By lex, on December 16th, 2008
Today that’s often taken to mean bravely foregoing a second croissant. Sixty-four years ago today, the term had a very different connotation indeed.
Having successfully lodged and expanded a beach head in Normandy in June of 1944, Allied forces spent the rest of that month and most of July trying to breakout through the French hedgerows – a brutal battle of attrition requiring on-the-battlefield innovation.
Once the German army had been thrust into the open they were subjected to repeated aerial bombardment and coordinated artillery fires. The P-47 Thunderbolts in particular harried the retreating Wehrmacht relentlessly, and an organized retreat towards the Seine River fell into a general rout. Men who had fought for years alongside friends they’d known from childhood found themselves among strangers.
General George S. Patton was as happy as a cavalryman could be, writing to a friend that he was charging about “with a pistol in each hand and a sabre in the other.” Omar Bradley was so sure of the war’s swift conclusion that he ordered winter gear stockpiled on the beach rather than sent forward. Plans for a redeployment of troops from Europe to the Pacific were drawn up.
So successful was the assault that the mechanized forces literally ran out of gas. German supply depots were no great distance to their rear, while Allied forces awaited fuel, ammunition and medical supplies from Normandy, hundreds of kilometers behind them, twenty hours away by truck.
Only one natural line of defense remained to the beleaguered German forces: The Rhine River. Faced with the choice of turning west and securing resupply facilities in the port city of Antwerp, the Allied high command instead attempted a daring air assault known as “Market Garden”, designed to secure bridgeheads across the Rhine, strike to the east and end the war quickly. It was repulsed. A stalemate ensued, interrupted by hard fighting for the German city of Aachen to the east, with worse to follow in the Hürtgen forest.
Summer turned to fall, and what had been a disorganized mob with no real interest in defending Hitler’s acquisitions in France had crossed back into their fatherland, re-organized into an army, reinforced the Siegfried Line and turned about to face their foe. The weather changed in Germany’s favor, largely neutralizing Allied advantages in the air.
On 16 December, 1944 the Wehrmacht counter-attacked. *
* 08-30-2018 Link Gone; no replacements found – Ed.