British and Canadian Troops in the Battle of the Bulge | HistoryNet MENU

British and Canadian Troops in the Battle of the Bulge

Summary: The Battle of the Bulge (December 16, 1944–January 16, 1945) was fought primarily between the forces of Nazi Germany and the United States Army. However, approximately 55,000 troops of the British Army, including the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, also participated in the struggle.

On December 19, American general Dwight D. Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in Europe, temporarily placed all units north of a line between the towns of Givet and Prum under the command of British field marshal Bernard Montgomery. The field marshal ordered British XXX Corps, led by Lieutenant General Sir Brian Gwynne Horrocks, from Holland to block the advancing Germans from crossing the Meuse River. On December 24, 3rd Royal Tank Regiment joined American tanks, crossed the Meuse and, with support from the Royal Air Force (RAF) halted the advance of the 2nd Panzer Division.

A general counterattack by all Allied forces began January 3. Battalions from Britain’s 6th Airborne Division (including 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion), the 23rd Hussars, and tanks from the Fife and Forfar Yeomanry Regiment began three days and nights of fighting, taking heavy casualties. Other British counterattacks by additional units began on January 4.

By January 8, the German High Command, realizing their attack had failed and assailed by Allied counterattacks ordered their commanders to retreat toward Germany, but fighting continued against their rearguard. Eight days later, Field Marshal Montgomery ordered XXX Corps back to The Netherlands. British and Canadian casualties were approximately 1,400 killed, wounded and missing.

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery

Bernard Montgomery had led the 3rd Division capably during the battles in France in May 1940, but his star rose to its zenith in 1942 when he was given command of British Eighth Army in North Africa and dealt "the Desert Fox" Field Marshal Erwin Rommel a defeat in the Second Battle of El Alamein.

Unfortunately, Montgomery tended to be overly cautious and was generally contemptuous toward American troops and especially American commanders. Eisenhower’s plan for the Allied counterattack was to strike with Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s Third Army from the south and Montgomery’s mixed British-American force from the north, cut off the Germans within the salient they had pushed into the American lines, and destroy them. Montgomery kept delaying his attacks, which Eisenhower wanted to begin on December 27. "Monty" insisted Eisenhower should turn complete command of Allied forces over to him, a demand Eisenhower bluntly refused. The supercilious Montgomery dealt Anglo-American relations a further blow when he declared that American troops made great fighting men when given proper leadership.

He later exaggerated the British Army’s contributions to the Battle of the Bulge—only about 55,000 men from that army were involved compared to 600,000 Americans—but their contributions to defending the northern flank should not be forgotten.