Battle of the Bulge Anniversary & Debacle: Unnecessary Carnage

This is the 65th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Bulge. While most Americans who are aware of the battle learned of it through Hollywood movies that portrayed valiant U.S. resistance to the German Wehrmacht, the truth is far more embarrassing to the U.S. Supreme Commander.

The battle was completely unnecessary, and resulted from Gen. Eisenhower’s stifling of a U.S. Army group that was ready to cross the Rhine into Germany a month earlier.

As David Colley, author of Decision at Strasbourg: Ike’s Strategic Mistake to Halt the Sixth Army Group at the Rhine in 1944, recently noted:

The Sixth Army Group had assembled bridging equipment, amphibious trucks and assault boats. Seven crossing sites along the upper Rhine were evaluated and intelligence gathered. The Seventh Army could cross north of Strasbourg at Rastatt, Germany, advance north along the Rhine Valley to Karlsruhe, and swing west to come in behind the German First Army, which was blocking Patton’s Third Army in Lorraine. The enemy would face annihilation, and the Third and Seventh Armies could break loose and drive into Germany. The war might end quickly.

Devers never crossed. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the supreme commander, visited Devers’s headquarters that day and ordered him instead to stay on the Rhine’s west bank and attack enemy positions in northern Alsace. Devers was stunned. “We had a clean breakthrough,” he wrote in his diary. “By driving hard, I feel that we could have accomplished our mission.” Instead the war of attrition continued, giving the Germans a chance to counterattack three weeks later in what became known as the Battle of the Bulge, which cost 80,000 American dead and wounded.

The psychological impact on German forces and German society of U.S. troops racing across the Rhine would have been far greater than the impact caused by the pointless slaughter of German civilians in Allied air raids on German cities.

When I was growing up in Front Royal, Virginia, I met one of the few survivors of the Malmedy massacre (the slaughter of American prisoners by the SS during the Battle of the Bulge). A decade later, I lived in a group house with a retired CIA agent who fought in the Battle of the Bulge. Frostbite, not a massacre, was his most vivid memory of that bitter time…


7 Responses to Battle of the Bulge Anniversary & Debacle: Unnecessary Carnage

  1. Bart Frazier December 17, 2009 at 7:47 am #

    I had never heard of the Malmedy Masscre Jim. Interesting. Not so uncommon, I suppose, when total war turns men into beasts.

  2. Jim December 17, 2009 at 8:50 am #

    People’s memories of atrocities fade after a certain time – or maybe it is a generational thing.

    There has been so many atrocities that have occurred since 1945 that it is hard to keep track of them all.

    There were allegations that the war crimes trial of the SS men involved in the Malmedy Massacre relied on tortured confessions.

  3. Dirk W. Sabin December 18, 2009 at 10:53 am #

    The firebombing of Dresden remains one of the most perfidious acts of warfare against civilians in the history of that long subject.

    At least Ike awoke to the hazard this nation was courting in his time and said something forceful about it. None of the current gutless wonders will so much as utter a peep about the central destructive force operating against the Republic in our time. Chaos is the money-making machine of the ruthlessly murderous and war is the handmaiden of chaos. Only the victor avoids punishment for the excesses of war….for a while, until their pride and hubris are turned inward and they begin to eat their own.

  4. Jim December 18, 2009 at 11:32 am #

    You’re dead-on regarding Dresden. Kurt Vonnegut did his most famous work regarding that firebombing, and he was captured in the Battle of the Bulge.

    My impression is that Eisenhower had no hand in the decision to slaughter civilians in Dresden. The British took the lead on that one, that the US followed vigorously.

    Eisenhower had great comments on the danger of military power in his final months in office. Damn shame that is almost totally forgotten.

  5. david burd December 19, 2009 at 1:33 pm #

    I shall quote from Commander Harry Butcher’s book called My Three Years With Eisenhower, 1942 to 1945. Butcher was Ike’s personal Aide. The quote is from page 697, Paris, October, 1941.

    “I (Butcher) told him (Ike) of our plans for improving press and broadcast facilities and spoke of our efforts to develop the short-wave station at Luxembourg. He (Ike) said this is in the sector where the Germans might relatively easily counterattack in strength, and that I might find myself with a transmitter in German hands. He said we were holding that sector with relatively light forces because we are building up for the attack north of the Ardennes, and although the Germans also are lightly holding some ninety miles in the Ardennes, they could swing a punch through that sector, if they chose.”

    Further in his book, Butcher talks quite a bit about Dever and discussion of Dever’s forces breaking east and then north coincidental with Allied forces north of the Ardennes breaking through to the east. Then trapping the Germans between Dever coming from the south and Monty/Americans coming from the northern breakthrough.

  6. Jim December 19, 2009 at 11:30 pm #

    Dave – thanks for providing those details.
    I will be curious to see if David Colley’s book stirs more analyses of how the war could have been ended earlier….
    Tom Fleming’s book on The New Dealers’ War has great insights on how FDR refused to negotiate with dissident German officers and elements — something which might have ended the war much sooner… and with millions fewer casualties.

  7. Hildegard Ruppelin November 1, 2011 at 3:33 am #

    Bis anhin recht wenig los hier im Blogg werde mal später abermals vorbei gucken in der Zuversicht