Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

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Texas Jäger
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Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Texas Jäger » 01 Dec 2020 08:59

Most of the historiography I’ve read puts down the failure of the northern-most sector of the Ardennes Offensive (where the 6th Panzer Army attacked) to bad organization and preparation for Dietrich’s Army compared to Manteuffel‘s. Steven Zaloga echoed pretty much the same take on their performance in a lecture last year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LOfS2kp7V8&app=desktop

However on the flip side, when 6th Panzer Army was shifted west to attack in the Manhay area and later defended the northern half of the salient they seemed to have performed at least as well as 5th Panzer Army if not better, not accounting for certain units switching between the two, like I. SS Panzer Corps being moved to the Bastogne area. During the initial attack they also had a much narrower, better defended front to attack than 5th Panzer Army. So how much of the 6th Panzer Army’s failure can be put down to weakness or incompetence as opposed to facing much stronger opposition than its counterpart army to the south? Zaloga also makes it out like the fighting at Elsenborn-Bütgenbach-Krinkelt was a one sided slaughter, but considering the Germans were bringing a lot of firepower to the table I’m wondering what U.S. losses were like. Does anyone know the losses for the units facing 6th Panzer Army?

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Cult Icon » 26 Apr 2021 08:36

Texas Jäger wrote:
01 Dec 2020 08:59
U.S. losses were like. Does anyone know the losses for the units facing 6th Panzer Army?
Casualties for the 99th Infantry division Dec 16-23: 1,997 (198 KIA, 898 MIA, 901 WIA)

2nd Infantry Division Dec 16-23: 1,513 (63 KIA, 786 MIA, 664 WIA)

11 Shermans and 2 M-10s (total losses, not including damaged)

-------
Dec 16- Jan 14, 1945: 99th ID: 2,536. 2nd ID: 2,137

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Cult Icon » 26 Apr 2021 08:52

Texas Jäger wrote:
01 Dec 2020 08:59
Most of the historiography I’ve read puts down the failure of the northern-most sector of the Ardennes Offensive (where the 6th Panzer Army attacked) to bad organization and preparation for Dietrich’s Army compared to Manteuffel‘s.

So how much of the 6th Panzer Army’s failure can be put down to weakness or incompetence as opposed to facing much stronger opposition than its counterpart army to the south? Zaloga also makes it out like the fighting at Elsenborn-Bütgenbach-Krinkelt was a one sided slaughter, but considering the Germans were bringing a lot of firepower to the table I’m wondering what U.S. losses were like. Does anyone know the losses for the units facing 6th Panzer Army?
Some things:

1. Manteuffel's 5th PzA approach was fundamentally more correct- no artillery preparation, the use of infiltration battalions composed of picked men of each division. This lead to the rapid destruction of the US 106th Division and the defeat of the 110th Infantry Regiment (28th Infantry Division). The conduct of the German forces in the battle of St. Vith was also more rational.

2. Dietrich/Kraemer (his chief of Staff, who was the brains really) followed the fatally flawed, extremely overoptimistic "Big solution" plans which was rejected by Rundstedt and others on objective grounds. They favored the small solution, which was the encirclement and destruction of the 1st US Army and considered the resources deployed for the Big solution to be far too low. The politicization of Operation Autumn Mist would doom the operation and tie the hands of the 6th Panzer Army until December 20th, 1944.

So the 1 SS Panzer Korps was rushed to achieve the required results- despite their level of preparedness to launch attacks on those days.

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Cult Icon » 26 Apr 2021 09:05

3. The secrecy necessary for Operation Autumn Mist had fatal effects that influenced the artillery preparation of the 6.PzA and their failure to detect the US 2nd Infantry Division. There was a ban on reconnaissance, meaning that the superior artillery forces amassed for the Army would be firing blind and on predictable geographical targets like road nets. This was criticized and known by the Germans but the 6.PzA stuck to plans. Also the ammunition supply was poor- the barrage was half an hour long. Ultimately this lead to minor disruption and did not prove to be significant factor in reducing 99th Infantry Division's defense.

-to be continued.

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Cult Icon » 27 Apr 2021 13:31

4. The constricted, muddy, and poor quality East-West road network (Rollbahn A, B, C, D, E) could not handle the traffic required by 6.PzA forces and developed into a one-week traffic jam. This comes across as a huge failure in planning and made their progress in the plan a non-starter. Large portions of German divisions were stuck in the traffic jam for a prolonged period of time, and could not bring their full combat power to bear. German armor, also stuck in the traffic jam, could not lend its full weight until the main attack on the twin villages, which was by then too late. For the 12.SS division, this- along with very heavy US interdiction (artillery) fires- lead to numerous small operations, spaced apart from each other in time instead of one, overwhelming concentric attack with all kampfgruppen.

Also, German artillery could support the infantry attacks in any meaningful sense, leading to unsuppressed American 99th and 2nd Infantry positions. SS Artillery regiment 12 did not become operational in any meaningful sense until Dec 21st 1944 (with 2 x 105mm and 1 x 150mm battalions) for the attack on the Butgenbach. However, by then the V Corps artillery and 99th, 1st, 2nd Infantry artillery was in position and could launch multi-battalion defensive fire in response with 12,000 rounds fired on the 21st and even more fire missions on the 22nd.

In previous offensives of the war, the German "cheat code" was to use Fliegerkorps support with air liaison officers on the ground, typically mounted in SPW to obtain high suppressive firepower without the burdensome logistics required of artillery. This option was no longer available. Not available were routine photographs of air recon and the sharing of of intel with ground commanders. And there was no overwhelming counter-battery fire to overwhelm the US artillery battalions of one corps and three divisions so the Americans maintained an artillery superiority that blanketed all German assault operations. IIRC, 29,000 plus rounds were dropped prior to the Butgenbach pivot.
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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Cult Icon » 27 Apr 2021 13:56

Texas Jäger wrote:
01 Dec 2020 08:59
So how much of the 6th Panzer Army’s failure can be put down to weakness or incompetence as opposed to facing much stronger opposition than its counterpart army to the south?
The inherent strength of 99th, 2nd, and 1st Infantry's situation in the North was that the real estate they were occupying were containing the best roads to the Meuse and they had these positions covered with powerful artillery with large ammunition supply & ready reserves for deployment.

The artillery superiority was a massive force multiplier. Also, faltering positions were continuously repositioned and reinforced with new battle groups. V Corps benefited much by the able and veteran leadership of the US 2nd infantry division which took command of the 99th Infantry division as well. And also very good leaders of battalions and regiments of the 1st and 2nd Infantry divisions. The 2nd Infantry division in particular had a contempt for the towed Anti-tank gun and there is evidence of bazookas everywhere in the fighting. The McKinley battalion which held the Lausdell crossroads ahead of the twin villages was equipped with 47 bazookas.

Also, the villages in the area, including the twin villages had buildings that were made of stone. This protected the American troops inside and made the buildings difficult to destroy with the guns of German armor.

So for the I SS Pz Korps there was no option to outflank them with tactical maneuver. The 12.VG, 277.VG, and 12.SS would have to take them and all subsequently occupied positions by force.

KG Peiper's advance would of had protected flanks if the rest of I SS Pz Korps managed to keep up and link with it. After the fall of the twin villages, the 12.SS attack toward Butgenbach was aimed at relieving Peiper's Kampfgruppe.

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Cult Icon » 27 Apr 2021 18:59

5. Quality and size of the forces employed in the Northern effort (Rollbahn A, B, C) : The 277.VG and 12.VG divisions had the combined personnel strength of one infantry division. The 12.SS was the largest division of Operation Autumn Mist but it was classified as a KW 3 unit (suitable only for defense) like the 1.SS and the other two volksgrenadier units. In contrast the three panzer divisions of the 5.PzA (Panzer Lehr, 116.Pz, 2.Pz) were considered suitable for offense by Mantueffuel although I do not know the exact rating.

Despite being withdrawn into reserve the two SS divisions didn't manage to bring their units back to combat readiness in the Nov-Dec period. Shortages of ammunition, fuel, and equipment brought training levels down to minimal level. The 12.SS was also weak in leadership, having lost so many people in Normandy. Its commander was an crack regimental commander that never lead a division before.

The 277.VG and 12.VG divisions were also in sub-standard condition and had poor training & cohesion. 12.VG was used heavily in the autumn battles, particularly at Aachen as a elite and was only recently refilled with new personnel. The 277. VG had a thin leadership cadre, which was burdened with leading their untrained personnel and many leaders were quickly put out of action in the first two days of the offensive.

Both 12.SS and 1.SS were missing the critical combat engineering assets used by the Germans in prior offensives of the war like Bridging columns, ZBV brandenburger commandos, and additional Sturmpioneer battalions. The weak combat engineering- and lack of preparation- would make mine clearance slow and initiate the traffic jam as they didn't have ramps to neutralize their own Westwall tank traps. The lack of engineers and bridging capabilities would jeopardize KG Peiper.

Their units were weak in specialists, vehicles, communications and other critical equipment. While their armor contingent was brought to strength with the add-ons, the 501 SS Tiger was not appropriate for the operation and may have hampered more than helped due to its high fuel requirements. The 560 PzJ battalion would have tactical problems in the fighting to come as it did not train with the 12.SS infantry and these SP guns did not have rotating turrets and the same level of machinegun firepower as tanks.

The low SPW strength was a major weakness for the 12.SS. Their SPW battalion was only partially equipped meaning that during offensive operations it was not used to support I./SS Panzer regiment 12 in their attacks against the twin villages. Instead it was held in reserve as it was anticipated that the mechanized infantry would be used as an exploitation spearhead once the breakthrough through the Rollbahns were made. Ultimately, with mission failure and a decimated SS PzG regiment 25, it was put into combat action against Butgenbach.

It is often noted that the 12.SS put little attention on armored recon. I suspect that this battalion was withheld just like SPW battalion- intentionally kept in reserve for exploitation.

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Cult Icon » 27 Apr 2021 19:31

Texas Jäger wrote:
01 Dec 2020 08:59
So how much of the 6th Panzer Army’s failure can be put down to weakness or incompetence
I wonder about this as well.

Per Rollbahn A, B, C and being tied to the "Big solution" plan, horrible road net, delayed approach of divisional artillery, & directives I believe that they should have withheld the artillery concentration and used it to support the initial breakthrough by 277.VG and 12.VG. This would have dramatically weakened 99th Infantry division's defense. Also these two divisions should have attacked with sufficient supporting armor and should have waited until this was available, then rushing in without support.

Also:

1. infiltration tactics- do the same thing as the 5.PzA and sent in infiltration battalions first with forward observers, then perform a general attack.

2. minimal daytime assault activity, maximum night assault activity.

3. concentric assaults with maximum force if possible and not interfered by artillery interdiction missions. This would need a much larger gap between main attacks.

4. stronger focus on reconnaissance before force commitment.

5. I./Panzer regiment 12 and the 560.PzJ should have been supported by SPW battalion and Recon battalion. The SPW battalion should not have been stored in reserve.

6. In the hard village fights the engineers and volksgrenadiers should have been used at the very front, backed up by armor and SPW.

Basically Dietrich and friends would have to convinced the Fuhrer that they would have to deviate on tactical grounds from the Big Solution plan.

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Cult Icon » 29 Apr 2021 18:04

6. Rollbahn D and E, the situation with 1.SS. The division itself was headed by another regimental commander with no experience leading a division as the most successful Pz general (Wisch) was an invalid after Falaise. Peiper was informed of his mission on Dec 14, 1944 and without the required preparation time and specialized resources.

In particular he was missing the forward detachment element (that may have been fulfilled by Panzerbrigade 150 with the American-speaking commandos, US jeeps, US trucks, and a few Panthers disguised as imitation M-10s). This would have been necessary to advance ahead of KG peiper and secure the bridges against the "Damned engineers". He was also weak in assault engineers and bridging capabilities. Instead the main body of the division held the bridging column. His group however was provided with an additional independent flak battalion.

The way his KG was organized proved ultimately to be very incorrect. These problems were foreseeable given the geography of his "one-tank wide" front and Rollbahn D and E. KG Peiper resembled an organization more appropriate for a heavy breakthrough operation in the Eastern Front and was overstuffed with heavy weapons to the point that it weakened the other 1.SS kampfgruppen and lowered the other KG's capabilities, which hampered them in their link up attempts later on.

It was also so supply hungry that the supply column in the rear could not support properly with fuel it past Dec 18, 1944. By the 19, the ammunition was low. The fuel hungry 501 SS Tiger was attached to it and was a wasted asset. It hastened the demise of the KG. Peiper had intended to commit his SS 501 Tigers once they had reached the Meuse.

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Cult Icon » 30 Apr 2021 13:54

On the subject of the full potential of 6th Panzer Army: besides deviating from plan, IMHO Dietrich should have tried to lobby for additional sturmpioneer battalions, bridging columns, FKL, and should have assigned the use of Pz Brigade 150 to Peiper. If these resources could not be granted then he would have to draw them from other units in his own command. Also, despite secrecy precautions he could have lobbied for much more preparation time than 1 day in the case of the LAH.

At BEST Peiper would have made it the Meuse and established a preliminary bridgehead there, along with the main body of the LAH. Then a new northern front could be made with reserves. However by that time (Dec 19-20 onward) strong combat groups from the US 82.AB, 3.AD, 30.ID would be counterattacking and there would be a defensive battle on the Northern front over control of the Meuse crossings.

At BEST the 12.SS would have made more progress down Rollbahn A, B, and C and not take such high losses. I do not believe that they could have made it to the Meuse against such strong resistance from the 2.ID, 99.ID, and 1.IDs. Once Peiper made it to the Meuse or close to it the 12.SS mission should have been canceled. Ideally their role would have ultimately been that of a fixing operation. Then this would be time to send the reserves, 3.PzG and the inf formations, to hold the northern front and free up the 1.SS/12.SS and join them with the newly arrived II SS Pz Korps for a second push towards Antwerp. This would be roughly according to plan however they would not make the unrealistic timetable.

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Sheldrake » 30 Apr 2021 16:14

Cult Icon wrote:
29 Apr 2021 18:04
The way his KG was organized proved ultimately to be very incorrect. These problems were foreseeable given the geography of his "one-tank wide" front and Rollbahn D and E. KG Peiper resembled an organization more appropriate for a heavy breakthrough operation in the Eastern Front and was overstuffed with heavy weapons to the point that it weakened the other 1.SS kampfgruppen and lowered the other KG's capabilities, which hampered them in their link up attempts later on.

It was also so supply hungry that the supply column in the rear could not support properly with fuel it past Dec 18, 1944. By the 19, the ammunition was low. The fuel hungry 501 SS Tiger was attached to it and was a wasted asset. It hastened the demise of the KG. Peiper had intended to commit his SS 501 Tigers once they had reached the Meuse.
I will go further. Peiper's command of his battlegroup were flawed. On the evening of the 17th Dec Peiper had achieved a breakthrough. His column had destroyed the artillery column at Bageuz and the damaged tank at Ligneuville and were on the country road to Stavalot. However, after bumping into a detachment of engineers a mile or so short of Stavalot his entire column seems to have stopped for several hours. It seems that Peiper went back to the excellent restaurant in Ligneuville for support with the Divisional commander. Had he pressed on during the night his column could have been on the Meuse by morning of the 18th.

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Aida1 » 30 Apr 2021 18:52

Sheldrake wrote:
30 Apr 2021 16:14
Cult Icon wrote:
29 Apr 2021 18:04
The way his KG was organized proved ultimately to be very incorrect. These problems were foreseeable given the geography of his "one-tank wide" front and Rollbahn D and E. KG Peiper resembled an organization more appropriate for a heavy breakthrough operation in the Eastern Front and was overstuffed with heavy weapons to the point that it weakened the other 1.SS kampfgruppen and lowered the other KG's capabilities, which hampered them in their link up attempts later on.

It was also so supply hungry that the supply column in the rear could not support properly with fuel it past Dec 18, 1944. By the 19, the ammunition was low. The fuel hungry 501 SS Tiger was attached to it and was a wasted asset. It hastened the demise of the KG. Peiper had intended to commit his SS 501 Tigers once they had reached the Meuse.
I will go further. Peiper's command of his battlegroup were flawed. On the evening of the 17th Dec Peiper had achieved a breakthrough. His column had destroyed the artillery column at Bageuz and the damaged tank at Ligneuville and were on the country road to Stavalot. However, after bumping into a detachment of engineers a mile or so short of Stavalot his entire column seems to have stopped for several hours. It seems that Peiper went back to the excellent restaurant in Ligneuville for support with the Divisional commander. Had he pressed on during the night his column could have been on the Meuse by morning of the 18th.
Not entirey correct. When the column was stopped, Peiper was further back discussing the overall situation with the division commander. He arrived late in the evening. Why the attack on Stavelot was not done then is explained in Men of steel Michael reynolds p 70 . The reasons were : expecting the bridge to be prepared for demolition and defended, the spreading out of the KG, the need for panzer grenadiere and engineers for the assault and finally fatigue. Even If the KG reached the Meuse, it would not have mattered in the big picture so this is a very theoretical discussion which is also very much unrealistic and in hindsight.
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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Aida1 » 30 Apr 2021 19:04

Cult Icon wrote:
29 Apr 2021 18:04


The way his KG was organized proved ultimately to be very incorrect. These problems were foreseeable given the geography of his "one-tank wide" front and Rollbahn D and E. KG Peiper resembled an organization more appropriate for a heavy breakthrough operation in the Eastern Front and was overstuffed with heavy weapons to the point that it weakened the other 1.SS kampfgruppen and lowered the other KG's capabilities, which hampered them in their link up attempts later on.
There is nothing abnormal in the armoured battlegroup of a panzerdiv taking point after the initial breakthrough. That is is its role. Same goes for the composition of the armored battlegroups.

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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Aida1 » 30 Apr 2021 19:18

Cult Icon wrote:
26 Apr 2021 08:52

2. Dietrich/Kraemer (his chief of Staff, who was the brains really) followed the fatally flawed, extremely overoptimistic "Big solution" plans which was rejected by Rundstedt and others on objective grounds. They favored the small solution, which was the encirclement and destruction of the 1st US Army and considered the resources deployed for the Big solution to be far too low. The politicization of Operation Autumn Mist would doom the operation and tie the hands of the 6th Panzer Army until December 20th, 1944.

Strange assertion as everybody was supposed to go for the big solution.The whole plan was based on it.It is unlikely even the waffen ss commanders believed that Antwerp could be reached.
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Re: Performance of the 6th Panzer Army in the Ardennes

Post by Aida1 » 30 Apr 2021 19:22

Texas Jäger wrote:
01 Dec 2020 08:59
Most of the historiography I’ve read puts down the failure of the northern-most sector of the Ardennes Offensive (where the 6th Panzer Army attacked) to bad organization and preparation for Dietrich’s Army compared to Manteuffel‘s. Steven Zaloga echoed pretty much the same take on their performance in a lecture last year.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6LOfS2kp7V8&app=desktop

However on the flip side, when 6th Panzer Army was shifted west to attack in the Manhay area and later defended the northern half of the salient they seemed to have performed at least as well as 5th Panzer Army if not better, not accounting for certain units switching between the two, like I. SS Panzer Corps being moved to the Bastogne area. During the initial attack they also had a much narrower, better defended front to attack than 5th Panzer Army. So how much of the 6th Panzer Army’s failure can be put down to weakness or incompetence as opposed to facing much stronger opposition than its counterpart army to the south? Zaloga also makes it out like the fighting at Elsenborn-Bütgenbach-Krinkelt was a one sided slaughter, but considering the Germans were bringing a lot of firepower to the table I’m wondering what U.S. losses were like. Does anyone know the losses for the units facing 6th Panzer Army?
The terrain was very unfavourable and resistance was certainly stronger. The I SS corps would have preferred to have the pz div themselves execute the initial breakthrough instead of the inf div. That would have worked better.

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