This week marks the 75 th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, the final German offensive of World War II. It began on December 16, 1944, and lasted for over a month. The goal of the Germans was to strike at a weak point in the Allied line within the Ardennes. Doing so would isolate the British forces in the north from the American forces in the south. Such a plan was similar to what the Germans accomplished in 1940 against the French, the difference being that instead of penetrating into France, their objective would be Antwerp, Belgium.
Operation Autumn Fog (the codename for the offensive) started with an artillery barrage on the morning of December 16. The Allies were caught by surprise due to anticipating a possible attack north of the Ardennes near Aachen (since the Germans were transferring units from the Eastern Front to the Western Front) and bad intelligence (which resulted from radio silence among the Germans and the Allied commanders disregarding intercepted German messages calling for aerial reconnaissance over the Ardennes). The bad weather was also a factor, since it prevented the Allies from carrying out their own aerial reconnaissance, as was the fact that some Allied commanders thought the Germans were not capable of carrying out another offensive. In addition, the Germans had commandos who spoke English wear uniforms taken from captured or killed Allied soldiers and sent them behind Allied lines. These commandos cut telephone lines, changed road signs, misdirected traffic, seized bridges along the Meuse River, conducted sabotage, and practically caused confusion among the Allies. As a result, Americans would screen each other by asking questions they presumed only other Americans would the answers to, such as state capitals or sports trivia. Despite the logic of such questioning, not even genuine Americans knew the answers, e.g. General Omar Bradley did not know who the husband of
actress Betty Grable was (Harry James). Sadly, such tactics also resulted in American soldiers being killed by other American soldiers.
Meanwhile, Waffen SS soldiers struck fear into Allied personnel by carrying out massacres of American POWs, the most infamous being carried out near the town of Malmedy. Such massacres resulted in retaliatory policies, e.g. one American unit issuing an order that any Waffen SS or paratroopers would be shot on sight.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the battle was the Siege of Bastogne, in which the 101 st Airborne Division became surrounded by the Germans. General Anthony McAuliffe (the unit’s commanding officer) was asked by the Germans to surrender. He simply replied “Nuts” (i.e. go to hell). Despite being surrounded, the 101 st managed to hold off the Germans until Patton’s Third Army and Allied fighter bombers came to the rescue.
Elsewhere the Germans were driven back, e.g. the Colmar Pocket located west of the Rhine, thus ending the offensive.
Despite using the element of surprise, the Germans had used up the last of their reserves. They did manage to hold out for several more months. But the message was clear: defeat was inevitable.