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racket." Dozens of German officers who at one time or another had reason to observe the Fuehrer at work have commented on his obsession with numbers and his implicit faith in statistics no matter how murky the sources from which they came or how misleading when translated into fact. So Hitler had insisted on the creation of new formations with new numbers attached thereto, rather than bringing back to full combat strength those units which had been bled white in battle. Thus the German order of battle distended in the autumn of 1944, bloated by new units while the strength of the German ground forces declined. In the same manner Hitler accepted the monthly production goals set for the armored vehicle producers by Speer's staff as being identical with the number of tanks and assault guns which in fact would reach the front lines. Bemused by numbers on paper and surrounded by a staff which had little or no combat experience and by now was perfectly housebrokennever introducing unpleasant questions as to what these numbers really meant-Hitler still saw himself as the Feldherr, with the men and the tanks and the guns required to wrest the initiative from the encircling enemy.


How the Plan Was Born


The plan for the Ardennes counteroffensive was born in the mind and will of Hitler the Feldherr. Its conception and growth from ovum are worthy of study by the historian and the student of the military art as a prime example of the role which may be played by the single man and the single mind in the conduct of modern war and the direction of an army numbered in the millions.


Such was the military, political, economic, and moral position of the Third Reich in the autumn of 1944 that a leader who lacked all of the facts and who by nature clung to a mystic confidence in his star might rationally conclude that defeat could be postponed and perhaps even avoided by some decisive stroke. To this configuration of circumstances must be added Hitler's implicit faith in his own military genius, a faith to all appearance unshaken by defeat and treason, a faith that accepted the possibility, even the probability, that the course of conflict might be reversed by a military stroke of genius.


There was, after all, a prototype in German history which showed how the genius and the will of the Feldherr might wrest victory from certain defeat. Behind the desk in Hitler's study hung a portrait of Frederick the Great. This man, of all the great military leaders in world history, was Hitler's ideal. The axioms given by Frederick to his generals were on the tip of Hitler's tongue, ever ready to refute the pessimist or generalize away a sticky fact. When his generals protested the inability of soldier flesh and blood to meet further demands, Hitler simply referred to the harsh demands made of his grenadiers by Frederick. When the cruelties of the military punitive code were increased to the point that even the stomachs of Prussian officers rebelled, Hitler paraded the brutal code of Frederick's army before them. Even the oath taken by SS officer candidates was based on the Frederician oath to the flag.


An omnivorous reader of military history, Hitler was fond of relating episodes therefrom as evidence of his catholic