History of the Second World War, Volume 6

Possessed of no ready reserve American commanders could hardly be so sanguine. As late as the 22nd both Patton and Middle­ton were still concerned lest the Germans suddenly swing south­west in the direction of Sedan and the site of their triumph in 1940. Remembering 1914 and 1940 Paris had the jitters and military police were enforcing a strict curfew in the French capital while guarding Eisenhower closely lest Otto Skorzenys disguised raid­ers try to assassinate the Supreme Commander. Hodges and the staff of the 1st Army were still unconvinced that the Germans would not turn north to take Liege. Even the British were concerned enough to station guards and erect roadblocks on the outskirts of Brussels. Having had close personal experience with the power of the Ger­man drive Courtney Hodges remained most concerned of all. That he had been forced contrary to Montgomerys plan to keep committing incoming divisions as the Germans continued to work westward seemed to him under the circumstances the only way to run the fight. He saw the tip of Manteuffels striking force embrac­ing or soon to embrace four Panzer divisions— Panzer Lehr in the south II Panzer and 116th Panzer in the centre and II SS Panzer The ‘big solution —severing the bulge completely-was rejected in favour of the ‘small solution: squeezing it out 1944 December 22: The Germans launch their last attempt to reach the Meuse. US forces withdraw from the St Vith area. December 25: US 2nd Armoured Division attacks and turns back II Panzer Division 4 miles from the Meuse. December 26: US 4th Armoured Division relieves Bastogne. Word reaches Hitler that Antwerp can no longer be reached. December 30: A US attack north-east from Bastogne towards Houffalize is stalemated by a German attack on the corridor to Bastogne. 1945 January 3/4: The last German attack on Bastogne is defeated. The US counterattack begins. January 8: Hitler authorises withdrawal to Houffalize. January 16: US 1st and 3rd Armies linkup at Houffalize. January 20: General Patchs withdrawal from the north-eastern sector is complete. January 22: The weather clears allowing US pilots to take the air against German convoys. January 28: The last vestige of the Bulge disappears. Verviers Malmedy Stavelot Ciney Dinant St Hubert 9 Miles 0 Kilometres Prum I CAl- v S u x )GER MANY Sip D^S U(m jBAS^OGNE \\ Bitburc V-/ m w w iV i\\\ Bitburg Neufchateau Front Decline 25.1944 Army command boundary US attacks Front line Jan 18 )LU MEX B OUR GAr lon v ( 7 _______ J _______________ :___ ! L of British armour and American fighter-bombers enjoying another day in the sun the 2nd Armoured Division on Christmas Day began to wipe out a II Panzer Division that at the height of its achieve­ment had outrun of gasoline at the town of C elles-o nly 4 miles from the Meuse and not quite 60 miles from the start line along the German frontier. The Germans paid a price of more than 80 tanks. They left not only their spearhead but their ambition broken in the snow. Bastogne relieved at last There were two other events on Christmas Day equally disconcert­ing to the Germans. The first was in the north-west where the US 3rd Armoured Division with help of infantry reinforcements brought to a halt an all-out attack by the II SS Panzer Division to breakthrough between the Salm and the Ourthe while on the west bank of the Ourthe other American troops dealt roughly with the 116th Panzer Division. The second was at Bastogne. Obsessed with the idea that the II Panzer Division was out on a limb General von Manteuffel saw Bastogne as a boil that had into the north while to the right of II SS Panzer Sepp Dietrich was at last bringing his two remaining SS Panzer divisions to bear. To Hodges to withhold reserves while forces of such power were still on the move —even in view of radio intercepts indicating that the Germans were running short of fuel— was to flirt with disaster. Without asking approval the commander of the 2nd Armoured Division Major-General Ernest Harmon sent one of his combat commands southward on December 23 to investigate reports of German tanks passing south of Marche. Yet word came back of no contact except with British armoured patrols already working the area with no sign of the enemy. Yet in reality the II Panzer Division had found free passage south of Marche and was toiling toward the Meuse at Dinant. (The only one of Skorzenys disguised patrols to reach a Meuse bridge gained Dinant that night but was quickly captured by British guards.) By mid-afternoon of December 24-G hristm as Eve -it was all too apparent to General Harmon that German tanks were present a few miles farther south in strength. He putin a call to Collins, his corps commander for authority to turn the entire 2nd Armoured Division to the attack. With Collins away from his headquarters the 7th Corps staff relayed the request to 1st Army HQ. Courtney Hodges was torn. Although still under Field-Marshal Montgomerys dictum to amass a reserve and specifically to keep from getting the 2nd Armoured Division involved Hodges heart was with Collins and Harmon. The word that came from Hodges was that Collins was ‘author­ ised to roll with the punch to peel back to the north-west but along with the failure specifically to order withdrawal Hodges included no proviso denying attack. That was all the licence Gen­eral Collins needed. That night he and Harmon mapped out an attack to begin early on Christmas Day employing all of the 2nd Armoured Division. Collins decision represented the high-water mark of the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes. In conjunction with contingents be lanced if the Panzer division were to be reinforced and if the entire German counteroffensive were not to be disrupted by Pat­ tons counterattack. Rather than send the Panzer Lehr Division immediately to II Panzers assistance Manteuffel held onto it and ordered an all-out attack by Luttwitzs XLVII Panzer Corps to be launched on Christmas toDay capture Bastogne. This time Luttwitz was to hit a previously untested and presumably soft rear —or western —arc of the American perimeter. Preceded by a heavy air bombardment of Bastogne the night before the new attack posed such a threat that as the morning dawned many an American paratrooper shook hands with his buddies in a final gesture of salute. The farewells were premature. Before night came the paratroops of the 101st with their pot­pourri of reinforcements had either held or quickly sealed off every penetration. The next day December 26 as dusk descended an engineer battalion manning a portion of the southern fringe of the perimeter reported the approach of ‘three light tanks believed friendly. The 4th Armoured Division had arrived. The siege was ended. On this day after Christmas the word reaching Hitler from Man­ teuffel Model and Rundstedt was that no chance whatever re­mained of reaching Antwerp. The only hope of salvaging any sort of victory from the Ardennes was to turn the V VIand Panzer Armies north to cross the Meuse west of Liege and income behind Aachen. This presupposed the capture of Bastogne and a secondary attack from the north to link with the Panzer armies. Yet if these pre­requisites were to be met Hitler would have to abandon anew project he had been contemplating: a second counteroffensive in Alsace. This was in effect a return to what Hitler earlier had labelled the ‘Small Solution a proposal his generals had championed when he first had broached the idea of a counteroffensive in the Ar­ dennes. Deeming German resources too limited for taking Antwerp 2243
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