The Americans and Germans in Bastogne

The Americans and Germans in Bastogne

Author
Gary Sterne
ARRSE Rating
5 Mushroom Heads
I might be going out on a limb here, but until the excellent Band of Brothers series, Bastogne was really only of interest to historians and servicemen studying the battle as a part of the the course of the war, to many people it was familiar for the Americans being taken by surprise in the manner of operation Michael in the previous war. A few excellent books were written in the late 60s by the men who fought there, but they only show their side of the story , and the battle being spread over such a large area really needs many books and maps to fully comprehend. A very excellent film was produced in 1949, Although filmed in Oregon , with a script by Robert Pirosh , himself a veteran of the Ardennes fighting, this film utilised members of the 101st training the actors, and appearing in the film as extras. It created a a good deal of interest in the battle, however an elderly Belgian told me that for many years the majority of visitors were Soldiers who had fought there ( later from both sides) and the children and relatives of the soldiers lost in the battle, tracing the family history.

Band of Brothers created a renaissance, leading to investment in the area, a new generation of visitors, and a renewed interest in the details of the battle.

Gary Sterne is both a Historian and Militaria collector , noted for discovering the German Complex at Normandy, the Maisy Battery. He has an eye for the small details and the ability to hunt down and find rare and unusual documents relating to the battles, often hidden away in dusty archives. Here he has brought together de-classified interviews with the German Unit Commanders who took part in the battle. These interviews took place in Bastogne between December the 31st 1944 and January the 25th 1945. The interviews were then cross referenced by interviewing whole groups to ensure accuracy, and then the final narrative was written by Colonel Marshall, for many years these transcripts remained secret,

A few changes had to be made as it was noted that the original transcripts in German tended to be somewhat jingoistic and embellished by the German Officers eager to show their importance and general superiority, they have been carefully translated to remove the often repetitive and self glorifying sections.

The German officers interviewed are

Major Herbert Buchs: Luftwaffe aid to Generaloberst Alfred Jodl
Generalfeldmarschall Gerd Von Rundstedt
General Hasso von Manteuffel: Commander of the Panzer Army
Generaloberst Alfred Jodl: Chief of Operations Staff
Major Percy Ernst Schramm Wehrmacht Operations Staff
General Siegfried Westphal: General of Cavalry
Generalleut Fritz Bayerlein: Panzer Lehr Division
Generalleutnant Herman Priess
Generalmajor Heinz Kokott: Commander 26th Volksgrenadier Division
Colonel Alfred Zerbel: Staff Officer XXXXVII Panzer Corps

Introduction: This chapter sets the scene from September to December 1944, explaining the position of the German army and the desires and wishes of its leaders, giving Adolf Hitlers, ideas and general fantasy about secret weapons, and his desire to show that the Third Reich were still a force to be reckoned with. The layout of Bastogne , the terrain, roads and bridges and rivers, and the American Army groups assigned to protect it are laid out giving you an insight into how the battle occurred, the Germans plan and the Americans hurriedly laid out plan of defence.

As the chapters open up, you learn at each stage how the battle is supposed to be progressing and the high German ideals, followed by the honest reports of losses, supply problems , and how well the American troops fought back.

At the end of each chapter is a summary from the American military giving their actions, reactions and material shortages ,gradually as the Germans encircle Bastogne, the defenders are forced to act on initiative, and some very bright young officers and men, move weapons and materials to create well defended positions.

The Germans of course suffered from fuel shortages, and had to resort to draining the fuel from wrecked and captured vehicles, they had around 200 captured vehicles as well, but the terrain bogged so many down , as the book moves through you can see from the period maps exactly how the battle shaped and moved, captured German troops provided information and some battle plans captured early on were a great help to the U.S. Army.

The other thing that the U.S. Army did well was communications, rather than rely on radio, they ran miles of telephone cables and doubled and quadrupled them up to ensure constant and unfettered communications, the only down side being the M.Ps using clear voice transmission allowing the Germans to learn the location of each battalion and which roads were desperately need for defence and re supply.

Each chapter is well balanced between the Germans ideals, and actions, and the Defenders actions. Oddly some Belgian civilians were helpful to the Germans and provided them with much information, a great pity indeed.

Eventually the Air force was able to drop supplies and the tide of war started to turn, not all landed with the Americans, one German regiment found an entire shipment of K rations, however their commanding officer insisted on sharing them with the starving Belgian civilians, so some decent men existed amid that large army.

The book finishes with a tally of the dead and missing on both sides, materials losses, and the reason for the failure of the attack plan. One final chapter lists every American regiment involved and their commanding officers.

Then it goes on to list the fate of all of the German officers involved, many for their deplorable actions ended up losing their lives, one however devoted his life to charitable works!

One officer in the tank corps had fought in the Great War in the German Tank regiment, he was honest enough to admit that the Ardennes was not suitable for tank warfare.

The book is comprised of 13 chapters, and covers 300 pages in Hardback with 55 original attack maps and hand-drawn maps all in great detail, plus innumerable photographs.

This is a very well laid out book, comprehensive and easy to understand, and for the first time being able to see the full German plan and how the American forces constantly shifted and changed to counter the attacks, and let small teams work together alongside the artillery to defend the town, causing the German army to lose in the region of 400 tanks and 37 thousand troops, killed, frozen or injured is a testament to the pluck and fighting spirit of the American forces.

A fantastic book to read more so if like me you have visited the area over the years.

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Joshua Slocum
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