German leader Adolf Hitler felt that his mobile reserves allowed him to mount one major offensive. Although he realised nothing significant could be accomplished in the Eastern Front, he still believed an offensive against the Western Allies, whom he considered militarily inferior to the Red Army, would have some chances of success.
Hitler believed he could split the Allied forces and compel the Americans and British to settle for a separate peace, independent of the Soviet Union.
Success in the west would give the Germans time to design and produce more advanced weapons (such as jet aircraft, new U-boat designs and super-heavy tanks) and permit the concentration of forces in the east.
After the war ended, this assessment was generally viewed as unrealistic, given Allied air superiority throughout Europe and their ability to continually disrupt German offensive operations.
Given the reduced manpower of their land forces at the time, the Germans believed the best way to seize the initiative would be to attack in the West against the smaller Allied forces rather than against the vast Soviet armies.
Even the encirclement and destruction of multiple Soviet armies like in 1941, would still have left the Soviets with a numerical superiority.
Several senior German military officers, including Field Marshal Walter Model and von Rundstedt, expressed concern as to whether the goals of the offensive could be realized. They offered alternative plans, but Hitler would not listen.
The plan banked on unfavorable weather, including heavy fog and low-lying clouds, which would minimize the Allied air advantage.
Hitler originally set the offensive for late November, before the anticipated start of the Russian winter offensive.
In the west supply problems began significantly to impede Allied operations, even though the opening of the port of Antwerp in late November improved the situation somewhat. The positions of the Allied armies stretched from southern France all the way north to the Netherlands.
German planning for the counteroffensive rested on the premise that a successful strike against thinly-manned stretches of the line would halt Allied advances on the entire Western Front.
Model and von Rundstedt both believed aiming for Antwerp was too ambitious, given Germany’s scarce resources in late 1944. At the same time they felt that maintaining a purely defensive posture (as had been the case since Normandy) would only delay defeat, not avert it. They thus developed alternative, less ambitious plans that did not aim to cross the Meuse River; Model’s being Unternehmen Herbstnebel (Operation Autumn Mist) and von Rundstedt’s Fall Martin (“Plan Martin”).
The two field marshals combined their plans to present a joint “small solution” to Hitler. A second plan called for a classic blitzkrieg attack through the weakly defended Ardennes Mountains—mirroring the successful German offensive there during the Battle of France in 1940—aimed at splitting the armies along the U.S.—British lines and capturing Antwerp.
Hitler chose the second plan, believing a successful encirclement would have little impact on the overall situation and finding the prospect of splitting the Anglo-American armies more appealing.
The disputes between Montgomery and Bradley were well known, and Hitler hoped he could exploit this disunity.
If the attack were to succeed in capturing Antwerp, four complete armies would be trapped without supplies behind German lines. Both plans centered on attacks against the American forces.
Tasked with carrying out the operation were Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Walther Model, the commander of German Army Group B (Heeresgruppe B), and Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the overall commander of the German Army Command in the West (Oberbefehlshaber West), who had moved his base of operations to Kransberg Castle.