Letters to My Grandchildren: Cat Warfare….The Battle of the Bulge

 

 

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Dear Kids,

Well, it is cold outside.  Our yard is like a muddy pig sty and my dogs have become the pigs.  Oliver is just loving digging in the mud.  Truman digs right alongside of Oliver and yet stays perfectly white, when Oliver the pup comes in looking like a filthy black bear.   He’s still always so cute…just like you.

Your grandma has started baking Christmas cookies for the holiday festivities.  Well, that and I give lots of cookies away to folks who otherwise wouldn’t get their favorites.  Many of my friends who are World War II veterans have already put in their requests.  Their favorites are my old-fashioned gingersnaps and Grandma Esther’s Spritz Cookies.  I will start the baking this week and fill my freezer with treats to be delivered before Christmas.  Don’t worry I will save plenty for you and your folks.

Of course, with a house filled with Christmas cookies, cakes, pies and breads, I must say this old granny of yours really has to practice self-control or I will lose my personal battle of the bulge.  Self-control is a very hard thing to master, but is so important.  Too much of a good thing is never good for anyone.  It is important to learn when enough is enough.  Eventually, everyone has to learn to say no… to themselves, to others and this time of year, for this grandma, to cookies.

Battling my bulge reminds me of Hitler’s last major war offensive…The Battle of the Bulge.   This very severe attack was launched in the freezing cold right before Christmas on December 16, 1944.   This secret attack was designed by Hitler himself.

Since D-Day and the successful Allied landing on the French beaches at Normandy, the Allies, our team, had made steady progress in pushing back the Germany army. Hitler felt that if he could split the Allied army in two, then surround each half, he could destroy them and win the war.  To keep his plan secret he did not use telephones or other types of electronic transmissions to send orders to his commanders.  He used a technique for spreading information that was probably as old as mankind itself…in person runners.  His secret attack began in the thickly forested Ardennes region of Wallonia in Belgium, France, and Luxembourg.

The American troops that were targeted were in units that had already seen very hard fighting and had taken many casualties.  They were tired and their ranks were thinned out. Many of the soldiers were inexperienced replacements. Allied commanders thought that this part of the war front would be easy to defend because the dense forest would make an offensive assault very unlikely.

Since there were no, “over the air” messages about Hitler’s plans to intercept.  Allied spies did not know anything about it.  It was an undermanned and out-gunned American army taken completely by surprise on that cold December morning when a massive 90 minute Germany bombardment hit right before almost a quarter million screaming Nazi troops came charging out of the woods.

As the bombardment began, the German artillery gunners were aiming too high.  Most of the shells fell behind our troops who were thought to be somewhat safe down in their fox holes.  A fox hole is a hole a soldier digs with a small army shovel to protect himself while he shoots at the enemy.  Fox holes were deep enough to hide at least one man.

With the missiles flying over the heads of our soldiers you would think that they wouldn’t have gotten hurt or killed.  This was not the case.  The screaming missiles hit and blew up many of the trees in the forest.  The wood splinters from the trees became as deadly as bullets.  Many men were killed by the wood splinters while still in their fox holes.

The American’s fought hard and were very stubborn and did not give up ground easily. However, they did give up ground.  Some of our guys were captured by the Germans. Most retreated in order to re-organized and mount a defense against the Nazis invasion.

The Germans, using superior troop numbers and a very aggressive tank campaign, drove the American troops back.  The German’s goal was to quickly secure vital bridges so that they could cross rivers before the Americans could blow up the bridges to stop their advance.  At the beginning of the battle the Germans had a lot of success.

It wasn’t too many days before the Germans had pushed back the battle line until it bulged in the center like a big U.   This U shape of the battle line is why this battle is called, “The Battle of the Bulge.”  There was a “bulge” in the line.

This battle was fought from December 16 until January 25, 1945.  The casualties on both sides were horrible. The initial attack by the Nazis was made by about 406,000 men.  Their equipment included 1,214 tanks, tank destroyers and assault guns.   There were over 4,000 artillery pieces used to bombard the American soldiers.  The German’s reinforced their troops after the first couple of weeks raising their troop numbers to about 450,000 men.  Between 67,200 and just over 100,000 German soldiers were killed, missing or wounded during this battle.  Over 610,000 American soldiers fought to defeat the German juggernaut. They suffered 89,000 casualties.  The number killed is estimated to be just over 8,000 men.

The American’s won this battle for several reasons.  First, we had great generals that kept a positive attitude and did not panic.  It is important to remember that no matter what the situation may be panic never helps.

Our top commanding general was General Dwight D. Eisenhower.  General Eisenhower knew that an enemy is much easier to defeat when it is on the offensive and out in the open.

When Eisenhower met with his generals on December 19 to discuss the German attack, he told them “The present situation is to be regarded as one of opportunity for us and not of disaster.  There will be only cheerful faces at this table.”  General Patton who was at the meeting and who was a real character responded “H—, let’s have the guts to let the b——- go all the way to Paris.  Then, we’ll really cut’em off and chew’em up.”  Eisenhower told General Patton that he did not plan to be THAT optimistic.  He then asked Patton how long it would take him to get into the battle.

General George Patton was the commander of the Third Army which was known for its tanks.  Patton was famous for his swearing and pearl handled revolvers.  Mostly, Patton is remembered for his ability to war and win.

Patton told Eisenhower that he could get his whole army from France over into Belgium and be able to attack with two divisions within 48 hours. I am not sure that the other generals really believed him.  Unbeknownst to the other generals, Patton had already told his staff to begin planning just such a move.  By the time Eisenhower asked him the question at the meeting and without Eisenhower’s orders, Patton already had his troops on the move to help save the day…and they did.

Secondly, American soldiers wre tough fighters that held their ground against all odds.  For example there were the 101st Airborne Division, the all African American 969th Artillery  Battalion and Combat Command B of the 10 Armored Division that were determined to never surrender the town of Bastogne to the Germans.  The Germans surrounded the town on December 21.   Inside the town the conditions were awful.  The winter weather had been bad for days, food was scarce, most of their medical supplies and medics had been captured by the Nazis and they were running out of ammunition. By December 22 they had restricted the use of their artillery shells to just 10 rounds per day. Things looked dire for these American soldiers.

Then, the weather cleared up enough so that supplies, most of which was ammunition, was dropped from planes to the town’s defenders.  The resupplied ammunition did not stop the Germans from attacking and attacking the Americans.  Thinking the Americans had had enough of war. The German commander requested that the American troops surrender.  When American Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, received the surrender request, he just replied, “Nuts!”

The Germans attacked again on Christmas Day.  It was a tough fight and it had some success in the beginning, but the Americans held.  Then, the very next day, guess who showed up to show those Germans a thing or two about how to win a war…that’s right…Gen. Patton.  And, the siege of Bastogne ended.

The stubborn reply to the Germans of “Nuts” became a real morale booster for our troops.  Sometimes in war a morale booster is a clever saying, at othertimes troops are motived by revenge.  This was the case during the Battle of the Bulge after the Massacre at Malmedy.

On the second day of the battle, December 17, the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion and U.S. 7th Armored Division fought with the Germans.  The battle was brief because the Americans were so terribly outnumbered and lightly armed.  The Americans surrendered.   These Americans were disarmed and combined with about 150 other soldieres who had been captured earlier.

The prisoners of war were told to stand in a field.  Nazi SS troops opened fire on the unarmed men.  At least 84 were murdered.  The survivors returned to Allied lines and told of the killings.  American soldiers quickly learned of the massacre and decided to fight hard and not surrender. I am afraid not much mercy was shown to German soldiers after that.  At the end of the war, the German officers who ordered the massacre were put on trial for war crimes.

So, with Patton’s arrival and the improvement in our soldier’s morale things began to turn around.  It was the Germans turn to now back up and back up they did.  Well, on foot at least, you see, the Germans ran out of gas. For real!  They did not have enough gas to finish their offensive when they started.  They were unsuccessful in capturing our fuel depots to resupply themselves, so they had to leave their tanks and vehicles behind and walk home.  Lovely…just lovely!!!

The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the United States in World War II. When I was the project manager for Minnesota’s World War II Memorial Dedication, I got to meet many gentlemen that had been in the 101st Airborne and who had fought in this battle.  Some of them shared their battle experiences with me.

I will never forget how young soldiers would walk up to those World War II veterans in silent reverence and briskly salute them.  Honor to those to whom honor is due.  Now in their late eighties and early nineties, those old men were the young men’s heroes.  And let me tell you, grandson, when you looked into those old warriors’ eyes, you could plainly see that they were tough customers and could still kick butt…should they need or want to.

Hope you are having a great week.  Remember to do your best in school. It is like General Patton used to say, “Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration of victory.”

Sending lots of love and hugs,

Grandma Pat

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