Canada and the Battle of the Bulge
Fought between December 16th, 1944 and January 28th, 1945, the Battle of the Bulge was the greatest battle America fought in the Second World War. Its origins lay with Adolf Hitler, who hoped to split Allied forces in the west with a Blitzkrieg-like assault aimed at the recently opened port of Antwerp. Three German armies assembled in secret to strike through the Ardennes, a forested and hilly region located where the French, Belgian, Luxembourger, and German borders meet.
The Ardennes was a quiet sector, and the Germans managed to push American troops back in the first days, creating a bulge in the Allied line. Most will be familiar with the story of the 101st Airborne Division’s stand at Bastogne and General George S. Patton’s successful relief effort. By late January, the Americans had eliminated the bulge and restored the line at the cost of 75,000 casualties. The Germans suffered just as heavily — between 65,000 and 85,000 — costing them valuable reserves for the coming invasion of Germany.
The German offensive had far-reaching effects. The First Canadian Army was responsible for the city of Antwerp. If the German spearhead had gotten closer, the Canadians and their British allies would have had to stop it. They would have also expected a local supporting attack through the Netherlands. In the days after the battle began, Canadian troops in the Nijmegen salient received word of the German offensive. In some cases, the army postponed Christmas celebrations in case of a German attack. The Queen’s Own Rifles of Canada did not have Christmas dinner until December 29th and 30th.
The 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, which last saw combat in August, had an entirely different experience. On Christmas Eve they rushed to Folkstone, on the English Channel, and prepared to sail for Belgium with the rest of the 6th Airborne Division. “They were going to jump us in,” Private Merv Loucks recalled. “But the weather was so bad they couldn’t fly, so we went in as ground troops.” On January 2nd, 1945, the battalion took up positions near Rochefort, near the easternmost extent of the German advance. They remained in the area for two weeks, holding and taking back ground from the retreating German forces.
Finally, the Royal Canadian Air Force fought in the Battle of the Bulge. On December 21st, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham, commander of the 2nd Tactical Air Force, placed all of his fighter-bombers at the Americans’ disposal. Flight Lieutenant Harry Hardy, whose Typhoon was damaged in a strafing attack on Christmas Day, had to bail out of his plane during the battle. “When the snow stopped … we went down there to help their [American] Thunderbolts,” he said. Canadian fighter pilots also engaged a resurgent Luftwaffe in December and January. They tangled with Messerschmitt 262s, the sleek new jet fighter, and endured a large air attack on Allied aerodromes on New Year’s Day 1945.