We use previously lost or hidden evidence to recount the incredible story of the Ardennes offensive. Known to the German military as ‘Unternehmen: Wacht am Rhein’, and to the American and British public as the ‘Battle of the Bulge’, it occurred in the Ardennes Forest on the German-Belgian border, and was one of the fiercest and most desperately fought battles of the Second World War.
The offensive, launched by Marshal von Rundstedt on 16th December 1944, was a last attempt by German forces to break through the Allied front in the west. They hoped to capture the seaport of Antwerp, thus cutting off supplies to the British and American armies preparing to invade Germany. They sought to encircle and destroy the Allied armies, forcing them to abandon Franklin D. Roosevelt’s much-lauded dogma of ‘unconditional surrender’, instead negotiating a peace treaty in Germany’s favour.
We reveal how the attack took Allied forces completely by surprise. It was planned secretly, in almost total radio silence, and went undetected by Allied intelligence. German forces were able to break through the thinly held American front in the Belgian Ardennes sector. They penetrated deep into Belgium, pushing towards Antwerp and creating an enormous eighty-five mile long ‘bulge’ in the Allied lines.
The battle took place in extreme conditions. Not only could von Rundstedt’s forces take advantage of the foggy weather, soldiers also endured the coldest European winter on record. Temperatures plummeted to minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit; men suffered extreme wind chill and frostbite as the foxholes intended to shelter them became frozen tombs. On both sides, casualties resulting from exposure to extreme cold were soon as large as the losses from actual fighting.
The tactics and course of the Allied counter-offensive, which was launched on 3rd January 1945, are afforded a comprehensive examination. General Eisenhower appointed Field Marshal Montgomery to temporary command of the First and Ninth armies, who attacked the German salient from the north. Simultaneously, the American third army attacked it from the south, and by 16 January, the German forces had been comprehensively routed.