Battle of the Bulge Reconsidered
It wasn't only what you think.
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On this day in 1944…
Benito Mussolini made his last public address at the Teatro Lirico in Milan, Italy. Almost as if he knew his end was coming, he tried to justify his place in history to a barely credulous crowd. He also painted a dark picture of a Bolshevik empire in the event of an Allied victory.
George C. Marshall became General of the Army (five stars).
The Americans declared Mindoro Island in the central Philippines secure.
The Battle of the Bulge began.
The common perception, based on many books and movies, is that Wacht Am Rhine, the German name for the offensive, was to divide the Allied forces in Belgium from the rest of the Allied front, capture Antwerp, and make the Allies sue for a favorable peace.
Hitler first talked about the operation on 16 September, the day before the Allied Market-Garden operation began in Holland. The timing with the Allied operation isn’t suspicious, but it is curious, because the Allies in Belgium and Holland were already hitting the Siegfried Line/West Wall as early as August. It was also three days before the long slog in the Hurten Forest began on 19 September.
Hitler was pro-active, but…
Germany no longer had the luxury of surprise or great combat power or the support of the Luftwaffe. Thanks to the Allied cryptoanalysis operations, the Allies were reading Germany’s high-level mail, and at least some Germans suspected it but lacked the resources to do anything about it. The Soviets destroyed nearly a fifth of the German Army that summer in Russia and Poland. The Allies mangled another fifth in France, Italy, the Balkans and the Low Countries. What Germany had left were a handful of hardened veterans and thousands of new conscripts and reservists who, though they had the will, no longer had the tried-and-true wiles of the traditional German soldier in the traditions of Auftragstaktik. The Army could no longer count the Luftwaffe to be anything but a nuisance to the far more numerous Allied airmen.
Hitler made plans to defeat the Western Allies with an army he no longer had.
His template was from Fredrick and the Seven Years War, when he defeated his enemies one by one and they sued for peace. In his imagination, a separate peace was possible, so they could leave him to defeat the Bolsheviks. Trouble was, the Russians were creating three out of four German casualties in Europe and weren’t about to listen. His real dangerous enemy was the Soviets, who he couldn’t hurt. Italy was his only remaining sort-of ally, but there were so few Italians still fighting with the Germans it’s hard to find anything on them. The Balkan allies of Germany had either turned against them, surrendered, or both, in just the past year.
And the Japanese were losing, badly.
Hitler was still trying to bluff his way to victory, as he had before 1939. He knew about the pledges the Allies made in 1942 not to make a separate peace with any of the Axis belligerents, but he didn’t seem to care. The timing was also interesting…and planning of an offensive after the 20 July bomb plot had blown out an eardrum, started tremors on his left side and increased his paranoia. Hitler was increasingly delusional…
The December 1944 offensive in the Ardennes was a symptom as much as it was an attack.
How much he really expected the Allies to simply give in is an open question (few others did), but there was an element of fantasy in the German operations by 1944. The generals and their troops followed orders, but how much they expected to succeed is truly unknown and, at this time, unknowable. The German bulge, once blunted, destroyed what was left of Germany’s offensive power anywhere. It wasn’t the beginning of the end of the war in Europe, but just a blip on the landscape.
One story in Sergeant’s Business is based on a tale a family friend told me before I went to Germany.
“The Crater” is about an American medic trapped in the Bastogne area in December 1944. He has an, ah, encounter with a German that…well, you’ll have to read it. Available from your favorite booksellers or from me if you want an autograph.
Invention of Time
On 16 December:
1773: American Sons of Liberty pitch some 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor. The retail value of the tea was about $1.4 million in modern currency. The true value of the protest was that the Intolerable Acts that imposed the tax on the tea were, eventually, repealed.
1953: Regular commercial color TV broadcasting begins at NBC Studios in New York. They limited the power of the transmission to a small part of New York, and the number of compatible receivers in the entire country was probably less than 4,000. These data are in dispute, but the first national color broadcast was the Tournament of Roses Parade on 1 January 1954, two weeks after.
And today is BARBIE AND BARNEY BACKLASH DAY. This is the day adults can completely deny the existence of the dancing, singing dinosaur that ran from 1988 to 2010, and the bubble-gum pink overachiever/plastic doll known as Barbara Millicent Roberts, despite the inexplicable success of her recent blockbuster movie. One down and one to go…that we know she won’t go…