Just after its seventieth anniversary, the Battle of the Bulge has lost none of its impact. The largest battle fought by US troops on the continent of Europe started in a surprise attack on December 16, 1944, by four German armies, spearheaded by the cream of the German Panzer forces. Under the cover of bad weather and heavy snow, Hitler's last roll of the dice was intended to retake Antwerp, split the Allies, divide their political leadership, and force peace in the West, thus allowing the German forces to concentrate on defeating the Red Army.
Strategic pipedream or not, the attack was furious and drained the Eastern Front of reinforcements: 12 armored and 29 infantry divisions, some 2,000 tanks and assault guns-mainly PzKpfw IVs (800), Panthers (750) and Tigers (250 including some of the new King Tigers)- spearheaded the assault, which smashed into the American First and Ninth Armies. Near-complete surprise was achieved thanks to a combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupation with offensive plans, and poor reconnaissance. The Germans attacked where least expected-the forested Ardennes-a weakly defended section of the Allied line, taking advantage of the weather conditions, which grounded the Allies' overwhelmingly superior air forces.
The Allied response was magnificent. Initial reverses brought out the best of Eisenhower's armies, which fought with determination and grit against the enemy and the elements. The harsh battles are best summed up by the defense of the northern shoulder around the Elsenborn Ridge, the battle for St.
Vith, and in the south the siege of Bastogne, where the town's commander, Gen. McAuliffe, rejected German calls for surrender with the pithy reply: "Nuts." Within ten days the German attack had been nullified. Patton, at the time planning an attack further south, wheeled his Third Army round in a brilliant maneuver that relieved Bastogne and set up a counterattack which would drive the Germans back behind the Rhine.
The Ardennes Battlefields includes details of what can be seen on the ground today-hardware, memorials, museums, and cemeteries-using a mixture of media to provide an overview of the campaign: maps old and new highlight what has survived and what hasn't; then and now photography allows fascinating comparisons with the images taken at the time; aerial photos give another angle to the story. The fifth book by Leo Marriott and Simon Forty provides a different perspective to this crucial battlefield.