The Battle of the Bulge, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, was a huge WW2 battle on the Western Front. It took place from the 16th of December 1944 to the 25th of January 1945, lasting for a grand total of one month, one week, and two days.
The German forces launched the attack, making their way through the dense forests of the Ardennes region. The German plan was to divide the Allied lines, taking control of the port of Antwerp in Belgium. Their ultimate aim was to encircle and destroy Allied forces in the area, hoping to secure a positive peace treaty in the process.
A Surprise Attack Catches the Allies Off Guard
The Germans launched the attack on the morning of December 16, taking the Allies totally by surprise. At the time, the Allies were confident and assured, planning their own offensives and not expecting such a sudden and direct attack from the Germans.
A mixture of that confidence, along with bad weather and poor radio communications, led to the offense coming as such a surprise and taking such a devastating toll. American forces were the greatest victims of the Battle, suffering the most significant number of casualties of any operation during the war.
German Forces Enjoyed Early Success
The Germans were at an advantage in the early stages of the Battle. They took the Allies totally by surprise, and it took time for the American forces to gather themselves and mount a counteroffensive. In the meantime, continued bad weather and clever planning gave the Germans large inroads.
They managed to attack a weakly-defended area of the Allied line. This gave them reasonable levels of success early on, which led to enormous casualties and losses on the Allied side. However, the tide of the Battle gradually began to turn as time went on.
Allies Turn the Tide
The Allies managed to rally and defended several key spots of their line fiercely, keeping the Germans at bay and giving themselves time to reinforce and reorganize. Extensive defenses in areas like Elsenborn Ridge and Bastogne were crucial in these defensive efforts. The Allies also made good use of defensive terrain in the area to slow the German advance.
Then, as the weather began to improve around Christmas time, air attacks were launched on the German supply lines, truly turning the tide of the Battle in the Allies favor. By the end, a lot of lives had been lost, but the Allies had prevailed.
One of the Bloodiest Battles in History
410,000 Germans were involved in the initial attack of the Battle of the Bulge, with over 1,000 combat aircraft and more than 1,400 tanks and a large sum of other vehicles and pieces of artillery. Another 40,000 troops later joined the assault.
By the end of the Battle, it was estimated that up to 98,000 of the Germans had been killed, captured, or wounded in action. The Americans, meanwhile, had a total of 610,000 troops, with 89,000 casualties and 19,000 of them dead. This made the Battle one of the deadliest in American history.
Vernon German: Enlisted in ’43
Vernon German was one of many young Americans who wanted to do his part for his country. He was so eager to be involved in the war that, despite being married and having a job as a store manager, he signed up for the Selective Service in late 1940.
However, several years passed, and Vernon was not called up to fight. In the end, he decided to act, enlisted himself in October of 1943, and completed basic training. From there, he was accepted into Officer Candidate School and trained as an Infantry Officer.
Heading to Europe a Year Later
One year after he enlisted himself, Vernon left the US and was sent to Europe in October of 1944. Upon his arrival, he was assigned as a platoon leader for the 87 Infantry Division of the 345 Infantry Regiment, Company C.
He was stationed in France, and only two months after his arrival, he was on the line when the Battle of the Bulge started. Essentially, not long after arriving and finally being allowed to serve his country, Vernon was thrust headfirst into one of the biggest and deadliest battles the war had ever seen.
A Fateful Attack on a German Pillbox
On December 23rd 1944, Vernon led an offensive on a German pillbox. He and his infantry division hoped to destroy the pillbox and strike a blow to the German lines. Unfortunately, Vernon did not return from the attack.
Back home, his wife, Roxie, received a telegram from the army on January 15th 1945, revealing that her husband had been deemed missing in action, MIA, since December 23. The telegram also stated that Roxie would receive updates if any further information was uncovered.
Many Months Went By
Several months went by as the Battle of the Bulge continued, and Roxie had no further news of her missing husband. Tragically, during the spring, when the snow began to thaw, and the Allies could move forward, Vernon’s body was found.
He had been lying beneath a layer of snow and ice for many months, and he was easily identifiable due to a bracelet on his wrist that had been engraved with his name. At that point, a second telegram was prepared and sent off to Roxie to inform her of the terrible news.
An Emotional Message to Vernon’s Widow
The telegram was filled with sorrow and emotion. It also included a message of profound sympathy from the Secretary of War, as well as a note of regret that Roxie had been made to wait so long before receiving the real story of what had happened to her husband.
Vernon’s commanding officer later wrote a letter to Roxie to provide additional information. He explained that Vernon’s company had been involved in an attack and led his platoon under serious enemy fire. They had walked into an area surrounded by hidden German machine guns and suffered severe losses, including Vernon himself.
One of the So Many Lost Souls
Vernon was an eager young man who wanted to do what was right for his country, and like so many others, he lost his life in that fateful Battle and was never able to return home to see his loved ones and live out the rest of his days in peace.
As for Roxie, she received Vernon’s burial flag in the mail and kept it inside its original shipping container for many years, as well as the Purple Heart medal that Vernon had received. She lived on for several more decades while her former husband was laid to rest in a cemetery in Luxembourg.
Joseph “Jack” Jagodinski: Combat on Christmas Eve
Unlike Vernon German, Joseph “Jack” Jagondinski was one of the Americans to survive the Battle of the Bulge and be able to head home and share his story with the world. And Jack’s story began in December of 1944.
He was sent out with his fellow troops to the French town of Le Havre, where combat began on December 24, Christmas Eve. Jack still remembers that night very well as the German planes and 88 artillery guns launched their attack.
Always on the Move
Because the Germans had such strong artillery and air support, Jack and his fellow troops had to keep moving around into different positions. He recalls that they never spent more than two days in the same place. Unfortunately, one of their firing positions proved to be a poor choice.
The German 88s locked onto Jack’s position, where he and his troops were stationed with their own guns. The Germans fired shells upon them, with one hitting the cooks’ tent and causing one death and several injuries to everyone inside.
An Arduous Experience in the Snow
88 shells were dropping all around the landscape surrounding Jack and his fellow soldiers. It was then that one of his fellow crewmen, Private Friel, suggested that they head out and move all of the unfired shells into a safe location. Together, the pair rushed across the snow and collected the shells, luckily without being hit.
They continued to move from place to place, struggling to transport their howitzer across the snowy ground. Many times, when going uphill, they had to use a winch system with the help of local trees to lift their guns and vehicles up.
Verland “Jerry” Devon: Drafted in ’42
Verland Devon, known as Jerry to his friends, was drafted into the US Army in 1942, just after finishing high school. He was trained as a combat medic and spent a lot of time training to fight the Japanese, so he was surprised when, in 1944, his division (the 99 Infantry) was sent to Central Europe to Battle the Germans.
He served around the Elsenborn Ridge in Belgium, one of the spots in the Battle of the Bulge. It was one of the only locations the Americans managed to successfully defend, helping to slow the advance of the Germans and give the Allies time to mount a counteroffensive.
Doing His Duty on the Front Line
Jerry can still remember the day he arrived in Belgium. He was transported into the area on a truck, with locals all out on the streets offering beer bottles to the men as they passed through. Then, when the attack began, Jerry knew he had to do his duty and requested permission to get to the front line.
Permission was granted, and he rushed forward to the most dangerous area on the battlefield to treat his fellow soldiers who had been injured. Many of them were suffering from shrapnel wounds caused by the barrage of the German artillery.
He Was Wounded in Action
At the time, the only form of pain relief Jerry could give the troops was morphine. He administered as much as he could to help the injured men suffer less, but Jerry soon fell victim to the German assault too.
He was hit by shrapnel in the back when two German tanks shot towards his location. The attack killed ten men. Jerry had to be evacuated to a hospital in Paris to recover, but he didn’t want to head home afterward simply. He spent 19 days at the hospital and then went right back to the front line.
A Clever Trick to Stay Safe
When Jerry got back to the front line, he decided to take off his helmet, which had a big medical cross on it. He did this because he’d heard stories that the Germans were actively targeting medics and refusing to take them prisoner, and he didn’t want to be an even bigger target for the enemy forces.
After that, he continued to serve on the front line. He treated many men and helped to relieve their pain and suffering. He did it all without carrying a single weapon of his own. His story is one of remarkable heroism.
Dent Wheeler: Listening to Axis Sally
Dent Wheeler was crossing over the Saar River in Dellingen, which was where the Battle of the Bulge effectively began when he and his fellow soldiers heard a female voice broadcast over a loudspeaker. The woman, known as Axis Sally, began her broadcast by playing a few American records.
She then taunted the American soldiers, saying that their wives and girlfriends back home were happy and dancing with other men while they were stuck out in the cold snow. The broadcast was a German plan to lower the morale of the American troops.
“You Might as Well Give Up”
Axis Sally continued her broadcast, saying that the Americans “might as well give up.” She explained that there had been a big push further north, and the Germans had captured tens of thousands of American soldiers.
She said that the war was over for the Allies, and the Germans were marching to Paris, but Dent Wheeler and his fellow troops didn’t believe a single word. Instead, they felt reinvigorated and even more determined to succeed. They pulled back across the river, marched to Luxembourg, and fought until the Bulge was over.
Harold Berkman: Drafted in ’44
Harold Berkman was a young man drafted into the US Army in 1944, just after he graduated high school in New York. He completed basic training at Camp Croft in South Carolina and was immediately shipped off overseas.
During the journey to Europe, Berkman was told by several soldiers returning from the front lines that the best job to get was mortarman, as they were highly protected and less likely to get shot or injured. So, when he arrived, and the lieutenant asked if anyone was a mortarman, Berkman raised his hand.
Not Exactly What He Planned
Berkman hoped that he’d be given a mortarman role and be allowed to stay in a relatively safe spot during the conflict. Still, the lieutenant immediately designated him as a machine gunner instead. He was told that he’d be an ammo bearer, holding ammunition ready to load the large machine guns during the battles.
He didn’t actually participate in the dramatic 48-hour push into Bastogne, led by General Patton, but he was involved in the counteroffensive through the Ardennes. He remembers how scary the experience was, especially the fear of getting lost and left behind when moving at night.
Ronald N. McArthur: Wounded on the Battlefield
When the Battle of the Bulge began, Ronald N. McArthur and his unit were many miles southeast of the fighting. Ronald was the first gunner of a unit equipped with water-cooled 30 caliber machine guns, part of General Patch’s 7th Army.
After Christmas, his unit was ordered to push forward and fill a gap in the line leading them to thrust right into the heart of the Battle. They traveled almost a full day and night before reaching their designated area, joining up with a rifle company that had suffered some losses in the previous days.
Setting Up Their Guns
Ronald and his men set up their guns on a patch of high ground on both sides of a forest trail, ready to fire down on anyone that happened to pass through. They had several tanks on their side too, and the first day was mostly quiet, with only minimal signs of danger.
But everything changed in the afternoon at 4 pm. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a huge artillery barrage was launched towards Ronald and his fellow soldiers. The shells were bursting and exploding all around him, destroying trees and sending dangerous pieces of shrapnel in every direction.
Ronald Makes a Fateful Decision
A little while later that same day, Ronald had made a decision. He asked his assistant gunner to take over while he walked out to cut some big logs that had been knocked down under the artillery fire. He hoped to use the logs to reinforce the Americans’ foxhole and provide them some protection.
He’d managed to cut about four of the logs when suddenly, he was hit. A German sniper shot him in the face, sending him hurtling to the ground into the snow. All he remembers from that moment is thinking, “When will he let me have it again?”
A Stroke of Luck
Fortunately, Lady Luck had smiled on Ronald that day. The bullet that had hit him was a soft-nosed one, and later X-rays showed he had pieces of shrapnel inside his cheek and mouth. The shot had penetrated his left cheek entirely, just under the jaw, and exited through his right cheek.
It was still a terrible wound, destroying most of his teeth and gums in the process and leaving him numb in the mouth, but the wound was not fatal. If the bullet had just been a little higher or at a slightly different angle, it would surely have killed Ronald immediately.
“I Thought My Tongue Was Gone”
Ronald remembers feeling nothing but numbness throughout his mouth. He worried that his tongue was gone and reached his fingers in to check that it was still there. It was. He could also feel the openings in both of his cheeks and knew he needed urgent medical assistance.
Fortunately, the unit’s medic was nearby and rushed over, patching up Ronald’s wounds with the help of some sulphadiazine powder. Soon after that, a jeep had arrived, ready to evacuate Ronald to a nearby aid station. From there, he passed through several hospitals and was sent back home to the US.
Lou Novotny: The Platoon Leader
Lou Novotny is another American veteran who remembers December of 1944 very well. On December 28, he and his platoon were in the area around the Belgian town of Humain. It was a very cold, snowy, foggy morning. Lou recalls that there was about two feet of snow underfoot.
Lou’s platoon was responsible for taking point and leading the way through the dense forest as they made their way towards an area of high ground, overlooking the valley ahead, with enemy lines positioned about 400 yards forward.
The Order to Attack
Lou and his troops made it to their designated spot, dug some fox holes, and waited. But not long after that, they got the order to attack the enemy. And it was Lou’s job to contact the next platoon on the right side and let them know about the plans.
Lou set off on his way. He remembers the fog being dense, making it extremely difficult to see more than 20 yards ahead. It was also starting to get dark very quickly in the area, and Lou was worried that he might lose his way.
Heading in the Wrong Direction
Lou hoped that he was walking in the right direction. At one point, he eventually felt that he’d walked far enough to reach the platoon, but there was nobody around. He slowed his pace, hoping that he wouldn’t be mistaken for an enemy or accidentally get shot if someone spotted him wandering through the fog.
Then, he had the shock of his life: he suddenly heard German voices. It turned out that he’d been walking in the wrong direction, going off course because of the fog and walking all the way to the German line.
A Life-or-Death Decision
Lou froze on the spot and listened closely for the sounds of the Germans. He estimated that he was only 20 yards away from them, but the fog and darkness had helped to hide him. He knew he wouldn’t make it back to the American line if the Germans spotted or heard him.
He had to be careful. He stayed very quiet and still while listening for the Germans to figure out where they were. Then, he slowly began to make his way back to his platoon. He remembers that “it seemed like ages” before he arrived back with his fellow Americans.
William J. McKenzie: The Attack at Heiderscheid
William J. McKenzie was part of Company H, called in to support the 80th Infantry Division in late December of 1944 as they made an attack on the German forces at Heiderscheid. The objective of the attack was to force the Germans out of the area.
On December 23, William was on guard duty at the Company’s command post. Suddenly, out of nowhere, a German truck came rolling down the street into town. William knew exactly what he had to do; he lifted his rifle and immediately began to fire at the truck’s driver.
“All Hell Broke Loose”
William’s shot broke the truck’s windshield, but it carried on driving for a little while longer before arriving halfway to the center of the square. Then, many other American soldiers emerged from the area, and “all hell broke loose” as they launched a huge volley of fire against the vehicle, killing everyone inside.
Later that day, William was on guard once again when he saw another German vehicle: this time, it was a plane flying overhead and dropping a bomb on a nearby combat patrol, narrowly missing them but still doing enough damage to put a gun turret out of action.
Another German Attack the Next Day
The very next day, the Germans came yet again. William awoke early that morning and peered out of the window. He saw a group of men, dressed all in white, moving slowly and stealthily along the road towards the back of the house he was in at the time.
William knew right away that the men had to be Germans, as there was no reason for American soldiers to be sneaking around like that on their own base. Again, William opened fire first, waking up everyone else and beginning a 10-minute- long firefight.
Then the Tanks Arrived
It turned out that the initial group of Germans may have been some sort of scout party, as a group of 29 Germans tanks soon rolled into the area, each loaded with soldiers. They surrounded the area, and William remembered thinking that this would be his final day.
He decided, “I might as well keep shooting until the end.” Fortunately, his intuition was wrong. The Germans were held back by the American resistance, with the Americans using some bazookas and rifle grenades to set 11 of the tanks on fire and force the others back.
Donald Carl Chumley: The Farm Boy
Donald Carl Chumley was only 19 years old when he was drafted and sent off to fight in Europe. He had spent most of his life on a farm and admitted that his morale levels were low upon arrival on European soil.
He’d had 17 weeks of basic training in Alabama before being sent overseas, and he remembers spending his first night near the Ardennes Forest sleeping in a stable on a bed of straw. He had no idea what lay ahead of him, and he was frightened of what might happen in the days to come.
The Reserve Regiment
Chumley was part of the 90th Division of the 357th Infantry Regiment, Company E. His service with them began on Christmas day of 1944. His regiment was in reserve, positioned near the Moselle and the Saar rivers, just south of the Luxembourg border, waiting for reinforcements.
Chumley was one of the 50 reinforcements they received, along with other troops he would soon learn and remember the names of, like Private Chittan, Private Connolly, and Sergeant Willard Taylor, who was made Platoon Sergeant. Chumley, meanwhile, was a rifleman, handed an M-1 rifle, and told to follow orders.
The Regiment Starts to Move
On January 6 of 1945, Chumley’s regiment started to push forwards into Luxembourg and truly enter the Battle of the Bulge. He remembers the first Battle very well, especially the cold air and deep snow on the ground. He also remembers the injuries that his fellow troops began to suffer almost immediately.
Just two hours after starting the Battle, Private Connolly was shot in the arm and evacuated to the hospital before being sent home. Another of Chumley’s squadmates, Private Chittam, was also shot in the arm later on. Chumley did his best to bandage the wound, and Chittam was also sent away for medical aid. One of the 50 reinforcements that Chumley had been a part of was also killed that day.
Thankful to Still Be in One Piece
As for Chumley, he also suffered an injury in the early days. While walking through a wooded area carrying his rifle and some bandoliers of ammo, he and his group came under rifle and mortar fire. Suddenly, two of the bandoliers he was carrying slipped from his shoulder and fell to the ground.
When he bent down to examine them, he realized that the bandoliers had been cut clean through with shrapnel that had somehow missed his body. A small piece of shrapnel did hit his wrist moments later, but it only caused a small flesh wound.
A Lucky Streak for Chumley
Not long after that attack, Chumley and his fellow troops had dug fox holes and nestled down to try and protect themselves. While waiting, he had removed his gloves and placed them at the top of a dirt mound nearby.
Soon after, he noticed one of the gloves suddenly move. He pulled it down and found that the thumb section had been shot clean off, and he felt very thankful that he hadn’t been wearing the gloves at the time. It was yet another lucky near-miss for the 19-year-old infantryman.
The Life of an Infantryman
Chumley and his squad spent over a week in the area, with Chumley hoping that his luck would last and no more bullets or bits of shrapnel would hit him. Fortunately, he survived, and the squad was relieved, given some time to rest and re-group.
Those that survived were also awarded the Combat Infantry Badge, and shortly after that, Chumley was made a 3rd platoon runner, working with the platoon at Company HQ. He knew that he was very lucky to make it to VE (Victory Day), a day after seeing a lot of his fellow men die or be evacuated. Indeed, of the 50 original reinforcements, he was one of just 6 to make it to the end with the company.
Col. Walter Hedges: The Farmer Fighter Pilot
Walter Hedges graduated high school on the 4th of June 1942. There were 15 boys in his class, and 12 of them went on to enter the armed forces, including Walter himself. He always knew what he wanted to do in the army: fly.
When he was a young boy, picking strawberries from his home farm in Delaware, he saw a group of planes flying in formation overhead. From that point on, he always knew he wanted to be a pilot, and his older brother, Nathan, had already volunteered for aviation cadet training before Walter finished school.
Following in His Brother’s Footsteps
Walter’s brother, Nathan, had requested two letters of recommendation after graduating high school in order to volunteer for aviation training. So, Walter did the same, asking his mother and father to obtain two recommendation letters and then setting off to Wilmington to hand in his application.
Just a few days later, Walter received a letter instructing him to head to Fort Dix in New Jersey to begin his military career. Not long after that, he was taking his first military physical and then sent off to a post office in Camden, NJ, where he was sworn in as an enlisted Private.
Training to Become a Pilot
The next step for Walter was to complete a month and a half of college classes before being sent off on a train to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center. There, he would undergo classification, with a chance of living his dream and starting flight training.
The classification process involved a lot of exams and tests of written abilities, motor skills, psychological evaluations, and so on. It was all designed to see which candidates were suitable for pilot training and which should enter other types of training like navigator or bombardier.
A Stressful Moment for Walter
During classification, Walter was asked to see the psychologist twice. On the second visit, the psychologist asked him why he seemed to be so anxious. Walter responded that he feared being refused pilot training. The psychologist responded that it would be for Walter’s own good if that decision was made.
But Walter was adamant. He told the psychologist, “I want to be a pilot.” He truly didn’t want to be anything else and was so hopeful that he would be allowed to enter the training program. Fortunately, the psychologist saw his determination and agreed. Days later, Walter was off to Texas to start pilot training.
Finally Living the Dream
Finally, Walter was able to live out his dream. He completed the basic flying classes and then continued into advanced pilot classes at Victoria in Texas. There, he flew several aircraft, including an AT-6 and a P-40, racking up the requisite 200 hours of flight time before becoming a qualified pilot.
Upon graduation, he was promoted to Second Lieutenant and sent off to New Jersey, waiting to travel across the Atlantic to Europe. He arrived in Liverpool some days later and then headed to the east coast of England for further training and designation into his first official fighter group.
Early Missions in November of 1944
After arriving in Europe, Walter began to take part in his first few combat missions as a pilot. His first mission took place on November 25th of 1944. It was an escort mission. He completed it without any issues, with another successful mission the next day, in which 23 German planes were destroyed, and no American losses were reported.
Walter then completed several more missions throughout November and into early December, leading up to the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge. Soon after that, he would become directly involved in the Battle itself.
Walter’s Experience at the Battle of the Bulge
Walter flew several missions in early December. He remembers how much the weather had changed on December 13th. The snow started to fall, and the temperatures dropped, and those changing conditions would later become synonymous with the Battle that lay ahead. As for Walter, his next mission was just a few days away on December 18th.
He remembers the weather being so bad there that the bombers couldn’t fly their usual routes. They had to break through the cloud to get a clear look at the ground and saw a bunch of flashes below. At first, they thought the flashes were bombs landing, but they were, in fact, German artillery guns firing right towards them.
The Terrible Weather is What He Remembers Most
On that fateful day, one of Walter’s fellow pilots was hit by a piece of shrapnel, and the whole group had to fly back up into the clouds and escape the area. Otherwise, they may have all been shot down by the aggressive German attack. At the time, the Battle of the Bulge had only just begun, and it seemed that the Germans wanted to do as much damage as possible right away.
Walter mostly remembers the weather. Through the rest of December and into January, it continued to be bad. There was a big snowstorm and many icy, foggy days. The conditions made it difficult for any flying missions to take place, and several pilots were killed due to the poor weather.
Lyle Bouck: The Elite Lieutenant
Lyle Bouck was a young lieutenant in the army at the time of the Battle of the Bulge, in charge of a platoon of 18 elite soldiers. Because of their skills and abilities, they were asked to push up the front line and defend a hill to plug a gap in the line.
Unfortunately, on December 16th, the Germans found them, sending no less than 700 men into the area in three separate waves at Lyle and his 17 fellow Americans, who were ordered to “Hold at all costs.”
A Truly Heroic Effort
By the end of that same day, hundreds of Germans were dead, but not a single American had been killed in Lyle’s platoon. Some had been wounded, and the group was eventually captured, but they made an incredibly heroic stand, and it was all on the eve of Lyle’s 21st birthday.
Lyle and his men spent several months after that in freezing, uncomfortable prison camp conditions, but their heroic defense of that hill had helped to keep the Germans at bay and played a real role in the Allies’ eventual success in the Battle of the Bulge.
Lieutenant Wingolf Scherer: A German Perspective
On December 15th of 1944, Lieutenant Wingolf Scherer was just 20 years old. He was stationed in the Eifel region, along with his grenadier division. And on that day, he and his fellow soldiers received some important orders.
Scherer and his division were told that they were being sent to the Ardennes to fight. Only two hours later, he and his 60 troops were transported over the border to the Western Front, near the small community of Udenbreth. Little did they know the horror and drama that lay ahead of them.
Scherer Remembers the Emotions of That Day
Wingolf Scherer is now in his later nineties, but in a recent interview, he recalled the mood of that fateful day and still never forgets how he felt on the way to the Western Front. “The mood was really grim,” he stated.
“We all knew that this was our last chance to put another twist in the tale of the war. But none of us knew if we would make it out alive,” Scherer explained, revealing the general thoughts and feelings of himself and his compatriots at the time.
A Frightening and Awe-Inspiring Moment
The very next morning after his arrival in Udenbreth, Scherer was woken in the early hours by German artillery fire. He was nestled in a snowy spot at the time and remembered momentarily forgetting the frost of the snow as he heard the “frightening and awe-inspiring” roar of the artillery.
Scherer also remembers feeling a little hope at that moment, “I just thought, maybe we can do this after all.” Moments later, he, along with 240,000 other Germans and plenty of tanks, charged forward towards the startled American forces.
His Hope Was Short-Lived
Scherer may have felt hope in those early moments as he heard the roar of his army’s artillery and saw the huge crowd of his fellow soldiers charging forward. However, his optimistic and hopeful feelings were not destined to last very long at all.
In fact, he and his comrades realized very quickly that their plan, the Ardennes offensive, was destined to end in failure. He even remembers one German general saying, “The idiot (referring to Hitler) ordered this; what else can we do but obey?”
Running Low on Fuel
Scherer and his fellow troops made a very slow advance through the dense Ardennes forests, which were covered in snow at the time. It was a long slog of a journey, and many Germans began to lose hope and feel that their attack was doomed.
They started to run very low on fuel for their tanks, and concerns mounted that they would eventually reach a point of no return. Scherer still remembers one of the most worrying orders his unit received from officers: “If we needed more fuel, then we should just requisition it from enemy bases.”
He Was Forced to Surrender
Of course, Scherer and his fellow German soldiers were right to have been concerned. Their attack turned out to be a terrible move for the German forces as they suffered huge losses and made it even easier for the Soviets to advance on Berlin.
Fortunately for Scherer, he was not one of the thousands of Germans killed in the attack. He surrendered to American troops on March 9th of 1945, near the small German town of Andernach. From there, he became a prisoner of war for the Americans.
An Act of Kindness from an American Officer
Scherer was kept as a prisoner of war until September. At the time, he was struggling with health problems, and a US officer noticed that something wasn’t quite right, so he recommended that Scherer be sent to a military hospital for treatment.
The officer approached Scherer and spoke to him in German, explaining that his own family had emigrated from Germany to the US. The German was very grateful to the American for his small but significant act of kindness and made sure never to forget it.
Getting Back in Touch
After the war, Scherer decided to reach out to the US officer who had helped him. He wrote the officer a letter, and he was pleasantly surprised to receive a response. After that, the two men started sending each other multiple letters, sharing their stories and feelings.
The US officer’s sons even flew over from Ohio to meet Scherer, although the officer refused to make the trip. Scherer had offered to pay for his travel costs, but the officer, who was a bomber pilot in the war, said he couldn’t return to a country he’d attacked.
One of the Last Veterans
One of the Last Veterans, Wingolf Scherer, obtained his doctorate after the war and then decided to spend the rest of his life preserving the memory of that terrible conflict. He has written 20 books on the subject, including one all about the Ardennes offensive.
He’s also one of the last veterans of the Battle of the Bulge to still be alive at the time of writing. So, what has he learned? “Humans are capable of solving their conflicts peacefully. Reconciliation between former enemies not only helps us return to normalcy but also prevents something like this ever happening again.”
The Battle Was the Last Big German Offensive
The Battle of the Bulge ran for a little over a month in total, with the Germans finally withdrawing on January 25th of 1945. It was the last major offensive from the Germans in the entire war, with Hitler hoping to force the Allies into negotiating a peace treaty.
Thanks to the Allied efforts in the Ardennes, Hitler’s plan failed. While the Americans were defending the forest and gradually depleting the German forces, the Soviets were able to advance more easily on Berlin from the east as it was less heavily defended at the time.
Hitler’s Generals Knew It Was a Bad Move
Hitler was adamant that the surprise attack towards Antwerp through the Ardennes was the best way to secure some sort of victory for the Germans. But his generals, including Field Marshals Gerd von Rundstedt and Walther Model, had a very different view on the matter.
They felt that Hitler’s plan of pushing his forces across the Meuse River in just a few days to get to Antwerp was unreasonable and impossible. They suggested some alternative strategies and protested through letters, with the model saying that plan had a 10% chance of success barely.
The Allies Failed to Notice Some Big Warning Signs
The reason the German offensive started so well in the Battle of the Bulge was that their attack came as a surprise to the Allied forces. However, there were several signs of what the Germans had been planning that the Allies could have noticed if they’d been more attentive.
For example, several American units reported that the German activity around the Ardennes region seemed to be increasing, but commanders ignored the reports. In addition, several enemy prisoners revealed that a big attack was being planned, but again, they were ignored.
A Poor Phone Connection Caused Chaos
The 106th Golden Lions Division suffered one of the biggest defeats of any unit during the entire Battle of the Bulge. The unit didn’t have much experience, arriving in the Ardennes region on the 11th of December and ordered to cover a part of the American line in the Eifel region.
After the Battle began, Major General Alan Jones of the 106th started to worry that his unit’s flanks were vulnerable. He phoned a general to ask if his troops could be withdrawn, but a bad phone connection meant that he couldn’t hear the orders correctly and had to keep his troops in the area. They were quickly surrounded by Germans and surrendered.
Some German Troops Dressed as US Soldiers to Cause Confusion
The German troops came up with an array of innovative methods to try and cause confusion in the Allied ranks. During the early stages of the Battle, Hitler ordered the creation of an “impostor army,” dressing up some German soldiers in American outfits.
The men made it behind the US line, where they caused havoc, cutting communication lines and sabotaging US resources. When Americans learned about what was going on, they started to question one another on subjects like baseball and pop culture to try and identify the impostors, capturing a few in the process.
Bastogne Was the Site of a Heroic Defense
One of the most important locations in the Battle of the Bulge was the Belgian town of Bastogne. It was situated close to the Meuse River at a key strategic location that the Germans desperately needed. In the first few days of fighting, this small town saw a lot of action.
Germans managed to surround the town and trap the Americans inside. They demanded that the US forces surrender, but the 101st Airborne Division at Bastogne refused and continued to valiantly defend Bastogne all the way until Christmas when General Patton arrived to help.
The Battle Was the First Example of Desegregation for the US Army
Another interesting fact about the Battle of the Bulge was that it was the first time in which African American and white soldiers fought together for the US army. Up until that point, there were specific white and African American units that each had their own missions and orders.
But during the Bulge, 2,500 African American troops were involved in one particular Battle, defending and fighting beside white countrymen. Two all-African American battalions aided in defense of Bastogne too, and other African American troops came to the aid of the unfortunate 106th Golden Lions division before their surrender.
The Weather Was the Decisive Factor
Many historians agree that the weather was one of the biggest factors determining the outcome of the Battle of the Bulge. It was the snow and fog that helped the Germans enjoy early success and the element of surprise, for example, as well as preventing the Allies from having much aerial support.
The Germans used the weather to their advantage, with the rain and snow reducing visibility and allowing them to launch various sneaky surprise attacks. But as time went by and the conditions cleared, the Allies were able to get their planes back in the sky and fight back.
The Germans Ran Low on Fuel
Another big factor in the Battle of the Bulge was fuel. The German tanks needed a lot of fuel to keep going, but by the end of 1944, the Germans were struggling to source sufficient supplies. They had accumulated about 5 million gallons before the Battle of the Bulge.
However, because of logistical issues, weather, and bad roads, most of that fuel never got to the places it needed to be. The Germans had to resort to using horses to get through the Ardennes in the end, but the Allies fought back and destroyed as much gas as they could find to prevent the Germans from using it.
A Legendary and Decisive Battle
The Battle of the Bulge received its name due to the fact that a kind of “bulge” had formed in the US line because of the German push. But by the end of the fighting, that bulge had been straightened out, and the line was restored.
In the process, many lives were lost on both sides, and countless people were wounded, evacuated, and sent home. It was a bloody conflict, but a decisive one, helping to pave the way towards an Allied victory. Historians also believe that without this Battle, the war could have ended very differently, with the possibility of a nuclear bomb being dropped on Berlin.