Ardennes 1944: Hitler's Last Gamble
On 16th December, 1944, Hitler launched his ‘last gamble’ in the snow-covered forests and gorges of the Ardennes on the border of Belgium and Germany. He believed he could split the Allies by driving all the way to Antwerp, then force the Canadians and the British out of the war. Although his generals were doubtful of success, younger officers and non-commissioned officers were desperate to believe that their homes and families could be saved from the vengeful Red Army approaching from the East. Many were exultant at the prospect of striking back. The Ardennes offensive, with more than a million men involved, became the greatest battle of the war in Western Europe.
American troops, taken by surprise, found themselves fighting two panzer armies. While many fled or surrendered, others held on heroically, creating breakwaters which slowed the German advance. And after massacres by the Waffen-SS, even American generals approved when their men shot down surrendering Germans. Fear and anger was also stoked by the discovery that paratroopers had been dropped behind their lines and Skorzeny’s commandos had infiltrated their lines in American vehicles and uniforms.
The Ardennes was the battle which finally broke the back of the Wehrmacht. In mid-January 1945, when the Red Army launched its onslaught from the Vistula towards Berlin, the once-feared German war machine was revealed to be broken beyond repair.