Planned in September 1944, the World War II German offensive launched in mid-December of that year had as its objectives sealing a peace treaty with the Allies and trying to get the Americans and British to turn against the Soviets.
It certainly had the element of surprise, as no German military had attempted a winter offensive since Frederick the Great. When the Germans attacked through the Ardennes Forest on Dec. 16, 1944, and pushed Allied positions back into Belgium, the event became known as the Ardennes Offensive and later as the Battle of the Bulge.
After 70 years, the prolonged battle is still discussed for it impact on the remainder of the conflict.
German strategy in the Ardennes Offensive was to break the Allied lines, then travel along the Meuse River to Antwerp and Brussels. Because German fuel for vehicles and tanks was low, the plan was to defeat opposing forces and resupply their own needs with captured Allied resources.
However, the swiftness of the Allied response played a key role in thwarting Adolf Hitler’s bold gamble.
First, Allied Supreme Commander Dwight Eisenhower repositioned U.S. and British forces near the front lines quickly.
Second, American military leaders displayed courage in holding key points along the line, especially at Bastogne, where U.S. General Anthony McAuliffe answered a German surrender order with the reply, “Nuts!”
Finally, Hitler’s refusal to shift the attack to the flank allowed the Allies to contain the width of the offensive.
The Battle of the Bulge had many unique features, albeit not all positive. For the Americans, the six-week operation which ended in late January 1945 saw more soldiers killed – about 19,000 – than in any other battle of World War II.
Further, dozens of American POWs were killed by SS personnel during one part of the operation, an action which led to an atrocity-in-kind on a lesser scale by the Allies.
Due to shortages of troops, General Eisenhower ordered temporary integration of military units, a harbinger of future desegregation of the U.S. military. Despite the success of the counteroffensive, Allied military leaders argued about who was most responsible for the victory, though Winston Churchill clearly viewed it as an American-led.
Hitler and the German military paid dearly for the Ardennes Offensive.
First, rather that forcing a quick end to the fighting or causing the Allies to split, the German move sped up a Russian offensive in the eastern front of the war.
Second, German manpower and resources were further depleted as a result of the battle. In addition to losing about half of the 200,000 troops which began the offensive, Germany lost 1500 aircraft, devastating both reserve forces and the Luftwaffe. Germany also saw 600 of its tanks destroyed and had about 250,000 of its soldiers taken prisoner as a result of the operation.
By February 1945, the military lines were about where they were prior to the Ardennes Offensive. Within three months, the war in Europe was won, and the only mystery left was which Allied nation would be first to taken Berlin. Hitler’s dream of getting the Americans and British to change sides and back Germany versus the Soviets never materialized during the war, a function of Germany’s brutality against not only the enemies it fought, but against millions of innocent civilians who were murdered along the way.