Battle of the Bulge
16 December 1944 - 25 January 1945

The Battle of the Bulge was one of the most famous battles fought by the U.S. Army in World War 2. The Allies were preparing to invade the Reich's territory, and no one believed that the Germans would be able to launch a major offensive on the Western Front.

Wacht am Rhein or Hitler's Gamble

However, Adolf Hitler had decided to use some of the best forces of the German Army to risk everything in the hope of a turnaround. The German forces were to attack through the Ardennes - a hilly and forested region - aiming to reach the Meuse River and then to break the Allied front in two, taking the Belgian port of Antwerp by which the Allies were supplied.

Three German armies were involved in the operation called Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine):

  • the 6th Panzer Army, under General Sepp Dietrich, whose shock force were the Waffen SS divisions;
  • the 5th Panzer Army, commanded by General von Manteuffel, which included elite Panzer divisions of the Wehrmacht;
  • the 7th Army, under General Brandenberger, made up largely of infantry.

The Americans had initially in the contact zone only four infantry divisions and one armored division, but brought numerous reinforcements until the end of the battle, including infantry, armored and airborne units.

Battle of the Bulge - a Desperate Week

The German Ardennes offensive began on the morning of December 16, 1944, breaking through the lines of the dazed Americans. German soldiers, speaking English and dressed in U.S. uniforms, had infiltrated behind the front and although they were neutralized, managed nevertheless to confuse the Americans in the early days.

The weather was favorable to the Germans during the first week, fog or overcast sky not permitting Allied air support. Although the defense of some inexperienced U.S. units had collapsed at first, the Americans opposed an increasingly higher resistance, and the engineers blew up bridges to slow down the Germans.

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-1985-0104-501 / Lange / [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons

At Elsenborn Ridge, on the northern flank, the Americans defended resolutely, reducing the options for advancing of the Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. A single battlegroup of the 1st SS Division, led by Joachim Peiper, managed to penetrate deeply into the U.S. lines but was subsequently isolated and ran out of fuel.

The Germans made the most progress in the center, encircling the town of Bastogne, which was the most important road junction in the region. However, the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne Division defending Bastogne, refused to surrender through the famous reply "Nuts!", given by their commander, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, so the town remained in American hands.

Patton's Intervention

The luck left the Germans after the first week when the weather improved, so the powerful Allied air force started to give a strong tactical support to the U.S. troops. The German Ardennes offensive had made a "bulge" in the Allied front that began to be reduced mainly from the south, when the U.S. 3rd Army of General George S. Patton attacked the German flank, managing to relieve Bastogne on 26 December.

By the end of January, the Allies had reached the Siegfried Line, the Germans losing all the captured ground and the last significant reserves. Hitler had lost his last chance, if he had any, for obtaining a separate peace with the Western Allies, and the days of the Third Reich neared the end. 

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