Page 579


and so to cover the flank, the rear, and the line of communications for Manteuffel's salient.


It was apparent by the 24th to all of the higher German commanders that the advance must be strengthened in depth and-if possible-enlarged by pushing out the northern flank on the Marche plateau. German intelligence sources now estimated that the Allies were in the process of bringing a total of four armored and seven infantry divisions against the northern flank between the Salm and Meuse Rivers. The Sixth Panzer Army had to transfer its weight to the west. Hitler, who had been adamant that Sepp Dietrich should drive the Americans back from the Elsenborn position, finally granted permission on 24 December to give over the battle there and move in second-line divisions capable only of defensive action. Rundstedt already had gone on record that it was "useless" to keep five divisions in the Elsenborn sector. Neither Rundstedt nor Model had completely given up hope that the point of the Sixth Panzer Army might shake free and start moving again, for the German successes in the Vielsalm area at the expense of the American XVIII Airborne Corps promised much if Dietrich could reinforce his troops on this western flank. Nonetheless, the main play still would be given the Fifth Panzer Army.


The orders passed to Dietrich for 24 December were that his attack forces in the Salm River sector should push hard toward the northwest to seize the high ground extending from the swampy plateau of the Hohes Venn southwest across the Ourthe River. In the opinion of Rundstedt's staff the Fifth Panzer Army was at tactical disadvantage because its westernmost divisions, which had followed the level path of the Famenne Depression at Marche and Rochefort, were under attack from American forces holding command of the high ground on the Marche plateau to the north. It therefore seemed essential for the Sixth Panzer to establish itself on the same high ground if it was to relieve the pressure on Manteuffel's open and endangered north flank. In theory the strategic objectives of the Sixth Panzer were Liege and Eupen, but the German war diaries show clearly that Rundstedt (and probably Model) hoped only that Dietrich could wheel his forward divisions into a good position on defensible ground from which the Fifth Panzer Army could be covered and supported. [1]


On the morning of 24 December the Sixth Panzer Army was deployed in an uneven stairstep line descending southwest from the boundary with the Fifteenth Army (near Monschau) to the Ourthe River, newly designated as the dividing line between the Fifth and Sixth. In the Monschau-Hofen sector the LXVII Corps held a north-south line, the corps' front then bending at a right


[1] Model's suicide, later in the war, permits interpretations by his superiors and subordinates which may or may not be in accord with the facts. Even so, the OB WEST TB does provide a reasonable guide to Model's conduct of the Ardennes operation in these last days of the offensive. Also, the OB WEST/1C-Tagesmeldungen reveal what information on the Allied dispositions and intentions was available to Model. A further check is provided by a series of postwar interrogations involving Rundstedt and Jodl. For the former see CSDIC (U.K.) # GRGG330, SRGG 1332 and SRGG 1334 (these interrogations date from July and August 1945). Jodl was interrogated by the USFET Historical Division before his execution: MS ETHINT-51 (Jodl). See also the testimony of Jodl's aide in MS ETHINT-34 (Buecks).