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James M. Fenwick

Off Limits

Behind the Battle of the Bulge

(1 July 1946)

From Labor Action, Vol. 10 No. 26, 1 July 1946, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.

Early in December 1944, after six months of almost continuous combat ending in the constant drenching rains, the mud and the slaughter of the Huertgen Forest, our regiment was shifted to a quiet sector of the front near Monschau in the Ardennes.

It was indeed a quiet area. Too quiet. It was reminiscent of the “phony war” of 1939. We were uneasy from the moment when, though we were under full observation of the enemy, we detrucked without being shelled. The line was very thinly held by a “recon” outfit. When our men moved into position they found that in many cases positions had not even been dug in. Patrol activity was very light. Enemy shelling was desultory, falling harmlessly behind us and reverberating in the snowy valleys. We were glad to get out of that eerie atmosphere and move back to a rest area. It didn’t feel right.

Consequently, we were not unduly surprised on December 16 to have our passes cancelled and to hear rumors of a breakthrough near Monschau. The next day we moved out and took up positions at the shoulder of the bulge, near Malmédy.

“General Bradley Was Not Worried”

As the days wore on, the full extent of the Allied debacle and, with it, the responsibility of the high command became apparent. Having caught the Allied forces completely by surprise, the Germans, in some of the bloodiest fighting of the war in Europe, inflicted exceptionally heavy losses.

Destruction of matériel was equally high, Stars and Stripes at one time reporting the loss of over one-half the M-1 rifles in the ETO. Confusion was nearly complete. Malmédy, for example, was bombed on three successive days by American planes though it was occupied by American troops at the time. So great was the need for manpower that air corps units in the United States were combed for men, who were hastily flown overseas as infantry replacements.

Naturally, the Army general staff has never even suggested that a blunder was made. Quite the contrary – it maintains that everything was foreseen, that everything went as planned. The latest to attempt to disseminate this comforting myth is Lieut.-Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, former chief of staff of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe and now Ambassador to Russia, where he should find himself quite at his ease among really experienced myth-makers.

His article on the Battle of the Bulge, recently published in the Saturday Evening Post, bears a special importance at this time. Not only does it serve to cover up a bad error of the past, it seeks to bolster confidence in the somewhat compromised officer caste which is to play such an important role in United States capitalism’s current program of imperialist assimilation and conquest.

The Alibi as Smith States It

Smith falsely states what is at issue.

“General Eisenhower once said a little ruefully that he had never known we were in danger until he read about it in the papers. We were not unduly disturbed over the final outcome then or at any time.”

Smith’s rejoinder is little short of amazing: “We were taking a calculated risk in this area.” He continues:

“... It seemed improbable that an attack through the Ardennes could develop any broad importance in the general military situation along the entire front. At the very least, Bradley estimated, the Germans could be stopped on the Meuse, and east of that line he located no important supply installation.”

What Smith is saying here is that in weakening the lines in the Ardennes area in preparation for an offensive elsewhere, General Bradley was prepared to risk an even more severe counter-offensive than the one which took place, an offensive which would have carried the Germans clear to the Meuse!

In other words, for the sake of an offensive elsewhere the general staff would have been quite willing to risk a situation more critical than the actual one, where the depth of the penetration forced the command to be split between Montgomery in the North and Bradley in the South, where heavy reinforcements had to be rushed to the continent, where terrific casualties were induced and large losses of matériel were experienced and where the final attack against Germany was delayed for two months.

Losing Equals Winning

Without being a military expert, one can say that this represents a very curious scale of values. Actually what it represents is making a virtue out of necessity. Of the same picayune caliber is the braggadocio of remarks said to have been addressed to Eisenhower on December 18, when the Germans were sweeping everything before them:

“Our greatest concern at this time was that we had overestimated the Germans’ determination. We were afraid they might become discouraged too soon and order a withdrawal before we were in position to inflict maximum destruction.”

The basic truth is contained in a statement by Smith: “The staff discounted the possibility of a serious counter-offensive.” Despite the availability of reserves, which could have been used to buttress the Ardennes line until the contemplated offensive was launched, only three infantry divisions were holding some ninety miles of front through the classic invasion route which Germany had already used three times – in 1870, 1914 and 1940.

In spite of the manifest successes enjoyed by the Germans in this area, Smith feels impelled to say: “The Germans could not have picked terrain less suited to their purpose.” They should, no doubt, have listened to Smith and other members of the general staff, who proved to be such skilled tacticians in this matter.

The simple fact is that the Allies, overconfident and underestimating the striking power of the Germans, committed a serious error in December 1944. The article by the former chief of staff only confirms the opinion held by GI’s at the time.

A whitewash was to be expected. American capital needs to establish confidence in its military chiefs for the coming struggle for world mastery which lies ahead. Truth has strictly limited value for capitalism. It paid off dearly, however, to those thousands of young men who lost their lives or were wounded in the Battle of the Bulge.

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