On December 16, 1944, the German Army Group B, under the command of Field Marshal Walter Model, went on the offensive on the position of the Anglo-American troops in an inaccessible area on the border of Belgium and France, known as the Ardennes. Despite the fact that the forces of Nazi Germany were significantly undermined by the war, the Nazi forces managed to break through the Allied defenses and rush to the bridges across the river Meuse.
In anticipation of Hitler’s attack on the Soviet Union, Moscow’s relations with Washington and London were strained. The leadership of the USSR hard survived the Munich conspiracy and sabotage by Western countries of the creation of an anti-fascist alliance in 1939. In turn, the British and US authorities were unhappy with the conclusion of a non-aggression pact between the USSR and Germany.
However, after the start of Hitler's aggression against the Soviet Union, Moscow, London and Washington agreed on joint actions against the Third Reich. At the same time, the US and British authorities doubted for a long time whether they should really support the USSR.
Only in 1942 did the allies promise the Soviet leadership to open a second front in France, but the moment of landing on the Atlantic coast was constantly delayed, and the British and Americans acted in secondary theaters of military operations.
All this led to the fact that in 1943 relations between the allies began to deteriorate again. However, against the backdrop of the successes of the Red Army on the Kursk, in London and Washington, they came to the conclusion that the USSR was quite capable of winning the war and freeing continental Europe on its own. Finally, as a result of negotiations at the Quebec and Tehran conferences, it was decided to land the Anglo-American troops in France in 1944.
June 6, 1944 in Normandy, a parachute landing was landed from two American and one British division. After dawn, the landing of the Allied forces from the sea began. On August 19, resistance fighters rebelled in Paris, and on August 30 the last Nazis retreated behind the Seine, the front collapsed. However, in the fall of 1944, it stabilized in the region of the German border.
Nazi counterattack attempt
“In December 1944, the Nazi leadership decided to try to change the course of the war - to cut the front along the Liège – Antwerp line, and then surround and destroy the allied group in Northern Belgium and the Southern Netherlands,” Boris Sokolov, an employee of the scientific and methodological department of the Victory Museum, told RT.
- German armored vehicles during the Ardennes offensive
- © Deutsches Bundesarchiv
According to the military historian Yuri Knutov, Adolf Hitler hoped that in the event of a successful offensive he would be able to “overthrow the Anglo-American troops in the Atlantic” and impose a separate peace on the terms of the allies.
“The Nazi command transferred the most modern military equipment and the maximum available combat-ready units to the Ardennes. The Nazis relied on lightning speed, ”the source said.
According to Boris Sokolov, the offensive was preceded by the actions of Nazi paratroopers and saboteurs. The paratroopers after the landing were destroyed, but the saboteurs acted successfully. Dressed in American uniforms and equipped with American cars, they committed a series of sabotage, causing panic and provoking congestion on the roads.
On the morning of December 16, 1944, the Wehrmacht and SS forces, combined into Army Group B, went on the offensive. It developed rapidly. In just a few days, the German units broke through the front and advanced 90 km into the depths of the Allied positions.
“There is an American version that all this was a cunning plan to trap the Germans, but this does not seem very true. According to eyewitnesses, the allied soldiers fled in a panic, ”said Yuri Knutov.
According to Boris Sokolov, the first goal of the Nazis was to capture bridges across the river Meuse, after which it was planned to develop an attack on Antwerp and Brussels. In the course of the advance, the Nazis intended to seize fuel and ammunition depots from the Allies.
The 101st Airborne Division of the USA, which did not surrender the city of Bastogne, became a serious obstacle in their path. However, the Germans managed to take the Belgian city of Saint-Vit, which had important strategic importance.
According to historians, the Nazis did not reach the river Meuse just a few kilometers. Their advance stopped on December 25-26, 1944.
“The allies then explained the halt to the Hitler offensive with their resistance, but there was another important factor. In the 20s of December, a critical situation for the Nazis in the Budapest region took shape. On December 26, the Nazi group in the area of the Hungarian capital was completely blocked by the Red Army. The Nazis had to urgently transfer the reserves needed in the Ardennes to the east, ”said Yuri Knutov.
- American prisoners during the Ardennes operation.
- © Scherl
The collapse of the western border of the Reich
At the end of December 1944, the Allied forces counterattacked the Nazis, who were still strong enough. On January 1, Nazi aircraft struck airfields occupied by Allied aircraft. Nearly 500 U.S. and British aircraft were destroyed or damaged. On the same day, the Germans launched a local offensive in Alsace.
“On January 3, 1945, the Allies launched a full-scale offensive, however, in order for it not to end in disaster, they needed support. On January 5 and 6, Winston Churchill sent Joseph Stalin desperate requests to go on the offensive on the Eastern Front, ”said Yuri Knutov.
According to him, according to the plan, the Red Army was supposed to go to action only in the second half of January. A new offensive was not yet prepared, in addition, bad weather established in Eastern Europe. However, the Soviet leadership still responded to the calls of the allies.
“We are preparing for the offensive, but the weather now is not conducive to our offensive. However, taking into account the position of our allies on the Western Front, the Supreme High Command Headquarters decided to complete preparations at an accelerated pace and, regardless of the weather, launch widespread offensive operations against the Germans on the entire central front no later than the second half of January. You can rest assured that we will do everything possible to render assistance to our glorious allied forces, ”Stalin wrote to Churchill on January 7, 1945.
As a result, on January 12, the Vistula-Oderskaya began, and on January 13, the East Prussian strategic offensive operations of the Soviet troops.
“The Nazis had no choice but to begin the transfer of troops from the western front to the eastern. Soviet troops saved the allies, ”Knutov said.
On January 23, Allied forces liberated Saint-Vit. The next day they closed an encirclement ring around the 300,000th Hitler group in Belgium.
“On January 29, the Ardennes ledge, previously formed by Nazi forces, was liquidated, the Allies were given the opportunity to launch a massive invasion of Germany. This was the beginning of the end for the Nazis in the western direction, ”said Boris Sokolov.
- Soviet units force the Oder River
- RIA News
According to Yuri Knutov, both the estimates of the forces involved in the battle of Ardennes and the losses of the parties vary depending on the sources.
“The Americans were inclined to exaggerate the strength and loss of the Germans, and the Germans - the Americans,” said the historian.
The forces of the allies in early January 1945 amounted to about 30 divisions and about 700 thousand people, the Nazis in this direction - 23 divisions and 400 thousand personnel. According to various estimates, in the Ardennes operation the Allies lost from 90 to 110 thousand people killed, wounded and prisoners, Nazis - from 60 to 125 thousand.
According to Boris Sokolov, the Battle of Ardennes was the bloodiest battle in US history. In turn, Yuri Knutov emphasized that at the beginning of the Ardennes offensive by the Nazi forces the Allies did not have full confidence that they could win this battle. Today, according to him, the following point of view prevails in Western historiography: in this episode of World War II, everything went according to the plan of Western countries, and all the merit in this victory belongs only to them.
“If we evaluate the situation fairly, then the Red Army, having launched an offensive on the eastern front ahead of time in the most difficult conditions for itself, rendered a great service to the allies and saved tens of thousands of lives of American and British soldiers,” Knutov said.
“Thanks to the battle of Ardennes, Hitler’s hopes for a separate peace with the Allies on the conditions of Berlin were buried, and this was a serious achievement,” the historian concluded.