January 14, 2015

1944. Foreshadowing the Battle of the Bulge

The Allied Advance
"British assault troops advancing near Flushing with shells bursting ahead during the Scheldt operation," November 1, 1944 (source)
Bill Downs


September 11, 1944

British troops have improved their bridgeheads across the Albert Canal against strong German opposition, and it appears today that a battle of the Albert Canal is developing—a battle which may well be one of the most important of the war.

There have been no major developments on the British and Canadian fronts for the past three days. Over on the coastal front, Canadian and British troops have pressed the Nazis back up against the Scheldt river estuary where the Germans are attempting a miniature Dunkirk operation, trying to get their troops backs into Holland. Allied troops now hold a line that cuts off this corner of Belgium, running roughly from Antwerp to Ghent to Bruges, and then to Ostend on the channel. The Germans have been employing every kind of barge and ship in their attempts to evacuate their trapped forces, and in the past several days Allied air forces have sunk craft ranging from a 5,000 ton ship to small canal barges taking Germans across the Scheldt river bay.

Yesterday alone 105 barges were destroyed or damaged in the Scheldt estuary, in addition to some ten tugs destroyed. The Allied tactical air forces are again operating from forward airfields and yesterday swarmed over German communications in Holland, knocking out eighteen locomotives.

But now it is evident that the German rout that began in the Normandy pocket across the Seine and into Belgium has finally ended. The Germans have marshaled the remnants of their retreating troops and stiffened them with reinforcements from Holland, Germany, and possibly Denmark. They have organized a defense line, the first cohesive defense line that has been met in a 300 mile advance by the Allies.

The Nazis are making a stand on three water boundaries protecting Germany: the Albert Canal, which already is breached in two pieces, and the Moselle and Meuse rivers on the American sectors.

It appears that Hitler does not have as much faith in the Siegfried Line as he once had, although the Siegfried undoubtedly will be used as Germany's western wall as originally intended. It is reported that the Todt organization is now working frantically to reinforce the Siegfried Line and polish it up after letting it go to grass for four years. Many of the guns in the Siegfried Line were shipped to coastal defenses, but this German fortified position is still a formidable barrier.

The German plan right now is one of delay. The Germans now are fighting a battle of maintenance. That is the reason they have left strong garrisons in the ports like Le Havre, Brest, and Boulogne. They want to deny us the use of these ports for as long as possible to keep the Allies from amassing an overwhelming force which will carry us into Germany.

That is as much of the Nazi plan as is evident today. The fight on the Albert Canal and the Moselle and Meuse rivers, all of them backed by the Siegfried Line. Improve and reinforce the Siegfried Line, and hold the channel ports as long as possible to delay our buildup for marching into Germany.

Further than this, it is difficult to know what Hitler will do. In fact, there seems to be little that he can do. A high German general captured recently said that it is politically impossible for Hitler to transfer any divisions away from the Eastern Front to stop the Western Allies. But even the Nazis could justify this move to their best party members. The German high command has ordered its garrisons in southern France back into the fatherland, and many of them have arrived after being badly battered by the Allied forces which landed in southern France. And much traffic has been observed going southward and westward from Denmark, where Hitler is weakening his garrisons there to bolster the forces on the western German frontier. The German forces in Norway are small, and it is unlikely that they could be transported to this front in time to make any difference in the coming battle.

Consequently, it now appears that Hitler has all his chips in the pot. And the coming battles should be decisive.

The other day British troops captured an order to the soldiers of the western German armies issued by its commander, Field Marshal Model. Model is one of Germany's best leaders, a veteran of Poland and Russia, and now in command of the Nazis' western forces.

Field Marshal Model's order to his troops describes better than any account so far the complete rout of the Germans during the past three weeks. He says, and quote, "With the enemy advance and the withdrawal of our front, a great stream of troops has been set in motion. Several hundred thousand soldiers are moving backwards."

The order continues, "Among these troops are headquarters and superfluous columns which have been routed...which have no firm destination and could receive no clear orders...with these columns travel idle talk, rumors, inconsideration, unnecessary disorder, and shortsighted selfishness."

Field Marshal Model threatened severest measures if this feeling of defeat was brought into the rear areas and into the fully intact bodies of the fighting troops.

Model admitted that Germany had lost the battle, but he added that Germany would still win the war, explaining that he could not say any more than that now. He called on his soldiers to believe in their luck. He ordered strict discipline and pointed out that the Belgian and French patriots would rather shoot a weak looking man than a strong one. He urged his soldiers to retreat walking along erect to impress the Belgian and French citizens.

And then he gave official Nazi confirmation of the looting that the German army has carried on everywhere it has fought. The German field marshal said, "Every hand grenade, every rifle, every gallon of gasoline is now needed to arm the new line to receive our troops." And he was forced to add, "These things are more important than suitcases or useless plunder."

This is Bill Downs in Brussels returning you to CBS in New York.