The siege of Bastogne is one of the best known battles of the Second World War, so a new approach to it is hard to find. In this case the book is based on almost contemporary accounts by the key German and American commanders, all conducted remarkably quickly after the end of the battle. On the American sides most of the commanders were interviewed soon after the crisis of the battle was over and the results published soon afterwards. Most of the German commanders were interviewed in captivity by the US Army Historical Division, but in a relaxed style that made them more willing to open up about the battle.
It is worth remembering that the German contributors were largely working from memory, which might explain the odd moment where they claim Allied air power was the reason for a failure that took place on a day with little or no air activity, but there are also plenty of moments when they appear to be describing a totally different battle. Several of the German commanders seem to have believed that the Americans were constantly attempting to break out and describe defeating American attacks from within the Bastogne perimeter that don’t appear in any other accounts of the battle. Some of this might be down to mistaking any redeployment of American armour as a break-out attempt, but in other cases it must reflect a general German belief that the Americans must have been planning a breakout. It’s also interesting that the Germans talk about finally completing the encirclement of Bastogne several days after the Americans believed they were besieged, probably in this case reflecting German knowledge of gaps in their line that the Americans were unaware of.
Despite the tendancy of some of the German commanders to focus a bit too much on who to blame for the failure of the offensive (never themselves of course), we still get some valuable insights into how they saw the battle. The German accounts are tied up as much as possible with those from their American opponents, so we get to see both sides of the same battle. On occasion this helps explain actions that confused the other side, such as why the Germans were quiet on particular days. Overall this is a very useful addition to the literature on this battle.
1 – September – 7 December 1944: Setting the Scene
2 – 10-15 December: The Plan of Attack
3 – 16-19 December: The Americans in Bastogne
4 – 19-20 December: Tank Battles in the Fog
5 – Closing in on Bastogne
6 – 21 December: ‘A Day of Bitter Fighting’
7 – 22-23 December ‘Aw, Nuts!’
8 – 24 December: Christmas Eve Attacks
9 – 25 December: Christmas Day Crisis
10 – 26-27 December: Breaking the Bastogne Encirclement
11 – German Commanders Assess the Reasons for Failure
12 – The US Bastogne Forces
13 – The German Commanders
Author: Gary Sterne
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military