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Thursday, February 23, 2017

War is Confusing

This is Steven Petrick posting.

A little something that allegedly happened during the Battle of the Bulge in December of 1944.

A company of American troops was cut off by the German advance and was trying to slip back to American lines. The company came to a bridge, the only way across the river blocking their movement. The bridge,  however, had already been captured by the Germans who had posted security on it. Attacking the security on the bridge would alert other German forces nearby. So the American company was stuck.

They decided on a bold ruse.

The company formed up in column on the road (out of sight of the bridge guards initially), placing a man that, while an American soldier, had grown up with parents who were immigrants from Germany and had spoken German in his own home.

The company marched on the bridge at sling arms (their weapons slung over their shoulders rather than held in their hands) while the the German "officer" called "Cadence" in German.

Despite the American uniforms and helmets, the company marched down and across the bridge unchallenged by the German guards. (Whom, I guess it is possible, were more interested in trying to keep warm than really paying attention to the marching column.)

This is one of those things where we have the American side of the story, but you kind of wish you could have also had the German side of the story. (Maybe the Germans were aware that there was no "help" nearby and went along with the "ruse" rather than get themselves killed fighting heavily outnumbered with little cover?)

As you read about the Battle of the Bulge you can find several instances of columns of German troops marching into American lines and being shot to pieces before they could break column. And it is entirely possible that other groups of Americans tried similar ruses, which simply just did not work out (either no one survived, or no one who did survive thought to tell of the failed attempt).

It is one of those things that most histories we read on the American involvement in combat are told from the American point of view. Often we do not know what was really going on in the enemy's camp. Sometimes what we think is not necessarily what "really happened."

An example in North Africa after "Operation Torch" saw an American force sent to seize a pass. The Americans attacked the pass most of the day, and near the end of the day a heavy mortar platoon arrived and began shelling the enemy positions, and the enemy withdrew. The Americans decided that the intervention of the heavy mortars were what had won the battle, precipitating the enemy withdraw. But, "on the other side of the hill," the enemy thought they had "won," because their retreat had not been caused by the mortars shelling them, but because their orders had been to hold the pass for a period of time only to delay the American advance, and then fall back to a new line.