Combat operations for the 517th Parachute Regimental Combat Team (PRCT) had ceased in southern France and the PRCT had ridden the rails up through the Maritime Alps into Soissons, France, for a little rest, relaxation, and refitting during late November and early December.
All elements of the PRCT were quartered in Soissons by December 10.
Every American airborne unit in Europe was now part of General Matthew B. Ridgway’s XVIII Airborne Corps.
Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, then had at his disposal forty-eight divisions distributed along a six hundred-mile (nearly one thousand kilometer) front between the North Sea and Switzerland.
For the site of their counteroffensive in mid-December, the Germans chose the hilly and wooded country of the Ardennes. Because it was generally regarded as difficult terrain, a large-scale offensive there was likely to be unexpected.
At the same time, the thick woods provided concealment for the massing of forces, whereas the high ground offered a drier surface for the maneuvers of tanks. An awkward feature from an offensive point of view, however, was the fact that the high ground was intersected with deep valleys where the through roads became bottlenecks potentially blocking a tank advance.
The goals of the German counteroffensive were far-reaching. They sought to break through to Antwerp, Belgium, by an indirect move then cut off the British Army group from American forces and from its supplies—all designed to lead to a crushing defeat for the isolated British. Overall command of the offensive was given to Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt.
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