Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Ardennes Plan

Hitler's Ardennes Plan

If you’re the leader of Germany heading into the autumn of 1944 you might want to work a diplomatic deal bringing the war to its end.  During the previous summer more than a million German troops have been lost to the approaching Allied forces.  550 Soviet divisions are mopping up your overstretched eastern front.  In the west American and British armies loom dangerously near the Rhine River, threatening the Ruhr valley, where much of your war-making industry is located.    An objective look at the situation brings most in the German high command to the conclusion that the nation can only prolong the war, plugging a leaking defense with increasingly scarce men and material.  The bomb that nearly ended Hitler’s life in July was intended by members of his own military to rid the nation of the one man believed standing in the way of reaching a peace settlement with Germany’s enemies.

As of September 1 the German Army has lost 3.3 million men since the invasion of Poland in 1939.  The retraction of the Third Reich from across Europe following a string of battlefield setbacks in 1944 has left its military capability anemic in key strategic resources:  nickel, copper and molybdenum from Finland and Norway, manganese from Russia, bauxite from France, mercury from Spain, high grade iron ore from Sweden, and the most crucial immediate blow, the loss of oil from Rumania.

The war is lost without a dramatic new military stroke capable of breaking the political bonds that hold Britain, Russia and America together in alliance against Nazi Germany.  Adolph Hitler believes he needs only a victory large enough to demoralize the home front of America, in his view a decadent democracy, unable to tolerate the large casualties resulting from a stunning military setback.  He believes American victories over German troops are the result of air superiority, massed artillery and lavish logistics.  The American soldier, in Hitler’s assessment, is no match for German infantry when these advantages are removed.  Accordingly, his plan for a surprise winter attack, exploiting a thinly held American line near the Ardennes forest, has a slim but plausible chance of success.

Hitler plans an armored dash, splitting the seam between American and British forces, with the military objective of taking Antwerp.  It is a not too distant Belgium port capable of sustaining 50 combat divisions in the field.  Antwerp’s capture would disrupt the Allied goal of invading Germany, physically divide its military forces and, potentially, create a political rift between the English speaking coalition of Britain and the United States.  Were this scenario to hold true then German divisions on the western front could be freed to reinforce its beleaguered eastern defenses and, hopefully, would stymie the Soviet spring offensive.  Military stalemate could result, creating an environment for a peace treaty more favorable to Germany than total defeat and unconditional surrender.

For Hitler’s game plan to succeed a number of events must all break in his favor.  American resistance must quickly give way to the German armored thrust.  Eisenhower and Allied generals must be slow to react to this developing crisis.  Thirsty German tanks will require capturing Allied fuel supplies to continue running.  The German spearhead towards Antwerp will end at the Meuse River, well short of its goal, if a bridge is not captured intact.  Allied planes must be grounded for several consecutive days if destruction of German forces from the air is to be avoided. 

Many German generals are appalled by Hitler’s gamble.  Defeat of the Ardennes counteroffensive will leave Germany’s remaining armor destroyed and her most effective combat divisions depleted.  The once vaunted Wehrmacht will be left a brittle shell, crumbling under the weight of sustained assault coming from all directions.  Argument will not sway Hitler from his decision.  His penchant for audacity brought him early success:  taking the Rhineland through bluff; the bloodless capture of Czechoslovakia; the lethal thrust out of the Ardennes in 1940 that brought the quick collapse of France.  The only solutions for Hitler now are high risk and he must place his trust in an almost mystical sense of personal destiny.  Any appeal to reason from this point forward can only include the Fuhrer’s demise through execution, assassination or suicide.

Related Topics:

Objective:  France, 1940

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Early Industrial Warfare

Strategic Bombing

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