Battle of the Bulge
By Danny S. Parker
Combined Books, Philadelphia
LARGE-PAGE HISTORY LACKS UNDERSTANDING
OF BATTLE OF THE BULGE
A striking feature of this book is its size — 8x12 inches and copiously illustrated. And its title, “Battle of the Bulge” promises a comprehensive picture of the month-long battle — the largest in American history.
On illustrative grounds the book delivers. Author Danny S. Parker has gathered an astonishingly opulent and representative photo collection that dramatizes the month-long battle better than any collection I have perused. Additionally, he publishes numerous detailed maps.
But compared with the un-illustrated Bulge history “Eisenhower’s Lieutenants” by Russell Weigley, or “Dark December” by Robert Merriam, this history suffers. Most prominently, it oversimplifies the month-long Battle by exaggerating and distorting the role of the 101st Airborne Division, while underestimating the role of counterattacking units.
Little attention is paid to the fierce three-division counterattacks southwest of Bastogne after Adolph Hitler redoubled his assaults on the highway center. Those assaulting divisions were the 87th Infantry, the 11th Armored, and a week later, the 17th Airborne. All three received high praise from Maj. Gen. Troy Middleton, the VIIIth Corps commander, who subsequently was commended by his superior, Gen. George Patton, for “tactical prescience” at Bastogne. Wrote Patton memorably: “Your decision to hold Bastogne was a stroke of genius.”
Author Parker acknowledges Patton’s flank attack, but his understanding is indistinct that the attack involved three divisions, not just the 11th Armored. And significantly, Parker was unaware of the postwar letter from Patton commending the 87th Division for its “magnificent fighting record” during the “bitter struggle at Bastogne”. Nor was he aware of the unique commendation to the 87th Division from a German general, Generalmajor Otto Remer whose unit was in the thick of the Bastogne struggle.
Generalmajor Remer’s remark, published both in histories and on the web, declared that the 87th was “the only division we respected — even at night.” Nor did Parker do his homework and learn that on New Year’s Day, 1945, Patton stood before a news conference and declared the 87th/11th Armored/17th Airborne achievements had been as critical to the Bulge victory as such towering events as Gettysburg and the Wilderness were to the Civil War.
Nor is he aware that Patton wrote a letter (quoted by Martin Blumenson) derogating the role of the 101st Airborne Division, stating that the unit “did well, but like the Marines in World War I, they received too much credit.”
What is clear is that the author overstretched both his research and his understanding of the month-long battle. Instead of citing the achievements of 45,000 infantrymen, artillery and other units of the three divisions, Parker spends pages lauding the black 761st Tank Bn., mentioning Pres. Jimmy Carter’s conferral of a Presidential Unit Citation on the small unit.
I refer him to the book “Patton’s Third Army”, an after-action compilation, that reported that on four days in January the 15,000-member 87th Infantry Division was not only “attacking Tillet,” but “clearing Tillet.” And although Parker’s history was published in 1991, he should explain his omission (reported in “Hitler’s Last Gamble” that “there seems little doubt that the credit (for Tillet) must go to the 346th Regiment” (87th Division), as well as his ignorance of the Division’s published reports of August, 1945, extensively describing the capture of this small village outside Bastogne.
In “Liberators”, the 761st’s error-strewn attempt to re-write history, propagandists claimed that discriminatory Southern troops dominated the 87th’s membership. This is patently false. Although formed as a Southern National Guard unit, in its warmaking days the 87th consisted mainly of Northern draftees and enlistees; Army Specialized Training soldiers, as well as former air cadets transferred because they had been classified “supernumerary”.
One of those former air cadets, S/Sgt. Curtis F. Shoup of North Scriba, N.Y., who won the Medal of Honor posthumously, and Second Lt. Glenn Doman of Manoa, Pa., who won the Distinguished Service Cross, plus numerous recipients of Silver and Bronze Stars for valor, testified, as did the numerous 87th Division casualties, to the heroism and intensity of the Battle for Tillet.
Parker notes that in 1978 President Carter awarded the 761st the Presidential Unit Citation. But I’ll bet Parker 1,000 to one that he can’t verify, authenticate, or even explain the precise claims of enemy tanks allegedly disabled by the 761st, as well as the artillery pieces, horses, airports and other outrageous claims made in the Presidential Unit Citation.
The reason neither he nor President Carter nor the Tank unit nor anyone can verify such claims is that no such figures exist — nor, under the conditions of combat, could such figures ever have been compiled for any unit — small or large.
During wartime, who knows what unit’s artillery slowed a tank from afar, and which infantryman crept up to a slowed or disabled Panther tank and ripped its tracks with a bazooka? Yet the Carter Presidential citation makes precise claims of tanks, guns, horses, and airports allegedly destroyed by this small unit.
This is an insult to the dead and wounded who actually fought the battle.
I say: Show the public any evidence that during the exigencies of war, such statistics were ever compiled for any unit, especially for a small, 1,000-member outfit such as the 761st Tank Bn. Such blatant claims totally undermine Parker’s praise for the Tank Battalion as against the scores of 87th Division infantry casualties in capturing Tillet — plus the thousands who were killed and wounded up to VE Day — 6,300 87th Division soldiers out of an initial complement of 15,000.
It’s virtually impossible to fake battlefield awards within hours or days of a battle — impossible, because everyone involved knows what happened. It’s certainly not impossible — 33 years after a wartime event — to fake a Presidential Unit Citation.
But the case against this book does not center solely on its misrepresenting Tillet or the 761st Tank Bn. Rather it concerns the omission of over 50,000 fighting troops in brutal conditions who were accurately credited by the Bulge historian Robert Merriam. Merriam, chief of the Ardennes Historical Division, correctly evaluated the key message from SHAEF Commander Dwight Eisenhower: “Release to Bradley at once the 11th Armored and 87th Divisions, and organize a strong Bastogne-Houffalize attack.”
About that attack Merriam observed: “Their progress was tediously slow, their casualties exorbitantly high; all of them new to combat, they had to fight in the severest cold, on icy roads over which tank movements were almost impossible. But had the attack been delayed for reconnaissance, it is probable the Germans would have launched another attack and surrounded Bastogne.”
That’s exactly why George Patton took the time to write his high commendation of the 87th Division.
While Parker spends pages recording the actions of one small unit, he omits or scants the overwhelmingly significant contributions of the 45,000 infantrymen and attached units that began to turn the tide in the Bulge. Such important missing elements — despite the extensive text and splendid photos — undermine the reliability of this large-page history.