The German offensive in the Ardennes during the winter of 1944/45 was a complete surprise to the allies, everyone except George Patton and his Third Army. The allies had complete control of the air, and the Germans were short on supplies. Intelligence reported that the Germans used the Ardennes to rest weakened and battle weary divisions returning from fighting. It just seemed logical that not only was this the wrong time for a German offensive, but the Ardennes was the wrong location
Since the breakout from Normandy the allies had advanced quickly against the Germans, stretching their supplies lines and troop replacements. As the front lines advanced, and more men where needed to fill the lines they took those men from the front lines in the Ardennes. I mean after all those troops would not be needed in the Ardennes since the Germans were using the Ardennes for R&R, right? To continue the illusion the Germans moved men and supplies into position at night, out of the prying eyes of allied air cover.
General Taylor, the commanding officer of the 101st airborne division, was attending a staff conference in the United States when the Battle of the Bulge broke out; and his deputy General Higgins was in England. This left General McAuliffe, the division’s artillery commander, as the acting commanding officer of the 101st airborne division.
The 101st was originally ordered to Werbomont 17 December. As the 101st was moving towards Werbomont, General McAuliffe went to Bastogne to confer with General Middleton, commander of the VIII corps, on the afternoon of 18 December. General Middleton immediately ordered General McAuliffe to defend Bastogne.
The 28th Infantry Division was at Wiltz, southeast of Bastogne. A battle weary unit, the 28th had been assigned to the relatively quiet area around Bastogne. Overwhelmed and close to being overrun, on the 19th of December the command post of the 28th Division withdrew to Bastogne, that night what was left of the 28th withdrew to Bastogne.
General McAuliffe had very few tanks (about 40) at his disposal to stand against the German infantry and armor divisions that surrounded Bastogne. What he did have were two battalions of artillery. It was very fortunate indeed that General McAuliffe was artillery expert, as he was able to hold off the Germans using artillery, until General Patton arrived to relieve Bastogne.
Fate had intervened to put the right man, in the right place, at the right time to hold Bastogne. And the right man, in the right place, with the right army, at the right time to rush to General McAuliffe’s defense. No other General, including Eisenhower, thought it was possible to get to Bastogne to save the 101st.
These two men, Generals McAuliffe and Patton, more than anyone else, saved Bastogne and defeated the last German offensive of World War Two.