The Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Offensive, was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II. The battle lasted for five weeks from 16 December 1944 to 28 January 1945, towards the end of the war in Europe. It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region between Belgium and Luxembourg. It overlapped with the Alsace Offensive, subsequently the Colmar Pocket, another series of battles launched by the Germans in support of the Ardennes thrust.
The primary military objectives were to deny further use of the Belgian Port of Antwerp to the Allies and to split the Allied lines, which potentially could have allowed the Germans to encircle and destroy the four Allied forces. The Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler, who since December 1941 had assumed direct command of the German army, believed that achieving these objectives would compel the Western Allies to accept a peace treaty in the Axis powers' favor. By this time, it was palpable to virtually the entire German leadership including Hitler himself that they had no realistic hope of repelling the imminent Soviet invasion of Germany unless the Wehrmacht was able to concentrate the entirety of its remaining forces on the Eastern Front, which in turn obviously required that hostilities on the Western and Italian Fronts be terminated. The Battle of the Bulge remains among the most important battles of the war, as it marked the last major offensive attempted by the Axis Powers on the Western front. After their defeat, Germany would retreat for the remainder of the war.
The farthest west the offensive reached was the village of Foy-Nôtre-Dame, south east of Dinant, being stopped by the U.S. 2nd Armored Division on 24 December 1944. Improved weather conditions from around 24 December permitted air attacks on German forces and supply lines, which sealed the failure of the offensive. On 26 December the lead element of Patton's U.S. Third Army reached Bastogne from the south, ending the siege. Although the offensive was effectively broken by 27 December, when the trapped units of 2nd Panzer Division made two break-out attempts with only partial success, the battle continued for another month before the front line was effectively restored to its position prior to the attack. In the wake of the defeat, many experienced German units were out of men and equipment, and the survivors retreated to the Siegfried Line.
The Germans' initial attack involved around 410,000 men; just over 1,400 tanks, tank destroyers, and assault guns; 2,600 artillery pieces; and over 1,000 combat aircraft, as well as large numbers of other armored fighting vehicles (AFVs). These were reinforced a couple of weeks later, bringing the offensive's total strength to around 450,000 troops, and 1,500 tanks and assault guns. Between 63,222 and 98,000 of these men were killed, missing, wounded in action, or captured. The battle severely depleted Germany's armored forces, which remained largely unreplaced throughout the remainder of the war. German Luftwaffe personnel, and later also Luftwaffe aircraft (in the concluding stages of the engagement) also sustained heavy losses.
From among the Americans' peak strength of 610,000 troops, there were 89,000 casualties, including about 19,000 killed. The \"Bulge\" was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the United States in World War II and the third-deadliest campaign in American history.
Despite a lull along the front after the Scheldt battles, the German situation remained dire. While operations continued in the autumn, notably the Lorraine Campaign, the Battle of Aachen and fighting in the Hürtgen Forest, the strategic situation in the west had changed little. The Allies were slowly pushing towards Germany, but no decisive breakthrough was achieved. There were 96 Allied divisions at or near the front, with an estimated ten more divisions on the way from the United Kingdom. Additional Allied airborne units remained in England. The Germans could field a total of 55 understrength divisions.
Meanwhile, the Allied air offensive of early 1944 had effectively grounded the Luftwaffe, leaving the German Army with little battlefield intelligence and no way to interdict Allied supplies. The converse was equally damaging; daytime movement of German forces was rapidly noticed, and interdiction of supplies combined with the bombing of the Romanian oil fields starved Germany of oil and gasoline. This fuel shortage intensified after the Soviets overran those fields in the course of their August 1944 Jassy-Kishinev Offensive.
The Wehrmacht's code name for the offensive was Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein ('Operation Watch on the Rhine'), after the German patriotic hymn Die Wacht am Rhein, a name that deceptively implied the Germans would be adopting a defensive posture along the Western Front. The Germans also referred to it as Ardennenoffensive ('Ardennes Offensive') and Rundstedt-Offensive, both names being generally used nowadays in modern Germany. The French (and Belgian) name for the operation is Bataille des Ardennes, 'Battle of the Ardennes'. The battle was militarily defined by the Allies as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, which included the German drive and the American effort to contain and later defeat it. The phrase 'Battle of the Bulge' was coined by contemporary press to describe the way the Allied front line bulged inward on wartime news maps.
While the Ardennes Counteroffensive is the correct term in Allied military language, the official Ardennes-Alsace campaign reached beyond the Ardennes battle region, and the most popular description in English speaking countries remains simply 'Battle of the Bulge'.
The OKW decided by mid-September, at Hitler's insistence, that the offensive would be mounted in the Ardennes, as was done in 1940. In 1940 German forces had passed through the Ardennes in three days before engaging the enemy, but the 1944 plan called for battle in the forest itself. The main forces were to advance westward to the Meuse River, then turn northwest for Antwerp and Brussels. The close terrain of the Ardennes would make rapid movement difficult, though open ground beyond the Meuse offered the prospect of a successful dash to the coast.
Four armies were selected for the operation. Adolf Hitler personally selected for the counter-offensive on the northern shoulder of the western front the best troops available and officers he trusted. The lead role in the attack was given to the 6th Panzer Army, commanded by SS Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich. It included the most experienced formation of the Waffen-SS: the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler. It also contained the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. They were given priority for supply and equipment and assigned the shortest route to the primary objective of the offensive, Antwerp, starting from the northernmost point on the intended battlefront, nearest the important road network hub of Monschau.
The Fifth Panzer Army under General Hasso von Manteuffel was assigned to the middle sector with the objective of capturing Brussels. The Seventh Army, under General Erich Brandenberger, was assigned to the southernmost sector, near the Luxembourgish city of Echternach, with the task of protecting the flank. This Army was made up of only four infantry divisions, with no large-scale armored formations to use as a spearhead unit. As a result, they made little progress throughout the battle.
In an indirect, secondary role, the Fifteenth Army, under General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen, recently brought back up to strength and re-equipped after heavy fighting during Operation Market Garden, was located just north of the Ardennes battlefield and tasked with holding U.S. forces in place, with the possibility of launching its own attack given favorable conditions.
Because the Ardennes was considered a quiet sector, considerations of economy of force led it to be used as a training ground for new units and a rest area for units that had seen hard fighting. The U.S. units deployed in the Ardennes thus were a mixture of inexperienced troops (such as the raw U.S. 99th and 106th \"Golden Lions\" Divisions), and battle-hardened troops sent to that sector to recuperate (the 28th Infantry Division).
While the Siege of Bastogne is often credited as the central point where the German offensive was stopped, the battle for Elsenborn Ridge was actually the decisive component of the Battle of the Bulge. Untested troops of the 99th Infantry Division prevented the best equipped armored units of the German army from advancing and forced them to reroute their troops to unfavorable alternative routes that considerably slowed their advance.
At 12:30 p.m. on 17 December, Kampfgruppe Peiper was near the hamlet of Baugnez, on the height halfway between the town of Malmedy and Ligneuville, when they encountered elements of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, U.S. 7th Armored Division. After a brief battle the lightly armed Americans surrendered. They were disarmed and, with some other Americans captured earlier (approximately 150 men), sent to stand in a field near the crossroads under light guard. About fifteen minutes after Peiper's advance guard passed through, the main body under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Werner Pötschke arrived. The SS troopers suddenly opened fire on the prisoners. As soon as the firing began, the prisoners panicked. Most were shot where they stood, though some managed to flee. Accounts of the killing vary, but at least 84 of the POWs were murdered. A few survived, and news of the killings of prisoners of war spread through Allied lines. Following the end of the war, soldiers and officers of Kampfgruppe Peiper, including Joachim Peiper and SS general Sepp Dietrich, were tried for the incident at the Malmedy massacre trial. 59ce067264