The heavily fortified elite German infantry and panzer divisions stunned the Allies by silently building up their arsenals and trekking through the Ardennes Forest. The Allies, many of whom thought they’d be back home with the war over by Christmas, were weakened by absent leaders and low munitions. Some of the GI’s had been sent there to recuperate. It would turn out to be one of the deadliest battles of the entire war as Hitler sent in his best troops, his best panzers and his best equipment, all in large numbers. It’s a testament to the courage of the Allied young men that the war wasn’t lost there.
Keep in mind the timeline: the Normandy Invasion [D-Day], codenamed “Overlord” began June 6, 1944; Battle of the Bulge was December 16,1944 – January 25, 1945. There had been a lot of brutal fighting in Western Europe, plus Sicily and Italy, so the Allies were thinking the war was winding down, time to relax and recoup. There had been some warning from Ultra, the British code-breakers, but it came quite late, was quite vague and was quite ignored by Allied commanders, who share much of the blame here. More American were killed or wounded during the Battle of the Bulge than any other operation of the war. Incredible, and a total surprise to the Americans.
There’s so much history in this battle. The fanatic Hitler Youth Brigade Panzer, the worst winter in decades, the grounded air force, the massacres of Allies that got in the way of Joachim Piper, including the famous Malmedy Massacre of 84 American POWs at Malmedy, Belgium, the frantic struggle to blow up bridges to prevent the German drive to take Antwerp, the massacre – noted for brutal torture – of the black soldiers separated from their unit and known as the Wereth 11, the impossible holding of Bastogne by Allies to keep it out of German hands, the English-speaking German spies who stole GI uniforms and infiltrated American lines, the frantic German race for fuel to keep the panzers running while the Allied attempted to stop them, and the multiple pockets of Allied troops who got caught behind German lines.
The infantry and artillery held off the Germans until the weather cleared and the air force [it was part of the Army back then] attacked German lines and their panzers and resupplied the Allied troops, who were down to their last bit of ammunition and mortar.
Solid info from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Bulge
Here’s the site dedicated to the Wereth 11: http://www.wereth.org/en/home. There’s a memorial in Wereth, Belgium that honors the 11 GI’s. The memorial was erected by a man who as a young boy watched his father tried to save the 11 but the SS found them. The boy, Hermann Langer, never forgot the men or his father’s brave attempt to feed and hide the men, and years later ensured the world wouldn’t forget either. The frozen bodies of the 11 were uncovered in the woods after the war ended.
The Henry Fonda movie of Battle of the Bulge is an excellent introduction.
Here’s a PBS documentary on the Battle of the Bulge:
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