OKL chief of staff. "I have just made a momentous decision. I shall go over to the counter-attack, that is to say"-and he pointed to the map unrolled on the desk before him-"here, out of the Ardennes, with the objective-Antwerp." While his audience sat in stunned silence, the Fuehrer began to outline his plan.
Historical hindsight may give the impression that only a leader finally bereft of sanity could, in mid-September of 1944, believe Germany physically capable of delivering one more powerful and telling blow. Politically the Third Reich stood deserted and friendless. Fascist Italy and the once powerful Axis were finished. Japan had politely suggested that Germany should start peace negotiations with the Soviets. In southern Europe, as the month of August closed, the Rumanians and Bulgarians had hastened to switch sides and join the victorious Russians. Finland had broken with Germany on 2 September. Hungary and the ephemeral Croat "state" continued in dubious battle beside Germany, held in place by German divisions in the line and German garrisons in their respective capitals. But the twenty nominal Hungarian divisions and an equivalent number of Croatian brigades were in effect canceled by the two Rumanian armies which had joined the Russians.
The defection of Rumanian, Bulgarian, and Finnish forces was far less important than the terrific losses suffered by the German armies themselves in the summer of 1944. On the Eastern and Western Fronts the combined German losses during June, July, and August had totaled at least 1,200,000 dead, wounded, and missing. The rapid Allied advances in the west had cooped up an additional 230,000 troops in positions from which they would emerge only to surrender. Losses in materiel were in keeping with those in fighting manpower.
Room for maneuver had been whittled away at a fantastically rapid rate. On the Eastern Front the Soviet summer offensive had carried to the borders of East Prussia, across the Vistula at a number of points, and up to the northern Carpathians. Only a small slice of Rumania was left to German troops. By mid-September the German occupation forces in southern Greece and the Greek islands (except Crete) already were withdrawing as the German grasp on the Balkans weakened.
On the Western Front the Americans had, in the second week of September,