THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE

by Jean Milmeister

On 16th December 1944, at 5.30 in the morning, the quiet front of the Ardennes, which was being held by 83.000 American soldiers, awoke to bombardment by the German artillery, as the German armies with around 250.000 men launched the Ardennes Offensive between Monschau in the north and Echternach in the south.

In his three armies Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, the Commander-in-Chief West, had 7 armored and 14 infantry or paratroop divisions at his disposal.

The 6th Panzer Army, under SS-Oberstgruppenführer Sepp Dietrich, was to form the focal point of the Army group B in the north, and advance towards Antwerp.

The 5th Panzer Army, under the command of General der Panzertruppen Hasso von Manteuffel, in the center section, was to support the 6th Panzer Army.

The 7th Army, under General der Panzertruppen Erich Brandenberger, was to secure the left flank of the attack.

By way of the Ardennes Offensive, Hitler wanted to take the port of Antwerp away from the Allies again, asa it was so important for supplies, to surround the 21st British Army Group in the north led by Field Marshal Bernard L. Montgomery, and to push it into the sea in a second Dunkirk. With it he hoped to increase the Anglo-American differencies, and to achieve a cease-fire in the west, which would provide him with the necessary freedom of action to concentrate on the Eastern Front.

With Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army three lieutenant colonels were to aid the advance with their task forces: Obertsleutnant Friedrich von der Heydte was to descend with his paratroops on the Hohe Venn and keep open the “Baraque Michel” crossroad (“Operation Stösser”), SS-Obersturmbannführer Otto Skorzeny was to take the Meuse bridges with his Panzer Brigade 150 with American uniforms and vehicles (“Operation Greif”) and SS-Obersturmbannführer Jochen Peiper was to rush for the Meuse bridges with his combat command of the 1st SS Panzer Divvision “Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler”. But the 6th Panzer Army, upon which Hitler had pinnend his greatest hopes, recorded only an insignificant gain in territory.

Neither did Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army make desired progress. The bridge-building at Dasburg and Gemünd, where the 2nd Panzer Division, the Panzer-Lehr Division and the 26th Volksgrenadier Division were to cross the our River, required more time then had been anticipated.

But even after the crossing of the Our, the 5th Panzer Army did not move forward as expected since the soldiers of the 110th Regiment of the 28th US Infantry Division desperately defended themselves in Marnach, Clervaux, Munshausen, Holzthum, Consthum and Wahlhausen.

In St. Vith the 7th US Armored division held up the German advance for four days, while east of the Our River the 422nd and 423rd Regiment of the 106th US Infantry Division surrendered on 18th December 1944 with 7.000 men.

In the South with the 7th German Army under General der Panzertruppen Erich Brandenberger, the 7th Parachute Division crossed the Our at Vianden and attacked Wiltz, where the headquarters of the 28th US Infantry Division were located.

The 352nd Volksgrenadier Division crosswed the Our south of Vianden, took Diekirch on 20th December 1944 and Ettelbruck the following day. The 276. Volksgrenadier Division crossed the Sauer River south of Wallendorf and met fierce resistance from Combat Command A of the 9th US Armored Division. The 212th Volksgrenadier Division crossed the Sauer River near Echternach and encountered stiff resistance from the 4th US Infantry Division.

General Eisenhower had given the orders to transfer the 10th US Armored Division from the 3rd Army in France and the 7th US Armored Division from the 9th US Army in the Netherlands and his only (SHAEF) reserve units, the 82nd and 101st US Airborne Division, to the Ardennes front.

The advance guard of Combat Command B of the 10th US Armored Division had arrived in Bastogne on 18th December 1044 and had immediately been given the order to set up road-blocks in Wardin, Longvilly and Noville. When the Panzer-Lehr Division moved on Bastogne on 19th December 1944 the american defensive circle around Bastogne stood firm.

On 22nd December 1944, on the day when Brigadier General Anthony C. Mc Auliffe, the Commander of Bastogne, rejected the German demand for surrender with his legendary commenrt of “Nuts” and when the advance party of 2nd Panzer Division rushed into Celles, 6 kilometers away from Dinant on the Meuse, Lieutenant General George S. Patton Jr., the Commander of the 3rd US Army started a surprise attack against the Ardennes breakthrough. The 4th US Armored Division attacked in the direction of Bastogne, the 26th US Infantry Division pushed towards Wiltz and the 80th US Infantry Division advanced to Ettelbruck while the 5th US Infantry Division attacked in the area of Echternach.

On 2.rd December 1944 the foggy weather lifted and the 9th US Air Force Lieutenant General Hoyt S. Vandenberg attacked the German troops and supply columns.

On 24th December 1944 Field Marshal (Generalfeldmarschall) Gerd von Rundstedt the Commander in Chief West, realized that the Ardennes Offensive had failed.

On 26th December 1944 the 4th US Armored Division advanced to Assenois and broke the German siege after a four-day encirclement.

On 30th December 1944 the German XXXXVII Corps (von Lüttwitz) attacked from the west and the XXXIX Corps (Decker) from the east in order to break through the American corridor to Bastogne in a pincer mouvement and to reform the surrounding cordon.

On 3rd January1945, on the day when Hitler ordered that the situation near Bastogne should under all circumstances be settled, the 1st US Army attacked in the north and the XXX British Corps (Horrocks) struck back from the west.

On 9th January 1945 Patton’s 3rd US Army, which had been reinforced by the 6th US Cavalry Group, the 35th and 90th Infantry Division made an attack on the curving front-southeast of Bastogne in order to cut it off at its base. The 90th US Infantry Division secretely pushed through the positions of the 26th US Infantry Division, which was still tangled up in a murderous battle at “Carrefour Schumann”. Large elements of the 5th German Parachute Division were surrounded and taken prisonner.

On 12th January 1945 the Red Army, with 150 divisions began an offensive, eleven days earlier than planned, and forced Hitler to send to the Eastern Front his SS Panzer Divisions, which he had intended to spearhead the attack, and which could neither make decisive territorial gains, nor in a second assault take the important traffic intersection of Bastogne.

Onb 16th January 1945, General Patton drove a unit of 60 vehicles of the 11th US Armored Division through the forest to Houffalize, where they made contact with the 2nd US Armored Division of the 1st US Army (Hodges). With that, the German Ardennes Offensive which Churchill later christened”the Bulge” was cut off.

The connection between Bradley’s 12th Army Group and Hodges’ 1st Army, which had temporarily been put under the command of Montgomery’s 12st Army Group was recreated.

On 18th January 1945 Patton’s 3rd Army, with the 80th, 5th and 4th Infantry Division, crossed the Sauer River between Dahl and Wallendorf to cut the German salient at its base.

Wiltz was liberated on 21st January 1945 by the 26th US Infantry Division and th 6th Cavalry Group, Troisvierges on the 23rd January 1945 by the 6th US Armored Division and Clervaux on the 25th January 1945 by the 26th US Infantry Division.

At the end of January 1945, six weeks after the beginning of the Ardennes Offensive, the German troops had been forced back to their starting positions at the borders of the Reich.

On 7th February 1945, the 3rd US Army crossed the border rivers Sauer and Our and 12th February 1945, elements of the 6th US Cavalry Group liberated Vianden. Now the whole of Luxembourg was free once again.

In Hitler’s last desperate Battle the Americans had 83.987 casualties: 10.276 killed, 47.493 wounded and 23.218 missing in action. Of the 23.218 declared missing, 15.000 can be counted as taken prisonner, so there remain some 8.000 who can be presumed killed, making a total number of 19.000.

The German casualties amounted to 81.834: 12.652 killed, 38.600 wounded and 30582 declared missing in action. If one reckons that of the 30.582 declared missing, some 16.000 were taken prisoner, the number of killed rises to 26.000.

The British losses were 200 killed, 239 declared missing in action and 969 wounded, making a total of 1.408 casualties.