From the Archives

From Parameters, Summer 2002, inside back cover.

Trivial Pursuits, Ardennes Style



The scene is a familiar one: fog-shrouded darkness pierced by the hiss, “Who goes there?” “Just me, Joe,” comes the reply. Then, instead of the standard challenge and password, the sentry falls back on his store of trivia only a red-blooded American would know, such as “Who won the World Series?” This encounter has played out many times in the movies and spoofs thereof. It has its roots in the panic of the Battle of the Bulge, and the conclusion was sometimes comic, sometimes tragic, but always an impediment to operations.

Operation Greif was to be a limited effort headed by the infamous Otto Skorzeny to conduct reconnaissance, disrupt rear-area efforts, and seize bridges over the Meuse River by English-speaking German soldiers wearing American uniforms and driving American vehicles. Fortunately, the Germans were ill-equipped and limited in their knowledge of English. They enjoyed little tactical success, but the Greif commandos sparked a huge spy mania that included shootings of genuine Americans, unfortunate executions of clothing-poor German grenadiers who happened to pick up American field jackets, and countless trivia interrogations.

General Omar Bradley recounted:

Three times I was ordered to prove my identity by cautious GIs. The first time by identifying Springfield as the capital of Illinois (my questioner held out for Chicago); the second time by locating the guard between the center and tackle . . . ; the third time by naming the current spouse of . . . Betty Grable. Grable stopped me, but the sentry did not. Pleased at having stumped me, he nevertheless passed me on.


Source: Jean Paul Pallud, Battle of the Bulge: Then and Now (London: Battle of Britain Prints International Ltd., 1984).

Reviewed 14 May 2002. Please send comments or corrections to