By the 16th December 1944, the once-powerful German army was in retreat from the West. The German ‘Westwall’ defensive line, known to the Allies as the Siegfried Line, had been penetrated in places and some troops even believed the war to be over, whilst in the east, the Soviet Red Army was pressing in equally as hard. American troops in position along the Belgian-German border were looking forward to Christmas.
Suddenly, at 5.30am, the quiet of that early winter’s morning was shattered as 2,000 German guns opened fire to mark the commencement of Hitler’s plan of attack, codenamed ‘Watch on the Rhine’. The artillery bombardment lasted for two hours and threw into confusion many of the American troops, most of which were not experienced in battle. The attack would turn out to be a lost cause for Hitler, using up his last reserves of experienced troops and vital equipment in a wasted effort. The attack also showed to the Allies that although retreating, the German army could not be underestimated.
The plan in itself was audacious and eventually absorbed 500,000 Germans against 655,000 Allied, mainly American troops. The American troops began to fall back under the pressure and this created a salient into their lines which led to the operation being called ‘The Battle of the Bulge’. Bad weather helped to conceal the German manoeuvres and prevented the Allied aircraft from flying. The battle ended in late January 1945, during those critical six weeks heroism was demonstrated, along with great daring.
In the north the British 21st Army Group and the American 12th Army Group, under the command of Montgomery, held the area, leaving the Americans in the south to bear the brunt of the attack. Reinforcements were rushed to the area and General Patton attacked to ease the pressure on the town of Bastogne, which was besieged and totally isolated by the German forces. General McAuliffe issued his famous monosyllable answer ‘Nuts’ in response to the German suggestion that he surrender the town. When news of the response was circulated, it provided more resolve to the American resistance if any were needed.