Battle of the Bulge: A Timeline of Key Events
The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler’s response to the Allied success following the D-Day invasion. Codenamed Wacht am Rhein (“Watch on the Rhine”), the goal was to divide and conquer the Allied forces who controlled the Ardennes region of Belgium and France in an effort to regain control of Antwerp and the Meuse River.
The Germans and Allies fought fearlessly and the battle lasted for 5 weeks, ending 25 JAN 1945. The results ultimately tipped the scales in the Allies’ favor.
We’ve compiled crucial moments from this monumental event to offer insight into the Allies’ firsthand encounters in the Battle of the Bulge.
9 Key Events of the Battle of the Bulge
16 DEC 1944: The Battle Begins
The Germans knew the 85-mile-long western front through the Ardennes Forest of Belgium was sparsely manned - it was winter in very difficult terrain. The Allied Forces, not expecting a major offensive, had sent several key battle-fatigued divisions into France for a little R&R. The Germans seized the opportunity.
The Germans strategically and carefully maneuvered several tank divisions and artillery forces to the front lines under the darkness of night, over several days.
In the early dawn hours of 16 DEC 1944, they launched their offensive and caught the Allied Forces completely off-guard. Their goal was to break through the front, seize control of Antwerp, and divide and conquer Allied Forces.
17 DEC 1944: The Malmedy Massacre
German forces, including elite Panzer tank units, made a lot of progress in the early days of the Battle of the Bulge. Their surprise attack caused confusion and chaos among Allied forces who weren’t prepared for a large offensive. As the Germans advanced, they captured several key towns and roads.
On 17 DEC 1944, the Germans seized control of Malmedy and captured 113 US troops. Most of them were from Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion. These were not front-line troops. It didn’t matter to the Germans. They lined them up in a field and opened fire with their machine guns. Some of the men were able to run into the forest or fake death but 84 died that day.
News of the massacre spread quickly among the Allied forces, and it strengthened their resolve to defeat the Germans.
22 DEC 1944: Germans Siege Bastogne
The weather improved a bit in the days after the Malmedy Massacre. This enabled the Allied air forces to target German supply lines in an effort to hinder their advance for the first time since the battle began. It also enabled ground troops to establish stronger defensive positions. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough when the Germans surrounded the town of Bastogne.
Bastogne is located at a critical road junction and held many strategic advantages for the Allied forces and Germans.
On 22 Dec 1944, German forces enveloped the 101st Airborne in Bastogne. This caused the “bulge” on the front that gave the battle its name. The Germans sent communications to division headquarters asking the Americans to surrender. When General Anthony McAuliffe was told this, he famously laughed, “Surrender? Nuts!”
25 DEC 1944: Allied Reinforcements Arrive
For the first 9 days of the battle, adverse and foggy winter weather conditions prevented the Allied air forces from supporting their ground troops. The weather finally turned for the better on Christmas Day. Allied air forces were able to conduct much needed supply drops and strafing runs on German positions. It gave the Allied troops much needed hope and fueled the American resolve to hold out in Bastogne.
27 DEC 1944: German Lines are Broken
On Christmas Day, General Patton sent his Fourth Armored Division on a 19-hour, 150-mile long journey north to provide support for the 101st Airborne that was being surrounded by Germans at Bastogne. They began their assault towards Bastogne as soon as they arrived.
Patton’s Third Army arrived a day later and provided much needed troop reinforcements.
Within 24 hours, the Allied forces were able to break through the German lines surrounding Bastogne and ending the siege. It was a much needed major win for the Allies who had seen the Germans make almost continuous advances for 11 days.
But the battle was far from over for the Germans. Hitler ordered renewed offensives, with no retreat, along the front.
1 JAN 1945: Germans Launch Operation Bodenplatte
Due to the improved weather, aerial support, and troop reinforcements, the Allies were finally able to launch a coordinated offensive against the Germans. But the Germans had ideas of their own.
On 1 JAN 1954, the Germans launched Operation Bodenplatte (Baseplate). It was an attempt by the Luftwaffe to regain air superiority so the Germans could resume their advance through the Ardennes. The Luftwaffe successfully bombed Allied airfields, destroying several grounded planes but the Allies were able to replace the planes within a week.
3 JAN 1945: Germans Begin Withdrawal
The Allied offensives were further helped by the fact that Hitler had halted all supply chains and reinforcements for the German troops. They began a slow, calculated withdrawal from the region.
16 JAN 1945: The Allied Armies Reconnect
On 16 JAN 1945, the US First and Third Armies were able to link back up along with the British Second Army for the first time since the battle began. They successfully attacked the Germans near the Maas River, pushing them further back.
25 JAN 1945: The Allies Win!
By 25 JAN 1945, the Germans were pushed completely out of the region and the frontline looked the way it did before the battle began. This win came with heavy losses on both sides. The US Army reports roughly 19,000 U.S. soldiers died, 47,500 were wounded, and more than 23,000 were missing. The British suffered 1,400 casualties with 200 killed. The Germans had 100,000 soldiers killed, wounded or captured.
The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler’s last major offensive during World War II. The Allies won largely because of their courage, grit, resilience, and resolve.
Join us in honoring the brave Americans who fought in the Battle of the Bulge by taking on our Battle of the Bulge 5-Miler Monthly Mission. It’s a 5 mile run for time and each mile represents a week of the battle.
First Army in the Battle of the Bulge. DVIDS. Available here.
The Battle of the Bulge printable timeline. Library of Congress. Available here.
Cole, Hugh M. The Ardennes: Battle of the Bulge. Available from the Center of Military History.
Marshall, S. L. A. BASTOGNE: The Story of the First Eight Days In Which the 101st Airborne Division Was Closed Within the Ring of German Forces. 1988 facsimile reprint available here.
Melancon, Dave. ‘Cobra King' led 4th Armored Division column that relieved Bastogne during Battle of the Bulge. Available at www.army.mil.