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Bulge, Battle of the

Bulge, Battle of the (1944–45).Also known as the Ardennes Campaign of World War II, this was Adolf Hitler's last counteroffensive in the West, an attempt to break the Allied lines at the Ardennes Forest, drive a wedge between the American and British armies, capture the Belgian port of Antwerp, disrupt logistics, trap Allied forces, and perhaps achieve a negotiated peace in the West.

Spearheading the thrust were two German Panzer (armored) armies—the Sixth SS Panzer Army and Fifth Panzer Army—plus the Seventh Army composed primarily of volksgrenadier replacement units, plus paratroopers who were to be dropped ahead to capture bridges and block reinforcements. The total German strike force included 38 divisions with perhaps 250,000 troops, supported by nearly 1,000 aircraft.

Surprise was crucial to Hitler's plan, so the Germans used deceptive techniques; even Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the German theater commander, was initially misled about the concentration of troops, which he and the Allies (listening through ULTRA since the Germans used landlines rather than radio transmissions within Germany) thought were for defensive purposes to block the next Allied offensive north and south of the Ardennes. Tactically, the Germans also imposed strict radio silence. They were aided by the inclement winter weather, which prevented aerial reconnaissance.

The Germans achieved complete surprise when they launched the massive offensive on 16 December 1944. Facing them were some 83,000 American troops in five divisions from Gen. Courtney H. Hodges's First U.S. Army, largely new or recuperating divisions, since Hodges's main force was north near Aachen preparing to attack the Roer Dams. In fog and then snow, the Germans tanks and infantry, most of them armed with automatic weapons, pushed forward, their artillery severing communication lines. A handful of English‐speaking German soldiers in American uniforms and vehicles sowed confusion and apprehension.

The Germans achieved breakthroughs in half a dozen places, and for two weeks, it appeared that they might reach at least the Meuse River (a penetration of more than seventy miles). Although the Americans continued to hold the shoulders of the growing salient (the “bulge”), the 58th Panzer Corps and the 47th Corps poured through the gap created by the collapse of the U.S. 28th and the newly arrived and untested 106th Infantry Divisions.

At his headquarters in Paris, Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower conferred with Gen. Omar N. Bradley, head of the 12th Army Group. Bradley believed it a spoiling attack, but Eisenhower sensed its scope. Yet Eisenhower's broad‐front strategy denied him the reserves to meet such an attack. Thus on 19 December, he ordered General Hodges on the north and Gen. George S. Patton on the south of the salient to pivot the First and Third U.S. Armies and redirect their offensives to cut off the German salient at its base. He also ordered the 82nd and 101st U.S. Airborne Division sent in by truck, and all available U.S. reserves in Europe to be put into action. This meant that black platoons went into combat at the company level with white units, fighting their mutual enemy.

The vital road center of Bastogne was soon surrounded by the advancing Germans. But calling themselves the “Battered Bastards of Bastogne,” the 101st U.S. Airborne Division refused to surrender— Brig. Gen. Anthony C. McAuliffe's answer to a German delegation was “Nuts”—and held down five German divisions. The 82nd Airborne Division also thwarted the Germans at Houffalize, and Americans put up major resistance at St. Vith. Many were angered by true reports that the SS had executed captured G.I.s at Malmédy.

On 24 December, the German Panzers reached their limit, blocked three miles from the Meuse by Gen. James “Lightning” Collins's 2nd Armored Division. The previous day, clearing skies enabled 2,000 Allied planes to begin attacking enemy columns and supply lines. The Luftwaffe counterattacked, destroying more than 150 Allied planes, but lost 300 themselves and never recovered. U.S. and British airplanes shattered the German offensive, which was already running short of fuel and ammunition.

The Army Air Force also began on 23 December to resupply the besieged American paratroopers. The first reinforcements reached Bastogne the day after Christmas.

With the German offensive blunted, the U.S. First and Third Armies began their pincer movements on 3 January 1944, but deep snow prevented their closing on Houffalize until 16 January. By then many of the Germans had escaped.

Although the German counteroffensive had been defeated, it was a costly victory. Allied casualties totaled 77,000 men, which included 8,000 killed in action, 48,000 wounded in action, and 21,000 as prisoners of war or missing in action. Exact figures for German casualties are impossible to determine, but estimates suggest that the Germans lost over 200,000 men, including 110,000 as prisoners of war. In addition, they lost 1,400 tanks and 600 other vehicles.

Hitler's decision for the massive counteroffensive, rather than the traditional delaying actions and defense, also cost the Germans their last reserves in veteran troops, tanks, and mechanized artillery and vehicles. Despite some desperate moments, the “Battle of the Bulge” ultimately proved to be the beginning of the invasion of the Third Reich from the West.
[See also France, Liberation of; World War II: Military and Diplomatic Course.]

Bibliography

Robert E. Merriam , Dark December, 1947.
Leonard Rapport and and Arthur Northwood, Jr. , Rendezvous with Destiny. A History of the 101st Airborne Division, 1948.
John Toland , Battle: The Story of the Bulge, 1959.
Hugh M. Cole , The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge, 1965.
John S. D. Eisenhower , The Bitter Woods, 1969.
Charles B. MacDonald , The Last Offensive, 1973.
Russell F. Weigley , Eisenhower's Lieutenants: The Campaigns of France and Germany, 1944–45, 1981.
Charles B. MacDonald , A Time for Trumpets. The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge, 1985.

Ernest F. Fisher

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Bulge, Battle of the

BULGE, BATTLE OF THE

BULGE, BATTLE OF THE, a German counter-offensive in World War II, named for the forty-mile-wide and sixty-mile-deep bulge created in American lines. As German armies retreated from France in late summer 1944, Adolf Hitler planned to regain the initiative by a winter counteroffensive in the semimountainous Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg, scene of German triumphs in 1914 and 1940. Over objections of his field commanders, who deemed resources inadequate for such a plan, Hitler aimed his thrust at the Belgian port of Antwerp, intending thereby to cut off to the north the British Twenty-first Army Group and the U.S. First and Ninth Armies; these forces eliminated, he hoped to gain a negotiated peace on the western front.

Through the autumn of 1944, the German commander, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, secretly massed more than 200,000 men and 1,200 tanks in the wooded Eifel region opposite the Ardennes. On 16 December three German armies struck along a sixty-mile front against seven American divisions of the First Army's Fifth and Eighth Corps. Surprise was total, but only at one point, north of Saint Vith, did the Germans achieve the swift breakthroughs they expected.


Allied lines held in the north against the onslaught of two Panzer armies. In the center the Twenty-eighth Infantry Division slowed a German drive across northern Luxembourg to the Belgian road center of Bastogne. In the south the Fourth Division and part of the Ninth Armored Division blocked the southern shoulder of the penetration. The German drive was thus contained at both shoulders and constricted by lack of roads.

On the second day, 17 December, the supreme Allied commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the Twelfth Army Group commander, Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley, rushed reinforcements to the southern shoulder, in part to relieve the besieged U.S. forces in Bastogne. Other units began to build a line westward from the Elsenborn Ridge lest the Germans turn north toward supply depots around Liège. By the fourth day, 19 December, the Germans had severed communications between the southern and northern armies. This prompted Eisenhower to put Bradley's two northern armies under the Twenty-first Army Group commander, Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery. American commanders would later take the opinion that Montgomery claimed undue credit for the German defeat.

Hitler hoped to anchor his south flank on Bastogne and drive north to encircle American troops near Aachen. Thus, the Germans surrounded the American forces at Bastogne on 20 December and laid siege to the town. On the twenty-third, the weather cleared, enabling Allied planes to attack German columns and drop supplies. Severe fighting continued at Bastogne, even after the Fourth Armored Division broke the siege on the twenty-sixth. The First and Third Armies, nevertheless, began to counterattack on 3 January 1945. The First Army came from the north; the Third Army from the south. On the sixteenth they converged on Houffalize, a juncture north of Bastogne, and precipitated a slow German withdrawal. The last of the "bulge" was eliminated on the twenty-eighth.

The Americans incurred about 80,000 casualties—19,000 killed and 15,000 captured; British casualties totaled 1,400. German losses totaled approximately 100,000. Each side lost 700 tanks. The counteroffensive delayed a final Allied offensive against Germany for six weeks, but in expending his last reserves, Hitler had crippled the defense of Germany on both eastern and western fronts.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Cole, Hugh M. The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1994. The original edition was published in 1965.

Dupuy, Trevor N., David L. Bongard, and Richard C. Anderson. Hitler's Last Gamble: The Battle of the Bulge, December 1944–January 1945. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.

MacDonald, Charles B. The Battle of the Bulge. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984.

Whiting, Charles. The Last Assault: 1944, The Battle of the Bulge Reassessed. New York: Sarpedon, 1994.

Charles B.MacDonald/a. r.

See alsoAachen ; Bastogne ; Malmédy Massacre ; Siegfried Line .

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Battle of the Bulge

Battle of the Bulge, popular name in World War II for the German counterattack in the Ardennes, Dec., 1944–Jan., 1945. It is also known as the Battle of the Ardennes. On Dec. 16, 1944, a strong German force, commanded by Marshal von Rundstedt, broke the thinly held American front in the Belgian Ardennes sector. Taking advantage of the foggy weather and of the total surprise of the Allies, the Germans penetrated deep into Belgium, creating a dent, or "bulge," in the Allied lines and threatening to break through to the N Belgian plain and seize Antwerp. An American force held out at Bastogne, even though surrounded and outnumbered. The U.S. 1st and 9th armies, temporarily under Field Marshal Montgomery, attacked the German salient from the north, while the U.S. 3d Army attacked it from the south. Improved flying weather (after Dec. 24) facilitated Allied counterattacks. By Jan. 16, 1945, the German forces were destroyed or routed, but not without some 77,000 Allied casualties.

See C. B. MacDonald, A Time for Trumpets (1984); J. S. D. Eisenhower, The Bitter Woods (1969, repr. 1995).

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‘Bulge, battle of the’

‘Bulge, battle of the’, 1944. In September 1944 Hitler decided to counter Anglo-American success in France and Belgium by secretly preparing powerful forces, including twelve Panzer divisions, to break through in the Ardennes, cross the Meuse, and retake Antwerp. Allied supplies would be blocked and allied troops north of Antwerp isolated. Selecting a period of bad weather to palliate allied air superiority, the Germans attacked on 16 December 1944. They used their remaining trucks to support rapid advance into a salient; now, however, the British and Americans had superior mobility and contained the initial surprise success gained by the Germans. Moreover, the American defenders held road junctions, notably at Bastogne where 101 Airborne, hurriedly moved there, withstood a six-day siege. At the time, the surprise German attack caused dismay at an unexpected reassertion of enemy strength and, later, doubts about the efficiency of allied intelligence. Montgomery reinforced his unpopularity by seeming publicly to criticize American generals.

R. A. C. Parker

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Bulge, battle of the

Bulge, battle of the Final German offensive of World War II. The Germans drove a wedge through the Allied lines in the Ardennes forest on the French-Belgian frontier in December 1944. Allied forces converged to extinguish the “bulge” in their lines in January 1945, and the advance into Germany was renewed.

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Battle of the Bulge

Battle of the Bulge an unofficial name for the campaign in the Ardennes, December 1944–January 1945, when German forces attempted to break through Allied lines and almost succeeded in doing so.

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Bulge, Battle of the

Battle of the Bulge: see Battle of the Bulge.

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