Yves Buffetaut, Ardennes 1944 (Casemate, 2018)
The Battle of the Bulge was Hitler’s last gamble to stave off collapse in the West and perhaps turn the tide of the war. It was doomed to failure, but only because of poor planning, a lack of resources, and the efforts of the Allies both in defence and counterattack. In Yves Buffetaut’s Ardennes 1944, he takes us on a quick tour of the battle accompanied by many excellent photographs and colour plates.
After a brief timeline of events, Buffetaut gets down to business, beginning with the German objectives and the lack of belief in them among the German generals. The soldiers believed, however, but Buffetaut highlights their deficiencies compared to their early offensives. Still, they faced a weakened enemy and broke through the brittle American defences, but Buffetaut is scathing in his critique of the German operation. The Germans lacked resources for such an ambitious plan in mid-winter on muddy and congested roads. Moreover, significant sections of the US defenders would not buckle as the Germans intended. Some German units made surprising progress, notably Kampfgruppe Peiper but he ran out of petrol and stopped at Stavelot. The action flips to Saint-Vith, Houffalize, Clervaux, and of course, Bastogne, via a consideration of Skorzeny’s attempts to infiltrate American lines. Meanwhile, the Allies shook themselves out to create strong defensive lines and prepare to go on the offensive. This was helped by clear weather, allowing for Allied air superiority to take effect. Then the Allies squeezed the salient created by the offensive, known as the Bulge. The Germans withdrew while counter-attacking when they could, but the battle was all but over. Buffetaut next examines the air war over the battlefield, arguing that the Americans inflated their numbers of destroyed enemy planes and vehicles. He also highlights the British involvement on the ground, which Buffetaut gives a bit more space to than their exploits deserve compared to the Americans but is a useful reminder that this was an Allied operation. Buffetaut concludes that Hitler’s Ardennes offensive was delusional, but it prolonged the war in the west.
In Ardennes 1944, Buffetaut serves up an appetizer for anyone interested in the Battle of the Bulge. His focus is on the big picture, rarely dipping below Divisional level operations. That created a bit of an uneven structure with too much room given to the British and not enough to some parts of the battle; the bare mention of Bastogne being the most obvious casualty of that approach. Still, the text is informative and interspersed with colour plates of vehicles, accounts of war crimes, and commander profiles. The range of photographs accompanying the text is arguably the highlight of the book. Ardennes 1944 will suffice for those wanting to know what happened without diving into a detailed tome such as Beevor’s book on the battle, but there is enough here to entice further reading.