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Battle of the Bulge

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American infantry of 290th Regiment take cover in trees, Belgium 1945

American soldiers during the Battle of the Bulge

The Battle of the Bulge was fought between the winter months from 1944 to 1945, and was the last major Nazi offensive against the Allies in World War II. The battle was Germany's last attempt to punch a hole in Allied lines and stall their advance.

The Battle of the Bulge began on December 16th, 1944. Hitler thought that the Allies were weak enough for him to launch a major attack. Hitler ordered a massive attack against what was mainly comprised of American forces in what was known as the Ardennes Offensive. But what Hitler actually had done was create a bulge in the Allied front line. This lead to the attack being commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge.

Preparation and Planning

The plan organized by Hitler involved the Sixth Panzer Army, headed by Sepp Dietrich, breaking through enemy lines while the other divisions occupied the Allies, thus leading the attack and capture of Antwerp. The Fifth Panzer Army, led by Manteuffel, was to attack the centre of the American forces, capture St Vith and then drive to Brussels. The Seventh Army, led by Brandenberger, was to attack in the southern flank to prevent American reinforcements from attacking the fifth Panzer Army. The 15th Army was to be held in reserve to counter any Allied attack when they took place.

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British Soilders in The Battle of the Bulge

Hitler believed that his forces would be able to surround and cut off Canada's First Army, America's First Army and Ninth Army, and finally Britain's Second Army. On paper, it looked like an impossible plan, especially to Germans, as they had been in retreat since D-Day. Germany's military was depleted of supplies and facing the might of the Allies. However, a defiant Hitler continued with his plan.

The Battle

The battle started with a two-hour artillery bombardment on the Allied lines, followed by a huge armoured attack. The Germans had great success to start with, because the Allies had grown complacent and were surprised by the attack.

Before the attack started, English-speaking German soldiers dressed in American uniforms and went behind Allied lines to cause confusion by changing road signs and cutting telephone lines, as well as spreading false information. Those who were caught were shot. This deception not only caused chaos, but made many American suspicious of each other and rumors were spread quickly. The weather was also in Hitler's favour.

Low cloud and fog meant that the Allied Air force could not drop supplies. The success of the Germans lasted two days. The only thing that the Germans had done was punch a bulge on the Allied front line, they would have been more successful if they could resupply there tanks with fuel. Bastogne was a clear target for German forces considering it was the center of eleven roads through the ardennes. To defend Bastogne the allies sent in units from the 101st Airborne Division and General George S. Patton's forces would be on route. On the eve of the Battle for Bastogne, Patton sent every soldier in the US Third Army a Christmas card. The first side read I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God's blessing rest upon each of you. The prayer on the reverse echoed the prayer of Achilles before attacking Troy, and read Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseach Thee, of thy great goodness, to restrain those immoderate rains with which we have to contend, graciously harken to us soldiers who call upon thee, that, armed with thy power, we may advance.[1] The Germans surrounded Bastogne on the 21st and German forces demanded the Americans surrender. The reply from Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe became the famous remark "Nuts!" German forces pressed on and despite the attacks, the city was defended.

M10 Panther, Ardennes 1944

A knocked out Panther tank disguised as a M10 Tank Destroyer. This was one of the Panthers that was intended to cause confusion before the Battle of the Bulge.

By December 22nd, the weather started to clear, allowing the Allied planes to drop supplies, and allowing American forces to counter-attack the Germans.[2] On Christmas Eve, the Germans attacked the Allies with 16 German Me-262s, in hopes to stop the Allies from getting supplies, but without fuel for Germany's armoured vehicles, any success in the air was meaningless. The Germans had advanced sixty miles in two days but from December 18th, they were in a position of stalemate, with neither side making any significant gains.

By mid January 1945, the lack of fuel was taking its toll, forcing many German units to leave their vehicles. This even turned back the 1st SS Panzer Division, this was the same unit responsible for the Malmedy Massacre. The American Third Army lead be General George S. Patton relieved Bastogne within a few days.[3] The Battle of the Bulge involved 600,000 Americans, 81,000 of whom were lost. But the Germans suffered 100,000 casualties, which were either wounded, captured, or killed in battle.

Similar battles

It would be interesting to compare that battle with the absolutely ordinary battle near Balaton Lake (Hungary) held by Soviet troops 2 months later. That offensive was moderated by a not imporatnt Russian 3d Ukrainean Front (we had 1,2 Belorussian and 1,2,3 Ukrainean fronts in the Western Europe in that time). The battle time 44 vis 9 days (the offensive was moderated almost 5 times quicklier by Soviets); Nazis troops quantity 240000 viz 431000 (nazis were almost 2 times more numerous); Allied troops quantity 840000 viz 400000 (soviet troops were more then 2 times less numerous than allied troops); The nazis breakthrough deepness 100 km vis 30 km (the nazis penetrated in the Soviet defense 3 times less deeper); Allied men losses 90908 viz 32900 (Soviets lost 3 times less human lives) http://historyrussia.wikia.com/wiki/Ardennes_///_Battle_of_the_Bulge_///_Battle_of_Ardennes_///_Or_who_won_the_WW2

References

  1. Images of War Magazine Commemorative Christmas Issue. Marshall Cavendish Partworks/Imperial War Museum. 1994
  2. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/ww2/Bulge.html
  3. http://www.army.mil/botb/overview.html

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