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Revisiting History: The Battle of the Bulge 


by David Silbergeld 

They were so young, and did so much," said a promotion for the new World War II memorial in Washington, D.C. That applied to nothing as much as the Battle of the Bulge, one of the pivotal clashes of that historic struggle. As construction begins on the new memorial, it is fitting to review events of the battle.

Every day, more and more veterans of the war are passing from the scene, and memories of the great struggle also are fading. As a history teacher, I recently asked my college-level students to write a brief paper on the Battle of the Bulge. I was shocked to hear that not one of my students–all at the college level–had ever heard of the event.

So I gathered sources of research material for them. In doing so, I was amazed at the truly significant books that recently have appeared. In commemoration of the 56th anniversary of that great struggle–fought in December 1944 and January 1945–and for the benefit of all students of military history, I would like to share with readers a list of excellent historical publications, to let you follow this great military event, step by step.

Start with what is probably the most comprehensive book available–"Battle of the Bulge: Then and Now," by Jean Paul Pallud, available from RZM Imports.

Known to the Germans as Operation WACH AM RHEIN, the battle was the last, great, offensive gasp in a war already perceived as lost. It was perceived by some historians as an attempt by the German leadership to split the allies, change the tide of war, and force the alliance into "favorable negotiated terms," but it failed.

Most Americans, who have read little of the battle, remember the scenario in the movie "Patton," as the U.S. general turned his army 90 degrees and relieved Bastogne. Fewer remember that British Field Marshal Montgomery took credit for "saving the paralyzed Americans’ skin," almost causing the allies to split apart and declare war on the British.

Many of these forgotten details of history are well documented in this excellent battle narrative. Included are lots of "before and after" pictures and a masterful guide to the battle and battlefield that allows you to see and understand the many small battles that comprised this monumental military event.

A unique chapter in Pallud’s book includes an order-of-battle (OOB) chart from original German records accompanied by large maps of the battlefield, and military map symbols used by the German army.

A complete chapter focuses on German special operations. Operation GREIF was run under the command of SS Obersturmbahnführer Otto Skorzeny, Mussolini’s rescuer. Operation STÖSSER was a German paratroop operation, the last of its type in World War II, under the command of Oberst von der Heydte. Both operations were under Skorzeny’s authority on special instructions from Hitler.

Among the impressive details provided were the German general staff’s operational planning, original German diagrams of the attack force and orders for deception and secrecy. The story of the failure of allied intelligence is carefully detailed.

Detailed maps cover every facet of the battle from the breakthrough, the high tide, and beginning of the end.

An interesting feature is a list of Battle of the Bulge museums.

RZM is the source of the "After the Battle" series and this excellent book. Available titles are listed at their Web site, or contact them at P.O. Box 995, Southbury, CT 06488. Tel: (203) 264-0774. Fax: (203) 264-4967.

To broaden and balance your study, consider the following additional reading:

Osprey’s "OOB" series is authored by Bruce Quarrie. Each volume has battle photographs and a large foldout battle map, breaking the battle into sectors and adversaries, to aid in following battlefield events. The series includes:

From Osprey’s "Elite Series," consider "Elite No. 11, Ardennes 1944: Peiper & Skorzeny," by Jean-Paul Pallud, D. Parker & R. Volstead.

Osprey’s books–which include excellent maps and color plates, plus coverage of day-by-day battle events–are now available from MBI Publishing, Osceola, WI 54020-0001. Tel: (715) 294-3345. Fax: (715) 294-4448.

History has focused heavily on Skorzeny’s mission(s) and influence on battle events. For that, I recommend "Green Devils: German Paratroops: 1939-45," by Jean-Yves Nasse, from Histoire & Collections and available from Combined Publishers. This well-illustrated unit history includes additional details from the Battle of the Bulge’s Operation STÖSSER. Combined Publishers are located in Conshohocken, Pa. 19428. Tel: (610) 828-2595. Fax: (610) 828-2603. Their Web site is

I recently reviewed a book (November 2000, p. 105) which expands upon this unique German military unit: "German Paratroop: Uniforms, Insignia & Equipment of the Fallschirmjäger in World War II," by Robert Kurtz, Schiffer Publishing. It includes a detailed and illustrated study, with full-color illustrations of equipment.

A more recent Schiffer publication greatly expands last November’s coverage. "World War II Troop Type Parachutes: Axis (Germany, Italy, Japan)," by Guy Richards adds excellent full-color technical coverage of equipment used by German paratroops in World War II. It also includes Italian and Japanese paratroop items, many never seen or discussed in previous books.

The unique information detailed in these last two books deserves the attention from the military historian. Schiffer Publishing, Atglen, PA. Tel: (610) 593-1777. Fax: (610) 593-2002. Web site:

For another view of the Battle of the Bulge, one which is more visual, and very helpful in "seeing" the battle as it progressed, there is a recently published computer-simulation war game: "Close Combat IV–Battle of the Bulge," published by SSI (see

Game options include variable tactical situations that employ battle group formations (Kämpfgruppen) that re-create the conditions that governed the Battle of the Bulge–snowy weather, forested terrain, and Belgium villages. The AI (Artificial Intelligence), integrated into the game, is aggressive–allowing you to play the tactical possibilities arising from battlefield events–but the Germans still lose.

Hardware requirements: Pentium II–200 MHz plus, 32 MB Ram plus, 45 MB HD, Windows sound Card, also multi-player (Internet) capabilities that require additional HD space and modem.

Dr. David LL. Silbergeld is a member of the Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict Division of the National Defense Industrial Association. His E-mail address is

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