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future conduct of operations that the retreating German armies must hold forward of the West Wall, thus allowing time needed to repair these defenses. In general the holding position indicated by Hitler ran from the Dutch coast, through northern Belgium, along the forward edge of the West Wall in the sector between Aachen and the Moselle River, then via the western borders of Alsace and Lorraine to some indefinite connection with the Swiss frontier. Here, for the first time on the Western Front, Hitler relaxed his seemingly pigheaded views on the unyielding defense and permitted, even enjoined, a withdrawal. This permission, however, was given for a very definite purpose: to permit the reorganization of Germany's defense at or forward of the West Wall, the outer limit of Greater Germany.


Despite the debacle in France, Hitler professed himself as unworried and even sanguine. On the first day of September, Rundstedt was recalled to the position of Commander in Chief West which he had been forced to relinquish at the end of June under Hitler's snide solicitude for his "health." The new commander was told that the enemy in the west would shortly be brought to a halt by logistic failures (in this forecast the Fuehrer's intuition served him well) and that the giant steps being taken toward Germany were the work of isolated "armored spearheads" which had outrun the main Allied forces and now could be snipped off by local counterattacks, whereupon the front would stabilize. Since the U. S. Third Army under Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., was advancing with its right flank open (contact with the U.S. Seventh Army driving north from the Mediterranean had not as yet been made), Hitler ordered Rundstedt to counterattack against this exposed flank and cut the advanced American armor by seizing Reims. For this unenviable task the Fifth Panzer Army, at the moment little more than an army headquarters and a few army troops, would be beefed up and handed over to the new commander in chief. [9]


The thrust to Reims was not intended as the grand-scale effort to regain the initiative which by this time was fully rooted in Hitler's mind. The Fifth Panzer Army was to counterattack, that is, to be committed with limited forces for the attainment of a limited object. The scheme visualized for November, no matter how vague its shape in the first week of September, was that of a counteroffensive, or a major commitment of men and materiel designed to wrest the initiative from the enemy in pursuance of a major strategic victory.


The counterattack was made, but not as planned and not toward Reims. The base for the proposed operation, west of the Moselle River, was lost to the Americans before the attack could be launched. A watered-down variant on the east side of the Moselle was set in motion on 18 September, with Luneville as the first objective; it degenerated into a series of small, piecemeal attacks of only momentary significance. [10] This, the single major effort to win time and space by counterattack and so give breathing space to the Reich and footing for a counteroffensive, must be written


[9] The background of the abortive Fifth Panzer Army attack is described in Cole, The Lorraine Campaign, pp. 190-95.


[10] The story of this operation is told in Cole, The Lorraine Campaign, ch. V. passim.