THE UNKNOWN BATTLE: Metz, 1944 by Anthony Kemp


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A narrow description of the grinding battle of Metz, fought by Patton's Third Army in the fall of '44--against the background of a strategic debate still unresolved today. The under-supplied Allies were in rapid pursuit of the retreating Germans across France and Belgium. Montgomery wanted to throw everything into ""one really powerful and full blooded thrust toward Berlin"" through northeastern France--capturing the Channel Ports, Antwerp, the V-2 missile sites, and ultimately the Ruhr. Bradley wanted an attack eastward by the American First and Third Armies through the Saar to the Rhine in the vicinity of Frankfurt. Eisenhower had to weigh the conflicting demands and decide overall between Montgomery's ""single-thrust"" approach and a more politically viable ""broad-front approach"" with both Montgomery's and Bradley's forces advancing simultaneously. If the highly visible and vocal Patton were stopped, Ike recognized, a domestic uproar would result; but seizing the port of Antwerp to ease the supply crunch took precedence. So Patton's Third Army was starved for supplies for a vital period in September, and brought to a halt. Hitler, adopting a ""stop Patton"" policy, built up the forces facing him into ""the strongest of the German Armies in the West."" His first attempt to take Metz--regarded by Ike as a feint which could siphon off troops from the northeast--was repulsed by tough German resistance, bad weather, and difficult terrain. Hitler, encouraged, sent in one of his most brilliant panzer commanders, General Herman Balck, to defend Metz without drawing troops from the Ardennes offensive. And thus the Third Army was forced into a massive set-piece battle, reminiscent of Verdun, in order to envelop and capture the fortified stronghold of Metz. Kemp provides illuminating details on the fortifications, but otherwise adds little to what is told in the official military histories. He concludes with a tantalizing but undeveloped picture of what might have happened had Patton received the supplies he desired in August--and decides that it would not have been in the overall Allied interest. Nothing new is therefore established, but the book scores simply as an account of a lesser-known battle and as a fresh look at the Allied debate.

Pub Date: Jan. 22nd, 1980
Publisher: Stein & Day