Hitler’s generals were shocked by the Führer’s plans. Almost everyone felt that Antwerp was far too ambitious of an objective for what remained of the Wehrmacht and the Luftwaffe. Even Generaloberst Alfred Jodi, the head of the operations staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (0KW), believed that the objective was beyond the ability of the German military. Nevertheless, Hitler ordered Jodi and his staff to work up plans for a counteroffensive toward Antwerp. After about four weeks, JodI came back with five plans of action. Operation Holland called for a single attack from the Venlo area with Antwerp as the objective. Operation Liege-A achen called for a two-pronged envelopment attack launched simultaneously from northern Luxembourg and northwest of Aachen that would come together at Lie~e trapping the First U.S. Army. Operation Luxembourg called for another envelopment attack with two pincers, one from central Luxembourg and the other from Metz converging on Longwy and trapping Patton’s Third Army. Operation Lorraine had a two pronged attack from Metz and Baccarat converging on Nancy. Lastly, Operation Alsace again proposed a two-pronged attack from Epinal and Montbeliard converging on Vesoul.
Hitler, already having his mind made up concerning Antwerp as the objective, asked that plans one and two be combined for the final offensive. On 11 October the combined plan was submitted to the Führer. The plan called for the deployment of three German armies. The newly raised Sixth SS Panzerarmee, led by SS. Obergruppenfubrer Joseph “Sepp” Dietrich, a boozy, up-through-the-ranks comrade of Hitler’s dating back to the 1920’s, would lead the main thrust. With five infantry and four SS panzer divisions, the Sixth SS Panzerarmee would advance from Monschau to Losheim facing the American ~ Division and parts of the 14th Cavalry Group and then cut to the Northwest, crossing the Meuse on both sides of Liege and then advance to Antwerp. To the South would be the Fifth Panzerarmee, led by General der Panzertruppen Hasso Eccard von Manteuffel, a classically trained officer favored by Hitler for his previous successes, would strike through the middle of the Ardennes, through the 106th and 28th American Divisions. The Fifth Panzerarmee, consisting of three panzer, one panzer grenadier and four infantry divisions, would provide flank protection until they joined in the assault on Antwerp. The Seventh Armee, consisting of a panzer grenadier and six infantry divisions, would advance West to the Meuse River dropping off troops along the way to block the Allies from sending reinforcements to the American forces under attack by the other two armies. To the North of the Sixth SS Panzerarmee, several divisions of the Fifteenth A rmee would attack to protect the rear once the main force was near the Meuse River. This side operation was code named Operation Spadese (Late Harvest).”
With the plan in place, Hitler code-named the operation after an old German 5 nationalistic song Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine). He seemed to hope that if Allied intelligence picked up the name, they would be fooled into believing that the Germans were planning a defensive battle along the Rhine River. Hitler ordered that no radio transmissions be used nor were the plans to be discussed with anyone, without permission, under penalty of death. 0-Tag was set for 27 November, but difficulties in bringing in and supplying troops led to the day bemg moved back several times until 16 December was settled on.
This plan was kept under such secrecy that not even Generalfeldmarschall Karl Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt, Oberbefehishaber im Westen, nor the generals who would command the armies were told of the plans. On 22 October, Hitler called for Rundstedt and Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model, leader of Heeresgruppe B, to send their chiefs of staff, General der Kavellerie Siegfried Westphal and General c/er Infantry Hans Krebs to Wolf’s Lair.’3 Waiting for a verbal lashing from Hitler for the recent loss of Aachen, they stood in stunned silence as the Führer unveiled his plans to them. When Westphal revealed the plan back at Rundstedt’s headquarters, the Generalfeldmarschall was appalled by the idea, although he admitted that Hitler’s choice of the Ardennes for the counteroffensive represented ~a stroke of genius.”4 However, Rundstedt still saw the plan as far too ambitious. Even the ardent Nazi, Model, saw the failure in the plan stating ~The plan doesn’t have a leg to stand on!”5 The two, finding each other in the same corner, worked up their own plans for an offensive that was more in keeping with Germany’s capabilities.
Rundstedt and his staff developed Plan Martin. It called for a double envelopment attack using the thirty divisions planned for WachtAm Rhein. The Fifteenth Armee was to pin down the American forces while three panzer corps swept through the Ardennes on a narrow front. The jaws of the two pincers would come together in the vicinity of Liege, thereby cutting off the First Army in the Aachen area to the north of the Ardennes.”
Model and his staff developed a plan that called for a single powerful armor force, made up of the Fifth and Sixth Panzerarinees, to drive over a forty mile front between the Hurtgen Forest and the road center of St. Vith. The Seventh Arinee would follow behind, peeling off to provide flank protection. The goal, like Plan Martin, was to encircle and destroy the American First Army. The name they gave for this plan was Herbstnebel (Autumn Fog). On 27 October, these plans, called the “Small Solution,” were presented to Hitler, whereupon he rejected both. Even Jodi, who tried to persuade Hider to be more realistic on the plans, was frustrated by the Führer’s unwillingness to concede changes.
Hitler’s faith in WachtAm Rhein was based on misguided belief in equipment production and manpower numbers that were fed to him by his staff. Furthermore, 5 Hitler believed in his divine destiny, likening himself to Frederick the Great and his great success in splitting the coalition of nations against him in the Seven Years’ War with a great military blow. Hitler told his Generals;
"Our enemies are the greatest opposites which exist on earth, ultra-capitalist states on one side; ultra-Marxist states on the other. On one side a dying empire and on the other side a colony, the United States, waiting to claim its inheritance. Deal a heavy blow and bring down this artificial coalition with a mighty thunderclap."
Rundstedt and Model, still convinced that they could change the Führer’s mind, combined their plans into one final alternative that closely resembled one of Jodi’s proposals. To help persuade Hitler, they enlisted the help of the generals who would be leading the armies of the last offensive. However, they were not able to change the Führer’s mind in any aspects of the plan, and as a result, Hitler issued a final statement that “there will be absolutely no changes in the present intentions.”
A Failure of Intelligence
The failure of Allied intelligence to learn of the German counteroffensive, is one of the greatest military intelligence blunders in the history of modern warfare. This was due to overconfidence on the part of the Allies, and the subsequent failure of the intelligence corps to analyze properly information gathered by ULTRA. This over-confidence in the weakness of the German military was a major contributing factor to the destruction of the two regiments of the 106th Division by German forces in the Schnee Eifel (Snow Mountain) area.
The Allied armies were seven months ahead of schedule by December of 1944. The ease at which the Allies were moving across the western front led to serious miscalculations of the German’s capabilities. Allied intelligence believed that their strategic bombing campaign had severely crippled Ger~nan industry. They felt that the Germans could not possibly produce the war materials needed to do more than support a limited defense. However, as studies would later show, Albert Speer was so successful in organizing war production that despite Allied bombing, most aspects of German war manufacturing actually reached peak levels of production only in 4ie fall of 1944. One example was German tank production that peaked in December 1944, reaching a figure of 598 per month, which was more than 5 times the production figure of 1942.
A second reason for this over-confidence was the Allies’ belief that the Wehrmacht was in full retreat and that it was unable to mount an organized defense let alone a massive counter-attack. In fact, many held the belief that the war in Europe could conceivably be over by the start of the new year. The Twelfth Army Group, under command of General Omar Bradley, in its summary for 12 December expressed this belief when it reported:
"It is now certain that attrition is steadily sapping the strength of the German forces on the Western front and that the crust of defenses is thinner, more brittle and more vulnerable than it appears on our G-2 map or to the troops in the line."
Even Field Marshal Sir Bernard Montgomery, commander of the 21” Army Group, the master of the set battle and always worried about moving too fast said,
The enemy is at present fighting a defensive campaign on all fronts; his situation is such that he cannot stage major offensive operations. Furthermore, at all costs he has to prevent the war from entering on a mobile phase; he has not the transport or the petrol that would be necessary for mobile operations. The enemy is in a bad way.
In a friendly bet between Ike and Monty, Ike bet five pounds that the war would be over by Christmas. Monty would later pick up his bittersweet prize.
This over-confidence on the part of the Allies allowed for sloppy gathering of information and lax defensive measures. ULTRA, the Allies top secret ENIGMA code-breaking device, provided much valuable information about German intentions. However, many field commands ignored the intelligence gathered in the weeks prior to the attack. The American army had had little need for information from its S intelligence camp because during the drive across France, Belgium and Holland, many of the local civilians gladly informed on the German army in their area. However, when the American armies began to reach the German frontier, all these resources dried up, and the military brass failed to take measures to replace this lost information. Instead they began to put all their faith in ULTRA, and this required proper interpretation of information and further investigation.
The Germans, wanting to do everything possible to deceive the Allies about their plans, conceived a deception plan called Abwehrschlacht im Westen (The Defensive Battle in the West). This plan was casually leaked on the radios knowing that the Allies would pick it up. Although this information would support the Allies’ belief about German capabilities, there were other pieces of intelligence gathered which should have raised a yellow flag and required more investigation.
ULTRA deciphered many urgent requests from Army Group B for aerial reconnaissance of the area around the Eifel. One such request was for reconnaissance of roads along the Prum-Houffalize axis, which was one of the most important routes, via St. Vith, into and through the Ardennes. There were further requests for reconnaissance of crossings of the Meuse River. ULTRA also picked up calls that were made for air protection of the railroads in the Eifel region and to fly counterreconnaissance flights to prevent any Allied planes from flying in the area. On 7 December, Army Group B wanted fighter cover for virtually the entire Eifel region.
In early November, the cryptanalysts began to break the codes of the Reichsbahn (German railroad). With this code, ULTRA began picking up signals on almost half of the 800 trains used to move men and equipment into position, which indicated a massive movement to the front. ULTRA also picked up information on movements of the Luftwaffe to the Western front as well as troop movement. ULTRA had given a lot of information, but it failed to give specific information, to say exactly why troops and aircraft were being moved.
Even MAGIC, the American code-breaking machine for deciphering Japanese diplomatic code, picked up important information regarding German intentions on the Western front. On 4 September, Japan’s ambassador to Berlin, Baron Hiroshi Oshaina, visited Hitler and expressed his government’s concern about Germany’s ability to continue the war. Hitler responded by telling Oshama that he was planning a large-scale counter offensive in the West to be launched after the beginning of November. Oshama relayed this information back to Japan, which the U.S. intercepted and decrypted, however, it never made it past the Pentagon. Again, on 15 November, Oshama talked with German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop about this offensive and if it was still in the works. Oshama was reassured, and he sent two cables to Tokyo about his talks. As before, these messages were intercepted and S sent to the Pentagon, where they sat untouched.
The Allies also failed to use conventional intelligence. Although air reconnaissance was grounded most of the time due to bad weather, it did detect heavy rail traffic and troop movement in the area of the Eifel. However, it was accepted that this was just the movement of troops up to the front for the defense of Germany. Other sources proved just as reliable but were overlooked. On 9 December, the 83~ Division took a prisoner who said there were strong rumors that the Germans would launch an all out attack in the next few days. The 4th and 106th Divisions also captured German soldiers who made the same claims. Even the Allied POW camps reported that the German prisoners that they were receiving had much higher morale than those captured prior to December.
Troops in the front line also reported increased activity across from their positions. They noticed an increase in enemy patrols in the Ardennes area, especially the Schnee Eifel area. American patrols reported seeing troops that were dressed in new uniforms, were much more organized and that there was “much saluting and double-timing of guards.” Some patrols even stumbled on German encampments. However, senior intelligence officers ignored most of this information. In one case, soldiers of the 106th Division reported that they were hearing “the sounds of vehicles all along the front after dark— vehicles, barking dogs, motors.” When this was reported to the VIII Corps, they were told not to worry, that the Germans were just playing records to scare them.
Only two people high up in the allied command believed that the Germans were planning an offensive. They were Major General Kenneth Strong, Eisenhower’s personal G-2, and Colonel Benjamin Dickerson, G-2 of the First Army. Dickerson, after looking over the reports that had come in from the front, was very concerned about a German offensive in the Ardennes region, but because his peers saw him as such a doomsayer, no one took his estimates seriously, not even General Omar Bradley commanding the 12th Army Group. Long overdue for a leave, Dickerson was sent on leave to Paris on orders, and his remarks continued to be ignored. General Strong strongly believed that a German attack was coming because he noticed that in the first week of December, nine panzer divisions had disappeared from the eastern front and that signified enemy movement was in progress. He sent out his summary to the senior Allied commanders, stating his belief that the attack would come through the Ardennes. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, overall commander of Allied armies, finding some reasons for concern, sent Strong to Bradley’s headquarters in Luxembourg City to discuss the possibility of an attack in the Ardennes. Bradley, considering Strong something of a worry-wart, brushed the warning aside and said, “Let them come.
The Americans even fooled themselves. The 23rd Special Troop was disguised as the 75th Infantry Division, which was still in England, to fool the Germans into believing that troop strength was higher in the region than truly existed. However, this did not fool the Germans but instead caused havoc for the Americans. When Headquarters of VIII Corps read a report from the front of increased enemy radio and vehicular traffic, they truly believed that it was in response to the deception operation and that Germans were moving troops to bolster up the line. Even after the attack had started, some troops of the 4ih Infantry Division in the line in Luxembourg were later to wonder why the 75th Infantry Division never came forward to help them.
Probably the biggest blunder of intelligence in the days before the attack was the failure to take seriously the information give to them by a Luxembourg woman by the name of Elise Dde. The Germans had picked her up when she was crossing the front and took her to Bitburg for questioning. That night, she left the town and began a long journey back to her village of Bivels. As she worked her way through the lines, she noticed a sharp increase in military traffic, piles of military supplies along each side of the road, and large concentration of troops, some of which she recognized as SS troops. On the morning of 14 December, two men from the underground picked her up. When she told them what she had seen, they took her to the Hotel Heintz where the American Intelligence and Reconnaissance (I&R) Platoon of the 28th Division’s 109th Infantry was billeted. The Americans showed much interest in her story, and they took her further back to Diekirch for more interrogation. From there she was taken to VIII Corps in Bastogne, with the intent to move her to Spa. However, she would spend quite a long time in Bastogne, hiding in a cellar as the Germans encircled the city. In what was the biggest tip off of German intentions, the Allies had wasted their time because of red tape.
Hitler’s deception worked, but not because of Germany’s ability to hide such a mass concentration of troops, instead the Allies bungled their intelligence to such an extent that the information of an attack was in front of them but they were blinded by their own over-confidence.
|Page last revised 12/01/2005|