Just returned from a tour of the ARDENNES and the BATTLE OF THE BULGE. It is an enormous battlefield, prompting amazement at Hitler’s audacious (or mad) plan to risk everything on one last gamble to split the Western Allies by racing for Antwerp. A forlorn hope. He lacked fuel, men, an air force, time or space – the Ardennes offered little room for manouevre with only narrow, unpaved roads through the thickly wooded forests. We followed the infamous SS brute Joachim Peiper’s winding route (led by local guide Michel Beart), littered as it was with murdered grunts and Belgians. The Ardennes is perfect for touring – a beautiful place, with meadows festooned with wild flowers; excellent eateries (and beer). And it’s one great open-air museum with a bevy of tanks littering the wayside. If you go, do not miss the excellent museum at La Roche (a lovely town in a magnificent setting), or the 101 Museum at Bastogne; but above all end your trip at Celles and Foy Notre-Dame, where the battle ended when the trapped German armour ran out of gas (literally), and see the Farthest Advance Stone in Foy (where a battle raged around the miraculously spared church), a simple monument to Germany’s last gasp. With defeat in the Bulge came inevitable defeat three months later.
Pictured here is an unknown German machine gunner. Despite their qualitative superiority in skill and weapons, these men were beaten by tough, young, brave American GIs, who made up in tenacity what they lacked in experience. Not all US units were green – the famous 101 Airborne had fought in Normandy and Arnhem, and were crucial in the successful defence of the vital crossroads and hub of BASTOGNE. Monty, holding the northern shoulder, typically (and tactlessly) claimed credit – an ‘interesting little battle’ he called it. The ‘little battle’ cost 20,000 US dead. It was the Americans who won it, as Monty’s own C-o-S conceded.