Battle of the Bulge
Victory was on the horizon. With Anglo-American forces approaching Germany from the west and Soviet troops advancing from the east, it appeared that the Second World War was coming to a close. Desperate to reverse the Allies momentum, Adolf Hitler ordered a massive counterattack involving three German armies and nearly 1,000 tanks. On the misty winter morning of December 16, 1944, Hitler’s forces attacked out of the densely wooded Ardennes region of Belgium. It was a gamble, but early on, it seemed to be paying off. The Germans disrupted the American line, creating a triangular “bulge” 60 miles deep and 50 miles wide along the Allied front. The ensuing weeks featured some of the fiercest fighting of World War II.
During the Battle of the Bulge, American soldiers were pushed to the limit. At the town of Bastogne, the 101st Airborne Division and the 10th Armored Division were encircled by German forces within the bulge. On December 22, the German commander besieging the town offered an ultimatum to the Americans, surrender or face annihilation. U.S. Major General Anthony McAuliffe responded with a typed reply:
"December 22, 1944
To the German Commander,
The American Commander"
Fierce fighting continued at Bastogne, but the 101st held on. Most importantly, in terms of the overall battle, nearly every American shared General McAuliffe’s resilient attitude. Their spirit could not be broken.
Officers from the 101st Airborne Division pose after the infamous fighting at Bastogne. (Photo: U.S. Army)
At the end of December, a major Allied counter offensive began. By January 21, the Germans had been pushed back to their original line. Hitler’s gamble not only failed, but also came at an enormous cost, suffering an estimated 120,000 casualties. More than that, the Germans lost some 1,600 planes and 700 tanks. With such heavy loses, Germany was unable to launch another major offensive for the remainder of the war.
While originally taken by surprise and pushed back, American grit had persevered at the Battle of the Bulge. Winston Churchill believed it was “undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war.” He was convinced that the Battle of the Bulge would be “regarded as an ever famous American victory.” Churchill was most certainly right.
Three members of an American patrol during the Battle of the Bulge. The men are draped in white bedsheets to camouflage them in the snow. (Photo: U.S. Army)
U.S. forces made tremendous sacrifices during the Battle of the Bulge. Of the 80,000 estimated Allied casualties, all but 5,000 were American. It was a heavy price to pay, but because so many fought with unbreakable conviction, the defeat of Germany in the Second World War was nearly complete.