Page 075


CHAPTER V


The Sixth Panzer Army Attack


On the night of 15 December German company commanders gave their men the watchword which had come from the Fuehrer himself: "Forward to and over the Meuse!" The objective was Antwerp. Hitler's concept of the Big Solution had prevailed; the enemy was not to be beaten east of the Meuse but encircled by a turning movement beyond that river. The main effort would be made by Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army on the north wing, with orders to cross the Meuse on both sides of Liege, wheel north, and strike for the Albert Canal, fanning out the while to form a front extending from Maastricht to Antwerp. Meanwhile the infantry divisions to the rear of the armored columns would form the north shoulder of the initial advance and a subsequent blocking position east of the Meuse along the Vesdre River. Eventually, or so Hitler intended, the Fifteenth Army would advance to take a station protecting the Sixth Panzer Army right and rear.


Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army, initially acting as the center, had the mission of crossing the Meuse to the south of the Sixth, but because the river angled away to the southwest might be expected to cross a few hours later than its armored partner on the right. Once across the Meuse, Manteuffel had the mission of preventing an Allied counterattack against Dietrich's left and rear by holding the line Antwerp-BrusselsNamur-Dinant. The left wing of the counteroffensive, composed of infantry and mechanized divisions belonging to Brandenberger's Seventh Army, had orders to push to the Meuse, unwinding a cordon of infantry and artillery facing south and southwest, thereafter anchoring the southern German flank on the angle formed by the Semois and the Meuse. Also, the Fuehrer had expressed the wish that the first segment of the Seventh Army cordon be pushed as far south as Luxembourg City if possible.


What course operations were to take once Antwerp was captured is none too clear. [1] Indeed no detailed plans existed for this phase. There are numerous indications that the field commanders did not view the Big Solution too seriously but fixed their eyes on the seizure of the Meuse bridgeheads rather than on the capture of Antwerp. Probably Hitler had good reason for the final admonition, on 15 December, that the attack was not to begin the northward wheel until the Meuse was crossed.


Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army, selected to make the main effort, had a distinct political complexion. Its armored divisions all belonged to the Waffen SS, its


[1] Jodl, while a prisoner at Nuremberg, said that once the Antwerp line was reached the subsequent German operations would aim at "neutralizing" the Allied armies to the east.