It was a dark December in 1944 and the weather had set in, little opportunity of flying. No one had dared risk to take to the skies, but many soldiers in peril were laying deep in the depths of the harsh and bitterly cold snow-covered grounds of the Ardennes. They were hoping and praying for help from the skies above.
When finally, the weather broke the pilots flew in the skies above assisting in what they called the Battle of the Bulge, down below this was Hitlers plan to retake Antwerp. A grand plan devised in the depths of the Wolf Lair codenamed "Wacht am Rhein".
Hitler at that time had become very suspicious of those around him since his assassination attempt so personally choose the generals who would be involved in the deployment of his so-called master plan. However, even those chosen were not convinced the plan would work, in the main due to limited resources and began to come up with other what they deemed to be more realistic plans. Once such plan was called "Herbstnebel or Autumn mist \ fog" emphasizing the hope that the weather would assist the German cause especially preventing airborne attacks.
In the main though Hitlers original plan would remain unchanged. Those that would question his vision were met with anger or contempt. It was his way, or no way and he would manage each and every fine detail of the plan.
The overall plan being to cross the various rivers in the surrounding areas and break through the allied forces front lines, utilizing the power of their tanks, mobilised units, paratroopers, infantry, the Luftwaffe and whatever resources they could summons.
Even with their secret weapons such as the V1 and V2 rockets hitting our English shores, and the promise of new revolutionary planes such as the ME 262 the constant pounding of bombs hitting prominent German Cities and damaging railway lines was undoubtedly having an effect on supplies and I would expect morale to. However, they rallied to amass a high volume of personnel, weapons and new tanks to take on the Battle of the Bulge.
Around the Ardennes is a terrain made up of thick pine tree-lined woods, streams, rivers, and valleys. A difficult terrain to progress through in any battle. Some of the area was in use by US troops recuperating and those not battle-hardened as it was deemed a good training ground. It was at that time labelled by some as the ghost front.
They were however facing an enemy with a leader in a very unpredictable state, so the apparent calmness of the area at that time was causing a false sense of security which would ultimately result in difficulties predicting the events and bloody battles that were about to unfold.
Those events would firmly be etched in the history of time.
On the 16th December 1944 the battle begun with the Germans achieving the desired surprise in their attack. Many US battalions were forced into surrender, others were surrounded and met resistance in the form of tanks and German infantry. There was initially a mass state of confusion not helped by the inability to be able to communicate either because of separation in the vast area or as the US communication lines had been incapacitated as part of the major German plan.
Some of the US troops were very new to war and as a result suffered tremendously being forced into capture. There were many reports of captured US soldiers being brutally executed.
As a result of the initial confusion and surprise of the attack lots of individual and small groups were battling to hold defences as the Germans tried to push through. The executions of captured US soldiers were aimed to cause panic, fright and fear amongst the fighting US troops. Some of the US troops were inexperienced, some were in the area with the intention of being rested after facing previous heavy battles in other campaigns, they had to find the strength to face yet another brutal battle. Through adversity and sheer determination even with lack of weapons, ammunition, and general fire power they somehow kept holding up the Germans progress.
Whilst every attempt was made to destroy bridges and general infrastructure to hold or slow the pace of the attacking Germans, they had on hand specialised engineers focused on the task of rebuilding bridges in order to make their advance but this would take time, especially to get heavy vehicles across rivers.
Early on in the battles poor weather prevented allied air protection which was hoped and planned for in Hitlers original plan, but did he take into account the sheer bravery and determination to battle through adversity by the US troops, I suspect not. There were many reports of bravery and individuals carrying out great acts of heroism many of which resulted in the loss of their own life to save their comrades, many medals were awarded for such acts.
Even with the heavy might and advantage in armament the German tanks were also hampered and bogged down in the muddy conditions. As the weather deteriorated further bringing thick fog, icy conditions and snow, troops fighting the bitter cold by day and night began to suffer from such harsh conditions and reports of trench foot was rife. The freezing conditions would also have an adverse effect on the operation of weapons.
The ongoing brutal battles would also have grave consequences on the local civilians having to flee their homes taking to the cellars of various buildings, such as churches and monasteries, of course not all could be saved and many were innocent victims of the fierce fighting.
It also has to be remembered the courageous work of the medical units that would put their lives at risk on the battle grounds. Not fighting themselves in many cases not even armed but would tend to the medical needs of both their own home forces and to that of the enemy.
The irony being these fierce, brutal and blood shed battles were all played out during the Christmas period at a time you would consider of being goodwill to all, but this was not destined to happen, Hitlers view on this day was quite different "capture Bastogne or else".
Involvement of the Air Forces
When the weather broke it was time for the skies to open with the supremacy of the allied air forces, much feared by the Germans. Depleted Luftwaffe struggled to gain control. US Bombers were able to take out tanks and other groups such as the 'Gremlins' used secret and technologically advanced techniques that would block and jam German tank communications.
Known as Jabos by the Germans an expression for allied bombers such as the US P47 Thunderbolt, tried to help and protect their fellow comrades on the ground, who were fighting and battling through the harsh conditions to make their final stand. Allied aircraft were heavily involved in dog fights with ME-109s, took out machinery, troops, trucks whatever target they found and as such carried out a vital support role to those forces suffering so heavily on the ground.
Thunderbolts were ever present and C47 Dakotas were dropping valuable supplies. Napalm was used turning areas into a fire furnace, but losses were still being incurred as a result of enemy flak. The constant air prowess of the Allied forces meant that a lot of the subsequent German movement had to made under the disguise of darkness from around the 26th December.
Supply runs were continually being blocked off for the Germans so although they had the advantage in heavy armoury and tanks, they simply did not have the fuel and resources they needed to make them operational.
They were to call on the Luftwaffe for assistance and so Operation Bodenplatte was planned for New Year’s Day the intention being that the Luftwaffe would take out all allied ground forces and airfields.
Although the Luftwaffe had seen an introduction of Jet bombers which proved successful in terms of the aircrafts speed and agility as a whole the German Luftwaffe had many problems. Most of their pilots were very young and inexperienced and although Operation Bodenplatte had resulted in a surprise attack and loss of a number of allied aircraft on the ground as a whole the operation did not have the desired effect.
The battle was to continue on into Jan with the US still taking very high losses, it was just relentless.
The biting cold, inappropriate clothing and resources let alone food all took their toll, but the fighting spirit was held true and would never subside. This battle was where the air and land forces combined into one fighting unit.
Mid-January and both the air and German ground forces were beginning to suffer. Lack of fuel, resources leadership and manpower were leading to a deflated moral and general force.
By late January this brutal battle was almost coming to a close with countless losses of life and equipment on all sides. The last great German offensive had ended in defeat.
Leaving the politics and differences aside of those commanding the battles on the Allied front (of those there seemed a few) it has to be remembered that the battle was won through the sheer determination to fight to the bitter end and not give up. Many courageous acts with no regard for their own safety to protect and save the lives of their comrades for the greater good.