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ence was felt most directly in limiting the circle of those privy to the plan during its conception and initial implementation. Hitler, the highest authority in the German armed forces, personally named the officers who were to be admitted to the great secret; furthermore, he possessed the power to exact the death penalty for violations of security, a power he could be expected to exercise on the slightest provocation and without regard to the rank or prestige of the offender. Even the well-disciplined, high-ranking officers of the Wehrmacht seem to have been apprehensive of the personal risks which each encountered the moment he was admitted to the plan. So strict was the limitation of knowledge that in those headquarters charged with the command of the counteroffensive, OB WEST and Army Group B, the only officers brought into the planning phase were Rundstedt and Model, plus the chief of staff, the G-3, the quartermaster officer, and one aide in each of their respective staffs. In OB WEST, for example, the daily and most secret war diary contained no reference to the counteroffensive; instead a separate war diary was maintained, without benefit of secretary or stenographer, by the few officers working on the plan. The exchange of information between the responsible headquarters was carried by liaison officers whose every movement was watched by military and Gestapo security agents. All teletype and telephone lines were monitored the clock around and the officers in the know were so informed. Hitler had a mania for "oaths." Everyone admitted to the plan took not one but ofttimes several oaths to maintain secrecy, signing at least one statement which accepted the death penalty for any personal breach of security. Later, division and corps commanders would be compelled to take an oath that during the advance they would not trespass in the attack zone assigned neighboring units. The death penalty attached to this as well.


Although the immediate planning staffs could be drastically limited, it was obvious that some hundreds of officers would have to be involved in the actual handling of troops and supplies during the concentration period, that is from about 10 November, when the major reshuffling of headquarters and larger troop units would commence, until the date selected for the jump-off in the Ardennes. The German system of staff work, based on the rigid allocation of authority and unquestioning obedience to orders, was well designed to cope with this situation. Furthermore, the Allied attacks in November were launched on such a scale and achieved such success as to give real meaning to the Hitlerinspired cover plan, The Defensive Battle in the West. Until the very last hours before the counteroffensive the Western Front German commanders accepted as gospel the idea that the massing of materiel and the progressive withdrawal of divisions from the line was intended to provide fresh troops for the defense of the Ruhr and the Palatinate. Indeed the field commanders were much perplexed in the last days before the Ardennes counteroffensive by reason of what they regarded as the high command's capriciousness and folly in refusing to throw its reserves into the defensive battles


[2] MS #B-038, 116th Panzer Division, Ardennes (Generalmajor Siegfried von Waldenburg.