By the end of 1944 Germany was losing on all fronts. Her generals, faced with ever increasing armies armed with superior technology, fell back under the combined assaults in Italy, the Eastern Front, and France.
Optimism was absent from the German command. In September 1944, as the Russians halted their advance on Warsaw and the Allies stalled in Holland in Operation Market-Garden, Hitler stunned his generals with a bold plan reminiscent of the 1940 campaign. Panzer divisions backed by Volksturm units would smash through the weakly defended Ardennes and head for Antwerp, cutting off the Allied supply lines. Special English-speaking units in modified German armor and captured American equipment would range out ahead of the Panzers, causing confusion and creating fear among the ranks.The bold plan included a large, desperate attack by the remaining Luftwaffe units on the Allied airfields.
His generals demurred, arguing the attack would never succeed. Hitler overruled them. A buildup in Germany’s Eiffel region began, draining tanks and men from other fronts. Most of these soldiers were fifteen and sixteen years old.
Meanwhile, the Allies ignored the warnings of the German buildup. An intelligence officer than claimed a coming German offensive would start in the Ardennes was sent on leave. Reports of the few divisions in the area that new units were entering the area were discounted. Ultra reports were less important because the Germans used landlines instead of radios to issue orders. German prisoners-of-war were radiating confidence and did not seem to be beaten.
Supply lines extended all the way back to Cherbourg in Normandy. Germans dug in the channel ports denied them to the Allies, and they held out until the end of the war. Not until Antwerp was captured and opened to shipping on December 11 did the Allies have a port that was close to the front. Meanwhile the “Red Ball Express” — mostly African-American drivers running a fast-moving convoy 24 hours a day — drove gas, ammunition and food to the front, sometimes under fire from German units holding the roads. Winter clothing was sacrificed to make more room for gas and ammunition.