Battle of the Bulge | World War II

Battle of the Bulge | World War II

Overview

The Ardennes Counteroffensive, usually known as the Battle of the Bulge, was a major German offensive assault on the Western Front during World War II that lasted from December 16, 1944, to January 25, 1945. The operation was designed to prevent the Allies from using the Belgian port of Antwerp and break Allied lines, allowing the Germans to encircle and kill the four Allied troops, forcing the Allies to negotiate a peace pact in favour of the Axis powers. Germany would retreat for the rest of the war after their defeat. However, due to a combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupation with Allied offensive plans, and preliminary aerial survey due to bad weather, the Germans launched an all-out surprise attack on the morning of December 16, 1944. The onslaught got as far west as Foy-Nôtre-Dame, southeast of Dinant, before stopping by the US 2nd Armored Division on December 24, 1944. Improved weather conditions beginning around December 24 allowed Allied air attacks on German forces and supply lines, ending the operation. Although the offensive was substantially defeated by 27 December, when trapped units of the 2nd Panzer Division attempted two partial breakouts, the fight raged on for another month before the front line was effectively restored to its pre-attack position. And a considerable number of other armoured battle vehicles and nearly 1,000 combat aircraft (AFVs). A few weeks later, these were reinforced, bringing the offensive's overall strength to roughly 450,000 people, as well as 1,500 tanks and assault guns. Heavy losses were also suffered by German Luftwaffe soldiers and, later, Luftwaffe aircraft (during the latter stages of the fight). Out of an estimated 610,000 troops, the Americans lost 89,000 men, with 19,000 killed. The "Bulge" was the United States' greatest and bloodiest single combat of World War II, as well as the third-deadliest campaign in American history.

Background

The Allies moved faster than expected after the escape from Normandy at the end of July 1944 and the Allied arrivals in southern France on August 15, 1944. The Allies encountered several logistical challenges:

  • troops were exhausted after weeks of nonstop warfare
  • supply lines were stretched to breaking point
  • The supplies were rapidly depleting.
  • General Dwight D. Eisenhower Due to the ideal topography (a heavily wooded hill with deep river valleys and a sparse road network) and limited Allied operational goals in the area, the Allies chose to protect the Ardennes with as few troops as possible.

Allied Supply Issues

The Allies had massive supply challenges due to the rapidity of their advance and an initial absence of deep-water ports. The Normandy landing sites, over-the-beach supply operations, and direct landing ships on the beaches could not meet operational needs. In addition, both German troops and naval mines had to be cleared from the Schelde River’s estuary, which controlled access to the port. Because of these constraints, General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, disagreed about whether Montgomery or Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, commander of the United States 12th Army Group, would get significant access to supplies in the south. Several vital ports on the English Channel coast remained under German control throughout the autumn, while Dunkirk was besieged until the conclusion of the war in May 1945. Before D-Day, the Allies successfully destroyed the French railway system. It had the short-term goal of reopening Antwerp's much-needed port, as well as the long-term one of seizing Germany's largest industrial area, the Ruhr. German Generalfeldmarschall ('Field Marshal') Gerd von Rundstedt assembled the German army into a unified defensive force with the Allies stopped.

Field Marshal Montgomery's Operation Market Garden met only some of its goals, and the Allied supply position was pushed further than it had been before.

German Plans

Despite a brief respite along the front following the battles of the Scheldt, the German situation remained terrible. The assault's ambitious goal was to penetrate the US First Army's thinly held lines between Wasserbillig and Monschau with Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model's Army Group B by the end of the first day, get the armour through the Ardennes by the end of the second day, touch the Meuse between Dinant and Liège by the third day, and capture the western bank of the Scheldt estuary and Antwerp by the fourth day. "For planning purposes," Hitler promised his generals a total of 18 infantry and 12 armoured or motorized divisions. The plan called for the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht united German military strategic reserve to be emptied of 13 infantry divisions, two parachute divisions, and six panzer-type divisions. It was evident by November that Soviet forces were planning a winter onslaught.

Meanwhile, the Luftwaffe had been virtually grounded by the Allied air offensive in early 1944, leaving the German Army with little combat intelligence and no method to intercept Allied supplies. After the Soviets overran the fields in August 1944 during the Jassy-Kishinev Offensive, the gasoline scarcity worsened.

In November 1944, one of the German soldiers' few advantages was no longer defending Western Europe. The Allied onslaught had shortened their front lines in the West, bringing them much closer to the German heartland. In addition, they noted a quadrupling of German fighter strength, and a term used in an intercepted Luftwaffe letter (Jägeraufmarsch, literally "Hunter Deployment") suggested aggressive planning.

Drafting the Offensive

Even though he knew nothing could be accomplished on the Eastern Front, he still thought an offensive against the Western Allies, whom he deemed to be militarily inferior to the Red Army, had a possibility of succeeding. Hitler felt that by dividing the Allied forces, he could force the Americans and British to agree to a separate peace from the Soviet Union. In addition, the West's success would allow the Germans to create and manufacture more modern weapons (such as jet planes, new U-boat designs, and super-heavy tanks) while concentrating resources in the east. However, given Allied air superiority throughout Europe and their ability to consistently disrupt German offensive efforts, this estimate was widely regarded as unrealistic after the war.

Hitler's plan was for a Blitzkrieg attack through the Ardennes, modelled after a successful German offensive in the Battle of France in 1940, to split the army along US-British lines and seize Antwerp. The strategy relied on bad weather, such as dense fog and low-lying clouds, to reduce the Allied air superiority. Hitler planned to launch the onslaught in late November, just ahead of the expected start of the Russian winter offensive. Rundstedt later stated that, although recognizing the merits of Hitler's operational plan, he saw "everything, absolutely all circumstances for the prospective success of such an offensive were absent" from the start.

Even if the opening of the port of Antwerp in late November helped the situation considerably, supply shortages in the West began to impair Allied operations seriously.

Operation Names

Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein ('Operation Watch on the Rhine') was the Wehrmacht's code name for the attack, a play on the German patriotic hymn Die Wacht am Rhein, which suggested the Germans would take a defensive stance along the Western Front. In addition, the term "Battle of the Bulge" was popularized by the press at the time to depict how the Allied front line bulged inward on wartime news maps.

While the official Ardennes-Alsace campaign went outside the Ardennes fighting region, the most famous description in English-speaking countries remained the 'Battle of the Bulge.'

Planning

The Ardennes' dense topography would stymie quick movement, while broad country beyond the Meuse presented the possibility of a successful sprint to the shore. For the operation, four armies were chosen. The 6th Panzer Army, led by SS Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich, took the initiative in the attack. The Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler's 1st SS Panzer Division was the Waffen-most SS's experienced formation. They were given priority for supplies and equipment and the shortest route to the offensive's primary target, Antwerp, commencing from the farthest north on the planned battlefront, near the central road network hub of Monschau. The Fifth Panzer Army, commanded by General Hasso von Manteuffel, was tasked with seizing Brussels in the middle sector. Finally, the Seventh Army, under General Erich Brandenberger, was charged with protecting the flank in the southernmost sector near Echternach, Luxembourg.

It was stationed well north of the Ardennes battlefield, charged with holding U.S. forces in place but still having the option of launching its offensive if conditions were good. The attack had to be a complete surprise; the weather conditions had to be poor to neutralize Allied air dominance and the damage it could inflict on the German aggressive and its supply lines; the advancement had to be rapid the halfway to Antwerp, Meuse River, had to be reached by day 4; and the German Army suffered from an acute human resources shortage, and the force had been condensed to around 30 men by this time. These 30 newly rebuilt divisions drew on the German Army's remaining reserves. Moreover, German fuel supplies were precarious to save gasoline, commodities and supplies that could not be transported by rail had to be horse-drawn. As a result, the mechanized and panzer divisions would rely mainly on captured fuel. As a result, the offensive's commencement date was pushed back from November 27 to December 16.

The Allies were virtually ignorant of the German troop movement before the onslaught. Orders were conveyed inside the German army in France via radio signals encrypted by the Enigma machine, which could be picked up and deciphered by Allied codebreakers based at Bletchley Park, resulting in the Ultra intelligence. German forces forming in the vicinity were even provided charcoal instead of wood for cooking fires To cut down on smoke and limit the possibilities of Allied observers deducing a troop build-up was underway.

Because of these factors, Allied High Command regarded the Ardennes as a peaceful region, relying on intelligence reports that the Germans would not undertake any significant offensive operations thus late in the war. Colonel Oscar Koch, the US Third Army intelligence chief, and Brigadier General Kenneth Strong, the SHAEF intelligence commander, correctly predicted the German offensive capacity and desire to strike the US VIII Corps region. The next day, GIs who had relieved the Rangers reported a significant movement of German troops within the Ardennes in the enemy's rear, but no one in the chain of command had noticed.

Because the Ardennes was considered a peaceful zone, it was used as a training ground for new forces and a rest location for units that had been through much fighting. As a result, the American troops in the Ardennes were a mix of novice men (such as the 99th and 106th "Golden Lions" Divisions) and battle-hardened soldiers sent to the area to rest (the 28th Infantry Division).

For the offensive, two significant special operations were planned. First, Otto Skorzeny, the German SS-commando who saved former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, led a task group of English-speaking German soldiers in Operation Greif. Second, Friedrich August von der Heydte commanded a Fallschirmjäger-Kampfgruppe (night-time paratrooper combat group) in Operation Stösser, a night-time paratroop drop behind Allied lines aiming at capturing a critical road junction near Malmedy.

According to German intelligence, the start of the subsequent Soviet attack, which aimed to eliminate German resistance on the Eastern Front and therefore open the road to Berlin, was predicted on December 20. However, it was thought that after the German assault in the Ardennes had begun, Soviet leader Stalin would postpone the commencement of the operation and wait for the outcome before continuing.

Hitler and his staff were compelled to flee the Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia, where they had directed much of the warfare on the Eastern Front, after an assassination attempt on July 20, 1944, and the close approach of the Red Army, which would occupy the place on January 27, 1945. Hitler had picked the spot from where he had supervised the successful 1940 campaign against France and the Low Countries, believing in omens and the triumphs of his early war battles that had been planned in Kransberg.

Von Rundstedt established his operational headquarters at Limburg, close enough for the attack's generals and Panzer Corps commanders to approach Adlerhorst on December 11 in an SS-operated bus convoy.

Initial German Assault

The Germans launched their assault on the Allied soldiers facing the 6th Panzer Army at 05:30 on December 16, 1944, with a massive 90-minute artillery barrage using 1,600 artillery pieces across a 130-kilometre (80-mile) front. The Americans assumed this was a confined counter-attack in response to the Allies' recent onslaught in the Wahlerscheid area to the north. The 2nd division had made a significant dent in the Siegfried Line. However, one of the German V-2 rockets destroyed the Cine Rex theatre in Antwerp over 10 hours into the assault, killing 567 people, the immense death toll from a single rocket attack throughout the war. After that, von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army launched an offensive on Bastogne and St. Vith, two vital route junctions in the centre.

Attack on the Northern Shoulder

While the Siege of Bastogne is frequently credited with halting the German offensive, the Battle of Elsenborn Ridge was the substantial component of the Battle of the Bulge, stopping the advance of the German army's best-equipped armoured units and forcing them to reroute their troops to less favourable alternative routes, which significantly slowed their advance.

Best German Divisions Assigned

The 6th Panzer Army was granted priority for supplies and equipment and the shortest approach to the offensive's final goal, Antwerp. The Waffen-elite, SS's including four Panzer divisions and five infantry divisions in three corps, formed the 6th Panzer Army. Kampfgruppe Peiper, which consisted of 4,800 troops and 600 vehicles and was tasked with directing the primary effort, was led by SS-Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper. However, the Germans' newest and most powerful tank, the Tiger II heavy tank, needed 7.6 litres (2 US gal) of fuel to travel 1,600 meters (1 mile). The Germans only had adequate fuel for an estimated 90 to 100 miles (140 to 160 km) of travel, far short of reaching Antwerp.

German Forces Held Up

The infantry troops of the Sixth Panzer Army suffered heavy losses in the north due to unexpectedly tough resistance from the US 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions. The Losheim-Losheimergraben road, a critical route through the Losheim Gap, had been assigned for Sepp Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army, Kampfgruppe Peiper. Still, it was closed by two fallen overpasses that German engineers failed to fix during the first day. As a result, the army of Peiper was redirected through Lanzerath.

The troops of the 9th Fallschirmjaeger Regiment, the 3rd Fallschirmjaeger Division, had been ordered to clear the village first to conserve the amount of armour available. As a result, the battalion of roughly 500 German paratroopers was held until dark, around 16:00, by a single 18-man Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon from the 99th Infantry Division and four Forward Air Controllers, resulting in 92 German casualties. The German advance was slowed as a result of this.

Malmedy Massacre

At 12:30 on December 17, Kampfgruppe Peiper was near the hamlet of Baugnez, on the height midway between Malmedy and Ligneuville, when they came into units of the US 7th Armored Division's 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. The weakly equipped Americans surrendered after a brief struggle. Only a few people survived, and word of the massacre of POWs spread throughout Allied lines. Soldiers and officers from Kampfgruppe Peiper, including Joachim Peiper and SS chief Sepp Dietrich, were tried to kill at the Malmedy massacre trial after the war ended.

Kampfgruppe Peiper Deflected Southeast

Driving southeast of Elsenborn, Kampfgruppe Peiper arrived in Honsfeld, where they faced one of the 99th Division's rest camps, which was packed with bewildered American troops. For his vehicles, he needs 42,000 imp gal) of fuel. Peiper marched northwest towards Büllingen, sticking to his plan to go West, oblivious that he could have flanked and trapped the whole 2nd and 99th Divisions if he had turned north. Instead, Peiper turned south to detour around Hünningen, taking the Rollbahn D route because he had been given the freedom to choose the best route west. The 277th Volksgrenadier Division tried to break through the US 99th and 2nd Infantry Divisions' defence line to the north.

Wereth 11

On December 17, 1944, another smaller slaughter took place at Wereth, Belgium, about 6.5 miles (10.5 kilometres) northeast of Saint-Vith. After surrendering, eleven black American troops were tortured and shot by men from Schnellgruppe Knittel's 1st SS Panzer Division. Bayonet wounds to the head, shattered legs, and fingers chopped off were among the injuries endured before death. Unfortunately, the culprits were never held accountable for their actions. In 2001, a group of volunteers started working on a memorial to the eleven black American servicemen who died in the Vietnam War.

Germans Advance West

The spearhead had moved north to engage the US 99th Infantry Division by the nightfall, and Kampfgruppe Peiper had arrived in front of Stavelot. They travelled from the Eifel region to Stavelot in 36 hours, whereas the same journey took nine hours in 194. On the 18th of December, Kampfgruppe Peiper launched an attack on Stavelot but could not take the town before the Americans withdrew significant fuel storage. Three tanks attempted to cross the bridge, but a mine crippled the first vehicle. When U.S. engineers were unsuccessful to blow the bridge the next day, the Germans eventually stormed the town after a furious tank battle the next day.

Peiper hurried an advance force toward the crucial bridge at Trois-Ponts, leaving the bulk of his strength at Stavelot, capitalizing on his victory and not wanting to waste any more time. Unfortunately, the bridge over the Lienne, one of the two remaining bridges between Kampfgruppe Peiper and the Meuse, was blown by the Americans as the Germans approached. Peiper went north and halted his soldiers between La Gleize and Stoumont in the woods. He discovered that Stoumont was heavily fortified and that the Americans were bringing in large troops from Spa. Kampfgruppe Hansen's advance had stagnated to Peiper's south.

German Advance Halted

On the morning of December 19, Peiper startled the American defenders of Stoumont by attacking with soldiers from the 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment and infiltrating their lines with a company of Fallschirmjäger. An American tank battalion inwards, but Peiper finally seized Stoumont at 10:30 a.m. after two-hour tank combat. Knittel and Peiper reunited and reported that the Americans had retaken Stavelot to their east. Knittel was commanded to reclaim Stavelot by Peiper. James Gavin arrived at La Gleize and deployed following Peiper's planned advance route.

Efforts by the Germans to strengthen Peiper were in vain. Sepp Dietrich, commander of the Sixth Panzer Army, instructed Hermann Priess, commanding officer of the ISS Panzer Corps, to improve his attempts to support Peiper's fighting group, but Prieß was unsuccessful.

On December 21, small troops of the US 2nd Battalion, 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division attacked Kampfgruppe Peiper's dispersed formations. After learning that his reinforcements were gathered in La Gleize to his east, Peiper left injured Americans and Germans in the Froidcourt Castle. On December 22, the Americans shelled Kampfgruppe Peiper, and the Germans continued to battle despite running out of food and having almost no fuel. When SS-Brigadeführer Wilhelm Mohnke claimed that the grid coordinates supplied by Peiper were incorrect, a Luftwaffe resupply operation went wrong, parachuting supplies into American hands in Stoumont. Peiper set up defences in La Gleize while waiting for German reinforcements.

Outcome

The action of the 2nd and 99th Divisions on the northern shoulder on the north shoulder of the Ardennes campaign could be regarded as the most decisive of the Ardennes campaign.

The Germans could not reach the large array of supplies in the Belgian cities of Spa and Liège and the road network west of the Elsenborn Ridge leading to the Meuse River due to the American defence. They pushed the Americans out of the settlements after more than ten days of fierce fighting but could not dislodge them from the hill, where the First US Army's V Corps troops stopped the German forces from reaching the road network to their West.

Operation Stosser

Oberst Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte, hailed a hero of the Battle of Crete by Germans, led Operation Stosser. During World War II, the German paratroopers' only night drop. Before the assault, Von der Heydte was given only eight days to prepare. Each of the II Parachute Corps' regiments was expected to contribute 100 men. Instead, 150 troops from von der Heydte's battalion, the 6th Parachute Regiment, went against instructions and joined him out of loyalty to their commander. They did not have much time to form a unit or train together. The parachute drop failed miserably. Von der Heydte had a total force of roughly 300 men.

Chenogne Massacre

On New Year's Day 1945, following the Malmedy massacre, American soldiers massacred about sixty German prisoners of war close to the Belgian village of Chenogne, despite having received orders not to take any captives (8 km from Bastogne).

Attack in the Center

The Fifth Panzer Army confronted positions held by the United States 28th and 106th Infantry Divisions in the middle (the 32 km (20 km) Schnee Eifel area). They successfully encircled two relatively intact regiments (422nd and 423rd) of the 106th Division in a pincer movement and forced their surrender, which was a testament to Manteuffel's revolutionary tactics. "At least seven thousand were lost here," according to official US Army history, "and the figure is probably closer to eight or nine thousand."

The Battle of St. Vith

In the middle, both von Manteuffel's and Dietrich's men faced a significant challenge in the town of St. Vith, a crucial route junction. The defenders, led by the 7th Armored Division, comprised the 106th U.S. Infantry Division's surviving unit and elements of the 9th Armored Division and the 28th U.S. Infantry Division. Jones (106th Infantry) successfully repelled the German attacks, causing the German advance to be substantially slowed. The United States' troops retreated to fortified positions in the area, offering a formidable barrier to a successful German offensive.

Meuse River Bridges

The 53rd (Welsh) and 51st (Highland) Infantry Divisions, the 29th and 33rd Armoured Brigades, the British 6th Airborne Division, and the 34th Tank Brigade were among the corps' units that fought in the Ardennes. Unlike the German militaries on the northern and southern shoulders, which had significant difficulty, the German offensive in the middle made considerable progress. The 2nd Panzer Division led the Fifth Panzer Army, while the Panzer Lehr Division (Armored Training Division) advanced from the south, leaving Bastogne to other divisions. The XXXVII Panzer-Korps' commander, von Lüttwitz, ordered the division to turn westwards towards Dinant and the Meuse, leaving a blocking force at Marche-en-Famenne. The 9th Panzer Division has been reassigned to the Fifth Panzer Army, currently stationed in Marche. German troops arrived in the woods of Foy-Nôtre-Dame on the 22nd and 23rd of December, just a few kilometres ahead of Dinant. Parts of the 2nd Panzer Division were in sight of the Meuse near Dinant at Foy-Nôtre-Dame, while the Panzer Lehr Division occupied the town of Celles. In and around Foy Notre Dame, the 29th Armoured Brigade ambushed the Germans, destroying three Panthers and several vehicles. The advance in this region was halted by late Christmas Eve when Allied forces attacked the 2nd Panzer Division's tight corridor.

Operation Greif and Operation Wahrung

Otto Skorzeny successfully infiltrated a small portion of his battalion of English-speaking Germans disguised in American uniforms beyond Allied lines for Operation Greif ("Griffin"). At these checkpoints, American MPs interrogated troops about things that every American should know, such as the individuality of Mickey Mouse's girlfriend, baseball scores, or the capital of a specific U.S. state—though many could not recall or did not know. For example, when General Omar Bradley correctly selected Springfield as the capital of Illinois, he was momentarily held because the American MP who questioned him incorrectly believed the city was Chicago.

The German infiltrators had difficulty despite the heightened security, and few were apprehended. Skorzeny's soldiers were hanged as spies because they were captured in American uniforms. It was typical army practice at the time, as many belligerents believed it was essential to safeguard their region from the dire threats of enemy spies. According to Skorzeny, German legal experts assured him that as long as he did not instruct his men to fight in battle while donning American uniforms, such a farce of war was legal. Skorzeny and his men were well aware of their impending doom, and most of them wore their German uniforms under their American ones in case they were apprehended. Later in life, he relocated to Spain and South America. Operation Währung was supported by a small group of German operatives dressed in American clothing who entered Allied lines.

Attack in the south

All attacking divisions crossing the River, then increasing pressure on the vital road towns of St. Vith and Bastogne, provided the main thrust on Manteuffel's front. For two days, the 112th Infantry Regiment (the 28th Division's most northerly regiment) held a continuous front east of the Our River, preventing German soldiers from taking and using the Our River bridges around Ouren before gradually moving westwards.

The 28th Division's 109th and 110th Regiments fared much worse, as their positions were so thinly dispersed that they were easily bypassed. The battle for the towns and American strongholds and German transport disorganization stalled the advance enough for the 101st Airborne Division (supported by units from the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions) to arrive in Bastogne by a truck on December 19th. On the 20th of December, the panzer columns swept by on both sides, cutting Bastogne off but failing to secure the crucial crossroads. After a 6.4 km (4 mi) advance in the extreme south, Brandenberger's three infantry divisions were checked by divisions of the US VIII Corps; General Gavin of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived first and ordered the 101st to hold Bastogne while the 82nd took on the more tough task of facing the SS Panzer Divisions.

Bastogne's Siege

On the 19th of December, senior Allied leaders met in a bunker in Verdun. The 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer-Lehr-Division of the XLVII Panzer Corps and the Corps' infantry (26th Volksgrenadier Division) had been engaged, and much slowed and frustrated in outlying battles at defensive positions up to 16 kilometres (10 mi) from the town proper. However, these defensive positions were gradually forced back onto and into haste. "The current situation is to be considered as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster," Eisenhower urged his generals, noting that the Allies could defeat German forces considerably more readily when they were available in the open and on the aggressive than when they were on the defensive. After expressing his scepticism, Eisenhower asked Patton how long it would take for his Third Army, based in northeastern France, to turn north and counter-attack. The movement had already begun when Eisenhower asked him how long it would take. On December 20, Eisenhower transferred the First and Ninth United States Armies from General Bradley's 12th Army Group to Montgomery's 21st Army Group. By the 21st of December, the Germans had surrounded Bastogne, which was defended by the 101st Airborne Division, the 969th Artillery Battalion, which was entirely made up of African Americans, and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division. Thus, on the paper typed out and sent to the Germans, McAuliffe scribbled the famous and morale-boosting line, "NUTS!" That response had to be explained to the Germans and the non-American Allies.

After the 21st of December, both the 2nd Panzer and Panzer-Lehr divisions pushed forward from Bastogne, leaving just the 901st regiment of the Panzer-Lehr division to aid the 26th Volksgrenadier-Division in attempting to capture the crossroads. On Christmas Eve, the 26th VG received one Panzergrenadier Regiment from the 15th Panzergrenadier Division in preparation for the following day's main attack. The XLVII Panzerkorps concentrated its assault on various places on the west side of the perimeter in series rather than conducting a single simultaneous attack on all sides because it lacked adequate troops and the 26th VG Division's forces were near depletion. Patton's 4th Armored Division burst through and opened a passage to Bastogne with the 26th (Yankee) Infantry Division supporting it.

Allied Counteroffensive

The weather began to improve on December 23, allowing the Allied air forces to assault. General Hasso von Manteuffel advised Hitler's Military Adjutant a halt to all offensive operations and a retreat back to the Westwall (meaning 'Western Rampart') on the evening of December 24. Nevertheless, the 2nd Armored Division endeavoured to attack and cut off the spearheads of the 2nd Panzer Division at the Meuse on Christmas Eve. At the same time, the 4th Cavalry Group forces kept the 9th Panzer Division busy at Marche. Parts of the 2nd Panzer Division were changed off as a result. The imprisoned units of the 2nd Panzer Division attempted two breakout efforts on the 26th and 27th of December but only partially succeeded since large quantities of equipment fell into Allied hands.

Further Allied pressure from Marche eventually convinced the German command that no more offensive action against the Meuse was possible. Patton's Third Army was fighting to relieve Bastogne in the south. Company D's lead unit, 37th Tank Battalion, 4th Armored Division, reached Bastogne at 16:50 on December 26th, ending the siege.

German Counter-Attack

The Luftwaffe had gone 277 planes, 62 to Allied fighters and 172 to friendly fire from German flak guns, unaware of the impending large-scale German air operation. The Allied flak guns were set up to protect against German V-1 flying bomb/missile attacks and used proximity fused shells. Still, they were also hit by friendly fire from German flak guns, unaware of the impending large-scale German air operation. While the Allies quickly recovered from their losses, the Luftwaffe was rendered useless for the rest of the war.

On the same day, Army Group Upper Rhine (Heeresgruppe Oberrhein) and German Army Group G (Heeresgruppe G) began a strong offensive against the Seventh United States Army's thinly stretched 110-kilometre (70-mile) line. The Seventh Army had transferred troops, equipment, and supplies north to aid the American armies in the Ardennes on Eisenhower's instructions, and the offensive had left them in severe difficulties.

By the 15th of January, the VI Corps of the Seventh Army was fighting on three fronts in Alsace. For January, the total for the Seventh Army was 11,609. At least 9,000 people were injured in all. In addition, 17,000 soldiers were hospitalized due to the cold in the First, Third, and Seventh Armies.

Allies Prevail

Even though the German advance came to a halt in January 1945, they still held a crucial position in the Allied line. Montgomery delayed the attack until 3 January, refusing to risk underprepared infantry in a snowstorm for a strategically unimportant territory. By that time, large numbers of German forces had successfully retreated, albeit at the cost of losing most of their heavy equipment.

The First and Third US Armies were separated by about 40 kilometres when the offensive began (25 mi). The Tiger IIs of German Substantial Tank Battalion 506 assisted the 12th SS Hitlerjugend division in attacking US positions near Wardin on January 2nd, knocking out 15 Sherman tanks. Although the fuel situation had grown so grave that most of the German armour had to be abandoned, most of the German army completed a successful combat withdrawal and evacuated the battle area.

Hitler agreed to withdraw all powers from the Ardennes, including the SS-Panzer divisions, on January 7, 1945, effectively terminating all offensive operations. However, the Americans seized St. Vith on January 23, and the final German forces in the offensive did not return to their starting position until January 25.

Strategy and Leadership

Hitler's Chosen Few

Adolf Hitler devised the plan and timetable for the Ardennes offensive. Ultra codebreakers did not detect the timing and scale of the attack due to landline communications within Germany, motor-powered runners carrying orders, and draconian threats from Hitler. After a failed assassination attempt by regular German Army soldiers, Hitler came to rely on the Nazi Party SS and its armed wing, the Waffen-SS. On September 6, 1944, Belgian rebels captured SS-Gruppenführer (Major General) Kurt Meyer, the 12th SS Panzer (Armor) Division leader. As a result, Hitler entrusted the vital right flank of the assault to the best SS men and a few Volksgrenadier battalions under the command of "Sepp" (Joseph) Dietrich, a sincere political disciple of Hitler and a devoted follower since the rise of National Socialism in Germany's early days. Their horse-drawn artillery and rocket batteries, in particular, posed a considerable threat to the armoured divisions. Apart from expressing futile private objections to Hitler, Dietrich mainly remained absent from the offensive planning. Technical specialists from the eastern front, Model and Manteuffel, advised Hitler that a limited offensive to encircle and defeat the American 1st Army would be the best goal their offensive could hope for. Accordingly, Dietrich paused the armoured attack on the twin settlements after two days on the northern shoulder of the offensive. Instead, he redirected the axis of their march southward through the hamlet of Domäne Bütgenbach. The German battalions that had already bypassed Elsenborn Ridge could not assist the headlong drive on the ridge. Because Robertson had already chosen to abandon the towns, Dietrich's choice unwittingly played into American hands.

Allied High-Command Controversy

Field Marshal Alan Brooke, the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and Field Marshal Montgomery, who supported a rapid advance on a narrow front under his command, with the other allied troops in reserve, were both hostile to this perspective. Eisenhower made his choice based on several military and political factors. There were doubts about whether the Allied logistical system had the flexibility needed to sustain the narrow-front strategy; the realities of topography and logistics argued strongly against it. The repercussions if the narrow-front offensive failed would have been disastrous. In addition, Montgomery's Chief of Staff, Major-General Francis de Guingand, wrote that he disagreed with Montgomery's narrow front policy on political and administrative grounds in his postwar memoirs.

Montgomery's Actions

In how he responded to the German attack, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery differed with the American command, and his public pronouncements to that effect generated conflict in the American high command. On December 30, Montgomery's 21st Army Group's Chief of Staff, Major-General Freddie de Guingand, rose to the situation and personally smoothed up the differences. As a result, the US First Army (Hodges) and US Ninth Army (Simpson) on the northern shoulder of the German incursion lost connections with nearby forces and Bradley's headquarters in Luxembourg City. To the south of the "bulge." As a result, on December 20, at 10:30 a.m., Eisenhower temporarily moved command of the US First and Ninth Armies from Bradley to Montgomery. On 17 January 1945, command of the US First Army was transferred to the US 12th Army Group, and on 4 April 1945, command of the US Ninth Army was transferred to the US 12th Army Group.

On the 20th of December, Montgomery wrote about the scenario he had discovered: The First Army was putting up a brave battle. Accordingly, he took the following steps: he placed British forces under the command of the Ninth Army to fight alongside American troops, and he forced the Ninth Army to take over some of the First Army Front. With the Third Army, Bradley took similar operations on the bulge's southern flank.

Because of the news embargo imposed on the 16th, the change of command to Montgomery was not made public until SHAEF claimed that the shift had "absolutely nothing to do with the three American generals' failure." Nevertheless, the revelation made headlines in British media and the Stars and Stripes, which indicated British involvement in the conflict for the first time.

Montgomery asked Churchill for permission to hold a news conference to explain the situation. However, CIGS Alan Brooke, who was possibly the only person Montgomery would heed advice from, cleared the news conference, despite some of his staff's concerns about how it might harm Montgomery's image. As a result, Montgomery held his news conference at Zonhoven on the same day as Hitler's withdrawal order of 7 January.

Despite his good words about American soldiers, Montgomery's overall impression, at least in the eyes of American military officials, was that he took the lion's share of credit for the campaign's success and was responsible for rescuing the beleaguered Americans. His remarks were seen as self-serving, particularly his allegation that Eisenhower had placed him in command of the north when the situation "began to deteriorate." Montgomery's failure to highlight the involvement of any American general other than Eisenhower was considered offensive in the context of Patton and Montgomery's well-known enmity. By the time Montgomery was handed command of the 1st and 9th US Armies, General Bradley and his American commanders had already begun their counteroffensive.

Focusing solely on his generalship, Montgomery continued to assert that the counteroffensive had gone exceptionally well, but he did not clarify why he had waited until January 3 to attack. Liddell Hart, a British novelist who has since been accused of "rewriting the historical record" by placing words in the mouths of German generals. Following multiple interviews conducted through an interpreter, Liddell Hart attributed to Manteuffel the following statement about Montgomery's contribution to the Ardennes battle:

The American 1st Army's operations had devolved into a series of isolated holding actions. The Americans could amass their reserves and frustrate the German attempts to expand their breakthrough due to his refusal to participate in early and piecemeal counter-attacks. In a 1997 article, American historian Stephen Ambrose claimed that "putting Monty in charge of the northern flank had little effect on the battle." "Far from guiding the victory, Montgomery had gotten in the way of everyone and had botched the counter-attack," Ambrose wrote. Montgomery's refusal to counter-attack when Eisenhower ordered it was attributed to his "stagnating conservatism," according to General Omar Bradley.

Casualties

The official number of casualties was 81,834, with 12,652 killed, 38,600 wounded, and 30,582 missing. According to Allied figures, German losses are estimated to have ranged from 81,000 to 103,000. However, German casualties have been estimated to be as high as 125,000 by specific sources. According to German historian Hermann Jung, between 16 December 1944 and late January 1945, the three German armies that took part in the operation suffered 67,675 casualties.

Between 10 December 1944 and 31 January 1945, German casualty reports for the engaged armies show 63,222 deaths. Official figures from the United States Army Center of Military History put the number of Americans killed at 75,000 and Germans killed at 100,000.

Between 527 and 554 German armoured vehicles were lost due to various causes, with 324 tanks lost in combat. In addition, 16–20 Tigers, 191–194 Panthers, 141–158 Panzer IVs, and 179–182 tank destroyers and assault guns were German write-offs. The Germans lost a further 5,000 soft-skinned and armoured vehicles. Over the same period, the United States alone lost 733 tanks and tank destroyers. The Ardennes Offensive revealed that the Allied armoured troops could compete with the Panzerwaffe on an equal footing.

Result

The Germans could not seize the initiative on the Western Front, despite starting their onslaught with complete surprise and enjoying some early triumphs. After the rainy season, rains and harsh frosts, the Allied High Command planned to restart the offensive by early January 1945. Still, due to unanticipated changes in the front, that plan had to be postponed until 29 January 1945. Following the battle, the Allies pressed their advantage. In the south, Patton was in charge.

The German casualties in the war were particularly significant: their last reserves had been depleted, the Luftwaffe had been devastated, and residual forces across the West were being driven back to defend the Siegfried Line. In response to the offensive's early success, Churchill called Stalin on January 6th, requesting that the Soviets apply pressure to the Germans on the Eastern Front. The Soviets launched the massive Vistula–Oder Offensive on January 12, scheduled for January 20. Because weather reports predicted a thaw later in the month, and the tanks needed challenging terrain for the offensive (and the Red Army's advance was aided by two Panzer Armies (5th and sixth) redeployed for the Ardennes attack), it was moved up from 20 January to 12 January. Over 2,000 black soldiers volunteered to serve on the front lines. During World War II, 708 black Americans were killed in battle. The operation was formally known as Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein, or 'Operation Watch on the Rhine,' by the Germans, and the Ardennes Counteroffensive by the Allies.

Media Attention

Bastogne's combat drew much media attention because it was a relaxation area for many war journalists in early December 1944. The German forces who surrounded the town advanced quickly, and the dramatic resupply operations by parachute and glider and the quick action of General Patton's Third US Army were all reported in newspaper articles and on radio, capturing the public's imagination.

Bletchley Park Post-Mortem

Missed Indicators

General Nye entrusted Lucas and Peter Calvocoressi of Hut 3 with preparing a report on the lessons gained from the handling of pre-battle Ultra (as part of the inquiry established up by the Chiefs of Staff). "The costly reverse could have been avoided if Ultra had been more properly evaluated," the investigation said. "Ultra intelligence was numerous and informative," though "not completely free of ambiguity," "but it was misunderstood and exploited," according to the report. "Intelligence staffs had been too prone to think that Ultra would tell them everything," Lucas and Calvocoressi wrote. For example, the establishment of the new 6th Panzer Army in the build-up area was one of the indicators misinterpreted (west bank of the Rhine about Cologne).

SHAEF Failures

It was up to the intelligence officers at SHAEF to draw broad judgments, as they received information from "all sources," including aerial surveillance. "It would be exciting to know how much exploration was flown over the Eiffel area on the US First Army Front," Lucas and Calvocoressi stated. E. Rose, Hut 3's head Air Adviser at the time, examined the paper and called it "an excellent report" that "showed the failure of intelligence at SHAEF and the Air Ministry" in 1998. "We anticipated heads to roll at Eisenhower's HQ, but they did nothing more than wobble," Lucas and Calvocoressi said. On December 28, 1944, five copies of an article by "C" (Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service), Suggestions of the German Offensive of December 1944, were issued based on ULTRA material and presented to DMI.

Battle Credit

The US Army awarded battle credit in the Ardennes-Alsace campaign citation to units and individuals who participated in northwest Europe after the war ended. The quotation enclosed troops in the Ardennes sector, as well as units further south in the Alsace sector, including those in northern Alsace who filled in the vacuum left by the U.S. Third Army racing north, were involved in the concurrent Operation Nordwind diversion in central and southern Alsace, which was launched to weaken the Allied response in the Ardennes, and provided reinforcements to Ardennes units.

In Popular Culture

The conflict has spawned over 70 board wargames, the first of which was released in 1965. In addition, the fight has been the setting for over 30 video games, primarily strategy games, as of 2014, starting with Tigers in the Snow (1981).

Last updated: 2022-January-13
Tags: History World War II
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