By 22 December, the 2nd Panzer Division was well on its way to the Meuse. It had avoided any American strong-points on its high speed dash to its assigned objective. It was however, caught a few times by Allied air strikes, which were beginning to take their toll. The division was now just like a finger protruding in a northwestward direction. Its column stretching back just over seven miles and with its lead units being probed all the time by Allied patrols. There were no units to guard its flanks: Panzer Lehr to its south had just secured the town of Rochefort, and General Bayerlein had decided to rest his exhausted troops for a time before pressing on. To the north, the 116th Panzer Division was finding the going tough trying to cut the main Marche-Hotton highway. They had come up against defences of the newly arrived American 84th Infantry Division and had stalled. So much so that von Manteuffel decided to go personally and see its commander, General von Waldenburg, to roust him into renewed efforts to get the job done.
Infantry from the US 84th Infantry Division move out to attack the 116th Panzer Division which had slowed down in its drive westward.
German reinforcements, by way of 9th Panzer and the rest of the 15th Panzer Grenadiers were held at bay by the everincreasing sorties of the Allied airforce.
General Heinrich von Lüttwitz:
‘On 21 December 44, the reconnaissance group of 2nd Panzer Division was located in Tenneville. Although I wanted the reconnaissance group to move fast through the Bois de Bande and reach Bande on that day, I could not order the movement because the weight of the Division was too strung out to follow. It extended all the way back from Tenneville to Bourcy. The 2nd Panzer Division later reported to me that there was a road block held by strong enemy forces in front of Tenneville. On the 23–24 December 44,1 personally drove up to the point of the Division and discovered that the road block consisted only of thin barricades. I saw that there were no enemy forces and later had to clear the matter by a court-martial. I then got the Division moving, but we had proceeded northwest only a short distance when we came to a small river crossing. At that place, the whole road was blown up. It was an exceptionally good piece of work by the American engineers. We reconnoitred a bypass and the Division then moved rapidly on to Marche.’
By 24 December, the 2nd Panzer Division was getting very low on fuel and requested permission to withdraw from its hazardous surroundings to a better defensive line. Lüttwitz agreed as he could see clearly the predicament his armoured forces were in. Hitler refused the request. The Division’s forward unit was now only four miles from its objective, the River Meuse, it occupied two areas, one around Foy-Notre-Dam and the other around Celles and Conjoux. Virtually out of fuel, they dug in and waited for the inevitable American attack. A message arrived from Field Marshal Model telling the division, if it had no more fuel then it was to proceed to the Meuse on foot. Nobody paid any attention. The men had had enough, besides it was Christmas Day.
At first no attacks materialized and Major General Ernest N Harmon’s 2nd Armored Division was sent to cover the area in front of the 2nd Panzer Division’s line of advance; there he was ordered to take up defensive positions. The whole of the American VII Corps, to which the 2nd Armored belonged, had been ordered south from the Aachen area to counter-attack the Germans.
Harmon was at dinner on 23 December, when he was interrupted by an officer from his division bearing news that one of his reconnaissance patrols had been fired on by German tanks less than ten miles to the south. Harman was galvanized into action, he sent a force of tanks south-eastward to meet the oncoming threat.
Leading the American column was a task force under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Hugh R O’Farrell. It had a jeep out front the crew of which heard the clanking of tank tracks and the sound of voices. The jeep was immediately turned around and proceeded up the column telling the drivers of the vehicles and troops to quietly take cover in the trees lining the road. The night was illuminated by a full moon and, with snow on the ground, visibility was very good. The German vehicles rumbled on totally unaware of the presence of American troops and ran into the ambush. American tankers opened up with everything they had and within minutes of opening fire had reduced the German vehicles to burning hulks. It had been a roving patrol on the northern flank of the main panzer column, which was advancing on Celles.
Harman called VII Corps headquarters with news he had got from some local Belgians. They say the Krauts are out of gas. They’re sitting ducks.’ After much haggling he was finally given permission to attack. It was Christmas morning, and he sent his CCB southwest towards Celles and his CCA southeast to Rochefort to cut the bottom of the German finger. The two forces, without too much trouble, finally linked on 26 December cutting off 2nd Panzer Division from the rest of the German forces. With the aid of RAF rocket firing Typhoon aircraft the pocket was cleared. It seemed to the men of 2nd Panzer that the whole area was crawling with tanks.
Panzer MkVs, Panthers, halted in the Bulge through lack of fuel.
Panzer Lehr tried to break through but got the same reception. Counter-attack after counter-attack by the Germans to try and reopen the route to Celles failed. The 116th Panzer Division also tried to fight through but was stopped dead by the 84th Infantry Division at Verdenne. It dug in, but was finished as an assault division. The other German division sent there, 9th Panzer, managed to seize and control the road junction at Humain, just northeast of Rochefort. But it too was pounded by artillery and tanks of the surrounding 2nd Armored Division and was forced into submission. Lüttwitz, hearing of the disaster, ordered his columns to fall back on Rochefort leaving the men trapped in the pocket to their own devices. That night Manteuffel gave the order for the men to try and break out on foot. Not many made it. The German high water mark had been reached and the westward drive had been finally stopped.
Hitler, upon learning of the destruction of his units, reluctantly consented to a withdrawal of German forces to more defensible positions. But he had by no means given up on his original plan. He insisted to Manteuffel that he should clear up the Bastogne salient, before renewing the drive for the Meuse and finally on to Antwerp.
The Bastogne area would see many more days of heavy fighting. The place seemed to suck both German and American units into it like a magnet. The American plan was for the U.S 3rd Army to attack towards Bastogne. To the west of the narrow corridor two divisions the 11th Armored Division and the 87th Infantry Division were to head north and come up alongside the defenders in the Champs area. At the same time the 35th Infantry Division was to drive up towards Longvilly. This would widen the relief corridor and drive a wedge into the German positions. Attack date was 30 December.
The attack started and met head on with the German forces hell bent on cutting the corridor from east to west. The 11th Armored Division and 87th Infantry Division were hit by elements of Panzer Lehr and 26th VGD, which had been regrouping around the Bastogne area. The US 35th Infantry Division in the east hit the 1st SS Panzer Division full on. The attacks bogged down with no one going anywhere. The Americans had not succeeded in widening the corridor and the Germans had not cut it.
This German half-track has caught a direct hit.
The battle fell into a slogging match with ever increasing casualties on both sides. To top it all the weather was deteriorating rapidly. This trend would continue well into the New Year, with major German attacks still hitting the exhausted defenders of Bastogne.
Things finally started to change when, on 31 December, Hitler threw in a quickly conceived attack way down south in the Vosges Mountain region. In theory a mini Ardennes attack, with a view of nipping off the thin American salient there and surrounding Strasbourg. In his mind Hitler knew the Americans would have to send reinforcements to that area so reducing the numbers around Bastogne. It was not a success, the German units were below strength and ill equipped, and the American determination was such that it thwarted all attempts to break through. The Germans were now a spent force, and with a seeming never ending supply of fresh US divisions arriving daily there seemed little hope of any success.
2nd Panzer Division’s route and furthest penetration
Hitler’s plan (black) and furthest penetration (grey) achieved
The Luftwaffe’s last offensive, Operation BODENPLATTE, took place 1 January 1945. Allied airfields in Holland Belgium and Luxembourg were attacked. Although some 800 Allied aircraft were damaged or destroyed German losses were also heavy and the Luftwaffe never recovered. Here Hitler and Göring listen to General Heinz Guderian as he indicates some aspect of the planned air assault. Top: A Focke Wolfe 190 is prepared for takeoff in the winter of 1945.
An American jeep enters Houffalize.
War torn Houffalize after the battle.
The Luftwaffe on 1 January made its final attempt of the war to swing the balance. Over 1,000 fighters and fighter bombers took off to destroy Allied forward fighter bases in the hope of ruling the skies again. Although it did inflict much damage to Allied aircraft caught on the ground, the cost to itself was also high. Many German planes were shot down and precious, experienced pilots lost. So much so, it too became a spent force and never really showed itself in any real strength for the remaining months of the war.
On 3 January 1945, the British commander, Field Marshall Montgomery, was put in charge of the northern sector of the Ardennes. He commenced his drive south with the American 1st Army and British XXX Corps. On 9 January the 4th Armored Division and the 101st Airborne Division struck out of the Bastogne perimeter towards Houffalize. By 15 January the northern and southern Allied forces were within sight of each other and on 16 January, one month after the initial German assault, the two forces linked up at Houffalize, effectively trapping the exhausted, disease ridden German forces within the Allied pincers.
The Germans that could make it, retreated eastwards, back to their homeland, harassed all the while by pursuing tanks and fighter aircraft.
The German forces were in retreat.
For most of the time during the fighting-withdrawal I was leading the 10th Kompanie, during which time we were almost completely wiped out. In the village of Bertogne I came face to face with a Sherman tank and managed to put it out of action when I fired at it from a stable window. There were other German troops in the village retreating to the German border and I recall meeting up with an Oberleutnant Sural and immediately struck up a brief friendship. We each led our units off eastward, became separated, and never saw each other again. Did he ever make it to safety and survive the war? We passed through Bertogne, Longchamps, Recogne, Longville, Oberwampach and headed north from Hosingen to a village over the German border. Next we went to Karlshausen back to where we had started. It was here that my runner and I ate a proper meal for the first time in weeks. During the periods of heavy fighting we had rarely seen food rations. We often ate snow and, due to this, had violent diarrhoea.’
Hitler’s dream of re-capturing the port of Antwerp and thus driving a wedge between the mainly British and American forces had experienced some limited success. Without him realizing it his WACHT AM RHEIM offensive had created a rift among the leaders within the Allied camp, one that would never really be healed for the remainder of the war.
Bernard Law Montgomery
Montgomery had sent a letter to Eisenhower on the 29 December asking that he be put in charge of all Allied troops in the west. To Eisenhower, Montgomery’s letter seemed to read that his judgement in making General Bradley overall commander was a bad one, and that he, Eisenhower, was not up to the job.
Eisenhower was furious and was in the process of drafting a letter to the US Army Chief of Staff, General Marshall, in the United States, saying they would have to choose between him and Montgomery. Before it was sent Montgomery’s Chief of Staff, Major General Sir Frances de Guingand, got wind of the rift and stalled Eisenhower’s headquarters saying that he would talk to the unsuspecting Montgomery about the implications of his letter. Montgomery, when he realized what he had unintentionally implied, wrote back to Eisenhower apologizing and ending the note with, ‘Very distressed that my letter may have upset you and I would ask you to tear it up’. (He subsequently sought to reassure Eisenhower of his total support whatever his plans.) Eisenhower was reasonably happy with this and decided not to carry the matter further.
However, it was not quite the end of the matter, on 7 January Montgomery decided to hold a press conference, ironically as a gesture of goodwill between American and British forces. Unfortunately, it all came out wrong, and the way Montgomery put it over sounded as if he had saved the day and masterminded all the defensive and offensive moves. Of course the British press played on this misinterpretation and blew it all out of proportion saying things like ‘Montgomery had foreseen the attack and had saved the Americans’. Once again the two factions were at each other’s throats and, once again, Montgomery had to write a pacifying letter, this time to General Bradley, saying that it had been a great honour for him to have served with such fine American troops and commanders.
It took Sir Winston Churchill, two weeks later in the House of Commons, to put things right. He stated that the battle in the Ardennes was primarily an American battle:
‘The Americans have engaged thirty or forty men for every one we have engaged and they have lost sixty to eighty men for every one of us. It was the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever famous American victory.’
Although the Battle was an Anglo-American affair it will invariably be viewed as strictly American. When it boils down to it the men from all sides at the ‘sharp end’ would not care what was happening above them. All that mattered to the German Grenadier, American GI or British Tommy was that they survive the living hell of battle and the atrocious weather conditions that they had to endure.
Churchill put the record straight regarding involvement of British and American troops during what was coming to be known as the Battle of the Bulge.
The fighting is all over and this German soldier, his leg almost blown off, receives aid from a medic of the 10th Armored Division.
As you can imagine, this was not an easy battle to condense, and keep simple. The lines were very fluid, and covered a vast sector, with much of the fighting going on simultaneously. However, I hope that, with the aid of this guide, you will be able to tour round and see the main areas of interest. Above all, spare some thoughts for the men who were there in that freezing winter of 1944/45.
A memorial ceremony for the men of Company C 9th Armored Engineer Battalion 9th Armored Division, who were killed during the seige of Bastogne – held 22 January 1945.
Major Charles L. Hustead delivers his address to the people of Bastogne
Major Charles Hustead and his wife presenting packages of nuts to the children of Bastogne. (1948)
At a review, Major General William H. Morris Commander of the 10th Armored Division and Major General Anthony C. McAuliffe (front row) prepare to take the salute.
CCB 10th Armored Division being presented with the Presidential Unit Citation for their part in the defense of Bastogne.