United States and American History: Late 1944 and WWII

About the history of the United States in 1944, World War II continues, Battles of Leyte Gulf, Battle of Ardennes.

1944

Aug. 25 General von Choltitz, the German military governor of Paris, surrendered the city to General Leclerc, leader of the French 2nd Armored Division. Von Choltitz did so against Hitler's fanatic order to defend the city at all cost. With only a few antiaircraft batteries and a regiment of low-grade men, mostly unfit for general combat duty, the military governor faced annihilation by the well-armed French resistance. He made a secret pact with Resistance leaders to take no action against them, if they would help him to maintain some degree of order until Allied forces arrived. His action prevented widespread destruction of the French capital.

Oct. 25 Milestone Battle: Leyte Gulf. In the largest naval battle ever fought, Admiral Toyada committed a 75-ship fleet to drive back MacArthur's bid to recapture the Philippines. His plan, based on trick and surprise, had fatal flaws. He split his fleet into 3 divisions, and sent Admiral Nichimura through Surigao Strait to attack the amphibious forces of Admiral Kinkaid. Nichimura was met by every ship the U.S. could muster and suffered a crushing defeat in a Strait night battle. Adm. Jesse Oldendorf added to Nichimura's embarrassment by "crossing the T," the classic naval maneuver in which maximum broadside firepower is brought to bear by steaming rapidly across the enemy's approaching formation.

Toyada lost 24 major ships--1/3 of his total fleet. For the U.S., it was revenge for Pearl Harbor: 5 of the battleships hit at Hawaii took part in the action at Surigao Strait.

Dec. 16 Milestone Battle: Ardennes. In an attempt to repeat his successful drive of May, 1940, Von Rundstedt tried to split the Allied armies with a Panzer thrust aimed at Antwerp. The idea was Hitler's, a mistake that cost 120,000 men and took away the remaining reserves needed to stop future Allied progress. Von Rundstedt objected to the wild plan, but found himself hamstrung: His personal copy of the planned operation bore the notation, "Not to be altered, " in Hitler's own handwriting.

The area chosen for the counterattack, the Ardennes Forest of Luxembourg, was thickly wooded and thinly defended by the green troops of the 106th U.S. Division, as yet unseasoned in battle. Because of the sector's quiet nature, it was also used for additional training of troops recently arrived from the U.S. and as a rest area for battle veterans temporarily with drawn from the front lines.

The central assault, by Von Manteuffel's 5th Panzer Army, created the "Bulge" in the opposing lines by which the German counterattack became commonly known. Von Manteuffel's initial advance toward Bastogne was stalled by a number of small firefights and roadblocks. He elected, in a tactical error, to bypass Bastogne. Within the week he realized that the Belgian town was the key point, the hub of the regional road system he needed to bring up his supplies. His subsequent order, to take the town, came too late. By then, 18,000 men of the 101st "Screaming Eagles" Airborne Division had been moved in. These U.S. troops were completely surrounded at one critical stage. Given an ultimatum to surrender, General McAuliffe's reported reply was "Nuts."

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