Posted January 1st, 1945 - Body Blow
#1

Posted Monday, Jan. 1, 1945 - Time Magazine- World Battlefronts

 

Body Blow

 

At first everything was wild confusion. Germans suddenly appeared over the crest of hills and shot up towns. They overran rear-area supply points, pounced upon U.S. artillerymen before they could get to their guns. Germans surrounded a field of artillery-spotting planes, whose pilots were fast asleep. U.S. divisional generals found their command posts the centers of battles, their defenders hastily armed cooks, clerks, medics, runners. Trucks filled with German soldiers dashed through areas where rear-echelon G.I.s went about their routine tasks.

 

Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt's skillful breakthrough had had the first great element of success: surprise. He had struck the thinnest sector of the American line. He had cleverly begun with light attacks, concealing his intentions, playing upon the Americans' underestimation of his strength.

 

Then, savagely, the full force of the German blow was unleashed. Its suddenness, its underrated force, sent the Americans reeling like a boxer who has taken a terrific punch to the solar plexus. The Germans followed through, hoping to corner the Americans, to knock out the U.S. First Army.

 

By this week it was clear that Rundstedt's blow had come perilously close to wrecking the sensitive supply and communications systems by which entire armies and sectors are held together. How successful he had been in splitting the western front, how close he still might come to paralyzing the Americans' power for future offensives were questions to be answered in the vast battles raging this week.

 

Two Flying Days. Rundstedt had achieved a big initial victory. The German victory might, by skill of American generalship and G.I. fighting qualities, be turned into a defeat. But if Rundstedt were able to hold the initiative, could consolidate his gains, he might already have won his minimum objective.

 

By this week the ability of the Americans to come back from the first heavy damage, to overcome the worst of the blow, perhaps to set up the enemy for a smashing defeat, appeared to be a matter of time and clear skies.

 

Through most of last week the Americans battled mainly for time. But by week's end they had braced, were fighting back with an aggressiveness that matched the Germans' savagery.

 

After a week the Americans got two days of clear skies, turned them to telling account. On the second day the Allies flew more sorties than D-day's historic 11,000. On the day before, 4,500 planes had been out. Some of the known results of that first day's work were a portent of what close-up air support could do: 57 tanks and self-propelled guns knocked out; 53 vehicles smashed.

 

There was another portentous result: 187 German planes destroyed. The Allies could much better afford their 60 which failed to return. Given clear skies, Allied air power might be the tide-turning factor.

 

Opportunity. The Luftwaffe's show of strength early in the offensive had not been great enough to help Rundstedt fully achieve the first object of any decisive breakthrough: to fan out behind an enemy's lines, to destroy or seize his supplies, to keep him from moving his reserves into defensive battle, to send him into confused retreat.

 

In Rundstedt's failure to achieve that objective lay the American opportunity. Lieut. General Omar Nelson Bradley fought to seize it, apparently had won enough time by this week to make the first moves in his countermeasures. Up from the Saar area came large forces of Lieut. General George S. Patton's tank-heavy Third Army to strike at the Germans' southernmost penetration at Arlon and to drive into the German flanks in northern Luxembourg. The Nazi drive slowed; Berlin said Patton's blow was in heavy force.

 

Upon Patton's success or failure this week might hinge the difference between long stalemate and a possible U.S. victory. The essence of Rundstedt's gamble was in keeping his center corridor open. If it could be closed by breaking the flanks' anchors, Rundstedt's gamble would be lost, perhaps totally.

 

By this week the northern flank appeared to have been stabilized, at least temporarily. Heavy battles raged for the wedges the Americans had been able to hold in the Monschau-Malmédy-Stavelot area and to the west of Saint-Vith. But they were perilous triangular salients. Lieut. General Courtney H. Hodges' First Army had apparently stopped the spearhead closest to Liège, focal point of U.S. supplies.

 

Bulges and Wedges. The wedges were the crux of the Americans' recovery from Rundstedt's initial successes. They were also by this week the crux of U.S. hopes to pinch off the bulges. The wedges had been held, in great part, by small units of U.S. troops who kept their heads in the first break, stood their ground, died rather than retreat. There were infantry men in foxholes who fought until tanks ground over them.

 

At Saint-Vith one unit, although bypassed and terribly mauled, held like a fortress for six days. In the Stavelot and Malmédy sectors the Americans had taken heavy attrition, had knocked out more than 200 tanks. They had successfully prevented the Germans from exploiting their surprise.

 

Those were the timesaving, small-scale battles that held the breakthrough from becoming a Blitzkrieg in the 1940 sense. Some of them might have a proud place in the annals of World War II—historians might say that here or there Rundstedt's drive had been fatally slowed.

 

But in the central bulge where the Germans had succeeded in something like a Blitzkrieg, the damage could not be minimized; nor could U.S. losses in men and materiel. There the Germans had surged past U.S. garrisons (as at Wiltz and Bastogne), destroying or cutting off large units. In the Bastogne and Arlon areas the surge had cut the wide cement road and the Liège-Metz railroad over which U.S. supplies had moved. In the Saint-Hubert area the Germans were in range of other lateral arteries.

 

In the disruption of U.S. supply, these advances alone constituted a splitting of the front. But, if held, they did not constitute a serious blow to the Americans' ability to fight this week's big battles—on the hard-held bulges where decision might depend.

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"
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#2

I have the journals from the 540th on Jan 1st, 1945. They were in a very PRECARIOUS POSITION that day. Right in the thick of things and had to retreat. When I get the chance I would like to scan and post those entries on our site.

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Reply
#3

I have the journals from the 540th on Jan 1st, 1945. They were in a very PRECARIOUS POSITION that day. Right in the thick of things and had to retreat. When I get the chance I would like to scan and post those entries on our site.

Wow....just reading the post above gives you the feeling of being there watching it! I easily envisioned truckloads of Germans speeding past the rear echelon.... Looking forward to reading more!

 

 

 

DD :woof:

Reply
#4

Ya, it's some hairy reading. I couldn't take my eyes off the pages and couldn't believe I was reading first hand stuff. Riveting to say the least. Will try and locate the files this weekend.

 

Right now I am sorting more than 2000 pages in folders my month and year. This way it will make it easier for me to find references when needed for my book. I need an assistant. :pdt::wacko:

Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"
Reply


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