The Battle of the Bulge, a major German offensive lasting from December 1945 to January 1945, caught the Allied forces off guard in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg and had devastating consequences for both sides. There were eighty-nine thousand Americans casualties and between eighty thousand and one hundred thousand German ones. It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the Americans during Second World War and yet, in the end, an Allied victory.
There are Western accounts of the battle, but very little has been told from the German perspective. In Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive, acclaimed military historian Danny S. Parker has compiled together accounts by German officials who reveal how they perceived the battle, how they believe Adolf Hitler perceived it, and what, in their opinion, went wrong.
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Sixth Panzer Army in the Ardennes Offensive
Interviews with SS-Oberstgruppenführer Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich
The two interviews which are linked below provide perspectives on the Ardennes Operations from the head of the Sixth Panzer Army, Oberstgruppenführer und General der Waffen SS, Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich. As the most powerful army in the German counteroffensive, special importance was attached to the progress of Dietrich's forces. The first interview was conducted by an unknown officer on 10 July 1945; the second was conducted by First Lieutenant Robert E. Merraim on 8–9 August 1943 at the U.S. Interrogation Center in Oberursel, Germany. Merraim commented that 'General Dietrich is regarded with low esteem by his fellow officers. He did not seem to have a grasp of the operations of his army in the Ardennes and was unable to present a comprehensive picture of the happenings.' The first interviewer provided another point of view:
General Dietrich has been described as a crude, loquacious, hard-bitten, tough man whose statements are often inaccurate – yet as a man having a great deal of common sense. His fellow officers, the more class-conscious, were often shocked at his language and behavior and attribute his meteoric rise in the Army to his party connections.
Dietrich himself was a burly Bavarian and a personal friend of Hitler from the early beer-hall days of National Socialism. 'He is a mixture of cunning, ruthlessness and toughness,' Hitler once characterized. Although later confessing that the duty made him 'sick', Dietrich never denied that he presided over the execution of Erich Röhm and the other SA leaders at Stadelheim Prison on the 'Night of the Long Knives'. But beyond this and other dark incidents, Dietrich has been frequently maligned in historical accounts as a dense alcoholic who had little practical command ability, and had only ascended to his rank by virtue of his friendship with Hitler. While it is true that Dietrich was fond of cognac and had lost much of his fire by late 1944, he was also a very effective front-line commander. A father to his troops, Dietrich was extremely devoted to those under his command, and during the course of the conflict he led the men of the Waffen SS through some of the harshest fighting in the history of warfare. Not being a member of the regular army, nor schooled by the General Staff, the rough-edged SS general was held in considerable contempt by many of the Prussian officers. But Dietrich was a direct and no-nonsense commander, and one of the few who dared tell Hitler, at their briefing on 12 December, that he did not believe the Ardennes operation was feasible.
I grew so big with these plans ... I had merely to cross a river, capture Brussels and then go on and take the port of Antwerp. And all this in the worst months of the year, December and January, and through the countryside where snow was waist-deep and there wasn't room to deploy four tanks abreast, let alone six panzer divisions; when it didn't get light until eight in the morning and was dark again at four in the afternoon; with divisions that had just been reformed and contained chiefly raw, untried recruits; and all this at Christmas time.
And it is a matter of record that only the day before, Hitler had overruled Dietrich's desire to use the 1st SS Panzer Division to personally lead an initial breakout attempt with a dawn tank-assault. One senses, however, from the following interview material, that Dietrich did leave the operational aspects of battle to his subordinates. Certainly, his candid views show the disdain typical of SS men who, having experienced the savagry of the far-flung battle in Russia, held in contempt all those without front-line experience. Major Hechler described the scene prior to the interview at Oberursel: Dietrich scuffed into the interrogation room, looking very much like the chauffeur that he once was. M/Sgt. Edward L. Kropf, the interpreter who had been assigned, pointedly kept his seat while Merraim and I rose to give Dietrich a smiling greeting. Sgt. Kropf looked at me as if to say, 'Why are you getting up for that SS bastard?' Merraim shot most of the questions at Dietrich, and only now and then would I interrupt ... I now remember only one question I wanted answered, and that was concerning the belief of the members of the Ardennes section that Dietrich's Army had been aiming to encircle Liège. Just to pin this one down once and for all, and in the secret desire to see Jodl's insistence that this was not the case supported, I asked Dietrich: 'We have a captured map of the Liège area showing two pincer movements around the city. To what were these referring if you had no intentions of moving around Liège?' Dietrich's answer was direct: 'I wasn't interested in the least in Liège because I didn't have enough troops to take it or even to surround it. The town is on low ground and it is hard to get into it ... This could have been a Fifteenth Army map made in anticipation of their later move forward on our flank.' Although Dietrich was a pretty thick-skulled character and his answers were somewhat fuzzy, I could see that Merraim had been bitten by the bug of interviewing ...
Danny S. Parker
1. Organization and Training
1. Q: When was Sixth Pz Army formed?
A: The Army was formed in Sep and Oct 44 in Westphalia with 1, 2, 9, and 12 SS Pz Divs. Later, 12 Volks Gren Div, 3 FJ [Fallschirmjäger] Div, and another infantry division were added.
At the time of the Ardennes, Sixth Army was not an SS Army, but was a regular army unit. Headquarters in Berlin would not allow my Army to become an SS Army until Apr 45, when we were in Hungary, because I had both SS and Wehrmacht troops under my command. In Hungary, there was another Sixth Army and, to distinguish between the two, my Army was designated Sixth SS Pz Army. At that time, I had only SS troops with me.
All of these panzer divisions in the army had taken a bad beating on the Western Front, and it was very difficult to get replacements for them.
2. Q: Did the High Command always have in mind the use of your Army in a counterattacking role?
A: At first, the Army was just a reserve force; later, however, with all of its panzer divisions, it was an attack unit.
3. Q: Did you have much difficulty in getting tank replacements for your battered units?
A: The entire Army received about 250 tanks for the period Oct–Dec 44. Very few new vehicles were received; primarily, old vehicles were kept in good running condition.
4. Q: Did your troops have any special training in Westphalia? What was the status of their training?
A: Status of their training was medium, as 60% of the combat elements had less than six to eight weeks of training. An armored division has 17–18,000 men, of which 9–10,000 are service elements. Replacements, for the most part, were from the air force, navy, and other army units. Most of them were young men from 18 to 25 years of age. As unit training was carried up through battalion, but no higher, they were given only general training. The main trouble was a lack of gasoline.
5. Q: It was noted that numerous times your units attacked in the dark in the Ardennes. Did your Army have any special night training during its training period?
A: Very little night training was given because of the lack of gasoline; however, most of the tank drivers were experienced hands. The Army allotted sufficient gas for five hours' driving for each driver.
6. Q: Were your divisions up to strength at the start of the Ardennes Offensive?
A: One can say that, in general, they were up to strength. Each of the panzer divisions had about 17,000 men, of which 9–10,000 were rear echelon or service troops and the rest actual combat men.
7. Q: What extra tank units were with your Army?
A: One battalion of 45 Mk VI tanks was with 1 SS Pz Div. In addition, we had two mixed battalions of Mk V and Mk IV tanks, totalling 40 tanks, alternating between I and II SS Pz Corps and LXVII Inf Corps. Some 500 tanks in all were available to the Army, of which 100 were not in use at the start of the attack. These 100 tanks had been deadlined because of minor mechanical difficulties incurred during the three-day march. (Interviewer's Note: When I expressed surprise at the fact that 20% of the tanks would be deadlined in a three-day trip, Gen Dietrich expressed surprise at my surprise and said that this was normal for such a trip. He added that they were mostly minor deficiencies which were reparable in two to three days at the most, and sometimes within two to three hours.)
8. Q: Did your Army use searchlights in this attack?
A: No. Their use had been demonstrated to all commanders and we had one company experiment with them. However, we did not use them because of the lack of time for training with them. I also thought that the weather would not favor their use. Two main ideas with the searchlights are to provide markers for giving direction of attack, and to blind the enemy.
II. Movement To The West
9. Q: When did your Army move to the West?
A: About 15 Nov 44, the I SS Pz Corps began its move to the area north of Cologne, where it was sent because of the American–English attack aimed at Düsseldorf. The mission of the Corps was to guard against a breakthrough into the Ruhr. About ten days later, II SS Pz Corps began its move into the area southwest of Cologne to protect that city.
10. Q: Did you think the American forces could move across the Roer River toward Cologne?
A: You came very close to breaking through our line. My Army saved the situation as the other units were in very bad shape. During Nov 44, your threat was great, but the bad weather kept you from getting through.
11. Q: Were your units committed as an Army?
A: Three of the divisions – 12 Volks Gren Div, 3 FJ Div, and 162 Inf Div [sic] – were committed into the line, but as reinforcements rather than with an Army front.
12. Q: Just where were your Corps before 12 Dec 44?
A: One Corps was in the Bonn area and the other was in the general Cologne area. They had moved to these areas at the end of Nov 44 after the Ninth US Army attack had been stopped. Their mission was to be a reserve. They were moved south because the area to the north was too crowded with troops.
13. Q: Did you have a mission, a potential employment with plans for certain possible actions?
A: The only mission in the first part of Dec 44 was training. Since armored units are for the attack, we were training for an attack but with no specific mission in mind. Panzer corps usually are employed only as attack forces, unless they are 60–70% destroyed, at which time they may be used in the defense.
III. Planning the Offensive
14. Q: When was the first time you heard of the plans for an offensive in the Ardennes?
A: On 12 Dec 44, the Führer addressed us at a meeting and said that a winter offensive would be launched. He gave a long speech, and said that they had to do something. At that time, however, Hitler did not give the time of the attack. He just said that they would have enough planes and tanks. I told Hitler that I wasn't ready to attack with my Army and that we didn't have the ammunition or fuel to carry it through successfully. The generals were all in a line waiting to speak to Hitler and I had only a minute to tell him this before the line moved on. He said that I would have all I needed.
15. Q: Weren't you able to talk to him longer, in view of your long acquaintance with him?
A: During the last eight years, I had gotten further and further away from him and hadn't seen much of him because I was constantly in the field with my army work.
16. Q: Weren't you at a meeting on 23 Nov 44, when plans were discussed for the Ardennes Offensive?
A: Yes, I now remember a meeting on that date; however, we only discussed the possibility of committing Sixth Pz Army and whether it would be ready for commitment if needed. Model said it would be, but I said it would not be ready in Dec 44. We talked only in terms of a general winter offensive and did not specify date or time or place. (Interviewer's Note: When questioned again on this, Dietrich reaffirmed his statement on this meeting. He said he wasn't there the entire time, and that it is possible that details were discussed while he was gone. He remembers that Model, Jodl, Hitler, and Keitel were there.) About 4 or 6 Dec 44, Model told me something was coming, but he was very secretive and said Hitler had not yet decided the time or place.
17. Q: Then you made no plans for the attack prior to 12 Dec 44?
A: Plans for the attack were made by Model at Army Group. About 13 or 14 Dec 44, I made corps assignments and decided on I SS Pz Corps to lead the attack.
18. Q: Is it possible that Gen von Manteuffel (Fifth Pz Army) knew of the attack before you?
A: It is possible because he might have heard through friends or unofficially. Manteuffel had a lot of good connections.
19. Q: When did you know the date was definitely 16 Dec 44?
A: On 13 or 14 Dec 44, I was told the attack would be 15 Dec 44. I said I couldn't get my troops there in two days, so the attack was postponed one day. At that, my units had to start the attack right from a march.
20. Q: Could you give us any ideas as to why you were not consulted prior to the 12 Dec 44 Meeting?
A: Army commanders are not consulted very much. All of the higher leaders in the Army knew that I needed more time to get my Army in shape for an attack. The method in the German Army is for plans to come from above, based on reports from below. I knew about the attack too late and couldn't give my best advice to my division commanders. After we knew of the attack, no one dared talk about it for fear of reprisal.
IV. Army Attack Plan
21. Q: Would you state your general plan of attack in the Ardennes?
A: The general order of attack was for I SS Pz Corps to be the attacking Corps and move toward Stavelot–Stoumont in the general direction of Liège–Huy. I instructed the commanders to secure a bridgehead any place between those two points along the Meuse. They were then to move in the direction St Trond–Hasselt–Antwerp. It was wishful thinking to hope that we could cut the British Armies off from the south. Our boundary was south of Liège because roads and terrain were such that our units could not move to the north.
22. Q: We have a captured map of the Liège area showing two pincer movements around the city. To what were these referring if you had no intentions of moving around Liège?
A: This could have been a Fifteenth Army map made in anticipation of their later move forward on our northern flank. I wasn't interested the least in Liège because I didn't have enough troops to take it, or even surround it. The town is on low ground and it is hard to get into it. I didn't care about taking Huy either.
23. Q: What was your plan for the attack of I SS Pz Corps?
A: I SS Pz Corps was to be the attack Corps with 12 SS Pz Div on the right in the area Krinkelt–Rocherath–Wirtzfeld, 1 SS Pz Div in the center, and 12 Volks Gren Div on the left. The attack of 12 Volks Gren Div remained in the vicinity of Holzheim–Honsfeld– Heppenbach–Medendorf.
24. Q: Was the infantry to make the first attack?
A: Yes, but not to a great extent. The divisions that were in position in the line before the attack should have helped with the attack, but they didn't because these Fifteenth Army units had been in the line for a long time. They were supposed to go to the Elsenborn Ridge, but they didn't get there. On 15 Dec 44, the Fifteenth Army's southern Corps (LXVII Inf Corps) was given to me.
25. Q: What plans had you made for the use of II SS Pz Corps?
A: This corps was to be kept in reserve in case Ninth US Army should counterattack from the north, in which case they would be committed to protect the flank and push them back. They were to have been able to do this at any time until I reached the Meuse River. An alternative use for this Corps was to carry the attack should I SS Pz Corps fail. They were then to move on a line St Vith–Vielsalm and continue on to the objective, the Meuse. This Corps remained in the same assembly area, which was only 40–50 km from the starting point, until it was finally committed.
26. Q: What were the plans for the use of von der Heydte's paratroops?
A: They were under the command of Model. They originally were to have been used on 16 Dec 44, but, because of the weather (or perhaps the lack of fuel), they were not used at that time. I believe Model wanted to show that the Luftwaffe had something to do with the attack. I wanted them to jump in the vicinity of Elsenborn, but I was not consulted on their use. I didn't know exactly what their mission was, and, as an army commander, I had nothing to say about what they were to do. Their liaison officer was with Model, not at my headquarters.
27. Q: When von der Heydte was captured, he was very angry because the panzer units had not contacted him as promised. Were there plans for 12 SS Pz Div to move north to contact these units?(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Hitler's Ardennes Offensive"
Copyright © 1997 Danny S. Parker/Lionel Leventhal Limited.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
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Table of Contents
List of Illustrations and Maps 4
1 Sixth Panzer Army in the Ardennes Offensive: Interviews with SS-Oberstgruppenführer Josef 'Sepp' Dietrich 13
2 Operations of the Sixth Panzer Army Generalmajor Fritz Krämer 33
3 The Fifth Panzer Army during the Ardennes Offensive General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel 71
4 The Ardennes Offensive: Seventh Army General der Panzertruppen Erich Brandenberger 163
5 Questionnaire on the Ardennes Offensive Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel Generaloberst Alfred Jodl 231
6 The Ardennes Offensive: A Critique General der Infanterie Günther Blumentritt 243
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Re-publication of documents written by German officers for the US Army historians. Some are well written and detailed. Contains great references to US historical documents as well.