Operations North Wind and Dentist: the Other Bulge

Patton’s counterattack towards Bastogne was not only predicted by Hitler’s Ardennes planners, it was relied upon. As Patton’s 3rd Army attacked north, his lines would have to be taken over by Lieutenant General Patch’s 7th Army to the south. The 7th Army was already overextended from the Saar Valley down to the “Colmar Pocket” along the Swiss border. This presented an opportunity for the Germans to break through the thinly held lines and force Eisenhower to choose between the encirclement and destruction of the 7th Army, or the German recapture the Franco-Teutonic city of Strasbourg (it changed hands between France and Germany a few dozen times over the last 1500 years. Both countries considered it national territory).

Eisenhower could be counted on to choose to maintain the continuity of the front and withdraw from Strasbourg. This would be a national disaster for France (they couldn’t give up the city again to the Germans) and would almost assuredly force De Gaulle to withdraw France from the Allied Coalition. In any case, it would open up Patton to attack and destruction from behind. Operations North Wind and Dentist nearly succeeded on all accounts.

On 1 January 1945, the Germans launched Operation North Wind to destroy the 7th Army and seize Strasbourg. And on 15 January they launched Operation Dentist to assault into the 3rd Army’s rear area and defeat what they thought was the Allies’ most dangerous general – Patton. As expected, Eisenhower ordered a withdrawal of all troops from Strasbourg to shorten the lines, and the French ignored him and planned on fighting alone for the city. De Gaulle even threatened to stop Allied supplies from arriving in French ports and from traveling along French roads and railways. He also secretly began organizing the French resistance to “fight the new invaders”, the Americans and British. Fortunately hard fighting by the vastly outnumbered US VI Corps, which defended against attacks on three sides, held long enough for reinforcements to arrive from the Ardennes.

The VI Corps’ unexpected stand precluded the Allied abandonment of Strasbourg and allowed Eisenhower to avert France’s withdrawal from the Allied nations. (Eisenhower would say in his memoirs that De Gaulle was his biggest challenge of the war.) By 25 January both offensives were defeated. Strasbourg, Patton, and the coalition of Western Allies were saved. In hindsight it seems a foregone conclusion, but early January 1945 was one of Eisenhower’s most stressful times of the war.

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