The Battle of the Bulge is the largest battle the United States Army has ever fought and it came darn close to losing it.
At the time of the Battle of the Bulge, the Allies were still bringing the majority of their supplies in from Normandy by simply driving trucks off Landing Craft Tank (LCTs) at low tide. Having done this, the supplies then had to be transported another 250 miles or more. The Allies were, at the time, rebuilding the port at Antwerp.
Hitler’s goal was to drive to his remaining Panzer’s to Antwerp Belgium, deprive the Allies of modern high capacity port facility, and sue for peace.
We left Cologne and headed for Belgium, and it was a great drive. On our way to Bastogne, we did a self-guided tour that started in Losheim Germany, at the old Seigfreid line and ended in Viesalm. This route roughly follows that of Kampfgruppe Peiper, led by Jochen Peiper. Peiper was a field officer in the Waffen-SS, a mass murderer in a uniform, and a favorite of Adolph Hitler.
The Battle of the Bulge began in December of 1945. I can tell you in mornings of May 2017 you can see your breath in the air, and one can only imagine that winter weather. The country side alternates between open fields, used for wheat and hay mostly (and goldenrod?) as well as cattle grazing and woods. The logging trails in the dense woods look something like this:
The American solders in this area had received little training and had been placed in this sector precisely because Allied Command thought it would be a quiet sector. When the Germans attacked many put up a brave fight, but asking green infantry troops to stop columns of German Tiger tanks was in many cases too much.
Adding to confusion and not a small amount of paranoia were Germans dressed as American Military Policeman who went about changing around signs and sending the troops in odd directions. Creating confusion is easy when you don’t know how to read a map, your choices look like the picture below, and you have an authority figure telling you what to do:
We were headed for the Chapel of the priest who tells the story below. They only way we we sure that we were on the right track to the Chapel was this cross, and still we had to drive a kilometer or more:
The Priest wrote:
On the evening of 24 December SS troops arrived in Petit Thier and occupied the more comfortable houses in the village. They said they were waiting for replacement vehicles (which never arrived) . Their commander Peiper was at Tinseux and after they left, the bodies of some executed Americans were discovered there.
Today, and I’m sure then, Petit Thier looks like any other village in eastern Belgium.
For a brief explanation of what occurred at Viesalm.
In the end, the Allies rallied, both locally, wherein organizationally separate units reformed, learned on the job, performed heroically and stopped Peiper and Hitler from reaching their goal of Antwerp. Peiper’s task force eventually ran out of gas in La Gleize, 2o kilometers north of Viesalm, 100 miles short of his goal and literally out of gas.