«BATTLEBOOK Commanding General, United States Army, Europe Senior Leader Staff Ride The Battle of the Bulge Contents The Am erican Soldier SSG Joseph ...»
Experiments with mounting heavy guns in tanks did not get very far, the Chief of Infantry in 1938 declaring that a 75-mm. gun was useless in a tank. In 1940, both the rival armies fought the Battle of France with tanks armed to a 75-mm standard, and the Germans had already experimented with the 88-mm gun in a turret. In June 1940, the U.S. adopted the 75-mm gun for tanks. In the spring of 1944, as Anglo-American armies prepared for the invasion of Europe, the largest gun on an operational American tank was still a short-barrelled, low-muzzle-velocity 75-mm, the standard armament of the then-standard M4 Sherman tank. At the same time, Germany's Panther tanks carried long-barrelled, high-muzzle-velocity 75s, and the Tiger carried the 88-mm gun. To kill tanks, American doctrine relied on the tank destroyer, a fast, heavily-gunned, lightly-armored vehicle standardized as the M10 in 1942. It mounted a 3-inch, high-muzzle-velocity, flat-trajectory gun on a Sherman chassis. The need for more power to cope with German tanks brought the M18, with a 76-mm gun, into service in 1944. The M18 had a shallow open turret and was mounted on a M24 light tank chassis. The M36, an M10 redesigned to accommodate a 90-mm gun, came into service about the same time. On none of these vehicles was the armor comparable to that of German tanks. Tank destroyers, appropriately armed to be "killer tanks," lacked the armor to stand up to German tanks for the fight.
Anti-tank weapons were a similar case. The American 2.36-inch rocket launcher, or "bazooka," was too small to penetrate the front armor of German tanks and demanded careful aim against soft spots. This was no easy chore for an exposed, nervous infantryman when a massive German tank loomed so close that he could hear the squeak of the bogies. The Germans adopted an 88-mm Panzerfaust, a rocket-propelled shaped-charge grenade that was about twice as powerful as the American bazooka. When James M. Gavin was a colonel commanding the 505th Parachute Infantry, his men tried out the bazooka in Sicily and found it disappointing.
Gavin later wrote that "As for the 82nd Airborne Division, it did not get adequate antitank weapons until it began to capture the first German panzerfausts. By the fall of '44 we had truckloads of them. We also captured German instructions for their use, made translations, and conducted our own training with them. They were the best hand-carried antitank weapon of the war." The U.S. did not even initiate a project for a more powerful, 3.5-inch rocket until August 1944.
In two areas, however, the United States had a distinct advantage. The Garand.30-caliber M1 semi-automatic was the best standard infantry shoulder arm of the war. No other rifle matched its combination of accuracy, rate of fire, and reliability. In artillery, too the American Army had the edge. It was not that the artillery was qualitatively better than German equipment, although the U.S. 105-mm howitzer was at least the equal of its German counterpart of the same caliber. The effectiveness of American artillery, was multiplied by the best equipment and techniques of any army for fire direction, observation, and coordination. "I do not have to tell you who won the war," George Patton said in 1945. "You know our artillery did."
General George C. Marshall agreed when he wrote that "We believe that our use of massed heavy artillery fire was far more effective than the German techniques," concluding that "our method of employment of these weapons has been one of the decisive factors of our ground campaigns throughout the world."
As the Battle of the Bulge began, the 12th Army Group was maneuvering 31 divisions and was well on the way to solving the serious supply problems that had halted its advance on the German borders in September. Both soldiers and their leaders were confident of their own abilities and of the prospects for victory.
AMERICAN ARTILLERY IN THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE
American artillery played a crucial part throughout the Battle of the Bulge. Without the battalions at Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe's disposal, the defenders of Bastogne would probably never have been able to hold against the German attacks. The same was true across the Ardennes front, and although the artillery did not react strongly to the initial attacks on 16 December because the German bombardment disrupted communications and many units were hampered by having to displace rapidly to the rear to keep from being overrun, the guns soon came into their own. Bad weather also hampered observation of fire on the first day. Nonetheless, the artillery at Monschau literally stopped a German attack by itself, and in the V Corps sector, the 99th Infantry Division Artillery helped that green unit to hold its ground for two days, until the V Corps artillery on Elsenborn Ridge began to carry the burden. The weight of fire was tremendous: on the night of 17 December, for example, one V Corps infantry battalion was covered by a defensive barrage of 11,500 rounds. As the American defense solidified, particularly on the northern and southern shoulders of the German penetration, the artillery really began to make itself felt. By 23 December, the artillery brought 4,155 guns into action and fired 1,255,000 rounds of ammunition during the course of the battle.
In many cases, artillery did not need to destroy the enemy to have the desired effect. Often, artillery fire diverted the German attacks from their axis of advance and derailed the German scheme of maneuver, even without causing much physical damage. Most of the firing involved conventional artillery, although some 210,000 rounds of ammunition had been fitted with the new and highly secret VT (variable time) or POZIT fuze, which detonated the shell by external influence in close vicinity of the target, without explosion by contact. The VT fuze allowed artillery to detonate above ground, thus spending its effect much more effectively against troops in the open. Claims were made that the VT and POZIT fuze played an important part in winning the battle. The truth seems to be that, however effective such ammunition was, very little of it was fired before January 1945.
As at Bastogne, artillery took over much of the effective anti-tank combat, with 155-mm guns particularly successful in attaining mobility kills. Artillery was successful not just in the indirect fire mode, however, but also in direct fire. Post-battle examination of destroyed German tanks showed that many of them had been put out of action by howitzer fire. The Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalions assigned to the various corps played an important role as well. Trained to deliver indirect fire in the traditional artillery fashion, the AA gunners also had a 90-mm weapon that packed a powerful punch because of its high muzzle velocity. Antiaircraft batteries were therefore successful throughout the Ardennes in the anti-tank role. Once artillery spotter aircraft were able to fly, the gunners also had considerable success in breaking up concentrations of both tanks and troops before they were able to deliver attacks against American positions.
The many American artillery battalions would have been less effective, however, had they not been directed by the most effective fire direction system used by any nation during the war. American forward observers could call down an enormous weight of fire on their selected targets, mixing divisional and corps fires with the fires of the mortar units organic to the infantry regiments.
Indeed, German commanders later criticized American artillery fire as "methodical, schematic, and wasteful." It was also true that American gunners sometimes allowed gaps to develop at division and corps boundaries where they failed to provide overlapping fire between zones. Nonetheless, the system functioned when it was needed, and the successful defense of Elsenborn Ridge by V Corps units (among many similar cases) depended on the accuracy and weight of the defensive concentrations that V Corps Artillery fired, particularly on the night of 17/18 December. Much of the artillery's effectiveness came from well-trained forward observers dedicated to their supported infantry and armor units, for "men counted as much as weight of metal," as the official historian wrote. In the 15th Field Artillery Battalion, to cite only one case, 32 forward observers out of a total of 48 became casualties in six days of battle.
Artillery organization: American corps commanders had a considerable amount of artillery at their disposal and were always seeking more. The case of V Corps, which at one point had 37 field
artillery battalions, is typical:
Thirteen Commanders of the Western Front Front row, L to R : General P atton, General Bradley, General Eisenhow er, General Hodges, General Sim pson Second row : General K ean, General Corlett, General Collins, General Gerow, General Quesada Third row : General Leven C. Allen, General Charles C. Hart, General Trum an C. Thorson P hotographed in Belgium, 10 October 1944 American Commanders
Almost immediately, Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall summoned Eisenhower to Washington, where he soon made the younger man chief of the War Plans Division of the general staff and quickly promoted him to major general. Developing plans that were then in formulation, Eisenhower sketched the basic strategy of establishing a base in the United Kingdom and attacking Germany by amphibious landings in France. In June 1942, Marshall named him the commanding general of the new European Theater. In only a few months, Eisenhower had earned Marshall's full trust. Marshall saw in him a man who had the vision to execute the strategy that the Allies had agreed upon. After commanding the 1942 Allied landings in North Africa and the subsequent campaign in Tunisia, Eisenhower went on to command the Allied assault on Sicily and the Italian mainland, in the process gaining valuable experience not only in coalition command, but also in the difficult problems of amphibious operations. At the end of 1943, he was named Supreme Allied Commander for the invasion of Europe and directed the SHAEF effort to "utilize the resources of two great nations... with the decisiveness of a single authority." This was never easy, but in Eisenhower, President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill found a man whose single-minded dedication to the goal of Allied unity was equal to the task. Following the success of the Allied landings at Normandy on 6 June 1944, the buildup of the beachhead, the breakout at St. Lo, the destruction of a large part of the German Army in the west in the Falaise Pocket, and the race across France in September, 1944, Eisenhower's armies stood on the very frontiers of the Reich by the early fall -- far ahead of the most ambitious predictions of staff planners. It was at that point that a shortage of supplies imposed by a paucity of good ports and overextended lines of supply from the Norman beaches caused the Allies to pause and allowed the Germans to regroup and solidify their defenses along the Westwall fortifications, known to Americans as the Siegfried Line Eisenhower's perpetual good humor was often strained by the problems involved in keeping the Allied coalition firmly wedded to a single strategy, and in coping with the strong personalities of many of his subordinates. His perennial problems were Field Marshal Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, commander of British 21st Army Group, and Lt. Gen. George S. Patton, Jr., commander of Third U.S. Army -- two men who were, as General Omar N. Bradley remarked in 1978, "two sides of the same coin." Some British commanders, and in particular Montgomery and his mentor, Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, saw Eisenhower as "a nice chap; no general," and thought him unsuited to command the ground battle, although they agreed he was superb at the political level. American commanders, including Patton and Bradley, often complained that Eisenhower forgot that he was an American and was unable to say no to Montgomery. By November of 1944, however, Eisenhower had firm control of SHAEF and imposed his will in his subordinates. Although at least one major disagreement lay in the future, he had disposed of Montgomery's often-expressed preference for a single thrust toward Berlin and insisted on a broad-front strategy with the industrial heartland of Germany as the ultimate goal. (Dr.
Charles Kirkpatrick) These were to be grouped under the SOS and commanded by General Lee. More specifically,
General Lee was given the following powers:
[He was] invested with all authority necessary to accomplish his mission including, but not
limited to, authority to approve or delegate authority to:
a. Approve all plans and contracts of all kinds necessary to carry out the objectives of this directive.
b. Employ, fix the compensation of, and discharge civilian personnel without regard to civil service rules.
c. Purchase any necessary supplies, equipment, and property, including rights in real estate practicable of acquirement.
d. Adjudicate and settle all claims.
e. Take all measures regarded as necessary and appropriate to expedite and prosecute the procurement, reception, processing, forwarding, and delivery of personnel, equipment, and supplies for the conduct of military operations.
The directive of 14 May thus assigned broad powers to the SOS, and for this reason it developed into one of the most controversial documents in the history of the theater. It undoubtedly bore the strong influence of General Somervell, who was acutely conscious of the difficulties experienced by the SOS in World War I. But the attempt to limit the top U.S. headquarters to a minimum of administrative and supply functions and to assign them to the SOS was the cause of a long struggle between the SOS and the theater headquarters and the basic reason for the several reorganizations which the two headquarters underwent in the next two years.