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passed from German to American hands. Before this time the American and Allied forces had reacted to German designs and had abandoned their own. From this point in time the German attacker would be off balance and would take a series of false steps (notably at Bastogne) which were elicited by the operations of his opponent and divergent from the assigned larger objective.


Even at the time there was recognition in both camps that 26 December had been the day of decision. On the 27th the German press and radio abandoned the headline treatment of the Ardennes to feature news from Greece and Budapest. This same day the SHAEF propaganda bureau issued instructions that Liege, obviously no longer in danger, should be shown as the goal of the German offensive.


There seems to have been a slight resurgence of forced optimism in the higher German field headquarters toward the end of December when the appearance of more troops and guns gave some flicker of hope that Bastogne finally might be captured. But this optimism, if it was anything more than a disciplined and soldierly facade, quickly faded. On the last day of December the OB WEST journal notes that if Bastogne cannot be taken "that is the end of the offensive operation." Hitler, no matter what exhortations he may have dispatched to Model and Rundstedt, had turned his attention away from the Ardennes. On 29 December Rundstedt received a message that sixty-three new tanks had come off the assembly line but that OKW (for which read Hitler) would decide whether personnel replacements and artillery should be sent OB WEST in their stead-precisely the first step always taken by the Fuehrer when abandoning a military venture and denuding one fighting front to reinforce another.


The Place of the Ardennes Offensive in World War II


The German attack in the Ardennes was to be the last in the long series of great offensives and military adventures initiated by Hitler's Third Reich in September 1939. The subsequent attempts at counterattacks in Alsace and on the Lake Balaton front were bloody military divertissements occasioned by Hitler, nothing more. There would be days of stubborn fighting in the Ardennes during January 1945, but the roads back over the Eifel led straight to the decimation and collapse of the German armies on the banks of the Oder River, along the Danube, in the Ruhr pocket, and, at last, to the bunkers of Berlin.


What was the true military purpose of the Ardennes offensive? It has been alleged by survivors of the German High Command that this operation was intended to re-establish the military prestige of the Third Reich, carry its people through the grueling sixth winter of war, and win a favorable bargaining position for a suitable and acceptable peace. It seems more probable, from all that is known of Hitler's thought processes in these last months of his life, that, as in February 1918, the German decision was not between war and peace but between defense and attack. Are the military and political reasons set forth by Hitler for his choice of an offensive on the Western Front, and in the Ardennes sector, to be accepted at face value? History will