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

4/1/2014 • Ask Mr. History

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.



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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