-Thanks for listening to the third installment of the World War II series on the show. This episode is titled "A war against evil." We spent a long time debating what to call it, titles aren't always easy. Eventually as more and more research and work was done for this episode it became clear that was the only choice. The men who fought this war weren't fighting it for political gain or for conquest; they were fighting on the battlefield against pure evil itself. I hope you enjoy this episode, it begins in the winter of 1944 in Belgium where the American 101st airborne division is about to experience the coldest winter of their lives...
A War Against Evil
You're about to listen to the third and final part of a three part series covering World War II. If you'd like to get the full story, I'd recommend going back two episodes and getting the context before listening to this episode. If you're someone that can pick up in the middle of the story and not have a problem keeping it all straight, then by all means keep listening.
In this episode we will wrap up the experience, if you even can "wrap up" something like World War II. We begin in the cold and bitter winter of 1944; this is Episode twelve, part three of the World War II series titled: A War Against Evil. I hope you enjoy.
Prelude to the Battle of the Bulge
When Allied forces began making their slow march towards Berlin they realized that this was not going to be a conflict that would end quickly. Shuttering visions of World War I were not far from the back of these people's minds to be sure. There were early predictions of making it back home as early as thanksgiving and Christmas; after the first few battles with the enemy the troops new those predictions of making it home in time to unwrap presents with loved ones were entirely wrong.
As far as a broad overview of what was going on lets remember that this war was not just fought on one continent or region. The United States was jumping from island to island fighting a ferociously dug in Japanese defender, each Island tougher than the next as they made it closer to the Japanese mainland. The war that the American Marines were fighting, as far as they were concerned, was an entirely different war altogether. The differences between theaters are startling as well; if you listened to part one of this series you should remember the story of the Marine throwing pebbles into the skull of a dead Japanese soldier to pass the time; it was this gruesome immersion into human destruction that characterized the Pacific theater of war.
I spent some time in the last episode talking about the D-Day landings on the beaches of Normandy and the horrors of the paratroopers jumping in the night before. What is often overlooked is how the marines in the Pacific were going island to island and would make these landings sometimes monthly! The continual horrors that these men faced were being stuck on a ship that eventually felt like a prison while waiting on the next amphibious invasion to take place, and when they returned to that prison ship of theirs, they always returned without some of their friends who had left with them. I cannot imagine a more bitter hell than to constantly have the grueling fear of waiting on your death or waiting to go to the beach that would probably kill you; and these men were doing that over and over again. Two of the battles in the pacific that always captivate me personally are the Battle of Saipan and the Battle of Iwo Jima. The reason that the Battle of Saipan is so interesting to me is mainly just because I've been to Saipan and seen the crater holes in the walls of the old Japanese bunkers.
When I was about 15-16 years old or so, or however old you are as you are about to be a Junior in High School, my dad lived in Tokyo and my sisters and I stayed with him out there for about a month during the summer before my Junior year. While we were there my dad wanted to get away for a week and we went to Saipan. It wasn't a very long flight and at that point I was just beginning to dive into reading on the Pacific theater of WWII. That week there was the most eye opening experience I might have ever had. I will never forget driving from the airport to our hotel and seeing U.S. Sherman Tanks still in the water that never made it to the beach, for on reason or another they were immobilized and never picked up but these things were in perfect condition. They were in water only about Tread deep and you could see the big white star on the side as you drove by and these things were all over! It was absolutely crazy for me to see that and think that about four guys either never made it out of that tank or they got out in a real hurry. It was just so cool to see that and those were just scattered all over the small island.
I'll never forget one day we went to the base where the Japanese headquarters was for the defense of Saipan. It was like no one had touched a thing since the day the last Imperial Soldier left that base so many years ago. We walked around and I saw the hole that a direct hit created that was from a shell from a navy destroyer. I've read in books about that shot and it was surreal to touch the entry hole that the round created as it punctured through that coral wall. It made the war so real to me and it was almost as if I was going back into history and seeing everything I couldn't get enough of it. I'm saying this because I want everyone with any interest in this stuff or history at all, to go and see these things that are local to you, if you're in Belgium you can sit in a crater in the Ardennes forest where US Paratroopers dug in and endured hell on earth. If you're in South Carolina you can see some of the most important battle grounds for the Revolutionary war. You can walk where those men walked and died and it makes it such a different experience for you. One of those experiences for me was on Saipan at the edge of a cliff that went a couple hundred feet down and ended with crashing waves and jagged rocks.
These were known by the locals as the Banzai cliffs. The unique part of the Battle of Saipan is that this was the first Island the U.S. Marines encountered where there were actual Japanese citizens on the island. This led to two main results: the island was more strongly defended and the defenders were much more voracious in their fighting than the marines had encountered thus far. I always pause when talking about this because there are so many humanity or morality questions that arise in WWII especially when discussing the Pacific Theater of the war. Let me just say quickly that we will discuss later the Atomic Bomb in its entirety so what I'm about to say is not said lightly and I am not saying it without remembering that event.
The Japanese empire, its soldiers, generals, and politicians were some of the most brutal and despicable people who have ever walked this planet. What they did to their prisoners and their own people should never be forgotten and should never be repeated under any circumstances. I take a fairly harsh stance on this but I don't believe the acts that these people committed and imposed on other human beings should really ever be forgiven. That isn't truly the "Christian" way to view this or the mature way maybe; but when you've read and seen how evil these men forced upon the world and how willingly they were with their execution of it. I simply have trouble ever saying I can forgive what they did. Now that is not to say the current Japanese government or people should be responsible for the sins of their fathers and grandfathers, they are as innocent of those acts as I am of my own forefathers or ancestors who did things before me. I think really that the best way to try and grasp the sheer evil of that regime is to listen to Dan Carlin's Hardcore History episode titled "Logical Insanity"; its one of the most well done explanations of what was going on in this period of time that you'll ever find. This logical insanity of the time period is truly the best name to call what was essentially unfiltered chaos across the planet.
All that said, we can continue back to the story in Saipan. The citizens of Japan were told lies and stories about the American marines that essentially brainwashed them into thinking a horrific group of half man, half beast soldiers were the ones on their way to get them. They were led to believe that American Marines were in the practice of eating human babies alive, torturing their prisoners and all around blood-thirsty murderers who would stop at nothing to inflict as much pain and suffering possible before their victim was set free by the sweet release of death that ends the suffering. It should go without saying that these myths were just that, myths. If anything the Imperial army and its higher ups were describing their own methods rather than their enemy's. Either way, the citizens of Japan were scared to death of the invading Marines and who could blame them? This was a day in age where TV's were not yet widespread, on Saipan they were 1,500 miles away from the main Island of Japan and obviously they weren't exactly connected to the rest of the world so who could blame them from believing the things they were told by the only government that they have ever really known? 25,000 Japanese civilians lived on Saipan. They had been informed by the Japanese government of the untold horrors that would happen to them if they fell into the hands of the Americans – how they would be brutally treated etc. As a result, and some say as a direct consequence of an order apparently sent out by Emperor Hirohito, over 1,000 Japanese civilians committed suicide as the battle came towards an end. US army film clips exist of Japanese civilians throwing themselves off ‘Suicide Cliff’ to escape the shame of capture and the fear of what the Americans would do to them.
There is a video that you can see where a mother is carrying her infant child and a marine is about 200-300 yards away with a local translator begging for her not to jump. She ends up leaping off the cliff with her infant in arms. Its chilling to watch but so is every other video that was filmed during world war II it was an absolute tragedy of humankind what some of the people went through and saw. The battle for Saipan would be grueling, bloody and would be the bloodiest battle of the Pacific Theater until the Battle of Iwo Jima. This was also the island that was home to the largest Banzai charge of all the Japanese charges in the war. One machine gunner recalls what it was like to witness that chaos ensue:
Our weapons opened up, our mortars and machine guns fired continually. No longer did they fire in bursts of three or five. Belt after belt of ammunition went through that gun, the gunner swinging the barrel left and right. Even though Jap bodies built up in front of us, they still charged us, running over their comrades' fallen bodies. The mortar tubes became so hot from the rapid fire, as did the machine gun barrels, that they could no longer be used."- First Lieutenant John C. Chapin
Saipan was widely considered to be the turning point in the pacific theater of war that marked the point where Japan began losing the war; the Japanese command even had a meeting afterward to have a symbolic change of leadership in order to shake things up a little bit. One Japanese admiral said of the battle that "our war was lost with the loss of Saipan." Remember, this was the first Island with Japanese citizens and part of the group of islands that the Japanese considered within their "home islands". The loss was a heavy blow to the Japanese Empire and surely was a significant boost for the American Marines.
After Saipan the next major American offensive was on Iwo Jima; its the battle where the iconic photo was taken with the US troops raising the flag on the mountain top. It was the last big battle of the pacific theater and only about three of those guys lived to see the photo become famous. The rest were killed within a day or two. It was Marine Raymond Miller who pointed out that the battle for Iwo Jima was no where near over with the raising of that flag. He remembered that the Japanese guns and positions had been concealed and dug in. "They could see us, but we couldn't see them."
After the island of Iwo Jima was taken it was clear there would need to be an invasion of mainland Japan. This invasion was supposed to make D-Day look tiny in comparison based on the sheer number of people involved on both sides of the battle. The thing that most forget when looking back on it today is that the Japanese empire was still run with this very historic and traditional sense of the Bushido code; the ancient Samurai code of the warrior. Surrender was never an option and was literally the greatest shame you could bring upon yourself and your family. Every citizen was in the frame of mind that they were a soldier first and citizen second.
They were training in elementary and middle schools with spears during their recess or lunch hour for the future invasion they all knew was to come. This wasn't like what Normandy was, this was military planners acknowledging that we were going to go into a country and every single person that was there was an enemy combatant. Initial allied losses for the invasion alone were estimated and projected at one million men. This was a low-ball estimate and I don't know what it must have been like to see those numbers as a soldier and retain any shred of hope that you'd make it through everything you already had and that in the future on top of it. The only way to explain pretty much anything during this time is that phrase coined by Dan Carlin: "Logical Insanity". Before we get too deep into that side of the war, though I'd like to switch gears and go back to Belgium shortly before Christmas in 1944 where American Paratroopers in the 101st and 82nd divisions were about to have the worst Christmas of their entire lives
The Battered Bastards of Bastogne
Shortly before Christmas in December of 1944 Allied lines were established past Antwerp, the most important port city in Belgium that had been secured only about a month or so before, and extended north into the Ardennes forest in Belgium. The city of Aachen, bitterly defended by the Nazi's was now in Allied hands and it seemed that the war in Europe might be over before the new year for the Fuehrer and the third Reich. Don't forget that Hitler was fighting a war on more front than just one. On the eastern front he was facing the Red Army of Stalin, a massive army led by completely inept commanders and ultimately by one of the worst and most evil men in history. The soviet army of Josef Stalin fits the bill for the well known expression of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." The Red Army was a crucial part of the result of WWII, without them it would have been a much more bitter assault through France, and a much stronger Wehrmacht Army focused entirely on one war rather than two. The soviets couldn't have beaten the Nazi war Machine alone and the Allies couldn't have done it without the Soviets either. Before going to much farther I want to touch on this part specifically because I think today its an often overlooked part of the war. I'll never forget a co-worker I used to work with at my summer job through high school and college. She was from Moscow and was born before the Soviet collapse in 1991 and actually grew up in Communist Russia, she and her family came to the states after the the collapse of the communist bloc and her dad was rushed out of the country because he was what basically we'd equate to a superintendent of a school district but because he was high in the communist party they had to sneak him out of the country to ensure his safety and the safety of his family. Now the reason I bring up this seemingly unrelated point is because I worked with that mans daughter for about six years and she and I would fairly often talk about old communist Russia. People incorrectly assume or argue two main points in this part of history. The first being that the soviets didn't play much of a role in the Nazi defeat and the second argument is that the Red Army didn't need allied assistance and would eventually have beaten Hitler on their own. Here's the thing with either argument though, its entirely crap whichever way you argue it because it doesn't matter what you think might have happened, history deals in facts and absolutes and neither of the aforementioned category is a fact. What bothers me more than anything is when people try and revise history in order to fit a specific narrative, for example the Soviet Union actually taught their citizens that the Communist Red Army was solely responsible for defeating the Nazi Germany military machine and no one else was really involved at all. I'll never forget one night after work me and a bunch of co-workers went for a drink at a bar and were just talking, somehow the topic of World War II came up and this girl's face kept showing a stronger and stronger expression of confusion. Eventually I chimed in and asked this girl who was at that time maybe 30 years old what she was confused about and her answer left nearly everyone speechless. She actually answered questioning why were talking about D-Day like it was a national Tragedy because "The U.S. wasn't even involved in WWII at all." Now I'm not telling that story to get snippy at the soviets but I think its a very enlightening thing to be able to calmly put yourself in someone else's shoes and truly she did the same once we explained to her that wasn't the case. I can't really imagine her thought process at that time where everything she had known growing up and reading in these textbooks created by a government she trusted was suddenly and quickly all thrown out to the point of not knowing what was real at all anymore. She had been raised her whole life to believe that her country was solely responsible for fighting Hitler to the point that she was 30 years old, living in the United States and still held the belief that it was all the red army and no one else. All that story is essentially to explain the notion that in today's world there is a Revisionist aspect to many historians out there and its an unfortunate bi-product of history that I think has a good bit to do with man's tendency to offer an apologetic explanation of bad people doing bad things because we as a people have a difficult time owning our own acts. Whats important to remember in history are the facts, not the "what if's" or possible outcomes, just the actual outcomes. So we find ourselves in Belgium in December of 1944; the men on the allied lines in the Ardennes forest were sent for a reprieve from front line action only to find out that they were about to become the center of one of the most devastating attacks in American Military history.
Hitler's Final Offensive
Christmas, 1944 is quite possibly one of the worst Christmas or holiday seasons that we could have possibly had of them all. It was a time where the American's were under-equipped and ill prepared both mentally and physically. The allied planners expected the war to be over by this time and didn't put a hurry on the troops winter boots and clothing. Most of these men were still in the same clothes they were wearing when they landed in Normandy back in June. They simply said the men wouldn't need it, the war would be over.
They were in Belgium, in the Ardennes forest which was thick with trees and blanketed with snow. It was cold and the Americans that were there were just sitting and waiting while holding the front lines. Up until this point in the war, they had always been moving, always advancing through defenses and trying to get closer to the next objective. This felt like they were losing in comparison; they were there mainly to recoup after a long stretch of battle and this was a way to get them some rest without completely pulling out of the war for a month at a time. The lines on this side of the European theater were relatively quiet compared to elsewhere and this was seen as a way to give some of the men a Christmas break of sorts.
By this time in the war for Hitler and his Nazi Reich the situation had reached a critical stage. They had sustained massive bombings from allied bombing raids that targeted the Ruhr River Valley, the heart of the Nazi industrial production and thereby putting a stranglehold on supply lines. The Wehrmacht was so low on oil entire columns of Panzer tanks were being abandoned. Hitler had lost the critical Belgian port of Antwerp despite defending it bitterly and he knew that he had to make one last move in order to try to change anything at all to benefit them. He came up with a giant offensive plan with the overall goal of reclaiming Antwerp and access to its ports. Hitler devised a plan to launch an offensive he titled operation "Watch on the Rhine" designed to move a massive amount of armored weapons and men as rapidly as possible through the Ardennes, consuming 4 allied Army groups in the process, and going straight into Antwerp to reclaim the city and its vital port access.
The plan had to be a total surprise for it to work, and the Allied code breakers had the ULTRA code decipher and would surely pick up any transmission sent. Ironically enough it was Hitler's own maniacal paranoia that hurt his military odds in the war in general but made this last offensive a complete and total surprise to the Allied defenders. Instead of the normal coded messages Hitler had grown increasingly skeptical of spies and leaks from within. He used actual message runners and messengers to carry communications about the impending offensive attack in order to ensure total surprise, a decision that proved wise because the Allies were caught off guard entirely.
"Never in history was there a coalition like our enemies. If we deliver a few more heavy blows, this artificially bolstered common front may collapse with a clap of thunder." (The Bitter Woods, by John Eisenhower)
What made this battle particularly worse is that the Nazi soldiers who were making the attack weren't the regular German Army, they were comprised of Hitler's elite Waffen-SS soldiers, a group of men who were the meanest and most sadistic of all the Nazis and Hitler's personal body guard group; he hardly needed that many for just body guards and they were eventually incorporated into the German military infrastructure. Hitler had already had several assassination attempts against him by his own Army, most famous was code named "VALKYRIE" which a movie was made about a few years back with Tom Cruise. Long story short, in a meeting a briefcase was smuggled in and placed under the table and detonated. Several men were killed but somehow Hitler was in the correct position that a very thick wooden table blocked him from the blast and spared him from almost even a scratch. Hitler's paranoia led him to assign his SS death squad to make this final offensive that he thought would push the allies back into the sea.
One thing about this winter in the forest that all the soldiers always mention in their account is how foggy, and how cloudy it was. This was a dark, bitter cold winter and those clouds ended up being one of the worst enemies of the Americans fighting in that forest. The Germans were able to bring up tons of artillery, troops and equipment stealthily and under the cover of darkness. They had horses pulling tanks, both to keep noise down and to save on fuel, and large groups of men couldn't be seen by aerial surveillance above because the cloud cover was thick and unceasing. It was all prepared for and the American army was entirely caught off guard and nearly run right over. There were reports of diesel engines or German voices in the night fog that were given by American soldiers on the front lines but they were largely ignored or dismissed. The sounds of battle on the front lines are one of those things that stick with you in battle. An officer wrote:
On the front line all your senses work better than ever. I knew the sound of each tank, plane, gun or anything. I knew whose artillery made each sound. It was called survival. We got so far ahead of the rest of the units that we had to hold our position for several days sitting in those foxholes and freezing to death. It wasn’t so bad when we moved every day and dug a couple foxholes to keep us half warm.
When the "Watch on the Rhine" kicked off it did so with a thunderous artillery barrage that the men who were on the ground in the foxholes that day still have nightmares remembering back on it. Artillery shelling was one part of the war that stuck with the men forever who had to endure even just a little bit of it. This battle was particularly fierce and unimaginably brutal to be subject to the barrage of shrapnel and tree trunks that shredded men after they were shredded from shrapnel. Starting at 5:30 in morning on December 16th of 1944 a total of 1,600 pieces of artillery pounded away for 90 minutes. In the initial wave of the attack the Germans hurled 406,000 men, 1,214 tanks, tank destroyers, and assault guns; and 4,224 artillery pieces. These were reinforced a couple of weeks later, bringing the offensive's total strength to around 450,000 troops, and 1,500 tanks and assault guns. This was no small advance that Hitler was making and he staked everything on its success, it was their last big ditch effort to make a push against the allies.
Extremely Close Combat
The difficult part of this battle was the closeness that it brought with it. The nature of the offensive meant rapid advancement and that created pockets of confusion and chaos all over the forest. Add to that the fog and weather and it created some of the nastiest hand to hand combat the world has seen. These men were on top of each other out of no where and without any warning. Its hard enough to know you're killing a man, its something else to be able to smell the coffee on his breath when you kill him. That's what these men dealt with. A journal excerpt from one soldier recalls digging into an area only to find out that they were not the only ones who were digging:
About four in the morning we came on a hill that overlooked a small group of homes in the valley. The Germans were eating their breakfast. I could hear their silverware rattle (that is close combat). We stopped to dig in. I told my foxhole buddy to start cutting twigs with his pocket knife for we needed a cover over. When the Germans find out we were this close they would have all kinds of artillery coming in. With this being in a wooded area, those shells would hit the trees and explode and send shrapnel down on us. After getting those twigs across the foxhole we would throw ground on top to keep shrapnel from hitting us. I was on my knees, digging as fast as I could with my rifle standing against a tree about eight feet away. Someone down the way from me called out, “there are Germans behind you”. As we have done many times, we would kid someone even if we were to get killed the next minute. I never paid attention to this, though in the corner of my eye I thought I caught some thing. When I stopped to look around there stood three German SS soldiers with their burp guns and hands up. They were close enough that I could have shaken hands with them. The first thing I thought, “My rifle!” There it was eight feet from me against the tree. Right away they asked to give up, saying, “Comrade, comrade.” I’ve been lucky throughout the war. I have taken so many prisoners; I don’t know if I looked so forgiving. Later I found out that we dug our foxholes in the same area the Germans were dug in. After we found out about that we took a lot of prisoners.
Another soldier recalls what it was like in the aftermath of an artillery attack:I had a hard time getting out. The ground on top had settled down with weight and it was smashing me. I managed to get out. When I did, I found a lot of my of my buddies that didn’t get cover lying all around in pieces. One look and all I could do was to walk away. The officer was getting the guys ready to march out; there were only eleven GI’s. We were standing in a group waiting for two guys that were still coming. After five minutes I got the feeling that we should spread out, for we were a perfect target for the Germans. So I walked out away from the group. The officer ordered me to come back to the group and I told him it was a good target for the Krauts; but he insisted. As I walked back a shot come in. An 88mm artillery shell, it was a tree burst about fifty feet away, and again I took off. I knew that the next one would be right on us. I have seen this happen too often. The officer insisted that we group up. Well I did obey his orders and I just got back when this 88 mm shell came in and exploded, maybe eight feet from me. I was looking right at it; just a big three-foot orange ball of fire. Thank God I was ok, my buddies not so lucky. The day went on in those foxholes; we were gaining ground mostly in the night. There was less opposition from the enemy since they could not see us come. There were a lot of surprises though. The weather was our worst enemy as we were always trying to keep from freezing. I think I was out there two weeks at a time without seeing the inside of a building. It’s amazing how much torture the body can take. One afternoon we got ready to take a small town. This was something different. It was the first day attack we had for a long time. Being about a half mile from the town, the tanks started to come up from the forest behind the infantry. One of the tanks stopped about fifteen feet behind my foxhole. I told him to get back in the forest since the Krauts would start firing at him, but no they let it there. It wasn’t long and the shells started coming. Our foxhole wasn’t dug big enough since we were only going to be there a short time. My buddy was in the foxhole. When the shelling started, there wasn’t room for me to get in. I dove in and laid across my buddy, figuring I would be killed anyway and maybe could save him. With hands over my head, I just said LORD here I come. I never ever heard so much shrapnel around my head. It was like having a hive of bees dumped on me, and to this day I don’t understand why this didn’t burst my eardrums. I think they shot about three shells at the tank. They did explode that tank and killed everyone in it. We were about fifteen feet from it. Again I was thankful for all those prayers going on back home.
The Fog of Death
Part of the reason for the battle to be as successful as it was for the German army was the absolutely intense fog that accompanied the winter snowstorm. The German Air force, the Luftwaffe, was by this point almost entirely ineffective as far as an air force was concerned. They couldn't come close to matching the allies in the air in any regard. The fog took the Allied control of the skies, their ability to provide air support and defend ground troops, was completely negated by the awful fog and weather that December. The fog was so thick that the allied planes couldn't even risk taking off in most cases, fearing they wouldn't be able to find their way back at all. One pilot told the story of flying through such an intense fog for a mission he knew they shouldn't have done in the first place that his wingman nearly collided with him, missing each other by mere inches. He said that the fog was so intense that he couldn't find his way back to the airstrip or even figure out where he was at all, flying completely blind with only instruments to help him. He said he eventually found a small patch in the fog and landed in a field and tried to get a bearing. When he finally did get his bearing and ran into some allied troops the fog was so thick that he couldn't see how long the field was to take off again. And the ground troops were fighting hand to hand in this. The men on the ground by far were under the worst circumstances imaginable. They had no winter clothing, no winter boots, most had no gloves or jacket. They dug in into the snow and weren't in one spot long enough to make an adequate foxhole for warmth, if they could even dig deep enough through the frozen ground to begin with. They weren't able to light a fire at all, that would be a massive target for german artillery gunners to zero in on a position. These men were screwed, they were plain screwed from the get go and then the battle started. The result of the surprise attack overwhelmed part of the Allied front lines. The American 101st and 82nd airborne divisions were brought in to reinforce the gaps from Reims, where they were recovering from the debacle that was Operation "MARKET GARDEN" in which they suffered unbelievable casualties within their divisions. They followed orders, after going from D-Day to MARKET GARDEN and now into the Ardennes forest to fight the fires of hell with a garden hose essentially. The design of Hitlers offensive was to move as quickly as possible forward so as to overwhelm and consume, what he believed to be possible, 30 whole divisions of the American Army. What ended up happening was the 101st Airborne, battle hardened as they were, held their ground under surreal attacks, close range combat, a shelling that seemed to be constant and unceasing, and a battle hardened division of Hitler's hand selected SS division which were his very best Combat Soldiers. These SS soldiers were part of the Waffen-SS and were the military operations side of the group. The other side was the Allgemeine SS and were the General SS who were responsible for the security of Nazi meetings and personnel details ensuring protection and order in the the homeland. The brutality of the SS knew no bounds, they were largely responsible for most of the crimes against humanity and the murders of the Holocaust as they were the ones carrying out Hitlers orders for the "final solution". The Waffen SS was Hitlers paramilitary organization comprised of highly skiled, highly brutal and overall ruthless soldiers. They were a killing squad used for the toughest of military assignments and they were brought to be the tip of the spear of what would be the worst battle in American military history. The shelling began and seemed to never cease, the idea was to overwhelm and consume but as brutal and skilled at war as the Waffen SS was, they were met by an equally skilled combat group of the Allies, comprised of the Army's 101st Airborne division. These were the men who went through hell on the battlefield every single time they were there and this was no exception. The reason the battle of the bulge has its nickname is because of the incredible determination and miraculous ability of the 101st to not get overwhelmed or retreat. They held the lines they were sent to defend and did so without retreating, the rest of the lines around them withered away and were pushed back until the 101st airborne was in front of the rest of the allies and it created a "bulge" in the lines. The rest of allied forces were pushed back further and further until finally the 101st was completely surrounded, low on ammo and supplies, and desperately outmanned. The US army was about to lose an entire division unless somehow those men dug into the ground found a way to persevere without the hope of reinforcements or supply drops, remember the fog was too thick to drop supplies and they didn't want them to fall into German hands either. What made this battle particularly difficult for the 101st was the addition of "battle babies" into their division. These were fresh recruits who were replenishing the losses of the division to this point that had been lost so far. These men had never seen battle before and they were about to jump right into it. The effect of these battle babies shouldn't be looked on as a negative, its a hard thing in combat to fight with someone you haven't forged that bond with as well as someone who is experiencing it for the first time. When the barrage started the new guys were "so unaccustomed to large concentrations of German artillery that some of them initially thought the barrage was coming from American rounds falling short." The German's heaved shells from their notorious 88-millimeter artillery guns towards the Allies that pvt. Lloyd Long described by saying "it sounded like wolves howling." The noise was always something soldiers could fear without knowing where the shell would land, Long continues by saying
"we could hear incoming whistle and whoosh depending upon how close. Direct hits on huge trees blew their tops off but also splattered shrapnel around." Sergeant Milton Kitchens, a machine gunner wrote of the experience: "My bunker sustained a direct hit, logs, timber and muddy snow flew everywhere." Blood was pouring from his mouth and his coat was shredded but he was otherwise, miraculously so, undamaged. Two men on his crew were wounded and the fourth was on the verge of a mental breakdown, he was a newbie to battle and Kitchens wrote "He was bawling like a baby and he looked finished but kicked his ass up and ordered him to man that machine gun, which he did admirably."
The effect of war on a man is something that is hard to explain but these men had something so different than any other war has had before it and since it ended. It was chaos, like that term from earlier it was "logical insanity". The German artillery had two purposes: destroy and disorganize. The confusion created by artillery attacks like this serve to soften up front lines but also during and after it creates a massive amount of chaos that ultimately lowers defenses as well. To understand that you are going through an artillery barrage and you can only duck and cover in fear creates confusion in the human mind.
At the crossroads, two gun crewmen from an antitank unit ran from their gun. They had failed to dig a proper hole for themselves and were frantically looking for cover. In the chaos of the moment, they ran into a line of foxholes manned by a platoon from K company. The riflemen of this platoon did not know the crewmen. In the recollection of one witness, the crewmen were "oblivious to the several calls to halt, and tore off the cover of one of the fox-holes. They were, of course, the instant target of the foxhole occupants." One of them was killed immediately, the other badly wounded.
The Confusion was so great that over in Buckholz, where the 3rd battalion was in position guarding a railroad line to the right of the American 99th infantry division the men were eating breakfast at a chow line. When one soBldier looked over he saw several dozen men approaching, in march formation, on either side of the railroad track. When one of the men asked the commanding officer, Sergeant Elmer Klug, "Klug, First Platoon is coming in for breakfast, what the hell is going on?" Klug knew what was going on and shot back to his fellow soldier: "First Platoon my ass! Those are Germans!"
The Germans scattered about and the American 3rd Battalion was officially inducted into the battle of the bulge. The Bulge is one of the more famous battles of the war, if not its one of the most famous of all military history. Its been discussed so many times and in so many different ways its almost hard to do something that covers it myself. I think the one aspect of the battle that gets focused on in a way that overshadows the others is the complete encirclement of the 101st Airborne and how they managed to not get entirely overrun or even surrender. Don't get me wrong its an incredible story and one of the best American military success stories you'll ever hear, even to this day not a single soldier from that division has admitted that they needed reinforcements, not since the day they were essentially rescued by Patton and his army breaking through German lines and arriving in Bastogne; and not a single soldier since that day through today has said that they needed reinforcements. Thats an absolutely incredible thing to think about, its a patriotic success if nothing else. Obviously this is one of the biggest parts of the battle that gets focused on and I think that what is overshadowed as a result is the close combat that ensued, for all troops involved, and the amount of carnage and death that these men fought off and brought to others on a level that most people couldn't fathom.
Back in Buckholz, at the train station where Sergeant Klug and his men were nearly snuck up on entirely, fighting was close and nasty. At the train station on top of a water tower the German soldiers managed to set up a machine gun, its always a machine gun that brings the most gruesome stories for future generations to hear, and with that machine gun they were able to "beat the hell out of us"; which was one officer's way of saying men were slaughtered. The sound of a machine gun bullet hitting a man and killing him was something most of those men would never be able to wipe from their memory. Its been described in so many ways, this officer remembers hearing the sound of a watermelon being hit with a baseball bat each time a bullet tore into the flesh of a man. Whats worse than the sound of human bodies being torn and tattered with bullets is the sound of those men who don't die from it right away; the sound of wounded men dying was too much for some of those soldiers to be able to bear. Private John Kuhn wrote about his experience in the Bulge and remembers the dead at the train station that day, he wrote:
"When you hear the painful cry of a wounded soldier and you see his life's blood oozing out in the waist deep snow turning it to crimson red, whether he is a friend or foe, it is not a thrilling experience or one soon forgotten." He remembered watching in horror as "a young lieutenant danced rubber legged until he twisted slowly and revealed a blue bullet hole in the middle of his forehead."
Back in Bastogne, where the 101st Airborne was completely surrounded a group of German soldiers approached to make a request to surrender. And as well they should have, any one with half a brain would've looked at the numbers of the situation and expected the 101st to surrender, they were a total of 18,000 men who were fighting against a group of 45,000 Germans that were completely surrounding them. General McAuliffe took the message and read it, the German officer Lieutenant General Heinrich von Luttwitz penned the note that read:
"The fortune of war is changing...There is only one possibility to save the encircled U.S.A. troops from total annihilation: In order to think it over, a term of two hours will be granted beginning with the presentation of this note. if this proposal should be rejected, one German artillery corps and six heavy AA battalions are ready to annihilate...all the serious civilian losses caused by this artillery fire would not correspond with the well-known American humanity."
General McAuliffe read the note, looked the German messenger in the eyes and gave him a one word reply: "NUTS!" the German officer didn't understand the response and had to ask the American messenger if "The response was affirmative or negative" and the American messenger replied "the reply is decidedly not affirmative, if you don't understand what 'nuts' means, in plain english it is the same as 'go to hell'...We will kill every goddamn German that tries to break into this city" The German officer replied: "We will kill many Americans. This is war." What the German's there didn't know was that a new type of weapon had arrived for the American artillerymen, it was the Pozit shell.
Before this a normal antiaircraft or artillery shell would explode upon contact with another object, or detonate by a fuse set to a pre-determined flight time. Both methods proved to be highly ineffective. The new pozit shell had a radio signal affixed to its nose as the fuse, it would bounce radio signals off the ground and would detonate about fifty to seventy five feet in the air rather than upon contact with the ground. The resulting killing power was devastating, foxholes were no longer effective cover for these new shells. One captured German officer told of his experience on the wrong end of the new weapon: "It hangs in the air until it finds just the right place to explode." He said the killing power of the shell was capable of of shredding every square foot within a 75 yard diameter. He continued by saying "Such mayhem was pure manslaughter; the Devil himself could not escape." These shells would help delay the advancing Germans from completely overwhelming the surrounded Airborne troops, but it would not hold them off alone.
An early Christmas
On the morning of December 23rd the fog finally lifted and the allies were able to resupply their battered bastards over in Bastogne. As the fog lifted the allies launched a total of 12,000 sorties in a campaign given the name of operation "processing the terrain." In Bastogne, C-47's were able to drop parachuted bundles of supplies and on the first day of flying after the fog, more than 240 planes had delivered 5,000 artillery shells, almost as many mortar rounds, 2,300 grenades, a dozen boxes of morphine, 300 units of plasma and 1500 bandages. The next day would bring rations, a quarter-million machine gun rounds, and almost one thousand radio batteries. The men of the 101st were battered, but they weren't broken, and now they had supplies to fight back.
Although the fighting was bitter they were able to hold the town of Bastogne, it was a feat that was nothing short of a miracle in which 18,000 men bled and died to hold off 45,000 attackers. It was as important a victory as any in the history of American military engagements. Patton himself said the battle of Bastogne would be considered "just as important as the battle of Gettysburg was to the civil war." Rundstedt's chief of staff later listed "the failure to conquer bastogne" as the first among seven reasons that caused the Nazi expansion to fail.
In order to reach Bastogne and provide relief to the men there, Patton charged ahead full bore until he couldn't go any further. His most difficult obstacle was the town of Assenois just three miles southwest of Bastogne and it was defended ferociously by the SS occupiers. Patton gave his men orders that "No SS prisoners were to be taken alive" which was followed by "Drive like hell...we have an opportunity of winning this war." Patton knew what Hitler and his commanders knew, if he broke through to Bastogne the offensive of the third Reich was likely their last. In Assenois the allies launched 500 artillery rounds into the area while Sherman tanks and half-tracks charged through the smoke filled streets fending off the SS defenders who were pouring out of cellars and basements to meet them. The official history of the event would call that short battle a "shooting, clubbing, stabbing melee." Once through that small farm town in Belgium, the 101st had finally been re-linked with the rest of the Allies, they were no longer surrounded.
It couldn't have come at a better time, the German attacks had become so severe on Bastogne that "despondent American officers shook hands goodbye", gunners from the 101st had been limited to ten rounds per day and heeded the advice of General McAuliffe to look for the whites of the enemy eyes before firing. It was a grim situation and Patton knew he had very limited time to get there.
Patton was a man who came alive in battle, the thought of Battle would take him from appearing old and tired and invigorate him with a energy of a young man. He was truly one of America's soldiers in the sense that he was a soldier first, civilian second. On Christmas eve Patton walked outside from a makeshift church service and looked at the stars as the weather cleared and muttered "Noel, noel, what a night to give the Nazi's hell." When his advance was prepping for their drive towards Bastogne he could be heard yelling at his men "if those Hun bastards want war in the raw, then that's the way we'll give it to them!" When the weather cleared Christmas morning he wrote in his diary to inform of the "clear cold Christmas, a lovely weather for killing Germans." He was a man who was bred for war and knew his purpose. He gave the 101st the best Christmas gift they could receive when he rolled into the city and brought the fight back to the Germans.
Although the Bulge battle officially didn't end there, it was effectively over for the "Watch on the Rhine" assault of the Nazi offensive. The biggest obstacle for the allies now was to get the strategy in order. Really what that entailed was yanking the leash on the good ole' British "field marshall" Montgomery; the biggest ass in military history who cared for nothing other than his own name, at the expense of thousands of American lives. Charles DeGaulle wasn't too far behind as a second place trophy holder in selfish neglect for lives other than his own. What ensued was a disagreement between Eisenhower and Montgomery about how to mount the counterattack against the Nazi offensive. Montgomery would disagree with about anything Ike suggested because ultimately he felt he should be in command and not Ike. Eisenhower showed more patience than most men would have been capable of in that scenario; but every man has a breaking point and Monty was about to push Ike to his.
Dissent Among the Ranks
General Montgomery and Charles DeGaulle were two of the biggest ass-holes in the entire WWII experience. They were examples of men who cared only for themselves to the point they actually were responsible for thousands of deaths of American men who were there to fight the Evil of Nazi Germany. Montgomery met Ike on a train car in a station to talk through the counterattack plans and ended up pushing Eisenhower to his breaking point. Ike wanted a firm commitment from Monty to start a Counterattack by the 1st of January, the first day of the new year in which one soldier wrote to describe the year that had just passed by saying: "Never was the world plagued by such a year less worth remembering." Eisenhower listened to Montgomery's plea to allow the German's to attack themselves into exhaustion by over advancing and then being consumed by the Allies waiting to pounce. The meeting went back and forth and eventually, according to Eisenhower's own belief, it ended with a firm commitment from Montgomery to launch an attack on the 1st.
Montgomery apparently left the meeting feeling he had completely gotten the best of Eisenhower and wrote to a Parliament contact Ike was "definitely in a somewhat humble frame of mind and clearly realizes that the present trouble would not have occurred if he had accepted British advice and not that of American generals." He further pushed his own lunacy by asserting that Ike had recognized the limitations of his own leadership and said "Poor chap, he is such a decent fellow and the whole thing is a bitter pill for him." He believed he had "tidied up the mess" of American disorganization and "got two American armies properly organized." He took this advance of courage and wrote a letter to Eisenhower which was the last straw for Ike, the letter read:
"We have had one very definite failure...One commander must have powers to direct and control the operation; you cannot possibly do it yourself, and so you would have to nominate someone else. I put this matter up to you again only because I am so anxious not to have another failure. Without one man directing and controlling ... we will fail again."
The sheer vanity and prideful arrogance of this man, especially considering the world around him at the time, is one of the most disgusting things I have ever seen. He cared only about being the hero and nothing about the actual cause of the war. The nerve to lay his own failures of Market Garden, and positioning the British lines in a way that the Nazi offensive could break clean through, at the feet of anyone but himself is one of the biggest stains on the entire legacy of British History. I would be ashamed of my country if I looked into its history and he was there. This man deserves no praise and no thanks; he deserves scorn and pity.
Eisenhower had enough of his antics and wrote him a response:
I do not agree that one army group commander should fight his own battle and give orders to another army group commander...You disturb me by predictions of "failure" unless your exact opinions in the matter of giving you command over Bradley are met in detail. I assure you that in this matter I can go no further...We would have to present our differences to the CC/S (Combined Chiefs of Staff).
The message was carried personally to Montgomery and was preluded with the message of "if you keep on one of you will have to go, and it won't be Ike." Montgomery was presented with a pre-written response and signed it and once again took the easy way out, provided by someone else to save his own skin and he retreated back to his cowardice way of normal. Eisenhower had quelled Montgomery for the time being but was kept awake at the thought of his insubordination. He would write in his journal about Montgomery saying "He's just a little man. He's just as little inside as he is outside."
For now the plan to halt the German advance was to have French troops fall back to a more defensible position. This was to retreat from the town of Strasbourg, a symbolic importance to the French, and fall back to re-strengthen lines. DeGaulle, a man made of the same small-ness that Montgomery personified, was beside himself due to his own pride and idiotic stupidity. He was worried about a symbol to France as a matter of pride; funny how he didn't worry before when he tucked tail and ran to London while letting his country get overrun by Nazi's without putting up anything vaguely resembling a defense. He had no problem claiming he was leading France from London, while the people in France were being murdered and tortured by the Nazi regime, and he had no issue with jumping in front of American soldiers marching through the streets of Paris to soak up any and all glory and play the role of the returning crusader. But this one city was too much for him to bear the thought of losing apparently; so he took matters into his own hand.
Eisenhower had heard rumors of the impending insurrection from the French coward and sent a letter to DeGaulle like a real man should do. He wrote:
The political pressure to retain French soil, which you are undoubtedly experiencing, must be resisted if it leads to any risk of your losing divisions...You must not endanger the integrity of your units east of your main position, the Vosges. You must be prepared to accept the loss of territory east of the Vosges and all its political consequences.
DeGaulle responded like a coward, instead of replying to Ike he went to General Devers, his top field commander, and assured him that Ike's plan was "unsound" and ordered Devers "not to surrender any ground, but make it a Stalingrad." This is the leader of France acting like a child and disobeying direct orders from the man placed in charge by a conglomerate of people to lead the liberation of Europe; he couldn't get over his petty pride and instead acted with selfishness that costs lives of men. I want that to come through clearly, these two men were so damn prideful they didn't care how many deaths they caused for their own men, and mostly for American men, so long as they got their own way. They are a stain on the history of the Allied liberation of Europe and deserve to be remembered as such. Their squabbling and petty issues opened the door for Hitler to make one last push, the last major offensive of the German army in the western war in Europe.
Operation "NORDWIND" (NORTH WIND)
This offensive wasn't nearly as large a scale as the Bulge, neither was it a total surprise. The Americans had intel reports indicating it was coming, they just lacked the specific details. General Alexander Patch, a veteran of World War I, was sure that the attack was coming for the American seventh army left, west of the Haardt Mountains, with a complementary attack to the east between the mountains and the Rhine. His prediction was spot on; the Germans were making their last ditch offensive effort to keep the invaders out of their home land, out of the borders that held the inception of the worst Evil to plague planet earth. Gen. Patch's chief of staff wrote about the attack they knew was coming later saying: "German offensive began on Seventh Army front about 0030 hours. The Krauts were howling drunk, Murdered them all." The Waffen-SS soldiers were carrying out their equivalent of the Japanese Banzai charges in the Pacific and they all knew it. Atkinson writes of the stalled attack on the seventh army,
Shrieking Waffen-SS troops, silhouetted by moonlight that glistened off snowfields near the Sarre River, hardly dented the American left wing. A single .30 caliber machine gun, slewing left and right with long, chattering bursts, was credited with slaying more than one hundred attackers. Volksgrenadier corpses piled up in a kill sack soon dubbed "Morgue Valley". "Gained only insignificant ground" the [German] Army Group G war diary recorded; then, by nightfall on Tuesday: "The attack has lost its momentum."
Although that attack stalled, the ancillary attack ten miles to the east was able to bypass American strongpoints in the Vosges, where DeGaulle was supposed to defend, and gained some traction. Rumors spread of German shock troops assembling to seize the town of Strasbourg, where DeGaulle refused to retreat from, and sent the city into mass panic. A reporter wrote that the roads out of the city were clogged with women pushing babies in strollers and citizens preparing for yet another reversal of fortune in the occupation of their city.
DeGaulles saw no problem with staying. He wrote of himself in the third person, something he did often and shows his ability to identify himself as one of the biggest ass holes in history, and declared that the abandonment of Strasbourg would not only be "a terrible wound inflicted on the honor of the country, but also a profound blow to the nation's confidence in DeGaulle." How anyone could have any confidence in such a sniveling coward is truly beyond me. He continued in his letter to his General in command in Strasbourg saying "Naturally the French Army cannot consent to the abandonment of Strasbourg ... I order you to take matters into your own hands." his General replied saying he had to wait for approval and consent from the Allied high command before committing to the defense of the city, because he was a good man who understood that they were fighting for something bigger than themselves. DeGaulle replied with arrogance saying "I cannot accept your last communication." and attempted to remind his General that his sole duty was to France. This is the man who ran from duty and tried to spin it as a honorable retreat, lecturing a man of character about duty. The irony here is palpable. DeGaulle went so far as threatening to remove all French forces from SHAEF command, essentially the Allied Alliance entirely. Maybe the threat would have held weight had the French not continually proved to be not only useless but counter-productive from the very beginning of the conflict of WWII until the very end. Eisenhower wrote to his wife about the debacle stating: "Next to the weather, the French have caused me more trouble in this war than any other single factor. They even rank above landing craft." That statement alone should embarrass any man or woman with French heritage today; no nation is free from the scars of history including America, but this type of action is beyond shameful.
On top of this, Montgomery was somehow emboldened to go on British radio and tell a complete fabrication of a story about how he single handedly organized and executed the strategy to counter the offensive of the Battle of the Bulge. It was such a fabrication that even German radio mocked the BBC transmission saying the Ardennes offensive could be written off, thanks to Field Marshall Montgomery. The official war diary of the US 9th Army wrote of Montgomery saying "He sees fit to assume all the glory and scarcely permits the mention of an army commander's name." One commander in particular was General Omar Bradley who's feelings towards Montgomery evolved from "contempt that had grown into hate". Bradley had such an issue with Montgomery that he called Eisenhower and said "I cannot serve under Montgomery. If he is to be put in command of all ground forces, you must send me home." In today's society this statement doesn't carry as much weight as it did went Bradley said it. This was a statement that would never be uttered by a General such as Bradley unless there was truly no other option. General Eisenhower wrote to one of his aides and admitted "No single incident that I have encountered throughout my experience as an Allied Commander has been so difficult." referring to his interactions with the Little man Montgomery.
The Long Awaited Advance
On January 3rd, Montgomery finally picked up his dragging heels and started his offensive, the freezing weather and terrain made it difficult to advance more than a few yards at a time. Gen. Patton experienced the same difficulties, using flamethrowers to thaw frozen guns from their positions and dealing with temperatures that even froze gas tanks. The Battle of the Bulge would go down in history for its casualties and number of men killed, but equally so for its destruction of the towns and civilians within them that the Battle brought to the places it touched. Upon arriving in the town of Houffalize Patton saw the result of one thousand tons of allied bombs and countless pozit shells that had completely removed the town from where it once was. Patton was taken aback and said "I have never seen anything like it in this war. Village by village the American soldiers advanced and took back territory that they had once held. It was a slow advance but an advance nonetheless, a captured German officer's diary recorded that "the battle noises come closer to the town...I'm sending back all my personal belongings. One never knows." His attitude was a reflection of the German army all around. This was the point where all Nazi soldiers, all German citizens and all SS demon men knew they had no way to win this war. Even Hitler knew that there was no way they could avoid defeat, but he covered up that admission with his maniacal enthusiasm and wildly odd battle strategies. Hitler admitted to his Luftwaffe commander "I know the war is lost, the superior power is too great. I've been betrayed." Exactly who betrayed him isn't clear, he was always paranoid to the point that any failure was no fault of his own. Hitler had taken a strategy that had the eastern front "taking care of itself" against the Red Army; but it could no longer sustain its own defense. The Soviets had amassed more than 180 divisions and nine thousand aircraft for an offensive attack spanning the entire eastern front; as one german historian later wrote it had "showed itself again to be a suction pump which weakened other fronts."
As the allies moved through towards the Fatherland itself the war in the west had begun to recede, and this time for good. They moved through towns where children shrieked with joy at the news that they had been liberated for the last time; women would ask the passing soldiers "Are you sure? Are you sure they have really gone for good?" Their skepticism is understandable, but the the men could finally answer with a resounding yes. The loss of the Bulge was the final blow to the Nazi war machine, the damage had been costly for both sides; the Allies knew Hitler was reaching his end. Patton sensed the kill and told reporters "when you catch a carp and put him in the boat he flips his tail just before he dies. I think this is German's last tail flip." The mess of the bulge was left in the rear view mirror for the advancing troops but was the responsibility of one of the toughest roles of the soldier in the whole war; the Graves Registration units. Everywhere there was a battle the men in Graves Registration would follow to pick up the pieces of human bits scattered about, identify the dead and bury them. It was a nasty, thankless and utterly void of happiness type of job. After the bulge the unit came upon several scores of men murdered by a SS squad near Malmedy, they weren't discovered until two feet of snow thawed to reveal the corpses. They took the bodies and noted the possessions the men died with. like Private First Class Robert Cohen, who left this world carrying thirteen coins, two cigarette lighters, and a Hebrew prayer book.
All said and done the Battle of the Bulge, from December 16th to January 25th cost the Americans 105,000 casualties which included 19,246 dead. Thousands more suffered from Trench foot, frostbite and diseases. Even with the mounting losses in the Pacific, roughly one in ten US combat casualties during World War II occurred in the Bulge where 600,000 US troops fought; a number that was four times the amount of combatants in all of Gettysburg. More than 23,000 men were taken prisoner, most would spend the rest of the war or their life in a German concentration camp where they lived off of a diet of 700 calories a day. The men who had come closest to death would lay in hosptial beds and cots wide eyed "like somebody rescued from the ledge of a skyscraper." as one surgeon put it. One of these men who had narrowly survived a gunfight on January 13th when a German shell scorched by him wrote to his parents in Nevada saying "I looked down and my right hand was gone...Dad, you'll have to be patient with me until I learn to bowl left-handed." The German army was certainly not without its own losses in comparison. More than 700 armored vehicles were lost in the Ardennes offensive, German manpower reserves had been completely exhausted and all rail freight shipments were banned except for coal and official Wehrmacht material.
After more than five years of war the German army had lost four million men who were killed, wounded or captured. Hitler professed to find solace in a letter Frederick the Great had written during the Seven Years' War: "I started this war with the most wonderful army in Europe. Today I've got a muck heap." Nothing could be more true for the situation Hitler found himself in. The American war machine had proved to be too much for the Nazi hold to cling to its gains. Churchill later spoke of the American military by saying
"United States troops have done almost all the fighting and have suffered almost all the losses, they have lost sixty to eighty men for every one of ours."...The Bulge "is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever famous American victory." He continued to praise the American force saying to his secretary that there was "no greater exhibition of power in history than that of the American Army fighting the battle of the Ardennes with its left hand and advancing from island to island toward Japan with its right."
That is no small compliment from the leader of the sister country of America, and he couldn't have been more accurate. It was a feat that is probably never going to be topped again, we can hope at least. Atkinson writes of the battle in the Ardennes and sums it up asserting
"The Battle of the Bulge had affirmed once again that war is never linear, but rather a chaotic, desultory enterprise of reversal and advance, blunder and élan, despair and elation. Valor, cowardice, courage - each had been displayed in this spectacle of a marching world. For magnitude and unalloyed violence, the battle in the Ardennes was unlike any seen before in American history, nor like any to be seen again. Yet as always, even as armies and army groups collided, it was the fates of individual soldiers that drew the eye."
The battle in the Ardennes was over, and the time for the Allies to seize the glory and consume the Nazi war machine was at hand. It was time to start the last march that would lead to Berlin, and ultimately the survival of the world. While the troops marched on the leaders of the respective nations that comprised the Allied forces met for a conference at Yalta, located in Crimea within the Soviet Union. It was the meeting where the "big three", Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin, met to discuss the future of Europe in a post war world. They discussed the brutality that laid before them in Europe, Genocide was something you couldn't help but notice. Stalin put Roosevelt's observations of the brutality of the Red Army laid before him at rest by assuring him the carnage was much worse farther north in Ukraine, where the Nazi Lebensraum plan had resulted in the genocide of ten million people. He told FDR that everyone had become more bloody-minded because the Germans "were savages and seemed to hate with a sadistic hatred the creative work of human beings." This was a rich statement coming from a man who murdered as many of his own citizens resulting in genocide on par with Hitler's crimes. The conference concluded that the three remaining post-war powers would be Great Britain (which hardly had any power left), the Soviet Union and the United States of America. Roosevelt intentionally wanted to leave out France and DeGaulle specifically from controlling any zone of influence or power in the post war world and the conference itself. Churchill had recently written to his secretary explaining why DeGaulle was left out of the Yalta conference saying:
"I cannot think of anything more unpleasant and impossible than having this menacing and hostile man in our midst."
France was to be given a small sphere of influence in postwar Germany, Roosevelt being the one to suggest it, which was immediately questioned by Stalin who asked why should they get anything when taking into account how little of a role they contributed to winning the war. Roosevelt replied "only out of kindness", Stalin agreed and added "that would be the only reason to give France a zone." It was at this conference in Yalta where those three men would be together in person for the last time; Stalin and Churchill both noted how ill FDR looked and even Stalin commented about FDR in his wheelchair saying aloud in Russian "why did nature have to punish him so?"
An Early end to the "Thousand Year Reich"
From this point of the war the allies targeted the Ruhr valley, the heart of German production and had dwindled their production capabilities through continual bombing to just 20 percent of its peak power. Eisenhower had plans to cross the Rhine into the Fatherland in March, and on the Eastern front the Red Army had advanced 300 miles in 3 weeks. The German expectation that the Soviets would wait for better weather turned out to be inaccurate and they were caught completely off guard by the advancing red army. That advance resulted in the Soviets standing on the bank of the Oder river, less than fifty miles from Berlin. It was at this point the world first was awoken to the true evil of the Nazi Reich and its deplorable actions against other human beings. The Soviets had just liberated Auschwitz, among the most heinous of Nazi concentration camps. They found only a few thousand inmates alive when they arrived but quickly discovered the extermination of more than a million people, mostly Jews, and the discovery of unspeakable medical experiments. The soviets advance was so fast that the officers in charge of the camp didn't have time to dispose of the evidence of more than seven tons of women's hair that was shorn from the prisoners, or the 348,820 men's suits and 836,515 dresses neatly baled together, or the mountains of dentures and eye-glasses whose owners had been reduced to to ash and smoke. Unspeakable things happened to those untold millions murdered by the Nazi regime and the SS death squads who committed unspeakable acts.
Although the camps were liberated the Allied command wanted to speed the end of the war as quickly as possible, because the Red Army wasn't free of guilt for atrocities against humanity even as it was advancing across Germany. In order to save the innocent people in the path of the Soviets the war had to be sped up. Soviet atrocities were now rampant in the east; they included burning of villages, wanton murder and mass rape. An estimated two million German women would be raped by the advancing Red Army, a number that excluded poles and liberated soviet women who had been kidnapped and forced into German slave labor; no one was safe in the path of the Soviets. Stories of Soviet atrocities were hard to stomach,
Nurses would be dragged from operating tables to be gang raped. "Our men shoot the ones who try to save their children," one soviet officer said. German father's would execute their own daughters in order to save them from their future defilement, and raped women were nailed by their hands to the farm carts carrying away their families as part of the migration of 7.5 million Germans to the west over the next few months. A Soviet soldier wrote his father telling him "They are going to remember this march by our army over German territory for a long, long time."
It was a brutality the likes of which the world had never seen. One high ranking SS officer was well aware of the suffering that was en route to him and his family and decided to have him, his three daughters and his wife sit down at a dinner table to a nice meal. Under the table in his hands he pulled the pin on three grenades and dropped them on the floor; he decided that was the only way to spare the four women in his life from the unimaginable horror that was on their doorstep. This wasn't something that was a sexual conquest for the red army, it was revenge rape and murder. Not a single woman was saved, it wasn't just the pretty and young it was the old, the crippled and the too young to imagine going through this torture. The effect of war was something that was inescapbale whether you found yourself a solider on the front lines or an innocent civilian in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The effect of this war was notably brutal for all involved. US cheers of "Win the war in '44" changed to "Stay alive in '45". It became increasingly difficult for the infantry on the ground, witnessing the brutal savagery in front of them to understand the reasons for war. It hardened them, as one soldier noted:
"My mind is absolutely stripped of any traces of reason for war...Maybe the overall picture justifies what goes on up here, but from an infantryman's point of view, its hard to see."
In a hard to watch type of glimpse into the depths of humanity we can see what this type of war leads men to, killing and death from all involved without a shred of remorse or hesitation. The things these men went through were absolutely unimaginable, a soldier from the 75th Division described what it was like to spend an hour in a foxhole with a mortally wounded comrade and no morphine: "I tried to knock him out. I took off his helmet, held his jaw up, and just whacked as hard as I could...That didn't work. Nothing worked. He slowly bled to death." The amount of bodies that were left behind the advancing armies was something hard to take in, one soldier on Grave detail recalled
Everywhere we searched we found bodies, floating in the rivers, trampled on the roads, bloated in the ditches, rotting in the bunkers, pretzeled into foxholes, burned in the tanks, buried in the snow, sprawled in doorways, splattered in gutters, dismembered in minefields, and even literally blown up into trees.
One nurse wrote that "maybe it was a good thing their mothers can't see them when they die." Death was everywhere, prison guards unlocked the locked box car doors transporting captured Germans through France to find that 104 had suffocated. Their cries and pleas had been ignored and investigators found evidence of teeth marks and clawing on inner walls. The guards were apathetic and shrugged off the death. What this all led to was a question of survival for the soldiers on the ground. They wondered what they were fighting to survive for, when asked that question the answer was often "for the pacific". The army would be involved in the invasion of mainland Japan where casualties were expected to surpass well over one million men on the initial invasion alone. This attitude left the men apathetic to death, a soldier recalled watching GI's playing soccer with the severed head of an executed German officer. With each camp liberated and each city conquered the men on the ground gained more hatred for the German people. A British soldier wrote "A hatred such as I have never seen has sprung up among us against Hitler's armies and all of Germany. The question of killing does not present itself as a moral problem any more - or as a problem at all."
The hatred for these soldiers led to killing more and taking less prisoners, the 103rd Division found about fifteen Germans cowering in a deep crater in the forest, one of the men described what happened next when he wrote down
"Their visible wish to surrender - most were in tears of terror and despair - was ignored by our men lining the rim...Laughing and howling, hoo-haing and cowboy and good-ole-boy yelling, our men exultantly shot into the crater until every single man down there was dead...The result was deep satisfaction.
There are stories beyond stories of the atrocities of every side involved in the war and I could go on for hours and hours trying to retell each individual experience; the point I'm trying to make here is that once the Allied forces were closing in on Berlin and the war was clearly over. The depravity of what those men had experienced to that point had taken its toll on all involved. Murder and killing was what they knew and they did it well. It was a different experience than normal; most wars are fought nearly to the finish until one side gives up quickly. This was the Nazi army defending all the way to the Reichstag building and everyone knew the war was over but the Nazi surrender didn't come until May 7th 1945, after Hitler took his own life on April 30th officially ending the "thousand year reich" about 991 years early.
The war in Europe had come to a bloody, brutal and devastating end. The Nazi party was no more and the post war plans had been put together and started. The majority of the Nazi leadership either took their own life or was sentenced to execution in the Nuremberg Trials, where the world put the men on trial for the acts of human depravity that can hardly be put into words. Although Europe was free from the Nazi insurrection the axis powers still had Japan actively engaged in warfare with the US marines, and they weren't showing signs of surrender.
The End of the Axis, and WWII
Japan was bitterly defending their territory to the last man island by island. With the recent acquisition of Saipan, Guam and Tinian in the Northern Marianas Islands the US had an airstrip close enough to bomb mainland japan without the use of naval carriers and could send thousands of planes to bomb the Japanese into surrender. The only problem with this was the Japanese commitment to the samurai code of no surrender under any circumstance, it was the ultimate shame. The united states air force had recently begun to use incindiary bombs rather than explosive ordinance. The Japanese cities and towns were built of mostly paper and bamboo and these fire bombs would set whole towns on fire for weeks at a time, eventually killing anyone in the city. The first fire bombing raid was on Tokyo at night, the weather and breeze created a swarm of fire that burned half of the city in a few hours. The inferno was strong it would suffocate everyone in a bomb shelter by sucking oxygen away from the room in order to fuel its unstoppable blaze. The air would be so forcefully sucked towards the fire that babies would get sucked out of mothers arm and flung into the blaze. This type of bombing went on for months, killing thousands with the promise to escalate the bombing raids unless the Japanese surrendered; something they didn't even consider a possibility.
Finally, Harry Truman who was now President after the passing of Franklin Roosevelt, decided to use the ultimate secret weapon and to date the most devastating type of weapon in the history of man-kind. I won't spend too much time on this issue, if you want to listen to the best summary of this portion of the war I'll again refer you to Dan Carlin's hardcore history episode titled "Logical Insanity"; but to sum up the decision to drop one bomb that instantly killed between 40,000 to 60,000 people depending on which estimate you choose is a bit like trying to create a language from scratch. Its something that we can't fathom because we don't live in the same world. When you put yourself into the shoes of the men who were there and factor in everything going on in the world you can just barely begin to understand some of what they were thinking and why they did what they did; again thats the importance of learning history. Many people still think America is guilty of a crime against humanity for the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but what the ones who make that claim never equate is that the fire-bombings were just as deadly. No one ever has an issue with a fire bombing because its "military strategy" but those revisionist historians claim that America breached the line beyond military and into crimes against humanity with the atomic bomb. By all accounts they were both horrible but if you were already bombing cities daily that had total death counts, in most cases higher than the atomic bombs, what is the difference between killing with fire bombs and instant death of a nuke? It could almost be argued that the nuke was more humane than that of the burning of whole cities. Again, its something that doesn't have a clear answer or a real way for us today to understand what led to make that decision back then.
World War II affected millions of people all over the world and still does today. We live in a post World War II world of mechanical and technological innovations, nuclear capabilities and scars of atrocities in the past. The end of the war marked the beginning of the era of the long peace in which we still are in today. It ended just as it began; the sun set to bring about the next day.
For six long years the sun set on Europe without front lines, it was a Europe that was at peace. The most notable difference was the lighting at night that now came on; a major in the 29th Division wrote of the odd difference it was compared to six years of darkness, "Lights scintillated-truck lights, jeep lights, tent lights, flashlights, building lights, farmhouse lights. Everything lit up." Dark fell over the continent of Europe creeping west from Vistula to the Oder and to the Rhine and then the Seine. Darkness enfolded and consumed a thousand battlefields, at Remagen and St.-Vith, Arnhem and St.-Lô, Caen and Omaha Beach. Darkness consumed the continent and blanketed the horror of the war, and across all of Europe the lights came back on again after six long years of darkness; the lights came back on.