Tiger Attack! - Commentary
© 2014 Louis R. Coatney
Hitler's Ardennes offensive was his desperate (and on paper hopeless) eleventh-hour attempt to inflict a catastrophic defeat on the Western democracies, to then be better able to turn back against Stalin's oncoming, steamrolling Red Army and possibly negotiate some kind of armistice or better than unconditional surrender with its attendant trials (and hangings) for Nazi war criminals. To spearhead the offensive, he picked his most fanatically loyal and competent followers in the Waffen-SS - the frontline component of the feared, murderous Nazi SS - and he knew that fear and terror would be as powerful and necessary a weapon as his panzer divisions and Tiger tanks ... the latter exerting their own kind of terror as is also simulated in the game ... if his scheme had any hope of succeeding. He gave his SS commanders orders to attack and kill without quarter.
His hand-picked spearhead - schwerpunkt - commander was the Oxford-educated Joachim Pieper, a young protege of Heinrich Himmler. In the East against the Russians, Pieper was accused of having ordered the massacre of the men, women, and children of at least two Russian villages, as well as many prisoners.
The first day of the offensive, 16Dec44, was spent in (often costly) Wehrmacht infantry attacks, to penetrate American lines and open up holes for panzer spearheads to then exploit and pass through on their way to siezing roads and bridges to enable them to get through the difficult and potentially easily defended Ardennes terrain, on their way to Antwerp to cut off the powerful British and U.S. armies to the north. The 6th SS Panzer Army in the north of the offensive was closest to the objectives, given the best units and equipment to attain them, and was most expected to succeed. Thus, on 17Dec44, when Pieper and the other panzer commanders were unleashed, any delay (as might be incurred by properly collecting and transporting prisoners) was seen as spelling doom to achieving the offensive's objectives.
The dense Ardennes terrain confused both sides to the extent that a tank and/or truck column of one side might pass through a crossroads only moments before passed through in a different direction by the enemy's. Thus it was that on the afternoon of the 17th a truck convoy of about 100 very lightly armed officers and men of Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion found themselves suddenly engulfed by Pieper's Tiger tanks, half-tracks, and SS troopers at the Ligneuville crossroads, south of Malmedy. Our men were made to stand in a cold, windy, snowy field for a couple of hours, and then they were machine-gunned down, with SS going from body to body to finish off with pistol anyone suspected of still being alive. Even then, a couple GIs did survive and were rescued by American infantry which later reoccupied the area. This SS mass murder would come to be known as the Malmedy Massacre.
As it turned out, the total number of GI prisoners murdered by Pieper at Malmedy and elsewhere on the 17th was 350, along with 100 Belgian civilians.
Within 24 hours, every GI on the Ardennes front - long before word came down through the chain of command - knew what had happened. Unlike the standard German army (Wehrmacht), the SS wore camouflaged battle smocks, and any Germans captured wearing them were dealt with ... abruptly ... by enraged and vengeful GIs, although the author of the official U.S. Army history of the battle, Hugh Cole, emphatically denies orders were ever issued to execute SS prisoners. German parachute troops, who also wore camouflaged smocks and who had scrupulously respected the Geneva Convention and laws of war, were often not differentiated by the GIs, and they were almost as angry at the SS as the Americans.
Thanks to last-second U.S. Army Engineer bridge demolition at Trois Ponts, west of Malmedy, Pieper's column was stopped and eventually surrounded. He and his men ultimately abandoned their vehicles and escaped back to German lines. Although General Hasso von Manteuffel's 5th (Wehrmacht, not SS) Panzer Army spearheads to the south would almost get to the Meuse River objective near Dinant - there to be stopped by the British 29th Armoured Brigade and then obliterated by Ernie Harmon's powerful 2nd Armored Division hammering down from the north - the 6th SS Panzer Army was stopped in its tracks, and Hitler's Ardennes offensive failed. The Battle of the Bulge and the discovery of the concentration camps hardened American soldiers against the Nazis and the Germans who fought for them and sealed Nazi Germany's fate. Thus it was that the operational expediency of battlefield atrocity once again proved to be strategic stupidity.
After the war, Pieper and his 6th SS Panzer Army chain of command were put on trial for Malmedy and other atrocities. Although most were sentenced to death, most (including Pieper) had their executions commuted and were released, in a mockery of the laws of war and justice. Some years after the war, Pieper and his family settled in France - the Germans wanting nothing to do with him - and his identity came to be revealed and he was threatened. After getting his family to safety, he stayed and was attacked in his home by never-identified persons suspected of being Communists and/or French Resistance veterans, apparently more concerned that justice be done - and, being French, willing to act to see that it was. Pieper's charred corpse, a bullet hole in his chest, was afterwards found and the idyllic little forest cottage has never been rebuilt.
In human affairs, war should only be a last resort - not waged aggressively/"pre-emptively" - and then for everyone's sake it should be waged under control, respecting the laws of war and the rule of law in general. Our historic leaders and soldiers ... men like Washington, Lincoln, Grant, Roosevelt, Eisenhower, MacArthur ... believed and did that. In modern history, the bad guys have indeed been bad ... and they have been losers ... and we should not emulate them ... to our own doom.
More comments by myself and others about the game can be read on ConSimWorld and/or on BoardGameGeek
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