The battle of the Bulge: Hitler's Final Gamble, Patrick Delaforce

The battle of the Bulge: Hitler's Final Gamble, Patrick Delaforce

The battle of the Bulge was the last major German offensive on the western front during the Second World war, an ambitious attempt to split the Allied front in half and reach Antwerp, which Hitler hoped would force the western Allies into full scale retreat.

The structure is sometimes a little unusual. The German parachute operation and the deception plans are examined before the air war, battle plan or intelligence battles, so we follow several German combat units' experiences of the battle then revert to the planning stage. The early fighting is studied division-by-division, so we get a good idea of these individual actions, but perhaps not such a clear idea of the overall situation. After that initial stage the structure is more straightforward, although still concentrating on individual units or sections of the battlefield in each chapter.

The account of the fighting itself is excellent, providing clear accounts of these often confused battles. 

The text is supported by a large number of small-scale maps, with some overview maps showing the German plan and the high point of the offensive in particular. I would have liked some more overview maps showing the progress of the German attack, placing the individual actions into context. 

The author is commendably even-handed on Montgomery's contribution - he did actually restore order on the northern side of the battle, and he was clearly better suited to a defensive battle than his American colleagues. However he wasn't so adept at the switch to the offensive, and may have missed a change to win a more complete victory.  The author also recognised that the American author's private letters and diaries suggest that they disliked each other just as much as they disliked Monty.

The author does tend to overstate the potential of the German attack - ironically at the same time as including plenty of quotes from German generals showing that they didn't expect much from it. Most of the officers given the task of implementing Hitler's grand plan knew that they didn't have enough men to win the victory he expected, enough fuel to advance far without capturing Allied supply dumps or enough air power to fend off the Allied fighter-bombers once the weather improved.

This is a good account of the final German offensive in the west, made more valuable by the inclusion of material on the other subsidiary attacks.

1 - Winston Churchill: 'The forward leap was over'
2 - Euphoria followed by complacency
3 - On the other side of the hill: Third Reich
4 - The Allied generals at war
5 - Hitler's great counter-offensive plans
6 - Hitler's brilliant deception plans
7 - Hitler's deceptions: Stösser and Greif
8 - The air war
9 - Hitler's battle plan
10 - The secret war of ULTRA and Enigma
11 - The Ardennes battlegrounds: the Ghost Front
12 - 'All hell's broken loose'
13 - The Losheim Gap Battle: gallant cavalry
14 - The doom and destruction of the young 'Golden Lions'
15 - The 'Checkerboard' division: 'a hurricane of iron and fire'
16 - The 'Ivy' division defend 'little Switzerland'
17 - Battles for the Twin Towns and the Elsenborn Ridge
18 - Colonel Fuller and the Keystones: 'Buckets of Blood'
19 - Peiper, Hitler's Bodyguard and the massacres
20 - The defence of St Vith
21 - Montgomery takes command of US 1st and 9th Armies
22 - The rise and fall of Dietrich's Sixth SS Panzer Army
23 - The battle for Wiltz
24 - The dying days of Kampfengrupper Peiper
25 - The Seventh Army has problems in the south
26 - The air war 16-26 December: the 'metallic starlings'
27 - All roads lead to Bastogne
28 - Patton relieves Bastogne?
29 - German Seventh Army: 'battle of attrition'
30 - High Noon for von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Army
31 - War in the air: Christmas Day to New Year's Day
32 - Hitler's surprises (1) Operation Bodenplatte
33 - British XXX Corps: Longstop and counter-attack
34 - Hitler's surprises (2) Operation Nordwind
35 - Autumn Mist: January - retribution
36 - Gotterdammerung: The final audit
37 - The heroes

Appendix A: Order of Battle: The Ardennes Offensive
Appendix B: Military museums in the Ardennes

Author: Patrick Delaforce
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 376
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2014 edition of 2004 original

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