The Ardennes offensive was a last throw of the dice for Hitler. So desperate were the Nazis that they resorted to outright deception in an attempt to sow confusion and alarm amongst the Allies. Hitler had turned to Otto Skorzeny, mastermind of the scheme that released Mussolini from Italian captivity, to head a behind the lines operation with English speaking German troops in American uniforms, driving American jeeps and tanks.
There was not nearly enough American equipment available to supply the force that was originally envisaged. The men involved in Operation Greif then got tangled up with the huge tailbacks of military traffic in the narrow lanes of the Ardennes. The element of surprise was lost before they could they could make much impact.
While they did not achieve the level of confusion amongst the Allies that had been sought, and most of the spies were caught quite quickly, their existence led to many rumors and much alarm within Allied ranks. There were numerous incidents of American servicemen, including many senior officers, being closely questioned about their knowledge of arcane aspects of American sport and geography, in order to test their authenticity.
The alarm even spread to the office of the Supreme Allied commander, General Eisenhower, as described by his Naval Aide, Captain Harry C. Butcher:
SATURDAY, DECEMBER 23, 1944
I went out to Versailles and saw Ike today. He is a prisoner of our security police and is thoroughly but helplessly irritated by the restriction on his moves. There are all sorts of guards, some with machine guns, around the house, and he has to travel to and from the office led and at times followed by an armed guard in a jeep.
He got some satisfaction yesterday in slipping out for a walk around the yard in deep snow, in the eyes of the security officers quite the most dangerous thing for him to do, but he had the satisfaction of doing something he wanted to do. I told him he now knows how it must feel to be President and be guarded day and night by ever-watchful secret-service men.
The restriction is caused by information from Intelligence officers of Hodges’ First Army, who cross-examined a German officer captured at Liége the night of December 19. He was one of a group of English-speak ing Krauts [Shows I’ve recently been with GIs who were in Italy and Africa] who had infiltrated through Allied lines in American uniform, driving an American jeep and carrying American identification papers.
The leader of this group, which specializes in kidnaping and assassination of high personages, is a character named Skorzeny, who, reputedly, rescued Mussolini. He is said to have passed through our lines with about sixty of his men and had the mission of killing the Supreme Commander.
One of their rendezvous points is said to be the Café de la Paix in Paris, just around the corner from the Scribe. There German sympathizers and agents are supposed to meet Skorzeny’s gang and to furnish information about General Ike’s abode, movement, and security guard.
The men were described as completely ruthless and prepared to sacrifice their lives to carry out their mission. All personnel speak fluent English. Similar attacks on other high officers have been given to other infiltrators, numbering about 150.
Some units might have with them in their vehicle a German officer in uniform and, if questioned, would tell a false story that they were taking an important German prisoner to higher headquarters in the rear. They carry capsules of acid to be thrown in the faces of MPs or others to facilitate escape. Skorzeny’s group may be in staff cars, civilian cars, command and reconnaissance cars, as well as jeeps.
Already about 150 parachutists wearing American uniforms or civilian clothes have landed in the U. S. First Army’s area. Many of them have been captured, but some are still at large. Those in uniform are not wearing dog tags, but all carry explosives and have a new type of hand grenade discharged from a pistol.
Our security officers are always supercautious, and with this alarming information, I can readily understand why they have thrown a cordon around the Supreme Commander, yet he is thoroughly disgusted at the whole procedure and seemed pleased to have someone to talk with like me, seemingly from the outside World.
Ike was as calm as he ever is, and, except for the irritation caused by his confinement, was cheerful and optimistic.
Over all, he felt that the situation was well in hand; that there was no need for alarm; that he and his senior commanders had taken prompt steps to meet what he figured was the Germans’ dying thrust, and if we would be patient and the Lord would give us some good flying weather, all would be well and we would probably emerge with a tactical victory.
He added that it is easier and less costly to us to kill Germans when they are attacking than when they are holed up in concrete fortifications in the Siegfried Line, and the more we can kill in their present offensive, the fewer we will have to dig out pillbox by pillbox.
There is an account of capturing some of the spies on the 19th December by Tom Bailey of the 82nd Airborne.