Five Amazing Facts About Hitler's Last Gamble - The Battle Of The Bulge
By Mike Spradlin
December 22, 2017
Hundreds, if not thousands of military historians have written about and discussed the Battle of the Bulge. Hollywood has also chimed in on the battle, with numerous films from 1965’s The Battle of the Bulge starring Henry Fonda and Robert Shaw, to the critically acclaimed Band of Brothers.
In some of the deadliest fighting of World War II, the Nazi and Allied Armies hurled themselves at one another like two punch drunk prizefighters. From 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945, the Ardennes forest region, which traversed France, Belgium and Luxemburg, was the scene of one the largest offensive skirmishes of the war.
It was Nazi Germany’s last, desperate attempt to push the Allies back. The battle as a whole, was the scene of uncountable acts of bravery and valor. At the end, Germany was forced to withdraw, and four months later, the European War over.
Despite the amount of scholarship on the Battle of the Bulge, there are still many lesser known stories that took root in the Ardennes Forest. From the bravery of the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne, to the greatest reply to a surrender request in military history, the Battle of the Bulge was a rich palette of stories. It was the culmination of the Allies bold strategy unleashed in Operation Overlord on 6 June 1944. To take back ‘Fortress Europe’ and free the world from tyranny and oppression.
Battle Of The Bulge movie poster (above).
German troops and a tank advancing (above).
I. At the beginning of the fight, the Allies were seriously outnumbered.
German Panzer divisions managed to break through an eighty mile stretch of the Ardennes forest. As they drove the Allied forces back, a ‘bulge’ in the lines formed, giving the battle its name. Along this stretch, there were only six US Divisions assigned to blunt the German advance.
The German attack caught the American troops almost completely by surprise, routing some units. Others dug in and held their ground however, fighting ferociously.
Waffen SS - hardcore Nazis - sprint across a road while an American vehicle burns in the background.
II. The key to the entire battle was the city of Bastogne.
American troops man hastily erected defenses at Bastogne.
Often overlooked in studies of the battle is the strategic importance of Bastogne. The German’s had the Allies under siege, mostly the 101st Airborne Division. The 101sts historic hold-out overshadows how the German failure to take Bastogne turned the entire battle. The Ardennes forest was harsh terrain. Bastogne offered access to numerous roads which would allow the Nazi’s to move materials and supplies throughout the region quickly.
The German army completely surrounded US forces. When the German commander sent a surrender demand under a flag of truce, General Anthony McAuliffe sent them a one word reply: “Nuts!” The 101st managed to hold out until Patton arrived, but they took heavy casualties.
III. Weather played a major role in deciding the outcome.
In the first days of the battle the winter weather grounded Allied air support. American and British planes were unable to halt the German advance. The Allies attempted to drop ammunition and rations to the 101st around Bastogne, but the wind blew most of the supplies to the German lines.
Snow falls on dug in American troops.
IV. SS troops - the most fanatical of all Nazis - executed 80 Americans at Malmedy.
Waffen-SS troops - those responsible for the Malmedy massacre - outside the town.
The 1st Panzer division executed over 80 US soldiers at Malmedy in Belgium. Despite this brutality, US forces were able to hold on at Malmedy and turn the Germans back. (The Germans responsible to the massacre were captured, tried and then executed after the War.)
Overall, 6000 more than US troops were forced to surrender at St. Vith and other locations. During the entirety of the battle, thousands of prisoners were captured on both sides.
V. On 23 December 1944 the weather finally broke, an early Christmas gift for the Allies.
The skies cleared. The US was able to restore air power and superiority to the skies. On the 23rd over 2000 missions were flown on that day alone. Most importantly, the surrounded 101st at Bastogne was finally able to be resupplied. Many men of the 101st took exception to Major General George Patton’s claim that his army had ‘rescued’ them. Pointing out, that if they had not held out on their own, there would have been nothing for him to rescue.
American troops watching American airpower returning to the skies over Belgium, ready to swoop down on the Germans.
The Battle of the Bulge turned in the Allies favor. The Germans were driven back to Rhineland, never to threaten Western Europe for the remainder of the war.