…to Those Who Served


During most of the eleven months between D-day and V-E day in Europe, the U.S. Army was carrying on highly successful offensive operations. As a consequence, the American soldier was buoyed with success, imbued with the idea that his enemy could not strike him a really heavy counterblow, and sustained by the conviction that the war was nearly won. Then, unbelievably, and under the goad of Hitler's fanaticism, the German Army launched its powerful counteroffensive in the Ardennes in December 1944 with the design of knifing through the Allied armies and forcing a negotiated peace. The mettle of the American soldier was tested in the fires of adversity and the quality of his response earned for him the right to stand shoulder to shoulder with his forebears of Valley Forge, Fredericksburg, and the Marne.

This is the story of how the Germans planned and executed their offensive. It is the story of how the high command, American and British, reacted to defeat the German plan once the reality of a German offensive was accepted. But most of all it is the story of the American fighting man and the manner in which he fought a myriad of small defensive battles until the torrent of the German attack was slowed and diverted, its force dissipated and finally spent. It is the story of squads, platoons, companies, and even conglomerate scratch groups that fought with courage, with fortitude, with sheer obstinacy, often without information or communications or the knowledge of the whereabouts of friends. In less than a fortnight the enemy was stopped and the Americans were preparing to resume the offensive. While Bastogne has become the symbol of this obstinate, gallant, and successful defense, this work appropriately emphasizes the crucial significance of early American success in containing the attack by holding firmly on its northern and southern shoulders and by upsetting the enemy timetable at St. Vith and a dozen lesser known but important and decisive battlefields

The hard fighting that preceded the Battle of the Bulge has been recounted in two volumes, The Siegfried Line Campaign, and Dr. Cole's own earlier work, The Lorraine Campaign. Events after it will be related in The Last Offensive, now in preparation. Two other volumes in this subseries, The Supreme Command and Logistical Support of the Armies, Volume II, are useful supplements to the Ardennes volume.

In re-creating the Ardennes battle, the author has penetrated "the fog of war" as well as any historian can hope to do. No other volume of this series treats as thoroughly or as well the teamwork of the combined arms—infantry and armor, artillery and air, combat engineer and tank destroyer—or portrays as vividly the starkness of small unit combat. Every thoughtful student of military history, but most especially the student of small unit tactics, should find the reading of Dr. Cole's work a rewarding experience.

Washington, D.C.

15 June 1964—HAL C. PATTISON

Brigadier General, USA

Chief of Military History.


Hugh M. Cole received his Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1937 in the field of European military history. He taught military history at the University of Chicago until 1942, when he joined the Army as an intelligence officer. After graduating from the Command and General Staff School he was assigned to the staff of the Third Army during its operations in Europe. At the close of hostilities he became Deputy Theater Historian, European Theater of Operations. From 1946 to 1952 Dr. Cole directed the work of the European Theater Section, Office of the Chief of Military History, wrote The Lorraine Campaign, a volume that appeared in this series in 1950, and undertook much of the work that has culminated in this volume on the Ardennes Campaign. He joined the Operations Research Office of The Johns Hopkins University in 1952 and has continued his active interest in military history and his service to the Army both as a scholar and as colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.


This volume deals with the crucial period of the campaign conducted in the Belgian Ardennes and Luxembourg, generally known as the Battle of the Bulge. Although the German planning described herein antedates the opening gun by several weeks, the story of the combat operations begins on 16 December 1944. By 3 January 1945 the German counteroffensive was at an end, and on that date the Allies commenced an attack that would take them across the Rhine and into Germany. The last phase of operations in the Ardennes, therefore, is properly part and parcel of the final Allied offensive in Europe, and so the course of battle beginning on 3 January 1945 is described in another and final volume of this subseries.

The problem of the level of treatment is always difficult in the organization and writing of the general staff type of history, which is the design of this volume. In describing a war of movement, the solution usually has been to concentrate on tactical units smaller than those normally treated when the war of position obtains. Thus the French General Staff history of the summer offensive in 1918 abruptly descends from the army corps to the regiment as the appropriate tactical unit to be traced through this period of mobile operations. The story of the Ardennes Campaign is even more difficult to organize because of the disappearance, in the first hours, of a homogeneous front. Churchill's dictum that the historian's task is "to allot proportion to human events" applies in this instance, although there are limits to the amount of expansion or contraction permissible. Thus the reader is introduced on 16 December 1944 to battles fought by companies and platoons because they are meaningful and because the relative importance of these actions is as great as operations conducted by regiments or even divisions later in the story. As the American front congeals and a larger measure of tactical control is regained, the narrative follows battalions, then regiments, and then divisions. The building blocks, however, are the battalion and the regiment. In U.S. Army practice during the war in Western Europe, the battalion was in organization and doctrine the basic unit, with both tactical and administrative functions. The regiment, in turn when organized as a regimental combat team was the basic maneuver element combining the arms and having staying power. Also, the regiment was the lowest infantry unit to have a name and a history with which the soldier could, and did, identify himself.

The Ardennes battle normally was "fought," in the sense of exercising decisive command and directing operations, by the corps commander. The span of tactical control in these widely dispersed actions simply was beyond the physical grasp of higher commanders. These higher commanders could "influence" the battle only by outlining (in very general terms) the scheme of maneuver, allocating reserves, and exercising whatever moral suasion they personally could bring to bear. In other words, "tactics came before strategy," as Ludendorff wrote of the March offensive in 1918.

For the early days of the Ardennes Campaign the narrative opens each successive stage of the account by a look at the enemy side of the hill. This, in fact, is mandatory if the story is to have cohesion and meaning because the Germans possessed the initiative and because the American forces were simply reacting to the enemy maneuvers. The account in later chapters shifts to the American camp in accordance with the measure to which the American forces had regained operational freedom.

This volume represents the most exhaustive collection of personal memoirs by leading participants ever attempted for a general staff history of a major campaign. The memoirs take two forms: interviews with American participants shortly after the action described, and written accounts prepared immediately after the end of World War II by the German officers who took part in the Ardennes Campaign. The use of the combat interview in the European Theater of Operations was organized by Col. William A. Ganoe, theater historian, but the specific initiation of an intensive effort to cover the Ardennes story while the battle itself was in progress must be credited to Col. S. L. A. Marshall. The enlistment of the German participants in the Ardennes, first as involuntary then as voluntary historians, was begun by Colonel Marshall and Capt. Kenneth Hechler, then developed into a fully organized research program by Col. Harold Potter, who was assisted by a very able group of young officers, notably Captains Howard Hudson, Frank Mahin, and James Scoggins.

The story of the logistics involved in the American operations is treated at length and in perceptive fashion by Roland G. Ruppenthal, Logistical Support of the Armies, in two volumes of this subseries. In the main, therefore, the present volume confines itself to the logistical problems of the German armies. Readers interested in following the course of Allied relationships at high levels of command, and particularly the operations of Allied intelligence on the eve of the German offensive, are referred to Forrest C. Pogue's The Supreme Command, another volume in this series. Unfortunately the interest of the United States Air Forces in tactical support of ground operations was on the wane in the period after World War II and, as a result, a detailed air force history of air-ground cooperation during the battle of the Ardennes remains to be written. To introduce in full the effects of the tactical role played by Allied air power during the ground operations here described would require a volume twice the size of this one. I have tried, however, to keep the role of the air constantly before the reader, even though the specific actor often is anonymous.

As in my previous volume in the European subseries an attempt is made to include all awards of the Medal of Honor and the Distinguished Service Cross. The reader will recognize that deeds of valor do not necessarily coincide with the focal point of a particular action, as this is selectively seen and described by the historian; so it has been necessary to relegate to the footnotes and cover in very cursory fashion many of these individual acts of gallantry.

The reader will find no reference to "lessons learned." This is not because the history of the Ardennes Campaign is so antique as to lack a useful application to modern military thought or planning for the future. On the contrary, the operations in the Ardennes show in real life tactical forms and formations which (in such things as dispersal, gaps between units, counterattack doctrine, widths of front, and fluidity of movement) are comparable to those taught by current Army doctrine and envisaged for the future. Nonetheless, the most valuable lessons which might be derived from the study of this campaign would lead inevitably to a consideration of special weapons effects and their impact on military operations, which in turn would result in a restrictive security classification for the volume. I hope, however that the Army service schools will find it fruitful to make the extrapolation that cannot be made here.

The maps consulted by the author were those in use at the end of 1944. They include the U.S. Army reproductions of the maps prepared by the British Geographical Section, General Staff, in the 1:25,000 series (G.S., G.S. 4041), the 1:50,000 series (G.S., G.S. 4040), and the 1:100,000 series (G.S., G.S. 4336 and 4416). The most useful German map proved to be the 1:200,000 Strassenkarte von Belgien, a copy of the French Michelin road map, issued to German troops as early as 1940 and, in an English version, used by American armored units. Some of the terrain in question is familiar to me, but this personal knowledge has been augmented by an extensive use of photographs. Shortly after World War II pilots of the 45th Reconnaissance Squadron, USAF, under the supervision of Maj. John C. Hatlem, flew photographic missions designated by the author, over terrain in Luxembourg and Belgium. In addition some special ground photographs were made. The total collection numbers two hundred and sixteen photographs and has proved invaluable in writing this story.

References to clock time are on the twenty-four hour system. Fortunately for the reader (and the writer), the Allies converted to British summer time on 17 September 1944 and the Germans went back to middle European time on 2 October 1944; as a result both forces used the same clock time in the Ardennes. Sunrise on 16 December 1944 came at 0829 and sunset occurred at 1635 (using Bastogne, Belgium, as a reference point). The brevity of daylight is an important tactical feature of this history, and the reader should note that dawn and dusk (morning and evening twilight) each added only thirty-eight minutes to the hours of light.

A host of participants in the Ardennes battle have answered questions posed by the author, provided personal papers, and read a part or the whole of the draft manuscript. Their assistance has been invaluable.

Although this volume took an unconscionably long while to write, my task was made much easier by the initial efforts of Captains Blair Clark, Howard Hudson, Robert Merriam, and George Tuttle, who spent several months at the close of the war in gathering the sources and preparing first drafts for a history of the Ardennes Campaign. In the Office of the Chief of Military History, Mrs. Magna Bauer, Charles V. P. von Luttichau, and Royce L. Thompson worked over a period of years in gathering data and writing research papers for use in the volume. The reader of the footnotes will obtain some slight measure of my obligation to these three.

In preparation for publication, Mr. Joseph R. Friedman, Editor in Chief, OCMH, has given this volume devoted attention, and Mrs. Loretto C. Stevens of the Editorial Branch has shepherded it through the final steps of editing. Mr. Billy C. Mossman prepared the maps, Miss Ruth A. Phillips selected the photographs, and Miss Margaret L. Emerson compiled the index.

Finally, I am indebted to my secretary, Mrs. Muriel Southwick, without whose exhortations and reminders this book might never have been completed.

For any errors of fact or flaws of interpretation that may occur in this work, the author alone is responsible.

Washington, D.C. 15 June 1964




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