Planning the Counteroffensive
About 25 September Jodl was ordered to begin a detailed analysis of the Hitlerian concept, the only function now left to the great General Staff. Some latitude remained to the individual staff officers and those favored few in the high echelon of command who retained access to the Fuehrer in kneading and shaping the very general outline handed down by Hitler into an operations plan. The outline as it now had taken shape contained these major points: (a) the attack should be launched sometime between 20 and 30 November; (b) it should be made through the Ardennes in the Monschau-Echternach sector; (c) the initial object would be the seizure of bridgeheads over the Meuse River between Liège and Namur; (d) thereafter, Antwerp would be the objective;1 e) a battle to annihilate the British and Canadians would ultimately be fought north of the line Antwerp-Liège-Bastogne; (f) a minimum of thirty divisions would be available, ten of which would be armored; (g) support would be given by an unprecedented concentration of artillery and rocket projector units; (h) operational control would be vested in four armies-two panzer armies abreast in the lead, two armies composed largely of infantry divisions to cover the flanks; (i) the Luftwaffe would be prepared to support the operation; (j) all planning would aim at securing tactical surprise and speed; (k) secrecy would be maintained at all costs and only a very limited number of individuals would be made privy to the plan. (Map I)
Theoretically, the chief of OKW, Keitel, should have been the central figure as preparations for the Ardennes counteroffensive unrolled. Actually he was charged with estimating the fuel and ammunition required.2 Jodl and the Armed Forces Operations Staff would mastermind the great attack. Rundstedt, Commander in Chief West, was not informed of the impending operation; indeed at this stage he did not even know that Hitler envisaged a counteroffensive in the west. So much for the
"Rundstedt Offensive," as this appellation was broadcast to the world by the Allies in December 1944.
The mechanics of German staff work seem to have deteriorated little during the years of war despite the disfavor into which the General Staff, as an institution, had fallen. Methodically, according to doctrine as old as Moltke the Elder, the young officers with Jodl studied variants to the scheme proposed by Hitler. Ultimately the staff settled on five possible courses of action:
Of these five possibilities the planning staff recommended the first two. Operation Holland was recognized as risky but, at the same time, the most promising strategically. Operation Liège-Aachen was deemed a good exercise of the forward double envelopment and the possible payoff very large-the destruction of the enemy in the Aachen salient. In conversation with Jodl on 9 October, Hitler plumped for a two-pronged envelopment, setting in chain what would become a bitter controversy between his views and those of his major field commanders. When, two days later, Jodl produced a draft plan and operation overlay for Hitler's inspection, the favored solution seems to have been contained in Operation Liège-Aachen with emphasis on a main effort to be made through the Ardennes and Eifel. As Schramm soberly puts it: "Systematic re-examination confirmed that the area selected by the Fuehrer actually was the most promising on the whole Western Front."
The scoffer may feel that such a solution by junior officers was predestined. And, although the planning staffs in 1940 had been able to introduce radical changes into the Hitler scheme of maneuver, perhaps such independent staff operation no longer was possible, or at least politic. There was no high-placed and unbiased professional testimony, however, to negate this decision by the colonels and lieutenant colonels who vetted the Hitler concept. Rundstedt, despite a deep-burning personal desire to detach his name from the final offensive and a professional contempt for the failure to recognize the paucity of means for the mission assigned him, would later say of the Ardennes Campaign and Hitler's share in its formulation: "The operational idea as such can almost be called a stroke of genius."
Hitler now accepted both of the recommended solutions and ordered preparation of a new draft synthesizing the two. This concept of a double envelopment with the two prongs of the attack originating far apart and casting a wide net as they moved to a meeting would be known to the German staffs as the "Grand Slam (the American commanders
were not the only military bridge players) or the Big Solution." Although Jodl and the WFSt often were charged by subordinate headquarters as having no realization of the difficulties under which the outnumbered German troops were battling, here appears to be one case in which the planning staff was thoroughly aware that the means were not and could not be adequate to the grandiose object of the Big Solution. Without the support of the field commanders, as yet not involved in the planning, Jodl dared not, or at least preferred not, to gainsay the Fuehrer's proposal. The argument at this point was on the location of the southern boundary of the main attack force. Hitler held for the line Wasserbillig, Arlon, and the north bank of the Semois River. The staff proposal was more modest in the area assigned the attack, the southern boundary originating near Diekirch, passing north of Martelange to Neufchâteau, thence turning northwest to Givet.
Ten days after the initial staff presentation Jodl was back to hand Hitler the revised outline plan or Aufmarschanweisung. The Aufmarschanweisung, in German practice, was a directive containing the basic parts of the plan, the guiding principles to be followed in developing and implementing the plan, and general instructions as to procedure. From this, more detailed planning normally was undertaken by the headquarters assigned to carry out the operation. Even before Hitler gave the final nod, the chiefs of staff of the two major field Commands concerned (as yet unaware that a counteroffensive was in the offing) were called to the East Prussian headquarters. General der Kavellerie Siegfried Westphal, from OB WEST, and General der Infanterie Hans Krebs, chief of Model's Army Group B staff, reported at the Wolf's Lair on the morning of 22 October.3 They hardly could have expected a pleasant reception: the embattled city of Aachen had fallen to the Americans, and they had the unpleasant task of pressing OKW for a favorable answer to Rundstedt's repeated-and unanswered-requests for more divisions to prevent an Allied breakthrough to the Ruhr.
Scarcely had salutes been exchanged when the two generals were asked to sign a pledge binding them to secrecy in regard to a mysterious operation Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine). If this plan should leak out they would be shot! Westphal and Krebs were in the toils of a security system as carefully conceived and executed as the combined vigilance of the armed forces and the Gestapo could make it. Wacht am Rhein was a cover name, chosen to give the impression that the plan was for a defense at the Rhine. An alternate and more commonly used formula, the Abwehrschlacht im Westen (Defensive Battle in the West) had the same intent and the added advantage that it had been used to describe the battles around Aachen.
Probably the two generals were greatly heartened-and surprised-when they were handed a long list of troops scheduled to arrive on the Western Front at the end of November and in early December. At noon, for the first time, they reported to Hitler who was holding
his daily conference. When the conference was finished, Westphal and Krebs found themselves in a second and much smaller meeting, with Hitler himself conducting the briefing on an astounding plan for a counteroffensive to be undertaken in the Army Group B area.
This attack, said Hitler, was designed to surround and destroy the British and American forces north of the line Bastogne-Brussels-Antwerp. It would be carried out in two phases: the first phase to close the attacking force along the Meuse River and seize bridgeheads; the second phase to culminate in the capture of Antwerp. (Neither here nor later is there evidence of any detailed planning as to what should be done once Antwerp fell.) Army Group B would have three armies for the attack: the Fifth and Sixth Panzer Armies would be in the van; the Seventh Army would be echeloned to the rear so as to cover the exposed southern flank of the attack wedge. Two target dates were fixed, 20 November for the end of all preparations, 25 November for the beginning of the offensive. The latter date had been selected by Dr. Schuster and his meteorologists in answer to the Fuehrer's demand for a period in which at least ten days of continuous bad weather and poor visibility might be expected. Such a stretch of poor flying weather would ground the superior Allied air forces. Furthermore, the target date coincided with the new moon, a help in reducing the effectiveness of Allied night raids.
Westphal and Krebs then heard that they could count on 18 infantry and 12 armored or mechanized divisions "for planning purposes." This windfall of reinforcements included 13 infantry divisions, 2 parachute divisions, and 6 panzer-type divisions from the OKW strategic reserve. But 3 infantry and 6 panzer divisions would have to be withdrawn by OB WEST from the already weakened Western Front and re-formed before taking their place in the coming offensive. (This was hardly pleasant news since OB WEST possessed only 9 panzer divisions in its entire theater of operations.) Hitler then recapitulated the additional reinforcements which had been listed in the morning: 5 motorized antiaircraft (flak) regiments from the Luftwaffe, 12 Volks artillery corps, 10 rocket projector (Werfer) brigades, plus a host of army troops.
It may be that Hitler sensed some skepticism on the part of the two visitors, and it is probable that he remembered past promises of reinforcements which had never arrived; whatever the reason, he added his personal assurance that these units would be forthcoming. Further, he gave his pledge that the Luftwaffe would support the operation with up to fifteen hundred fighters, of which a hundred would be the new jet planes, far superior to anything the Allies could put in the air. As a clincher, Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel then gave his word as an officer that 17,000 cubic meters (4,250,000 gallons) of motor fuel would be available for the attack, plus a special fifty-trainload ammunition reserve, all this in excess of current consumption. The two silent generals were dismissed with the injunction that OB WEST must hold its front, even at the cost of giving ground, without committing a single one of the formations earmarked for Wacht am Rhein, and told that OB WEST should submit a draft plan for the first phase of the attack forthwith.
FIELD MARSHAL VON RUNDSTEDT
Back at the Ziegenberg headquarters of OB WEST, Westphal recited the instructions he had received, then hastened on to give Rundstedt his own appraisal of the plan and the "politics" involved. The plan to seize Antwerp was far too ambitious for the forces available; the time for preparation was far too short. Since it was apparent that the whole theme was inspired by Hitler, OB WEST probably would have no voice in determining plans or in directing the operation unless it could team up with Jodl who, in Westphal's opinion, was wary of the Big Solution proposed by Hitler. Rundstedt had to act quickly if OB WEST was to make its views known.
With the penalty for a security failure so immediate, only the operations officer, Generalleutnant Bodo Zimmermann, the chief of Supply and Administration, Generalleutnant Friedrich John, and one aide were let in on the secret. The next step was to call a conference for 27 October (it now was late on the 24th) at the Army Group B headquarters near Krefeld. In the three nights and two days remaining, the little group at OB WEST would prepare an operations plan; to this the code name Martin was assigned.
The part played by Rundstedt during the prelude to the Ardennes Campaign and in its denouement needs some explanation. An aloof, nonpolitical officer of the old Prussian school, Rundstedt by reason of age and prestige stood at the apex of the German officer caste system. He had survived Hitler's disfavor, incurred during his first tour as Commander in Chief West, then had been brought back from semiretirement to take over his old post at a time when the German armies in the west were everywhere in retreat. Rundstedt's position in the autumn of 1944 was exceedingly difficult. He was treated correctly by Hitler, Keitel, Jodl, and the others in the OKW, but was regarded as too old and too lukewarm toward National Socialism to merit anything more than the outer forms of respect. Advice from Rundstedt was consistently pigeonholed by Jodl or brushed aside by Hitler, except in those rare cases when Jodl found it expedient to quote Rundstedt, the field commander, in support of a position being developed by the WFSt.
The relations between Rundstedt and his chief subordinate, Model, commander of Army Group B, were correct but
FIELD MARSHAL MODEL
not cordial. After the suicide of Kluge, both the supreme ground command in the west, OB WEST, and that of Army Group B had been united on Model's shoulders. Rundstedt's return to the Western Front ostensibly was ordered to relieve this untenable command situation. However, Hitler and his advisers intended to keep the old field marshal officially in leading strings. Model was well aware of the limitations imposed on Rundstedt. He himself was an ardent Nazi, clever, ambitious, and much younger than Rundstedt. Thus far Model had retained a high place in the Fuehrer's notoriously fickle favor. The upshot seems to have been a kind of truce between Rundstedt and Model in which the younger field marshal deferred to the elder, but in which the OB WEST commander kept his place by handling two-way communications between his subordinate headquarters, Army Group B, and his superior headquarters, OKW, without overly much interference or comment. Under such strained circumstances OB WEST would more and more assume the properties of a rubber stamp, this becoming most apparent during the actual operations in the Ardennes.4
Whether or not Rundstedt's views would get an airing before Hitler, the same sense of duty which compelled the aging field marshal to remain in his anomalous post also forced him to an official expression of his military opinion. Sometime around 21 September Rundstedt had advised OKW that the ultimate objective for all strategy in the west should be a counteroffensive to inflict a decisive defeat on the enemy. The hope of such a strategy seems to have evaporated in the smoke and dust of the Aachen battle; by mid-October Rundstedt had a single thought, simply to hold on. It may be that momentarily Rundstedt was fired by the plans which his chief of staff brought back from the Wolf's Lair, but the field marshal was too old and too experienced to expect miracles. Although Rundstedt had recognized the merit of Hitler's operational plan, from the very first he
realized, as he later testified, that "all, absolutely all conditions for the possible success of such an offensive were lacking.5
The weaknesses of the plan were diagnosed by Rundstedt and Westphal as follows: sufficient force was not available to attain the distant goal of Antwerp; the German situation on the Western Front was so precarious that it was questionable whether the divisions slated for the offensive could be kept out of the moil of battle prior to D-day; the Allies might launch an offensive of their own, "spoiling" the German attack; the northern and southern flanks of the offensive would be dangerously open, the exposure increasing with every mile gained in the advance; finally, there was a better than average chance that all the attack could produce would be a salient or bulge of the Great War variety, consuming too many German divisions in what would be ultimately only a holding operation. The solution, as seen by Rundstedt and Westphal, was to produce an operations order which would be less ambitious as to the terrain to be conquered and which would aim at maximum destruction of Allied forces with minimum risk.
The OB WEST appraisal of Allied strength, as set forth in Martin, accorded the Allies a two to one superiority. Although the front was relatively quiet, the main Allied effort was recognized as being directed against the flanks of the German line (the Fifteenth Army in the north and the Nineteenth Army in the south). But the German longrange estimate of Allied intentions predicted that the Allies first would attempt to clear the Schelde estuary, as a preliminary to opening the port of Antwerp, and follow with a shift to the Venlo-Aachen sector as a base for operations against the Ruhr. Recognizing, therefore, that the Allied north wing with its four armies was heavily weighted, Plan Martin emphasized protection of the north flank of the attack, adding extra divisions for this purpose and feeding in a vital secondary attack by six divisions debouching from the salient south of Roermond.
The axis of the advance, as proposed in Martin, would be Butgenbach-Trois Ponts-Werbomont-Ourthe River-a Meuse crossing north of the line Huy-Antwerp. The Fifth and Sixth Panzer Armies, right and left, would attack on a narrow front, the main strength of the two armies driving between Simmerath and Bleialf on a front of only twenty-five miles. This was the salient feature of the Rundstedt plan: a heavy concentration for breakthrough on a narrow front. The area selected for the thrust of this sharp, narrow wedge offered the best tank going to be found; no rivers need be crossed by the main attack until the Ourthe was reached. Flank cover would be given by the advance of the Fifteenth Army in the north and the Seventh Army in the south. The secondary attack from the Roermond sector, heavy with armor, would effect a juncture with the main advance near Liège.
Plan Martin, then, exemplified Rundstedt's desire to design and cut a coat matching the amount of cloth he expected to have. He wanted immediate results, to be won by a quick breakthrough on a narrow front, with the
entire field of battle reduced considerably in size from the maneuver area envisaged in the original Hitler directive. The simultaneous secondary thrust from the Roermond salient was regarded by Rundstedt as essential to the OB WEST plan.
At Fichtenhain near Krefeld, in a group of modern buildings which had been erected as a nursing home for alcoholics, Field Marshal Model and a small fragment of his army group staff also busied themselves with an answer to the Hitler directive. Despite his avowed loyalty to the party and Fuehrer, Model's reaction to Krebs' report had been caustic in the extreme: "This plan hasn't got a damned leg to stand on."6 Antwerp, in Model's opinion, was beyond reach without more forces than were available.
As Rundstedt had done, Model proceeded to whittle away at the grandiose plan which had come from the Wolf's Lair. Even more than OB WEST, Model and his staff feared the Allied threat in the Aachen sector. Sensitive to this and anxious to concentrate as much of the limited means as possible in the main punch, Model at once rejected the idea of a two-pronged attack. The Army Group B plan, called Herbstnebel (autumn fog), assigned the armored formations which Rundstedt intended to employ in the secondary thrust from Roermond to a general reserve in the Duren area; from there this armor could be thrown in as the second wave of the main drive, or, if need be, rushed to bolster the defenses in the Aachen sector.
The Herbstnebel plan called for a single powerful thrust on a front about forty miles wide, the breakthrough to be achieved between the Hürtgen Forest and Lützkampen with the Fifth and Sixth Panzer Armies leading the attack. On the left wing the Seventh Army would not make an immediate advance as in the OB WEST maneuver, but would follow in the track of the Sixth Panzer Army as a second wave. In contrast to the wedge formation advocated by OB WEST for the main thrust, in which forces echeloned to the rear would develop a kind of snowplow effect rolling back the enemy on the flanks, the Army Group B maneuver represented a mechanized and motorized version of the Napoleonic carré in which the main disposition for the rupture of the enemy position was a square with two formations abreast in the lead and two formations following on the same axis. The weight accorded the main thrust by the two panzer armies was about the same in both plans; both would employ seven armored divisions, but Model provided thirteen infantry divisions as compared with Rundstedt's ten.
The two plans finally were presented on 27 October in a joint conference at Fichtenhain. On this occasion the generals nominated to command the participating armies (General der Panzertruppen Hasso-Eccard von Manteuffel, Generaloberst der Waffen-SS Josef "Sepp" Dietrich, and General der Panzertruppen Erich Brandenberger) joined the OB WEST and Army Group B commanders and their chiefs of staff. In an initial briefing by Rundstedt, the problems of cover and deception were enumerated with solutions about the same as those employed in the final operation. Cover would be based on the idea, Defensive Battle in the West. Deception would aim at attracting the
attention of the enemy to the sector northwest of Cologne where the assembly of troops and supplies would be made openly and in daylight, the whole ruse abetted by an increase in radio traffic.
After a meeting that lasted several hours, Model agreed to submit a new army group plan incorporating most of OB WEST's Martin study. Actually Model and Rundstedt found themselves in accord on only one point, that the Hitler scheme for seizing Antwerp was too ambitious and that there was no purpose to plans carrying beyond the Meuse River. Quite independently, or so it would appear, the two headquarters had arrived at the Small Solution, or the envelopment of the enemy east of the Meuse River. The fact that Model was violently opposed to the Fuehrer's solution and thus could expect no support from OKW may have made him more amenable to Rundstedt's exercise of the command decision. When the revised Model plan arrived at OB WEST headquarters on 28 October, it followed the general outline of the Martin plan. All of this work was preparatory to the receipt of further instructions promised by Jodl. These arrived at OB WEST headquarters by special courier during the night of 2 November.
Jodl's preliminary plan had gone to Hitler on 21 October. The directive now handed the C-in-C West had been signed and dispatched from the Wolf's Lair on 1 November. Why this delay in issuing the directive? Jodl and Hitler met several times a day. There was no need to wait for information coming from lower headquarters. Time, it was obvious to all, was running out.
There is only one explanation for this surprising delay and it is supported by what is known of the working relationship between the Fuehrer and the chief of his planning staff. Probably one cannot say that the whole of this extended period was devoted to argument; that would have been inadmissible to Hitler and not in keeping with Jodl's character. But it is known that the two men were in fundamental disagreement on the objective of the planned counteroffensive. Jodl's technique would have been to postpone the final drafting and dispatch of the directive while he and Buttlar-Brandenfels tried to "sell" Hitler, pushing a little at a time but withdrawing when storm warnings appeared.
This conflict of ideas, for it hardly can be called a personal controversy, saw the Small Solution opposed to the Big Solution, or Grand Slam. The point of disagreement had risen when Hitler combined into one the two separate plans favored by the WFSt: the attack from Venlo to seize Antwerp, and the double envelopment of Liège by pincers from northern Luxembourg and from the Aachen area. Jodl and his aides had intended that the forces available would be employed in one of the favored plans and one only. A sweeping enlargement on the original WFSt concept, such as Hitler demanded, would require perhaps twice as many new divisions on the Western Front as the twenty-one that were to be provided from the OKW strategic reserve.
Jodl seems to have had no hesitation about setting the two alternatives before Hitler. First, he could go ahead with the Big Solution, aiming at the seizure of
Antwerp and the encirclement and destruction of the Allied forces north of the line Bastogne-Brussels-Antwerp. This would require a drastic revision of German strategy on all fronts. Combat divisions would have to be stripped from the Eastern Front in particular and given to OB WEST. Replacements and supplies for other fronts than the west would have to be reduced to a mere trickle. Obviously ground would have to be surrendered elsewhere if the great attack in the west were to be successful; therefore local commanders must be allowed to make their own decisions as to retrograde movement. (Surely Hitler must have gagged on this item.) This was not all. Jodl and Buttlar-Brandenfels recommended extreme measures to wring the extra divisions which the Big Solution required out of the German people. The Third Reich would have to be turned into a fortress under martial law, with total mobilization of men, women, and children-a step which was not taken in fact until the spring of 1945.
If Hitler would not adopt the extreme measures needed to implement the Big Solution with an adequate number of new divisions, then he should accept the alternate or Small Solution. In this the object would be the seizure of Liège and the envelopment of those enemy forces east of the Meuse in the sector roughly demarcated by Givet (on the Meuse) in the south, and Sittard (twenty miles northeast of Aachen) in the north.
Hitler ridiculed the Small Solution as nothing but a half measure which could produce no real success. At the same time he was unwilling to adopt the stern measures necessary to make the Big Solution a success. Despite all protestations that the final battle would be won or lost in the west, the Fuehrer could not bring himself to take troops from the Eastern Front and stake everything on a quick decision in the west. Stubbornly, Hitler adhered to Antwerp as the goal of the attack and the proposition that it could be achieved with only those thirty divisions or so which could be raised by OKW or saved out of the ruck by OB WEST.
By the end of October it must have been apparent to Jodl that Hitler could not be moved, nor could the letter of instruction to the C-in-C West be longer delayed. The Fuehrer instructions signed on 1 November were sent to Rundstedt with a brief covering letter dictated by Jodl. Two sentences from Jodl warned Rundstedt that Hitler had plumped irrevocably for the Big Solution: "The venture for the far-flung objective [Antwerp] is unalterable although, from a strictly technical standpoint, it appears to be disproportionate to our available forces. In our present situation, however, we must not shrink from staking everything on one card."7
Rundstedt's answer, sent to Jodl on 3 November, followed the German military tradition by which a commander was entitled to state his objection to orders for the record. The forces available for Wacht am Rhein, he wrote, were "extremely weak in comparison to the enemy and the zone of action"; then he voiced his "grave doubts whether it would be possible to hold the ground won, unless the enemy is completely destroyed." 8 But these words for the record ended Rundstedt's efforts for a more
reasonable plan; he refused to appeal to Hitler in person, as Westphal urged, on the ground that it was futile to expect a favorable hearing from the Fuehrer.
Closely linked with the Big Solution was the question of the form in which the attack should be delivered. The Hitler concept called for a single thrust on a wide front; this broad zone of action, so the argument ran, would make it difficult for the enemy to concentrate his forces for a riposte. When the Allies commenced to react, and only then, a secondary attack would be launched in the north from the Venlo area by two army corps under Army Group H (Student). Rundstedt, on the other hand, hoped to deny the enemy the ability to mass for a counterthrust by employing a double envelopment, the two prongs of the attack moving simultaneously from their jump-off positions. His reply, on 3 November, to the OKW instructions was phrased most carefully, but despite the protestation that the points of difference between the OKW and OB WEST plans were "unessential," Rundstedt made clear his opinion that a concentric maneuver was a must:
Rundstedt then politely bowed in the direction of Hitler's scheme for the follow-up attack in Holland: "After successful execution [of this operation], strong forces will be free for deployment in one of two possible courses of action depending upon the situation; either in support of the attack of Army Group Student, or in a northward thrust via Maastricht."10
Although Model and Army Group B were not consulted in the preparation of this answer from Rundstedt to Jodl, the army group planners made haste to repudiate any plan for a simultaneous two-pronged attack. The force making up the northern arm in Rundstedt's scheme, the XII SS Corps, was too weak to carry through a simultaneous secondary attack; nor would Model agree to further reduction of the main effort as a step in beefing up the northern thrust. The OB WEST chief of staff could do no more than note this disclaimer from the subordinate headquarters: "The simultaneous attack of the XII SS Corps is regarded as essential by Field Marshal von Rundstedt for the purpose of tying down [the enemy]. Considering the weakness of our forces, OKW is of the same opinion as you. We will have to await a decision."11
This came four days later in the Fuehrer's operations directive of 10 November. Quite obviously Rundstedt's plea for the double envelopment had gone unheeded. Indeed, Hitler seems to have taken upon himself the task of burying this idea, for the copy of the operations directive prepared for his signature has a sentence inserted after the main text was typed: "In this sector [reference is being made to the Fifteenth Army which Hitler had assigned the mission
of holding attacks on the northern flank] the enemy must not be warned in advance by secondary attacks."12 The simultaneous attack in the north thus was forbidden, its place to be taken by a series of holding attacks at some unspecified time in the dim and distant final phases of the projected operation.
It appeared that Rundstedt's concentric attack had followed the Small Solution into limbo. Certainly the OB WEST commander showed no readiness to defend his brain-child after the Hitler edict. Model, however, stood in a somewhat more favored position vis-à-vis Jodl and Hitler as befitted a field marshal who was a rabidly loyal Nazi. Circumstances now were in conspiracy to make Model the ball carrier for the OB WEST two-pronged attack, which he had disavowed, and for the Small Solution, supposedly dead and buried.
The plans and preparations preliminary to the Ardennes counteroffensive, it must be recognized, were not produced in a vacuum. The war in the west, somewhat somnolent during October, had flared up again in November with the U.S. Third Army attack in the Metz sector and the combined offensive which the US First and Ninth Armies had launched on 16 November with the intention of breaking through the German defenses east of Aachen and driving to the Rhine.13 The latter operation, designated by the Germans as the Third Battle of Aachen but known to Americans as the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, had been forecast with bitter foreboding in Model's headquarters. On the very first day of the new Aachen offensive, Model proposed a limited operation against the northern wing of the US First Army using troops which had been earmarked for Wacht am Rhein. The OB WEST and Army Group B commanders now were able to forget their personal differences and the animosities engendered between their respective staffs in pursuit of the common object: the acceptance by Hitler of some type of Small Solution in which the means were appropriate to the end. Rundstedt's forwarding letter, sent to Jodl on 18 November while German losses in the Aachen battle were skyrocketing, backed Model to the hilt: "A surprise attack directed against the weakened enemy, after the conclusion of his unsuccessful breakthrough attempts in the greater Aachen area, offers the greatest chance of success."14 To achieve this, wrote Rundstedt, he as the OB WEST commander must be given an absolutely free hand in determining when the attack should be made. He wrote this at a time when it was evident to all that Hitler intended to keep every such decision in his own hands. Was the old Prussian field marshal encouraged to fly in the face of the Fuehrer directive because the young Nazi field marshal was at his side? Or did some sense of obligation to the uniform he had worn for fifty-four years impel Rundstedt to make a last effort to give the German troops who would take part in the coming battle the best possible chance of success?
By 20 November, divisions earmarked for Wacht am Rhein were in the line east of Aachen, and it appeared that still others would have to be used against Patton at Metz. On this date Model again enlisted Rundstedt's support to brace Hitler. This time Model specifically asked for an improvised limited double envelopment to destroy the fourteen Allied divisions in the Aachen sector. Model argued that the attack he proposed would give as much tactical and psychological success as Wacht am Rhein, and that the destruction of such a large number of Allied divisions would be a necessary prerequisite for success in any future attack like Wacht am Rhein. Apparently the two Western Front commanders were trying to drive a bargain with the Fuehrer: let us undertake a limited double envelopment in the Aachen area which will put us at the Meuse and eat up the enemy reserves; thereafter, we will be in a position to regroup, bring fresh forces (not now available) forward, and undertake the drive to Antwerp. But Hitler would not bargain. The answer, relayed by Jodl on 22 November, was abrupt: "Preparations for an improvisation will not be made."15
The workings of a dictatorship in a large and complex society are devious and hard to fathom. Hitler had degraded and executed German generals in the cruelest fashion while Rundstedt and the German Officer Corps stood passively by. A vocal inflection, a doubting word, had been enough to break famous field commanders. The great General Staff was in complete disgrace, suffering constant ridicule from Hitler in craven silence. Instructions issued by Hitler for the conduct of operations were in such detail that field commanders of the stature of Rundstedt and Model lacked the authority to move units as small as divisions. Whenever a field commander appeared at the Wolf's Lair he found the atmosphere formal and chilling. The imputation of cowardice and treason was commonplace. Despite all this, the Fuehrer's personal dictatorship suffered the limitations and strictures which seem to be a part of all modern dictatorships. The armies under his command had suffered reverses and his personal prestige as war lord had declined. The generals who had been raised to power by the Nazi party as Nazis could not be broken without weakening the dictatorship of the party. Finally, the number of generals with proven ability and public prestige, at this stage of the war, was relatively small. Even the Supreme War Lord would have to listen to men of prestige who had the courage to risk his disfavor.
Jodl visited OB WEST headquarters on 26 November, only to find that Rundstedt and Model were determined to cling to the Small Solution and the concept of concentric attack. Once again Hitler handed down his edict: "There will be absolutely no change in the present intentions." But Model was tenacious. Taking advantage of a conference which Hitler called in Berlin on 2 December, Model brought forward his heavy artillery: Sepp Dietrich, Hitler's old crony, and "Little" Manteuffel, the panzer general with the big reputation, both supporters of the Small Solution. Still Hitler refused to budge. One last attempt to win over the Fuehrer was made four days later when Rundstedt
and Model submitted their final draft of the operations order for Wacht am Rhein. The accompanying map showed a second prong to the attack, this carried as in the first OB WEST plan by the XII SS Corps. Again Hitler rejected the suggestion.
In the final version of the operations order for the counteroffensive, approved by Hitler on 9 December, the scope and ultimate objective were exactly as they had been conceived by Hitler and presented to the OB WEST and Army Group B chiefs of staff when these officers were initiated in the plan on 22 October.