Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Battle of the Bulge

Hitler was desperate. The summer of 1944 witnessed the crumbling of German armies on both the Eastern and Western Fronts. With the Western Allies having gained a solid foothold in France, Germany was being squeezed into submission. german resistance began to stiffen during the fall but something had to be done. Hitler stunned his generals with an audacious plan, "Wacht Am Rhein" (Watch on the Rhine), in which Wehrmacht forces would once more assume the offensive.

Though Hitler's thoughts were rarely grounded in reality, he was correct in believing that he would receive better terms from the Western Allies than Stalin—3 1/2 long years of brutal warfare left the Russians only desiring revenge. Hitler's plan called for the massing of what new forces could be scrapped together and focusing an attack against the lightly-defended Ardennes forest in an effort to recapture the Belgian port city of Antwerp. Hitler's prayer was that the Wallies resolve might waver and seek an armistice favorable to Germany, allowing Hitler to focus only on the Russian threat.

The attack was set for mid-December, counting on poor weather that would ground the Wallies superior air support. Launched on December 16th, German forces quickly overran the sparsely-populated American front lines. Problems soon developed. Lacking precious fuel, German plans depended on capturing American fuel dumps. once the alarm was raised, American troops began destroying bridges and setting up roadblocks in which a handful of soldiers held up the German columns on the narrow forest roads. The village of Bastogne proved to be a major stumbling block, with roads extending out like the legs of a spider, Bastogne was a key position. The Germans encircled the city, but never forced the surrender of the defending 101st Airborne Division. Falling behind schedule, lacking fuel, clearing weather allowing Allied air support, and with reinforcements racing to the front, the attack not only failed to reach Antwerp but at its greatest extent still fell short of the Meuse River. The Germans merely created a "bulge" in the Allied lines (see map above).

Though the American forces were under General Omar Bradley, British general Bernard Montgomery was given temporary command of units that had been isolated by the German incursion. General George Patton's Third Army swung up from the south to help relieve the siege of Bastogne and by the end of December German forces were in retreat back towards their starting line. On January 1, 1945 Hitler ordered the Luftwaffe to stage a large raid known as "The Great Blow." 800 planes took to the air in the last German air offensive. Despite destroying 200 Allied aircraft, the Germans lost over 300 and the Luftwaffe never flew in significant numbers again. By mid-January the Germans were back at their starting lines but fewer in men and equipment. The end of the Thousand-year Reich was just months away.

An excellent resource on this and other WW2 topics is Famous Men of the Second World War

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