The Battle of the Bulge (1944-45)

The Battle of the Bulge, or its official name the Battle of the Ardennes took place between December 1944 and January 1945. The battle represents the last major German offensive on the Western front and the largest battle fought by the Americans in World War Two.

After their invasion of Normandy in June 1944 (D-Day), the Allies moved across northern France into Belgium during the summer but had lost much of their momentum by winter. In fact by mid-December, Allied forces were stretched along a 600-mile front between the North Sea and Switzerland. In this respect the Allies were caught unprepared by the German counteroffensive in the hilly and wooded Ardennes region of southern Belgium.

Hitler hoped the German offensive would split the Allied forces in two and destroy their ability to supply themselves. After all he had convinced himself that the alliance between Britain, France and America was not strong and that a major attack and defeat would break up the alliance. On paper, it was a seemingly illogical plan – especially as Germany had been in retreat since D-Day, her military was depleted of supplies and was facing a confident and strong Allied force.

Nevertheless, at least initially, the Germans experienced great success. After all, the weather was in the Hitler’s favour. The British Typhoons and American Mustangs that had been vital in stopping the German tanks were halted by the terrible weather and low fog. In addition before the attack a number of German soldiers had dressed up in Allied uniforms and caused havoc by changing road signs and cutting telephone lines. Finally, the sheer surprise of the German attack caught the Allies off guard. The extent to which the Allies were initially pushed back (80 miles in just two days) created a created a bulge in the Allied front line. It is for this reason the battle got its name.

The drive was eventually halted by Christmas due to the inadequacy of German supplies and the staunch Allied resistance. After all, the Germans offensive was based on its tanks, but they needed fuel to maintain the offensive. This was something the Nazis were short of. In addition by Christmas the weather had cleared which allowed the Allies to use the might of their air force. With the German force halted there was a position of stalemate. The fighting over the New Year period was particularly ferocious. This coincided with a period of intense cold and rain. The soldiers on the ground faced very difficult conditions as Trench foot became common.

Ultimately by January the Germans were in a critical position caused lack of fuel. Many soldiers had to simply abandon their vehicles and retreat. General George Patton relieved the American forces in the Belgian town of Bastogne and by early January a counteroffensive of their own was launched. By mid January the Germans made a complete withdrawal having used more of their resources than they could afford on this last desperate attempt to regain the initiative in the West. In addition Hitler’s plan that a successful attack would split the Allies proved false. If anything, such an attack, and their subsequent staunch defence, helped to engender a greater feeling of solidarity and clear desire to defeat Nazi Germany.

Ben Wynes
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Ben Wynes

I am currently studying for a PhD in History, a subject I am fascinated by. My main interests include the Second World War and Communism, especially in Russia and the former Yugoslavia.