World War II: The Bulge (December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945)


Figure 1.--The Ardennes was a quiet sector of the front. It was lightly defended by green units or units reciovering from combat. It was thus the weakest section of the Allied line.Here GIs throw a party for some of the local children. One GI has dressed up as St. Nicholas. U.S. Army

Hitler ordered a last desperate offensive again driving through the Ardennes Forrest of Luxenbourg and Belgium. The goal was to divide the Western Allies and seize the all-important port of Antwerp. The Wehrmacht launched a carefully planned attack against weak Anerican units in the Ardennes (December 16, 1944). The offensive was commanded by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. The NAZI panzers stormed westward along a 60-mile front stretching from Saint Vith in Belgium south to Echternach in Luxembourg. The German goal was to break through the American lines, sweep through the Ardennes, and seize Antwerp. The port of Antwerp was essential to the Allied offensive. The major limiting factor to the Allie was supplies and the Allies were beginning to repair the Antwerp port facilities. With Antwerp the British and Canadians in northern Belgium could be cut off and encircled. The Allied thought the Wehrmacht was esentially defeated and incapable of mounting amajor offensive. The Germans were also careful to avoid sending messages bout the offensive electronically. Thus Ultra did not have a clear picture, although Allied commanders were given some warnings. The Germans forced the U.S. 28th Division to retreat from Wiltz (December 19). Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to defend the vital crossroads town of Bastonge in Belgium. The German panzers pushed west. German Panther and Tiger tanks in many ways were superior to the American panzers, but they were slower and the Tigers could not cross many Belgian bridges, limited possible crosings. They also guzzled huge quantities of fuel and fuel ws the principal limiting facor to the Germand offensive. he German plans were contingent on capturing American fuel depots. When the German offensive began, George S. Patton's 3rd Army to the south was about to launch an invasion into the German Saar. In a brilliant movement, within 2 days, he turned the offensive on a 90° axis and struck northward into the German flank to relieve the 101st Airborne in Bastogne. The 3rd Army liberated Ettlebruck on Christmas Eve and broke through the German lines to relieve Bastogne (December 26). The U.S. 5th Armored Division conducted a surprise night crossing of the River Sure and liberated Diekirch (January 18, 1945). The Germans were pushed back to the positions they held at the start of the battle (January 28). The Whrmacht offensive in the Ardennes delayed the Allied offensive toward the Rhine by about 6 weeks. The llies i the campaign, however, destroyed virtually all of the Wehrmacht reserves and important panzer units as well as futher depleting the Luftwffe. This meant that the ability of the Germans to defend the Rhine and Berlin was significantly reduced.

Liberation of Belgium (September 1944)

After the liberation of Paris, the Allies rapidly moved north into Alsace and Belgium, much of which was liberated in September. The Germans fell back toward the Rhine. While most of Belgium was rapidly liberated, the Germans found defensible positions in the Ardennes west of the Rhine. The jibilation of civilians with the arrival of the allies was noted by the Germans as they retreated out of eastern and central Belgium.

Strategic Situation (October-November 1944)

NAZI Germany teetered on defeat (Autumn 1944). The Soviets had destroyed Army Group Center, the most powerful German formatiin, in Operation Bagration. This opened the advance into Poland. The D-Day landings and subsequent Allied Offensive had destoyed the German Army in France and enabled Allied Armies to move toward the Rhine. A crossing in 1944 had been staved off with the failure of Market Garden, but the Allies were stradily moving up powerful forces toward the Rhine and developing ports and supply lines. The Allies in Italy had taken Rome and were moving into northern Italy where they would threaten the Reich from the south. Germany had not yet been invaded, but the Allied strategic bombing campaign was devestating German cities and industry. And under the weight of the bombing and loss of occupoied countries to exploit, the German economy had finally begun to collapse and weapond production as a result fell precipitously (November 1944).

Final Offensive

Rommel and other generals who dared speak counseled Hitler to seek a political solution. Hitler fully aware of the crimes he had ordered knew that the Allies would not accept a political sollution. No matter how small the chances of success, he was determined to gamble everything on one last offense. The question for Hitler was wether to target the Soviets or Western Allies, Germany did not possess the resources to strike both. Early in 1944 Hitler made a radio broadcast in which he pursued the theme of a great campaign to save Europe from Bolshevism. He compared his mission to that of Greece and Rome. Yet he decided to strike at the Western Allies. One Historian believes this was in part because he was embittered with the West for wrecking his campaign in the East. The choice was also a matter of tactical advantage. The West could be struck from behind the fortifications of the West Wall with less fuel expenditures. He also judged the Western Allies as weaker and possesing less resolve. Another factor in Hitler's mind was that terror toward the Russians would endsure that the Wehrmacht would continue fighting in the East. He was unsure how long the Wehrmacht would continue to fight in the West. [Fest, pp. 719-20.]

Planning

Hitler began to conceptualize the offensive as the military situation increadingly deteriorated. Hitler met with his top generals in the Füher Bunker in East Prussia (September 1944). It was one of the last meetings there as the advancing Red Army was forcing Hitler to move his headqurters west out of East Prussia . The meeting was attended by both Field Marshalls Wilhelm Keitel and General Alfred Jodl. (Because Jodl has argued that the 6th Army should be ordered to breakout from Stalingrad ans was right, Hitler never made him a field marshal.) After reviewing the deterirating military situation, Hitler ordered Jodl to begin planning for an offensive in the West. The choice of striking in the West rather than the East was a political decesion. Hitler continued to cling to the delusion that he could crack the Anglo-American alliance. And Autumn Mist off+eref the possibility of dividing the American and British armies. He authorized the use of the last remaining reserves and the latest (and for the most part) the output of tanks and other heavy equipment in the attack. Hitler returned to the Ardennes which had a mystical attachment as it was the place of his great victory. He saw the offensive as coming somewhere between the Aachan area and the southern Luxembourg-France boundary. Hitlers initial plans were to attack sometime between November 20 and 30. Hitler believed the weather would limit the American ability to react and limit the use of their superority in the air. Jodle returned with a plan with several options for Hitler to choose from (October 9). Plans called for deploying about 31 divisions. The opperation required massive amounts of amunition and fuel for the armored and motorized divisions that would play a key role in the fighting. The offensive was code named Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine). Hitler believed that the name might confuse the Allies in thinking that it was more of a defensive operstion, but eventually changed it to Autumn Mist. Hitler chose the Ardennes among the major alternatives Jodle presented to him. The German generals involved in the operation try to disuade Hitler. Von Runstedt (Wehrmacht Commander of the West), and Field Marshall Model (tactical commander) told Hitler that all the offensive would achieve would be to weaken the Whermacht's ability to resist the Soviets rather without achieving much in the West. Jodl was one of the few who saw real possibilities. [Hastings, p. 263.] Even Hitler's favorite, Josef"Sepp" Dietrich (commander of the Sixth Panzer Army) and Hoss von Manteuffel (commander of Fifth Panzer Army) had doubts about the operation. They did not believe that the German Army had the power to accomplish the goals Hitler set. Field Marshall Model reportedly said, "This plan hasn't got a damned leg to stand on". Hitler was, however, adament, rejected their arguments.

Hitler

Some historians believe that Hitler by late-1944 was essentially irrational. This is hard to assess and reach any definitive conclusion. Hitler had since Barbarossa become increasingly dismissive of the advise from his generals. The assasination attempt in the Führer Bunker had badly shaken him and outside of a few individuals (Bormann, Goebels, and Himmler), he trusted virtually no one. His doctors were plying him with narcotics. The Plans for Autumn Mist were not rational in a military sence. The strength of the Allies in men and material and the superority in the air doomed any major military effort. German did not even have the fuel supplies needed to conduct the offensive. The plan required the Germans to capture Allied fuel dumps. Yet from Hitler's point of view it was a totally rational plan. Unless Germany scored a major victory in thr field, defeat was inevitable in 1945. Hitler was fully aware of the crimes he had authorized throughtout occupied Europe and what would happen to him once Germany was defeated. Thus one last desperate offensive was an entirely rational decession on Hitler's part, no matter how small the possibility of victory. Without a victory, defeat was certain. While the rational decession for Germany was to surrender and end the War, this was not an irrational decession for a man not interested in saving German cities and lives, but interested in saving himself.

Antwerp

Antwerp on the Scheldt emerged as n important port in the Middle Ages. In gradually developed as one of the major ports of Europe. one other thn Napoleon grasped Antwerp's strategic location. He had the first docks built. The Belgian Government ngotiated a toll free sttus for the Scheldt with the Germans (1863). This began the rise of Antwerp as one of the kmost impotant centers of trade d commerce in Europe. Only Rotterfam rivaled it in volume of trade. It thus was a prize beyond value to the Allies. The major limiting factor to the llies was supplies. The llis were sill using the Mormandy beaches and trnsporting upplis jnland over highways through the Red Ball Express. The Grman collaose iun France was so rapid that unlike other ports, Antwerp was ot heavily defenced or the port destroyed when the Allies entered Belgium (September 3). Unfortunately, Field Marshal Mongomery failed to clear the Scheldt Estuary which made it impossible to use the port for some time. Supplies finlly begn lowing through ntwerp to he Allied rmies (December 1944). Antwerp was thus essential essential after the failure of Market Garden for the Allied build up preparing for the final war ending drive inyo the Reich. For Hitler this made nterp target one. It also meant revisiting the battlefield in which he gined his greatest victoryy--the Ardennes. And as driving through the ardennesin 1940 cut off the British Armyfrom the French, repeating this drive would again cut off the Bitish, this tome from the Americans.

Opposing Forces

The Germans deployed three armies organized into 10 corps totaling about 29 divisions. Key to the German offensive was Dietrich's poweful Sixth Panzer-Armee and Mauteuffel's Fifthe PanzerPrum. Both were equipped with the latest German tanks which out classed the American Shermans. The Americans in Belgium and the surronding area had three armies organized into 6 corps with about 31 divisions. In addition there were about 3 British divisions, as well as Belgian, Canadian, and French units. The Allies had overweakming superior forces on the Western Fromt, but by concentraring their forces in the Ardeennes had achived tactical superority.

Final German Briefing (December 11-12)

Hitler convened a meeting of his troop commanders in two sessions (December 11-12). The commanders were driven arround to confuse them as to Hitler's location. They then had to surrender threir side arms and briefcases. They then had to pass through ranks of SS gusards. They were stunned at Hiler's physical condition when he addressed them. His hands trembled and his left arms occasionsally twitched violently. An armed guard stood behind every chair wher the commanders sat. In a 2-hour speech he spelled out the military situation. He admitted it was a gamble, but detailed thecadvantages of an offensive strategy. The then spoke at length concerning the weakness of the alliance against Germany. [Fest, p. 720-21.] Timing was determined by weather. The Germans waited fir weathr that would prevent the Allies from bringing their powerful aire fleets to bear. A few days later German soldiers massed in the Ardennes received their orders. "Order of the day. We attack! Soldiers of the Western front! Your greatest hour has come. String attacking armoes have banded today against the Anglo-Americans. I don't have to add anything to this. You sense it all! We gamble everything! Carry with you the holy duty to give everything and to do superhuman efforts. For our Fatherland and the Führer! Signed: V. Rundstedt, OB West, Generalfeldmarschall. Addendum to the Order of the Day. We will not disappointthe fauth tht the Führer and Fatherland have put in us, which has created the sword of retribution. Let's move on in the spirit of Leuther! Our slogan remains right now: No soldier in the world must be better than we soldiers of the Eifel and Aachen! Signed: Model, Army Group 'B', Generalfeldmarschall.

Complete Surprise

The Bulge has been described as the greatest Allied intelligence failure of the War, perhaps with the exception of Pearl Harbor. The Germans achieved almost complete surrise. [Caddick-Adams] There were several rasons for this. This was the first since Hitler Launced Operation Blue, smashing into the Dinbas and Cucausses rather than renewing the attack on Moscow (Summwe 1942) in which the Germans achieved an important surprise. The Germans prepared for the attack in utmost secrecy, especially minimizing radio traffic. We are not sure why they did this. Available evidence suggests that German commanders did not believe that the Enigma machines had been cracked. Perhaps they were just being cautious. This made it difficult for the Ultra codebrakers to get a hadel on German intentions. They also moved troops and equipment at night when American aerial reconisance would not spot them. American overconfidence also played into the German sucess. American commanders were convinced after watching theGermans stream out of France that the Whermacht was a defeated army, no longer capable of a major offensive action. One tends not to see what they do not think is there. This is exactly what happened to the Japanese Firt air Fleet at Midway. The Ultra code breakers did pick up some clues as to German intentions. Ultra decrypts suggested a 'substantial and offensive,' but they could not determine a precise date or point of attack. Inteligence picked up aircraft movement from the Eastern Front and transport of forces by rail to the Ardennes. It was, however, not seen as significant by the U.S. 12th Army Group. No one there put the intelligence findings together. [Calvocoressi and Lucas] Given the size of the offensive, it was not possible to completely limit every aspect of the offensive from appearing in electronic messages. The Blechley Park Ultra code breakers did thus develop some information for Allied commanders. There is a difference of opinion among historians as to how effectively the Blechly Park code breakers warned of an impending attack. Some contend that there was no clear unambiguous warning. [Austra] Other historians argue that commanders failed to properly evaluate the intelligence provided. [Baker] The prevailing attitude among the Allied leadership, however was such that these warmings were giving little credence. The Allied commanders were convinced that the Wehrmacht no longer possed the capability to mount a significant offensive. Allied overconfidence, preoccupation with offensive planning and inadequate aerial reconnaissance all played into the American failure to acurately assess the situation.

German Offensive (December 16)

The Wehrmacht launched a carefully planned attack against weak American units in the heavily forested Ardennes (December 16, 1944). The offensive was commanded by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. The NAZI panzers stormed westward along a 60-mile front stretching from Saint Vith in Belgium south to Echternach in Luxembourg. The German goal was to break through the American lines, sweep through the Ardennes, and seize Antwerp. This would have cut off four Allied armies which would have been unable to obtain supplies. Hitler also believed that the American and British alliance was weak and success in taking Antwerp could help break it. Hitler believed this would have forced the Westrern Allies to sue for peace. The Battle of the Bulge proved to be the largest battle which the United States fought during World War II. It was in essence as one author wrote, 'Hitler's Last Chance'. [Cross] And it would be primarily fought against the American forces that Hitler himself for no real reason brought into the War.

Weather

December brought some of the worst weather in Belgian history. The Battle was fought in heavy snow and cold temperatures. This worked to the advantage of the Germans, because the Allies could not deploy their overwealming supperority in airpower. This mean that the 1,000 high quality tanks could be used to maximum effect.

Initial German Attack (December 16)

The German offensive in the Ardennes was launched with complete tactical suprise (December 16, 1944). The American line in the Ardennes covered a substantial area, but was held by the First American Army with only about six divisions with one in reserve. The sectors were more than double the area in which a divison was normaly deployed. The Germans struck the American First Armt with eight armored divisions and thirteen infantry division. The attack was precced by a whitering artillery barage. The full force of the initial German blow fell on the American 106th Infantry Division deployed on what the Americans believed was a quiet front in the Ardennes. The 106th was devestted by the force of the German blow. The Division suffered substantial losses and two of its three regiments (the 422nd and the 423rd) were surrounded by the advancing Germans. The Division's third regiment (the 424th) was positioned to the south and succeeded in withdrawing and linking up with the 112th Regiment of the 28th Infantry Division. [Kline] The Second Ranger Battalion which had been engaged in heavy fighting in the Hürtgen Fotest had been withdrawn to the Ardenneds to recuperate, by found itself on the point of the spear. [ODinnell] The 5th and 6th Panzer armies which equaled eleven divisions they broke into the Ardennes through the Loshein Gap against the American divisions protecting the region. The 6th Panzer Army then headed North while the Fifth Panzer Army went south. On the northern flank the Sixth Panzer army attacked the two southern divisions of U.S. V Corps on Elsborn Ridge, but with little success. On the southern flank, the 5th Panzer Army attacked the U.S. VIII Corps. This corps included units that were not yet battle hardened. The Germans achieved considerable success. Units were surrounded and there were mass surrenders. The Germans forced the U.S. 28th Division to retreat from Wiltz (December 19). The battered 106th Infantry Division slowed the German advance toward St. Vith. This was critical as it gave the Americans time to react and move forced north into Belgium.

394th Infantry Regiment

Although initially overwealmed, the outgunned American units soon organized a fighting withdraw which delayed the Germans. American units focused on blocking the roads and key crossroads which slowed the German advance. Particulkarly important was the actions of the reconnaisance plastoon of the 394th Infantry Regiment of the 99th Infantry Division. This probably was the single most gallant platoon in the United States Army. The key to the German campaign was the success of armored units in seizing the road network and rapidly penetrating American lines so they could seize critical fuel stockpiles in rear areas. For this purpose Jochen Peiper was given command of a powerful Panzer force, a part of the 1st SS Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler Panzer Division. This was the most powerful force in the German order of battle. The small American reconnaisance platoon miraculously delayed Peiper's Panzers 24 hours and in the end was a major factor in preventing him from seizing the American fuel stockpiles. [Kershaw]

Armor

While the Allies had air superority, the Germans fielded tanks that were far superior to the Shermans that were the basic tank available to the Americans. The Sherman was an effective tank when first deployed (1942), but bt the Winter of 1941-45 had been far eclipsed by German armor. German Panther and Tiger tanks in many ways were superior to the American, especilally in tank to tank engagements. Hitler believed that by waiting for bad weather, grounding American aircraft, that the battle could be won by suprise and German armor. His generals advised against the plan, but Hitler had long cesed to listen to his generals. His fevered, drug-fueld mind harkened back to the glory days and his greatest Blitzkrieg victory, achieved by armor smashing through the Ardennes and crossing the Neuse. And this was done with tanks that in many cases were inferior to the Allied tanks. Now with his superior tanks he reasoned that another great victory was possible. The third-ranking German tank (the Mark IV) was at least the equal of the American and British best tanks. The formidable, hevily armored Tiger was equipped with a high-velocity 88mm cannon, superior to all armor in the War, in armor and firepower. Rounds from the U.S. Army’s 57mm anti-tank gun or Shermans had almost no effect on the frontal armor of the Panther or Tiger. What Hitler missed was hat it was the inferiority of the German tanks in 1940 meaning that they were light and maneurable that allowed them to rapidly get through the Ardennes and across the Meuse. The situation in 1944 was very different. The effective, but massive German tanks were ponderous, porrly maneuravle, slow, heavy, and gass guzzlers. This meant they could not rapidly breakthrough as thy had done in 1940. The thickly forested, ravine-laced region with few main roads and narrow bridges proved a more formidable barrier to massive German tanks. Not only could the Panthers abd Tigers to wide for the narow bridges, but their weught could collapse mony of the bridges. And a breakdown of a Panther or Tiger could block a narrow road for hours. And if that was not enough, the German behemouths were monumental gas guzzlers. That would not have been a problem for the Americans, but it was for the Germans who were suffering a fuel shortge. The Ardenns offensive demanded fuel the Germand did not have. Thus the Germans Ardennes campaign was premised on seizung American fuel dumps in tact on the first days of offensive. Even a tank as formidable as the Tiger had no bite once it ran out of fuel. The Amricam Shermans could not slug it out with the German Panthers, let alone the Tigers. But there were alot more Shermans and unlike the Panzers could cross most Belgium bridges. They also were upported by tank destroyers which could taken on the Panthers. And unlike the Germans, fuel was not a problem for Americn armor. And some of the new M36 Tank Destroyer (90mm Gun Motor Carriage) production began to reach Americn units (September 1944). And the M-36 could even take on the Pathers and Tigers, at least with sude shots.

Bulge in Allied Line

The German offensive quickly created a massive bulge in the Allied line, giving the battle its name. The main striking force in the Germn plan assigned to the 6th Panzer Army under the command of Sepp Dietrich. The 6th Panzer army was to break through the the American lines between Aachen and the Schnee Eifel and seize bridges on the Meuse on both sides of Liège. A major mobile striking role as part of the 6rh Panzer Army was 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler (LSSAH) commanded by SS-Oberführer Wilhelm Mohnke. This powerful force strengthened with most of the new tanks coming off German prodution limes was split into four Kampfgruppe (KG). SS-Standartenführer Peiper commanding the most powerful KG, inckuding all the armored sections of the division. Peiper's force included the new 70 ton Tiger II (King Tiger). Its 7 inches of frontl armor made it impervious to allied Shermans. He would lead the drive west in the center of the Bulge. It was KG Peoper that had the asignment to pierce the amrican lines through Spa and to seize both the bridges over the Meuse between Liège and Huy. And aling with these objectives take American fuel depots. The battle began to go bad for the Germans from an erlyn point. German success necesitated seizing the few main roads and crossroads early in the camoaign. This was neeeded to enable a rapid advance to the Meuse as well as blocking Allied (mostly American) counter attacks. There were four key junctions controlling the road network in the Bulge (Houffalize, St.-Vith, Malmedy, and Bastogne) which had to be raken on the first or second day. This did not happen. Here American resistance delayed the Germans and in the case of Basttogne held. Important Sixth Panzer Army’s advance was a road that ran parallel to a stretch of high ground called Elsenborn Ridge. Along this ridge on the northern shoulder of the Bulge, ad-hoc groups of tanks, tank destroyers and dug-in infantry supported by artillery stubbornly resisted. This both delayed and narrowed the German advance and allowed defenses to be strengthened on the shoulders (flanks) of the Bulge as well as the approaches to the Meuse. The Germans failed to develop the Bulge as widely as planned because the northern and southern shoulders of the Bulge held. Outnumbered and under powered American units both slowed and stopped poweful German units. The fighting at both St. Vith in the north and and Batogne was vital to the Americans. Engagements here slowed the German advance and restricted the Germans to a much narower front than planned. It also bought valuable time to set up offensive positions and bring up reserves and units from other fronts. It also gained time for the weather to clear. Once it did, American airpower could savage German armor and supply lines. To the north General Montgomery made little effort to attack south despite having American units transferred to his command, but effectivly held the norther shoulder. Only after the Germans had been stopped by the Americans did Montgomery strike south. The primary relief force came from the south as Gen. Patton redireted the axis of his 3rd Army's advance from east to north. He would pressure the southen shoulder of the Bulge and drive to releave Bastogne. With the shoulders holding, the German drive in the center put KG Peiper the Panzers in increasing danger of being cut off. And as he failed to seize the fuel depots, his Panzers beggan running out of fuel.

Fuel

Fuel was the principal limiting facor to the Germand offensive. The Germans by December 1944 had lost the Romanian oil fields to Allied bomving and finally to the Red Army. In addition the Allied strategic bombing had finally targeted the synthetic fuel fsctories in the Ruhr. Coal there was been convered into petroleum. The result was to stranggle the NAZI War effort. There was no fuel to train pilots which severely weakened the Luftwaffe. It also restricted both Wehrmact and Luftwaffe combat operaions. Even for the NAZI's last offensive of the War, sufficent fuel to fully fuel combat operations was not available. The German battle plan was thus contingent on capturing American fuel depots.

St Vith (December 17)

A major initial target for the northern shoulder of the German attack was St. Vivth. This was an important marketplace for the region for centuries (12th century). It had been part of Luxembourg . until the defeat of Napoleon. As a result of the Congress of Vienna it was awarded to Prussia. St. Vith after World War I was transferred to Belgium (1925) as a resilt of the Treaty of Versailles. It was only a few kilometers from the German frontier and the West Wall defenses to which the Germans had withdrawn. As it was an important road and railway junction, an connections leading just the right way with roads leading directly from the Muese River to Antwerp--which with its vital port was the German target. St. Vith was thus vital to the German plan. The Germans expected to seize the town witin hours without a major fight. This was vital for the German success. U.S. army uniys much to the German's surprise, stop the German's cold in the north. The American 7th Armored division blocked Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army at Saint Vith (December 17). This action delayed the German advance from the onset and forced the Germans to redirect the advnce over less favorable terrine and pooer roads. The American armor and retreating infantry units managed to hold out in St. Vith for 5 full days. It was a disaster for the Germans. This was vital because the delay gave the Americans 5 days to bring up needed forces to stop the Germans furher west. The American defenders were able to retreat battered, but in good order (December 21). The Americans set up a new defense along the Orne River supported by the 82nd Airborne Division (December 21). The Germans finally took St Vith, but their timetable was in disray. Once in German hands and when the weather cleared, Allied air plastered the town. The U.S. Air Force bombed (December 25-26). RAF Bomber Command conducted a major raid (December 26). The town was essentially leveled by the ground fighting an air attacks. American units retook the town (January 23, 1945). All that was left was the Büchel Tower.

Refugees

The German invasion of France began in the Ardennes (May 1940). The war atr the time quickly passed and the German occupation took hold. The Americans moved into the Arrdennes as the Allies liberated most of Belgium (September 1944). The Germans commited a range of attrocities at the time, mostly in retaiation to scattered Ressistance attacks. The Germans were irritated by the attitude of the Belgian civiluians and thus did not treat them gently. The Ardennes proved to be a quiet sector. The Americans occupied it lightly and the Germans wanted to create the impression that nothing was happening. This changed suddenly when German artillery open up and the Panzers started moving forward (December 16). Civilians aling with the American soldiers woke upn in the early morning houurs to find themselves in middle of a fierce battle. Many civilians recalling the German behavior as they retreated, decided to get as far west as possible. Few could comprehend that yhey were in the middle of the largestv and longest battle fought in the West. Two massive armies collided in the Ardennes with the Germans attempting to break out again, this time to seize the all-importanht port of Antwerp. The civilians thus had good reason to fear the Germans, especially the SS-Division that Hitler commited to the offensive. The Americas at first had no way to stop the Germans or aid the refugees. And they complicated the task of the Military Police attemptingb to direct military traffic adc identify German infiltrators. At one point 0.2 million Belgian and Luxenbourg civiliabns were on the road in freezing weather headed west attempting to escape the Germans. [Parker, p. 307.] Civilians huridly snatched what ever was handy and streamed in long lines west. One American soldier recalls, "... thin lines of refugees streamed out of the east along a road winding through our camp. Not many were warmly dressed although the weather was cold enough for shaded patches of snow to persist throughout the day. Muddy ruts froze hard in the night. Most refugees looked frail. Many would break out of line when they caught sight of the garbage barrels outside of our mess tents. They would paw around inside the barrels then drift back into line. Mostly men. The scene was like a giant, silent movie. The actors made no sound. "Would they find safety among friends and relatives in villages to the west?" How safe was the west anyway?" [Baird]

German Attrocities

German soldiers, especially SS units commited a serious of attrocities during the fighting in the Builge. The best known is the Malmedy massacre. SS units massacred 86 unarmed American soldiers that had surrendered. A SS unit commanded by Colonel Peiper shot Americans captured at Baugnez. (Peipher was a commander in Sepp Dtrich's 6th SS Panzer Army. Detrich was noytorious on the Eastern Front for executing 6,000 Russian POWs in repriasl for killing 6 SS soldiers.) The Americans were shot on a road near Malmeddy. The SS had captured 140 men. They succeeded in shooting 86 men, but 43 men escaped. While small compared to what went on in the East, the Malmedy Massacre was the worst atrocity committed against American troops by the Germans. The SS killed other American soldiers who has surendered as well as Belgian civilians, but the Malmedy massacre is the best known incident. After the War, the Americans made a major effoty to track down and bring those responsible to judstice. Rumors of the massacre spread rapidly throughout the American army. This affected how the Americans viewed surrender. It also affected the treatment of German soldiers trying to surrender once the tide of battle turned. American soldiers were noit the only tsarget of the SS. The Germans were under no illusions about the sympathies of Belgian civilians. There were numerous incidents of SS soldiers shooting civilians, including women and children. A SS unit commanded by Joachim Peiper murdered 93 civilians in Stavelot. Civilians told the American soldiers that retook the town that the Germans shot the children, because their crying was annoying. There were numerous other such incidents.

The Meuse

The Allies had begun to recover by the initial shock and thanks to Ultra realized that the German objective was Antwerp. The first major American action to stop the German drive west by KG Peiper was forming a task force made up of part of the 119th Infantry Regiment and 740th Tank Battalion, with supporting artillery--Task Force Harrison, was set up near Stoumont to block any farther German advance west (December 19-20). Eisenhower began building a defensive line at the Meuse, fortifying all crossings (December 20) and preparing a counter stroke. The Germans, however, would never reach the Meuse. At the same time, Patton was ordered to attack the German southern flank and relieve Bastogne.

Bastonge

As the German offensive unfolded, it became clear that the small crossroad town of Bastogne would prove to be the key to the engagement. The Germans with limited fuel for the Panzers could not afford any delay, and Batogne began to create a major delay on the southern shoulder of the German drive. The town was the crossroads of seven paved roads. Early in the battle both the Germans and Americans thus recognized the importance of the town. This lead to a race between the Americans and Germans to occupy the town. Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne and the 10th Armored Division to defend the town. The 101st had participated in the D-Day landings and in drops which helped liberate the Netherlands south of the Rhine. The 101st arrived in Bastogne just hours before the Germans. The 10st had to move with such speed to get to Bastonge that some arrived without weapons. Only part of the 10th Armored made it to Bastogne before the Germans surrounded the town. Amunition was also in short supply. Some men got weapons from the retreating soldiers moving through Bastogne. The advancing Germans surrounded the town and subjected it to a whitering attack from all sides. In the end this proved a mistake. The Americans taking advantage of interior lines moved artillery back and forth to meet each German attack. The tank destroyers of 10th Armor played a key role in stopping the German armor. Amunition and food quickly ran short for the American defenders. After battering the town for several days, the Germans were sure the Americans were desperate. General der Panzertruppe von Luttwitz Commander of XLVII Panzerhops dispatched officers under a truce flag demanding the Americans surrender (December 22). Brigadier General Mcauliffe who commanded the 101st Airborn in Bastagone exclaimed "Aw, nuts" when he received the German message. (McCauliffe was the Division's deputy commander. The Division's commande Maxwell Taylor was at a meeting in Washington when Hitler struck in the Ardennes.) McCauliffe was unsure how to reply formally, but his staff assured him that his initial respnse would do fine. This message was then given to the Germans by Joseph Harper. The Germans had no idea what Mcauliffe meant. Harper explained the jest was that they could all go to Hell. The Germans renewed their assailt on Bastogne. Supplies became critical for the surrounded Americans. For several days the bad weather prevented supply drops. The defenders were reduced to a handful of rounds each. Clear weather allowed the Allies to begin air drops and to unleashed their massive air power (December 24). The Germans launched an all out attack (December 25). Powerful armor units and an aerial bombardment hit Bastagone. [Barron and Cygan] Panzers reached within a mile of McCaluiff's command post, but were stopped by well placed American tank destroyers. A lead force of Patton's Third Army commanded by General Abrams finally reached Bastogne the next day (Decenber 26). When the weather cleared, supply drops were organized Fighters and bompers mounted withering attacks on the German forces surrounding the city as well as vehicles moving supplies forward.

Luxembourg

The Germans lauched their second Ardennes offensive, surprising the Americans by coming out from behind the defenses of the West Wall (December 16, 1944). I would be the final German offensive of the War. They struck through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia (Belgium), France, and Luxembourg. which became known as the Battle of the Bulge,Luxembourg would prove to be on the southern flank of the Bulge. The German Seventh Army, severly battered in France, was commanded by General Erich Brandenberger was assigned the southern zone of the offensive. The southernmost point on the pre-attack battlefront was near the Luxembourg town of Echternach in northern Luxembourg. The Seventh Army's assigned task was to protecting the southern flank of the drive toward Antwerp. The Seventth Army consisted of only four infantry divisions with no important armored units to suppor ther operations. Germany's dwimdling resources could not fully supply the units Hitler through into the battle. As a result, the Sevent Army did not penetrate deeply into Allied lines, unlike the armored formations to the north. Heavy fighting began in the woods around Echternach. The primary battle fought in Luxembourg at the onset of the battle was the Battle of Clervaux (Clerf) (December16-19). Clervaux was fought in northern Luxembourg. Units of the German 7th Army encircled surprised American forces from the 110th Regiment and the 109th Field Artillery Battalion. After heavy fighting with supplies running low, the Americans surrendered. Some authors refere to this as the Luxembourg 'Alamo'. Refugees from Echternach and Clervaux who manages to flee were taken in by the people of Herborn. General Patton moved his Third Army from the Saar in heavy snow and ice covered roads to attack the southern flank of the German offensive, this meant Luxembourg and the surround American forces in Bastogne. Heavy fighting ensued. The initial focus was on Bastogne in Belgium whichwas was releaved (December 24). Southern Luxembourg and Luxembourg City rmained i Allied hands. The city of Luxembourg served as Gen. Patton's Third Army. Slowly the Third Army began hammering the shoulders of the Bulge, meaning Luxembourg. The Americans could have launched pincer movements to have cut off the Germans in the Bulge. The southern pincer would have moved through Luxembourg. A shaken Genetral Eisenhower decided on a safrer broad-front drive. Thus it would be weeks before Luxembourg was liberated. The Americans retook Clervaux (January 25). The last Luxembourg town to be liberated was Vianden (February 12).

American Offensive

American resistence as Bastogne significantly restricted the German ability to move forward to the Meuse. The German plan was a long shot at besr. Everything had to go right. American resistrance at Vith slowed down the Grmans. The stand at Bastogne was a disaster. [Cross] The stand bought the time needed for the Americans to redeploy and bring up reserves. It also provided time that meant that the weather would change. And with breaks in the clouds and overcast came the American fighter bombers that devestated German armpor and supply columns. The Germans created a huge bulge in the American line, but failed to even reach the Meuse River where out of the Ardennes they could have effectively deployed their Panzers on the flat Belgian country side. Hitler met with his commnders again to urge them on (December 28). General Hodges 2nd Armored Divisions stopped the 2nd Panzer Division short of the tip of the Bulge short of the Meuse River at Celles (December 29). When the weather finally cleared, American airpower mauled German armor and vehivcles attempting to move supplies. This had to be done over roads which meant the fighters and bombers could concentrate their attacks. The VII Corps north of the Bulge pushed south on the German northern flank. Patton's Third Army which had been engaged in France rushed north toward Bastogne to engage the German southern flank. The Allies finally launched a major counterattack offensive (December 30). Patton's Third Army struck north while the First Army pushed south. There goal was the Belgian village of Houffalize. The Germans resisted fierecly. Soldiers on both sides slogged it out in dreadful weather conditions and snow.

U.S. Third Army

When the German offensive began, George S. Patton's 3rd Army to the south was about to launch an invasion into the German Saarland leading to the Rhine. In a brilliant movement, within 2 days, he turned the offensive on a 90° axis and struck northward into the German southern flank to relieve the 101st Airborne in Bastogne. The 3rd Army liberated Ettlebruck on Christmas Eve and broke through the German lines to relieve Bastogne (December 26). The U.S. 5th Armored Division conducted a surprise night crossing of the River Sure and liberated Diekirch (January 18, 1945). The Germans were pushed back to the positions they held at the start of the battle (January 28). It was arguably Patton's finesr feat of arms during the War. He extract the Third army from an egaged position, chsnged the axis and advanced over a 100 miles through driving snow through enemy held territory to releve Bastogne. This move was critical to the Allied victory. [Rickard] Patton is commonly criticised for being two willing to take casualties to secure objective. Such chsrges merit much more careful assessment than popular writing. It is quite possible that taking casualities in a quick and decisive move made in the long run reduce casualtie. Patton maintained an extrodinary situational awarness of the battlefield and the cost-benefit analysis of his operations was exceptional. [Rickard] Patton in perhaps his greatest feat of genealship, took only 3 days disenaged from the Rhineland offensive and headed nortg to releave the 101st Airborn in Bastogne. Here he had only days to raech the Bastogne before its defenders ran out of amunition and fuel. They faced not only stiff German defensesm but some of the worst weather in years. The weather negated America's most powerful assett--air power. One historain describes one of several actions. "Suddenly, at around 0845 hours, Germans from the 5th Fallschirmjäger Division opened up with machine gun and panzerfausts from the woods that lined both sides of the road, catching the column in a deadly crossfire. Fromm along a ridge in the distance, StuG self-propelled assualt guns f;ashed, followed by deafening crack .... The ferocity of the German ambushdashed Irzyk's hope that the 4th Armored Division would roll to Bastogne with little difficulty. As he received initial reports of casualties, the major knew that he had an arduous fight on his hands." [Barron, Patton.]

Air Power (December 24)

The Germans concentrated what was left of the Luftwaffe for the Bulge offensive. Their orders were to support the armored speerhead. This was a role the Luftwaffe in 1940 was trained for. The huge attrition in the intervening years, left the Luftwaffe when t=young pooly trained pilots. And the trining they did reserive was how to go after the bomber streams pulverizing the Reich. In addituin the planes were not armed for ground support. Heavy cloud cover and snow made it impossible for the both the Allied air forces and the Luftwaffe to employ their huge advantage in airpower. Finally a turn in the weather (December 24) allowed the Allies to bring their greatest advantage to bear--air power. Allied fighters and bombers concentrated on the roads reaking heavy losses in German armor and imbolizing the Wehrmacht. In only a few days the Allies flew 15,000 sorties. The Luftwaffe provided virtually no effective ground support and were mostly involved in aeril combat against vastly supperior Allied air groups. Hitler seeing his offensive being pulverised ordered what was left of the Luftwaffe to respond. The luftwaffe's response was operation "Great Blow" (January 1, 1945). The objective was to destroy Allied air power. German planes attacked Allied air fields in Belgium, the Ntherlands, and northern France. The attack destroyed 206 Allied aircraft and base facilities. Rather than destroying Allied air power, however, the Germans lost more planes than the Allies (about 300) and 253 pilots. American intelligence were able to time strikes on Grman airfields to coinside with the return of Luftwafe air groups. This essentially destroyed the Luftwaffe as a creditable force. While the Allies could easily replace the planes and pilots, the Germans could not.

Reducing the Bulge

Eisenhower decided on a broad front strategy to reducuing the Bulge rther than a pincer attavk to catch the Germans in a pocket. Military historians today debate thids strategy. With the great material advantages the Allies possed, Eisenhower's strategy worked. It was accomplished, however, at considerable cost.

Soviet Offensive (January 12-13, 1945)

As the Americans pressed the German lines, the Soiviets in the east prepared their offensive. Guederian warned Hitler (Janury 9). Hitler still foccused on his colapsing invasuion dismissed the reports of Soviet activity. The eastern Front had been wekened for the Ardennes offensive. Units had been moved west. Armour and amunition had been diverted to the west. Marshall Konev struck first at Baranof and tore through German lines (Janusry 12). Marshsl Zukov struvck next and crossed the Vistula (January 13). Further north the Soviets pushed forward into Eastern Prussia toward Danzig. [Fest, p. 722.]

Results

The Wehrmacht offensive in the Ardennes delayed the Allied offensive toward the Rhine by about 6 weeks. But in those 6 weeks, the Germans brough most of their remaining mobile resrves out from the protection of the West Wall where it could be destroyed by the overwealming power of the American Army. The Mericans in the campaign, however, destroyed virtually all of the Wehrmacht reserves and important Panzer units as well as futher depleting the Luftwaffe. Essentially the Bulge broke the back of the Wehrmacht's allreasdy depleted firces. It was the last German offensive of the War. This meant that the ability of the Germans to defend not only the west Wall and the Rhine was shattered. Once the Allied crosed the Rhine, very little stood betwen them and Berlin.

Sources

Austra, Kevin. "Battle of the Bulge: The Secret Offensive." Military Intelligence 17, no. 1 (Jan.-Mar. 1991): 26-33.

Baird, Bob. "Dec. 16, 1944--Jan. 16, 1945, "the most stunning and confused battle fought on the Western Front in WWII," Choices Magazine (December 1993).

Baker, Bob. "Warning Intelligence: The Battle of the Bulge and the NVN Easter Offensive." American Intelligence Journal 17, no. 3/4 (1997): 71-79.

Barron, Leo and Don Cygan. No Silent Night: The Christmas Battle for Bastogne (2012), 432p.

Barron, Leo. Patton: At yhe Battle of the Bulge (2104). 416p.

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Clark, Champ and Valerie Moolman. The Last Great Gamble (Prentice Hall Press, 1989).

Calvocoressi, Peter and F. L. Lucas. BletchlybPark assessment of the intelligence failure. Peter Calvocoressi, Top Secret Ultra (Cassell: London, 1980).

Cross, Robin. The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler's Last Hope (2014).

Fest, Joachim. Hitler (Vintage Books: New York, 1974), 844p.

Franklin, Jim. "The Battle of the Bulge-Timeline," August 2, 1995.

Goldstein, Donald M., Katherine V. Dillon, and J. Micheal Wenger. Nuts! The Battle of the Bulge (Prange Enterprises, 1994).

Hastings, Max. Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-45 (2004).

Kershaw, Alex. The Longest Winter: The Battle of the Bulge and the Epic Story of World War II's Most Decorated Platoon (Da Capo, 2005).

Kline, John. " The Battle of the Bulge," January 1, 1997.

Meyers, Chris. "The Battle of the Bulge-An Ardennes Christmas, "July 25, 1996.

Meyers, Chris. "The Battle of the Bulge-Hitlers Last Gamble," July 25, 1996.

O'Donnell, Patrick K. Dog Company: The Boys of Pointe du Hoc--The Rangers Who Accomplished D-Day's Toughest Mission and Led the Way Across Europe (2012), 288p.

Reinbol, D. "The Battle of the Bulge," April 4, 1997.

Parker, Danny S. The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler's Ardennes Offendive, 1944-1945.

Rickard, John Nelson, Advance and Destroy: Patton as Commander in the Bulge.







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Created: May 15, 1998
Last updated: 6:34 PM 8/10/2017