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The Siege of Bastogne

The Siege of Bastogne took place in Germany in the year of 1944. It was a part of the last major German offensive campaign during World War II called the Battle of the Bulge which involved 250,000 German forces and 80,000 American forces. Germany’s main goal during this operation was to capture the harbored city of Antwerp, Belgium. The Battle of Bastogne occurred when German forces assaulted American forces that were defending Bastogne, Belgium, which was an important road hub. This battle took place over the course of seven days and lasted from December 20th to the 27th. Throughout the Battle of the Bulge, the largest battle on the Western front, the Germans attempted to push the American forces from northern France into northwestern Belgium.

The Allied forces believed the Ardennes Forest was too thick for the Germans to go through, so they were not expecting an attack to erupt. However, the Allied forces were stretched thin which provided an unguarded area for German forces to infiltrate American lines. The fog was so thick that it hindered the Allied air cover from detecting German movements. An additional difficulty for the Americans was that they could not get resupplied during the heavy fog, so they had to use the equipment they had very wisely. Due to the extremely cold temperatures, certain precautions had to be taken with their weapons, vehicles had to be ran very frequently to make sure the oil would not coagulate, or turn to a solid. The constant zero-degree weather the soldiers fought led them to having frostbite. There was so much snow that they had difficulty seeing even 10-20 yards in front of them. The American soldiers’ uniforms were not made for extremely cold weather so in some cases, they froze to death.

Before their major attack, English-speaking German forces infiltrated American lines in order to impersonate American soldiers. These German soldiers got American uniforms, weapons, and vehicles, making it difficult for the Americans to identify them because they could not tell the difference between enemy and friend. The Germans soldiers who acted as the American soldiers would switch road signs, cut communication lines, and gather intelligence. This confused American soldiers and caused them to be suspicious of traitors. Even after the Americans found out that it was German forces, some Americans were questioned to make sure they were not with the German forces. Many German troops, along with 1,000 tanks, attacked along a 75-mile stretch in front of the Ardennes. The four divisions that were stationed in the area were still recovering from past operations.

They were extremely tired, and some were still in the process of training or were completely untrained. Some of these troops were the U.S. 99th and the 106th Golden Lions Divisions. They had lost so many soldiers that recruiters brought in African American soldiers to serve as reinforcements. For a short period of the battle, the troops were desegregated. It was the only battle where the Army authorized integrated combat. The United States suffered its second largest surrender of troops during the war. Over 7,500 members of the 106th Infantry Division capitulated during one time at the Schnee Eifel. The Germans’ first attempt to break the defenses at Bastogne came in with the 501st’s sector at Neffe. Paratroopers held their line against repeated attacks. The enemies’ attention turned to another section of the perimeter going further south. The German soldiers probed the line in the 327th sector. The enemy forced its way through defenses rallied and backed away. On December 22nd, four Germans soldiers approached the defenses and raised a flag of truce. The Germans made a final statement for the Allied commander of Bastogne to surrender within 2 hours or face complete destruction from German artillery. General Anthony McAuliffe refused the ultimatum with a response that they were “Nuts!

The next day, the air and skies were cleared. The improved weather allowed the Allied forces to get supplies that were much needed. It also gave an advantage to the Allied air force, so that they could provide support against the Germans forces that were gathering around Bastogne. That same day the enemy attacked the western perimeter. Then on Christmas Day, the Germans entered the line close to Hemroulle. After they managed passing through, the Germans split in half and moved on towards Hemroulle which was guarded by the Tank Destroyer Battalion. The other half left to attack the 502d at Champs. The enemy soldiers were killed, captured and cut off by the defenders. The Germans let out their final attempt to eliminate the American garrison on the 26th of December, but the artillery put an end to the assault force. Later that afternoon, forces from the 4th Armored Division that were coming from the south broke through and reached their trapped comrades.

The Germans failed to close this breach and the siege was broken. The winning event slowed the Germans’ advance and the Americans were able to collect their enemy’s resources which they were able to send to other areas of the ongoing Battle of the Bulge. Resistance from the Allied troops resulted in the German troops not having access to key crossroads and acted to slow the German advance. Supreme Allied Commander General Dwight Eisenhower sent down reinforcements and that is when the Battle of the Bulge began to turn positive for the Allied forces. The weather was in good conditions for the Allied forces which allowed air attacks against the Germans. The Allieds started to gain, and eventually the Germans backed away from the Ardennes leaving the Americans with a victory. In the end, the Battle of the Bulge was one of the costliest battles the United States has ever fought due to the casualties and participants. There were 610,000 Americans involved in fighting, with 19,000 of those killed and about 70,000 more injured. The American soldiers who lost their lives in the Battle of Bastogne were buried in American cemeteries in Ardennes, Henri-Chapelle, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. After the battle, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was quoted as saying to the House of Commons, “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war, and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever-famous American victory.”

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