By Ruth QuinnNovember 27, 2013
By December of 1944, it appeared that Hitler had been all but defeated. In fact, from the Allied perspective, Germany's continuation of the war at that point made no sense at all. The Third Army had crossed into Germany and had its sights on Frankfurt. An Allied offensive was planned for late December, right before Christmas. Allied commanders and their intelligence staffs were optimistic, if not downright confident, that the end of World War II was within reach.
But the Third Army G2, Colonel (later Brigadier General) Oscar Koch, was deeply concerned. Despite the advances of three Allied army groups along the Siegfried Line, there was a large force of German strategic and tactical troops being held in reserve in the north. These troops included armor and mechanized infantry units, paratroopers, and brutal Schutzstaffel, or SS troops. Why were they not being called on to at least slow down the Allied advance? What was the purpose of holding them in reserves? The evidence pointed to a massive German build-up in preparation for a large scale attack.
Koch had been studying the German buildup in the north for months. He had confirmed the identities and locations of multiple armor and infantry units. He had compiled information on large enemy ammunition and gasoline dumps, mines, and unassembled enemy artillery pieces. All of these were added to his map in the G2 section. From the air reconnaissance section, Koch knew of enemy tanks being loaded onto trains in Frankfurt and heading west. Of fifteen known tank divisions in the western part of Germany, only five were in contact with Allied forces. The status of the others: unknown.
Koch stepped up the night photo reconnaissance missions, specifically requesting railroad marshalling yards and important highway intersections deep behind enemy lines as targets of interest. Photo interpreters could study the images, trace the progress of several hundred trains a day, and estimate the size of units being transferred. The air reconnaissance teams reported unprecedented rail activity on several separate days in November. An enemy prisoner of war provided more disturbing evidence when he told of a secret order sending captured Allied uniforms and all qualified English-speaking personnel to Osnabruck for training in reconnaissance, sabotage, and espionage.
Koch knew that the purpose of intelligence was to assist the commander in accomplishing his mission and to protect the command from surprise. He also knew that General Patton was planning to have the Third Army move east in a few days. An attack by German forces to the west, just north of the Moselle, would be out of his commander's zone of advance, but it would pose a serious threat to the Third Army's flank. General Patton had all of these details of enemy capability estimates that the G2 shop had been collecting and documenting in official reports for weeks. What was different at a December 9, 1944 special briefing was the composite analysis of what those details might mean.
Koch laid out the possibility of an enemy counteroffensive, with all of the known enemy combat strength. He told Patton that in such a scenario, the enemy was favored, and why. He provided terrain analysis and a review of friendly strength: the United States had three infantry and two armored divisions available for immediate employment in the general area. This still left the enemy with a two-to-one advantage, not to mention the psychological advantage of a successful diversionary attack, if Koch was right.
Koch's briefing was met with a brief silence, then discussion. Patton stood and told the group, "We'll be in a position to meet whatever happens." Plans for the Allied offensive on Frankfurt would continue, but limited outline planning would begin at once to meet the threat to the north. Patton wanted to be ready, but didn't want to be distracted from his objective.
History would prove Koch correct. One week after his correct interpretation of the intelligence, the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive, later known as the Battle of the Bulge. Patton, who had had a week to think about how to react to just such a scenario, was able to turn his army and hit the German southern flank hard, effectively thwarting the German's assault. However, historians would often recount the conflict as an intelligence failure. Generals Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley both wrote of how they were surprised by the strength of the German force and by the fact that Hitler would use those reserves in an offensive maneuver.
This should have come as no surprise. The intelligence that Koch used to predict the battle was available to these other commands. The difference lay in the analysis and interpretation of the available intelligence. Because of Koch's willingness to warn his commander of the enemy's possible intent rather than just his capability, and because of the deep trust that Patton had in his G2, the commander was able to prepare in advance and react quickly. Underscoring this critical element in the commander-G2 relationship, Patton called upon Koch again in the midst of the crisis, asking, "Should Bastogne be held?" Koch responded simply, "From an intelligence viewpoint, yes." Once again, the commander heeded his G2's advice.
Koch summarized the outcome in his book, G2: Intelligence for Patton: "Certainly there was an intelligence failure preceding the Battle of the Bulge. But it was not the total blindness to the enemy buildup which is indicated in prevailing accounts of that historic clash. 'Intelligence failure' connotes a breakdown in the intelligence service's collection techniques. The Allied failure leading to the tragedy of the Bulge was in evaluation and application of the intelligence information at hand." Koch used an All-Source Intelligence approach to providing actionable intelligence to his commander, while relying on command support built on mutual respect and trust. It was a combination that led Patton to once state, "I ought to know what I'm doing, I have the best damned intelligence officer in any United States command."
Brigadier Oscar Koch died in 1970 and was inducted into the MI Hall of Fame in 1993. Koch Barracks, in Fort Huachuca's Prosser Village, was named for him the same year.