BelgiumArdennes

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During the Second World War the Germans launched two surprise attacks through the Ardennes. The first of these attacks succeeded but the second, known as the Ardennes Offensive, failed in the winter of 1944-1945. 

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The Ardennes played a crucial role during the Second World War on two occasions. In 1940 the German army launched a surprise attack through the Ardennes which led to their victory in Western Europe. In the winter of 1944-1945 the Germans tried to repeat this success with another surprise attack. By this point at the war, however, the balance of power had shifted in favour of the Allies and the German offensive, known as the Ardennes Offensive or Battle of the Bulge, was unsuccessful.

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Highlighted story: Battle of the Bulge

In December 1944, when the Allies had advanced unto the Belgian Ardennes, they were completely surprised by three German armies. This was the beginning of the Ardennes Offensive or ‘Battle of the Bulge’. It was a last desperate attempt of the German Wehrmacht to cut through the allied lines. The battle lasted more than six weeks and took many lives on both sides.

The last German surge
In this picture:
The Eagle Monument in Bastogne
The Eagle monument in Bastogne is dedicated to all the American soldiers whose units were surrounded in «the perimeter of Bastogne» from 21st to 26th December 1944, during the Battle of the Bulge.

In September 1944 the allied forces had reached the line from Luxembourg to Antwerp. Then Hitler decided to start a last counteroffensive in the Ardennes. He had to wait for bad weather conditions, with clouds and fog, to prevent the Allies from using their superior air force. Finally the battle was launched on 16 December 1944. The 6th Panzer SS Army, the 5th Armored Army and the Brandenberger’s 7th Army marched into the Ardennes.

With this operation, codenamed Wacht am Rhein, Hitler wanted to split the allied armies by a surprise counteroffensive. He wanted to seize the bridges over the Meuse River in order to advance further via Liège to the port of Antwerp. On the American side the surprise was complete.

But unlike the offensive campaign in May 1940, the Ardennes Offensive was no quick success. The wheather conditions were worse, the allied air force was much more powerful and the German fuel supplies went short. By 23 December the weather started to clear. The Americans brought their air power into force and started a counterattack. By mid-January 1945 a lack of fuel forced the Germans to simply abandon their vehicles, which was fatal to Hitler’s ambition. On 25 January 1945 the battle was over.

The Battle of the Bulge was the costliest operation ever fought by the U.S. Army. 10,733 American soldiers were killed and 42,316 wounded. German losses totalled 12,652 killed and 38,600 wounded. About 2,500 civilians lost their lives in Belgium and 500 in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.

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