or Hitler and Germany, operation Wacht am Rhein, was a complete strategic and tactical failure. Not only did German troops not reach Hitler’s lofty goal of Antwerp, the offensive did not reach the Meuse River, which his generals saw as a reasonably realistic goal. All Hitler accomplished was to assure the swift success of the Red Army’s renewed drive in the East; delaying the Allied drive into Germany by a few weeks and speeding up the tuneline for his country’s ultimate collapse. Hitler, as he had done throughout the war, severely underestimated the ability of his enemy while greatly overestimating his own means. Germany was hard pressed to replace the losses of men and equipment, while for the Allies, such losses suffered in the Battle of the Bulge were replaced in a matter of weeks.
The Wacht am Rhein did postpone the planned Allied offensive by at least six weeks. The German offensive made infantry replacement problem a major dilemma. Likewise, the millions of gallons of fuel that had been stockpiled for the drive to the Rhine was consumed during the defensive, later offensive, actions of the Allies. Over a million rounds of artillery were fired and thousands of vehicles of all types were lost. For the manufacturing might of the U.S. war machine, these losses were easily replaceable. This was not so for German industry, which could no longer make good on replenishing the military arsenal.
The damage inflicted on both sides was substantial. In all, the Ardennes Campaign reduced the Allied rifle strength in the West by ten percent. Weapon losses were probably double that percentage. According to the official U.S. account, losses in the Ardennes Campaign totaled 80, 987 men, with 10,276 killed, 47,493 wounded, and 23,218 missing. Of this total, 41,315 were lost from 16 December through 2 January, with the difference reflecting the losses up to 28 January. These losses were primarily American; of the total only, 1,408 were British, including 200 dead. Most of the Allied casualties were in the First U.S. Army, with some 21,000 casualties in the Third Army. Nearly 7,000 of the Allied losses were the men of the 106th Infantry Division who were captured in the Schnee Eifel. Although both sides committed a large number of tanks, the terrain and poor road net put the bulk of the fighting on the shoulders of the infantry. This was evident by the U.S. First Army’s note that of its total casualties, over 90% came from the infantry in the regular infantty divisions and the infantry battalions in its armored dlivisions.
The German High Command estimated its losses between 81, 834 and 98,024 men for the period 16 December through 28 January, although the previous number has become the accepted figure. Of the 81,834 in casualties, 12,652 were killed; 38,600 wounded and 30,582 were missing. Dietrich estimated that his Sixth PanzerArmee alone had lost 37,000 men. If one adds the losses of the Luftwaffe, the estimated number climbs to approximately 100,000. Many of the inexperienced units sustained devastating losses. The 560th VG Division reported only 700 riflemen available on New Year’s Day. On 5 January, the 326” VG Division reported only 300 combat ready men. The 212” VG Division lost over 3,000 men in the first two weeks of fighting.
The losses of equipment in the campaign were also high. The American forces lost some 733 tanks and tank destroyers. The First Army alone reported losses of 237 tanks, 1,284 machine guns, 542 mortars and 1,344 trucks as of the end o~ December 1944. The German Army lost a total of 600-800 tanks and assault guns which was dose to half the number used in the Ardennes and nearly one-fourth of Hitler’s remaining panzer force. This loss of armored vehicles was not all due to battle. Many tanks and armored vehicles were left behind due to mechanical failures, lack of fuel or tank recovery vehicles.
Air losses also affected both sides, but with the Germans suffering the most. From the beginning of the offensive until mid-January, the Allies reported losses of 592 planes, which was but a small fraction of the total Allied air forces involved. The Germans on the other hand lost nearly 800 aircraft, about ten percent of their total force. Although the German war machine could replace these losses in a short time, the shortage was in trained, experienced pilots to fly them. Of the nearly 2,800 pilots who participated in the offensive, about 700 of them were killed or captured. The lack of aviation fuel stocks only made the bleak outlook worst. As Adolf Galland said, “in 5 the Ardennes the Luftwaffe received its death blow.
The clear winner in the Ardennes Campaign was the Red Army. When the Soviets launched their offensive in January, they found no respectable German forces to oppose them. The Ardennes Offensive had depleted the final German reserves that could have been used against the Russian juggernaut in the east. The success for the Red Army in January provided Stalin with a strong position at the Yalta Conference in February, where he won important concessions from Churchill and Roosevelt.
Hitler’s generals, already believing the war to be lost, saw the handwriting on the wall as the offensive turned into a defensive operation. Hitler, however, chose to hide behind a fantasy world that would become ever more psychotic as the end drew near. Hitler only entertained facts that supported his fantasies and reprimanded his generals who suggested otherwise. Whatever the natu?e of Hitler’s delusion, it would not matter, for it all ended on 7 May 1945. As the aging Prussian Genera lfeldmarschall von Rundstedt observed after the war, the Ardennes Offensive for the German army was “Stalingrad number two.
Reasons for German Failure
After the war, Allied historians interviewed many of the German generals and staff personnel that were involved in the campaign. Their comments, though varied, expressed many of the same underlying themes. General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel felt that the major reasons for the failure were: not enough troops, the unexpected quick reaction of the Allied forces, the failure of supply and the improper allocation of reserves. It was a brilliant plan, but it depended on a number of conditions for itto succeed. The German forces depended on a strict time table, unbroken source of supplies and complete surprise.
Carl Wagener, Manteuffel’s chief of staff, put the responsibility for the failure on the lack of driving technique and road discipline, as well the failure to clear critical road nets staunchly held by Allied forces.
SS-O bergruppenfuhrer Joseph Sepp Dietrich placed blame for the failure on five areas. He said, “it was mainly bad preparation, lack of fuel, supplies and training, plus the time of year — in that order.” Dietrich’s chief of staff, Fritz Kramer ~aw the failure as caused by the quality of the men and leaders at the stage of the war, the diminished mobility of the German army, bad roads and bad driving and the effects of the U.S. air force.
Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt placed the failure on three areas.
The failure of the Offensive may be attributed to the following 5 reasons: a. the chief fact was the improper grouping (by the High Command)
of troops and the insufficient number of divisions placed at the disposal of the army commanders; b. inadequate fuel supplies and unsatisfactory transportation; c. the absolute supremacy of the Allies in the Offensive and rear sectors was a decisive factor...’”
Hermann Goring summed up the failure in the simplest yet striking way with the comment: “It was no longer 1940."
Post-war assessments by various authors have stated many reasons for the failure of the Ardennes offensive. Most cite common reasons for the German failure, yet almost all point to Cole’s reasons for the failure of the campaign. Cole gives six reasons: 1. The initial American defense was tougher than expected. 2. Supply lines failed to keep pace with the advancing units. 3. The denial of free use of critical road nets by the German army, such as St. Vith and Bastogne. 4. The failure of the flanks to keep pace with the salient of the offensive. 5. The lack of depth to the attack due to the slow commitment of reserve forces. 6. The tactical reaction of the American forces and their commitment of reserves had been more rapid than anticipated.”
The men of the 106th Infantry Division, although not intending to, played an important role in the failure of the German campaign. Greatly outnumbered and new to combat, the three regiments and the units based in St. Vith put up strong resistance in the area which upset the critical timetable required of the offensive. Units under the command of Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzerarmee and Dietrich’s Sixth Panzerarmee were forced to slow their forward pursuit in order to end resistance in the immediate area. This in turn kept German infantry from adequately supporting the panzer units that were meeting their own heavy resistance.
The 424th Infantry Regiment, the only one of the three regiments of the 106th Infantry Division to survive, helped to slow down the southern flank of the German offensive. Although eventually having to fall back to avoid the same fate as its two sister regiments, it helped to slow the advance by contributing to the development of a weak underbelly in the German offensive. It was this weak underbelly which General George S. Patton’s Third Army was able to exploit. According to Generalfeldmarschall Rundstedt, “this delay influenced operations, especially as it resulted in Panzerarmee’s left wing becoming more exposed that before.”
Finally, and probably most importantly, the units making up the defense of St. Vith denied for a few critical days the use of this important road hub by the German units. This action slowed down the offensive’s forward movement by forcing the German units that were supposed to use these road nets to either slow down their forward movement or further crowd roads to their maximum capacity. Although Bastogne has received more glory over the years for their staunch defiance of intense German encirclement and pressure; the resistance at St. Vith played a very significant role, if not more so, because St. Vith delayed the main thrust where Bastogne delayed the southern flank. In an interview with Generaloberst Alfred JodI, conducted by the army after the war, he stated, “St. Vith was more of a key position, as it blocked the road and we could not by-pass it as we did [at] Bastogne.”
Although it cannot be said that by these actions the German units were prevented from reaching their fmal objectives, the actions of the 106th Infantry Division and supporting units did play an important role in slowing the advance of German units and supplies, disrupting the critical offensive timetable and providing more time for Allied forces to react and meet the German offensive.
|Page last revised 12/01/2005|