Welcome to the WWII Forums! Log in or Sign up to interact with the community.

Battle of the Bulge: What took them so long?

Discussion in 'Western Europe 1943 - 1945' started by Triple C, Dec 16, 2008.

  1. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,599
    Likes Received:
    230
    Gentleman,

    Today is the anniversary of teh Battle of the Bulge. Appropriately I have a question about the last phase of the battle, the American counterattack: What in your opinion are factors contributed to the slowness of the allied offensive phase of the battle?

    S. Patton's relieve of Bastogne is considered a classic in mobile warfare. The erradication of the German salient however took the First and Third Army three more weeks to complete, and the battle was not declared won until 13 Janauary. The battle is by all accounts a sluggish bloodbath of extreme intensity, and according some, a disappointment for the Allies. In the words of Carlos D'Este, instead of a rapid, decisive counterstroke Eisenhower hoped for, the American counteroffensive had " assumed all the characteristics of a steamroller". Max Hastings argued that this episode demonstrated the inferior offensive power of the US Army vis-a-vis the Wehrmacht, rejecting the influence of the rough terrain and the cold as mere excuses since the counteroffensive was fought on exactly the same sector the 5th Panzer Army ruptured the US line when the terrain did not prove decsive and that the cold equally effected the Germans.
     
  2. Za Rodinu

    Za Rodinu Aquila non capit muscas

    Joined:
    May 12, 2003
    Messages:
    8,809
    Likes Received:
    371
    Location:
    Portugal
    Well, there's the terrain. Do you remember Hurtgenwald? Metz? Same problem, awful terrain to fight in an offensive battle.
     
  3. PzJgr

    PzJgr Drill Instructor

    Joined:
    Dec 19, 2000
    Messages:
    8,386
    Likes Received:
    884
    Location:
    Jefferson, OH
    There is also experience involved here. The Wehrmacht had plenty of experience fighting in the cold/snowy weather whereas the Allied armies, specifically the Americans, did not. I can't remember where I read it, but this was a significant factor.
     
    Triple C likes this.
  4. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

    Joined:
    Jun 20, 2002
    Messages:
    13,478
    Likes Received:
    1,385
    Location:
    London, England.
    I think that Pzjgr has a point ; motivation and experience are a factor.

    Many of the German forces ( not all ,though ) were among the most seasoned in the Wehrmacht ( and probably, at that time, the World ). The Waffen-SS elements in particular were very well-equipped and months of planning had gone into the attack. And the word 'fanatical' is often (over-)used, but many of the Germans displayed a high level of motivation and aggression.

    The Allies had to extemporize their response and develop a counter-stroke in extremely adverse conditions. And many of the Allied troops fought hard just to secure somewhere warm to sleep for the night - and I don't blame them ! :eek:
     
    Triple C likes this.
  5. texson66

    texson66 Ace

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2008
    Messages:
    3,095
    Likes Received:
    592
    WX was also a factor in preventing air to ground support for the US, resupplying by air drop, and medivac too. (Not to mention turning whole Armies under combat conditions to meet a threat takes TIME)
     
  6. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,599
    Likes Received:
    230
    Za,

    I know the influence of the terrain but the 5 Pz. Army made its breakthrough at the very sector. In your opinion, what factors in the dispositions of the German units caused them to have more success in delaying the allied advance? Was "force to space" a factor in this battle?

    PzGr,

    Right on. The Americans were also logistically hard pressed in late '44 and protective winter clothing lost priority to gasoline and ammunition. The quality of American winter boots is said to be of abysmal quality and trench foot reached endemic proportions during the winter of '44 as we well know.

    Martin Bull,

    What good German units were engaged in this period of fighting? The Germans had began to evacuate the Ardennes salient by the end of December (I think) but information at the final phase of the Ardennes campaign is scarce. Official history says 60% of German panzer forces were still in the encirclment but where did they fight?
     
  7. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2007
    Messages:
    17,321
    Likes Received:
    2,038
    Location:
    Alabama
    Two thoughts come to mind.
    1. During the initial assault by the Germans on 16 Dec 1944, the area referred to as the "Bulge" was directly defended by two US infantry divisions, with some leavening by a cavalry group and part of an armored combat command. This mismatch in combatants would account for the rapid collapse in the early stages of the operation. The comparatively small number of US forces in area could not and did not adequately cover the ground assigned to them. The Germans were able to bring a good mismatch of forces to the operations and were able to initially pass through relatively undefended sections of the line. It is easy to advance when there is no one shooting at you. (See the Allied advance Jul-Sept 1944 as a further example)
    After the fight at Celles, there were in excess of 12 German division (9 panzer and panzergrenadier) defending the newly gained ground. When a commander can fill the gaps, it makes it esier to delay an attacking force, even if they don't have the men to hold it long term.

    2. Some historians argue that Ike's decision to take the Short Solution and have the pinchers of the Allied counter-attack meet at Houffalize instead of taking the Long Solution and have them meet east of the Our River allowed the Germans to fight a delaying action, instead of finding themselves trapped on the west bank of the Our River with an American force at their rear. This action by the US Armies more less pushed the Germans back, instead of cutting off the the divisions at the head of the offensive off and forcing them to fight while surrounded. He took the option with less risk, but with a slower pace.
     
    Triple C likes this.
  8. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2002
    Messages:
    22,301
    Likes Received:
    1,045
    Location:
    Kotka,Finland
  9. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

    Joined:
    Jun 20, 2002
    Messages:
    13,478
    Likes Received:
    1,385
    Location:
    London, England.
    I should explain about my first posting that I was comparing the two offensive actions, the German before Christmas and the Allied after.

    The Germans hadn't started to evacuate the Ardennes by late December but the initiative of the assault had been decisively lost to them. The German strategy ( implemented on 27th December ) was to fall back from the Meuse to a new defensive line, prior to a new assault. So, for instance, Fuhrer Begleit started to move back from Hotton to Bastogne. Likewise, the badly mauled Leibstandarte fell back on St Vith. With the exception of the now-legendary KG Peiper which had virtually ceased to exist, most of the German units involved in the initial thrust were still in fighting condition and still in the Ardennes.

    Even in damaged state, these were highly dangerous German forces in a fluid situation and one can perhaps understand a degree of caution among the Allies as to how best to tackle them in difficult terrain which, as the Americans had already shown, favours the defender over the attacker.
     
    Kai-Petri likes this.
  10. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,599
    Likes Received:
    230
    Thanks getlemen, excellent and informative posts. I have more people to salute to than I can do so. I am comparing the maps now and seeing that on 16 December the Germans attacked American towns and crossroads held by companies with whole kampfgruppes but during 22-26 December the Germans defended comparable positions with regiments.
     
  11. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2007
    Messages:
    17,321
    Likes Received:
    2,038
    Location:
    Alabama
    Triple C,
    For an excellent account of the entire battle, read A Time For Trumpets, by Charles B. MacDonald. He participated in the battle on the northern shoulder, while a company commander in the 2nd ID, which resulted in him writing an autobiographical book, Company Commander, not long after the war ended. He later wrote Trumpets after work for the US Army as an historian.

    Both are well worth reading if you want to understand the experience of the US soldier in Northwest Europe.
     
  12. bigfun

    bigfun Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    3,851
    Likes Received:
    217
    Location:
    Karlsruhe, Baden-Wurtemburg, Germany
    I think Texson hit on a very important point here. The Americans went into battle, way under supplied! Ammo, winter gear, food, medical supplies. I'm sure the list goes on. The weather, one of the coldest and nastiest on record for that area, prevented re-supply, as Texson said. You can't go on a strong offensive, if you don't have equipment or supplies to support such an action.
     
  13. Martin Bull

    Martin Bull Acting Wg. Cdr

    Joined:
    Jun 20, 2002
    Messages:
    13,478
    Likes Received:
    1,385
    Location:
    London, England.
    Slipdigit has recommended some good further reading ; to answer some of the more strategic/tactical issues raised here, I'd also point to Trevor N. Dupuy's book 'Hitler's Last Gamble : The Battle Of The Bulge December 1944 - January 1945' ( HarperCollins 1994 ).

    This is a less-popular work on the offensive ( it has no photos or personal accounts ) but concentrates much more on unit dispositions and dates - very useful !
     
  14. Slipdigit

    Slipdigit Good Ol' Boy Staff Member WW2|ORG Editor

    Joined:
    May 21, 2007
    Messages:
    17,321
    Likes Received:
    2,038
    Location:
    Alabama
    Yes, this is a good book. I borrowed it several years ago and read it and since forgotten about it....hmmmm now who did I borrow it from?
     
  15. Kai-Petri

    Kai-Petri Kenraali

    Joined:
    Jul 31, 2002
    Messages:
    22,301
    Likes Received:
    1,045
    Location:
    Kotka,Finland
    I also read a year ago on the Allied bombing mission numbers and amounts creating havoc to German supply lines behind the front lines and also the major cities where the trains were waiting to go forward. Truly remarkable job,too. I wonder how much the Germans could have done with those supplies and reinforcements...
     
  16. 4th wilts

    4th wilts Member

    Joined:
    Dec 15, 2007
    Messages:
    952
    Likes Received:
    29
    could morale be a factor,no wintter boots etc.?.
     
  17. Emperor

    Emperor Member

    Joined:
    Oct 3, 2007
    Messages:
    36
    Likes Received:
    1
    Monty took charge in the north. You know Monty.
     
  18. spqr2001

    spqr2001 recruit

    Joined:
    Dec 21, 2008
    Messages:
    2
    Likes Received:
    0
    I can see there being a few different factors:

    1) Terrain was most certainly a factor here. When you look at the area where the "bulge" was made, the terrain there is not suited for quick counter attacks, especially in winter time. The German forces were able to do this, however, because of the element of surprise. The Americans did not have this on their side. In many of the heavily forested areas in that region, American air power was simply of no use. Remember that the USAF pretty well controlled the skies and had a great deal of ground attack aircraft that simply could not attack enemy forces in heavily forested areas.

    2) Morale was not at the highest point it had ever been. Winter and cold weather gear was sparse and this certainly must have had an effect on the morale of the troops moving to take back their ground. Many of them were tired, they had been told earlier they would be home by Christmas and now here they were slugging it out for ground that they controlled only a week or two before.

    3) Even though many historians have actually debated the effectiveness of the confusion wrought by German infiltration, I still believe this played a role (remember, even a small role in a war can have huge consequences). Many of the infiltrators took positions at key road junctions, causing traffic nightmares for the armored divisions of the US Army. It took some time, in my opinion, to sort this out and figure out if the guy at the checkpoint could be trusted with the directions he gave or not.

    I'm sure I could go on with more and more, but being at work I should probably go do something they pay me for!
     
  19. Seadog

    Seadog Member

    Joined:
    Oct 23, 2006
    Messages:
    355
    Likes Received:
    11
    A friend that was captured at the Bulge as a private had a few thoughts from a grunt's perspective. I think the German retreat was so fast that the supply lines were unable to keep up. The general thought was that it would be very soon that it would all be over soon. With the weather, and being spread so thin, the high command decided to stay put to get better organized. Also, a lot of seasoned troops were pulled back for a breather and replaced with inexperienced replacement units. After the initial shock of the unexpected thrust, the Allies were stumped as they did not have accurate intel as to the forces they were dealing with. Countering plans had to be quick and limited in scope due to that. It was a lot more complex in the details, but I think that sums up a perspective about what happened.
     
  20. Triple C

    Triple C Ace

    Joined:
    Oct 12, 2008
    Messages:
    1,599
    Likes Received:
    230
    Bull,

    Dupuy is definately someone I'd like to check out when I have money in my pockets. Thanks.

    Kai-Petri,

    I thought the German railroad net had enough excess capacity to absord air air raids?

    In any event the bridge busting attacks and the strafing runs on the Fifth and Sixth Panzer Army trains were highly effective.

    Another issue that I have overlooked was the extend of the destruction the American Combat Engineers made out of the bridges in this sector--the demolition was very throughough, in most cases, which impeded the counterattacking American forces.
     

Share This Page