The Battle of the Bulge was the largest and bloodiest battle fought by the U.S. during World War II. It involved 610,000 Americans, 55,000 British, and 72,000 Free French, fighting along Europe’s Western Front for nearly 40 days. There were 89,000 American casualties and over 100,000 German casualties.
Leading up to it was D-Day, June 6, 1944, and the advance to the Allies into Europe, pushing back the forces of the National Socialist Workers Party (Nazi). Running short on fuel for his army, Adolf Hitler personally devised a plan to send his remaining forces in a last-ditch effort to break through the Allies’ line. His intention was to recapture the port of Antwerp, Belgium, to have access to its shipping and oil.
On Dec. 16, 1944, three Nazi armies were amassed, consisting of 13 Panzer and Infantry divisions, made up of an estimated 300,000 men. They executed an enormous surprise attack against the Allies in the Ardennes Forest of Belgium, France, and Luxembourg. Being caught off-guard, the Allies were hard-pressed to keep their lines from breaking under the intense assault.
General Eisenhower stated in his order, Dec. 22, 1944: “By rushing out from his fixed defenses the enemy may give us the chance to turn his great gamble into his worst defeat. So I call upon every man, of all the Allies, to rise now to new heights of courage … with unshakable faith in the cause for which we fight, we will, with God’s help, go forward to our greatest victory.”
Bastogne was a town in Southern Belgium of immense strategic importance as eight roads crossed there. Six Nazi Panzer divisions were on a mad rush to occupy it, but the night before, in freezing sub-zero temperature, American troops of the 101st Airborne were trucked in to hold it. Also defending Bastogne were the U.S. 10th Armored Division and the African-American 969th Artillery Battalion.
The German commander Heinrich Freiherr von Luttwitz demanded surrender: “To the U.S.A. Commander of the encircled town of Bastogne. The fortune of war is changing. This time the U.S.A. forces in and near Bastogne have been encircled by strong German armored units. More German armored units have crossed the river Our near Ortheuville, have taken Marche and reached St. Hubert by passing through Hompre-Sibret-Tillet. Libramont is in German hands. There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: that is the honorable surrender of the encircled town. In order to think it over a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note.
“If this proposal should be rejected one German Artillery Corps and six heavy A.A. Battalions are ready to annihilate the U.S.A. troops in and near Bastogne. The order for firing will be given immediately after this two hours term. All the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity. – The German Commander.”
On Dec. 22, 1944, U.S. Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe answered: “To the German Commander. NUTS! – The American Commander.”
This unusual response caused the Nazi commander to hesitate.
Then the Nazis attacked – over 50,000 Nazis assaulted the 15,000 Americans. After eight days, the Americans were nearly out of ammunition.
Marching to their rescue was General George Patton and the U.S. Third Army. Unfortunately, the Third Army was pinned down due to foul weather which prevented planes from flying to give air cover. General Patton directed Chaplain Fr. James O’Neill to compose a prayer, which was printed on cards and distributed to the 250,000 troops to pray: “Almighty and most merciful Father, we humbly beseech Thee, of Thy great goodness, to restrain these immoderate rains with which we have had to contend. Grant us fair weather for Battle. Graciously hearken to us as soldiers who call Thee that, armed with Thy power, we may advance from victory to victory, and crush the oppression and wickedness of our enemies, and establish Thy justice among men and nations. Amen.”
The reverse of the card had General Patton’s Christmas greeting: “To each officer and soldier in the Third United States Army, I wish a Merry Christmas. I have full confidence in your courage, devotion to duty, and skill in battle. We march in our might to complete victory. May God’s blessings rest upon each of you on this Christmas Day. – G.S. Patton, Jr., Lieutenant General Commanding, Third United States Army.”
Miraculously, the next day the weather cleared and the planes gave air support. General Patton’s troops punched through the Nazi lines to rescue the exhausted 101st Airborne and thwart the Nazi advance. Running out of fuel, Nazi tanks ground to a halt.
The Battle of the Bulge ended Jan. 16, 1945, and less than four months later Hitler committed suicide and the National Socialist Workers Party surrendered.
A popular Christmas carol during World War II was “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas,” written in 1942 by Irving Berlin.
Irving Berlin, a Russian Jewish immigrant to America, had served in the U.S. infantry during World War I and wrote some of the country’s most popular songs, including: “God Bless America.”
Irving Berlin’s “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas” was featured in the 1954 movie “White Christmas,” starring Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Vera-Ellen and Rosemary Clooney, aunt of actor George Clooney.
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten,
and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow
I’m dreaming of a white Christmas
With every Christmas card I write
May your days be merry and bright
And may all your Christmases be white.
On Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt had told the American people: “It is not easy to say ‘Merry Christmas’ to you, my fellow Americans, in this time of destructive war. … We will celebrate this Christmas Day in our traditional American way … because the teachings of Christ are fundamental in our lives … the story of the coming of the immortal Prince of Peace.”
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