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tv   1944 Allied Defense of St. Vith  CSPAN  January 12, 2020 10:00pm-11:15pm EST

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gerges explores the allied decemberf st. vith in on the 75th anniversary of the battle of the bulge. american forces surrendered the belgian town, but mr. gerges argues the fighting caused a delay that frustrated the german counteroffensive. the kansas city public library and u.s. command and general staff college held this event. >> but tonight we are going to be talking about the 75th anniversary of the battle of the bulge. tonight is also probably my farewell introduction, if that isn't a contradiction in terms, for our ongoing signature series with the history department of the command and general staff college. the director of the command school, scott green, is here tonight. scott, can you wave your arm? thank you.
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[applause] >> in uniform, at the back of the room. and this lecture series which is , about great military events, great commanders and sometimes great controversies in the art of war, has been ongoing since almost the beginning of my tenure 15 years ago. it has been our great series on the library. this is probably my last introduction, because i have been drafted by the president, so if you can identify with that, to go to washington to save the republic, which you know, needs saving. but as i always like to say, the command school is the intellectual center of the army. it is self-critical, self-aware, it plays no favorites and is the best place to learn from the experience and history of the battlefield and with
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extraordinary teaching and technology, to learn from today's battlefields and commanders. it is also a school for our allies and partners and the future military leaders from around the world, a place where a future chief of staff of the pakistani army might rub shoulders with a future defense minister from india. or a future commander of the israeli defense force might be the future commander of an era legion. a place where future communication might and indeed has been incubated. it is also a place of impeccable scholarship, socratic learning, and as our regular audience members, and i see a lot of you hear, know, frequently, expressing itself with a fine sense of humor. i want to thank our early sponsors and creators of the series. none of whom i think are here tonight, but i have to say this because this may be my one chance to say it bob, bud, jim
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, wilbanks, the former chair at the history department at the command school, for starting and sustaining this great series, a series which will never die. thank you. >> [laughter] crosby: tonight we have the return of one of our favorites. mark gerges. mark has the distinction of the highest number of views in our archived programs, with only the exception of a nationally televised popular end of season cable show which i won't talk about. as a single lecturer, he has the highest number of views on our website, 91,000 views. 91,000 people have watched mark explained the fall of france. that lecture. i am going to guess tonight's lecture will generate similar interest. little tiny battle of the bulge story. my father turned 18 during the battle of the bulge. the sudden turn of the war, the desperate need for men and
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materiel which led to shortened training periods, spooked my grandmother so much that she forced my father to quit high school before graduation and join the navy. >> [laughter] crosby: this desperate expedient might not have worked out well as my father ended up on a ship in boston harbor, destined for the invasion of japan when the bomb was dropped. but he didn't end up in the ardennes, though tonight, we will. professor gergen has received his ba and served 20 years with armored units in europe, the balkans, the middle east, commanded a tank company during desert storm, and he has a bronze star with a valor device on it. he received a phd from florida state with a dissertation about the duke of wellington's cavalry.
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in the epigraph to that lecture professor gerges quotes thomas that war ising rattling good history. in his hands, it is that and also lessons for our time. mark? [applause] mark: thank you very much. [applause] mark: well good evening. >> good evening. mark: before i get started, i want to do a little introduction of my own. i normally do napoleonic history. i very rarely, ok never, have veterans in my napoleonic classes, but i want to recognize at least two members of the audience who are here up front. ken, who was in the 106th
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infantry division. we will be talking about the gold lines. he was a senior advancement. one of the key divisions we will talk about tonight. we also have clarence stole who was in the 505th parachute regiment, jumped into holland september, and was in the 82nd airborne during the battle of the bulge. do we have any other veterans of the battle of the bulge here, or any other world war ii veterans? can we just give these men a round of applause? [applause] and if you were here four years ago when i gave a talk on the fall of france in 1940, i started off with a rhetorical question. what is a nice napoleonic guy like myself doing in the 20th century? and i talked a little bit about my time in armor units in germany. and at the time, the armored
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branch at fort knox was steeped in history. we went to the basic course. one of the things we did, we would go to the museum after reading about the marine campaign, and they had huge map that came down off the top of the ceiling from this one room, and then you had armor officers who had fought in the fourth armored division talk about that and discuss what they had done with these young impressionable officers. when i arrived to my first armored battalion in october 1984, the second battalion 33rd armored regiment, part of the third armor division, which had been part of the third armored division during the battle of the bulge, i was a brand-new second lieutenant. there is not more of an intimidating feeling than to walk into a tank battalion, at that time. many of the senior noncommissioned officers were vietnam veterans. they had all been there together for long periods of time. you walk in knowing no one, and knowing how little you know
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what the army is about. you go in and you go to the battalion, and you report and he tells you which unit -- company you will be assigned to. this particular battalion had a strong sense of the history of what it did. the battalion commander handed you two pieces of cloth. a blue square that goes on your uniform. that was awarded to the battalion in 1944 for its actions on the german-belgian border. and then he hands you a belgian corded rope that you hang on your sleeve, and the battalion got it because it had been awarded that twice. the first time for the liberation of belgium in september and october 1944, the second time for its fighting during the ardennes offensive. and so here i was, a brand-new lieutenant, really didn't have much of knowing about the army,
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and i'm getting pulled into what soldiers had done 40 years before in my particular regiment. to,riend of mine decided and i, decided to go and visit the ardennes during the 40th anniversary celebrations in 1984 and i quite frankly was a little bit disappointed. if you have been to gettysburg, you see monuments. you drive through the ardennes, it is beautiful countryside, there is very few workers of anything. you don't know something monumental happened in these woods. and we were there on the 15th and 16th of december. bastogne inthat at particular there would be some , sort of huge ceremony and it was nothing. we didn't know at the time in bastogne they have what is called nuts weekend, a huge weekend commemorating the veterans that is done the first weekend in december because of the weather and the christmas holidays.
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but as we are driving out, we are driving out to the south of luxembourg city, and as we get there, this little town on a back road suddenly we come up on , this little town. there are cars parked everywhere alongside the streets. and we get out of the car to see what is going on. there are people walking to the center of town. we get there and in the center of town, we arrived just as they are doing a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the village -- liberation of this village by patton's third army on the first day of the battle of the bulge. and what struck us as we stood there was this gentleman. i didn't know who he was, he was either luxembourgish or belgian. but he is wearing second lieutenant bars and a third armored division patch. and here my friend bob and i were both second lieutenants in the third armored division. we were standing there, and here is a civilian who is reenacting what people in our battalion did 40 years before.
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that really kind of hooked me on the battle of the bulge, being interested in the ardennes offensive. as an armored officer, you read about the regiment, you read about the units that were in there. i have been fortunate, my college sent me back five times to do staff rides with the officers in through the ardennes. last time i was there was this last february. was able to walk through the ardennes and look at the ground and study the actions of american and german officers. there is a certain fascination. and if you know anything about the battle of the bulge, you probably know about the german attack in the middle of winter. and you probably know about the defense of bastogne by the 101st airborne division. troy middleton, the corps commander of the corps that takes the brunt of the german offensive, says you don't have to be a genius to understand the importance of these two road --ersections at some thief
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st. vith and bastogne. you probably know very little about the other crossroads. we will talk about the influence of the other crossroads. a general of panzer troops, his army will fight against the americans both in bastogne and in st. vith. he is not -- his ego makes one battle seem better than the other. he takes place, his troops fight in both of them. in 1945 he says that of the two of them, he says st. vith was a much more important crossroads for the success of the german offensive. in 1951 he is going to write a letter to a friend of his and he says he doesn't really understand in all these new histories coming out on the battle of the bulge. everything is emphasizing bastogne and he doesn't know why there is no emphasis on st. vith. if i ask most people who haven't
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studied up before the lecture tonight what went on there, you probably know very little. we are going to talk about that and talk about the importance of it. and to adjust give you a little bit of a scale, to pick your interest, the stone -- bastogne is besieged for a week, the 20th through the 27th. there is a full-screen a deer -- volksgrenadier regiment that will encircle the 101st airborne division. in the same time period at st. vith, the seventh armored division and 106th infantry division will fight nine different divisions from two different armies. and it is a much, much greater scale of what is going to go on. so let's talk a little bit about how you got here. the american army and the allied forces are doing a broad foreign -- front offensive in fall 1944. they start to get near the german border. we start to run out of steam.
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a number of things have happened. the logistics lines, we haven't opened enough ports. the logistics are coming from the normandy front across france, so logistics are being stretched to the utmost. the weather starts to turn bad. we also start to get to the german border, and the other part is what they call the miracle in the west, what the germans call the miracle in the west. during the advance across france, we are going to destroy large numbers of german troops, particularly in the more 10 counterattack. we destroy equipment, and most of the soldiers walk back. they have a cadre of trained soldiers, educated officers, and when they produce tanks and equipment, they are going to be able to refill their forces very quickly. we expect when the weather improves, when the logistics improve, we are going to go on the offensive again, and it will be in two different places. in the north, the 21st army
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group and the ninth and first armies up towards the ruhr off the map to the north. in the south with the third army and seventh army down crossing the rhine. in the center is this not impassable -- i hate using that term. it is very rugged ground known as the ardennes. if you go there today it is , beautiful countryside today, a tourist haven, hiking trails, beautiful little towns with wandering brooks. the roads are alongside these brooks and they are very narrow. in we are going to end our offensive into germany on the edge of the sick free line and the west -- six read -- the siegfried line and the west wall. we have four divisions, part of the u.s. eighth corps, the 106th infantry division, the 28th infantry division, the ninth infantry and fourth infantry.
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the area of the ardennes the u.s. forces are using for two purposes. one are the units that have been so bloodied in the forest to the north they put the troops in there and are refilling them with new replacements. the 28th and fourth infantry divisions are experienced divisions that fought across france and have gone into the forest, they lost about a third to half of their strength and are being refilled from their bloody fighting in october and november in the forest. the other divisions, the ninth armored and 106th, are new. particular are so new, they have gone to the front, taken over the second infantry four days before the german offensive is going to start. they're just settling in. the other division which is in fifth court, the north is the 99th infantry. that division has only been on the line for approximately three weeks.
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so you get a number of very very , inexperienced divisions and a lot of bloodied divisions in this area. that is ok because we don't expect anything is going to happen. we are looking at this with what we call confirmation bias. we are going to be doing something to the germans, we will go back on the offensive after the losses and advances through the fall. how could they possibly do anything other than husband the resources for when we start to invade the homeland in great detail? the other thing that is really going on is the second infantry division is doing a limited attack into the ruhr river dams, and that will start before the fighting on the 16th of december. so the german planning for this offensive begins in september. in the early part of september, the german losses have been so bad on the western front that they have 100 operational tanks. to put that in perspective, when they attack on the 16th of december, they have something
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like 1800 tanks they will bring -- tanks and assault guns. they are in terrible shape. hitler is getting a briefing, and the chief of the wehrmacht is talking about the retreat into holland and the retreat into alsace, and when he mentions the word ardennes, suddenly hitler slams his hand onto his table and says, "i have made a momentous decision. we will attack out of the ardennes with the objective of antwerp." what hitler seized on is this gap between the british 21st army group and the u.s. 12th army group. he wants to use the ardennes and move very, very rapidly across the muse river seizing bridges , like he did in 1940, then move to antwerp, isolating the 21st army group and hopefully creating then another dunkirk.
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if he can destroy the 21st army group, britain's main armies on the continent he hopes that will , knock britain out of the war. if it doesn't knock them out totally, it will at least stun the united states into action. he can take troops and put them into what he considers the real threat, the eastern front against the russians. to do this, he is going to select three armies. speed is going to be paramount to the german success. the sixth panzer army is made up of ss troops, and that will be in the main effort. it is going to be the army that is going to come sweeping through here, take the area and go up to antwerp. supporting the flank of that will be the fifth army, fifth panzer army, a shaping operation. it is supposed to take the
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critical crossroads town of st. vith no later than the second day and in the south, the seventh army, an infantry army, the weakest of the three armies, only has about 40 assault guns with the bulk of tanks and assault guns into the north and that is mainly to protect the flank of the fifth panzer army. become knownations as -- it has a defensive name. it seems like they are going to be defending, not an attack. where they position the troops looks like where you would position troops when the u.s. and british offensives start again for counterattacks, and all this goes into the deception plan the germans are trying to do. soldiers, 180000 tanks and guns, 1900 artillery pieces against this front. and you can see the numbers. it is about 11 divisions in the north versus eight divisions and the fifth panzer army and
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seventh army, but those numbers are a little misleading because of the type of troops that are up in the sixth panzer army. facing them in the eighth corps will be 83,000 soldiers, 250 tanks. today we teach when you go on the offensive, you need three to one odds for the offensive to be successful. and germans where they decide they are going to penetrate, they had 8-1 odds in infantry and 4-1 odds in mechanized forces and tanks and assault guns. so they had clearly massed their forces to be able to do it. there is two commanders of the armies we are going to talk about tonight. one of them is the commander of army group b. he is going to be the operational level commander. and then the german panzer troop commander, we will talk quite a bit about his actions tonight. of the two armies, when you look at the u.s. infantry divisions versus a german division, the
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u.s. division is a little bit bigger. you almost have to look at the german divisions division by division to see how good they are. that is because the older division, which are called volksgrenadier divisions, have about 14,000 soldiers. some of the new volksgrenadier divisions will stand up in the fall, only have about 80% strength, between 8000 and 10,000 soldiers. that confuses part of how we look at the order of battle from the germans. german panzer divisions, tank divisions are supposed to have about 160 tanks while our divisions have 186 medium tanks, then 77 light tanks. 263. most german divisions have less than that. some of the key german wehrmacht divisions only have about 80 tanks. but those numbers are actually closer to the actual strength of the ss divisions, the elite german forces. this is where they are going to
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put their main effort. it is divisions that have almost 19,000 soldiers in them, and as we talked through tonight, this is the panther the tiger one, panzer which is like our sherman, and these are assault guns. we have two armored vehicles and they are going to play a key part that we talked about. one is the tank, the sherman tank. tanks are designed to kill people, not kill other tanks. the tanks are designed, exploitation, go after headquarters, supply units. part of our army doctrine at the time is that tanks go after and do the exploitation. to defeat enemy tanks, we have a tank destroyer. the tank gun is low velocity, not very good for fighting against german tanks where we have 76, 90 millimeter tank destroyers. to have the big gun and to be really fast on the battlefield and able to move around, it has one thing a tank doesn't have
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and that is good armor protection. if you notice the tank destroyers, there is no top on the target. they are open topped. that is so the crew can see out over the top and move their vehicle effectively. when you also look at the two divisions, the type of divisions we are going to have, the infantry division, when we start to create an army, we will finally have 89 divisions altogether. and 106th division is one of the last that will be set up in the summer of 1943. it has about a year of training stateside, then the casualties from the normandy campaign and the drive across france start to hit the army. and we haven't calculated the number of infantry casualties. we will need sufficiently. what will end up happening is, the first 3000 soldiers in lower-level noncommissioned officers will be taken from the 106th division. and then a few weeks later, another 3500 will be taken.
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within a very, very short time in summer 1944, they will lose trained000 of their infantry and get new replacements, but they won't be given the time to really integrate them into the unit and train. they will be shipped overseas in october, have 19 days of training in england. they then begin the transit over to france. they get on the ships and they have a storm in the channel, and they spend four days unable to land, seasick on board. they get into france, and there is no trucks waiting for them. they spend a day and a half in the field waiting for trucks to show up. they get on these open top trucks and spend two days crossing france in wet, rainy weather. they finally start pulling into the st. vith area in december, taking over from the second infantry division. they are pretty happy. the second infantry has been there, has created these foxholes with overhead cover. they have warming. they are using the pill boxes at
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the siegfried line. so the 106th division thinks they are in good shape. they are commanded by major general alan jones, and they are organized with three infantry regiments. the other key thing about the divisions at this time, when mcnair is standing at the army , he makes every infantry division look the same. what that means is, this division could be going to europe, it could be going to north africa, or it could be going to the jungles of the south pacific without any changes. then isy decide to do to give these divisions, based on where they will be fighting extra units to be able to help , them do their mission. tank battalions are usually assigned to an infantry division from a pool as is tank destroyers, however the 106th doesn't have a tank battalion as it takes over the line because they don't think that in the
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ardennes, they will need it. the armored division of the time though has a different philosophy. the armored force only came into existence in july 1940 after the fall of france. george c. marshall stood up the armored force, and what they end up doing is taking all this mechanization work being done across branches, send it to fort knox and create the armored force. they base, and they think about how they will use it, they are meant to be offensive weapons, they are meant to be able to change the organization. and so the armored divisions of the second world war don't have a set organization. where the infantry divisions have three regiments, each regiment has three battalions, they always work together, the headquarters here are what is called combat commands. there is combat command a, combat command b, and combat .ommand r the idea being three infantry battalions and three tanks, and you mix and match the numbers and assign them to combat
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b based on what the situation is. as the unit takes losses and it needs to be reconstituted and rebuilt in strength, it is rotated into combat command r, and the units in r rotate to the front. when they actually set up the organization, combat command r only has eight officers as their entire organization. very few of the divisions actually operate this way. most of them beef up the headquarters of combat command r and they use the three combat commands as headquarters to be able to move their forces in and out. they focus on being able to change their task organization on the fly and be able to mix and match. it makes the seventh armored division almost a perfect division for the fighting that is going to take place around st. vith. the key leaders, robert hasbrouck who had been a combat commander in the seventh armored division. the division commander had been
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relieved up in holland, so he rises up to be the division commander. clarke comes to take over combat command b. clarke has just pinned on brigadier general 10 days before, so he is a brand-new general and just getting to know his unit as the fighting starts. when you look at the actual german offensive, this area that you can see with this kind of yellow line is where the actual german penetrations will be. if you notice, almost no penetration of success by the sixth panzer army up towards antwerp. all the success of the german offensive is going to take place in the fifth panzer army. and we are going to talk about son fils -- about st. vith in particular, why six panzer army does not get a chance to move forward. the other officer i need to talk a little bit about today is brigadier general william hope.
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local connection with fort leavenworth. he lives out part of his life up in easton. hope builds part of the canadian-american highway and then will command and engineer brigade special engineer brigade , during the normandy landings that is clearing demolitions he is going to take over with the ninth armored division. if you look at the relationship jones,ajor general alan commanding all the forces in this area, that is not exactly how it takes place. on the areas in around st. vith, the actual fighting that will happen there. the german offensive starts at 5:30 in the morning on the 16th of december. lookouts throughout the area. they are in water towers, church
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steeples. they will notice on the horizon all these flashes of light. they don't really know what is going on. they see all these lights and they start calling their headquarter saying something is going on. about 90 seconds later, they realize it was german artillery rockets. about 1800 different pieces of artillery firing that will star, because there are so few soldiers over the 83 miles of the eighth corps, it actually ends up being an advantage. the soldiers are spread out. so the artillery has less effective fire than would have been. but the german plan is based on speed. they have to very rapidly take both st. vith by the end of day two and bastogne by the end of day two, seizing the muse river crossings by the end of day four, and then get to antwerp. to make sure they can get that
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speed, what they will do is lead with their infantry forces that are supposed to create a penetration and then pass their armored forces in that will drive rapidly to the rear. they planned the offense of for -- they planned the offensive for december when the weather is bad. the weather in the northern ardennes, where we will talk about tonight, has been in the upper 30's to low 40's. there is a foot of snow on the ground. the ground is not frozen very well. a vehicle or two passing through this field turns it to mud. in the middle part, it is sleet and rain coming down. lots and lots of fog that will prevent the army air forces from playing a role in this, which is exactly what hitler plans for this time period. but again, speed and the ability to take these two road intersections. the roads are important because to be able to sustain the advance of this type of speed you have to bring up lots of supplies. particularly fuel and
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ammunition. but you have to get through there. the st. vith has six roads that come together. it also has the only east/west railroad line. so if you are going to be able to turn this into a limited success into a major offensive, you have to take that logistical convoy to begin the move forward to supply your forces. 106th infantry division is going to be on this area. when we talk about this there are a couple key pieces of terrain. one is the snow plateau. today it's a high ground where you can go and walk and hike. it also has ski hills on the german side. i heard someone say it's a place where you want to see hansel and gretel. it's there. the times i have been between november and february, you go to see and the water is tripping
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-- the water is dripping off the trees. it's damp, it's wet, it's dark. and this is where the german border is. and the west wall fortifications. the gap is the historic invasion route. it is known at that time as the historic invasion route. this idea that no one thinks you can come through the ardennes is one of those myths that have grown up because german troops have come through the ardenness again and again and again. but the gap is relatively open farm country that will move back behind st. vith in that open area. the river will come down through this area and then it will hit them. the two major bridges are here. steinbrook.nd and that is important because when the 106 division begins to occupy these positions you have the 14th calvary that is going to guard the loshiem gap. it's also the border between two corps.
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it makes it a dangerous area. you would not pass if you put a core boundary on the middle of that in the approach. then there is a 106th infantry regiment that will be on this good defensible terrain. the only problem is we look at this and say this is not ground we want to defend. one of the major problems is all the road networks come around and they all come together. if schonberg falls, all these troops to the front will be trapped up there. there is one third of one other regiment that would just be off this map to the side. as you get back to st. vith, schonberg, the one bridge, the the piece of high wooded ground about a mile to the east.
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and the town of st. vith. it is not a large town. in 1944, it has about 2000 inhabitants. bastogne has about 4000. and so it has been taken over not because these are great defense positions, but because this is where we ended up stopping in october. and we hate to have to go back to the west wall and try to capture it again. the morning of the 16th, german forces, the 18th has been patrolling heavily. has identified the new division in the area. they have identified the flanks and they will begin to come in through the flanks of the two regiments that will become trapped. by nightfall, they are coming up to two towns. one is adler, up on the road up here. the other one is in that area. at that point, the defense is still holding pretty well. the two regimens have only been
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hit by patrols. for brand-new troops, they think they are doing well. they push back patrols. they are still holding. but as you look at the overall front, the threat is that they will be surrounded and if schonberg falls, that will trap them in that area. by nightfall, troy middleton, who is an 8th corps commander, is getting concerned. he sees the width of the attack all throughout their area. he has heard the major general talking about what's going on. and finally at 10:00 at night, they have a phone conversation. the germans are jamming the radios, so they cannot have a direct communication by radio. the german artillery has cut most of the phone lines that we haveut concerned they will be overheard. so what they are going to use is a bunch of codewords. they talk about the "big boy" coming to the rescue.
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using these codewords, they absolutely confuse each other and do not have the same understanding. middleton gets off the phone and he basically says, i have told major general jones that he has the authority, if the position is untenable, to pull the troops off. he is a local commander, he knows what is going on, he can pull those troops off. jones hangs up the phone, looks at his operations officer and says we have been told we have to hold on, we are going to lose those troops. those two come up with entirely opposite actions of what they think is going on at that time. by the end of the day, when you talk about what is going to go on and what makes the u.s. army successful in the battle of the bulge, it is the amazing movement that is going to take place. by the end of the day, general middleton has begun to move the brigade of the ninth armored
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division down to the st. vith area. you then have from ninth army in from third army, eisenhower began moving the seventh army division and the 10th armored division up to bastogne. eisenhower will also start moving the 101st and 82nd airborne up to the region. you already, on the evening of the first day, 18 hours after the offensive started, you see all this movement come together to these two key road intersections. when we talk about how successful, what the germans expect the offense is going to be like, the panzer division is really the epitome of what the germans expect. on the day of the 16th, the division, a german paratrooper division, will fight against the 99th division. they will open a hole and in the morning of the 17th, they will punch through.
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they will, by the end of the day, have gone 26 miles deep into the american lines. notice the one intersection. they will come through. at the same time, as they are moving 26 miles deep into the american lines, the seventh armored division begins its move south. there are two routes coming from holland and germany. they have a 70 mile trip. portions of the division will come down this route to st. vith, followed by the division artillery. then the second route with combat command a and r will come down this western route. as they are coming down, combat command d will cross through. the instructions he gives to clark are pretty vague. clark gets there at 4:00 in the morning and meets with troy
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isdleton and says jones having some trouble. go and see him. give him some help if you can. and clark will be up there and get to st. vith at about 10:30 in the morning. as combat command is moving down, combat command b will pass through and piper cut in through the middle of the columns. it will divert the artillery from this route or they will have to go through here and come around this way. it will take them two days before they actually get into the fight. and of course today marks the 75th anniversary of the massacre, where a convoy, a field artillery observation battalion not assigned to the seventh armored division but supporting them, they are coming down the road where the blue line is. they get to the corner, they start the turn and piper comes around the corner. they will shoot up the truck, line up approximately 130
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soldiers in the field, and massacre them in the field. we will recapture this in january. we will find american soldiers lined up. a total of 86 soldiers will be found buried in the field. and if you follow piper along the entire route, it is nothing but massacre and atrocity after atrocity as it goes 26 miles on this first day. but let's go back to what's happening in the st. vith area. the brigadier will be successful, but a little too successful. you have two converging routes that come to one bridge. then you see the problems they have throughout the rest of the offensive of massive traffic jams. they will begin moving forward towards st. vith. they are about four miles away from it. alan jones is going to make the last real effective decision for this offensive. he sends two engineer companies. one from his own engineers and one from the core engineer
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battalion supporting him up to start defending him. at that time, clark will show up to start getting instructions. the ninth armored division combat command b begins arriving. originally they would counterattack this way, but when jones was told the entire seventh armored division is coming at 7:00 a.m., he diverts the to try to secure the flank ninth of the 4th infantry regiment down here. the problem is that all the core units that were in this area have begun to move backwards to get out of the path of the german offensive. and the seventh armored division starts heading into two huge traffic jams as they move back between st. vith. the germans here are starting to get into huge traffic jams. manteuffel is trying to come
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forward as the fifth army commander. the road, which is only a two lane road, three wide would -- three wide vehicle stop. his command vehicle is stopped. he finally gets out, he walks forward trying to find out what is happening. when he gets forward to schonberg, he is going to find a lot of german officers there. one guy in the middle yelling and pointing trying to get things unscrewed. and that is the field marshal, his boss, who is there in person. he is playing cop, trying to unscrew the traffic jam. this is one of the key things the germans will see again and again. there is really no good route other than this winding road down along the river. there are some logging trails up this way but they have a hard time being able to generate combat power. with the two regiments surrounded, the german 18th also has two of regimens to make sure they don't counterattack into their flank, and with the road network being what it is, the artillery of the germans is somewhere back here, behind german lines unable to support the front. jones and clark are going to
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meet in jones's office. what clark reports is he sees a headquarters that is packing up. they are burning secret documents and taking down maps. alan jones is sitting in his office. he is not taking any reports, he is not making any decisions. and pretty much after jones sends the two companies up here, the machine gun fire starts to break out. at that point jones says to clark, i have thrown it everything i have. it's your fight. the 106th division will move that headquarters back here. and the seventh armored division has this fight. just quickly, to go through the actual day-to-day fighting here, seventh armored division will arrive in the first two days are ad hoc. they are a just series of crisis and as units arrive, they are thrown into the line. this is going on throughout what becomes known as the north shoulder. american divisions are arriving down here, extending out this
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line. you start to see what becomes the elongated goose egg here, and you start to see the bulge around bastogne starting to form as germans continue to drive forward. by the 18th, the line is not really a line. the seventh armored division and the 106th division are defending a circular horseshoe that is 52 miles long. normal division frontage is five miles. the 106th division, when it was in position was holding 21 miles. the entire core was holding 83 miles. and so here is the seventh armored and the 106th holding 52 miles. and the positions are really independent, not tied into themselves. hasbrouck, who will have his headquarters back here, knows that there are german forces bypassing to the north. german forces bypassing to the south, as well as trying to attack him directly in the area
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and will become the 62nd. the 19th ends up being a quiet day for the americans. what is happened is the germans are having some any problems trying to unscrew their traffic jams that they cannot build combat power. at this time model and manteuffel will meet. there has really been no action up into the north. he will make the fifth panzer army the main effort in trying to get more and more forces, including what is known as the escort brigade, which is a brigade that really has a light division type of strength. unfortunately, even though you have given it to them, they are still trapped miles behind in the town, trying to come forward. the 20th of december is when things will start to pick up again. you start to see elements of the escort brigade coming in.
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and a certain pattern starts to develop on the fighting. most armored combat in world war ii takes place at about 800 yards. visual range. that is really because of the guns and the sights. what ends up happening is you can see the enemy starting to sen. kennedy: -- starting to mass for the attack. you can see movement before they get into direct fire range. so the advantage the americans will have is their field artillery. some friends back there in field artillery that are nodding their heads. the american field artillery that will be able to fire. by the 20th, three battalions of the seven army come around. when you look at how much the field artillery is doing, the single field artillery they had for the first days fires in a single day 4000 rounds with six guns. you say, how much is that? well, it's 270 fire missions.
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it is so many munitions so rapidly that the paint blisters on the guns. they try to cool the barrels down by pouring water down the barrels. as they pour the water down the barrels, it just comes out as steam and no water actually comes down. so the german commander is going to say that any time anything moved, artillery fire came down very, very rapidly. the other thing he will say is that there are tanks everywhere. and from the german perspective, manteuffel thinks he is fighting an armored corps. what is happening is clark and the seventh armored division are keeping infantry and engineers and calvary men forward and maintaining a reserve of tank companies and tank destroyers. and so wherever the germans start to mass, they are able to move very rapidly. in a certain pattern, they call the tactic racetrack. the racetrack pattern. what happens is tank destroyers will get into a reverse slope.
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german tanks come over the hill and start firing at the tank destroyers who have longer-range guns and the better guns that can hit the frontal armor of the german tanks. while that is going on, while the germans are distracted at the front, american tanks will race around to the rear and try to come around to the rear and destroy those tanks. at the same time, artillery is coming in and taking away the infantry that is supporting the attack. once that particular attack is defeated, the germans retreat, you recock the whole thing, you put the reserves back in there and are ready to do it again the next time the threat comes in. the situation for the seventh armored division and the 106th is kind of dire. one thing is they are going to be in a 270 degree defense, what -- which means german artillery fire is at them from all sides. there also fighting this running battle for about 20 miles deep.
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the seventh armored division field trains are 20 miles behind, somewhere over here behind me. and they are fighting off patrols from the 116th division, the second ss panzer division. the 560th division. they have had to take the soldiers, the cooks, the supply clerks. they had to take the vehicles that are being repaired. they had to take any tanks that have come up as replacements and man 12 roadblocks to be able to actually fight and defend their positions. and hasbrouck is able to be confident about the northern flank, but the southern flank is weak. he has got by this time two regiments working together. and this relationship i talked about earlier with command and control, combat command b was technically working for the 106 th division. but really it's a handshake between bruce clark in st. vith and hope. this is the 112th infantry regiment out of the 28th
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division. 28th division was here. when the germans hit it head-on, one regiment takes the blows head on. the other two peel off. one goes to the south and starts to form the southern flank of the penetration. the 112th infantry regiment has fought a retreat for 30 miles cross-country on foot against german pressure. it's an absolutely astounding work and able to keep together . they come into part of this elongated goose egg. this is what it looks like by the 20th of december. you see because of st. vith holding, the german offensive has narrowed down, and almost no success here. it is starting to shift onto the south where they are finding less resistance and more movement to the rear. the 21st ends up being a critical day for the division. the german attack starts.
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they are fought off for most of the day. after dark, five germans tiger two's will come straight up the road. they are going to fire high velocity flares. they are going to blind the five american tanks. they will knock them out very quickly. with the american tanks gone, the tiger two's start to go after individual foxholes and they open up the penetration. they begin to roll down into st. vith. they finally got the penetration that they wanted. clark orders his men to begin to retreat back to a new line they will form. this also forces the ninth armored division to move out to a new line. this is where most of the losses for combat command b will be. they will lose four out of five infantry companies and 800 soldiers when the germans actually break through. once again, as you look at this, all the roads lead to a chokepoint. and so, even though the germans
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have had the success of taking st. vith, all the roads, 62nd a nd 18th grenadiers and the escort brigade, they all come together at st. vith, and at the south end of the town there is a roundabout and there is a huge traffic jam again. the other issue they start to have is german soldiers, as they capture american positions, start to loot. it's cold, it's rainy. they finally have some shelter and they start finding american rations, american cigarettes. and so it delays them once again as they get into st. vith and the penetration does not go forward. but as you can see, all around the front, there are major actions. it is almost constant attacks everywhere. that is being reacted to very, very quickly. on the 20th of december, the northern half of the bulge comes under field marshal montgomery's 21st army group command.
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bradley in luxembourg city cannot communicate with the forces on the north. and as forces start to come in, the 82nd airborne will start coming in a long the salm river. the commander of the 18th airborne corps will take command of the seventh armored division and the 106th. the question is, do you fight surrounded or do you withdraw? on the 20th of december, bastogne has been surrounded. matthew ridgway is an infantryman. he does not like giving up ground. he wants to hold every inch of ground and he wants to stay and defend this. the night before, hasbrouck, who cannot communicate with the 8th corps, that's 50 miles away, will send a letter up to his building in the first army headquarters and talk about a situation that says our northern
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flank is strong, we are getting artillery fire, we have not had fuel and ammunition come in in two days. the two infantry regiments in the south are weak. they are at 50%. i really think we need to withdraw. and matthew ridgway comes down with theasbrouck letter in his hand. he walks into the headquarters kind of irate and says, did you read this letter before you sent it? hasbrouck looks at him, he's been fighting for six days now, and he says, every word. and that kind of diffuses any -- diffuses hasbrouck upon -- diffuses ridgeway's tension. and hasbrouck goes through and talks about what the situation is in the seventh armored division. despite that, ridgeway still wants him to defend. they will go forward to bruce clark's headquarters. bruce clark pretty much tells him the exact same thing. we need to withdraw and get out of there. ridgeway still wants them to stay. it is only when he goes down to a west point classmate who he trusts and knows, he goes down
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there and tells him, will, we will get you out of here. he just looks at him and says, i don't know how you are going to do that. at that point, he understands how bad the situation is. the last thing he will do is go up to the headquarters of the 106th division and get briefed by major general jones. and jones gives him a pretty optimistic point of view that we can stay, we can hold this. and at that point ridgeway understands that jones does not understand the situation. he will be relieved on the spot. at that point, all the forces in that pocket come under hasbrouck's control. also in the 22nd, montgomery, who sends up these officers, young officers who go around with the radio vehicle and they could go and basically spy on any headquarters and call up montgomery and talk directly. he has these officers all throughout. he has a great feel of what's going on in the battlefront. he understands it's time for the seventh army division to withdraw.
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he will send a message down to first army and hasbrouck, saying, you have accomplished your mission, a mission well done. the problem is, how will they withdraw? the germans are starting to understand that it is close. they are going to get one last supply convoy that comes through on the 22nd with fuel and ammunition. it had to take two days to get there. they had to go back through the 84th division, back to the third armored division and come in there. there are three routes taken -- routes that they can withdraw. a here, b through the woods, and this one, c, up along the river. the problem is you have to stay on the road. clark has had his engineers improving this road. still a dirt road today, and he is improving it by cutting down trees and making a corduroy road. the day before, his jeep slid down, and it took the 12
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soldiers to lift it out of the mud and put it on the road. if fear is they won't be able to get out and it will only be the middle of the night on the 22nd that the wind start to change. what comes in is known as a russian high. temperature drops down to the 20's. 5:00 a.m., they finally get the order to withdraw. clark walks out of his headquarters at 7:00 a.m. and the mud is freezing. at that point, they understand they can get out. what will happen is the withdrawal -- i have heard it described as a sock turned inside out. basically the ninth armored division goes back first on this route and then these other units peel back and get across on the line that the 82nd airborne has created along the salm river. clark will talk about he never had defensive lines. he just had strong points. he will be able to counter attack and do it. he is so tired at the end that his drivers had tied him into the seat so he does not fall out when they're moving around.
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here is the cost. seventh armored division loses about 40% strength and about half its tanks. 106th infantry loses two of its regiments and has the largest surrender of u.s. forces in the european theater of operation. we can ask some questions about closing the bulge. here's the overall cost. there is about 80,000 american casualties. 100,000 german casualties. we lose 730 tanks, they lose about 500 tanks. the difference is we can make up our losses within weeks. and the germans are never able to make up their losses. so what is the overall effect? the overall effect of the ardennes offensive is this is germany's last attempt to influence and seize the initiative in the war. with the success of the defense, with the losses, they can no
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longer fight the mobile-type warfare that the allies can do. at st. vith in particular, it stops the german main effort. by the fourth and fifth day, the germans are running out of fuel. second ss panzer divisions having to tow vehicles because they have run out of gas. and the focus becomes just getting to muse as opposed to getting to antwerp. russell, in his book, will say that the st. vith defense epitomizes the american application everywhere in the ardennes of the army's tactical doctrine for countering such a breakthrough. but more perhaps than any of the other defensive stances, it was the battle of st. vith that brought the time required to recapture control of the battle. when you look at the ardennes, when you look at the fighting there, i really cannot add more than charles mcdonald.
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we are going to be able to go from 83,000 soldiers in the ardennes to two weeks later having 600,000 soldiers. we moved 29 divisions and six mechanized groups, an absolutely amazing display of american prowess on mobility that shocks the germans. charles mcdonald will write a book, "the time for trumpets." he was a company commander in the second infantry division. an army historian for his career when he retires. he decides to write this magnificent book on the ardennes. and his closing of the book really, i think, summarizes the sacrifices that went on, not just at st. vith, but across the ardennes. except for a few individuals, the frontline american soldier stood his ground. surprise, stunned, unbelieving, incredulous, not understanding what was hitting him, he nevertheless held fast until his commanders ordered withdraw or until he was overwhelmed.
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hitler's saw the american soldiers the week component of the western alliance, the the products of a society to heterogeneous to fill a capable fighting force. at many a place, in the low shying gap, the american soldier put the lie to hitler's theory. his was a story to be told to the sound of trumpets. thank you very much. [applause] mr. kemper: if you have a question, come up to the microphone so they can record the question. >> wasn't the ardennes the site of a major battle in world war i? prof. gerges: we are going to have the offensive that will come up, but not really a major battle in the first world war. of course may, june 1940, the
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german offensive in there will take place. >> i have always been interested in the relationship between the wehrmacht and the ss paramilitary groups. did they have a problem coordinating with each other? wehrmachtviously the had a different culture. i do not think they would have massacred people like they did there. but my basic question is how did the ss and wehrmacht interact during this battle? prof. gerges: in many ways, i say that because the wehrmacht is the german army, and then there is this nazi army, if you will. very elite. the look of themselves as better, as handpicked. you see over and over again. i did not get a chance to talk about it. you see ss units ignoring orders
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deciding to go into the panzer army's areas just because they could and they upset the timeline. and they caused more traffic jams on that area. thank you. >> two anecdotes that i know personally. one, my wife early in her teaching career had a colleague whose husband was in one of the two regiments that surrendered. and so he did not talk about it, but she told us that he walked east for many days and that was at the various different places. when he came home, i don't know if she knew him yet, he preferred to eat his meals alone in his room back home in suburban chicago. so that was the fate of those two regiments. the other is this gentleman here said he was a bandsman. my father-in-law in the 99th division was a bandman.
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during the bulge, they basically said put down your tuba, and the weapon, pick it up. the advance was cut off. they were not very far from there. prof. gerges: the two of you should talk after this because he probably knew your father in law because he was in the 99th division. but good. thank you. >> i read a book on the 106th, and i was in germany in 1984. talked about how the troops in the two regiments were ordered to surrender. they hated jones after that. what kind of condition where they actually in when they finally surrendered? prof. gerges: part of the problem is they are going to come back -- i should mention i put up a couple of recommended books. two on the left side are by veterans of the battle of the bulge. the two on the right are new books on the battle of the bulge. one that just came out the first of november on the seventh armored division. it is the only book focusing on
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the seventh armored division. the troops had gotten some confusing orders. they were initially told to stay in their positions and hold and prepare for 360 degree defense. then they are told to break out to the east. that the seventh armored division is coming, and to meet them. then they are told to counter attack, take the bridge and reopen the route. so they are given contradictory orders. the problem is they are running out of food and ammunition. there is no evacuation for the casualties. and i can't remember which regiment, but when they actually nort their attack, there is commander appointed for the two regiments. so the two regiments do not cooperate as the begin to move. one comes up over the hill that looks down on the road. and when they come up over this hill, this is light infantry. they are carrying a rifle, they and towed artillery
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bazookas. they come over the hill and they see the german traffic jam. it's armored vehicles, three abreast as far as they can see. left and right. at that point, they realize they cannot actually break out. the one other anecdote there, the person who actually has to go forward to negotiate the surrender has a local connection. major william garnow. of course, his grandfather was buffalo bill, a leavenworth native. >> air pilots played a big part in the united states military since the 1980's. and it has been a big part of my experience in the military. can you talk about how the air power played in this particular battle? prof. gerges: initially, it is exactly -- did he put you up to that question? [laughter] ok, good. some of my students back over there. when the russian high comes in, the weather drops down. clark walked out at 7:00 in the
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morning. the sun comes out about 8:00, it is a beautiful, beautiful blue sky, not a cloud in the sky. the first time it has been that way for the week. it has been cloudy, overcast, foggy. so on the day that they were actually trying to break out, the airpower clears. that's when the american fighter-bombers are going to be able to start treating german forces. it will help the seventh armored division break contact. when at the time when instead of pursuing, they are having to worry about what's coming around that next corner as additional air fights come in. so it is going to play a huge role after the weather break in that time period. >> it's my understanding that there was a second bulge created on january 1 by the germans. they were under a lot of pressure. i actually lost one of my uncles
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in that battle. when they were coming across, he was killed there. i went there before they began to tighten up security at leavenworth. but i got copies of the battle plans and it showed where my uncle was and where he got killed. i went there 10 years ago and picked up soil from the spot approximately where he was. i brought it back and gave it to his son. prof. gerges: what a neat tribute that you were able to do that. operation nord wind, the germans are going to try to restart the offensive. not in the actual ardennes, but slightly south in the seventh army area. the operation lasts only for two weeks. it does push the seventh army back. they also do what is known as the hangover raid. they mass about 1000 aircraft on early in the morning on the first of january when all the
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airmen should be hung over in their barracks, and they were going to attack the army air force on the ground. they destroy about 450 american aircraft on the airfield. it will lose 270 aircraft in antiaircraft fire. however, they cannot make up those 270. the 460 pilots were not in them because they were on the ground. so, new aircraft were able to reconstitute very quickly. >> just by chance, i met this family and found out the woman's father was in the french first army. and i had been in contact with him until he died. he died january 2, a year ago. and he talked about being in the resistance movement. one of his best friends, they were about 14, they were walking along in some village in france,
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and his partner made some comment about the nazis. and they called them both in and determined who had said the snide remark. and he said when he went back the next day, his friend was hanging on a meat hook in the middle of the square. at any rate, he was not too far from where my uncle had been killed. so, we exchanged a lot of info. that was all i wanted to say. prof. gerges: thank you. i will stick around if anyone has any other questions. yes, sir. >> coming out of groomersberg, 21, 22 tank battle. do you have any anecdotes about that? prof. gerges: just that the germans will come down the hill. the fighting there is fascinating. the officer who commands it is a lieutenant colonel riggs.
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he had been an all-american at the university of illinois before the war. 28 years old. he gets captured there. his account of where happens there is, he is captured, he walks east, he is put on trains, gets put into a prison camp. he is there for a couple of weeks, refuses to cooperate. they move him to another prisoner camp in poland. he escapes from that camp, marches until he is picked up at the polish resistance. spends a couple days or about a week in warsaw, rebuilding the infrastructure, then he is moved east to the russian army where he is given to a soviet tank regiment that has u.s. equipment. so he fights with the soviet army for about a week. then he is put on a train to odessa. goes on a ship to istanbul. at that point, he talks his way onto a british ship to alexandria where he talks his way onto another british ship to naples. reports in to u.s. facilities there.
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is told, you are a state prisoner so you get a 60 day furlough. he says no, i want to go back to my battalion. he gets on another ship. when he is there, that is when the submarine is still being held out. the 106th division and its one regimen is guarding them. he walks into his battalion headquarters three months later, his battalion xo is the acting commander and he basically says, hi, i'm back. [laughter] it is an absolutely amazing story that is in there. 81st engineer battalion. 81st engineer battalion. all right, well, thank you so much for coming out. i will stay if you have any other questions. [applause] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] is american history tv featuring events, interviews, archival films, and visits to
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college classrooms, museums, and historic places. all weekend, on c-span3. announcer: on december 16, 1944, adolf hitler launched a surprise counteroffensive against allied forces in the ardennes forest region of belgium, northeastern france, and luxembourg. known as the "battle of the bulge," hitler committed more than 1000 tanks and 200,000 troops to this last nazi effort, hoping to recapture the port city of antwerp. next, veterans, their families, and officials from the u.s. military and allied nations mark battle's 75th anniversary with a ceremony in washington, d.c. author alex kershaw gives the address. the friends of the national world war ii memorial hosted the event. mr. kershaw: good morning. on behalf of the friends of the national world war ii memorial, it is my treou


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