SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

December 26, 2012

Column: Battle of the Bulge offers lessons on military skill

(Continued)

Basic lessons of the Bulge involve personnel and material. Eisenhower’s skills included remarkable capacity to get difficult personalities to work together, plus constant attention to logistics. Casualties on both sides were enormous, in both men and supplies. The Allies could replace them; the Germans at that point could not.

Flamboyant Patton was always controversial, in part for harsh discipline. Yet he immediately, instinctively recognized the great threat of the Ardennes attack, and Third Army troops performed with monumental ability, moving rapidly over difficult terrain in terrible winter weather.

African-American soldiers, generally prohibited from serving in combat, manned the Red Ball Express, the gigantic truck convoy system that supplied the front. Under enormous pressures generated by the Bulge, they were offered the opportunity to serve in combat units but had to sacrifice earned military seniority.

Thousands volunteered on these terms and were vital to Allied victory.

At the tactical level, Cpl. Henry F. Warner near Dom Butgenbach, Belgium, knocked out two German tanks, and then his 57 mm anti-tank gun jammed. He was firing a pistol at a third approaching tank when the German driver backed up and withdrew. One of Warner’s shots had killed the commander, and the crew was unable to proceed — a common reaction of German and Japanese troops.

American, Australian, British and other Allied soldiers were much more likely to improvise and continue fighting after their officers were hit. Warner, killed later in combat, received the Medal of Honor.

This season, we should reflect on these lessons and give thanks for our distance from the Bulge.

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Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Distinguished Professor at Carthage College in Kenosha, Wis., and author of “After the Cold War.” Email acyr@carthage.edu.

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