18.6.07

DELAY IS THE DEADLIEST FORM OF DENIAL. There's a lot in print and on film about the efforts of the 101st Airborne Div. at Bastogne. My library has a few such books, which I finished before I got involved in counting book reviews here. For Book Review No. 1819 I'll note that John C. McManus's Alamo in the Ardennes: The Untold Story of the American Soldiers Who Made the Defense of Bastogne Possible delivers (at least to me) the content that rather unwieldy subtitle promises. Fall Wacht am Rhein was supposed to be a replay of the 1940 campaign, with the Hun in Antwerp before the Allies could react. A number of battered and scratch units, including some sent to what looked like a quiet part of the front to refit, cost the Hun sufficient tempi that by the time the Second Panzer Div. completed the encirclement of Bastogne, the unit was ordered to make haste for the Meuse. As author McManus notes, Bastogne "amounted to a veritable bone in their throats." These men, who sometimes come in for criticism in histories of the Ardennes battle, were indeed weary, and were indeed being sent west to regroup as the 101st took possession of the town. That, however, was the plan. Paratroopers train to hold ground despite being surrounded, and the logistical advantages (air power, once the clouds lifted, long-range artillery, and the Fourth Armored rushing north) favored the Allies. (Perhaps this story could not have been told at the time as it takes some of the drama out of General McAuliffe's "Nuts!") The plan did not come cheaply. The 28th Infantry Division, and particularly its 110th Infantry Regiment, took quite a beating buying the 101st Airborne time to position that bone at Bastogne.

Another part of the story that probably couldn't have been told at the time is that the footsoldiers east of Bastogne were quite aware the Germans were up to something. Many reports of activity, including motorized divisions being repositioned, were passed to headquarters and discounted. As the author notes, Allied headquarters would not have been able to stop the Hun from attacking, but the 28th would have been assisted in blunting the attack. He also suggests that such intelligence, properly acted on, would have cut short the fruitless efforts to push through the Hurtgen Forest.

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