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Why Did No One But Patton Foresee a German Offensive in Dec. 1944?

Originally published under Ask Mr. History. Published Online: April 01, 2014 
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Patton supposedly saw, by situation maps at headquarters, that something was going on  with the German positions and did some preparation in case his army group was required to make a drastic move to fight in a new position. As it turned out he was right, as the Germans where preparing for the Battle of the Bulge. Why was this not detected by any other commanders, or why didn't he pass this along to his commander, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower?

Chuck Davey

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Dear Mr. Davey,

Thanks for your question, oft-asked though it is. The best answer might be provided by Winston Churchill when he stated, "No matter how enmeshed a commander becomes in elaborating his own thoughts, it is sometimes necessary to take the enemy into account." With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it is easy to point around at whichever Allied general one might think did something wrong; it is another to admit that maybe the Germans might just have done something right.

By early December 1944 the Allies generally believed that the Germans lacked the manpower and resources to do any more than contain an Allied offensive and perhaps launch a counter-blow. This perception was reinforced when Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt returned to the position of commander in chief in the West—he had a long track record of making the most effective logical use of what he had. What everyone, including George Patton, failed to realize was that Adolf Hitler, not Rundstedt, was masterminding the Ardennes offensive, following a strategic logic all his own. Second, the Germans were damn good at hiding their movements and deployments, limiting their communication traffic often at the expense of the forces moving around. Consequently, while reports began to come in about heavy vehicular movements from troops of the 28th and 106th Infantry divisions, Allied Intelligence still was uncertain as to the whereabouts of the Sixth Panzer Army. As for Patton's declarations of a German buildup, they were largely motivated by his impatience to get the Third Army on the offensive again, lest German defenses stiffen. His own ignorance of the magnitude of the German offensive is reflected in his initial unwillingness to commit any of his Third Army to help the troops in the Ardennes.

Even the ultimate failure of the Ardennes Offensive did not exhaust Germany's ability to launch big offensives, although they were no longer quite the surprise the Bulge was—the Luftwaffe's sweeping air strikes of Operation Bodenplatte and Heinrich Himmler's Operation Nordwind against the U.S. Seventh Army in Alsace-Lorraine, both on January 1, 1945, followed by Operations Conrad I, II and III, attempts to retake Budapest and the Danube later that month, and finally Operation Spring Awakening in March, a last-gasp attempt to throw the Soviets out of Hungary that really constituted Germany's LAST offensive of the war.

Sincerely,

 

Jon Guttman
Research Director
Weider History Group
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2 Responses to “Why Did No One But Patton Foresee a German Offensive in Dec. 1944?”


  1. 1
    Dan Bennett says:

    One other thing that seriously swayed allied readiness during the Ardennes Offensive was both Montgomery and Bradley, as well as Eisenhower's (SHAEF) over-reliance on the \Ultra\ SIGINT intercepts. Of course, \Ultra\ was a true godsend to the Western Allies and the treasure trove of SIGINT had come a long way in sustaining allied momentum since the breakout from Normandy. But \Ultra\ was only a reliable source of information as long as the Germans' were attempting to communicate with field commands far from the heartland. Once the German Army began to fall back behind the Siegfried Line they no longer needed to communicate high-level radio traffic between the field commands. They simply had to pick up the phone and or use their own telegraph lines for routine communication. With this development all useful radio communication came to a halt in the fall of 1944 and the \Ultra\ goldmine slowly began to dry up.

    Bradley and his staff at 12th Army Group had especially come to overemphasize the \Ultra\ intercepts and when the availability of decent SIGINT began to dry up in that fateful month of December 1944, they took it to mean a systemic breakdown in the Wehrmacht's ability to commence any type of offensive operations in their sector. Gen. Courtney Hodges at the US 1st Army Hq was also negligent in failing to estimate a marked German buildup across the border yet Hodges can be somewhat excused since most of his army was at the time, bogged down in serious ground combat 100km to the northeast, at the Huertgen Forest.

    An ample amount of credit must also go to Rundstedt and Model's commands for strictly adhering to radio silence in the weeks before the Ardennes attack and undergoing most of the laborious troop movements under the cover of night. The notoriously grey and inclement autumn weather in the Ardennes-Snee Eiffel area did the rest by keeping American surveillance flights along the border to a bare minimum. However Patton must also be given his due for correctly foreseeing that something peculiar was afoot yet his attempts to convey this message to Bradley seems to have fallen on deaf ears. But give \Old Blood and Guts\ some credit for putting together a preliminary counterplan, which for all intents and purposes, was probably one of Patton's most glorious moments in all of WWII

  2. 2
    Tom Loman says:

    Given Patton's many dips into "hot water" with the Supreme Command, it is little wonder that Bradley would have looked with skepticism at Patton's warnings. "Brad" probably thought that Patton was just crying wolf to draw more supplies his way.



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