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theaters of war. On 4 September OKW ordered a general movement of artillery units in the Balkans back to the Western Front. The southeastern theater now was bereft of much of its early significance and the German forces therein stood to lose most of their heavy equipment in the event of a Soviet drive into the Balkans. The northern theater likewise was a potential source of reinforcements, particularly following the defection of Finland in early September and the collapse of a homogeneous front. These "side shows" could be levied upon for the western counteroffensive, and even the sore-beset German armies in the east, or so Hitler reasoned, could contribute armored divisions to the west. But in the main, the plan still evolving within the closed confines of the Wolf's Lair turned on the withdrawal and rehabilitation of units which had taken part in the battle for France. As a first step the SS panzer divisions in the west were ordered out of the line (13 September) and turned over to a new army headquarters, that of the Sixth Panzer Army.


Having nominated a headquarters to control the reconstitution of units specifically named for participation in an attack to be made in the west, the logical next step in development of the plan came in Hitler's announcement on 16 September: the attack would be delivered in the Ardennes and Antwerp would be the objective.


Why the Ardennes? To answer this question in a simple and direct manner is merely to say that the Ardennes would be the scene of a great winter battle because the Fuehrer had placed his finger on a map and made a pronouncement. This simplified version was agreed to in the months after the war by all of those major German military figures in Hitler's entourage who survived the last battles and the final Gotterdammerung purges. It is possible, however, that Hitler had discussed the operational concept of a counteroffensive through the Ardennes with Jodl-and before the 16 September edict. The relationship between these two men has bearing on the entire "prehistory" of the Ardennes campaign. It is analyzed by the headquarters diary-keeper and historian, Maj. Percy E. Schramm, as follows:


"The function of Genobst Jodl in the Fuehrer's headquarters consisted of preparing-on the general staff level-the decisions the Fuehrer made in his capacity of C-in-C of the Wehrmacht. Jodl also was responsible for their execution. But these were not his only duties. Whenever the Fuehrer conceived a new military plan it and closely examined. It was again Jodl who obtained the information necessary to transmute a vague idea into a workable plan. It was also he who raised objections and suggestions which had been voiced by the immediately subordinate commands. These facts were so little known to the outside world that the public scarcely knew Jodl, and that within the Wehrmacht-even among those in leading positions-he was mostly considered only as an executive tool, by some people even as too willing a tool. The view was widely held that the Fuehrer did not accept any opinion other than his own. It was not recognized that, although Hitler in the final analysis might only follow his own trend of thought, he acquired the inner assurance necessary for his actions by constantly discussing his intentions within the confines of his inner circle. For this reason, the Chief of the Wehrmacht Operations Staff (Jodl) was an extremely important figure in all strategic decisions.... In his relationship to the Fuehrer, his functions were not merely executive, but involved a very complex process of giving and taking, altering and retrenching, warning and stimulating." [11]


The evidence is clear that Jodl and a few of his juniors from the Wehrmacht Operations Staff did examine the Ardennes concept very closely in the period from 25 September, when Hitler gave the first order to start detailed planning, to 11 October, when Jodl submitted the initial operations plan. Other but less certain evidence indicates that those present in the select conference on 16 September were taken by surprise when Hitler made his announcement. Jodl definitely ascribes the selection of the Ardennes to Hitler and Hitler alone, but at the time Jodl expressed this view he was about to be tried before an international tribunal on the charge of preparing aggressive war. Even so, the "argument from silence,"-the fact that there is no evidence of other thought on the Ardennes as the point of concentration prior to Hitler's statement on 16 September-has some validity.


The most impressive argument for ascribing sole authorship of the Ardennes idea to Hitler is found in the simple fact that every major military decision in the German High Command for months past had been made by the Fuehrer, and that these Hitler decisions were made in detail, never in principle alone.


The major reasons for Hitler's selection of the Ardennes were stated by himself, although never in a single tabulation on a single occasion nor with any ordering of importance:


"The enemy front in the Ardennes sector was very thinly manned.


"A blow here would strike the seam between the British and Americans and lead to political as well as military disharmony between the Allies. Furthermore an entrance along this seam would isolate the British 21 Army Group and allow the encirclement and destruction of the British and Canadians before the American leadership (particularly the political leadership) could react.


"The distance from the jump-off line to a solid strategic objective (Antwerp) was not too great and could be covered quickly, even in bad weather.


"The configuration of the Ardennes area was such that the ground for maneuver was limited and so would require the use of relatively few divisions.


"The terrain to the east of the breakthrough sector selected was very heavily wooded and offered cover against Allied air observation and attack during the build-up for the assault.


"An attack to regain the initiative in this particular area would erase the enemy ground threat to the Ruhr.


[11] MS # B-034, OKW War Diary, 1 April-18 December 1944: The West (Schramm).