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       Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble, p.1
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           Antony Beevor
Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble

  Antony Beevor

  * * *


  Hitler’s Last Gamble





  1. Victory Fever

  2. Antwerp and the German Frontier

  3. The Battle for Aachen

  4. Into the Winter of War

  5. The Hürtgen Forest

  6. The Germans Prepare

  7. Intelligence Failure

  8. Saturday 16 December

  9. Sunday 17 December

  10. Monday 18 December

  11. Skorzeny and Heydte

  12. Tuesday 19 December

  13. Wednesday 20 December

  14. Thursday 21 December

  15. Friday 22 December

  16. Saturday 23 December

  17. Sunday 24 December

  18. Christmas Day

  19. Tuesday 26 December

  20. Preparing the Allied Counter-Offensive

  21. The Double Surprise

  22. Counter-Attack

  23. Flattening the Bulge

  24. Conclusions









  Antony Beevor is the author of Crete – The Battle and the Resistance (Runciman Prize), Stalingrad (Samuel Johnson Prize, Wolfson Prize for History and Hawthornden Prize for Literature), Berlin – The Downfall, The Battle for Spain (Premio La Vanguardia) and D-Day: The Battle for Normandy (Prix Henry Malherbe and the RUSI Westminster Medal). His latest work, The Second World War, has been another No. 1 international bestseller. His books have appeared in thirty languages and have sold more than six million copies. A former chairman of the Society of Authors, he has received honorary doctorates from the Universities of Kent, Bath and East Anglia, and is a visiting professor at the University of Kent. In the United States he received the 2014 Pritzker Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing.

  By the Same Author

  Inside the British Army

  Crete: The Battle and the Resistance

  Paris after the Liberation (with Artemis Cooper)


  Berlin: The Downfall 1945

  The Mystery of Olga Chekhova

  The Battle for Spain


  The Second World War

  For Adam Beevor

  List of Illustrations

  1. US infantry advancing through the Siegfried Line, or Westwall, in October 1944

  2. Fallschirmjäger mortar crew in the Hürtgen Forest

  3. 1st Infantry Division in the Hürtgen Forest

  4. Medics with wounded soldier

  5. French troops in the Vosges

  6. Maastricht meeting with Bradley, Tedder, Eisenhower, Montgomery and Simpson

  7. German prisoners captured in early December in the Hürtgen Forest

  8. Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model, commander-in-chief Army Group B (IWM MH12850)

  9. Field Marshal Montgomery lecturing an increasingly exasperated Eisenhower

  10. General von Manteuffel of the Fifth Panzer Army

  11. Oberstgruppenführer-SS Sepp Dietrich of the Sixth Panzer Army

  12. Oberst then Generalmajor Heinz Kokott

  13. Oberstleutnant Friedrich Freiherr von der Heydte

  14. Briefing panzer commanders before the Ardennes offensive on 16 December 1944

  15. Two SS panzergrenadiers enjoying captured American cigarettes

  16. A Königstiger tank carrying soldiers of the 3rd Fallschirmjäger-Division

  17. Volksgrenadiers advance loaded down with machine-gun belts and panzerfausts

  18. The first killing of American prisoners by the Kampfgruppe Peiper in Honsfeld

  19. SS panzergrenadiers pass a burning convoy of American vehicles

  20. American prisoners taken by the 1st SS Panzer-Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler

  21. The 26th Infantry Regiment arrives to defend Bütgenbach at the base of the Elsenborn ridge

  22. Members of the same regiment manoeuvring an anti-tank gun as the Germans approach

  23. Belgian refugees leaving Langlir as the Fifth Panzer Army advances (IWM 49925)

  24. As the Germans advance on St Vith, the people of Schönberg shelter in caves

  25. American medics turned skis into toboggans to drag the wounded back for evacuation

  26. American troops dig in on the forward edge of a wood (IWM 050367)

  27. As the Germans advance on Bastogne, townsfolk start to flee in farm carts

  28. A platoon of M-36 tank destroyers near Werbomont

  29. Volksgrenadiers taken prisoner in the fighting round Rocherath–Krinkelt

  30. Brigadier General Robert W. Hasbrouck receiving the silver star from Lieutenant General Courtney Hodges

  31. US military police check the identities of Belgian refugees near Marche-en-Famenne

  32. Belgian refugees rush to cross the Meuse at Dinant

  33. A bazooka team from the 28th Infantry Division after three days of fighting in Wiltz

  34. A young SS trooper taken prisoner near Malmédy (IWM EA048337)

  35. Civilians murdered by Kampfgruppe Peiper at Stavelot

  36. Vapour trails over Bastogne

  37. 23 December: the US Air Force send in transport aircraft to drop supplies to Bastogne

  38. American wounded in cellars in Bastogne

  39. Bastogne: paratroopers of the 101st Airborne sing carols on Christmas Eve

  40. Remnants of the 2nd Panzer-Division in a farmyard in Foy-Notre-Dame (IWM B13260)

  41. Bastogne. General Patton with Brigadier General McAuliffe and Lieutenant Colonel Chappuis.

  42. American reinforcements advancing in steeply wooded Ardennes terrain

  43. A patrol from the British XXX Corps in the Ardennes wearing snowsuits

  44. Soldiers from the 26th Infantry Regiment finally advance from Bütgenbach

  45. La Roche-en-Ardenne in ruins

  46. Investigators start the work of identifying the American soldiers massacred at Baugnez, near Malmédy

  47. A very young prisoner from the Waffen-SS

  48. Joachim Peiper on trial for war crimes including the massacre near Malmédy


  The majority of the photographs come from The National Archives in the USA. Other photographs are from: 1, 13, AKG Images; 5, Documentation Française; 11, Tank Museum; 12, Bundesarchiv, Koblenz; 6–7, 18, 20, 25–6, 30–32, 34, 36, 38–9, 41, 46–7, US Army (part of National Archives); 8, 23, 26, 40, Imperial War Museum, London; 10, Heinz Seidler, Bonn Bad Godersberg, reproduced from W. Goolrick and O. Tanner, The Battle of the Bulge.

  List of Maps

  The Ardennes: Front line just before German offensive

  The Western Front

  Antwerp and the Scheldt

  The Battle for Aachen

  The Hürtgen Forest

  The German Offensive

  The Northern Shoulder

  The Destruction of the 106th Division and Defence of St Vith

  The Destruction of the 28th Division

  The Southern Shoulder

  Rocherath–Krinkelt and the Elsenborn Ridge

  Advance of Kampfgruppe Peiper


  VII Corps and XVIII Airborne Front

  The Lunge for the Meuse

  The Third Army Advance on Bastogne

  Operation Nordwind, Alsace

  Crushing the

  The Ardennes: Furthest point of German advance

  Key to Military Symbols


  12th Army Group

  First US Army

  US VII Corps

  British XXX Corps

  101st Airborne Division

  Combat Command B of 10th Armored Division

  335th Infantry Regiment, 84th Division


  Army Group B

  Fifth Panzer Army

  26th Volksgrenadier Division

  Panzer Lehr Division

  3rd Fallschirmjäger Division

  115th Panzergrenadier Regiment, 15th Panzergrenadier Division

  Reconnaissance Battalion, 26th Volksgrenadier Division

  Table of Military Ranks

  American British German army Waffen-SS

  Private Private/Trooper Schütze/Kanonier/Jäger Schütze

  Private First Class Oberschütze Oberschütze

  Lance-Corporal Gefreiter Sturmmann

  Corporal Corporal Obergefreiter Rottenführer

  Sergeant Sergeant Feldwebel/Wachtmeister Oberscharführer

  Staff Sergeant Staff/Colour Sergeant Oberfeldwebel Hauptscharführer

  Technical Sergeant Regtl Quartermaster Sgt

  Master Sergeant Coy/Sqn Sergeant Stabsfeldwebel Sturmscharführer


  Regimental Sergeant


  2nd Lieutenant 2nd Lieutenant Leutnant Untersturmführer

  Lieutenant Lieutenant Oberleutnant Obersturmführer

  Captain Captain Hauptmann/Rittmeister Hauptsturmführer

  Major Major Major Sturmbannführer

  Lieutenant Colonel Lieutenant Colonel Oberstleutnant Obersturmbannführer

  Colonel Colonel Oberst Standartenführer

  Brigadier General Brigadier * Generalmajor Oberführer


  Major General Major General ** Generalleutnant Gruppenführer

  Lieutenant General Lieutenant General *** General der Infanterie/ Obergruppenführer/

  Artillerie/Panzertruppe General-der Waffen-SS

  General General **** Generaloberst Obergruppenführer

  General of the Army Field Marshal ***** Generalfeldmarschall

  This can only be an approximate guide to equivalent ranks since each army has its own variations. Some ranks have been omitted in the interests of simplicity. In the British and US armies the following ranks command the following sub-units (below a battalion), units (battalion or regiment) and formations (brigade, division or corps).

  Rank British and Canadian army US Army Approx. number of men at full strength

  Corporal Section Squad 8

  2nd/Lieutenant Platoon Platoon 30

  Captain/Major Company Company 120

  Lieutenant Colonel Battalion or Armoured

  Regiment Battalion 700

  Colonel Regiment 2,400

  Brigadier Brigade Combat command 2,400

  Major General Division Division 10,000

  Lieutenant General Corps Corps 30,000–40,000

  General Army Army 70,000–150,000

  Field Marshal/

  General of the Army Army Group Army Group 200,000–350,000

  Victory Fever

  Early on 27 August 1944, General Dwight D. Eisenhower left Chartres to see the newly liberated Paris. ‘It’s Sunday,’ the Supreme Allied Commander told General Omar Bradley, whom he took with him. ‘Everyone will be sleeping late. We can do it without any fuss.’ Yet the two generals were hardly inconspicuous as they bowled along towards the French capital on their supposedly ‘informal visit’. The Supreme Commander’s olive-drab Cadillac was escorted by two armoured cars, and a Jeep with a brigadier general leading the way.

  When they reached the Porte d’Orléans, an even larger escort from the 38th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron awaited in review order under the orders of Major General Gerow. Leonard Gerow, an old friend of Eisenhower, still seethed with resentment because General Philippe Leclerc of the French 2nd Armoured Division had consistently disobeyed all his orders during the advance on Paris. The day before, Gerow, who considered himself the military governor of Paris, had forbidden Leclerc and his division to take part in General de Gaulle’s procession from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre-Dame. He had told him instead to ‘continue on present mission of clearing Paris and environs of enemy’. Leclerc had ignored Gerow throughout the liberation of the capital, but that morning he had sent part of his division north out of the city against German positions around Saint-Denis.

  The streets of Paris were empty because the retreating Germans had seized almost every vehicle that could move. Even the Métro was unpredictable because of the feeble power supply; in fact the so-called ‘City of Light’ was reduced to candles bought on the black market. Its beautiful buildings looked faded and tired, although they were mercifully intact. Hitler’s order to reduce it to ‘a field of rubble’ had not been followed. In the immediate aftermath of joy, groups in the street still cheered every time they caught sight of an American soldier or vehicle. Yet it would not be long before the Parisians started muttering ‘Pire que les boches’ – ‘Worse than the Boches’.

  Despite Eisenhower’s remark about going to Paris ‘without any fuss’, their visit had a definite purpose. They went to meet General Charles de Gaulle, the leader of the French provisional government which President Roosevelt refused to recognize. Eisenhower, a pragmatist, was prepared to ignore his President’s firm instruction that United States forces in France were not there to install General de Gaulle in power. The Supreme Commander needed stability behind his front lines, and since de Gaulle was the only man likely to provide it, he was willing to support him.

  Neither de Gaulle nor Eisenhower wanted the dangerous chaos of liberation to get out of hand, especially at a time of frenzied rumours, sudden panics, conspiracy theories and the ugly denunciations of alleged collaborators. Together with a comrade, the writer J. D. Salinger, a Counter Intelligence Corps staff sergeant with the 4th Infantry Division, had arrested a suspect in an action close to the Hôtel de Ville, only for the crowd to drag him away and beat him to death in front of their eyes. De Gaulle’s triumphal procession the day before from the Arc de Triomphe to Notre-Dame had ended in wild fusillades within the cathedral itself. This incident convinced de Gaulle that he must disarm the Resistance and conscript its members into a regular French army. A request for 15,000 uniforms was passed that very afternoon to SHAEF – the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force.* Unfortunately, there were not enough small sizes because the average French male was distinctly shorter than his American contemporary.

  De Gaulle’s meeting with the two American generals took place in the ministry of war in the rue Saint-Dominique. This was where his short-lived ministerial career had begun in the tragic summer of 1940, and he had returned there to emphasize the impression of continuity. His formula for erasing the shame of the Vichy regime was a majestically simple one: ‘The Republic has never ceased to exist.’ De Gaulle wanted Eisenhower to keep Leclerc’s division in Paris to ensure law and order, but since some of Leclerc’s units had now started to move out, he suggested that perhaps the Americans could impress the population with ‘a show of force’ to reassure them that the Germans would not be coming back. Why not march a whole division or even two through Paris on its way to the front? Eisenhower, thinking it slightly ironic that de Gaulle should be asking for American troops ‘to establish his position firmly’, turned to Bradley and asked what he thought. Bradley said that it would be perfectly possible to arrange within the next couple of days. So Eisenhower invited de Gaulle to take the salute, accompanied by General Bradley. He himself would stay away.

  On their return to Chartres, Eisenhower invited General Sir Bernard Montgomery to join de Gaulle and Bradley for the parade, but he refused to come to Paris. Such a small but pertinent detail did not deter certain British newspapers from accusing the Americans of trying to hog all the glory
for themselves. Inter-Allied relations were to be severely damaged by the compulsion in Fleet Street to see almost every decision by SHAEF as a slight to Montgomery and thus the British. This reflected the more widespread resentment that Britain was being sidelined. The Americans were now running the show and would claim the victory for themselves. Eisenhower’s British deputy, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, was alarmed by the prejudice of the English press: ‘From what I heard at SHAEF, I could not help fearing that this process was sowing the seeds of a grave split between the Allies.’

  The following evening the 28th Infantry Division, under its commander, Major General Norman D. Cota, moved from Versailles towards Paris in heavy rain. ‘Dutch’ Cota, who had shown extraordinary bravery and leadership on Omaha beach, had taken over command less than two weeks before, after a German sniper had killed his predecessor. The fighting in the heavy hedgerow country of Normandy had been slow and deadly during June and July, but the breakout led by General George S. Patton’s Third Army at the beginning of August had produced a surge of optimism during the charge to the River Seine and Paris itself.

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