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1 November 1942 the German armies in the USSR had swept up 5,150,000 prisoners of war (setting aside the Russians killed or severely wounded) but still had failed to bore in deep enough to deliver a paralyzing blow. A quick and decisive success in the second half of 1944 against 555 Soviet units of division size was out of the question, even though Hitler would rave about the "Russian bluff" and deride the estimates prepared by his Intelligence, Fremde Heere 0st.


Still other factors were involved in Hitler's decision. For one thing the Allied breakout in Normandy was a more pressing danger to the Third Reich than the Soviet advance in the east. Intuitively, perhaps, Hitler followed Schlieffen in viewing an enemy on the Rhine as more dangerous than an enemy in East Prussia. If this was Hitler's view, then the Allied dash across France in the weeks following would give all the verification required. Whether at this particular time Hitler saw the German West Wall as the best available springboard for a counteroffensive is uncertain. But it is quite clear that the possession of a seemingly solid base for such an operation figured largely in the ensuing development of a Western Front attack.


After the announcement of the west as the crucial front, in the 31 July conference, Hitler seemingly turned his attention, plus such reserves as were available, to the east. Perhaps this was only a passing aberration, perhaps Hitler had been moved by choler in July and now was in the grip of indecision. Events on both fronts, however, were moving so rapidly that a final decision would have to be made. The death of Generalfeldmarschall Guenther von Kluge, Commander in Chief West, seems to have triggered the next step toward irrevocable commitment. Coincident with the appointment of Model to replace the suicide, Hitler met with a few of his immediate staff on 19 August to consider the situation in France. During this conference he instructed Walter Buhle, chief of the Army Staff at OKW, and Speer, the minister in charge of military production and distribution, to prepare large allotments of men and materiel for shipment to the Western Front. At the same time Hitler informed the conferees that he proposed to take the initiative at the beginning of November when the Allied air forces would be unable to fly. By 19 August, it would appear, Hitler had made up his mind: an attack would be made, it would be made on the Western Front, and the target date would be early November.


The remaining days of August were a nightmare for the German divisions in the west and for the German field commanders. Shattered into bits and pieces by the weight of Allied guns and armor, hunted and hounded along the roads by the unopposed Allied air forces, captured and killed in droves, the German forces in France were thoroughly beaten. All requests for permission to withdraw to more defensible positions were rejected in peremptory fashion by Hitler's headquarters, with the cold rejoinder "stand and hold" or "fight to the last man." In most cases these orders were read on the run by the retreating divisions.


At the beginning of September Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model was "put in the big picture" by the Fuehrer. Hitler gave as his "intention" for the