ON THIS DAY    17 December      Graphics version >>   BBC News >>
Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
1944: Germany counter-attacks in Ardennes

The Germans have mounted a series of counter-attacks on the Western front allowing them to re-cross the borders of Luxembourg and Belgium.

On the second day of what now appears to be a full-scale counter-offensive, the Germans are attacking with tanks and aircraft along a 70-mile front guarded by American forces in the Ardennes region.

The main thrust has been launched from the northern Ardennes near the town of Monschau. Two further attacks have taken place further south.

German paratroops have been dropped behind Allied lines. Allied army reports say some of them have been "mopped up", others are still at large.

"Khaki uniforms do not blend well with the white snow, we were very vulnerable"

Reports from the US 9th Army, attacking a line to the north of the Ardennes region, say the German Luftwaffe also launched a concerted bombing campaign in support of its ground forces.

The United States Army Air Forces claim to have shot down 97 Luftwaffe planes overnight, and 31 of their own aircraft were lost.

According to the reports, the Luftwaffe put up "what was probably its greatest tactical air effort since D-Day".

German aircraft appeared in force over the western front. More than 300 German planes were deployed in the Bonn and Cologne areas last night and a similar number have been active again during the day.

During today's action, the USAAF has strafed infantry and tanks from Monschau to Prum, 24 miles to the south-east. Initial reports say 62 armoured vehicles, tanks and horse-drawn wagons were put out of action.

They say the recent failure of German fighters to interfere with heavy bombing attacks on the Reich in daylight now makes it clear they have been saving their resources for this concerted attack.

One US officer told The Times newspaper: "The German pilots showed more aggressiveness than at any time in the last three months."

The German Commander-in-Chief in the west, Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt, has ordered his troops to "give their all in one last effort". The message was broadcast on Friday (15 December) the day before this latest offensive began.

He said: "Soldiers of the western front, your great hour has struck. Strong attacking armies are advancing today against the Anglo-Americans. I do not need to say any more to you, you all feel it strongly. Everything is at stake."

Malmedy Massacre
It emerged later a number of American prisoners of war were shot dead by German troops in what has become known as the Malmedy massacre on 17 December 1944. Up to 86 were killed - a number of others escaped by playing dead or running for their lives.

The soldiers who escaped passed on the details of the massacre and when the news reached General Eisenhower he is said to have released it to the American press. However, there does not appear to be any record of the massacre in the British press.

The bodies were left where they fell and were preserved in the snow. When the Americans recaptured Malmedy on 13 January their first task was to identify and bury the dead. Many had fatal gunshot wounds to the head confirming they had not died in combat.

Several German officers were convicted at the so-called Dachau trials in May 1946 for the atrocities committed at Malmedy. Some, including the officer in charge SS Standartenführer Jochen Peiper of the 1st SS Panzer Division were sentenced to death but their sentences were later commuted.

In Context
The German counter-offensive, now known as the Battle of the Bulge, was aimed at splitting the Allies armies in half and recapturing the port of Antwerp, the Allies' most vital supply port.

The attacks, which began at dawn on 16 December took the Allies by surprise. However the plan was opposed by Hitler's Commander in Chief in the west, Field Marshal Rundstedt and Commander-in-Chief of Army Group B Walter Model, as unrealistic.

The first few days went well for the Germans - although the American forces held out in the north and south, troops defending the centre of the line were forced back, creating the "bulge" in the western front from which the battle takes its name.

The Allies were able to cling on to the strategic town of Bastogne which blocked the Germans' advance.

Low cloud and fog which had grounded Allied reconnaissance flights and fighters lifted on 23 December allowing the bombers to take to the skies again and shatter the German supply lines.

The Luftwaffe fought back in one last ditch assault on 31 December, attacking 27 Allied airfields, but they lost more than 300 planes in the process and the Luftwaffe never recovered.

The American ground troops thrusting forwards from the north and south eventually met in a pincer movement at Houffalize on 16 January.

Churchill called it the greatest American battle of the war which would be regarded "as an ever famous American victory".

More than a million men fought in the battle including some 600,000 Germans, 500,000 Americans, and 55,000 British.

Search ON THIS DAY by date   
  Go back one day Go forward one day

Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
^^ Back to top | ©