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(Document Source) Headquarters US Army Intelligence Center, Fort Holabird, Baltimore, Maryland. ACSIH-GC-250/58/M, April 1959, CIC History.

Part 1 – The Ardennes Breakthrough

As the Kaiser’s Army, in 1914, had sped through the Ardennes en route to Paris; as Hitler’s Army, in 1940, had attacked through the same forest on its way to the conquest of France; so, on December 16, 1944, four German Armies, two of them Panzers, attacked the US VIII Corps, in a desperate push toward Antwerp and the North Sea. Inclement weather had permitted von Rundstedt to assemble this huge force and to surprise the Allies.

German Intelligence Service Plan Uncovered

In planning for the surprise attack through the Ardennes, the Nazis had counted heavily upon a brigade, designated Panzer-Brigade 150, organized by the German Intelligence Service (GIS), dressed in US uniforms and equipped with captured US weapons and jeeps. One segment named the Einheit Stielau after the Lieutenant who commanded it (Oberleutnant Lothar Stielau), was to be the espionage, sabotage, and ‘confusion’ arm. This whole plant was authored by SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny, who had attained a reputation of omniscience among the German High Command by his rescue of Mussolini in November 1943. However, a series of events robbed this maneuver of much of its surprise value.

For several months, US troops had been made increasingly aware of the danger posed by German soldiers in US uniform. From about the middle of August, individual German soldiers had dressed in parts of US uniforms taken from the dead or captured and had stolen jeeps to add mobility to their ruse. These practices were largely the products of individual initiative and, as much, were carried out on a small scale. Since the incidents were scattered and were few (although both the Sixth Army Group and the Twelfth Army Group did experience similar occurrences), not much importance had been attached to them.

About twice a week, during November the Intelligence Officer of the 37.Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment had sent English-speaking Germans on long-range recon patrols to gain US order of battle information. Late in November, a four-man German patrol, captured by troops of the 83rd Infantry Division, stated their mission was to remain behind Allied Lines for four days, tapping telephone wires. Components of the First, Third and Ninth US Armies suspected they had been the victims of German wiretapping efforts. On two occasions, the investigation revealed, the Germans had tried unsuccessfully to secure specific information by identifying themselves as ‘the switchboard board chief from Conquer’ (Conquer being the Code for the US Ninth Army), and a Staff Sergeant from Justice’ (Justice believed to be the code of the US XVIII Corps).

In mid-November, a prisoner of war stated, under interrogation, that he had seen secret order for all English-speaking personnel and all captured US uniforms to be sent to Osnabruck, Germany. According to the order, this personnel would be trained in recon, sabotage, and espionage. Two German military documents captured at about the same substantiated prisoner’s revelations. They indicated that a call for volunteers had been issued early in November, outlining the necessary qualifications. In addition to the knowledge of English, ‘including the American dialect’, volunteers were to be physically fit, mentally alert, competent in close combat fighting, and suitable for special assignments. They were to know military terminology. Significantly, they could not be retained by their units for military reasons. From these volunteers, the documents revealed, a special unit would be formed, about two battalions in strength, for deployment on the Western Front.

Before acceptance by this new unit, each volunteer would be tested ‘for suitability at Friedenthal, near Orianenburg (Headquarters Skorzeny)’. This information was disclosed in a letter from the Headquarters of the LXXXVI Corps to their Fallschirmjaeger Regiment Hubner. The letter stated further that ‘Captured clothing, equipment, weapons, and vehicles will be utilized for the equipment of these special units’. The only discrepancy between the prisoner’s statement and the documents were in the destination of the volunteers and articles. The destination was not Osnabruck, but Headquarters Skorzeny.

Finally, early on the day of the attack, December 16, 1944, secret orders outlining the plans for Operation Greif (English translation: Grab) were found by troops of the 106th Infantry Division on the body of an officer of the 116.Panzer-Division, who had carried them into the Front Lines, despite a directive that below division level, they were to be transmitted only verbally. These orders were dated the previous day.

Now all doubts as to the German’s plans for the deception were erased. Before the end of the first day of the attack, the word could be flashed to all subordinate units that the Germans planned to operate, in the strength of two battalions, an organization of English-speaking German soldiers, dressed and equipped as US troops. Even the roads they would take and their means of identifying their comrades were known. The following partial translation of the order was carried in the US First Army’s widely distributed Periodic Report:

Undertaking Greif will be made by our forces with American equipment, American weapons, American vehicles, American insignias – especially the five-pointed white or yellow star may be painted on the vehicles. To avoid confusion with enemy troops, the forces employed in the Undertaking Greif will identify themselves to our troops= (Day) by taking off their helmets; (Night) by red-blue light signals with flashlights. Force of the Undertaking Greif will also identify themselves to friendly troops by painting white dots on houses, trees, and roads used by them.

Increased Security Measures

Although higher echelons of US Intelligence had been skeptical of the enemy’s capability to summon a force of the size and scope indicated by the prisoner and documents captured in mid-November, First Army’s G2 Estimate had warned: their potential threat as infiltration units need no stressing, and CIC had used this potential threat as a basis for improving the security of installations and towns in the forward areas. CIC had given wide publicity to each uncovered case of enemy troops in US Army uniforms and civilian disguises through counterintelligence publications and during security lectures, providing a background for US troops which ultimately proved its worth. Informal phases of security education were being exploited also. Ninth Army CIC, for example, conducted a poster campaign in the XIX Corps rest area. This proved a valuable method for alerting troops to their security responsibilities.

Much CIC effort had been expended on various types of security checks. Front line divisions, growing increasingly wary of the authenticity that a US uniform loaned its wearer, initiated spot checks of all vehicles forward of a regimental command post and personnel in the mess-lines. Some divisions had anticipated the problem of the counterfeit uniform. Particularly prudent was the counterintelligence alert negotiated by the 29th Infantry Division on December 5 in which the 29-CIC cooperated. Created expressly to guard against an invasion by US uniformed enemy troops, this alert lasted long enough for recurrent checks to be made. as a result, troops of the Division became highly security conscious and, even after the alert was over, a uniformed straggler, finding himself in the 29th Infantry Division area, would be detained and turned over to the authorities.

Travel and Frontier Control

By early December, travel and frontier control systems had improved throughout the 12th Army Group. A complicated network of roadblocks, checkpoints, and control points, supplemented with roving patrols between the stationary posts … seriously affected … the Germans Intelligence Service line-crossing operations. The mainstays of the frontier control line were the ADSEC CIC Sections (Advance Section Counter Intelligence Corps Sections) assigned to the First Army and employed on the Counter Intelligence Control Line which functioned along the German frontier. Behind this line and assisting it was the other CIC teams that had been assigned definite territories to the rear of the Armies. These teams, too, were under ADSEC supervision. Shortly before the enemy offensive began, these teams were directed to establish, in conjunction with Belgian and French authorities, an identity control line in the ADSEC territory. Frequent checks of identification at crossroads, bridges, cafes, and hotels tightened security. In the Ninth Army area, 364 indigenous guards from several pre-war Netherlands governmental agencies and resistances groups formed during the German occupation were used to man posts and patrols. In the Third Army area, frontier control was relatively porous, for the situation had been less stable than in other sectors. Three captured Abwehr Agents had told their Seventh captors that long-term agents going to the interior of France were being instructed to advance via Nancy and Toul, rather than risking apprehension in places where traffic was controlled more severely.

Reinforcement of the security produced by the Counter Intelligence Control Line was effected through the strict regulation of travel for the civilian population. In most territories, local civilians were permitted limited travel during specific hours. Farmers could harvest their crops by daylight. Special passes were provided by Military Government and Civil Affairs officials. Persons caught moving about after curfew or wandering along unauthorized routes were held suspect of subversive activity and detained until an investigation proved their innocence. Initial violators of travel restrictions were punished harshly so that their cases might serve as a deterrent to others. CIC aided Military Government in the prosecution of these cases.

This web of restriction and interlacing checks often entangled German soldiers who wore civilian clothing behind the lines. These Germans soldiers in civilian clothes could have been sentenced as spies, but policy dictated otherwise. To encourage the desertion of German soldiers, the Twelfth Army Group had established a procedure by which German soldiers in civilian clothes were to be trailed individually, the disposition of each suspect depending on his behavior during interrogation and on his distance behind the lines at the time of his arrest. Thirty-one German soldiers in civilian clothes had been arrested in the first fifteen days of December by CIC units of the Ninth Army were handled following this policy, and all were evacuated through prisoner of war channels.

CIC Agents Fight for Their Lives

Although the gradual discovery of the German Intelligence Service plan of deception, climaxed by the capture of the plans for Operation Greif on the first day of the German offensive, destroyed the effectiveness of this maneuver, the actual offensive which came to bane known as the Battle of the Bulge, did catch the Allies by surprise.

In the resultant situation, many CIC Agents heard the double burden of counterintelligence duties and combat fought shoulder-to-shoulder with other US soldiers. For example, half of the Tactical Reserve Team N°3 (TRT #3) of the 418th CIC Detachment, under the command of 2/Lt Kenneth Hardin, fought an invading force of German Fallschirmjaeger (Para) that descended on Brandenburg, in the US Ninth Army area, on the first night of the German offensive, and by daylight, began attacking installations in the town itself and firing on traffic on the road. Lt Hardin and Agents Edward E. McCarty, Charles N. Short, Vincent Cleary, James H. Ratliff, and Ferdinand Goetz directed and participated in skirmishing that resulted in rounding up twenty-four enemy paratroopers. One paratrooper was captured by TRT #3 Agent. Thirty-one German soldiers in civilian clothes also were rounded up.

Some Detachments Overrun

Other CIC Detachments were less fortunate, for the swift German advance caused some to be overrun. In these instances, counterintelligence was of lesser importance than self-preservation. Among them was the 99th CIC Detachment. Eight Agents of this Detachment were awakened on the morning of December 17 by the sound of fire from German MP-38/40. Lt Howard V. Stephens, in charge, issued an order for everyone to obtain weapons and to prepare to defend the house in which they were quartered. A seemingly endless of German tanks appeared on the road, and an interpreter, who had been a scout for one of the regiments before joining CIC, volunteered to seek a way out for the group. By the time he returned with the news that the rear was open, German tanks were in front of the house, and CIC Agents held their breaths when one of the tank leaders poked the muzzle of his 88 into the window. The Agents, with the scout in the lead, scampered out of the back way, dodging from shell hole to gun emplacement hole. In the dash toward freedom, the group split, and four went ahead with the scout while four others were pinned down in one hole by small arms fire. In the latter group, Lt Stephens and Agents Charles Sloan, Francis Cody, and Vic Gardin each took a corner of the gun emplacement hole.

Sloan cried out as mortar fire shattered tree branches over-hanging the ditch. Gardin crawled over him, while Cody checked Lt Stephens, who had not made a sound for some time. Stephens appeared to be dead. Cody, also wounded, then crawled over Gardin and Sloan, whose back and one leg had been hit. Cody and Gardin decided to leave Lt Stephens and Sloan, who could not be moved and try to get help from headquarters. They made Sloan as comfortable as possible and left. Not far from the spot, they noticed a group of soldiers coming toward them. Convinced they were caught, Gardin waved part of his clothing on a twig in a gesture of surrender. The group turned out to be US soldiers from the 1st Infantry Division which was moving up. Medics with them gave Cody first aid and sent him to the First Aid Tent. Gardin and the medics returned to Lt Stephens and Sloan but found them dead.

CI Control Line Thwarts German Intelligence Service

After the discovery, on the first day of the German offensive, the Nazis planned to send large numbers of agents in US uniform through the lines as a part of this maneuver, increased security consciousness and intensified counterintelligence efforts were experienced all along the American front. Before the German attack, military security had been uniformly satisfactory, but the German push made it better than ever. Immediately, the 1st Third Army After-Action Report noted: the Counter Intelligence Control Line assumed an even important role, for it represents the only existing cohesive means of preventing mass infiltration by enemy agents. Third Army’s travel control had been less effective than that of the other Armies on the line, but now tighter restrictions were enforced. By the end of December, a well organized and coordinated Counter Intelligence Control Line was functioning in all fours Corps.

The ADSEC Counter Intelligence Control Line in the First Army area at Division straggler level was severed in the initial stages of the German thrust, but smaller, supporting networks of counterintelligence checkpoints and control posts remained fairly effective. The aggressive intelligence and sabotage activities of the enemy called for the quick mobilizing of all available counterintelligence resources to meet the situation. Intensive checking of identity documents at bridges and defiles; reinforced guards for vital installations; the posting of a Counter Intelligence Control Line along all roads on the east side of the Meuse River which led to bridges; screening of refugees and displaced persons before allowing them to proceed – these were among the immediate counterintelligence measures that were instituted.

ADSEC CIC Sections, even in areas not affected by the German advance, were recalled from frontier control positions to aid in the patrolling of the Meuse River from Givet, France to Visé, Belgium. They discovered that even, as the German Army was pouring into the Ardennes, 250 Liège Communists held a meeting at the Cinéma Carrefour, Boulevard de la Sauvenière. Speakers indicated they would another attempt to overthrow the provisional Pierlot Government and soon would begin a propaganda campaign employing printed literature. ADSEC CIC made note of this continuance Communist subversion.

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  1. Thank you for this incredible information! My uncle served with the 99th Infantry Division CIC Detachment, and even though his name isn’t mentioned in the recounting of the events in your article (“Some Detachments Overrun”), you provided more information about this event involving the 99th CIC than I had discovered previously (a document called, “The Role of Counterintelligence in the European Theater of Operations during World War II” by Major William B. Dallas). In that document, he only gave the names of the two soldiers who were killed. I wanted to ask if there was any chance your records gave the names of the unnamed 4 agents who went ahead with the scout and got separated from the 4 who were all named? I imagine you would have included everything you had, but I wanted to check just to make sure. Either way, thank you for making this kind of hard to locate information available to family researchers like myself! It’s invaluable.