First of all, we need to examine US operations in Europe, post-D-Day.
Between June 1944 and May 8, 1945, there were 552,117 U.S. casualties in the European theater of operations. Of those, 104,812 were killed in action.
The Battle of the Bulge
was the largest single battle on the Western Front. It became a struggle of attrition, characterised by poor weather and boggy underfoot conditions. Both sides sustained high casualties, with the Americans taking more during this encounter than in any other during the war
In mid-December Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower
, the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force, had at his disposal 48 divisions
distributed along a 600-mile (nearly 1,000-km) front between the North Sea
. For the site of their counteroffensive, the Germans chose the hilly and wooded country of the Ardennes
. Because it was generally regarded as difficult country, a large-scale offensive there was likely to be unexpected, just as the use of the same ground caught the French flatfooted in May 1940.
The thick woods provided concealment for the massing of forces. The aims of the German counteroffensive were far-reaching: to break through to Antwerp
, Belgium, by an indirect move, to cut off the British army group from American forces as well as from its supplies, and then to crush the isolated British. Overall command of the offensive was given to the highly successful and decorated Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt
The Fifth Panzer Army, led by Hasso, Freiherr (baron) von Manteuffel
, a decorated and successful panzer general, was to break through the U.S. front in the Ardennes, swerve westward, and then wheel northward across the Meuse
, past Namur
to Antwerp. As it advanced, it was to build up a defensive flank
barricade to shut off interference from the U.S. armies farther south. The Sixth SS Panzer Army, under its SS
commander Sepp Dietrich
, was to thrust northwestward on an oblique line past Liège
to Antwerp, creating a strategic barrier astride the rear of the British and of the more northerly American armies. The Germans gave the bulk of the tanks that they could scrape together to those two panzer armies. To minimize the danger from a speedy intervention of Anglo-American air power
, which was vastly greater than their own, the Germans launched their stroke when the meteorological forecast promised them a natural cloak; indeed, for the first three days, fog, mist and rain kept the Allied air forces on the ground.
Suddenly, over 200,000 German troops (followed by about 100,000 reinforecements); 400 tanks; with 1,900 guns and hundreds of Nebelwerfer rocket launchers launched their attack before dawn on December 16, 1944, and made surprisingly quick progress in the first three days.
However, General George S. Patton had already planned for the 90 degree turn to the North of his entire Third Army and then did so within just two days. Patton from the South and Field Marshal Montgomery from the North, were able, with clear weather around Christmas, were eventually able to pinch off the offensive.
In January, U.S. Army soldiers were still battling against German forces that had launched the Battle of the Bulge, their largest operation of the War in the West.
Consequently, that battle was the largest the U.S. Army ever fought and out of the 90,000 casualties around 19,000 soldiers were killed.
General Eisenhower, despite eventually recognising that he could, like General Schwarzkopf did in the Gulf War inGeneral Powell's words, "cut it off and kill it", the fact that Nazi Germany could mount such a ferocious attack in late 1944 dashed his hopes of an end to the war in that year.
1945 would show that the determined German defence increased as their supply lines grew much shorter. Statistics show that German industry created the greatest number of war materials in 1994 when the industry was given to Albert Speer to manage. The Volksgrenadiers, raised as part of Joseph Goebbel's "total war" program and the increased employment of the Hitler Youth in battle, served to bolster Germany's defensive posture.
Bombing missions continued over Germany and every B-17 or B-24 lost over the Reich meant a loss of 10 Americans. On the ground, Allied troops mopped up German resistance on the west bank of the Rhine River.
Anti-Semitism and indifference to the plight of Jews were not among the primary reasons the Allies didn't bomb Auschwitz. But that does not comfort Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum, the former president and CEO of the Survivors of the Shoah Foundation.
Berenbaum sought to answer "Why Wasn't Auschwitz Bombed?" before a crowd of 200 at Sonoma State University on March 25 as part of the Rohnert Park campus' 20th annual Holocaust lecture series.
Late in the war, the Allies began to gather information on the nature and function of the concentration camps, according to Berenbaum.
"German air defenses were weakened, and the accuracy of Allied bombing was increasing. All that was required was the political will to effectuate the bombing," said the adjunct professor of theology and director of the Sigi Ziering Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Ethics at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.
Among the reasons why the bombing didn't occur, Berenbaum maintained was that the political will never materialized, and no Allied government or military officials emerged to plead the case for bombing.
The Allies' focus was on winning the war, he continued, and the United States had decided that "Army units would not be 'employed for the purpose of rescuing victims of enemy oppression.'" The Allies adhered to this rigid policy even when it concerned their own citizens.
Berenbaum offered another reason: American officials believed that "military resources could not be diverted from the war effort; bombing Auschwitz might prove ineffective, and might provoke even more vindictive German action.
Nonetheless, "on Aug. 20, 1944, 127 Flying Fortresses, with an escort of 100 Mustang fighter crafts, dropped 1,336 500-pound bombs on the I.G. Farben synthetic oil factory less than five miles east of Birkenau, the death camp at Auschwitz.
The Allies had the military resources to bombard Auschwitz, he maintained. The U.S. Air Force "was capable of striking the railroad lines to Auschwitz and the vicinity, but for bombing to be effective it had to be sustained, and for it to be feasible it had to be undertaken by day in good weather and between July and October 1944." The window of opportunity closed in the fall with the onset of chilly and foggy weather.
Berenbaum said that ultimately the Allies believed that the best way save Jews and other victims of the Nazis, according to an internal U.S. War Department memo, "was to insure the speedy defeat of the Axis."
Another reason for the Allies' failure to act, Berenbaum stated, was the lack of pressure from the organized American Jewish community. While some Zionists, recent immigrant groups and Orthodox Jews clamored to rescue Jews at all costs, the "established Jewish leadership was reluctant to press for organized military activity for fear of being too overt and encouraging perceptions within the political leadership that World War II was a 'Jewish war.'"
Even David Ben-Gurion, chairman of the Jewish Agency's executive committee and later Israel's first premier, was initially against intervention on behalf of Jews in Poland. Berenbaum quoted Ben-Gurion, who said in June 1944 "that we do not know the truth concerning the entire situation in Poland and it seems that we will be unable to propose anything concerning this matter."
Berenbaum said that after the release of a highly detailed report in July 1944 by two Auschwitz escapees, Rudolph Vrba and Alfred Wetzler, the Jewish Agency was "much more willing to risk Jewish lives on the ground rather than permit the gassing to proceed." But the Allies were not prepared to sacrifice the "innocent and unjustly imprisoned civilian population at Auschwitz" without guarantees that it would "interrupt the killing process." And in the end, no bombing occurred.
America's refusal to act nagged at Berenbaum throughout his talk. He said that by the summer of 1944 "the gas chambers at Auschwitz were operating around the clock, and the crematoria were so overtaxed that bodies were being burned in open fields with body fat and gasoline fueling the flames. Any interruption in the killing process might possibly have saved thousands of lives."
Deanna Chase, a third year psychology student, added that Berenbaum "challenged us to think about the United States' role in ending genocide. I think America could've done more."
Berenbaum's talk was the Robert K. Harris Memorial Lecture, honoring a World War II veteran who died in 1993. Harris was a Sonoma County educator largely responsible for the yearly programs that institutionalized the study of the Holocaust in the region.
Read : The World Must Know by Michael Berenbaum and In Memory's Kitchen by Berenbaum and Cara De Silva, et al. Both are available on Amazon.
The events of 1944 and 1945 can only be understood through the prism of their times. While the Allies understood what was happening in Aushwitz-Birkenau, like people from every era when in the middle of a war, situations which have plagued us throughout human history saw varying motives at hand. Prejudice, military necessity, variable and changing political power, personal motives, differing goals and the variety of the methods for waging war have always been intendant to war. Perhaps the US could've done more but our eventual and costly, in people and materiel, victory over fascism was eventually realised. The concentration and death camps were liberated and thousands of their survivors were saved by the very people who might've done more.