“It was, without any doubt, the greatest American battle of the Second World War and it will, I believe, always be considered as a great American victory.” –Sir Winston Churchill
The Allied landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944 dealt a psychological blow to the German army and became the turning point of World War II. The Allies’ breakthrough of the German lines resulted in the liberation of Paris in August, and the Belgian town of Bastogne, and the Ardennes in September. Units of the First Army even crossed into Germany, but were stopped by the Germans at what would be known as the Siegfried Line.
Germany was losing the war. The Russian Red Army was closing in on the Eastern front while German cities were being devastated by American bombing. Hitler knew the end was near unless he devised a plan to slow the Allied advance.
His plan was to be known as the Ardennes Offensive. The strategy was to drive on Antwerp toward the sea and trap the Allied armies west of the Meuse River . The semi-mountainous, heavily forested Ardennes region of eastern Belgium and northern Luxembourg was selected because the area provided enough troop cover and it was the location where Hitler had initiated a surprise attack on France in 1940. Hitler believed that by retaking Antwerp disputes between the Allies would erupt, enabling him to push for a negotiated peace on the Western front or at least buy much needed time to work on secret weapons and build up troops.
The American Staff Commanders, thinking the Ardennes was the least likely spot for a German offensive, chose to keep the line thin, so that the manpower might concentrate on offensives north and south of the Ardennes.
At 5:30 A.M. on December 16, 1944 eight German armored divisions and thirteen German infantry divisions launched an all out attack on five divisions of the United States 1st Army. On December 17 American 7th Armored and 106th divisions engaged the German Army at Saint Vith. The American divisions were successful in halting the German attack.
Bastogne was a strategic position which both sides wanted to occupy. In snow and sub-freezing temperatures the 101st Airborne managed to get there first and occupy the city. The Germans were not far behind and quickly surrounded and laid siege to the city. The Americans at Bastogne were relieved when the VII Corps enlarged the Allied lines. This allowed Patton’s Third Army to counterattack the Germans surrounding Bastogne and push the Germans from the town’s border.
The Germans fell short of their objective. All they did accomplish was to create a bulge in the American line. On January 8, Hitler ordered his troops to withdraw from the tip of the Bulge. On January 28, 1945 after grim fighting, with heavy losses on both sides, the Bulge ceased to exist.
The Battle of the Bulge as it became known in the US Forces journals, was the largest land battle of World War II in which the United States participated. More than a million men fought in this battle including some 600,000 Germans, 500,000 Americans (more than fought on both sides at Gettysburg), and 55,000 British. It was one of the worst battles in terms of casualties; 81,000 U.S. and 19,000 killed, 1,400 British with 200 killed, and 100,000 Germans killed, wounded or captured.