It was Sunday, Dec. 17, 1944, in Paris.

Outside the Scribe Hotel a few shivering Parisians scuffled along the rue Scribe through a wet, black slime that covered the streets.

Inside the hotel, the correspondents who datelined their copy "Supreme Headquarters, Allied Expeditionary Force," were gathering in the big room off the lounge for the evening's briefing before detailed maps of the front. Strict security measures were being enforced and an MP at the door required each person entering to show his SHAEF accreditation.

This alone was enough to start a buzz of excitement in the big briefing room. The past four days had been dull, where news was concerned. Briefing officers had spoken of the collapse of the Jeanne d'Arc fortress at Metz, a new penetration into German soil by the 7th Army, steady advances in the Saar and limited offensives elsewhere designed to straighten sections of the line.

Everyone knew these measures were all in preparation for a big winter offensive aimed at the banks of the Rhine. No one knew when it was coming, but the strict security precautions seemed to indicate that a big offensive was in the wind.

It was — but not by the Allies.

The briefing officer tried to keep his voice matter-of-fact. The enemy, he said, had launched what might prove to be a rather considerable effort in the Ardennes Forest. Their first assault had carried their troops, in some sectors, across the borders of Belgium and Luxembourg. Very little information was available, he said, but the offensive seemed to have been mounted in considerable force. The Luftwaffe was in the air in force, for the first time since the battle of the beachheads. The area was the same through which the Nazi forces had plunged in 1940 on the drive which eventually split the French forces from the British, Belgians and Dutch in the north. The situation at the moment might be described, he said, as "fluid."

The correspondents raced to their typewriters. The news that Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt had begun an offensive in the Ardennes, which later became known as the "Battle of the Bulge," was out.

In his report to the Combined Chiefs of Staff, Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, described the situation before the attack. He told how some sections of the line had been weakened to maintain maximum pressure in the Aachen and Saar-Wissembourg sectors. In particular, he mentioned the Eifel section, a front of 75 miles, which was held by four divisions. In this area, he said, a calculated risk was taken based on the absence of strategic objectives and on the difficult terrain. He mentioned the disappearance of German panzer units from the Aachen front and the failure of intelligence efforts to find them, adding:

"My headquarters and 12th Army Gp had felt for some time that a counterattack through the Ardennes was a possibility, since American forces were stretched very thinly there ... and because Field Marshal von Rundstedt had gradually placed in this quiet sector six infantry divisions, a larger number than he required for reasonable security ...

"The attack started, after preparations of the very greatest secrecy, on Saturday, 16 December. Gen (Omar N.) Bradley (commander, 12th Army Gp) had just arrived at my headquarters for a conference on replacements when we received word that some penetrations of the American line had been effected, with the enemy using tanks.

"Sensing that this was something more than a mere local attack, I immediately advised Gen Bradley to move the 10th Armd Div from the south and the 7th Armd Div from the north, both toward the flanks of the attack. Army commanders on both flanks were directed to alert what divisions they had free for instant movement toward that region if necessary. My own staff acted at once to move our reserve divisions forward. Of these movements, the most significant and important was that of the 101st Abn Div, which was in SHAEF reserve and which was directed to Bastogne."

The full weight of the enemy assault fell upon the four divisions in the thinly held Eifel-Ardennes sector. These were the 4th, 28th and 106th Inf Divs, and the 9th Armd Div. Every possible tactic of confusion was used by the enemy to disrupt U.S. Forces.

"In addition to the main attacking forces," Eisenhower wrote in his report, "the enemy employed one panzer brigade which operated in American equipment with the mission of spearheading German combat units and spreading panic and confusion in and immediately behind our front line. Parties of paratroops were dropped throughout the battle area and particularly in the Malmedy area where about one battalion was employed, while small paratroop units and agents who had remained behind during our advance were active in attempting to sabotage key bridges and headquarters as far to the rear as Paris."

Von Rundstedt's plan was to break through the thinly held American front and send an armored column supported by infantry through to the Meuse between Liege and Namur. Liege was the key supply and communications center for 12th Army Gp. For miles about, the countryside around Liege was dotted with supply depots. At the same time, a concentrated assault of V1s and V2s was showered on Liege, on which the Germans had been zeroing in their launching equipment as early as September.

Having seized Liege, it was Von Rundstedt's intention to drive on Antwerp, then the key Allied port in Europe, through which most of the supplies for troops at the front were coming at that time. This maneuver, besides depriving the Allies of their principal port, would have split the British Army, the American 9th Army and part of the 1st Army from the remaining American and French forces to the south, making possible a decimating series of attacks such as preceded the British evacuation at Dunkirk in 1940.

In all, the enemy employed three armies in the battle, the 5th Panzer Army, the 6th Panzer Army and the .7th Army, totaling 14 divisions of infantry and 10 panzer and panzer grenadier divisions. Von Rundstedt was in personal command.

"As soon as confirmation had been received of the extent of the enemy's effort to bring about a breakthrough," Eisenhower wrote in his report, "I immediately ordered the cessation of all attacks along the whole front and the gathering up of every possible reserve to strike the penetration on both flanks. My plan was to hold firmly the shoulders of the penetration, particularly the Monschau area on the north and. the Bastogne area on the south, prevent enemy penetration west of the Meuse or in the Liege-Namur area, and then to counterattack with Gen George S. Patton's Army in the general direction of Bastogne-Cologne.

"This counterattack was to be followed by an attack by the forces under Field Marshal (Bernard) Montgomery, directed as the result and progress of Gen Patton's operations should indicate. I directed Gen (Jacob) Devers also to reach out as far as possible to his left to relieve 3d Army and to make available every single United States division that he could, retaining as his own mission merely the covering of vital communications. He was told to give ground if necessary in order to keep his thus-stretched forces intact. This order was given verbally on the morning of 19 December at Verdun, where I had directed all interested ground and air commanders to assemble. Later, I amplified this order by directing him to be ready to move back to the general line Belfort-Vosges in order to save the troops in the pocket lying between the Vosges, the Rhine and the Siegfried Line ..."

The headlines in the Paris edition of The Stars and Stripes told the story of those days.

"Nazis Smash Back Across Border; Luftwaffe Aids Drive on Hodges Line." — Dec. 18.

"Crucial Battle On in West; `All Now at Stake,' Nazi Troops Told; First Strikes Back." — Dec. 19.

"Nazis 20 Miles Into Belgium, No Great Damage in Drive Thus Far, Washington Says." — Dec. 20.

On Dec. 19, Eisenhower's report said:

"When it became apparent that Gen Bradley's left flank was badly separated from his right and that the situation of his own headquarters, located at Luxembourg, limited his command and communication capabilities to the area south of the penetration, I realized that it would be impracticable for him to handle the American forces north and south of the large salient that was being created. I therefore fixed boundary running east and west, through the breach in our lines, generally on the axis Givet-Prum, giving both places inclusive to the northern group. All forces nor of the boundary, including the major part of the U.S. 1st and 9 armies and part of the 9th Air Force, I placed respectively under the operational command of Field Marshal Montgomery and Air Marshal Coningham, commander-in-chief of the 2d Tactical Air Force. This left Gen Bradley suitably located to command the forces on the southern flank of the salient, comprising mainly the U.S. 3d Army and XIX Tactical Air Cmd, considerably reinforced."

Describing the progress of the battle, Eisenhower said that the four divisions originally holding the Ardennes front had slowed the enemy's advance, in spite of losses and being cut off, while the 7th Armd Div clung tenaciously to the St. Vith area through the critical early days. The 101st Abn Div took up its stand in the Bastogne area Dec. 18 and by its heroic resistance served further to slow the momentum of the breakthrough. All available reserves in the theater were thrown into the battle and additional divisions rushed. across the channel from England to build a new reserve.

As the days passed, tension spread behind the lines. In Paris where warnings had gone out to the populace to be on the watch b for suspicious looking persons, nightly roadblocks manned by trigger-happy French soldiers and gendarmes kept a close check on all movement within the city and through its gates. A rumor, undoubtedly spread by enemy agents, said that German paratroops had dropped outside Paris and were marching on the city.

The Army issued an order to all personnel to carry arms and for the first time since the early days after the liberation, young second lieutenants were to be seen in their pink trousers and short overcoats with carbines slung over their shoulders, entering sleek night clubs like the Club 45 and Maxim.

Reports reached four branches of the Army's intelligence services — OSS, CIC, CID and G2 — that one contingent of German paratroops led by Lt Col Otto Skorzeny had been dropped near Paris and was to make rendezvous at the Cafe de la Paix on the Place de l'Opera, with agents left behind in the German evacuation of Paris, before proceeding on their mission whicc was the abduction of Eisenhower

For several days each of these services, unbeknownst to the other sent agents in plain clothes to the cafe, a prewar meeting place for the international set. Daily, these agents eyed each other suspiciously since the cafe had almost no other customers in those dark days. Eventually, the watch on the cafe was given up. It was learned after the war that Skorzeny actually did have such a mission, but it was never put into operation.

Then, for Security reasons, a strict blackout was clamped on news of the battle. Daily briefings were still held and correspondents were kept informed of the general progress of events, but there was little they were permitted to print. So fluid had the situation become on the front that commanders found it almost impossible to keep their situation maps tip to date. Almost hourly, small units of men who had clung together after being cut off for days were fighting their way out of encirclement and reporting the death or capture of their comrades. Headquarters of many units were overrun and their commanders captured even before word of the attack could be circulated.

At Bastogne, the 101st was cut off almost as soon as it took up its position guarding that city's important road crossing. For five days, its men fought against tremendously superior odds, completely cut off and receiving their supplies by air. It was not until Dec. 26 that the 4th Armd Div was able to hack its way through the enemy to establish firm contact with the defenders of Bastogne — and bring their story to the world.

From the start of the attack, until Dec. 22, the weather had completely favored the enemy who had withheld his assault until conditions were perfect. Heavy ground fog obscured all movement while icing conditions made flying almost impossible. Then the weather began to improve and the Air Force was able to go into action on a steadily increasing scale. Heavy bomber attacks smashed the rail heads supplying the assaulting force while low-level planes hit concentrations of troops and vehicles. A concerted attack was made on enemy air fields Dec. 24, greatly reducing their air activity throughout the remaining days of the battle.

Thus far, little had been done to check the enemy's drive inland with emphasis being placed on containing him along the flanks. This, largely through the defense of Bastogne, was almost completely successful.

Before the end of December, the enemy advance ground to a creaking halt without reaching even its primary objective — the Meuse River. Then the counterattack was launched. First Army spearheaded the attack, driving toward Houffalize in the center of the enemy salient with the British XXX Corps on its right flank and a second column of the 1st Army attacking toward St. Vith on the left. On Jan. 9, 3d Army, which had been maintaining strong pressure in the Bastogne area, also jumped off in the direction of Houffalize. Within 48 hours, the gap between the two armies had been narrowed to about 10 miles, despite adverse weather conditions, stubborn enemy resistance and snow-covered mine fields.

On Jan. 16, firm contact was established between the two armies and together they drove toward St. Vith, virtually ending the battle.

By the end of January the line had been restored to approximately its position when the German attack was launched.

Summarizing the battle, Eisenhower said in his report:

"The German counteroffensive had opened on 16 December and had been brought under control by the 26th. The initiative in the battle had passed to our forces shortly thereafter and by 16 January, one month after the initial attack, our forces were in firm possession of the Houffalize road network, ready to counterattack strongly into enemy territory. Within this month, the enemy, although failing to reach even his initial objectives on the Meuse, had nevertheless succeeded in stopping our attacks against the Ruhr and the Saar.

"Operations to deal with the enemy offensive had occupied a full four weeks and were not, even by the 16th, completed. A certain regrouping was essential prior to the mounting of a full-scale offensive by our forces and at that time G-1 estimated that the enemy offensive had delayed our operations by at least six weeks. In addition to this disruption of our effort, the Strategic Air Forces had of necessity been drawn into the battle, thus leaving oil, aircraft and communications targets deeper in Germany free of attack for nearly a month.

"The counteroffensive, however, was not without its effects upon the enemy. Land and air forces had been carefully built up for months, and supplies, particularly of fuel, had been carefully hoarded for this all-out effort. During the month ending 16 January, my commanders estimated that the enemy suffered 120,000 serious casualties and lost 600 tanks and assault guns. He lost about 1,620 planes — a severe blow — and his fuel stocks, after nearly month of large-scale effort, were reduced to a bare minimum. The tactical aircraft claims for the month included over 6,000 motor transports destroyed and 7,000 dam:aged. together with some 550 locomotives destroyed and over 600 damaged. By the end of our own counteroffensive, the enemy lost 220,000. men, including 110,000 prisoners of war. More serious, in the final analysis, was the widespread disillusionment within the German army and Germany itself, which must have accompanied the realization that the breakthrough had failed to seize any really important objective and had achieved nothing:decisive."

Thus the enemy blunted the edge of his own resistance and although the war was not yet over, its end had been brought materially closer by this almost profligate expenditure of men and materials.

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