Over the years I had read a lot about the “Battle of the Bulge” that took place in the heavily forested Ardennes area of the Wallonia region in Eastern Belgium in the Winter of 1944/45. On my recent trip to Belgium I hired a car from Luxembourg and travelled through the major locations of this battle and associated fortifications, museums, monuments and old tanks not only in Belgium but also in Luxembourg. While I was there I located part of the old German defences of the West Wall (“Siegfried Line“) on the German border too.
The “Battle of the Bulge” was a major counter offensive planned by Hitler and staged by the German army on December 16th, 1944 that was an attempt to disrupt the Allied invasion of Western Europe, capture the port of Antwerp, cut Allied supply links and split British and American troops with the aim of preventing them entering Germany. Winter was setting in and the weather was cold and snowy, this was in some ways perfect for the Germans as they had long-lost air superiority and the bad weather would make it hard for Allied aircraft to fly and attack German tanks and troops within the forest.
The attack was organised under great secrecy and came as a complete surprise to the predominately American forces that were facing the Germans at the time (the German area was considered as one for rest and training of troops, not a staging area for battles). A sizeable German force of 30 divisions had been mustered with around 12 Panzer divisions (including elite SS Panzer Divisions) of which many were equipped with the latest Panther, Tiger & King Tiger tanks. The total German force was over 200,000 soldiers, 1,000 tanks and over 1,600 artillery pieces. To muster such a large fighting force so late in the war meant other units defending on other fronts had to be reduced and reserve armies were used.
The battle had many twists and turns in the fog of war including the dropping of German paratroops behind enemy lines and Otto Skorzeny’s famous special forces troops dressed as US soldiers attempting to cause chaos behind enemy lines. The very dark side of war was also evident particularly with the SS massacre of around 80 US soldiers who were prisoners in Malmedy and the shooting of 60 German prisoners in some form of reprisal near Bastogne by US troops.
The German attack created a “bulge” in the Allied Lines but stubborn resistance from Allied forces particularly around places like Bastogne slowed the offence though and the Germans started to run out of fuel. The Germans had to abandon many tanks and vehicles due to a lack of fuel.
Allied reinforcements under General Patton started to arrive in the Ardennes and improving weather accompanied with deadly air attacks that targeted German forces and supply lines started to turn the tide and the objectives of the German offensive were never fully achieved. By January 25th 1945 the battle was over and the Germans were once again in retreat.
The “Battle of the Bulge” was one of the largest for American forces in the war (involving over 600,000 soldiers) and even though they suffered high casualties (89,000 of which 19,000 were killed) it was never enough to halt the invasion of Germany. The Germans suffered between 84,000 and 100,000 casualties during the battle. In the end many German units that retreated back to the West Wall (“Siegfried Line“) defences were now heavily depleted of men and valuable equipment and the battle really just sped up the defeat of Germany, especially with the vast Soviet forces recommencing their offensive on the Eastern Front. It was a last-ditch gamble by Hitler against the Western Allies that did not pay off and wasted more lives in the bloody grind mill of war.