Hitler's Winter: The German Battle of the Bulge
TL;DR Get this book.
Details: Hardcover, 320 Pages. One photo insert with 30 black and white photos. Seven maps.
Hitler's Winter covers the Battle of the Bulge from the German perspective, making the book a worthwhile read even for those familiar with the Ardennes Offensive. The narratives do particularly well in making this massive battle comprehensible, but the book truly excels in exploring how German shortcomings in planning and logistics foreshadowed their eventual failure. These operational issues have rarely been treated so well in popular narrative histories.
After an excellent forward by noted historian Peter Carrick-Adams, a prologue takes us on Kampfgruppe Peiper's headlong drive towards the Meuse river bridges. The first full chapter then sets up Otto Skorzeny's planned special forces attacks, consisting of both small commando teams sowing disruption and a thrust by disguised armored units. These bursts of action are welcome, because the book then takes a deep dive into the parlous state of the German military in late 1944.
If the mandatory Operation Wacht Am Rhein planning chapter seems unusually negative, the following chapters make the reasons clear. Germany's ability to man and supply their armed forces were embarrassingly, hopelessly insufficient. But don't let that dirty word (“logistics”) glaze your eyes over: These chapters are critical for understanding how the Bulge played out, and they are fascinating to read. For example, evidence is marshalled to show:
Otto Skorzeny's strike force was far from elite, and with over half being naval personnel or Luftwaffe support troops fighting on the front line for the first time.
While most know that even at the start line the offensive was desperately short of fuel, what depots were available were sited far behind German lines. This guaranteed that forces moving through the overstretched Ardennes road net would necessarily choke themselves off from their own lifeblood. Those dashing armored thrusts were doomed before the first engines turned over.
While the forces assembled were indeed formidable, even rebuilt divisions started the battle already bled white. The elite panzer and SS divisions built up for the campaign started the fight with half or fewer of their usual armor complement. Sepp Dietrich's artillery corps only had enough ammunition for two battalions, and not enough fuel to motorize even those two.
Engineering resources were nearly unavailable, and the particular lack of bridging capacity multiplied the damage done when defenders blew up river crossings. Near total absence of tank recovery vehicles meant even tanks with minor damage were lost forever.
The time spent on background pays off tremendously when the battle narrative begins. The Battle of the Bulge was truly huge, involving hundreds of thousands of soldiers, hundreds of square miles, weeks of fighting, and many dozens of tiny towns; its story can be mind boggling, and Tucker-Jones is to be commended for making it all comprehensible. The story is broken down by region, and although the operational scale used may provide less detail it is much easier to follow. One does wish that there were more (and more detailed!) maps, but it all works. The Allied defensive response and the counterattack that followed are discussed at the same operational level, so before long the Germans are being pressed back to their starting point, much the worse for wear.
Here they come....
....and there they go!
The book then expands its view to consider strategic corollaries of the Ardennes assault that are often overlooked. Hitler had wanted to launch a massive airstrike as part of the Bulge attack, but weather delays pushed Operation Bodenplatte much too late to ever be useful. In the event, the attack was an utter disaster for the Luftwaffe, with its few successes far outweighed by irreplaceable German losses. The Germans also tried to influence the Bulge's outcome by redirecting V-2 attacks toward Antwerp's port facilities (which they couldn't hit), and by trying to disrupt Allied troop redeployments by attacking elsewhere in France (though these poorly planned piecemeal attacks were easily contained).
In all, Hitler's Winter does an excellent job of retelling the Ardennes Offensive and supporting efforts from the German perspective. The welcome focus on supply and logistics adds considerable value, and the battle narrative is balanced and clear enough to add value for both newcomers and old Bulge hands. While one might have hoped for more new or primary source material, the book's strengths make it a unreserved high recommendation.
Thanks goes out to Osprey Publishing for this review book.
Reviewed by David Morris
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