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Hitlers Last Shot at Victory: Battle of the Bulge

Updated on January 23, 2020
emge profile image

A senior Air warrior and a graduate of the Staff College is well qualified to write on history and contemporary India

Fall of 1944: The beginning

In the fall of 1944, the German army was facing disaster. The pressure was building on both the Eastern as well as the Western front. Marshal Zhukov, the chief Russian general was heading towards the fatherland. In the west, the Allies had successfully breached the Atlantic wall and landed at Normandy in June 1944. They were heading towards Germany. The situation was alarming and the Fuehrer knew that his position was becoming hopeless. He was a realist and surmised that a way must be found to break the stranglehold enveloping him. With his knowledge of military history, he was aware that the only way out was a counter-attack. This could perhaps throw the Allies off balance.

It must be appreciated that Hitler was not a novice in military matters. He had more than a rudimentary knowledge of military tactics and history. Many opine that he had some ability. It is worth recounting that he had studied Clausewitz, Von Moltke, and Fredrick.

A two-front war had been Germany's bugbear for almost 200 years. Yet by a quirk of fate coupled with his own folly, he was fighting on two fronts. His attack on Russia on 22 June 1941, was a folly which he now was faced with. The two-front wars against both Russia in the East and the allies in the West were his bugbear. He now had to make his own plan to break the stranglehold of the allies. He hoped that success in this plan would help him to negotiate a separate peace in the west. In case he was successful, then he could move his armies and panzers to face the Russians in the East.

The Plan


Hitler realized that a daring strike would be his forte. He, therefore, planned a strike in the west. He was confident that the stranglehold around his neck would be loosened and the allies would negotiate an armistice.
In the present era when we study this plan, we realize that the plan in some manner had too many variables. In addition, it now is palpably clear that Hitler miscalculated the resolve of the Allies especially after the last conference at Yalta, where the Allies had approved a point of "unconditional surrender."

In early November, Hitler called for a conference of his generals at his headquarters in Eastern Prussia, popularly called "wolfs lair." The two Generals Field Marshal Von Rundstedt and Field Marsh Model were also summoned. They were the German commanders in the west.

Both the Field Marshal’s had their own plans for an offensive as both believed that defensive strategy would mean losing the war outright. Before meeting Hitler they discussed the plan among themselves and decided to dovetailed their plans and present a single plan to Hitler. Hitler was contemptuous of the plan and put forward his own plan. He envisaged a strike deep through the Ardennes and follow up towards Antwerp and capture it.
Hitler’s plan envisaged driving a wedge in-between the Allied armies. Once this was done he planned an all-out assault on Antwerp which was the main supply port. The plan if successful would have cut off the American and British army. Four Army groups would have been encircled and the Germans could then have pulverized them.

˜It was a daring plan and if successful would have prolonged the war. Hitler expected the Allies to accept his offer of an armistice. He would then be free to move his entire army and panzers to the Russian front.

Field Marshal Von Rundstedt was made the overall commander. He was of the view that the plan was not realistic and there were too many variables. But students of history feel the plan was brilliant, though there were many variables. A notable variable was the weather which was expected to be bad thus denying air cover to allied troops.

The Build-up


The Ardennes was chosen for the offensive. Hitler had some experience of this earlier as in 1940 the Wehrmacht had attacked France through the Ardennes. As it was a mountainous area and with lots of snow natural camouflage was available. Hitler also chose this area as it was defended by the Americans who the Feuherer felt were soft opponents. This perception in hindsight appears wrong.

Hitler also miscalculated the effect of Allied air Power which was the dominant force at that time and had achieved air superiority over entire Europe. Hitler had studied the military commanders but never studied the theory of air warfare as enunciated by Guilio Douhet and others. Thus he started his campaign with one arm tied behind his back.

Hitler built up a massive force. He was able to collect nearly 1000 panzers and 450,000 troops. With bad weather all around he was able to mass these troops in the Ardennes forests. The Allies were ignorant about this massing of German force. The allies’ air forces were unable to carry out any air reconnaissance due to the bad weather. Another factor was that the American commanders General Patton, and General Omar Bradley did not expect an attack at that time. Hitler gave the signal for the assault on 12 Dec 1944. The success of the plan hinged on secrecy and Germans achieved this. The allies' intelligence failed and never detected the attack until it commenced.

The Battle


On 12 December 1944, the attack commenced. A heavy artillery bombardment gave the cover for infantry and panzers to move forward. The attack was a success as the Germans achieved complete surprise. The American troops were caught unawares and the Germans had some easy victories. The Americans also suffered heavy casualties. The onslaught had a deleterious effect on the allies and the Americans and they suffered the maximum number of casualties in any single campaign of the Second World War. This was indeed a ferocious assault and speaks volumes for the morale of the Wehrmacht and their loyalty to Hitler.

The Germans plan had a number of variables. It hinged on bad weather continuing, to prevent the allies’ air forces from operating to their full potential.
The Germans advanced forward in what has come to be known as the ‘Battle of the Bulge’.
They had tremendous initial success and Hitler felt that Antwerp could be reached. The bad weather disappeared and the skies cleared. This was an act of providence. At the same time, the American resistance stiffened and they began to engage the German troops. As the weather cleared the RAF and the USAAF began around the clock strafing of the German army. The Germans had no air cover and as such there advance was blunted and finely ground to a halt. Basically it was air power that turned the tide against the panzer led forces.
The Failure
Von Rundstedt realized that the operation had failed. He accordingly sent a message to Hitler informing him that the offensive had stopped. At the same time, he ordered a withdrawal to save as many troops as he could. The gamble cost Germany a lot and they suffered over 100,000 casualties.
The Americans suffered 69000 casualties including 21,000 dead. General Patton the allied commander ordered a counter-attack and drove the last nail in the German offensive.

In the east, the Russians launched their massive winter offensive on 12
Jan1945. The fate of Germany was sealed.

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    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      2 days ago from Singapore

      Thank you Flourish for your comment.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      3 days ago from USA

      Fascinating read and I’m enjoying the comments as well. Soft opponents, huh? Underestimating your for will lead to one’s undoing.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      3 weeks ago from Singapore

      Thank you, Alan. Skorzeny is an enigmatic figure. Eichmann's case was different. He actively got Jews killed. I would put Skorzeny more in the garb of a gladiator. There is no doubt he courted death. Mussolini wrote his death warrant when he betrayed the famous march of the Brownshirts that converged on Rome and put him into power. In fact, when he came to power he did a lot of good and for the first time trains ran on time among other things. But he caved into Hitler. This is a mystery as he was the senior leader. I wish he had guts ... but that is a sad story as in the end he was just an old man who didn't know what to do and allowed ÀH to take all the decisions. He paid for this with his life.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      I wouldn't go as far as to say Skorzeny's 'rescue' of Mussolini was an act of great courage. He'd have been a buccaneer on the Spanish Main in another life. His swash was buckled by the war's end, but his escape from the Allies' clutches was probably aided by the R C Church (as was Eichmann's and various other war criminals... which very plainly Skorzeny was).

      Mussolini was propped up in Italy by the SS, not the Wehrmacht, and his fate, along with secretary Lara Petacci and aide-de-camp, was a lot less picturesque. Had he been left in the hotel he might have got away with his life and survived the war. I've got no sympathy for BM but he didn't deserve that. In the end it was the pupil (AH) who became the master, and architect of his own downfall.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      3 weeks ago from Singapore

      Thank you Nell for sparing time and commenting

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      3 weeks ago from Singapore

      Yes, Alan, you are right. I remember I wrote two articles on Skorzeny about a decade back on a closed site Suite 11. He was a rare daredevil and loyal to Hitler. He did have a part in this battle but he was constrained by many factors. All the same, he survived the war to die a natural death. His rescue of Mussolini was an act of great courage and professionalism.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      3 weeks ago from Singapore

      Thank you Raymond, for commenting. The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler's last chess move in WWII, it failed but the plan given the limited resources was good. I haven't seen this memorial but given a chance will like to visit it.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      3 weeks ago from England

      Interesting piece of history. I wasn't sure about the what's or where's of the Battle of the Bulge.

    • alancaster149 profile image

      Alan R Lancaster 

      3 weeks ago from Forest Gate, London E7, U K (ex-pat Yorkshire)

      One name's missing here: Otto Skorzeny, the one who 'rescued' Mussolini from a mountain-top hotel in Italy and flew with him in a gravity-defying stunt that nearly went wrong. Luckily for Skorzeny the pilot was experienced.

      What's this to do with 'the Battle of the Bulge'? you ask. Skorzeny was a risk-taker, and the big risk he took in the Ardennes was to arm and equip American-English speaking SS men (who'd lived in the US and joined up in the German forces) with US military police uniforms, weapons and jeeps - for mobility - and caused chaos by turning men away from their designated routes, hindered US engineers from blowing bridges and turned signposts around to disorientate US forces.

      Added to the chaos was the massacre at Malmedy, of artillery spotters by Joachim Peiper's SS units, thus increasing US troops' anxieties on one hand, and stiffening their resolve on the other. They would now be extremely reluctant to surrender.

      German commanders on the ground were warned by POWs of a rebellion against the Germans in the light of Peiper's actions, and the order by Hitler - less well known - not to take prisoners. German Wehrmacht (army) officers had to reassure their US POWs it wouldn't happen. Of course with Peiper around this could not be guaranteed. Result: very much stiffened resistance to German demands for surrender, with the one-word reply, "Nuts".

      The weather did play a large part in the campaign, but Skorzeny's antics also took a toll on US morale for a short time. Needless to say those SS in US uniforms were interrogated and executed as spies (not against the Geneva Convention, sanctioned by all sides).

      Skorzeny escaped capture and left Germany for Spain in 1945 to live out his days with occasional furtive trips to his native Austria, and was buried with full military honours - not by Austrian forces, but by paramilitary - courtesy of his son.

      The worm that turned.

    • raymondphilippe profile image

      Raymond Philippe 

      3 weeks ago from The Netherlands

      An interesting piece of ww2 history. We have visited that area several times. The memorial built in Bastogne (Mémorial du Mardasson) is quite impressive.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      3 weeks ago from Singapore

      Thank you for a valid comment

    • profile image

      Major SK Singh 

      3 weeks ago

      Nice article. Loss of air cover was in main due to Hitler and his obsession with the land forces. Failure to develop a long-range bomber and loss of precious years in the development of the Me262 at the end spelled defeat.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      3 weeks ago from Singapore

      Thank you Lt col for commenting. Rundstedt was from the old Prussian school and that was perhaps his fault. He was an able commander but you have a point that a more dynamic commander would have been better. Lastly loss of air umbrella led to his defeat. For this he can be only partially responsible.

    • emge profile imageAUTHOR

      MG Singh 

      3 weeks ago from Singapore

      Thank you Liz for sparing time and commenting

    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      3 weeks ago from UK

      I had heard of the Battle of the Bulge, but I was not aware of the detail. You have given a good explanation.

    • profile image

      Lt Col Parduman Singh 

      3 weeks ago

      A well wrote expose. This battle is studied in the Staff College and was a great piece if it had succeeded. The plan was sound but Rundstedt was not the man to lead it.

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