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CHAPTER XVIII


The VII Corps Moves To Blunt the Salient


Thus far the story of the German counteroffensive has been developed on a geographical pattern generally from east to west with particular attention given the initial battles fought by the American forces attempting to hold the shoulders of the salient, the defense of St. Vith, the VIII Corps' attempt to form a barrier line across the area of penetration, and the First Army's efforts to extend the north flank alongside the expanding bulge. While these bitter defensive battles were being waged, American forces were already moving to go over to the offensive in the south for as early as 19 December General Eisenhower and his field commanders had laid plans for a major counterattack. But before this counterattack, by the Third Army, takes stage center, three important developments are unfolding: the division of the Ardennes battlefield between Field Marshal Montgomery and General Bradley, the assembly and intervention of the VII Corps in an extension of the American north shoulder, and the initial defense of the Bastogne sector. [1]


Division of the Battlefield


Late on Tuesday evening, 19 December, Maj. Gen. Kenneth W. D. Strong, the SHAEF chief of intelligence, went to Maj. Gen. J. F. M. Whiteley, deputy chief of staff for operations at SHAEF, with a proposal which would have very audible repercussion. The German drive, said Strong, showed no sign of turning northwest toward Liege but seemed to be developing on a thrust line directly to the west. This meant, in his opinion, that the American forces north and south of the growing salient would be split by its further expansion toward the Meuse. It was his idea, therefore, that two commands should be created to replace General Bradley's 12th Army Group control of the divisive battle front, General Bradley to retain command of the troops on the southern shoulder of the salient, Field Marshal Montgomery to take those in the north under the wing of the British 21 Army Group. Strong's proposal seemed sound to Whiteley. Although both officers were British neither had broached this idea to the field marshal.


Whiteley immediately took his colleague in to see the SHAEF chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith. General Smith, famous in the headquarters for his hair-trigger temper, first reacted negatively and with considerable heat, then cooled off and admitted the logic of the proposal. Sometime that same evening Smith telephoned Bradley. Bradley was none too sympathetic toward the idea but did concede that


[1] This last will be the subject of the next chapter.