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70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge: a bit of history

 


The Battle of the Bulge was the final great battle of the Second World War to take place on the Western European front.


In autumn 1944, Germany is cornered, stuck between the advancing Soviet forces at the east and the Allied forces in the west. Hitler still has a chance for one more lightning strike, like in May 1940, but he must act quickly, as the Allies' mass arial bombings and the Soviet steam roller are seriously limiting the Reich's military capacities.

Hitler's objective is to win a bit of time, by attempting an offensive towards Antwerp, to cut the Allied expeditionary force in two and force the Anglo-American commander-in-chief Eisenhower to negociate a seperate peace. The operation's code name is « Wacht Am Rhein » Watch on the Rhine. The Führer also hopes to turn the peace negotiations to his advantage by using them to develop secret weapons, that he believes will change the momentum and outcome of the war.

On 16 December 1944, 200000 German soldiers, supported by hundreds of tanks, cross the Belgian-Luxembourgish border through several channels during the von Rundstedt offensive. Stunned by the violence of the attack, the Allies react quickly and Wallonia becomes a theatre for vast confrontations that last for weeks, terrorising the local population and costing the lives of 2500 civilians.

A key point in the region, both for the Germans and the Americans, was Bastogne, an important communication centre. The siege of Bastogne ever since the beginning of the aggression, would become an emblem of the importance of the Battle of the Bulge and the successful breakthrough made by Patton's Third Army became a thing of legend. The situation stabilised for the Allies, just as the timely bright spells of an otherwise torrid winter, allowed the Allies' air forces, who had controll of the skies, to join the fray.

In January 1945, a huge German aerial offensive which caused numerous Allied losses was defeated, but the fighting remained fiersome until 30 January during a freezing winter, as Hitler, who had given up on taking Antwerp, aimed to inflict as many casualties on the Allies as possible.

The Battle of the Bulge, has left many marks in Wallonia, marks that bore witness to the virulence of Nazism and the agony, but also the great ability to resist  qui témoignent de la virulence du nazisme à l’agonie, mais aussi de la capacité de résistance contre lui jusqu’à son effondrement complet.
 

Philippe Raxhon, Historian and Professor at the University of Liège