Table of Contents
When you think of WWII, the best way to understand it is to think of it as a novel with many different chapters. The Battle of Bastogne is exactly that a chapter of WWII. The Battle of Bastogne is often referred as the Battle of the Bulge, or the Battle of Ardennes. Bastogne is a town in Belgium close to the Luxembourg border. The Germans felt that Bastogne was a reasonable goal when they launched their surprise attack on December 16, 1944. However, General Dwight D. Eisenhower rushed infantry troops and 10th Armored Divisions to Bastogne in the hopes they would be there ahead of the Germans. The battle took place under a very dense fog, which made conditions very difficult for the army to see. Bastogne remains the enduring symbol of the American fight against odds in the Ardennes. It is not hard to see why this is so.
The word “bulge” refers to the dent that the Germans initially put into the Allies’ line of advance. This battle became a crucial step into German territory and it brought the ultimate victory against Nazi totalitarianism, tyranny, and religious freedom. This battle brought forth a lot of friction, even though it already existed, but like any war or in this case a battle what was tolerable becomes a form of dislike after the war. Hitler’s mission was to drive toward the Mouse River, aiming at Antwerp. This battle was fought on 80 miles of land stretching from Belgium, the Ardennes forest, down to Ettelbruck to the middle of Luxembourg. Hitler believed that he could get the western Allies to sign a peace treaty and that due to bad weather, bad terrain, & the Christmas holiday would help him catch the Allies by surprise. It just so happened that most of this battle was affected by the weather. Granted there were fog, bad terrain, and now snowstorms. The weather in 1944 turned out to be the coldest on record. Convinced that the Alliance of Britain, France, and America was weaker on the western front of the war, Hitler chose to launch a major attack, hoping that the defeat would break up the alliance. The attack was originally known as the Ardennes Offensive, but because the initial attack of the German forces created a bulge in the front line of the Allies, it has become commonly known as the Battle of the Bulge.
The Corps Artillery, in order to perform the mission of long range fire had available the best source of intelligence in the corps which was the Artillery Observation Battalion. This battalion always had several observation posts strategically placed to help locate the enemy’s artillery positions. The Artillery Battalion was always as far forward as possible so they could pick up indications of enemy activity both visually and by using audio equipment. Now there was some confusion because German troops were pretending to be American troops. They wore U.S. uniforms, some jumped out of planes, others rode in American jeeps, and they spoke perfect English. These spies or decoys jobs were to give false directions, change road signs, and cut telephone lines. The Germans managed to push the American troops to the Meuse River and surround the town of Bastogne. General Anthony Clement McAuliffe was the acting commander of the 101st Airborne Division and other attached troops during the siege at Bastogne. In a town halfway between Malmedy & Ligneuville an American battalion got captured by SS force. 80 men were killed and their bodies were just left where ever they fell. This became known as the Malmedy Massacre.
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American troops knew that Bastogne was going to be attacked. Therefore, VIII Corps Artillery which consisted of 7 battalions of 155mm howitzers, 155mm guns, and 8” howitzers took their positions in order to be fully prepared for the German troops. Now on December 17th commanders soon realized that fighting in Ardennes was a major offensive to where more troops were needed. Within a week 250,000 troops had been sent and in addition the 82nd Airborne division was also called into battle. The 101st Airborne arrived in Bastogne on December 19, 1944 lead by Col. Sherburne, the Division Artillery commander. Now due to the Col. Sherburne’s decision to go through Bastogne instead of a longer way there were plenty of troops to help in protecting Bastogne. There were 9th, and 10th Armored Divisions, extra Artillery Battalions, tank destroyer battalions, various infantry units, and 5th Parachute divisions.
Defending Bastogne has been marked as a “stroke of genius” which that is what General Patton called it. Now Hitler believed that he could take out Canada’s first army, America’s first and 9th armies, and Britain’s second army. That was ridiculous on his part seeing that his military was depleted of supplies since D-Day. However, Hitler being the Commander-in-Chief he declared that the attack take place anyway. “The Germans success lasted two days due to the fact that the Germans based their attack on a massive onslaught.” The Germans could have probably lasted longer but most of their armor required fuel and they didn’t have the fuel required to maintain their armor. In order for the Germans to keep a steady supply of fuel the Allies couldn’t have bombed the Germans fuel supplies. In fact that is exactly what happened, the Allies bombed their fuel plans. In turn Hitler’s plan to split the Allies was based on false hope. Eventually the weather started to clear up allowing more air power to help aide the American troops. “The air power launched bombing raids on the German supply points; P-47s started attacking the German troops on roads.” Not only did the air forces help defend they also dropped supplies such as medicine, food, blankets, and ammunition.
The Germans took control over several major ports along the Channel coast. Due to the extensive destruction to the French railroad system and it was intended to deny any movement for the Germans. Instead this destruction ended up proving to be even more damaging to the Allies. The Allies had to take their time to repair the tracks and bridges in order for the Allies to use the trains and bridges. The Red Ball Express was designed to bring supplies to the troops in the front line. The bombing of the Romanian oilfields starved Germany of oil and gasoline. The West was beginning to have supply problems and the opening of Antwerp did help the situation but not enough. The Allied Armies extended from southern France to the Netherlands and therefore they were overextended. There were several plans for a major Western offensive to put forward in which one plan called for a two-prong attack and another plan called for a blitzkrieg in order to capture Antwerp. Blitzkrieg was dubbed the “Wacht am Rhein,” or “Watch on the Rhine.” Other words blitzkriegs are more like a watch and wait strategy. Hitler decided to choose the second plan because he felt it would be more successful. The point to his madness is that capturing Antwerp would also lead into the trap for four major armies leaving them without supplies. Hitler viewed America as incapable of fighting and that America would eventually surrender. The temperature eventually went back to being really cold. In fact it got so cold that the trucks would have to be ran every half hour or the oil would freeze and so would the weapons. The fuel situation so dire that the Germans executed a successful withdrawal that they still had to abandon most of their armor.
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On January 7, 1945 Hitler agreed to pull back most if not all of his forces from Ardennes and it ended up in offensive operations. January 8, 1945 the German troops withdrew from the Bulge.” The Battle of the Bulge happened to be the largest battle fought by American troops in WWII. ” The casualties estimated from each battle vary. The American casualties are listed to be 70,000 to 81,000, British 1,400 and the German casualties are at 60,000 and 104,000. There were over 100,000 German troops that were taken prisoner. The battle ended when majority of Germany’s air power and men were lost and it had very few forces left to defend the Reich.” Even though the advance was halted the overall situation still remained dangerous. The Battle of the Bulge officially ended when the two American forces met on January 15, 1945.".
A. Role of the Field Artillery
During the battle of Bastogne, one of the roles played by artillery was to provide support to its particular users (Frederick). The battle of Bastogne took place during the period between December 1944 and February 1945 (Battle of the Bulge). The city of Bastogne was experiencing very cold season during this period. Combat Commands used artillery to select the effective positions for attacking the enemies in the snow-covered fields. Artillery's role was to enable all battalions of the same Combat Command to work in liaison with each other in attacking the enemies (Frederick). By using artillery, all battalions belonging to the allied side were able to fire mutually at the enemies.
Due to the prevailing climatic conditions during that time, artillery was used as a system of communication (Frederick). Unlike human beings and other means of communication such as telephone, artillery was not affected by the unfavorable climatic conditions. It ensured that an effective system of communication was in place, and maintained at all times (Frederick). Moreover, artillery's role was to weaken the battling power of the enemy side. Here, artillery’s role was to harass and interdict enemies’ fires light during the night, hence depriving the enemies a source of light and warmth during the nights. Artillery’s role was also to inflict heavy casualties on the equipments and personnel of the enemies’ side during counterattacks (Frederick). In addition, the artillery was used to screen the movement of allied soldiers during the war. The artillery would emit extensively thick smoke, which would cover the atmosphere, hence hiding the movement of the allies from the enemies (Battle of the Bulge).
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Use of artillery during the battle of Bastogne was very effective. It enabled the Combat Command to fight their enemies effectively. For instance, all fires light by the artillery as counterattack actions against the enemies had accurate outcomes. A number of the artillery’s fires to the enemies’ side would destroy personnel, equipments and the surrounding vegetation. The outcome of the battle of Bastogne was a decisive win by the allied side: the United States of America, Britain, Canada, and France soldiers overcame the German’s soldiers. Victory of the allied side in the battle of Bastogne played a significant role in ending the Second World War in Europe (Battle of the Bulge).
The weather throughout the days of the Battle of Bastogne was not pleasant to either Army of the conflict.
B. COMPARE FORCES
I. Size and Composition
The battle of Bastogne was largest battle in the western front and America’s largest fight with the highest number of American soldiers. American had administered over 600000 soldiers and nearly 20000 soldiers were killed, and 40000 were seriously injured while other 20000 were captured. The attacking side had over 250000 in the Belgium cities most of them occupying Bastogne. The Germans lost over 30000 soldiers, wounded over 40000 and more than 30000 men were captured. The Germans were so desperate that they took children to represent them in the battles. This was the last offensive war that was fought by the Germans, and that spent millions in treating casualties.
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Both the Americans and the Germans had different and tricky strategies in their quest to win the battle. The German soldiers pretended to be American soldiers in order to accomplish their mission in driving the Americans to the Meuse River. They wore American uniforms, and spoke fluent English. This way, they jumped from planes, drove American jeeps, and were able to establish their rule in Bastogne. On the other hand, the Americans discovered that there was a planned attack, and, therefore, prepared their troops. General Patton, who the commander of the third army assembled the VIII corps artillery which consisted of 7 battalions, with 155mm guns, 155mm howitzers. Throughout the battle, it was evident that there was excellent coordination in all operation from both sides.
III. Condition and Morale
In the beginning, the Germans were confident that they would beat the Americans; however, the situation turned around as the battle progressed. In the first 48 hours of the battle, General Patton had not yet planned the strategy of fighting off the troops that had surrounded them. In fact, General Patton feared that they would capture Antwerp which the countries ports and use it to get reinforcement from their allies. Moreover, he commanded his troops to use their fighting skills and maintain their courage throughout the battle. This way, the morale in both sides was high, and, therefore, made difficult to accept defeat.
The leadership between the Germans and the American was fine, and therefore, made the battle more vigorous. On the German side, general von Rundstedt’s forced the attack quick, and unexpected so as to achieve the element of surprise. By this, his soldiers had made a huge progress and were able to surround the American soldiers in the city of Bastogne. On the other hand, General Patton who was leading the American battalion feared that the Germans would capture Liege and Antwerp, and how they would relieve the soldiers who had surrounded them. It was evident that leadership played a major in ensuring their troops were psyched and by commanding their courage and fighting skills. Despite capturing Belgium’s cities, the German were defeated and had to lose the grounds.
The Battle of Bastogne ended up being a very important part of WWII. It was composed of Americans, British and German soldiers who launched their surprise attack on December 16th, 1944, believing that Bastogne was an important and secure win. The German forces tried to make it to Antwerp by going through the Ardennes but this plan failed and all they were able to accomplish was a bigger chaos and conflicts in the allied front lines. The Battle of Bastogne ended up being an indirect victory for the Americans, while the Germans lost many crucial and important resources which they were not able to replace or recuperate, making it an important reason as to why they lost the war. Until present day, Bastogne is still considered an important symbol for Americans in being able to fight and conquer against all odds in Ardennes