US Army Intelligence : The Failure of December 1944


On December 16 1944 : should the German cracks the defenses in the Northern Shoulder of the Front lines, their forces would be able to surround the 101st Airborne Division and attached units in the Southern Shoulder (Bastogne area), eliminates the US Troops in the Center Shoulder but also cuts the Main Supply Road (Manay – Vielsalm). This would not only stop cold the US 1st Army but also Bradley’s entire 12th Army Group in the Belgian Ardennes !

Facts : if reported on a period wartime map, the Allies Northern Shoulder, at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge on December 16, would be as follow : (a.) the center axis located at the Losheimer Gap; (b.) the extreme North flank located in Mutzenich – Imgenbroich – Monschau and (c.) the extreme South, the Luxemburger border at Ouren.

The Northern Shoulder – Allied (mainly US) : (Allied Side from North to South) Höfen, Germany, 99-ID; Mutzenich, Germany, 9-ID; Monschau, Germany, 9-ID; Kuchelscheid, Germany, 2-ID; Wallerscheid, Germany, 2-ID; Krinkelt-Rocherath, Belgium, 99-ID; Losheim, Germany, 99-ID; Lanzerath, Belgium, 99-ID; Manderfeld, Belgium, 106-ID; Andler, Belgium, 14-CRS (Mez); Auw, Belgium, 106-ID; St Vith, Belgium, 106-ID & 1 CC 9-AD; Ouren, Belgium, 28-ID. Note : Services Units and Attached Units not included).

Northern Shoulder – Axis’ Targets : Mutzenich, Germany, 272.Volks-Grenadier-Division; Monschau, Germany, 326.Volks-Grenadier-Division; Kuschelscheid, Germany, 277.Volks-Grenadier-Division; Wallerscheid, Germany, 277.Volks-Grenadier-Division; Krinkelt-Rocherath, Belgium, 12.SS-Panzer-Division; Losheim, Germany, 3.Panzer-Grenadier-Division; Lanzerath, Belgium, 12.Volks-Grenadier-Division; Lanzerath, Belgium, 1.SS-Panzer-Division; Manderfeld, Belgium, 3.Fallschirmjäger-Division; Auw, Belgium, 18.Volks-Grenadier-Division; St Vith, Belgium, 62.Volks-Grenadier-Division; St Vith, Belgium, 116.Panzer-Division; Ouren, Belgium, 116.Panzer-Division and Ouren, Belgium, 560.Volks-Grenadier-Division.

Troops Situation – December 1944

The Allied attacks in November had as their objective the decisive defeat of the enemy west of the Rhine River and the seizure of a foothold on the east bank of that river. By the end of November 1944, the 1-A and the 9-A, charged with the main effort, had made some gains in the direction of Bonn and Cologne.

The British 21-AG, in the north, had crossed the Waal River, the left arm of the lower Rhine. The US 3-A had put troops on the Saar River and farther to the south the US 7-A had captured Strasbourg and reached the Rhine. The French 1-A, on the extreme south flank, meanwhile had liberated Belfort and entrapped sizable German forces in the Colmar pocket.

Although Allied losses had been high, those inflicted on the enemy had been even greater, probably on the order of two or three to one. But the Allies had failed to achieve their main strategic goals : they had not decisively defeated the German armies west of the Rhine, nor had they crossed the river.

On December 7, Gen Eisenhower, Air Chief Marshal Tedder, Field Marshal Montgomery, and Gen Bradley met at Maastricht to lay plans for future operations. There was general agreement that the Allies should launch an all-out offensive on the Western Front early in 1945 but considerable variance between the views of Eisenhower and Montgomery as to the future scheme of maneuver and forces disposition.

Montgomery held, as he had since September, for a single strong thrust across the Rhine north of the Ruhr and the restriction of all other operations to containing actions by limited forces. Eisenhower agreed with the proposal for a main attack north of the Ruhr by Montgomery’s 21-AG and was prepared to give him the US 9-A. But he was unwilling to abandon his oft-expressed concept of the one-two punch with Patton’s 3-A swinging a secondary blow toward the Frankfurter Gate.

After the Maastricht meeting, Eisenhower set plans in motion to continue pressure on the enemy and chew up as many German divisions as possible before the main offensive in the north. To accomplish this the Supreme Commander gave permission for the 3-A to mount an offensive along the Saar front on December 19 and directed Gen Devers, the 6-AG commander, to support the drive with elements of the 7-A.

In the meantime these two armies continued heavy local attacks, Gen Patton’s 3-A driving on Saarlautern while Gen Patch’s 7-A turned north into the Saverne Gap. At the opposite end of the long Allied line, Montgomery gave orders in early December for the 2-BA (British Army) to “tidy up” the 21-AG position on the Meuse River with an attack calculated to erase the Heinsberg salient.

This operation was flooded out, however, and on December 16 advance parties were moving north as the first step in a major shift to the left preparatory to the attack toward Krefeld and the Ruhr area, now tentatively scheduled for the second week in January.

South of the 21-AG, Gen Simpson’s 9-A liquidated the remaining enemy forces in the Jülich sector and by December 14 had closed along the Roer River. Gen Hodges’ 1-A, to the right of the 9-A, also had reached the Roer, after the bloody Hürtgen battle, but could not risk a crossing attack while the Germans held the Urft-Roer dams.

A series of air attacks was launched early in December to breach the dams and remove the threat of enemy-controlled floods, but with so little success that the deal passed to the 1-A. Bradley ordered Hodges to seize the Schwammenauel Dam and the Urft Dam, the key points in the Roer valley system of dams, and on December 13, the 1-A commander put the V Corps, his center, into an attack toward the dams. His northernmost corps, the VII Corps, was assigned a support role in this attack and would attain its limited objectives by December 16. The mission and deployment of Gen Gerow’s V Corps later had a direct effect in determining the initial American reaction to the German attack.

Gerow had four infantry divisions, two armored combat commands, and a cavalry group at his disposal. A new division, the 78-ID, was deployed in the corps center on a front extending from Lammersdorf to Monschau. On the left, the 8-ID fronted along the Kyll River line.

The right wing was held by the 99-ID, whose positions reached from Monschau and its vicinity up to the V Corps and the VIII Corps boundary in the Buchholz Forest northwest of Losheimergraben, the Losheim Gap.

The first phase of the V Corps attack was to be carried by the 78-ID and the 2-ID, the latter coming up from an assembly area at Camp Elsenborn and passing through the 99-ID left. The 8-ID and the 99-ID would confine their efforts initially to demonstrations and line-straightening. The first day of the attack went as planned, but on December 14, the enemy stiffened and on the December 15 counter-attacked; the 78-ID became involved in a rough battle at Rollesbroich and Kesternich, while the 2-ID bogged down in a slow-moving fight for individual pillboxes in the Monschau Forest. This was the situation when the enemy onslaught hit the 9-ID and its VIII Corps neighbors on the morning of December 16.

Gen Middleton’s VIII Corps, the 1-A’s right flank, had no part in the Allied attacks of early December. Two of Middleton’s infantry divisions were weary and casualty-ridden from the intense fighting of the November push to the Roer. The third was newly arrived from the United States. The corps mission, then, was to train, rest, re-equip and observe the enemy. Nonetheless this was no flighty, a haven for second-rate troops and bumbling commanders.

The 28-ID (Gen Norman D. Cota) and the 4-ID (Gen Raymond O. Barton) had distinguished themselves in the bloody battles of the Hürtgen Forest. The veterans of this fight were well equipped to train and hearten the replacements for some 9000 battle casualties the two divisions had sustained. Middleton himself had a fine combat record reaching from WW-1 through Sicily, Normandy, and Brittany. Deliberate and calm but tenacious, he was regarded by Bradley and Patton as one of the best tacticians in the US Army.

As the result of the relief of the 83-ID, en route to the VII Corps, the deployment of the VIII Corps (as it would meet the German attack) took final form on December 13.

The 4-ID abutted on the 3-A at the Luxembourg – French frontier and followed the Moselle and Sauer Rivers, marking the German border, as far north as Bollendorf. A combat command of the 9-AD, as yet inexperienced, had taken over a narrow sector to the left of December 4/10. The second combat command of this division, earlier comprising the corps reserve, was assigned to V Corps and started its march north on December 13.

The veteran 28-ID held the corps center, fronting on the Our River. The newly arrived and green 106-ID had completed the relief of the 2-ID in the Schnee Eifel sector on December 12. Here the German West Wall turned northeastward following the Schnee Eifel crest.

In the Losheimer Gap, at the northern terminus of the Schnee Eifel, a light task force of the 14-CG maintained a screening position between the 106-ID and the 99-ID. It should be noted that this was the seam between the VIII Corps and V Corps. Although the VIII Corps forward area possessed many terrain features favoring the defender, notably the Schnee Eifel on the left wing and the river sequence fronting the corps center and right, there were numerous points of entry for an attack moving east to west.

The three infantry divisions under Middleton’s command were responsible for a front of about eighty-five miles, a distance approximately three times that normally assigned an equivalent defending force by US service school teaching and tactical doctrine. On the morning of December 16, the total assigned strength of the VIII Corps was 68.822 officers and men. Immediately after the Battle of the Bulge, the tag ‘a calculated risk’ would be applied to the attenuated VIII Corps front as it existed on December 16.

Middleton was well aware of the risk – indeed he had made this clear in discussions with his superiors. Somewhat after the event Gen Eisenhower wrote Gen George C. Marshall (January 10 1945) that in early November he and Bradley had discussed the possibility of a German counteroffensive in the Ardennes but had agreed that such a move would be unprofitable to the enemy. The line of reasoning, as set before Marshall, was this : the Volkssturm would be no good in offensive operations, winter in the Ardennes would render continuous logistic support impossible, and Allied strength was so great that the Germans could not push far enough to reach really vital objectives.

Whatever thought may have been given to the Ardennes, the Allies were on the offensive and preparing for yet greater offensive operations well to the north and the south of the VIII Corps sector. Losses during November had been high and the reserve of new divisions in the USA was running low (in the UK, such a reserve no longer existed). The old military axiom that the line cannot be strong everywhere applied with full force to the Allied positions reaching from Switzerland to the North Sea.

Almost automatically Allied strength would concentrate in those areas where the offensive was the order of the day and where decision might be reached. The Ardennes sector seemed no special risk, it had been quiet for weeks, it offered – or so it seemed – no terrain attraction for the enemy, and there was no recognizable indication that enemy forces opposite the VIII Corps and the 99-ID outnumbered those deployed on the friendly side of the line. If there was a calculated risk, therefore, it was no more precise or specific than that taken wittingly by any commander who thins his front to mount an attack while knowing that he has over-all superiority and the ability to retain the initiative.

On Sunday, December 17, I couldn’t have been more oblivious to the war suddenly raging through the Ardennes, Pearlie and Mickey were starting their honeymoon in Paris, where Butch had given them his hotel suite. And like many others in Versailles, my brain was somewhat drowned in the champagne which had flooded the McKeogh-Hargrave nuptials.

In fact, half of headquarters was soggy with the silence of plain, unadulterated, ordinary hangovers. Dimly, I heard Ike, Beetle, and Bradley discussing the new German attack, which Gen Eisenhower deemed dangerous enough to warrant ordering an armored division toward each flank of the spearhead. I learned that Gen Bradley was returning to his headquarters at Luxembourg to deal with the situation. In the diary I noted : the German is dropping paratroops in the Liège area.

Still, it didn’t seem any different from any other day of this routine period. I made a diary entry that the 1-A continued to encounter heavy resistance to its attack. On Monday, however, it was apparent even to me that the Germans had launched a full-scale counter-offensive.

The more pessimistic staff members predicted a drive on Paris itself, plus a blitz through to the huge supply center at Liege and the key port of Antwerp.

First reports said the Germans were using three entire armies made up of as many as twenty or twenty-four infantry, armored, and motorized divisions. I found it a grim coincidence that the entire attack was directed by none other than Gen von Rundstedt, who apparently launched his assault even while we toasted Pearlie and Mickey in his own Occupation residence in Versailles.

Gen Eisenhower cursed the bad weather, which grounded all our planes and aided the enemy assault.

He also worried about the 4-ID, the 28-ID, the 106-ID and the 9-AD all spread out thinly in the crucial area; he was particularly anxious when Gen Bradley reported the 106-ID, newly arrived in the Theater, as badly mauled. Intelligence added to the general gloom by admitting they couldn’t locate half the German armor.

Then Ike caught a second breath : If this is the heaviest attack they can put on, we’re okay.

Ardennes Cemetery Neuville en Condroz

Intelligence : Blind Troops !

In the years that have passed since the close of World War II the Ardennes has ranked close to Pearl Harbor as an episode inviting public polemic, personal vituperation, and ex parte vindication. Sentences, phrases, and punctuation marks from American intelligence documents of pre-Ardennes origin have been twisted and turned, quoted in and out of context, interpreted and misinterpreted, in arduous efforts to fix blame and secure absolution. There no longer is point to such intensely personal examination of the failure by American and Allied Intelligence to give warning of the Ardennes counter-offensive preparations.

The failure was general and cannot be attributed to any person or group of persons. The intelligence story on the eve of the Ardennes is not germane in terms of personal opinions or the men who held them. What counts are the views held at the various American headquarters and the gist of enemy information which reached those headquarters.In mid-September 1944, the Western Allies had felt imminent victory in their hands. Flushed with their own dazzling successes and heartened by news of the bloody defeats which the Soviet armies were administering to the Germans on the Eastern Front, the Allies saw the Wehrmacht collapsing and the Third Reich tottering to its knees. The pervasive optimism dissipated as the surprisingly revitalized German armies stood their ground in defense of the West Wall, but it never completely disappeared

When the Allied attack began to roll again in late November and early December, some of this earlier optimism reappeared. A 12-AG intelligence summary issued on December 12 echoes the prevailing tone : […] It is now certain that attrition is steadily sapping the strength of German forces on the Western Front and that the crust of defenses is thinner, more brittle and more vulnerable than it appears on our G-2 maps or to the troops in the line […]

This optimism, particularly when heightened by reports that the enemy no longer had fuel for tanks and planes, conditioned all estimates of the enemy’s plans and capabilities. It may be phrased this way : […] the enemy can still do something but he can’t do really much; he lacks the men, the planes, the tanks, the fuel, the transportation and the ammunition […]

Another aspect of Allied thinking would contribute to the general misconception of German capabilities and intentions. The return of FM von Rundstedt to command in the west had been marked with much interest by Allied intelligence staffs. Accepted in military circles as one of the best soldiers in the world, Rundstedt’s reputation, even among his opponents, rose to new stature as the result of the stubborn German defense in the autumn of 1944. Here, then, was a commander who could be expected to act and react according to the rational and accepted canons of the military art.

He would husband his dwindling resources, at an appropriate time he would counter-attack in accordance with available means, and ultimately he would fall back to the Rhine for the major defensive battle. Had Rundstedt actually commanded in the west, as the Allies believed, this analysis would have been correct. Rundstedt’s effort to delimit the scope of the Ardennes counter-offensive in order to achieve a reasonable symbiosis between the means and the end proves the point.

But Hitler alone commanded. Intuition, not conventional professional judgment, would determine German action. Unaware of the true nature of the German decision-making process in the west, the Allied commanders and staffs awaited an enemy reaction which would be rational and therefore predictable. If the thought ever occurred to an Allied intelligence officer that Germany would gamble on one last great effort west of the Rhine, staking everything on a single throw of the dice, this idea disappeared in the aura of high professional military competence which attached to Rundstedt. In a way this may have been the field marshal’s greatest personal contribution to the Ardennes counter-offensive.

It is impossible to determine the extent to which the Hitler cover plan deceived the Allies into accepting the area north of the Ardennes as the focal point for the anticipated German reaction. Here the Allies were making their greatest effort and it was natural to assume that the German reserves remaining would be committed to meet this effort. Even Patton’s 3-A, far to the south, relaxed its normally parochial view of the front and predicted that the 6.SS-Panzer-Army would be employed in a spoiling attack in the Aachen – Düren sector.

Here, too, lay the direct route to the Ruhr. It long had been an article of faith in Allied strategy that Germany would make its greatest efforts in defense of what Eisenhower had called the two hearts of Germany : the Ruhr, the industrial heart, and Berlin, the political heart. Furthermore, the area between the Roer and Rhine Rivers represented good tank-going for the Allied armored divisions.

Duly impressed with their own armored successes, the Allies expected that the enemy would throw his reserve armor into battle here in an attempt to prevent a repetition of the August tank race across France. Perhaps German deception did make some confirmatory contribution, but regardless of this Allied eyes were fixed immovably on the front north of the Ardennes.

One item would cause Allied intelligence some concern, although it seems that this concern was more academic than real. Where was Rundstedt’s armored counter-attack reserve, the 6.SS-Panzer-Army ? Allied situation maps of early December still carried the headquarters of this army in the vicinity of Cologne, and assigned four or five uncommitted Panzer Divisions as available to this command. But the actual location of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army was a matter of debate.

Bradley’s 12-AG thought that it might be concentrated around Bielefeld, northeast of Cologne. Hodges’ 1-A placed it rather indefinitely between the Roer and the Rhine. In Patton’s 3-A, they plumped for a location between Dusseldorf and Cologne while Simpson’s 9-A apparently did not care to enter this guessing game. SHAEF Intelligence summed up the matter nicely in the report of December 10 : there is no further news of 6.SS-Panzer-Army beyond vague rumors.

There was general agreement that Rundstedt’s armored reserve would be thrown against the 1-A and the 9-A in an effort to blunt their drive in the Roer area, although the severe German reverses sustained in the south during the second week of December led to some thought that divisions might be stripped from the 6.SS-Panzer-Army reserve to shore up the defenses of the Palatinate. The two US armies carrying the attack in the north were agreed that the 6.SS-Panzer-Army would be committed after their attack had crossed the Roer River.

The 12-AG expected the same timing and anticipated the German reaction would come as a coordinated counter-attack. There was less Allied interest in the 5.Panzer-Army than in the 6.SS-Panzer-Army. The former had been sorely handled in the fight on the Roer front and the appearance of the 15.Army in this sector, identified in the second week of December, led to the assumption that the 5.Panzer-Army and its most badly battered divisions had been withdrawn for rest and necessary overhaul.

On December 12, the 12-AG reported Manteuffel’s 5.Panzer-Army as assembling its weary divisions between Cologne and Koblenz. American intelligence summaries, periodic reports, and briefing precise, for the month prior to the December 16 assault, gave only fragmentary and skeletal information on the enemy opposite the VIII Corps.

German planners had predicted that the American high commanders would accept the theory that the rugged terrain in this area, particularly in poor weather, effectively precluded large scale mechanized operations. Perhaps there was some subconscious assumption by American staffs that the Ardennes was so nearly impassable as to be ruled out of consideration. But there were more tangible reasons for the scant attention accorded to this sector. It had been a quiet sector of the Western Front since the Allied dash across France had halted in September. The German divisions identified here as fairly permanent residents were battle weary, under-strength, and obviously in need of rest and refitting. At various times fresh divisions had appeared opposite the VIII Corps, but their stay had been brief.

By December it had become axiomatic, insofar as US intelligence was concerned, that any new division identified on the VIII Corps front was no more than a bird of passage en route to the north or the south. As a result the Ardennes assumed a kind of neutral hue in American eyes. Important happenings, it seemed, transpired north of the Ardennes and south of the Ardennes, but never at the division point itself.

This mental set offers a partial explanation of why the 99-ID in the V Corps zone identified only three of the twelve German divisions assembling to its front, while the VIII Corps identified only four out of ten divisions before December 16. Was there any warning note sounded for the VIII Corps and its troops in the line during the days just prior to the German onslaught ? With the advantage of hindsight, seven items can be discerned in the corps reports for the period December 13/15 which might have given the alarm.

Two divisions, the 28-ID and 106-ID, sent in reports of increased vehicular activity on the nights before the attack. The 28-ID discounted its own report by noting that this was the normal accompaniment of an enemy front-line relief and that the same thing had happened when a German unit had pulled out three weeks before. The 106-ID was a green division and unlikely to know what weight could be attached legitimately to such activity. In fact one regimental commander rebuked his S-2 for reporting this noise as enemy movement.
A third incident occurred on December 14, when a woman escapee reported to the 28-ID commander that the woods near Bitburg were jammed with German equipment. Her answers to questions posed by the division G-2 apparently were impressive enough to gain the attention of the VIII Corps G-2 who ordered that she be taken to the 1-A’s Hqs. The woman arrived there on December 16.

The four remaining incidents attach to the capture of German POWs on December 15, two each by the 4-ID and 106-ID. The time of capture is important : two at 1830, one at 1930, and one at an unspecified time thereafter. All four claimed that fresh troops were arriving in the line, that a big attack was in the offing, that it might come on December 16 or December 17 but certainly would be made before Christmas.

Two of the prisoners were deserters; they themselves did not take the reported attack too seriously since, as they told their captors, all this had been promised German troops before. The other two were wounded. One seems to have made some impression on the interrogators, but since he was under the influence of morphine his captors decided that further questioning would be necessary.

Of the seven incidents which in retrospect may be considered signposts pointing to an impending attack on the VIII Corps front, only four were reported to the corps headquarters. Three of the four prisoners seemed to be parroting wild and baseless rumors of a sort which was fairly common, and these three were bundled into prisoner of war cages without further ado. The incidents reported to the VIII Corps were forwarded to the 1-A and duly noted by that headquarters on December 14 and 15. Only one incident was deemed worthy of 12-AG attention.

This, one of the reports of extraordinary traffic, was mentioned in the commanding general’s briefing as confirmation of the predicted relief of the 326.Infanterie-Division. This briefing began at 0915 December 6. Perhaps the appearance of these seven indicators might have been treated in combination to uncover the German preparations and allow the VIII Corps at least a minimum tactical preparation for the attack. Whether any commander would have been justified in making major alterations in his troop disposition on the basis of this intelligence alone is highly questionable.

One might more reasonably conclude that the American acquisition of only this limited and suspect information was a tribute to the security measures enacted by the enemy.

What of air intelligence, the source of Rundstedt’s greatest worry ? Bad weather during the first half of December did reduce the number of Allied reconnaissance sorties flown east of the 1-A front but by no means produced the kind of blackout for which the enemy hoped. In the month prior to the Ardennes attack the 67-TRG (Tactical Recon Group) (IX-TAC), supporting the 1-A, flew 361 missions of which 242 were judged successful.

From December 10 through December 15, the group flew 71 missions with varying degrees of success; for example, on December 14, planes flown over Trier by the 30-PRS (Photo Recon) reported the weather clear, but two hours later a second mission ran into haze and was able to see very little. Only one day, December 13, in the five critical days before the attack found all AAF Recon grounded. The pilots belonging to the 67-TRG and the 10-PRG, the latter attached to the 3-A’s old partner, the XIX TAC, actually constructed an imposing picture of German build-up west of the Rhine in the month preceding the Ardennes counter-offensive. In the last week of November the number of enemy columns on the roads showed a marked increase.

On November 30, US Recon planes reported a drastic heightening of rail activity west of the Rhine and this was confirmed by the fighter-bombers flying armed-recce. Special indications of forthcoming attack were numerous : a large number of hospital trains on the west bank of the Rhine, several groups of flatcars carrying Tiger tanks and fiftysearchlights in one location.

Lights representing large-scale night movements were consistently reported, although the two available night fighter squadrons were so badly under-strength (averaging no more than ten P-61’s operational) that their contribution perforce was limited. The intelligence problem presented by the AAF effort was not that of a paucity of information but rather one of interpretation. Both the Allied ground and air headquarters expected the enemy to reinforce those sectors to the north and south of the Ardennes where the 1-A and the 3-A were attacking.

The main special indicators of coming attack were identified in transit areas on the routes to the Roer and the Saar. The train loads of Tiger tanks, for example, were seen on the Euskirchen rail lines. This line ran northwest to Düren and the Roer, but a branch line led south to the Eifel.

The reports of searchlights, turned in on the night of December 6/7, came from the vicinity of Kaiserslautern, opposite the 3-A. Kaiserslautern, however, was only 120 mile by rail from Trier, one of the chief unloading yards opposite the VIII Corps. There was considerable information, then, of the enemy’s growing strength west of the Rhine. But the interpretation of his intentions was precisely what he desired : reinforcement of the 6.SS-Panzer-Army counter-attack reserve on the Roer front and piecemeal movement to shore up the divisions being battered by the 3-A and the 7-A.

Was there any special attempt at Air Recon over the Eifel ? A large number of missions were flown here in November, that is, before the final assembly for attack began. During the first half of December the 67-TRG rather consistently included Eifel targets in its daily mission orders; however, these missions were given low priority and often were scratched. In the critical period (December 10 through December 15) the 67-TRG flew only three missions directly opposite the VIII Corps, on December 14 over Trier. Numerous requests for air recon were made during this time by the VIII Corps’s divisions, but even when accepted by higher ground echelons and forwarded to air headquarters these missions retained so low a priority, when contrasted with the demands from the Roer and Saar fronts, as to fall at the bottom of the missions list.

In sum, it can be said that the Recon flown over the Eifel between November 16 and December 15 gave much information on enemy activity, but that this was interpreted as routine troop movement through the Eifel way-station en route to the north and the south.

Thus, the SHAEF intelligence summary of December 10 gives air reports of continuing troop movements towards the Eifel sector and concludes that “the procession is not yet ended. Could the proper combination of air and ground intelligence have weakened the Allied fixation on the Roer and Saar sectors ? Perhaps, but this is extremely hypothetical. One thing seems clear. Although the ground headquarters were charged with the final analysis of photos and pilot reports secured by the air, there was little cooperation and liaison between the air and ground headquarters as to the initial interpretation placed by the air forces on the data gathered through aerial reconnaissance.

The official AAF account of this episode states the case justly : perhaps the chief fault was one of organization, for there seems to have been a twilight zone between air and ground headquarters in which the responsibility had not been sufficiently pinned down.

On December 15, Allied air commanders’ conference at SHAEF convened to review the big picture. Here the SHAEF G-3 told the assembled airmen that the Roer dam operations had failed to provoke a move by the main enemy armored reserve; as for the VIII Corps front, nothing to report. Then the A-2 rose to sketch the activities of the Luftwaffe : it had continued the movement westward, closer to the battlefield, which had been noted in recent days, but all this was defensive only.

The prelude to the Ardennes counter-offensive of December 16 can only be reckoned as a gross failure by Allied ground and air intelligence. One of the greatest skills in the practice of the military art is the avoidance of the natural tendency to overrate or underestimate the enemy. Here, the enemy capability for reacting other than to direct Allied pressure had been sadly underestimated. Americans and British had looked in a mirror for the enemy and seen there only the reflection of their own intentions.

Col Benjamin Dickson, head of G-2 for the 1-A, graduate of West Point and MIT, was worried. He had already been concerned about German troop movements, and had issued a report on December 10 correctly foreseeing the German capability for a major counter-offensive. Going with the current thinking however, he thought that it would come in response to Allied crossings of the Roer River.

Over the next several days, Dickson became apprehensive about the Ardennes front. On December 14, he saw a report that stopped him cold. It was the statement of a German woman thought by VIII Corps to be reliable. She had seen many vehicles, pontoons, and river-crossing equipment moving toward the Ardennes. In Bitburg she had overheard soldiers saying that it had taken them three weeks to get there from Italy.

A well written overview of the events leading up to the Ardennes offensive. A key point regarding the seeming obliviousness of the Allies to the gathering storm : all orders for the offensive were sent via courier, rather than by radio or phone. The Allies, of course, had broken Germany’s most secure code (Enigma) and had been reading Germany’s message traffic for four or five years. By December 1944 it seemed inconceivable to the Allied High Command that : the Germans had the capacity to mount such a powerful offensive, or they could do so without any mention of such an undertaking in Enigma decryption. The warnings of Monk Dickson and others were discounted based on lack of Enigma corroboration.

The story of the Allied response to the attack fills books. Montgomery urged redeployment of Allied armies. Patton pivoted the 3-A 90 degrees north and attacked the southern shoulder of the bulge within three days. Eisenhower elected to push back the bulge, rather than cut it off and encircle the German army. Individual stories, such as that of Lt Eric Fisher Wood (106-ID), can easily get lost among the great strategic debates. It’s important that people like you keep those stories alive.

For all purposes :
European Center of Military History
Gunter ‘Doc Snafu’ Gillot
rue des Thiers 8
Francorchamps 4970
Email : gunter [at]

Thank You for your support !

(NB : Published for Good – July 2019)

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