Key Point: As the Bulge proved, brave soldiers can make up for failed strategy. But only at an immense cost.
The attack began with a barrage from 1,600 guns and rocket launchers that pounded trenches and command posts. Then came waves of tanks and infantry that surged out of the winter mist and slammed into the stunned and bewildered defenders.
It was a perfect example of shock and awe. Except that in December 1944, it was Americans who were on the receiving end.
This month marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, perhaps the greatest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army. A few tired or inexperienced U.S. divisions, assigned to what was supposed to be a quiet sector in the Ardennes region of Belgium, were assaulted by thirty German panzer and infantry divisions and 600 tanks in a massive surprise offensive.
Thousands of American troops surrendered, to be marched off to prison camps. Others fled for their lives, while still others, desperate and outgunned, made last stands against Nazi tanks.
What a different time it seems. In today's era of small wars, American soldiers fear IEDs or snipers more than enemy tank blitzkriegs. It says volumes that a single U.S. soldier captured in Afghanistan draws headlines. At the Bulge, 6,000 soldiers of the encircled U.S. 106th Infantry Division raised the white flag.
Yet the Battle of the Bulge is more than history. It is a primer of valuable lessons that still apply today.
First, never, ever underestimate the enemy. The Western Allies did have every reason for confidence in December 1944. France and Belgium had been liberated, the German armies in the West had been decimated, and U.S. troops were fighting on German soil. With the Red Army relentlessly crushing the Third Reich from the east, final victory seemed just a few weeks or months away.