Battle Spotlight #2: The Battle of the Bulge

Written on January 8, 2012 – Updated on June 17, 2012

By 1944, Germany was attacked by both sides, and many were about to give up hope, but not Hitler. Hitler had announced his decision of the offensive to the German High Command in the west, the Westheer on September 16. The initial plan was to break through the Ardennes Forest and to capture Brussels, Belgium and then the major harbor of Antwerp. Hitler believed that this would break the confidence of the Anglo-American forces, which would force America and Britain to settle a separate peace, not including the Soviet Union. Then he would concentrate all of his forces on the Eastern Front. Hitler’s decision to commit the last of his reinforcements to the West is inferred that he would have preferred a victory other than sending those forces to the East, where the Soviet Union were quickly closing in on Berlin. The West Wall and the Rhine River were still obstacles faced by the Allies, while the Soviet Union faced neither natural nor man-made obstacles.

Obviously some of the generals did not agree to this plan, saying that an attack during the worst season of the year would fail. Hitler dismissed other plans suggested by his generals, believing that his plan would win. He had decideded that the Sixth SS Panzer Army led by General Dietrich and the Fifth Panzer Army led by Mantueffel would be able to break through. Hitler also decided to put the Seventh Army led by Brandenburger to protect the two Panzer Armies’s flanks. He had also planned for his most successful SS officer: Otto Skorzeny, to go behind enemy lines dressed up as Americans. Their objective was to cause chaos and uncertainty for the green Americans. Hitler called this operation “The Watch on the Rhine”, so that if Allied intelligence found out about this, they would think it would be a defensive, and not an offensive.

On December 16, 1944 the Fifth Panzer Army and the Sixth SS Panzer Army blasted their way through the Ardennes and Hodge’s green First Army. The Battle of the Bulge had begun.

On the morning of December 16, 1944 two Panzer Armies blasted their way through the Ardennes Forest toward Brussels and Antwerp. At first, Bradley, commander of the 12th Army Group, who were attacked by the Germans, did not recognize how large this attack really was. This was largely thanks to the bad weather, causing air reconnaissance to be limited and  strict German radio security, which convinced Bradley that this was just a local diversion. Luckily Eisenhower, who had visited Bradley during that day, took a more precautionary view. He sent two armored divisions, the seventh from the Ninth Army, and the tenth from the Third Army. Thanks to these measures, “Autumn Mist”, which was the term named by the Allies, would receive heavier resistance.

One battalion led by Lieutenant Bouck, were attempting to defend the junction town of Lanzreath from the German onslaught. Though they wre outnumbered, they managed to hold off the Germans, with the help of a 0.50 caliber machine gun mounted on an armoured jeep. Private James recalls: “‘Those kids coming up the hill were 18 and 19, just like me. They charged swaggering, thinking it would be a lark, and suddenly my 0.50 caliber would tear them up'”. Bouck’s battalion held for a couple more hours, before they ran out of ammo and were forced to surrender.

On December 17, the 1st Panzer Division from the Sixth Army ed by Peiper was ready to take the vital road junction of St. Vith. But sudden arrival of the 7th Armored Division had stopped the 1st SS Panzer Division from claiming the vital road junction of St. Vith.While the Sixth Panzer Army was stopped at St. Vith, the Fifth Army was making better progress. The key for its breakthrough was another road junction, Bastogne. At dawn on December 19, Panzer Lehr Division was only two miles from the town, only to be fired upon by the 101st Airborne Division which had arrived by truck the previous night. Though lacking anti-tank equipment, the 101st managed to stop Panzer Lehr’s infantry from gaining entry, thus creating a bigger road block than St. Vith (which fell on December 23).

Left: A map of Autumn Mist.

On December 19 Eisenhower decided to make a meeting with his commanders. The mood was solemn and cold, just like the weather outside in Verdun, France. The generals tried to hide their embarrassment due to the failure of notice of the attack. Their intel had failed miserably, and now the German Army was storming west. Eisenhower asked one of his best generals: George Patton. Both Patton and Eisenhower believed that Hitler’s huge attack could be turned into their advantage. In the meeting Eisenhower determined that Patton would move out with his Third Army on the 22nd of December.

Below: A New York Times Article of the German offensive

By Christmas Day, Bastogne was surrounded and passed by the majority of the Fifth Army, but by then the Allies could tell that Autumn Mist was beginning to slow. Patton’s Third Army was thrusting through the southern part of the bulge that the Panzer Armies had created, and earlier resistance from the divisions that took the brunt of the attack had weakened the Panzers. The weather had cleared, allowing the Allied air force to pound the Panzers, and Patton’s divisions had made a breakthrough near the southern edge, and relieved the 101st Airborne at Bastogne. The 2nd Armored Division from Hodges 1st Army managed to capture the 2nd Panzer Division, which were immobilized due to lack of fuel. The 2nd Armored captured almost all of the 2nd Panzer Division’s 88 tanks, and 28 assault guns.

On December 28th, a second offensive, code named North Wind, was an attack of Blaskowitz’s Army Group G on Patch’s Seventh Army, the Germans managed to gain a strip of land west of the Rhine before getting pushed back.  January 8, an attack made by the Anglo-American forces managed to convince Hitler to withdraw four Panzer divisions, and by the 16th, the bulge was sealed. During the Battle of the Bulge, the Panzer Armies inflicted 34,000 casualties, but these losses would be made for by the increasing manpower of the American Army. The Germans however lost 100,000 men, 800 tanks, and 1000 aircraft, which could not be replaced to match the    losses on the front everyday. All Autumn Mist accomplished was delaying the Allied Forces, while the Red Army was rampaging across the Baltic and Eastern Germany. The Battle Of the Bulge, would be Hitler’s last gamble before his suicide in April.

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