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US Army

Hitler’s Last Christmas

 

Hitler’s Last Christmas
 
The holiday season in Germany is traditionally celebrated on three days — Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and December 26th.  Christmas 1944 was the sixth Christmas that Hitler had spent in the toils of the titanic struggle that he had unleashed on Europe, already widely known as the Second World War.
 

Christmas 1944 saw the German leader in the midst of his last great gamble — the Ardennes Offensive in the West.  Near Zeigenberg, Germany, Adolph Hitler commanded the great offensive from his Adlerhorst Headquarters (The “Eagle’s Nest”).  Deep within its catacombs the self-proclaimed leader of the Third Reich carried on the battle that was to “decide the destiny of the Reich.”  Even here, many miles from the battlefield, the hollow thunder of artillery fire in the Ardennes was plainly audible.

 

That the war had taken its toll on the German leader was obvious to those who had not seen him in some time.  Hitler’s appearance in December 1944 was shocking.  Although only 55, Hitler was an old man; his back was bent, his famous moustache was now ashen-white and his skin was pale.  His left arm twitched continuously and could only be restrained by holding it with his right.  He was hard of hearing and occasionally appeared to be daydreaming.  Other times he rambled on in monotonous monologues about the Roman Empire, Frederick the Great (a favorite historical theme), and even dog breeding.  “The longer I study men,” he was fond of saying “the more I like dogs.”

 

Christmas Eve, der Heilige Abend, was something less than a “holy evening” in the Fuhrer bunker.  On one hand, word arrived at Adlerhorst that the reconnaissance battalion of the 2nd Panzer Division was only three miles from the Meuse River.  Regardless of the tone of this message, word that the commander of the tiny German force was without gasoline, and hiding from Allied aircraft must have cooled the ardor of the German field commanders.

 

In the afternoon, Hitler stood outside the Adlerhorst bunker and watched with his staff as over a thousand enemy bombers glittered in the winter sky, swarming eastward toward the heart of Germany.

 

By noon December 26, on St Steven’s Day (Zweite Weichnachstag) Hitler awoke to see the worries of Christmas Day translated into a series of crtushing reversals for his final great gamble.  The German Seventh Army had nearly been forced back to the Sauer River it had crossed ten days before while under punishing attack by Patton’s Third Army.Worse still, the 4th Armored Division, under the swashbuckling general had broken the German siege of Bastogne piercing the ring of Germans surrounding the town and relieving the U.S. Airborne garrison there.  Finally, although the 2nd Panzer near the Meuse had finally received permission to try and break out of its pocket near Celles, it was out of fuel and under a devastating attack from the U.S. 2nd Armored Division.

 
With the end of December 26, Christmas 1944 was over.  The sixth Christmas of WWII would be Hitler’s last.
 

“We were told we would be going on a rest break in December”  Frank remembered.  “We had no more than unpacked our gear out of the tanks when there was a rumor going around that something really big was happening up north.”

 

On December 19th, the rumor came true and about one-third of the 4th Armored Division’s tanks and men headed north.  They drove for 22 hours, utilizing black-out conditions, which meant they drove with their lights out during the hours of darkness.  Later it was said that former President Richard Nixon called that 22-hour drive, “the greatest movement made in the history of the U.S. Army.”

 

Those of us who went north were attached to the 1st Army.  We made up a task force known as Ezell.  The task force had a company of medium tanks, an infantry regiment from the 10th Infantry, a battalion of artillery and some supply transportation vehicles.  We were heading to the beleaguered town of Bastogne.

 

The stage was set on December 22.  The Germans had surrounded the 101st Airborne Division two days earlier in their final great offensive.

 

“We made it all the way into Bastogne with the Task Force,” Frank said.  “We saw lots of German soldiers, some dead, most of them alive, but we made it there and reported to a colonel in the 10th Armored Division.”

 

By December 27, the battle for Bastogne had reached its climax.  On the ground in the early morning, the 26th Volksgrenadier Division made a last desperate effort to capture the town.  On the west side of the perimeter, the Germans launched the attack with assault gun support from near Senonchamps.  However, American artillery was ready for the move and shelled the German grenadiers into head-long retreat.

 

Then that afternoon, the situation took a decisive turn in the Allied favor.  At 4/45 p.m., a U.S. Engineer on the south of the American perimeter near Assenois excitedly reported that the approach of “three light tanks, believed friendly.”  Although down to only 20 Shermans, U.S. tankers of Combat Command “R” of the 4th Armored Division broke through the German ring of the battered 26th Volksgrenadier Division to reach the paratroopers of the 101st Airborne.  “Gee, I’m mighty glad to see you,” exclaimed General McAuliffe.  The four day siege of Bastogne was over.

 

“During the sub-zero temperatures we encountered at Bastogne,” Frank remembered, “we had a procedure to change our socks next to my body—one pair under my armpits, the other flat against my stomach.  When we changed our socks, we took off one boot at a time and slipped on a dry sock that had been nest to our body.  We took that sock that had been on our feet, rolled it in the snow, getting it wet, then rung it out and put it nest to our body for the next change.”

 
Source: Bulge Bugle February 2008

By Frank W. DUDASH

Passed away on January 8, 2011

"A" Company,

8th Tank Battalion

4th Armored Division

Campaigns

Battle of the Bulge,

Belgium