Christmas 1944 and the New Year 1945 were to be anything but holidays for the soldiers in either the German or the Allied armies. Germany was tottering under the crushing bombardments of the Allied armadas. Even in the bitterly contested Huertgen Forest, German troops could not hold the tough yanks. In the low country, they could not prevent the steady progress of the British and the Canadians.
It was December and snow was in the air. The ground was frozen hard. Here, the German general von Rundstedt believed, there was a fighting chance for what was left of the once mighty German army. He determined to find the Allied army’s weakest spot and make an all-out drive to retake Belium, drive back into France and rout the Allied. He would concentrate his remaining power on the Ardennes Forest in order to break through under their cover at what became known as the “Bulge.”
On Dec. 16, the Germans struck mightily. For the first 24 hours, they were very successful in carving out a salient 10 miles wide and six miles deep. On the second day, with the help of two Hitler Youth Divisions, they created a salient 20 miles wide and 12 miles deep. The “Bulge” was growing to the delight of the German generals. As the days continued, the entire Belgian-Luxembourg line was in danger of elimination. In some places, the Germans drove 50 miles into Belgium. The most critical day of the entire long drawn-out battle was Dec. 20. Since there was nothing to stop the Germans in the center of the line, they gained the most there; hence the title “Battle of the Bulge.” Between Malmedy and Wiltz, they pushed out a great blunt wedge that was almost square.
For the first time, the German’s plan went awry. They had timed their attack for an expected spell of bad weather which they hoped would keep the Allied planes on the ground. A great number of the Allied planes took off into the air in spite of the bad weather. Then suddenly (as if an act of God) the weather broke and they came out in full force.
The Allied full force drive against the Germans began Dec. 22. Patton’s divisions drove up from the south in power. At the same time, the 82nd Airborne struck out from its position at the tip of the salient. The Germans launched their final attack on Christmas morning, but were stopped dead by the 502nd Yank Regiment. The day after Christmas found the Americans on the offensive with the American First and Ninth armies on the north and the Third on the south. By Jan. 6, the American counter offensive from all sides was well underway.
On Jan. 13, the Allies had cut off the Germans in the “Bulge” from their main bodies. The enemy had 24 divisions in the thick of the battle. Jan. 13, the Allies had destroyed 20 of them. The Ardennes bubble had burst. What remained of the fighting in Belgium was a mopping up operation. For 44 days, these battles had raged –through Christmas and the New Year season – bringing only “gifts of death” to thousands of boys who had been thinking of families and celebrations back home. It had cost the Americans 40,000 casualties. Of these, 180,000 were listed as missing and most of them subsequently turned up in German prison camps.
Many of our service men and women have been and will be separated from their loved ones during Christmas and New Years. All would rather spend these holidays at home- that spot on earth that God has blest – a dearer, sweeter spot than all the rest. However, they were and are willing to face “the gift of death” so that you and I can spend those times at home in freedom. Please keep them in your prayers.
Charles R. Pearson
Chaplain, Malvern Legion Post #375