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The Battle of the Bulge 1944 : Nazi Germany's Last Blitzkrieg

Updated on May 27, 2020
Mark Caruthers profile image

BA University of Arkansas (Fayetteville) Geography & History

Americans Caught Off-Guard

In the early morning hours of December 16,1944, thousands of shock troops crept through the American lines near the Belgium border. They easily bypassed the sleepy American outposts unnoticed penetrating deep behind their lines. As they advanced the Germans cut any communication wires they found along their paths to further isolate the American troops. Behind the shock troops thousands of German armored vehicles including massive 60 ton tiger tanks were given the signal to advance. As the panzer divisions moved forward they easily smashed through the American defenses setting in motion one of the last great land battles of the Second World War. Nazi Germany's supreme leader, Adolf Hitler, believed the Americans were the weak link in the Allied coalition, the Italians of the Western Allies. His plan was to exploit that weakness during one of the worst winters on record in the mountains and forests of the Ardennes. The low clouds and snow would take away the American's greatest asset its overwhelming command of the air.

Safe underground in a bunker just a few miles from the battle zone near the ancient Castle Kransberg Hitler sat orchestrating the movement of his troops. The castle had a storied past in the history of warfare. The structure dated back to the eleventh century. Its original foundation had been built on the top of the ancient ruins of a Roman ring-wall fortification. Battles in the Ardennes had raged, on and off, since the birth of Christ. The Eagle's Nest, code name for Hitler's headquarters, sat in the middle of the Ardennes, was a series of small cement bunkers at the edge of a long stretch of valley near the spa town of Bad Nauheim. So well hidden few knew it was there.

Close by Hitler's bunker batteries of Germany's deadly V-2 ballistic missiles with massive two thousand pound warheads, capable of destroying entire city blocks, were being made ready to launch. It was a surreal moment in military, when the V-2's engines lit up the early morning darkness revealing the ancient castle in the background as they raced toward space. Hitler would use his V-2s, the worlds first ballistic missile, to rain destruction and strike terror in the streets of Antwerp the ultimate goal of his offensive.

One month later on January 15,1945, with the war still winnable in his eyes, a delusional Adolf Hitler would board his armored train and began his nineteen-hour trip to Berlin. He would spend the rest of his days trapped underground in the Fuhrerbunker in central Berlin. As Allied bombers turned the city into a massive pile of rubble Hitler hid 28 feet below in his dank underground shelter. The Ardennes offensive drives home the lesson that a large scale offensive by massed armor has no hope against an enemy who enjoys supreme command of the air.

Mosquito Fighter Bomber the "Wooden Wonder"

The Mosquito fighter bomber was the fastest prop driven plane of the Second World War flying at speeds of over 400 mph. Made mostly of wood it was very effective destroying German armor on the ground.
The Mosquito fighter bomber was the fastest prop driven plane of the Second World War flying at speeds of over 400 mph. Made mostly of wood it was very effective destroying German armor on the ground. | Source
Hawker Typhoon rearming in 1943.
Hawker Typhoon rearming in 1943. | Source
The Hawker Typhoon with its four 20mm cannons was the most effective ground attack plane of the Second World War.
The Hawker Typhoon with its four 20mm cannons was the most effective ground attack plane of the Second World War. | Source

The Hawker Typhoon

The Mosquito Fighter Bomber

Castle Kransberg Adolf Hitler's Eagle's Nest on the Western Front

Hitler's headquarters "The Eagle's Nest" was located near its grounds. From there he would direct the Ardennes counteroffensive.
Hitler's headquarters "The Eagle's Nest" was located near its grounds. From there he would direct the Ardennes counteroffensive. | Source
A half timbered house in the Kransberg Castle complex beneath it was "The Eagle's Nest".
A half timbered house in the Kransberg Castle complex beneath it was "The Eagle's Nest". | Source

Waffen SS Troops Would Spearhead the German Attack

German troops advance past an abandoned American half-track early in the attack in the Ardennes forest December 1944.
German troops advance past an abandoned American half-track early in the attack in the Ardennes forest December 1944. | Source
German troops passing by an abandoned American armored car as American troops quickly retreat toward safer ground.
German troops passing by an abandoned American armored car as American troops quickly retreat toward safer ground. | Source
Paratroops lead the attack into Buchholz Belgium early in the Ardennes counter-offensive. With paratroops riding along on top of his tanks the town was taken without a shot fired by Kampfgruppe Peiper.
Paratroops lead the attack into Buchholz Belgium early in the Ardennes counter-offensive. With paratroops riding along on top of his tanks the town was taken without a shot fired by Kampfgruppe Peiper. | Source
German troops advancing past abandoned American equipment early in the Battle of the Bulge.
German troops advancing past abandoned American equipment early in the Battle of the Bulge. | Source

1944-45 The Downfall of the Third Reich

On home front to most Americans the war in Europe was over, most Allied leaders considered Germany defeated, virtually a house of cards on the verge of collapse. To their surprise Adolf Hitler still considered the war still winnable. His last roll of the dice would be in the remote forest of Belgium and Luxemburg. Hitler's plan was to kill as many American soldiers as possible, fracturing the Allied line and destroying all Allied armies along the western border of Germany. The counter-offensive would become known by several different names but it became best known as the "Battle of the Bulge." A phrase given to it by the American press who described the attack by the way the Allied front bulged inward on wartime news maps. Before the battle ended it would involve over 600,000 American soldiers of which some 89,000 would become casualties of war. Hitler's goal for the attack was to split the British and American line in half and capture the strategically important port city of Antwerp. German armies would then proceed to encircle and Allied armies, forcing the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis Powers' favor. Afterward, Hitler could focus all his forces on the Red Army which was approaching the very gates of Berlin.

In 1944 Hitler's armies were dealt a series of staggering defeats. In June 156,000 British, Canadian, and American troops successfully landed in France on the beaches of Normandy along the English Channel. Hitler's battered legions were now faced with a two front war. In the three months after the Normandy landings the Wehrmacht had lost 589,425 men on the eastern front, and 156,726 in the west. In the east, the Red Army crushed German Army Group Center in Operation Bagration forcing its armies to retreat westward over 300 miles to the gates of Warsaw putting the Soviets within striking distance of Berlin. In the summer of 1944 the Soviet Union had inflicted the most devastating defeat in German military history. By destroying 28 out of the 34 divisions which made up their Army Group Center, the Red Army completely shattered the German front line killing or wounding around 450,000 German soldiers. On the western front American General George S Patton's Third Army broke out of the Normandy bridgehead leading an American blitzkrieg through France, which would lead to the destruction of Germany's best troops on the Western Front. At the end of 1944, Hitler's armies were swept out of France leaving them with their backs against the Rhine the last natural obstacle before the Allied armies advanced into the heart of Germany.

Allied victory euphoria could not have been greater at the end of 1944. The July bomb plot against Hitler gave the impression to his enemies that his government was at a point of near complete collapse. In the Berlin railway stations dissidents were so angry that they put up banners demanding peace at any price. In the United States military contractors were cancelling contacts for artillery shells. Hitler's paranoia reached new heights after the attempt to overthrow his government on July 20,1944. He no longer trusted his generals treating most with utter disgust. Over 4,980 Germans would be implicated in the plot and sentenced to death in show trials. Erwin Rommel one of Germany's most respected military leaders would be forced to take cyanide for his role in the assassination attempt. Hitler's life was saved by a thick wooden conference table and a last minute decision to have the meeting in an open air meeting room. He was not to be seen in public again and all of his contact with the German people was made through recorded radio messages. Many German citizens believed Hitler could possibly already be dead. When Hitler met with his generals he was now surrounded by his SS bodyguards who made sure none of them posed any threat to their leader. The atmosphere in Hitler's command bunker was overwhelmingly dark and gloomy.

Liberation of France 1944

The Fall of France Summer of 1944

German troops surrender in France during summer of 1944 as Allied forces break out of the Normandy bridgehead.
German troops surrender in France during summer of 1944 as Allied forces break out of the Normandy bridgehead. | Source

D-Day June 1944

June 1944 the Allies establish a bridgehead in Normandy France.
June 1944 the Allies establish a bridgehead in Normandy France. | Source
 The Falaise Pocket August 1944 German forces in Normandy are surrounded and almost completely destroyed.
The Falaise Pocket August 1944 German forces in Normandy are surrounded and almost completely destroyed. | Source

The Battle of the Bulge

The major German counter-offensive in the Ardennes became known as the "Battle of the Bulge" a phrase coined by the American press who described it in terms the way the Allied front bulged inward on wartime news maps.
The major German counter-offensive in the Ardennes became known as the "Battle of the Bulge" a phrase coined by the American press who described it in terms the way the Allied front bulged inward on wartime news maps. | Source

The Destruction of German Cities by Allied Bombing

A raid by the 8th Air Force on the Focke Wulf factory at Marienburg, Germany (1943).
A raid by the 8th Air Force on the Focke Wulf factory at Marienburg, Germany (1943). | Source
The ruins of Wesel Germany in 1945, 97% of all buildings in the city were destroyed by Allied bombing in an attempt to break the moral of the German people.
The ruins of Wesel Germany in 1945, 97% of all buildings in the city were destroyed by Allied bombing in an attempt to break the moral of the German people. | Source
American 15th Air Force B-24s flying through flak and over the destruction created by preceding waves of bombers. Ploiești, Romania (1943). The raids on the Ploiesti oil fields took out Germany's last remaining source of oil.
American 15th Air Force B-24s flying through flak and over the destruction created by preceding waves of bombers. Ploiești, Romania (1943). The raids on the Ploiesti oil fields took out Germany's last remaining source of oil. | Source

The Fall of Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler before the Second World War picture taken sometime in the 1930s at the height of his popularity.
Adolf Hitler before the Second World War picture taken sometime in the 1930s at the height of his popularity. | Source
Hitler during his only trip to Paris on June 28,1940, he stands before the Eiffel Tower after the defeat of France. One year later he would invade the Soviet Union.
Hitler during his only trip to Paris on June 28,1940, he stands before the Eiffel Tower after the defeat of France. One year later he would invade the Soviet Union. | Source
One of the last known pictures of Adolf Hitler taken during the Battle for Berlin May 1945. Hitler shaking the hands of the Hitler Youth some as young as twelve who battled the Red Army to the very gates of his bunker.
One of the last known pictures of Adolf Hitler taken during the Battle for Berlin May 1945. Hitler shaking the hands of the Hitler Youth some as young as twelve who battled the Red Army to the very gates of his bunker. | Source
Captured Soldiers of the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Jugend" during the Battle of the Bulge.
Captured Soldiers of the 12th SS Panzer Division "Hitler Jugend" during the Battle of the Bulge. | Source

July 20,1944 Attempt to Assasinate Adolf Hitler

Bomb damage to Hitler's conference room July 1944.
Bomb damage to Hitler's conference room July 1944. | Source
Hitler's tattered trousers. The bomb was only a few feet from his position at the conference table.
Hitler's tattered trousers. The bomb was only a few feet from his position at the conference table. | Source

Operation Valkyrie: The Plot To Kill Hitler

The V-2 Ballistic Missile : Hitler's Retaliatory or Reprisal Weapon

The German V-2 on its mobile launch pad. It was the most advanced flying weapon of the Second World War. The V-2 would set the stage for all future wars.
The German V-2 on its mobile launch pad. It was the most advanced flying weapon of the Second World War. The V-2 would set the stage for all future wars. | Source
The V-2 rocket was 46 feet long and could travel at a distance of up to 190 miles. The V-2 approached its target at speeds of up to five times the speed of sound. Its nose cone was filled with up to 2,000 pounds of explosives.
The V-2 rocket was 46 feet long and could travel at a distance of up to 190 miles. The V-2 approached its target at speeds of up to five times the speed of sound. Its nose cone was filled with up to 2,000 pounds of explosives. | Source

Target Antwerp : The City of Sudden Death

For a thousand years Antwerp had been a strategically important city in Western Europe conquered and liberated more than a dozen times throughout that period. In the Fall of 1944 the city would once again become strategically important, now to the liberating armies of the western Allies as they marched toward Berlin. British tanks captured Antwerp in a lighting armored thrust on September 4, 1944, but failed to capture the vital Scheldt Estuary. It was an important inland channel that led to the port of Antwerp. Leaving it in German hands left Allied supply ships open to German attacks from the land and sea. German troops occupying the land around the Scheldt Estuary turned it into a vast fortress, and also mined the channel preventing Allied supply ships from entering the port. It was not until November 3, 1944, the land surrounding the Scheldt Estuary was finally cleared of German soldiers at great cost to Allied troops. British and Canadians would suffer over 13,000 casualties in the Scheldt operation. The courageous German defenders of the Scheldt Estuary helped the German Army gain valuable time to reform a solid defense along its German West Wall. The first Allied supply convoy would enter the harbor of Antwerp November 28,1944, eighty-five days after its liberation.

The only factor holding back the Allied armies on the Western Front in the fall 1944 was the lack of supplies at the front. The French rail network had been largely destroyed by Allied bombing, so all fuel, rations, and ammunition had to be hauled daily in the supply trucks of the U.S. Army which was known as the "Red Ball Express". The three day trip from the beaches of Normandy to the front lines was over three hundred miles, it required a tremendous amount of manpower to keep Allied armies moving toward Berlin. The effort involved 7,000 trucks racing day and night along one-way routes in all kinds of weather as supplies piled up on the beaches of Normandy.

As Adolf Hitler planned his last major counteroffensive of the Second World War, he knew for it to be a success the German army needed the Port of Antwerp shut down. The job fell to the V-2 rocket. The V-2 was the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile weighing 28,000lbs. With an operational velocity of 3,580mph, the V-2 flew at more than twice the speed of sound. The V-2 delivered 2,200lbs of Amatol high explosive to its victims before they heard it arrive, it was the ultimate terror weapon of the Second World War. The final production version of the V-2 was a brilliantly successful rocket. The Allies were twenty years behind Germany in rocket development and held no effective defense against the V-2. If the V-2 had been ready six months to a year earlier, the course of the war could have been much different in western Europe. It seemed very likely that the invasion of Europe would have been impossible.

In 1944 German vengeance weapons bred fear throughout the western Allies most inner circles . Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Gobbels continued to publicly boast about mysterious weapons that could change the course of the war throughout the summer and fall of 1944, the appearance of the V-2 ballistic missile made his threat a reality. "The reverberations from one V-2 rocket explosion spread up to 20 miles," reported the Christian Science Monitor during the rocket blitz of London in September 1944. The specter of it crashing down into population centers unheard, annihilating whoever or whatever happened to be there, terrified the citizens of London.

The fact that the Nazis had unveiled a wonder weapon of such a magnitude, this late in the war made many across Europe concerned about what else Hitler might have hidden in his arsenal. The age of the ballistic missile had arrived. Plans to evacuate one million civilians from London's city center were put in place. British intelligence officers predicted that the new generation of V-weapons might carry deadly chemical or biological weapons. England issued 4.3 million gas masks to its city dwellers and told its citizens to pray.

Luckily for the citizens of London, Hitler didn't use the V-2 to deliver a WMD (Weapon of Mass Destruction), liquid tabun, a deadly nerve agent, who's very existence was unknown outside of Hitler's most inner circle. Tabun gas is one of the most deadly substances ever created by man. A tiny drop on the skin could kill an individual in minutes or sometimes seconds. Nazi armed forces had secretly stockpiled hundreds of tons of nerve gas munitions as early as 1943 in eastern Germany. The lethal concoction had already been tested on Nazi concentration camp inmates with surprising results. Exposure meant the glands and muscles of its helpless victims would hyper-stimulate, causing their respiratory systems to fail. Enough tabun gas had already been produced to decimate the entire population of London on any given day. Once tested after the war by the U.S. Army, tabun gas killed a warm-blooded rabbit five times faster than anything the British or American scientist had ever seen before. The most alarming fact revealed during testing was that the nerve agent need not be inhaled to kill. A single drop on the rabbit's skin killed the animal in just a few minutes. A shocking fact that the millions of gas masks given to Allied soldiers and citizens, offered no defense against such a deadly chemical weapon as potent as tabun gas. Possibly because of his fear of retaliation, and the fact Hitler had personally experience the use of chemical weapons on the battlefield during the First World War, saved the citizens of London from such a deadly horror.

The Allied press referred to Antwerp as " The City of Sudden Death" during the winter of 1944-45. During that period monstrous blasts were heard randomly throughout the city like bombs dropped from bombers, but without any sign of bombers overhead. Nor were the explosions foreshadowed by the deep, pulsating rumble people associated with the pulse jet engines of incoming V-1 buzz bombs. The blasts randomness kept the citizens of Antwerp in a constant state of shock. Newspapers censored any mention of the V-2 in an effort to fend off a public panic. It would not be until April 1945 before the V-2 attacks were made known to the citizens of Antwerp. The last V-2 rocket hit Antwerp on March 27,1945. It is estimated over nine thousand military personal and civilians were killed by V-2 attacks in the Second World War.

On the first day of the German counteroffensive in the Ardennes, December 16,1945, the most devastating single V-2 strike in history would occur. Over 1,120 eager Belgian citizens and Allied troops would cram into the Rex theater to see Gary Cooper in the Hollywood Western," The Plainsman," that Sunday. At 3:20 in the afternoon the theater suddenly exploded with a blinding flash as a V-2 rocket smashed through the roof at three times the speed of sound. The blast destroyed the theater leaving it in a mound of ruble killing 537 people instantly and leaving more than 700 injured. It was the most deadly strike from a single airborne ordnance during the entire war in Western Europe.

Over the last months of the Second World War more than three thousand V-2s were fired by German rocket teams, London (1358) and Antwerp (1610) would receive the bulk of the attention. Antwerp would receive 590 direct hits during Hitler's last great offensive in the Ardennes. The V-weapon campaign against Antwerp is often overlooked by military historians though it received more V-2 attacks than London.

Hitler's V-1 and V-2 "Vengeance" Weapons"

The Red Ball Express

The only thing keeping the Allied armies supplied on the Western Front in November 1944 were the 7,000 trucks of the Red Ball Express.
The only thing keeping the Allied armies supplied on the Western Front in November 1944 were the 7,000 trucks of the Red Ball Express. | Source
A Red Ball Express truck gets stuck in the mud November 1944.
A Red Ball Express truck gets stuck in the mud November 1944. | Source

The Western Front 1944

Erwin Rommel, December 1943 with Rundstedt (on the left). Rommel would be poisoned by the Gestapo after Hitler determined he was involved in the July 1944 assassinate plot.
Erwin Rommel, December 1943 with Rundstedt (on the left). Rommel would be poisoned by the Gestapo after Hitler determined he was involved in the July 1944 assassinate plot. | Source
Rundstedt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, Russia, 1941. General Gerd von Rundstedt commanded the sixty German divisions along the Western Front December 1944.
Rundstedt, Benito Mussolini, and Adolf Hitler, Russia, 1941. General Gerd von Rundstedt commanded the sixty German divisions along the Western Front December 1944. | Source

The German West Wall or Siegfried Line

Map of the West Wall December 1944 it was also known as the Siegried Line. It was built before the war to prevent a British and French invasion in 1940.
Map of the West Wall December 1944 it was also known as the Siegried Line. It was built before the war to prevent a British and French invasion in 1940. | Source
Dragon's Teeth of the West Wall built to stop Germany from invading tanks over 70 years after the Second World War.
Dragon's Teeth of the West Wall built to stop Germany from invading tanks over 70 years after the Second World War. | Source
Bunker complex on the West Wall.
Bunker complex on the West Wall. | Source
Water-filled trench near Geilenkirchen.
Water-filled trench near Geilenkirchen. | Source
American troops pass through the dragon's teeth of the West Wall during the Battle for Aachen September 1944.
American troops pass through the dragon's teeth of the West Wall during the Battle for Aachen September 1944. | Source

Rundstedt's Defensive Plan

Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt found himself in overall command of Germany's troops along its western border in the fall and winter of 1944-45. Just four years earlier he had commanded Army Group B in the invasion of France. The invasion had become the classic model for the art of Lighting War (Blitzkrieg). In 1940 his army group contained two-thirds of all the tanks used in the invasion of France. His tanks led the breakout at Sedan which shattered the Allied front. The fall of France was the highwater mark for Nazi Germany. Now the situation had completely reversed, in December 1944 the German military was just a empty shell of what it once had been after almost five bloody years of war.

Rundstedt's only option now was to make the Allies pay in blood for every mile as their armies advanced into the heart of the Fatherland. He based his defensive plans on the thesis that the American and British armies were not going to maintain an even pressure along the whole front due to the length of their supply line. As the Western Allies experienced supply problems, both General George Patton and Bernard Montgomery fought over what fuel was available to mount their own spearhead into Germany. Due to Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower's lack of decisive leadership, both Patton and Montgomery were forced to limit their offensive operations. Instead of giving one of his best generals the men and supplies they needed to mount a single massive spearhead, Eisenhower had become too pre-occupied with politics unable to make the correct decisions on the battlefield. His lack of judgement would give the German Army time to reinforce their positions along the West Wall in fall and winter 1944. Eisenhower's lack of judgement would cost the Allies the blood of over one hundred thousand soldiers.

Rundstedt saw no need to retreat on to the Rhine from the Siegfried Line. His men were well dug in and since he was on the defensive he was required to commit far fewer soldiers to the battle than the Allies. Moreover, since his soldiers were not obliged to expose themselves they suffered fewer casualties than the enemy. The Battle of Hurtgen Forest in September 1944 would justify Rundstedt's defensive strategy where American soldiers experienced one of the bloodiest battles in American history. The American First Army would lose over 30,000 soldiers killed and wounded in the Hurtgen Forest, three times more casualties than the Allies experienced during D-Day in Normandy. The battle left the American divisions along the battlefront in that fifty-four mile sector of the West Wall battered and bruised. It would later give Hitler the confidence to launch his own attack. Rundstedt knew Hitler's plan was overly ambitious, even if his forces had reached the Meuse River, his spearheads would be caught in the open to massive counter-attacks from the air and ground by Allied forces. While most German generals were deeply skeptical of the offensive's chances of success, younger officers and NCOs, especially those of the Waffen-SS, were desperate for it to succeed.

Battle for Hurtgen Forest

The Hurtgen Forest best ground for defense not offense.
The Hurtgen Forest best ground for defense not offense. | Source
A U.S. halftrack of the 16th Infantry Regiment/1st U.S. Division in the Hürtgen Forest, February 15,1945. Even after the battle for the Ardennes Hurtgen Forest remained in German hands.
A U.S. halftrack of the 16th Infantry Regiment/1st U.S. Division in the Hürtgen Forest, February 15,1945. Even after the battle for the Ardennes Hurtgen Forest remained in German hands. | Source

A Ghost Army: The Sixth SS Panzer Army

Although the German armed forces along the Western Front had suffered traumatic defeats Von Rundstedt's command nevertheless began to build up a strategic reserve which he called the Sixth SS Panzer Army. It was supplied with Germany's best tanks straight from the factories which included new Panthers and King Tiger tanks. The most experienced of the SS troops and Panzer Grenadiers along with the highest quality of equipment were fed into its ranks as the new army was kept hidden behind the front. The Sixth SS Panzer Army was at first designed to counter-attack any determined Allied breakthrough into Germany. But once it became clear that the Allies were going to maintain their policy of mounting no concentrated spearhead, Hitler began to make his own plans for the future of his new army.

Adolf Hitler's plan of attack in the Ardennes in 1944 was one of the most imaginative and daring proposals of the entire Second World War. He was determined to slip his fresh Sixth SS Panzer Army straight through the Ardennes forest, then cross the Meuse River, swiftly strike toward Brussels and capture the ports at Antwerp. If his plan succeeded Eisenhower's forces would be cut in half and isolated from the Allied troops in France. Four Allied armies would be trapped in Holland and Belgium similar to what happened in May 1940, which led to the British defeat at Dunkirk. With the capture of Antwerp the trapped American and British armies had no escape route by the sea. The only means of escape would be to fight their way south into France, abandoning their vast system of fuel dumps and stores of guns, tanks, workshops and men. Hitler even had some doubt as to whether the trapped armies would put up much resistance.

Hitler began to move on his plan in early September 1944, many of his generals were very concerned that the attack was much too ambitious. Rundstedt wanted a more shallow attack with the goal of taking back Aachen from Patton's Third Army. Hitler's intelligence was excellent, German agents left behind in France, Belgium, and Holland were providing him with a constant stream of good intelligence. He knew mostly where every Allied division was placed in the Ardennes. By December 1944 it was clear that in the Ardennes-Luxembourg sector the Americans had placed only four divisions to defend an eighty mile front. Two of the American divisions were fresh from America, and the other two were being refitted after receiving action in the bloody battle for Hurtgen Forest.

The final plan for Hitler's offensive was to advance along a sixty-mile front from Monschau in the north some twenty miles southeast of Aachen, to the medieval town of Echternach in the south, downstream from the juncture of the Our and Sure Rivers. Sepp Dietrich's Sixth SS Panzer Army would lead the northern attack following the same path Erwin Rommel's division took in May 1940, bypassing opposition and quickly crossing the Meuse River. Once the Sixth SS Panzer Army crossed the Meuse River it would make a mad dash toward the channel coast to cut off all Allied armies north of their lines.

Before Hitler could attack in the Ardennes he needed to solve the enormous problems of amassing the men and material for his new offensive under the British and American Air Force's watchful eye. As he set hiding in his secret headquarters surrounded by his loyal SS bodyguards deep in East Prussia he began realize the total cost of his megalomania, which had already led to the bloodiest war in human history. In five horrific years of warfare the German Army had lost over 3,500,000 men killed, wounded or missing. Some of the finest German units had been lost to Hitler's past overly ambitious campaigns. German cities were now reduced to piles of rubble and hundreds of thousands of his citizens reduced to ashes. Its war industries, communications, rail lines and highway transport were constantly being disrupted by Allied bombing.

In order to build his new army Hitler ordered the German General Staff to eliminate almost all non-combat jobs. Hitler ruthlessly recruited the young and old for his next campaign. All men between 16 and 60 years of age were declared eligible for military services, and many airmen and sailors, who had been left idle by the many heavy losses of planes and ships, were now transferred to the Army. Most of the younger able-bodied men produced from all these sources were to form 25 new divisions, which Hitler named Volksgrenadiers (Peoples Infantry). Each of these units were smaller than the average German infantry division, but to offset this weakness they were equipped with larger numbers of automatic weapons and Panzerfausts (Rocket-Firing Anti-Tank Weapons). Movement to the assembly areas before the offensive in the Ardennes was mostly by rail. The trains, hidden in tunnels or forest during the day, moved at night to the appointed areas, unloaded quickly and returned for another load before daylight. So effective were the precautions before the attack German losses to Allied air attacks were slight.

The German Volksgrenadiers (Peoples Infantry)

German in Volksgrenadiers (Peoples Infantry) in the Ardennes December 1944 armed with the new German Assault Rife and panzerfaust to help off-set their age and lack of experience in combat.
German in Volksgrenadiers (Peoples Infantry) in the Ardennes December 1944 armed with the new German Assault Rife and panzerfaust to help off-set their age and lack of experience in combat. | Source
StG 44 equipped Volksgrenadiers fighting in the Ardennes. It was the first assault rifle used in combat. It was a combination of a sub machine gun and a semi automatic rifle.
StG 44 equipped Volksgrenadiers fighting in the Ardennes. It was the first assault rifle used in combat. It was a combination of a sub machine gun and a semi automatic rifle. | Source
MP44 (Sturmgewehr 44), Germany. Caliber 8x33mm Kurz- From the collections of Armémuseum (Swedish Army Museum), Stockholm. It was the first true assault rifle the only one used by either side in the Second World War.
MP44 (Sturmgewehr 44), Germany. Caliber 8x33mm Kurz- From the collections of Armémuseum (Swedish Army Museum), Stockholm. It was the first true assault rifle the only one used by either side in the Second World War. | Source
Zielgerät 1229 infra-red aiming device, also known by its codename Vampir ("vampire") sniper scope. In the Ardennes most German tanks also had infra-red vision.
Zielgerät 1229 infra-red aiming device, also known by its codename Vampir ("vampire") sniper scope. In the Ardennes most German tanks also had infra-red vision. | Source

The German King Tiger Tank

The German Tiger Mark II King Tiger in action near the beaches of Normandy June 1944. Its lack of mobility would cost the German army any chance of victory in the Battle of the Bulge.
The German Tiger Mark II King Tiger in action near the beaches of Normandy June 1944. Its lack of mobility would cost the German army any chance of victory in the Battle of the Bulge. | Source
Tiger II tanks in formation for the Nazi German wartime-propaganda newsreel. Less than 500 Tiger II or King Tiger tanks were produced by the end of the war.
Tiger II tanks in formation for the Nazi German wartime-propaganda newsreel. Less than 500 Tiger II or King Tiger tanks were produced by the end of the war.

The Americans Troops on Vacation in a Combat Zone

While the German armies were preparing for their attack into the Ardennes, the American soldiers stationed there enjoyed themselves immensely. Most of the soldiers on combat duty spent much of their time playing cards or building dugouts and log cabins for their winter quarters. Many soldiers were also given three day passes to over a dozen rest areas in Luxembourg and Belgium to spend time relaxing or dating the local women. Almost all soldiers were housed so comfortably they compared their stay in the Ardennes as if they were still in England. It appeared to the American soldier in the Ardennes a soldiers dream had come true. In what could be considered one of the worst intelligence blunders by the Allies in the Second World War near-complete surprise was achieved before the German attack. It was due to a combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupations with Allied offensive planning, and poor aerial reconnaissance.

Venturing out American soldiers traveled through the quaint towns and fashionable resorts of the region as if they were on some sort of European vacation. Actress Marlene Dietrich visited with solders and handed out autographs to Americans during her USO tour in the Ardennes. Senior officers would continue to ignore all the reports by the locals that something was brewing on the German side of the front. Sounds of moving tanks could be heard at night as German troops began to mass for the coming offensive. At precisely 5:30 a.m. on December 16,1944, an American sentry in the Ardennes would unknowingly report to his headquarters that pinpoints of light suddenly began to flicker all along the German line. As the German shells crashed down upon him he realized that the lights were actually the muzzle flashes of hundreds of German guns.

Marlene Dietrich the Queen of the USO

Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth serve food to soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen Los Angeles California (17 November 1942).
Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth serve food to soldiers at the Hollywood Canteen Los Angeles California (17 November 1942). | Source
Dietrich signing a soldier's cast in Belgium November 1944.
Dietrich signing a soldier's cast in Belgium November 1944. | Source
Dietrich with airmen of the 401st Bomb Group in England September 1944.
Dietrich with airmen of the 401st Bomb Group in England September 1944. | Source

The Battle Begins : A Wave Of Terror Hits the Ardennes

Artillery shells screamed over American positions in the Ardennes shattering the early morning quiet, splintering trees and throwing wooden shrapnel into bodies of troops as they grabbed for their weapons and dived in their foxholes. Platoon leaders and forward observers reached for their field phones many of which didn't work. Soon after the shelling ended the German soldiers switched on giant searchlights casting light across the battlefield. Few American soldiers could make out what was going on, they had been informed the meager German forces holding the line in front of them couldn't have managed such a heavy bombardment. In one sector American intelligence reported there was only a grand total of two horse-drawn German guns. One American officer would mention "They sure are working those horses to death."

At the far southern end of the Ardennes the veteran 4th Infantry Division, which had fought in the Hurtgen Forest losing half of its troops, was isolated, overrun, and pushed back by the overwhelming pressure from German attack. Immediately to the north of the 4th Division, a battalion of the green 9th Armored Division only recently assigned to a three-mile sector of the front was awakened by a 1,000-round artillery barrage and found themselves facing almost an entire German division. Under the cover of heavy fog German assault troops easily penetrated the American lines through the numerous ravines and gorges that cut across the forested and hilly terrain surrounding the battalion.

Farther north in the towns and villages along a scenic road Americans had named "Skyline Drive," infantrymen of the battered 28th Infantry Division, which had suffered over 6,000 casualties in the Hurtgen Forest was surrounded and cut off. The main German spearhead bypassed the 28th Infantry Division and pushed toward a more important objective the vital crossroads town of Bastogne. North of the 28th Division's sector, on a long, high ridge known as the Schnee Eifel, the 106th Division was overwhelmed by the intensity of the attack many of its soldiers surrendered to German troops without a shot fired. The men of the 106th were new recruits who had just arrived at the front just five days earlier now found themselves fighting for the lives against a determined enemy. Clerks, cooks, and the military police joined the battle, even the division's band rushed forward to guard the division headquarters at Saint-Vith.

In the Losheim Gap, a seven mile-mile pass on the northern edge of the Schnee Eifel, elite German SS tank units easily swept past scattered units of the 14th Cavalry Group. There were signs of panic and confusion everywhere among the retreating Americans, vehicles and artillery pieces rushed to get out of the way of the advancing Germans, or where just left abandoned to the German troops. The 99th Infantry Division another inexperienced outfit was receiving a bloody baptism of fire. The men of the 99th Division had known for some time that December 16th would be an exciting day, a group of entertainers for the USO, led by actress Marlene Dietrich, were scheduled to perform at the division headquarters the morning of the attack. As soon as the entertainers arrived they were quickly rushed out of the combat zone. Near the division headquarters, infantrymen of the 99th repelled waves of German infantry, but were finally overrun by tanks, which crushed some of the Americans in their foxholes. Nearly four hours after the German artillery had fired its first shell, General Omar Bradley, commander of the Twelfth Army Group, left his headquarters in the capital of Luxembourg bound for a meeting with the Allied Supreme Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, unaware that the Germans were approaching less than twenty miles away from his location.

Hitler Unleashes His Rockets To Strike Terror Among the Western Allies

A V-2 launched from Test Stand VII in the summer of 1943 at the Peenemunde rocket complex on the Baltic Coast in Northern Germany. The V-2 was the first man-made aircraft to reach space on June 20,1944.
A V-2 launched from Test Stand VII in the summer of 1943 at the Peenemunde rocket complex on the Baltic Coast in Northern Germany. The V-2 was the first man-made aircraft to reach space on June 20,1944. | Source
Nazi troops used mobile launchers to avoid Allied air attacks. With a warhead of over 2000 pounds V-2s could destroy entire city blocks. Antwerp would suffer over 1600 direct hits from V-2s before the end of the war.
Nazi troops used mobile launchers to avoid Allied air attacks. With a warhead of over 2000 pounds V-2s could destroy entire city blocks. Antwerp would suffer over 1600 direct hits from V-2s before the end of the war. | Source
The German V-1 rocket remained one of the most recognizable weapons of WW II, opening a new era in autopilot cruise missiles. They caused terror across Britain as German rocket crews unleashed waves of V-1s.
The German V-1 rocket remained one of the most recognizable weapons of WW II, opening a new era in autopilot cruise missiles. They caused terror across Britain as German rocket crews unleashed waves of V-1s. | Source
A V-1 attached to Heinkel 111 it was used to attack Antwerp to sow fear in its population.
A V-1 attached to Heinkel 111 it was used to attack Antwerp to sow fear in its population. | Source
Damage caused by a V-2 rocket attack in London. V-2s flew at super-sonic speeds its victims would feel the blast well before they heard the sound of the explosion.
Damage caused by a V-2 rocket attack in London. V-2s flew at super-sonic speeds its victims would feel the blast well before they heard the sound of the explosion. | Source

Overall Allied Commander in the Ardennes General Omar Bradley

Commander of the Twelfth Army Group in the Ardennes, General Omar Bradley. Nearly four hours after the first German artillery had fired their first shell, he left his headquarters unaware that the Germans were attacking less than twenty miles away.
Commander of the Twelfth Army Group in the Ardennes, General Omar Bradley. Nearly four hours after the first German artillery had fired their first shell, he left his headquarters unaware that the Germans were attacking less than twenty miles away. | Source

Combat Group Peiper Attacks

Sixth SS Panzer Army made up of nine divisions was the most powerful force the German Army could put on the battlefield in the fall of 1944. One its panzer divisions was considered Hitler's most loyal, the 1st SS Panzer Division (Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler). It first began its service as Adolf Hitler's personal bodyguard, responsible for guarding the Führer's person, offices, and residences. Initially the size of a regiment, the LSSAH (Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler) eventually grew into an elite division-sized unit. This elite unit shared an infamous reputation, like its leader, of being fearless in battle, and also for disregarding the commonly accepted rules of war. While fighting on the Eastern Front men of the 1st SS once executed an estimated 4,000 Russian prisoners in retaliation for the killing of six captured SS men by Russian secret police.

In the Ardennes the 1st LSSAH Panzer Division fought with another notorious division, the 12th SS Hitler Youth Division, which murdered 64 Canadian and British prisoners during the battle for Normandy. Hitler Youth divisions were made up of children as young as sixteen or seventeen years old, and were Hitler's most loyal and fanatical troops. They had been indoctrinated by Nazi propaganda from birth. The northern breakthrough was critically important to the success of the entire offensive. Without German control of the Elsenborn Ridge, and the Malmedy road, they couldn't stop American reinforcements from pouring down from the north to stop the German advance toward Antwerp.

The northern spearhead would be commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Joachim Peiper, who at one time was Heinrich Himmler's personal adjutant. At 29, Peiper was one of the youngest and best regimental commanders in the German Army. He possessed the kind of fanaticism that Hitler admired in a leader. For the Ardennes offensive, Peiper's 5,000 man regiment was reinforced with 42 mammoth 57 ton King Tiger tanks and a battalion of Panthers and Mark IVs, bringing the total tank strength of his regiment to over 120 tanks.

Peiper did not receive a formal briefing on the offensive until two days before it was set to begin. He was very concerned about the very rugged route his regiment was to take in their advance. Peiper bitterly remarked his route of attack was better suited for bicycles, not tanks. The briefing also produced another piece of very disturbing news. Two trainloads of gasoline set aside for the 1st LSSAH Panzer Division had failed to arrive, so his troops would have to depend on captured American gasoline to fuel their advance. According to German intelligence the best chance to locate American fuel dumps were in the towns of Bullingen, and Spa, both of which were close to route of Peiper's advance.

On the first day of the attack Peiper's battlegroup was slowed by a massive traffic jam due to narrow roads and destroyed bridges. He finally got his column moving after midnight on the first day of the attack. As his tanks rolled into Lazerath, Belgium, he met with the leader of a parachute regiment who had been dropped behind enemy lines to help aid his advance. Peiper quickly realized that the paratroop commander was a Luftwaffe colonel who knew little about infantry tactics. He stormed out of the room taking command of the paratroops and lead the attack into Buchholz. With paratroops riding along on top of his tanks the town was taken without a shot fired.

As Peiper's combat group advanced past Buchholz he found the road jammed with retreating American vehicles. He simply followed the retreating American convoy into the next village, Honsfeld, catching Americans there completely by surprise. Following Hitler's orders in retaliation for Allied bombing, Peiper's troops murdered dozens of American troops sending shock through the American ranks. Peiper's troops rounded up over 200 prisoners. As his men moved them toward the rear, a German tank opened fire on them. When it was all over, nineteen Americans were dead. Many more Americans were murdered in the Honsfled area.

Peiper's tanks had only advanced little more than twenty miles burning up a lot of irreplaceable gasoline idling their engines while waiting to achieve their initial breakthrough. Peiper then raced toward Bullingen, Belgium to refuel his tanks at the American supply dump located near the little village. His tanks pushed onto a small landing field used by American artillery-observation planes and captured some 50,000 gallons of fuel. About 30 American soldiers were lined up and shot after they refueled his tanks and armored vehicles. Another group of about a dozen soldiers were shot with their hands over their heads as they marched toward the rear. But the worst was yet to come.

SS Colonel Jochim Peiper

Colonel Jochim Peiper in his 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte" Adolf Hitler uniform. The Death's Head insignia on his cap signifies loyalty to the death for the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. He spoke excellent English.
Colonel Jochim Peiper in his 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte" Adolf Hitler uniform. The Death's Head insignia on his cap signifies loyalty to the death for the Fuhrer Adolf Hitler. He spoke excellent English. | Source
Checking a highway sign at an Ardennes crossroads, an SS soldier from the 1st SS Panzer Division in an amphibious vehicle confirms a path to advance.
Checking a highway sign at an Ardennes crossroads, an SS soldier from the 1st SS Panzer Division in an amphibious vehicle confirms a path to advance. | Source
Peiper's combat group on the move in the mud and muck during the attack in the Ardennes.
Peiper's combat group on the move in the mud and muck during the attack in the Ardennes. | Source
American troops surrendering to Waffen SS  troops in the Battle for the Ardennes. Note the Waffen SS soldier with his had on his dagger.
American troops surrendering to Waffen SS troops in the Battle for the Ardennes. Note the Waffen SS soldier with his had on his dagger. | Source

Massacre at Malmedy

By midday December 17,1944, Peiper's combat group was approaching the crossroads hamlet of Baugnez, Belgium two and a half miles south of Malmedy. The roads were log jammed with American vehicles traveling in all directions. From the smashed front line came trucks, jeeps, and staff cars heading westward, fleeing the advancing Germans. At the same time, combat units with tanks and infantry sent to restore order were swimming against the tide, fighting to advance eastward to stop the Germans.

One of these units sent forward to stop the German advance was 140 men of Battery B of the 28th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, it was making its way from Hurtgen Forest in the north to the town of Vielsalm, five miles to the south of Peiper's route of advance. The American convoy rolled into Baugnez, Belgium running headlong into Peiper's advance guard. Peiper's column opened fire on the soldiers and vehicles of Battery B with cannon and machine guns as the two columns advanced upon each other. It was bad timing for the outgunned American soldiers in Battery B as they scrambled to take cover in a ditch, and the rest made a made dash for the nearby woods. The soldiers in the ditch, hopelessly outnumber and outgunned, were quickly surrounded. They crawled out of the ditch with their hands above their heads. Over 120 Amerians were taken prisoner by Peiper's men. They were roughly searched by a group of excited SS troopers, who took the Americans' watches, wallets, warm gloves and cigarettes. While the Americans were being searched an SS soldier said in English, "First SS Panzer Division welcomes you to Belgium, gentlemen." The captured American soldiers became anxious once they noticed that the Germans' caps were lettered with the dreaded SS insignia and some were decorated with a death's head.

Tanks and half-tracks of Peiper's combat group move up near the captured soldiers of the 285th Field Artillery and parked in the field near where they were gathered. Soon afterward the Germans opened fire on the Americans with machine guns, machine pistols, and other weapons. Once the firing stopped, SS officers and men walked among the lifeless bodies and pumped bullets into any Americans who showed any signs of life, or crushed their heads in with rifle butts. Sergeant Kenneth F. Ahrens would somehow escape the massacre with two other men and make it back to American lines. Accounts of the ghastly episode was soon reported to the commanding officer of the American 291st Division. The incident quickly came to be known as the "Malmedy Massacre". News of the murders spread like a lightning bolt through the American lines. American defenses soon stiffened and some units vowed that they would not take prisoners of soldiers who wore SS uniforms. Many German tankmen who had the death's head insignia on their tunics soon removed it to save themselves from a beating or even death if they were captured by American troops.

To Peiper's surprise American generals began to react quickly to his rapid advance to Malmedy road. Troops from the 1st & 9th Divisions attacked from Aachen and elite paratroops from the 82cnd Airborne Division were trucked in to block his advance to the west. To make matters worst American P-47 Thunderbolts began to bomb and strafe his column, which created great anxiety among his SS troopers who had not experienced such air attacks even on the Eastern Front. Now American engineers began to blow up any bridge on Peiper's route to slow his advance and GIs near these bridges began to put up stiff resistance. As Peiper's advance began to bog down soon his battlegroup was trapped and surrounded. Running out of petrol and ammunition Peiper was soon forced to breakout on foot and swim across the River Ambleve. In the early morning on December 24,1944, with some 800 men, he crossed the river and trekked up through the thick woods. Peiper and his men withdrew down into the Salm valley and swam across an ice cold river. Troops from the I SS Panzer Corps reported Peiper's arrival on Christmas morning 1944. It was estimated that 2,500 members of his Combat Group had been killed and ninety-two tanks and assault guns had been destroyed. The bad roads, destroyed bridges, lack of fuel and stiff American resistance would doom Peiper's chances of success in the Ardennes. Now it was up to the Fifth Panzer Army to save Hitler's hope for success in the Ardennes.

American engineers in the northern Ardennes would tip the scales in favor of the Allies by destroying the bridges Peiper needed to cross in order to continue his drive for the Meuse River, leaving his battlegroup tapped in the small crossroads village of Trois-Ponts. For Peiper his key hope for success was only one mile ahead, between the small lightly defended Belgian towns of Stavelot and Francorchamps. Between those two Belgian towns the Allies had stored a vast fuel dump the largest in western Europe, of more than 400,000 five-gallon jerry cans of gasoline, lined along five miles of roadway, more than enough fuel to get Peiper's battle group to Antwerp.

Peiper and his SS troops would leave behind a bloodstained trail of murdered American POWs. They would be linked to the "Malmedy Massacre" which proved to be a turning point in the Battle of the Bulge giving American solders not a step back mentality. After the war Peiper was sentenced to 12 years in prison along with 1,000 other members of the 1st "Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler" soldiers for war crimes. In 1972 Peiper would move to Traves in Haute-Saône, France, to work as a writer translating books from German to English. On July 14,1976, Peiper's house was firebombed by unknown assailants and died as a result of the fire. He had committed other war crimes during the Second World War but was never prosecuted due to lack of evidence.

Operation Greif

Skorzeny was a highly talented student fencer, and a member of the German national Burschenschaft. He fought duels of combat 15 times, but recieved his life long scar during his 10th engagement. Scars was considered an honor among German upper class.
Skorzeny was a highly talented student fencer, and a member of the German national Burschenschaft. He fought duels of combat 15 times, but recieved his life long scar during his 10th engagement. Scars was considered an honor among German upper class. | Source
 Skorzeny was the man who led the Gran Sasso raid to kill the British Commandos who had kidnaped Benito Mussollini and take him safely to Hitler September 12, 1943.
Skorzeny was the man who led the Gran Sasso raid to kill the British Commandos who had kidnaped Benito Mussollini and take him safely to Hitler September 12, 1943. | Source
After the war Skorzeny would escape from captivity and live a fascinating life after the war. When the war ended Skorzeny was on the wanted list of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal because of suspicions he had exterminated Jews.
After the war Skorzeny would escape from captivity and live a fascinating life after the war. When the war ended Skorzeny was on the wanted list of Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal because of suspicions he had exterminated Jews. | Source
Skorzeny was a body guard to Juan Peron and Evita Peron. British and US intelligence branded SS Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny “the most dangerous man in Europe”
Skorzeny was a body guard to Juan Peron and Evita Peron. British and US intelligence branded SS Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny “the most dangerous man in Europe” | Source

The German Third Wave

The trail of dead bodies Peiper's men left at Malmedy, Honsfeld, Bullingen, and Baugnez created a wave of terror among American troops in the Ardennes. Still more terror and confusion were to be spread by Lieutenant Colonel Skorzeny's Panzer Brigade 150. Many of the brigade's 2,000 men were dressed in American uniforms so they could more easily infiltrate behind American lines. Also, among the brigade's 70 tanks were some captured American Shermans. The brigade's first objective was to impersonate an American unit fleeing toward the rear, then rush ahead to the Meuse River during the first day of the offensive, seize the bridges intact and occupy them until arrival of two SS panzer divisions. Because of traffic jams it became evident that their original mission was impossible, so the brigade was assigned to support Peiper's 1st SS Panzer Division in the northern sector of the offensive.

Regardless of setbacks some of Skorzeny's commando teams were succeeding beyond his wildest expectations. Trained in the techniques of infiltration and sabotage, about 150 Germans who spoke English had set off in 30 captured American jeeps, wearing American uniforms and carrying false identification papers in an attempt to slip through American lines. Skorzeny failed to realize that the Americans had so much transport that most often four men did not ride in one jeep, and when it became known that Skorzeny's men were on the prowl, any jeep with four men drew suspicion. Although only nine commando teams managed to infiltrate Allied lines, they had an amazing psychological affect. One four-man team switched road signs at a crossroads, sending an entire American regiment moving in the wrong direction. Another unit blocked off key roads with white tape signaling that minefields were ahead. And yet another unit told an American officer such a sensational story of German successes that he withdrew his unit from the town it was about to defend.

One team made it all the way to the River Meuse before they were captured. A second group of commandos, seized by American soldiers near Liege, told the most shocking yarn about the entire operation. They said that Skorzeny and a special commando team of fifty men had infiltrated through the American lines, and were headed to Paris to attempt the assassination the Supreme Allied Commander, General Dwight Eisenhower.

They went even further and detailed the attempt, disclosing that Skorzeny and his commandos would meet at the famous Café de la Paix, once together they would strike the Supreme Allied Headquarters at Versailles. The Americans would swallow the entire story imposing a curfew in Paris stopping soldiers and civilians in the streets. Eisenhower would become a virtual prisoner in his own headquarters surrounded by armed guards, machine guns, and barbed wire. His security team even used a decoy in an attempt to capture Skorzeny. Soon nervous military police from Paris to the Ardennes were stopping everyone, regardless of rank, asking questions supposedly only an American could answer. Many innocent American soldiers who didn't know the password would wind up being held captive until the could prove they were not a German commando in disguise.

Dwight David Eisenhower Supreme Allied Command of the Western Allied Forces Europe

After the war Eisenhower would become the 34th President of the United State of America. He was known as "Ike" by his generals, Eisenhower would receive his 5th star just days before the Battle of the Bulge.
After the war Eisenhower would become the 34th President of the United State of America. He was known as "Ike" by his generals, Eisenhower would receive his 5th star just days before the Battle of the Bulge. | Source
Eisenhower speaks with men of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division, on June 5, 1944, the day before the Allied Forces landed on the Normandy Beaches.
Eisenhower speaks with men of the 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 101st Airborne Division, on June 5, 1944, the day before the Allied Forces landed on the Normandy Beaches. | Source

Hasso von Manteuffel

Hasso von Manteuffel would lead the 5th Panzer Army toward the vital crossroads at Bastogne.His tanks would push within a few miles of the Meuse River before they run out of fuel and German tankmen have to destroy their tanks.
Hasso von Manteuffel would lead the 5th Panzer Army toward the vital crossroads at Bastogne.His tanks would push within a few miles of the Meuse River before they run out of fuel and German tankmen have to destroy their tanks. | Source

Manteuffel's Plan of Attack

In the central sector of the Ardennes front which extended twenty-eight miles, Hitler selected Hasso von Manteuffel to lead the 5th Panzer Army in its thrust toward Antwerp. Manteuffel was impressed by Hitler's magnetic personality but recognized Hitler's weakness concerning grand strategy and tactical awareness, even though, he thought the Fuehrer had a flair for originality and daring. Manteuffel was an insightful leader who's success was a result of the tactics he conceived while serving in North Africa and Russia. His strategy involved dividing his forces into small self-contained but potent mobile fighting units, which penetrated the flanks of advancing enemy spearheads. Once his forces were behind the advancing enemy formations they would counter-attack the enemy's undefended rear. His tactics had great success defeating Russian spearheads on the eastern front. He would once again employed his strategy in the rugged Ardennes, where his spearheads quickly penetrated deep behind the American lines as they rushed toward Bastogne.

At the same time, Dietrich, who chose to advance his Sixth SS Panzer Army on a broad front quickly bogged down and failed to assist Manteuffel's rapidly advancing spearheads leaving his troops exposed to counterattack. Manteuffel would argue that airborne troops could have been very useful in the Ardennes to help secure footholds at important crossroads and bridges. He believed that Hitler's great reluctance to use more parachute troops in the battle was a grave mistake.

Manteuffel at least convinced Hitler to allow him to attack during nighttime hours to more easily pass through American lines undetected. To confuse the enemy and to open the way for his advancing troops, Manteuffel would use searchlights to create an eerie artificial twilight. Attacking at night would also allow German tanks additional daylight hours to exploit their breakthroughs with more speed and force. Manteuffel had also decided he would not began his offensive with an opening artillery bombardment, to not alert the enemy, enabling his advance troops a better chance to slip through American lines unnoticed.

The Seige of Bastogne

Photo taken by a U.S. Army Signal Corps photographer on December 26, 1944, in Bastogne, Belgium as troops of the 101st Airborne Division watch C-47s drop supplies.
Photo taken by a U.S. Army Signal Corps photographer on December 26, 1944, in Bastogne, Belgium as troops of the 101st Airborne Division watch C-47s drop supplies. | Source
American 3-inch M5 anti-tank gun in Vielsalm, Belgium, December 23, 1944, near Saint-Vith another vital crossroad in the Ardennes. Note the gun is sited on the road below.
American 3-inch M5 anti-tank gun in Vielsalm, Belgium, December 23, 1944, near Saint-Vith another vital crossroad in the Ardennes. Note the gun is sited on the road below. | Source
Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge winter 1944-45.
Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge winter 1944-45. | Source

Pockets of Resistance in the German Rear

Manteuffel's skillful planning, together with crisp execution by most of his divisions, quickly got his 5th Panzer Army moving forward to the River Meuse. His small forward units penetrated American frontline positions before their artillery had a chance open fire on his troops. In some critical areas he sent in special storm battalions, composed of his finest officers and men in each division to bypass enemy positions, and penetrate deep into rear areas before the Americans had a opportunity to coordinate an effective defense.

But Manteuffel would learn to his chagrin that his breakthroughs had not settled anything. While his vanguards pressed the attack forward, many small bypassed American units formed stubborn pockets of resistance in what now had become the German rear. To make matters worse American generals began to send fresh troops swiftly into the battle. Which included the elite 101st Airborne Division who had taken up the defense at Bastogne. The American paratroopers showed no fear and were comfortable fighting behind German lines. Together with Combat Command teams from both the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions they began setting up a wagon wheel defense around Bastogne and were putting up a particularly resolute defense. All seven main roads in the densely wooded Ardennes highlands converged on Bastogne. It was located just a few miles from the border with Luxembourg, control of the crossroads was vital to speeding up his attack . Manteuffel would throw more than nine divisions at the American defenses surrounding Bastogne but they refused to surrender.

Fifth Panzer Army at Saint-Vith

RAF attack on Saint-Vith, Belgium December 26,1944.
RAF attack on Saint-Vith, Belgium December 26,1944. | Source
The Germans code named their attack in the Ardennes "Watch on the Rhine" to not alert Allied Generals of a potential attack.
The Germans code named their attack in the Ardennes "Watch on the Rhine" to not alert Allied Generals of a potential attack. | Source
Saint Vith, Belgium December 1944. Saint Vith was a vital road junction in the Ardennes. The town was located near the Losheim Gap a traditional invasion route for German troops.
Saint Vith, Belgium December 1944. Saint Vith was a vital road junction in the Ardennes. The town was located near the Losheim Gap a traditional invasion route for German troops. | Source
Map of Saint-Vith, Belgium in the Ardennes December 1944.
Map of Saint-Vith, Belgium in the Ardennes December 1944. | Source

Manteuffel's Costly Victory at Saint-Vith

Saint-Vith was a vital road and railroad junction in the Ardennes which presented a major challenge for both Manteuffel's 5th Panzer Army and Deitrich's 6th SS Panzer Army. It was close to the boundary between the two strongest units in the Ardennes counter-offensive. The village was located near the western end of the Losheim Gap, a critical valley that ran through the densely forested ridges of the Ardennes forest and the axis of the entire German attack. It was defended by the untested 106th Infantry Division that had just arrived to Europe from the United States. When the attack began on December 16, 1944, the 106th Infantry Division at Saint-Vith soon began to panic under the hail of fire from German artillery and tanks. To their rescue on December 17,1944, came the 7th Armored Division which had been sent south from Aachen on a rescue mission to save two regiments of the 106th Infantry Division trapped on the Schnee Eifel. But the 7th Armored ran into a mass of rear-echelon units from the 106th struggling frantically to get out of the way of the advancing Germans. The 7th Armored would not arrive in Saint-Vith until well after nightfall. During the night, the defenses of Saint-Vith continued to strengthen, a horseshoe-shaped defensive line was established around Saint-Vith, stretching for 15 miles around the city. The Germans would attack on the morning of December 18th but were repeatedly forced back taking heavy loses.

The German High command was beginning to grow impatient by the delays. The Americans still controlled the main road hub at Saint-Vith stalling the entire Fifth Panzer Army's attack and wasting precious time. The Fifth Panzer Army would throw everything they had at Saint-Vith mid-day on December 21,1944, wave upon wave of infantry and tanks attacked the small village.The Germans continued their attack into the darkness soon the American lines had been pierced in at least three places. As many as eight Tiger and Panther tanks were rolling through the streets of Saint-Vith with German infantry was pouring in behind them. Finally, the American defenders at Saint-Vith were forced retreat to a line west of the village. Together with other units caught up in the retreat they formed a defensive area dubbed the "fortified goose egg." Even as the oval defense took form, German tanks and troops began slicing deep into its northern flank. Soon Allied generals gave the order to retreat further to the west. Of the 22,000 troops at Saint-Vith, 6,000 had already been killed or wounded, and at least 7,000 had surrendered to the Germans. General Bernard Montgomery saw no reason for further losses, with units of the 7th Armored covering their retreat, the defenders of Sanit-Vith began marching to safety behind the 82cnd Airborne's lines by the Salm River.

Even with the loss of Saint-Vith, the 7th Armored Division and its supporting units had succeeded in tying up the entire Fifth Panzer Army for nearly a week. The battle for Saint-Vith succeeded in disrupting the Germans' schedule, and blocking their supply routes crucial to their race for the Meuse, giving the Allies time to flood the Ardennes with reinforcements.

The Shattered 106th Infantry Division

At least 7,000 American soldiers of the 106th Infantry Division surrendered to German troops on December 16th & 17th 1944 in the opening phase of the Battle of the Bulge.
At least 7,000 American soldiers of the 106th Infantry Division surrendered to German troops on December 16th & 17th 1944 in the opening phase of the Battle of the Bulge. | Source
Captured V-2 on public display in Antwerp, 1945. Antwerp would become a major target for V-2s during the Battle of the Bulge. The greatest loss of life from a single V-2 took place on December 16,1944, leaving 567 dead and 291 injured
Captured V-2 on public display in Antwerp, 1945. Antwerp would become a major target for V-2s during the Battle of the Bulge. The greatest loss of life from a single V-2 took place on December 16,1944, leaving 567 dead and 291 injured | Source

The Screaming Eagles Move On To Bastogne

Bastogne, a small dingy market town, another very important crossroads town in the central Ardennes where seven major all weather roads and a major railway converged. If it stayed in American hands it would create a critical bottleneck for the three advancing German divisions in that area, which included the crack Panzer Lehr Division, whose tanks, troops, and supply convoys needed the roads to speed westward avoiding slow muddy travel on unpaved secondary roads. While the 7th Armored Division and other battered American units were desperately delaying Manteuffel's panzers around the small village of Stain-Vith, the largest, bloodiest and longest fight of the Battle of the Bulge was shaping up at Bastogne. General Eisenhower soon came to realize how important the capture of Bastogne was to the German's offensive in the Ardennes. On December 17,1944, Eisenhower made a critical decision and ordered the 101st Airborne and a combat command of 10th Armored Division to begin preparations for movement to the general area around Bastogne.

The 101st Airborne, nicknamed "the Screaming Eagles" after the eagle shoulder patch that each soldier carried into battle. Before the attack in the Ardennes the division was resting and refitting after the costly "Market Garden Operation" in Holland which is the single largest airborne operation in military history. The "Market Garden" operation became well known after the American movie " A Bridge Too Far" was released in 1977, although the movie was not well liked by film critics it was well received by audiences around the world. After receiving over 30% casualties in the "Market Garden Operation" the 101st Airborne had been taken out of the line. It was sent to an American military base near Mourmelon-le-Grand, France 20 miles southeast of Rheims nearly 100 miles southwest of Bastogne for a much needed rest. It seemed so unlikely the 101st division would ever seen combat in Europe again that the U.S. War Department had requested that the division's commanding officer, Major General Maxwell D. Taylor, be sent back to Washington D.C. to attend a conference.

On the night of December 17,1944, Brigadier General Anthony C. McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st, summoned his officers for an emergency meeting as they relaxed watching an old Gary Cooper film. He explained to his officers that there had been a breakthrough in the Ardennes, and they needed to prepare the division to move out as soon as possible to the small Belgian town of Werbomont. The Americans struggled find enough trucks to move the division's 11,000 soldiers. Finally a convoy of 380 trucks from the Red Ball Express was ordered to stop carrying supplies and take the 101st Airborne to a small town near Bastogne.

Leading elements of the division would arrive near Bastogne late in the evening on December 18,1944. Troops from the 101st Airborne were dropped off in Belgium with little ammunition and little or no winter clothing. Many of the soldiers of the 101st took whatever ammunition they could find off the thousands of the American soldiers retreating before the advancing Germans. General Bradley had made the unfortunate choice to ship fuel to keep the Allied advance going and neglected issuing winter clothing to his troops. By December 17,1944, the first snow had fallen in the Ardennes and air temperature were below zero. Both the American and German soldiers would suffer considerably from frost bite or trench foot as the battle progressed. The winter of 1944 in the Ardennes would prove to be one of the coldest on record. More than 15,000 American soldiers would be disabled because of icy cold weather during the battle. Sometimes the frostbite was severe enough that gangrene had set in, forcing soldiers to have fingers, or a foot amputated. Winter weather gear for most American troops would not arrive until January 1945 after the battle had ended.

Winter in the Ardennes

American engineers of the 101st Airborne in the Ardennes winter of 1945.
American engineers of the 101st Airborne in the Ardennes winter of 1945. | Source
American troops walking along a path in the snow December 1944 in the Ardennes.
American troops walking along a path in the snow December 1944 in the Ardennes. | Source
American inftanty and tanks from Patton's Third Army on the attack near Bastogne.
American inftanty and tanks from Patton's Third Army on the attack near Bastogne. | Source
Infantry men of the Third Army battling to releive the men of the 101st Airborne in Bastogne.
Infantry men of the Third Army battling to releive the men of the 101st Airborne in Bastogne. | Source
101st Airborne troops posing with a captured Nazi vehicle air identification sign two days after landing in Normandy June 8,1944.
101st Airborne troops posing with a captured Nazi vehicle air identification sign two days after landing in Normandy June 8,1944. | Source
The shoulder patch of the 101st Airborne. The 101st is known as the tip of the spear.
The shoulder patch of the 101st Airborne. The 101st is known as the tip of the spear. | Source
The 240-mm howitzer largest cannon in the American army during the war in Europe.
The 240-mm howitzer largest cannon in the American army during the war in Europe. | Source

The Fight for Bastogne

General McAuliffe had the entire 101st in place at Bastogne along with Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division by December 20,1944. Additionally, the 705th Tank Destroyer Battalion, with M-18 Hellcat tanks, armed with the new high-velocity 76mm gun had arrived from Aachen giving his paratroopers an added punch. McAuliffe deployed his men, artillery and tanks in a wagon wheel defense on all the major road junctions that surrounded Bastogne. The Germans would throw as many as nine divisions at the American defense around the town, but they held firm leaving the Germans with their noses bloodied. Medical facilities were in dangerously short supply for the Americans because the 101st's medical unit, including surgeons, were captured by roving German units before they could reach the town. Few painkillers were available for wounded American soldiers, brandy was only thing available to calm their nerves. On December 22,1944, the Germans offered the American troops trapped inside Bastogne an opportunity to surrender or be annihilated the next day. General McAuliffe sent back a one-word reply "Nuts!" The officer who delivered the reply explained the reply meant "Go to Hell."

On the 23rd of December 1944, around noon the weather cleared opening the skies for 241 American C-47s which dropped 144 tons of much needed supplies to the beleaguered American soldiers inside Bastogne. Afterward, Thunderbolt fighter-bombers protecting the C-47s, together with an Allied air fleet, numbering five thousand strong, hammered all the German forces inside the bulge with napalm, fragmentation bombs and machine-gun fire. Manteuffle had sent the 2nd Panzer Division racing past the gap between Saint-Vith and Bastogne to capture the bridges over the Meuse River. This would soon leave the 2nd Panzer Division's soldiers in a precarious situation as its was spearhead stopped just four miles from the Meuse River after running out of gasoline. All alone with both its flanks exposed to American counter-attacks it was soon overwhelmed at the small Belgian town of Celles. Soldiers of the 2cnd Panzer Division were forced to destroy their tanks and march toward the east back to Germany. In spite of these setbacks Manteuffle was still determined to take Bastogne at any cost. The stage was now set for the bloodiest phase of the battle for the Americans.

The American M-18 Hellcat Tank Destroyer

The different variations of the American M-18 Hellcat tank destroyer of the 705th Tank Destroyer Battlion 1944.
The different variations of the American M-18 Hellcat tank destroyer of the 705th Tank Destroyer Battlion 1944. | Source
M18 Hellcat of the 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion in action at Wiesloch, Germany, April 1945.
M18 Hellcat of the 824th Tank Destroyer Battalion in action at Wiesloch, Germany, April 1945. | Source

Patton's Third Army Relieves the 101st Airborne at Bastogne

German commanders after several failed attempts to take Bastogne decided to strike at what appeared to be the weakest point in the American defensive line. It was a part of the front where only two companies of the 101st Airborne, no more than 300 men, held a line that stretched over a mile and a half around the northeastern part of Bastogne near the small village of Foy. Captain Richard "Dick" Winters commanded those 300 men of the 101st which were positioned to take a direct hit from the German advance. Soon masses German tanks and infantry opened a crack in Bastogne's outer defenses in an all-out attack. The outnumbered soldiers fought desperately against the oncoming flood of German tanks and panzer grenadiers. Allied troops inside Bastogne's inner defense would again mount another desperate counter-attack pushing the Germans back with heavy losses.

Manteuffel knew that Patton's Third Army was on its way to relieve Bastogne and time was running out for his Fifth Panzer Army. He decided to make one more final do or die attempt to take the town on Christmas Day 1944. On Christmas Eve 1944 a rare sight that late in the war took place that evening as two flights of Luftwaffe bombers heavily bombed Bastogne. Some bombs would land on the military hospital killing scores of wounded soldiers and medical staff. The civilians in Bastogne hid in any underground shelter they could find to escape the falling bombs. Wounded soldiers in the vaulted chapel in the town's seminary listened to a choir sing "Silent Night, Holy Night." Soon after mid-night on Christmas morning the Germans opened up with their artillery to soften American defenses.

At daybreak the attack began as white-camouflaged German tanks advanced toward Bastogne followed by panzer grenadiers. Soon German tanks rolled over American positions crushing some soldiers in their foxholes. The German attack would ground to a halt within a mile of General McAuliffe's command post. The Americans counter-attacked with 76mm anti-tank guns and armor-piercing bazooka rockets quickly knocking out the lead tanks. As the Germans tanks continued their attack toward the 101st Airborne's command post they ran into a murderous maelstrom of fire from tank destroyers, artillery, bazookas, and small arms. The climatic effort to capture Bastogne had been crushed by a fearless and determined American defense.

The following day the 37th Tank Battalion of Patton's Third Army, led by Lieutenant Colonel Creighton W. Abrams, who in the future would become Chief of Staff of the United States Army, broke into Bastogne to relieve the battered 101st Airborne effectively ending the siege. Without the captured of Bastogne the Germans chances of taking Antwerp was over, most German tankmen now low on fuel and ammunition were forced to destroy their tanks and to walk back to the Germany on foot.

The Battle of the Bulge would go down in history as the largest and deadliest battle ever fought by the United States Army. The American army would suffer over 80,000 casualties during the battle. The German army lost over 100,000 troops their last reserve of manpower leaving the German capital Berlin defenseless to the advancing Soviet Goliath. Hitler would move into his bunker in Berlin to live his last days, never to see daylight again, as the Allies closed in upon his last refuge from all directions.

General George S Patton: Old Blood and Guts

George S Patton would become a household name in the Untied States after the Third Army rescued of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne.
George S Patton would become a household name in the Untied States after the Third Army rescued of the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. | Source
Patton at Bourg in France in 1918 with a Renault FT light tank. He was know in the First World War as a hard charging tank commander. He used his tanks as if it was a hores in the calavry.
Patton at Bourg in France in 1918 with a Renault FT light tank. He was know in the First World War as a hard charging tank commander. He used his tanks as if it was a hores in the calavry. | Source
Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton (right) in Bastogne, Belgium, 1945, surveying the damage.
Bradley, Eisenhower and Patton (right) in Bastogne, Belgium, 1945, surveying the damage. | Source
The main American battle tank the M-4 Sherman medium tank not a match for the German Tiger tank. American leaders based their hopes of overwhelming the battlefield with their Sherman tanks, over 50,000 had been produced by the end of 1944.
The main American battle tank the M-4 Sherman medium tank not a match for the German Tiger tank. American leaders based their hopes of overwhelming the battlefield with their Sherman tanks, over 50,000 had been produced by the end of 1944. | Source
A British Sherman tank with 17 pound main gun used to battle heavier German tanks guarding a bridge over the Meuse River during the Battle of the Bulge.
A British Sherman tank with 17 pound main gun used to battle heavier German tanks guarding a bridge over the Meuse River during the Battle of the Bulge. | Source
The American M26 Super Pershing tank began to arrive on the battlefield in Europe near the time of the Battle of the Bulge. Its main gun was a long barrel 90mm.
The American M26 Super Pershing tank began to arrive on the battlefield in Europe near the time of the Battle of the Bulge. Its main gun was a long barrel 90mm. | Source
Another view of the M26 Super Pershing tank it was used in the Battle of Aachen by Patton's troops. Few M26 Super Pershing tanks would make it to the battlefield before the German Army surrendered.
Another view of the M26 Super Pershing tank it was used in the Battle of Aachen by Patton's troops. Few M26 Super Pershing tanks would make it to the battlefield before the German Army surrendered. | Source
Men of the 28th Infantry Division march down the Champs Élysées in Paris straight to the battlefield August 29,1944. General Pershing gave it the name the "Iron Division" during the First World War.
Men of the 28th Infantry Division march down the Champs Élysées in Paris straight to the battlefield August 29,1944. General Pershing gave it the name the "Iron Division" during the First World War. | Source

The Victors: The Greatest Generation

The citizens of Paris were amazed at the almost limitless quantities of machinery the American army possessed as it marched through their city to help them celebrate its liberation August 5, 1944. Along with the masses of soldiers who marched twenty-four abreast they were shocked to see so many vehicles. The German army appeared bizarrely old-fashioned with their horse-drawn transport whose dung littered the streets during their celebration of its June 1940 occupation. By the end of the Second World War American factories would produce over 50,000 Sherman tanks outpacing even the Soviet monolith. In comparison to German factories who could only produce less than 500 King Tiger tanks before its defeat. The American military would win the war on pure brute force with its vast production capabilities.

Hitler had vastly under-estimated the American army's ability to reinforce its formations along the Western Front in 1944. Since September 1944, the United States had shipped twenty-one divisions to France including six armored divisions all fully equipped and up to strength, a total of over 500,000 additional soldiers. Every day the war continued the American army grew stronger and the German army grew weaker. It became clear to the citizens of Paris that day, as they watched the American 28th Infantry Division march through their city, Nazi Germany's reign had come to its end. The "Greatest Generation," a term historians would give to the Americans who fought in the war, had arrived to take their stage in world history.

The 28th Infantry Division in Bastogne

The 28th Infantry Division "Iron Division" walking the streets of Bastogne shattered before the advancing German spearhead some without weapons just four months after their triumphant  parade through Paris in the summer of 1944.
The 28th Infantry Division "Iron Division" walking the streets of Bastogne shattered before the advancing German spearhead some without weapons just four months after their triumphant parade through Paris in the summer of 1944. | Source

Sources

Beevor, Anthony. Ardennes 1944: The Battle of the Bulge. Penguin Random House LLC, 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014 USA. 2015

Ford Brian J. Secret Weapons: Technology, Science & The Race to Win World War II. Osprey Publishing, Midland House, West Way, Botley, Oxford, Ox2 OPH, UK 44-02 23rd Street, Long Island, New York, New York 11101 USA. 2011

Keegan, John. The Second World War . Penguin Random House LLC, 40 West 23rd Street, New York, New York 10010 USA. 1990

MacDonald Charles B. A Time For Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge. William Marrow And Company Inc, 105 Madison Ave, New York, New York 10016 USA. 1985

Mitcham, Samuel W. Hitler's Commanders The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc, 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham Maryland 20706 USA. 2012

Moorehead, Alan. Eclipse : An eye-witness account of the Allied invasion of Fortress Europe in World War II. Soho Press, Inc. 853 Broadway New York, New York 10003. 1999.

© 2019 Mark Caruthers

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