The Battle of the Bulge. World War II Essay Example
The Battle of the Bulge one of the most storied and documented battles of World War II, it is considered the battle that sealed the victory for the Allies. What actually was the key to success for the battle? Was it the fact that out infantry and armor tactics were far superior, or was there something else? The truth is it was a combined effort form all branches across the allied front, but an effort that would have proved futile if it had not been for the Field Artillery.
From the end of the First World War to the start of the United States involvement in the second, the upgrading of the American artillery and the process of its use was a much-needed expenditure. This expenditure is one that the civilians in Congress did not take seriously until the war broke out in 1939. At this time the United States Army was still largely fielding the Matériel de 75mm Mle 1897, or more properly named; The French 75. These artillery pieces are considered the foundation of modern artillery, for their rapid-fire rate and era impressive range of up to 8,000 meters. However, they still lacked the necessary punch of a large caliber artillery piece. Also, against mobile infantry the Time Detonating fuse was more effective than typical Point Detonating fuses, but it was often unreliable and required a crew member to manually set the time on the fuse for each individual round.
Luckily, for the troops that would need the support of the Field Artillery, Congress approved funding for Army’s Industrial Mobilization Plan. This plan, for the most part, was the brainchild of, then, Major Dwight D. Eisenhower. This plan allowed for a very well planned and needed upgrade to the Army’s artillery to become a reality in an overall short amount of time. In just two years the army was fielding the M2A1 105mm howitzer. This quickly became the most used artillery piece for the entirety of World War II. These 105mm howitzers eventually accounted for 348 of the 400 guns that were in direct support of the final German offensive of World War II. This is more commonly referred to as “The Battle of the Bulge.”
The Battle of the Bulge, as previously stated, war Germany’s last chance of a full offensive attack on Allied forces. The battle actually consisted of a series of offensive fights that started out as a 50-mile front and over the period of a week stretched to 80 miles of front-line fighting. The southernmost point was in the town of Ettelbruck, stretching North through the Ardennes Forrest, and ending on the southern limits of Belgium. Initially, the Germans were successful in pushing the Allied forces back almost to the Muse River, and in this process surrounded the Belgium town of Bastogne. At this point, the Germans ordered Brig. General Anthony C. McAuliffe to surrender the town of Bastogne to him. To which General Anthony C. McAuliffe infamously replied, “Nuts!” – Knighton, A (2017). Fortunately, for General McAuliffe and his soldiers, Allied artillery started a counter-attack to separate the German light infantry from their tank counterparts. Simultaneously the Allied Air support air dropped Supplies and reinforcements to General McAuliffe’s men in Bastogne, as well as conducted air attacks on the recently isolated tank front.
The initial success the Germans experienced was due in large part to the fact it completely surprised Generals Omar Bradley and General Dwight D. Eisenhower. In planning for the final offensive, Hitler decided to use multiple cultural and environmental coincidences to his advantage. The First advantage he had was the geographical area itself. His men had already once occupied their native land that was now the Allied front line, essentially, they knew the area better. Secondly, it was but a mere nine days until Christmas. He assumed that the American soldiers would be more focused on the family they were longing to return to more than usual. Overall, he expected them to be distracted at least occasionally from their duties.
Lastly, Hitler took advantage of the weather. This winter was the coldest in history for that area. The bitter cold combined with record snowfall and dense fog was enough to create hundreds of casualties for the Allied forces before the fighting even began. Overall Hitler was correct, and all factors played a role in the Germans success in the first week of their offensive to push back and attempt to split the British forces from the Americans. With hopes to eventually cut off supply routes for the Allies and in return, reestablish their own.
What Hitler did not account for was the Mobility of the Allied Forces and their ability to resupply and reinforce rapidly. What may be considered one of the most beneficial oversights was Hitler underestimating the capabilities of American artillery. The M2A1 fired a 105mm shell that was so similar to the German 105mm, that the allies could use previously captured artillery sites ammunition in their own guns, in doing so there was a shortage of ammunition on the German side, and somewhat of a surplus on the American side. At this time, the Proximity fuse was rushed to the front lines to use in the Allied Counter-offensive to begin on December 23, 1944.
In essence, this fuse was a game changer on the battlefield. It allowed for a more rapid rate of fire and much more consistent reliability rates. At this time, the German Army was having constant difficulties with artillery in general. The cause of this was primarily due to how they were made. Germany had sent all able bodies military-aged males out to the front lines to replenish labor and was using POWs in the factories to manufacture ammunition for the artillery. As common sense would dictate, this was a terrible idea. The workers, already having quite poor work and living conditions, were less than enthusiastic manufacturing ammunition and fuses to be used against their own brothers on the front lines. The focus of internal sabotage at the factories was to fuses, knowing that bad fuses caused duds. Also, know that if the ammunition was captured, the fuses could easily be swapped out for working ones by the allies once they figured out they were faulty.
The superiority of the American artillery did not stop there, though. The system that General Eisenhower had developed at the beginning of the war was not just an overhaul of the Howitzers themselves. It was a complete overhaul of the artillery system itself. Starting with the observation process, communication was one of the biggest challenges that his program overcame. The old system of telephone lines that were easily disconnected and AM frequencies that were very unreliable was replaced with an FM communication, a communication system that was originally designed for a police force back in the United States.
The allies equipped these new radios with dedicated observers in aircraft and with members of their Calvary regiment that focused in reconnaissance. This new communication platform in some instances could transmit to the fire direction center up to 40 miles away. The capability of the Calvary was unmatched, for the sole reason that Hitler never bothered to create a Calvary regiment, in return, his ground force reconnaissance was almost nonexistent. Having the observers directing artillery fire from inside an aircraft not only led to having more accurate coordinated to the enemy, but it also allowed the enemy to be engaged more rapidly. The observers would target troops that were moving with armored elements to separate them. Once separated or killed the observers would move on to a deeper fight and take out reinforcements before they could get in place and do any harm to the Allied ground assault. As the aircraft that was carrying the observer moved on the Allies would then bring in the escorts to destroy the armor that was isolated by the artillery, simultaneously providing escort to the observation aircraft.
During this time, the German artillery would often stop shooting so they weren’t seen by the observers, and in return avoid being targeted. The Germans not having this capability allowed for freedom of movement on the ground for the Allies counter-offensive. For the most part, they were ceasing land and getting into small battles with the remaining stragglers that made it through the original barrage of artillery fire and airstrikes. Any armor that was still in working condition was often killed quickly by American anti-tank guns and man carried anti-tank weapons. Upon conclusion of the war many praised the artillery for their efforts. One notable occasion was from General Patton himself stating; “I do not have to tell you who won the war. You know. The artillery did. The U.S. Army’s artillery refers to itself as the “King of Battle,” and its performance in Europe in World War II allowed it to rightfully claim that title.” -Dennis W.G. (2017)
In closing, there is a quote from historian Michael Doubler that can sum up not only The Battle of the Bulge, but World War II as a whole; “By the summer of 1944 the field artillery had proven itself to be the most brilliant performer in the American combined arms team.” -Dennis W.G. (2017). The U.S. Army’s determination to overhaul and update the entire Field Artillery process was the key factor in the success in stopping the German advancement in The Battle of the Bulge, and ultimately what secured our Victory for World War II.
Andrews, E (2014) 8 Things You May Not Know about the Battle of the Bulge - https://www.history.com/news/8-things-you-may-not-know-about-the-battle-of-the-bulge
DENNIS, W. G. (2017) U.s. and German Field Artillery in World War II: A Comparison
National Museum of the United States Army - https://armyhistory.org/u-s-and-german-field-artillery-in-world-war-ii-a-comparison/
Knighton, A (2017) Seven Wars Where Irregular Forces Thwarted Professional Armies