By the Fall of 1944 German options for stopping the Allies were rapidly shrinking. Hitler believed there was little he could do to stop the massive Soviet Armies in the East. He was hoping however that if he could successfully launch an offensive in the West he could successfully force the allies to agree to a separate peace and then he might be able to hold off the Soviets.
Hitler committed all of his reserves to an attack in the West whose goal was to capture Antwerp and split the Allied armies. He assigned 5th and 6th Panzer Army and the 7th Army with the task.The Germans tried to reprise their 1940 Ardenelles offensive against the British and French and attack in the same area. The front was considered quiet by the Americans and thus it was mostly manned by a mixture of new troops and veteran troops who were sent to the area for limited R&R. The success of the German offensive on a number of factors, including surprise, bad weather to overcome the overwhelming advantage the Allies had in the air, rapid advance and capturing allied fuel, since the German did not have enough fuel to supply their armor. The Germans failure on the last two points doomed whatever slim chance the attack ever had of succeeding. The Germans began the attack with 406,000 men and 557 tanks, the allies 228,000 men and 483 tanks. It was a fools plan from the beginning, for while the Germans started with a slight numerical advantage- they are using the last of their reserves. The Allies by the end of the campaign had 700,000 men and 2,428 tanks.
The Germans achieved total surprise. While the Allies knew that the Germans were planning something, they had no idea where and how large. The Germans began their assault on December 16th with an artillery barrage all across the front. The Germans had surprise on their side. In the center of the Front the Fifth Panzer struck toward Bastogne and St With. In the south the Seventh Army attacked towards Luxembourg. In the Northern part of the front the 6th Panzer with the best weapons was tasked to rush toward Antwerp.
The American troops in the North put up strong resistance. This slowed down the advance and this would prove critical to for the Germans. On December 17th the Northern forces captured a significant number of American prisoners near Baugnez, Many of the POW’s were killed in what became known as the Malady Massacre. The German continued s slow advance West and reached the town of Stavelot on December 18th. It took the Germans a day to capture the town. The Germans went on to capture Stoumant, after a difficult fight. Meanwhile the American recaptured Stavelot but in the meantime the Americans had recaptured Stavelot. The Germans tried to capture it again with out success. With the Americans holding Stavelot the advance German troops were cut off. American reinforcements were arriving the Germans were out of fuel and out of options.
Meanwhile in the center and south American troops were also holding up the German troops. The Americans held St Vith, until December 21st. They then held the ground outside the town. The Germans broke through that line on December 23rd, but they were six days behind schedule. The Germans continued to advance along an ever narrower axis until they reached the town of Celles in view of the Meuse River. The Allies managed to assemble a hastily organizing blocking force and this was as far as the Germans could get.
At the same time the Allies further south had managed to stop the German advance at the town of Bastogne. It was a key transport hub and by December 21 the Germans had surround the town. Food and ammunition was running out, but on December 22nd the skies cleared and the air force was able to air drop ammunition and vital medicine. When the German demanded the Americans surrender - Brig General Anthony McAuliffe responded with “nuts”.
The Germans made one last attempt to breach American defenses on December 24th and failed. The next day on Christmas Day 1944 the first elements of Paton’s 4th Armored Division who had been racing north to relieve Bastogne arrived and the siege was over. While the Germans managed to launch two small counter attacks to the larger American counter attack the German offensive had come to an end, as had any ability of the Germans for the rest of the war to do anything but slow the Allied advance down. Once the clouds had cleared air force planes combined with the US armor that could now be brought to bear devastated the German troops that had begun the attack. It was the bloodiest battle of World War II for American forces: 19,246 were killed, 62,489 wounded and 26,612 were missing or captured.