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The Origins

On Saturday, 16 September 1944, the daily Fuehrer Conference convened in the Wolf's Lair, Hitler's East Prussian headquarters. No special word had come in from the battle fronts and the briefing soon ended, the conference disbanding to make way for a session between Hitler and members of what had become his household military staff. Wilhelm Keitel and Alfred Jodl were in this second conference. So was Heinz Guderian, who as acting chief of staff for OKH held direct military responsibility for the conduct of operations on the Russian front.

Herman Goering was absent. From this fact stems the limited knowledge available of the initial appearance of the idea which would be translated into historical fact as the Ardennes counter-offensive or Battle of the Bulge. Goering and the Luftwaffe were represented by Werner Kreipe, chief of staff for OKL. Perhaps Kreipe had been instructed by Goering to report fully on all that Hitler might say; perhaps Kreipe was a habitual diary-keeper. In any case he had consistently violated the Fuehrer ordinance that no notes of the daily conferences should be retained except the official transcript made by Hitler's own stenographic staff.

Trenchant, almost cryptic, Kreipe's notes outline the scene. Jodl, representing OKW and thus the headquarters responsible for managing the war on the Western Front, began the briefing. [1] In a quiet voice and with the usual adroit use of phrases designed to lessen the impact of information which the Fuehrer might find distasteful, Jodl reviewed the relative strength of the opposing forces. The Western Allies possessed 96 divisions at or near the front; these were faced by 55 German divisions. An estimated 10 Allied divisions were en route from the United Kingdom to the battle zone. Allied airborne units still remained in England (some of these would make a dramatic appearance the very next day at Arnhem and Nijmegen). Jodl added a few words about shortages on the German side, shortages in tanks, heavy weapons, and ammunition. This was a persistent and unpopular topic; Jodl must have slid quickly to the next item-a report on the German forces withdrawing from southern and southwestern France.

Suddenly Hitler cut Jodl short. There ensued a few minutes of strained silence. Then Hitler spoke, his words recalled as faithfully as may be by the listening

[1] MS # P o69, The Kreipe Diary, 22 July-2 November 1944 (General der Flieger Werner Kreipe). OKH, OKL, and OKW are the abbreviated versions, respectively, of Oberkommando des Heeres, the High Command of the German Army, Oberkommando der Luftwaffe, The Luftwaffe High Command, and Oberkommando der Wehrmacht, the Armed Forces High Command.