A graphic novel about the Battle of the Bulge says that Bernard Montgomery wanted the US forces to pull back from the Bulge sectors and let the German attack exhaust itself out, through lack of supplies and fuel; then counter-attack. The US Generals refused to fight by retreating.
It seems to be that Monty would have the stronger argument though–why not fall back and then counterattack a much weaker and spread out enemy?
I predict this won’t take long to descend into the usual ill-informed character assassination of Montgomery from our American friends, that will have little or nothing based upon his actual merits as an Army Group commander.
I will try to come back to you tomorrow, only as I am off out this evening. Maybe I will be in for a nice surprise when I get back to his but I’m not holding my breath.
Eventually you would have to stiffen up- there was not unlimited room to withdraw; the Germans would either reach and capture Antwerp, and/or they’d cut off the 12th Army Group north of the Bulge. So Monty’s approach would only have worked so far, up to the point when you DID have to stop the German Advance. I think the hope would have been that when that point came, the Germans would be out of fuel and worn out, and would be easy pickings for Allied troops not in the same situation.
The American commanders did exactly what you’re *supposed *to do in their situation- channelize the attack and keep pinching it narrower by fighting hard at the flanks (see the fighting for Elsenborn Ridge as an example), and then when the enemy advance stops, counter-attacking to regain the lost ground, and hopefully go on the counter-offensive. Basically as the defender, you manage their attack, rather than let them fight when and where they wanted.
Both ideas stem from the fact that most strategic offensives like that have limited resources and time available to them, and if you delay them or let themselves wear themselves out without fighting, you throw their offensive off, and let them use up their resources without actually achieving their objectives.
A graphic novel about the Battle of the Bulge? Well, I don’t have the graphic novel, but a quick Google search show this:
I suppose to decide if he was ‘right’ or not you’d have to look at the actual battle and the results and then figure out if there was an alternative that would have been more optimal. I seriously doubt you could make that case, though, since it worked out pretty well for the allies as it happened.
The problem is units fighting defensively are usually stronger than units fighting offensively. You can get around this by massing troops at a point of attack or by attacking by surprise (which is why the German offensive initially succeeded).
So the Germans would be easier to defeat if the allies fought them while they were attacking rather than withdrawing and allowing them to occupy the territory. If that had happened the allies would have had to then try to recapture that lost territory and fought the Germans who would now be dug in on the defense.
The Allies were completely surprised by the Nazi advance thru the Ardennes in 1944. Just as they were in 1940. In 1940, it only took two days to reach the Meuse River. And then onward to the English Channel and Dunkirk.
The Allies, including Monty, had no idea how large of an army they were facing 1944. Why would anyone think it would be a good idea to allow the Nazi’s to again continue on to/towards Antwerp? Of course, THAT plan would have allowed Montgomery’s 21st Army Group to see action against the Nazis.
Considering the fact that the Allies had air superiority over Europe, it would make more sense to hold them in the bulge, and finishing them off with airpower and artillery when the weather cleared.
As it was, on January 5th Walter Bedel Smith issued a press statement from SHEAF HQ in which he stated that the US 9th and 1st Armies were under the direction of Montgomery and had been since December 20th.
And on Jan 18, 1945, Churchill made it clear that The Battle of the Bulge was an American victory.
From what I’ve read of the battle, the Germans took Allied forces initially by surprise, smashing through the lines and capturing a considerable number of prisoners. Would there really have been time for an organized Allied retreat to regroup? And would failure to engage the enemy have allowed them to conserve their ammunition and fuel for a longer period, until they were closer to their objectives?
And this doesn’t take into account that falling back in headlong retreat probably wasn’t a politically viable option, even if someone thought it was militarily expedient.
But we shouldn’t pick on Monty. It’s Douglas Haig who was the real British weenie.
It would also have allowed the Germans to build momentum and consolidate their logistics, as well as giving them tons (literally) of captured supplies they badly needed. I’m unsure if, in the end, it really would have made that much difference except that IMHO the allies would have taken even more losses…retreats are always touchy things and they can easily turn into rout. In the end, though, the Germans were doomed…there was no way that this plan could have worked, regardless of it’s initial success. What we did do, however, was put their entire plan on the wrong foot from the get go, forced them to fight harder where they weren’t expecting too and stuffed up their either logistics plan…which left them very vulnerable when the weather did change to allied air strikes that devastated an already wrong footed and now badly discouraged German force. Personally, I’ve never seen anyone (except Monty) who thought it was a good idea for the US to withdraw in the face of such huge strategic surprise attack, and I think it would have been a disaster for American forces who faced the brunt of the attack and with troops that were ill prepared for it. Trying to have those troops maneuver and do a successful fighting retreat in the face of such an attack and the loss of morale would have been…ill advised…IMHO. A veteran and cohesive army not taken by such surprise? Yeah, that might work. But not the forces that the US actually had there at the time and in that situation.
It is my understanding that retreat would likely have meant the capture of the Allied fuel dump (which Kampfgruppe Peiper was within 2 kilometres of at its closest) between Stavelot and Francorchamps, totalling almost 10 million litres of fuel.
Not an easily recoverable loss of materiel, I would think. I am not intimately familiar with the scale of the logistics involved in the Western theatre, but 10 million litres of gasoline does not strike me as something one simply replaces, nor does it strike me as an amount one simply retreats with.
Two of my Patrons at the library job had been at the Bulge.
One guy, “I hated those bastards, and killed every one I could find,” mentioned that his unit was lost. They cautiously approached a light. It was so cold that they couldn’t sit down, for they would freeze to death. It was an American unit, and a sergeant invited him to, “Pull up a Kraut and sit down.”
The second guy had been captured. He was going to take a trip with other veterans back there. He had no idea where they were, and was looking for books on the area. The German officer in charge of the prisoners knew they would lose, and was letting prisoners escape on the pretext of needing to go into the bushes. When they were liberated by an American unit, two former prisoners were given Tommy guns. They took a particularly abusive guard away from the others and killed him.