never know. But there is the strong possibility that Hitler and his top generals were motivated by the same impulse which triggered so many of the bloody and useless offensives of World War I-to seize the initiative for its own sake without a viable strategic objective in view.
In late December German propagandists claimed that the object of the Ardennes offensive had been to cripple the attack capabilities of the Allied armies and chew up their divisions east of the Meuse. There also is considerable evidence that Model, and perhaps Rundstedt, accepted this as a reasonable tactical objective in the operations from Christmas onward. The attainment of this goal, to chew up Allied divisions and dull the cutting edge of the American armies, was achieved in only limited fashion. The attack of twenty-nine German divisions and brigades destroyed one American infantry division as a unit, badly crippled two infantry divisions, and cut one armored combat command to pieces. The total of American battle casualties reported for the period 16 December through 2 January (although these probably were incomplete returns) numbered 41,315 officers and men, of which 4,138 were known to be killed in action, 20,231 were wounded in action, and 16,946 were reported missing. During the same period the American formations in the Ardennes received 31,505 replacements, or "reinforcements" as these individual soldiers now were named. The materiel losses inflicted by German action represented only a temporary diminution in the fighting strength of a few of the American divisions and normally were replaced within a fortnight.
What all this cost the Wehrmacht is impossible to say. It is known that losses in materiel were very high-and these no longer could be made good. The only general indication of German casualties is found in railroad reports which show that about 67,000 troops were evacuated from the Army Group B area by rail during December. This figure, of course, would include some of the battle casualties from the earlier fighting east of Aachen, as well as disease cases. A number of German division commanders have made personal estimates of the casualties suffered by their own divisions during the last half of December, and in the cases of those formations continually in the line from 16 or 17 December the average is between two and three thousand "combat effectives" lost per division. Whatever the true number of casualties may have been on both sides, it is a fair assessment that over-all, in this particular instance, the troops on the offensive sustained heavier losses than those on the defensive.
Detailed analysis of the ebb and flow of battle shows that the German armies in the Ardennes never came close to the narrow margin between success and failure. The fortunes of war never were put in precarious balance as they had been in the spring of 1918, and it is not surprising that General Eisenhower refused to issue a "Backs to the Wall" order of the day like that wrung from Haig on April 1918.
Nevertheless, in December 1944 there was an early, emotional Allied reaction to the first speedy triumphs of the German armies which conceived of the attack as being another, albeit late, irruption of the military might which