Battle of the Bulge, 16 December 1944-25 January 1945

Introduction
The German Plan
The German Forces
The American Forces
The German Surprise Attack – 16-23 December 1944
Bastogne and the defeat of the ‘Tip’, 24-29 December 1944
The Allied Counterattack – 30 December Onwards
Summary
Books

Introduction

The battle of the Bulge (16 December 1944-25 January 1945) was Hitler’s last major offensive in the west, and the largest American battle of the Second World War. Although the Germans managed to gather a sizable army in secret and attacked a weakly held part of the American lines, their attack hardly achieved any of its first day objectives, and as a result by the time they were able to get their panzer divisions into actions, the Americans had moved reinforcements into the area, eliminating any chance that the Germans might have achieved a significant breakthrough.

By December 1944 the front line had reached the Ardennes, the site of the decisive German offensive in 1940. In the north the front line was just across the border into Germany, in the Schnee Eiffel mountains (geologically part of the same upland zone as the Ardennes), while in the south it followed the Our River, which generally formed the border between German and Belgium and then Luxembourg. Just as in 1940 the area was thinly defended by the Allies, largely because they weren’t expecting any sort of German offensive at that stage of the war.

The German Plan

The idea of a counterattack in the Ardennes was conceived in September 1944, during the ‘Great Swan’, which saw the Allies advance rapidly across northern France and into Belgium. Hitler’s plan was to gather a powerful army in the west, hit a weak point in the Allied lines and force the western Allies to retreat. Ideally the British and American armies would be split in two, and a massive pocket created around Antwerp. In Hitler’s most ambitious dreams this would force the Allies to sue for peace, or at least withdraw from the Continent. This would then allow him to concentrate all of his remaining troops in the east, where they would crush the next Soviet offensive, and force Stalin to the negotiation table. Hitler chose the western front for his new offensive because he realised that the forces at his disposal weren’t powerful enough to win a worthwhile victory in the east, while a victory in Italy wouldn’t have any real significance. He also believed that the western Allies wouldn’t be able to respond quickly to the attack, and would become bogged down in arguments back in London and Washington. The Ardennes was chosen as the site of the attack by early September.

In order to create the new army required for his plans, Hitler put in place a series of drastic measures. On the home front Goebbels had been give the authority to find new men, partly by looking for any surplus workers and partly by extending the working week to sixty hours, closing schools and theatres and attempting to cut down the size of the massive Nazi bureaucracy. In the armed forces as many non-combat jobs as possible were eliminated, the age range for military service was expanded from 18-50 to 16-60 and surplus Luftwaffe and Navy personnel were moved to the Army.

Hitler carried out much of the early work himself, but on 16 September he finally announced the plan to Jodl, Kreipe, Keitel and Guderian in a private meeting at the end of the normal daily Fuhrer Conference at the Wolf’s Lair. The generals all pointed out flaws in the plan, but Hitler dismissed them all.

The plan was given the code name 'wacht am Rhein', or 'watch on the Rhine', in the hope that any Allied intelligence agency that discovered the codename would assume it was for a defensive battle on the Rhine.

The secrecy continued. For the next month neither von Rundstedt, who was to command the operation, or Field Marshal Model, whose Army Group B, was actually to carry it out, was informed of the new plan. Jodl and some of his staff appear to have carried out much of the detailed work, and submitted the initial operations plan on 11 October. Five alternatives were considered, with starting points ranging from Holland in the north to Alsace in the south. The northern two – operations Holland and Liege-Aachen were considered to be the best, and the Liege-Aachan plan became the basis for the actual attack, which would be carried out in the area just to the south of those cities. A revised plan was ready ten days later.

On 22 October Hitler finally briefed the chiefs of staff of the commanders who would actually have to carry out the operation – General Westphal for von Rundstedt and General Krebs for Model. It was their job to carry the news back to their respective headquarters. Neither man was convinced by the plan. Model is reported to have said that ‘This plan hasn’t got a damned leg to stand on’. Von Rundstedt thought it was too ambitious for the forces allocated to it, but also called it ‘a stroke of genius’. Each of them produced their own plan for the attack, which were presented to the army commanders who would be involved on 27 October. Between them they came up with a smaller scale plan, for an attack designed to destroy the Allied divisions around Aachen. The battle would be fought east of the Meuse, and Antwerp would not be a target. They presented this ‘small plan’ to Hitler, but unsurprisingly he rejected it. Model and von Rundstedt made a series of attempts to get the plan modified, but when the final plan was issued on 9 December it was almost identical to the plan of 22 October.

The German Forces

As part of the overall attempt to prop up the German war effort, a new type of division was formed – the Volksgrenadier Divisions. These are sometimes mixed up with the Volkssturm¸ the desperate last ditch militia that took part in some of the final battles in Germany, but they were actually fully professional, well equipped units. They were smaller than normal German infantry divisions – 10,000 men instead of 17,000, but were given a higher number of automatic weapons and were well equipped with panzerfausts. Twenty five of these new divisions were formed, along with ten new Panzer Brigades, which got most of the new Tigers (including the Tiger II) and Panthers. To protect the rest of the line around 100 Fortress Battalions were created, to hold the West Wall and free up younger and fitter troops for the new offensive units.

The Germans managed to gather twenty five divisions, including eleven armoured divisions, for the offensive. The initial assault was to be carried out by thirteen infantry and seven armoured divisions, while another five divisions were allocated to the second wave. The seven armoured divisions had around 970 tanks and assault guns (StuGs etc) and the second wave units could add another 450. Around 1,900 artillery pieces were available to support the attack. In order to provide this level of equipment, other fronts had been denied reinforcements. The Fifteenth Army had around 500 armoured vehicles to protect the northern flank of the attack. The rest of the Western Front only had 400 tanks and assault guns, while the Eastern Front only had 1,500!

Overall command would be held by Field Marshal von Rundstedt, although he was largely chosen because of the prestige of his name. Four armies were involved in the plan.

The main attack was to be carried out by Sepp Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army (later to become the Sixth SS Panzer Army and referred to with that name by Hitler in some of the early planning), which was to attack across the northern part of the Ardennes, cross the Meuse and then dash for Antwerp. The army was to attack on the front between Monschau and Krewinkel.

The Sixth Panzer Army contained three corps.

The leading unit was the I SS Panzer Corps (General Priess), which contained the 1st SS Panzer Division, 12th SS Panzer Division, 3rd Parachute Division, the 150th Panzer Brigade  and the 12th and 277th Volksgrenadier Divisions.

The II SS Panzer Corps (General Bittrich) formed the second wave of the armoured attack and contained the 2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions.

Finally the LXVII Corps (General Hitzfeld) contained the 3rd, 246th, 272nd and 326th Volksgrenadier Divisions.

The main attack would be carried out by the I SS Panzer Corps, on the left. Its three infantry divisions were to punch a hole in the US lines, which the two armoured divisions would then dash through. The LXVII Corps was posted to the right of the I SS Panzer Corps. Once the initial attack had succeeded, all five infantry divisions were to form a protective shield to the north of the armour, which would be advancing west. The army expected the breakthrough to take one day, the Meuse to be reached by the end of the third day and the crossing secured by the fourth day.  

Much to the embarrassment of the SS, this part of the attack was a failure, with very little progress made by Dietrich’s men. The main striking force of this army was built around the 1st SS Panzer Division and 12th SS Panzer Hitler Youth Division, both of which had suffered heavy losses in Normandy, and both of which had committed major war crimes in the past. They would continue to act in the same way during the battle of the Bulge, where Colonel Joachim Peiper’s 1st SS Panzer Regiment would commit a series of atrocities, most famously the Malmedy massacre.

To their left Hasso von Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzer Army was to cross the Meuse, drive west to Brussels and protect the left flank of Dietrich’s army. In the end it would be the Fifth Panzer Army that made the most progress, although it also failed to achieve any of its main objectives, never reaching the Meuse and not getting half way to Brussels.

The Fifth Panzer Army contained four corps – two armoured and two infantry.

The most powerful corps was the XLVII Panzer Corps (General von Luttwitz), which contained the 2nd Panzer Division, 9th Panzer Division, Panzer Lehr Division, 26th Volksgrenadier Division and the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade.

Next was the LVIII Panzer Corps (General Kruger) which contained the 116th Panzer Division and 560th Volksgrenadier Division.

The first of the infantry corps was LXVI Corps (General Lucht), which contained the 18th and 62nd Volksgrenadier Divisions.

The smallest corps was the XXXIX Panzer Corps (General Decker) which only contained the 167th Volksgrenadier Division.

The Fifth Panzer Army included some of the most experienced units in the Germany army. 2nd Panzer Division was well equipped, with 86 tanks (mainly Panthers) and 20 assault guns. Panzer Lehr was experienced, although only had 57 Panzer IVs and Panthers, after being thrown into the fight against Patton in November. The 28th Volksgrenadier Division was one of the few to be as strong as a normal infantry division, with 17,000 men.

A series of main routes, or ‘rollbahn’, were selected for the attack. Dietrich’s Sixth Panzer Army was allocated five, labelled from north to south as Rollbahn A to Rollbahn E. Von Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzer Army was only allocated two, although the southern of these split in two as it passed Bastogne. Notably none of the original routes passed through St. Vith,

The main attack was to be protected by General Erich Brandenberger’s Seventh Army in the south and General Gunther Blumentritt’s Fifteenth Army in the north. Their task was to guard against any Allied counterattacks from the north or south.

One of the most controversial of the attacking forces was Otto Skorzeny’s panzer brigade, which was equipped with captured American tanks and equipment, and its men to wear American uniforms. Their job was to spread terror and confusion behind American lines, and capture the key bridges over the Meuse (Operation Greif). They achieved great success in their first task, but failed in their more important second. A parachute unit was also allocated to the attack, with the job of capturing key points on the road west (Operation Stosser), but this operation was a total failure.

In total the Germans had assembled an army of 300,000 men, 1,900 guns and 970 tanks and assault vehicles, at a time in the war when the Allies believed that they were beaten, and the only question was the quickest way to finish the war.

The German attack was aided by the weather. Rain and fog hit for several days before the attack, which reduced the amount of allied reconnaissance flights. The bad weather also lasted for several days after the attack began, reducing the amount of close air support available.

The German build-up was carried out with an impressive level of skill. Part of the force assembled to the north, in the area around Cologne that was the target of the current American offensives. In this area the preparations were very visible, to draw Allied attention away from the Ardennes. The main force assembled in the Eifel, oppose the Ardennes, in great secrecy. Radio silence meant that the Allies received no warning through Ultra. Most movement to the area was carried out at night, using trains that hid in tunnels during the day. By the time the offensive began some 10,000 car loads of supplies had been moved to the area, carrying 144,735 tons of supplies. This effort took longer than expected, so the attack was postponed from 1 November to 25 November, then to 10 December, 15 December and finally 16 December. 

The Allies did pick up some signs that something was in the area – increased motor traffic, Tiger tanks on railway flatcars, long hospital trains near the Rhine and so forth, but most intelligence officers came to the conclusion that these were related to the fighting east of Aachen or further south in the Saar. Colonel Benjamin A. Dickson, head of intelligence of the First Army, argued in favour of a counterattack, initially placing it to the north of the Ardennes, before on 14 December changing his mind and moving it to the Ardennes. However he was only one voice, and was seen as being in need of a rest, so was sent on leave to Paris to celebrate his birthday.

The American Forces

The initial attack would hit six American divisions, on the border between Hodges’ US First Army in the north and Patton’s US Third Army in the south. The vast bulk of the fighting on the ground on the Allied side would be done by US troops. The initial attack hit the First Army, while the first major Allied counterattacks came from the Third.

The number of US divisions wasn’t the only problem. Because the Ardennes was believed to be a quiet area, most of those divisions were weaker than normal. The 99th Division and 106th Division were both green units, with the 106th only having reached the front on 11 December. To their south were the 4th and 28th Divisions, both of which had suffered heavy losses in the Hurtgen Forest.

Hetzer abandoned at Kesternich, 1944
Hetzer abandoned
at Kesternich, 1944

On the American left was General Gerow’s V Corps. This contained five infantry divisions, two armoured combat commands and a cavalry group, although only two of the infantry divisions would be caught up in the initial attack. On the left was the 8th Infantry Division. In the centre was the newly arrived 78th Infantry Division. On the right was the 99th Infantry Division. On 13 December V Corps attacked towards the Roer and Urft dams, using the 78th and the 2nd Infantry Divisions (moved up from the corps rear area). The attack began well, but by 15 December had bogged down. On the left the 78th Division was involved in battles in the villages of Rollesbroich and Kesternich, while on the right the 2nd Division was fighting in the Monschau Forest. When the German attack began the 99th Division was the worst hit of Gerow’s divisions, but the 2nd Division was also caught up in the fighting.

To their right was General Middleton’s VIII Corp. It had the 106th Infantry Division, which had just replaced the 2nd Division at St. Vith, the 28th Infantry Division, the 4th Infantry Division and the green 9th Armoured Division, which was allocated to the attack on the dams. The junction between the V and VIII Corps was held by a task force from the 14th Cavalry Group. The 106th Infantry held the corps left, bordering the V Corps. In the centre was the 28th Infantry, along the Our River. To their right was a combat command from the 9th Armoured Division. On the corps right was the 4th Infantry Division, which held the line down to the junction with Patton’s Third Army.

Perhaps the biggest mistake on the German side was underestimating how quickly the Americans could react to their attack, both to flood in reinforcements and to make key decisions on the ground. The 7th and 10th Armoured Divisions and the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions were all committed almost immediately. Patton’s Third Army was able to quickly disengage along most of its front and launch a counterattack from the south much more quickly than expected. As the battle went on the Americans were able to flood more and more troops into the battle.

Although the exact numbers aren’t entirely clear, the Americans started the battle quite badly outnumbered in the Ardennes, but by 24 December they outnumbered the Germans by about 100,000 and by 2 January that had risen to 300,000! The same was true in armour, with over 1,600 tanks and 1,700 tank destroyers and assault guns committed by 24 December, making the Germans outnumbered by three to one. 

Very few British ground troops were directly involved in the battle, but XXX Corps did take over along the line of the Meuse, acting as a ‘back stop’. 3rd Royal Tank Regiment even got involved in a small scale clash with the very tip of the German advance.

 

The German Surprise Attack – 16-23 December 1944

16 December

When the attack began on 16 December some parts of the Allied front line were quickly over run. The offensive began at 5.30am with a massive artillery bombardment, which caused a great deal of confusion in some parts of the American lines, but also alerted the men on the front line that something was about to happen. After about an hour the bombardment ended, and the Germans turned on their searchlights, aiming them at the low clouds to create artificial ‘moonlight’

When the attack began, most American units found themselves fighting individual, isolated battles. Most telephone lines were cut, and it took some time for the radio network to come into action after a quiet period when it hadn’t really been needed. For some time after the attack began the American higher command was unaware that anything unusual was going on (at 9.30am Bradley left his HQ in Luxembourg to visit Eisenhower unaware that a battle was raging only twenty miles to the north). When the news did begin to filter through most units believed they were facing an isolated counter-attack, and the full scale of the German attack didn’t become entirely clear until the following day.

In the south the German Seventh Army faced one US infantry division and one armoured battalion. The battered 4th Infantry was at the southern end of the battlefield. To their north a battalion from the inexperienced 9th Armoured Division had been allocated a three mile stretch of front to gain combat experience.

The 4th Infantry fought well, holding out near Echternach, and generally preventing the Germans from advancing far, although many of their more isolated outposts were overrun. In the centre the battalion from the 9th Armoured was hit by a 1,000 round artillery bombardment, and then its position infiltrated by an attacking German division.

Southern Front – Fifth Panzer Army

There was a mixed picture on von Manteuffel’s V Panzer Army front. On his far right his troops were able to sweep away a light force from the 18th Cavalry Squadron, part of the 14th Cavalry Gap, in the Losheim Gap, and get around the northern end of the Schnee Eifel. However the attack at the southern end of the same hills was held up all day by the 106th Division, which had only gone into the line five days earlier. To their south two corps were sent against the 28th Infantry Division, which was holding a line along a ridge west of the Our River. 58th Panzer Corps was to attack the left flank of the 28th, then dash into the gap between Bastogne and St. Vith. 47th Panzer Corps was to attack the right flank of the 28th, capture bridges across the Our and Clerf rivers on the first day of the battle and then attack towards Bastogne. On the first day of the battle none of their targets were achieved. The infantry from the 58th Panzer Corps was held up by the experienced veterans of the 112th Infantry Regiment, and failed to capture any of the Our bridges. As a result the 116th Panzer Division was ordered to send tanks south to cross a bridge that had fallen, and advance north up the west bank of the river. On the 47th Panzer Corps front the Our River wasn’t held in strength by the Americans, but the US 110th Infantry Regiment put up an unexpectedly fierce fight in a series of fortified villages. Most held out all day, while the defenders of Hosingen held out for two and a half days and Clervaux for two days. By the end of the first day none of the Clerf bridges were in German hands, giving the Americans time to reinforce Bastogne. One big problem for the Germans was that they had hoped to use infiltration tactics, to bypass any American strong points, but these strong points tended to be on the roads that the Germans needed to open for their armour, so they were often forced into attacking them anyway.

Northern Front – Sixth Panzer Army

What was meant to be the main German attack, by the Sixth SS Panzer Army, hit the inexperienced 99th Infantry Division, which had only been on the front line for about a month. This sector included the northern part of the Losheim Gap, and the Elsenborn ridge. In the middle of the 99th Infantry Division front one American unit was actually attacking. The 2nd Infantry Division had attacked on a narrow front on 13 December as part of the US offensive aimed at the Roer River. Early on 16 December the division captured a key crossroads, and General Hodges was determined to keep pushing. By the afternoon of 16 December General Gerow at V Corps realised that the 2nd Division was in danger of being cut off if it continued to push east, while the Germans on either flank pushed west, but Hodges refused to give permission for the division to withdraw.

The German plan in this sector was for three infantry divisions to break through the American lines and open the way for the 1st and 12th SS Panzer Divisions. The 1st SS was to advance along a series of minor roads running west from Lanzerath to the Meuse at Huy, a distance of 50 miles. To the north the 12th SS was to capture the Elsenborn ridge which would give access to a good road to Malmedy, and from there towards Spa and the Meuse at Amay and Engis near Liege. This was seen as the most important part of the German offensive – control of Malmedy and the Elsenborn ridge would have given the Germans a good defensive position against any counterattack from the north, and also opened up the shortest route to the Meuse and Antwerp.

The 99th Division managed to hold out across most of its front. One key stand came at the southern end of its front, where a force of eighteen men led by Lt Lyle J. Bouck Jr, were patrolling near Lanzerath in the Losheim Gap, south of the division’s main front. When the attack began Bouck managed to get in touch with his regimental HQ and was ordered to stay put as they had a good defensive position. Bouck and his men had chanced upon the perfect position for a small infantry force to delay the German advance. The main forces that were meant to be heading into the gap were actually delayed further east by a broken bridge, leaving the infantry of the 3rd Parachute Division to clear the way. One battalion from that division advanced along the road towards Lanzerath, but when the first group of 200 men approached Bouck’s position they were caught by surprise, ambushed and forced to abandon their first attack. A second attack at about noon and a third attack in the early afternoon were also repulsed. Bouck and his surviving men were finally forced to surrender in the late afternoon after running short of ammo, and were taken into Lanzerath.

The 12th Volksgrenadier Division also made very little progress on 16 December, but this time the problem was caused by a missing bridge, over a railway just outside Losheim. This caused a massive traffic jam that slowed down both the infantry and Peiper’s armoured regiment. Peiper didn’t even reach Loshiem until 7.30pm. Once he managed to get past that obstacle he ran into a German minefield, which he passed by ordering his tanks to drive straight across it. This cost him five tanks and five other vehicles, but it did at least allow him to reach Lanzerath just after midnight on 16-17 December.

The German attack had caught the Americans almost entirely by surprise, and in some areas the American line had crumbled. The Germans had started to create a gap in the Allied lines between Saint Vith and Bastogne, but they had failed to achieve their ambitious aims for the first day of the battle. The gap in the line wasn’t as big as the Germans had expected, with the Americans holding on at both ends of the battlefield. Malmedy, Saint-Vith and Bastogne were all still in American hands, so none of the main roads west to the Meuse were open. Although Saint-Vith would eventually fall, the siege of Bastogne became one of the great epics of the battle. The 101st Airborne, still recovering from Market-Garden, was rushed to the town and helped hold it to the end of the battle.

On the American side confusion reigned at the end of 16 December. The scale and purpose of the German attack was still unclear. Several divisions had been overrun, and an enemy that was believed to be close to defeat had proved to be far more resilient and dangerous than anyone had believed. The confusion was greatly increased by one of the more daring German operations of the attack, which saw around 150 Germans in captured American uniforms get behind American lines to cause disruption. They told tales of outlandish German successes, posed as Military Police, and even managed to reach the Meuse, where one captured team managed to convince the Americans that they had been on their way to Paris to assassinate Eisenhower! As a result Eisenhower was almost imprisoned in his own HQ for several days, while anyone travelling around near the battlefield was likely to be stopped and questioned about American popular culture.

At the highest levels the atmosphere was more relaxed. Hodges believed that this was a spoiling attack designed to disrupt the attack on the dams, but did release CCA of the 9th Armoured Division to support VIII Corps. Bradley reached Eisenhower’s HQ where news of the attack reached them both. Bradley believed it was only a small-scale attack, designed to draw American attention away from Patton’s planned attack into the Saar. Eisenhower wasn’t so sure, and decided to commit two of his four reserve divisions, the 7th and 10th Armoured Divisions, to the Ardennes. The 10th was with Patton’s army, but after protesting about its loss he quickly got the unit moving north. The 7th was coming from the north. This only left two uncommitted US divisions, the 82nd and 101st Airborne, both of which were still recovering from Operation Market Garden. Both divisions would soon be committed to the action, with the 101st famously going to Bastogne while the 82nd was sent to the Houffalize sector.

 

Sunday 17 December

Southern Front – Fifth Panzer Army

On von Manteuffel’s front the attack on the 106th Division on the Schnee Eiffel was renewed, and by the end of the day some 8,000-9,000 US troops were trapped on the hills. The key moment came early in the day, when the two prongs of the German attack met up at Schonberg, to the west of the Schnee Eiffel. US reinforcements were on the way, but couldn’t possible arrive in time. The two trapped regiments from the 106th played little further part in the battle and had to surrender two days later.

The southernmost regiment from the 106th was rather luckier. The German advance threatened to cut it off to the east of the Our, but a combination of successful delaying actions and the arrival of Combat Command B of the 9th Armoured Division meant that the 424th Infantry Regiment was able to retreat safely across the Our on the night of 17-18 December. The 424th and the tanks then formed a new defensive line along the Our, where they were joined by the first troops from the 7th Armoured Division.

Further south Clervaux fell late in the afternoon, giving the Germans access to its bridge over the Clerf.

The Americans continued to rush reinforcements to the area. Hodges asked for the last two divisions from the SHAEF reserve, the 82nd and 101st Airborne, and Eisenhower agreed to commit them. The 82nd Airborne was sent to Warbomont, on the northern flank of the bulge, to form a line to the west of Pieper’s advance, while the 101st Airborne was sent into Bastogne. By the end of 17 December around 60,000 troops were heading to reinforce Hodges

Northern Front – Sixth Panzer Army

Tiger II with Henschel Turret
Tiger II with Henschel Turret
The most notorious incident during the entire battle took place on 17 December. Peiper’s panzers made impressive progress during the day, but everywhere they went they committed war crimes. This started at Honsfeld, one of the next villages along the road from Lanzerath, where they killed a number of surrendering soldiers. He then diverted north to Bullingen, on 12th Panzer’s road, to refuel his tanks at a captured US depot. On the way more prisoners were murdered. This was repeated at Bullingen, where a civilian was also murdered. Peiper’s men then returned to their original route, and by noon had reached Baugnez, about two and a half miles south of Malmedy. There his men captured 140 men from Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. Most of the Americans were captured, taken into a nearby field and murdered. Eighty six American soldiers were killed in what became known as the Malmedy Massacre. News quickly spread, after some of the survivors of the massacre managed to escape and reached US lines. If the massacre had been part of a deliberate attempt to spread terror it backfired and instead served to stiffen the resolve of most US units, as well as hardening attitudes towards the SS (there also may have been a similar Allied war crime at Chenogne on 1 January 1945). Peiper continued to push west, but then stopped just short of Stavelot. This decision ended any real chance of Peiper reaching the Meuse – his unit was able to make some more progress in the next few days but never regained its initial momentum. It became isolated from the rest of the 1st SS Panzer Division, and was eventually forced to make a breakout after suffering heavy losses.

On the northern front Hodges now realised that the German attack was serious. He cancelled the 2nd Division attack and ordered the division to withdraw. General Gerow was given permission to carry out whatever defensive moves he required. He ordered the 1st Infantry Division to move from its rest position near Aachen. The 2nd Division retreat was carried out skilfully, with the leading battalions withdrawing back through their rear units, which then repeated the process.

On the German side the 12th Volksgrenadiers and 12th SS Panzer renewed their attacks and were finally able to capture Losheimergraben, but to the north they were unable to capture the twin villages, which were now held by a mixed force from the 2nd and 99th Divisions. The 2nd Division HQ at Wirtzfeld, west of the twin villages, was briefly threatened by part of Peiper’s force coming from Bullingen, but a mixed force held them off until a battalion from the US 23rd Regiment arrived. They were helped by Peiper’s focus on his dash west, which saw him miss one that one chance to disrupt the defence of the Eisenborn ridge. 

18 December

Southern Front – Fifth Panzer Army

In the south the Americans built two roadblocks on the road west from Clevaux to Bastogne. The first was overrun by 2pm, and the second on the night of 18-19 December, but they did at least slow down the German advance. This day also saw the Germans get across the Clerf at several locations. Late in the day the first elements from the 101st Airborne began to assemble just to the west of Bastogne.  At the same time three armoured task forces from the 10th Armoured Division were pushed out on key roads north and east of Bastogne, where they would absorb the first German attacks.

On the German side the leading elements of Panzer Lehr was approaching from the east. However after reaching Niederwampach, only six miles to the east, General Bayerlein decided to take a muddy shortcut, and took four hours to reach Mageret, on the Bastogne-Longvilly road. This move did mean that he cut off one of the three armoured task forces, but also delayed him for the entire day.

Northern Front – Sixth Panzer Army

In the north the 12th SS Panzer Division launched a new assault on the twin villages, but once again it was defeated, this time by a combination of the infantry of the 2nd and 99th Divisions in the villages, and artillery fire from the Elsenborn Ridge. By the end of the day the 2nd Division had completed its retreat to the villages, and the 99th had completed its move back through the 2nd Division’s new lines. Their resistance so frustrated the Germans that Dietrich was ordered to abandon the frontal assault, and late on 18 December the 12th SS Panzer Division was ordered to move south in an attempt to outflank the twin villages and reach the Malmedy road from the south. This attack also failed, as the heavy tanks became bogged down on the muddy roads.

Peiper attacked at Stavelot early in the day, and was able to get into the town after the demolition of a key bridge failed. After a fierce battle in the town, part of Peiper’s column pushed west towards Trois-Ponts, leaving a detachment to deal with Americans still holding out in the town. This detachment committed yet more war crimes, this time murdering both POWs and civilians. The American defenders eventually retreated north, with the Germans in pursuit. By turning west with most of his panzers Peiper had missed yet another chance to have a real impact on the battle. A mile north of Stavelot, on the road to Francorchamps (now famous for the Spa-Francorchamps race track), was a massive US fuel dump with around two million gallons of fuel in 400,000 five gallon jerry cans lining the road as it passed through thick woods. Major Solis and the defenders of Stavelot found this fuel dump almost undefended, but they were able to build a roadblock using the fuel itself. When the first Panzers arrived, the roadblock was ignited, and the resulting fire forced the Germans to pull back. Later in the day a battalion from the 30th Infantry Division arrived to take over the defence of the dump. In the meantime Peiper reached Trois-Ponts, where the Ambleve and Slam rivers meet, but this time the Americans were able to blow the bridges in time. This forced him to move north, then west, to cross the river at Cheneux. However his column was then found by American aircraft, and attacked for two hours. When Peiper was able to get moving again, he ran into another blown bridge at Habiemont.

This was as far as Peiper would ever get. American reinforcements were now arriving in the area, including the 82nd Airborne, which was assembling just to his west. He was forced to retreat back past Cheneux, but he was now isolated. To his rear the Americans soon recaptured Stavelot, cutting him off from the rest of his division. Peiper was now forced onto the defensive around La Gleize, on the north bank of the Ambleve, where he was besieged until 23 December, when he attempted to break out.

19 December

Eisenhower perhaps didn’t appreciate the full scale of the attack until 19 December. On that day he held a meeting at Verdun with Bradley, Patton and Devers present. Patton was ordered to turn north, and despite some grumbling he quickly turned his troops north (Patton’s staff had actually been preparing for just such an attack, allowing him to announce that he could start a counterattack in 72 hours). In the north Eisenhower decided to place Montgomery in command, mainly because Bradley’s HQ was south of the bulge, making it hard for him to command the 1st and 9th Armies to the north. Bradley refused to move his HQ west on the grounds that it would be seen as a retreat and lower the morale of his men. There were also concerns over Hodges’ performance early in the battle, although he soon recovered his balance (as acknowledged later by Montgomery). Montgomery took over on 20 December. This was inevitably a controversial move, as it put a British general in charge of more American soldiers than Bradley. Montgomery’s style of command didn’t help, and he would also inadvertently cause controversy in early January when a press conference he gave after the news of his appointment was leaked by the press was intercepted by the Germans, altered to make it more inflammatory, then broadcast on a German controlled radio station. This modified version was the first to be heard by Bradley and his officers, and it caused great offense.

Northern Front – Sixth Panzer Army

In the north the absence of the 12th SS Panzer Division allowed the defenders of the twin villages to pull back to the Elsenborn ridge, arriving by the end of 19 December. There they joined the veterans of the 1st Division, who now held the line to their right. To their left another veteran division, the 9th, had arrived and joined the line stretching north to Monschau. The Germans continued to attack on this front for several days, but they had lost the chance to make a quick breakthrough, and the key roads in this sector would remain closed to them for the entire battle.

Southern Front – Fifth Panzer Army

The day saw two key battles outside Bastogne. In the north Task Force Desobry at Noville found itself in the path of the 2nd Panzer Division. At first fog hid the two sides from each other, but when it cleared a bitter battle developed. The American armour was joined by a battalion from the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and the Americans even attempted a counterattack. At the end of the day the Americans were still just holding on in Noville, while reinforcements had reached Foy, the next village to the south.

To the east of Bastogne the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment was sent east to support Task Force Cherry on the Longville. This brought them up to Panzer Lehr at Neffe, where the Germans had stopped once again, this time to clear some mines. The appearance of the infantry combined with an artillery bombardment that Bayerlein mis-heard as tank gunfire, unnerved the German general and he decided to prepare for a full scale attack on a non-existence armoured division. However the Germans did have one success on this day, trapped Task Force Cherry at Longville, where they destroyed all of the American tanks and a total of around 100 vehicles. In the evening Bayerlein finally ordered an attack from Neffe and towards Bizory, but this started too late and made little progress.

Further south General Cota, the commander of the 28th Division, ordered the 110th Regiment to try and hold onto the divisional HQ at Wiltz, while he formed a new HQ at Sibret, four miles south of Bastogne. By the end of the day Wiltz was surrounded, and the American defenders were forced to attempt to break out and make their own way west. Most were captured, although the regiment’s executive officer Stickler, who had been leading the defence, eventually reached the division’s new HQ at Vaux-les-Rosieres, nine miles to the south-west of Bastogne, three days later.

Further to the north-west a mix of engineers and other available troops were sent to guard the West Ourthe river. This flows east to join up with the westward flowing East Ourthe just to the west of Houffalize. The combined Ourthe then flows north-west before turning north to flow into the Meuse at Liege.

These small American forces soon found themselves in the path of two full Panzer divisions, the 2nd Panzer Division at Noville and the 116th on the West Ourthe. These two divisions came from different corps, and had different orders. 2nd Panzer was to push west towards Dinant on the Meuse. 116th Panzer was to cross the West Ourthe, then advance north-west up the western side of the Ourthe, in the general direction of Namur, where the Meuse turns east. This would cause a crucial delay for the Germans. By the end of this day the 116th had reached Houffalize and its reconnaissance troops had got to the West Ourthe, but they misjudged the strength of the American position and returned to Houffalize. The division then resumed its advance, but this time on the north bank of the East Ourthe. This movement cost the division most of a day. At the same time it forced the 2nd Panzer to use the road through Noville, where it was also held up for a day. 

20 December

By 20 December the German offensive was already massively behind schedule. The original plan had been to capture the bridges over the Meuse by 18 December at the latest, but the Germans were nowhere near that target. On the right flank General Blumentritt’s Fifteenth Army had made no progress. On the left flank General Brandenberger’s Seventh Army had been able to push forward a few miles, but nowhere near as far as the plans required if they were to protect the main attack against Patton, and Echternach, one of their first targets, was still in American hands. On the main front Dietrich’s 6th Panzer Army had made very little progress along most of its front, and was held up at the Elsenborn Ridge, very close to its starting position. Pieper’s battlegroup from the 1st SS Panzer Division had been able to push west, but was now dangerously isolated, and its supply lines had been cut when the American 30th Division recaptured Stavelot. Most of the key roads on this front were still blocked, so Dietrich was only able to attack in the gap between the Elsenborn Ridge and St. Vith. Von Manteuffel’s 5th Panzer Army had failed to capture St. Vith on its right or Bastogne on its left, although the 116th and 2nd Panzer Divisions were about to get through the gap between the two towns. At the start of 20 December only two German panzer divisions were actually advancing into gaps – part of the 1st SS Panzer in the north and the 116th Panzer in the south.

The day also saw Montgomery arrive at Hodges’s HQ, where he generally approved of Hodges’s existing orders. He did suggest withdrawing from St. Vith, which he saw as a dangerous salient, and pulling back on the Elsenborn ridge to eliminate a sharp corner in the Allied lines, but withdrew the suggestions after Hodges and his staff objected. St. Vith soon had to be abandoned anyway, but the Elsenborn Ridge stayed in Allied hands throughout the battle. Montgomery also approved a plan to move the 82nd Airborne from their blocking position west of Pieper’s forces, south-east to a position on the Salm river, to his south, where they would help keep open the back of the ‘horseshoe’ at St. Vith and block attempts by the rest of the 1st SS Panzer Division to reach Peiper. He also began to plan for a counterattack from the north and asked for General ‘Lightning Joe’ Collins to command it.

Montgomery also committed the British 30th Corps to guard the line of Meuse from Namur to Liege, and some British troops later took part in some of the battle, but Montgomery always acknowledged that the battle in the north had been won by American soldiers. His contribution to the battle was controversial, but his German opponents later commented that he helped turn a series of isolated stands into a coherent defensive front. He was later blamed for delaying the counterattack from the north until 3 January, although it was difficult enough when it did begin, and for a controversial press conference, although in this case the main problem was that the Germans broadcast a distorted version which was heard by several senior American officers before the correct version.

Southern Front – Fifth Panzer Army

The Germans did make one important breakthrough on 20 December, when the 2nd Panzer Division broke through the American defences at Noville, north of Bastogne. The division was then ordered to begin the dash west towards the Meuse. Late on 20 December 2nd Panzer’s reconnaissance battalion managed to cross the West Ourthe at Ortheville, using a bridge that the 116th Panzer’s men had dismissed. The rest of the division was able to cross the river, placing it only 23 miles from the Meuse (although this was the lower, northward flowing section of the Meuse, not the later eastward flowing section that the Germans needed to cross if they were to threaten Antwerp. However the division then ran out of fuel.

At Bastogne the Germans attacked twice. On the German left Panzer Lehr attacked towards Marvie, where they were stopped after two hours of fighting. On their right they attacked in the Neffe/ Bizory area, but this attack was repulsed with the help of the artillery back in Bastogne. To the west the Germans finally completed the encirclement of Bastogne, cutting off the road to the corps HQ at Neufchateau. By this point the Americans had 11,840 men from the 101st Airborne, about 40 Shermans and 36 tank destroyers armed with 76mm guns, three battalions of 75mm pack howitzers, one of 105mm howitzers and four of 155mm howitzers, for a total of about 130 artillery pieces. However artillery ammo was in short supply. 

Northern Front – Sixth Panzer Army

In contrast on the northern flank the Germans launched three attacks on the 99th Division’s new position on the Elsenborn Ridge, each of which was repulsed. This battle denied Dietrich’s army access to three of its five rollbahns, and left the northern one of the two that were open dangerously exposed to American artillery fire from the north. Only the southern route, Rollbahn E, was completely open, and this wasn’t even enough to support a proper attempt to rescue Peiper.

21 December

Southern Front – Fifth Panzer Army

The shortage of fuel on the German side now forced the 2nd Panzer Division to spend all of 21 December sitting on the western bank of the West Ourthe, waiting for more fuel to arrive.

To their north the advance guard of the 116th Panzer Division reached Hotton, on the north flowing main branch of the Ourthe, but was unable to take it from HQ elements of the 3rd Armoured Division, while task forces from the same division were able to stop the 560th Volksgrenadier Division at Soy and Amonines, just to the east of the river.  

The day was quiet at Bastogne, as the Germans prepared for their first large scale attack.

The Germans were more successful at St Vith, where they finally forced the Americans to pull out of the town late in the day. However the American forces escaped more or less intact, and carried out a skilful fighting retreat to the west, forming a new line just to the west of the town.

Northern Front – Sixth Panzer Army

In the north Dietrich was still unable to make any progress against the Elsenborn Ridge, and as a result von Rundstedt decided to move two of his SS Panzer Divisions (2nd and 9th SS Panzer Divisions from the II SS Panzer Corps), south to join von Manteuffel’s Fifth Army, which became the main German attacking force. Once again the fuel shortage intervened, and one of the two couldn’t move for 36 hours. This effectively ended the significant fighting on the Sixth Panzer Army front in the north, marking the total failure of the main thrust of Hitler’s offensive.

On the American side the 82nd Airborne moved into position along the Salm River to Vielsalm then west towards the Tailles plateau, with their right flank guarding against any northern move by the 116th Panzer and their left flank against the attempts to rescue Peiper.

22 December

Southern Front – Fifth Panzer Army

22 December saw three key events. On the German side the attack towards the Meuse finally got under way, with the 2nd Panzer Division attacking west from the West Ourthe and the 116th Panzer Division advancing along the north bank of the East Ourthe. Von Manteuffel hoped to be able to reinforce this attack with the Panzer Lehr division (once Bastogne fell) and the 2nd SS Panzer Division, on its way from Dietrich’s army. The 2nd Panzer Division would get closer to the Meuse than any other major combat unit, but still fall short. By the 22nd the American reinforcements were arriving in ever increasing numbers, so there was no longer a real gap in the line. 2nd Panzer’s route took it towards the 84th Infantry Division, which was assembling close to the town of Marche, north-west of Ortheville. 116th Panzer’s route would take it close to a newly arrived combat command from the 3rd Armoured Division, which had formed up on the road north from Houffalize to Liege. The only problem with these deployments was that they involved two of the four divisions that had been allocated to Collins’s 7th Corps for the upcoming counterattack.

Bastogne

At Bastogne the Germans had fully encircled the town, and sent in a surrender ultimatum, famously answered with a single word – ‘Nuts!’. At the same time the Germans withdrew most of Panzer Lehr from the attack on Bastogne and attempted to get it moving west to support the 2nd Panzer Division. Part of the division was left at Bastogne, and in the end it proved to be too weak to carry out either task.

The most important development took place to the south, where Patton’s counterattack began on time. Admittedly it wasn’t the strongest of attacks, involving one infantry division and the 4th Armoured Division, but it had been organised in only three days, and would soon gain in strength. 

St Vith

Elsewhere on the battlefield the defenders of St. Vith pulled pack into a smaller position west of St. Vith. At first the American high command, and in particular General Ridgway, commander of the XVIII Airborne Corps, wanted to form a new ‘fortified goose egg’ to the west of St. Vith, which would be supplied from the air until the Allies were ready to counterattack. Inside the pocket General Hasbrouck disliked the idea, believing that his division would be wiped out if it stayed any longer. The final decision rested with Montgomery, who decided to order a retreat. Only Ridgway argued with this, but he was overruled.

 

23 December

One of the most widely noted events of 23 December was a change in the weather – a high coming from the east swept away the low clouds that had kept most Allied aircraft grounded so far, and allowed the fighter bombers and transport aircraft to spring into action. While C-47s dropped supplies to the garrison of Bastogne, the fighter bombers and medium bombers attacked any visible German column. In other circumstances the Germans would have waited for the cover of darkness to move, but that wasn’t an option in the middle of a major offensive.

For the next few days the focus of attention was on three key battles.

The most famous was the fighting at Bastogne, with the Germans attacking the besieged garrison and Patton’s men attempting to lift the siege.

At the tip of the bulge the 2nd Panzer Division ran out of steam a few miles short of the Meuse at Dinant, and then came under attack. Again there were two elements to the fighting here, with the Americans attempting to destroy the trapped panzer division and the Germans attempting to rescue it.

Finally on the north-western flank of the bulge the Germans were finally able to commit more of their panzer divisions into the battle after the Americans had been forced out of St. Vith. The 116th Panzer Division was still attempting to push north up the Ourthe and a little further to the east the 2nd SS Panzer Division attacking towards the market town of Manhay, at the southern end of a decent road to Liege. This part of the battle is often called the battle for the Tailles plateau because the fighting began at Baraque Fraiture, close to the highest point on the plateau, but most of the actual fighting took place to the north of that plateau.

St Vith

The retreat from the St. Vith salient was carried out on 23 December, mainly during daylight after plans to retreat on the night of 22-23 December failed. The retreat was carried out under German pressure from most directions, and was only just completed in time – as the last of the defenders attempted to reach the 82nd Airborne lines they were being pressed by the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade on one flank and the 2nd SS Panzer Division on the other. This unit had advanced around the southern side of the St. Vith horseshoe and was now attacking the western part of the 82nd Airborne lines west of the Salm. The Germans actually managed to shut the escape route ahead of the last few American contingents, although most of the men were able to escape by abandoning their equipment. By the end of the day around 14,000 of the 22,000 men involved in the fighting at St. Vith had reached relative safety behind the 82nd Airborne Division, although they then had to be thrown back into the battle on the Tailles Front.

 

Tailles Front

On the right the 116th Panzer and 2nd SS Panzer Divisions attacked towards the 3rd Armoured Division, on the road towards Liege. The 116th Panzer Division continued to attack up the Ourthe towards Hotton. On its right part of the 560th Volksgrenadier Division attempted to capture Soy and Amonines, while another unit from the division attempted to seize Freyneux. This brought it up to the left flank of the 2nd SS Panzer Division, which was attacking towards the small town of Manhay. This was another road junction, with roads west towards the 116th Panzers, north-west towards the Aisne or north towards Liege. On 23 December the 2nd SS Panzers overwhelmed one US force at Baraque de Fraiture and another just south of Manhay, but ended the day just outside the town. They had attacked at the join between the 82nd Airborne to the east and the 3rd Armoured to the west, and had found a weakly defended route towards Manhay.

This attack marked the entry into combat of the 2nd SS Panzer Division, which had originally been part of the second wave of troops in the Sixth Panzer Army, but had been ordered south to join the more successful Fifth Panzer Army several days earlier. A lack of fuel and the American position at St. Vith had delayed its move into action, which only came on the eighth day of the battle.

The attack appeared to be so threatening that the Americans committed part of the third division from Collins’s corps to the defence.

The Tip

On the left the 2nd Panzer Division pushed towards the US 84th Division around Marche, but instead of getting involved in a battle with the infantry turned left and kept moving towards the Meuse at Dinant. By the end of the day the division’s reconnaissance battalion reported that it was within nine kilometres of the Meuse at Dinant. This brought them towards the US 2nd Armoured Division, which was gathering just to the north. This exposed a difference in approach between Montgomery and the Americans now under his command. Montgomery wanted to roll with the punches, hold as economical a line as possible, assemble a counterattacking force and hit the Germans once they were over-exposed. He wasn’t especially concerned about keeping them east of the Meuse as he believed he had the forces in place ready to deal with that. In contrast the Americans wanted to feed their reserves into the battle to stop the Germans as quickly as possible. On 23 December General Harmon, commander of the 2nd Armoured Division, limited himself to sending patrols to the south of Marche, but they didn’t find anything.

Northern Front

In the north this was the day on which Peiper finally gave up at La Gleize, and ordered his men to prepare for a breakout to the east. The breakout began at 1am on the following morning, and late on 24 December the survivors from his force managed to swim across the Salm River and reached German lines. Peiper’s advance had been the only real success on the northern front, but it had cost him all but 800 of his 5,000 men, and seen his unit murder at least 353 POWs and 111 civilians. 

Bastogne

The key event during the day was the first supply drop into Bastogne. Aided by a pathfinder team that dropped in first, a total of 241 C-47s supported by 82 Thunderbolts dropped 144 tons of supplies, 95% of which was retrieved. That evening the Germans carried out their first coordinated attack, hitting the glider infantry on the south-eastern perimeter. They managed to get into the village of Marvie, only two miles from Bastogne, but the Americans were able to move reserves from a quiet bit of the line and by midnight they had restored the line.

To the south the relief effort made slow progress, with the two combat commands involved having to build bailey bridges while under attack. Once across the Sure they both ran into strongly held villages, and a lack of alternative routes forced them into slow battles for the villages. The divisional reserve also joined the battle, but on the right flank, so although it made progress it ended the day south of the Sure.

Bastogne and the defeat of the ‘Tip’, 24-29 December 1944

24 December

The Tip

On 24 December Harmon detected strong German armoured forces moving past him to the south. He asked General Collins for permission to attack with his entire division. Collins was away from his HQ when the request arrived, so it was passed up to Hodges. Hodges was torn between his duty to obey Montgomery’s orders to keep the division out of the battle and his own desire to give Harmon permission to attack. In response he gave Collins and Harmon permission to roll with the punches and to withdraw to the north-west if required, but didn’t order them to do so, or order them not to attack. Collins and Harmon took the hint and prepared for a full scale attack on the following day. The day did see one clash between the two units, when Task Force O’Farrell from the 2nd Armoured hit a column of Panzers heading north and wiped them out. On the German side the 2nd Panzer Division reached Celles, but then stopped for the day to await more fuel. By this point the 2nd Panzer Division was dangerously isolated, with Panzer Lehr on its left and the 116th on its right some way back.

M7B1 105mm Howitzer Motor Carriage 'Priest' at Bastogne
M7B1 105mm
Howitzer Motor
Carriage 'Priest' at
Bastogne

The leading elements of the 2nd Panzer Division actually had one of the few direct clashes with British ground troops during the battle. Montgomery had moved British armoured brigades into position to guard the Meuse bridges at Givet, Dinant and Namur. At Dinant part of the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment set up a number of roadblocks east of the river. On the morning of 24 December the leading column from the 2nd Panzer Division ran into one of these roadblocks, and a Panzer IV was destroyed by a Sherman Firefly. During the morning the British also knocked out two Panthers.

This was the closest any of the major German columns would get to the Meuse, but their success had come on the wrong part of the battlefield. The Meuse flows north past the western side of the Ardennes, then turns dramatically to the east at Namur to flow towards Liege. The section of the Meuse that the Germans actually needed to cross if they were to threaten Antwerp was the section between Namur and Liege. If they had managed to get across the river at Dinant, they would still have had to turn north and get across the Sambre, which flows from west to east to join the Meuse at Namur. Dinant itself sits in an impressive gorge, and the Germans would have struggled to fight their way across it by this point.

Tailles Front

On 24 December Montgomery visited the HQ of the 82nd Airborne Division, and ordered them to withdraw from their current line, which at this point was fifteen miles long, and ran south along the Salm River to Vielsalm, then west to Manhay. Montgomery ordered them to for a new line that followed a road from Trois Points directly south-west to Manhay. The new line joined the same points as the old one, but was much shorter, and easier to defend. The 82nd Airborne was in its new line by Christmas morning. This move is sometimes blamed for weakening the American position in Manhay, although given that the 82nd Airborne’s right flank was anchored in that area on both lines it isn’t clear why. The real problem appears to have been confusion caused by the mix of units in the area, which was defended by the right flank of the 82nd Airborne, the left flank of the 3rd Armoured Division, and part of the 7th Armoured coming back from St. Vith. The Germans attacked just as these forces were moving into place, catching them at a weak moment. The original line had only been chosen because of the need to maintain contact with the St. Vith horseshoe, but once that had been evacuated it was pointlessly over-extended.

To the east the 2nd SS Panzer Division managed to force its way into Manhay, but was unable to break out north onto the Liege road. The Germans were able to occupy Grandmenil (now the western end of Manhay, but then a separate commune), forcing the American Task Force Kane (CCB from the 3rd Armoured) to retreat into the nearby hills.

On the 116th Panzer front Kampfgruppe Bayer attacked at Verdenne, to the west of the Ourthe, but ended up trapped north of the American lines.

Bastogne

At Bastogne the Germans decided to attack from the north-west in the hope that they would find a weak spot in the line. Christmas Eve was spent preparing for this attack. The relief effort made little progress during the day.

25 December

The Tip

Harmon’s attack went in on 25 December. He was supported by the fighter-bombers, which had once again had suitable weather, and by British tanks from the 29th Armoured Brigade (one of the few British ground units to get directly involved in the fighting). By this point the German 2nd Panzer Division had reached Celles, four miles from the Meuse, but had also run out of fuel and was at the end of a very narrow corridor. Harmon’s attack was devastating. Combat Command B was sent south-west to attack the tip of the 2nd Panzers at Celle, while Combat Command A was sent south-east to Rochefort, to cut them off from any reinforcements.

The western tip of the German advance was made up of two groups, Kampfgruppe Bohm, which was made up of the reconnaissance battalion with some tanks, which had reached Foy-Notre-Dame, and the stronger Kampfgruppe Cockenhausen (Panzergrenadier Regiment 304 and 1/ Panzer Regiment 3), which was a little further to the south-east at Celles. CCB attacked in two columns, with one advancing between the two German forces and the other to the south-east of KG Cockenhausen. The Americans joined up at Celles in the afternoon, trapping the two German forces to the north.

The Germans lost 80 tanks and the tip of their advance was cut off.

Tailles Front

To the east the 3rd Armoured Division and US infantry stopped an all out attack by the 2nd SS Panzer Division in the gap between the Salm and the Ourthe, while the 116th Panzer suffered heavy losses during an attack on the 84th Infantry Division up the west bank of the Ourthe.

Instead of renewing the push north, the 2nd SS Panzer attacked west from Manhay towards Grandmenil, in the hope that they could lift some of the pressure on the 2nd Panzer Division. The Germans were unable to make any progress. However a sizable American attack on Grandmenil also failed, leaving the battle in this area stalemated.

Bastogne

At Bastogne von Manteuffel was determined to capture the town, partly to open up more roads west and partly to stop the Americans using it for a counterattack. His troops were now in place to attack from the north-west, towards Champs. The aim was to force the Americans to commit their limited reserves there, then attack to the south to get into Bastogne. The attack would be led by the 15th Panzergrenadier Division (although not all of it had arrived in time to take part), supported by some of the armour left behind by Panzer Lehr. The Germans were able to get into Champs, and at one point one tank commander even reported that he had reached the edge of Bastogne. However the Americans had withheld their reserves, and prepared an ambush, and of the eighteen German tanks involved in the attack seventeen were destroyed and one was captured.

To the south CCR swapped flanks, moving from the east to the west to attack to the left of CCB, which was now stuck. This new attack was more successful, and CCR was able to capture Remonville, to the west of CCB.

26 December

26 December saw Model, Rundstedt and Manteuffel tell Hitler that it was no longer possible to capture Antwerp. They proposed a return to the ‘small solution’, attacking north from the Bulge towards the Meuse west of Liege then turning north-east to liberate Aachen, the first German city to fall to the Allies. Hitler turned down their proposal, and insisted on sticking to his own plan for a second offensive in Alsace, Operation Nordwind, which he believed would force Patton to withdraw from the Ardennes. At the same time the troops in the Bulge were to prepare for an attack north towards the Liege, but only as a preliminary for the attack on Antwerp. As a result von Manteuffel was ordered to prepare for another attack on Bastogne.

Bastogne

The most famous event on 26 December came at dusk, when the first three tanks from Patton’s 4th Armoured Division approached the southern side of the perimeter. The formal siege of Bastogne was over, although some of the hardest fighting was still to come. These tanks were from Lt Colonel Creighton W. Abrams’s CCR, which had bypassed the strongly held village of Sibret and instead attacked further to the east, pushing through Assenois and into the perimeter. At this point only a narrow corridor was open, but that didn’t stop Patton from visiting Bastogne that evening.

The Tip

At the tip of the German attack the 9th Panzer Division joined the attempts to rescue 2nd Panzer, capturing the village of Humain, just to the north-east of Rochefort. However they were unable to make any further progress, and were instead subjected to a heavy artillery bombardment, and attacks by 2nd Armoured. Those elements of the 2nd Panzer Division that were outside the pocket were formed into KG Holtmayer and attacked from Rochefort, to the east. They managed to get within a mile of the Celle pocket before they were attacked by CCA of the 2nd Armoured and forced to retreat. At 15.30hours the 2nd Panzer Division HQ ordered the survivors within the pocket to destroy their heavy equipment and break out. The tip of the advance had been broken off, and the Germans would form a new defensive position with its western tip at Rochefort.

Tailles Front

On the 116th Panzer Division front an attempt to rescue the trapped Kampfgruppe Bayer was defeated by the US 334th Infantry. Bayer was then given permission to attempt a breakout. The Fuhrer Begleit Brigade was also committed to the action, but it’s attack towards Hotton failed, and it was then ordered back to Bastogne.

To the east the day began with both sides attacking at Grandmenil. The Americans blunted the German attack, and then forced them back out of Grandmenil. An attempt to push east to Manhay failed, but by the end of the day had forced the 2nd SS Panzers out of Grandmenil. By dawn on 27 December the 82nd Airborne had also forced them out of Manhay, and the threat to the Liege road was gone.

27 December

On 27 December Eisenhower officially approved the plan for a counterattack. General Collins had put forward three alternatives, of which this was the least ambitious. Patton was to attack north from Bastogne towards Houffallize on 30 December. Collins would attack south-east on 3 January, also aiming for Houffalize. The aim was to squeeze the Germans out of the pocket rather than try and cut them off at the base. This was one of the few occasions on which Patton and Montgomery were in general agreement – both men would have preferred it if the Germans had been allowed to get further west, perhaps even crossing the Meuse in some strength, before the Allies counterattacked and cut them off. This was also the nightmare scenario for several of the senior German commanders.

However only Patton had continued to argue in favour of that plan as the battle developed. At the First Army Hodges was aware that the roads at the north-eastern corner of the Bulge weren’t good enough to support a major attack. Bradley also opposed the idea, as he was worried about the impact of the winter weather both on the ground and in the air and the lack of reserves. He wanted Patton to attack from Bastogne to take advantage of the strong forces that had been gathered there. Montgomery supported Hodges view, and when he met with Eisenhower on 28 December indicated that First Army would be ready to attack within a day or two of the New Year.

The Tip

At Humain Harmon committed his reserves, Combat Command R, to the attack, and by the end of the day the Germans had been forced to surrender. The last surrender came with the aid of a British flamethrower tank that helped convince 200 Germans holed up in a chateau to surrender.

By the end of 27 December the tip of the German attack had been defeated. Harmon was able to report that he had take 1,200 prisoners and the Germans had suffered another 2,500 killed or wounded and lost 82 tanks, 83 field guns and 441 other vehicles! 150 tanks and vehicles were found within the collapsed pocket at Celle. 2nd Panzer now only had about 20 working tanks, was no longer a combat effective unit.

Tailles Front

The Germans launched one final attempt to break through on this front, this time attacking towards the hamlet of Sadzot, on the road that ran west from Grandmenil to Erezee. In theory the attack was to have used the 12th SS Panzer Division and elements of the 2nd SS Panzer Division, but neither were able to get many troops to the area in time. This was fortunate, as a gap had developed in the American lines around Sadzot. The resulting battle lasted for most of 28 December but by 29 December the German attack had been repulsed

Bastogne

Perhaps the most significant event at Bastogne was the arrival of a relief convoy of 40 supply trucks and 70 ambulances. More supplies came in by air, although this time the Germans were ready and shot down a number of the supply planes. Patton’s counterattack continued, and the corridor was widened when CCB managed to reach Bastogne. To the east Patton also attacked north from the Sure River, which formed the southern boundary of much of the Bulge east of Bastogne. Once again progress was slow.

28 December

For the next few days most of the fighting took place around Bastogne and to the east. Elsewhere the Germans were generally on the defensive, and the First Army was preparing for its own counterattack, to begin on 3 January.

At Bastogne the last of the seriously wounded were evacuated. Patton’s men attacked on both sides of the city, but only made progress to the west.

29 December

Both sides spent 29 December preparing for major attacks planned for the following day. There was some fighting west of the city but it was inconclusive.

The Allied Counterattack – 30 December Onwards

30 December

Bastogne

Both sides launched major attacks at Bastogne on 30 December. On the German side the 39th Corps was to attack from the east, using the 1st SS Panzer Division and 167th Volksgrenadier Division, while the 47th Panzer Corps was to attack from the west, using the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade and 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division. On the American side Middleton’s VIII Corps was to attack to the west of Bastogne, using the 9th Armoured, 11th Armoured and 87th Infantry Divisions. Middleton’s attack and the 47th Panzer Corps attack were thus going to collide somewhere to the west of Bastogne. The clash came around the villages of Chenogne and Sibret, to the west of Bastogne. The fighting ended inconclusively, but it had stopped the western flank of the German attack.

The eastern flank of the German attack made more progress, capturing the village of Lutrebois after a fairly confused day. Further south the 167th Volksgrenadier Division was stopped by part of the 4th Armoured Division aided by artillery firing new POZIT shells with a proximity fuse, which the German commander later described as ‘tree smasher shells’. The Germans had dented the eastern side of the corridor, but had failed to reach any of their targets for the day,

31 January

Bastogne

On 31 January Patton’s III Corps joined the attack, led by the 6th Armoured Division, with the 35th Infantry and 26th Infantry Divisions extending the line east of Bastogne. Over the next few days the armour would slowly push north, but the infantry made little progress, leaving a large German-held salient to the south-east of Bastogne. On the VIII Corps front the 11th Armoured Division attacked down the Rechrival Valley, but was still unable to take Chenogne.

1 January

1 January saw the Luftwaffe make its last major appearance on the western front, carrying out Operation Bodenblatte, a massive surprise attack on the Allied airfields in Belgium, Holland and France. The Luftwaffe had been gathering a massive fighter force for some time, originally with the aim of using it to attack a major US daylight raid. The hope was that a large enough attack might be able to cripple the Eighth Air Force, at least temporarily knocking it out of the battle. However Hitler preferred to use the newly gathered forces to support the attack in the Ardennes. The attack caught the RAF and USAAF by surprise – the Luftwaffe was seen as a beaten force by this stage in the war – and a significant number of Allied aircraft were destroyed. However most of these losses were on the ground, and comparatively few aircrew were killed. In contrast the Germans lost 143 dead and missing, 70 captured and 21 wounded. Amongst the casualties were three wing commanders, five group commanders and fourteen squadron (staffel) commanders. The Allies were quickly able to replace the lost aircraft, but the Germans were never able to replace their experienced pilots.

Bastogne

Once again progress was slow all around Bastogne, but both corps made some progress, helping to push the Germans slowly away from the town. Once again most progress was made to the west, where the front line was starting to move up to the west of Bastogne, meaning that the corridor was no longer under threat. On that flank the line was actually starting to straighten out, turning Bastogne into a salient rather than a surrounded fortress.

 2 January

Bastogne

By this point it was clear to most German commanders that the attack had failed. Late in the day Manteuffel even asked for permission to withdrawn from the tip of the bulge and form a new line based on Houffalize. Hitler wouldn’t give permission, as he had now decided to try and hold onto the Bulge with limited forces and carry out more spoiling attacks elsewhere along the line. As a result the planned attack on Bastogne still went ahead. Model did manage to get permission to abandon any attempts to attack from the pocket to the south-east arguing that it was no longer possible to get any more troops into it. The new plan was to use General Priess’s reformed I SS Panzer Corps to attack from the north, down the road from Houffalize. The attack was postponed until 4 January to allow more of the units involved to get into place.

On the American side the 6th Armoured Division attacked with five task forces in the line, but only made limited progress east and north of Bastogne. Further east Lutrebois was finally retaken after being lost on 30 December. To the west of Bastogne the 11th Armoured Division finally captured its target of Mande-St. Etienne, helping to cut the Bastogne-St. Hubert road.

3 January

First Army Attack

The First Army attack began as planned on 3 January. The aim was to push south from the existing front to Houffalize, a distance of around 12-13 miles, where the First Army would meet up with Patton’s Third Army, which had to advance just under 10 miles from Houffalize. This may have been a short distance, but a combination of the difficult terrain, poor weather and determined German resistance meant that it would take nearly two weeks for the two armies to meet!

General Collins’s 7th Corps had been allocated to the First Army to lead the attack, although many of his units had been drawn into the fighting earlier than Montgomery would have preferred. Even so Collins had two armoured divisions, three infantry divisions, and twelve field artillery battalions – almost 100,000 men. In the days before the attack the corps held a line from Bra south-west to near Hotton on the River Ourthe, a target of some of the last German attacks on this front. The 75th and 84th Infantry Divisions held the line. Collins planned to attack with both of his armoured divisions – the 2nd and 3rd Armoured Divisions. These divisions were still organised as ‘heavy’ armoured divisions, with four battalions of M4 Shermans – most other US armoured divisions were now ‘light’ divisions, with three battalions of Shermans. However they were also rather weaker in infantry than the ‘light’ divisions, so the plan was for the 83rd Division to support the 3rd Armoured and the 94th Division to support the 2nd Armoured. To the left the airborne corps was to push its right wing forward to stay in line, while on the right two divisions from the British XXX Corps would take part in the initial phase of the attack before being squeezed out between the two American armies.

On the German side Collins was faced by the II SS Panzer Corps, with the 12th Volksgrenadier Division on the right, the 560th Volksgrenadier Division in the centre and the 2nd SS Panzer Division on the left. These three divisions represented half of the entire Sixth Panzer Army – its other units having been transferred south to the Fifth Panzer Army to try and support the more successful flank of the attack.

The initial target for the attack was the road that ran east-west from Salmchateau in the east, through the earlier battlefield at Baraque Fraiture and on to the Ourthe at La Roche. The only good north-south road, leading from Liege to Houffalize, ran across the middle of this battlefield. The two divisions advanced about two miles on the first day of the attack, but progress then slowed to a crawl.

Bastogne

At Bastogne the 6th Armoured Division made some progress, finally capturing Oubourcy, Magaret and Wardin, to the east of Bastogne.

4 January

Bastogne

The final German attempt to capture Bastogne took place on 4 January. However by this point the defenders were far stronger than the attackers. The attack came down the road from Houffalize. West of the road the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division and 9th SS Panzer Division attacked Longchamps, but both attacks were defeated. The defenders claimed to have destroyed 34 tanks. East of the road the 12th SS Panzer Division and 340th Volksgrenadier Division (Theodor Tolsdorf) did manage to force the 6th Armoured Division back out of Oubourcy, Magaret and Wardin, but the Americans held the high ground to the west of the villages. This final attack had ended in a clear failure.

5 January

With the last attack on Bastogne over, Model ordered the 9th SS Panzer Division to be withdrawn from that front and move to help the Sixth Panzer Army fight off the US First Army attack. On the following day Manteuffel withdrew the 12th Panzer Division, even further weakening the forces around Bastogne.

6 January

First Army Front

The 3rd Armoured Division, on the First Army left, finally reached the La-Roche Salmchateau road on the fourth day of their advance. General Collins then decided to send part of it west down the road to try and help the 2nd Armoured, which was struggling to push back the 2nd SS Panzer Division.

7 January

First Army Front

Part of the 3rd Armoured Division successfully captured the crossroads at Baraque Fraiture late in the day. This forced the Germans further west to retreat to avoid being cut off, and later on the same day the 2nd Armoured Division was able to reach the La-Roche Salmchateau road.

Third Army Front

The 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division counterattacked at Flamierge, trapping a battalion from the 17th Airborne Division that had just entered the town.

8 January

On this day Hitler finally allowed a retreat from the tip of the bulge, but only to a line on ridges five miles to the west of Houffalize. Over the next few days the impact of this order would be felt on the western flanks of the two US armies, but the fighting remained fierce further east. Soon after this Hitler decided to withdraw the four SS Panzer Divisions to form them into a reserve, 

Third Army Front

The 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division continued to press at Flamierge, and the trapped paratroopers eventually had to infiltrate to the south, leaving their wounded behind.

9 January

First Army Front

On the 3rd Armoured front the terrain was no longer suitable for the tanks to take the lead, so on this day the 83rd Division took over the lead.

Third Army Front

On the right the 90th Infantry Division joined the attack, advancing through the 26th Division on the southern side of the German held pocket south-east of Bastogne, heading north-east. At the same time the 6th Armoured Division attacked south-east from the opposite corner of the pocket, with both aiming towards the same ridge road at the base of the salient. The 90th Infantry attack caught the Germans by surprise, and they were able to advance over a mile in the first day.

10 January

First Army Front

On this day US patrols finally entered La Roche, taking advantage of the minor German retreat ordered two days earlier. To their right British units reported finding no Germans west of the Ourthe, and advanced towards the river to protect the American right wing from flanking fire.

Third Army Front

Hummel abandoned at Oudler, 1944 Hummel abandoned at Oudler, 1944

Late in the day the 87th Division at the western wing of VIII Corps entered Tillet as the Germans withdrew, obeying Hitler’s order to withdraw from the western tip of the bulge.

To the north of Bastogne a combat command from the 4th Armoured Division entered the battle to the east of the road north to Houffalize. It was about to attack towards Bourcy, east of the road, when it was withdrawn at the orders of General Bradley, who wanted Patton to move an armoured division east to Luxembourg City to guard against a rumoured German attack. Bradley went further, and ordered Patton to stop the VIII Corps attack until the threat was gone.

On the far right the 90th Infantry Division reached high ground overlooking the only road out of the salient south-east of Bastogne. That night the Germans began to retreat from the salient.

12 January

The final end of any German hopes for the Ardennes offensive came on 12 January, when the Soviets launched the massive Vistula-Oder Offensive. Over the next two weeks the Soviets advanced up to 300 miles, and reached the Oder 43 miles to the east of Berlin. As the seriousness of the new offensive became clearer, even Hitler was forced to switch his attention to the east.

Third Army

After the failure of the German attack on Luxembourg to appear, Bradley gave Patton permission to resume the VIII Corps advance. The 4th Armoured Division had now been replaced by the 11th Armoured Division, which was inserted into the line between the 101st Airborne to its right and the 17th Airborne to its left.

To the south-east of Bastogne the 90th Division and 6th Armour captured over 1,000 prisoners as the Germans withdrew from the salient.

13 January

First Army Front

On the VII Corps left the 83rd Division was now being held up by the 12th Volksgrenadiers and elements of the 9th SS Panzer Division, who were defending a forested area between the upper reaches of the Ourthe in the west and the Salm in the east. However the 3rd Armoured Division’s reconnaissance battalion managed to find some back roads that weren’t strongly defended, and early on 13 January the division attacked along these roads, cutting the road that ran north-east from Houffalize to St. Vith. By the end of the day the leading troops from the First Army could see the flashes of Patton’s artillery, only a few miles to the south.

Further east the first stages of the advance of St. Vith began. The XVIII Airborne Corps launched an attack aimed at cutting off any German troops in the gap between the Ambleve and the Salm. The 30th Division was to attack from Malmedy in the north. Supporting attacks were launched by the 106th Division in the centre and the 75th Division on the corps right. Over the next few days the 30th Division made the quickest progress, advancing into a gap between the Sixth Panzer Army on their right and the Fifteenth Army on their left. However the 75th Division made fairly slow progress, so most German troops in the pocket were able to escape.

Third Army

At the far left of the Third Army front patrols from the 87th Division reached the Ourthe River after the Germans withdrew to the east.

To the south-east of Bastogne the 90th Division and 6th Armour captured another 1,000 prisoners as the Germans withdrew from the salient. By the end of the day the two divisions had met up and cut off the salient. The surviving defenders pulled back to the Wiltz River, and formed a new defensive line.

14 January

Third Army

The 17th Airborne Division was next to reach the Ourthe, taking advantage of the German retreat.

At the top of the advance Patton’s armour had to fight hard to push north, as their route north was also the new front line chosen by Hitler.

The Germans were still able to counterattack – early on this day they even managed to recapture Foy from the 101st Airborne.

15 January

First Army

On this day the V Corps, now under General Ralph Huebner, began an attack south towards the town of Ondenval, at the northern end of a valley route to St. Vith. The 1st Division was to attack east of the valley, the 30th Division to the west of the valley and one regiment from the 2nd Division to attack straight down the valley. The Germans also realised how important this route was, and it was defended vigorously by the 3rd Parachute Division. The battle would last for five days.

Third Army

Patton’s armour was actually hit by a German counterattack on the 15th, when twenty tanks supported by fighter aircraft attacked.  However this masked the start of a slow retreat to the east, and on the same day the 101st Airborne was able to enter Noville, only five miles to the south of Houffalize. 

16 January

Early on 16 January the 11th Armoured Division reached the high ground just south of Houffalize. Just to the south-west of the town a patrol from the 11th Armoured met a patrol from the 2nd Armoured Division of the First Army, finally closing the gap in the American lines. One immediate effect of this was that Eisenhower returned control of Hodge’s First Army to Bradley, effective from the following day. Simpson’s Ninth Army remained under Montgomery’s command, ready to take part in the attack on the Ruhr.

The junction between the two armies meant that the direction of the Allied advance now changed, with both armies pushing east towards St. Vith. On the First Army front Collins’ corps was soon pinched out of the attack, leaving Ridgway’s XVIII Airborne Corps to take the lead. On the left the V Corps was also to join the offensive, to allow one of its armoured divisions to support the airborne troops. On the Third Army front Patton wanted to launch a second offensive to the east, using General Eddy’s XII Corps.

17 January

First Army Front

In the Ondenval sector Model transferred control of the LXVII Corps to the Sixth Panzer Army to unify the command structure in that key area north of St. Vith. On the same day the 23rd Infantry Regiment (2nd Division) captured the key part of the Ondenval valley.

18 January

First Army Front

The Germans counterattacked at Ondenval with an infantry battalion and three tanks, a sign of how limited their resources were by this point. The 23rd Infantry Regiment defeated the attack with powerful artillery support.

Third Army Front

Almost from the start of the German offensive Patton had argued in favour of counterattacking right at the base of the bulge, and on this day he was finally able to launch that attack. Troops from the 4th Infantry Division crossed the Sure close to its junction with the Our, close to the southern flank of the original German attack, while the 5th Division attacked at Diekirch, a few miles to the west. This attack posed a direct threat to the five German bridges across the Our, three of which were either at or south of Vianden, only four miles north of the new attack. If these bridges could be captured, then four divisions from the Seventh Army and nine from the Fifth Panzer Army might be trapped to the west.

This sector was defended by a single Volksgrenadier division, and the Germans were caught entirely by surprise. By the end of the first day Patton’s men had established a bridgehead that was up to two miles deep in places, had established several crossing points for armour, and were able to begin an artillery bombardment of the two bridges south of Vianden.

On the German side General Brandenberger ordered his artillery and one Volksgrenadier division to move east to protect the key road west of the Our, the famous ‘Skyline Drive’ of the early phase of the battle. Model ordered the Panzer Lehr and 2nd Panzer Divisions to move to the threatened area. None of these moves could take effect quickly, and in the meantime the Americans were able to push north. 

19 January

First Army Front

In the Ondenval sector Dietrich went against Hitler’s orders to withdraw the SS Panzer Corps from the fight, and used the artillery from I SS Panzer Corps to bombard the valley, while small groups of tanks from three of the four SS Panzer Divisions were used to launch minor counterattacks. However they weren’t able to prevent the 23rd Infantry Regiment from pushing south out of the valley.

Just to the west the 75th and 30th Divisions from the Airborne Corps met up, completing the attack on the area between the Ambleve and Salm Rivers. However two divisions from the German XIII Corps had been able to escape before the gap was closed.

Third Army Front

As new attack pushed up Skyline Drive, Patton ordered Middleton’s VIII Corps and Millikin’s III Corps to prepare to resume their offensive, in the hope that German resistance would be limited. The advance was to begin on 21 January, but by the afternoon of 19 January the Germans appeared to had almost disappeared from the front between Bastogne and Houffalize, so both corps began their attack early. For the next three days they failed to find any serious resistance. Progress was still slow, but only because of the snow and poor roads.

20 January

First Army Front

With the Ondenval route now opened to the, the 7th Armoured Division launched an attack towards St. Vith using the valley road and a second route on the hills to the west.

21 January

Third Army Front

At the base of the bulge the 5th Division had pushed north up the Skyline Drive, and was now almost due west of Vianden. However to the right the 4th Division was making slower progress, and rumours began to reach them of a possible armoured counterattack, so the division paused to take up a defensive position. From the ridge they were able to watch as the Germans began to retreat from the endangered pocket to their west.

22 January

By this point the new Soviet offensive was becoming so alarming that even Hitler finally had to admit that the Ardennes offensive was over. He ordered the Sixth Panzer Army to rush east, taking with it four SS Panzer Divisions, the Fuhrer Begleit Brigade and Fuhrer Grenadier Brigade and the two SS Panzer Corps HQs. The two remaining corps from Dietrich’s army were transferred to Manteuffel’s Fifth Panzer Army. 

Third Army Front

After a run of bad weather, the skies cleared on the 22nd, allowing the Allied fighter bombers to attack the Germans who were attempting to escape across the Our. By the end of the day the entire XIX Tactical Air Command was involved in the battle, and they had plenty of targets. Patton’s attack up the Skyline Ridge had forced the LIII Corps to retreat north-east to avoid being trapped. Although most of the Fifth Panzer Army was still fighting to the west, its rear elements were now attempting to escape across the Our. Finally the Panzer Lehr and 2nd Panzer Divisions were attempting to move across this flow of traffic to try and support the defenders of the ridge. By the end of the day a total of twenty five squadrons had taken part in the attack, flying 627 sorties and inflicting heavy damage on the retreating Germans.

23 January

First Army Front

The 7th Armoured Division, advancing south from Ondenval, finally returned to St. Vith.

Third Army Front

By this point Panzer Lehr and 2nd Panzer had arrived to the north-wet of Vianden, so command of the defensive battle here passed to their XLVII Corps. However the rumoured armoured counterattack that had slowed the US advance up the Skyline Ridge was no longer possible.

Those troops retreating from the Bastogne area finally attempted to make a stand on the Clerf River, to the west of Skyline Drive. However they were soon overwhelmed by the III Corps, with the 6th Armoured and 90th Divisions crossing the river on 23 January.

24 January

Third Army Front

On the Clerf the 26th Division from III Corps was also able to cross the river.

25 January

Third Army Front

The last traces of the German line on the Clerf were now gone, and the Germans found themselves carrying out a series of delaying actions in the villages along Skyline Drive, just as the Americans had done at the start of the offensive. The American army considered this date to be the official end of the Battle of the Bulge.

28 January

Third Army Front

On 28 January the last fighting west of the Our came to an end, and with it the Germans had been forced back out of the bulge, and back into the fortifications of the West Wall.

Summary

Of the two main German attacking forces, the Fifth Panzer Army attack made the most progress, but despite their initial numerical advantage and bad weather which kept the Allied aircraft grounded for the first part of the battle, the Germans never even reached the Meuse, the first significant target of their attack. The Americans proved to be a much more determined opponent that the Germans believed, disrupting their ambitious timetable from the very start of the battle, holding on for far longer than expected in a series of villages and other strong points. The 2nd Panzer Division came closest to the Meuse, getting close to Dinant on 26 December, but they were well ahead of most of the German troops and were heading towards the wrong part of the Meuse to be a real threat. On the same day the weather improved, allowing the Allied tactical air forces to return in full strength. The German right wing, which was heading for Liege, was held up by General Gerow’s 5th Corps around Malmedy, and made very little progress.  26 December also saw the first of Patton’s troops reach Bastogne, although the siege wasn’t really lifted until the start of January. 

Although the battle lasted for several weeks after the German high-point, the result was never in doubt. By the end the main question was how many German troops could escape. The Germans attempted to take advantage of the temporary success by launching a second attack in Alsace-Lorraine – Operation Nordwind (31 December 1944-30 January 1945), while the Luftwaffe made its last major attack of the war, Operation Bodenplatte, on 1 January. The end result of all of this effort was to exhaust both the Army and Luftwaffe, making the upcoming Allied invasion of Germany rather easier than it would otherwise have been.

The conduct of the Allied counterattack was the subject of some controversy. Montgomery’s attack from the north didn’t begin until 3 January 1945, as he wanted to be fully prepared. Patton’s more rapid counterattack from the south achieved the dramatic breakthrough to Bastogne, but his lead troops had created a narrow corridor which came under heavy German attack, and his part of the main counterattack only began on 30 December, three day’s before the northern attack. Even so the Germans lost around 800 tanks and guns, 1,600 aircraft and 7,000 vehicles and suffered somewhere between 81,824-103,900 casualties during the entire battle.  

Overall the Americans suffered 81,000 casualties during the battle of the Bulge. Of these 41,315 were suffered during the defensive phase of the battle and 39,672 during the offensive phase (3-28 January 1945). During that second phase the Americans lost 6,138 dead and 6,272 captured or missing. In contrast the British only suffered 1,400 casualties during the battle, mainly during the minor clashes at the western tip of the Bulge. The battle of the Bulge had been an almost entirely American victory, and proved that by the end of 1944 the American army was at least the equal of the much vaunted German army, and generally superior to the SS units. The battle was perhaps Eisenhower’s finest moment as a battlefield commander, moving reinforcements in when needed and keeping his cool under great pressure. Montgomery’s contribution was significant but controversial, at least in part because of his unfortunate manner (although he always acknowledged that the battle had been won by the Americans). Patton emerged from the battle with his reputation greatly enhanced, having proved that he could act quickly, and sacrifice his own army’s plans when it was required.

With the German offensive over, the Allies returned to their arguments about where to go next, with Patton and Bradley arguing in favour of a broad front assault, and Montgomery still wanting to take overall command of a major thrust in the north. However his position was undermined by a major argument with Eisenhower, which came close to costing him his command, and in the end Eisenhower decided to continue with the broad front strategy, although with more effort in the north where there were more important targets.

Books

The Ardennes 1944-1945 Hitler's Winter Offensive, Christer Bergström. A splendid account of the Ardennes Offensive, covering the entire battle, from the impressive German planning, the surprise attack and the costly battle of attrition that followed, up to the final end of the campaign at the start of February 1945. Combines detailed accounts of individual battles for villages, with regular overviews of the entire campaign, to produce a rare example of a really large scale account of a campaign that also produces a clear picture of how these details fit into the wider picture [read full review]
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The battle of the Bulge: Hitler's Final Gamble, Patrick Delaforce. A good account of the battle of the Bulge, including material on Hitler's subsidiary attacks and the air war on both sides. Supported by good maps, with detailed accounts of the activities of the individual US divisions caught out by the German attack. Has a slightly odd structure in places, but still a useful history of the final German offensive in the west. [read full review]
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (1 March 2021), Battle of the Bulge, 16 December 1944-25 January 1945, http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/battles_bulge.html

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