The Drive to Bastogne
Kendall D. Gott
During the Battle of the Bulge, the beleaguered 101st Airborne Division and Combat Command B of the 10th Armored Division were pressed into a tight perimeter as the German offensive swept around the key city of Bastogne. The American paratroopers were holding their own but supplies and ammunition could only come by airdrop and the foul winter weather hindered all efforts to deliver the needed materiel. Relief for the “battling bastards” would have to come from the ground. To do just that, the Third Army under LTG George S. Patton Jr. had shifted its attack to the east and sent its mobile divisions to the north. It was far from certain that Patton’s armor and infantry divisions could reach Bastogne before the 101st Airborne was forced to surrender. The relief of Bastogne is a classic example of commanders at all levels using initiative and daring to overcome a determined enemy.
The German winter offensive through the Ardennes region in 1944 was designed to split the British and American Allied line in half, to capture the port of Antwerp, and then proceed to encircle and destroy four Allied armies, forcing the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty. Once that was accomplished, The Germans could then fully concentrate on the eastern front against the armies of the Soviet Union. The offensive was planned in secrecy and surprise was achieved by combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupation with their own offensive plans, and poor aerial reconnaissance.
Although the ability of the Germans to assemble and organize the forces for this offensive was remarkable, these units were still beset with shortages in equipment, manpower, and logistics. Fuel was in critically short supply and the Germans were counting on rapid speed and capturing Allied fuel stocks to keep the momentum of the attack. The secrecy of the German preparations had lulled Allied planners into believing the Ardennes was a quiet sector of the front and had assigned relatively green units here to adjust them to combat or placed units in need of refitting or rest. The heavy overcast weather had grounded the far superior Allied air forces, preventing reconnaissance flights prior to the offensive and ground support once it commenced. When the German offensive began on 16 December, it stunned the Allied units in their path. Some were pushed back in disorder and others were simply overwhelmed by the onslaught. The Germans initially advanced quickly but stubborn resistance formed on the northern shoulder of the offensive around Elsenborn Ridge at the town of Hofen. In the south, the defenders in Bastogne blocked German access to key roads they were relying on for success. The 120 stubborn defense by American units dug into the wooded hills covering the few good roads threw the German timetable behind schedule.
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