By September 1944, Adolph Hitler’s dream of a thousand year Reich was crumbling down around him at an ever-increasing rate. The once mighty German Wehrmacht was little more than a skeleton of its former self and was collapsing on all fronts at an ever-quickening pace. The beloved leader of Germany, was now a tired, sick, paranoid man, who consistently mingled fantasy with reality, more the former than latter. When looking at situation maps, he would call on divisions that did not exist and would make battle plans that may have been possible in 1940 but were far out of the German military capabilities in 1944.
Daily situation briefings greeted the Führer with nothing but bad news on all fronts. Over the past six months, 25 German divisions had been smashed by the Russian juggernaut - the worst defeat ever inflicted on the Wehrnacht — and the Red Army was continuing to roll into Poland on its way to East Prussia. In Italy, the Americans and British had captured Rome and were attacking German forces a few hundred miles further north. In France, American, British and Canadian forces had landed on the continent, broken Out of the beachheads - virtually annihilating two German Armies in the process - and were now driving through Belgium and Northern France toward the German border. Even in the south of France, a second invasion force of Americans and Free French was racing from the Riviera up the Rhone Valley 5 while in the process trapping a part of the German Third Army.
With the start of the sixth year of war for Germany, Hitler had lost 3,360,000 men killed, wounded or missing. In August alone, 466,000 more of Germany’s young men were lost, and September promised to be no better, for in scarcely two weeks, 27 German divisions had been eliminated from the war maps.
Even with the mounting losses in both men and territory, Hitler still believed, in his dreams, that he could bring about a master stroke that would at least bring a favorable ending of the war for Germany. What Hitler was looking for was a way to buy time so that his “secret weapons” could be finished and produced in quantity. What he devised would be one last gasp, in a war already lost, which was doomed to fail from the moment of conception.
On September 16, Hitler attended his daily briefing on the situation at the fronts. As usual, bad news was coming from everywhere except for successful counterattacks that were being waged by panzer units in the Ardennes against American units trying to cross the German border. On hearing this news, Hitler jumped to his feet and said, “I have made a momentous decision, I shall go over to the counterattack!” Pointing to the map he continued, “Here, out of the Ardennes, with the objective— ANTWERP!” Whether Hitler was aware of it or not, he was advocating a strategy that was discussed in a book written a hundred years before called On War by Karl von Clausewitz. In a paragraph of this work, Clausewitz answered the Fuhrer's dilemma when he said, “When the disproportion of power is so great that no limitation of our objective can ensure us safety from catastrophe ... force will, or should, be concentrated in one desperate blow.”~ To the shock of those present and to the generals in the field, what Hitler did was put in motion a plan that resulted in the largest battle of the entire campaign on the western front.
Hitler decided on the west for many reasons. The eastern front was not an option, because no matter what size force Germany could muster, it would be swallowed up by the massive Red Army, and therefore would gain no advantage. The Italian Front was not considered because it was a narrow area to fight in and a victory there would gain no advantage for Germany. In the west, however, the Allied armies were much smaller than the Russian Army was and a defeat of 30 Allied divisions would be devastating to America and Britain. Another reason for choosing the Western Front was the terrain, which was better suited for an offensive move utilizing armor. Also, the capture of Antwerp would cut off the key supply port from most for the Allied armies. Lastly, Hitler hoped to split what he thought was a fragile alliance between the Allies.
Hitler believed that he could cutoff the British and Canadian armies, and maybe even part of the American First and Ninth armies, from their supply lines, and 5 force the British into a second Dunkirk. He believed further that public opinion in one of the two countries would turn against the war and perhaps force a pullout because of the losses. This in turn would drive a wedge between the two countries about the course of the war. The country left fighting would be forced to come to the negotiation table and settle for a peace in Germany’s favor. Hitler then could turn his efforts to the east. However, Hitler never figured on the close unity that had developed between Britain and the United States.
|Page last revised 12/01/2005|