Bulge, Battle of the

views updated May 14 2018



Also known as the Battle of the Ardennes or the von Rundstedt counteroffensive, the Battle of the Bulge, 16 December 1944 to 16 January 1945, allowed the Anglo-American expeditionary armies (under General Dwight D. Eisenhower) to destroy twelve elite mobile divisions of Adolf Hitler's western European army during the latter stages of World War II. The campaign began with Hitler's surprise offensive through the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg and ended with the elimination of the German salient driven into the heart of the U.S. First Army as far west as the watershed of the Meuse River—this salient resembling a "bulge."


The purpose of the German offensive was to disrupt the Allies' logistical lines of communications by taking the key transportation centers of Liege and Antwerp. The desperate offensive, Hitler's personal scheme, was supposed to divide the U.S. Twelfth Army Group (led by General Omar N. Bradley) and the British Twenty-first Army Group (under Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery) and throw the Allied advance to the Rhine into confusion. Hitler's ultimate goal (and fantastic hope) was to negotiate a truce with the western Allies so that the German armed forces could concentrate on the eastern front and stop the relentless, vengeful advance of the Soviet armies into central Europe.

Conceived by Hitler during the collapse of the German western armies in France in August 1944, the Ardennes counteroffensive drew its inspiration from the 1940 German offensive in France and the campaigns of King Frederick II of Prussia in the Seven Years' War (1756–1763). Strategic insight, operational excellence, bad weather, and tactical ferocity would overcome Allied superiority in manpower and logistics. Hitler viewed the Allied commanders as weak and their fighting men as even weaker; his senior western commanders, Field Marshals Gerd von Runstedt and Walter Model, were not so optimistic. Hitler argued that the reconstituted mechanized divisions (panzers or panzer grenadiers) would not attack alone. They would be assisted by selective air attacks upon the Allied rear areas by the reconstituted Luftwaffe and the V-1 (a cruise missile) and V-2 (a ballistic missile) vengeance weapons. Special operations groups disguised as American troops would destroy or divert Allied motor convoys with supplies and reinforcements as well as seize key bridges and crossroads for the rampaging panzers. The offensive even had a deceptive code name, Wacht am Rhein (watch on the Rhine).

Despite the deep reservations of his senior generals, Hitler withdrew the surviving armored units from France, sent all available replacements (including flak and ground aviation units) to these divisions, reequipped the divisions with the most advanced model tanks (the Mark V "Panther" and Mark VI "Tiger") and self-propelled assault guns (the Stug III G and Jagdpanzer 100), stockpiled ammunition and gasoline, and organized new smaller, more firepower-intensive infantry divisions (volksgrenadiers [people's grenadiers]) to commit more support troops and new conscripts, young and old, into the battle. This dramatic reconstitution effort escaped Allied intelligence. The Germans reduced their radio communications and avoided Allied aerial reconnaissance. By mid-December the Germans had organized three field armies (Sixth SS Panzer, Fifth Panzer, and Seventh) of twelve armored-mechanized divisions and special brigades and seventeen infantry divisions along the eastern line of the Ardennes, a forested region of low mountains, many rivers, and few transportation corridors. The three German armies employed 330,000 men and eight hundred tanks and assault guns in the campaign.


In the first week of the Battle of the Bulge, the three German armies held the operational initiative and drove their armored spearheads through the surprised U.S. VIII Corps (three divisions and a mechanized cavalry group) and advanced 72 kilometers (45 miles) into Belgium on a front 112 kilometers (70 miles) wide. The Germans, however, did not meet their time–distance schedule and lost their short-lived advantage for many reasons, all linked to the stubborn resistance of the U.S. First Army, soon reinforced by the U.S. Third Army to the south in Luxembourg and France. Despite occasional unit disintegrations, the U.S. 99th, 106th, and 28th Infantry Divisions mounted a phased resistance that held the shoulders of the salient and forced the Germans to slide directly west instead of northwest as planned. Within the salient, the U.S. Seventh Armored Division at St. Vith and the U.S. Ninth and Tenth Armored Divisions and U.S. 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne defended key road junctions that forced the Germans to use their scarce elite panzer forces to seize St. Vith and besiege Bastogne. American engineer units destroyed critical bridges, defended key road junctions, and demolished gasoline dumps the panzer divisions needed to maintain their advance. Air attacks and rear area operations proved no substitute for the Wehrmacht's limited success on the ground.

Largely through the key decisions by Eisenhower and General George S. Patton Jr. (leading the U.S. Third Army) in the first three days of the campaign, the Allies stopped the Germans before they reached the Meuse River, well short of Liege and Antwerp. Three infantry and one armored division of the U.S. V Corps stopped the Sixth SS Panzer Army in the northern part of the salient. Augmented by the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps (three divisions) and the British XXX Corps (four divisions), directed by Montgomery with his usual caution, the Allied forces also defeated the most advanced western forces of the Fifth Panzer Army. Bradley, distressed that Eisenhower had put about two-thirds of his army group under temporary British control, did not approve a more aggressive Third Army attack against the German Seventh Army at the salient's southern shoulder. Even with the commitment of three corps (nine divisions), Patton had difficulty relieving Bastogne and dealing with the Fifth Panzer Army, too. A plan of greater daring might have bagged all three German armies, not squeezed them back to their initial positions.

In a series of engagements throughout the "bulge," the panzer formations reached the limit of their endurance in firepower and mobility in the last week of December 1944. The infantry divisions found themselves stalled beside and behind the panzer spearheads. The Allies increased their superiority in several critical operational areas: tank numbers, massed artillery, aerial resupply, close air support, and fresh infantry. Much to Hitler's dismay, von Runstedt and other generals reported in carefully phrased messages that in strategic terms Operation Wacht am Rhein had failed, but the German armies could still save themselves and inflict crippling casualties on the Allies. The German fighting withdrawal was indeed stubborn, but did not justify the sacrifices of three German armies. By mid-January Hitler's bold stroke had become a forlorn hope, and the Allies had regained the strategic initiative, which they never again surrendered.


The German forces suffered irreparable losses in elite personnel: 30,039 soldiers (14,325 killed or captured) of 159,564 panzertruppen and 44,420 of 171,596 soldaten in infantry formations (25,966 killed or captured). Tank losses were significant, even if German industry could eventually replace them. New tanks in the hands of new soldiers could not replace the Ardennes losses. Although the most recent (1943–1944) models of German tanks, assault guns, and tank destroyers enjoyed superior main guns, the six most-heavily engaged panzer divisions could not match the American ability to replace armored losses during the Ardennes campaign. The Germans began their offensive with 713 heavy armored vehicles, but they faced 1,382 armored vehicles (tanks and tank destroyers) in the first five American armored divisions they soon met. As the initiative shifted to the Allies in January 1945, the same five U.S. armored divisions still had 1,298 heavy mechanized vehicles in the field (excluding self-propelled artillery), but the six German panzer divisions could deploy only 332 similar vehicles, their forces cut by combat losses, air attack, breakdowns, and lack of gasoline.

The American losses were serious, 62,439 casualties in all categories and about half lost as killed or captured. The distribution of casualties, however, reveals that only three divisions (the 28th and 106th Infantry Divisions and the 101st Airborne Division) took crippling losses, almost 19,000 soldiers or 6,000-plus per division. All the other American divisions took acceptable losses, an average of 1,300 in each of nine engaged armored divisions and an average of 2,000 in eighteen other infantry divisions. Total British losses were fewer than 2,000.

The Battle of the Bulge probably hastened the end of the European war by ruining the fighting elite of the German army and Waffen-SS in Army Group West. It completed the destruction of Germany's panzer divisions begun in the Normandy campaign (June–August 1944) and on the eastern front in the Soviet victories at Kursk (1943) and in Operation Bagration (1944). Hitler failed to recognize that the Third Reich was not Prussia and that he was not Frederick the Great.

See alsoWorld War II.


Cole, Hugh M. The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge. Washington, D.C., 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, 1994.

Eisenhower, John S. D. The Bitter Woods. New York, 1969.

MacDonald, Charles B. A Time for Trumpets: The Untold Story of the Battle of the Bulge. New York, 1985.

Allan R. Millett

Bulge, Battle of the

views updated Jun 27 2018

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.]


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

Bulge, Battle of the

views updated May 17 2018


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.


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 .

Battle of the Bulge

views updated May 17 2018

Battle of the Bulge

On December 16, 1944, the German army mounted a surprise attack on Allied forces in World War II (1939–45). Now known as the Battle of the Bulge, it was the last desperate offensive made by the Germans. Though the element of surprise initially gave the advantage to the German army, the Allied troops managed to regain ground and force a German retreat by the end of January 1945.

Nazis hoped to divide Allies

By December 1944, the plan to conquer Europe launched five years earlier by Nazi German leader Adolf Hitler (1889–1945) was losing on all fronts. From Italy, France, and the Soviet Union, Hitler's armies were being forced back to Germany. To prevent an Allied invasion of the homeland along the western border, Hitler organized a surprise attack. Hoping to split the Allies , he planned to push them back, capture Antwerp, and thus be in a position to negotiate peace. With few men available for such an attack, Hitler assembled his remaining reserves and relied on surprise to accomplish his goals. They secretly gathered more than two hundred thousand men and twelve hundred tanks near the Ardennes region of Belgium and Luxembourg, where the Allied presence was weakest.

The German forces waited for the weather to worsen to prevent Allied air support. On December 16, snow and fog presented the ideal opportunity to strike. German armies attacked along a sixty-mile front of the Allied lines. They drove forward hoping to separate the Allied armies. With the Allied armies being pushed back in this region, a bulge of German pressure formed in the Allied front. This bulge of German presence into the Ardennes region gives the battle its name.

December skies cleared

The German army had some success, including the capture of Bastogne and the isolation of some American troops. The weather cleared on December 23, however, enabling Allied planes to attack the Germans and to drop supplies to Allied ground forces. Though the battle began to turn at this point to favor the Allied counteroffensive, it would not end quickly. Bitter fighting continued until January 28, when the last of the bulge was eliminated and the Allied forces had recovered all the ground lost.

The Battle of the Bulge is remembered as the last major German offensive. It was a large-scale attack that left many casualties on all sides. Over six hundred thousand Americans were involved in the fighting, and nearly ninety thousand were captured, wounded, or killed. The Germans had nearly eighty-five thousand similar casualties. Hitler used the very last of his reserves in the offensive. Germany was severely weakened and fell to Allied forces just a few months later.

‘Bulge, battle of the’

views updated May 18 2018

‘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

Battle of the Bulge

views updated May 29 2018

Battle of the Bulge ★★ 1965

A re-creation of the famous offensive by Nazi Panzer troops on the Belgian front during 194445, an assault that could have changed the course of WWII. 141m/C VHS, DVD, Blu-ray Disc, HD DVD . Henry Fonda, Robert Shaw, Robert Ryan, Dana Andrews, Telly Savalas, Ty Hardin, Pier Angeli, George Montgomery, Charles Bronson, Barbara Werle, HansChristian Blech, James MacArthur, Karl Otto Alberty; D: Ken Annakin; W: Philip Yordan, John Melson; C: Jack Hildyard; M: Benjamin Frankel.

Bulge, battle of the

views updated May 29 2018

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.

Battle of the Bulge

views updated May 23 2018

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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