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US Army

Montgomery’s Proposal Ignored

Montgomery’s Proposal Ignored
 
As we, the winter soldiers of 1944 and 1945 review our past history, we are often reminded of the blunders made during history’s greatest conflict.  For example Hitler’s refusal to release his armored divisions to General Gerd von Rundstedt to drive the invading allies into the English Channel on June 6, 1944. 
 
The men of the 741st Tank Battalion, attached to the 1st Infantry Division, coming ashore at Omaha Beach, had lost the offensive support of 28 or 35 M4 Sherman tanks to weak struts and defective flotation skirts.  They sunk like lead weights after being launched from LCT’s, soon after the initial landings on June 6, 1944.  These tanks were designated to bust the crust, penetrate the “bocage” and spearhead the 1st Infantry Division in the taking of St Laurent-sur-Mer, two miles inland.  How many men of the 1st Infantry Division were lost due to the lack of the intended support from the 28 tanks that went to the bottom of the channel? 
 
Or General Montgomery’s failed Market Garden, the duel airborne and armored operation of September 17, 1944.  The 101st and 82nd Airborne Divisions were to seize two bridges and waterways 60 miles behind enemy lines at Eindhoven and Nijmegen respectively, while the British 1st Airborne was to take the bridge over the Rhine River at Arnhem.  Although the bridges were taken and held, the overwhelming German forces soon devastated the Allies at all points of occupation.  Montgomery’s failed Market Garden operation cost over 8,000 men—killed, captured or missing to the British, Poles and Americans.  History’s largest air operations had succumbed to German Panzer Divisions in bitter defeat. 
 
So, what has the above got to do with Monty’s ignored proposal?  Having depicted the failed ventures that have become well known to students and historians of WWII, I am obliged to comment on a significant blunder that would have been added to the above, had Bradley and Patton acted upon Montgomery’s proposal.
 
It happened on Christmas night 1944 at Bradley’s CP at the Alpha Hotel in Luxembourg.  Late that evening, after Patton had visited the CP’s of the 4th Armored, and the 26th, 80th and 5th Infantry Divisions, Bradley said to Patton: “Montgomery told me that the First Army could not attack for three months and that the only attacks that could be made would be made by me, but that I was too weak.  Hence, we should have to fall back to the line of the Saar-Vosge, or even to the Moselle, to gain enough divisions to permit me to continue to attack.”
 
Bradley and Patton considered this a disgusting and absurd proposal with tremendous political implications with would result in retribution, death or slavery of all in formerly held Alsace and Lorraine.  Had not Montgomery been aware that Patton’s III Corps had been on the attack since December 22?  On Christmas Day, 1944, my 26th Division was attacking towards Wiltz, Luxembourg, the 4th Armored on our left was driving for Bastogne, Belgium, and the 80th Infantry Division on our right was about to take Mertzig, Luxembourg.  Rambrouch, Grosbous and Eschdorf were in our control and our CP at Christmas, 1944, was at Heispelt, Luxembourg.  On December 17th, Bradley had ordered Colonel Roberts’ CCB of the 10th Armored Division to form a defensive arc five miles northeast of Bastogne with 70 tanks, 18 tank destroyers and 350 men. (This was the wall of steel created by Roberts that held off the Germans for nine days, that most historians have forgotten.)
 
On the 19th of December, Bradley had ordered the 101st Airborne to Bastogne and the 82nd Airborne to Werbomont on the north shoulder.  Both of these airborne divisions had been at Reims, France, since the end of the failed Market Garden operation.  By December 25, 1944, all the above mentioned units were in place and many units were eating up enemy geography at a great cost to our young lives.  Yet Montgomery suggested to Bradley that we should pull back, wait three months, reorganize in strength, then attack.  Among many U.S. generals, former incidents at Caen and Falaise had earned Montgomery a well-deserved reputation as being overly cautious.
 
Patton was so incensed at this preposterous proposal by Montgomery, that he directed every member of his staff to write an opinion on the matter.  The memos included information that attested to the ability of the Third Army to successfully attack the oncoming Germans with an immediate counter-offensive. 
 
Patton’s staff submitted substantial information describing the preparedness of the Third Army to attack and it being in possession of adequate fuel, ammo, stores and combat units.  The memo proclaimed: “It is our belief that the Third Army should continue the offensive and carry the fight to the enemy, and destroy him without delay.” 
 
The memoranda was signed by Colonel Paul D. Harkins, Deputy Chief of Staff, Brigadier General H. G. Maddox, G-3 and Colonel Oscar W. Koch, G-2.  Patton was aware of the historical significance of Montgomery’s proposal. 
 
Montgomery did not order his First Army (Hodges) to attack until the 27th of December, five days after Patton had attacked General Bradenberger’s 7th Army with his III Corps (General Major Millikin) on December 22nd, 1944. 
 
Verification with regard to the above can be found in War as I Knew it, by General George S. Patton, page 193 and 194.  Montgomery’s memoirs make no mention of his proposal to General Bradley to General George Patton on Christmas Day at the Hotel Alpha, in Luxembourg.  Confirmation of Montgomery’s proposal may also be found in Patton: Ordeal and Triumph by Ladislas Farago, on page 705 and by John Toland’s Battle, page 277.  All of the above authors are recognized historians of WWII and have written extensively and comprehensively on the subject of the Ardennes counter-offensive.
 
On the 50th anniversary, of their deaths, I was chairman of “Monuments and Memorials,” a committee which paid tribute to those that did not return from the 26th Infantry Division.  We published two special issues in their honor.  This allowed me to become involved in extensive research on the subject of the Battle of the Bulge.
 
The proposal of General Montgomery and General Bradley to pull back, reorganize and attack in three months as the solution to the Ardennes offensive is not commonly known to most.  This article is meant to pay tribute to the memory of Bradley and Patton, two great generals who had faith in the Third Army at a very crucial time, when others disagreed.
 
Source: The Bulge Bugle August 2002
By Pvt Carl P. DE VASTO

 

 

 

"HQ" Company

 

101st Infantry Regiment

 

26th Infantry Division

 

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium