The term ‘Battle of the Bulge’ conjures up childhood memories of the film of the same name, with the likes of Hollywood stars such as Fonda, Shaw, Savalas, Ryan, Dana Andrews and Bronson, plus the use of inaccurate US Tanks, weapons and other extravagant use of artistic licence.
The rightly recognised determined and successful defence of the town of Bastogne by the US 101st Airborne Division and Combat Command B of the 10th Armoured Division is worth commemoration.
What is far less recognised is the British contribution to stalling the last major German offensive of World War Two.
The Ardennes Offensive in December 1944 through to January 1945 was a complex affair, on both sides. The Ardennes that initially appeared to have the makings of a German victory became a costly defeat and by the close of the fighting the Germans had lost about 100,000 men – the Americans 19,000 killed and 47,000 wounded and the British, well, the jury are still out on that figure, but around 10,000.
The units fighting under the British 30th Corps in the Ardennes consisted chiefly of three divisional types: infantry, armour and airborne units. Independent Armoured brigades and reconnaissance regiments were also involved. The 53rd Welsh Infantry Division, the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry Regiment and the British 29th Armoured Brigade are just a few examples.
A little recognised fact is that Scots’ regiments, including the Black Watch, participated in the Allied counter-offensive during the Battle and liberated a number of villages and towns in the battle area, including La Roche-en-Ardenne.
Bad weather was a key element for the reasons for the German offensive and also part of its downfall. Logistics was both the objective and the decider in this campaign, with many German units simply running out of fuel and provisions, short of their objectives as a result of Allied delaying actions.
“The operations of the American 1st Army had developed into a series of individual holding actions. Montgomery's contribution to restoring the situation was that he turned a series of isolated actions into a coherent battle fought according to a clear and definite plan. It was his refusal to engage in premature and piecemeal counter-attacks which enabled the Americans to gather their reserves and frustrate the German attempts to extend their breakthrough’. So was quoted Hasso von Manteuffe, the commander of the 5th Panzer Army.
Montgomery had not endeared himself to his American allies, yet again, in his rather derogatory comments about US fighting ability and their need for assistance from British troops.
The attempted assault on Allied forces by an initial assault force of 13 German Divisions was a last ditch attempt to stall the Allied advance on Germany.
However, the Allied air offensive of early 1944 had effectively grounded the Luftwaffe (German Air Force), leaving the German Army with little battlefield intelligence and no way to interdict Allied supplies whereas German supplies were running perilously low for such a gamble and due to the weather, many roads were impassable even to tracked vehicles.
Ignoring the Hollywood hype, British forces contributed massively to the defence and counter attacks and paid a high price in casualties. Arguably the British forces were the final dam on the line of the Meuse against which the offensive broke having been slowed down by the US forces at also terrible cost.
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