The last German surge
In December 1944, when the Allies had advanced unto the Belgian Ardennes, they were completely surprised by three German armies. This was the beginning of the Ardennes Offensive or ‘Battle of the Bulge’. It was a last desperate attempt of the German Wehrmacht to cut through the allied lines. The battle lasted more than six weeks and took many lives on both sides.
In September 1944 the allied forces had reached the line from Luxembourg to Antwerp. Then Hitler decided to start a last counteroffensive in the Ardennes. He had to wait for bad weather conditions, with clouds and fog, to prevent the Allies from using their superior air force. Finally the battle was launched on 16 December 1944. The 6th Panzer SS Army, the 5th Armored Army and the Brandenberger’s 7th Army marched into the Ardennes.
With this operation, codenamed Wacht am Rhein, Hitler wanted to split the allied armies by a surprise counteroffensive. He wanted to seize the bridges over the Meuse River in order to advance further via Liège to the port of Antwerp. On the American side the surprise was complete.
But unlike the offensive campaign in May 1940, the Ardennes Offensive was no quick success. The wheather conditions were worse, the allied air force was much more powerful and the German fuel supplies went short. By 23 December the weather started to clear. The Americans brought their air power into force and started a counterattack. By mid-January 1945 a lack of fuel forced the Germans to simply abandon their vehicles, which was fatal to Hitler’s ambition. On 25 January 1945 the battle was over.
The Battle of the Bulge was the costliest operation ever fought by the U.S. Army. 10,733 American soldiers were killed and 42,316 wounded. German losses totalled 12,652 killed and 38,600 wounded. About 2,500 civilians lost their lives in Belgium and 500 in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.
The Bastogne Barracks Museum was opened in 2010. It is located in the barracks that accomodated the Allied Headquarters during the Ardennes Offensive in 1944. Restored parts of the barracks exhibit a collection of materials used in the fighting. The so called Nuts-basement shows the office where General McAuliffe spoke the famous word ‘Nuts’,that had a major influence on the outcome of the Offensive.
The 101st Airborne Museum in Bastogne is housed in the prestigious building of the former officers’ mess of the Belgian Army, built in 1936. The museum retraces the course of the Battle of the Bulge, fought between December 1944 and January 1945. A collection of items from the battle, reconstructed scenes and mannequins are displayed.
War is not only about battles, battlefields, winners or losers. It is also about mourning, souvenirs, reconstruction and commemoration. In the hamlet of Recogne, near Bastogne in Belgium, a German cemetery gathers the remains of more than 6,800 German soldiers from 17 to 52 years old, who died during the Second World War.
The Luxembourg American Cemetery and Memorial, located in Hamm and established on 29 December 1944, contains the remains of 5,076 Americans. Most of them died during the so called Battle of the Bulge. Among these graves is the one of the famous hero of the Bulge, the American General George Patton.
On 17 December 1944 the German fighting unit (Kampfgruppe) Peiper killed 84 American prisoners of war at the crossroads of Baugnez near Malmédy. Though the reasons for these killings remain unclear, this massacre was part of a series of war crimes committed by the same unit during the previous and following days.
On the 57 acres of Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery and Memorial the remains of 7.992 American soldiers are interred. Most of these men lost their lives during the advance of the U.S. forces into Germany. The U.S. 1st Infantry Division liberated this site on 11 September 1944. A battlefield cemetery was established on 28 September 1944.
The Museum of the Battle of the Ardennes tells the story of the battle and liberation of La Roche and nearby villages on the left bank of the River Ourthe during the allied counteroffensive between 3 and 16 January 1945. In 1944-1945 the town of La Roche was almost completely destroyed and 114 inhabitants were killed.
The Ardennes American Cemetery and Memorial can be found in Neupré, Wallonia. The Memorial is a stone structure bearing on its facade a massive American eagle and other sculptures. The cemetery contains the graves of 5,317 American soldiers, 65% of them being fallen airmen of the U.S. Air Force.
The December 44 Historical Museum can be found in La Gleize, in the northern part of the Belgian Ardennes. The museum, housed in a historic building, focuses entirely on the Battle of the Bulge, which was fought between December 1944
The National Museum of Military History in Diekirch, Luxembourg was created in 1984 by collectors and volunteers. The museum traces the course of the Second World War with a particular focus on the Battle of the Bulge. Through its collections of weapons, vehicles and diverse equipment, the MNHM illustrates the technical and logistic evolutions within the armed forces of the belligerent parties.
The Museum of the Battle of the Bulge in Clervaux illustrates the course of the Battle of the Bulge through documents and diaromas, military uniforms and authentic weapons. Since 1994 it has included the UNESCO registered photographic exhibition ‘The Family of Man’, made of 503 photos by 273 artists, and devised as a portrait of human life, from love and joy, to war, illness or deprivation.
The General Patton Memorial Museum in Ettelbruck was inaugurated in 1995. The museum is dedicated to General George Patton, commander of the 3rd US Army, whose troops liberated the town in December 1944. More than 1,000 photographs and documents are displayed relating to the German invasion, as well as weapons and pieces of equipment discovered on the Ardennes battlefield.
The National Resistance Museum of Luxembourg can be found in Esch-sur-Alzette, in the southeast of the country. The museum retraces the history of Luxembourg from 1940 to 1945 through photos, objects and artwork. It focuses, among other topics, on Nazi oppression and the liberation of the country in 1945. A section is devoted to the system of concentration camps and to the fate of Jews in Luxembourg.
During the Battle of the Bulge, Schumann’s Eck was a significant crossroad where many American and German soldiers lost their lives. The National Liberation Memorial Schumann’s Eck was erected there on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the liberation of Luxembourg. The memorial contains several plaques of the American units involved in the battle.