New Plans To Drive to the Rhine
On 18 October, as General Eisenhower met his command chiefs at Brussels, he could only have speculated that the logistical situation even without Antwerp soon might permit resumption of the offensive. But as of 18 October, prospects for early use of Antwerp were bright, so bright that General Eisenhower's chief of intelligence saw November as the month Hitler dreaded most.1 In any event, a commander failing to lay the groundwork for a new offensive purely on the basis of logistical question marks might one day find himself in the role of a foolish virgin with no oil in the lamp.
General Eisenhower and his advisers dutifully considered a theory that with winter coming on, the best policy might be to hold in place, then to launch a final victorious offensive in the early spring. Three factors tipped the scales against the theory: (1) The enemy's casualties were running about 4,000 per day, "or one 'division' on his new standard every day or two, through simple attrition in the line." (2) A winter sit down would give the enemy's new divisions time for detailed training and combat blooding, would enable enemy industry to turn out new guns and tanks, and would provide time for building new concrete cordons about the rents in the West Wall. (3) A pause might enable the Germans to get their jet fighter production into high gear and possibly to discover the proximity fuze, with which they might blast Allied bombers from the skies. "We were certain," General Eisenhower wrote after the war, "that by continuing an unremitting offensive we would, in spite of hardship and privation," shorten the war and save "thousands" of Allied lives.2
This issue decided, the conferees at Brussels turned to the task of planning a new offensive.3 In keeping with General Eisenhower's "broad front" strategy, the first phase was to be a build up along the west bank of the Rhine. General Eisenhower directed that as soon as possible, probably between 1 and 5 November, the First Army undertake an offensive to gain a footing over the Rhine south of Cologne. Protecting First Army's left flank, the Ninth Army also was to drive to the Rhine, then turn northward to assist in clearing the region between the Rhine and the Maas along the western face of the Ruhr. Preoccupied with the vital objective of Antwerp, Field Marshal Montgomery's 21 Army Group was not to participate until about 10 November, when, upon expected termination of the
Antwerp campaign, the Second British Army was to drive southeast from Nijmegen to meet the Ninth Army. Depending upon the logistical situation, the Third Army was to drive northeastward from the vicinity of Metz to protect the First Army's right flank. In the south the 6th Army Group was to resume its advance to the Rhine at Strasbourg.
Upon gaining a foothold beyond the Rhine, the 12th Army Group was to assume responsibility for encircling the Ruhr by sending the Ninth Army north of and the First Army south of the Ruhr . But this was planning for the long pull. Despite some pressure from the home front,4 General Eisenhower could not look upon the November drive as an end the war offensive, rather as a modest first of three phases in new plans to bring the Germans to heel. Thinking of the need for Antwerp, he could not see build up beyond the Rhine and advance deep into Germany except as future operations dependent upon logistical improvements. The November offensive was expected neither to bring conquest of the Ruhr nor to end the war but to attain the more modest objective of clearing the Germans from the relatively narrow sector remaining west of the Rhine.5
Three days after the Brussels conference on 21 October, the day Aachen fell General Bradley outlined instructions to his three armies for the November offensive. He set a target date for the First and Ninth Armies of 5 November. In anticipation of improvements in the supply situation, he directed the Third
Army to attack about five days later on 10 November.6
As the target date for the First and Ninth Armies approached, Field Marshal Montgomery proposed a change in the British role. He acted in deference to the enemy's re entrant bridgehead west of the Maas, the strength of which was demonstrated by the spoiling attack in late October in the Peel Marshes. Rather than a delayed attack southeast from Nijmegen that would involve risk to the British flank and rear from the re entrant bridgehead, Montgomery suggested that the Second Army begin immediately to clear the Peel Marshes, then develop later operations east of the Maas close along-
side the Ninth Army's left flank. This was the decision behind the British attack in the Peel Marshes which began on 14 November.7
In the meantime, it had become clear that neither the 104th Division from the Antwerp fight nor the 7th Armored Division from the Peel Marshes would be returned in time to meet the American target date of 5 November. Ostensibly because the First and Ninth Armies needed these two divisions before jump off, but also because of the support a British drive close along the Ninth Army's left flank would provide, General Bradley set back the target date to 10 November. Even this date was subject to the weather; for Bradley intended to ensure success of the new drive with a saturation air bombardment.8
Still hopeful of getting at least a part of the drive going quickly, General Bradley turned on 2 November to the Third Army. Could the Third Army begin the offensive alone? General Patton answered with customary alacrity that he could attack on twenty four hour notice. The two commanders agreed that the Third Army should attack as soon as weather permitted the air forces to soften up the enemy, but in any event, not later than 8 November.9 So it was that the Third Army, after waiting in vain three days for good weather, was to strike the first blow of the offensive on 8 November in a driving rain.
The Allies hardly could have hoped to achieve strategic surprise with the November offensive; it was betrayed by its very logicality. After the fall of Aachen, the Germans were bound to know that the Allies soon would launch the offensive for which they had been setting the stage so meticulously for several weeks.10
Whether the Germans could be ready to meet the new offensive was another question. Certainly the Germans in November were better qualified to execute a steadfast defense than they had been, say, in mid September when with little more than a coup de main the Americans might have taken Aachen. Nowhere had the Germans better demonstrated their resurgence than at Aachen itself in October.
This remarkable resurgence the Germans hailed as the "Miracle of the West," in remembrance of, and answer to, World War I's Miracle of the Marne. Much credit for it belonged to one able, energetic, and fanatical soldier: Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model; but the basic explanation for it rested in one simple truth: contrary to almost universal belief, Germany had not reached the peak of war production until the fall of 1944 and still retained a considerable pool of manpower.
For all the Allied bombs, Germany's war industry in the fall of 1944 felt critical shortages only in oil and communica-
tions.11 Low as manpower reserves were after five years of war, the Germans still were able to mobilize waves of new divisions. They filled them by replacing more men in factories and farms with women and foreign slave labor, by lowering physical standards, by systematically combing out the Navy, Luftwaffe, and rear echelon units, and by extending both ends of the induction spectrum. During the second half of 1944, the skeletons of some 35 burned out divisions were refitted and returned to the front as the new volks grenadier divisions. The Replacement Army furnished 15 more, so that by the end of the year 50 volks grenadier divisions had reached either the Eastern or Western Fronts.12 Albeit the caliber and training of the replacements left something to be desired, the Germans were much like the giant Antaeus who regained his strength whenever he touched his mother earth.
The most remarkable facet of the resurgence was not that the Germans found men and guns to fill the line but that coincidentally they mobilized a separate force eminently stronger and capable of offensive action. For three months from -- 16 September to 16 December 1944 -- the Germans planned and prepared for the great counteroffensive to be launched in the Ardennes. While the fight raged about Aachen and on the approaches to the Roer River, some thirty divisions were massed behind the Roer and in the Eifel, ammunition and fuel were stockpiled, and new volks artillery corps and Volkswerfer brigades were assembled. Of the titantic German mobilization and production effort for the West, the lion's share went to the build up for the counteroffensive.
All forces and matériel set aside for the Ardennes were designated OKW Reserves. No one, not even the Commander in Chief West, had any power to employ them without Hitler's authorization, though as the target date approached a few of the volks grenadier divisions were to be used in a kind of round robin of temporary reliefs so that some units long in the line might be refitted. The only contingents which, by Hitler's permission, might be used for any extended period were some of the volks artillery corps and Volkswerfer brigades. Any analysis of the enemy's defensive achievement during the fall of 1944 must be made in the light of these facts.
While awaiting the Allied blow, the Germans cleverly utilized their foreknowledge that an Allied offensive was bound to come as a cover for their own preparations for the Ardennes counteroffensive. Lest the secret of the counteroffensive reach Allied ears, the Germans intended to conceal it from almost everyone on their own side below the rank of army group commander. Not even German army commanders were trusted with knowledge of the counteroffensive until late in the planning.
To justify to friend and foe alike the massing of men and matériel, the Germans pointed to the imminent Allied offensive. Almost all moves were justified in the first paragraph of the order by "the anticipated enemy offensive." Indeed, the historian often finds it difficult to determine which moves were bona fide measures against the Allied blow, which concerned only the Ardennes counteroffensive, and
which concerned both. When the Sixth Panzer Army, for example, earmarked for the counteroffensive, was ordered to mass near Cologne, the following entry appeared in the OB WEST War Diary: ". . . there can be no doubt that the enemy will commit maximum strength and maximum materiel to force the breakthrough to the Rhine. Our own defensive measures must be attuned to this . . . . Hence the Commander in Chief WEST will order the transfer of Sixth Panzer Army to the OB WEST theater on 7 November. . . ."13
That the Ardennes counteroffensive remained a secret was to be demonstrated by American surprise when it began. As to the deception in regard to the Sixth Panzer Army, the Americans swallowed it wholeheartedly. While unaware at first of the existence of a panzer army per se, they perceived as early as 11 November that the Germans were resting and refitting a panzer reserve of at least five divisions. On the eve of the November offensive the 12th Army Group G-2 saw in the disposition of the panzer and panzer grenadier divisions "the key to the enemy's essential capabilities and intentions." Through November and until mid December, both this intelligence officer and his opposite numbers at headquarters of the First and Ninth Armies expected the panzer reserve to be used to counterattack either west or east of the Roer.14
In another German move truth and deception walked hand in hand. This was a shift on 23 October of Headquarters Fifth Panzer Army (General von Manteuf-
GENERAL VON MANTEUFFEL
fel) from Army Group G to Army Group B. Like the Ninth U.S. Army, the Fifth Panzer Army brought no combat troops along and also moved to the vicinity of Aachen. The army entered the line between the First Parachute and Seventh Armies and assumed command of two corps already committed, the XII SS Corps and LXXXI Corps. Thus, two days after the fall of Aachen, General Brandenberger's Seventh Army ceased to be responsible for this sector and retained control only of the mountainous forest region of the Eifel.15
Adjustment of the Seventh Army's front was overdue, for it had become too long and the number of corps and divisions too large for one army headquarters to control
efficiently. Also, a panzer army was needed in the Aachen sector to face the coming Allied blow. The Fifth Panzer Army did effective work in preparing the sector for defense, but paradoxically, because of the deception program for the Ardennes, the army fought against the November offensive in name only.
In a grand deception maneuver, Headquarters Fifth Panzer Army was disengaged secretly on 15 November. Equally secretly, Headquarters Fifteenth Army (General von Zangen) arrived from Holland to take over the sector, the troops, and even the name of its predecessor. The Fifteenth Army's alias became Gruppe von Manteuffel. So that, in turn, the Allies in western Holland would not spot the absence of the Fifteenth Army, headquarters of the Armed Forces Commander Netherlands (General Christiansen), which took over the sector, called itself Fifteenth Army. To complete the deception game, Headquarters Fifth Panzer Army, after moving east of the Roer to prepare for the Ardennes fight, hid behind the innocuous name of Military Police Command for Special Assignment (Feldjaegerkommando z.b.V.)16
A parallel, though not so intricate, adjustment took place on the army group level. Bearing responsibility for most of the German front in the West from Antwerp nearly to the Franco German border and controlling four armies Fifteenth, First Parachute, Fifth Panzer, and Seventh -- Field Marshal Model's Army Group B also was to command the Ardennes counteroffensive. It was imperative that Model be relieved of some of his burdens. Hitler therefore decided to commit a third army group headquarters in the West. This was Army Group H, to be headed by General Student, commander of the First Parachute Army. On 10 November Army Group H assumed command of the First Parachute and Fifteenth Armies. In geographical terms, the lineup of army groups then was as follows: Army Group H under Student held Holland, Army Group B under Model defended those portions of Germany bordering on Belgium and Luxembourg, and Army Group G under General der Panzertruppen Hermann Balck continued to hold in Alsace and Lorraine.17
Model's Army Group B now commanded two armies: Fifth Panzer under Manteuffel and Seventh under Brandenberger. The army group's northern boundary ran south of Roermond, thus corresponding roughly to the boundary between the Americans and the British. The southern boundary remained unchanged, in effect a prolongation of the boundary between the First and Third U.S. Armies. Within Army Group B, the boundary between the Fifth Panzer and Seventh Armies cut through the northern edge of the Huertgen Forest. Thus the Fifth Panzer Army (later to be relieved by the Fifteenth Army under an assumed name) faced the Ninth U.S. Army and part of the VII Corps of the First U.S. Army. The Seventh Army confronted the rest of the VII Corps, plus
the V and VIII Corps of the First U.S. Army.18
One trenchant fact about German improvement in the Aachen sector as the enemy awaited the November offensive stood out above all others. This was the intrinsic and potential strength of the Fifth Panzer Army in artillery. For once the Germans had reasonable complements of divisional artillery and "somewhat above average" amounts of ammunition. Artillery of the 3d Panzer Grenadier Division, for example, was fully motorized. The division had 24 105-mm. and 13 150-mm. howitzers, 7 150-mm. rocket launchers, 2 100-mm. cannon, 2 command tanks, 11 88-mm. antiaircraft guns, and 35 assault guns. Although a portion of these weapons were in either short term or long term repair, the bulk was on hand, and almost all were to see service in some phase of the November fighting.19
Both corps of the Fifth Panzer Army had considerable forces of GHQ and corps artillery. The LXXXI Corps, for example, controlled an artillery regiment of varied but effective pieces: 2 240-mm railway guns, 9 French 220-mm. howitzers, 2 240-mm. guns, 24 76.2-mm. fortress antitank guns, and a few fully motorized Russian 152-mm. howitzers. The same corps also controlled a battalion of 14 Russian 122-mm. howitzers. Both corps had one of the new volks artillery corps and one of the Volks-werfer brigades. The volks artillery corps consisted of from 50 to 100 pieces, including guns and howitzers ranging from 75-mm. to 210-mm., and were fully motorized. The Volks werfer brigades had four firing battalions equipped in part with 150-mm rocket projectors, in part with 210-mm. or 280-mm. projectors. Several tank and assault gun units were available under army control to supplement artillery of either or both corps.20
This was the artillery strength before the Allied offensive began. In comparison to the number of pieces which the Germans would be using at the height of the offensive, it was only a beginning. In late November the Fifth Panzer Army (known then as Gruppe von Manteuffel) would be employing an estimated 1,000 artillery pieces, including antiaircraft guns used against ground targets. The guns were well directed, their positions so well concealed that they incurred little damage from either counterbattery fires or air attacks. The ammunition situation was satisfactory. For once the Germans were capable of laying down really massive fires.21
Not only in artillery but also in frontline divisions the Fifth Panzer Army was to gain greater strength after the November offensive began. The biggest addition
was the number one OB WEST reserve and fire brigade, the XLVII Panzer Corps (General von Luettwitz), which in late October had launched the spoiling attack in the Peel Marshes but which was to have pulled back by the time the Allied offensive began. The corps still contained the two divisions which fought in the Peel Marshes, the 15th Panzer Grenadier and 9th Panzer Divisions. Together these two divisions could muster 66 tanks, V assault guns, 65 105-mm. and 150-mm. howitzers, and numbers of other lesser armored vehicles.22
Of particular import for the November fighting was the value of the Aachen sector to the Germans in terms of their plans and preparations for a counteroffensive in the Ardennes. When first informed of Hitler's plans, the Commander in Chief West, Rundstedt, had lamented that in case the Allies launched large-scale attacks at Metz and Aachen, the counteroffensive would have to be called off. Hitler would entertain no such idea. On 9 November he instructed OB WEST to hold the line without committing a single unit earmarked for the Big Offensive, even if that meant losing some terrain. In subsequent discussions about which terrain might be relinquished with least impunity, it was decreed that holding in the Aachen sector was paramount. The Allies must not be allowed to cross the Roer River. In particular, the Germans were to maintain "at all cost" bridgeheads west of the Roer at Juelich and Dueren.23
On the Allied side, the army that was to carry the main burden of the new drive General Hodges' First U.S. Army also was stronger than before, though in no such ratio as displayed by the enemy. Two new divisions, the 99th and 104th, had been assigned to the V and VII Corps, respectively. This brought the army total within three corps (V, VII, and VIII) to three armored and nine infantry divisions. In addition, the army included a high number of nondivisional units, among them: 1 separate infantry battalion, 1 ranger infantry battalion, 30 antiaircraft artillery battalions, 10 tank battalions (9 medium, 1 light), 12 tank destroyer battalions, approximately 40 field artillery battalions, 6 cavalry reconnaissance squadrons, 4 engineer combat groups, 12 engineer combat battalions, and numbers of miscellaneous engineer and service units. As compared with a total strength in early September at the start of the Siegfried Line Campaign of 256,351 men, the First Army now had 318,422. Yet despite this gain, the First Army through the latter half of the Siegfried Line Campaign, as in the first half, would find its responsibilities too great to permit the luxury of more than a nominal army reserve.24
Except for men of the 28th Division, most troops of the First Army were basically rested. Although life in a front line position was far from ideal under any conditions, the hardships of a relatively quiet period in no way compared with the
REST PERIOD BEHIND THE LINES
rigors of a sustained attack. Displaying sometimes amazing ingenuity, the men scrounged material and equipment from damaged buildings to provide a measure of creature comforts for the foxhole or dugout. A wooden door covered by a shelter half, for example, was infinitely preferable to no roof at all. Wherever possible, divisions rotated battalions in the line to give as many men as possible a night or two in a dry place a few hundred yards behind the front. Most regiments maintained shower points close to the front, run on the order of an assembly line, where a dirty man entered one end of a tent or converted building and came out the other end clean. Division, corps, and army rest centers in cities beyond normal artillery range, like Verviers, Liège, and Maastricht, in time managed to accommodate almost every forward soldier with a forty eight hour rest, complete with bath, bed, movies, USO shows, and doughnuts and coffee dispensed from a Red Cross Clubmobile. A lucky few got to Paris. Post exchange supplies and cigarettes the latter issued free to combat troops became more plentiful. Quartermaster bakeries increased the issue of fresh bread, and company kitchens in most cases found time and shelter for preparing the relatively palatable B Ration.
man border, the First Army's front line now ran from a point slightly northeast of Aachen near Wuerselen southeast through Stolberg to Schevenhuette, thence through the Huertgen Forest to Germeter and Vossenack, thence across the Monschau Corridor to Camp d'Elsenborn and on generally southward along the Schnee Eifel and the Luxembourg frontier to the Franco Luxembourgian border. Though this front embraced approximately 120 miles, about 80 of it belonged to the newly arrived VIII Corps for which no immediate offensive was contemplated.25 General Hodges had concentrated the bulk of his strength in the V and VII Corps zones from Camp d'Elsenborn to Wuerselen, a distance of about 40 miles.
The northernmost corps, General Collins' VII Corps, was General Hodges' choice for executing the army's main effort. The VII Corps was located in the foothills of the Eifel and along the fringe of the Roer plain with forward lines pointed along the most direct route northeast to Cologne. Hodges told Collins to plan a drive on Cologne. He also alerted General Gerow's V Corps and General Middleton's VIII Corps to be prepared to complement any VII Corps breakthrough by driving on Bonn and Koblenz, respectively.26 The V Corps also was to execute the preliminary operation to assure a firm right flank for the main effort by establishing a line along the headwaters of the Roer River. This was the disastrous second attack on Schmidt by the 28th Division.
General Hodges issued his order directing the VII Corps to make the main effort at a time when the target date still stood at 5 November. Even at this time late October doubt existed about availability by the target date of the 104th Division.27 General Hodges told the VII Corps to prepare two plans, one based on a target date of 5 November and a strength of but three divisions, another based on a target date between 10 and 15 November and the services of a fourth division, the 104th.
ture of which would end the miserable confinement within the Huertgen Forest.28
After General Hodges heard from General Bradley on 1 November of the decision to postpone the offensive five days, he notified General Collins that he sanctioned the VII Corps Plan No. 2. This involved four instead of three divisions. The target date was 10 November with a deadline date of 15 November.29 In the meantime, the 28th Division of the V Corps was getting set to launch the preliminary operation against Schmidt on 2 November, regardless of the weather.
In the days preceding the new target date of 10 November, while the 28th Division was fighting it out at Vossenack and Schmidt, General Collins regrouped his divisions. Inexperienced in combat except for brief commitment near Antwerp, the incoming 104th Division was to relieve the 1st Division on the corps left wing northwest of Stolberg. The veteran 1st Division then was to move to the center of the corps zone to carry the weight of the corps main effort. Discovering three days before the target date that the 104th Division would not arrive in time for this regrouping, the First Army G-3, General Thorson, recommended another postponement of twenty four hours. General Hodges concurred. As finally determined, the First Army was to attack on 11 November or the first day thereafter that weather permitted large scale air support. The deadline date was 16 November.30
The extent of the Ninth Army's participation in the early phase of the new offensive was inevitably tied up with the army's growing pains. When General Simpson received the assignment to attack to the Rhine along the First Army's north flank, his headquarters only recently had moved north to Maastricht. In addition to perplexing problems of supply, he faced a shortage of combat units. Though two corps headquarters and six divisions were assigned to the Ninth Army, only one corps (the XIX) and three divisions were available for operations. Recently arrived from a Normandy staging area, the XIII Corps under Maj. Gen. Alvan C. Gillem, Jr., had no troops.31 Of three divisions technically assigned to the Ninth Army that might have been attached to the XIII Corps, the 104th Division was destined to go to the First Army, the 7th Armored Division still was with the British, and the 102d Division lacked organic transport and artillery. The only tangible force the Ninth Army could muster was General McLain's veteran XIX Corps, controlling the 113th Cavalry Group and the 2d Armored, 29th, and 30th Divisions.32
Though the Ninth Army's frontage in the projected direction of attack was only about eleven miles, General Simpson had inherited from the First Army the old conundrum of what to do about an exposed north flank stretching some seventeen miles from the Maas River to the West Wall at Geilenkirchen. Defending this flank was eating up the services of a cavalry group and a division. As the advance progressed northeastward, the length of the exposed flank would grow proportionately.
While the target date for the new offensive stood at 5 November, General Simpson's only hope for solving this problem was in obtaining at least one more division which he could put with his cavalry under the XIII Corps to defend the flank. But the chance of getting another division by 5 November looked slim. Hope of using either the 7th Armored, 104th, or 102d Division appeared doubtful, as did a possibility that a new unit earmarked for the Ninth Army, the 84th Division, might arrive in time.
Concerned with the exposed flank and the threat to it inherent in enemy strength in the region of the Peel Marshes west of the Maas, General Simpson well may have played a role in General Bradley's decision to postpone the offensive until 10 November. He was present at Eindhoven on 31 October when, in conference with Field Marshal Montgomery, Bradley made the decision.33 The Ninth Army clearly stood to benefit by postponement. Should the British clear the Peel Marshes, their first order of business, a definite threat to the Ninth Army's rear would be eliminated. Should the British then execute their second assignment, which was to "develop offensive operations" on their right wing "in conformity with the advance" of the Ninth Army,34 the exposed left flank would be taken care of. Even should the British be delayed in attacking alongside the Ninth Army, Montgomery had promised that on or about 15 November he would assume responsibility for the seventeen mile line east of the Maas. Another advantage to the Ninth Army in delaying the offensive was the time provided for the 7th Armored Division and the rear echelon of the 102d Division to arrive. The 84th Division also might make it.
Even a superficial glance at the terrain in front of the Ninth Army as opposed to that facing the First Army would raise the question of why the First instead of the Ninth drew the role of "main effort" in the November offensive. The answer, as recalled after the war by the army group commander, General Bradley, had two facets. "You don't," General Bradley said, "make your main effort with your 'exterior' force." Because the extent of British participation in the offensive was tied up with British problems of reorganization and manpower, it appeared doubtful that the British on the left could lend genuine assistance to the drive. The Ninth Army thus became in effect an "exterior" force. In addition, the First Army's staff and troops represented the more experienced American force. The Ninth Army, still involved during the early days of November in assembling sufficient
divisions to make the attack, was "relatively untried."35
On 4 November General Simpson issued a caveat to his two corps. With the 113th Cavalry Group and the 102d Division, General Gillem's new XIII Corps was to occupy the seventeen mile defensive line on the army's north flank until relieved by the British. Upon arrival, both the 7th Armored and 84th Divisions were to go to the XIII Corps. Upon relief by the British, the XIII Corps was to be prepared to drive northeast along the left of the XIX Corps to the Rhine.36
Making the Army's main effort, General McLain's XIX Corps was to prepare plans for seizing a bridgehead over the Roer River at Juelich. In line with the mission of protecting the First Army's left flank, General McLain was to make his main effort close alongside the First Army.
General Simpson's plans had an obvious bug in them from the start. What to do about the West Wall crossroads village of Geilenkirchen? Without this village a logical base for enemy counterattack Simpson would have to funnel his army and subsequently support it through a narrow gap little more than ten miles wide between Wuerselen and Geilenkirchen. (Map VII) Yet taking it involved a special problem, for when the British assumed control of the seventeen mile line west of Geilenkirchen, the village would lie virtually astride a new boundary between national forces. The solution eventually was to be found in help from the British.
In planning for the main drive to the Roer, General Simpson and his corps commanders focused their attention on the river at Juelich and a few miles downstream at Linnich. From the bridgehead through the West Wall some nine miles wide and as much as six miles deep the XIX Corps was to attack on D Day. After the British had relieved the XIII Corps and after the XIX Corps had uncovered sufficient ground along its left flank between Geilenkirchen and the Roer, the XIII Corps was to be committed along the left of the XIX Corps to seize a Roer bridgehead at Linnich.
With but one corps of either the Ninth or First Army scheduled to participate at the start of the new offensive, the force directly involved in the first phase thus was to be considerably less powerful than a superficial glance might indicate. Whereas two armies were involved, little more than a third of the combat strength of the two actually was to attack on D Day. Nevertheless, this was to be the biggest drive in the Aachen sector since position warfare had begun in September. In the south, the Third Army's attack on 8 November and a complementary drive by the 6th Army Group would contribute to the over all effect, while in the Peel Marshes the British were to be engaged in a limited offensive.
By 8 November arrival of additional units had started to provide the Ninth Army more ready muscle for its part in the November offensive. Indeed, the narrow zone between the Maas and the West Wall became a hive of activity. More than one traffic control officer must have torn his hair as rain fell almost perpetually, roads began to break down, and still the troops and trucks churned about.
Controlling the 113th Cavalry Group and the complete 102d Division, General Gillem's XIII Corps on 8 November took
over defense of the seventeen mile line west of Geilenkirchen. The next day, 9 November, General Horrocks began moving his 30 Corps headquarters and a British infantry division into the area as prelude to relief of the X111 Corps. At least thirty three field artillery battalions, not counting either divisional units or the British, sought firing positions. The bulk of the 84th Division began to close to await its baptism of fire. Having been released by the British after fighting in the Peel Marshes, the 7th Armored Division began to occupy a reserve position while resting and refitting. Supply trucks rolling to and from the front compounded traffic problems. To add a final touch, the 104th Division en route to the First Army from Antwerp was cutting across the Ninth Army's rear lines of communication.
Faced with this deluge of troops, the Ninth Army staff hardly could have been other than elated to learn of another postponement of twenty four hours. General Simpson readily agreed to the new target date of 11 November.
To ensure success of the new offensive indeed, in the hope of creating a sea of sterile rubble through which the ground forces might effect a swift breakthrough to the Roer General Bradley requested air support of unprecedented magnitude. All types of planes heavies, mediums, and fighter bombers, both American and British were to participate.37
After close co ordination in early planning, top air commanders and representatives of the ground forces met on 7 November at Ninth Air Force headquarters to discuss and approve a final plan. Out of this conference emerged a blueprint for Operation QUEEN, "the largest air ground cooperative effort yet undertaken . . . . "38
lying squarely astride the projected route of the VII Corps main effort.
While this use of heavy bombers represented a radical departure from the norm, it had ample precedent in several missions flown earlier in support of British and Canadian ground troops and in the "carpet" bombing preceding American' breakout from Normandy. The assault troops in Normandy had been only 1,200 yards behind the bomb line, whereas in Operation QUEEN the heavies were to drop their loads no closer to the forward troops than three times that distance. Though the setting of this interval was obviously due to the disaster that short bombing had produced in Normandy, some wondered whether the ground troops could advance across the two mile interval quickly enough to capitalize on the shock effect of the bombs.
An equal number of heavy bombers (more than 1,200) from the Royal Air Force Bomber Command was to attack Dueren, Juelich, and Heinsberg, the latter a communications center north of the Ninth Army zone. In contrast to the American heavies, which were to employ fragmentation bombs for maximum effect against personnel and minimum cratering in areas through which the ground troops would have to pass early in the attack, the British bombers were to seek complete destruction of the three target cities in hope of blocking roads and intersections.
A portion of eleven groups (approximately 600 planes) of Ninth Air Force medium bombers drew a similar mission of devastating the towns of Linnich and Aldenhoven in the Ninth Army zone. The rest of the mediums were to concentrate on personnel and field installations in front of the First Army. The target areas were around three villages representing likely sites for enemy command posts and local reserves: Luchem, Echtz, and Mariaweiler.
In general, the fighter bombers were to operate on call from the ground troops upon targets of opportunity, although some squadrons were to perform normal tasks of column cover and reconnaissance. Employing four groups (about 300 planes), the XXIX Tactical Air Command was to support the Ninth Army. The First Army's old ally, the IX TAC, was to employ three groups (about 225 planes) in direct support of the VII Corps and three other groups on general missions throughout the First Army zone. Although most fighter bombers would have no predesignated targets, those three groups in direct support of the VII Corps were to hit three specific target areas. These were: the Huertgen Kleinhau sector on the VII Corps right wing; the southeastern end of the Hamich ridge near the village of Hamich; and a built up area around the villages of Hastenrath and Scherpenseel in the center of the VII Corps zone.
The total fighter bomber force numbered some 750 planes. In addition, 800 American and British fighters were to fly escort for the heavy bombers. Other Eighth Air Force fighters were to escort the mediums.
Thus, for Operation QUEEN, World War 11's largest air attack in direct support of ground troops, the Allied air forces were to employ more than 4,500 planes, approximately half of them heavy bombers.39 Though the bombing was
not to be as concentrated as that in Normandy, both air and ground commanders expected it to disrupt enemy communications thoroughly and certainly to disorganize enemy front line units and immediate reserves.
A major question facing the air ground planners was who should be responsible for designating the specific D Day within the allotted target period of 11-16 November. With alternate though less attractive air plans available, they also had to consider what circumstances were to guide this commander in settling or not settling for one of the alternate plans, that is, for less effective air support. Early in the target period, for example, whoever was to make the decision might bow to a fear that better weather or weather even as good might not be forthcoming. Having settled, then, for a day permitting only limited support, he might see the ground attack bog down for want of heavier air support and a day or so later watch in vexation as the sun began to shine. On the other hand, should one pass up weather permitting minor support on the gamble that weather favoring a full scale air effort might arrive by the deadline date? The ground attack had to go off on 16 November regardless of the weather. Rain and fog on the last day would mean no air support at all.
In making their decision, the planners leaned toward compromise. During the first three days of the target period, responsibility for designating D Day fell to the top American airman in the European theater, Lt. Gen. Ira C. Eaker, who obviously understood fully the weather requirements of his big bombers. Thus, in effect, the planners were to gamble during half the target period on an all or nothing basis. During the last three days, if the attack had not begun, designation of D Day was to be up to the First Army's General Hodges. Thus the decision during the period of greatest gamble would rest with the ground commander who had most at stake.
In either event, decision would have to be made before 2200 the night before D Day in order that both air and ground commanders might get their complex machines into gear. H Hour was to depend upon the time required to execute the bombing program, but in order that ground troops might have sufficient daylight in which to exploit the bombing and then consolidate, H Hour was not to be later than 1400.
Recalling the catastrophe short bombing had wrought in Normandy, the planners developed an elaborate safety program in addition to designating a bomb line for the heavy bombers two miles in front of the troops. Two giant white panel markers were to be placed in rear of the First Army's lines to guide the pilots toward target areas. One panel was to be approximately nineteen miles in rear of the front line near Liège, the other about two miles behind the line near Aachen. At about the same distance from the front as the second panel, eleven
captive balloons borrowed from the British were to be flown in line parallel to the front at about 2,000 feet altitude. Five hundred yards in rear of forward ground positions, troops were to display a row of bright hued panels, four per mile. Sixty-four 90-mm. antiaircraft guns within both the First and Ninth Armies were to fire red flak to mark the actual forward ground positions. The Eighth Air Force was to establish a series of beacons and buncher beacons close to the lines and a radio fan marker to transmit a thin vertical signal over the row of balloons. Bomb bays were to be opened and locked while over the English Channel to avoid damage should bombs be released accidentally in the process. To protect the bombers themselves, both First and Ninth Army artillery units were to fire a comprehensive counterflak program planned in close relation to incoming and outgoing flight routes. If elaborate precautions could do the trick, ground troops in Operation QUEEN need fear no repetition of the mishap in Normandy.
Continuing a weather pattern that since the start of the second attack on Schmidt on 2 November had been plaguing the 28th Division, leaden skies on 11 November made it evident that the big November offensive would not begin that day. Already rain far in excess of normal had fallen. Roads had deteriorated, streams were approaching flood levels, and the ground was such a morass that grave doubts were arising about trafficability for armor. In long range meteorological forecasts the commanders could find little of comfort.
Almost coincident with increasing concern over weather, another threat to the new offensive had festered and grown in the minds of American commanders so that by 11 November it could not be ignored. This was a growing realization of the defensive importance to the Germans of the Roer River Dams. On 29 October, before the 28th Division had jumped off for Schmidt, General Hodges had noted, "Present plans of this Army do not contemplate the immediate capture of these dams."40 But on 7 November, after the violent German reaction to the 28th Division's attack, General Hodges had directed the V Corps commander to prepare a plan for use "in the event First Army is ordered to capture" the dams.41 Four days later, faced with the hard facts that if all went well American troops soon might be east of the Roer River and subject to whatever plan the Germans might have for blowing the dams and flooding the Roer valley, the Americans adopted a more realistic attitude toward the dams. Apparently acting on orders from General Bradley, both General Hodges and Simpson on 11 November told their respective armies: "Troops will not repeat not advance beyond line of Roer (Rur) River except on Army order."42
This restriction did not foreshadow any major change of plan for the new offensive other than a possible pause at the Roer. As soon as weather permitted, the First
and Ninth Armies were to attack as scheduled, though in the end they might have to wait impotently downstream while someone made a belated attack to take the dams.
In regard to weather, the day of 11 November passed with no sign of a break. Again on 12 November, and the next day, and the next, the ground troops and their commanders anxiously scanned the skies. No perceptible change appeared in the overcast. By nightfall of 15 November they could hope only for something close to a miracle to break the weather pattern so that full burden of the attack would not fall on the ground forces. For on 16 November, the ground troops were to attack, air support or not.