History of the Second World War, Volume 6

These POWs promised a quick victory in December were humbled by defeat and capture in February dismounted infantry making slow sometimes costly flanking moves through deep snow. Bridges everywhere were demolished the sites defended so that just as with the roadblocks winter-weary in­fantry had to plod upstream or down to find an uncontested ford, then wade the icy stream to take the Germans in flank finding inmost cases that the foe at the last moment pulled back to fight again another day. The Germans occasionally counterattacked: five or six tanks a company or a battalion of infantry at a time. Under these conditions to advance 2 miles a day was a major achievement. The 3rd Army had it as hard and more so for the defences in the vicinity of Bastogne reflected the large concentration of German forces therefor the various efforts to take the town. Bitterly cold, stung by biting winds and driven snow nostrils frozen Patton’s troops saw little change in a pattern too long familiar. The Ger­mans opposing them were old and dreaded foe s-su ch units as the I IX and XII SS Panzer Divisions the V Parachute the Panzer Lehr. Accustomed too were the place names the same towns and villages where little clots of tanks and infantry a fortnight before had thwarted the Germans in the race for Bastogne although these were less towns and villages now than macabre monuments to the destructiveness of war. Yet for all the rigour of the fighting it became apparent on Janu­ary 5 that the final crisis at Bastogne had passed. When Field- Marshal Model pulled out one of the SS Panzer divisions togo to the aid of the VI Panzer Army in the north General von Manteuffel took it upon himself to pull another of the SS Panzer divisions from the line to form a reserve. Three days later on January 8 Hitler himself authorised withdrawal from the tip of the bulge not all the way back to Houffalize as Manteuffel had asked but to aline an­chored on a series of ridges 5 miles west of Houffalize. This was the Fuhrers first grudging admission that the counter­offensive in the Ardennes had failed utterly. Dietrichs VI Panzer Army he directed was-gradually to relinquish control of all but the SS Panzer divisions to Manteuffel's V Panzer Army whereupon these four divisions were to assemble in the rear Stat Vith. There they were ostensibly to guard against attacks near the base of the bulge: but in reality they were executing the first instep leaving the Ardennes entirely. As Hitler's advisers in the East had long been warning a powerful new Russian offensive was destined to begin any day. It would actually start on January 12 and Hitler on January 22 would order the VI Panzer Army to move with all speed to the Eastern Front. Meanwhile early on January 16 patrols of the US 1st and 3rd Armies met at Houffalize. Rent apart by the counteroffensive the two armies had joined hands at the waist of the bulge failing to trap many of the elusive foe but setting the stage for the return of Hodges 1st Army to General Bradleys command. This General Eisenhower would order effective the next day at the same time retaining Simpsons 9th Army under Montgomery with an eye to­ward renewing an Allied offensive toward the Ruhr. It would take another eight days to push in what was left of the bulge in a slow contest against weather and long-proven German ingenuity on the defence. Back to St. Vith back to Clerf back to Echternach back to the Skyline Drive back to many another spot where American infantrymen surprised frightened but determined, had purchased a commodity called time. On January 22 the clouds finally cleared dramatically. A brilliant sun came up its rays dancing on anew snow cover. Pilots were early in the air jubilant to find German vehicles stalled bumper to bumper waiting their turn to cross ice-encrusted bridges over the Our river into Germany. Astride the Skyline Drive infantrymen cheered to seethe carnage that both air and artillery wrought. By January 28 the last vestige of the bulge in the Ardennes had disappeared. The cost of the campaign Of some 600000 Americans who fought in the A rdennes-m ore than participated on both sides at 000 Gettysburg-81 were killed, wounded or captured and the British incurred 1400 casualties. The Germans probably lost 100000 killed wounded or captured. Both sides lost heavily in weapons and equipment probably as many as 800 tanks on each side and the Germans 1000 aircraft. Yet the Americans could replace their losses in little more than a fortnight while the Germans could no longer make theirs good. The Germans nevertheless had managed to extricate almost all 2248 U S Army
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