The Battle of the Bulge General Patton and Mission Command Essay

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General Patton and Mission Command: the Battle of the Bulge

Introduction

Fought between 16th December 1944 and 25th January 1945, the Battle of the Bulge remains one of the most notable battles during World War II not only because of the significant death count on both sides, but also because of the various tactics as well as strategies applied by the allied forces that informed its outcome in the end. Towards this end, this text highlights the role played by General George Patton in the Battle of the Bulge – and more specifically in the redemption of Bastogne from German encirclement, in what is widely considered to be one of the battle’s most significant turning points. Patton’s effectiveness will be reviewed in the context of the principles of mission command.

From the onset, it is important to note that were it not for the brilliant operation, strategic conduct, and gallant efforts of General Patton’s Third Army, it is possible that the Allied forces would have failed in their efforts to advance in the west. It is with this in mind that Bastogne’s relief in the Siege at Bastogne remains one of the most defining moments in the greater Battle of the Bulge. In essence, the city of Bastogne was of great strategic importance to the Germans. As a matter of fact, it was one of the two cities (the other being St. Vith) whose fall would have offered a clear path for the Germans to not only reach Antwerp, but also effectively separate the Allied forces. In that regard, therefore, as shall be demonstrated elsewhere in this text, General Patton and his role in the outcome of the Battle of the Bulge could be regarded a good example of the application of mission command principles.

Overview

In essence, the Battle of the Bulge ensued when “the German army launched a counteroffensive that was intended to cut through the Allied forces in a manner that would turn the tide of the war in Hitler's favor” (U.S. Army, 2018). As the U.S. Army further points out, this particular battle brought the fortitude as well as courage of the American soldiers to the ultimate test – with their response being not only tactful, but also audacious and strategic. This retaliation, in coordination with allied forces, “ultimately meant the victory of freedom over tyranny” (U.S. Army, 2018).

The Battle of the Bulge essentially resulted from Adolph Hitler’s spirited endeavor to ensure that the Allied forces in northwest Europe were split so as ease a German offensive that would ensure that allied forces were pushed back, dismantled, and possibly annihilated. If the offensive had succeeded, the American force would have been cut off from their British counterparts, thereby cutting off supplies of some allied forces and making it easy for the German forces to obliterate isolated forces – particularly the British army which would have been cut off from critical supplies had the Antwerp, Belgium breakthrough succeeded (Collins and King, 2013).

According to the U.S. Army (2018), the battle was launched with a German offensive through the Ardennes Forest, and on its march was a 200,000 man army backed up by approximately 1,000 tanks. The ‘launch pad’ stretch was at the time being “held by four inexperienced and battle-worn American divisions stationed there for rest and seasoning” (U.S. Army, 2018). This American unit was totally caught by surprise. It is important to note that as Collins and King (2013) point out, the difficulty of the territory could have made the area to be perceived as unattractive for a large scale attack of this nature. Further, matters were made worse by the fact that the German offensive was launched at a time when the weather as not conducive for allied forces to respond with their far more superior air power. Although caught flatfooted, the American forces were able to put up a spirited defense that was however torn apart after a day of fighting, allowing the German force to not only surround the infantry division, but also seize crossroads while at the same time “advancing their spearheads towards the Meuse River” (U.S. Army, 2018). It is the projection created as a consequence of this particular advance that gave rise to the term ‘bulge.’

Further confusion was created by the move by German forces to don American uniform. Within a few days, German forces had made some significant advances and managed to corner outflanked American detachments at the Bastogne crossroads. Bastogne was deemed to be a prized takeover by the Germans. In the words of Collins and King (2013), “German high command had identified the strategic location of the city during the initial planning stages for the offensive” and an agreement had been reached to the effect that “the two key cities of Bastogne and St. Vith would have to be taken within the first forty-eight hours if they were to achieve their intended objective of reaching Antwerp and dividing the Allied forces” (37). In that regard, therefore, the city of Bastogne was of great strategic importance to the Germans.

The resilience that the American Divisions demonstrated in preventing the capture of Bastogne was largely unexpected. This effectively slowed down the Germans – effectively taking them almost a week to encircle the city, whereas if everything had gone according to plan, the Germans would have captured Bastogne within two days. In one of the most memorable moments of the Siege of Bastogne, General Anthony McAuliffe, when contacted by a German commander with a proposal for the Americans to surrender, simply answered “NUTS” (Rickard, 2011). The siege eventually came to an end following the arrival of the 4th Armored Division, under the very able command of General Patton.

General Patton’s Performance and Role in the Battle’s Outcome

With Americans trapped in Bastogne, “the supreme Allied commander, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower rushed reinforcements to hold the shoulders of the German penetration” (U.S. Army, 2018).With his 3rd Army on Bastogne’s southern side, an order came through for Patton’s army to move north. In a strategic maneuver, Patton was able to enter the city by way of breaching German lines (Perrett, 1999). In a matter of days, the Germans were pushed across the Rhine, further eastwards. Towards this end, in seeking to define, evaluate, and assess the effectiveness of General Patton with reference to the larger Battle of the Bulge, it would be prudent to highlight four of the six mission command principles in reference to Patton’s performance.

According to Department of the Army (2012, “the mission command philosophy helps commanders counter the uncertainty of operations by reducing the amount of certainty needed to act” (2-1). Experienced commanders are well aware of the fact that in most cases, due to the urgency of the need to adopt a certain course of action, some decisions have to be made in the face of uncertainty. Department of the Army (2012) points out that the basis of mission command is largely the trust and common objectives shared between key stakeholders who include, but they are not limited to, commanders, partners, staff, as well as subordinates. Towards this end, six key principles guide commanders in their application of mission command. Four of these will be used in reference to General Patton.…

Sources Used in Document:

References

Collins, M. & King, M. (2013). The Tigers of Bastogne: Voices of the 10th Armored Division in the Battle of the Bulge. Oxford: Casemate

Department of the Army (2012). ADRP 6-0 Mission Command. Washington, DC: Army Doctrine Reference Publication

Knight, R.L. (2004). The Crimson Flake. Victoria, B.C: Trafford Publishing

Luecke, R.A. (1994). Scuttle Your Ships Before Advancing. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Perrett, G. (1999). Eisenhower. New York, NY: Random House

Rickard, J.N. (2011). Advance and Destroy: Patton as Commander in the Bulge. Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky.

U.S. Army (2018). The Battle of the Bulge. Retrieved from https://www.army.mil/botb/

Weintraub, S. (2007). General George S. Patton and the Battle of the Bulge. Retrieved from http://www.historynet.com/battle-of-the-bulge

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