On Dec. 16, 1944, Nazi Germany launched a counteroffensive against the Allied powers. The sneak attack began with a massive assault of over 200,000 troops and 1,000 tanks, aimed to divide and conquer the Allied forces. Some English-speaking Germans dressed in American uniforms to slip past the defenses.
After just one day of fighting, the Germans managed to isolate the American 101st Airborne Division and capture a series of key bridges and communication lines. Over the next two days, Patton’s Third Army would batter through miles of German tanks and infantry to reach the trapped paratroopers.
The fighting continued through the beginning of Jan. 1945 when Hitler finally agreed with his generals to pull back the German forces.
Here are 18 photos from the historic Battle of the Bulge that show what life was like in the winter hell.
1. American and German troops battled viciously for Belgian villages that were destroyed by artillery, tank fire, and bombs.
2. The battle was fought across a massive front featuring forests, towns, and large plains.
3. With deep snow covering much of the ground, medics relied on sleds to help evacuate the wounded.
4. Troops lucky enough to get winter camouflage blended in well with the snow.
5. Troops who weren’t so lucky stood out in stark contrast to the white ground during the Battle of the Bulge.
6. Troops were often separated from their units due to the chaotic nature of the battle. They would usually find their way back on foot.
7. Each side lost about 1,000 tanks in the battle and the burned out wrecks littered the countryside.
8. In towns, Luftwaffe bombing killed many soldiers and civilians while destroying the buildings and equipment everywhere.
9. Medics would evacuate the wounded from these areas to safer hospitals when possible.
10. In caves and bomb shelters, Allied doctors and medics treated the civilians wounded by battle or sick from exposure to the elements.
11. The soldiers could also fall prey to the elements. The extreme cold and sometimes rugged terrain posed challenges for the defenders.
12. Many of the forces holding the line were tank and airborne units.
13. Camouflage was used to protect equipment when possible.
14. Until the Third Army was able to open a land corridor through the siege of Bastogne, 101st Airborne Division paratroopers relied on air drops for resupply.
15. The Luftwaffe and U.S. fighters fought overhead, each attempting to gain air dominance.
16. Though the Allies would eventually win in the air and on the ground, a number of aircraft were lost.
17. As more Allied troops were sent to reclaim the lost territory in Jan. 1945, they were forced to pass the remains of those already killed.
18. Troops held memorial services for their fallen comrades whenever possible.