Popular Misconceptions about
the Battle of the Bulge
The Ardennes Offensive: Dec. 16, 1944 - Jan. 25, 1945
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Last updated: May 3, 2008 - What's New?

The Battle of the Bulge (the Ardennes Offensive) was a very complex battle, the largest battle in the history of the United States Army. In the ignorance of the moment, snap judgements reduced this very complex event into a few icons and a great many misconceptions. Making matters worse, journalists over the years -- and even today -- perpetuate the early ignorance by blindly repeating it ... while the reality of what happened is buried under the misconceptions piled over and over on top of each other, year after year.

This was a horrible battle, involving over a million people, destroying tens of thousands of lives, covering hundreds of square miles, lasting more 41 days. We owe it to those who suffered through this horror to tell the story as it really happened. So this is an attempt to present some of the popular misconceptions and set them straight with well-researched facts, either from primary sources or from authors who have really done their research thoroughly. (The best authors have usually written only a half dozen or so well researched volumes, since it takes a great deal of time to research this complex battle well.)

This page is just starting out and is not going to be able to fit well into my priorities. So it will grow slowly. So please be patient.

Von Runstedt's Offensive

Let's start with a fairly uncontroversial mis-conception. Many newspapers and magazines still refer to the Battle of the Bulge as the "Von Runstedt Offensive." This implies that German Field Marshal Rudolf Gerd von Rundstedt was the brains and the driving force behind the German attack. Von Runstedt was the commander, but it was Adolph Hitler who conceived and actually ran the offensive. Von Runstedt actually was opposed to Hitler's plan.

Most of the misconceptions are going to require more than just a reference to a well-documented book. But this particular misconception has been recognized as a misconception by all serious historians of the Bulge. So a secondary source will do here. See page 35 of A Time for Trumpets by Charles B. MacDonald (William Morrow, 1984; Bantam Books, 1985). MacDonald says von Runstedt was appalled at Hitler's plan, which he saw as far too ambitious. In his trial testimony after the war, von Runstedt's said of the plan "all, absolutely all, conditions for the possible success of such an offensive were lacking." (Runstedt Testimony, Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Tribunal, vol. XXXI, p. 29). Yet the popular press clings to the misconception that this was the "Von Runstedt Offensive".

Hollywood's Battle of the Bulge Movie

This is not really about the Battle of the Bulge but about the movie that was made with the title Battle of the Bulge. Those who hoped for an authentic portrayal are severely disappointed in The Battle of the Bulge. It relies on stereotypical participants, rather than accurately telling the history of the battle. Various actual elements of the Bulge, such as the Allied bombing of GIs and civilians at Malmédy, are included to give some contact with reality. Probably the worst aspect of all is that the movie was not shot in the snows and dense forests of the Ardennes but in the high and dry and wide open mountains of northern Spain. The world is still waiting for a Bulge movie on a par with The Longest Day or A Bridge Too Far. But Cornelius Ryan, whose books were the basis of those two movies, never tackled the Bulge. Charles MacDonald tried it, but his book has never led to a movie.

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