Tuesday, December 16, 2014

On this day in history

December 16th, 1944, Hitler launched his last chance offensive hoping to knock the Anglo-American alliance off the European continent. The Abwehr reported that the American lines were stretched thin, especially through the Ardennes, with many green units that had seen little or no combat.

It is unknown whether the Germans were aware that the American tactical reserve consisted mostly of the 82d and 101st Airborne Divisions, recuperating from Operation Market-Garden, let alone that the strategic reserve amounted to whatever "ash and trash" were awaiting assignment in Repple-Depple.

Certainly the German command was unaware that the allies were reading "Ultra Intercepts" of their (presumably) most secret communications; regardless, Hitler directed that all traffic regarding the 12/16/44 attack was to be couriered, eyes-only. Most of the Anglo-American command interpreted the minimal radio traffic as proof that the Germans were planning to hunker down for the winter...

Hitler and his minions made the ever-popular mistake of forgetting that, just because the American Soldier may, taken as an average, may be a reluctant warrior, he is still an American, and the only thing he hates more than losing is quitting and leaving a job undone.

Units were smashed, but individuals rallied, held, and fought. Mistakes were made, but recovered from. The attack was held off, defeated, and, on the end, German combat power that was too scarce to start with was wasted.  If the Battle of Britain was the Royal Air Force's Finest Hour, then the recovery from the Battle of the Bulge qualifies as the US Army's in WW2 Europe.

Written on my phone on the way to work, minor editing when I got home to a beer and a real computer.
After I posted the above I found this: 
The Real Reason Hitler Launched the Battle of the Bulge, "this" being an interview with a British historian who has written a book about the Battle of the Bulge. (This in itself a a bit odd, since British participation in the battle was largely Montgomery taking credit for the achievements of a few US units which were temporarily attached to  his 21st Army Group for logistical support.)

Anyway, Peter Caddick-Adams opines that Hitler launched his offensive in order to establish his dominance over the OKW.

I don't buy it. Hitler felt no compunctions whatsoever about liquidating generals and overriding their decisions. Certainly by this time in the war he had no more than a nodding relationship with reality, and almost certainly believed that a master stroke would knock the US and Great Britain off the continent, and possibly out of the war.

Caddick-Adams also makes note of George Patton's Third Army's remarkable pivoting from an eastward orientation to counter-attach to the north; what he leaves out is that Paton was one of the few in on the Ultra intercepts who did not entirely rely on same; while the rest of the allied command was content to assume that the Germans were in winter quarters,he had his staff prepare contingency plans for reacting to various counter-attack scenarios. (Preparing contingency plans is just good practice for staff personnel who would otherwise have little to do other than stick pins in "Current Situation" maps and inventorying socks...)

Anyway, an interesting and timely interview of a book that sounds interesting as well.  I'll see if the local library has it.