On December 16, 1944 at 5:30 on a bitterly cold morning American troops in the Ardennes forest came under a massive artillery barrage, followed by swarms of German armored vehicles clattering out of the fog, and waves of infantry. the German offensive in the Ardennes had begun. It wasn’t supposed to happen. The Germans were supposed to be on their last legs. The war was supposedly as good as won. Hitler didn’t buy that. He had a grand vision of a drive to Antwerp, splitting the Allied armies in the West. His generals, who had a better grounding in reality, knew this was impossible. Nonetheless, they planned and executed the offensive with the last German reserves. Not for the first or the last time, the senior American leadership had failed the men in the front line. They had not pieced together the intelligence they had and they had not made adequate preparation for the assault that swept into their forward positions on December 16. Other armies beset by the furor teutonicus had crumbled away. The American Army held due to the grit and stubbornness of thousands of soldiers who acted spontaneously, with little or no guidance or direction, resisting locally with whatever was at hand. The German advance continued, but in grinding fashion. There was no shattering breakthrough. By the second day, December 17, 1944, the Germans had reached the crossroads town of St. Vith. They had to take St. Vith. The American defenders, outgunned and outnumbered held out until December 23. This action derailed the entire German timetable, and consumed precious days of foul weather, which had grounded the Allied air forces. On the same day, December 17, a Waffen SS unit under the command of Joachim Pieper murdered 113 American prisoners. The details of the Malmedy Massacre are still disputed. But the plain fact is that Waffen SS units composed of veterans of the Russian front, where neither side adhered to civilized standards of conduct, had a well-deserved reputation for brutality.
Let us remember the soldiers who held out amidst the cold and the fog and the confusion, who died in hundreds of nameless and forgotten skirmishes, who made the Germans pay for every inch of ground.
God bless America.
(One of these days I hope to make a pilgrimage to these battlefields. This page lists cemeteries and museums in the area.)