566 The War Illustrated May 31 si, 1940 Rage and Fury of the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ Opening on May 14, what came to be described as the “Battle of the Bulge” soon developed into a conflict of earth-shaking importance. Here we tell of its initial phase, up to the end of the first week’s fighting. The fate of our .country and that of our Allies, the destinies of the world, depend on the battle now in progress.” So began an Order of the Day issued by General Gamelin on Friday, May 17. “Any soldier who cannot advance,” continued the Allied Generalissimo, '“should allow himself to be killed rather than abandon that part of our national soil which has been entrusted to him. As always in grave hours of our history, the order today is ‘Conquer or die.’ We must conquer.” Grave words, but not too grave for the crisis which in the course of a few short days had developed in the Western battle zone. At the beginning of the week the German thrust seemed to be centred in Belgium, whose army, in touch with the Dutch remnant to the north, strongly supported by the British Expeditionary Force in the centre and closely linked with the French on the right, was slowly retreating on the line Antwerp-Brussels- Namur. Suddenly on Tuesday, May 14, anew and afar greater battle developed to the south in the Ardennes. “On the Meuse south of Namur,” ran the French war communique issued at 10.30 on the night of that fateful day, “the Germans have attempted to cross the river at several points. We have launched counterattacks and the fighting continues, more especially in the region of Sedan, where the enemy is making a momentous effort with furious obstinacy and at the expense of heavy casualties.” Onslaught anon Unprecedented Scale Soon it was apparent that the French line from Montmedy, where the deep underground works of the Maginot Line terminate, to Maubeuge was cracking indeed, at several points the line was actually pierced, and through the gap poured German armoured columns consisting of vast numbers of tanks, their way blasted open by a veritable armada of warplanes. For an onslaught on such an unprecedented scale the French defenders were unprepared their ranks, apparently, had been depleted by the dispatch of their reserves to aid the threatened front in Belgium to the north. Despite the most desperate efforts to holdup the attack and to establish afresh front, the German onrush continued with unabated fury. In a comparatively few hours General Corap’s Ninth Army had met disaster, a 90-mile front had been overrun, and alike three-pronged fork the Germans plunged towards the very heart of France. A French War Office spokesman described the onslaught as“ a great hurricane.” The French infantry, he declared, had resisted admirably, but, faced at certain points by an- overwhelming mass of tank units, they had been obliged to give way. Once through the gap, the tanks outspread fanwise in all directions until the battle took on what one of the French war communiques described as “the aspect of a terrible melee.” Here and there there was fierce hand-to-hand fighting, and for the first time in history there were battles on a grand scale between the tanks of the rival armies (seepage 572)_. By now, however, it was too late to effect real consolidation, and for several days more the French were compelled to fallback, abandoning town after town Lth Homines' ^VLe.mrrie Sen °71 nL&x A.¦ NnJtdrirvr Ajidennje oO h/ry 2 S 5 • tv a x Z rte Jtf.Spa- Virnebiin lorftnnrj foWdhjx i& iiefd rL f b n t a j i Comin .v Bern r v Ikaronfa -ri fit Forcien Vagnon Vo) rftry/ rev q e r s Months 3 d ems 0 0 ]U oro'nM Sa-s ViUr W j<\ i u ben i%\s u r T o u i b p ^yihlairr\ Lou y a i s indres'- lon c 6 u r t V j EPERNA: ^^^onl7^Glor) P u it e lang e IMyhtf T hi$sm Xcxl Copy right, George Philip &Son, Ltd .This map jh o w s ih o se areas o f North -Eastern France Band elgiu min which fighting was taking place in the mid d leo f May. The continuous black line marks the Maginot Line, but it should be understood that the deep underground works end a Mont tm e d andy beyond that the Line consists only o f a series o f concreted efen ce work son the surface. The dotted line shows the Siegfried Line the frontiers are indicated by a broken line.