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Battle of the Bulge

Battle of the Bulge, also known as Ardennes Counteroffensive, was the major and last large-scale German offensive campaign in WW II. It took place between 16.12.1944. –  25.01.1945. 

What was the plan? Initially, the idea was that Germans troops suppress Allies advancing on the West, split the front in two, then make efforts to encircle and destroy Allied troops. German Army would seize the port of Antwerp and cripple the supply route for the advancing enemy. The success of this operation should make Allies stop their invasion and make a separate peace with Germany. Reserve troops would be relocated to the Eastern front, giving some time to develop next-generation weapons as super-heavy tanks, jet-fighters, U-boats, and V-rockets. 

There was some logic in the initial planning. Allied troops were battle fatigued, supply routes overstretched, supply reserves depleted, frontlines were thin and disorganized. 

Also, offensive operations were protected by grim weather, which had a severe impact on the effectiveness of Allied air forces. Low-positioned clouds and dense fog made air reconnaissance and close air support impossible.  

German initial attack involved more than 400 000 men, 1400 tanks, tank destroyers, assault guns. They were escorted by over 1000 combat aircraft. 

Germans began the assault on 16th December 1944, at 05:30, with a massive artillery barrage across 130 km front. Heavy weather conditions didn’t allow  Allies to recognize the full-scale attack, snowstorms kept planes on the ground, disrupting air reconnaissance. Germans were, also inflicted by harsh weather conditions. Poor road state significantly slowed their attack speed. Weak traffic control led to massive traffic jams, fuel and supply shortages. 

Attack was launched in three sectors, North (6th Panzer Army with Dietrich, followed by Hitzfield, Peiper, Skorzeny), Center ( 5th Panzer Army with von Manteuffel, followed by Lucht, Kruger, Lutwitz) and South (7th Army with Brandenberger, followed by Kniess, Beyer). 

In all three sectors, in the first 3-10 days, Germans managed to inflict significant damage to Allied troops. In Northern Sector, 6th was given priority for supply and equipment to the ultimate goal, Antwerp. Peiper’s troops overwhelmed the 7th Armored division and 285th Field Artillery battalion, between Malmedy and Ligneuville. Around 150 men were captured and disarmed. The SS troopers suddenly opened fire, killing at least 84 POWs. After the war, Joachim Peiper and SS general Sepp Dietrich will be prosecuted as criminals for this act. Initial advancement was constantly slowed down with destroyed bridges, poor road conditions, weather, the fierce resistance of Allied troops. Also, a serious lack of fuel, despite seizing some fuel dumps, made Germans withdraw at Stoumont. In the Center sector, the situation was more than satisfying for advancement. Defensive efforts were a priority in the north, which gave Germans space for rapid capturing of several important villages and crossroads. Shortage of fuel halted them for a day, but they continued to advance for river Meuse. Tough resistance of British troops halted the German offensive by Christmas Day on the narrow corridor. Otto Skorzeny’s troops wreaked havoc behind enemy lines as they successfully infiltrated disguised as American soldiers. They had spread disinformation, cut off communication lines, rearranged road signs, etc. In the South, almost the same situation, rapid German advancement, lines were thin and light defended. Despite fierce resistance, German troops managed to surround Bastogne. And no further. 

The situation drastically changed on 23rd December. Weather conditions started improving, allowing the Air force to attack. Intensive attacks of numerous air units, supply drops in surrounding positions, as well as aerial reconnaissance, change everything in favor of Allies. Also, the German Luftwaffe was seriously decimated, giving no air support for their troops on the ground. One joke explains it well:” If you see the dark plane, it’s English…If you see a silver one, it is American. If you see no planes, it is German.” 

Everyone expected a furious counteroffensive, but disunity between Allied commanders and harsh winter with very low temperatures made it almost impossible. Still, reorganized and better equipped Allied troops have started it by 3rd January. The combined efforts of Montgomery and Bradley, with Patton’s rapid advancement, supported with heavy bombing of CAS air groups made the German army retreat to new positions. Hitler granted permission to Gerd von Rundstedt to carry out that operation. All battle positions were abandoned, and by the 25th January 1945., German troops were back on starting lines.