By Chris Dumford
On this day, December 16, 1944, Three German armies, freshly reinforced and brought up to full strength, comprising the last of Hitler's reserves, burst out of the Ardennes through the US 1st Army with the view toward splitting the allied forces in two. Their strategic goal was the city of Antwerp. The Germans believed that they could divide the British and Canadian armies in the north, from the American forces in the south and force the western allies to sue for peace. The Germans were aware that the Ardennes was a weak point in the Allied lines and their plans were designed to fully exploit those weaknesses. The Ardennes were held by three American infantry divisions and 2 armored divisions. Of the three infantry divisions, the 99th and 106th infantry divisions were brand new divisions who had never seen combat and were still working up and training, and the 28th division was sent to the so-called quiet sector to rest and rebuild after being mauled in a long series of engagements from Normandy through France. The 7th Armored and 9th Armored divisions were also in the process of being rebuilt. As a result, the Ardennes was considered to be a weak point in the Allies lines, as the divisional frontages were too long for the divisions to adequately hold, and there were too few reserves. This was necessary because the major Allied doctrine was to concentrate forces in the north and south, and utilize the Ardennes as a rest and recuperation area.
The Battle of the Bulge was the largest battle ever fought by the US army. Over a million men would ultimately be committed to the battle. The brand new 106th infantry division (the golden lions) was attacked by the 6th SS Panzer Army and cut off in a small mountain range called the Snee Eiffel and two out of three regiments surrendered without putting up much of a fight. This resulted in a huge hole in the American lines. As the Americans retreated, they made a stand at several towns including Clerveaux in the north. The 110th Regimental combat team of the 28th division took a stand in Clerveaux against 2 German Armored divisions. The Germans broke into the American lines after surrounding the town and German tanks ranged up and down the American lines firing right into individual fox holes. The 7th armored division sacrificed intself to hold the town of St. Vith (the famous battle of the goose egg), while several battalions of US engineers (326th and 327th Engineers) from the 28th division fought sacrificial rear guard actions to hold the center of the American line near Bastogne and slow down the German advance.
The 101st Airborne division was trucked into the town of Bastogne which was a major road junction. They were ordered to hold at all costs. They were surrounded and attacked by the by the German 5th Panzer army and only the support of the remnants of the 9th armored division prevented them from being overrun.
In the north, 84 American prisoners were massacred by German SS General Joachim Pieper at Malmedy. Pieper ultimately ran out of fuel near Stoumont and had to abandon his vehicles and march back to the German lines on foot (after the war he was executed following the Nuremburg trials for this act). The German 2nd Panzer Division made it as far as Celles, just short of the Meuse River before running out of fuel. The American 2nd Armored division (under famous General Harmar), counter attacked the German 2nd Panzer division and largely destroyed the division, ending the German's hopes of splitting the Allied lines.
Eisenhower took measures to insure that the Germans would not cross the Meuse. British General Montgomery moved a British army corps to cover the Meuse river crossings, the US 2nd armored division was thrown forward against the German advanced units at Celles, and Patton's 3rd army was moved out of its lines in the Huertgen Forest and redirected from the south and ordered to advance north, through the German 7th army covering the southern flank of the German advance. On the day after Christmas, the US 4th armored division from Patton's 3rd army broke through to Bastogne and relieved the 101st airborne division. By January 23rd, the Germans were pushed back to their original start lines, thus ending the greatest battle in American History. 19,246 Americans would be killed and over 47,000 would be wounded. German casualties would number close to 100,000.