The Battle of the Bulge, which lasted from December 16, 1944 to January 28, 1945, was the largest land battle of World War II in which the United States participated. More than a million men fought in this battle including some 600,000 Germans, 500,000 Americans, and 55,000 British. The Nazi-directed military force consisted of two Armies with ten corps (equal to 29 divisions). While the American military force consisted of a total of three armies with six corps (equal to 31 divisions). At the conclusion of the battle the casualties were as follows: 81,000 U.S. with 19,000 killed, 1400 British with 200 killed, and 100,000 Germans killed, wounded or captured.
In late 1944 the Nazis were clearly losing the war. The Russian Red Army was steadily closing in on the Eastern front while intense American bombing was devastating German cities. The Italian peninsula had been captured and liberated, and the Allied armies were advancing rapidly through France and the Low Countries. Hitler knew the end was near if something couldn't be done to slow the Allied advance. He soon came up with an idea to do this.
In September of 1944 Wilhelm Kertel and Alfred Jodl attended a meeting at Hitler's headquarters in East Prussia. At which time Hitler gave a status of the Nazis current military position. During this meeting Hitler presented Jodl with the task of coming up with a strategic plan for a major offensive on the Western front. Hitler assigned the attack to be somewhere between the Aachen area and the southern Luxembourg-France boundary.
This location was favorable because there was only one armored and four U. S. infantry divisions at this location. Dietrich's Sixth Panzer would set out from a small town twenty miles southeast of Aachen. Mauteuffel's Fifth Panzer would launch from Schee Eifel plateau. Bramdemburger's Seventh Army would launch itself from the south close to the Siegfried Line. The Sixth and Fifth armies would drive to Antwerp, with the Seventh and other units protecting the flank. At this meeting Hitler planned to direct the launch of a offensive between November 20 and November 30. He was confident the Allies would not be able to react in time to stop the offensive. His plan was dependent upon speed and accuracy. The speed would be provided via the terrain and the woods would provide the cover. Also key to the plan was the weather. Hitler was hoping the attack would occur during inclement weather, which would prevent the Allied Air Forces from being effective.
Jodl returned the plan Hitler had requested to him on October 9. This plan had five possible avenues of attack, with the northernmost coming from the area near Dusseldorf for thirty-one divisions with one-third of these consisting of armored infantry. The estimation for fuel called for between four and five millions of gallons along with fifty trainloads of ammunition. Also Hitler enlarged the plan to include the two northern most attack routes.
The Ardennes was selected as the location for the offensive because the area provided enough cover for a massive buildup of troops and because it was the location where in 1940 Hitler had initiated a surprise attack on France. Hitler believed that by retaking Antwerp the Allies would become irritated with each other and would lead to disputes between the members of the Allies. He believed the bond between the Allies was unstable and could easily be diminished. In doing so Hitler would be able to buy some much-needed time to work on secret weapons and build up troops.
During October and November, Hitler changed the operation's name after several of his military commanders tried to convince him to change the plans. The commanders in charge of the offensive were skeptical about Hitler's plan. They felt that taking Antwerp was something that could not be accomplished by the German army at the time.
Hitler was presented with a new smaller plan which changed the objective to only launching a small attack to weaken the Allied forces in the area rather than launching an all-out attack to retake Antwerp. His general's pleaded with him to change the plans but Hitler refused.
Adolf Hitler was believed unstable with paranoia by this time in the war. He would not listen to his advising commanders. An assassination attempt had been made on his life and this caused him to trust almost no one. Hitler's plan to retake Antwerp was irrational in that the German's would have no air support and the supplies that they would need were lacking. Also what Hitler expected to result from retaking Antwerp was irrational. The Allied powers had problems like any broad-scope situation, but they held a unified mindset in one goal - "destroy the Nazi regime."
At 5:30 A.M. on December 6, 1944, the Nazi Reich launched eight German armored divisions and thirteen German infantry divisions into a concentrated attack on five divisions of the United States 1st Army. At least a thousand light, medium, and heavy guns and howitzers and multiple-rocket launchers were fired on American positions. Between the 5th and 6th Panzer armies, which equaled eleven divisions, broke into the Ardennes against the American divisions protecting the region. The Sixth Panzer Army then headed north while the Fifth Panzer Army went south. Sixth Panzer Army attacked the two southern divisions of U. S. Fifth Corps at Elsborn Ridge, but accomplished little. At the same time the 5th Panzer Army was attacking the U. S. Eighth Corps some 100 miles to the south. This corps was one of the greenest in Europe at the time and the Germans exploited their lack of experience. They were quickly surrounded and there were mass surrenders.
On December 17 American Seventh Armored divisions engaged Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army at Saint Vith. Saint Vith was a major road that led to the Meuse River and to Antwerp. The American division was successful in halting the German advance and this caused the Germans to take a path that was out of the way. This slowed the Germans, altering the timing of Hitler's plan thus causing the higher consumption of critical supplies.
The same day some Americans were taken prisoner at Baugnez and were shot by Colonel Peiper's unit while on a road headed for Malmedy. Of the 140 men taken prisoner 86 were shot and 43 managed to survive to tell the story of what had happened. Rumors of this event spread quickly through the American divisions, enraging the Americans, tossing out any surrender option, causing them to fight much harder and with more resolve. Many battles documented Americans fighting to the death.
Bastogne was a strategic position which both the Germans and Americans wanted to occupy. This lead to a race between the American 101st Airborne Division and the Germans. The Americans managed to get there first and occupy the city. The Germans were not far behind and quickly surrounded and laid siege to the city. This city was an important strategic location for the Allies because this city could be used as a base to launch a counteroffensive.
Because the Americans were surrounded the only way they could get supplies was by airdrops. However because it was the winter and the weather was bad for a long time planes could not fly. The Americans had to survive the best they could until the weather finally cleared up. The Americans at Bastogne were relieved when the Seventh Corps moved down and enlarged the U. S. line. This allowed Patton's Third Army to counterattack the Germans surrounding Bastogne. The Third Army was then able to push the Germans past the border of Bastogne.
Bastogne was not out of danger however, and on December 29 troops from the 101st Airborne division left Bastogne to fight the Germans. At this time the weather had cleared up which allowed Allied air support for the first time. At the same time General Hodges Second Armored divisions repelled the Second Panzer Division short of the Meuse River at Celles.
The Allies launched a counteroffensive two days before the New Year. This counteroffensive involved the U.S. Third Army striking to the North while the U.S. First Army pushed to the South. They were supposed to meet at the village of Houffalize to trap all German force. The Germans did not go easily however and the Americans had a rough time. Day after day, soldiers wallowed through the snow. Newspapers were put under clothes as added insulation.
On January first, Hitler launched a plan he called "The Great Blow." The goal of this plan was to eliminate Allied air power. At 8:00 A.M. German fighter airplanes swarmed over Belgium, Holland, and northern France. For more than two hours Allied airfields were bombarded. By 10:00 A.M. 206 aircraft and many bases laid in ruin. Hitler's plan had a great deal of damage to Allied aircraft. However, the price he paid for this was devastating. The German Luftwaffe lost 300 planes and 253 trained pilots.
On January 8, Hitler ordered his troops to withdraw from the tip of the Bulge. This indicated that he had realized his offensive had failed. By January 16, the Third and First Army had joined at Houffalize. The Allies now controlled the original front. On January 23, Saint Vith was retaken. Finally, on January 28 the Battle of the Bulge was officially over.
The 106th division played a major role in the success of the Allies. They were credited with holding the Germans back. Timing was a major part of the Germans offensive to break through to the Meuse River and capture Antwerp. The first three days of the battle were the most important for the Germans. However, the 106th division slowed the Germans at St. Vith. The battle that ensued at St. Vith would cost the Germans much in terms of resources. The delay and extended battle would cause the Germans to lose the advantage they had in many of their previous campaigns.
The Battle of the Bulge was very costly in terms of both men and equipment. Hitler's last ditch attempt to bring the Nazi Reich back into winning the war had failed. During this battle the Germans had expended the majority of their air power and men. The Allies however had plenty of men and equipment left. With few forces left to defend "The Reich" the Nazis could not prolong the inevitable. Nazi-Germany's final defeat was now only months away. Soon, Hitler order the Nazi Youth organizations to arm and fight to the death.
The Nazi Ardennes Offensive
The Battle of the Bulge