By the winter of 1944 the Allies had pushed through the German defenses of France and were poised to strike into the heartland of Germany. The lack of an efficient logistics chain, as well as the winter weather, caused the Allies to stall on the western border of Germany, with forces spread over a wide swath of territory. The campaign in the East was quickly deteriorating. Hitler and his high command opted to launch an offensive maneuver against the Allied forces in the Ardennes, with plans for the Germany military to breach the Allied lines and drive on to the ever-important logistics port of Antwerp. With a victory in the west against the Allies, Hitler hoped he could drive the Allies to the bargaining table and end the war in the west. On 16 December, the German’s struck, igniting the Battle of the Bulge.
The German’s launched a three-prong assault against the Allied front. On the northern shoulder of the attack, the best German divisions were selected. The northern shoulder provided the shortest route for German forces to sweep into Antwerp, and the Allied defense were light in comparison to the other assault sectors. It was at this sector the infamous Malmedy massacre took place. Elements of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion were overrun by a detachment from the 1st SS Panzer Division led by Joachim Peiper. After surrendering to the German forces, 84 Americans were executed by their German counterparts. This resulted in retaliation by American forces after word was spread throughout the ranks of the killing and resulted in American troops killing all captured SS soldiers they came upon.
In Bastogne, the 101st Airborne, elements of the 10th Armored Division and the 37th Tank Battalion found themselves under siege by the 5th Panzer Army and the XLVII Panzer Corps. Despite being grossly outnumbered and cut off from the rest of the Allied lines, the defenders of Bastogne held their ground. When offered a condition of surrender, the 101st Airborne’s acting commander; Gen. Anthony McAuliffe responded with a resounding “Nuts” and refused. The American defenders held their position in Bastogne until relief elements from Patton’s Third Army broke through the German lines on Christmas. With supply lines reestablished, the American forces launched a swift and vicious counter-attack against the German defenses.
While initial engagements had allowed the Germans to gain ground against the Allied lines in the early days of the Battle of the Bulge, the Allied counterattack regained their losses and pushed the Germans back. By 25 January 1945 the Germans had been forced back to their positions prior to the battle, and the Allies were once again driving headlong into German territory. Within a few short months, they would sweep through Germany and Austria, overwhelming the German army and bringing the war in Europe to an end.
Look for more information regarding the history of Battle of the Bulge in the upcoming Strategy & Tactics issue #295 with the article “Tiger by the Tail: Greyhound vs Tiger at St. Vith” and join the conversation on Facebook!