I started to write you a V-mail and changed my mind. This may be a shortie – but I’d rather write that then a V-mail – if possible. You may gather that I’m pretty busy, dear – and I am. If you can recall the date when you receive this – you’ll know why. But everything is going along well enough and there’s nothing to worry about.
Yesterday didn’t seem like Sunday at all – and honestly – all the individuality that Sunday used to have – is fast disappearing. I can’t explain exactly why – but that’s the way it seems to be.
Again I got no mail from you, but I did get a V-mail from Lawrence – still at Holloran General. He didn’t write his new address so I’m unable to answer him for the time being. And I got a letter from the MD friend of mine in Italy with the 5th Army – and boy did my mouth water. A good many of the MC’s are being reassigned to jobs in the States – but of course those fellows have been overseas for some time now. This fellow – for example – came to England in Nov. '43, then went to Africa and then to Italy, where he’s been for longer than a year. So I guess he deserves a trip home. Boy – how I’d love a little trip home like that! How long would it take us to get married, dear??
Well – I got two more packages yesterday, too. One was from Lawrence – a box of cigars he mailed a long time ago – and they were welcome. I’ve been smoking some German stogies I got the time I got the wine I wrote you about and boy, you have to be real tough to smoke them – which – of course – I am dear! The other package was a real surprise; it was from Mary and Bob Richardson – you remember them in Marblehead? I hadn’t heard from them in a long while.
I haven’t been able to keep up with my correspondence these past few weeks and I have a whole mess of letters to answer – but they’ll just have to wait for awhile. Things will be quiet again. It’s strange – but with everything all mixed up etc – Special Service still tries to function – and it’s a good thing too – because one or two hours relaxation is almost a necessity at times. I heard our officer mention at breakfast that he was trying to get a new picture “Conflict” with Humphrey Bogart – which I understand is very new and had it’s première – here on the front – not so long ago.
Darling – I’ve been writing very swiftly to get this written – so excuse some of the writing – but I really have to stop now and get this sealed. Perhaps tomorrow I’ll be able to write with more concentration. That will depend on a few factors. For the time being, then, so long – sweetheart. My love to the folks – and don’t forget – I’m forever the fellow who loves and wants you for himself alone –
in the Choice of the Ardennes
|The Ardennes, Belgium and Luxembourg|
The area through which Hitler chose to launch his counteroffensive was, with the exception of the Vosges, the most difficult terrain on the entire line of the Western Front. It consists of two major parts, the Eifel and the Ardennes. Although the Ardennes has given its name to the Battle, this area should be lumped with that of the Eifel to the east, thickly covered with forests, providing good cover from air observation even in the fall and winter.
Hitler's selection of the Ardennes for launching the western counteroffensive was based mainly on the obvious advantage of attacking the Allies where they were weakest. The cover and deception plan, personally devised by Hitler, turned on a half-truth. A part of the strategic concentration would be made in the Rheydt-Jülich-Cologne area east of Aachen. Here the preparations for the counteroffensive would be paraded before the Allies. The main actor in this play was the Sixth Panzer Army. Ostensibly its headquarters remained northwest of Cologne. Four of the armored divisions assigned to this headquarters also assembled in this area. The intensification of rail and road traffic which began here about mid-November was only partly concealed. Much movement was made in daylight. Radio traffic was increased commensurate with troop concentration. Additional antiaircraft battalions came into the area and with them special allotments of ammunition to produce a thickening of fire which the Allied air forces could not possibly fail to notice.
In contrast to this northern concentration, that in the Eifel was the product of secrecy carried to the limit. The Eifel terrain was well adapted to concealment. Thick forest cover cloaked its slopes, its valleys and plateaus. Small villages, singly not worthy of aerial investigation but in sum capable of harboring large forces, offered excellent dispersal. Camouflage had become second nature with the German soldier in the west-indeed since Normandy the art of camouflage had become the science of survival, and the Eifel made this task relatively easy. Strict traffic regulation confined all rail movements and road marches to hours of darkness. Special security detachments prowled the Eifel, and woe to the commander who allowed a vehicle park to grow beyond normal size. A radio blackout was thrown over the concentration area except for those units actually facing the enemy in the covering positions. No artillery registration was permitted except by guns in the line, and even they were limited to a few rounds per day. Reconnaissance was confined to a handful of higher officers; combat patrolling on the Ardennes front was almost entirely limited to nighttime search for American patrols.
Whatever thought may have been given to the Ardennes, the Allies were on the offensive and preparing for yet greater offensive operations well to the north and the south of the VIII Corps sector. Losses during November had been high and the reserve of new divisions in the United States was running low (in the United Kingdom such a reserve no longer existed). The old military axiom that the line cannot be strong everywhere applied with full force to the Allied positions reaching from Switzerland to the North Sea. Almost automatically Allied strength would concentrate in those areas where the offensive was the order of the day and where decision might be reached. The Ardennes sector seemed no special risk. It offered - or so it seemed - no terrain attraction for the enemy, and there was no recognizable indication that enemy forces opposite the VIII Corps and 99th Infantry Division outnumbered those deployed on the friendly side of the line. If there was a "calculated risk," therefore, it was no more precise or specific than that taken wittingly by any commander who thins his front to mount an attack while knowing that he has over-all superiority and the ability to retain the initiative. It long had been an article of faith in Allied strategy that Germany would make its greatest efforts in defense of what Eisenhower had called the two hearts of Germany: the Ruhr, the industrial heart, and Berlin, the political heart.
The Ardennes had been a quiet sector of the Western Front since the Allied dash across France had halted in September. The German divisions identified here as fairly permanent residents were battle weary, understrength, and obviously in need of rest and refitting. At various times fresh divisions had appeared opposite the VIII Corps, but their stay had been brief. By December it had become axiomatic, insofar as US intelligence was concerned, that any new division identified on the VIII Corps front was no more than a bird of passage en route to the north or the south. As a result the Ardennes assumed a kind of neutral hue in American eyes. Important happenings, it seemed, transpired north of the Ardennes and south of the Ardennes, but never at the division point itself.
Was there any warning note sounded for the VIII Corps and its troops in the line during the days just prior to the German onslaught? With the advantage of hindsight, seven items can be discerned in the corps reports for the period 13-15 December which might have given the alarm. Two divisions, the 28th and 106th, sent in reports of increased vehicular activity on the nights before the attack. The 28th discounted its own report by noting that this was the normal accompaniment of an enemy front-line relief and that the same thing had happened when a German unit had pulled out three weeks before. The 106th was a green division and unlikely to know what weight could be attached legitimately to such activity. In fact one regimental commander rebuked his S-2 for reporting this noise as "enemy movement." A third incident occurred on 14 December when a woman escapee reported to the 28th Infantry Division commander that the woods near Bitburg were jammed with German equipment. Her answers to questions posed by the division G-2 apparently were impressive enough to gain the attention of the VIII Corps G-2 who ordered that she be taken to the First Army headquarters.
The woman arrived there on 16 December.
The four remaining incidents attach to the capture of German prisoners on 15 December, two each by the 4th and 106th Infantry Divisions. The time of capture is important: two at 1830, one at 1930, and one at an unspecified time thereafter. All four claimed that fresh troops were arriving in the line, that a big attack was in the offing, that it might come on the 16th or 17th but certainly would be made before Christmas. Two of the prisoners were deserters; they themselves did not take the reported attack too seriously since, as they told their captors, all this had been promised German troops before. The other two were wounded. One seems to have made some impression on the interrogators, but since he was under the influence of morphine his captors decided that further questioning would be necessary.
Of the seven incidents which in retrospect may be considered signposts pointing to an impending attack on the VIII Corps front, only four were reported to the corps headquarters. Three of the four prisoners seemed to be parroting wild and baseless rumors of a sort which was fairly common, and these three were bundled into prisoner of war cages without further ado. The incidents reported to the VIII Corps were forwarded to the First Army and duly noted by that headquarters on 14 and 15 December. Only one incident was deemed worthy of 12th Army Group attention. This, one of the reports of extraordinary traffic, was mentioned in the commanding general's briefing as confirmation of the predicted relief of the 326th Infantry Division.
This briefing began at 0915 on 16 December.
What of air intelligence, the source of Rundstedt's greatest worry? Bad weather during the first half of December did reduce the number of Allied reconnaissance sorties flown east of the First Army front but by no means produced the kind of blackout for which the enemy hoped. In the month prior to the Ardennes attack the 67th Tactical Reconnaissance Group, supporting the First Army, flew 361 missions of which 242 were judged successful. From the 10th through the 15th of December the group flew 71 missions with varying degrees of success; for example, on 14 December planes flown over Trier by the 30th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron reported the weather clear, but two hours later a second mission ran into haze and was able to see very little. Only one day, 13 December, in the five critical days before the attack found all US air reconnaissance grounded.
The pilots belonging to the 67th Group and the 10th Photo Reconnaissance Group, the latter attached to the Third Army's old partner, the XIX TAC, actually constructed an imposing picture of German buildup west of the Rhine in the month preceding the Ardennes counteroffensive. In the last week of November the number of enemy columns on the roads showed a marked increase. On 30 November US reconnaissance planes reported a drastic heightening of rail activity west of the Rhine and this was confirmed by the fighter-bombers flying "armed-recce." Special indications of forthcoming attack were numerous: a large number of hospital trains on the west bank of the Rhine, several groups of flatcars carrying Tiger tanks, and fifty searchlights in one location. Lights representing large-scale night movements were consistently reported, although the two available night fighter squadrons were so badly understrength (averaging no more than ten P-61's operational) that their contribution perforce was limited.
On 15 December the Allied air commanders' conference at SHAEF convened to review the big picture. Here the SHAEF G-3 told the assembled airmen that the Roer dam operations had failed to provoke a move by the main enemy armored reserve; as for the VIII Corps front, "nothing to report." Then the A-2 rose to sketch the activities of the Luftwaffe: it had continued the movement westward, closer to the battlefield, which had been noted in recent days, but all this was "defensive" only. The prelude to the Ardennes counteroffensive of 16 December can only be reckoned as a gross failure by Allied ground and air intelligence. One of the greatest skills in the practice of the military art is the avoidance of the natural tendency to overrate or underestimate the enemy. Here, the enemy capability for reacting other than to direct Allied pressure had been sadly underestimated. Americans and British had looked in a mirror for the enemy and seen there only the reflection of their own intentions.