On December 16th 1944 three German armies smashed into the thinly held American line in the heavily forested Ardennes. In the north 'Sepp' Dietrich's Sixth SS Panzer Armee assaulted Losheim Gap and the Elsenborn Ridge in an attempt to break through to Liege. In the centre Hasso von Manteuffel's Fifth Panzer Armee attacked towards the road junctions of Bastogne and St Vith. In the south Erich Brandenberger's Seventh Armee pushed towards Luxembourg.
Everywhere except Losheim Gap the American defenders proved more tenacious than the Germans had expected. Only at Losheim did the Germans achieve a clean breakthrough with the 1st SS Panzer Division racing towards Malmedy, Stavelot and Liege.
North of Losheim the Germans became stalled along the Elsenborn Ridge while south of Losheim two regiments of the U.S. 106th Infantry Division were pocketed. Clervaux was not captured by the spearhead of the Fifth Panzer Armee until December 17th and by the end of that day German tanks were closing on Bastogne and Wiltz.
The Seventh Armee was also making slow progress capturing Beaufort, Echternach and Vianden.
On December 18th and 19th Kampfgruppe Peiper, the lead unit of the Sixth SS Panzer Armee breakthrough raced west, eventually being halted by American reinforcements in Stoumont. Other U.S. units moved to block further advance in Peiper's wake. St Vith was now the main stumbling block to the German advance as the attacks on Elsenborn Ridge were abandoned and more German units moved towards the road junction.
The same days saw 2nd Panzer Division and Panzer Lehr reach to within three miles of Bastogne before the lead elements of the 101st Airborne Division moved into the town to defend it. 116th Panzer Division took Houffalize and moved north to outflank the St Vith position. Diekirch fell to Seventh Armee but it became clear to Brandenberger that he would have to go over to the defensive holding a line from Echternach to Wiltz.
The encircled regiments of the 106th Division surrendered on December 19th and 20th, and with reinforcements the Germans had a larger force than ever to attack St Vith. Although the town itself held, German units moved behind it from the north and south making the position untenable. On December 21st the defenders of St Vith retreated. They had, however, held their positions long enough to foil the German plans. Kampfgruppe Peiper was surrounded and on the defensive and the rest of the Germans in the north were far behind schedule.
In the south the failure by the Germans to take Bastogne was preventing a breakout. The panzers bypassed the town leaving it to be surrounded by infantry units of Fifth and Seventh Armees. The first assaults against the town failed and as the Germans prepared for the American counterattack being prepared in the south their best units raced towards the Meuse River.
Even in the spearhead the constant arrival of fresh American units forced defensive thinking. As 116th Panzer Division drove towards the bridge at Hotton 560th Volksgrenadiers were spreading out to stop incursions against the northern flank of the breakthrough.
December 22nd saw the commencement of the American counterattack in the south. Four divisions advanced on a front between Martelange and Cornsdorf. At Bastogne the Germans called on the 101st to surrender. General McAuliffe's reply of "Nuts!" would become famous.
Reorganising their forces after the capture of St Vith the Germans prepared to push once more to the west. This was aided by the American surrender of the Fortified Goose Egg, as the area around St Vith had become known.
December 23rd was the first clear day since the beginning of the battle and the one sided battle for control of the skies over the Bulge began. The 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne had supply delivered from the air. The air cover also prevented German attacks on the forces retreating from St Vith.
2nd Panzer Division and the Panzer Lehr pushed closer to the Meuse, the former unit capturing the town of Celles, three miles from the river. On Christmas day the 2nd Armoured Division smashed into the flank of 2nd Panzer, pocketing the lead units.
At Bastogne the fresh 15th Panzergrenadiers nearly broke through the defensive line as the tanks of Patton's relief force came ever closer to breaking the siege. In other attacks Third Army units recaptured Echternach and threw the Germans back to their start positions.
As Patton threw two fresh divisions into the fight to relieve Bastogne tanks of the 4th Armoured Division broke into the town. The Allied plan was now to drive north from Bastogne and south from Manhay, cutting off the half of the Bulge west of Houffalize.
Bradley and Patton wanted to attack further east, pocketing the entire German salient but more cautious minds prevailed. Hitler realised that his plan had failed and decided to take out his frustrations on Bastogne. Several divisions were pulled out of the north to attack the important crossroads. Patton's new offensive was about to collide with Hitler's.
Over the next few days the front remained reasonably stable as a savage battle erupted around Bastogne. Slowly the Americans gained the upper hand as the German units which had been engaged from December 16th became exhausted.
Advances were also made against the nose of the Bulge as the German units there pulled back to defensive positions around Rochefort. The Germans, apart from Hitler, had acknowledged the defeat of their Ardennes Offensive. The majority of the three German armies in the Bulge were on the defensive.
The U.S. Army had held the German advance and after successful counterattacks had forced the Germans to give up their offensive plans. The job in front of the Americans was the long grind of wearing down the Germans and erasing the Bulge.
Ultimately the most important thing you can do is to destroy Allied units. The Allies receive overwhelming reinforcements and the only way to avoid being defeated is to destroy enemy units as fast as they enter the map.
If you destroy the enemy army then you can march where you will. The worst thing you can do is to rush the bulk of your forces westward while allowing the Allies to build up strong forces on your flanks. This was the reason for the historical German defeat.
Unlike history, however, the Allied player is unlikely to pass up the opportunity to snip off the bulge at its base. It is important to build up your flanks to oppose the inevitable counterattacks and, where possible to drive in the Allied flanks.
The area south of Bastogne is particularly vulnerable to counterattack as the Third Army suddenly arrives on turns 10 and 11. The panzer divisions of Fifth Panzer Armee can rapidly outrun the flank protection provided by Seventh Armee in the south.
This can lead to a gap between Ettelbruck and St Hubert. Unless some kind of defensive screen is established in this area you can find Patton breaking into your rear areas and threatening to pocket the spearhead. It may be necessary to commit one or more of the panzer divisions which arrive as reinforcements to the Bastogne area.
It is also important to realise when you have reached the high water mark. If you continue attacking once the tide of battle has turned you will simply be depleting your units and making the Allies job of erasing the bulge that much simpler. Historically the Germans were able to stabilise their positions and were not forced back significantly until after the end of December.
You should be able to do at least as well. In case you can't, the worst thing to do is to hold at all costs. Give up ground at the tip of the salient to cover your flanks. If the Allies break into the area behind the tip of the bulge your only option will be to fight your way back east before the pocket can form.
The first few turns are going to be tough and the best option is to run. The flanks should be able to hold reasonably well but the centre will give way. Don't worry. Delay the Germans and, above all, build up solid flank protection. Try to funnel the enemy spearhead into a narrower and narrower axis of advance.
The narrower the front the German is able to advance on, the easier he will be to pocket once you build up enough force to launch a counterattack. While it may be possible to hold Bastogne and St Vith against a poor German player, don't count on it. It is better to preserve forces than to risk their encirclement and destruction.
The place to stop the German advance is usually the Hotton - Rochefort gap. At least one of the two airborne divisions should be dug in in this area. If you are fortunate, the German will have left a gap between Fifth Panzer Armee and Seventh Armee.
The arrival of 4th armoured Division signals the start of the counterattack in the south and if any gap exists this division should be thrust through it into the German rear. The infantry divisions which enter on the next turn should be used to follow up 4th Armoured and to stabilise the southern flank in general.
The northern flank is more difficult. The best opportunity for attack exists at the tip of the salient where the Germans are likely to be more spread out. Penetrate their lines and keep driving forward. It is also useful to keep a reserve behind the northern flank in case the enemy strips units from his line for use elsewhere and leaves a gap.
Even a narrow salient forced into a line can cause it to crumble. As the German units begin to be worn down they will be more vulnerable to attack. Exploit any gaps made by KIAs and push continuously to erase the bulge. Once the Germans begin to run out of men their line will collapse, it is just a matter of whether this can be achieved before the end of the game.