The Battle of the Bulge (also known as the Ardennes Offensive and the Von Rundstedt Offensive to the Germans) (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) was a major German offensive, launched toward the end of World War II through the densely forested Ardennes mountain region of Wallonia in Belgium.
For Adolf Hitler, the battle marked the end of eight years of offensive maneuvers in the West, large and small, dating back to his occupation of the Rhineland. More ominously, the battle marked the beginning of the final military phase for Hitler, emphasizing Nazi fanaticism over battlefield logic as the way to overcome shortages of men and equipment. Such fanaticism would soon cost many Germans, young and old, their lives.
After mopping up in the Ardennes, the Americans and British began to position themselves for the great thrust into Germany. Meanwhile, in the East, the Russians had launched an earth-shattering attack involving 300 divisions. Within weeks they would be a hundred miles from Berlin and closing in Adolf Hitler.
By the end of January, the Bulge salient had been reduced, and American lines returned to where they had been before the Germans launched their offensive. It was the largest battle that the U.S. Army fought during the Second World War, and the cost was enormous, with 19,000 killed in action and almost 50,000 wounded. The German casualties were even worse: 91,000 killed, wounded and missing.
By 18 December the magnitude of the German effort was clear, and Eisenhower ordered Patton's Third Army to disengage from its offensive toward the Saar and to attack the enemy's southern flank. Scattered American units, fighting desperate rearguard actions, disrupted the German timetable, obstructing or holding key choke points -- road junctions, narrow defiles, and single-lane bridges across unfordable streams -- to buy time. Defenders at the town of St. Vith held out for six days; V Corps troops at Elsenborn Ridge repelled furious attacks, jamming the northern shoulder of the enemy advance...Short of fuel, denied critical roadnets, hammered by air attacks, and confronted by American armor, the German spearheads recoiled short of the Mouse. Meanwhile, Patton had altered the Third Army's axis of advance and attacked northward, relieving Bastogne on 26 December.
After the initial success of the German offensive, the allies were able to reorganize and send them back to their original position. When the Germans first made their progress, allied planes couldn't get into the air because of bad weather. Once they could fly, they were able to take out many of the German tanks and artillery on the ground, which severely hampered the Germans effort to move quickly.
Overall, throughout the initial German attacks against Bastogne, the reduced perimeter, the encirclement and the sustained defense against all-out German efforts, the 101 accomplished the heroic achievement of fighting off Panzer corps (the XLVII) and deserves the enormous credit and accolades it has been accorded. Without the very respectable amount of additional infantry, artillery, tanks, tank destroyers, and detachments of engineers that assisted them, however it might have been a different story...The decision to defend Bastogne has been heralded as a "stroke of genius" as General Patton called it in his complimentary letter to General Middleton, VIII Corps commander, of April 25, 1945. The fact that for a short time the decision to EVACUATE and NOT defend it, and that this order was in effect until cancelled by the two German divisions that completed the encirclement has never been widely known, and I believe never published. It probably will not be found in the after action reports of the division, Corps, or Corps artillery.
(William B. Ruth Memoir) December 16, 1944: We have heard that the Germans have just begun some heavy action. We are told to get packed and get ready to move out on a minute's notice. Our radio, which has been silent for over two months, becomes heavy with messages. The messages were trying to determine where the main thrust of the German attack was. Finally on December 20th we were told to move out. We picked up our tracks in a hurry. We were told over our radio that the Germans were shooting the works. Intelligence informed us that it was all or nothing. The Germans planned to take NO prisoners -- it was kill or be killed. So, we were forewarned.
"Inoperable" flying weather closed in on the entire battle area from 19 until 23 December. During this period, the German penetration expanded to a 50-mile bulge-its maximum depth. Saint Vith was evacuated; but Bastogne, although surrounded, still held. On 23 December the skies cleared. Allied air and ground power were ready to strike. Allied ground movements had secured the flanks of the penetration and blunted its expansion westward. Rested and ready, Allied air forces attacked. In the next five days, they flew more than 16,000 sorties.
Hitler launched an offensive in the Ardennes on December 16, 1944, using all of his remaining mobile reserves, more than a quarter of a million soldiers and over six panzer divisions. Aiming at the crucial port of Antwerp, he hoped to cause disunity among the Allied leaders that would at least gain him some time and perhaps convince them to leave him alone or join his crusade against the Soviets...The initial blow shattered two American infantry divisions, and Nazi armies poured out of their defensive positions behind the Siegfried Line to exploit the penetration.
In Western Europe, however, things were not so bleak. An offensive launched through the wooded Ardennes region could provide the Führer with the decisive results he needed. In perhaps the Third Reich's greatest triumph, it was there in 1940 that General Heinz Guderian had punched a hole through the French lines, crossed the Meuse River below Sedan and raced to the sea in just two weeks. The Ardennes thus had a certain emotional attraction. Furthermore, the American troops who now defended the region had yet to fight in a winter campaign and, if the attack could be organized quickly and launched early enough in the winter months, the weather could markedly reduce the effectiveness of Allied air cover.
By late 1944, Germany was unmistakably losing the war. The Soviet Red Army was closing in on the Eastern front, while strategic Allied bombing was wreaking havoc on German cities...The Battle of the Bulge, so named because of the westward bulging shape of the battleground on a map, lasted from mid-December 1944 to the end of January 1945. It was the largest land battle of World War II in which the United States directly participated. More than a million men fought in the battle — 600,000 Germans, 500,000 Americans, and 55,000 British.