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Historically Speaking

Historically Speaking: The Coldest Winter Fight

The Battle of the Bulge

By Tom Morrow

For the armchair history buff, in a nutshell, here’s the last epic European battle during World War II, which has become known as “The Battle of the Bulge.”

German Dictator Adolf Hitler ordered an attack across the Western Front of Belgium. His goal was to compel the United States and Britain to sue for peace, freeing Germany forces to fight against the Soviets on the Eastern Front.

Hitler wanted to capture of the port of Antwerp, depriving the Allies of supplies.

Hitler’s generals cautioned his plan was too ambitious. Nonetheless, the dictator ordered an all-out attack. The 6th SS Panzer Army would head for Antwerp. The German 5th Panzer Army, and German 7th Army would take Brussels. It would be the war’s largest movement of forces against the unsuspecting Allied forces.

The Germans observed strict radio silence. Due to a low supply of fuel, one of the key element of the attack was to capture Allied gasoline depots. Allied bombardment of the Rumanian oil fields left the Germans desperately low; without the fuel depots, their tanks had little chance in reaching Antwerp.

A special German unit was formed to infiltrate Allied lines dressed as American soldiers and spread confusion. Road signs were switched, and Germans posing as G.I. Military Police confused traffic flow. Allied Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight D. “Ike” Eisenhower was completely unaware.

At 5:30 a.m. on Dec. 16, 1944, the German offensive began on the 6th Panzer Army’s front. Meeting heavy resistance from the Americans, the Germans was forced to commit tanks to the battle. In the center, German troops opened a gap through the U.S.28th and 106th Infantry Divisions, capturing two U.S. regiments in the process, creating a huge bulge in the front line.

The 5th Panzer Army’s advance was slowed allowing the U.S. 101st Airborne to reach the vital crossroads at Bastogne. With snowstorms in one of the bitterly coldest winters on record, it prevented Allied air power from support. In the south, the German infantry was essentially stopped by the U.S. VIII Corps.

Later that first day, members of a SS Waffen Panzer battalion captured and executed some 150 Americans in a field near Malmedy. This action became infamously known as “The Malmedy Massacre.”

Encountering heavy resistance at Stoumont, Belgium, the Germans ran out of fuel and were forced to abandon their vehicles.

American troops fought a critical action at St. Vith, but they were soon driven back by the Germans. This collapse caused the U.S. 101st Airborne and the U.S. 10th Armored Division’s Combat Command B at Bastogne to be surrounded.

At Bastogne, the Americans repelled numerous German assaults while fighting in bitter cold weather. Short on supplies and ammunition, the U.S. 101st’s commander, Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe rebuffed a German demand for surrender by replying, “Nuts!”

Ike asked how long it would take for Lt. Gen. George Patton’s Third Army to advance north. Patton replied: “48 hours.” No one believed him, but he did it and rescued the encircled American troops.

On Dec. 24, with clear weather, Allied fighter-bombers entered the battle. That same day, more German forces ran out of fuel and stopped 10 miles short of the Meuse River.

German commanders urged Hitler to halt the attack, but he angrily refused. Soon after, the German forces ground to a halt – literally out of gas. The Western Front returned to the Dec. 16 positions.

During the Battle of the Bulge, 20,876 Allied soldiers were killed, with 42,893 wounded and 23,554 captured or missing. German losses: 15,652 killed, 41,600 wounded, and 27,582 captured or missing.

Defeated in the campaign, German offensive capability in the West was destroyed. The Battle of the Bulge has gone down as one of the largest and deadliest and futile encounters in modern warfare.


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