Battle of the Bulge

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The Ardennes Offensive, code-named by the Wehrmacht as Operation "Watch on the Rhine" (German: Unternehmen „Wacht am Rhein“), officially named the Battle of the Ardennes by the U.S. Army, and known to the general public as the Battle of the Bulge, was the last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II and took place from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945. The ultimate goal was to gain separate peace treaty with the Western Allies, independent of the Communist Soviet Union. The offensive was a failure and the war continued to the demanded "unconditional surrender" of Germany on 8 May 1945.

History

Tiger II of the 501st ss heavy panzer battalion from the Kampfgruppe „Peiper“; riding along are Fallschirmjäger of the Luftwaffe.

The German counteroffensive of the Heeresgruppe B (Army Group B under Walter Model: 5th Panzer Army under Hasso von Manteuffel, 6th Panzer Army under Sepp Dietrich, 7th Army under Erich Brandenberger and 15th Army under Gustav-Adolf von Zangen) was supported by subordinate operations known as "Bodenplatte" (Luftwaffe strike against the USAAF), "Greif", and "Währung". Germany's planned goal for these operations was to split the British and American Allied line in half, capturing Antwerp, Belgium, and then proceeding to encircle and destroy four Allied armies, forcing the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis Powers’ favor.

The Ardennes offensive was planned in total secrecy, in almost total radio silence. Although Ultra, the Allies’ reading of secret German radio messages, suggested a possible German offensive, and the United States Third Army predicted a major German offensive, the attack still achieved surprise. The degree of surprise achieved was compounded by the Allies' overconfidence, their preoccupation with their own offensive plans, poor aerial reconnaissance, and the relative lack of combat contact in the area by the U.S. 1st Army. Almost complete surprise against a weak section of the Allies’ line was achieved during heavy overcast, when the Allies' strong air forces would be grounded. The “bulge” was the salient that the Germans initially put into the Allies’ line of advance, as seen in maps presented in contemporary newspapers.

Most of the American casualties occurred within the first three days of battle, when two of the U.S. 106th Infantry Division’s three regiments were forced to surrender. The Battle of the Bulge was the bloodiest of the battles that U.S. forces experienced in World War II; the 19,000 American dead were unsurpassed by those of any other engagement. For the U.S. Army, the battle incorporated more troops and engaged more enemy troops than any conflict before that time. The German objectives ultimately were unrealized. In the wake of the defeat, many experienced German units were left severely depleted of men and equipment, as German survivors retreated to the defenses of the Siegfried Line.

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