On This Day, 16th December: Battle of the Bulge

Blogger: GemSen With Christmas fast approaching ‘Battle of the Bulge’ may remind you of what you might have to compete with in January as you embark on your annual New Year diet. But, in mid-December 1944 it wasn't Christmas that was on Adolf Hitler’s mind — he had just launched a big and bold German offensive campaign in a desperate final attempt to try and defeat the enemy, who had the finish line in sight. The Battle of the Bulge, continued from 16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945 and was a surprise attack that caught the Allies off guard in the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France and Luxembourg on the Western Front.
Even though there were suspicions that Hitler had his eye on the Ardennes, the Allies advancing towards Germany were so close to winning the war that they never believed that Hitler was capable of such an audacious move so late in the game. Referred to as the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ because of the way the German advance created a dent in the Allied front line which bulged inwards on the wartime news maps, it aimed to split the British and American Allied line in half, capture Antwerp, and then encircle and destroy four Allied armies. Held on an 80-mile front by only six American divisions, the Ardennes sector was considered a 'quiet sector' and weakly defended. Hitler knew that the Allies were overconfident, underprepared, and preoccupied with Allied offensive plans and had noticed an ideal opportunity to deliver a surprise attack to his enemies. On the 16th December 1944, Hitler also took advantage of the Allies air forces being grounded due to heavily overcast weather conditions with thick snow on the ground and heavy fog in the air. The battle started with a two-hour bombardment and massive armoured attack with English speaking German soldiers dressed in American uniforms causing mass disarray and within five days the Germans had surrounded 20,000 Americans at Bastogne. The German commander gave American Major-General Anthony McAuliffe, the chance to surrender, McAuliffe answered with just the one word – ‘Nuts’. However, about 8,000 US soldiers near the town of St Vith did surrender which made it the largest surrender of US troops since the American Civil War 80 years before. Elsewhere, the Germans taunted the Americans, using loudspeakers to ask: “How would you like to die for Christmas?” The success of the Germans, however, was short lived, and by the 23rd December the weather conditions had started to improve, which meant that the Allies could perform air attacks and subsequently then go on the offensive tackling German forces and supply lines and were soon in a position of stalemate. By the 26th December, Bastogne was relieved by US 4th Armoured Division and the Allies went on the offensive and the Germans were stalled by fierce resistance on the northern shoulder of the offensive around Elsenborn Ridge and in the south around Bastogne blocked German access to key roads. The attack also required mass quantities of fuel, which the Germans didn’t have so they couldn’t capitalise on their initial success. This and terrain that favoured the defenders threw the German advance behind schedule and allowed the Allies to reinforce the thinly placed troops. The Germans were told to forge on and the fighting was particularly intensive around the new year period. By mid-January 1945, the lack of fuel could not be ignored any longer and the Germans had to abandon their vehicles. The 1st SS Panzer Division, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Joachim Peiper, had to make their way back to Germany on foot. By the end of January the battle was essentially over, the Luftwaffe had experienced terrible losses, and most of the German units and reserves were depleted of personnel and equipment. The forces drawn from the Eastern Front for the battle were lost, leaving the forces facing the Russians greatly weakened as well. Never recovering from this loss, the Germans were pushed back on both fronts until the end of the war. Even though it never succeeded it was a daring plan, which became the costliest battle in terms of casualties for the United States, who took the brunt of the attack. The battle involved about 610,000 American men, of whom some 89,000 were casualties, including 19,000 killed. It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II. Source: Wiki & History in an hour Do you know enough about your ancestors and their military past? Why not log on to Forces War Records and search our vast collection of records to find out more...
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