By Steven J. Zaloga
278 pages, including Glossary and Further Reading Suggestions
In December 1944, Adolf Hitler launched a desperate offensive on the front in Western Europe, in hopes of splitting the British and American forces in France and forcing them to sue for peace. The object was to perhaps convince the Allies that the real enemy was the Bolshevik forces now poised on the Eastern border of Germany. By committing his reserves of manpower and materiel he would only have to fight on a single front and hopefully with new allies. This offensive, popularly called “The Battle of the Bulge” was the result of his hopes.
First, a bit about the author. Steven Zaloga is a recognized expert in the fields of military history and technology. He is the author of over 50 books on these subjects with an emphasis on United States weapons and tactics in World War II. He has also served as a consultant on many cable programs about the war.
The volume begins with a chronology of the events on the Western Front beginning with September 1944 when Hitler first conceived of his plan to split the Allied front in two. This chronology continues until the end of January 1945, when the gains registered by the German attack have been completely eliminated. The next section is a strategic assessment of the situation existing in France after the breakout from the Normandy perimeter. He notes the problems the Allies were having with supply at the front and the hesitations that resulted from the shortages created by having to haul supplies from Cherbourg and the Normandy beaches. The need to capture the port of Antwerp and clear the Schledt Estuary were of prime concern. Hitler’s plan was to split the British and American forces with his panzers and run to the coast and re-capture Antwerp, thereby denying it to the Allies. This plan was labeled “Grand Slam”, but he was willing to settle for crossing the Meuse River and splitting the Allies, this was labeled “Little Slam”
While the conquest of France had occurred with an invasion through the Ardennes forest, this was not the prime avenue for this offensive. However, due to the failed Operation Market Garden and the resulting thinning of the Ardennes troop concentrations, this again became the prime target area. This was to prove ultimately disastrous. In 1940, the panzer forces consisted of lighter, smaller tanks, Panzer IV being the largest. In 1944 the Panzer IV’s were the smallest tanks in the arsenal.
The next three sections of the book cover the plans, commanders and the armies on both sides. The author goes into detail as to the strengths and weaknesses of the plans on both sides, citing the overall decisions. In the sections on the commanders and the armies he goes into each commanders abilities and failings and the composition of the forces on both sides in the contested area and their strengths and weaknesses.
In the next sections he divides each by the German column and its targets and schedules. In the Northern sector he details how after the initial successes the Germans came up against the came up against the forces dug in on Eisenborn Ridge. He goes into detail how the weather conditions forced the German advance into a “single tank” front because of the narrowness of the roads and the muddy conditions which bogged down the heavy armor units. These conditions and the valiant stands of scattered American units threw the advance schedules completely off.
The next section deals with the advance of the Center column. This column pushed through the area around St. Vith and Malmedy. This area was defended by units of the 106th Infantry, freshly arrived in France and by some scattered units of the 2nd Division relieved from the fighting in the Hurtgen forest. This column made the furthest gains of the entire offensive, yet they filed to reach the Meuse. These units were also responsible for many of the atrocities committed during these operations.
Next section covers the Southern column and the fight for Bastogne. When the high command realized this was not just a local “spoiler” attack they rushed the 101st Airborne to the road junction of Bastogne, in a effort to deny it to the attacking German forces. This decision led to one of the most celebrated confrontations of the war. When the weather cleared on December 22nd, the surrounded Bastogne garrison began to be re-supplied by airdrop. This clearing also sounded the death knell for the German plans.
The following section details the U.S. counterattacks. It tells how Patton turned a good portion of his forces North and smashed into the Germans. These maneuvers, along with the Allied air superiority and the German supply problems put sealed on the plans to drive the Allies out of the war.
This book is profusely illustrated with many combat photographs, detailed maps and a number of paintings by Howard Gerrard. I found this book to be a excellent reference on this battle and recommend it to the student of history, the modeler(photographs) and the wargamer. It is a fountain of information and a very informative book. HAPPY READING!
Available from Osprey Publishing for $26.96