7 Things You Need To Know About The Battle Of The Bulge

On 16 December 1944, what Winston Churchill called “the greatest American battle of the war” began…

hitler

1. IT WAS HITLER'S LAST BIG PUSH

The Battle of the Bulge - so-named because of the massive dent it made in the Allied lines - was Hitler's last, go-for-broke gambit to turn the war around. With the D-Day landings having successfully taken place some months before, many Allied soldiers assumed the war was virtually done and dusted. They hadn't counted on Hitler's brazen plan to send almost a quarter of a million troops through the forested Ardennes region, in an attempt to split the Allied forces and re-take the Belgian port of Antwerp.

2. IT WAS A COMPLETE SHOCK

The Allied commanders were taken by complete surprise. The Ardennes was regarded as a relatively safe area, with its rugged, tree-filled terrain making a seemingly unsuitable environment for a big German assault. The American divisions stationed in the area were taking advantage of down-time to rest and recuperate, but the serenity was shattered on 16 December, when the Germans attacked out of nowhere. The biggest battle ever to face the United States army had begun.

Adolf Hitler - leader of Nazi Germany.

Adolf Hitler - leader of Nazi Germany.

3. TOP GERMANS HATED THE PLAN

Hatched by Hitler's feverish mind, the attack plan appalled many top German commanders. Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt later recounted that "it was obvious to me the available forces were far too small... in fact no soldier really believed that the aim of reaching Antwerp was really practicable. But I knew by now that it was useless to protest to Hitler about the possibility of anything." Yet Hitler was absolutely adamant, even scrawling the words "Not To Be Altered" on the official plan.

4 THE FIGHTING WAS VICIOUS

The Battle of the Bulge took place in freezing, snow-caked conditions, with desperate soldiers fighting in frighteningly close quarters. Hitler also explicitly ordered his men to act with the kind of merciless brutality which had been more common on the Eastern Front. One of the worst incidents took place in a town called Malmédy, when dozens of unarmed American POWs were mercilessly mown down by machine guns.

5. THERE WERE DIRTY TRICKS

In one of their most cunning moves of the war, the Nazis deployed their own men disguised as Allied troops, to commit acts of sabotage and disruption behind enemy lines. Realising there were imposters in their midst, the Americans became paranoid, and started interrogating each other on the names of American cities, sports teams and other trivia, to catch out the undercover Nazis. This led to farcical scenes, with one top US general being briefly arrested by his own men after giving the wrong answer to a baseball question.

6. THERE WAS A FAMOUS SIEGE

One of the most celebrated examples of Allied bravery came during the German siege of a town called Bastogne. Completely surrounded by the enemy, the American soldiers were sitting ducks. The Germans submitted a note to the trapped troops, saying "There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honourable surrender of the encircled town." The leader of the US troops sent a curt note back, saying:

To the German Commander:
NUTS!
The American Commander.

The plucky soldiers continued to hold the town before being relieved by reinforcements.

7. AFRICAN AMERICANS PLAYED A KEY ROLE

The US army was still segregated at the time, but African American soldiers were brought in to fight alongside their white comrades during the Battle of the Bulge. One unit of black troops, 333rd Field Artillery Battalion, suffered a terrible loss when 11 of its men were separated in the midst of the fighting, and ended up seeking shelter in the home of a Belgian farmer in a small village called Wereth. Discovered there by SS troops, the men were marched to a field where they were maimed, tortured and massacred. They are now remembered and honoured as the "Wereth 11".