Page 142


theater of operations where victory was always the American portion? Enemy Preparations for Another Cannae.


Late in November 1944 General Lucht, commander of the LXVI Corps was called to the headquarters of the Fifth Panzer Army. Here Manteuffel told him of the coming offensive in the Ardennes and said that his corps would form the army right wing. The corps' mission, in brief, would be to bypass the Schnee Eifel on either side, seize the road net at St. Vith, and thrust in columnar formation to and across the Meuse River. Lucht would be given only two infantry divisions, one of which, the 18th Volks Grenadier Division, was holding the section of the West Wall along the northern reaches of the Schnee Eifel. The second division, unnamed, would not be designated or available until shortly before the attack. The LXVI Corps commander apparently was not unduly concerned by the lack of weight allotted; after all, the main army effort turned on its two panzer corps. But like all veteran German field commanders on the Western Front, Lucht was vitally concerned with the problem of air support. The first question he put to Manteuffel phrased this concern. Manteuffel parried with the stock answer: OKW had promised adequate air support; but in any case it was hoped that bad flying weather during December would drastically curtail the enemy effectiveness in the air.


About 1 December the commander of the 18th Volks Grenadier Division, Generalmajor Hoffmann-Schonborn, was let in on the closely guarded secret, joining Lucht and his chief of staff at the planning table. The Luftwaffe could furnish no terrain photos, but detailed maps and terrain appreciations for this area were on file. The final terrain estimate concluded that the sector north of the Schnee Eifel offered fewer natural obstacles than that to the south. Furthermore, the Losheim Gap appeared to have the weakest defending force. The Our River was an obstacle, but known crossing sites existed at Andler, Schonberg, and Steinebruck. St. Vith was nearly equidistant from the planned attack positions north or south of the Schnee Eifel, twelve to fourteen straight-line miles.


The final plan of maneuver, largely dictated by Manteuffel, made the 18th Volks Grenadier Division responsible for a concentric attack moving north and south of the Schnee Eifel. The division would place its strongest kampfgruppe in the north, however, and make the main corps effort there. Lucht reasoned that the 18th knew the ground and would make the quickest progress; but he also wished to retain close control over the drive when it reached St. Vith, and such control could best be exercised by a single command. Furthermore the second division would have no time to learn the ground and, set to make a single envelopment in the southern part of the corps sector, would face extensive field fortifications on broken, wooded terrain. The fact that Lucht did not expect the thin American line to his front to offer strong resistance may be one of the reasons he risked splitting the 18th Volks Grenadier Division, rather than committing one division at each end of the Schnee Eifel. Since none of the German planners expected an American