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Walter Jason

The War Front

What Is the Meaning of the German Offensive?

(1 January 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 9 No. 1, 1 January 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Nazi army achieved a major tactical success with serious strategic implications in the one-week-old counter-offensive on the Western front.

Already the major objective of the German high command has been attained: Complete disruption of Allied military plans for an offensive from the West.

The complete surprise and brilliant gains won by the German army stand as a sharp criticism of the Allied military leaders, who were caught flat-footed by the offensive.

The basic reason for the surprise was not merely over-confidence carelessness and poor leadership: above all, it flowed from a fundamentally erroneous conception of German strength.

Why It Happened

The question has been asked, time and again, how did Von Runstedt manage to mount such a large-scale offensive without detection by Allied air reconnaissance, or by intelligence?

Significantly, there had been reports of German “reserves” pouring into the front. These movements had been seen. But they were totally misinterpreted. The Allied high command assumed that these German troops marching to the front were replacements.

The Allied high command, in a word, overestimated seriously the effects, on the German army of the deadly battle of attrition (blood-letting) raging on the Western front.

Also, the Allied high command excluded the possibility of the Wehrmacht making any serious counter-offensive, because it accepted the popular view that Germany was on its last legs. (Max Werner was the most vociferous exponent of this false idea.)

That is why the Wehrmacht did the “impossible.”

The Allied view was that the German armies were operating on a shoestring, One serious large-scale battle would seal its fate. Eisenhower’s winter offensive was begun for precisely that reason. His prediction of an early conclusion to the European phase of the war arose from this theory he held.

German Strategy Becomes Clearer

Front line dispatches, and the usual distortion by headline writers deceived the American public into believing that the winter offensive was succeeding. Actually, the only important gains were made in strictly secondary areas, Eisenhower’s major drive in the Aachen sector was limited. This was the background for the German counter-offensive, from the Western front.

One other major factor, however, must be taken into consideration, namely the situation on the Eastern front and its relation to the events on the Western front.

The German high command, in a repetition of its strategy of the First World War, although the strategy was in slightly different form, had decided to force a decision on the West, while weakening its strength in the East.

Von Runstedt judged that the Russian armies would not make a major offensive of sufficient strength to derail his Western front. schedule. The comparative inactivity of the Soviet army on the vital Polish-East Prussian front, its preoccupation with political maneuvers in the Balkans and Hungary and its lack of offensive punch, which exhausted itself seriously in the summer drives these factors determined Von Runstedt's strategy. It was simply an application of German military views as ably presented by von Leeb in his major work, Die Abwehr.

Thus far, the only Allied counter-measures have been the series of counter-attacks, rear-guard actions and air blows against the German advance when weather permits.

The hope has been expressed by Eisenhower that the present German offensive is the last big gamble of the German high Command; that German reserves are committed, so deeply that the present battle can be turned into a decisive one in which Allied quantitative superiority finally will emerge as victor.

Struggle Will Sharpen

This idea contains the same fundamental approach as the one on which the Allied high command operated. It presupposes a lack “of the independent will of the enemy.”

It is quite probable that von Runstedt, who doesn’t make many mistakes, has defined his objectives exactly. Perhaps the major part of the counter-offensive has already been finished. Von Runstedt might easily be occupied in exploiting the remnants of his victory.

Already he has succeeded in disrupting for a few months any Allied offensive against Germany. Once he consolidates his gains he hopes to turn his attention to any belated Russian moves.

Even if the Allies finally drive him back to the Siegfried line, the job will be a costly one, adding to the losses sustained in the present defeat. In any case, the Wehrmacht is assured of more time for other counter-measures to an all-out offensive.

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