Historical Overview

Guy BLOCKMANS


The Allied landings in Normandy on 6 June 1944 dealt a psychological blow to the Germans and their army. At a minimal loss of life, the Allies succeeded in bringing ashore a massive force: Sixteen divisions in fives days. One month after the landing, close to one million Allied troops were engaged in the Battle of Normandy. Then came the Allies' lightning breakthrough, first in France, later in Belgium: General Hodges' 1st Army through the centre, flanked by General Patton's 3rd Army on the right, and the 2nd British Army on the left. Paris was liberated in August. In early September, British troops liberated Tournai and Brussels. Later in September, Liege, Bastogne and the Ardennes were liberated by American troops. Unit of the 1st Army even crossed the border into Germany, heading for Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen). But after intense battle, the German troops succeeded in stabilizing the Allied offensive along their line of defence: The so-called Siegfried line.

The Allied Ardennes Offensive thus came to a standstill at the German border. While General Patton and his 3rd Army wanted to penetrate Saarland, occupy Treves (Trier) and advance to the Rhine, and while Field Marshal Montgomery wanted to beat the Russian army to Berlin, the United States President F. Roosevelt was already thinking about his election campaign and the forthcoming meeting with Joseph Stalin at Yalta; a meeting in February of 1945 which would divide Europe into two spheres of influence. As a result, General eisenhower, who was responsible for operations at the western front, could advance no further and was forced to bide his time. Thus, located in between the thrust towards Aix-la-Chapelle by General Hodges' 1st US Army and the drive towards Saarland by General Patton's 3rd US Army, the front in the Ardennes became a quiet sector where the Allied divisions came to rest and regroup. It was a quiet period of which the Germans made use to prepare a large-scale offensive.


The Plan of the German Offensive

 

The objective of the German offensive was to push through the Belgian Ardennes, cross the River Meuse, retake Antwerp and its harbour facilities, thrust to the north and reach the sea. This would cut off the Allied troops in Holland and Belgium, making it impossible for them to withdraw. click here to see the plan The success of the operation depended on three factors: The speed of the initial breakthrough, the seizure of Allied fuel supplies and communications centres between St Vith and Bastogne, and the widening of the breach in the Allied lines to allow the German troops to invade Belgium. The weight of the German offensive was carried entirely by the 6th Panzer Army of Sepp Dietrich, which spearheaded the attack and was aiming to cross the river Meuse between Huy and Li ge, and by the 5th Panzer Army of Hasso von Manteuffel, which was planning to cross the Meuse between Dinant and Namur. The flanks of the main attack were covered in the north by von Zangen's 15th Army, consisting of 11 divisions, and in the south by Brandenberger's 7th Army, consisting of 4 divisions.

Specially trained German soldiers who spoke English and were dressed in American uniforms infiltrated Allied troops to cause confusion. The units concerned were the commando troops lead by Col. Otto Skorzeny and the paratroopers of Col. von der Heydte. Facing the German force was the Allied frontline, covered to the north by the 9th US Army of Gen. Simpson and the 1st US Army of Gen. Hodges, and to the south by the 3rd US Army of Gen. Patton. In between lay the frontline of the Ardennes, where Gen. Middleton's 8th US Corps had been deployed, together with 106th and the 28th Infantry Divisions and the 9th and the 4th Armored Divisions. After a succesion of postponements, the Germans lauched their offensive at 05.30 a.m. on 16th December 1944, from Monschau to Echternach, along a 135 kilometer front on the Siegfried Line. The offensive was codenamed "WACHT AM RHEIN" ("Watch on the Rhine").


Bibliography

  • Nuts! La Bataille des Ardennes by Michel Georis (Ed. France-Empire)
  • La Bataille des Ardennes by Michel H rubel (Ed. Presse de la Cit )
  • La Bataille des Ardennes: Le choc des Arm es by Emile Engels (Ed. Didier Hatier)