As his offensive in the Ardennes ground to a halt, Hitler looked southward for victory. Just before midnight on 31 January, he launched Operation NORDWIND, sending the First Army south through Bitche and the Wissembourg Gap and the Nineteenth Army north out of the Colmar pocket against the 6th Army Group. The Allies contained this offensive as well. Once again, the fight took place in bitter winter weather where frostbite and trenchfoot were almost as dangerous as the opposing foe. NORDWIND, however, again demonstrated the tribulations faced by Eisenhower as the commander of a coalition force. As part of his response to the German offensives, Eisenhower had ordered a partial withdrawal of 6th Army Group soldiers. But his plan would have abandoned recently liberated Strasbourg and exposed the city to potential German retribution. General Charles de Gaulle, head of the French Provisional Government, found the desertion of Strasbourg unacceptable and appealed to Roosevelt and Churchill. Eisenhower relented, bowing to political necessity over military efficiency.
From 16 December-25 January, in the Ardennes-Alsace Campaign, the Allies fought to contain and then destroy the forces of Hitler's final offensives in the West. Eisenhower believed that the Germans had given the Allies a great opportunity by impulsively committing their reserves. Eisenhower wrote to the soldiers of the Allied Expeditionary Force that "by rushing from his fixed defenses the enemy has given us the chance to turn his great gamble into his worst defeat." But the heavy snowfalls and overcast skies that crippled Allied mobility on the ground and in the air, as well as the fanaticism of the well-equipped German attackers, gave the Allied soldiers little time to celebrate.
One of the critical problems facing Eisenhower on the eve of the Battle of the Bulge was a severe shortage of infantrymen. By 15 December, Bradley reported that his army group lacked 17,000 riflemen because of casualties caused by prolonged combat and almost constant exposure to one of the most severe winters Europe had ever known. Although Eisenhower ordered the reclassification as infantrymen of as many support personnel as possible, the shortfall continued to grow. The Ardennes-Alsace Campaign only worsened matters, while the Selective Service System in the United States could not close the increasing manpower gap. As a result, Eisenhower made a momentous decision. Previously, most African-American soldiers in the European theater had been assigned to service units. Now these troops were permitted to volunteer for duty as combat infantrymen, with the understanding that after the necessary training, they would be committed to frontline service. Eventually, some 2,200 were organized into fifty-three platoons and assigned to all-white rifle companies in the two U.S. army groups. The exigencies of combat had temporarily forced the Army to discard its policy of segregating white and black soldiers.
Page 17 (The Rhineland)