December 28, 1944
I have asked you to come here before an operation on the successful conclusion of which further blows in the west will depend. First, I want briefly to place this particular operation in its true significance. I want to relate it to the over all situation that confronts us, and to the problems which we face and which must be solved. Whether they develop in a happy or an unhappy fashion, solved they shall be, ending either in our favour or in our destruction.
The German situation can be characterised in a few sentences. As in the Great War, so in this war the question is not whether Germany will be graciously permitted by her enemies, in the event of their victory, some kind of existence, but whether Germany has the will to remain in existence or whether it will be destroyed. Unlike earlier wars of the seventeenth or eighteenth century, this war will decide neither a question of political organisation nor a question of the adherence of a Folk or a tribe or a former federal State to the German Reich. What, in the last analysis, will be decided is the survival of the very essence of our German Folk, not survival of the German Reich, but survival of the very essence of the German Folk. A victory of our enemies must bolshevise Europe. What bolshevisation means for Germany everybody must and will realise. In contrast with earlier times, it is not now a question of a change in the form of our government. Changes in the form of government have taken place in the lives of Folks on innumerable occasions. They come and go. Here the survival of the very essence is involved. Essences are either preserved or they are removed. Preservation is our goal. The destruction of the essence under certain circumstances destroys the Race forever.
Struggles such as are going on now have the character of clashes of world views, and they frequently last a very long time. Therefore they are not comparable to the struggles of the time of Frederick The Great. Then the issue was whether, within the framework of the gradually crumbling and disintegrating Empire, a new great German power would emerge, and whether this power would, so to speak, achieve recognition as a great European Power. Today Germany no longer needs to prove herself a great European Power — her importance as such is clear to everyone. The German Reich is now fighting an ideological war for its very existence. The winning of this war will, once and for all, stabilise this great Power, which quantitatively and qualitatively is already in existence. The loss of this war will destroy the German Folk and break it up. Parts of Germany will be evacuated.
A few weeks ago you heard Churchill say in the English Parliament that the whole of East Prussia and parts of Pomerania and Silesia would be given to Poland, who in turn would give something else to Russia. Seven or ten or eleven million Germans would have to be transferred. Churchill hopes in any case to eliminate by air attack six or seven millions, so that the population transfer would offer no great difficulties. This is today the sober statement of a leading statesman in a public body. In earlier times you would have regarded this as a propaganda argument, as a propaganda lie. Here it is said quite officially, though it by no means corresponds to what will actually happen, because, in the case of a German collapse, England would be unable to offer serious resistance to bolshevism anywhere.
That is pure theory. In these days, when Mr. Churchill leaves Athens in humiliating failure, and is unable to oppose bolshevism even on a small scale, he wants to give the impression that he is able to halt the advance of bolshevism at any frontier in Europe. That is ridiculous fantasy. America cannot do it. England cannot do it. The only country whose fate will be decided in this war is Germany. She will be saved or, in the event of the loss of the war, she will perish.
I hasten to add, gentlemen, that from these statements of mine you are not to draw the conclusion that I even remotely envisage the loss of this war. In my life I have never learned to know the word capitulation, and I am a self made man. For me the situation in which we are today is nothing new. I have been in very different and much worse situations. I mention this only because I want you to understand why I pursue my aim with such fanaticism, and why nothing can wear me down. As much as I may be tormented with worries, and even physically shaken by them, nothing will make the slightest change in my decision to fight on until at last the scales tip to our side.
The objection that, with respect to such issues, we must think in sober military terms, can best be refuted by taking a quick look at the great events of history. In the time after the Battle Of Cannae, everyone would, by sober military calculations, have been forced to the conclusion that Rome was lost. But, though abandoned by all her friends, betrayed by all her allies, the last Army at her disposal lost, and the enemy at the gates, Rome was saved by the steadfastness of the Senate — not the Roman Folk, but the Senate, which means, their leadership. We have a similar example in our own German history, not of the same worldwide significance, but tremendously important for the whole course of German history, for the later foundation of the German Reich was determined by this hero, was made possible by his historical achievement. I refer to the Seven Years War. As early as the third year countless military and political officials were convinced that the war could never be won. According to human calculations it should have been lost: 3,700,000 Prussians were pitched against about 52,000,000 Europeans. In spite of that, however, this war was won. Even in struggles of a worldwide nature, the spirit is one of the decisive factors. It enables men to discover new ways out, and to mobilise new potentials. Above all, in such situations it is decisive to know that the enemy is made up of men of flesh and blood, of men who have nerves, and of men who do not fight for their very existence in the same sense that we do. That means that the enemy does not know, as we do, that this is a fight for existence. If the English should now lose this war, this would not be decisive for them, in view of the losses they have already suffered. America would lose neither its political form nor its racial essence. But Germany fights for her very existence. That the German Folk are aware of this you all realise. You need to look only at today’s German youth, and to compare them with the youth of the Great War. You need to look only at the German cities and to compare their attitude with that of the German Folk in the year 1918. Today the entire German Folk remain unshaken, and will remain unshaken. In 1918 the German Folk capitulated without necessity. Now they realise the dangers of the situation, and are aware of the problem with which we are confronted. That is what I wanted to say as a brief introduction before I discuss the purely military issues.
What is the military situation? Whoever studies the great worldwide historical struggles which are known to us will very frequently find situations of a similar character, perhaps even situations much worse than the one with which we are confronted today. For we should not forget that even today we are defending a territory — German territory and Allied territory — which is essentially larger than Germany has ever been, and that we have at our disposal a Defence Force which even today unquestionably is the strongest on the Earth. If anyone wants to get the over all situation into correct perspective, he should visualise the following: he should take by itself one of the world powers which are opposing us, Russia, England, or America. There can be no doubt that singly we could dispose of each of these States with ease. That not only is proof of the strength of the German Folk, but also of the strength of the German Defence Force which, of course, in the final analysis, grows out of the strength of the German Folk, which cannot be imagined to exist in a vacuum.
In a military sense it is decisive that in the west we are moving from a sterile defensive to the offensive. The offensive alone will enable us to give once more to this war in the west a successful turn. To the extent to which the enemy succeeds in mobilising resources, defensive warfare would get us into a hopeless position within a calculable period of time. The offensive would not cost such sacrifice in blood as people generally assume — at least, less in the future than at present. The view that under all circumstances an offensive would be more costly in blood than a defensive is wrong. We ourselves have had that experience. The battles that were most bloody and costly were in all cases our defensive battles. If we take into account the losses of the enemy and our own losses, and if we include the numbers of war prisoners, offensive battles have always been favorable to us. The same is true of the present offensive. If I imagine the total number of the Divisions the enemy has thrown in here, and if I calculate his entire losses in prisoners alone — losses in prisoners are the same thing as losses in killed, the men are eliminated — and if I add his losses in blood to his losses in material, then if I compare them with our losses, there can be no doubt that even the brief offensive we have just undertaken has resulted in an immediate easing of the situation on the entire Front. Although, unfortunately, the offensive has not resulted in the decisive success which might have been expected, yet a tremendous easing of the situation has occurred. The enemy has had to abandon all his plans for attack. He has been obliged to regroup all his forces. He has had to throw in again units that were fatigued. His operational plans have been completely upset. He is enormously criticised at home. It is a bad psychological moment for him. Already he has had to admit that there is no chance of the war being decided before August, perhaps not before the end of next year. That means a transformation of the entire situation such as nobody would have believed possible a fortnight ago. That is the net result of a battle in which a great part of our Divisions has not even been committed. A considerable part of our Panzer Divisions still follows in the rear, or has been in combat for only a few days. I am convinced that the defensive would in the long run be unbearable for us. For the losses in blood of an enemy offensive will steadily decrease; commitments of material will increase. The enemy will not continue these monotonous assaults with men, for the criticism at home will on the one hand be decisive, and on the other, of course, the gradually improving flow of ammunitions and war material will have its decisive effect. To the same extent to which he repairs the harbours and solves his transportation problem, he can accelerate the moving up of supplies as long as the stockpiles suffice. He will become accustomed to the tactics that were actually employed at Aachen, namely, concentrated artillery fire on a position, destruction of single pill boxes by fire from tanks, and then occupation of a completely pulverised area by relatively weak infantry forces. In the long run his losses in manpower will be fewer than ours. During this time he will demolish our rail system — slowly but surely — and will make transportation gradually impossible for us. We do not force him to use his bomber squadrons over the battle front, but open to them the German homeland; and in turn that will react upon the front because of decreases in delivery of ammunition, of petrol, of weapons, of tools, of motorcars, and so on, and that will have unfavourable effects upon the troops. In other words, the result of a continuation of the present, or former, tactics which were forced upon us by circumstances, because we were unable to attack earlier, might result in extremely heavy losses in blood, while the losses of the enemy would probably decrease considerably.
Consequently, if possible, we shall abandon these tactics the moment we believe that we have forces enough for offensive action. That is possible. The result of the present first act of our offensive in the west has already been that the Americans have, all told, been forced to move up something like 50 percent of the forces from their other Fronts, that their other offensive formations, located north and south of our breakthrough point, have been greatly weakened, that the first English Divisions are arriving, that the enemy is already moving up a great part of his tank forces. I believe that eight or nine tank Divisions, of a total of fifteen, have been in action. That means that he has had to concentrate his forces there. In the Sector in which we are now starting to attack, lines have become extraordinarily thin. He has pulled out Division after Division, and now we must hurry in order to be able to annihilate a still larger number of Divisions — perhaps the enemy has left there only three or perhaps four — if we have luck it may be five, but hardly six.
I want to emphasise right away that the aims of all these offensives, which will be delivered blow by blow — already I am preparing a third blow — is, first, the elimination of all American units south of the penetration point by annihilating them piece by piece, Division by Division. Then we shall see how we can establish a direct connection between this operation and the penetration point. The task of our forces at the penetration point is to tie down as many enemy forces as possible. The penetration point is at a spot vital for them. The crossing of the Meuse River would be immensely dangerous for both the Americans and the English. An advance toward Antwerp would be catastrophic for them. The advance did not succeed, but we did succeed in one thing, namely, in forcing them to concentrate all essential and available forces in order to localise the danger. This is our first positive gain. Now our task is to destroy the forces south of the penetration point, first by means of a number of single blows.
Thus the task set for this new offensive does not go beyond what is possible, and can be achieved with our available forces. We are committing eight Divisions. With the exception of one Division which comes from Finland, seven are of course worn out from fighting, although parts of a few are rested; but the enemy who opposes us — if we have luck, with five Divisions, possibly only with four, possibly only with three — is not fresh, either. He too is worn out, with the exception of one Division which is stationed directly along the Rhine River, and of which we shall have to see how it will prove itself, and with the exception of the 12th American Tank Division, of which it is not certain whether it will be committed at all, and which in any case is a new unit which has not yet been in combat. But the rest of the units on the enemy side are also worn out. We shall find a situation which we could not wish to be better.
If this operation succeeds, it will lead to the destruction of a part of that group of Divisions which confronts us south of the breakthrough point. The next operation will then follow immediately. It will be connected with a further push. I hope that in this way we shall first smash these American units in the south. Then we shall continue the attack, and shall try to connect it with the real long term operation itself.
Thus this second attack has an entirely clear objective — the destruction of the enemy forces. No questions of prestige are involved. It is not a question of gaining space. The exclusive aim is to destroy and eliminate the enemy forces wherever we find them. It is not even the task of this operation to liberate all Alsace. That would be wonderful. It would have an immense effect on the German Folk, a decisive effect on the world, immense psychological importance, a very depressing effect on the French Folk. But that is not what matters. As I said before, what matters is the destruction of the manpower of the enemy.
However, even in this operation, it will be necessary to pay attention to speed. That means, in my opinion, that we should take what can be taken quickly, like lightning, without being deflected from our proper target. Sometimes you can not catch up in weeks with what you failed to do, or missed doing, in three or four hours. A reconnaissance unit, or a small motorised unit, or an Assault Gun Brigade, or a Panzer Battalion is sometimes able to cover in three or four hours 20 to 40 decisive kilometres which afterwards could not be gained in six weeks of battle.
Unfortunately that is what we experienced in our first operation. This stood under a number of lucky, as well as unlucky, stars. A lucky omen, we succeeded for the first time in keeping an operation secret — I may say for the first time since the fall of 1939, since we entered the war. A few bad things happened even here. One Officer carrying a written order went up to the Front and was snapped. Whether the enemy found the order and made use of this intelligence, or whether they did not believe it, cannot be established now. At any rate the order reached the enemy. However, thank heaven! it had no effect. At least no reports have come in from any quarter that the enemy was put on guard. That was a lucky omen.
The best omen of all was the development of the weather, which had been forecast by a young weather prophet who actually proved to have been right. This weather development gave us the possibility of camouflaging, though this had seemed hardly possible, the final assembly of the troops during the last two or three days, so that the enemy gained no insight. The same weather prophet, who again forecast the present weather with absolute certainty, has again proved to be right. Then there was the complete failure of the enemy air reconnaissance, partly because of the weather, but partly also because of a certain existing conceitedness. Those people did not think it necessary to look around. They did not believe it at all likely that we could again take the initiative. Perhaps they were even influenced by the conviction that I am already dead, or that, at any rate, I suffer from cancer and cannot any longer live, and drink, so that they consider this danger also eliminated. They have lived exclusively in the thought of their own offensive.
A third factor has also to be added, namely the conviction that we could not possess the necessary forces. Gentlemen, here I want to tell you something immediately. Certainly our forces are not unlimited. It was an extremely bold venture to mobilise the forces for this offensive and for the coming blows, a venture which, of course, involved very grave risks. Hence if you read today that things are not going well in the south of the Eastern Front, in Hungary, you must know that as a matter of course we cannot be equally strong everywhere. We have lost so many allies. Unfortunately, because of the treachery of our dear allies, we are forced to retire gradually to a narrower ring of barriers. Yet despite all this it has been possible on the whole to hold the Eastern Front. We shall stop the enemy advance in the south, too. We shall close it off. Nevertheless it has been possible to organise numerous new Divisions and to arm them, to reactivate old Divisions and to rearm them, to reactivate Panzer Divisions, to accumulate petrol, and above all to get the German Airforce into shape so that, weather permitting, it can be committed to a number of daylight flights, and can come forward with new models which are able to make daylight attacks in the enemy’s rear, and against which he has at present nothing to oppose. In other words, we have been able to reassemble enough in the way of artillery, mortars, tanks, and Infantry Divisions to restore the balance of forces in the west. That in itself is a miracle. It demanded continuous pushing, and months of work and plugging, even with regard to the smallest detail. I am by no means satisfied yet. Every day shows that there is something which is not yet ready, which has not yet arrived. Just today I received the sad news that the needed 21 centimetre mortars, which I have kept after like the devil, probably still will not come. I still hope they will. It is a continuous struggle for weapons and men, for supplies and fuel, and god knows what. Of course this cannot go on forever. This offensive really must lead to a success.
If we succeed in cleaning up, at least half way, the situation in the west — and that must be our unalterable goal — then we should be able to rectify the situation with respect to iron ore, because we need not only the Saar Basin but most of all we need the high quality iron ore mined in Lorraine. This is a prerequisite. The more critical our situation in the rest of Europe, the more important is this iron ore region. We cannot continue this war for any length of time, we cannot continue to exist as a Nation, without having bases of certain raw material at our disposal. That also is crucial. I hope this objective also will be reached in the course of these operations.
The enemy did not think that possible. He was firmly convinced that we were at the end of our rope. That was a further, third, reason why initially we succeeded in our offensive. Then difficulties arose. First of all, the terribly bad roads. Then the repairing of bridges took longer than anticipated. Here for the first time it became clear what it means to lose ten hours. To a Panzer Division, ten lost hours can mean, under certain circumstances, the loss of an entire operation. If you do not succeed in getting through in ten hours, you may not be able, under certain circumstances, to make that up in eight days. Speed, therefore, here means everything. That is one point.
The second was: because of the delays caused by bad roads, because of the destruction of certain bridges which could not be quickly repaired, we did not begin our offensive with the mobility that would have been desirable, but were heavily burdened with equipment and most of all with vehicles. Exactly why all these vehicles were taken along I do not know. It has even been claimed that the vehicles were taken along in order that everyone could carry with him what he could grab. I do not know about that, but it is certain that we were encumbered with vehicles. In that respect we must learn from the Russians.
One primary fact was demonstrated at once. In this attack, Infantry Divisions generally advanced quite as fast as Panzer Divisions, and indeed sometimes faster, although these Infantry Divisions were advancing on foot. That reminds me of the year 1940 when, for instance, a Division like the First Mountain Division, about which I had seriously worried whether it could catch up at all, suddenly whizzed along like a weasel. All of a sudden it reached the Aisne River, nearly as quickly as our Panzer units. Quite a number of Infantry Divisions have given very good accounts of themselves, some of them young Divisions, though they were really impeded in their own progress by the road jam caused by the Panzer units. They would have advanced faster if the roads had not been clogged by the Panzer units. One thing is clear, namely, that Panzer units which are fully motorised — I always hear it said that they are 75 to 80 percent, or 65 per cent motorised; that is usually too much because then everything is on the road, and there are eight or ten men to a truck whereas formerly there were thirty — I say, Panzer units can cover 100 kilometres per day, even 150, given free terrain. But I cannot remember that there has been one offensive when even for two or three days we have covered more than 50 or 60 kilometres. Generally at the end the pace has hardly exceeded that of the infantry units. The Panzer units made only short hops. They quickly took possession of something, but the advance units of the Infantry Division then had to close up. As soon as a Panzer Division cannot roll, excessive motorisation becomes a burden. The vehicles cannot get off the roads, and if, because of the danger from the air, they have to move at intervals, the final result is that some of the forces will not be in their places. Either the artillery, or the infantry, or the Grenadiers will not get to the Front. Actually, the battle out front has been fought out by quite small spearheads. That happened in the fighting of the Army Group Model, also of the Life Guard In the last analysis, only the spearheads did the fighting. Only the spearheads of the 12th SS Panzer Division were in the battle, but a gigantic network of roads toward the rear was completely clogged and blocked. You could not get ahead, and you could not get back. Finally not even the fuel was brought up. The vehicles hardly moved. They actually let the motors idle. They let them keep running during the night in order to prevent damage from freezing, and so on. The men kept warm that way, too. An immense amount of petrol is needed. Everywhere the roads were bad. You had to drive in first gear.
We can really learn from the Russians. When today I get a report about a Russian road which leads to a front section where there are 36 infantry divisions and Panzer units, so many armoured regiments, and so and so many other units, and when this report says that last night 1,000 vehicles were on the road, tonight 800, and then 1,200, and then 300 vehicles, this report causes an alarm that runs through the whole Eastern Front, for it is understood to mean that an attack is imminent. Our Panzer Divisions have 2,500, 3,000, 4,000, 4,500 trucks, and then they report that they are mobile only 60, 75, or 80 percent. Quite by chance I found out about two Mountain Divisions, of which one had 1,800, the other 1,400 trucks. Those are Mountain Divisions. Of course, they will get plucked if they have not plucked themselves already. This development would not be so bad if we could afford all that, and if we could operate in large open terrain. But at a time when you are hemmed in and crammed onto a few roads, this motorisation can even be a misfortune. That is one of the reasons why the right wing first got entirely stuck — bad roads, obstacles because of bridges which could not be repaired in a short time, then thirdly the difficulty of coping with the masses of vehicles, then again the difficulty of the fuel supply, which, unlike in earlier offensives, could not be brought up by the German Airforce, and then finally of course the threatened clearing of the weather. We have to realise that the German Airforce did a pretty good job. It has thrown itself into the offensive, and has done everything that it could do considering the number of aeroplanes which can be committed, and the kind of aeroplanes at our disposal. Nevertheless, in good weather it is impossible for us to give such protection in the air that no enemy aeroplanes can get in. In the case of such crammed roads, the roads then become mass graves for vehicles of all kinds. Nevertheless, we had immense luck, for when the good weather came, the disentanglement was in general already getting under way.
As I said before, those were the unlucky moments among the lucky ones. Nevertheless, for a moment, the situation seemed to justify the hope that we could hold out. At the beginning I did not at all believe that the enemy would thin out his fronts to such an extent. Now that the thinning out has taken place, it is time to draw the consequences at other parts of the Front, and they must be drawn quickly. Here I must take up a very decisive consideration, namely the objections that can be raised to a continuation of this operation. The first objection is the old one, the forces are not yet strong enough. Here I can only say that you have to take advantage of a unique situation, even at the risk of being not yet quite strong enough. We have committed very strong units. If circumstances had been somewhat more favourable, weaker units certainly would have achieved a greater success than the strong units in default of lucky circumstances. Thus yardsticks of strength are relative. The enemy, too, is not up to his full strength. He too has weaknesses.
Another argument always put forward is that a greater period of rest should be allowed. Gentlemen, speed is everything today. If we permit the enemy to regain his wits, then, in my opinion, we shall have lost half the chance we possessed. The year 1918 should be a warning to us. In 1918 the intervals between the various attacks were much too long. Reasons have been given why, but there can be no doubt that if the second offensive at Chemin des Dames had followed the first one sooner, the outcome would have been very different. Connection with the wing of the first great assault group would have certainly been established via Compiègne, and a decisive turn might have occurred. Perhaps we might have reached the sea. Rest periods, therefore, are not always desirable.
Gentlemen, there is something else I want to emphasise. I have been in this business for eleven years, and during these eleven years, I have never heard anybody report that everything was completely ready. On the contrary, during these eleven years a report usually arrived saying that the Navy requested urgently a delay for such and such a length of time because this and that should still be done, and would be ready at such and such a date. Then, when the Navy was ready, the Army had its say: It would be a great pity if we should do that now, because the Army is just about to introduce this and that thing, and would like to wait for it. When the Army was ready, then the German Airforce came forward and said: It is quite impossible to do that. Until the new model is introduced, it is impossible to attack or to expose oneself to such a danger. When finally the German Airforce was ready, the Navy came back and declared: The present submarine has not proved itself. A new type must be introduced, and a new type cannot be ready before the year so and so. We have never been ready. That has been true for every offensive. The most tragic example perhaps was the fall of 1939. I wanted to attack in the west immediately, but I was told that we were not ready. Afterwards I was asked: Why did we not attack? You had only to give the order. I then had to admit that a mistake had been made. We should have declared simply: We attack in the west on 15th November at the latest. That is final, no objection permitted. Then we would have started action. I am convinced that we should have beaten France to a pulp that winter, and would have been completely free in the west.
You are never entirely ready. That is plain. In our situation it is not even possible. The big problem is that when in theory you are ready, the things that were ready are no longer at your disposal, but have been used somewhere else. Today we are not in a position to put Divisions on ice. Everyone is watched with the eyes of Argus. If there is quiet, or no large scale battle in the east for two weeks, then the Commander of the Army Group in the west comes and says: There are unused Panzer units in the east, why do we not get them? If there is quiet momentarily in the west, then the same Commander, if in the east, would declare immediately: There is complete quiet in the west; we should get at least 4 to 6 Panzer Divisions over here to the east. As soon as I have a Division free anywhere, other sections are already eyeing it. For myself I am really glad the Divisions are in existence at all. Now I am following the example of some clever Army or Army Group Commanders. They never pull out any Divisions, but leave them all in, even if the Divisional Sectors at their Front get very narrow; and then they declare: I have no Divisions free to dispose of, they are all committed. Then it is up to me to unfreeze a Division; otherwise I would never get one.
Therefore, I have to state that we do not have unlimited time at our disposal. Events march on. If I do not act quickly at one point, then somewhere else a situation may arise by which I am forced to send something away. Time is of value only if you make use of it.
Then a further worry is the problem of ammunition. I am convinced that we can afford the ammunition needed for this offensive, because experience shows that an offensive eats up less ammunition than a defensive. Furthermore, the following consideration should be emphasised. It is generally believed that we are unable to equal our enemies’ supply of ammunition. According to the reports of our troops, our reserve of ammunition in the west was half of that of the Allies. In the east our expenditure of ammunition is nearly 100 percent greater than that of the Russians. Although you may sometimes hear it said that the Russians send over gigantic quantities of ammunition, the fact is that the German expenditure of ammunition is exactly 100 percent higher than the Russian, and I do not count the ammunition we leave behind on retreats. That beats everything. So far as ammunition is concerned, we can afford this offensive. The real problem is transportation.
The fuel actually needed for this operation is available. That we shall get it there, there is no doubt. The general transportation situation is more difficult. Improvement in the transportation situation will depend on the extent to which each Commander of a unit, each Troop Leader, examines conscientiously what he needs to take along and what is not absolutely essential. Everything that is taken along, and is not absolutely necessary, is not only a burden for the troops but a burden for the supply forces, a burden for the entire fuel situation, and that means a burden for the coming operation. I consider it important to ask oneself rigorously again and again: Is there anything that I do not absolutely need? The character and the honour of a Panzer Division — whether an Army or an SS Division makes no difference — is not demeaned if its Battalions march for once on foot. If they cannot close up because of a road jam, then they are compelled to march on foot anyway. They have to get up to the front under all circumstances. If this operation were headed for the Sahara or for Central Asia, I would say that I understood that you do not want to part with your vehicles, but this operation, which in any case will not extend for more than 50 to 60 kilometres, can be carried out on foot. The infantry has to do that anyway, and has never known otherwise. The infantry accepts this as its god appointed fate and its honourable duty, but Panzer units regard it as a kind of disgrace if suddenly some must for a while march on foot.
I believe this to be a decisive factor for the success of this operation. On the whole the plan of the operation is clear. I am in full agreement with the measures that have been taken. I particularly hope that we shall succeed in moving the right wing forward rapidly in order to open the way to Saverne and then to push into the plains of the Rhine River and liquidate the American Divisions. The destruction of these American Divisions must be our goal. I further hope that by then the fuel situation will permit a regrouping for a fresh assault and a further blow, as a result of which I confidently expect that additional American Divisions will be destroyed by the growing forces on our side. For the number of our forces will by then have increased somewhat. I can support this next attack with several additional Divisions, one of them a very good one from Finland. Unless the enterprise is cursed with bad luck from the beginning, it should, in my opinion, succeed.
I do not need to explain to you a second time how much depends upon it. It will largely determine the success of the first operation. By carrying out the two operations, A and B, and by succeeding in them, the threat to our left flank will disappear automatically. We shall then immediately fight the third battle and smash the Americans completely. I am firmly convinced that we can then turn toward the left.
Our firm aim must be to clean up the situation in the west by offensive action. We must be fanatical in this aim. Perhaps there are some who will secretly object, saying, All right, but will it succeed? Gentlemen, the same objection was raised in the year 1939. I was told in writing and vocally that the thing could not be done, that it was impossible. Even in the winter of 1940 I was told, That cannot be done. Why do we not stay within the West Wall? We have built the West Wall, why do we not let the enemy run against it, and then perhaps attack him as a follow-up? But let him come first; we can perhaps advance afterwards. We hold these wonderful positions, why should we run unnecessary risks? What would have happened to us if we had not attacked them? You have exactly the same situation today. Our relative strength is not less today than it was in 1939 or 1940. On the contrary, if, in two blows, we succeed in destroying both American groups, the balance will have shifted clearly and absolutely in our favour. After all, I rely on the German soldier being aware of what he is fighting for.
Only one thing is not in our favour this time, and that is the air situation. But that is why we are now forced, despite all hazards, to take advantage of the bad winter weather. The air situation forces us to action. I cannot wait till we have more favourable weather. I would prefer to delay matters somehow until spring. Perhaps I could then organise another 10, 15, or 20 Divisions, and we could then attack in spring. But, first of all, the enemy also will bring over 15 or 20 new Divisions. Secondly, I do not know whether in the spring I shall be any more master of the air than I am now, but if I am then no more master of the air than now, the weather will give a decisive advantage to the enemy, whereas now there are at least several weeks during which carpet bombing of troop concentrations cannot take place. That means a lot.
How important it is to get an early decision you will realise from the following. The enemy has full knowledge of the flying bombs. He has already reconstructed them entirely. We know that. He has put them into production. Unquestionably, exactly as we are causing continuous disturbances to the English industrial regions through these flying bombs, so the enemy will be able almost to demolish the Ruhr Basin by the mass shooting of flying bombs. There is no protection against them. We cannot even fend them off with fighter aeroplanes. I do not want to talk about the rockets. There is no remedy against them at all. Everything, therefore, speaks in favour of cleaning up this situation before the enemy begins to use superweapons of this kind.
The German Folk have breathed more freely during recent days. We must prevent this relief from being followed by lethargy — lethargy is the wrong word, I mean resignation. They have breathed again. The mere idea that we are on the offensive has had a cheering effect on the German Folk, and when this offensive is continued, when we have our first really great successes — and we shall have them, for our situation is not different from that of the Russians from 1941 to 1942, when, despite their most unfavourable situation, they manoeuvred us slowly back by single offensive blows along the extended front on which we had passed over to the defensive — if the German Folk see such a development taking place here, you can be sure that they will make any sacrifices which are humanly possible. We shall obtain whatever we ask of them. Nothing will deter the Nation — whether I order a new textile collection, or some other collection, or whether I call for men. The youth will come forward enthusiastically. The German Folk as a whole will react in a thoroughly positive manner. I must say the Nation behaves as decently as could possibly be expected. There are no better people than our Germans. Individual bad incidents are just the exception that confirms the rule.
Finally, I wish to appeal to you to support this operation with all your fire, with all your zest, and with all your energy. This also is a decisive operation. Its success will automatically result in the success of the next operation. The success of the second operation will automatically bring about the collapse of the threat on the left to our offensive. We shall actually have knocked away one half of the enemy’s Western Front. Then we shall see what happens. I do not believe that in the long run he will be able to resist 45 German Divisions which will then be ready. We shall yet master fate.
Since the date could be fixed for New Year’s Eve, I wish to say that I am grateful to all those who have done the gigantic work of preparation for this operation, and who have also taken upon themselves the great risk of being responsible for it. I consider it a particularly good omen that this was possible. In German history New Year’s Eve has always been of good military omen. The enemy will consider New Year’s Eve an unpleasant disturbance, because he does not celebrate Christmas but New Year’s Eve. We cannot introduce the New Year in any better way than by such a blow. When on New Year’s day the news spreads in Germany that the German offensive has been resumed at a new spot, and that it is meeting with success, the German Folk will conclude that the old year was miserable at the end, but that the new year has had a good beginning. That will be a good omen for the future.
Gentlemen, I want to wish each of you, individually, good luck. Gentlemen, there is one thing more. A prerequisite for the success of this operation is secrecy. Anyone who does not need to know about it should not know about it. Whoever does need to know about it should hear only what he needs to know. Whoever does need to know about it should not hear about it earlier than he needs to know. That is imperative. And nobody should be ordered up to the Front who knows something about it and might be caught. That also is imperative.
Field marshal Von Rundstedt – closing words:
My Führer, in the name of all the assembled Commanders I wish to give you the firm assurance on the part of leadership and troops that everything, absolutely everything, will be done to make this offensive a success. We ourselves know where in our first offensive we have made mistakes. We shall learn from them.