Germany’s last major offensive of World War II, the offensive in the Ardennes, or what has become known colloquially as the “Battle of the bulge” was Germany’s final gamble to try and defeat the armies in the west and thereby force either their outright surrender or at minimum an armistice on favorable terms. The significance of this battle cannot be overstated, as had Germany succeeded in their plan, the events of World War II could have ended very much differently. Due to the loss of this battle, Germany’s suffered significant losses in material and personnel, and was never again able to mount a significant offensive. It is estimated by many experts that the “duration of World War II was shortened by, approximately three months or more as a direct result of the losses the Germans suffered at the Ardennes”. (Parker, 2004, p. 179)
When examining the results of the actual battle, one significant factor which had to have contributed to Germany’s initial success was in large measure the result of the element of surprise. As outlined in the “Principles of War and Operations” the consequence of obtaining the element of surprise, is often to induce on an overall paralysis on the opposing force, due both to the speed and the overall force of arms that is brought to bear. However, what limited initial gains Germany did succeed in gaining both in the middle and the south would not likely have been possible had the allies been better prepared.
How the Germans gained the element of surprise is very instructive, as many military western military commanders were of the opinion that the Wehrmacht was only capable of limited operations and local counteroffensives, and thus the idea of the type of massive encircling offensive that Hitler had ordered was dismissed outright in the minds of many of the western general staff. The terrain, specifically the forest area was also an obstacle thought to
make any general offensive practically impossible. It should be recalled that Germany’s early offensive through Belgium bypassed the heavily forested area, which many considered impassable. Finally, the complete black out in all communications that Germany imposed, left the normally reliable British bereft of information as to Germany’s intentions and maneuvers.
- Parker, Danny S. (2004), Battle of the Bulge: Hitler’s Ardennes Offensive, 1944–1945, Da Capo Press, ISBN 978-0-306-81391-7