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 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 most notorious incident from 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…