Having recently appreciated Tucker-Jones’ book about Churchill, his book, Hitler’s Winter, about the German perspective of The Battle of Bulge did not disappoint. Tucker-Jones has a great knack of being able to blend fact into a compelling narrative, such that this book is not just a chronological account of what happened, when the Germans launched their audacious counter attack just before Christmas 1944, it is an excellent themed analysis of why the objectives set by Hitler could never be achieved.
Superbly written, in a flowing, easy to read style, as befits a former intelligence officer, Tucker-Jones has clearly done his homework. The book covers in great detail the build up to the operation, how threadbare the German resources really were, how the senior German command knew that Hitler’s objectives – smashing a hole between the American and British armies to capture the vital port of Antwerp and deny the Allied armies a logistical supply line – were never realistic nor achievable. It also looks at the personalities within the German command structure, and how when resources were stretched, petty jealousies, hoarding of resources, and other tensions, came to the fore. Tucker-Jones also brings out some lesser known aspects of the counter-attack, such as the disastrous parachute operation by the German Fallschirmjager led by veteran Luftwaffe officer, van der Heydte, which achieved little tactically. He devotes a chapter to the actions of Skorzeny’s ‘commandos’, dressed as American soldiers, and how they caused chaos initially behind American lines, although their impact diminished quickly over time and petered out.
The author points out that Hitler gambled on his new military technology – the Messerschmitt 262 jet aircraft, the V1 and V2 rockets, and the heavyweight King Tiger tanks – winning tactical advantage in the Ardennes quickly. However, their impact on the battlefield was diluted by a severe shortage of fuel, overwhelming numerical superiority of the Allied Air Forces, and in the case of the King Tiger, their weight, meaning that the bridges over which they needed to cross quickly, could not support them. The firing of V missiles onto Antwerp didn’t achieve the effect Hitler thought it would. The dilatory advance by the German Panzers in the first few days, in turn, caused a massive traffic gridlock, denying the Germans the element of surprise that the counter attack needed desperately to stop the Americans re-grouping quickly and to achieve success.
Within a month, the German offensive had petered out. As originally anticipated by the German senior command, after initial successes, the Germans became bogged down fighting at various road checkpoints, coupled by strong American resistance at St Vith and Bastogne. Hitler, incandescent with rage at the failure by his generals, and suspicious of those around him, became increasingly delusional and isolated into the spring of 1945. This prompted some of his most trusted colleagues to start trying to negotiate peace with the Allies, to focus efforts on defeating the real enemy, the Russians. This book conveys well the sense of desperation within the German High Command after the battle in the Ardennes had been lost.
The narrative is accompanied by possibly too detailed maps and an interesting collection of photographs, all sourced from Getty Images. It also contains ORBATs (Orders of Battle) for both sides during the various phases of the offensive. Hitler’s Winter is recommended as a good read for anyone wanting to understand the German perspective of the final large-scale battle in the West during the Second World War.