Watch on the Rhine

Hiya Bookies! Sorry for the delay in blogging, life happens.

65 years ago today, December 16, 1944, the Germans launched Operation Watch on the Rhine, known to them as the Ardennes Offensive and to the Allies as the Battle of the Bulge. There have been literally hundreds of books written about this battle, from both perspectives, and in my experience many of them would make a fine gift for the World War II buff. In particular I like Charles MacDonald’s A Time For Trumpets. He was a company commander for the US during the battle, his prose is clean and clear.

But for those in the US, especially, it is necessary to put the Bulge into context. At the time most US generals panicked when the attack came. The German plan was to attack a weak spot in the American lines, break through and cross the Meuse River, then swing north and re-take Antwerp, thus cutting off all US, British and Canadian troops to their north and east. In short, to re-create their crushing victory of 1940. The problem was that the Germans simply didn’t have the manpower to pull it off, and the German General Staff knew it. The only person wholly in favor of throwing in the very last of Germany’s offensive striking power, not to mention her last troops reserves and every drop of gasoline they could siphon out of the pipeline, was Adolf Hitler. And anything less than total victory would be a defeat, making the subsequent Allied counter-attack all the more successful as fewer Germans would be around to stop it.

And that’s more or less what happened. The Germans attacked but never had the weight necessary to even cross the Meuse River, much less attack Antwerp. They inflicted a lot of casualties but suffered more than twice as many as they caused. Patton knew right away that is was a huge mistake and took advantage. Hitler made things worse by not allowing the attack to be called off even when it had clearly failed. When the Allies finally did counter-attack later in 1945, there were tens of thousands fewer Germans left to defend their homeland, and more than 1,000 irreplaceable tanks no longer on hand to help.

But just because we can see this clearly now doesn’t mean it was so clear then, nor does it alleviate the suffering our troops went through in one of the coldest winters on record. When you see the aged veteran who suffered through this ordeal, throw him a salute and remind him how thankful we are for his service. Sitting in a foxhole covered with ice and snow as German tanks were heading for you would not have been any easier if you knew that it was a huge strategic mistake. It would have been just as terrifying as if you were fighting to hold the Germans out of Washington, DC. It would have been just as cold as winter is anywhere, and if the Germans shot you it would not have mattered how much faster their foolish attack might end the war.

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