Battle of the Bulge – Counteroffensive
Elimination of the Bulge of Ardennes: December 25, 1944 – January 29, 1945
By the end of December, the weather had improved, and the Allies took advantage of it immediately. Allied aviation began to attack the advancing German troops and bomb the supply lines of the German troops, which were experiencing an acute shortage of fuel, since they could not capture the fuel depots in Liege and Namur. They could not even reach the first goal of the operation – the capture of bridges over the Meuse River., since they did not reach the river. In the meantime, American troops, reinforced by redeployment from other sectors of the front, launched a counterattack by the 3rd American Army from the south in the direction of the city of Bastogne, and the 1st American Army, together with the 30th British Corps, completely stopped the enemy offensive. The 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne held back the enemy’s onslaught and was unblocked by units of the 3rd American Army.
The Wehrmacht offensive collapsed near the Belgian city of Celles on the morning of December 25, 1944, only 6 km from the Meuse River and the bridge in the city of Dinan. Ironically, this was the last settlement on the way to the Meuse. Here was the “spearhead” of the Ardennes salient, that is, the westernmost point of the German advance in the Ardennes. Here the 2nd German Panzer Division, advancing in the vanguard of the 5th Panzer Army, was surrounded by the 2nd American and 11th British armored divisions. It was a rare case in history when two divisions of opponents with the same numbers clashed in battle.
By December 25, 1944, the German offensive in the Ardennes ended in complete failure. They did not even complete tactical tasks – they could not capture the bridges over the Meuse River, and did not even reach the river itself. This was mainly due to the problems of supplying the German troops with fuel and ammunition. Despite Hitler’s orders to continue the offensive, German forces began to withdraw.
The 3rd American Army, having liberated Bastogne, wedged into the southern flank of the German troops, thereby cutting off the German supply lines south of Bastogne. The German 5th Panzer Army was under threat of encirclement. For the Wehrmacht, only a “corridor” north of Bastogne, only 40 km wide, remained for retreat – from both sides it was bombarded with crossfire from American 155-mm guns with a firing range of 20-24 km. The American gunners used new rounds with radio fuses, which proved to be very effective in the Ardennes forests. On top of that, American aircraft regularly raided the retreating German forces.
On the morning of January 1, 1945, as part of Operation Bodenplatte, about 1000 German aircraft struck a surprise attack (the new Messerschmitt Me.262 jet fighters also took part in the raid ) at airfields in France, Belgium and Holland. As a result of the raid, 305 Allied aircraft were destroyed and 190 damaged, the runways and the material and technical part of the airfields were significantly damaged. But for the Luftwaffe, the result of the operation was extremely difficult, 292 aircraft were lost from the actions of aviation and anti-aircraft crews of the allies, while 143 pilots died, another 70 pilots were captured. On January 1, German troops again went on the offensive – this time in Alsace near Strasbourg with the aim of diverting the forces of the allies, but in many respects these were already only distracting strikes of a local nature, carried out by small forces. The Wehrmacht lost its strategic initiative irrevocably.
Nevertheless, the Germans still controlled the dangerous bulge in the front line. At the beginning of the Allied offensive, the 1st and 3rd US armies were within 40 km of each other. In such conditions, the Allies planned to inflict a decisive counterattack on the enemy in order to encircle him. The US 3rd Army was planned to strike from the south, while the British armies of Montgomery strike from the north and thus close the encirclement in the Uffalize area…. Eisenhower suggested that Montgomery launch a counteroffensive on January 1 to meet the advancing American 3rd Army and cut off most of the German troops by locking them in his pocket. However, Montgomery refused to attack until January 3, citing the risks of an offensive operation (not having enough trained infantry for combat operations in a blizzard on difficult terrain). By this time, a significant number of German troops managed to retreat back, but at the cost of heavy losses of heavy equipment.
On January 3, 1945, the Anglo-American troops from small counterattacks went over to a full-scale attack on German positions. On January 7, 1945, Hitler agreed to withdraw all troops from the Ardennes, which led to the cessation of all offensive operations of the Wehrmacht in this sector of the front and the systematic retreat of German units.
However, even at that time, by the end of the German offensive, the situation in the Ardennes continued to be more than serious. So, the commander of the 3rd US Army George Smith Patton wrote the following about those events:
“On the 4th, the Germans kicked one seat in the 17th Airborne, which, according to reports, lost up to forty percent of its personnel during an attack in one of the battalions. Whoever and whenever reported such losses, it is clear that he does not know anything about military affairs. Even reports of 10% casualties are rarely verified, and the information can only be correct if the troops fled or abandoned their weapons. I found Miley, commander of 17th Airborne, in Bastogne. While I was there, the cannonade came from both sides, enemy shells exploded in the air, spewed fire from the vents of our cannons, and in the darkness thickening over the snow-covered fields, it all seemed beautiful, although not very encouraging. On January 4, 1945, I made one important note in my diary before the date – a statement I had never made before, writing:”We still have a chance to lose this war”… “.
At the same time, despite the onset of the allied offensive, British Prime Minister W. Churchill was also concerned about heavy fighting on the Western Front and addressed Stalin in telegrams regarding the Soviet army’s plans for an offensive on the Eastern Front.
January 5, 1945, Churchill to Stalin:
“I have just returned, having visited separately the headquarters of General Eisenhower and the headquarters of Field Marshal Montgomery. The battle in Belgium is very difficult, but I believe that we are the masters of the situation. The diversionary offensive that the Germans are making in Alsace also causes difficulties with the French and tends to shackle American forces. I remain of the opinion that the size and armament of the Allied armies, including the air force, will make von Rundstedt regret his bold and well-organized attempt to split our front and, if possible, capture the port of Antwerp, which is now of vital importance. ”
January 6, 1945, Churchill to Stalin:
“There are very heavy fighting in the West, and big decisions may be required from the High Command at any time. You yourself know from your own experience how alarming the situation is when you have to defend a very broad front after a temporary loss of initiative. It is very desirable and necessary for General Eisenhower to know in general terms what you propose to do, since this, of course, will affect all his and our most important decisions. According to the message received, our emissary Air Chief Marshal Tedder was in Cairo last night, weather-bound. It’s not your fault that his trip has been dragged on. If he has not arrived yet, I will be grateful if you can let me know if we can count on a major Russian offensive on the Vistula front or elsewhere during January and at any other time,which you may wish to mention. I will not pass on this highly classified information to anyone, with the exception of Field Marshal Brook and General Eisenhower, and only on condition that it is kept in the strictest confidence. I consider the matter urgent”.
On January 7, 1945, Stalin responded to Churchill’s appeal:
“We are preparing for an offensive, but the weather is not favorable for our offensive. However, given the position of our allies on the Western Front, the Headquarters of the Supreme High Command decided to complete preparations at an increased pace and, regardless of the weather, open wide offensive operations against the Germans along the entire central front no later than the second half of January. You can rest assured that we will do everything that is possible to do in order to assist our glorious allied forces”.
On January 9, 1945, Churchill wrote to Stalin:
“one. I am very grateful to you for your exciting message. I have forwarded it to General Eisenhower for his personal information only. May complete good luck accompany your noble enterprise. 2. The battle in the West is not going so badly. It is quite possible that the Huns will be driven out of their ledge with very heavy losses. We and the Americans are throwing everything we can into battle. The news you have given me will greatly encourage General Eisenhower, as it will give him confidence that the Germans will have to divide their reserves between our two burning fronts. “
On January 12, 1945, 8 days ahead of schedule, Soviet troops launched the Vistula-Oder offensive, going over to a wide offensive on the entire Soviet-German front.
By January 15, 1945, units of the 1st and 3rd American armies united north of Bastogne in the area of the cities of Uffalize and Noville, thereby eliminating more than half of the Ardennes salient. The 12th Corps of the 3rd Army made a breakthrough across the Syr River at 03.30 a.m. on January 18 without artillery preparation and caught the enemy by surprise. The 101st Airborne Division was transferred to the 6th Army Group to continue the attack on the Colmar Cauldron. On January 23, the 1st Army liberated the city of Saint-Vit. The further offensive plan of the 12th Army Group assumed the assault on the Siegfried Line. On January 24, the remaining German units, with a total strength of about 300,000, were completely surrounded in Belgium, but continued resistance.