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269 CHAPTER 9 Staking All on One Card Here the winning Nazi thrust was staged And hostile hordes came through the high Ardennes, Swept to and on beyond the flowing Meuse As Sedan fell and Compiegne. Here our lines so lightly held was pierced As his new armies sallied forth; But we closed and blocked the blow With free reserves from south and north.1 The Concept, VIII Corps, Bastogne, Belgium, 15 December 1944 When Omar Bradley met with the correspondents gathered at Eagle TAC late afternoon on 15 December 1944 he was more concerned with his desperate need for replacements than thoughts of a big German counterattack.2 In fact, the front was so quiet the staff squeezed in the routine briefing before the boss headed for his strategy meeting with Ike at SHAEF MAIN early the next morning. A long list of visitors had stopped at Eagle TAC in recent days—­ including Marlene Dietrich, whose company Bradley openly enjoyed, visibly flirting with the movie star—­ and several matters needed attention. Planning for the winter Rhine operation confirmed that the assault platoons were down in strength an average of five men each. By mid-­ December, the 12th Army Group counted some 850,000 troops and was short 18,000 replacements .3 All solutions were on the table no matter how socially radical, including the possibility of using black infantry as combat troops. Ten days later, the rear echelon Communications Zone (COM Z, formerly Services of Supply) issued a call for black troops to volunteer and share, “the privilege of joining 270 Part II The Liberation of Europe our veteran units at the front to deliver the knockout blow.” After a few weeks of processing and arriving weeks later, the replacements were more than satisfactory to Bradley. “A lot of first and master sergeants gave up their rank and volunteered as privates to go in these black platoons, and they did a whale of a good job, too.” The units remained segregated. This measure, taken after the German attack began, testifies to the seriousness of the manpower shortage; it is doubtful Ike would have dared such a radical step in any but the most extreme circumstances.4 The manpower situation was so critical—­ “don’t they realize that we can still lose this war?”—­ that Bradley dispatched his personnel chief to Washington to underscore his concern.5 Brig. Gen. Joseph J. “Red” O’Hare ’16 was the right man to browbeat the bureaucrats into speeding up the flow of riflemen. Bradley was convinced that the higher-­ ups thought the war in Europe was going to end before Christmas and either quit training replacements or were sending them someplace else.6 In his analysis of the worsening manpower situation, Red took direct aim at the source of the problem: “We find ourselves totally out of infantry rifle replacements because of the War Department’s inability to ship the numbers that are necessary.”7 A bull-­ headed star fullback one year behind Bradley at the academy, O’Hare was confrontational, wielding a sharp tongue and an Irish-­ flavored ribald sense of humor. Along with Chief of Staff Lev Allen, Red furnished “levity when we were all together always getting a laugh out of the rest of the staff.”8 He had a reputation for getting things done, as Bradley noted in his official evaluation, and was “not above using short cuts to accomplish the desired results in the minimum of time.”9 During the press conference on 15 December, Bradley focused on the crucial role of close air support in the campaign so far, especially the work of IX and XIX Tactical Air Forces, each supporting one of his armies. The weather was “another fine day for the Air with all fighter-­ bomber squadrons being aloft,” and the intermittent sound of engines overhead contributed to the universal mood of confidence.10 It would be the last good flying weather for more than a week, as near to a divine gift possible for the German planners at OB West. Bradley displayed no undue concerns about upcoming operations and made no special mention of the enemy, “the other fellow” as he always called them. Intelligence had sounded no unusual alarms and he was confident that the 12th Army Group operations, including the limited Roer River Dams offensive launched two days before and Patton’s follow-­up push into the Saarland slated for 19 December, would proceed on schedule.11 By mid-­ December, SHAEF planners...


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