The Battle of the Ardennes, or Battle of the Bulge as it’s popularly known, was a desperate final throw of the dice by an already defeated regime. The Nazi goal was to split the Allied line in half, capturing Antwerp, and forcing the Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in German favour. After their breakout from Normandy in 1944, the Allies had advanced faster than anticipated.
This created enormous supply problems, slowing them down, and the Nazis seized on this weakness. Their assault began on 16 December 1944, achieving near total surprise. At the time, snowstorms in the area were keeping Allied aircraft grounded, but they also proved troublesome for the Nazis because poor road conditions hampered their movements. The Allies were quick to respond, and within a week 250,000 reinforcement troops had arrived, halting the advance just short of the Meuse River in Belgium on Christmas Eve. Led by General Patton, the counter attack came in early January, with the aim of cutting off the Germans and trapping them in a pocket. The temperature was unseasonably low, and trucks had to be run every half hour otherwise their oil would freeze, and weapons would jam. But the battle went on, and late in the month the objectives were realised.
(Photo: The American Military Cemetery, on the outskirts of Luxembourg City © Tim Skelton)
The exact number of casualties may never be known. At least 8,500 Americans perished, with another 21,000 missing, presumed dead. Around 20,000 Germans died, not counting the 32,000 recorded as ‘missing’. There were also 1,000 British victims, as well as almost 4,000 Belgian and Luxembourgish civilians who were caught in the middle. It was the bloodiest battle that US forces experienced in World War II. And as a result of artillery bombardments, countless villages and towns in Luxembourg and eastern Belgium were virtually wiped off the map. All because a select few in the Nazi high command had refused to accept defeat as inevitable. And what did it achieve? Nothing. In the end it served little purpose other than to prolong the war, and cause untold suff ering on both sides.