On December 16th, 1944, Allied forces were camped on the Western front in the Ardennes forest in southern Belgium and Luxembourg. They had no idea that Hitler was ready to attack with a Blitzkrieg force of 450,000 men and thousands of tanks. Hitler wanted to stop the Allied use of the Belgium port of Antwerp and he wanted to split the Allied forces. So he began what is known as The Battle of the Bulge. The massive force caught the Allies by surprise. The surprise attack and the size of the offensive gave the initial upper hand to the Germans but by the time the battle ended on January 25th, 1945, the Allies came out on top. Both sides experienced tens of thousands of casualties and it ended up having the highest number of American casualties of any operation during the war. The Allied defeat of the Germans at the Battle of the Bulge marked the end of the Axis offensive on the Western Front.
10. The Name Comes From a “Bulge” Left in the Allied Lines
This battle actually has a number of different names which tend to vary based on who you ask. The Germans codenamed the buildup Wacht am Rhine (Watch on the Rhine) and the offensive itself Unternehmen Herbstnebel (Autumn Mist). The Allied command named it the Ardennes Counteroffensive while the French forces called it La Bataille des Ardennes. If you look at a map of the battle, you will notice a line in semi-circle form, a product of the German blitzkrieg attack on the Allies’ forces. Although the Hitler did not manage to split the Allied front in two, he did manage to inflict a bulge in the front lines of about 50 miles north-south and 70 miles west. For two weeks, the Germans achieved breakthroughs in half a dozen places, and it appeared that they would reach at least the Meuse River (a penetration of more than seventy miles). It was mostly American troops along the lines and some of them had very little experience in combat. The well-trained troops of the U.S. 28th and 106th Infantry Divisions collapsed and created a gap (known as the bulge) allowing the 58th Panzer Corps and the 47th Corps to pour through it. The name Battle of the Bulge was given by the media to describe the inward looking line in the wartime maps. The catchy name would become the most recognized name for the battle.
While the bulge took a huge effort by the Germans, just a month after the start of the Battle of the Bulge, the bulge was no more and the Allied front line was back where it was before the battle had occurred.
9. It Involved More Than a Million Soldiers and 3000 Tanks
At the start of the battle on December 16th, about 400,000 German forces, 1,600 artillery pieces and 1200 tanks lashed out toward 200,000 Allied troops and a few hundred tanks, most of them Americans. Reinforcements on both sides were called in with the numbers rising to 540,000 on the Allied side and 450,000 on the German side by December 24th. The Allies also brought in 1,000 more tanks and hundreds of artillery pieces. As the battle continued to its climax on early January, the numbers reached 400,000 total German soldiers against 700,000 Allied troops and more than 2,000 Allied tanks against the few hundred German tanks that remained. The Germans did not have the draw of troops and tanks that the Allies did and therefore could not call on substantial reinforcements like the Allies were able to. This was hampered by the fact that the Allies were able to bomb the German supply lines.
Of the 500,000 Germans, between 65,000 and 120,000 were wounded and killed, 700 tanks were missing, and 1,600 aircraft were damaged beyond repair. On the other hand, the Allied Forces suffered about 90,000 casualties, 300 tanks, and 300 aircraft, with the majority of these losses being incurred in the first week. However, the Allied Forces could make up their losses, and this enabled them to hold the Germans until the war ended. The Battle of Bulge is said to be the largest and costliest battle (in terms of casualties) the U.S army ever fought during World War II. Apart from the soldiers from both sides, an estimated 3,000 civilians died during the fighting, and some were executed by the German combat and security forces.