Gary Sterne, The Americans and Germans at Bastogne (Pen & Sword, 2020)
You might not think there is much left to say about the iconic siege of Bastogne, the lynchpin engagement in the Battle of the Bulge, Germany’s offensive in the Ardennes in December 1944. You would be wrong. Gary Sterne recasts the Bastogne story by integrating the memories of the commanders on both sides. By doing this, Sterne hopes to generate a new analysis of the battle. But he also acknowledges the problems with the sources, making his effort at piecing together this jigsaw replete with difficulties. To Sterne’s credit, he achieves most of his objectives.
Sterne begins with the German officers planning the offensive, a survey worth the price of the book on its own. Then the artillery rains down on the Americans, allowing Sterne to start mixing his sources against the chronology. The German advance begins, causing panic, and sweeping most of the Americans aside. But not all. Sterne takes us into Bastogne where the US defence is stiffening. The Germans were initially unconcerned, believing they could sweep up Bastogne at will. But they were wrong. A core force from the 101st Division, along with other units and stragglers from the retreat, held on resolutely in what became the legendary siege of Bastogne. Desperate combat ensued all around the town, but the Americans won through the fortitude of the defenders aided by control of the air, and then the final breakthrough as their comrades relieved them.
Sterne handles his German sources directly while paraphrasing much of the American sources, subsuming them into the narrative. It just works, but it sometimes feels like two different methods are being used, which can be jarring at times. Nevertheless, Sterne’s working through the command levels sweeps in and out from the front lines very effectively, lingering on the intense combat then zooming out to draw the wider picture. Sterne is supported by many excellent maps to help us understand this confusing battle. All in all, Sterne’s book adds more quality to the growing body of work on the Battle of the Bulge, and is well worth reading.