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a complete failure. Nonetheless, by the second week of September there were encouraging evidences all along the Western Front that the battered German troops were beginning to get a toehold here and there, and that the enemy who had run so fast and so far was not holding the pace. Except for a handful of bunkers and pillboxes the battle front was in process of stabilizing forward of the West Wall. Meanwhile German efforts to reactivate and rearm these fortifications were in full swing.


Despite the somber and often despairing reports prepared by Model and his successor, Rundstedt, during late August and early September, Hitler and his intimate staff in the East Prussian headquarters continued to give thought to a decisive attack in the west. About 6 September, Jodl gave the Fuehrer an evaluation of the situation inherited by Rundstedt. The task at hand was to withdraw as many troops from the line a possible, refit and re-form units. On the scale required, this work could not be completed before the first day of November. Since he was probably listening to a clearer phrasing of his own cloudy concept, Hitler agreed, but with the proviso that the battle front must be kept as far to the west as possible. The reason, expressed apparently for the first time, was that the Allied air effort had to be kept at a distance from the Rhine bridges or the consequences might be disastrous. Did Hitler fear that fighter-bombers operating from fields in France or Belgium might leave the Rhine crossing complex stricken and incapable of supporting the line of communications to the armies then on the left bank of the Rhine? Or did he foresee that the Rhine bridges would be systematically hammered in an effort to strangle the German bid for the initiative when the day for the counteroffensive came?


As a target date, 1 November now seemed firm. Hitler had tossed it out in an off-the-cuff gesture; Jodl had evaluated it in terms of the military situation as seen in the remote Wolf's Lair; and in his first report after assuming command, Rundstedt unwittingly added his blessing by estimating that the West Wall defenses would be refurbished and manned sometime around 20 October. The Commander in Chief West, be it noted, was not yet privy to any attack plans except those for the Fifth Panzer Army.


Since Hitler was convinced that his western armies would hold before or at the West Wall position, and by intuition or self-hypnosis he held to this conviction, the next step was to amass the forces needed to issue offensively from the West Wall base of operations. During July and August eighteen new divisions had been organized, fifteen of which were sent to the Eastern Front, one to Norway, and only two to the Western Front. A further Hitler order on 2 September commanded the creation of an "operational reserve" numbering twenty-five new divisions. This order lay behind the comb-out program entrusted to Goebbels and definitely was in preparation for a western counteroffensive. Early in August the Western Front had been given priority on tanks coming off the assembly line; this now was made a permanent proviso and extended to cover all new artillery and assault gun production.


Further additions to the contemplated reserve would have to come from other