The Ardennes offensive was a last ditch effort by the Germans to achieve an advantage in the war, but it turned out to be an acceleration of Germanys ultimate demise. Previous to the offensive the Allies had managed to achieve a beach head and advance toward Germany from almost every direction. On the eastern front Russia was steadily advancing on Berlin. The western front was around the Belgium and German border. Germanys fate seemed to be determined but Hitler would not let the thought of defeat enter his or his commands mind. He started planning for a massive offensive against the Allies on the western front.
He believed that the relationship of the Allies was very unstable and that if he could penetrate through the western front and reach the port of Antwerp that they would bicker among themselves and eventually fall apart. In the fall of 1944 as General Eisenhower had promised the Allied forces had successfully fought their way through Europe and established a front from the North Sea to Switzerland. The lines were stretched very thin. Only 65 divisions of infantry, armor, and airborne were available to hold the 500 mile long line. Having landed at Normandy in June of the same year Allies had made very quick advances on the Germans positions.
General Patton expressed it well when giving his famous speech to the Third Army I dont want to get any messages saying, I am holding my position. We are not holding a goddamned thing. Let the Germans do that. We are advancing constantly and not interested in holding anything but the enemies b***s. (Province 5) The Allies were no longer worried about losing the war it was just a matter of time before Germany fell. Hitler however was not as willing to succumb to that realization. After a failed assassination attempt and suffering from bad health many say that by this time in the war Hitlers judgment and state of mind had become very unstable.
He felt that if he could organize a strike against the Allies on the western front and reach Antwerp that by dividing the lines of the Allies they would start to turn against each other. Germany felt that the union of the Allies was weak and could be broken easily. This was one of the major faults in Hitlers plan. The union of the Allies was an uncomfortable one but it was held together because of their determination to destroy the German regime. They were fighting a war of attrition. That is where you keep attacking the enemy over and over again slowly breaking down their structure until they finally fall.
Conferences between the leaders of the major countries for the Allies had conferences starting the negotiations of what would be done with Germany and the other territories after the war in Europe was over. On September 16, 1944 Hitler announces his plan for a major offensive on the western front to his operation staff. The location and objective of the offensive were also revealed and the project was codenamed Wacht am Rhine ( Watch on the Rhine). They chose this name in an attempt to try to confuse the Allies into thinking that the plan was defensive.
This tactic worked well since the Allies were unprepared for the attack even after intercepting transmissions where they heard the codename and the approximate date of its initiation. A transmission from Japanese ambassador Baron Oshima to Japan was one of those Decoded by the Allies using the MAGIC code breaker. This was after messages between German command was intercepted using the ULTRA machine. The information picked up from this transmission was about planning reconnaissance and troop movements into positions where they are more suitable to attack.
Many times Hitlers staff tried to convince him to reconsider his plan for the massive offensive. Most thought that the German army would be best to setup a strong defensive strategy and by stalling have time to implement many of the secret weapons that were in development at the time. None of his advisors thought that the German army was strong enough at the time to take advance to Antwerp. One of his advisors was quoted This plan hasnt got a damned leg to stand on about the offensive. Some came up with a Small Solution which was an offensive on a much smaller scale that would weaken Allied forces in the overall region.
Although Hitler did not agree with the scaled down plan he did change the codename of the operation to the codename for the Small Solution which was Herbstnebel (Autumn Mist). The whole puzzle was sitting in front of the Allies but for many reasons they did not realize what was going on. Confidence in Germanys demise was to a point where some thought that it would be impossible for Hitler to group together for an effective offensive. He was losing steadily on the eastern front and on the western front he had lost France along with a great deal more territory.
The Allies army was so overextended from such aggressive tactics that there was not much they could do to stop the offensive until they could regroup. The bad weather that hid the rushing German armies prevented Allied air reconnaissance from spotting any movements and also prevented air support against the advance. At this point the Allied air force was stronger than Germanys but more importantly Germany could no longer build planes to replace those lost in battle. In the US we were building war machines at an astounding rate. December 16 was D-Day for operation Autumn Mist.
The Germans had assembled 24 divisions to attack through the Ardennes where there were only 4 Allied divisions to defend it. The Allied divisions were kept very thin in an attempt to put more force into the advance on Germany. John Kline a Sergeant in the 106th Infantry Division, located along the Ardennes line said The 106th Infantry Division, my division, was spread over a 21 mile front. Normally a division covers five miles. The 106th was credited with a holding action that used much of the precious time of the German offensive. Time was very critical to the Germans. The only advantage they had was surprise.
Once the Allies had time to regroup the advance would immediately be stopped and the damage to the German Army would be irreversible. Two attacking Panzer armies the 5th and 6th were commanded by Manteuffle and Dietrich, along with another eleven divisions were the first to advance through the Ardennes. They moved at an extreme pace through the Losheim Gap where the 4 Allied divisions were located. The 6th was to attack north and the 5th to the south. Eisenhower reacted to this advance by sending only one armored division to the north and one to the south to stop the offensive.
He was very naive to the magnitude of the German attack. As far as he was aware Eisenhower was assured that the armored divisions would be able to flank the Germans and be able to hold the line. A key road junction to both sides was St. Vith. It was a crossroad that led to Antwerp and to the Meuse River. As of the 20th of December the 7th Armored division was able to hold the line at this position slowing down the advance a great deal. The Germans were forced to take a less direct route to the Meuse River. The time lost here was enough for the Allies to bring in enough troops to stop the advance.
Many credit the 7th Armored Division at St. Vith with saving the Allies from a large German victory. Even though the advance had been stopped there was a division that had been encircled by the Germans at Bastogne. The 101st airborne had been rushed to the line to defend Bastogne even though they had just finished fighting another major battle. When the city was surrounded the Germans offered the commander an ultimatum to surrender or be destroyed. The commander of the Allied forces General McAuliffe replied with one word Nuts!. For a week the 101st was left to fend for themselves again the Germans.
The only way to get supplies to them was through air drops but due to the bad weather this could not be accomplished. There were multiple Armored divisions that surrounded Bastone. The 101st had scouts at the extremities of the city to warn the rest of an attack at different parts. Then all of the division would rush to that point to fight. When the action was calm they would return to the middle of the city This occurred at different points in the city and because the Germans only attacked with one group at a time they thought that there were many more Allied forces in the city then there actually were.
General Patton one of the most colorful Allied commanders decided after a meeting about the offensive that it was imperative that he rush his 3rd army to Bastogne to relieve the 101st. This movement heroically known as Pattons charge was very swift and he was able to relieve Bastogne by December 29th. On the 26th the bad weather had cleared allowing the Allied air forces to come into play. Once this was part of the battle the Germans were extremely overwhelmed and the offensive quickly deteriorated. The Malmedy Massacre at Baugnex was the worst atrocity against American troops in the course of the was in Europe. 0 men were taken prisoner by the Germans and eighty-six were shot. 43 of them managed to escape into the woods and tell the story to the of what happened to Allied forces. Colonel Peiper was the leader in charge of the German forces that killed the Americans. This incident created a great hatred for Germans that had not existed earlier.
The Japanese were already know for and hated because of the war crimes they had committed against American soldiers. The murders at Baugnex created for the first time a severe hatred for the Germans. 0,000 Germans, 600,000 Americans, 55,000 British soldiers were involved in the Battle of the Bulge, 100,000 German casualties, 81,000 American casualties, 1,400 British casualties. There were 800 tanks lost on each side and 1,000 German aircraft. The war machines that were lost were a much bigger disadvantage for the Germans because unlike the Americans they were not able to reproduce any more. The attack that had commenced on the 16th of December had been halted on the 24th and the original front had been reestablished by January 16th.