740 Via Reposo, Santa Barbara CA 93111
The largest Allied military operation of World War II became known as the Battle of the Bulge. More than 1 million men fought along this 75-mile forest border between Belgium and Germany.
At dawn on Dec. 16, 1944, the enemy launched a surprise attack using three armies.
I was a captain in the 99th Infantry Division. We held a 28-mile line with 12,000 troops. Our area controlled the roads for 40 percent of the Panzer attacks assigned to capture the city of Liege. Liege held Allied supplies including precious fuel which the enemy needed. Our orders were to hold at all costs.
The enemy estimated it would take 24 hours to take Liege. But the 99th held the line on the 16th.
On Dec. 17, with aid from the 2nd Infantry Division, the front was held again. We received continuous artillery shelling. Many were killed, including the sergeant just six feet behind me.
On Dec. 18, reinforcements arrived and the 99th contracted to a seven-mile front. The battalion commander said, “We fought for over 48 hours until we were out of ammunition.”
Men cried because they had to retreat when they ran out of ammunition. Some units fought hand-to-hand with bayonets. The enemy outnumbered us five to one and came within nine feet.
This successful defense was accomplished by a small group fighting and holding the roads.
Had the enemy captured Liege and the port city of Antwerp, it would have been able to divide the Allied armies and deny them access to supplies and ammunition.
On Dec. 18, the battle was decided. However, it would take five more weeks of fighting to defeat future attacks and reclaim the land lost during the time the Axis had created the 75-mile “bulge” in the Allied lines. The enemy had lost equipment, all of its army reserves and had no more fuel.
The 99th Division had been in enemy contact for 85 days in sub-zero temperatures and snow, the coldest winter in 25 years. My feet were partially frozen as were the feet of many of our heroic troops.
The fierce weather caused more casualties to both armies than enemy actions. About 106,000 enemy troops were killed or wounded. The allies had 82,000 killed, wounded or missing in action plus 32,000 captured.
Eventually more than half a million heroes were fighting for our freedom at the Battle of the Bulge.
Freedom is not free.