The last major German offensive campaign on the Western Front during World War II, also known as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, took place from 16 December 1944 to 25 January 1945. It was launched through the densely forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in eastern Belgium, northeast France, and Luxembourg. The offensive was intended to stop Allied use of the Belgian port of Antwerp and to split the Allied lines, allowing the Germans to encircle and destroy four Allied armies and force the Western Allies to negotiate a peace treaty in the Axis powers’ favor.
Due to a combination of Allied overconfidence, preoccupation with Allied offensive plans, and poor aerial reconnaissance due to bad weather, the Germans achieved a total surprise attack on the morning of 16 December. American forces bore the brunt of the attack and incurred their highest casualties of any operation during the war. The battle also severely depleted Germany’s armored forces, and they were largely unable to replace them. German personnel and, later, in the concluding stages of the engagement, Luftwaffe aircraft also sustained heavy losses. The Germans had attacked a weakly defended section of the Allied line, taking advantage of heavily overcast weather conditions that grounded the Allies’ overwhelmingly superior air forces.
The German initial attack involved 410,000 men; just over 1,400 tanks, tank destroyers, and assault guns; 2,600 artillery pieces; 1,600 anti-tank guns; and over 1,000 combat aircraft, as well as large numbers of other armored fighting vehicles (AFVs). These were reinforced a couple of weeks later, bringing the offensive total strength to around 450,000 troops, and 1,500 tanks and assault guns. Between 63,222 and 98,000 of these men were killed, missing, wounded in action, or captured. For the Americans, out of a peak of 610,000 troops, 89,000 became casualties out of which some 19,000 were killed. The “Bulge” was the largest and bloodiest single battle fought by the U. S. in World War II and the third deadliest campaign in American history.
At 1230 on 17 December, Kampfgruppe Peiper was near the hamlet of Baugnez, on the height halfway between the town of Malmedy and Ligneuville, when they encountered elements of the 285th Field Artillery
Observation Battalion, U.S. 7th Armored Division. After a brief battle the lightly armed Americans surrendered. They were disarmed and, with approximately 150 other Americans captured earlier, sent to stand in a field near the crossroads under light guard. About fifteen minutes after Peiper’s advance guard passed through, the main body under the command of SS-Sturmbannführer Werner Pötschke, arrived. The SS troopers suddenly opened fire on the prisoners. As soon as the firing began, the prisoners panicked. Most were shot where they stood, though some managed to flee. Accounts of the killing vary, but at least 84 of the POWs were murdered. A few survived, and news of the killings of POWs spread through the Allied lines. Following the end of the war, soldiers and officers of Kampfgruppe Peiper, including Joachim Peiper and SS General Sepp Dietrich, were tried for the incident at the Malmedy massacre trial. Another, smaller massacre was committed in Wereth, Belgium, approximately 6.5 miles northeast of Saint-Vith on 17 December 1944. Eleven black American soldiers were tortured after surrendering and then shot by men of the 1st SS Panzer Division belonging to Schnellgruppe Knittel. The perpetrators were never punished for this crime and recent research indicates that men from Third Company of the Reconnaissance Battalion were responsible.
Fierce resistance on the northern shoulder of the offensive, around Elsenborn Ridge, and in the south, around Bastogne, blocked German access to key roads to the northwest and west that they counted on for success. Columns of armor and infantry that were supposed to advance along parallel routes found themselves on the same roads. This, and terrain that favored the defenders, threw the German advance behind schedule and allowed the Allies to reinforce the thinly placed troops. The furthest west the offensive reached was the village of Foy-Nôtre-Dame, south east of Dinant, being stopped by the U.S. 2nd Armored Division on 24 December. Improved weather conditions from around that date permitted air attacks on German forces and supply lines, which sealed the failure of the offensive.
On 26 December the lead element of Patton’s Third Army reached Bastogne from the south, ending the siege. Although the offensive was effectively broken