The Battle of the Bulge
On about October 20, 1944, I returned to the
Fuhrer's G.H.Q. which
was frighteningly near the front now that the Russians had penetrated
deep into Eastern Prussia.
This time Adolf Hitler received me alone.
He was pleasant, as usual; I had the distinct impression that he was
and more rested than at the time of our last meeting. After
announcing that he had awarded me the Gold Cross, he asked
describe in detail the arrest of the young Horthy and the surprise
attack on the Burgberg. When I completed this
report and rose,
believing the audience finished, he detained me.
"Stay, Skorzeny. I am going to charge you with
a new mission,
perhaps the most important in your life. So far, very few people
know that we are preparing in utmost
secrecy a mission in which you
are to play a principal part. In December, the German Army will
launch a great offensive
the issue which will be decisive in the
destiny of our country."
The Fuhrer then undertook to explain to me at length
conception of this last offensive in the west which continental
historians have called the Offensive of
the Ardennes and the English-
Speaking historians the Battle of the Bulge.
During the last few months, the German
command had had to remain
content with trying to keep the enemy armies in check. This had been
a period of successive
reverses and continual losses of ground both
in the east and in the west. Already the Allies considered Germany
"corpse" whose final burial was now but a question of time; to
believe the Anglo-American radio, the Allies could choose
the day of
the funeral at will.
"They do not see that Germany is fighting for Europe," Hitler
"that she is sacrificing herself for Europe in
order to bar the road to the Occident to Asia."
In his opinion, neither
the British nor the American people wanted
this war any longer. Consequently if the "German corpse" rose to
smashing blow in the west, the Allies, under the pressure of
a public opinion made furious at having been hoodwinked, would
be ready to conclude an armistice with this corpse which was
so lively. Then we could throw all our divisions, all our
into battle on the Eastern Front and, in a few months, liquidate the
frightful threat that weighed over Europe.
Moreover for almost one
thousand years Germany had mounted guard against the Asiatic hordes
and she would not fail in
this sacred mission.
For some weeks now, a few members of the General Staff had been
preparing a great offensive.
We must now regain the initiative which
at present belonged solely to the Allies. Even during the Anglo-
from the beaches of Normandy to the German
frontiers, Adolf Hitler had been considering a vigorous
the critical situation of all our armies had made
the execution of such a plan impossible.
Now for the last three
weeks the Allies were no longer advancing. On
one hand, their lines of communication had been enormously
on the other, the materiel of their motorized armies was
worn out after four months of incessant battles. Thanks to these
factors, our western front, after having all but collapsed, was now
According to the Fuhrer,
it was their supremacy in the air which
permitted the Allies to land and to win the battle of France and
it was to be hoped that the bad weather predicted for
the last months of the year would reduce Anglo-American air activity
a while at least. And the Luftwaffe could muster 2,000 new jet-
planes which had been held in reserve for this offensive.
a lightning offensive would prevent the creation of a strong
French army. For the moment the Allies possessed seventy large
which was distinctly insufficient for a front some 450 miles
long. Consequently it must be possible for a strong concentration
German troops to break through some weakly defended sector before the
Allies could consolidate their front by using
new French divisions.
"As for the choice of the weak spot," the Fuhrer continued, "we have
been discussing the question
for weeks. We have examined no less
than five successive plans: first, "Operation Holland" starting from
of Venloo and pushing westward towards Antwerp … second,
an offensive launched north of Luxemburg, to proceed towards
northwest first, then due north, supported by a second push starting
from the region north of Aix-la-Chapelle …
third, an action involving
two columns, one starting from the center of Luxemburg, the other
from Metz, the two to meet
at Longwy … fourth, another action
involving two columns would leave respectively from Metz and Baccarat
at Nance … fifth and last, Operation Alsace, with one push
starting from Epinal, the other from Montbeliard, the
junction to be
effected in the region of Vesoul.
"Having long pondered the pros and cons of each of these five
we eliminated the last three. Operation Holland seems
interesting but it entails great risks. Finally we decided to
the plan of an offensive starting north of Luxemburg and
supported by a drive starting from Aix-la-Chapelle. It is in this
we broke through in the first campaign of France in 1940.
"As for you and the units under your orders, we have chosen
one of the most difficult tasks within the framework of this
offensive. As advance groups, you will have to
occupy one or several
bridges on the Meuse between Liege and Namur. You will carry out
this mission thanks to a stratagem:
your men will wear British and
American uniforms. Thanks to the same ruse the enemy has been able
to inflict serious
damage on us in several commando raids; for
instance, a few days ago, when we took Aix-la-Chapelle, an American
wearing German uniforms, was able to slip though our
lines, will be expected to issue false orders, to hamper
and, in a general way, to throw the Allied troops
into confusion. Your preparations must be completed by December
As for the details, you see General Jodl.
"I know the time given you is very short," the Fuhrer admitted, "but
count on you to do the impossible. Of course you yourself will be
at the front when the time comes for your troops to go
However I forbid you to venture into the enemy lines; we cannot
afford to lose you …."
hours later General Jodl received me and, with the help of a
map, explained certain details of the operation. The offensive,
from the region lying between Aix-la-Chapelle and Luxemburg
and heading towards Antwerp would thereby cut off the 2nd British
and the American elements fighting in the region of Aix. At the
same time, the High command provided for a covering line
(Luxemburg-Namur-Louvain) and Northward (Eupen-Liege-Longeren-Hasselt
as far as the Albert Canal).
the best conditions, Antwerp should be reached in about seven
days. The final objective of the operation was the destruction
the enemy forces north of a line running from Antwerp to Brussels, as
well as in the region of Bastogne.
combined units undertaking the offensive were designated as Group
of Armies B; Marshal Model was in command. This group
from north to south, comprised the 6th armored Army (Waffen SS
General Dietrich), the 5th Armored Army (General
von Manteuffel) and
the 7th Army. After a brief but violent artillery bombardment,--
instinctively I recalled the 6,000
cannons the Fuhrer had mentioned
to me,--the armies were to break through at several places selected
according to tactical
"As for you, Skorzeny," General Jodl declared, "you will go into
action in the region covered by
the 6th Armored Army. Here is a
study which will interest you particularly; it shows the situation
such as it will be—at
least, I hope—twenty-four hours after the
beginning of operations."
On the map that Jodl spread out before
us, we saw that the High
Command expected to be able to attack on the Eupen-Ververies-Liege
line on the second day of
the offensive; it also believed that in the
center, two bridgeheads would have been established on the far bank
Meuse. However, violent attacks by the Allied reserves
against the northern flank of our salient were anticipated.
dismissing me, General Jodl asked me to submit, within the
briefest time possible, a list of the personnel and materiel
would require. He added that the General Staff ordered him to place
at my disposal all English-speaking officers
and men. This order was
subsequently to appear as a most wonderful example of blundering in
so far as the secrecy of
the operation was concerned—an example of
blundering by the supreme authority of the German Army.
A few days
later I received a copy of this order. Reading it almost
threw an apoplectic fit. Signed by one of the top Staff brass,
stamped "Secret", the essential passages of this masterpiece may be
boiled down to this:
`To all units of
the Wehrmacht: Report until October 10, 1944 all
English-speaking officers and soldiers volunteering for a special
These are to be directed to Friedenthal, near Berlin, in view of
their incorporation in the commando units of
I flew into a towering rage. Incontestable the Allied secret service
wind of this affair. After the war, I learned that less
than a week later the Americans were in possession of this order.
never understood why they drew no conclusions from it and why they
failed to take certain precautions at the time.
my opinion, the whole operation was buried before having come to
birth. I immediately dispatched a vigorous protest to
AND "respectfully" proposed that my mission be cancelled. My letter,
of course, had to go through hierarchical
channels. Thus SS General
Fegelein, Hitler's brother-in-law, told me:
"The business is after all incredible and incomprehensible,
is only one more reason for you not to speak to the Fuhrer about it.
Consequently it is impossible to cancel
At about the same time I had an interesting conversation with a
colonel General Winter's Staff. This
officer set forth the juridical
aspect of my mission. According to him, in case of capture, small
commando units risked
being treated as spies and judged in
consequence. As for the bulk of my troops, international law merely
forbade a man
in enemy uniform to use his arms. He therefore
recommended that my soldiers wear German uniforms under the enemy
at the moment of the attack, properly speaking, they would
shed their British or American uniforms.
Naturally I decided
to follow this advice.
We could now go about making the necessary preparations. My troops
were to form the 150th
Armored Brigade. The basis for our plan was
obviously the schedule, our armies were to break through the enemy
the first day. The second day they were to reach and cross the
Meuse. We were therefore justified in supposing that the
the Allied forces would be in complete rout by the end of the fist
This established, we understood
that we would have to improvise in
order to be halfway ready. As the offensive was schedule for early
December, we had
but a month and a few days, clearly too short a time
to organize and train a new unit, especially when that unit was
with a special mission. We fully realized that we were faced
with a virtual impossibility. But since I had drawn the Fuhrer's
to this, my conscious was perfectly clear.
In order to make into account all unpredictable circumstances, we set
three main objectives: the bridges which spanned the Meuse
at Engis, at Amay and at Huy. We therefore divided the territory
to the 6th Armored Army into three strips which, growing
narrower as they progressed until each would end at one of these
To fit this plan, we formed three combat groups which we
baptized with the poetical names of X, Y and Z.
we were supposed to be an armored brigade but in
reality this grandiloquent terminology was just a bluff. We were to
this all too soon. We had barely filled our first request for
material when, in answer, the authorities told us that it
probably be impossible to assign enough captured tanks for a
regiment. Possibly we could be given enough British
tanks to a battalion—but even that was doubtful! Here was sorry
Yet our estimates
were as modest as possible. In order to economize
on personnel, we had dispensed with auxiliary services; so, according
my proposals, our "brigade" would consist of:
2 armored companies with 10 tanks each
3 reconnoitering companies with
10 combat cars each
1 company of light antiaircraft
3 battalions of motorized infantry
2 anti-tank companies
section of grenade-throwers
1 signal company
1 staff, much reduced, for the brigade
3 staffs, much reduced, for the
1 headquarters company
The whole amounting to about 3,300 men.
In addition there were interminable
lists including weapons,
munitions, vehicles, uniforms, and various objects of equipment. We
grew frightened ourselves
when we considered that we would have to
obtain all this within a few weeks. For from heavy tanks down to
these supplies must come out of booty captured from the
enemy, and our sock of allied equipment could surely not be very
at the moment. During these last months, our armies had done
nothing but retreat without undertaking a single offensive
on a scale which would have permitted us to seize any considerable
When on October 26, 1944,
I showed General Jodl the plan of
organization of our "armored brigade" and the list of our needs in
again I drew attention to the fact that lack of time
forced us to improvise. Fuhrer I declared that in my opinion our
"Greif" in code and named after a mythical German
bird—could succeed only if launched the night after the beginning
the offensive so that we might derice the maximum advantage from the
enemy's surprise and confusion. To make this
possible, the first line
divisions must have attained all their objectives on the evening of
the fist day; specifically
in our sector, they have gone beyond the
crest of a small mountain range called Le Haut Venne. Otherwise I
forced to give up the mission entrusted to me. Further, I
asked for aerial photographs of the three bridges my troops were
I won ready approval of my plans for the organization of the brigade
and General Jodl promised that the
General Staff would back me up in
all my requests for materiel. I look advantage of this to solicit
the loan of three
experienced battalion commanders, and, in addition
to the volunteers, the transfer to my brigade of a few homogeneous
units. These would serve as a frame and skeleton for my
hastily constituted organization.
Soon I received three
very capable lieutenant-colonels and, shortly
after, two battalions of Luftwaffe paratroops, two Wehrmacht armored
and one signal company. These troops would reinforce the
two companies of my "especial units" and my battalion of
remained the question of "English-speaking volunteers." When,
a week after the publication—the word is not too strong—of
famous "secret order," the first hundred volunteers arrived at
Friednthal, I struck a new low in despondency. I
wanted to consign
the whole thing to the devil. "professors" attempted to divide the
volunteers into three categories
according to their knowledge of the
English language. And category I, composed of soldiers who spoke
English or, better
still, American slang fluently and without an
accent, was practically at a standstill. Whereas we needed such men
the hundreds, we would find one or two at most who deserved to be
classed in this category.
Here I must confess
that my own English is pretty weak. What a pity
I had always made the most of English classes to raise Cain with the
teacher! But now I tried to catch up for lost time and
occasionally to put in a well-turned phrase. One day I met a young
a flier, who was a candidate for Category I. Quite naturally
I asked him:
"Tell me about yourself in English, please."
poor lad grew embarrassed, hesitated, then plunged:
"Yes, Herr Oberstleutnant, I became my last order before five
He hesitated anew, then added hurriedly in German: "If you
will allow me, I will explain all that in my native tongue …"
there it was! I could only be cheerful about it. A man cannot
heap insults on a volunteer who is obviously filled with
But with such prowess, he would certainly never dupe an American,
even a deaf one.
When after a fortnight
the selection of volunteers was finished, we
found ourselves faced with a frightful result. The first category,
entirety, numbered some ten men, especially former sailors
who, incidentally, formed a large part of the second …
category, made up of men who spoke more or less fluently, numbered
some thirty to forty men … the third
category, soldiers who knew how
to "make themselves understood" was somewhat more numerous with 150
odd men …
the fourth category, lads who had not completely forgotten
what they had learned at school, totaled about 200 … As
others, they could be just about say "yes" and "no" ….
Accordingly I was compelled to form a brigade
of deaf-mutes for,
after assigning 120 of the best "linguists" to the headquarters
company, I had, so to speak, nobody
left. We would perforce mingle
among the fleeing American columns with teeth tight-clenched as
though the extent of
the catastrophe had deprived us of the power of
In order to improve this situation somewhat, we sent the
category of men to an interpreters' school and to an American
prisoners' camp. But as the "course" lasted only
a week, the results
As for the bulk of my troops, men who did not understand one single
of English, we inculcated a few lusty G.I. oaths in them, and
the meaning of "yes", and "no," "O.K." Also, all day long
day, we repeated for their benefit the principal words of command
used in the American Army. And that was
all we could do to
comouflage our brigade, linguistically speaking.
But this was not the worst, the situation was
catastrophic in so far as equipment was concerned. Very early, we
discovered that we could never obtain
American tanks in sufficient
numbers. Finally, the day of the offensive, we were the lucky
possessors of two Sherman
tanks. One of them broke down after the
first few miles.
In order to replace the American tanks we lacked, the Office
Inspector of Armored Troops assigned us twelve German Panthers. We
camouflaged them as best we could by fastening
sheet metal around the
guns and the turret so as to give them at least an outline that
resembled that of the Shermans.
The result was scarcely
satisfactory: our tanks would fool no one except perhaps some very
then, only if they ventured out a great distance
away, in the twilight.
We were allotted ten British and American
combat cars. We puzzled
endlessly about how to use the British models; this proved to be a
problem impossible of solution
since we were to fight in a sector
held by the Americans. In the end, the British vehicles spared us
this trouble for,
during the very first exercises, they stalled
beyond repair. There remained four American vehicles so we were
to complete our equipment with German combat cars.
We were also supplied with about thirty jeeps. Now I am convinced
our troops on the Western front possessed an appreciable number
of these vehicles. Unfortunately the "owners" of these
cars that could travel on any terrain were insurmountably loath to
give them up. They simply ignored the order
to do so. Finally we
found consolation in thinking that we would be able to "find" a few
at the front on the day of
the offensive. It was this same vague and
deceptive hope which influenced the decisions of our Supreme Command
planning of the offensive; they believed the enemy would be
forced to abandon huge stores of gasoline. One more dangerous,
ultimately, fatal illusion!
For trucks, we were given fifteen American vehicles and some German
we painted green. We had exactly 50 percent of the
American guns we needed, plus a few anti-tank guns and grenade-
for which we had no ammunition. One day we did receive
several freight cars full of ammunition but it exploded next day.
from the headquarters company, our units received German arms.
But what capped all was our uniforms. And yet here was
point, the sine qua non, since irregular clothing would at once
attract the attention of the M.P.'s. One
day we received an enormous
quantity of job-lot clothing. Unfortunately these were British
uniforms. Then we received
a freight car full of overcoats, which
were of no interest to us since American soldiers wore only field
we obtained some of these jackets, but they bore
the triangle of Prisoners of War. As for myself, the brigade
they managed to ferret out exactly one sweater. Finally,
by expedients of all sorts, we managed to clothe our men more
decently, especially the headquarters company. What was lacking, we
thought, would be completed in the course
of our advance thanks to
the stocks of clothing left behind by a fleeing enemy.
While we were struggling with these
Hardieck began training the men. In order to preserve secrecy, our
drill ground was
declared our of bounds and we even prohibited the
sending and delivery mail. Naturally the most incredible rumors about
goal of these mysterious preparations ran rife. The soldiers,
knowing that I was to assume command of the brigade, expected
action like the rescue of Mussolini. Presently Lieutenant-Colonel
Hardieck could no longer restrain the general
curiosity in spite of
increasingly severe methods employed to cut short such maddening
rumors. Soon there was so much
discussion in all quarters that he
feared for the secrecy of our operation. He came to report to me on
sitting in my room at Friedenthal, I learned the unimaginable
gossip my men spread abroad, I felt my hair bristle on my
skull. At any rate, these lads were not lacking in ideas. Some knew
from a reliable source that our brigade
would cross the whole of
France to free the garrison besieged in Brest. Others averred that
our mission was to relieve
the blockaded defenders of Lorient. They
had, with their own eyes, seen plans which would permit us to storm
There were a round dozen other versions which should
scarcely have disturbed us if we had not feared that Allied
might become a little too much interested in our
preparations. What could we do to put an end to these tall stories?
decided that the simplest method would prove the most efficient:
from now on we would deny none of these rumors but rather
lively irritation at seeing our men so well-informed. Thus we
thought we would sow confusion in the minds
of the Allied secret
As time passed—and it passed terribly quickly—we intensified the
of the men. Chiefly, we repeated several versions of the
general theme, bridgehead. In a somewhat different field, we strove
make our men lose the rigid bearing which results from German
military training with its exaggerated and useless discipline.
we even accustomed them to us the use of chewing gum and the
typically American way of opening a package of cigarettes.
all events the almost perfectly camouflaged company we possessed
was the headquarters company. We therefore decided to
exclusively as possible in admitting men to it. Our instructions
were to leave the greatest latitude to the spirit
of initiative of
the soldiers. As advanced observers at the front, they would render
inappreciable services to the bulk
of our armies. They had also to
try to add to the confusion reigning among the enemy, by spreading
false rumors, by
exaggerating the initial success of the German
divisions, by giving fantastic orders, by cutting the telephone lines
by destroying reserve munitions.
One day after I had finished inspecting my troops, an officer in this
to speak confidentially to me. He declared very
"Colonel, I now know the purpose of the operation we are preparing."
a moment I was perplexed. Could Foelkersam or Hardieck, the only
persons who shared the secret, have committed some involuntary
But already the officer, manifestly satisfied by the
effect his first words had produced, whispered:
"The brigade is
to march to Paris in order to capture allied G.H.Q."
this was almost too much for me, I had to exercise great self-control
avoid laughing. I contented myself with an indefinable
exclamation of "Hm! Hm!" This sufficed to set him off again
I know every inch of Paris, I should like to offer my help,
Colonel. Naturally I shall keep mum about this."
him for suggestions; he propounded a detailed plan. A column
of pseudo-prisoners, surrounded by soldiers speaking perfect
would enter Paris just like that! Even German tanks could take part
in the excursion under the guise of booty
to be presented to Allied
I found it difficult to stem the flow of his verbiage. At length I
him, having asked him to study his plan in greater detail,
to come back to see me, and especially to be sure not to talk!
later I learned that he had not observed this last injunction. For
weeks, Allied counterespionage was on the watch,
notably over the
Café de Paris, which I had mentioned in the course of this
G.H.Q. postponed the date of the offensive,
first scheduled for December 1, to December 10 and then to December
The positions of the attacking troops had not been determined,
the equipment of the divisions was still incomplete. These
indicated that we were throwing our last reserves of men and materiel
into this battle.
This fact was
also made clear by the daily conferences at the
Fuhrer's G.H.Q., to which I was summoned on three occasions. Each
I heard that such and such a division lacked tanks, another guns
and a third trucks. I realized that General Guderian,
the Eastern Front, bitterly begrudged every tank and every battalion
taken for him and transferred to
the west. In the bed it is meant to
cover. When we wished to protect the feet, that is the west, we were
expose the head, that is the east.
One day the Luftwaffe report indicated that even the greatest courage
pilots could no longer compensate the numerical superiority of
the enemy. Suddenly I heard the figures as an officer said:
hundred and fifty jet-propelled planes will take part in the Ardennes
offensive." I could not believe my ears.
So that was all that
remained of the 2,000 that the Fuhrer himself had announced on
October 22? But Hitler himself was
not even listening. Patently he
was already reconciled to our defeat in the air.
At the end of deliberations, the
Fuhrer reminded me once again of his
order not to cross the enemy lines myself. I must be content merely
to direct my
detachments by radio. This prohibition, uttered in an
inexorable tone, was painful to me for I had thought the Fuhrer would
forgotten it. Would I be condemned to remain in the rear while
my comrade fought the battle of despair? It would certainly
first time this ever happened to me. I decided to impart this order
to my battalion chiefs—a rather disagreeable
ordeal—but I added that
I would join them if the situation turned critical. Anyhow, I would
not remain sheltered
in the staff offices; I would certainly find
myself some position in the staff offices; I would certainly find
some position quite near the front.
So far our preparations seemed to have completely eluded the
the Allies. The enemy front remained quiet and
received scant reinforcement. The Americans seemed to expect a long
of rest. I felt that they would not enjoy it for long.
During the night of December 13-14, we took up our jumping-off
On December 14 I officially assumed command of my armored
brigade. In a forester's cottage, I gave my last instructions
battalion chiefs. The main thing was to keep in constant contact.
Next I insisted on the necessity of refraining
from firing; the
slightest shot risked botching the whole operation. Our groups were
to keep on advancing and advancing,
allowing nothing to stand in
their way; they would have to decide on the terrain itself what meant
they must employ
to seize the bridges. At all events, we could not
permit ourselves to fight a real battle; we were much too weak to do
Our project could be carried out on two conditions only: the
enemy front must have given way and, from the very first day
offensive, our advance must have penetrated far behind the Allied
During the night of December
15-16 nobody slept. We expected to set
out a few hours after the beginning of the offensive. My three radio
settled down at the edge of the forest; they had already
transmitted the first messages from our three combat groups, which
taken up their positions behind the armored troops. There they
would await a signal from me, ordering them to put on their
uniforms and rush forward through the open breach into the
region held by the enemy. For the moment, we were all waiting
an almost intolerable nervous tension. The dawn of December 16,
1944, rose slowly, very slowly….
one fell swoop, thousands of guns broke loose and spat forth a
dense hail of projectiles on the enemy position. Soon the
barrage advanced, the range lengthened, the German infantry made
ready to attack. Unable to stay in place,
I went to the staff
headquarters of our Army Corps.
The first reports came in at about seven o'clock. They were
exactly brilliant but the day was far from done. Our fire, violent
though it was, did not seem to have impaired
the American positions
near Loosheim. The enemy was resisting with extraordinary tenacity,
our attack was making no
headway. Gritting our teeth, we waited. At
noon we learned of stubborn fighting and a few gains in ground, but
was certainly not the breakthrough we had counted upon.
I wondered why the command had not yet sent the tanks into
They had advanced a few miles, just as far as our advance had
reached, so that they now occupied the position
when the infantry had
started off. My combat groups were still behind them.
A little later, my radio announced that
Lieutenant Colonel Hardieck
had been killed. Captain von Foelkersam took command of his
The day of
December 16 passed without the sixth Armored Army having
obtained any decisive result. Early that afternoon, everybody
that the tanks must be used if we wished to attempt the
great breakthrough. To get a general view of the picture, I tried
drive to Loosheim. There was an indescribable bottleneck of vehicles
along the roads. To reach the little town I
had repeatedly to
alight, shout, swear, push, and give orders to the drivers of blocked
cars, so that I covered at least
six miles on foot. At loosheim I
could hear the din of the battle quite distinctly. In the forest
surrounding the town,
the parachutists who had attacked that morning
were vainly attempting to move forward, but a little further south,
situation appeared more favorable. In this sector, we had
apparently made considerable progress.
At Loosheim, I
met one part of my headquarters company, consisting of
the elements which I had kept at hand. I was now compelled to make
extraordinarily serious decision. It was evident that our troops
would not reach the positions they were to have carried
first day of the offensive. Logically I ought therefore purely and
simply to cancel Operation Greif, which
we had prepared so
laboriously and which lay so close to my heart. I was never a man to
give up easily. And one hope
remained, namely that if our armored
cars attacked during the coming night, the offensive might still
succeed. If we
could cross the crest of Le Haut Vienne tomorrow, our
armies would stand a good chance of reaching the Meuse, in which
the previous capture of the bridges by my units might well decide the
fate of the battle.
From among the
keenest men of the headquarters company, I formed
three groups entrusted with the disorganization of the enemy's rear
I ordered them to go further south and to look there for a
possibility of infiltrating behind the enemy lines so as to
their various missions to the best of their abilities. I asked them
especially to explore the three roads
down which my three combat
detachments were to pass if all went well.
Finally I returned to Army Corps staff headquarters.
midnight, the tanks launched their attacks. The first news of their
progress would perhaps reach us at dawn.
Completely exhausted, as I
had not slept for the last thirty-six hours, I threw myself onto a
mattress and sank into
a deep slumber.
Presently I was awakened to be told that the first group had
returned. The news they brought back
was of particular interest to
the High Command. At about five in the morning the staff received the
first message from
the tanks: "Despite strong enemy resistance, we
have just taken the village of Honsfeld." Perhaps the offensive was
last getting under way, we thought. Soon another armored group,
fighting further to the south, reported considerable gains
Early that day the staff was to move westward in the region o
Manderfeld. I decided to go there as a scout.
The traffic jam on
the roads was even more inextricable, if that was possible, than the
day before. An uninterrupted
line of vehicles advanced by small
leaps and bounds, now sixty yards, now one hundred, now fifty or
sixty again. Soon
I lost patience, turned right about, and tried to
get through over gutted roads that were barely passable. But I had
reached another village when I again I fell into the chaos
of tangled vehicles. I resigned myself to abandoning the my
continuing on foot. At times, by dint of patience, I managed to
straighten out the embroilment caused by a mass
of cars heaped one
upon the other. Whenever I saw an officer taking it easy on the
cushions of his car, I ordered him
to alight and to try to regulate
this incredible traffic.
On a hill near Stadkyll, a huge Leftwaffe trailer was
snarled up with
several vehicles in such a way as to block the road completely.
About thirty men were toiling in effectually
to release this sort of
rolling platform. When I inquired about the load, I was told it
consisted of detached parts
of a V-I. They had probably been sent so
far forward in the hope that our front would have move a good
at present this order was unfortunately pointless
but some idiot had forgotten to cancel it.
Seeing that this cursed
trailer refused to return to a normal
position, I summoned all the occupants of the blocked trucks. Soon
arms were working to unload; then we tipped the trailer
over into the lake below the road. In fifteen minutes the road
That evening at Manderfeld I attended a veritable council of war.
The northern group of our tanks
had advanced only at the cost of
bitter fighting. At present the armored units were fighting in front
of Stavelot, which
the Americans were defending doggedly. News from
the other sector was more favorable, to be sure, but still far from
The enemy had undoubtedly been surprised by this
unforeseen offensive but they clung to their ground, whereas we had
to see them retreat without fighting. As for the headlong
flight which alone would have allowed Operation Greif to obtain
real success, it was not to be thought of. We could not even dream
of reaching the Meuse next day or the day after.
reserves were even now swinging energetically into battle.
In these circumstances, I must abandon our
operation; any notion of
improvisation would have been sheer madness. Of course I did not
make this decision with a
glad heart; but after pondering a long
time, I saw that I had no right to act otherwise. I informed the 6th
of this and received their approval. I also informed my
combat detachments, ordering them to bivouac where they were and
await my instructions. I placed my brigade at the disposal of the
First Armored Corps SS—since we were on the
spot we might as well be
of some use—and I asked that we be assigned an infantry mission
within the scope of our
Meanwhile, as of December 18, the advance of the group to which we
now belonged, bogged down suddenly.
At Troisponts, which the group
captured at eleven in the morning, the bridges had been blown up.
During the afternoon
our troops seized La Gleize and Staumont. But
all the messages from the front lines were already clamoring for
and motor fuel. So long as these two problems remained
unsolved, no progress was possible. And despite all our efforts,
trucks sent to out help never reached us. All thought of an advance
must now be dismissed.
Next day a new
worry arose. Almost the entire northern flank of the
salient carved by our offensive lay exposed. It was especially
Malmedy, an important crossroads, that the enemy could throw
in their reserves southward to try to cut us off from the
whence we had started. I was asked if I were willing to stop up this
gap by attacking the town because once Malmedy
was in our hands, we
need no longer fear an enemy thrust.
I accepted, of course, and gave three combat detachments
assemble in the course of the day (December 20) around the village of
Engelsdorf. There I reported to the
general staff of the First
Armored Division SS to ascertain whether an immediate attack were
had no field piece, we decided to attack Malmedy simultaneously
from two sides at dawn on December 21. Our objectives was
a chain of
hills north of the town; we would dig in there so as to repulse all
possible enemy counterattacks. For the
moment the two roads which
led southward into Malmedy were guarded by two groups of nine men
apiece, a slightly insufficient
cover, in my opinion.
On December 20 a reconnaissance detachment which I sent to Malmedy
reported that the twon
was doubtless held by the very weak enemy
forces. The Chief of this detachment with a frankness as
praiseworthy as it
was disconcerning. He had not intended to cross
the lines at all but he had lost his way. Suddenly, when he least
it, he found himself close to the first houses of the town.
A few passers-by asked him whether the Germans were about to
Realizing that he had entered, which was still occupied by the
Americans, he turned right about and hurried
back to Engelsdorf.
"In a word, we were confoundedly lucky!" he concluded, with a grimace
that suggested a smile.
this adventure I gathered that the town was poorly defended.
Perhaps we could manage to capture it even without artillery
Anyhow I still had ten tanks—the others had broken down.
Meanwhile I received news from the groups sent behind
the enemy lines
to disorganize the Allied rear. Out of nine groups which had
received these orders, six, or at most
eight, must have really
crossed the line of fire. Even today, I am still unable to tell how
many. I can well understand
that more than one of these young
soldiers hesitated to confess that, at the moment of infiltrating
into enemy positions,
his courage failed him. On the other hand I
know that two of these groups were taken prisoner. Subsequently four
offered such clear and precise reports that their veracity, I
should like to tell briefly of some of the episodes that
during this action.
The very first day of the offensive, one of these groups had passed
breach opened in the Allied front and advanced as far as
Huy, near the banks of the Meuse. There it had settled quietly
crossroads to observe the movements of the enemy troops. The team
leader, who spoke English fluently, had the nerve
to stroll in the
neighborhood of the town in order to "get an idea of the situation."
After a few hours, an American
armored regiment drove up and its
commandants asked our men the way. With remarkable presence of mind,
the team leaders
gave him a wholly fantastic reply. These swinish
Germans, he told the American, had just cut off several roads. He
and his company had had t make a vast detour. The American
tanks, happy to have been warned in time, took to the roads
team leader had indicated.
On their way back, this group cut several telephone lines and removed
number of signboards set up by the American Quartermaster Corps.
Twenty-four hours later they rejoined our lines, bringing
some interesting information on the disorder which reigned on the
American front at the beginning of the offensive.
of these small commandos, which had also crossed the American
lines and reached the Meuse, noticed that the Americans had
virtually nothing to protect the bridges in this region. On their
way back to the German lines, our men had barred
three main roads
leading to the front by affixing ribbons, which in the American army
denote mined areas, to the trees.
Later we confirmed the fact that
Allied reinforcement columns, preferring to avoid these roads, had
taken a wide detour.
third commando discovered an ammunition dump. Our men hid until
nightfall, then blew up the dump. Shortly after, finding
telephone line, they cut it in three places.
But by far the most extraordinary story was that of still another
which, as early as December 16, found itself suddenly in front
of an American position. Two companies of G.1.'s, settling
though to withstand a long siege, had built barricades and stationed
machine guns around them. Our men must
have been pretty badly scared
when an American officer asked them for the latest information from
commando leader, who wore a fine uniform which ostensibly made
him an American sergeant, tried to collect himself. Probably
Americans attributed the fear still evident on the faces of our
soldiers to the results of their last encounter
with those "damned
Germans." For, to believe the commando leader, the Germans had
already gone beyond this positions
both on the right and on the left,
so that it was practically encircled. Much impressed, the American
captain gave immediate
orders for retreat.
All in all, given the circumstances, the success of these commandos
went far beyond my expectations.
And, a few days later, the American
station at Calais spoke of the discovery of an immense enterprise of
sabotage conducted under the orders of Colonel
Skorzeny, Mussolini's kidnapper. The American announced that they
already captured more than 250 men in my brigade, a grossly
exaggerated figure. Subsequently I learned that Allied counter-
filled with a noble ardor, had arrested a certain number of
authentic American soldiers or officers.
As for the
comical stories I was told after the war by several
American officers, they would fill a volume. Captain X--, for
found a German officer's chest in a French town and took a
pair of boots out of it. As they happened to fit him, he wore
every day. But the M.P.'s, set loose on a spy hunt, deduced that
Captain X—was, and must incontestably be,
a German spy. So the
luckless officer was arrested and rather roughly handled. He assured
me that he would never forget
the week he spent in a most
One day, two young lieutenants who had arrived in France in 1944
invited to lunch by the commandant of a unit which was already
accustomed to the rigorous like at the front. Polite
they brought themselves called upon to voice their appreciation of
this meal, though it consisted only
of canned food. This praise and
also their spotless uniforms made them so eminently suspect that
hastily summoned M.P.'s
dragged them from their chairs and threw them
into prison. For the veterans, disgusted with canned foods, could
conceive how an authentic American might find praise for such
Not was this all. Believing me capable
of the most frightful crimes
and of the boldest designs, American counterespionage considered
itself bound to take exceptional
measures to assure the security of
the high command. Accordingly General Eisenhower was sequestered in
his own general
headquarters for several days; he was forced to
settle in a little house, guarded by several cordons of M.P.'s. Soon
general had enough of it and sought by all means to escape this
surveillance. The counterespionage authorities even managed
a double for Eisenhower. Every day the pseudo commander-in-chief,
clad in general's uniform, had to get into
his chief's car and drive
to Paris in order to attract the attention of the "German spies."
Similarly, during the
entire Ardennes offensive, Marshal Montgomery
ran the risk of being stopped and questioned by the M.P.'s. a
jokester had spread the rumor that a member of Skorzeny's
band was engaged in spying disguised as a British marshal. So
M.P.'s carefully examined minutely the appearance and bearing of
every British general traveling in Belgium.
this short digression, let us return to Malmedy. On the
afternoon of December 20, two of my detachments reached Engelsdorf;
third was much too far away to get there in time. Decidedly, we
would not be numerous enough to get in one another's way.
decided to launch the attack on December 21 at dawn. The first
detachment was to attack from the southwest; the second,
Foelkersam, from the southwest. They were to attempt to break the
first enemy lines and to occupy the center
of the town. In case they
met with stiff resistance, they would leave one part of the men in
front of the American positions
and, together with the bulk of the
troops, they would occupy the hills of north Malmedy.
At exactly five o'clock,
the columns began the attack. A few minutes
later a violent cannonade cut short the first detachment which then
contact and retreated to its jumping—off points. As for the
second column, I soon began wondering what on earth had
it. For more than an hour I had received no news. As soon as it was
broad daylight, I left on foot for the
line of fire. From the crest
of a hill, I enjoyed an excellent view over the wide curve of the
road west of Malmedy;
the town itself was hidden in a fold of the
ground. On this section of the road, looking through my field glass,
six of our Panther tanks engaged in a merciless and
hopeless struggle against obviously superior armored forces. The
These were the tanks which were meant to cover the left flank
of our attacks.
Foelkersam, ardent and tenacious as
he was, seemed unwilling as yet
to abandon his intention of storming the city. Soon, though, the
first soldiers started
coming back towards our positions. They
informed me that they had run into solid and strongly defended
which seemed impregnable without artillery support.
Our tanks put up a desperate fight to cover at least the retreat. I
the men behind the hill in order to repulse a possible
enemy counterattack. But where was Foelkersam? I did not see him
combat cars brought back the last wounded. My anxiety grew
apace. Could I have lost my intimate friend and my faithful
in this stupid affair? At last he came into sight and
began to climb the meadow which led to the crest of the hill. I
that he was leaning heavily on the Medical Officer's arm.
When he reached me, he sat down very cautiously on the damn earth.
a feeble smile, he explained to me that he had caught a splinter
of ammunition in the most fleshy portion of his anatomy.
the protection of a few bazookas, we held a conference.
Presently the chief of the armored company came limping up; we
thought him dead. He announced that, pushing through the American
artillery positions, he had smashed a battery.
Only a counter attack
by a column twice the size of his had thrown him back to the wide
curve of the road. But, while
trying to stand his ground in this
particularly exposed spot in order to permit our infantry so swing
into action, he
had lost his tanks to the very last one.
So we must necessarily remain inactive, at least for the time being.
the afternoon, I pulled my detachments up unto the crest of
the hills where we occupied a terribly thin front, eight miles
Meanwhile enemy artillery fire kept growing heavier by the hour; it
amounted to a pounding that systematically
crushed the village of
Engelsdorf and the surrounding roads.
Towards evening I went to division headquarters to
make my report.
Having explained our situation to the chief of staff, I repaired to
the only hotel in the tiny place.
I was about thirty or more yards
from it when a whistling I knew all too well sent me under the vault
with one leap.
An instant later a huge shell crashed into the
trailer which served as office for the chief of staff. The latter
very lucky: when we dragged him out of the debris, we found that,
except for a splinter in the back, he had come out unscathed.
a stay in this place was becoming more and more unhealthy, I
jumped into my car, which had luckily been under shelter behind
hotel; my chauffeur threw out his clutch and started off at top
speed. It was a dark night and out lights were,
of course, carefully
camouflaged. Slowly, groping our way, we tried to advance, being
very careful to stay in the middle
of the road. We had scarcely
crossed the little bridge when three shell exploded quite near us. I
felt a sort of crash
against my forehead, leaped instinctively out of
the open car and dive into the ditch. A moment later a truck, coming
the opposite direction, ran smack into my car. Something hot
streamed over my face; I felt my cheeks and nose cautiously;
right eye, my fingers sank into a shred of flaccid, loose flesh.
Terrified, I could not repress a start. Had
I lost an eye? That
would be the worst possible thing that could happen to me. My whole
life long, I had pitied the
blind; their fate had always struck me as
particularly horrible. Without even bothering about the shells which
now raining down almost everywhere around me, I gently explored
the space below this torn flesh. God be praised, I felt
resting safely in its socket.
I collected myself immediately. My chauffeur was unhurt, my car had
the collision and was actually able to run. We managed to
turn right around—and a few moments later we were back
Judging by the flabbergasted expressions on the officer's faces, I
must have been in
a pretty state. With the help of a mirror and, of
course, of my left eye, I examined my wretched face. Obviously I was
what you might call handsome. But when my chauffeur discovered
four holes in the right leg of my trousers and when I found
skin bore the traces of two splinters that had whizzed by, and my
good humor came back in a trice. Yes, surely,
I was a lucky devil!
Waiting for the doctor was fairly pleasant, thanks to a glass of
cognac and a goulash served
by the field kitchen. Unfortunately I
had trouble in smoking; my blood immediately soaked the cigarette
which had a
At last the M.O. arrived, bawled me out copiously instead of being
happy to se me alive, and decided
to take me immediately to the
infirmary. To tell the truth, I was happy to be leaving this
infernal valley; perhaps
I would have left my hide there after all.
Despite the doctor's wish to evacuate me to the rear, I expressed the
of taking command of my unit again at the earliest possible
moment. The situation was really too serious for me to dream
going back to Germany. Besides, I felt almost fit. The surgeon
shrugged his shoulders, gave me a local anaesthetic,
extracted a few
splinters of bone, and sewed up the wound again. A tight dressing
now kept the flesh in place. Next
day I returned to my post.
There I saw that our positions risked becoming untenable. The enemy
to feel a veritable predilection of our meager
effectives. During the day a shell made a direct hit on a place
propitious for solitary meditation; another passed
through the stable door and killed our unfortunate cow.
night, we were awakened by unusual sounds. V-I's, above
our heads, marked their flaming trajectories across the skies.
was a certain consolation for the stubborn absence of the Luftwaffe!
But when, one or two nights later, one of
these rockets crashed
against a hill about a hundred yards from our house—fortunately it
did not explode—we
banished all feelings of consolation. Who could
guarantee that the next V-I would not cause greater damage? Perhaps
was some foundation to the rumors that the foreign workmen who
set up the devices for the direction of the V-I's were sabotaging
delicate machines with increasing frequency.
On December 23, I left for Meyrode to shake up the staff of the 6th
Army. Our equipment was lamentable, the more so because it
had not been intended for so long a battle. As we had no field
the preparation of a hot meal raised an anxious problem
every day. We lacked winter clothing and especially, over and above
we lacked artillery.
My trip was fairly lively. The return of fair weather had freed the
skies for enemy airplanes.
We had continually to stop and throw
ourselves into the ditches.
When, to avoid a dangerous crossroads we cut across
country, we had
no ditches at hand; at such times we would lie flat on our bellies,
our noses buried in manure. During
one of these exercises, suddenly
I began to shudder, my teeth chattered and I broke into a sweat.
Doubtless this little
access of fever came from my wound for despite
the dressing, it was slightly infected.
In an abandoned farm, I lay
on a peasant bed, swallowed a few aspirin
tablets and downed a toddy that had more rum to it than water. My
and my orderly officer went on to Meyrode without me. When
they returned, a few hours later, I was well enough to return
in other words, to my command post.
On December 24 the heavy battery we had awaited so long reported at
Immediately I showed the officer in command the emplacements I
had had prepared for him, or rather for his guns. Then,
help of a map, I explained the objectives which he was to take under
fire. He shook his head, cleared his throat
and listened to me in
silence. But when I asked him to se up his guns quickly, he regained
the power of speech:
he said, "I must tell you that my ammunition in its
entirety consists of sixteen shells per gun and that, for the moment,
can count on no further supply of ammunition."
At first, I stood there, too dumbfounded to utter a single word. I
whether I should laugh or weep. Here was the artillery,
which we had awaited so impatiently, arriving on Christmas day,
like a present—but we had no ammunition! Obviously the
battery commander could not help it; indeed he was heartbroken.
my conversation with the staff of the 6th Army was rather brisk.
Naturally my bursts of anger were useless; we would
More than once I thought of my last conversation with the Fuhrer.
his statement, the Todt Organization had taken all
necessary measures; gasoline and ammunition were to be transported
delay to the very front lines. To this end, the Todt
Organization was to place immense stores of wood along the roads to
the trucks. But in spite of all my innumerable journeys across
the entire region, I never saw a single one of these wood-burning
I defy anyone to understand this….
On December 28, 1944, we were relieved by an infantry division. Next
we settled in temporary billets east of Saint-Vith. Soon, there
was the general retreat which swept us back to Germany.
myself, as for the whole German Army, the great offensive of the
Ardennes ended in a great defeat.
Otto. "Skorzeny's Secret Missions: War Memoirs of the Most
Dangerous Man in Europe." Trans. Jacques Le Crecq. New York:
Dutton and Co., Inc., 1950.