experts as to the degree of success that the transportation scheme might obtain, top commanders, meeting at SHAEF near the end of October, decided that bombing of German transportation would be given priority second only to operations against synthetic oil plants. General Spaatz and Air Marshal Bottomley issued a directive to this effect on 28 October 1944.13

The proposals to end the war in 1944 by means of an all-out offensive had actually come too late to be effective. Such an attack could succeed only if it were made while the enemy was still disorganized. Once he had established himself in his defenses, the Allies had to get a port within a reasonable distance of the battle area in order to stockpile weapons and supplies for a new attack. Until Antwerp was open and materiel had begun to move through it, the granting of permission to use new weapons and to shift priorities would be of little value. The end of October found the battle for Antwerp still in progress. Since it would be nearly a month at best before ships would be unloading in that port, it appeared more reasonable during the remaining days of 1944 to concentrate on an attempt to reach and establish bridgeheads across the Rhine than to launch an offensive to end the war.


The November Offensive

On 18 October,just before the Combined Chiefs of Staff had raised the question of launching a campaign to conclude the war in Europe before the end of 1944, the Supreme Commander and the 12th and 21 Army Group commanders met at Brussels to discuss a more modest program for November and perhaps December 1944. Since General Eisenhower had decided that the British and Canadian forces would have to concentrate during the next several weeks on the task of clearing the Schelde estuary, he concluded that the drive toward the Rhine, heretofore largely a 21 Army Group mission, should be assumed by the First and Ninth U.S. Armies. General Hodges was to attempt to establish a bridgehead south of Cologne, while General Simpson's forces protected his left flank between Sittard and Aachen. To the right of the First Army, General Patton's forces were to advance in a northeasterly direction in support of the main thrust. Meanwhile, General Devers' French and U.S. forces were to attempt to cross the Rhine in their sector.14 For the first time since late August, the main thrust was given to the U.S. forces, and the Allied forces were oriented directly at and south of the Ruhr, instead of north of that area. If these various drives proved successful in establishing bridgeheads across the Rhine before the 21 Army Group was free to return to its missions, it would be impossible to return to the strategy which Field Marshal Montgomery had favored since late August and which the Supreme Commander had approved in its broad aspects.

In agreeing to this operation, which differed from that envisaged by the British Chiefs of Staff and the 21 Army Group commander, General Eisenhower followed his policy of closing up along as much of the Rhine as possible and of hitting the Germans at every possible point in order to keep them stretched. Nonetheless, he opened himself up to British suspicions that he was straying from his earlier strategic commitments.

The Supreme Commander on 28 October confirmed his decisions made ten days earlier at Brussels and pressed preparations by the Ninth and First U.S. Armies.15 During the next two weeks he visited every division in the two armies and was pleased to find their morale good. His chief worry was the weather. It was so severe, he reported, that it was breaking a number of records which had stood for twenty-five to fifty years. Despite the problems of mud, rain, and fog, he retained his optimism and assured General Marshall that the Allies would yet make the Germans wish they had gone east of the Rhine when they withdrew from France. There still remained in his mind, however, considerable anxiety over the state of supplies--a concern expressed shortly after the opening of the November offensive in a public appeal for greater Allied efforts to keep industrial production at a maximum.16


Two subsidiary attacks preceded the main November offensive. The first, ordered by First Army to secure the Schmidt area just north of important dams on the Urft and Roer Rivers, was launched by V Corps on 2 November. The Americans seized the town of Schmidt, but a sharp enemy reaction and supply difficulties forced them to withdraw and terminate the action.17 On 12 November, the Second British Army moved eastward for the purpose of forcing the Maas in its area. Enemy resistance was not heavy, but minefields, mud, and bad weather delayed the advance. By 22 November, the British had succeeded in clearing the west bank of the Maas opposite Roermond.

The Ninth and First Armies launched the main offensive in the early afternoon of 16 November after an air preparation described as the largest "air-ground cooperative effort yet undertaken by the Allied air forces." The bombardment destroyed the center of Dueren and nearly wiped out nearby cities like Eschweiler and Juelich.18 Two German divisions in the process of shifting positions were severely hit. In the Ninth Army's sector, ground forces made good progress during the first three days of the attack, but units in the First Army area had less success. The enemy used his West Wall fortifications effectively, particularly in the Huertgen Forest where poor road nets, often little more than forest trails, slowed or stopped armored advances. Infantrymen proceeding through the dense woods were subjected to the terrors of mines and artillery tree bursts. Rain and snow added to the difficulties and the misery of the combatants. Resistance stiffened along the entire front as the enemy brought up reinforcements, forcing a virtual stalemate on the U.S. units. A final spurt of action near the month's close brought the Ninth Army to the Roer in most of its sector, while the First Army established a front on the line of the Inde and opened a drive toward the Roer in the Huertgen area. British efforts to make General Bradley's left flank more secure had continued through November, ending with the elimination of enemy positions near Venlo and with attacks east of Geilenkirchen in the first week of December.

In the Third Army's area, General Patton turned his attention both to the drive against the Saar and to the battle for Metz. His troops encircled Metz on 18 November and on the following day entered the city. Four days later, all enemy resistance in the city itself ceased, although the battle for the outlying forts continued. Meanwhile, other Third Army elements, advancing on the right, forced the enemy back into the Siegfried Line from Nennig to Saarlautern and reached the Saar at Hilbringen.

The 6th Army Group, cast only for a supporting role in November, gained several of the month's most important victories. The Seventh Army attacked as early as 13 November with the object of capturing Sarrebourg and forcing the Saverne Gap. Task forces of the 2d French Armored Division were sent to Saverne on 22 November. The division was next ordered to aid the drive on Strasbourg and opened an attack against that famous city on 23 November. Within a few hours armored elements had cleared the city and reached the Kehl bridge at the Rhine.


General de Lattre's First French Army on the extreme south flank also added a string of victories to the Allied list in the last two weeks of November. Starting on the 14th with the intention of forcing the Belfort Gap and driving the enemy from Alsace, the First French Army rapidly cleared the industrial area southwest of Belfort. I French Corps liberated Belfort, Altkirch, and Mulhouse between 18 and 25 November and then drove toward Colmar and Neuf-Brisach with the intention of crossing the Rhine near the latter city. The II French Corps, ordered to advance toward the center of Alsace and aid the advance to the north, linked up at Burnhaupt, ten miles west of Mulhouse, with the I French Corps, and caught a number of Germans in the trap. In their two weeks' battle, one of their hardest and most successful fights of the war, the French killed an estimated 10,000 Germans and took another 17,000 as prisoners. The First French Army's losses were estimated at more than 10,000.19

Allied Strategy Re-examined

The fighting in November, while bringing the Allies closer to the Rhine, proved costly and failed to achieve the hoped-for successes on the Ninth and First Army fronts. Field Marshal Montgomery discussed this outcome with General Eisenhower on 28 November, and two days later said that in his opinion the Supreme Commander's failure to implement his directive of 28 October was responsible for the situation. The October directive, the 21 Army Group commander recalled, ordered the main effort to be made in the north, the decisive defeat of the enemy west of the Rhine, the establishment of bridgeheads over the Rhine and IJssel Rivers, and the deployment of Allied forces in strength east of the Rhine in preparation for the seizure of the Ruhr. "We have achieved none of this," the field marshal said, "and we have no hope of doing so. We have therefore failed; and we have suffered a strategic reverse." Montgomery continued:
  1. We now require a new plan. And this time we must not fail. The need to get the German war finished early is vital, in view of other factors. The new plan must not fail.

  2. In the new plan we must get away from the doctrine of attacking in so many places that nowhere are we strong enough to get decisive results. We must concentrate such strength on the main selected thrust that success will be certain. It is in this respect that we failed badly in the present operations.20

Closely connected with the request for a new plan was a renewed appeal for closer ground force co-ordination. Field Marshal Montgomery said:

  1. The theatre divides itself naturally into two fronts; one north of the Ardennes and one south of the Ardennes. We want one commander in full operational control north of the Ardennes, and one south.

  2. I did suggest that you might consider having a land force commander to work under you and run the land battle for you. But you discarded this idea as not being suitable, and we did not discuss it any more.

  3. You suggested that a better solution would be to put 12 Army Group and 21 Army Group both north of the Ardennes, and to put Bradley under my operational command.

  4. I said that Bradley and I together are a good team. We worked together in Normandy, under you, and we won a great victory. Things have not been so good since you separated us. I believe to be certain of success you want to bring us together again; and


    one of us should have the lull operational control north of the Ardennes; and if you decide that I should do that work--that is O.K. by me.21

To understand the field marshal's reference to strategic reverse, it is necessary to recall the earlier plans and his proposals. Before the Schelde campaign, it should be remembered, the Supreme Commander had put the main emphasis upon a thrust to the north--one in which the Allies would ultimately cross the Rhine north of the Ruhr.22 With the shift of the British and Canadian forces to the Schelde estuary operation, the drive toward the Rhine had moved temporarily to the Ninth and First U.S. Army fronts with the main emphasis on the Bonn-Cologne area. If this orientation continued, the Allied forces would be in a position to cross the Rhine north of the Ardennes, but south of the Ruhr. They would absorb forces that would otherwise have been available for the 91 Army Group drive farther north. Thus, when the field marshal sharply criticized operations which had taken place in November, he was talking not merely of failures to advance to Bonn and Cologne, but of failures to continue in the northeast direction to which he and, he thought, SHAEF were committed. To get involved in operations which led away from that direction he considered faulty strategy, and to drive in the wrong direction, particularly without reaching the Rhine, was "a strategic reverse."

General Eisenhower, who interpreted the field marshal's reference to "a strategic reverse" as a general condemnation of past plans wrote Montgomery a letter in which he flatly contradicted the statement that they had failed. He summarized the successes of the campaigns up to that point and defended firmly his recent broad front policy. His letter read in part:

I am not quite sure I know exactly what you mean by strategic reverse; certainly to date we have failed to achieve all that we had hoped to by this time, which hopes and plans were based upon conditions as we knew them or estimated them when the plans were made. The Ruhr is an important place, but let us never forget for one second that our primary objective is to defeat the Germans who are barring our way into Germany. The Ruhr itself was always given as a geographical objective, not only for its importance to Germany, but because it was believed that in that region the German forces. would be largely concentrated to meet our attacks.

Specifically, I agree to the following:

  1. We must determine how much profit there is in the continuation of our current attacks in the 12th Army Group area, and whether they give real promise of reaching the Rhine.

  2. We must recast our future general plans in the light of conditions as they now exist.

  3. We must choose the best line of attack to assure success, including the maintenance of deception lines.

I also stated that from my personal viewpoint, it would be simpler for me to have the battle zone divided into two general sectors, in each of which one individual could achieve close battle coordination. I expressed some doubt whether this zone should be divided on the basis of our rear areas or on the basis of natural lines of advance into Germany. There was some question in my mind whether the Ardennes or the Ruhr should mark the dividing line, if such a plan should be adopted.

I do not agree that things have gone badly since Normandy, merely because we have not gained all we had hoped to gain. In fact, the situation is somewhat analogous to that which existed in Normandy for so long. Our line as late as D plus 60 was not greatly different than what we hoped to hold in the first week, but I never looked upon the situation then existing as a strategic reverse, even


though out of the circumstances of our long confinement in the narrow beach head have developed some of our greatest later difficulties. If we had advanced from the beginning as we had hoped, our maintenance services would have been in a position to supply us during the critical September days, when we actually reached the limit of our resources.

Moreover, I do not agree that more strength could have been thrown to the North than was actually maintained there during early September. Lines of communication in the north were so stretched that even delivery of five hundred tons to you at Brussels cost Bradley three divisions, the possession of which might have easily placed him on the Rhine in the Worms area.

We gained a great victory in Normandy. Bradley's brilliant breakthrough made possible the great exploitation by all forces, which blasted France and Belgium and almost carried us across the Rhine. Had we not advanced on a relatively broad front, we would now have the spectacle of a long narrow line of communication, constantly threatened on the right flank and weakened by detachments of large fighting formations. In addition, we would have had a similar picture in the south, stretching all the way from Marseilles to Dijon. As it is, we now have a rear that is cleared of the enemy. We can look to the front.

I have no intention of stopping Devers' and Patton's operations as long as they are cleaning up our right flank and giving us capability of concentration. On the other hand, I do not intend to push these attacks senselessly.

It is going to be very important to us later on to have two strings to our bow. Don't forget that you were very wise in making a provision for this at Mareth, and it paid off.

    *     *     *

I most definitely appreciate the frankness of your statements, and the usual friendly way in which they are stated, but I beg of you not to continue to look upon the past performances of this great fighting force as a failure because we have not achieved all that we could have hoped.

I am quite sure that you, Bradley, and I can remain masters of the situation and the victory we want will certainly be achieved. But we must look at this whole great affair stretching from Marseilles to the lower Rhine as one great theater. We must plan so when our next attack starts we will be able to obtain maximum results from all our forces, under the conditions now existing. IKE.23

Field Marshal Montgomery quickly pointed out that he had never intimated the work of the Allied forces had been a failure, but that he had said they had failed to carry out the directive of 28 October. General Eisenhower immediately sent his "prompt and abject apologies" for giving the letter an interpretation which the writer had not intended.24

Within a week after Field Marshal Montgomery had expressed to General Eisenhower his fears concerning Allied strategy, Mr. Churchill voiced similar anxieties to President Roosevelt. Conceding that current attacks had brought a number of splendid trophies such as Metz and Strasbourg, the Prime Minister nevertheless felt that the Allies "had definitely failed to achieve the strategic object we gave our armies five weeks ago." They had not reached the Rhine in the northern and most important sector of the front, and would have to continue the battle for many weeks before they could hope to do so. The British statesman was equally worried about the over-all strategic picture. He saw a marked degree of frustration in Italy, which he blamed in part on the diversion of forces to the landings in southern France; a large part of the enemy forces had escaped from the Balkan peninsula; the plans for Burma were not going well; and China had been eliminated as a


combatant. He believed that the situation required another meeting shortly of the Allied leaders to discuss the future. Mr. Roosevelt, in the letter he drafted in reply, declared that he was less disappointed than the Prime Minister about results, partly because he had been less optimistic over the time element six months previously. The President said that he had bicycled over most of the Rhine terrain "in the old days" and, as a result, had never been as sanguine about the ease of getting across the river as had some of the Allied commanders. Despite disappointments, he believed that the agreed broad strategy was going according to plan. He reminded the Prime Minister that they were in the position of commanders in chief who had prepared their plans, issued their orders, and committed their resources to battle. "For the time being, even if a little behind schedule, it seems to me the prosecution and outcome of the battles lie with our Field Commanders in whom I have every confidence." He was heartened by the fact that the enemy was being chewed up, and that Allied supplies were being piled up for later offensives. "I still cannot see clearly when, but soon a decisive break in our favor is bound to come.25

General Eisenhower was keenly aware of the difficulties that faced his force. But he was pleased to find from his visits to various lower headquarters that everyone was "in surprisingly good heart and condition." In a report to General Marshall, he threw a little light indirectly on his own problems in a remark that the corps, army, and army group commanders were standing up well. Their good condition was due, he intimated, to the fact that they had to worry only about tactics and local maintenance "without... having to burden themselves with politics, priorities, shipping and Maquis" on the one hand and without having to undergo the "more direct battle strains of a Division commander" on the other. The Supreme Commander was not hopeful of immediate success since the enemy was sending new divisions to the west, and he felt that much depended on the scale of the anticipated winter offensive of the Russians. He saw some hope in the fact that the enemy was badly stretched in the west and was forced to shift his units constantly to protect various points threatened by the Allies. To continue this strain, he proposed to keep up a number of limited attacks toward the Rhine, while preparing an all-out offensive. He frankly admitted that he was not overly optimistic about the immediate results of these thrusts since it appeared that unless "some trouble develops from within Germany, a possibility of which there is now no real evidence, [the enemy] should be able to maintain a strong defensive front for some time, assisted by weather, floods and muddy ground."26

The Allied air commanders were also pessimistic because of their fear that the German Air Force might stage a comeback in 1945. In the closing months of 1944 there was evidence that German fighters were steadily increasing in number, and there was some fear that the Germans might put their jet planes into the battle before the Allies. General Spaatz warned General Arnold in early November of the possibility of an upsurge in Ger-


man air strength,27 and Lt. Gen. James H. Doolittle indicated in mid-month that the Eighth Air Force might have to drop its strategic objectives in order to reconquer the enemy air forces. For the moment, however, the U.S. airmen continued to place their chief emphasis on the offensive against oil. This decision was reaffirmed on 5 December by top Allied commanders at SHAEF when they agreed to hold oil in first place, give second priority to carpet bombing in support of the ground forces, and make transportation bombing third in the list of targets.28

Despite evidence of Germany's staying power, the Allied commanders still hoped to launch an all-out offensive against the enemy in the early weeks of 1945. General Eisenhower, Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Field Marshal Montgomery, and General Bradley met at Maastricht on 7 December to discuss such a campaign. The 21 Army Group commander again presented his plan for a concentrated thrust across the Rhine north of the Ruhr while reducing operations on the rest of the front to containing actions. General Eisenhower once more declared that the Frankfurt area was suitable for an attack and that he did not propose to check the advance on General Patton's front. Field Marshal Montgomery seemed to feel that the argument was back at the same point it had reached in September. If attacks were made simultaneously in the north and south, he feared that neither would succeed. He held, therefore, that there was a fundamental difference between their views. General Eisenhower, apparently desiring to reconcile their points of view, insisted that they differed only as to the point of origin of the secondary thrust, since both agreed that the main attack would be made north of the Ruhr by the 21 Army Group with the support of a U.S. army (the Ninth) of ten divisions. The Supreme Commander also denied that he and the field marshal differed fundamentally in their views on command. The 21 Army Group commander had again asked that all operations north of the Ardennes be placed under one commander. General Eisenhower maintained, as he had several times before, that command boundaries must be determined by the nature of the operations in front of the line and not by geographical features in the rear. Since the main operations were to be made north of the Ruhr, he thought that it was a better dividing line than the Ardennes.29

The Maastricht conference concluded with a decision by the Supreme Commander in favor of a major attack north of the Ruhr in 1945 with secondary attacks by U.S. forces farther to the south. To him this was what he had always favored. Believing that he had sufficient forces to support the northern thrust adequately and still mount a subsidiary attack, he saw no difference between his concept and that of the 21 Army Group commander. But to Field Marshal Montgomery, who believed that experiences of the past few months demonstrated the lack of sufficient resources for both attacks, the difference was between success and failure--and therefore fundamental. In terms of complete understanding and agreement, these viewpoints were never really reconciled. On the other hand, General


Eisenhower, with control of the U.S. forces and supplies that Field Marshal Montgomery deemed essential to the all-out attack in the north, was in a position to make his view prevail. For this reason, if for no other, there was never a deadlock between the two commanders in chief.

Action in December

The chief emphasis in early December was on preparations for an all-out offensive north of the Ardennes early in 1945. Since General Eisenhower wished to maintain pressure on the enemy and since he felt there were divisions and resources south of the Ardennes which would not be needed for this attack, he gave permission for the Third Army, supported by the Seventh Army, to prepare for an offensive against the Saar beginning on 19 December. He cautioned General Bradley that unless the operation made great progress it would have to be stopped after a week. In outlining the operation, SHAEF made clear that it was intended to aid the main effort in the north, and that any crossing of the Rhine south of the Moselle was to be restricted until the success of operations in the north was assured.30


North of the Ardennes, the British and U.S. commanders now attempted to improve their positions. Field Marshal Montgomery ordered a limited-objective attack in the Heinsberg area for this purpose early in December. In the Ninth Army sector, General Simpson's forces cleared up enemy pockets near Juelich and closed to the Roer at mid-month. To his right, General Hodges' forces advanced through the Huertgen Forest and reached the Roer. Unwilling to cross that river while the enemy held the dams on the Urft and the Roer to the south, and finding that repeated air attacks could neither dislodge the enemy nor destroy the dams, General Bradley directed the First Army to launch an attack to seize this objective. The operation, which began on 13 December, was suspended three days later as the result of the Ardennes counteroffensive. Despite the limited nature of the First and Ninth Army attacks between 16 November and 16 December, the fighting was exceedingly bitter and costly. The Ninth Army suffered some 10,000 casualties, and the First Army, which was heavily hit in the Huertgen Forest area, had three divisions severely mauled and suffered over 21,000 casualties.


Farther to the south, General Patton's forces crossed the Saar River in several places early in December and pressed their attack on Saarlautern. Back near Metz, other elements of the army took the last of the fortifications in that area on 12 December. Preparations were also pushed for the projected offensive of 19 December. The Seventh Army now reoriented its forces almost directly to the north to support this attack. The shift took away left-flank support from the First French Army, which was deeply involved at the moment in preparations for the capture of German-held ports along the southwestern coast of France (Operation INDEPENDENCE). Some compensation was made in the shift of two divisions, one American, to General de Lattre, but his forces were unable to carry out their mission of clearing the Colmar Pocket.31 The French commander had to request that operations in western France be delayed and that two additional divisions be given the First French Army for operations in the Colmar area. He also asked General de Gaulle for French troops to fill vacancies in the existing divisions, pointing out that morale was deteriorating among the North African troops because they had seen their comrades die without any French troops to replace them.32

The Seventh Army on 7 December drove northward between the Sarre and the Rhine. By 16 December one corps had sent elements of all its divisions up to the German frontier, while another carried on a heavy fight for the strongly fortified area around Bitche. By the end of December, General Patch's forces held northern Alsace from the Third Army boundary, just east of Sarreguemines, to the Rhine, and thence southward along the Rhine to the First French Army boundary some ten miles south of Strasbourg. General de Lattre held sectors along the Rhine both north and south of the enemy's Colmar bridgehead.

On the eve of the Ardennes counter-offensive, the Allies were preparing all along the line for main or secondary attacks toward the Rhine and beyond. Field Marshal Montgomery's long-range planning looked toward the crossing of the Rhine north of the Ruhr by the 21 Army Group supported by the Ninth Army. Meanwhile, the Ninth and First Armies pressed forward to the Roer and looked beyond to the Rhine--the Ninth Army as an integral part of the main thrust, and the First Army in a supporting role. Hence the main thrust was characterized as being north of the Ruhr, although the supporting attack extended the advance southward to the Ardennes. South of the Ardennes, the Third Army was poised for an offensive toward the Rhine. To its right, the Seventh Army was pushing up to the West Wall positions or to the Rhine. The First French Army was already established on the Rhine to the right and left of the enemy's Colmar Pocket. The only static area was the Ardennes, which was being held thinly so that troops could be committed to attacks elsewhere. It is clear that by mid-December the attitude of the Allies strongly favored the offensive.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (16) * Next Chapter (18)


1. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, p. 323.

2. Cole, The Lorraine Campaign, Ch. I; Rpt, Uebersicht ueber die in Aujstellung und Umgliederung befindlichen Verbaende des Heeres u. Pz. Verbaende der Waffen SS (Stand 5.XI.44). OKH/Organisations Abteilung. (referred to hereafter as OKH/Org.Abt.)

3. Cole, The Lorraine Campaign, pp. 190-219. Complete details on these plans and the results of the counterthrust are given in Chapters IV and V of Dr. Cole's volume.

4. The process of replacing native members with whites.

5. SHAEF, G-2 Weekly Intel Summary 30, 15 Oct 44, SHAEF G-2 files.

6. Eisenhower to Marshall, S-63259, 20 Oct 44, Eisenhower personal file.

7. See study by Robert R. Palmer and William R. Keast, "The Provision of Enlisted Replacements" in Robert R. Palmer, Bell I. Wiley, and William R. Keast, The Procurement and Training of Ground Combat Troops, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1948). On both ammunition and manpower shortages, see Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of the Armies, Vol. II, now in preparation.

8. Memo, G. C. M. (Gen Marshall) for Gen Handy and Gen Hull, 20 Oct 44, OPD 381 TS, Sec XVIII, Case 538/2; Draft of Dir to Eisenhower, Wilson, et al., SS 316, 20 Oct 44, ABC 381 Strategy Sec Papers (7 Jan 43); Marshall to Eisenhower, W-50676, 22 Oct 44, SHAEF message file, Folder 27, Plans and Operations (13 May 44-23 May 45); Eisenhower to Marshall, S-63616, 23 Oct 44, Eisenhower personal file.

9. The date of the revised document is not given. The major revisions seem to have been in the phrasing rather than the intent, although the provisions relating to strategic air forces were changed to say that these forces would act in accordance with the Supreme Commander's directions. OPD 381 TS, Sec XVIII, Case 538.

10. Rpt, Jt Plng Stf, 29 Oct 44, sub: Plng Date for End of War With Germany, JP (44) 262 (Final); Rpt, Jt Plng Stf, 29 Oct 44, sub: Opns in Europe, JP (44) 275 (Final); Memo by Br Representatives, 31 Oct 44, sub: Immediate Supreme Effort in Western Europe; Memo, H.H.F. (Lt Col Harvey H. Fischer, member of Strategy Sec, Strategy and Policy Group, OPD) for Gen Roberts (Brig Gen Frank N. Roberts, Chief, Strategy and Policy Group, OPD), 1 Nov 44. Colonel Fischer said in his memorandum, "Chief of Staff has issued verbal instructions that nothing more should be done on this matter." All these papers are in ABC 384 Europe (4 Aug 43), Sec 1A.

11. Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, Vol. III, Ch. 18, "Autumn Assault on Germany."

12. Deputy Supreme Commander's Notes on Air Policy To Be Adopted With a View to the Rapid Defeat of Germany, 25 Oct 44; Strong to Tedder, 28 Oct 44. Both in SHAEF G-2 Intel on Germany GBI/01-A/091-3.

13. Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, Vol. III, 653.

14. Decision reached at SAC's conf, Brussels, 18 Oct 44; SAC's dir confirming decisions of Brussels conf, SCAF 114, 28 Oct 44; Revisions in dir, SCAF 119, 2 Nov 44. All in SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning, II.

15. SAC's dir confirming decisions of Brussels conf, SCAF 114, 28 Oct 44, SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning, II. The plan had to be changed at the beginning of November because of a limited offensive launched by the enemy against British forces on 27 October. Field Marshal Montgomery found it necessary to clear the area west of the Maas before advancing from the Nijmegen area between the Maas and the Rhine.

16. Eisenhower to Marshal, 11 Nov 44, Eisenhower personal file; Eisenhower press conference, New York Times, November 22, 1944.

17. A detailed account of this battle is given in Charles B. MacDonald and Sidney T. Matthews, Three Battles: Arnaville, Altuzzo, and Schmidt, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1952).

18. The Eighth Air Force dropped more than 4,000 tons of bombs, and the RAF Bomber Command dropped nearly 5,700. Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, III, 631-32.

19. De Lattre, Histoire de la Premiere Armiee Francaise, Pt. IV.

20. Montgomery to Eisenhower, 30 Nov 44, Diary Office CinC. Italics in original.

21. Ibid.

22. See above, p. 294.

23. Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 1 Dec 44, Eisenhower personal file. Italics in original.

24. Ltr, Montgomery to Eisenhower, 2 Dec 44; Ltr, Eisenhower to Montgomery, 2 Dec 44. Both in Diary Office CinC.

25. Churchill to Roosevelt, 844, 6 Dec 44; President to Leahy, proposed reply to Prime Minister (the President added "Clear with Marshall and King"), 8 Dec 44, OPD Exec, Leahy file.

26. Ltr, Eisenhower to Marshall, 5 Dec 44, SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning II.

27. Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, III, 663, and n. 126, say that the German Air Force was numerically larger in December 1944 than it had ever been.

28. Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II. III, 657-66.

29. Notes of mtg at Maastricht, 7 Dec 44, DSC/TS.100/12, 8 Dec 44, SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning, II.

30. Memo, G-3 SHAEF for CofS SHAEF, 12 Dec 44, sub: Future Opns; Memo, G-3 SHAEF for CofS SHAEF, 15 Dec 44, sub: Proposed Ltr to Gen Bradley. Both in SHAEF SGS 381 Post OVERLORD Planning, II.

31. This was the first time in the war that a major U.S. unit was placed under French command.

32. De Lattre, Histoire de la Premiere Armiee Francaise, Ch. X.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Charles Hardinger for the HyperWar Foundation