Battle of the Bulge

Posted on Wednesday 14th December 2016


At a conference in the Wolf’s Layer deep in the forests of East Prussia, a distracted Fuhrer seemed to be barely listening to the usual litany of bad news from every front, when he sprang out of his reverie to announce that he had made a ‘momentous decision’; he would go over to the offensive! Having suffered hundreds of thousands of casualties in Normandy and on the Eastern Front during 1944, lost immense amounts of material and with the Allies bearing down on the Reich, this astounded his senior generals.

Astonished at the scale of Hitler’s vision, to attack through the Ardennes to cut off and destroy the Northern Allied armies, German commanders argued for a ‘Small Solution’ but Hitler would not be dissuaded from this; his last throw of the dice. He hoped to deliver such a check to the Western Allies that rather than see Europe overrun by the Red Army, they would come in alongside Germany to fight their natural Soviet enemies. It was, however, a plan that von Rundstedt, who was brought out of retirement to lead, gave only a ten per cent chance of success.

Planning went ahead under a blanket of operational security that proved to be almost impenetrable. Hitler insisted on the rigorous application of ‘the need to know’ principal and, for example, a strictly limited number of copies of operation orders, which were personal to specific officers. Anyone who broke these security measures would be shot!

The same suspicion that led the Fuhrer into finally taking such draconian security measures lulled the Allies into a false sense of security. Hitler had for some time suspected that the Allies had a way of accessing information from the heart of his war machine. This he thought would be the work of well-placed spies; he never questioned the security of the Enigma machine or its far more advanced encoding cousin the Lorenz attachment, but signal messages were none the less banned. Conversely, the top Allied commanders had, come to rely on the ‘golden eggs’ of Bletchley Park de-crypts, with which they could read thoughts and plans at the very heart of the heart of the Reich, down to field commanders. With, however, the retreat into the Reich and use of its trusted telephone network, along with Hitler banning any mentioning of the forthcoming offensive in signal traffic, the amount of information coming from Bletchley Park had dropped off significantly. This, combined with the Allies' belief that the Germans were all but defeated and that they lacked the resources for an offensive, led them into that false sense of security and created conditions in which Hitler achieved surprise.

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Bulge : Map 1
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Bulge : Map 2

By any normal calculation based on the defeat of German armies in the summer of 1944 and the state of industry in Germany, a 1918-style collapse could reasonably have been expected. That, however, was to ignore the organisational genius of Armaments Minister Albert Speer and the driving brutality of Heinrich Himmler. The former produced miracles, with war production peaking in 1944 despite the best efforts of the Allied Bomber Barons, while Himmler was finally allowed to put not just the economy but Germany’s entire population into a full war footing.

Fear of inducing a similar 1918 collapse at home prevented Hitler from mobilising Germany for total war until it was too late. Britain in contrast had done so at the outbreak of war.

Despite Germany’s amazing strategic recovery during the Autumn of 1944, there were difficulties of every kind to be surmounted in preparing the offensive. Shattered panzer divisions had to be reconstituted and re-equipped and then there was the question of gathering sufficient fuel to even consider launching the offensive as the Rumanian oil fields were now in Russian hands. Consequently, the planned date for the attack slipped from being launched under the cover of Autumn rains into an increasingly wintery December.

Under a blanket of security, division after division moved into hides in the forested Eifel to the west of the Rhine. With tens of thousands of troops and their armoured vehicles concentrating just beyond the West Wall, eventually Allied suspicions, indeed convictions were aroused but intelligence officers could not shake the Generals out of their belief that nothing was going to happen on what was after all a ‘Ghost Front’. By the time incontrovertible evidence reached Headquarters First US Army it was too late, the offensive was under way.

Attacking with two Panzer armies, Manteufel’s 5th and Dietrich’s 6th SS, plus two flanking armies, the initial objective was to reach the River Meuse and then advance to Brussels and Antwerp, enveloping the Northern Allied armies. To achieve this there were, however, some important nodal points in the Ardennes that needed to be captured early in the operation; two of these were the ‘road octopuses’ of Bastogne in the south and further north, St Vith.

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St Vith TD in action

The German drive for Bastogne by 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr is the subject of the first of Battlefield History TV’s Battle of the Bulge series of DVDs. Shot in the same wintery conditions in which the battle was fought, it covers the advance across the River Our and how the thinly spread 28th US Infantry Division was overwhelmed. In conditions that confined the German armour to roads and tracks, the GIs held on to delay the Germans long enough for 101st Airborne Division to arrive at the vital road junction town of Bastogne.

As a separate full length film, the epic Siege of Bastogne is covered in detail by the BHTV team from the scene of the Band of Brother’s defence in the Foy Woods, via the unlikely heroes of Taskforce SNAFU, through the epic Christmas Day attack by the increasingly desperate Germans, to the relief of Bastogne by General Patton’s 3rd US Army. The film covers not only the fighting on the ground but air combat and re-supply operations, along with the part played by the Belgian civilians in the beleaguered town.

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La Gleize panther KO

St Vith on the boundary of 5th and 6th Panzer Armies saw the collapse of the isolated and very newly arrived 106th US Infantry Division, who had been sent to the Ghost Front of the Ardennes to acclimatise to operations. Here tenacity by many of the ‘Golden Lions’, coupled with the bad weather, difficult ground and the resulting traffic jams that stretched way back into the Reich again delayed the German advance to seize St Vith’s equally vital road junction. With the arrival of 7th US Armoured Division, only just in time, at St Vith, another epic defence was set up. The fight for St Vith, however, was controversially called off by Field Marshal Montgomery, who had taken overall command of the battle on the northern shoulder of what was rapidly becoming a pronounced bulge in the Allied line.

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US POW's and German Tank

The fourth film covers the much-debated march of Germany’s premiere panzer formation Kampfgruppe Peiper. Attacking ahead of them, the hastily reformed Volksgrenadier divisions failed to break through the US lines as quickly as planned. Consequently, the frustrated SS soldiers started their armoured dash to the Meuse at night, on frozen roads and at walking pace! The first tanks were lost to mines almost immediately and the frustration boiled over at Lanzerath into the first of a whole series of atrocities that marked Peiper's route west. The BHTV team follow the Kampfgruppe’s panzerollbhan, to the massacre site at Malmedy, via the battles for the bridges and on to the furthest points reached by Peiper’s King Tigers and Panthers. Retracing their steps to La Gleize where the Kampfgruppe fought a defensive action, finally it is back to the River Our and the withdrawing across the river to join the remainder of the SS Leibstandarte.

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Peiper photograph in colour

Together these films form an unrivalled analysis of the German offensive and the fighting by the US GIs to halt them.

The four Battlefield History TV DVDs covering the early days of the Battle of the Bulge are available on Pen and Sword’s website as a bundle under special offer.

These titles, along with many other Pen and Sword DVDs, will also be available via Battlefield History TV’s Video Player App from mid-January 2017.

Taking it Further


Battle of the Bulge - Saint Vith
(DVD)
ISBN: 5060247621203

by Battlefield History TV
Only £16.99

The Northern most thrust into the wintery Ardennes of General Hasso von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army fell on the inexperienced 105th US Infantry Division, who had not only just arrived in the European Theatre of War but had only been in the line for five days, in what was supposed to be a 'ghost front'. One of the best German infantry divisions reformed as the 18th Volksgrenadiers fell on the over extended Golden Lions dug in on the Schnee Eifel, where two US regiments were surrounded and forced to surrender. Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

Taking it Further


Battle of the Bulge: Kampfgruppe Peiper
(DVD)
ISBN: 5060247620350

by Battlefield History TV
Only £16.99

Sepp Dietrich's Sixth SS Panzer Armee was allocated the main effort in Hitler's last throw of the dice in the West. Under cover of poor winter weather that would ground the Allied air forces they were to punch through weak American positions in the Ardennes to the River Meuse and on to Antwerp cutting off and destroying the northern Allied Armies. The German generals protested that it was too ambitious but Hitler insisted, hoping that his elite SS troops in the Leibstandarte Panzer Division would deliver a war changing victory. Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

Taking it Further


Battle of the Bulge: Siege of Bastogne
(DVD)
ISBN: 5060247620343

by Battlefield History TV
Only £12.99 RRP £16.99

With the Fifth Panzer Army fighting its way towards the River Meuse, the cross roads town of Bastogne, vital for the success of Hitler's last attempt to check the Allies in the west, the Americans rushed reinforcements to hold it. 101st US Airborne Division was resting in reserve near Paris when the call for immediate deployment to the Ardennes came and reached Bastogne just before the German ring around the town closed. Wearing only normal uniforms, the 101st joined the other garrison troops in a siege where they fought not…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...

Taking it Further


Battle of the Bulge: Panzer Marche!
(DVD)
ISBN: 5060247620336

by Battlefield History TV
Only £12.99 RRP £16.99

This is the first of a new series of DVDs that will build into a collection covering all the highlights of this massive and controversial campaign. One that caught the Allies off guard and was fought in terrible weather conditions by some of the best German and Allied troops fighting in the West.

In this section we examine the background to the campaign with a leading American historian before following the advance of one of Hitler's most successful panzer commanders, Hasso von Manteuffel, Fifth Panzer Army. We…
Read more at Pen & Sword Books...
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