As 1944 drew to a close, World War II took an expected turn on the Western Front. How much do you know about the Battle of the Bulge?
The Battle of the Bulge started December 16, 1944, and lasted until January 25, 1945. Fought in the dead of winter, it was a long and bloody battle for the Allies and the Axis.
More than 400,000 Nazi soldiers went on the offensive at the beginning of this battle. Roughly another 40,000 Germans would serve as reinforcements in the following weeks.
After D-Day, the Allies had the Germans on the run. Hitler came up with the idea to strike back in hopes of taking the Allies by surprise. Hitler's generals, realizing their forces were battered, did not think the offensive was a very good plan.
The Germans struck when the skies were thick with low clouds. The overcast conditions made it very difficult for the Allies to find Nazi targets.
Hitler wanted his armies to capture Antwerp. With that mission accomplished, about four Allied armies would have been cut off from supplies and reinforcements, making them very vulnerable to Nazi power.
The German offensive pushed back parts of the Allied lines, creating a bulge in the front lines. Newspapers spread the term "bulge" and it stuck.
The Germans chose the Ardennes area for their attack. This hilly, heavily forested area was lightly guarded by the Allies, who were tired from many days of ceaselessly chasing German forces.
The German fuel situation was dire at the beginning of the battle, so they planned to capture and use Allied fuel supplies. Even before the first shot was fired, they knew that their attack plan would fail if they couldn't locate and secure Allied fuel.
The rough terrain and winter weather slowed the German advance and gave the Allies time to regroup. If the Germans had captured just a few more key roads, they may have been able to more fully exploit their surprise attack, and the battle may have ended very differently.
Operation Stosser was the only Nazi nighttime paratrooper drop, and it was meant to seize control of a crossroads area that German forces could subsequently use for their offensive. The raid was a disaster due to poor planning and lack of supplies.
As the Germans began their advance, heavy snow fell. This helped slow down the Allied air response, but the poor conditions made it hard for the Nazis to push forward, too.
Europe was no place for civilians during the ferocity of World War II. About 3,000 civilians were killed during this single battle, which lasted just more than a month.
The heavy Tiger II tanks guzzled fuel at dizzying rates. The tank needed 2 gallons just to travel a single mile. This fast fuel consumption greatly compounded Nazi needs for Allied fuel during the battle.
At the Battle of the Bulge, it was mostly Germans against an array of Allied forces. The Allied forces here were made up of fighters from Luxembourg, Canada, Belgium and France, along with the U.K. and U.S.
An agonizing week passed before the heavy cloud cover finally began to dissipate, allowing the Allies to fly their warplanes. Air power helped them push back the Nazi battlefront.
As the Germans used the surprise attack to race westward, they encountered and captured an American observation division. Rather than imprison the unarmed men, the Nazis shot more than 80 of them.
In just a single battle, the Allies lost around 650 aircraft. Fortunately for them, the Nazis lost even more, with more than 700 downed planes.
Following the Malmedy massacre, American troops were told to show no mercy to Nazi troops. When U.S. soldiers seized dozens of Nazis near Chenogne, they shot and killed all of them.
American general Anthony McAuliffe couldn't even be bothered to offer serious thought to surrender. He offered his famous one-word response, "Nuts!" Unfamiliar with this term, the general's staff had to explain to the Germans that this answer was definitely a no.
The Nazi offensive took Allies completely by surprise. American troops weren't quite prepared to fend off such a huge attack and wound up suffering casualties at the highest rate of the war.
There were more than 600,000 Americans in action at Battle of the Bulge. Their losses were heavy, with nearly 90,000 casualties reported. The number of soldiers killed varies greatly, from less than 10,000 to nearly 20,000 depending on the source.
The ferocity and chaos of the battle meant tens of thousands of men simply disappeared on both sides. At least 23,000 American soldiers were missing once the dust settled.
On New Year's Day, the Nazis launched Operation Baseplate, which was meant to disrupt Allied air force capabilities. The Germans used huge airstrikes to successfully destroy hundreds of Allied planes.
Although the Allies suffered massive casualties, the Germans forces were decimated. They incurred as many as 125,000 casualties, a beating that even the Nazi war machine couldn't absorb.
American forces bore the brunt of the suffering at the Battle of the Bulge. As a result, the Americans also get most of the credit for standing firm against a desperate German assault.
The Germans rolled the dice that their surprise attack would work -- when it didn't, their tanks took huge losses. The Nazis lost more than 1,200 tanks, which could not be replaced in time to save their war effort.
At the end of 1944, Hitler and his men knew they needed a breakthrough if they were to have any chance of winning the war. As history shows, they failed, making this battle the last real German offensive.
More than 700,000 Allied troops were involved in the Battle of the Bulge. They began with just six infantry divisions; by the end of the battle, reinforcements had swelled that number to 22 divisions.
Before the Battle of the Bulge, the Allies were preparing for a major offensive … but the German attack caught them off guard. Although the Allies won the battle, their major offensive had to wait more than a month as they recovered from the hard fight and prepared to move east.
With more than 90,000 total casualties, the battle was the bloodiest ever in American history. American heroism along the bulge helped to stifle Nazi aims and may have helped end World War II sooner than if the Nazis had succeeded in capturing Antwerp.