This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
of the Bulge” has largely been overlooked and for some, completely forgotten, and that a story about this event might make a good article for the local paper, the Moultrie News, she replied simply “Why don't YOU write it?” I did and she and publisher Vickey Boyd were kind enough to publish it. I am posting it here simply to make it available to my family and friends, and anyone, who is interested in knowing about a key event experienced by those of what has been labeled “Our Greatest Generation”. I hope it is also a reminder that we have another generation today achieving a greatness all their own. I gave my friends at the Moultrie News “carte blanche” to edit what I had written, so this does include some additional information at the end, that was omitted , I am sure, for reasons of space.
Lessons from the Battle of the Bulge Your fighting hole is as deep as you can make it, given the fact that the ground is frozen solid. . You and the majority of your friends have never been more than 60 miles away from home, and now you find yourself shivering in the coldest European winter in over 30 years near a Belgian village you never hear of before. . It’s been two weeks since you have had a hot meal, and you have been wearing the same dirty uniform for over a month. The woods around you are full of fanatical Nazi SS soldiers. You have heard rumors of the dreaded Tiger tanks, including new “King Tigers” impervious to puny bazookas and even the shells from American tanks bounce off. There are German soldiers rumored to be dressed as Americans and if you do get out of your hole, someone may ask you who was “The Sultan of Swat” to make sure you are really an American soldier. You have heard of Americans being massacred near a place called Malmady.
But you keep your head down, and shiver, hoping, above all, you don't let down the buddies around you. That was the experience of many American soldiers who, beginning on Dec 16, 1944 found themselves in the middle of what was the largest battle in American history: The Battle of the Bulge. The Battle of the Bulge gets its name from the fact that the Nazi leader, Adolph Hitler, despite the advice of his generals, and convinced of his own brilliance and infallibility, risked everything on one final “roll of the dice”. Despite the fact the German army had been shattered after the American breakout from Normandy, he began to amass his remaining reserves. His plan was to focus his forces on a weakspot in the Allied lines: a wooded area in Belgium and Luxembourg called the Ardennes. This wooded and hilly area was more thinly defended and some of the units there were either being rested or consisted of untried units. The goal was to push a spearhead between the American armies opt the South and the American and British Armies to the North, with the goal of capturing the port of Antwerp .The Allied Offensive had been slowed by the fact that the Germans either held or destroyed the French ports. Many of the supplies needed at the front were still coming across the beach at Normandy, and despite the valiant efforts of the supply soldiers, many of whom were African Americans in what was called “The Red Ball Express” and who drove night and day to deliver supplies to the front lines, mostly unarmed against snipers and isolated German units, the Allies had to pause and regroup in order to push past the German’s fixed defenses, known as the Siegfried line, and the last major barrier to the German heartland, the Rhine River. Led my his old friend from the street-fighting days in Munich, Sepp Dietritch, the German army rolled over the thinly held American lines, creating the Bulge for which this battle is remembered. The German plan failed. General Eisenhower, the overall commander in Europe had been promoted from the rank of Colonel over the heads of many senior Officers. It was during this crisis his cool headed nature, and his role as the glue of the British American alliance played a great role. He allowed General Bernard Montgomery to take command of the Northern flank, where “Monty’s’
skills as an organizer and his commitment to hold fast keep the “Bulge” from expanding into a route. Eisenhower called on his “Fire brigade” the Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Divisions, veterans of the Normandy campaign, and the ill-fated landings in Holland. They were rushed to the front and entrenched themselves around the key road junction in a small Belgian town called Bastogne. Surrounded and low on supplies, when the Germans sent a flag of true forward, with a document calling on the Americans’ to surrender. Their commander, General McAuliffe, read the demands and replied to his aide “Nuts!” As he tried to decide on what his formal response would be, his aide replied he had already made a perfect reply and the Germans were left to puzzle on what to think of a surrounded group of soldiers, who simply said “Nuts” when asked to surrender. On the southern flank he gave rein to his old friend, who he had had given one more chance, after he had been sidelined for slapping a soldier, George. S Patton. “Georgie” “ disengaged his Third Army and drove north relentlessly to smash in the German Bulge from the South and relieve the encircled soldiers at Bastogne. Generals and plans aside, it was the stubborn determination of the average American soldier, the bravery of engineers who blew up the bridges that the huge German tanks would need to cross the bridges to break out, and some divine intervention that finally cleared the skies allowing the feared fighter bombers, the Germans called “Jabots” to wreak havoc on the German forces. The series of hard fought battles that lasted from December 16, 1944 until January 1945 resulted in the most American casualties in World War II of any single event. There were 89,500 casualties including 19,000 killed, 47,500 wounded. The Battle of the Bulge also resulted in the most American Prisoners of War (POWs) from a single even, with the VA listing the total as over 25,000. Growing up in the small town, where the stove at my father’s feed store, was the gathering place, I was fortunate to know and talk to several veterans of this battle some of whom had been badly
wounded and two who were German POWs. One of the former POWs wives would only put on the table as much food as she though her husband should eat: after months of eating turnips tops and rotten potatoes, he would not leave any food uneaten on the table. When I asked him about his experiences once he said “Lotta shooting” and I could tell the conversation was over. Here in Charleston I have a dear friend who also participated in the Battle of the Bulge. Like many veterans, he is reluctant to discuss his experiences , but after many years of gentle and persistent persuasion, he told me his story. As a young soldier in an anti aircraft unit, he was generally stationed back from the front lines. The German Luftwaffe had, after an initial attack where most of their reaming planes were destroyed, were not a major factor, in the Bulge, so my friend was given a bazooka, and told to go find a foxhole and if any German tanks came their way, to shoot at it. The main problem he had with that was that he had never seen, much less fired a bazooka before. We laughed at that, and then I asked a much tougher question. The fanatical SS Soldiers were known to be shooting Jewish prisoners on sight. I had read where many soldiers either hid, or threw away their dog tags if they had an H (for Hebrew) on them during the battle of the Bulge. I asked my friend if he had hidden is dog tag marked with an “H” . He looked me in squarely the eyes, and replied quietly “No”. While a history student at the University of South Carolina, I had a wonderful professor, Dr. Robert Weir. Dr. Weir is an expert on the philosophical issues and concepts about government that lead to the eventual separation of the Colonies from England during the American Revolution. Dr. Weir once commented that the study of history serves no purpose unless we can relate them to current events. The Battle of the Bulge had a huge effect on the outcome of the World War II. The Germans has shattered their last reserves to no good purpose. Allied soldiers would cross the Rhine and capture much of Germany from the West and the Russians closed in from the East. If the Russians steamroller had been able to take over all of Germany, the history of our current world would certainly be different.
And who knows if the plan had succeeded, and the Germans had another 6 months or a year to continue producing the “wonder weapons” like the V2, that had been moved to largely underground factories, what might have happened. The ultimate results might have been the same, but we know that the Germans had the ability to create a dirty bomb, and were working on the ability to deliver it. Perhaps as important as any other result of the Battle is that fact that the Americans were able to advance far enough into Germany to capture not only many of the advanced scientific discoveries of the Germans, but only the scientist and engineers who created them. I once got to me a real “German rocket scientist” at a trade show at Huntsville Alabama. If Werner Von Braun, the German scientist whose efforts were instrumental in the Apollo space program had become a Russian prisoner, there might well be the flag of the USSR on the moon instead of the Stars and Stripes first placed there by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldine. Another often –forgotten fact is that African-American soldiers had been banned from front line combat duty prior to the Battle of the Bulge. The need for replacements prompted Gen Eisenhower to approve the use of 2,000 African American volunteers, who performed bravely, and cleared the way for the eventual post-war desegregation of the Armed Forces, which also had a definite role in the movement for Civil Rights in the US. However, if there is an ultimate lesson to be learned from those days. is the fact that the safety of all of us to enjoy our family and friends during the upcoming Holiday season, or at any time, depends on the willingness of young people in our armed forces to put themselves “in harms way’. During this Christmas season, perhaps this story from 70 years ago will remind all of us, that there are young people who continue to “pay it forward” My friend survived the Battle of the Bulge without having the fire his bazooka, but his war was not over with the Surrender of Nazis, His unit was in the port of Marseilles, preparing to board ships to take part in the Invasion of Japan, when the loudspeakers began playing a favorite popular song at the time, Glen Miller’s “Sentimental Journey” and announced the Japanese had surrendered. Recounting that
experience, my friends said, this time with glistening eyes “This was the best moment of my life”. It’s my Christmas wish that everyone away from home, gets to have that same kind experience very soon. If you would like to learn more about the Battle of the Bulge, there are several sources and resources. Wikipedia has a complete article here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Bulge#cite_noteFOOTNOTEMiles2004-19 For people who may like to know more about history, but find most history books dull and dry, two the of the best writers of narrative history, have written about the Battle of the Bulge One of my favorites, John Tolland wrote a book specifically on the Bulge Stephen Ambrose became well known because two of his books , became the basis of a Movie and Miniseries. “Saving Private Ryan” was based on his book about D-Day. He also covered the experiences of the 101st Airborne in “Band of Brothers” , about the 101st Airborne. His other book, Citizen Soldiers, covers the Bulge and the that the values and virtues of teamwork learned on sports fields, and leadership learned in activities like the Boy Scouts gave American soldiers their ability to adopt and overcome so often exhibited. Mr. Ambrose also did a lot of work getting veterans to talk about their experiences and both writers rely on personal narratives, rather than rehashing battle reports. Hollywood has also visited the Battle of the Bulge. The ultimate everyman of American actors, Henry Fonda, starred in movie by the same name. It covers the events of the Bulge through fictionalized characters and actual events, and features some actors who would become famous for other reasons, such as Telly Savalas, Charles Bronson and “Book em Dano!”” himself, James McArthur.
Another excellent movie set during the Battle of the Bulge is called “ Battleground”, and although in Black and White is a classic movie about the desperate hours of the paratroops defending Bastogne, starring James Whitmore and Van Johnson. If you look carefully you will also see a very young Richardo Montalban ( Khan!!!!! For Star Trek Fans) and the actor who played Dennis the Menace’s father in the original TV show. And the previously mentioned “Band of Brothers” miniseries has several epsiodes about the events around the Battle of the Bulge. We are blessed here with a great county Library and I am fairly certain all of those movie titles are available at the Mount Pleasant branch. Military Channel Series “Tank Battles” has used GGI to recreate the tank battles that took place during the Bulge. If you are a Netflix user , those epsiodes are available for online replay. Finally, Google makes it relatively easy to find sites with artifacts from the Battle of the Bulge. Some sites with excellent information. and pictures include the World War II Museum in New Orleans, the US Army Aberdeen Proving ground, and yes, the Central Army Museum in Moscow has pictures of many captured tanks and German equipment. The British Museum at Covington has many examples of World War II artifacts, including the last working German Tiger Tank. Bill Cosby once narrated a TV documentary about African-American history called “Lost, Stolen, or Strayed”. The growth of the internet is seeing some of this formerly “strayed “ history being persevered and here is a website dedicated to the contributions of “the Red Ball Express” http://www.skylighters.org/redball/ Here in SC there are two excellent Museums available to visit and for field trips; the relatively new SC Military Museum is directly across from Williams Brice stadium, and Fort Jackson also has an excellent Military museum.
Here in Charleston, the parade ground at the Citadel has a World War II Sherman tank on the parade ground. It is another reminder of two reasons the war was won. In a typical battle with a Tiger, it 11 Shermans destroyed for every Tiger. However, the Germans produced only 1,300 Tigers ( although American soldiers had “Tiger Fever” and to them every Nazi tank was Tiger). The United States produced 50,000 Shermans. The courage of American soldiers was reinforced by our industrial might and the fact that American women, unlike German women took a direct part in the War effort, unlike German Women, and “Rosie the Riveter” played an important role along with that of “G. I Joe” .
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.