What Stopped the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge?

What Stopped the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge?

World War 2

German troops advancing past abandoned American equipment

16th December, 1944.

Germany launch Operation Wacht am Rhein (Watch on the Rhine)

‘Wacht am Rhein’ was the German final major offensive of World War II against the Western Allies, and colloquially known as the ‘Battle of the Bulge’ (16 December 1944/15 January 1945).

This major effort was supported by a number of subsidiary operations including ‘Hermann’ otherwise known as ‘Bodenplatte’, ‘Greif’, ‘Nordwind’  and ‘Währung’, and had as its overall objective a breakthrough of the Allied front in the thinly held sector of the Ardennes region between Monschau in the north and Trier in the south, so splitting the Allied armies into separate northern and southern groupings, and thus paving the way for a German drive to seize Antwerp and the vast stocks of Allied supplies in its docks. 

A German machine gunner marching through the Ardennes in December 1944

This, Adolf Hitler believed, would further open the way for the German encirclement and destruction of four Allied armies (from north to south General H. D. G. Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army, Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s British 2nd Army, Lieutenant General William H. Simpson’s US 9th Army and Lieutenant General Courtney H. Hodges’s US 1st Army) and thus compel the Western Allies to negotiate a peace which would make it possible for Germany to concentrate its military efforts against its perceived mortal enemy, the USSR.

There are several reasons why the Germans lost the Battle of the Bulge.
An American soldier escorts a German crewman from his wrecked Panther tank during the Battle of Elsenborn Ridge.

Overall, the Germans lost the Battle of the Bulge due to a combination of poor planning, unfavorable weather conditions, strong Allied resistance, and the loss of the element of surprise. Despite the initial success of the attack, the Germans were ultimately unable to achieve their objectives and were forced to retreat.

Allied Intelligence & codebreaking!
A wartime picture of a Bletchley Park Bombe

The Allies had successfully cracked the German Enigma code and were able to intercept and decrypt many of the Germans’ communications. This allowed them to anticipate the German attack and prepare their defenses accordingly.

A three-rotor Enigma with plugboard (Steckerbrett)
A German Enigma key list. With machine settings for each day of one month
The US Navy Bombe contained 16 four-rotor Enigma-analogues and was much faster than the British three-rotor Bombes. The bombe, an electro-mechanical device used by British cryptologists to help decipher German Enigma-machine-encrypted secret messages during World War II.
Poor German Planning!
The German plan

The Germans made several mistakes in planning and executing the attack. They underestimated the strength of the Allied defenses and overestimated the effectiveness of their own forces. In addition, the Germans failed to properly coordinate their units and supplies, which hindered their ability to achieve their objectives.

Poor Weather!
Members of the 117th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division, move past a destroyed American M5 “Stuart” tank on their march to capture the town of St. Vith at the close of the Battle of the Bulge. St. Vith was largely destroyed during the ground battle in addition subsequent air attack. American forces retook the town on 23 January 1945.

The weather during the Battle of the Bulge was extremely cold and snowy, which made it difficult for the Germans to move their troops and supplies. As a result, this slowed their advance and made it easier for the Allies to hold their ground.

A Strong Allied Resistance!
Americans of the 101st Engineers near Wiltz, Luxembourg, January 1945

Despite becoming caught off guard by the German attack, the Allies fought fiercely held their ground.

Furthermore, they were aided by the arrival of reinforcements, including the 101st Airborne Division, which played a key role in blunting the German advance.

Losing the Element of Surprise!
British Sherman “Firefly” tank in Namur on the Meuse River, December 1944

The Germans had hoped to catch the Allies off guard with their attack, but their plans were ultimately foiled by Allied intelligence. This robbed the Germans of the element of surprise, which was crucial to their success.

Belgian civilians killed by German units during the offensive

In conclusion, although unsuccessful, the offensive nevertheless tied down much of the available Allied resources, and the Allies’ slow response to the resulting gap in their line imposed a delay of several months on their timetable for the defeat of Germany. 

On the other hand, the offensive also allowed the Allies to tackle and effectively destroy much of Germany’s strength on the Western Front well forward of the fixed defenses of their Siegfried-Linie, destroyed much of the matériel which could have been used for the defense of western Germany, and exhausted the very limited supplies available to the remnants of the Germans’ western armies. Lastly, this greatly facilitated the Allies’ subsequent assault on Germany.

Written by Kim Hansen 

World War 2

What Stopped the Germans in the Battle of the Bulge?