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AMERICANS PUMMELED GERMAN FORCES AFTER SURPRISE ATTACK, BEGINNING THE END OF NAZI TERROR AND DEATH CAMPS
by Sharon Rondeau
(May 27, 2013) — During the last winter of World War II, Adolf Hitler devised a plan to divide the Allied forces by rupturing their supply line located in Antwerp, Belgium. The German plan, first called the Ardennes Offensive, was later called the “Battle of the Bulge.”
The mission was launched in the Ardennes Forest with an order from Hitler’s Western commander to a 25-year-old paratrooper unit leader which stated, “We gamble everything. You carry within you the holy obligation to give your all, to perform to the utmost, for our Fatherland and our Fuhrer!”
Both Allied and German soldiers shivered from their positions in the ice and snow and “extreme cold” on December 16, 1944, many suffering from frostbite. Allied forces were spread thinly in the area uniting France, Luxembourg, and Belgium known as the Ardennes.
Consistent Allied victories in Western Europe in 1944 and by Russian forces in the East had weakened Hitler’s forces significantly and buoyed American forces. In a last-ditch effort to change course and against the advice of his generals, Hitler planned a surprise offensive against the Allies by generating false radio messages, propaganda, and disguising German soldiers as Americans, all while moving in some of his Panzer divisions in stages.
In a New York Times article dated December 6, 1964, former rifleman with the 101st Airborne Division Louis Simpson described the events of 5:30 a.m. on December 16, 1944:
…the terror swept over the Americans. The earth erupted in shellfire; waves of German tanks appeared through the mist, followed by infantry. The German tanks and the men were camouflaged in white. Some of the Americans stayed and died where they were; others abandoned their weapons and ran. The front was collapsing.
A caption to one of the large photos included with Simpson’s piece reads, “DUG IN—It was so cold that frozen hands and feet were a constant menace to the defending Americans…The danger was heightened by the fact that the attackers wore white sheets as snow camouflage.”
Hitler’s attacking forces included 2,500 tanks and 18 units of infantrymen totaling 250,000, which were successful because of the foggy conditions and stealth approach toward the Allies, who were pushed back to the town of Bastogne, Belgium, with German forces surrounding them.
After five days of fog lifted, the 101st Airborne Division dropped supplies to the Americans and bombarded the German forces with air power in a fierce counterattack, later discovering that many of those killed were boys conscripted from Hitler’s Youth Corps, which had indoctrinated them into “worshipful admiration” of Hitler, then recruited them into the German army, where tens of thousands were killed.
Simpson recalled that when the Airborne was able to spring into action, “”Suddenly the fog lifted and the sun shone. Planes appeared — ours — Thunderbolts, Typhoons, Spitfires. They dived; rockets plunged down from their wings. They machine-gunned the forest around us.”
The Battle of the Bulge was the largest land-fought battle of World War II involving U.S. troops.
The Ardennes operation lasted from December 16, 1944 to January 25, 1945, during which it is reported that Hitler’s “fanaticism” became apparent. His Youth Corps “boy soldiers” were also noted to have displayed recklessness and “little regard for their own lives.”
Even given its surprise attack on the Allies in the Ardennes, the German army was unable to keep its vehicles fueled, as Allied forces had already destroyed many fuel plants in Germany.
The Department of Defense has reported that 19,000 American soldiers died in the Battle of the Bulge. Injuries and those classified as missing totaled more than 50,000. American soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice are honored at a memorial in Clervaux, Belgium.
Simpson reported the casualties in his article as “8,000 killed, 21,000 missing or captured, 48,000 wounded.” Under a photo depicting German soldiers captured after the battle, Simpson included the caption, “The last great German offensive had failed.”
A comprehensive military history of the Battle of the Bulge can be found here.