The Ardennes Offensive (16 December 1944 – 25 January 1945) The Ardennes Offensive, or what is commonly called The Battle of the Bulge, was an attack by forces of the German Reich across the mountainous Ardennes Forest region of Belgium, Luxembourg, and eastern France in late 1944. The German Army, which less than a year before had occupied most of western Europe, had been pushed back east to the very border of Germany by Allied forces. Germany’s Axis ally Italy had surrendered in September 1943 and American, British, and Canadian forces had established beachheads in the Normandy region of France on 6 June 1944. The Supreme Allied Commander, US General Eisenhower had a running wager with British Field Marshal Montgomery that Germany would surrender by Christmas (Whiting 10). It was not to be. The Allied breakout from St. Lo, France and the battles across northern France toward Germany had been so fast, and the rout of the Germans so complete, that supplies coming in through the small ports of Normandy could not keep up. Eisenhower reported to Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall, detailing some of the needs:
Losses of ordinance equipment have been extremely high. For instance, we must have as replacement items each month 36,000 small arms, 700 mortars, 500 tanks, 2,400 vehicles, 100 field pieces. Consumption of artillery and mortar ammunition in northwestern Europe averages 8,000,000 rounds a month. Our combat troops use up an average of 66,400 miles of one type of field wire each month (Merriam 41).
Allied bombing had decimated the French railroad system, and rolling stock was woefully inadequate to the task of moving this amount of supplies (Eisenhower 76). The Allied advance had far outpaced the crucial supply lines from the French coast. By late August the front lines were 150 miles from the ports, and still had 200 miles to go to the German border (Merriam 42). By the end of August, 95% of all supplies available on the European continent were in depots near Cherbourg on the beaches at Arromanches (an artificial port in the British sector), and on Omaha Beach. Virtually no supplies existed between these stocks and the army dumps which, by this time, were 300 miles distant (Eisenhower 76).
A truck transport system was established, called Red Ball Express, to ferry these supplies to the front lines. The 700 mile round trip took an average of five days and although herculean efforts were made, could not keep up (Eisenhower 76). The obvious solution was to acquire a port much closer to the front through which resupply could be accomplished. The North Sea port of Antwerp, Belgium seemed the perfect choice. It had a large harbor, and was only eighty miles from the front lines. Antwerp is located about sixty miles from the open sea on the Scheldt River, at the end of the Westerschelde estuary (Goolrick 8). Although the Allies captured Antwerp on 4 September 1944, the Germans still occupied the banks of the estuary, thus denying the port’s use for resupply (Eisenhower 77). It was not until early November that the Canadian 1st Army succeeded in clearing the banks of the estuary and allowed the opening of the port. For the Allies to have such a strategically located port was a real problem for the German war effort. In September 1944, as Antwerp was being captured, German war planners put forth a bold and daring idea: a two-pronged armored spearhead attack that would recapture Antwerp. On 1September Hitler called Field Marshal von Rundstedt, who he had recently removed from command, and asked him to take over as commander in chief in the west (MacDonald 21). On 16 September, Hitler met with General Jodl to review his plans for the attack. The plan was quite ambitious: if successful, not only would it deny the port facilities at Antwerp to the Allies, it would envelope and capture or destroy not only the British and Canadian armies, but the American First and