Sixtieth anniversary of Ardennes Battle
16 December 2004
BRUSSELS – Sixty years ago to the day, Hitler launched his last military offensive in the Belgian Ardennes.
Shortly before dawn, at 5.30 on an icy morning, the German artillery began to pound Allied positions.
The bad weather and the surprise attack hit the Allies hard and they were unable to stop the German advance towards Saint-Vith, a strategic communication point.
Hitler’s aim was to recapture the port of Antwerp, dividing the Allied armies in two, in order to negotiate separate cease-fires with American President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.
He threw the remainder of his forces into the battle effort, even including the Hitler youth who had little combat training.
It was Hitler’s last chance, which he took in the full knowledge that defeat would spell the end of the third Reich.
Two grand military strategists faced each other off in the battle, with Marshall Gerd von Rundstedt on the German side and General George S. Patton for the Allies.
The Germans had numbers on their side in the standoff, with 250 000 troops divided into twenty divisions.
But they did not have command of the skies, where the Allies were superior to the occupying forces, making up for their smaller troop count of 80 000.
The town of Bastogne became quickly surrounded, and has since become famous for the heroic resistance put up by the American GIs.
The Wehrmacht had to march on Saint-Vith, which stood between the Germans and Antwerp and Brussels.
A sudden switch in the weather changed the fortune of the Allied forces.
After a week long siege in Bastogne, German forces came under heavy air bombardment, and suffered serious losses.
By 20 January, they had retreated to their original starting point and defeat was certain.
The casualty toll was high by the end of the battle, with between 80,000 and 120,000 German soldiers losing their lives and around 19,000 Americans
A total of 2,500 civilians lost their lives in the Ardennes region.
Memories of the battle still linger across the Atlantic and the veterans association has around 800 members, a number of whom have come to Bastogne for the anniversary.
[Copyright Expatica 2004]
Subject: Belgian news