Page 671


tum; the greatest gains made by the armored spearhead columns actually were achieved during the night of 18 December. With the way west thus clearing, the German mass maneuver behind the armored columns picked up speed on 19 December, this day representing the most rapid movement of the entire offensive. Yet even now the bulk of German armored weight was not forward nor operating with the speed and mobility expected of armor. For this reason the Fifth Panzer Army was assigned the task of exploitation, in place of the Sixth, on 20 December.


The offensive had gone out of control, and now would follow a series of haphazard improvisations. Why had the German armored mass failed to come forward as planned? These reasons seem paramount:


The initial American defense had been more tenacious than anticipated; complete and rapid rupture of the defensive positions had not been achieved.


Tactical support and logistic transport had not kept pace with the advance of the combat formations.


Close operational control and fluidity of movement for the mass of maneuver required free use of the road net in the salient. This had been denied the attacker, most notably at Bastogne and St. Vith but at other points as well. 4. The flanks of the salient had not been brought forward to keep pace with the drive in the center; the shoulders of the salient had jammed.


5. The operational build-up of the forces in the salient had taken place so slowly as to deny real depth to the attack.


6. The tactical reaction of the American forces and their commitment of reserves had been more rapid than anticipated.


The German failure to build up the attacking forces in the salient must be attributed to Hitler and the OKW staff since they controlled the operational reserves set aside for the Ardennes offensive. Nonetheless, there is some reason to believe that the German High Command held back the OKW Reserve divisions because of the physical difficulties attendant on feeding more troops and vehicles onto the crowded, tortuous, muddy roads during the breakdown of the German transport system in the first days of the attack.


Rundstedt made his first request for troops from the OKW Reserve on 17 December, asking for the Fuehrer Begleit Brigade, which was in readiness only thirty-five miles to the rear. He was given the 9th SS Panzer Division, which was seventy miles from the battlefield, and it required three separate petitions from Rundstedt to change the Fuehrer's mind. Subsequent requests by OB WEST for the release of two armored divisions scheduled for early commitment, the 10th SS Panzer and 11th Panzer, produced no result until 23 December when two Volks Grenadier divisions were brought west in their place. Even these Volks Grenadier formations had a string attached by OKW. When, on 26 December, Model asked for a free hand with all OKW reserves, specifically mentioning the 10th SS Panzer and 11th Panzer plus three or four armored divisions from other theaters, he was given a stone-the two Volks Grenadier divisions brought up on the 23d.


The one thing that a high command can do in modern war to influence the battle once it is joined is to allocate reserves. Hitler and Jodl repeated in 1944 the mistake made by Ludendorff during the Amiens battle of 1918 when the latter failed to throw in the reserves needed to exploit the unexpected success of the Eighteenth Army. Specifically, Hitler and the OKW staff failed to recognize that the only real hope of success, after the Sixth Panzer Army failure, was to reinforce Manteuffel and the Fifth.


The story on the American side was quite different, surprisingly so to Hitler and his entourage who held as an article of faith that the American commanders, for political reasons, would make no major troop movements, particularly if these involved the British, without prior reference to the White House and Downing Street. This attitude probably explains the German estimate that no major units would be committed by the defense until the third day and that the Allied build-up of a counterattack force would be made west of the Meuse. Not only did the German planners fail to comprehend the degree of initiative that training and tradition have placed in the hands of American corps and army commanders, they also misunderstood the American doctrine, largely unwritten but universally accepted, that major formations having no prebattle relationship may, under fluid conditions, unite on the field after the battle is joined. Hitler seems to have made another and important personal miscalculation, namely that the weak German forces holding the sectors of the Western Front north and south of the Ardennes still retained sufficient strength to grapple the American divisions opposite them, and that the Allied commanders would