Queens Own Highlanders
(Seaforth & Camerons)
Battle of the Bulge 1944 - ‘45
The Ardennes campaign, the Von Rundstedt Offensive, but better known to us as “The Battle of the Bulge” took place between December ‘44 and January ‘45.
At 0530hrs on the 16th of December 1944 on a decidedly cold and foggy morning the German army launched a surprise armoured attack from a line between Monschau to Echternach and the Battle of the Bulge had begun. Von Rundstedt’s, [Commander, Army Group West] (Field Marshall 1875 - 1953) objective was to drive a wedge between British and American forces and to capture the port of Antwerp. In the north the push by Sepp Dietrich’s 6 Panzer Armee was quickly broken up by desperate resistance of the American units opposing him. In the south Hass von Manteuffel’s 5 Panzer Armee surrounded Bastogne and pushed on towards the River Meuse.
While this Battle was decidedly an American campaign British Forces had their part to play and some 325 men lie forever in the Commonwealth graveyard at “Hotton”.
On the 19th December 1944 General Eisenhower decided to redistribute command and control of his ground forces. The units deployed to the north of the line “Givet - Prum”, would be placed under the command of Field Marshall Montgomery, Commander 21st Army Group and the units deployed south of the line were to be commanded by General Bradley, Commander 12th US Army Group. The British xxx Corps, commanded by General Horrocks were ordered to leave Holland and to swing round towards the combat zone to occupy defensive positions between Givet and Maastricht and to deny German forces the opportunity of crossing the River Meuse.
On 22nd December, 51st Highland Division, 53rd Welsh Division, 29th and 33rd Armoured Brigades took up their respective positions with the 43rd Wessex Division being held in reserve. Due to the exceptionally bad weather in which aircraft could not fly the 6th Airborne Division (paras) were rushed by boat and truck to the Ardennes and took up a position between Dinart and Marche-en-Famenne right at the tip of the German offensive.
In the early morning of the 24th December not far from Dinart the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment supported by US tanks and the Royal Air Force crossed the river Meuse and stopped the armoured column of the German 2 Panzer. This was the first encounter between British and German forces in the Battle of the Bulge. The German Army was never to cross the River Meuse and the tactical objective was no longer the Port at Antwerp but became the town of “Bastogne”.
It is at Bastogne that the American Airborne had their finest hour, holding off countless attacks that were launched with relentless fury. Ill equipped and initially outgunned they held off the might of the German Panzers until the counter attack began on the 3rd January 1945. The atrocious weather conditions in which precluded air cover from getting off the ground and the bitter cold had the troops naming the town “bastard - Bastogne”. Many remember the cold more than anything else during this campaign for it was a fierce winter indeed.
The counter offensive on the 3rd January led by Battalions of the 6th Airborne Division supported by tanks of the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry and the 23rd Hussars were first to become involved. After three days and nights of heavy fighting men of the 13th Lancashire Battalion the Parachute regiment liberated the village of Bure. The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion occupied Rochefort and later in their advance they were to discover the bodies of 34 civilians murdered by the Germans on Xmas eve in Bande, near Nassogne.
On the 8th January in snow storm and bitter cold the 51st Highland Division with support of tanks of the 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry relieved an exhausted 53rd Welsh Division which had been fighting for four days and nights in the area around “Hotton”. On the same day, being aware of the advance of British and American forces the German High Command ordered their Generals to withdraw and to retreat eastward while conducting a fighting rearguard action.
On 11th January with armoured reconnaissance vehicles of the 2nd Derbyshire Regiment and armoured support from 1st Northamptonshire Yeomanry the 51st Highland Division, in the shape of the Black Watch entered the town of “La Roche” and later met up with elements of the American 84th US Infantry Division. La Roche is the site of the 51st Highland Division monument pictured later on the page.
By 28th January 1945 the German Forces had been pushed back to its initial positions of 16th December 1944, beyond the Siegfried Line, and the Battle of the Bulge was over.
As I stated earlier this was mainly an American action but we did play a significant role in terrible conditions and over very rough terrain. I was fortunate enough to holiday here in July 2003 and the enclosed pictures are from that visit. The “ General Patton” museum is also in the area, his funeral took place in Luxembourg where I was based, and some or those pictures are also included. A new site, Nov 2003, for another Patton Museum based in Ettlebruck, is also included in the links below
They went, they fought, they died.
We will remember them!
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