December 20, 2011 3 Comments
I suppose that most of you know that in the early morning of 16 DEC 1944 the Wehrmacht and even the Luftwaffe made their last attempt to prevent the Allies from conquering Nazi Germany. It was somewhat of a reprise of Fall Gelb, the invasion plan from 1940. It ran into Allied troops who had been pulled from the line because of casualties and other new units which were getting used to a combat zone in a quiet sector. From 16 DEC it was anything but a quiet sector, this battle caused the highest American casualties in the entire war as it raged on for more than a month.
The battle opens, of course, on a shocked and surprised Allied command, who seemed to be thinking that the war was over. Small units all over the place fought heroically to stand off the Germans, it seems that the Engineers did especially well in using improvised munitions and tactics, such as rivers of burning gasoline (at St. Vith, I think). The only real reserve was the 18th Airborne Corps; mostly the 82d and the 101st, the same famous All-Americans and Screaming Eagles, that have been famous throughout the 20th and into the 21 st century, here, as at Normandy, and in Market-Garden is where they won their fame.
An aside, here, is that the Air Force talks about Global Reach, and does very well with intercontinental strikes where necessary. But the Army, alone in the world can put an entire division on the ground by parachute anywhere, in the world in one lift. The only problem is that when they get there, they’re pretty much stuck, you can only carry so much on your back. But imagine the surprise of some far away dictator awakening in the morning and finding his way blocked suddenly by one of the most famous fighting divisions in the world, backed by the USAF and Navy.
Here’s a map of the way the battle went.
If you follow the roads in the southern part you’ll come to a little town that no one ever heard of before 1944: Bastogne. If you look at the map, you’ll notice a black dotted line all the way around it, that’s the German line, the 101 ABN and part of the 10th Armored (Tiger Division) are surrounded. When the German commander demanded the surrender of Bastogne, BGEN McAuliffe gave one of the most succinct and American answers: “Nuts”. Legend has it that Patton, commanding 3d US Army just below the bulge upon hearing this said, “A man that eloquent must be rescued.”
Anyway, 3d Army in an outstanding maneuver, disengaged from their attack east, holding their positions, turned north and made an organized attack within 24 hours on the middle of blizzards and on icy road and ground. At 16:50 on 26 December, the lead element, Company D, 37th Tank Battalion, commanded by LTC Creighton W. Abrams, later Chief of Staff of the Army, for whom the M-1 Tank is named, of the 4th Armored Division, attached to 3d Army, reached Bastogne, ending the siege .
If you haven’t read too many accounts of the American Army fighting with it’s back to the wall, with inadequate supplies and without relief or even air cover, this would be a good battle to study. We don’t fight that way by choice but, when we have to, we do it as well (or better) than anybody in the world.
This overview is primarily an introduction for some new photographs released by Life magazine, some in color. Incidently, if you ever wondered what made Life a staple all over the country before television, these pictures should tell you.
I found these at The Daily Mail, there are more there. Link
And still more at Life’s site. Link
We should all take some time and contemplate what these men did to build the world we live in. These were the men who, as one veteran stated, roughly,
“In 1945, all over the world when a squad of infantry came into town, people feared random murder, rape, or looting, except when it was a squad of Americans; then it meant food, and chocolate, and cigarettes, and freedom.”
If you want confirmation of that, all you need to do is look at the reverence the locals have for American Military Cemeteries all over the world. In one of them, GEN Patton is buried in the American Military Cemetery at Hamm, Belgium, where his grave is jointly cared for by the Grand Duke and a common citizen.
I just noticed that I move the Cemetery at Hamm from Luxembourg to Belgium, so I thought I better put it back.
- Vivid new Battle of the Bulge photos offer never-before-seen look at the war-weary soldiers braving the frigid weather as they fight off Nazi Germany’s last major offensive of World War II (dailymail.co.uk)
- Belgian nurse who saved GIs in WWII honored (thegrio.com)