Page 071

Timing was defined by coded days from the alphabet. Since O-Tag or D-day was in fact 16 December the calendar dates can be given for what in the plan was merely an undated sequence of events. On K-Tag (12 December) troops were alerted for movement. As yet they had no knowledge of the offensive; they would receive this information the night before the attack jumped off. By L-Tag ( 13 December) all units were supposed to have their forward detachments up to the base line; most of them did. During the night of 13 December the clockwork march to the final attack positions began. Those infantry divisions not already in place moved to the forward restraining line of their Area I. This also was the night for the guns and howitzers belonging to army and VAK batteries to move. Using horses from the neighboring infantry artillery regiments, and liberally employing straw to muffle the wheels (just as had been done in 1918), the batteries were dragged into positions about five miles to the rear of the ultimate firing emplacements. The rocket projectors, easier to camouflage, were hidden immediately behind their firing positions.

On the night of the 14th the infantry divisions not already in place marched quietly into Area II. Motorized artillery went to assigned firing positions while low-flying German planes zoomed noisily over the American listening posts, or it was dragged forward by horses. The rocket projector crews dug their pieces into the pits from which the preparation for the attack would be fired. The tracked elements of the panzer division assault groups churned into Armor Area II over roads which only two days earlier had been iced completely and along which treacherous stretches remained. Wheeled units moved up to the Area I restraining line. This armored movement in the dark of night was difficult indeed, but to avoid entanglement each panzer division had been given a road of its own and in no cases did the distance traveled during the two nights total more than fifty miles; for most it was less. On the night of 15 December all formations marched to the line of departure or to forward combat positions. It would appear that nearly all units were in place an hour or two before H-hour, 0530 on the morning of 6 December.

Although the troops knew nothing of their mission until the night of the 15th, save what they could surmise, the commanders had been given the picture in time to do some individual planning. By the end of the first week in December all corps and division commanders knew what was expected of them. Most of the division staffs seem to have been briefed on 10 December. Hitler received the commanders entrusted with the attack in two groups on the nights of 11 and 12 December. Most of the visitors seem to have been more impressed by the Fuehrer's obvious physical deterioration and the grim mien of the SS guards than by Hitler's rambling recital of his deeds for Germany which constituted this last "briefing." [18]

The forces assembled for the counteroffensive were the product of an almost psychotic drive by Hitler to put every last man, gun, and tank that could be stripped from some part of the declining German war establishment into the attack Thirteen infantry and seven armored divisions were ready for the initial assault. Five divisions from the OKW reserve were on alert or actually en route to form the second wave, plus one armored and one mechanized brigade at reinforced strength. Approximately five additional divisions were listed in the OKW reserve, but their availability was highly dubious. Some 1,900 artillery piecesincluding rocket projectors-were ready to support the attack. [19] The seven armored divisions in the initial echelon had about 970 tanks and armored assault guns. The armored and mechanized elements of the immediate OKW reserve had another 450 to swell the armored attack. [20] If and when the Fifteenth Army joined in, the total force could be counted as twenty-nine infantry and twelve armored divisions.

These divisions and heavy weapons might or might not suffice for the task at hand, but the total represented the best that the Wehrmacht could do. Of the armored complement on the Western Front-2,567 tanks and assault guns-Army Group B and OKW reserve had been given 2,168. About a third of this latter total would have to be left for the time being with the Fifteenth Army to shore up the right-wing defenses in the Roer sector. Some four hundred

[18] For the Hitler speeches of 11 and 12 December 1944 see Gilbert, Hitler Directs His War, p. 157.

[19] On the German artillery preparations see MSS#B-311, Army Group B Artillery, Ardennes (General der Artillerie Karl Thoholte); B-347, Sixth SS Panzer Army Artillery (Generalleutnant Waffen-SS Walter Staudinger); B 759, Sixth Panzer Army, 15 December 1944-21 January 1945 (Staudinger)

[20] The very difficult task of evaluating and reconciling the various tank strengths given in individual (and fragmentary) German documents has been ably done in Charles V. P. von Luttichau's manuscript, Armor in the Ardennes Offensive (1952). OCMH. Cf., MS#P-059 (Mueller-Hillebrand) and the OB WEST KTB for 16 December 1944.