German Reorganization and Allied Supply Problems
As patrols of the First Army crossed the German frontier and the troops from the invasion of southern France linked with those of Overlord, an early end to the war appeared not only possible but probable. The ragged columns falling back to the ‘German border seemed thoroughly beaten, and on the eastern front Soviet armies, having driven the Germans from Russian soil, had begun to press into Poland. In the three months since the Allies had landed in Normandy, the Germans on all fronts had incurred more than 1,210,000 casualties. Day and night, British and American heavy bombers hammered German cities, factories, and rail lines. To many it seemed incredible that the divisions in the west, reduced to no more than half the strength of the 49 divisions which General Eisenhower had arrayed against them, could be rebuilt fast enough to forestall total defeat. Even most German commanders saw the only hope to be quick withdrawal behind the historic moat of the Rhine River.
On the other hand, Hitler from his position as over-all commander recognized that his Third Reich still possessed considerable power. He still had, for example, more than 10 million men in uniform. Despite Allied bombings, German factories still had been able to maintain a high rate of production and had yet to reach their wartime peak. Recognizing early in the summer that Germany could not hope to match the numbers of Allied tanks, Hitler had concentrated instead on producing heavier tanks that he considered tactically superior. These he ordered to be used to equip panzer brigades that might halt or delay the Allied armies until the shattered panzer divisions could be refitted and reorganized. By reducing the numbers of service troops, by converting sailors and airmen into infantrymen, and by at once lowering and extending the ages for induction into the armed forces, he ordered the early formation of 25 new divisions, all to support the western front. He also ordered into the line along the frontier 100 so-called fortress infantry battalions, heretofore used only in rear areas. Though Hitler could not hope to produce enough new airplanes to redress the tremendous imbalance in the air, he continued to put his faith in the early appearance of new jet-propelled planes. He also put considerable faith in a series of fortifications along the western border known as the West Wall. Called by the Allies the Siegfried Line, the fortifications had been constructed before the war from Switzerland to the point where the Rhine enters the Netherlands. As much as 3 miles deep, the line consisted of hundreds of concrete pillboxes, observation posts, command posts, and troop shelters. Either such natural antitank obstacles as streams or concrete projections called dragon’s teeth fronted the entire length.
Looking for a new commander who might rebuild the morale of the German soldier in the west, Hitler on September 5 recalled Field Marshal von Rundstedt as commander in chief. While Field Marshal Model remained as commander of Army Group B, Hitler charged Rundstedt with holding firm along the Dutch-Belgian border, in the West Wall, and along the Moselle River. As many as possible of the panzer divisions were to be regrouped quickly to counterattack into the south flank of the United States Third Army to cut off Patton’s armored columns. The strength of the West Wall, when supplemented by the counterattack and the other emergency steps, would be sufficient, Hitler believed, to hold the Allies along the border until he could form a larger reserve force to strike back in a big counteroffensive. By means of the counteroffensive, he intended to force the Allies to settle for a negotiated peace, whereupon he might give his full attention to the Soviet Union.
A strong factor in Hitler’s confidence was his belief that the Allies had outrun their supply lines. In this he was correct, though General Eisenhower and his subordinates hoped to get past the West Wall and establish bridgeheads over the Rhine before a pause became imperative. Eisenhower’s problem was not a shortage of supplies on the Continent but a task of getting them to the forward troops, who in some cases were more than 500 miles from supply depots. The problem grew out of the explosive nature of the advance through France and the decision to forego a pause at the Seine, which had denied the supply services time to build an orderly logistical structure. Despite such extraordinary measures as the establishment of a one-way truck route called the Red Ball Express, the supply troops simply could not keep pace. For five days at the end of August, Patton’s Third Army came to a complete halt at the Meuse for lack of gasoline, General Hodges of the First Army had to halt one corps for the same reason, and one British corps had to stop for more than a week to enable its trucks to supply the rest of the Second Army. Some idea of the immensity of the supply requirements is apparent from the fact that each division required 600 to 700 tons of supplies per day and that artillery and mortars expended ammunition at the rate of 8,000,000 rounds per month, almost as much as the entire American Expeditionary Force expended (10,000,000 rounds) in World War I.