This is not your typical article about a battle, but you will see what I mean by the end.
The Battle of the Bulge has been written about, we have heard the interviews with the men who fought, and have even seen one or more of the many movies made about that battle. However, the battle was actually longer than most of us realize. Begun on 16 December 1944, the battle was not over until 25 January 1945. It marked the last offensive of the war for Germany. It was also the bloodiest battle of World War Two for the American forces. Though British Field Marshall Montgomery held a press conference taking credit for the victory it was, as Sir Winston Churchill told parliament, an American battle.
The casualty figures for the battle bear this out. The German losses were approximately 100,000 killed, wounded, captured, and missing. The American casualties were 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded, and 23,000 missing or captured. British casualties were 200 killed, 969 wounded, 239 missing and captured.
The event that most people are familiar with in this battle is centered around the Siege of Bastogne. The American 101st airborne division was surrounded by German forces and given an ultimatum to surrender. To which the acting commander of the division, General Anthony McAuliffe, responded with a one word reply, “Nuts!”
At the beginning of the battle General Eisenhower assembled his generals in Verdun to discuss how to deal with this surprise attack by the Germans. It was vital that the Siege of Bastogne be lifted and the 101st airborne division be relieved or the entire division would be lost. When General Patton stated that 3rd Army could reach Bastogne in 48 hours with two divisions no one in the room believed him.
However, the attack was not as much of a surprise to the 3rd Army intelligence staff as it was to the rest of the allied commanders. General Patton’s intelligence officers had predicted an offensive by the Germans. Patton’s staff had worked out three separate plans to turn 3rd Army north and meet this threat. As General Eisenhower was searching for options, General Patton had already ordered 3rd Army to begin its move north to meet the new threat.
While the allied generals were arriving in Verdun, 3rd Army had already started what would be a 100 mile race, in bad weather, in 48 hours. In the end the 101st would be relieved, and 3rd Army would travel more miles in less time while fighting more battles along the way, than any Army in history.
Later this month, as the anniversary approaches, I will do another article on the battle, and just why it was so important to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
I do want to make one point before I go. The articles I write about war, such as this, are not a glorification of war. There is nothing glorious about war. I have known men who have fought in some of the most well known battles this country has fought. The sacrifices they made have benefitted untold millions of men, women, and children. But when you get to know these men, the sacrifices they have made are very real, and very permanent. What war has done to these men we call survivors cannot be described, it can only be witnessed. None of us can ever understand the horrors these men will carry around with them for the rest of their lives, unless we were beside them every step of the way. Other combat veterans have the best idea of the sacrifice and horrors, but each war each battle is different, and no two men ever completely respond the same way. Though none of them will ever again be the men they were before they stepped into harm’s way, to know that many of these men believe their sacrifice was worth the benefits to others leaves me in awe. Our goal should always be to prevent war, not glorify it.