Page 661


by Allied bombing during this early phase because the exorbitant amount of military traffic moving to support the attack resulted in severe congestion which, on a number of feeder lines, forced troops and equipment to detrain far to the east of their planned destination.


When the weather altered on the 23d, battlefield operations started to take precedence over the Allied interdiction effort. The IX, XIX, and XXIX Tactical Air Commands flew 294 sorties against targets in the forward edge of the battlefield, but this effort still represented only a minor fraction of the Allied air operations designed to stall the German advance. The Eighth Air Force and 9th Bombardment Division dropped 1,300 tons of bombs on the enemy supply lines west of the Rhine, while the Royal Air Force Bomber Command hit the Seventh Army railhead at Trier with 150 planes.


On 24 December The Allied air forces threw into action the greatest number of planes employed during the Ardennes. The Americans flew 1,138 tactical sorties (of which 734 were ground support missions in the battle zone) and 2,442 bomber sorties. Most of the latter were aimed at German airfields, but 1,521 tons of bombs were laid on rail centers and bridges. The 2d Tactical Air Force (British) flew 1,243 sorties during the day. There followed three days of good flying weather which gave the American and British fighter-bombers opportunity for a sustained attack against German supply movement, road centers, and armored vehicles. Commencing on 28 December very poor flying weather intervened to give the German divisions some respite from air attack. The Allies put up less than a hundred battlefield sorties on this and succeeding days, but even such a limited effort had an important effect on the ground battle, as witness the intervention of the 406th Bombardment Group in the Bastogne fight on the 30th.


The direct damage inflicted on the German ground formations by the Allied fighter-bombers is difficult to gauge and, of course, varied greatly. A regimental attack set by the 26th Volks Grenadier Division on 23 December had to be postponed until the Jabos quit for the day; on that same date the entire 116th Panzer Division marched in broad daylight from Hotton to Marche without difficulty. Yet there was a very appreciable increase in night attacks by the German ground forces as the Jabos' killing power mounted, beginning on Christmas Day and culminating in Model's order on the 26th forbidding major march movements in daylight.


The Allied tactical air operations in the main were directed against armored fighting vehicles, motor transport, and large troop concentrations. The thin-skinned supply vehicles which lacked tracks to carry them off the narrow, winding roads presented an easy target. German tanks were another matter. The IX, XIX, and XXIX Tactical Air Commands and 2d Tactical Air Force (British) claimed the destruction of 413 enemy armored vehicles. But a sample ground count of stricken German armor sets the number of kills inflicted by air attack at about a tenth the number claimed by the fighter-bomber pilots. [6]


[6] 2d Tactical Air Force Operational Research Section, Report 19, The Contribution of the Air Forces to the Stemming of the Enemy Thrust in the Ardennes, 16-26 December 1944 (September 1945).