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Battle of the Bulge

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Part 1

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Battle of the Bulge

Part of World War II

Date 16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945

Location The Ardennes: Belgium, Luxembourg

Result

 

Allied victory

 

 

Belligerents

 

United States

United Kingdom

France France

Canada

Belgium

Luxembourg

 

Nazi Germany Nazi Germany

Commanders and leaders

 

United States Dwight D. Eisenhower

(Supreme Allied Commander)

United Kingdom Bernard Montgomery

(21st Army Group, First U.S. Army, Ninth U.S. Army)

United States Omar Bradley

(12th U.S. Army Group)

United States Courtney Hodges

(First U.S. Army)

United States George S. Patton

(Third U.S. Army)

United States Anthony McAuliffe

(101st Airborne Division)

 

Adolf Hitler

Führer und Reichskanzler

Walter Model

Army Group B

Gerd von Rundstedt

OB West

Hasso von Manteuffel

5th Panzer Army

Sepp Dietrich

6th Panzer Army

Erich Brandenberger

7th Army

Strength

 

16 December

6 infantry divisions

2 armored divisions

16 January

22 infantry divisions

8 armored divisions

2 armored brigades

 

 

 

16 December

13 infantry divisions

7 armored divisions

1 brigade[4]

16 January

16 infantry divisions

8 armored divisions

2 infantry brigades

 

Casualties and losses

 

United States American

89,500 casualties

19,000 killed,

47,500 wounded,

23,000 captured or missing

700–800+ tanks, tank destroyers, and assault guns destroyed

647 aircraft lost

United Kingdom British

1,408 (200 killed, 969 wounded, and 239 missing)

 

 

 

67,459 – 125,000 casualties

(includes killed, wounded, missing, captured)

600–800+ tanks and assault guns destroyed

~800 aircraft lost, over 500 in December and 280 during Unternehmen Bodenplatte

 

Approximately 3,000 civilians killed

 

 

 

 

The Battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) was the last major German offensive campaign of World War II. It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg, on the Western Front, towards the end of World War II, in the European theatre. The surprise attack caught the Allied forces completely off guard. American forces bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war. The battle also severely depleted Germany's armoured forces on the Western Front, and they were largely unable to replace them. German personnel and later, Luftwaffe aircraft (in the concluding stages of the engagement), also sustained heavy losses.

 

The Germans officially referred to the offensive as Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein ("Operation Watch on the Rhine"), while the Allies designated it the Ardennes Counteroffensive. The phrase "Battle of the Bulge" was coined by contemporary press to describe the bulge in German front lines on wartime news maps,[15][c][16] and it became the most widely used name for the battle. The German offensive was intended to stop Allied use of the Belgian port of Antwerp and to split the Allied lines, allowing the Germans to encircle and destroy four Allied armies and force the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis powers' favor. Once that was accomplished, the German dictator Adolf Hitler believed he could fully concentrate on the Soviets on the Eastern Front. The offensive was planned by the German forces with utmost secrecy, with minimal radio traffic and movements of troops and equipment under cover of darkness. Intercepted German communications indicating a substantial German offensive preparation were not acted upon by the Allies.

 

The Germans achieved total surprise on the morning of 16 December 1944, due to a combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupation with Allied offensive plans, and poor aerial reconnaissance. The Germans attacked a weakly defended section of the Allied line, taking advantage of heavily overcast weather conditions that grounded the Allies' overwhelmingly superior air forces. Fierce resistance on the northern shoulder of the offensive, around Elsenborn Ridge, and in the south, around Bastogne, blocked German access to key roads to the northwest and west that they counted on for success. Columns of armor and infantry that were supposed to advance along parallel routes found themselves on the same roads. This, and terrain that favored the defenders, threw the German advance behind schedule and allowed the Allies to reinforce the thinly placed troops. Improved weather conditions permitted air attacks on German forces and supply lines, which sealed the failure of the offensive. In the wake of the defeat, many experienced German units were left severely depleted of men and equipment, as survivors retreated to the defenses of the Siegfried Line.

 

The Germans' initial attack involved 406,000 men; 1,214 tanks, tank destroyers, and assault guns; and 4,224 artillery pieces. These were reinforced a couple of weeks later, bringing the offensive's total strength to around 450,000 troops, and 1,500 tanks and assault guns. Between 67,200 and 125,000 of their men were killed, missing, or wounded in action. For the Americans, out of 610,000 troops involved in the battle,[19] 89,000 were casualties.[5] While some sources report that up to 19,000 were killed,[5][20] Eisenhower's personnel chief put the number at about 8,600.[21] British historian Antony Beevor reports the number killed as 8,407.[22] It was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II.

 

Contents

 

1 Background

1.1 Allied supply issues

1.2 German plans

1.3 Drafting the offensive

1.4 Operation names

1.5 Planning

2 Initial German assault

3 Attack on the northern shoulder

3.1 Best German divisions assigned

3.2 German forces held up

3.3 Malmedy massacre

3.4 Kampfgruppe Peiper deflected southeast

3.5 Wereth 11

3.6 Germans advance west

3.7 German advance halted

3.8 Outcome

3.9 Operation Stösser

3.10 Chenogne massacre

4 Attack in the center

4.1 Battle for St. Vith

4.2 Meuse River bridges

4.3 Operation Greif and Operation Währung

5 Attack in the south

5.1 Siege of Bastogne

6 Allied counteroffensive

7 German counterattack

7.1 Allies prevail

8 Force comparisons by date

9 Strategy and leadership

9.1 Hitler's chosen few

9.2 Allied high-command controversy

9.3 Montgomery's actions

10 Casualties

11 Result

12 Media attention

13 Battle credit

14 In popular culture

15 See also

16 Notes

17 References

18 Bibliography

19 Further reading

20 External links

 

Background

 

After the breakout from Normandy at the end of July 1944 and the Allied landings in southern France on 15 August 1944, the Allies advanced toward Germany more quickly than anticipated.[d] The Allies were faced with several military logistics issues:-

 

troops were fatigued by weeks of continuous combat

supply lines were stretched extremely thin

supplies were dangerously depleted.

 

General Dwight D. Eisenhower (the Supreme Allied Commander on the Western Front) and his staff chose to hold the Ardennes region which was occupied by the U.S. First Army. The Allies chose to defend the Ardennes with as few troops as possible due to the favorable terrain (a densely wooded highland with deep river valleys and a rather thin road network) and limited Allied operational objectives in the area. They also had intelligence that the Wehrmacht was using the area across the German border as a rest-and-refit area for its troops.[26]

Allied supply issues

 

The speed of the Allied advance coupled with an initial lack of deep-water ports presented the Allies with enormous supply problems.[27] Over-the-beach supply operations using the Normandy landing areas and direct landing LSTs on the beaches were unable to meet operational needs. The only deep-water port the Allies had captured was Cherbourg on the northern shore of the Cotentin peninsula and west of the original invasion beaches,[27] but the Germans had thoroughly wrecked and mined the harbor before it could be taken. It took many months to rebuild its cargo-handling capability. The Allies captured the port of Antwerp intact in the first days of September, but it was not operational until 28 November. The estuary of the Schelde river (also called Scheldt) that controlled access to the port had to be cleared of both German troops and naval mines.[28] The limitations led to differences between General Eisenhower and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery, commander of the Anglo-Canadian 21st Army Group, over whether Montgomery or Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, commanding the U.S. 12th Army Group, in the south would get priority access to supplies.[29]

 

German forces remained in control of several major ports on the English Channel coast until May 1945. The Allies efforts to destroy the French railway system prior to D-Day, successful in hampering German response to the invasion, proved equally restrictive to the Allies. It took time to repair the rail network's tracks and bridges. A trucking system nicknamed the Red Ball Express brought supplies to front-line troops, but used up five times as much fuel to reach the front line near the Belgian border as was delivered. By early October, the Allies had suspended major offensives to improve their supply lines and availability.[27]

 

Montgomery and Bradley both pressed for priority delivery of supplies to their respective armies so they could continue their individual lines of advance and maintain pressure on the Germans. Eisenhower, however, preferred a broad-front strategy. He gave some priority to Montgomery's northern forces. This had the short-term goal of opening the urgently needed port of Antwerp and the long-term goal of capturing the Ruhr area, the biggest industrial area of Germany.[27] With the Allies stalled, German Generalfeldmarschall (Field Marshal) Gerd von Rundstedt was able to reorganize the disrupted German armies into a coherent defence.[27]

 

Field Marshal Montgomery's Operation Market Garden achieved only some of its objectives, while its territorial gains left the Allied supply situation stretched further than before. In October, the First Canadian Army fought the Battle of the Scheldt, opening the port of Antwerp to shipping. As a result, by the end of October the supply situation had eased somewhat.

German plans

 

Despite a lull along the front after the Scheldt battles, the German situation remained dire. While operations continued in the autumn, notably the Lorraine Campaign, the Battle of Aachen and fighting in the Hürtgen Forest, the strategic situation in the west had changed little. The Allies were slowly pushing towards Germany, but no decisive breakthrough was achieved. The Western Allies already had 96 divisions at or near the front, with an estimated ten more divisions en route from the United Kingdom. Additional Allied airborne units remained in England. The Germans could field a total of 55 understrength divisions.[30]:1

 

Adolf Hitler first officially outlined his surprise counter-offensive to his astonished generals on September 16, 1944. The assault's ambitious goal was to pierce the thinly held lines of the U.S. First Army between Monschau and Wasserbillig with Army Group B (Model) by the end of the first day, get the armor through the Ardennes by the end of the second day, reach the Meuse between Liège and Dinant by the third day, and seize Antwerp and the western bank of the Schelde estuary by the fourth day.[31]:1–64[32]

 

Hitler initially promised his generals a total of 18 infantry and 12 armored or mechanized divisions "for planning purposes." The plan was to pull 13 infantry divisions, two parachute divisions and six panzer-type divisions from the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht strategic reserve. On the Eastern Front, the Soviets' Operation Bagration during the summer had destroyed much of Germany's Army Group Center (Heeresgruppe Mitte). The extremely swift operation ended only when the advancing Soviet Red Army forces outran their supplies. By November, it was clear that Soviet forces were preparing for a winter offensive.[33]

 

Meanwhile, the Allied air offensive of early 1944 had effectively grounded the Luftwaffe, leaving the German Army with little battlefield intelligence and no way to interdict Allied supplies. The converse was equally damaging; daytime movement of German forces was almost instantly noticed, and interdiction of supplies combined with the bombing of the Romanian oil fields starved Germany of oil and gasoline.

 

One of the few advantages held by the German forces in November 1944 was that they were no longer defending all of Western Europe. Their front lines in the west had been considerably shortened by the Allied offensive and were much closer to the German heartland. This drastically reduced their supply problems despite Allied control of the air. Additionally, their extensive telephone and telegraph network meant that radios were no longer necessary for communications, which lessened the effectiveness of Allied Ultra intercepts. Nevertheless, some 40–50 messages per day were decrypted by Ultra. They recorded the quadrupling of German fighter forces and a term used in an intercepted Luftwaffe message—Jägeraufmarsch (literally "Hunter Deployment")—implied preparation for an offensive operation. Ultra also picked up communiqués regarding extensive rail and road movements in the region, as well as orders that movements should be made on time.[34]

Drafting the offensive

 

Hitler felt that his mobile reserves allowed him to mount one major offensive. Although he realized nothing significant could be accomplished in the Eastern Front, he still believed an offensive against the Western Allies, whom he considered militarily inferior to the Red Army, would have some chances of success.[35] Hitler believed he could split the Allied forces and compel the Americans and British to settle for a separate peace, independent of the Soviet Union.[36] Success in the west would give the Germans time to design and produce more advanced weapons (such as jet aircraft, new U-boat designs and super-heavy tanks) and permit the concentration of forces in the east. After the war ended, this assessment was generally viewed as unrealistic, given Allied air superiority throughout Europe and their ability to continually disrupt German offensive operations.[37]

 

Given the reduced manpower of their land forces at the time, the Germans believed the best way to seize the initiative would be to attack in the West against the smaller Allied forces rather than against the vast Soviet armies. Even the encirclement and destruction of multiple Soviet armies, as in 1941, would still have left the Soviets with a numerical superiority.[citation needed]

 

Hitler's plan called for a classic Blitzkrieg attack through the weakly defended Ardennes—mirroring the successful German offensive there during the Battle of France in 1940—aimed at splitting the armies along the U.S.—British lines and capturing Antwerp.[38] The plan banked on unfavorable weather, including heavy fog and low-lying clouds, which would minimize the Allied air advantage.[39] Hitler originally set the offensive for late November, before the anticipated start of the Russian winter offensive. The disputes between Montgomery and Bradley were well known, and Hitler hoped he could exploit this disunity. If the attack were to succeed in capturing Antwerp, four complete armies would be trapped without supplies behind German lines.[38]:19

Paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division dropping on Grave, during Operation Market Garden, September 1944.

 

Several senior German military officers, including Generalfeldmarschall Walter Model and Gerd von Rundstedt, expressed concern as to whether the goals of the offensive could be realized. Model and von Rundstedt both believed aiming for Antwerp was too ambitious, given Germany's scarce resources in late 1944. At the same time, they felt that maintaining a purely defensive posture (as had been the case since Normandy) would only delay defeat, not avert it. They thus developed alternative, less ambitious plans that did not aim to cross the Meuse River (in German and Dutch: Maas); Model's being Unternehmen Herbstnebel (Operation Autumn Mist) and von Rundstedt's Fall Martin ("Plan Martin"). The two field marshals combined their plans to present a joint "small solution" to Hitler.[e][f] When they offered their alternative plans, Hitler would not listen. Rundstedt later testified that while he recognized the merit of Hitler's operational plan, he saw from the very first that "all, absolutely all conditions for the possible success of such an offensive were lacking,"[38]:24

 

Model, commander of German Army Group B (Heeresgruppe B), and von Rundstedt, overall commander of the German Army Command in the West (OKW), were put in charge of carrying out the operation.

 

In the west supply problems began significantly to impede Allied operations, even though the opening of the port of Antwerp in late November improved the situation somewhat. The positions of the Allied armies stretched from southern France all the way north to the Netherlands. German planning for the counteroffensive rested on the premise that a successful strike against thinly manned stretches of the line would halt Allied advances on the entire Western Front.[citation needed]

Operation names

 

The Wehrmacht's code name for the offensive was Unternehmen Wacht am Rhein ("Operation Watch on the Rhine"), after the German patriotic hymn Die Wacht am Rhein, a name that deceptively implied the Germans would be adopting a defensive posture along the Western Front. The Germans also referred to it as "Ardennenoffensive" (Ardennes Offensive) and Rundstedt-Offensive, both names being generally used nowadays in modern Germany. The French (and Belgian) name for the operation is Bataille des Ardennes (Battle of the Ardennes). The battle was militarily defined by the Allies as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, which included the German drive and the American effort to contain and later defeat it. The phrase Battle of the Bulge was coined by contemporary press to describe the way the Allied front line bulged inward on wartime news maps.[15][40]

 

While the Ardennes Counteroffensive is the correct term in Allied military language, the official Ardennes-Alsace campaign reached beyond the Ardennes battle region, and the most popular description in English speaking countries remains simply the Battle of the Bulge.

Planning

Main article: Wehrmacht forces for the Ardennes Offensive

See also: Battle of the Bulge order of battle

Wikisource has original text related to this article:

Planning the Counteroffensive

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Troops and Terrain

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Preparations

The German plan.

 

The OKW (High Command of the German Armed Forces in the West) decided by mid-September, at Hitler's insistence, that the offensive would be mounted in the Ardennes, as was done in 1940. In 1940 German forces had passed through the Ardennes in three days before engaging the enemy, but the 1944 plan called for battle in the forest itself. The main forces were to advance westward to the Meuse River, then turn northwest for Antwerp and Brussels. The close terrain of the Ardennes would make rapid movement difficult, though open ground beyond the Meuse offered the prospect of a successful dash to the coast.

 

Four armies were selected for the operation. Adolf Hitler personally selected for the counter-offensive on the northern shoulder of the western front the best troops available and officers he trusted. The lead role in the attack was given to Sepp Dietrich's 6th Panzer Army, commanded by SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich. It included the most experienced formation of the Waffen-SS: the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler. It also contained the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend. They were given priority for supply and equipment and assigned the shortest route to the primary objective of the offensive, Antwerp,[31]:1–64 starting from the northernmost point on the intended battlefront, nearest the important road network hub of Monschau.[41]

 

The Fifth Panzer Army under General Hasso von Manteuffel was assigned to the middle sector with the objective of capturing Brussels.

 

The Seventh Army, under General Erich Brandenberger, was assigned to the southernmost sector, near the Luxembourgish city of Echternach, with the task of protecting the flank. This Army was made up of only four infantry divisions, with no large-scale armored formations to use as a spearhead unit. As a result, they made little progress throughout the battle.

 

Also participating in a secondary role was the Fifteenth Army, under General Gustav-Adolf von Zangen. Recently brought back up to strength and re-equipped after heavy fighting during Market Garden, it was located on the far north of the Ardennes battlefield and tasked with holding U.S. forces in place, with the possibility of launching its own attack given favorable conditions.

 

For the offensive to be successful, four criteria were deemed critical: the attack had to be a complete surprise; the weather conditions had to be poor to neutralize Allied air superiority and the damage it could inflict on the German offensive and its supply lines;[42] the progress had to be rapid—the Meuse River, halfway to Antwerp, had to be reached by day 4; and Allied fuel supplies would have to be captured intact along the way because the combined Wehrmacht forces were short on fuel. The General Staff estimated they only had enough fuel to cover one-third to one-half of the ground to Antwerp in heavy combat conditions.

 

The plan originally called for just under 45 divisions, including a dozen panzer and panzergrenadier divisions forming the armored spearhead and various infantry units to form a defensive line as the battle unfolded. By this time, however, the German Army suffered from an acute manpower shortage, and the force had been reduced to around 30 divisions. Although it retained most of its armor, there were not enough infantry units because of the defensive needs in the East. These 30 newly rebuilt divisions used some of the last reserves of the German Army. Among them were Volksgrenadier ("People's Grenadier") units formed from a mix of battle-hardened veterans and recruits formerly regarded as too young, too old or too frail to fight. Training time, equipment and supplies were inadequate during the preparations. German fuel supplies were precarious—those materials and supplies that could not be directly transported by rail had to be horse-drawn to conserve fuel, and the mechanized and panzer divisions would depend heavily on captured fuel. As a result, the start of the offensive was delayed from 27 November to 16 December.[citation needed]

 

Before the offensive the Allies were virtually blind to German troop movement. During the liberation of France, the extensive network of the French resistance had provided valuable intelligence about German dispositions. Once they reached the German border, this source dried up. In France, orders had been relayed within the German army using radio messages enciphered by the Enigma machine, and these could be picked up and decrypted by Allied code-breakers headquartered at Bletchley Park, to give the intelligence known as Ultra. In Germany such orders were typically transmitted using telephone and teleprinter, and a special radio silence order was imposed on all matters concerning the upcoming offensive.[43] The major crackdown in the Wehrmacht after the 20 July plot to assassinate Hitler resulted in much tighter security and fewer leaks. The foggy autumn weather also prevented Allied reconnaissance aircraft from correctly assessing the ground situation. German units assembling in the area were even issued charcoal instead of wood for cooking fires to cut down on smoke and reduce chances of Allied observers deducing a troop buildup was underway. [44]

 

For these reasons Allied High Command considered the Ardennes a quiet sector, relying on assessments from their intelligence services that the Germans were unable to launch any major offensive operations this late in the war. What little intelligence they had led the Allies to believe precisely what the Germans wanted them to believe-–that preparations were being carried out only for defensive, not offensive, operations. The Allies relied too much on Ultra, not human reconnaissance. In fact, because of the Germans' efforts, the Allies were led to believe that a new defensive army was being formed around Düsseldorf in the northern Rhineland, possibly to defend against British attack. This was done by increasing the number of flak (Flugabwehrkanonen, i.e., anti-aircraft cannons) in the area and the artificial multiplication of radio transmissions in the area. The Allies at this point thought the information was of no importance. All of this meant that the attack, when it came, completely surprised the Allied forces. Remarkably, the U.S. Third Army intelligence chief, Colonel Oscar Koch, the U.S. First Army intelligence chief and the SHAEF intelligence officer Brigadier General Kenneth Strong all correctly predicted the German offensive capability and intention to strike the U.S. VIII Corps area. These predictions were largely dismissed by the U.S. 12th Army Group.[45] Strong had informed Bedell Smith in December of his suspicions. Bedell Smith sent Strong to warn Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, the commander of the 12th Army Group, of the danger. Bradley's response was succinct: "Let them come."[46]:362–366 Historian Patrick K. O'Donnell writes that on 8 December 1944 U.S. Rangers at great cost took Hill 400 during the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest. The next day GIs who relieved the Rangers reported a considerable movement of German troops inside the Ardennes in the enemy's rear, but that no one in the chain of command connected the dots.[47]

 

Because the Ardennes was considered a quiet sector, considerations of economy of force led it to be used as a training ground for new units and a rest area for units that had seen hard fighting. The U.S. units deployed in the Ardennes thus were a mixture of inexperienced troops (such as the raw U.S. 99th and 106th "Golden Lions" Divisions), and battle-hardened troops sent to that sector to recuperate (the 28th Infantry Division).

 

Two major special operations were planned for the offensive. By October it was decided that Otto Skorzeny, the German SS-commando who had rescued the former Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, was to lead a task force of English-speaking German soldiers in "Operation Greif". These soldiers were to be dressed in American and British uniforms and wear dog tags taken from corpses and POWs. Their job was to go behind American lines and change signposts, misdirect traffic, generally cause disruption and seize bridges across the Meuse River. By late November another ambitious special operation was added: Col. Friedrich August von der Heydte was to lead a Fallschirmjäger-Kampfgruppe (paratrooper combat group) in Operation Stösser, a night-time paratroop drop behind the Allied lines aimed at capturing a vital road junction near Malmedy.[48][49]

 

German intelligence had set 20 December as the expected date for the start of the upcoming Soviet offensive, aimed at crushing what was left of German resistance on the Eastern Front and thereby opening the way to Berlin. It was hoped that Soviet leader Stalin would delay the start of the operation once the German assault in the Ardennes had begun and wait for the outcome before continuing.

 

After the 20 July plot attempt on Hitler's life, and the close advance of the Red Army which would seize the site on 27 January 1945, Hitler and his staff had been forced to abandon the Wolfsschanze headquarters in East Prussia, in which they had coordinated much of the fighting on the Eastern Front. After a brief visit to Berlin, Hitler travelled on his Führersonderzug ("Special Train of the Führer" (Leader)) to Giessen on 11 December, taking up residence in the Adlerhorst (eyrie) command complex, co-located with OB West's base at Kransberg Castle. Believing in omens and the successes of his early war campaigns that had been planned at Kransberg, Hitler had chosen the site from which he had overseen the successful 1940 campaign against France and the Low Countries.

 

Von Rundstedt set up his operational headquarters near Limburg, close enough for the generals and Panzer Corps commanders who were to lead the attack to visit Adlerhorst on 11 December, travelling there in an SS-operated bus convoy. With the castle acting as overflow accommodation, the main party was settled into the Adlerhorst's Haus 2 command bunker, including Gen. Alfred Jodl, Gen. Wilhelm Keitel, Gen. Blumentritt, von Manteuffel and SS Gen. Joseph ("Sepp") Dietrich. Von Rundstedt then ran through the battle plan, while Hitler made one of his endless speeches.

 

In a personal conversation on 13 December between Walther Model and Friedrich von der Heydte, who was put in charge of Operation Stösser, von der Heydte gave Operation Stösser less than a 10% chance of succeeding. Model told him it was necessary to make the attempt: "It must be done because this offensive is the last chance to conclude the war favorably."[50]

Initial German assault

Situation on the Western Front as of 15 December 1944

 

On 16 December 1944 at 05:30, the Germans began the assault with a massive, 90-minute artillery barrage using 1,600 artillery pieces[51] across a 130-kilometre (80 mi) front on the Allied troops facing the 6th Panzer Army. The Americans' initial impression was that this was the anticipated, localized counterattack resulting from the Allies' recent attack in the Wahlerscheid sector to the north, where the 2nd Division had knocked a sizable dent in the Siegfried Line. Heavy snowstorms engulfed parts of the Ardennes area. While having the effect of keeping the Allied aircraft grounded, the weather also proved troublesome for the Germans because poor road conditions hampered their advance. Poor traffic control led to massive traffic jams and fuel shortages in forward units.

 

In the center, von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army attacked towards Bastogne and St. Vith, both road junctions of great strategic importance. In the south, Brandenberger's Seventh Army pushed towards Luxembourg in its efforts to secure the flank from Allied attacks. Only one month before 250 members of the Waffen-SS had unsuccessfully tried to recapture the town of Vianden with its castle from the Luxembourgish resistance during the Battle of Vianden.

Attack on the northern shoulder

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The Sixth Panzer Army Attack

Main article: Battle of Elsenborn Ridge

 

While the Siege of Bastogne is often credited as the central point where the German offensive was stopped,[52] the battle for Elsenborn Ridge was actually the decisive component of the Battle of the Bulge, stopping the advance of the best equipped armored units of the German army and forcing them to reroute their troops to unfavorable alternative routes that considerably slowed their advance.[53][54]

Best German divisions assigned

 

The attack on Monschau, Höfen, Krinkelt-Rocherath, and then Elsenborn Ridge was led by the units personally selected by Adolf Hitler. The 6th Panzer Army was given priority for supply and equipment and were assigned the shortest route to the ultimate objective of the offensive, Antwerp.[54] The 6th Panzer Army included the elite of the Waffen-SS, including four Panzer divisions and five infantry divisions in three corps.[55][56] SS Obersturmbannführer Joachim Peiper led Kampfgruppe Peiper, consisting of 4,800 men and 600 vehicles, which was charged with leading the main effort. However, its newest and most powerful tank, the Tiger II heavy tank, consumed 3.8 litres (1 gal) of fuel to go 800 m (.5 mi), and the Germans had less than half the fuel they needed to reach Antwerp.[30]:age needed

German forces held up

Sepp Dietrich led the Sixth Panzer Army in the northernmost attack route.

 

The attacks by the Sixth Panzer Army's infantry units in the north fared badly because of unexpectedly fierce resistance by the U.S. 2nd and 99th Infantry Divisions. Kampfgruppe Peiper, at the head of the SS Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich's Sixth Panzer Army, had been designated to take the Losheim-Losheimergraben road, a key route through the Losheim Gap, but it was closed by two collapsed overpasses that German engineers failed to repair during the first day.[57] Peiper's forces were rerouted through Lanzerath, where on the first day, an entire German battalion of about 500 men was held up for 10 hours by two squads totalling 18 men belonging to an American reconnaissance platoon.

 

To preserve the quantity of armor available, the infantry of the 9th Fallschirmjaeger Regiment, 3rd Fallschirmjaeger Division, had been ordered to clear the village first. A single 18-man Intelligence and Reconnaissance Platoon from the 99th Infantry Division along with four Forward Air Controllers held up the battalion of about 500 German paratroopers until sunset, about 16:00, causing 92 casualties among the Germans.

 

This created a bottleneck in the German advance. Kampfgruppe Peiper did not begin his advance until nearly 16:00, more than 16 hours behind schedule and didn't reach Bucholz Station until the early morning of 17 December. Their intention was to control the twin villages of Rocherath-Krinkelt which would clear a path to the high ground of Elsenborn Ridge. Occupation of this dominating terrain would allow control of the roads to the south and west and ensure supply to Kampfgruppe Peiper's armored task force.

German troops advancing past abandoned American equipment

Malmedy massacre

Main article: Malmedy massacre

Scene of the Malmedy massacre

 

At 12:30 on 17 December, Kampfgruppe Peiper was near the hamlet of Baugnez, on the height halfway between the town of Malmedy and Ligneuville, when they encountered elements of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion, U.S. 7th Armored Division.[58][59] After a brief battle the lightly armed Americans surrendered. They were disarmed and, with some other Americans captured earlier (approximately 150 men), sent to stand in a field near the crossroads under light guard. About fifteen minutes after Peiper's advance guard passed through, the main body under the command of SS Sturmbannführer Werner Pötschke arrived. Allegedly, the SS troopers suddenly opened fire on the prisoners. As soon as the firing began, the prisoners panicked. Most were shot where they stood, though some managed to flee. Accounts of the killing vary, but at least 84 of the POWs were murdered. A few survived, and news of the killings of prisoners of war raced through Allied lines.[60] Following the end of the war, soldiers and officers of Kampfgruppe Peiper, including Joachim Peiper and SS general Sepp Dietrich, were tried for the incident at the Malmedy massacre trial.[61]

Kampfgruppe Peiper deflected southeast

 

Driving to the south-east of Elsenborn, Kampfgruppe Peiper entered Honsfeld, where they encountered one of the 99th Division's rest centers, clogged with confused American troops. They quickly captured portions of the 3rd Battalion of the 394th Infantry Regiment. They destroyed a number of American armored units and vehicles, and took several dozen prisoners who were subsequently murdered.[62][58][63] Peiper also captured 50,000 US gallons (190,000 l; 42,000 imp gal) of fuel for his vehicles.[64]

 

Peiper then advanced north-west towards Büllingen, keeping to the plan to move west, unaware that if he had turned north he had an opportunity to flank and trap the entire 2nd and 99th Divisions.[65] Instead, intent on driving west, Peiper turned south to detour around Hünningen, choosing a route designated Rollbahn D as he had been given latitude to choose the best route west.[66]

 

To the north, the 277th Volksgrenadier Division attempted to break through the defending line of the U.S. 99th and the 2nd Infantry Divisions. The 12th SS Panzer Division, reinforced by additional infantry (Panzergrenadier and Volksgrenadier) divisions, took the key road junction at Losheimergraben just north of Lanzerath and attacked the twin villages of Rocherath and Krinkelt.

Wereth 11

Main article: 333rd Artillery Battalion (United States)

 

Another, smaller massacre was committed in Wereth, Belgium, approximately 6.5 miles (10.5 km) northeast of Saint-Vith on 17 December 1944. Eleven black American soldiers were tortured after surrendering and then shot by men of the 1st SS Panzer Division belonging to Kampfgruppe Knittel. The perpetrators were never punished for this crime and recent research indicates that men from Third Company of the Reconnaissance Battalion were responsible.[67][68]

Germans advance west

American soldiers of the 3rd Battalion 119th Infantry Regiment are taken prisoner by members of Kampfgruppe Peiper in Stoumont, Belgium on 19 December 1944.[69]

 

By the evening the spearhead had pushed north to engage the U.S. 99th Infantry Division and Kampfgruppe Peiper arrived in front of Stavelot. Peiper's forces were already behind his timetable because of the stiff American resistance and because when the Americans fell back, their engineers blew up bridges and emptied fuel dumps. Peiper's unit was delayed and his vehicles denied critically needed fuel. They took 36 hours to advance from the Eifel region to Stavelot, while the same advance had taken just nine hours in 1940.[citation needed]

 

Kampfgruppe Peiper attacked Stavelot on 18 December but was unable to capture the town before the Americans evacuated a large fuel depot.[70] Three tanks attempted to take the bridge, but the lead vehicle was disabled by a mine. Following this, 60 grenadiers advanced forward but were stopped by concentrated American defensive fire. After a fierce tank battle the next day, the Germans finally entered the town when U.S. engineers failed to blow the bridge.

An American soldier escorts a German crewman from his wrecked Panther tank during the Battle of Elsenborn Ridge

 

Capitalizing on his success and not wanting to lose more time, Peiper rushed an advance group toward the vital bridge at Trois-Ponts, leaving the bulk of his strength in Stavelot. When they reached it at 11:30 on 18 December, retreating U.S. engineers blew it up.[71][72] Peiper detoured north towards the villages of La Gleize and Cheneux. At Cheneux, the advance guard was attacked by American fighter-bombers, destroying two tanks and five halftracks, blocking the narrow road. The group got moving again at dusk at 16:00 and was able to return to its original route at around 18:00. Of the two bridges now remaining between Kampfgruppe Peiper and the Meuse, the bridge over the Lienne was blown by the Americans as the Germans approached. Peiper turned north and halted his forces in the woods between La Gleize and Stoumont.[73] He learned that Stoumont was strongly held and that the Americans were bringing up strong reinforcements from Spa.

 

To Peiper's south, the advance of Kampfgruppe Hansen had stalled. SS Oberführer Mohnke ordered Schnellgruppe Knittel, which had been designated to follow Hansen, to instead move forward to support Peiper. SS Sturmbannführer Knittel crossed the bridge at Stavelot around 19:00 against American forces trying to retake the town. Knittel pressed forward towards La Gleize, and shortly afterward the Americans recaptured Stavelot. Peiper and Knittel both faced the prospect of being cut off.[73]

German advance halted

American M36 tank destroyers of the 703rd TD, attached to the 82nd Airborne Division, move forward during heavy fog to stem German spearhead near Werbomont, Belgium, 20 December 1944.

 

At dawn on 19 December, Peiper surprised the American defenders of Stoumont by sending infantry from the 2nd SS Panzergrenadier Regiment in an attack and a company of Fallschirmjäger (paratroopers) to infiltrate their lines. He followed this with a Panzer attack, gaining the eastern edge of the town. An American tank battalion arrived but, after a two-hour tank battle, Peiper finally captured Stoumont at 10:30. Knittel joined up with Peiper and reported the Americans had recaptured Stavelot to their east.[74] Peiper ordered Knittel to retake Stavelot. Assessing his own situation, he determined that his Kampfgruppe did not have sufficient fuel to cross the bridge west of Stoumont and continue his advance. He maintained his lines west of Stoumont for a while, until the evening of 19 December when he withdrew them to the village edge. On the same evening the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division under Maj. Gen. James Gavin arrived and deployed at La Gleize and along Peiper's planned route of advance.[74]

 

German efforts to reinforce Peiper were unsuccessful. Kampfgruppe Hansen was still struggling against bad road conditions and stiff American resistance on the southern route. Schnellgruppe Knittel was forced to disengage from the heights around Stavelot. Kampfgruppe Sandig, which had been ordered to take Stavelot, launched another attack without success. Sixth Panzer Army commander SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich ordered Hermann Prieß, commanding officer of the I SS Panzer Corps, to increase its efforts to back Peiper's Kampfgruppe, but Prieß was unable to break through.

"Yeah, and though I work in the valley of Death, I will fear no Evil. For where there is one, there is always three. I preparest my aircraft to receive the Iron that will be delivered in the presence of my enemies. Thy ALCM and JDAM they comfort me. Power was given unto the aircrew to make peace upon the world by way of the sword. And when the call went out, Behold the "Sword of Stealth". And his name was Death. And Hell followed him. For the day of wrath has come and no mercy shall be given."

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Part 2

 

Small units of the U.S. 2nd Battalion, 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, attacked the dispersed units of Kampfgruppe Peiper on the morning of 21 December. They failed and were forced to withdraw, and a number were captured, including battalion commander Maj. Hal McCown. Peiper learned that his reinforcements had been directed to gather in La Gleize to his east, and he withdrew, leaving wounded Americans and Germans in the Froidcourt Castle (fr). As he withdrew from Cheneux, American paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division engaged the Germans in fierce house-to-house fighting. The Americans shelled Kampfgruppe Peiper on 22 December, and although the Germans had run out of food and had virtually no fuel, they continued to fight. A Luftwaffe resupply mission went badly when SS-Brigadeführer (Brigadier Gen.) Wilhelm Mohnke insisted the grid coordinates supplied by Peiper were wrong, parachuting supplies into American hands in Stoumont.[76]

 

In La Gleize, Peiper set up defenses waiting for German relief. When the relief force was unable to penetrate the Allied lines, he decided to break through the Allied lines and return to the German lines on 23 December. The men of the Kampfgruppe were forced to abandon their vehicles and heavy equipment, although most of the 800 remaining troops were able to escape.[77]

Outcome

 

The 99th Infantry Division as a whole, outnumbered five to one, inflicted casualties in the ratio of 18 to one. The division lost about 20% of its effective strength, including 465 killed and 2,524 evacuated due to wounds, injuries, fatigue, or trench foot. German losses were much higher. In the northern sector opposite the 99th, this included more than 4,000 deaths and the destruction of 60 tanks and big guns.[78] Historian John S.D. Eisenhower wrote, "... the action of the 2nd and 99th Divisions on the northern shoulder could be considered the most decisive of the Ardennes campaign."[79][80]

 

The stiff American defense prevented the Germans from reaching the vast array of supplies near the Belgian cities of Liège and Spa and the road network west of the Elsenborn Ridge leading to the Meuse River.[81] After more than 10 days of intense battle, they pushed the Americans out of the villages, but were unable to dislodge them from the ridge, where elements of the V Corps of the First U.S. Army prevented the German forces from reaching the road network to their west.

Operation Stösser

Main article: Operation Stösser

 

Operation Stösser was a paratroop drop into the American rear in the High Fens (French: Hautes Fagnes; German: Hohes Venn; Dutch: Hoge Venen) area. The objective was the "Baraque Michel" crossroads. It was led by Oberst Friedrich August Freiherr von der Heydte, considered by Germans to be a hero of the Battle of Crete.[82]

 

It was the German paratroopers' only night time drop during World War II. Von der Heydte was given only eight days to prepare prior to the assault. He was not allowed to use his own regiment because their movement might alert the Allies to the impending counterattack. Instead, he was provided with a Kampfgruppe of 800 men. The II Parachute Corps was tasked with contributing 100 men from each of its regiments. In loyalty to their commander, 150 men from von der Heydte's own unit, the 6th Parachute Regiment, went against orders and joined him.[83] They had little time to establish any unit cohesion or train together.

 

The parachute drop was a complete failure. Von der Heydte ended up with a total of around 300 troops. Too small and too weak to counter the Allies, they abandoned plans to take the crossroads and instead converted his mission to reconnaissance. With only enough ammunition for a single fight, they withdrew towards Germany and attacked the rear of the American lines. Only about 100 of his weary men finally reached the German rear.[84]

Chenogne massacre

Main article: Chenogne massacre

 

Following the Malmedy massacre, on New Year's Day 1945, after having previously received orders to take no prisoners,[85] American soldiers allegedly shot approximately sixty German prisoners of war near the Belgian village of Chenogne (8 km from Bastogne).[86]

Attack in the center

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St. Vith is lost

Hasso von Manteuffel led Fifth Panzer Army in the middle attack route

 

The Germans fared better in the center (the 32 km (20 mi) Schnee Eifel sector) as the Fifth Panzer Army attacked positions held by the U.S. 28th and 106th Infantry Divisions. The Germans lacked the overwhelming strength that had been deployed in the north, but still possessed a marked numerical and material superiority over the very thinly spread 28th and 106th divisions. They succeeded in surrounding two largely intact regiments (422nd and 423rd) of the 106th Division in a pincer movement and forced their surrender, a tribute to the way Manteuffel's new tactics had been applied.[87] The official U.S. Army history states: "At least seven thousand [men] were lost here and the figure probably is closer to eight or nine thousand. The amount lost in arms and equipment, of course, was very substantial. The Schnee Eifel battle, therefore, represents the most serious reverse suffered by American arms during the operations of 1944–45 in the European theater."[30]:170

Battle for St. Vith

Main article: Battle of St. Vith

 

In the center the town of St. Vith, a vital road junction, presented the main challenge for both von Manteuffel's and Dietrich's forces. The defenders, led by the 7th Armored Division, included the remaining regiment of the 106th U.S. Infantry Division, with elements of the 9th Armored Division and 28th U.S. Infantry Division. These units, which operated under the command of Generals Robert W. Hasbrouck (7th Armored) and Alan W. Jones (106th Infantry), successfully resisted the German attacks, significantly slowing the German advance. At Montgomery's orders, St. Vith was evacuated on 21 December; U.S. troops fell back to entrenched positions in the area, presenting an imposing obstacle to a successful German advance. By 23 December, as the Germans shattered their flanks, the defenders' position became untenable and U.S. troops were ordered to retreat west of the Salm River. Since the German plan called for the capture of St. Vith by 18:00 on 17 December, the prolonged action in and around it dealt a major setback to their timetable.[30]:407

Meuse River bridges

British Sherman "Firefly" tank in Namur on the Meuse River, December 1944

 

To protect the river crossings on the Meuse at Givet, Dinant and Namur, Montgomery ordered those few units available to hold the bridges on 19 December. This led to a hastily assembled force including rear-echelon troops, military police and Army Air Force personnel. The British 29th Armoured Brigade of British 11th Armored Division, which had turned in its tanks for re-equipping, was told to take back their tanks and head to the area. British XXX Corps was significantly reinforced for this effort. Units of the corps which fought in the Ardennes were the 51st (Highland) and 53rd (Welsh) Infantry Divisions, the British 6th Airborne Division, the 29th and 33rd Armored Brigades, and the 34th Tank Brigade.[88]

 

Unlike the German forces on the northern and southern shoulders who were experiencing great difficulties, the German advance in the center gained considerable ground. The Fifth Panzer Army was spearheaded by the 2nd Panzer Division while the Panzer-Lehrdivision (Armored Training Division) came up from the south, leaving Bastogne to other units. The Ourthe River was passed at Ourtheville on 21 December. Lack of fuel held up the advance for one day, but on 23 December the offensive was resumed towards the two small towns of Hargimont and Marche-en-Famenne. Hargimont was captured the same day, but Marche-en-Famenne was strongly defended by the American 84th Division. Gen. von Lüttwitz, commander of the XXXXVII Panzer-Korps, ordered the Division to turn westwards towards Dinant and the Meuse, leaving only a blocking force at Marche-en-Famenne. Although advancing only in a narrow corridor, 2nd Panzer Division was still making rapid headway, leading to jubilation in Berlin. Headquarters now freed up the 9th Panzer Division for Fifth Panzer Army, which was deployed at Marche.[89]

 

On 22/23 December German forces reached the woods of Foy-Nôtre-Dame, only a few kilometers ahead of Dinant. However, the narrow corridor caused considerable difficulties, as constant flanking attacks threatened the division. On 24 December, German forces made their furthest penetration west. The Panzer-Lehrdivision took the town of Celles, while a bit farther north, parts of 2nd Panzer Division were in sight of the Meuse near Dinant at Foy-Nôtre-Dame. A hastily assembled Allied blocking force on the east side of the river, however, prevented the German probing forces from approaching the Dinant bridge. By late Christmas Eve the advance in this sector was stopped, as Allied forces threatened the narrow corridor held by the 2nd Panzer Division.[89]

Operation Greif and Operation Währung

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The 1st SS Panzer Division's Dash Westward, and Operation Greif

Main article: Operation Greif

 

For Operation Greif ("Griffin"), Otto Skorzeny successfully infiltrated a small part of his battalion of English-speaking Germans disguised in American uniforms behind the Allied lines. Although they failed to take the vital bridges over the Meuse, their presence caused confusion out of all proportion to their military activities, and rumors spread quickly.[37] Even General George Patton was alarmed and, on 17 December, described the situation to General Dwight Eisenhower as "Krauts ... speaking perfect English ... raising hell, cutting wires, turning road signs around, spooking whole divisions, and shoving a bulge into our defenses."

 

Checkpoints were set up all over the Allied rear, greatly slowing the movement of soldiers and equipment. American MPs at these checkpoints grilled troops on things that every American was expected to know, like the identity of Mickey Mouse's girlfriend, baseball scores, or the capital of a particular U.S. state—though many could not remember or did not know. General Omar Bradley was briefly detained when he correctly identified Springfield as the capital of Illinois because the American MP who questioned him mistakenly believed the capital was Chicago.[37][90]

 

The tightened security nonetheless made things very hard for the German infiltrators, and a number of them were captured. Even during interrogation, they continued their goal of spreading disinformation; when asked about their mission, some of them claimed they had been told to go to Paris to either kill or capture General Dwight Eisenhower.[39] Security around the general was greatly increased, and Eisenhower was confined to his headquarters. Because Skorzeny's men were captured in American uniforms, they were executed as spies.[37][91] This was the standard practice of every army at the time, as many belligerents considered it necessary to protect their territory against the grave dangers of enemy spying.[92] Skorzeny said that he was told by German legal experts that as long he did not order his men to fight in combat while wearing American uniforms, such a tactic was a legitimate ruse of war.[93] Skorzeny and his men were fully aware of their likely fate, and most wore their German uniforms underneath their American ones in case of capture. Skorzeny was tried by an American military tribunal in 1947 at the Dachau Trials for allegedly violating the laws of war stemming from his leadership of Operation Greif, but was acquitted. He later moved to Spain and South America.[37]

 

Operation Währung was carried out by a small number of German agents who infiltrated Allied lines in American uniforms. These agents were tasked with using an existing Nazi intelligence network to bribe rail and port workers to disrupt Allied supply operations. The operation was a failure.[94]

Attack in the south

Erich Brandenberger led Seventh Army in the southernmost attack route

 

Further south on Manteuffel's front, the main thrust was delivered by all attacking divisions crossing the River Our, then increasing the pressure on the key road centers of St. Vith and Bastogne. The more experienced 28th Infantry Division put up a much more dogged defense than the inexperienced soldiers of the 106th Infantry Division. The 112th Infantry Regiment (the most northerly of the 28th Division's regiments), holding a continuous front east of the Our, kept German troops from seizing and using the Our River bridges around Ouren for two days, before withdrawing progressively westwards.

Belgian civilians killed by German units during the offensive

 

The 109th and 110th Regiments of the 28th Division, however, fared worse, as they were spread so thinly that their positions were easily bypassed. Both offered stubborn resistance in the face of superior forces and threw the German schedule off by several days. The 110th's situation was by far the worst, as it was responsible for an 18-kilometre (11 mi) front while its 2nd Battalion was withheld as the divisional reserve. Panzer columns took the outlying villages and widely separated strong points in bitter fighting, and advanced to points near Bastogne within four days. The struggle for the villages and American strong points, plus transport confusion on the German side, slowed the attack sufficiently to allow the 101st Airborne Division (reinforced by elements from the 9th and 10th Armored Divisions) to reach Bastogne by truck on the morning of 19 December. The fierce defense of Bastogne, in which American paratroopers particularly distinguished themselves, made it impossible for the Germans to take the town with its important road junctions. The panzer columns swung past on either side, cutting off Bastogne on 20 December but failing to secure the vital crossroads.

 

In the extreme south, Brandenberger's three infantry divisions were checked by divisions of the U.S. VIII Corps after an advance of 6.4 km (4 mi); that front was then firmly held. Only the 5th Parachute Division of Brandenberger's command was able to thrust forward 19 km (12 mi) on the inner flank to partially fulfill its assigned role. Eisenhower and his principal commanders realized by 17 December that the fighting in the Ardennes was a major offensive and not a local counterattack, and they ordered vast reinforcements to the area. Within a week 250,000 troops had been sent. General Gavin of the 82nd Airborne Division arrived on the scene first and ordered the 101st to hold Bastogne while the 82nd would take the more difficult task of facing the SS Panzer Divisions; it was also thrown into the battle north of the bulge, near Elsenborn Ridge.[citation needed]

Siege of Bastogne

Main article: Siege of Bastogne

 

By the time the senior Allied commanders met in a bunker in Verdun on 19 December, the town of Bastogne and its network of 11 hard-topped roads leading through the widely forested mountainous terrain with deep river valleys and boggy mud of the Ardennes region were to have been in German hands for several days. By the time of that meeting, two separate westbound German columns that were to have bypassed the town to the south and north, the 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer-Lehr-Division of XLVII Panzer Corps, as well as the Corps' infantry (26th Volksgrenadier Division), coming due west had been engaged and much slowed and frustrated in outlying battles at defensive positions up to sixteen kilometres (10 mi) from the town proper—and were gradually being forced back onto and into the hasty defenses built within the municipality. Moreover, the sole corridor that was open (to the southeast) was threatened and it had been sporadically closed as the front shifted, and there was expectation that it would be completely closed sooner than later, given the strong likelihood that the town would soon be surrounded.[citation needed]

A German machine gunner marching through the Ardennes in December 1944.

 

Gen. Eisenhower, realizing that the Allies could destroy German forces much more easily when they were out in the open and on the offensive than if they were on the defensive, told his generals, "The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster. There will be only cheerful faces at this table." Patton, realizing what Eisenhower implied, responded, "Hell, let's have the guts to let the bastards go all the way to Paris. Then, we'll really cut 'em off and chew 'em up." Eisenhower, after saying he was not that optimistic, asked Patton how long it would take to turn his Third Army, located in northeastern France, north to counterattack. To the disbelief of the other generals present, Patton replied that he could attack with two divisions within 48 hours. Unknown to the other officers present, before he left Patton had ordered his staff to prepare three contingency plans for a northward turn in at least corps strength. By the time Eisenhower asked him how long it would take, the movement was already underway.[95] On 20 December, Eisenhower removed the First and Ninth U.S. Armies from Gen. Bradley's 12th Army Group and placed them under Montgomery's 21st Army Group.[96]

U.S. POWs on 22 December 1944

 

By 21 December the Germans had surrounded Bastogne, which was defended by the 101st Airborne Division, the all African American 969th Artillery Battalion, and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division. Conditions inside the perimeter were tough—most of the medical supplies and medical personnel had been captured. Food was scarce, and by 22 December artillery ammunition was restricted to 10 rounds per gun per day. The weather cleared the next day, however, and supplies (primarily ammunition) were dropped over four of the next five days.[97]

 

Despite determined German attacks, however, the perimeter held. The German commander, Generalleutnant (Lt. Gen.) Heinrich Freiherr von Lüttwitz,[98] requested Bastogne's surrender.[99] When Brig. Gen. Anthony McAuliffe, acting commander of the 101st, was told of the Nazi demand to surrender, in frustration he responded, "Nuts!" After turning to other pressing issues, his staff reminded him that they should reply to the German demand. One officer, Lt. Col. Harry Kinnard, noted that McAuliffe's initial reply would be "tough to beat." Thus McAuliffe wrote on the paper, which was typed up and delivered to the Germans, the line he made famous and a morale booster to his troops: "NUTS!"[100] That reply had to be explained, both to the Germans and to non-American Allies.[g]

 

Both 2nd Panzer and Panzer-Lehrdivision moved forward from Bastogne after 21 December, leaving only Panzer-Lehrdivision's 901st Regiment to assist the 26th Volksgrenadier-Division in attempting to capture the crossroads. The 26th VG received one Panzergrenadier Regiment from the 15th Panzergrenadier Division on Christmas Eve for its main assault the next day. Because it lacked sufficient troops and those of the 26th VG Division were near exhaustion, the XLVII Panzerkorps concentrated its assault on several individual locations on the west side of the perimeter in sequence rather than launching one simultaneous attack on all sides. The assault, despite initial success by its tanks in penetrating the American line, was defeated and all the tanks destroyed. The next day, 26 December, the spearhead of Gen. Patton's 4th Armored Division, supplemented by the 26th (Yankee) Infantry Division, broke through and opened a corridor to Bastogne.[97]

Allied counteroffensive

The original objectives are outlined in red dashed lines. The orange line indicates their furthest advance.

 

On 23 December the weather conditions started improving, allowing the Allied air forces to attack. They launched devastating bombing raids on the German supply points in their rear, and P-47 Thunderbolts started attacking the German troops on the roads. Allied air forces also helped the defenders of Bastogne, dropping much-needed supplies—medicine, food, blankets, and ammunition. A team of volunteer surgeons flew in by military glider and began operating in a tool room.[101]

 

By 24 December the German advance was effectively stalled short of the Meuse. Units of the British XXX Corps were holding the bridges at Dinant, Givet, and Namur and U.S. units were about to take over. The Germans had outrun their supply lines, and shortages of fuel and ammunition were becoming critical. Up to this point the German losses had been light, notably in armor, which was almost untouched with the exception of Peiper's losses. On the evening of 24 December, General Hasso von Manteuffel recommended to Hitler's Military Adjutant a halt to all offensive operations and a withdrawal back to the Westwall (literally Western Rampart). Hitler rejected this.

 

However, disagreement and confusion at the Allied command prevented a strong response, throwing away the opportunity for a decisive action. In the center, on Christmas Eve, the 2nd Armored Division attempted to attack and cut off the spearheads of the 2nd Panzer Division at the Meuse, while the units from the 4th Cavalry Group kept the 9th Panzer Division at Marche busy. As result, parts of the 2nd Panzer Division were cut off. The Panzer-Lehr division tried to relieve them, but was only partially successful, as the perimeter held. For the next two days the perimeter was strengthened. On 26 and 27 December the trapped units of 2nd Panzer Division made two break-out attempts, again only with partial success, as major quantities of equipment fell into Allied hands. Further Allied pressure out of Marche finally led the German command to the conclusion that no further offensive action towards the Meuse was possible.[102]

 

In the south, Patton's Third Army was battling to relieve Bastogne. At 16:50 on 26 December, the lead element, Company D, 37th Tank Battalion of the 4th Armored Division, reached Bastogne, ending the siege.

German counterattack

Main articles: Operation Bodenplatte and Operation Nordwind

Destroyed P-47s at Y-34 Metz-Frescaty airfield, destroyed during Operation Bodenplatte

 

On 1 January, in an attempt to keep the offensive going, the Germans launched two new operations. At 09:15, the Luftwaffe launched Unternehmen Bodenplatte (Operation Baseplate), a major campaign against Allied airfields in the Low Countries, which are nowadays called the Benelux States. Hundreds of planes attacked Allied airfields, destroying or severely damaging some 465 aircraft. However, the Luftwaffe lost 277 planes, 62 to Allied fighters and 172 mostly because of an unexpectedly high number of Allied flak guns, set up to protect against German V-1 flying bomb/missile attacks and using proximity fused shells, but also by friendly fire from the German flak guns that were uninformed of the pending large-scale German air operation. The Germans suffered heavy losses at an airfield named Y-29, losing 40 of their own planes while damaging only four American planes. While the Allies recovered from their losses in just days, the operation left the Luftwaffe weak and ineffective for the remainder of the war.[103]

 

On the same day, German Army Group G (Heeresgruppe G) and Army Group Upper Rhine (Heeresgruppe Oberrhein) launched a major offensive against the thinly-stretched, 110 kilometres (70 mi) line of the Seventh U.S. Army. This offensive, known as Unternehmen Nordwind (Operation North Wind), was the last major German offensive of the war on the Western Front. The weakened Seventh Army had, at Eisenhower's orders, sent troops, equipment, and supplies north to reinforce the American armies in the Ardennes, and the offensive left it in dire straits.

 

By 15 January Seventh Army's VI Corps was fighting on three sides in Alsace. With casualties mounting, and running short on replacements, tanks, ammunition, and supplies, Seventh Army was forced to withdraw to defensive positions on the south bank of the Moder River on 21 January. The German offensive drew to a close on 25 January. In the bitter, desperate fighting of Operation Nordwind, VI Corps, which had borne the brunt of the fighting, suffered a total of 14,716 casualties. The total for Seventh Army for January was 11,609.[19] Total casualties included at least 9,000 wounded.[104] First, Third and Seventh Armies suffered a total of 17,000 hospitalized from the cold.[19][h]

Allies prevail

Infantrymen fire at German troops in the advance to relieve the surrounded paratroopers in Bastogne.

Erasing the Bulge—The Allied counterattack, 26 December – 25 January

Americans of the 101st Engineers near Wiltz, Luxembourg, January 1945.

U.S. 6th Armored Division tanks moving near Wardin, Belgium, January 1945.

 

While the German offensive had ground to a halt, they still controlled a dangerous salient in the Allied line. Patton's Third Army in the south, centered around Bastogne, would attack north, Montgomery's forces in the north would strike south, and the two forces planned to meet at Houffalize.

 

The temperature during January 1945 was extremely low. Weapons had to be maintained and truck engines run every half-hour to prevent their oil from congealing. The offensive went forward regardless.

 

Eisenhower wanted Montgomery to go on the counter offensive on 1 January, with the aim of meeting up with Patton's advancing Third Army and cutting off most of the attacking Germans, trapping them in a pocket. However, Montgomery, refusing to risk underprepared infantry in a snowstorm for a strategically unimportant area, did not launch the attack until 3 January, by which time substantial numbers of German troops had already managed to fall back successfully, but at the cost of losing most of their heavy equipment.

 

At the start of the offensive, the First and Third U.S. Armies were separated by about 40 km (25 mi). American progress in the south was also restricted to about a kilometer a day. The majority of the German force executed a successful fighting withdrawal and escaped the battle area, although the fuel situation had become so dire that most of the German armor had to be abandoned. On 7 January 1945 Hitler agreed to withdraw all forces from the Ardennes, including the SS-Panzerdivisionen, thus ending all offensive operations. However, considerable fighting went on for another 3 weeks; St. Vith was recaptured by the Americans on 23 January, and the last German units participating in the offensive did not return to their start line until 25 January.

 

Winston Churchill, addressing the House of Commons following the Battle of the Bulge said, "This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory."[106]

Force comparisons by date

Force Allied[3] Axis[4]

Month December January December January

Date 16th 24th 2nd 16th 16th 24th 2nd 16th

Men 228,741 ~541,000 ~705,000 700,520 406,342 ~449,000 ~401,000 383,016

Tanks 483 1,616 2,409 2,428 557 423 287 216

Tank destroyers

and assault guns 499 1,713 1,970 1,912 667 608 462 414

Other AFVs 1,921 5,352 7,769 7,079 1,261 1,496 1,090 907

Anti-tank and

artillery pieces 971 2,408 3,305 3,181 4,224 4,131 3,396 3,256

Armored divisions 2 6 8 8 7 8 8 8

Armored brigades 1 2 2 1 1 1

Infantry divisions 6 15 22 22 13 16 15 16

Infantry brigades 2 2 2

Strategy and leadership

Hitler's chosen few

 

The plan and timing for the Ardennes attack sprang purely from the mind of Adolf Hitler. He believed a critical fault line existed between the British and American military commands, and that a heavy blow on the Western Front would shatter this alliance. Planning for the "Watch on the Rhine" offensive emphasized secrecy and the commitment of overwhelming force. Due to the use of landline communications within Germany, motorized runners carrying orders, and draconian threats from Hitler, the timing and mass of the attack was not detected by ULTRA codebreakers and achieved complete surprise. The allied leadership never saw it coming.[107]

 

Hitler had always resented the blue-blood Prussian leadership of the German army.[citation needed] So, when selecting leadership for the attack, he felt that the implementation of this decisive blow should be entrusted to his own Nazi party army, the Waffen-SS. Ever since German regular Army officers attempted to assassinate him, he had increasingly trusted only the SS and its heavily armed branch, the Waffen-SS.[108] After the invasion of Normandy, the SS armored units had suffered significant leadership casualties. These losses included SS-Gruppenführer (Major General) Kurt Meyer, commander of the 12th SS Panzer (Armor) Division, captured by Belgian partisans on 6 September 1944.[109]:10 [110]:308 The tactical efficiency of these units were somewhat reduced. The strong right flank of the assault was therefore composed mostly of SS Divisions under the command of "Sepp" (Joseph) Dietrich, a fanatical political disciple of Hitler, and a loyal follower from the early days of the rise of National Socialism in Germany. The leadership composition of the Sixth Panzer Division had a distinctly political nature.[54]

German field commanders plan the advance.

 

None of the German field commanders entrusted with planning and executing the offensive believed it was possible to capture Antwerp. Even Sepp Dietrich, commanding the strongest arm of the attack, felt that the Ardennes was a poor area for armored warfare, and that the inexperienced and badly equipped Volksgrenadier units would clog the roads that the tanks would need for their rapid advance. In this Dietrich was proved correct. The horse drawn artillery and rocket units were a significant obstacle to the tanks.[10]:113 Other than making futile objections to Hitler in private, he generally stayed out of the planning for the offensive. Model and Manteuffel, the technical experts from the eastern front, took the view that a limited offensive with the goal of surrounding and crushing the American 1st Army would be the best the offensive could hope for. These revisions shared the same fate as Dietrich's objections. In the end, the headlong drive on Elsenborn Ridge would not benefit from support from German units that had already bypassed the ridge. The decision to stop the attacks on the twin villages and change the axis of the attacks southward to the hamlet of Domäne Bütgenbach, was also made by Dietrich.[111]:224 This decision played into American hands, as Robertson had already decided to abandon the villages. However, the staff planning and organization of the attack was well done; most of the units committed to the offensive reached their jump off points undetected and were well organized and supplied for the attack.

Allied high-command controversy

Field Marshal Montgomery

General Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander

General Bradley, pictured after the war.

 

One of the fault lines between the British and American high commands was General Dwight D. Eisenhower's commitment to a broad front advance. This view was opposed by the British Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Field Marshal Alan Brooke, who promoted a rapid advance on a narrow front, with the other allied armies in reserve.[111]:91

Montgomery's actions

 

British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery had differing views of how to approach the German attack with the U.S. command. His ensuing public pronouncements of opinion caused tension in the American high command. Major General Freddie de Guingand, Chief of Staff of Montgomery's 21st Army Group, rose to the occasion, and personally smoothed over the disagreements on 30 December.[112]:489–90

 

As the Ardennes crisis developed, at 10:30 a.m. on 20 December, Eisenhower telephoned Montgomery and ordered him to assume command of the American First (Hodges) and Ninth Army (Simpson)[113] – which, until then, were under Bradley's overall command. This change in command was ordered because the northern armies had not only lost all communications with Bradley, who was based in Luxembourg City,[114] and the US command structure, but with adjacent units.

 

Describing the situation as he found it on 20 December, Montgomery wrote;

 

The First Army was fighting desperately. Having given orders to Dempsey and Crerar, who arrived for a conference at 11 am, I left at noon for the H.Q. of the First Army, where I had instructed Simpson to meet me. I found the northern flank of the bulge was very disorganized. Ninth Army had two corps and three divisions; First Army had three corps and fifteen divisions. Neither Army Commander had seen Bradley or any senior member of his staff since the battle began, and they had no directive on which to work. The first thing to do was to see the battle on the northern flank as one whole, to ensure the vital areas were held securely, and to create reserves for counter-attack. I embarked on these measures: I put British troops under command of the Ninth Army to fight alongside American soldiers, and made that Army take over some of the First Army Front. I positioned British troops as reserves behind the First and Ninth Armies until such time as American reserves could be created. Slowly but surely the situation was held, and then finally restored. Similar action was taken on the southern flank of the bulge by Bradley, with the Third Army.[113]

 

Due to the news blackout imposed on the 16th, the change of leadership to Montgomery did not become known to the outside world until eventually SHAEF made a public announcement making clear that the change in command was "absolutely nothing to do with failure on the part of the three American generals".[115]:198 This resulted in headlines in British newspapers. The story was also covered in Stars and Stripes and for the first time British contribution to the fighting was mentioned.

 

Montgomery asked Churchill if he could give a conference to the press to explain the situation. Though some of his staff were concerned at the image it would give, the conference had been cleared by Alan Brooke, the CIGS, who was possibly the only person to whom Monty would listen.

 

On the same day as Hitler's withdrawal order, 7 January, Montgomery held his press conference at Zonhoven.[116] Montgomery started with giving credit to the "courage and good fighting quality" of the American troops, characterizing a typical American as a "very brave fighting man who has that tenacity in battle which makes a great soldier", and went on to talk about the necessity of Allied teamwork, and praised Eisenhower, stating, "Teamwork wins battles and battle victories win wars. On our team, the captain is General Ike."

 

Then Montgomery described the course of the battle for a half-hour. Coming to the end of his speech he said he had "employed the whole available power of the British Group of Armies; this power was brought into play very gradually ... Finally it was put into battle with a bang ... you thus have the picture of British troops fighting on both sides of the Americans who have suffered a hard blow." He stated that he (i.e., the German) was "headed off ... seen off ... and ... written off". "The battle has been the most interesting, I think possibly one of the most interesting and tricky battles I have ever handled.".[117][118][119]

 

Despite his positive remarks about American soldiers, the overall impression given by Montgomery, at least in the ears of the American military leadership, was that he had taken the lion's share of credit for the success of the campaign, and had been responsible for rescuing the besieged Americans.[120]

 

His comments were interpreted as self-promoting, particularly his claiming that when the situation "began to deteriorate," Eisenhower had placed him in command in the north. Patton and Eisenhower both felt this was a misrepresentation of the relative share of the fighting played by the British and Americans in the Ardennes (for every British soldier there were thirty to forty Americans in the fight), and that it belittled the part played by Bradley, Patton and other American commanders. In the context of Patton's and Montgomery's well-known antipathy, Montgomery's failure to mention the contribution of any American general beside Eisenhower was seen as insulting. Indeed, General Bradley and his American commanders were already starting their counterattack by the time Montgomery was given command of 1st and 9th U.S. Armies.[121] Focusing exclusively on his own generalship, Montgomery continued to say he thought the counteroffensive had gone very well but did not explain the reason for his delayed attack on 3 January. He later attributed this to needing more time for preparation on the northern front. According to Winston Churchill, the attack from the south under Patton was steady but slow and involved heavy losses, and Montgomery was trying to avoid this situation.

 

Many American officers had already grown to dislike Montgomery, who was seen by them as an overly cautious commander, arrogant, and all too willing to say uncharitable things about the Americans. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill found it necessary in a speech to Parliament to explicitly state that the Battle of the Bulge was purely an American victory.

 

Montgomery subsequently recognized his error and later wrote: "Not only was it probably a mistake to have held this conference at all in the sensitive state of feeling at the time, but what I said was skilfully distorted by the enemy. Chester Wilmot[122] explained that his dispatch to the BBC about it was intercepted by the German wireless, re-written to give it an anti-American bias, and then broadcast by Arnhem Radio, which was then in Goebbels' hands. Monitored at Bradley's HQ, this broadcast was mistaken for a BBC transmission and it was this twisted text that started the uproar."[119]

 

Montgomery later said, "Distorted or not, I think now that I should never have held that press conference. So great were the feelings against me on the part of the American generals that whatever I said was bound to be wrong. I should therefore have said nothing." Eisenhower commented in his own memoirs: "I doubt if Montgomery ever came to realize how resentful some American commanders were. They believed he had belittled them—and they were not slow to voice reciprocal scorn and contempt."[123]

 

Bradley and Patton both threatened to resign unless Montgomery's command was changed. Eisenhower, encouraged by his British deputy Arthur Tedder, had decided to sack Montgomery. However, intervention by Montgomery's and Eisenhower's Chiefs of Staff, Maj. Gen. Freddie de Guingand, and Lt. Gen. Walter Bedell Smith, moved Eisenhower to reconsider and allowed Montgomery to apologize.[citation needed]

 

The German commander of the 5th Panzer Army, Hasso von Manteuffel said of Montgomery's leadership:

 

The operations of the American 1st Army had developed into a series of individual holding actions. Montgomery's contribution to restoring the situation was that he turned a series of isolated actions into a coherent battle fought according to a clear and definite plan. It was his refusal to engage in premature and piecemeal counter-attacks which enabled the Americans to gather their reserves and frustrate the German attempts to extend their breakthrough.[124]

 

Casualties

The Mardasson Memorial near Bastogne, Belgium

 

Casualty estimates for the battle vary widely. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, American forces suffered 89,500 casualties including 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 missing.[5] An official report by the United States Department of the Army lists 108,347 casualties, including 19,246 killed, 62,489 wounded, and 26,612 captured or missing.[125]:92 A preliminary Army report restricted to the First and Third U.S. Armies listed 75,000 casualties (8,400 killed, 46,000 wounded and 21,000 missing).[46] The Battle of the Bulge was the bloodiest battle for U.S. forces in World War II. British casualties totaled 1,400 with 200 deaths. The German Armed Forces High Command's official figure for all German losses on the Western Front during the period 16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945 was 81,834 German casualties, and other estimates range between 60,000 and 125,000.[126][20][24] German historian Hermann Jung lists 67,675 casualties from 16 December 1944 to late January 1945 for the three German armies that participated in the offensive.[127] The United States Army Center of Military History's official numbers are 75,000 American casualties and 100,000 German casualties.[128]

Result

 

Although the Germans managed to begin their offensive with complete surprise and enjoyed some initial successes, they were not able to seize the initiative on the Western front. While the German command did not reach its goals, the Ardennes operation inflicted heavy losses and set back the Allied invasion of Germany by several weeks. The High Command of the Allied forces had planned to resume the offensive by early January 1945, after the wet season rains and severe frosts, but those plans had to be postponed until 29 January 1945 in connection with the unexpected changes in the front.[citation needed]

 

The Allies pressed their advantage following the battle. By the beginning of February 1945, the lines were roughly where they had been in December 1944. In early February, the Allies launched an attack all along the Western front: in the north under Montgomery toward Aachen; in the center, under Courtney Hodges; and in the south, under Patton. Montgomery's behavior during the months of December and January, including the press conference on 7 January where he appeared to downplay the contribution of the American generals, further soured his relationship with his American counterparts through to the end of the war.[citation needed]

 

The German losses in the battle were especially critical: their last reserves were now gone, the Luftwaffe had been shattered, and remaining forces throughout the West were being pushed back to defend the Siegfried Line.[citation needed]

 

In response to the early success of the offensive, on 6 January Churchill contacted Stalin to request that the Soviets put pressure on the Germans on the Eastern Front.[129] On 12 January, the Soviets began the massive Vistula–Oder Offensive, originally planned for 20 January.[130]:39 However it had been brought forward from 20 January to 12 January because meteorological reports warned of a thaw later in the month, and the tanks needed hard ground for the offensive (and the advance of the Red Army was assisted by two Panzer Armies (5th & 6th) being redeployed for the Ardennes attack).[131]

 

During World War II, most U.S. black soldiers still served only in maintenance or service positions, or in segregated units. Because of troop shortages during the Battle of the Bulge, Eisenhower decided to integrate the service for the first time.[132]:127 This was an important step toward a desegregated United States military. More than 2,000 black soldiers had volunteered to go to the front.[133]:534 A total of 708 black Americans were killed in combat during World War II.[134]

Media attention

The Battle of the Bulge diorama at the Audie Murphy American Cotton Museum

 

The battle around Bastogne received a great deal of media attention because in early December 1944 it was a rest and recreation area for many war correspondents. The rapid advance by the German forces who surrounded the town, the spectacular resupply operations via parachute and glider, along with the fast action of General Patton's Third U.S. Army, all were featured in newspaper articles and on radio and captured the public's imagination; but there were no correspondents in the area of Saint-Vith, Elsenborn, or Monschau-Höfen.[135] The static, stubborn resistance of troops in the north, who refused to yield their ground in the cold snow and freezing rain despite the heavy German attacks, did not get a casual observer excited. The images of supply troops trying to bring ammunition and cold food, crawling through mud and snow, to front-line troops dug into frozen foxholes around Montjoie, Elseborn and Butgenbach were not exciting news.[136]

Battle credit

 

After the war ended, the U.S. Army issued battle credit in the form of the Ardennes-Alsace campaign citation to units and individuals that took part in operations in northwest Europe.[137] The citation covered the Ardennes sector where the actual battle took place and units further south in the Alsace sector. The southern units held the line in their region but were not involved in the battle except for elements they sent north as reinforcements.

In popular culture

 

The battle has been depicted in numerous works of art, entertainment, and media, including:

 

Films, e.g., Battleground (1949),[138] Attack (1956),[139] Battle of the Bulge (1965),[140] and A Midnight Clear (1992)[141]

Games: Over 70 board wargames have been created about the battle, the earliest in 1965.[142] Also, As of 2014, the battle has been the scene for about 30 video games, mostly strategy games, beginning with Tigers in the Snow (1981).[143]

Literature: In Kurt Vonnegut's postmodern novel Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade: A Duty-Dance with Death (1969), the protagonist Billy Pilgrim is captured by the advancing German army during the Battle of the Bulge.[144]

Television: The battle was the subject of the PBS American Experience episode, "The Battle of the Bulge".[145] The battle was prominently featured in two episodes of the miniseries Band of Brothers (2001).[146] Additionally, the Military/American Heroes TV series Greatest Tank Battles featured an episode on the Battle of the Bulge as "The Battle of the Bulge: S.S. Panzers Attack!"

 

See also

 

17th Armored Engineer Battalion

82nd armored reconnaissance battalion

Battle of Garfagnana

German occupation of Luxembourg in World War II

Operation Spring Awakening

"Yeah, and though I work in the valley of Death, I will fear no Evil. For where there is one, there is always three. I preparest my aircraft to receive the Iron that will be delivered in the presence of my enemies. Thy ALCM and JDAM they comfort me. Power was given unto the aircrew to make peace upon the world by way of the sword. And when the call went out, Behold the "Sword of Stealth". And his name was Death. And Hell followed him. For the day of wrath has come and no mercy shall be given."

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Operation Overlord

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

 

Part 1

 

Operation Overlord

Part of the Western Front of World War II

Date 6 June – 30 August 1944

Location Northern France

Result Decisive Allied victory

Belligerents

 

Western Allies:

 

United States

United Kingdom

Canada

Free France Free French Forces

Poland Polish Forces[1]

Free France French Resistance

Australia

Belgium Free Belgian Forces[2]

Czechoslovakia Free Czechoslovak Forces[3]

Greece Free Greek Forces[4]

Luxembourg Free Luxembourgish Forces[5]

Netherlands Free Dutch Forces[2]

New Zealand[6]

Norway Free Norwegian Forces[1]

 

Germany

Commanders and leaders

 

United States Dwight D. Eisenhower

(Supreme Allied Commander)

United Kingdom Arthur Tedder

(Deputy Supreme Allied Commander)

United Kingdom Bernard Montgomery

(Ground Forces Commander in Chief)

United Kingdom Trafford Leigh-Mallory

(Air Commander in Chief)

United Kingdom Bertram Ramsay

(Naval Commander in Chief)

 

 

 

Nazi Germany Gerd von Rundstedt

(Oberbefehlshaber West)

Nazi Germany Erwin Rommel

(Army Group B)

 

Strength

 

1,452,000 troops (by 25 July)[a]

2,052,299 (by the end of August)[7]

 

 

 

380,000 troops (by 23 July)[8] – 1,000,000 (by the end of August)[9]

2,200[9] – 2,500 tanks and assault guns[10][11]

 

Casualties and losses

 

225,606 to 226,386 casualties

4,101 aircraft[12]

~4,000 tanks[13]

 

 

 

400,000 casualties[14] to 530,000+ killed or captured[15]

2,127 aircraft[16]

~2,200–2,400 tanks and assault guns lost[10]

 

Civilian deaths:

 

11,000–19,000 killed in pre-invasion bombing[17]

13,632–19,890 killed during invasion[18]

Total: 25,000–39,000 killed

 

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Operation Overlord

Invasion of Normandy

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West European Campaign (1944–45)

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Western Front of World War II

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Free French military campaigns of World War II

 

Operation Overlord was the code name for the Battle of Normandy, the Allied operation that launched the successful invasion of German-occupied Western Europe during World War II. The operation was launched on 6 June 1944 with the Normandy landings (Operation Neptune, commonly known as D-Day). A 1,200-plane airborne assault preceded an amphibious assault involving more than 5,000 vessels. Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June, and more than two million Allied troops were in France by the end of August.

 

The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion in 1944 was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF), and General Bernard Montgomery was named as commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all the land forces involved in the invasion. The coast of Normandy was chosen as the site of the invasion, with the Americans assigned to land at sectors codenamed Utah and Omaha, the British at Sword and Gold, and the Canadians at Juno. To meet the conditions expected on the Normandy beachhead, special technology was developed, including two artificial ports called Mulberry harbours and an array of specialised tanks nicknamed Hobart's Funnies. In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted a substantial military deception, Operation Bodyguard, using both electronic and visual misinformation. This misled the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings. Adolf Hitler placed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel in charge of developing fortifications all along the Atlantic Wall in anticipation of an invasion.

 

The Allies failed to accomplish their objectives for the first day, but gained a tenuous foothold that they gradually expanded when they captured the port at Cherbourg on 26 June and the city of Caen on 21 July. A failed counterattack by German forces on 8 August left 50,000 soldiers of the 7th Army trapped in the Falaise pocket. The Allies launched an invasion of southern France (code-named Operation Dragoon) on 15 August, and the Liberation of Paris followed on 25 August. German forces retreated across the Seine on 30 August 1944, marking the close of Operation Overlord.

 

Contents

 

1 Preparations for D-Day

1.1 Allied invasion plan

1.2 Reconnaissance

1.3 Technology

1.4 Deception

1.5 Rehearsals and security

1.6 Weather forecast

1.7 German preparations and defences

1.7.1 Atlantic Wall

1.7.2 Mobile reserves

2 Invasion

2.1 Beaches

2.2 Cherbourg

2.3 Caen

2.4 Breakout from the beachhead

3 Campaign close

4 Casualties

4.1 Allies

4.2 Germany

4.3 Civilians and French heritage buildings

5 War memorials and tourism

6 See also

7 Notes

7.1 Explanatory notes

7.2 Citations

8 References

9 Further reading

10 External links

 

Preparations for D-Day

 

In June 1940, Germany's leader Adolf Hitler had triumphed in what he called "the most famous victory in history"—the fall of France.[19] The defending British Expeditionary Force (BEF), trapped along the northern coast of France, was able to evacuate over 338,000 troops to England in the Dunkirk evacuation (27 May to 4 June).[20] British planners reported to Prime Minister Winston Churchill on 4 October that even with the help of other Commonwealth countries and the United States, it would not be possible to regain a foothold in continental Europe in the near future.[21] After the Germans invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin began pressing for the creation of a second front in Western Europe. Churchill declined because, even with American help, he felt that the British did not have adequate forces for such a strike,[22] and he wished to avoid costly frontal assaults such as those that had occurred at the Somme and Passchendaele in World War I.[23] Two tentative plans code-named Operation Roundup and Operation Sledgehammer were put forward for 1942–43, but neither was deemed by the British to be practical or likely to succeed.[24] Instead, the Allies launched the invasion of French North Africa in November 1942, the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, and invaded Italy in September.[25] These operations provided the troops with valuable experience in amphibious warfare.[26]

 

The decision to undertake a cross-channel invasion within the next year was taken at the Trident Conference in Washington in May 1943.[27] Churchill favoured making the main Allied thrust into Germany from the Mediterranean theatre, but was over-ruled by his American allies, who were providing the bulk of the men and equipment.[28] British Lieutenant-General Frederick E. Morgan was appointed Chief of Staff, Supreme Allied Commander (COSSAC), to begin detailed planning.[27] The initial plans were constrained by the number of available landing craft, most of which were already committed in the Mediterranean and Pacific.[29] In part because of lessons learned in the Dieppe Raid of 19 August 1942, the Allies decided not to directly assault a heavily defended French seaport in their first landing.[30] The failure at Dieppe also highlighted the need for adequate artillery and air support, particularly close air support, and specialised ships able to travel extremely close to shore.[31] The short operating range of British aircraft such as the Spitfire and Typhoon greatly limited the number of potential landing sites, as comprehensive air support depended upon having planes overhead for as long as possible.[32] Morgan considered four sites for the landings: Brittany, the Cotentin Peninsula, Normandy, and the Pas de Calais. As Brittany and Cotentin are peninsulas, it would have been possible for the Germans to cut off the Allied advance at a relatively narrow isthmus, so these sites were rejected.[33]

US Army M4 Sherman tanks loaded in a landing craft tank (LCT), ready for the invasion of France, c. late May or early June 1944

 

The Pas de Calais is the closest point in continental Europe to Britain and was the location of launch sites for V-1 and V-2 rockets, which were still under development. The Germans considered it to be the most likely initial landing zone, so it was the most heavily fortified region.[34] It offered few opportunities for expansion, however, as the area is bounded by numerous rivers and canals,[35] whereas landings on a broad front in Normandy would permit simultaneous threats against the port of Cherbourg, coastal ports further west in Brittany, and an overland attack towards Paris and eventually into Germany. Normandy was hence chosen as the landing site.[36] The most serious drawback of the Normandy coast—the lack of port facilities—would be overcome through the development of artificial harbours.[37]

 

The COSSAC staff planned to launch the invasion on 1 May 1944.[35] The initial draft of the plan was accepted at the Quebec Conference in August 1943. General Dwight D. Eisenhower was appointed commander of SHAEF.[38] General Bernard Montgomery was named commander of the 21st Army Group, which comprised all of the land forces involved in the invasion.[39] On 31 December 1943, Eisenhower and Montgomery first saw the COSSAC plan, which proposed amphibious landings by three divisions, with two more divisions in support. The two generals immediately insisted that the scale of the initial invasion be expanded to five divisions, with airborne descents by three additional divisions, to allow operations on a wider front and speed up the capture of the port at Cherbourg. The need to acquire or produce extra landing craft for the expanded operation meant that the invasion had to be delayed to June.[39] Eventually, 39 Allied divisions would be committed to the Battle of Normandy: 22 American, 12 British, three Canadian, one Polish, and one French, totalling over a million troops[40] all under overall British command.[41][c]

Allied invasion plan

D-day assault routes into Normandy

 

"Overlord" was the name assigned to the establishment of a large-scale lodgement on the Continent.[42] The first phase, the amphibious invasion and establishment of a secure foothold, was codenamed Operation Neptune.[37] To gain the required air superiority needed to ensure a successful invasion, the Allies launched a bombing campaign (codenamed Operation Pointblank) to target German aircraft production, fuel supplies, and airfields. Under the Transport Plan, communications infrastructure and road and rail links were bombed to cut off the north of France and make it more difficult to bring up reinforcements. These attacks were widespread so as to avoid revealing the exact location of the invasion.[37] Elaborate deceptions were planned to prevent the Germans from determining the timing and location of the invasion.[43]

 

The coastline of Normandy was divided into seventeen sectors, with codenames using a spelling alphabet—from Able, west of Omaha, to Roger on the east flank of Sword. Eight further sectors were added when the invasion was extended to include Utah on the Cotentin Peninsula. Sectors were further subdivided into beaches identified by the colours Green, Red, and White.[44]

 

The landings were to be preceded by airborne drops near Caen on the eastern flank to secure the Orne River bridges, and north of Carentan on the western flank. The initial goal was to capture Carentan, Isigny, Bayeux, and Caen. The Americans, assigned to land at Utah and Omaha, were to cut off the Cotentin Peninsula and capture the port facilities at Cherbourg. The British at Sword and Gold, and the Canadians at Juno, were to capture Caen and form a front line from Caumont-l'Éventé to the south-east of Caen in order to protect the American flank, while establishing airfields near Caen. Possession of Caen and its surroundings would give the Anglo-Canadians a suitable staging area for a push south to capture the town of Falaise. A secure lodgement would be established and an attempt made to hold all territory captured north of the Avranches-Falaise line during the first three weeks. The Allied armies would then swing left to advance towards the River Seine.[45][46][47]

 

The invasion fleet, led by Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, was split into the Western Naval Task Force (under Admiral Alan G Kirk) supporting the American sectors and the Eastern Naval Task Force (under Admiral Sir Philip Vian) in the British and Canadian sectors.[48][49] The American forces of the First Army, led by Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, comprised VII Corps (Utah) and V Corps (Omaha). On the British side, Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey was in command of the Second Army, under which XXX Corps was assigned to Gold and I Corps to Juno and Sword.[50] Land forces were under the overall command of Montgomery, and air command was assigned to Air Chief Marshal Sir Trafford Leigh-Mallory.[51] The First Canadian Army included personnel and units from Poland, Belgium, and the Netherlands.[2] Other Allied nations also participated.[52]

Reconnaissance

A map of southern Britain, northern France and Belgium, marked with the routes the Allied air and naval invasion forces used in the D-Day landings, areas where Allied aircraft patrolled, locations of railway targets that were attacked, and areas where airfields could be built

Map of the air plan for the Allied landing in Normandy

 

The Allied Expeditionary Air Force undertook over 3,200 photo reconnaissance sorties from April 1944 until the start of the invasion. Photos of the coastline were taken at extremely low altitude to show the invaders the terrain, obstacles on the beach, and defensive structures such as bunkers and gun emplacements. To avoid alerting the Germans as to the location of the invasion, this work had to be undertaken over the entire European coastline. Inland terrain, bridges, troop emplacements, and buildings were also photographed, in many cases from several angles, to give the Allies as much information as possible.[53] Members of Combined Operations Pilotage Parties clandestinely prepared detailed harbour maps, including depth soundings.[54]

 

An appeal for holiday pictures and postcards of Europe announced on the BBC received over ten million items, some of which proved to be useful. Information collected by the French resistance helped provide details on troop movements and construction techniques used by the Germans for bunkers and other defensive installations.[55]

 

Many German radio messages were encoded using the Enigma machine and other encyphering techniques, and the codes were changed frequently. A team of code breakers stationed at Bletchley Park was responsible for breaking each new code as quickly as possible to provide advance information on German plans and troop movements. Information obtained in this way was called Ultra intelligence, as it could only be provided to the top level of commanders. The Enigma code used by Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, Oberbefehlshaber West (Supreme Commander West; OB West), overall commander on the Western Front, was broken by the end of March. The Enigma codes were changed right after the Allied landings of 6 June, but by 17 June the Allies were again consistently able to interpret the intercepted signals.[56]

Technology

Remains of Mulberry harbour B at Arromanches-les-Bains (Gold) as seen in 1990

 

In response to the lessons learned at the disastrous Dieppe raid, the Allies developed new technologies to help ensure the success of Overlord. To supplement the preliminary offshore bombardment and aerial assaults, some of the landing craft were equipped with artillery and anti-tank guns to provide close supporting fire.[57] The Allies had decided not to immediately attack any of the heavily protected French ports, so two artificial ports, called Mulberry harbours, were designed. Each assembly consisted of a floating outer breakwater, inner concrete caissons (called Phoenix breakwaters), and several floating piers.[58] The Mulberry harbours were supplemented by blockship shelters (codenamed Gooseberries).[59] With the expectation that fuel would be difficult or impossible to obtain on the continent, the Allies created a Pipe-Line Under The Ocean (PLUTO). Specially developed pipes 3 inches (7.6 cm) in diameter were to be laid under the Channel from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg by D-Day plus 18. Technical problems and the delay in capturing Cherbourg meant the pipeline was not operational until 22 September. A second line was laid from Dungeness to Boulogne in late October.[60]

 

A series of specialised tanks, nicknamed Hobart's Funnies, were created to deal with conditions expected during the Normandy campaign. Developed under the supervision of Major-General Percy Hobart, these were specially modified M4 Sherman and Churchill tanks. Examples include the Sherman Crab tank (equipped with a mine flail), the Churchill Crocodile (a flame-throwing tank), and the Armoured Ramp Carrier, which other tanks could use as a bridge to scale sea-walls or overcome other obstacles.[61] In some areas, the beaches consisted of a soft clay that could not support the weight of tanks. The "bobbin" tank would overcome this problem by deploying a roll of matting over the soft surface. The material was then left in place to create a route for more conventional tanks.[62] The Armoured Vehicle Royal Engineers (AVREs) were modified for many tasks, including laying bridges and firing large charges into pillboxes.[63] The Duplex-Drive tank (DD tank), another design developed by Hobart's group, was a self-propelled amphibious tank kept afloat using a waterproof canvas screen inflated with compressed air.[64] These tanks were easily swamped, and on D-Day many sank before reaching the shore, especially at Omaha.[65]

Deception

See also: Military deception

 

In the months leading up to the invasion, the Allies conducted Operation Bodyguard, the overall strategy designed to mislead the Germans as to the date and location of the main Allied landings.[66] Operation Fortitude included Fortitude North, a misinformation campaign using fake radio traffic to lead the Germans into expecting an attack on Norway,[67] and Fortitude South, a major deception designed to fool the Germans into believing that the landings would take place at Pas de Calais in July. A fictitious First U.S. Army Group was created, supposedly located in Kent and Sussex under the command of Lieutenant General George S. Patton. The Allies constructed dummy tanks, trucks, and landing craft, and positioned them near the coast. Several military units, including II Canadian Corps and 2nd Canadian Division, were moved into the area to bolster the illusion that a large force was gathering in the area.[43][68] As well as the broadcast of fake radio traffic, genuine radio messages from 21st Army Group were first routed to Kent via landline and then broadcast, to give the Germans the impression that most of the Allied troops were stationed there.[69] Patton was stationed in England until 6 July, thus continuing to deceive the Germans into believing a second attack would take place at Calais.[70] Soldiers and civilians alike were aware of the need for secrecy, and the invasion troops were as much as possible kept isolated, especially in the period immediately before the invasion. One American general was sent back to the United States in disgrace after revealing the invasion date at a party.[43]

 

The Germans thought they had an extensive network of spies operating in the UK, but in fact all their agents had been captured, and some had become double agents working for the Allies as part of the Double-Cross System. The double agent Juan Pujol García, a Spanish opponent of the Nazis known by the code name "Garbo", developed over the two years leading up to D-Day a fake network of informants that the Germans believed were collecting intelligence on their behalf. In the months preceding D-Day, Pujol sent hundreds of messages to his superiors in Madrid, messages specially prepared by the British intelligence service to convince the Germans that the attack would come in July at Calais.[69][71]

 

Many of the German radar stations on the French coast were destroyed in preparation for the landings.[72] On the night before the invasion, in Operation Taxable, No. 617 Squadron RAF dropped strips of "window", metal foil that caused a radar return mistakenly interpreted by German radar operators as a naval convoy. The illusion was bolstered by a group of small vessels towing barrage balloons. "Window" was also dropped by No. 218 Squadron RAF near Boulogne-sur-Mer in Operation Glimmer. On the same night, a small group of Special Air Service (SAS) operators deployed dummy paratroopers over Le Havre and Isigny. These dummies led the Germans to believe an additional airborne assault had occurred.[73]

Rehearsals and security

Training exercise with live ammunition

 

Training exercises for the Overlord landings took place as early as July 1943.[74] As the nearby beach resembled the planned Normandy landing site, the town of Slapton in Devon, was evacuated in December 1943 and taken over by the armed forces as a site for training exercises that included the use of landing craft and management of beach obstacles.[75] It was near here on 28 April 1944 that 749 American soldiers and sailors died when German torpedo boats surprised members of Assault Force "U" conducting Exercise Tiger.[76] Exercises with landing craft and live ammunition also took place at the Combined Training Centre in Inveraray in Scotland.[77] Naval exercises took place in Northern Ireland, and medical teams in London and elsewhere rehearsed how they would handle the expected waves of casualties.[78] Paratroopers conducted exercises, including a huge demonstration drop on 23 March 1944 observed by Churchill, Eisenhower, and other top officials.[79]

 

Tactical surprise was considered a necessary element of the plan for the landings.[80] Information on the exact date and location of the landings was provided only to the topmost levels of the armed forces. Men were sealed into their marshalling areas at the end of May, with no further communication with the outside world.[81] Troops were briefed using maps that were correct in every detail except for the place names, and most were not told their actual destination until they were already at sea.[82] The effectiveness of the deception operations was increased by a news blackout in Britain.[43] Travel to and from the Republic of Ireland was banned, and movement within several kilometres of the coast of England restricted.[83]

Weather forecast

Men of the British 22nd Independent Parachute Company, 6th Airborne Division being briefed for the invasion, 4–5 June 1944

 

The invasion planners created a set of conditions regarding the timing of the invasion that meant only a few days in each month were deemed suitable. A full moon was desirable, as it would provide illumination for aircraft pilots and have the highest tides. The Allies wanted to schedule the landings for shortly before dawn, midway between low and high tide, with the tide coming in. This would improve the visibility of obstacles the enemy had placed on the beach while minimising the amount of time the men had to spend exposed in the open. Specific criteria were also set for wind speed, visibility, and cloud cover.[84] Eisenhower had tentatively selected 5 June as the date for the assault. However, on 4 June, conditions were clearly unsuitable for a landing; high winds and heavy seas made it impossible to launch landing craft, and low clouds would prevent aircraft from finding their targets.[85]

 

By the evening of 4 June, the Allied meteorological team, headed by Group Captain James Stagg of the Royal Air Force, predicted that the weather would improve sufficiently so that the invasion could go ahead on 6 June. He met Eisenhower and other senior commanders at their headquarters at Southwick House to discuss the situation.[86] General Montgomery and Major General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's chief of staff, were eager to launch the invasion. Admiral Bertram Ramsay was prepared to commit his ships, while Air Chief Marshal Trafford Leigh-Mallory was concerned that the conditions would be unfavourable for Allied aircraft to operate. After much discussion, Eisenhower decided that the invasion should go ahead.[87] Allied control of the Atlantic meant that German meteorologists did not have access to as much information as the Allies on incoming weather patterns.[72] As the Luftwaffe meteorological centre in Paris was predicting two weeks of stormy weather, many Wehrmacht commanders left their posts to attend war games in Rennes, and men in many units were given leave.[88] Marshal Erwin Rommel returned to Germany for his wife's birthday and to meet Hitler to try to get more Panzers.[89]

 

Had Eisenhower postponed the invasion, the next available date with the right combination of tides (but without the desirable full moon) was two weeks later, from 18 to 20 June. As it happened, during this period they would have encountered a major storm lasting four days, between 19 and 22 June, that would have made the initial landings impossible.[85]

German preparations and defences

Troops of the Indische Legion (Indian Legion) on the Atlantic Wall in France, 21 March 1944

 

Nazi Germany had at its disposal 50 divisions in France and the Low Countries, and another 18 were stationed in Denmark and Norway.[d] Fifteen divisions were in the process of formation in Germany, but there was no strategic reserve.[90] The Calais region was defended by the 15th Army, and Normandy by the 7th Army, commanded by Generaloberst (colonel general) Friedrich Dollmann.[91][92] Combat losses throughout the war, particularly on the Eastern Front, meant the Germans no longer had a pool of able young men from which to draw. German soldiers were now on average six years older than their Allied counterparts. Many in the Normandy area were Ostlegionen (eastern legions)—conscripts and "volunteers" from Turkestan,[93] Russia, Mongolia, and elsewhere. They were provided mainly with unreliable captured equipment and lacked motorised transport.[94] Formations that arrived later, such as the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, were for the most part younger and far better equipped and trained than the static troops stationed along the coast.[95]

Atlantic Wall

Main article: Atlantic Wall

Map of the Atlantic Wall

 

Alarmed by the raids on St Nazaire and Dieppe in 1942, Hitler ordered the construction of fortifications all along the Atlantic coast, from Spain to Norway, to protect against an expected Allied invasion. He envisioned 15,000 emplacements manned by 300,000 troops, but due to shortages, particularly of concrete and manpower, most of the strongpoints were never built.[96] As it was expected to be the site of the invasion, Pas de Calais was heavily defended.[96] In the Normandy area, the best fortifications were concentrated at the port facilities at Cherbourg and Saint-Malo.[97]

 

A report by Rundstedt to Hitler in October 1943 regarding the weak defences in France led to the appointment of Rommel to oversee the construction of further fortifications along the expected invasion front, which stretched from the Netherlands to Cherbourg.[96][98] Rommel was given command of the newly re-formed Army Group B, which included the 7th Army, the 15th Army, and the forces guarding the Netherlands.[99][100] Nazi Germany's tangled command structure made it difficult for Rommel to achieve his task. He was not allowed to give orders to the Organisation Todt, which was commanded by armaments minister Albert Speer, so in some places he had to assign soldiers to do construction work.[97]

"Yeah, and though I work in the valley of Death, I will fear no Evil. For where there is one, there is always three. I preparest my aircraft to receive the Iron that will be delivered in the presence of my enemies. Thy ALCM and JDAM they comfort me. Power was given unto the aircrew to make peace upon the world by way of the sword. And when the call went out, Behold the "Sword of Stealth". And his name was Death. And Hell followed him. For the day of wrath has come and no mercy shall be given."

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Part 2

 

Rommel believed that the Normandy coast could be a possible landing point for the invasion, so he ordered the construction of extensive defensive works along that shore. In addition to concrete gun emplacements at strategic points along the coast, he ordered wooden stakes, metal tripods, mines, and large anti-tank obstacles to be placed on the beach to delay the approach of landing craft and impede the movement of tanks.[101] Expecting the Allies to land at high tide so that the infantry would spend less time exposed on the beach, he ordered many of these obstacles to be placed at the high-tide mark.[84] Tangles of barbed wire, booby traps, and the removal of ground cover made the approach hazardous for infantry.[101] On Rommel's order, the number of mines along the coast was tripled.[97] Given the Allied air supremacy (4,029 Allied aircraft assigned to operations in Normandy plus 5,514 aircraft assigned to bombing and defence, versus 570 Luftwaffe planes stationed in France and the Low Countries[84]), booby-trapped stakes known as Rommelspargel (Rommel's asparagus) were set up in meadows and fields to deter airborne landings.[97]

Mobile reserves

 

Rommel, believing that the Germans' best chance was to stop the invasion at the shore, requested that mobile reserves—especially tanks—be stationed as close to the coast as possible. Rundstedt, General Leo Geyr von Schweppenburg (commander of Panzer Group West), and other senior commanders believed that the invasion could not be stopped on the beaches. Geyr argued for a conventional doctrine: keeping the Panzer formations concentrated in a central position around Paris and Rouen and deploying them only when the main Allied beachhead had been identified. Geyr also noted that in the Italian Campaign the armour stationed near the coast had been damaged by naval bombardment. Rommel's opinion was that because of the overwhelming Allied air superiority, large-scale movement of tanks would not be possible once the invasion was underway. Hitler made the final decision, which was to leave three divisions under Geyr's command and give Rommel operational control of three tank divisions as reserves. Hitler took personal control of four divisions as strategic reserves, not to be used without his direct orders.[102][103][104]

Invasion

Main articles: Normandy landings and Invasion of Normandy

 

You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.

— Eisenhower, Letter to Allied Forces[105]

 

British Pathfinders synchronise their watches in front of an Armstrong Whitworth Albemarle.

 

By May 1944, 1.5 million American troops had arrived in the United Kingdom.[55] Most were housed in temporary camps in the south-west of England, ready to move across the Channel to the western section of the landing zone. British and Canadian troops were billeted in accommodation further east, spread from Southampton to Newhaven, and even on the east coast for men who would be coming across in later waves. A complex system called Movement Control assured that the men and vehicles left on schedule from twenty departure points.[81] Some men had to board their craft nearly a week before departure.[106] The ships met at a rendezvous point (nicknamed "Piccadilly Circus") south-east of the Isle of Wight to assemble into convoys to cross the Channel.[107] Minesweepers began clearing lanes on the evening of 5 June,[85] and a thousand bombers left before dawn to attack the coastal defences.[108] Some 1,200 aircraft departed England just before midnight to transport three airborne divisions to their drop zones behind enemy lines several hours before the beach landings.[109] The American 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were assigned objectives on the Cotentin Peninsula west of Utah. The British 6th Airborne Division was assigned to capture intact the bridges over the Caen Canal and River Orne.[110] The Free French 4th SAS battalion of 538 men was assigned objectives in Brittany (Operation Dingson, Operation Samwest).[111][112] Some 132,000 men were transported by sea on D-Day, and a further 24,000 came by air.[81] Preliminary naval bombardment commenced at 05:45 and continued until 06:25 from five battleships, twenty cruisers, sixty-five destroyers, and two monitors.[81][113] Infantry began arriving on the beaches at around 06:30.[114]

Beaches

Main articles: Utah Beach, Pointe du Hoc, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Juno Beach, and Sword Beach

U.S. soldiers of the 8th Infantry, 4th Infantry Division advance over the sea-wall at Utah.

 

The craft bearing the U.S. 4th Infantry Division assaulting Utah were pushed by the current to a spot about 1,800 metres (2,000 yd) south of their intended landing zone. The troops met light resistance, suffering fewer than 200 casualties.[115][116] Their efforts to push inland fell far short of their targets for the first day, but they were able to advance about 4 miles (6.4 km), making contact with the 101st Airborne Division.[46][117] The airborne landings west of Utah were not very successful, as only ten per cent of the paratroopers landed in their drop zones. Gathering the men together into fighting units was made difficult by a shortage of radios and by the terrain, with its hedgerows, stone walls and marshes.[118][119] The 82nd Airborne Division captured its primary objective at Sainte-Mère-Église and worked to protect the western flank.[120] Its failure to capture the river crossings at the River Merderet resulted in a delay in sealing off the Cotentin Peninsula.[121] The 101st Airborne Division helped protect the southern flank and captured the lock on the River Douve at La Barquette,[119] but did not capture the assigned nearby bridges on the first day.[122]

 

At Pointe du Hoc, the task for the two hundred men of the 2nd Ranger Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel James Rudder, was to scale the 30 metres (98 ft) cliffs with ropes and ladders to destroy the gun battery located there. While under fire from above, the men scaled the cliff, only to discover that the guns had already been withdrawn. The Rangers located the weapons, unguarded but ready to use, in an orchard some 550 metres (600 yd) south of the point, and disabled them. Under attack, the men at the point became isolated, and some were captured. By dawn on D+1, Rudder had only 90 men able to fight. Relief did not come until D+2, when members of the 743rd Tank Battalion arrived.[123]

The photograph Into the Jaws of Death shows American troops, part of the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, leaving a Higgins Boat on Omaha.

 

Omaha, the most heavily defended sector, was assigned to the U.S. 1st Infantry Division, supplemented by troops from the U.S. 29th Infantry Division.[116][124] They faced the 352nd Infantry Division, rather than the expected single regiment.[125] Strong currents forced many landing craft east of their intended position or delayed them. Casualties were heavier than all the other landings combined, as the men were subjected to fire from the cliffs above.[126] Problems clearing the beach of obstructions led to the beachmaster calling a halt to further landings of vehicles at 08:30. A group of destroyers arrived around this time to offer supporting artillery fire.[127] Exit from Omaha was possible only via five gullies, and by late morning barely six hundred men had reached the higher ground. By noon, as the artillery fire took its toll and the Germans started to run out of ammunition, the Americans were able to clear some lanes on the beaches. They also started clearing the draws of enemy defences so that vehicles could move off the beach.[128] The tenuous beachhead was expanded over the following days, and the D-Day objectives were accomplished by D+3.[129]

Gold Beach, as of 7 June 1944.

 

At Gold, high winds made conditions difficult for the landing craft, and the amphibious DD tanks were landed close to shore or directly on the beach instead of further out as planned.[130] Aerial attacks had failed to hit the Le Hamel strong point, and its 75 mm gun continued to do damage until 16:00. On the western flank, the 1st Battalion, Hampshire Regiment captured Arromanches (future site of Mulberry "B"), and contact was made on the eastern flank with the Canadian forces at Juno.[131]

 

Landings of infantry at Juno were delayed because of rough seas, and the men arrived ahead of their supporting armour, suffering many casualties while disembarking. Most of the offshore bombardment had missed the German defences. In spite of these difficulties, the Canadians quickly cleared the beach and created two exits to the villages above. Delays in taking Bény-sur-Mer led to congestion on the beach, but by nightfall the contiguous Juno and Gold beachheads covered an area 12 miles (19 km) wide and 7 miles (10 km) deep.[132] Casualties at Juno were 961 men.[133]

 

On Sword, 21 of 25 DD tanks succeeded in getting safely ashore to provide cover for the infantry, who began disembarking at 07:30. They quickly cleared the beach and created several exits for the tanks. In the windy conditions, the tide came in more quickly than expected, making manoeuvring the armour difficult.[134] The 2nd Battalion, King's Shropshire Light Infantry advanced on foot to within a few kilometres of Caen, but had to withdraw due to lack of armour support.[135] At 16:00, the German 21st Panzer Division mounted a counterattack between Sword and Juno and nearly succeeded in reaching the channel. They met stiff resistance from the British 3rd Infantry Division and were soon recalled to assist in the area between Caen and Bayeux.[136][137]

 

The first components of the Mulberry harbours were brought across on D+1 and the structures were in use for unloading by mid-June.[59] One was constructed at Arromanches by the British, the other at Omaha by the Americans. Severe storms on 19 June interrupted the landing of supplies and destroyed the Omaha harbour.[138] The repaired Arromanches harbour was able to receive around 6,000 tons of materiel daily and was in continuous use for the next ten months, but most shipments were brought in over the beaches until the port of Cherbourg was cleared of mines and obstructions on 16 July.[139][140]

 

Allied casualties on the first day were at least 10,000, with 4,414 confirmed dead.[141] The Germans lost 1,000 men.[142] The Allied invasion plans had called for the capture of Carentan, St. Lô, Caen, and Bayeux on the first day, with all the beaches (other than Utah), linked with a front line 10 to 16 kilometres (6 to 10 mi) from the beaches; none of these objectives were achieved.[46] The five bridgeheads were not connected until 12 June, by which time the Allies held a front around 97 kilometres (60 mi) long and 24 kilometres (15 mi) deep.[143] Caen, a major objective, was still in German hands at the end of D-Day and would not be completely captured until 21 July.[144] Nearly 160,000 troops crossed the English Channel on 6 June, and more than two million Allied troops were in France by the end of August.[145]

Cherbourg

Main articles: Battle of Cherbourg and Bombardment of Cherbourg

 

In the western part of the lodgement, US troops were to occupy the Cotentin Peninsula, especially Cherbourg, which would provide the Allies with a deep water harbour. The terrain behind Utah and Omaha was characterised by bocage, with thorny hedgerows on embankments 3 to 4 feet (0.91 to 1.2 m) high with a ditch on either side.[146] Many areas were additionally protected by rifle pits and machine-gun emplacements.[147] Most of the roads were too narrow for tanks.[146] The Germans had flooded the fields behind Utah with sea water for up to 2 miles (3.2 km) from the coast.[148] German forces on the peninsula included the 91st Infantry Division and the 243rd and 709th Static Infantry Divisions.[149] By D+3 the Allied commanders realised that Cherbourg would not quickly be taken, and decided to cut off the peninsula to prevent any further reinforcements from being brought in.[150] After failed attempts by the inexperienced 90th Infantry Division, Major General J. Lawton Collins, the VII Corps commander, assigned the veteran 9th Infantry Division to the task. They reached the west coast of the Cotentin on 17 June, cutting off Cherbourg.[151] The 9th Division, joined by the 4th and 79th Infantry Divisions, took control of the peninsula in fierce fighting from 19 June; Cherbourg was captured on 26 June. By this time the Germans had destroyed the port facilities, which were not brought back into full operation until September.[152]

Caen

Main article: Battle for Caen

Operations in the Battle for Caen.

 

Fighting in the Caen area versus the 21st Panzer, the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, and other units soon reached a stalemate.[153] During Operation Perch, XXX Corps attempted to advance south towards Mont Pinçon. They soon abandoned the direct approach in favour of a pincer attack to encircle Caen. XXX Corps attempted a flanking move from Tilly-sur-Seulles towards Villers-Bocage, while I Corps tried to pass Caen to the east. I Corps' attack was quickly halted. While XXX Corps briefly captured Villers-Bocage, their lead armoured elements were ambushed, initiating a day-long battle (the Battle of Villers-Bocage). The British were forced to withdraw to Tilly-sur-Seulles.[154][155] After a delay because of storms during 17–23 June, Operation Epsom was launched on 26 June, an attempt by VIII Corps to swing around and attack Caen from the south-west and establish a bridgehead south of the Odon.[156] Although the operation failed to take Caen, the Germans suffered heavy tank losses and had committed every available Panzer unit to the operation.[157] Rundstedt was dismissed on 1 July and replaced as OB West by Field Marshal Günther von Kluge after remarking that the war was now lost.[158] Caen was severely bombed on the night of 7 July and then occupied north of the River Orne in Operation Charnwood on 8–9 July.[159] Two offensives, Operation Atlantic and Operation Goodwood during 18–21 July, captured the rest of Caen and the high ground to the south, but by then the city was nearly destroyed.[160] Hitler survived an assassination attempt on 20 July.[161]

Breakout from the beachhead

 

After securing territory in the Cotentin Peninsula as far south as Saint-Lô, the U.S. First Army launched Operation Cobra on 25 July, and advanced further south to Avranches. This goal was reached on 1 August.[162] Lieutenant General George S. Patton's U.S. Third Army, activated on 1 August, quickly took most of Brittany and territory as far south as the Loire, while the First Army maintained pressure eastward toward Le Mans to protect their flank. By 3 August, Patton and the Third Army were able to leave a small force in Brittany and drive eastward towards the main concentration of German forces south of Caen.[163] Meanwhile, the British launched Operation Bluecoat on 30 July to secure Vire and the high ground of Mont Pinçon.[164] Over Kluge's objections, on 4 August Hitler ordered a counter-offensive (Operation Lüttich) from Vire towards Avranches.[165]

Map showing the break-out from the Normandy beachhead and the formation of the Falaise Pocket, August 1944.

 

While II Canadian Corps pushed south from Caen toward Falaise in Operation Totalize on 8 August,[166] Bradley and Montgomery realised that there was an opportunity for the bulk of the German forces to be trapped at Falaise. Patton's Third Army continued to encircle around from the south, reaching Alençon on the 11th. Although Hitler continued to insist until the 14th that his forces should counter-attack, Kluge and his officers began planning a retreat eastward.[167] The German forces were severely hampered by Hitler's insistence on making all major decisions himself, which left his forces without orders for periods as long as 24 hours while information was sent back and forth to the Führer's residence at Obersalzberg in Bavaria.[168] On the evening of 12 August, Patton asked Bradley if his forces should continue northward to close the gap and encircle the German forces. Bradley refused, because Montgomery had already assigned the First Canadian Army to take the territory from the north.[169][170] The Canadians met heavy resistance and captured Falaise on 16 August. The gap was closed on 21 August, trapping 50,000 German troops,[171] but more than a third of the German 7th Army and nine of the eleven Panzer divisions had escaped to the east. Montgomery's decision-making regarding the Falaise Gap was criticised at the time by American commanders, especially Patton, although Bradley was more sympathetic and believed Patton would not have been able to close the gap.[172] The issue has been the subject of much discussion among historians, criticism being levelled at American, British and Canadian forces.[173][174][175] Hitler relieved Kluge of his command of OB West on 15 August and replaced him with Field Marshal Walter Model. Kluge committed suicide on 19 August after Hitler became aware of his involvement in the 20 July plot.[176][177] An invasion in southern France (Operation Dragoon) was launched on 15 August.[178]

British infantry aboard Sherman tanks wait for the order to advance, near Argentan, 21 August 1944.

 

The French Resistance in Paris rose against the Germans on 19 August.[179] Eisenhower initially wanted to bypass the city to pursue other targets, but amid reports that the citizens were going hungry and Hitler's stated intention to destroy it, de Gaulle insisted that it should be taken immediately.[180] French forces of the 2nd Armoured Division under General Philippe Leclerc arrived from the west on 24 August, while the U.S. 4th Infantry Division pressed up from the south. Scattered fighting continued throughout the night, and by the morning of 25 August Paris was liberated.[181]

 

Operations continued in the British and Canadian sectors until the end of the month. On 25 August, the U.S. 2nd Armored Division fought its way into Elbeuf, making contact with British and Canadian armoured divisions.[182] The 2nd Canadian Infantry Division advanced into the Forêt de la Londe on the morning of 27 August. The area was strongly held; the 4th and 6th Canadian brigades sustained heavy casualties over the course of three days as the Germans fought a delaying action in terrain well suited to defence. The Germans pulled back on the 29th, withdrawing over the Seine on the 30th.[182] On the afternoon of the 30th, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Division crossed the Seine near Elbeuf and entered Rouen to a jubilant welcome.[183]

Campaign close

 

Eisenhower took direct command of all Allied ground forces on 1 September. Concerned about German counter-attacks and the limited materiel arriving in France, he decided to continue operations on a broad front rather than attempting narrow thrusts.[184] The linkup of the Normandy forces with the Allied forces in southern France occurred on 12 September as part of the drive to the Siegfried Line.[185] On 17 September, Montgomery launched Operation Market Garden, an unsuccessful attempt by Anglo-American airborne troops to capture bridges in the Netherlands to allow ground forces to cross the Rhine into Germany.[184] The Allied advance slowed due to German resistance and the lack of supplies (especially fuel). On 16 December the Germans launched the Ardennes Offensive, also known as the Battle of the Bulge, their last major offensive of the war on the Western Front. A series of successful Soviet actions began with the Vistula–Oder Offensive on 12 January. Hitler committed suicide on 30 April as Soviet troops neared his Führerbunker in Berlin, and Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945.[14]

Canadian soldiers with a captured Nazi flag

 

The Normandy landings were the largest seaborne invasion in history, with nearly 5,000 landing and assault craft, 289 escort vessels, and 277 minesweepers.[107] They hastened the end of the war in Europe, drawing large forces away from the Eastern Front that might otherwise have slowed the Soviet advance. The opening of another front in western Europe was a tremendous psychological blow for Germany's military, who feared a repetition of the two-front war of World War I. The Normandy landings also heralded the start of the "race for Europe" between the Soviet forces and the Western powers, which some historians consider to be the start of the Cold War.[186]

 

Victory in Normandy stemmed from several factors. German preparations along the Atlantic Wall were only partially finished; shortly before D-Day Rommel reported that construction was only 18 per cent complete in some areas as resources were diverted elsewhere.[187] The deceptions undertaken in Operation Fortitude were successful, leaving the Germans obliged to defend a huge stretch of coastline.[188] The Allies achieved and maintained air superiority, which meant that the Germans were unable to make observations of the preparations underway in Britain and were unable to interfere via bomber attacks.[189] Transport infrastructure in France was severely disrupted by Allied bombers and the French Resistance, making it difficult for the Germans to bring up reinforcements and supplies.[190] Much of the opening artillery barrage was off-target or not concentrated enough to have any impact,[191] but the specialised armour worked well except on Omaha, providing close artillery support for the troops as they disembarked onto the beaches.[192] The indecisiveness and overly complicated command structure of the German high command was also a factor in the Allied success.[193]

Casualties

Allies

American assault troops injured while storming Omaha

 

From D-Day to 21 August, the Allies landed 2,052,299 men in northern France. The cost of the Normandy campaign was high for both sides.[12] Between 6 June and the end of August, the American armies suffered 124,394 casualties, of whom 20,668 were killed.[e] Casualties within the First Canadian and Second British Armies are placed at 83,045: 15,995 killed, 57,996 wounded, and 9,054 missing.[f] Of these, Canadian losses amounted to 18,444, with 5,021 killed in action.[194] The Allied air forces, having flown 480,317 sorties in support of the invasion, lost 4,101 aircraft and 16,714 airmen (8,536 members of the USAAF, and 8,178 flying under the command of the RAF).[12][195] The Free French SAS paratroopers suffered 77 killed, with 197 wounded and missing.[196] Allied tank losses have been estimated at around 4,000, with losses split evenly between the American and British/Canadian armies.[13] Historians slightly differ on overall casualties during the campaign, with the lowest losses totaling 225,606[197][198] and the highest at 226,386.[199][200]

Germany

German forces surrender in Saint-Lambert-sur-Dive, 21 August 1944

 

German forces in France reported losses of 158,930 men between D-Day and 14 August, just before the start of Operation Dragoon in Southern France.[201] In action at the Falaise pocket, 50,000 men were lost, of whom 10,000 were killed and 40,000 captured.[13] Estimates of German losses for the Normandy campaign range from 400,000 (200,000 killed or wounded; 200,000 captured)[14] to 500,000 (290,000 killed or wounded, 210,000 captured)[10] to 530,000.[15]

 

There are no exact figures regarding German tank losses in Normandy. Approximately 2,300 tanks and assault guns were committed to the battle,[g] of which only 100 to 120 crossed the Seine at the end of the campaign.[10] While German forces reported only 481 tanks destroyed between D-day and 31 July,[201] research conducted by No. 2 Operational Research Section of 21st Army Group indicates that the Allies destroyed around 550 tanks in June and July[202] and another 500 in August,[203] for a total of 1,050 tanks destroyed by enemy action, including 100 destroyed by aircraft.[204] Luftwaffe losses amounted to 2,127 aircraft.[16] By the end of the Normandy campaign, 55 German divisions (42 infantry and 13 panzer) had been rendered combat ineffective; seven of these were disbanded. By September, OB West had only 13 infantry divisions, 3 panzer divisions, and 2 panzer brigades rated as combat effective.[205]

Civilians and French heritage buildings

 

During the liberation of Normandy, between 13,632 and 19,890 French civilians were killed,[18] and more were seriously wounded.[17] In addition to those who died during the campaign, 11,000 to 19,000 Normans are estimated to have been killed during pre-invasion bombing.[17] A total of 70,000 French civilians were killed throughout the course of the war.[17] Land mines and unexploded ordnance continued to inflict casualties upon the Norman population following the end of the campaign.[206]

A British soldier escorts an elderly lady in Caen, July 1944

 

Prior to the invasion, SHAEF issued instructions (later the basis for the 1954 Hague Convention Protocol I) emphasising the need to limit the destruction to French heritage sites. These sites, named in the Official Civil Affairs Lists of Monuments, were not to be used by troops unless permission was received from the upper echelons of the chain of command.[207] Nevertheless, church spires and other stone buildings throughout the area were damaged or destroyed to prevent them being used by the Germans.[208] Efforts were made to prevent reconstruction workers from using rubble from important ruins to repair roads, and to search for artefacts.[209] The Bayeux tapestry and other important cultural treasures had been stored at the Château de Sourches near Le Mans from the start of the war, and survived intact.[210] The occupying German forces also kept a list of protected buildings, but their intent was to keep the facilities in good condition for use as accommodation by German troops.[209]

 

Many cities and towns in Normandy were totally devastated by the fighting and bombings. By the end of the Battle of Caen there remained only 8,000 liveable quarters for a population of over 60,000.[208] Of the 18 listed churches in Caen, four were seriously damaged and five were destroyed, along with 66 other listed monuments.[210] In the Calvados department (location of the Normandy beachhead), 76,000 citizens were rendered homeless. Of Caen's 210 pre-war Jewish population, only one survived the war.[211]

 

Looting was a concern, with all sides taking part—the retreating Germans, the invading Allies (for example British forces looting the Musée des Antiquaires in Caen and Château d'Audrieu near Bayeux), and the local French population.[209] Looting was never condoned by Allied forces, and perpetrators were punished.[212]

War memorials and tourism

The Bény-sur-Mer Canadian War Cemetery

 

The beaches of Normandy are still known by their invasion code names. Significant places have plaques, memorials, or small museums, and guide books and maps are available. Some of the German strong points remain preserved; Pointe du Hoc in particular is little changed from 1944. The remains of Mulberry harbour B still sits in the sea at Arromanches. Several large cemeteries in the area serve as the final resting place for many of the Allied and German soldiers killed in the Normandy campaign.


Edited by Hawkeye60

"Yeah, and though I work in the valley of Death, I will fear no Evil. For where there is one, there is always three. I preparest my aircraft to receive the Iron that will be delivered in the presence of my enemies. Thy ALCM and JDAM they comfort me. Power was given unto the aircrew to make peace upon the world by way of the sword. And when the call went out, Behold the "Sword of Stealth". And his name was Death. And Hell followed him. For the day of wrath has come and no mercy shall be given."

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